HC Deb 09 June 1942 vol 380 cc1011-26
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)

I beg to move, That police officers on duty in the Palace of Westminster are hereby empowered, when so instructed by the Serjeant at Arms attending this House, to require Members to produce the passes issued to them. The object of this Motion is to regularise a practice which has been in operation for a long period of time. The House will recollect that in May, 1940, for security reasons, it was considered advisable to put certain restrictions on admission to the Palace of Westminster, and that Regulations were issued under your authority, Mr. Speaker, and under that of the Lord Great Chamberlain, dated 28th May, 1940. The fifth of those Regulations laid down that the inspection of all passes would be carried out regularly by the police and custodians, and all holders of passes were requested to co-operate with the authorities. Permanent passes were issued to Members of the House under those Regulations and to certain other persons who were regularly employed about the House, and under that paragraph 5 the police were given instructions by the proper authorities to inspect the passes at intervals. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, described these arrangements briefly to the House on 29th May. You then expressed the hope that all Members would be prepared to cooperate in the strict carrying-out of these necessary precautions. There have, since that time, been certain changes in the arrangements which were found necessary by experience of their operation, and notice has been circulated to all Members—it was circulated, I think, on 11th February last—drawing their attention to the present form of those Regulations. The passes have in fact been inspected at certain intervals by the police, acting upon the orders of the responsible authorities.

Certain Members of the House felt, I think, that the action of the police in inspecting the passes might constitute some interference with the Member's constitutional right of access to the place where Parliament is sitting. This, of course, was not the intention of the Regulations. Their intention was to give a facility to Members in circumstances when otherwise it might have been difficult for them to gain access, and also to enable the security of the proceedings of the House to be maintained. You, Mr. Speaker, have been consulted upon this matter, and in order to remove any doubts as regards the constitutional position we are to-day asking the House to pass the Motion which I have read and so to give its formal approval to the procedure as to passes which in fact has been in operation since May, 1940. We hope that the House will agree to this proposal, and that Members will in, the future, as they have done in the past, co-operate in the carrying-out of those security arrangements which, both in the opinion of the Government and of the authorities of the House, are still necessary for their safety. I therefore ask the House to approve this measure.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I must confess that, if I may use the only Latin quotation with which I am familiar, I am, to some extent, the fons et origo mali in this matter, and I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, and the Government, for acceding to the request which was made to them privately, not only by me but by other Members, and by a Noble Lord who was formerly an hon. Member of this House and who now sits in another place. The matter is perhaps a slightly delicate one to discuss, because you, Mr. Speaker, as the Leader of the House has reminded us, did mention that this practice was to come into operation, and you said that you assumed that the consent of the House would be given. Really and properly, as I frankly confess, any objections taken to the system should have been entered at that time. I personally was not aware of the form which the pass would take, and that is, to my mind, a rather important factor in the case.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House used the phrase which I think exactly expresses the constitutional situation, that from time immemorial every right hon. and hon. Member of this House has had the constitutional right of access to the House. It is inherent in our position, in fact it is for that reason, as the House will be aware, that we pass every Session a Sessional Order calling upon the police to see that the approaches to the House are kept open. It is interesting, if it is not going outside the Motion, to recall to the House that that measure arose, I think, because of the circumstances surrounding the Lord George Gordon riots. On that occasion hon. Members were molested when they attempted to enter the House, and some of them were actually assaulted—including, I believe, the Lord Chancellor—within the precincts of the House. Subsequently it was held that it was the duty of the proper authorities, either the guards who existed before the police and afterwards the Metropolitan Police, to see that Members had free access to the House.

Some might say that that is all very well from the constitutional point of view, but is it not rather pernickety in time of war to embark upon these matters? I venture to say that it is not. It is very necessary that the House itself, and no other body, should keep authority over this matter. Circumstances might arise—I do not say that they would arise, and I agree that it would be a most unreasonable Government which would do it—in which there might be a Government after the war which would determine to continue this practice. There might be circumstances in which a number of hon. Members were coming down hurriedly to vote without having heard the Debate—as hon. Members do—and the Government might hint that this would be a good opportunity to examine their passes and, if they had not got those passes, to refuse them access to the House. Whether that is so or not, it is very important that those old constitutional principles should be adhered to, and I think that the plan the Government have adopted of putting down a Motion with which those of us who had originally taken exception to the proceedings entirely agree, is the correct method of procedure.

