Skip to main content

Question Of Privilege

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I am sure that neither the House nor you yourself, Mr. Speaker, will wish to be wearied at length after the recent exchanges. However, I seek to raise a matter of privilege which I submit is a threat to the parliamentary independence of six hon. Members in that their trade union has threatened to withdraw its sponsorship of them unless they take certain specified parliamentary action.

The information came to me via the Press Association tape at 1.30 p.m. today. Therefore, I think you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that this is the first opportunity that I have had to raise this issue.

It affects the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) and the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) and Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), all of whom are sponsored members of the National Union of Public Employees.

The quotation on the tape to which I seek to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, is as follows:
"Six Labour Members of Parliament face losing their union sponsorship unless they agree to stop supporting public spending cuts. Delegates at the National Union of Public Employees conference in Brighton decided today to demand assurances from the six that they will ' refrain from supporting the Government's policy of cuts in public expenditure '. The union executive was instructed to withdraw NUPE sponsorship of the Members of Parliament if the pledges were not made."
The loss of union sponsorship for these six Members would be tantamount to their losing their nomination as Labour candidates in their parliamentary constituencies, and thus their membership of this House. This, I submit, is a direct and, indeed, a naked threat in respect of their voting behaviour in this House.

This is not a new position. I realise that the six Members themselves would find it exceedingly embarrassing, if not impossible, to raise this matter. However, recent events in the relationship between certain members of trade unions and Members of Parliament and recent events in certain parliamentary constituencies concerning the method by which certain Members of Parliament are nominated as Labour candidates have resulted in extremely unfortunate situations, as we have seen in Newham, Hayes and Harlington and, now, Liverpool, Edge Hill.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the time has come to reconsider the implications of this sponsorship situation, not in the light of parliamentary circumstances or national circumstances as they existed in the 1940s or the 1950s—as I believe have been quoted by your predecessors on occasions when this situation has been raised in previous years—but in the light of the political circumstances of 1977 and of a country in which 54 per cent. of the people believe that Mr. Jack Jones is more powerful than the Prime Minister.

I therefore ask you to consider the implications for these six Members in the light of what has happened, giving due precedence in your own mind as to the current political circumstances and not just relating to precedents.

Following the custom of recent years, I shall take 24 hours to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said and give my advice to the House tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As there have been quite a few occasions in the last few years when matters of this kind have been raised, I wonder whether you would look at the matter in a much wider context and take into account the fact that many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition side of the House—but not necessarily confined to the other side—are in the employ of or sponsored by firms of one kind or another. I draw your attention to the fact that there may be occasions when the firms or sponsors decide to withdraw secretly the moneys available not to the constituency party but to the hon. Members themselves.

If, for instance, in the case of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) Holiday Inns, or the hotel and catering trades, decided to withdraw any money paid to the hon. Gentleman secretly, that might be a matter of privilege, although it would be difficult for hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue. Therefore, if you will look at this matter in its wider context, perhaps you will reach a conclusion that will satisfy everyone.

I shall of course give serious consideration to what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said.

I am always grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for mentioning my association with Holiday Inns—I do not seek to advertise it too much at this point—but surely the serious point is that we are referring to the relationship of a Member of Parliament and his constituency and those in his constituency who sponsor his membership as the official party candidate for this House. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you will understand that.

The hon. Gentleman made his case quite clearly. A record has been taken of what he has said and I shall consider it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Christ-church and Lymington (Mr. Adley) has raised as a matter of privilege the issue of a trade union which, I understand, has this morning decided to withdraw sponsorship from six Members of this House unless they pursue a line of action in the House of Commons which would be dictated by that union, namely, to withhold their support from the Government with regard to further cuts in public expenditure. With respect, the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington has gone far beyond that issue.

May we be clear whether the Committee of Privileges is to consider only the right or otherwise of a trade union to instruct Members of Parliament, or will the Committee be considering the wider issue of sponsorship by trade unions of prospective and future Members of Parliament? If that is the case, has not my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) presented a valid contention in saying that other aspects of remuneration for Members of Parliament might well influence their attitudes in this House should also be considered?

I think the hon. Gentleman has rather anticipated what I shall tell the House tomorrow. I have not said that I am giving the application precedence, but obviously all factors will be taken into account.