§ Considered in Committee [Progress, 24th March.]
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
On a point of Order. On the last occasion when we were considering this Bill in Committee I raised a point of Order with the Temporary Chairman, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), as to whether a document which was quoted by the Home Secretary was a State paper, and if so, whether, in accordance with the established Rule, it should not be laid on the Table. The hon. Member who was then in the Chair did not, of course, have notice of this point of Order, and he ruled:If a Minister quotes from a paper, or a State paper in the House that paper should be laid on the Table, but we are not in the House now; we are in Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1948; Vol. 448, C. 3127.]I accepted the Ruling of the Temporary Chairman, although it did not accord with my recollections of previous Rulings given by your predecessors, Major Milner. I later consulted Erskine May, and I found some support for my point of view. Accordingly, later in the Session I raised this matter with the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, and I asked if he would cause a Ruling to be given. I do not propose to trouble the Committee with all the precedents, dating back to 1808, but I would point out that those interested in the matter will find an admirable account given to the House on 31st May, 1938, by Viscount Stansgate, better known as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I think this matter is sufficiently important to be raised at this stage, and I venture therefore to inquire whether it would not be convenient for you, Major Milner, to make a statement now, assuring us that documents quoted by a Minister are liable to be required to be laid on the Table not only in the House but in Committee.
§ The Chairman
I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising this point. The simple question is whether a paper from which quotations are made in the course of a Debate in Committee of the Whole House 1636 should be laid on the Table of the House. The difficulty which very naturally occurred to the mind of the hon. Member who was at that time temporarily in the Chair was the analogy of the courts. It seemed somewhat anomalous that documents quoted in Committee of the Whole House could be required to be laid before the Horse itself, which is theoretically a different body. I am not aware that that technicality has ever been considered before. I have now had an opportunity to consider it. The purpose of the Rule is to make the document concerned available to the body before whom it is cited. In my opinion, a document presented to the House should be available to a Committee of the Whole House. I am of the opinion, therefore, that the Chairman of a Committee of the Whole House may properly rule that a Minister, quoting a document in Committee of the Whole House, ought to lay that document on the Table. In my view, his position in that respect does not differ from that of Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy-Speaker when in the Chair of the House. I hope that that may clear up the matter. I ought to add that the question does not now arise in the case of the particular document read by the Home Secretary because it is now recorded in HANSARD.
§ Mr. Butcher
I thank you, Major Milner, for your guidance and for going to the trouble to give this Ruling, which reinforces the Ruling given by Sir Dennis Herbert in 1938.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I apologise for not having given notice of this, but Standing Committees should also be given some thought in regard to this procedure. Perhaps a Ruling could be given in this respect on some other occasion.
§ The Chairman
That matter does not arise today, but no doubt could be dealt with by the proper authority on some other appropriate occasion.