HC Deb 07 May 1952 vol 500 cc397-417

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I beg to move, That this House regrets the action of Mr. Speaker in accepting a Motion for the closure after calling the honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and before the same had had the opportunity to speak. I hope it is unnecessary to assure you, Sir, that the Motion has been put down and is being moved in all good faith, without any kind of personal malice, and in the exercise of a right without which the House of Commons could scarcely continue according to its old traditions. I shall endeavour to move it without ill-humour, without any kind of partisanship I hope, and certainly without any party bias. For I can consider nothing more unfortunate, nothing more hostile to the spirit and tradition of the House of Commons than that you, Sir, or any other occupant of the Chair, should become the shuttlecock between the Government and Opposition or between party and party, or that Motions of this kind should be subject to any collective action or party discipline among the various groups and parties which make up the House of Commons.

On the other hand, it would be uncandid to pretend that the Motion has not been put down under a serious sense of grievance which is shared by many hon. Members. Indeed I think it would be wholly improper to put down such a Motion or to ask for time to discuss it unless those who had taken the responsibility of putting the Motion upon the paper and of moving it felt that what was involved was something of substance. It is not for Members of the House of Commons to take an action of this kind on a matter which they themselves consider to be trivial or merely incidental.

In order to see what it is that caused a certain amount of feeling among some Members on the occasion to which the Motion refers, it is necessary to refer to what the Standing Orders provide. I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, to Standing Order No. 29, paragraph (1), which reads: After a question has been proposed a Member rising in his place may claim to move, ' That the question be now put,' and, unless it shall appear to the chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the question, 'That the question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate. From that it is, I think, clear that you, Sir, except in certain circumstances, have no option or discretion in the matter of a Motion for the Closure. It is not a question whether you consider that the debate has gone far enough, or whether all the available points have already been debated, or any question of that kind—although sometimes that kind of consideration is relevant on another Standing Order to another dilatory Motion—the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. Where the Closure is claimed to be moved in that way, you have no option whatever to refuse it except in the circumstances set out quite clearly I think in a way that does not permit of any kind of ambiguity—in the Standing Order itself.

The circumstances which give Mr. Speaker a discretion as to whether he will or not allow the Motion are two: first, if Mr. Speaker considers that the Motion is an abuse of the rules of the House; or second, that without being an abuse of the rules of the House it is an infringement of the rights of the minority. If either of those two circumstances are present, then Mr. Speaker ought not to accept the Motion. I would venture to suggest that there is a third circumstance, although not mentioned in the Standing Order.

I think it is generally accepted—one might say universally accepted—that one of the most important functions of Mr. Speaker is the protection of the rights of an individual private Member against what may be called official Members or combinations of Members. I think it would be conceded that if a Motion for the closure were an infringement of an individual Member's undoubted rights, all Speakers would hold that it was either an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, or both. I think it fair to put that in as a third possible way of putting the matter, although it is not specifically so put in the Standing Order.

I concede at once that I have no basis whatever for my Motion unless I can satisfy the House and, with submission, satisfy you, Sir, that the acceptance of the Motion for the Closure on this occasion was an infringement of that Standing Order within those limitations. I hope to satisfy the House and you that in the circumstances to which the Motion refers the acceptance of the Closure was, in fact, an infringement of all three, and it is only for that reason that my hon. Friends and I thought it proper to put the Motion down.

In order to see whether it was or was not an infringement of all three or of any one of those circumstances, I hope the House will have patience with me while I refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT recording the incident itself. It is to be found in the Parliamentary Debates published on Thursday, 24th April, 1952, columns 630 and 631, but mainly at column 630. It occurred at about 2 a.m.—that is to say, during an all-night Sitting—on an occasion when, it is not irrelevant to notice, the House was debating a Guillotine Motion. The House was having an all-night Sitting in order to assert its rights —at any rate so my hon. and right hon. Friends considered—to full discussion of matters which the House was called upon to decide. It was an unforunate concomitant circumstance that this incident should have arisen in a context of that kind.

