§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Might I ask, with reference to the Resolution down in my name, whether any arrangements have been made for discussion or otherwise?—[That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs at the Sitting of this House on 5th March did not amount to the offence of disregarding the authority of the Chair or of abusing the Rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business, which is the ground, according to the Standing Orders, upon which an hon. Member may be suspended; that the Chairman of Ways and Means acted with undue haste and impatience; and that therefore the naming of the hon. Member was unwarranted.]
§ The PRIME MINISTER
With your permission, Sir, and with the leave of the House, I would like perhaps to answer that question at a little length. The circumstances of last Thursday occurred during my involuntary absence, and I have only been made aware of them by 941 having had consultations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who answered a question on Friday, also in my absence, and with the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Chairman of Ways and Means said that he felt it his duty, very properly, to report to me as Leader of the House what had occurred in my absence, and with the leave of the House I will read what he has written to me:—
§ Chairman of Ways and Means,
§ House of Commons, S.W.
§ 6th March, 1925.
§ DEAR PRIME MINISTER,
§ As you may be called upon to make some statement with regard to the circumstances attending Mr. Kirkwood's suspension yesterday, I think it proper to give you an account of what occurred. The House had gone into Committee on the Vote on Account and an Amendment had been moved which confined the discussion to Foreign Affairs. As you will appreciate, it was no ordinary occasion. No statement as to the foreign policy of the Government had been made for a considerable time, and judging both by general knowledge, and by the appearance of the Diplomatic Gallery, it is no exaggeration to say that the Foreign Secretary's statement was awaited with eagerness, or anxiety, by the whole of Diplomatic Europe. Now all who are acquainted with the extreme sensitiveness of foreign opinion, particularly in certain allied or friendly countries, know that the slightest slip on the part of a Minister, a chance phrase, the turn of a sentence, or the least ambiguity or obscurity of statement may cause infinite diplomatic trouble and lead to serious and lasting harm. I, therefore, conceived it my duty, in so far as it was in my power, to ensure that the arguments of the Foreign Secretary were not deflected by interruption or obscured by disorder.
§ Consequently, when after two calls to order and a definite warning, Mr. Kirkwood made a further interruption, I felt it my duty to direct him to leave the House. On his definite refusal to withdraw no alternative remained for me than that of reporting him to Mr. Speaker, which I accordingly did, and of course the Motion for suspension automatically followed without it being in my power to avert it. I need only add that the considerations set out in the earlier part of this letter were naturally not present to Mr. Kirkwood's mind: that the contention that some other course was open to me up to a certain point is, of course, a justifiable one, and the rapidity of action and the circumstances leading up to its culmination brought about a situation which I recognise was not duo to any premeditation on Mr. Kirkwood's part to cause disorder. This, however, could not absolve me from my responsibility of dealing, according to the rules of the House, on this very grave occasion, with his overt acts.
§ Believe me,
§ Very sincerely yours,
§ (Sgd.) JAMES F. HOPE.942
§ I felt it my duty to read that letter which shows what led the Chairman during the discussion to act as he did. I may say, without making any comment upon the letter, that I was very pleased to hear that the Chairman of Ways and Means doer not attribute—I am quite sure no hon. Member on this side does attribute—any premeditated action on the part of Mr. Kirkwood to delay or obstruct business.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Perhaps the House will allow me to say a word or two. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!] I have not had the advantage of seeing this letter in this form. I think, however, after listening to it, that it goes a very long way, if not the whole way, to enable me to withdraw my Resolution. While I am not making any pledge or promise, I should like to read over the letter quietly, to see how far it does go. If it be possible that the Resolution should be withdrawn. I should assume that the termination of the suspension would be made at once. Before, however, coming to a conclusion definitely, I should like to see the letter.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I quite appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said. I shall be only too pleased to take counsel with him in the course of the afternoon. and if it should seem fitting to him to withdraw the Motion he has on the Paper, I should recommend to the House that a Resolution be put down accordingly, and the Resolution of suspension, come to last Thursday, rescinded. This, of course. must be for the House to decide, but I should be, as I have said, prepared to recommend it.