There is one other delicate matter which comes into it. I do not want to comment adversely upon it, but one of the reasons why I object to the issue of this pass and the conditions surrounding it without a Resolution by the House, is that, as Members who have it in their possession will observe, it is signed "Ancaster, Great Chamberlain." It would be very improper to say anything derogatory of the Noble Lord who occupies that position, but it is a hereditary office; that is not a Government, or even a Crown, appointment, and I most respectfully urge that whether or not a Member enters this House should not in any way depend upon the whim of the Lord Great Chamberlain. It is purely a matter for Parliament itself. The Lord Great Chamberlain has certain duties, which I do not want to discuss now, and it is no doubt merely a convenience that he should sign this card. I and my hon. Friends are extremely grateful to the Government for having put down this Motion. I do not think it is a waste of time, even in war-time, to assert our ancient constitutional rights.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

I agree with almost everything which the Noble Lord has said. I recognise, of course, the propriety of the action of the Government, and I approve of their coming to the House in order to regularise the position, if it needs regularising, and put the matter beyond doubt. The Lord Privy Seal has refreshed our memories with regard to events of May and June in 1940 in this matter. Like the Noble Lord, I had forgotten the precise form in which this matter was first put before us. I am not quite clear now how far these Regulations have the force of law. That they received the assent of the House when Mr. Speaker put them before the House I have little doubt. In any event a good deal of water has run under the bridge since that time. So far as I know, on only one occasion have I been challenged or asked for a pass. There may have been other occasions of which hon. Members are aware. On that occasion I ventured to ask for the authority for the demand, and to decline formally, and I hope pleasantly, to the officer, who was only carrying out his duty in requesting me to produce my pass on that occasion. In doing so, I made no reflection, nor do I do so now, on the officers of this House, particularly the Serjeant at Arms, who so competently and courteously carries out the desires of the House. But I do feel it desirable that the matter should be put beyond doubt and that, if Regulations are required, they should be Regulations in proper form.

It is a very old-established traditional right to have free and unhindered access to this House at all times. One does feel that even in war-time some of us should pay some attention to these matters, because little by little a good many of our rights—I prefer to call them rights rather than privileges; most books term them privileges, which they may have been originally, but they are now rights of long-established usage—are little by little being impinged upon, sometimes almost imperceptibly. For example, at about the same time the entrance by the subway from the underground station into Palace Yard was stopped up and has continued to be stopped up since that time. It may be in accordance with the desires of the military authorities, and it may be right and proper for that very convenient entrance to be stopped up. Nevertheless, it is a matter for consideration whether that was in order, and I should be glad if my right hon. and learned Friend would look into that point, because it is a great inconvenience, if it is not necessary to have to walk round and across the road and so on when one has been accustomed to taking a short cut through the precincts of the House, where in the early days of the war police officers were on duty and where, as far as I know, no difficulties ever arose. It is desirable that one should, at any rate, take note of these infringements and in those cases where they are brought before the House have the opportunity to approve of them, particularly in such circumstances as we are living in to-day.

The Lord Privy Seal, if he will forgive my saying so, did not indicate any grounds for the Motion. Is it suggested in any way that any difficulty has arisen, or that any unauthorised person has endeavoured to obtain access to the House either with or without a pass? Because unless that is the case it is desirable we should limit all these regulatory matters to as small an area as possible. There is no point in putting even a Regulation of this sort into force if it is not necessary. I gathered from the Lord Privy Seal that no difficulty has arisen.

Sir S. Cripps

I did indicate the reason, which was that certain Members had raised the question as to whether this matter ought to be regularised or not by having this Motion. The actual Regulations have been in operation consistently since 1940 and have operated very well and are considered necessary.

Major Milner

I am obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend, but the fact that they have been in existence a couple of years does not indicate—

Sir S. Cripps

And are considered necessary.

Major Milner

Considered necessary by whom?

Sir S. Cripps

I said both by the Government and the authorities of the House.

Major Milner

I do not want to create any difficulty in a matter which is capable of quite easy solution. If this is the right and proper course, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should, I think, indicate the grounds. We cannot be expected to accept without some explanation even the mere Regulation which has been in existence for two years, and I hope he will be good enough to tell us the grounds on which this Motion is brought before the House. Assuming that these grounds are considered good by the House, the question arises as to whether the terms of the Motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend do what is required, or whether the terms of that Motion do not go sufficiently far, or go too far. What happens if a Member does not produce his pass? Is there any authority to the police officer to deny him access to the House? Nothing is said in the Motion with regard to that. It does not seem to me a very useful practice to demand passes unless those demanding them have authority to refuse access if those passes are not produced. Therefore, I shall be glad to know what is the precise position of a Member who has not his pass with him or who does not produce it, as the case may be.

