HC Deb 31 January 1940 vol 356 cc1227-30

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

On Wednesday last I addressed to the Prime Minister a Question in which I inquired whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the author of the play "Professor Mamlock," a film version of which was having so pronounced a success, not merely in this country, but in the United States of America and other neutral countries as an instrument of propaganda on behalf of the Allied cause, had been interned for many months in a French internment camp under conditions which I described in the Question. I also asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would make representations to the French Government on the subject. I desired to raise the matter, and I gave notice at the time that I would raise it on the Adjournment, because I did not regard the answer given to me as satisfactory.

I understand that there is some doubt as to whether, within the Rules of Order, I am entitled so to raise it, and I want therefore to make this submission to you, Mr. Speaker, in an endeavour to persuade you, if I can, that it is right and proper that the matter should be debated in this way. I fully realise—and I will not go into the merits of the case in any way—that it is no part of the functions of this House, and it would be highly improper and undesirable for this House, to debate the rights and wrongs of an action taken by a foreign Government on its own territory in relation to an individual subject to its jurisdiction. If the matter had stood there, I would not have ventured to think that I had any right to invite the House to debate it, or in fact to invite the Government to make any comment upon it. But I submit to you, Sir, that the question does not rest there. The matters involved—and the Question was framed with direct reference to them—are not solely the concern of the French Government, but are matters which, in the peculiar circumstances which now exist, must reflect adversely upon the interests of this country, both at home and in the wider spheres abroad.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must not go into the merits of the case. He cannot do that on a point of Order.

Mr. Silverman

I am endeavouring not to go into the merits at all, but only saying, I hope, the minimum that is necessary in order to persuade you, Sir, that this is not purely a matter of interest to the French Government, but is one which also vitally affects the interests of our own country. I would have submitted, if I were permitted to do so, that the interests of this country were vitally affected by what has taken place, and that it would be perfectly proper to invite the Government, and for the Government to accept the invitation, to make friendly representations to the foreign Government concerned, fully recognising that it is a matter of some delicacy and not a question that would impugn or criticise that country in any way. I am not suggesting it would be proper to criticise or condemn. But I do suggest that it would be perfectly proper—there are numerous precedents of Members of this House doing so—to request the Foreign Office to use its influence in order to bring about an alteration in something which is taking place in a foreign country where our own vital interests are affected. I am not asking for more than that, but I do suggest that there is ample precedent for it, and I would go so far as to say that if a matter in which our own vital interests are affected is precluded from discussion in this way merely because it is an act of another Government, then the interest of this country goes by default. I hope, Mr. Speaker, I have persuaded you that the vital interests of this country were affected and that I shall be entitled, as any hon. Member has a right to do, to endeavour to persuade the Minister concerned to give a more adequate and more satisfactory answer.

Mr. Speaker

The question the hon. Member has just raised arises, I think, from a Question he put in the House of Commons and the reply he obtained from the Prime Minister which was that the matter was one for which the Government had no responsibility. There is a very sound rule in this House that questions for which the Government have no responsibility cannot be raised on the Adjournment, and I think the House will realise that once we depart from this rule, it might lead to dangerous courses. I think it would be better to stick to the rule that questions for which the Government have no responsibility should not be raised on the Adjournment.

Mr. Silverman

With all respect, I do not want to debate it, because I realise that I must accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, once it is finally given, but I do suggest there is a certain amount of confusion. The question of what happened to this man in France is no doubt a question which is not the responsibility of the Government. The only way in which, as I see it, the matter could be out of order would be if I were asking them to do something which they had no legal power to do. But I do not think it is suggested that if I were able to persuade them of the merits of the matter, the Government would not be entitled to make representations. If the Government are entitled to make representations, I submit that it is not out of order for me to endeavour to persuade them to make representations.

Mt. Speaker

If we took that course, it would be a way of getting round the rule. The Government have always claimed that they can make representations to any foreign Government on any subject, but I do not think it is the proper time to raise the matter on a Motion for the Adjournment.

Mr. Mander

We frequently have discussions on foreign affairs which take place on the Motion for the Adjournment, and in such cases it is quite usual for His Majesty's Government to be adjured to take an interest in countries for which they have no direct responsibility at all, but where it is argued that they might usefully intervene and make representations. If the Ruling you have just given is rigidly adhered to, it will bring to an end Debates on foreign affairs such as we have had recently.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot agree with the hon. Member. The Debates we have had recently have been of a quite different character from this, and on matters for which the Foreign Office and the Government have a large responsibility on the policy which is to be pursued.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Four Minutes before Eight o'Clock.