Now, what happened? An Amendment had been moved to the Government Motion on the Guillotine. That Amendment was a new Amendment; that is to say, it related to a part of the Guillotine Motion which up to that point had not been subject to any examination. Up to that point the Amendments and discussion had related to the time allotted in the Guillotine Motion to the Committee stage, and the Amendment then under discussion was the very first Amendment, and I think the only Amendment, which related to the time allotted in the Guillotine Motion to the Report stage. It was felt—and it is clear from the discussion that many hon. Members so felt—that wholly new considerations applied to this Amendment from those which had applied to Amendments discussed up to that point.

The debate on the Amendment was very short. It was after a very short time that the Leader of the House, the Minister of Health, intervened to reply. When he sat down, it was generally felt at any rate on this side of the House that he had not replied to the points which had been made—certainly not adequately and fully —and a number of Members rose to continue the debate. Now, Sir, I draw your attention especially to the fact—as is quite clear from the OFFICIAL REPORT—that at that moment it had not occurred to anybody that the debate had gone far enough. The Government Chief Whip who subsequently moved the Motion for the Closure, did not think, when the Leader of the House sat down, that there ought to be no more debate; he did not get up then; the idea had not yet occurred to him. And even when a number of hon. Members on this side of the House, and, I think, one or two on the Government benches, had risen to continue the debate, it did not occur to him that the debate had gone far enough.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

How does the hon. Gentleman know?

Mr. Silverman

Because I was here. I am assuming that if it had occurred to him at that stage, he would have done it. Others may draw other inferences, but the inference I am drawing, which I submit is not an unreasonable one, is that when the Government Chief Whip thinks the time has come to claim to move the Closure, he claims to move the Closure, and that if he does not claim to move the Closure it is because he does not think the time has yet come to do so. That is the only inference I am inviting hon. Members to accept, I think not unfairly. I infer myself, and I invite the House to infer, from the fact that the Government Chief Whip did not get up at that point, that at that point he did not think of doing so.

When a number of Members got up, it became your duty, Sir, to select one, and you selected my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard). I submit that at that point my hon. Friend had certain rights. He had no right to speak until he was called, but having been called, he was then in possession of the Floor; he had caught your eye, he had been accorded by you the right to address the House. Anything that prevented him from doing so would be an infringement, at any rate, of his rights. Before my hon. Friend had time to open his mouth, the right hon. Gentleman the Government Chief Whip got up and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put." I invite the House to realise that nothing had changed from a few seconds before, when he did not claim any such right, except that you had selected my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy to speak.

That is not all that we now know, because I think it is conceded—I have heard it said—that if some other hon. Member, and especially if some other right hon. Member had been called, the right hon. Gentleman would not have claimed the right to move, "That the Question be now put" at that stage. I think it is quite clear and is not disputed that there had been, as there often is—I am not complaining of it, and I certainly do not dispute it—an arrangement whereby my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) should reply; and later in the proceedings I heard the Government Chief Whip explain that he had not got up to claim to move, "That the Question be now put" immediately that the Leader of the House sat down because he had expected that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock would at that point have risen.

If that is right, what the right hon. Gentleman was doing was this. He was claiming to move, "That the Question be now put," he was claiming to exercise his right to do that, in order to distinguish between one Member of the House and another. It follows quite clearly that if the right hon. Gentleman would not have moved, or claimed to move, the Motion if one Member had been selected by you, but would claim to move it if another Member was selected by you, he was not merely usurping your functions in the selection of speakers, but the moving or the claiming to move, "That the Question be now put," in those circumstances and for those reasons, was a clear abuse of the rules of the House. I should have thought that it was very difficult to come to any other conclusion than that about it.

It is said, and was said by you, Sir, in reply to a point of order on the occasion in question, that it is a very frequent thing for Motions of Closure to be accepted, even while a Member is actually addressing the House; and you, Sir, noted an occasion—I think some of us remember it, too—when a Government Chief Whip moved the Closure at a moment when a fellow occupant of his own Front Bench was addressing the House. There may be many occasions when such a thing is perfectly proper and perfectly right.