Then, again, the authority which it is proposed shall be given is to be given to the police. But there are military about the building, and I presume that in certain circumstances the military would be in control, and probably the police would be under the control of the military. If the military are in control of the precincts of the House, are they to be entitled to see the pass of a Member of Parliament? Clearly not, under the Motion which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has brought before the House. It is a matter for consideration therefore whether the proposal which has been made should or should not be extended to the military authorities in special circumstances which may arise.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not give us any assurance, though I have no doubt it is the intention of the Government, that these proposals should only continue for the duration of the war. I think that that is the case, but, if so, why not put in the Motion: That, for the duration of the war, police officers on duty in the Palace of Westminster are hereby empowered …"? The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows better than anyone else in the House that a mere assurance given by the highest authority in this House has not the force of law. He might consider the Amendment I have suggested. Having regard to the fact that no grounds have been given to us, no real difficulty having arisen so far as I know, I myself frankly doubt the necessity for these steps being taken. So many sins seem to be committed in these days in the sacred name of security, but if the Government and the House are of the opinion that these proposals are necessary, I should not think it right in present circumstances to oppose them. There is the duty on all of us at all times, not least in war-time, to insist on these matters coming before the House, with the full and free right of discussion and decision, and that the rights which have been handed to us for generations should be preserved in full force and effect. My right hon. and learned Friend will, I hope, answer one or two of the queries I have put, and under those circumstances I should therefore not propose to make any further objection.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the passes already in the possession of Members of this House which we took out in 1940 be available now, or shall we have to take out new passes to obtain access to the House?

Captain Sir William Brass (Clitheroe)

It seems to me that the Noble Lord and the hon. Member who has just spoken seem to feel that these passes are a sort of hindrance to Members of Parliament.

Earl Winterton

The hon. Member must not attribute to me the remarks made by another hon. Member. I never said the passes were a hindrance. I said I was concerned with the constitutional point, and that I supported the Motion.

Sir W. Brass

No, I used the word "hindrance"; the Noble Lord, I think, said that a Division might be taking place and somebody might be held up. I should have thought that that would have been a hindrance, but perhaps he does not think so. The point of these passes is not to hinder people coming to the House of Commons, but to help them. We might have a blitz here, there might be bombs falling, and we might have a certain number of policemen here who did not know us. Obviously, it would be necessary for some kind of pass to be given to Members. I quite agree with the Government in putting down this Motion. As far as I can make out, these passes are to identify us. It is obvious that no Member of Parliament is to be prevented from coming into the Palace of Westminster just because he has not got a pass. The pass is issued in order that people who come here and who, possibly, are not recognised by the policeman on duty at the time, may be admitted. That, I am quite sure, is the only reason. I hope that when my right hon. and learned Friend replies he will make the point that these passes are to help us, and that orders will not be issued by the Serjeant at Arms that all Members are to be held up at a certain time on certain days in order to have their passes examined. It is intended, I think, simply that the police, if they do not happen to know a Member by sight, will ask for his pass, and then allow him to come in.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

It is obvious that the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) has not happened to attend the House when passes are being examined. Every Member is then asked to produce his pass. I do not know what happens to the unfortunate Member who has not got it with him. I have been in the position of having had my pocket picked, and all my papers taken away. If that had happened on a day when the passes were being examined, what would the position have been? Should I have been unable to attend the Sitting of the House? Such a thing might happen at any time to any one of us. The Lord Privy Seal ought to make quite clear what is the position of a Member who, perhaps through no fault of his own, is unable to produce the pass when requested to do so. We are very much indebted to the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for having raised the very important constitutional issue involved in this practice. I hope the Government will make it perfectly clear that this is an exceptional war-time measure, taken under the stress of very special circumstances, and that it will not be continued, or taken as a precedent, when the emergency has passed. It is only under conditions of that kind that some of us would be willing to agree to the passing of this Motion.

The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), very pertinently, asked for rather more reasons why this should be necessary. I have been trying to think of a reason. The only one I can think of is that almost every one of us, except you, Mr. Speaker, has a double somewhere outside this House, who might be able to come in and pass for a moment or two as a Member. There is a possibility that in war-time use might be made of that, contrary to the national interest. That is the only reason I can see why such a measure should be necessary because as a rule the police are so familiar with Members. They know perfectly well who are Members and who are not. There is one other difficulty which has to be provided for and that is the case of the new Member. A Member desiring to take his seat appears at the House on one of the days that it is necessary to have a pass. He has not got a pass. He has not yet taken his seat. Will there be a way by which he will be able to take his seat on that day? That surely is an unnecessary obstacle to put in the way of a new Member and of his electors.

