HC Deb 19 July 1946 vol 425 cc1543-7

11.5 a.m.

Mr. W. J. Brown

Mr. Speaker, with your permission I wish to raise a matter about which I sent in a protest late last night. Yesterday we debated the issue of bread rationing in Britain. About midnight you accepted the Motion for the Closure, although at that time there were at least a dozen Members on their feet wishing to continue the Debate, which at that stage had lasted for only about four and-a-half hours. After that Division I raised a point of Order. I said that I wished to protest against the decision to accept the Motion for the Closure. It may be that I was out of Order in so doing. I do not think so. Any Member has the right, it seems to me, to protest against what he conceives, rightly or wrongly, to be unduly drastic action by the Chair. It may be that I was out of Order, and if you had said so I would have accepted, as I always have accepted, Rulings from the Chair. But you added the words: If the hour were not so late, I would order the hon. Member to withdraw from the Chamber. It is that phrase which I wish to raise. It seems to me that the lateness of the hour had nothing whatever to do with the question whether I was in Order or not. It seems to me that the implication in that statement was that if the hour had been 11 o'clock, or 10 o'clock, or 9 o'clock instead of about midnight, you would have ordered me to withdraw from the Chamber after making what seemed to me, rightly or wrongly, to be a perfectly proper protest against the acceptance of the Closure. I now ask, By what right did you address that remark to me? I had sat through the Debate. I had notified you of my wish to speak. You had a perfect right not to see me in that or in any other Debate, but I submit that you had no right to address that remark to me in the circumstances existing last night, and I ask by what right you did so.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

No one has a deeper respect for the Chair or for you personally, Mr. Speaker, than I have, but, as one of the hon. Members who were excluded from last night's Debate and were on their feet when you accepted the Closure, I wish to associate myself very respectfully with the protest voiced by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). I happen to be one of, I think, the only two practising millers in this House whose views on the subject of bread rationing might conceivably have been of some practical value to the discussion. I would remind you that when we had a recent previous Debate on the food situation I was the first Member of any party to put his name down to speak, yet, though I sat through the whole of the Debate, I did not succeed in catching your eye. Am I wrong in claiming that on such an occasion as last night I had a right to speak in this House freely as the elected representative of the people in my Division, as well as one who had some technical knowledge of the points at issue? I speak, Sir, with great respect.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid there must be some misunderstanding about this. In reply to the last question, I regret that, much as I wished, I was not able to call everyone. As regards the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), I am afraid that I thought that he, as an old Member, knew the Rules better than he appears to have done, and for that reason I said that if it had not been so late I would have asked him to withdraw from the Chamber. I thought he knew that he must have been offending on at least four counts by rising on a point of Order and by protesting against the Closure, the set purpose of which was obviously to get on with the vote which I had been instructed by the House to put. There was no object then in asking the hon. Member to withdraw from the Chamber, because other- wise there would have been no penalty. He would just have gone out and missed the vote; that would have been all. But had it been earlier, of course, he would have left the actual precincts for the whole of the day.

It was an offence on four separate counts. In the first place the hon. Member was challenging a vote of the House which had just been taken, and by which he is bound just as much as any other Member who voted. We are bound by the majority vote of the House. Secondly, he was casting a reflection on the vote of the House, which he cannot do except by substantive Motion. Thirdly, he was reflecting on the conduct of the Speaker, which again is out of Order and cannot be done except by substantive Motion. Lastly, it is clearly laid down—and this is in answer to both hon. Members—that reflections on the action taken by the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, or the House, on a Closure Motion, are not permitted. Nothing can be more definite than that. If the hon. Member had any grievance to raise, that was not the time to do it. He rather insisted in rising to a point of Order, which is one of the reasons I objected so strongly, seeing that I had been asked by the House to proceed forthwith to put the Question. If he had wanted to raise the matter, he should have done so after the second Division had been taken.

I am sorry about this misunderstanding. I had no feeling in the matter, but I thought I had better explain the matter quite clearly, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Rugby will acquaint himself with the Rules.

Mr. Brown

I appreciate now that I was out of Order in raising that matter in that way at that point. I regret that very much, and I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for what you have said about it.

Mr. Bowles

Further to that, both the hon. Members who have spoken this morning seemed to assume they had a right to speak because they had written indicating that they wanted to speak. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) said he had written. I think there is growing up a tendency on the part of hon. Members to think that if they write to Mr. Speaker or to the Chairman they have, for some reason or other—particularly if they are early in writing—a right to take part in a Debate. I was wondering whether at some time it might not be convenient, Mr. Speaker, for you to indicate that an hon. Member who writes and says he would like to speak in a Debate will not be favoured more than hon. Members who remain in their places throughout the Debate and try, in the normal way, to catch your eye.

Mr. Speaker

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). The practice of hon. Members writing is merely for the convenience of the Chair, so that it is known who wants to speak. It does not give any right whatsoever. After all, it is the duty of the Chair to look round to see who he thinks would best contribute to the Debate.

Sir John Mellor

Arising out of what you have said today, Mr. Speaker, although I admit you confirm what you said on a recent previous occasion in relation to something I said, when I complained of the Closure having been moved—when you said that my having complained after you had accepted the Closure was a reflection on the Chair—I would like, with your permission, to put this point. It has always been quite a tradition in this House that when the Closure is moved and accepted, hon. Members who object shout "Gag." I would submit that the exercise of that traditional privilege on the part of the Opposition is no less a reflection upon the Chair than the words I used the other night, when I said that the Closure had been "disgracefully moved." You then called me to Order and ordered me to withdraw my statement, on the ground that I had reflected upon the Chair, whereupon I did so. I submit that I was no more out of Order than other hon. Members who did at the time shout, "Gag".

Mr. Speaker

The answer to that is that it has always been the custom of the House that those who are aggrieved shout "Gag," or something of that sort. They are not shouting against the Chair; they are shouting against the Whip, or whoever moves the Closure. Therefore, there is nothing in that that is disrespectful to the Chair.

Sir J. Mellor

Further to that point, Mr. Speaker, I trust that last week I made it very clear, in express terms, that I was only criticising the moving of the Closure. I said that the Closure had been disgracefully moved. I certainly never meant to suggest that that applied to its acceptance.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

With regard to your previous Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on the general point, you will recollect that you said that you sought to call on speakers who could—I think your words were—"best contribute to the Debate." No doubt that is one of the considerations, but I hope you do not rule out of account the consideration that small minorities of certain parties in the House have sometimes, if not a right, at any rate a claim to be called upon to contribute, just because they represent small minorities of the House.

Mr. Speaker

The Speaker, the Chairman or whoever may be in the Chair has to take all these considerations into account.