Although I have not been a Member of the House as long as some other Members, I have been a Member very nearly 17 years. I have been a fairly constant attender of the debates, and I have done my best in 17 years, no doubt very imperfectly, to follow our proceedings and understand our business. I have never known, in all those 17 years, any occasion on which an hon. Member who has been called by Mr. Speaker to address the House has been immediately prevented from doing so by the same Speaker accepting a Motion for the Closure before the hon. Member has commenced to speak.

If you put all those things together, one of which you may not have known—the reason which the right hon. Gentleman had for not moving the Motion, the fact that he did not move it when his right hon. Friend concluded his speech, that he did not move it when a number of people got up and claimed the right to speak but moved it only after you, Sir, had selected the next speaker—they amount to an abuse of the rules of the House, to an infringement of the rights of minorities, and certainly to an infringement of the undoubted right of my hon. Friend, who had been called to speak, to address the House.

One other thing, and then I have finished. Of course, had there been some kind of unofficial arrangement between the two Front Benches that the discussions should at a particular moment cease, which arrangement was not known to occupants of the back benches, and if the Standing Order and its procedure were being used merely to give effect to an unofficial arrangement of that kind between the two Front Benches, then I think I should be right in saying that if you had known of any such thing, you would not have accepted the Closure Motion and would not have regarded that as an appropriate use of the procedure under Standing Order 29.

One can imagine what harm it would do to the prestige and dignity of the House if arangements of that kind were made, if in pursuance of them Motions for Closure were made and accepted by the Chair, and we should then all solemnly troop through the Division Lobbies with the Whips on in order to vote against what the Front Benches had agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

I had no intention of intervening in the discussion, but I think that I ought to clear one matter out of the way, as I am the only person who can give evidence upon it. It is to say quite categorically that I had no approach made to me by either Front Bench in this matter and that there was no question of any accommodation between them. Their attitude towards one another was not at all that of fellow conspirators. If hon. Members will excuse the expression, it was more like that of Kilkenny cats. I should say that if they were not at daggers drawn, they were at least at arm's length.

Mr. Silverman

I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker, for that intervention, which, of course, I accept at once and without question. Indeed, I prefaced this part of what I had to say by saying—I certainly intended to say it, and I think I said it—that I did not suppose you had any knowledge of such circumstances, nor do I know whether any such circumstances obtained. I was putting the point forward purely hypothetically, and I said that if that had been the situation and if you had had knowledge of it, you would certainly have regarded it as an abuse of the Standing Order and would not then have accepted the Motion as you did. Of course, since you did not know anything about it and since it may not even have been the case, the argument can only be hypothetical and academic.

I hope that hon. Members, whether they agree with me or not, will agree that I have put the matter fairly and without passion. I have tried to be fair to the facts as I understand them to be, and I hope I have not imported any undue heat into the matter.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. J. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I have associated myself with this Motion because, in the surrounding circumstances of that early morning, I consider that a most unfair decision and judgment was exercised. I have no personal antagonism, because, Mr. Speaker, when you were nominated for the Chair I had such a high regard for your character and fairness that I sat in the House and did not cast any vote at all. I felt that while I could not vote for you, I was not prepared to oppose you as against the other nominee for the Chair.

On the occasion when this issue arose. I could not put it into a completely separate compartment from things happening in the debate and in the House. On that evening, every time the Whip moved that the Closure be applied, there was not a single occasion on which you, Mr. Speaker, said that the matter had not been discussed fully enough and refused to accept the Motion. There has been a growing tendency in this House, especially in Committee, in my estimation, for the Chair to become more the servant of the party than the servant of the House, and because of that I resented it.

I do not apply that to one party; I apply it to both sides. Whoever is the Government of the day, the Whip, in order to facilitate business, is inclined to ride roughshod over the private Members of the House and become rather a party servant than the servant of the House. On that evening, I thought it was carried to an extreme degree, and I agree with all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).