I notice that the wording of the Motion is very wide. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will consent to vary it and give expression to what I think is the intention of the Government. The Motion is: That police officers on duty in the Palace of Westminster are hereby empowered … We do not want to have police officers coming to us in the Library or at any point inside the Palace of Westminster asking for our passes. What is intended is that police officers should be on duty at the entrance to the Palace of Westminster, and it should suffice if this exceptional power were exercised at the entrance to the Palace and that Members should not be kept in anxiety at all times lest a police officer might come to them at any moment in any part of the Palace and ask for the production of their passes. We should no longer feel ourselves at home in our own House. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be willing to consider making explicit in the Motion what I believe to be the intention of the Government.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)

May I ask whether some arrangement will be made to provide shelter at the entrance? On the last occasion it was pouring rain and some of those who were carrying cases and satchels had to put them down while they produced their pass. It was very disagreeable both to Members and the police at that time. There ought to be some sort of shelter through which Members could pass.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

In spite of the serious features of this Motion one detects a certain atmosphere of levity as though what we are doing perhaps were some kind of joke. I am certain the Government do not intend it as any kind of joke and that if they had not thought it vitally necessary they would not have introduced it. Therefore, they must not complain if we Members of the House of Commons treat their proposal seriously, and treating it seriously means treating it seriously from the point of view of opposing it as well as from the point of view of recommending it. It cannot be denied that it is a serious innovation. At the beginning of every Session we assert certain privileges, one of which is to be allowed unhindered access to this House. It has never been thought necessary before that we should produce to a police officer some kind of credential to enable us to attend here and carry out the duties to which we are called. It may be that there are good and sufficient reasons why this innovation should now be made and I am certain that no Member of the House would oppose this suggestion if good and sufficient reason were adduced for it. It is fair to point out that so far no one on behalf of the Government has adduced any reason at all. Various Members have suggested various causes, but the House is entitled to ask the Lord Privy Seal for the reasons which have induced the Government to consider that this serious innovation in Parliamentary procedure is necessary. The House itself should be the judge of the validity of those reasons and I do not think the House ought to pass this Motion until the reasons have been communicated to it and until it has appeared to the House itself that the reasons are good and sufficient. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will tell us in a moment or two what are the reasons.

The next point I would make is with regard to the urgency. I should have thought that the usual channels might have been used and Members given a little time to consider the position instead of being called upon to come to a decision at a moment's notice, in a very thin House, at the end of a Sitting, when no one could say that the result of a Division, if there were a Division, was really representative of the feeling in the House. Surely it would be better if the Lord Privy Seal would tell us the reasons and take back the Motion until Members have had the opportunity of considering it, if only for 24 hours, before insisting on getting the sanction of the House in this way. There cannot be any urgency about it. We went through the whole of the aerial attack on London without it, so that, however necessary it may be, it cannot be really necessary to do it in this slipshod, hasty way. Let us have the reasons and an opportunity of considering them and when we do take a decision, let it be a deliberate decision and not a decision rushed through in a light-hearted way in a matter which has its importance in the constitutional history of this country.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

Speeches have been made about the constitutional position and, quite rightly, adequate reasons have been required for this proposal. I should like to suggest that when this pass system—which is intensely disliked by some of us—is being carried out, it should be carried out in a way more in accord with the usual traditions and courtesies of the officers of this House. I, personally, had a very unpleasant experience of this pass system. It was a very stormy and rainy day, I was wearing a heavy overcoat, carrying an umbrella in one hand and a bag in the other. I was suddenly accosted in the open by a constable who asked me for my pass. My umbrella had to be closed, my bag put down and my overcoat opened and I had to search through my papers before getting it. It took five minutes to get the pass. There was no urgency, no blitz, no special reason why a rainy day should have been chosen. I see the Lord Privy Seal laughing but it is not a laughing matter. As a medical man I know that a, trivial incident might lead to serious consequences. I suggest that it is very unpleasant to be kept out in the open in circumstances of that kind. It was unpleasant for the constable, too, and I am not blaming him. He was merely doing his duty. The whole pass system should be revised. If it is to be carried out it should be carried out reasonably and shelter should be afforded.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I do not want to speak after my right hon. and learned Friend. I do not want to give him all the advantages of defending counsel, but I would like to ask him one or two questions. Anxiety has been expressed by various Members with regard to procedure. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey), a Member may have his pocket picked or he may mislay his pass. If he can give definite satisfaction to the policeman on duty, will he be admitted even without a pass, or will the policeman be empowered to turn him away although fully satisfied from his own personal knowledge of the identity of the Member? Will a Member be refused admission on the technical ground that he cannot produce his pass? The statement has been made that many hon. Members have doubles in the country. I do not think I would make that charge against the great public. I think it is practically impossible, considering the various antics of several hon. Members—the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), for instance—to assert that they have doubles among the general public.

