HC Deb 22 November 1945 vol 416 cc598-600
Earl Winterton

A fortnight or three weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, I submitted a Question for your Ruling, on a point of Order. The Question was whether the Ruling that the acts or words of certain high officials of State could only be raised in the House on a substantive Motion, would be applicable to the Allied Court or International Tribunal sitting at Nuremberg; that is to say, is Lord Justice Lawrence protected from any criticism by way of Question and answer, or in Debate in this House, save on a substantive Motion as he would be if he were sitting as a judge of a British court? May I now ask you, Sir, if you can give your considered Ruling?

Mr. Speaker

As the Noble Lord knows, it has always been the practice to ask for the Ruling of the Chair on a matter which has actually arisen, and not on one which may arise in the future. I think, however, that the importance of the matter raised by the noble Lord justifies a departure from my usual practice.

Since the Allied Court now in session at Nuremberg is a tribunal of a totally unprecedented character, any Ruling which I give as to its status, in relation to the Rules of Debate in this House, cannot draw any support from precedent, but must in itself form a new precedent. I have, therefore, considered this matter very carefully in order to see how the spirit of our Rules can be applied to it, since the letter is inapplicable.

The Rule to which the Noble Lord has drawn my attention that reflections cannot be made on judges of the High Court and certain other courts, except by way of a substantive Motion, applies only to the courts of this country. In terms, therefore, it only covers the two British members of this tribunal. I feel that it would be worse than invidious—indeed improper—not to extend the same protection to their colleagues on this tribunal who represent the three other Allied Nations.

There is, however, another of our Rules of Debate which is relevant to this case, the Rule that matters which are sub judice should not be the subject of discussion in this House. This Rule again, in terms, applies only to British courts. The court in Nuremberg is a court in which British judges participate, and we have the same interest in seeing that nothing is done here to disturb its judicial atmosphere as we have in the case of British courts—indeed, perhaps a greater interest, since the eyes of the world are upon this new and difficult procedure of international justice, and the consequences of ill-advised interference might be incalculably mischievous.

I think that the intention of both the Rules to which I have referred, is to preserve the House from even the appearance of interfering in the administration of British justice—and this should include trials for which this country has some responsibility; and I rule, therefore, that all the members of this International Court are protected to the same extent as British judges, and that discussion of its proceedings is out of Order, in the same way as matters under adjudication in a British court of law.

Mr. McGovern

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, if you have fully considered whether this court is really a judicial tribunal, or a political tribunal?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a question for me to consider. That is a matter for the Government of this country, and, the court having been set up. I can only judge what should be the attitude of this House towards it.

Mr. Gallacher

Suppose a newspaper makes a report of this trial and in the course of it says something offensive about one of the prisoners, or takes it for granted that a prisoner is guilty. That would be sub judice in this country and the paper could be brought up for contempt of court. Will this tribunal be able to summon an editor from this country for contempt of court.

Mr. Speaker

That is hypothetical and a matter for the law. I give this Ruling because I do not think it would be right that we in this House should be able to criticise other judges not our own in this trial. That would be most improper.