I thought that, when you had called my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard), the Whip suddenly sprang to attention like a sergeant-major on the parade ground—or as if a pin had been inserted into the lower part of his body, or as if he had wakened from a dream—and moved the Closure. I thought that in common decency you would have said you were not prepared to accept the Motion for the Closure and, the speech being of short duration, you would have asked for the Motion to be moved again. I was incensed that that was not done; I was incensed at the growing encroachment on the rights of private Members which I have seen, and at the Whips taking unto themselves too much power and exercising too much power over individual Members. It becomes the duty of private Members to resist what they conceive to be an encroachment on their rights as private Members.

With the best feeling in the world for you, Mr. Speaker, in the Chair, I am bound to say that I thought that, on the evidence of that night, you acted in an unjust manner to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. I say further that had it been an hon. Member opposite—I ask them to accept this—I would have moved in the same direction. I regret the necessity for associating myself with a Motion of this kind, but, as time has gone by, I have had no regrets, and I think it essential for the protection of hon. Members and of their rights and liberties, that this matter should be voiced and that the Chair should always remember that it is the servant of the House and not of any party in the House.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devon-port)

I put my name to this Motion and I wish to add a few brief sentences to that has been said. During the debate on the Guillotine, when this incident arose, statements were made, with the support of undisputed figures, that showed there had been an increasing use of the instrument of the Closure during this Parliament. Indeed, in this Parliament the Closure has been used much more frequently than we have known in recent Parliaments. In my view, it was partly the increased use of the Closure which led to this incident and to this Motion.

At the time of the discussions which took place in the Select Committee on Procedure, which sat in 1945-46, reference was made to this matter by the Speaker at that time, who reported to that Select Committee and indicated that if the Closure were to be very much more frequently used, it was bound to lead to difficulties for the Chair.

I think it is well known to hon. Members who were present during debates on the Guillotine Motion and in previous weeks that at the time when the Closure had been moved on a number of occasions there had been a considerable amount of noise in the House. I have no doubt that is a very frequent occurrence on such occasions, but there were also a great number of points of order raised at the time by hon. Members asking about the circumstances in which the Closure was being moved and accepted. I think everyone must agree that it is a useless and hopeless way of raising such matters to raise points of order at the time the Closure has been accepted because when Mr. Speaker has accepted the Closure, it is not right to discuss his decision taken at that time. Therefore, if an hon. Member wishes to raise such a matter, the only way he can do so is by putting down such a Motion as this.

I submit that it would be dangerous for our procedure if there were a repetition of the incidents which occured on that evening, and that the only open way in which such a matter can be brought to the attention of the House is for it to be discussed in this fashion. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that an error of judgment had been committed, and therefore I put my name to this Motion, and I support it today.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

No one can deny the right of hon. Members to raise this matter and I, for one, do not deny the moderation with which they have stated their case. Incidentally, there seem to be two cases, that raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) directly due to your action, and that of the other hon. Members or, the use of the Closure and the power of the Whips.

I do not deny the right of any hon. Member to raise these matters any more than one can deny the right of any hon. Member to raise a question of Privilege, but, just as it is agreed that raising questions of Privilege lightly and inadvisedly may do injury to the Privileges of this House, so I believe that the raising of this matter today is playing with fire. Everything in our Parliamentary democracy depends upon the dignity of the Chair, which means not only respect for the Chair by individual Members, but also the dignity and the majesty and the solemnity displayed by a holder of your office.

If the House gets into the way of frequently putting down Motions criticising your behaviour—I am not speaking, of course, individually—criticising Mr. Speaker's behaviour, inevitably it will end in a cheapening of the respect paid to the holder of your office. I hold the view that either we trust Mr. Speaker and want to keep him and maintain the dignity and respect in which he is held, or we want to get rid of him. If we want to get rid of him, a solemn and proper Motion should be put down to that effect. But a policy of pinpricks can do nothing but harm.

