HC Deb 22 March 1948 vol 448 cc2584-6
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Major Milner)

I shall be grateful if with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House I may make a personal statement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has been an occasional client of the firm of solicitors of which I am a member. Without my knowledge, and in my absence in the North a week ago, the right hon. Gentleman gave instructions to a partner in the firm on what he, the right hon. Gentleman, felt were very serious reflections alleged to have been made upon him in a B.B.C. broadcast by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). The right hon. Gentleman later saw me, which was the first I heard of the matter.

I observed from the script that other hon. Members of this House were mentioned as having also made the statements of which complaint was made. It occurred to me at once that here were all the possibilities of trouble and recrimination, and that it was extremely desirable to bring about an amicable settlement, and that, knowing all the hon. Members concerned, I could be of help to that end. I had, however, to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham, who felt very strongly about the matter. After discussion the right hon. Gentleman agreed to be content with a withdrawal and an apology, but he was extremely anxious that letters should be despatched at once to the B.B.C. and to the hon. Member. I thereupon dictated and signed letters in the firm's name on the right hon. Gentleman's behalf to both the B.B.C. and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. I later saw the hon. Member who told me that he was not proposing to be represented by any solicitor. I said I thought the matter could be settled amicably and that I was very willing to do anything I could to help, but, of course, the hon. Member must do what he thought right. The hon. Member, however, said he was quite willing to apologise and I then told him that if he would do so, I felt sure that that would dispose of the matter. The hon. Member has since written the right hon. Gentleman a letter of regret and the differences between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member are, I am glad to say, happily composed.

On reflection, however, I have realised that the action taken by me in writing the letter to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, however well intentioned and even in a matter outside the House, might be interpreted as a deviation from the principle of impartiality which should govern the Chair and that I should have been wiser to have referred the right hon.

Gentleman to another solicitor. I need hardly say I fully recognise the absolute necessity for the Chair to be impartial, and that that impartiality should not only exist in fact, but that there should be every appearance of it. I have, therefore, thought it right, Mr. Speaker, to make this statement to the House and to say in so far as there has been departure from that principle I feel I have made an error of judgment and for that, Mr. Speaker, I express my very sincere apologies to the House. I can only ask the House to forgive me.

Mr. Emrys Huģhes

So far as I am involved, I wish to say how much I appreciate the statement made by Mr. Deputy-Speaker and to say there is nothing rankling in my mind for the action he took in the matter.

Mr. Churchill

It would be quite improper for us to debate a statement of this character on this occasion, unless the Prime Minister has any observations to make, but it appears to me that it will require some consideration before it finally passes from the consideration of the House.