§ The PRIME MINISTER
I beg to move,That the period of suspension from the service of the House of Mr. Kirkwood do terminate this day.In rising to move this Resolution, I only propose to make one observation. In a House like this, where there are so many Members who are either here for the first time or have been Members of the House for a year, or for a very short period, they may not realise the difficulty we have in the particular case with which we are dealing. It is owing to the fact that 23 years ago a Committee of this House started revising the Standing Orders, and in the second Section of Standing Order No. 18 [Order in the House] they left the Section not completed, and that Section reads:(2) If any Member be suspended under this Order, his suspension on the first occasion,and there it ends. The practical result of that is that if at any time in maintaining order in debate the Chairman has to name any hon. Member of this House, automatically, and without any prospect of appeal, a procedure is put into motion which ends in the exclusion of that Member from our deliberations for the rest of the Session, subject only to a Resolution being passed allowing him to resume his duties here.
I have always felt, and I have had to deal with this matter before now, that it is rather an invidious task for the Leader of the House to have to give a decision as to whether the suspension shall last for a week, or a month, or two months, or the rest of the Session. If a suspension of this kind takes place at the beginning of a Session, I have never seen any case where I should not feel that a suspension for a period of four or five months would be too severe a penalty. I have only to suggest to the House that the time has come when I think a Committee of this House should resume the work begun on the 13th February, 1902, and put something definite into that Section which would make it perfectly plain what the penalty is for a given offence, and for a repetition, and should remove from the Leader of the House this very invidious task.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I only rise on account of the observations which 1140 the Prime Minister has made. It really is most invidious that the Prime Minister should be called upon to exercise his discretion as to how long the sentence of suspension should hang over the head of a Member, and if the right hon. Gentleman cares to put his suggestion into operation, and proceed through the usual channels to set up a Committee, I can only say that., as far as I am concerned, I should only be too glad to co-operate with him.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I well remember the circumstances under which we left the Standing Order unfinished in 1902, but I think it is only fair to say that it was not the fault of the Committee. The Committee reported to the House, but the House proceeded so slowly with the revision of the Standing Orders that Mr. Balfour, who was then leading the House, decided that he could spend no more time over the revision of this Standing Order. For our part, we should certainly welcome the setting up of a new committee to deal with it, and I hope that the House would deal more expeditiously with this Standing Order than it did in 1902.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
May I, as a new Member, say that I regret that this Motion is being moved so early. It is no easy thing for a new Member, without the experience which years in this House bring, to exercise possibly the restraint which older Members exercise. But I observe that many older Members exercise rather less restraint than I do, and that sometimes we are unduly provoked by hon. Members. I wish to take this opportunity—and I am entitled to do so—to say that I think it would be for the great advantage of this House if hon. Members would interrupt to a less extent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Including yourself!"] including, possibly, myself. That is no reason why other people should misbehave themselves. I know I am speaking not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of a number of other Members when I say that we resent very much indeed the sustained interruptions which come from time to time from certain benches.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I am now an old Member of this House, and I have seen many incidents where Members have transgressed the Orders, have fallen 1141 under the disfavour of the Chair, and have been dealt with under the Standing Orders. Such incidents are always regrettable, because they derogate from the dignity and authority of Parliament itself. But it would be still more to be regretted if hon. Members should be allowed, either in moments of excitement or, it may be, on some occasions by deliberate design, to interrupt disorderly the proceedings of this House, and it is with the greatest regret that some of us have seen a greater tendency to disorder during recent times than has occurred in our previous experience. It would be intolerable if the proceedings of this Parliament of 615 Members were to be rendered abortive or disorderly by the efforts of four or five Members, who, in moments of excitement, or for other reasons, may behave in a disorderly manner. May I say, on my own behalf and, I think, on behalf of many private Members, that we hope and trust that the Chairman on all occasions will protect the order of the House. The Chair may rely upon the support of the vast majority of this House in enforcing the Standing Orders whenever it may be necessary. Of course, we all realise that in a new Parliament there are many Members who do not realise what the Standing Orders and the necessary rules of procedure are. But the time has surely passed now when that plea of ignorance may be sustained with effect, and we do hope and trust that this incident will not in any way derogate from or impair the authority of the Chair, but that we shall enforce the Orders of the House without fear or favour towards any Member who may transgress, in whatever part of the House he may sit.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I think it would have been better if this Debate had been left where it was left by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. But I do not think I would be fair to a colleague, the only Member of this House who is unable to be present here to-day, if I did not reply to the hon. Member for Reading opposite (Mr. H. Williams) and the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). I could excuse the hon. Member for Reading, but I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Burton observed the usual courtesy between Members which requires that 1142 when a Member is going to be attacked in a personal way that Member is informed of the intention. beforehand. [HON. MEMBERS "There was no attack!"]
§ Colonel GRETTON
May I assure the hon. Member and the House that I was speaking generally, and referred to no single individual.
§ Mr. MAXTON
It is quite impossible to deal with this as a general question to-day. I want to remind these hon. Members that there is no one associated with me who admits for one. moment that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) was disorderly upon the occasion referred to, and some of us believe that to-day we are taking a very great step in self respect in agreeing to the withdrawal from the Order Paper of a certain Motion that was put down. I want to say, further, that the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway has a very slight memory for the history of this House or for the history of his own party if he really believes that this House has been more disorderly during the last two years than at many previous periods before the Clyde was represented at all. I realise that this Debate could very easily take a very acrimonious turn. But there is no one associated with me who wants that to occur. We want our colleague back here in the House to render the very great services which he does render. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not know any other Member who makes such a big personal human contribution to the affairs of this House as the hon. Member who is suspended, and I resent any imputation on his conduct or character made by any hon. Members. I hope that we shall leave this Debate, as if these things had not been said, at the stage at which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition left it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ "That the period of suspension from the service of the House of Mr. Kirkwood do terminate this day."