For that reason, I deeply regret the action of hon. Members opposite who put down this Motion. I do not regret it from a party point of view, but from the point of view of, I hope, a good House of Commons man. I issue this warning to the House: a policy of constant criticism and constant sniping at what you, Sir, do, or at what is done by the occupant of the Chair, can do nothing but harm to the institution which every single person in this House holds in the deepest respect and veneration.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

I do not intend to speak for many minutes, but as one who was present on the occasion of the incident to which the Motion relates, I feel that I ought to say a word or two in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard). In reply to the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), I would say that there is no intention on the part of my hon. Friends and myself constantly to put down Motions criticising the conduct of the Chair. I would, however, remind him that the last occasion on which that was done was when a Motion was moved by the hon. Member's own right hon. and hon. Friends regarding the conduct of Mr. Deputy-Speaker in the last Parliament. We did not dispute their right to do so.

I am certain that on this occasion it was only because they felt that it was the culmination of a series of incidents which have taken place in the course of this Parliament that my hon. Friends put this Motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Nicholson

I did at that time disapprove of the action of my own party quite as strongly. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member did not say so."] I regretted it. Of course I accept the hon. Member's statement that there is no intention on his part or on the part of his hon. Friends to be constantly putting down Motions, but it is on all fours with bringing up questions of Privilege—once it is started it becomes a habit, and I am not concerned about which side does it. It is a bad habit.

Mr. Hoy

Perhaps that is a bad habit which the hon. Member might slip into, but in that matter he can speak only for himself and not for other hon. Members on this side of the House.

It is true to say that the incident with which this Motion is concerned was the culmination of earlier events. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has quoted to the House in a previous debate the number of occasions on which the Motion "That the Question be now put," had been accepted by the Chair both in Committee and in the House, and has proved conclusively that the number of occasions on which such a Motion had been moved far outstripped anything which this Parliament or any other in the past six or seven years had approved.

One cannot forget the action of the Patronage Secretary on that occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, who cannot be accused by anyone of wasting the time of the House, and who had not even spoken during the whole course of the night and early morning, rose to make a speech. The Patronage Secretary, without any consideration for the position of my hon. Friend, rose to move the Closure Motion.

The reason the Motion which we are now discussing is on the Order Paper is the fact that you yourself, Sir, had called on my hon. Friend to address this House. The acceptance of the Closure Motion immediately you had called on my hon. Friend to speak was resented by nearly everyone present in the House at the time. The Motion now before the House was the outcome of that resentment. One is sorry that this action has had to be taken, but it was the only course open to my hon. Friends.

I am certain that I speak for every Member on this side of the House in saying that we will do everything in our power to uphold the dignity of Mr. Speaker and of this House of Commons. But I am certain we shall also expect that Mr. Speaker will safeguard the rights of Members, and that we shall never see in this House in the future the occupant of the Chair, having called upon a back bencher to address the House, being met with a Closure Motion by the Patronage Secretary, whatever Government may be in office.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

I wish to intervene briefly because it is very necessary for the House to address its mind to what are the real issues in this matter. They have been differently represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) presented perfectly correctly what are the issues in this matter, but the two hon. Members who followed him, the hon. Members for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and Devonport (Mr. Foot), both made entirely different cases.

The hon. Member for Shettleston really made a general complaint that the Closure had been accepted on that occasion, and said that the matter had not been fully and properly discussed. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne made it perfectly clear that that is not really one of the issues in this matter.

Mr. McGovern

I did not say that. I said that Mr. Speaker had accepted the Motion and that I thought he ought to have waited, having called on my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard) and have then asked for the Motion to be moved again.

Mr. Marlowe

The hon. Member said that there was involved the question whether there had been adequate discussion or not. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne rightly said that that was not one of the issues. The hon. Member for Devonport really made a general attack on the use of the Closure, which did not seem to me relevant to this discussion.

