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Question Of Privilege

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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I rise on a point of privilege to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to take notice of what appears to be a prima facie breach of the privilege of this House committed yesterday by Mr. Arthur Scargill, President of the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers and a resolution of the area council of the NUM on which his remarks were based. I shall, of course, supply you with copies of the many reports which have appeared in the newspapers today.

The resolution appears to contain these elements: first, that no Member of this House sponsored by the Yorkshire Area of the NUM shall vote or speak against union policy on any issue which affects the coalmining industry; second, that no such Member shall actively campaign or work against the union policy on any other major issue; and third, that if any such Member refuses to agree to these guidelines or violates them, the area council shall withdraw sponsorship from that Member of Parliament.

The resolution is said to continue:
"We wish to make it clear that the Yorkshire Area will no longer tolerate a situation where a miners' MP accepts the privilege of sponsorship and then demands the luxury of independence from union policy."
Among the statements attributed to Mr. Scargill in the Press today, is most importantly, this one which appeared on the news tapes yesterday and is printed in the Sun today:
"Miners are entitled by virtue of their sponsorship to tell their Members of Parliament which way to vote."
I do not intend to elaborate on those statements. They hardly require it. May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the question of the sponsorship of Members was exhaustively investigated in 1947 and although sponsorship as such was by no means condemned, and nor was the termination of sponsorship by the sponsoring authorities, it was clearly stated in the 1947 report that it would be wrong to use the termination of sponsorship as a threat to affect a Member in the proper discharge of his duties?

I am not, therefore, asking that the question of sponsorship should be referred to the Committee of Privileges. Nor am I asking that the question of the sponsorship of the NUM should be so referred, because Mr. Joe Gormley, President at the national level of the NUM, has not only not associated himself with the statements of Mr. Scargill but has dissociated himself and the national union from them. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear".] He has stated that position on many occasions.

I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this matter between now and tomorrow, and, if you are minded that there is a prima facie case involved in these statements, to permit precedence to be given to a motion so that the Committee on Privileges can go into the matter carefully and exhaustively and bring a recommendation to the House.

Documents handed in.

In accordance with modern practice I will consider the matter and rule upon it tomorrow.

Regional Affairs

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Order [ 9th June].

That the matter of North West of England Affairs be referred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs.—[Mr. Edward Short.]

Question agreed to.