I want to ask what rights have Members of Parliament in this matter. How are we to know that the policeman who stops us at the gate is a bona fide policeman? If I am stopped at the gate by a policeman whom I know as a result of attending at the House for many years, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell me how I am to know whether the policeman may be a double? Am I authorised to ask the policeman for his authority to inspect the passes of Members? Am I entitled to ask for his pass as a policeman, or for a written authority from the Serjeant at Arms to inspect the passes of Members of Parliament? I want also to ask what passes are the policemen to inspect. I hold three passes. I hold a pass as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office—a Home Office pass; I hold a military identity card with a photograph attached, such as all hon. Members received—a military identity card for Members of Parliament. I hold also the blue card that was officially issued by the House. If a Member has forgotten one pass, can he produce another pass? I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend, as Leader of the House, has a special pass as a Member of the War Cabinet; I do not know whether he has a special pass for entering into Departments—many Members and many Under-Secretaries have, and Ministers certainly have, I would like to know whether, if a Mem- ber fails to produce one pass, the policeman will be entitled to admit the Member on his showing another type of pass. These are some of the points which make this Motion appear rather grotesque to me. The difficulties of new Members have been outlined. I would like to have a straight reply to the following question. Is the difficulty that certain hon. Members—a very small minority of them—who have always been in such a station of life and of such a character that they object to any small bit of trouble, have refused to show their passes with the same tolerance as the majority of hon. Members show them? Is this the real reason for the Motion? If so, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to state it clearly to the House.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

I should like to know why this Motion has been placed on the Order Paper without hon. Members having had any preliminary notice through the usual channels. There was no mention in our Whip of this matter, which does involve very important issues. It appears to be in some way an encroachment on the liberty and freedom of hon. Members. When one is constantly given the impression that Private Members' opinions on various matters are not desired by the Government, one cannot help feeling that the Government wish in some way to use this Motion as a step, and then to go on to some further method of control. One cannot help feeling that one ought to protest against this Motion being brought forward in this way and without any explanation of it being given through the usual channels. If it is a matter of routine, it surely ought to have been mentioned as a matter of routine. You, Mr. Speaker, as protector of the liberties of the House, would not have allowed this Motion to be on the Order Paper if it were definitely out of Order, but one does feel that one wishes to be reassured as to what are the motives behind it.

Obviously, there is no objection in times of grave crisis and at a time when there is a threat of immediate invasion to people being asked to produce sufficient proof of their identity. But is that all that is involved in this? One cannot help feeling—and recent actions of the Government have given one this feeling—a little bit insecure as to the position of Members of Parliament and as to the position of liberty of speech, even in this House—what one can say and cannot say. What is behind it? I feel that, far from being a little matter, this is a serious matter, and I think that the House ought to be given longer time to consider it. This Motion should not be passed at a small meeting of the House. If I were to call Mr. Speaker's attention in a certain way to the numbers of Members in the House, he would come to the conclusion that there were insufficient to carry on the Business. Under these circumstances it is insufferable that we should be asked to Debate and consider what may be a very important matter—we certainly have not had sufficient information about it—without any previous notice through the usual channels. I protest, and I suggest that this Motion should be taken back, and that after further consideration the Leader of the House should bring it up again in this form or in an amended form when Members have had an opportunity of being fully informed as to what are the reasons, instead of adopting this rather unseemly method of bringing forward an important matter.

Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)

I have been wondering what are the reasons for the change, and I have come to the conclusion that the reason is possibly that the policemen are always changing. The day still obtains when Mr. Speaker reads out at the opening of a Session that all Members of this House shall have free entrance. I have the feeling that we are not known as we used to be. I make a habit of trying, as it were, to win a prize for being the very first at the House. I was well known to the policeman in the Inner Lobby, who used to say every morning, "First again, your reverence." If we have a Division, and fortunately we do not have many in these times, I would be in some difficulty. I do not complain, but when I come down to the House I find that we do not get the same service as we used to. When we were seen approaching the House, a line was often made, and we got over the street, but now one has to find one's way in the general push of those who are seeking at the risk of their lives to get over. I am wondering whether that is one of the reasons why this Motion is put on the Order Paper. Perhaps it is because Members have become quite unknown, and, if we have not lost our identity, we have lost our distinction.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. James Stuart.]

Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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