HC Deb 01 July 1942 vol 381 cc215-7
Commander King-Hall

I rise to ask the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) a Question of which I have given him Private Notice—whether, in view of the critical nature of the military situation in Egypt, he will defer moving his Motion until the present battle has reached a definite conclusion?

Mr. Speaker

There is a definite Rule that it is not in Order for an hon. Member to ask another hon. Member a Question, but there are exceptions to that Rule. It has taken place in the past. It is not in Order for an unofficial hon. Member to ask another unofficial hon. Member a Question on general knowledge or on the merits of a particular case, but on some Question with which an hon. Member is connected, that is to say, with a Motion or a Bill, it has been Ruled in the past that an unofficial hon. Member is entitled to ask a Question on that subject.

Mr. Cocks

Is it not laid down in Erskine May that an hon. Member may ask another hon. Member a Question?

Mr. Speaker

Only under certain conditions.

Sir John Wardlaw-Milne

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) was good enough to give me notice of this interesting and unusual procedure, and I am bound to say it is the first time that I have ever heard of it. It is very interesting, but I think the hon. and gallant Member has addressed his Question to the wrong quarter. There is one body only in the country—the Government—which can say whether the situation is so serious that in the national interests the Debate should not take place. That decision can come only from the Government, who have the knowledge to take a decision of that kind. If the Government had desired the postponement of this Debate on grounds of national interest, I need hardly say that I and I am quite sure every hon. Member associated with me would have immediately acquiesced. But no such suggestion has come from the Government. The date for this Debate was fixed by the Government—the order of Business was put down by them. When I asked during the last series of Sitting Days for an early Debate on Libya, I was then under the impression that the Prime Minister would have returned, but the moment I found that he had not returned I ceased to press for a Debate at that time; and the Debate for to-day was fixed by the Government.

Commander King-Hall

Arising out of that reply, may I ask whether, in adhering to his decision not to defer his Motion, the hon. Member for Kidderminster has given the most careful consideration to the feelings likely to be aroused amongst our troops in Egypt by the news that this Debate is taking place while the troops are still engaged in a most critical battle?

Mr. Speaker

We are now debating this question on its merits, which is out of Order.

Mr. Shinwell

The House is always willing to respond to a view expressed by the Government at a critical juncture, and, if the Government take the view that in the present circumstances it is proper to ask the House to defer consideration of the matters which would be reviewed in the course of this Debate, would the Government say so?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

I have carefully considered this matter, and I have had at no time any doubt but that if an appeal were made on the grounds of the urgency and seriousness of the situation the Debate would be postponed. But, after all, this Vote of Censure has been on the Order Paper for some time, and it has been flashed all over the world. When I was in the United States, I can testify to the lively excitement which was created by its appearance, and, although we in this country may have our own knowledge of the stability of our institutions and of the strength of the Government of the day, yet that is by no means the opinion which is shared or felt in other countries. Now that this has gone so far, and this matter has been for more than a week the subject of comment in every part of the world, it would be, in my opinion, even more injurious to delay a decision than to go forward with this issue.

Mr. Stokes

Is it not generally known that the Government have no desire whatever to put this Debate off?

Sir Patrick Hannon

On a question of procedure, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you propose to call any of the Amendments to the Motion which has been put down?

Mr. Speaker

No, I do not propose to call any of them.