HC Deb 12 December 1949 vol 470 cc2352-7
45. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Lord President of the Council whether the Government propose to find time to debate the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Aston before 16th December.

[That the matter of the complaint of the hon. Member for Ashford, referred to in the statement of Mr. Speaker on Monday, 5th December, be referred to the Committee of Privileges.]

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I fear that time is not available for the consideration of tny hon. Friend's Motion

Mr. Wyatt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Powell runs a lobbying agency in this House on the American principle and that his activities ought to be investigated, particularly the facilities he gets as secretary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Mr. Speaker said that it would be quite open for any hon. Member to put down a Motion, but there is no point in doing that unless it is debated. Is my right hon. Friend also aware that there is considerable anxiety in the House that this matter is, apparently, being allowed to go by default?

Mr. Morrison

I appreciate the point my hon. Friend raises, but the fact is that between now and Friday I am sure there is not time to deal with the matter and the Motion. Moreover, it would be for the Committee of Privileges to deal with it and to report to the House; and taking all this into account, I am afraid it is physically impossible.

Mr. Mathers

Is not this matter being erected into something of importance, whereas it is merely a question of tittle-tattle—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and is it not regrettable that an hon. Member on this side of the House should be doing the dirty work for someone else?

Hon. Members


Lord John Hope

Without prejudice to the case, surely the right way to look at it is in terms of harm being done to Mr. Powell until this thing is decided one way or the other? After all, grave accusations have been made against him, and it seems to me to be not fair to any citizen to have these charges bandied about, especially in the House of Commons, without any possibility of a reply.

Mr. Morrison

In the ordinary way what would have happened would have been for the matter to be raised as a matter of Privilege at the proper time. I am not blaming anyone, but Mr. Speaker did draw attention to the fact that it was not raised in time. The question for me is the provision of time for a special Motion, and I just have not got time.

Captain Crookshank

While it is quite true that the question of Privilege fell because it was not raised at the right moment, is it not rather unfortunate that time should be found this week for all sorts of Motions which are less urgent, and was it not implicit in Mr. Speaker's Ruling and is it not true that time could be found for this matter while this particular slur—if I may use the word—rests upon a gentleman, who is not a Member of this House, who is accused and whose case ought to be investigated by someone?

Mr. Morrison

All the matters which are being dealt with this week are matters of definite public interest, and that has to be kept in mind. If I may say so, with respect to you, Sir, quite properly, when faced with the question of the other alternative hon. Members had open to them, you pointed out that a Motion could be put down, but that in no way prejudiced the issue of whether time would be available to debate the Motion.

Mr. Benn Levy

On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a general question arising out of this Question, but without prejudice to the case? Do the Rules of Order make any distinction between ordinary lobbying by constituents and others for the purposes of ensuring that their point of view is duly considered by hon. Members—of which, of course, no one disapproves—and the activities of people who, for monetary gain, make a practice of contacting Members of Parliament with a view to influencing their actions, and who are employed and paid for that purpose by outside vested interests?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think I can give a definite Ruling on that. That is a matter which I think the House should decide for itself.

Sir I. Fraser

While recognising that there is a point as to the use of particular parts of this House, Committee corridors and so on, can it not be made clear that this gentleman is not accused of any crime, or even of bad behaviour, and that it is a very real service to hon. Members in all parts of this House to have technical help in bringing forward any proper case to present to Parliament?

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the very keen interest taken in this matter and the fact that the Minister says there is no time between now and Friday to discuss it, is it not possible, on a special matter of this kind, for the House to work longer hours, as we are advising other people to work longer hours?

Mr. Morrison

I am interested to know that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is advising other people to work longer hours.

Captain John Crowder

May I ask, Sir, whether you have had any report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as I understood you to say that the matter is now in their hands?

Mr. Speaker

I understand it is coming today and I propose to say something tomorrow.

Mr. Austin

May I ask for your advice and guidance, Sir, further to the advice which you tendered to the House last week and which was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) putting down the Motion? Is it not the case that such a Motion takes precedence over all other business in that respect?

Mr. Speaker

No. This is an ordinary Private Member's Motion and it has no precedence. I do not know whether we could save time over this matter, because, after all, this Session ends on Friday but another one presumably begins on 24th January, and it will be open to any Member to put down the same Motion again after that date.

Mr. Wyatt

Is my right hpn. Friend aware that there is also another reason why it is important that this matter should be investigated, namely, that there should seem to be no bar to a proper and impartial investigation. It has been said that Mr. Powell is a Freemason and that because he is a Freemason other persons are interested in seeing that this matter is not properly investigated.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of what his hon. Friend has now twice said in this House, will not the Lord President reconsider his decision and, in fairness to Mr. Powell, allow this matter to be discussed, even if it involves suspending the Rule on one night this week?

Mr. Morrison

I am afraid not, because there are two schools of thought in the House. One is that Mr. Powell has done something wrong and the other is that he is innocent. I am not pronouncing judgment on that, but in case there should be any misunderstanding of what my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) said, may I say that I am not a Freemason. The trouble is that even if time could be found for discussion of the Motion by suspending the Rule, the matter would not stop there. It would have to go to the Committee of Privileges, which would have to take some little time over it and which would report, and if the House wanted to debate that report, it is clear that those stages could not be completed by the end of the Session.

Captain Crookshank

Why does the right hon. Gentleman keep saying that the matter would have to go to the Committee of Privileges? There is no reason for it having to do anything of the sort.

Mr. Morrison

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting rather heated, but has he read the Motion? It terminates with the words be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Captain Crookshank

It does not follow that the Motion need be accepted. The matter could be ventilated in the House and the general opinion of the House taken. It might be that after that the House would negative the Motion but come to a general conclusion as to what ought to be done.

Mr. Morrison

In the circumstances of this case, that would not do either. I nearly got into trouble fairly recently because I thought that a case was pretty obvious and that the House could dispose of it summarily. I was met with the argument that it ought to go to the Committee of Privileges—and that was raised from the Opposition Front Bench—and the House so referred it. Here is a Motion which definitely proposes that the matter should go to the Committee of Privileges. Therefore, I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite wrong.

Sir T. Moore

In view of the biased and in my opinion unfair statement made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) in regard to this case, might I point out for the benefit of the House that I was concerned in this matter, and that I did ask Mr. Powell, as I could not be present at that Committee myself, to see that those in opposition to the Bill should co-ordinate their efforts and make known their opposition in the Committee.

Mr. Levy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my previous question I was at great pains to put it in general terms, and also to specify that I was putting it without prejudice to this case. As both the interests of Mr. Powell and the interests of this House are involved, and as you, Mr. Speaker, have also reminded us that there is no necessary presumption that there is not to be another Session, might I ask my right hon. Friend whether, since he has advanced as his only reason for opposing this Motion the consideration of time, he will tell us if he will sympathetically consider allowing time for this Motion during the next Session?

Mr. Morrison

Certainly, I will give perfectly fair and open-minded consideration to it in the next Session of Parliament.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, although he has quite accurately stated that there are two possible views on the point he mentioned, there is one point on which I think the House is unanimous, which is that no citizen should be condemned unheard? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that if no facilities are given to debate the Motion of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), Mr. Powell will necessarily lie under some suspicion for a long time?

Mr. Morrison

I have said nothing condemnatory about the matter at all. I have stated that there has been more than one view expressed about it. I do not think that there is really all that injustice being done.