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The Hon Member For Luton, West

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will be aware, yesterday, 8th November, I wrote you a letter on the privileges of Parliament and pressure from the Executive, and you replied to me today, 9th November. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your prompt reply and to thank you and your staff for the courtesy shown to me over this matter.

May I also ask for your permission to make the correspondence public and to place copies in the Library? I ask this for two reasons. First, the suggestion has been made, which I find particularly offensive, that I should leak the correspondence. Secondly, the matter has aroused some public interest, and in my view the methods of proceedings of the House raise a genuine problem.

Under the new procedure whereby hon. Members write to you, Mr. Speaker, more often than not, because you are unable to give the matter precedence over the Orders of the Day, you will, in effect, turn down the application. Therefore, unless the correspondence is published, many serious matters concerning privilege will not be known to the House and the House will not know the way you are thinking.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has presented his point of order. Let me first make the point to the House that correspondence between Mr. Speaker and right hon. and hon. Members is usually regarded as written in confidence. In general, when right hon. and hon. Members write to me I treat the correspondence on that basis, and so do the right hon. and hon. Members. However, in this case half the correspondence has already been published. Before I received the hon. Gentleman's letter, I learnt on the radio that I was to receive it, and I knew the substance of it. But it is up to him to decide whether he wishes to publish the letter. There is no question of my giving permission. It is up to the hon. Gentleman, who must reach his own decision.

Without in any way commenting upon the propriety of the course that the hon. Member wishes to take in this case, I wish to put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it adds much to the importance of parliamentary proceedings for the original matter to be fully reported to the House at the earliest possible opportunity, so that a submission may be made to you on the circumstances in which confidential information was leaked in this way and the action which the House might seek to take against those responsible.

I cannot go into that matter now. As the House knows, the House itself decided in February last that when an application for privilege is made to me, if I do not afford it precedence, it cannot be referred to in the House afterwards. That was the decision of the House itself as recently as February.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not referring to me. Let me say that I shall listen to the hon. Member's point of order, but I know that he is too old a parliamentary hand to want to refer to the question of privilege with which I have been dealing.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a member of the same Sub-Committee as the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), and the other members of that Sub-Committee have been placed in great difficulty because this confidential document was available to the hon. Gentleman but was not available to the other seven members of the Sub-Committee. It would seem only right, Mr. Speaker, that you should ponder whether the hon. Gentleman could be asked to distribute copies of the document at least to his colleagues so that we may share the confidential information which he has shared with the press.

Order. The House knows that what happens in a Committee is not my business but is that of the Chairman of the Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for your forbearance, but, as you have reminded us, we are operating under a novel procedure with which the House is not yet totally familiar, and I put it to you respectfully that we may not fully have understood all its implications.

May I ask you this, Mr. Speaker. Does the fact that an aspect of this matter has been raised as a purported matter of privilege mean that it would be out of order for the Prime Minister to seek to make a statement on other aspects of it, such as, specifically, the circumstances in which a confidential document was leaked to, and published by, the hon. Member?

All I can say is that I always give special consideration to any representations made to me for someone to make a statement, whether by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or anyone else.