HC Deb 23 March 1944 vol 398 cc1053-6
Mr. Buchanan

Last week-end, Mr. Speaker, I wrote you a letter, and with your permission I would like to read the letter, because I think it puts what I wish to say somewhat better and more clearly than, possibly, I could otherwise express it. I wrote you from the City of Glasgow last Friday: Dear Mr. SPEAKER,—I propose on Tuesday after Question Time to raise with you the Question of your receiving on behalf of the House of Commons a gift of a cinema. It is my view that before this was done, the House of Commons should have been consulted and I question the desirability of receiving such a gift. If a cinema be required, then it was for the House of Commons to provide for the funds for the same. There are one or two other questions which I do not propose to raise now, but I raise this issue: that on a question of this kind this House of Commons is the body to decide. I trust that you will be able to clear my mind on this issue. I take very serious exception to anybody, no matter who he is—and I have nothing against this gentleman—making such a gift, and I raise that issue with you.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for giving me notice of the Question which he has just put to me, though it is not a question which, under the Rules of Order, could normally be put, as it is not concerned with the proceedings of the House, and should not be regarded as a precedent for the future. I confess that it did not occur to me, nor, I am sure, did it occur to the Lord Chancellor, that this gift of a new projector required the preliminary authority of a Resolution of both Houses. The facts are that a cinema projector was originally installed in the Grand Committee Room at the end of 1941 by the Ministry of Information to show certain special films to Members. The Minister was then induced to leave the projector there in order that films might be provided for Civil Defence personnel who protect the Palace from fire by night, among whom, of course, are Members of Parliament. A number of instructional films were also shown from time to time to the Home Guard. In the summer of 1943 urgent repairs to the instrument became necessary; the Ministry of Information removed the projector, and later intimated that they were unable to return it.

At a meeting of the Fire Committee a few months ago the matter was mentioned and an hon. Member of this House said he might be able to help by arranging for the provision of a new apparatus. Subsequently this hon. Member reported that he had approached Mr. Rank, who had expressed his willingness to present such apparatus to the Houses of Parliament. It was generally agreed that a cinema apparatus would be a suitable addition to the amenities available in the Palace of Westminster. A meeting was held with the Ministry of Works, which agreed to bear the cost of the simple installation required, and the appropriate Government Departments were approached for the allocation and supply of the necessary additional apparatus. I may say that the ownership of this new projector is vested in the Lord Great Chamberlain. I think hon. Members generally will agree, and certain hon. 'Members who have been sharing in Civil Defence and Home Guard duties in the Palace will know, that the loss of the previous apparatus was widely felt, and all concerned had no doubt that there would be general satisfaction that the opportunity of seeing films in the Grand Committee Room was being restored. I am not at all disposed to differ from the hon. Member in his contention that gifts for the benefit of either House of Parliament have to be examined with care, in order to avoid the possible suspicion of indirect motive, but, as I have said, in the present case I think all who were concerned in this little ceremony regarded it as involving nothing more than a kindly action for which it was not inappropriate that thanks should be expressed by the Lord Chancellor and myself.

Mr. Buchanan

I want to thank you for the length of your answer, Mr. Speaker, but it does not satisfy me at all, and I say that frankly. First of all you make the case that the Civil Defence people required it. It may well be true, but it has nothing to do with the issue. The issue is that a citizen, a rich citizen, has endowed this House of Commons with a cinema—a rich citizen who may well be, any day, in conflict seriously with a Government Department. With all due respect to you, Sir, your answer has not allayed my anxiety, but much increased it, because I feel that the question of the wishes of Civil Defence and other workers has nothing whatever to do with the issue. It makes the position worse when the Minister of Information decided he would take this away. I cannot debate the matter now, but I give notice to you that I cannot allow it to rest as it is, and I must reserve my right as a Member to go into it further, no matter how many may agree to that, because I think the House ought to be safeguarded from what is a very wrong and shocking practice.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if you made inquiries whether, when the other projector was declared to be out of action, the Ministry of Information had not available one of their projectors of the mobile type commonly used by them and now available in many local areas, which have not the facilities we have in this House?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member seems to think that I alone was taking action. The Fire Committee was really the responsible committee. The responsibility really lay with the Lord Great Chamberlain's Department. They have control of the building, but I do know that all those inquiries were made and that nothing could be got.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you consulted the precedents in this regard? Have you ascertained whether there was any precedent for those associated with this building accepting a gift from an outsider, or is this the first instance of it?

Mr. Speaker

I could not say without notice, though I am sure that many gifts have been made from outsiders.

Mr. Bowles

I feel that this is a matter of great constitutional significance. I am perfectly certain that the country is worried about it as well. I was wondering, Mr. Speaker, whether you would not consult with the Lord Chancellor and ask him to see the Lord Great Chamberlain and have the gift handed back.

Mr. Gallacher

I was going to suggest that the best solution would be to give Mr. Rank his projector back and we will raise the money here. I am sure that within a day I could raise the money. I would subscribe myself and I am sure that within a day I could raise the money.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. May I respectfully suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that if we are to have a continuance of what is, in effect, a Debate under the guise of questions those of us who wish to put the other side of the case will wish to speak? Would it not be more convenient if hon. Members on this side who wish to discuss this matter would put down a substantive Motion criticising either yourself or the gift?

Mr. Buchanan

I only rise to say that I need no lectures from the Noble Lord on procedure.

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to suggest anything to the House, but it seems that we are now getting a little away from the Business and as perhaps we are getting a little heated I suggest that we may now go on to the other Business.

Forward to