HC Deb 14 November 1939 vol 353 cc544-6
Mr. Bevan

I wish to raise a point of Order concerning the replies which the Secretary of State for War gave to certain questions in the House last week and to-day, and to ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the form of the replies was in order. Last week and today, in reply to questions, the right hon. Gentleman read out the reports of the commanding officers of certain camps, and I want to ask whether it is in order for him to do that? Further, as questions of fact in those reports involve also questions of opinion, I should like to know whether it would be in order for hon. Members to attack the officers in question and whether it is, in your opinion, Mr. Speaker, desirable that commanding officers should be brought, on the one hand, into collision with their men and, on the other hand, into collision with the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker

No point of order appears to me to call for an answer.

Mr. Bevan

Would it be in order for hon. Members in any part of the House to attack an officer who gave reports? If it is in order, is it proper that the House should be brought into personal collision with a member of the Civil Service? If the name of a civil servant is mentioned in this House or he is implicated, are we to understand that a report received from the right hon. Gentleman is upon his authority or upon the authority of the civil servant whose name he has given to the House, and are we, therefore, entitled to attack the right hon. Gentleman or the civil servant?

Mr. Speaker

The only person whom an hon. Member can attack is the Minister responsible.

Mr. Bevan

Ought the Minister not, therefore, in order to protect a civil servant or commanding officer, read out to the House all the information he receives and not indicate the name of the commanding officer? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to provide the House with the reports of the commanding officer only when they are in favour of his own views?

Mr. Woodburn

If the Minister quotes from a document from a commanding officer does not that document become a State document under the Standing Order, which requires that it be laid before the House?

Mr. H. Morrison

On the point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? It is customary in this House that if a Minister makes a statement he is responsible for the Department, and we attack the Minister if we wish. If the Minister brings in, in defence of his own policy or Department, and quotes a report by an Army officer, a report which incidentally criticises Members of this House, should we be in order if, instead of attacking the Minister, we attacked the military officer who had criticised the House of Commons and whom the Minister had produced as his witness in the case? It is important we should know whether we should be in order in criticising the military officer.

Mr. Speaker

The Minister, obviously, would be the person to defend the integrity of the officer. Any criticism should be levelled against the Minister.

Mr. Morrison

The matter is important on two grounds—on the ground of Members right to deal with a statement

1935–36. 1936–37. 1937–38. 1938–39.
£ £ £ £
Beet Sugar 2,285,570 2,980,978 1,217,904 1,753,270
Cattle Industry Payments to Producers. 3,884,049 3,982,146 3,943,210 4,301,230
Wheat Act 1932. Deficiency payments to registered growers (a). 5,636,642 1,340,367 1,933,575 9,290,935
Milk 1,854,196 1,044,477 759,987 652,829
Oats and Barley 164,626

(a)There was no Government grant or subsidy in respect of wheat in the years mentioned. The payments shown above were made out of the Wheat Fund. The periods covered are the cereal years ended 31st July, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938.

It is not possible to express in terms of money the benefit which agriculture has derived from derating during these years. The amount included in the block grant in respect of the year 1928–29 on the basis of benefit to agriculture in that year totalled approximately £10,800,000.

which is made by the Minister but which comes from the mouth or the pen of a military officer; and it is also important in relation to the rights of the House of Commons to be protected against the criticism of military officers. I put it to you with very great respect that if the Minister quotes a military officer and stands on the report of the military officer for his own defence, the House or any Member of it is entitled to answer the military officer as well as the Minister.

Mr. Speaker

A Member, no doubt, is entitled to reply to the Minister, but criticism should be levelled against the Minister and not against the military officer.