The point, which was correctly stated by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, was whether there had been any infringement of the rights of a minority. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, who rose to speak, is a Member of the party opposite and does not himself represent a minority. Therefore, the question was whether the views of the party opposite had been expressed on that occasion. No hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has for a moment suggested that the views of the Opposition had not been made known on that occasion. Therefore, the point whether there had been any infringement of the rights of minorities is clearly disposed of, because no unexpressed minority existed on that issue at that point.

Mr. S. Silverman

That is not quite what I said. I agree with the hon. and learned Member that I did say that the question under Standing Order No. 29 has nothing whatever to do with the question whether the matter has been adequately discussed or not. I did say that; it is the right view. But in the course of setting out the circumstances, I pointed out that the Amendment on which we were engaged at the time had had a very short run indeed, and that many Members on this side of the House felt that the arguments put forward had not been answered and that there had not been adequate discussion. I agree that that might not be relevant now.

Mr. Marlowe

I was dealing only with the question of the infringement of the rights of minorities.

The point which the hon. Member has now mentioned relates to the other matter which he said was in issue; that is, whether what was done on that occasion was an abuse of the processes of the House. It would be such an abuse if a Closure Motion were accepted after virtually no discussion of the matter before the House. No evidence has been produced on this occasion that any argument was left unstated the voicing of which was thereby precluded by acceptance of the Motion. As no evidence has been produced, it follows that there can have been no abuse of the processes of the House.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)


Mr. Marlowe

I do not intend to give way. The issues have been correctly stated but the case has not been made out. I hope that in those circumstances the House will not think it necessary to proceed further with the Motion.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) for raising this matter. I think he knows that I had some apprehension about the rightness of his action. I did not put my name to this Motion, and would not do so, because I did not see the incident and, indeed, because I am not in full agreement with my hon. Friend on the point as he has put it.

I think that he regrets, as we all regret, that the rules of this House make it necessary for us to use a sledge hammer for this purpose—and that there is nothing else which can be done—instead of our being able to adopt some more sensible method of raising such an important procedural point. The whole House will, I think, regret the refusal of the Leader of the House to find time for this Motion straight away. That has meant that this Motion which, although in its terms is a censure on the Chair, was never intended as censure in that sense, but has to be used in that sense because it is the only method available, has remained on the Order Paper for 10 days without discussion.

May I put the position of back bench Members in this matter? I do not want to pursue the facts, but I personally have put points of order. I have raised a whole series of these points. On one occasion I asked your leave, Sir, or it may have been the leave of another occupant of the Chair—frankly I have not searched the records for this and I do not for one moment challenge the Ruling which was given—to call attention to the fact that the Closure was apparently about to be moved by the Government Chief Whip; and I asked whether it was possible to raise a point upon it before it was moved. The Chair ruled that that was impossible, and I do not challenge that for a moment.

On another occasion, immediately after the Closure had been moved, I sought to raise a point of order to see whether it was right to accept it in the circumstances. The Ruling was that it could not he raised after the Closure had been moved. In other words, no point of order can be put at any stage on the moving of the Closure in the course of the debate.

I do not want to make any reflection on any occupant of the Chair, but I believe that in the last few months I have heard one observation from the Chair more frequently than I ever heard it during the preceding seven years. Whenever we have raised a point of order, the tendency has been for the discussion to be terminated by the occupant of the Chair with the observation, "If the hon. Member does not agree, he can put down a Motion. "That has been said time and again. I do not challenge it, but I do say that if that is said often enough, perhaps when one does feel aggrieved the temptation to put down a Motion becomes a little pressing.

We are therefore in this dilemma. My hon. Friends and I are told that we cannot raise a point of order before the Closure is moved, and we cannot raise it after it has been moved; and when my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) sought to raise it after the Division had been called, he again was told that no useful purpose would be served.

Now we have the Motion of my hon. Friend, and, after all, there is a personal issue here, although I do not say for a moment that it prompted my hon. Friend to move this Motion. But two hon. Members of this House have been suspended from the service of the House over questions arising at the time the Closure was moved. My hon. Friend was in fact suspended by a Ruling that he was on his feet when the Chairman was on his feet and that he so remained on his feet; whereas a week later I was the victim of a Ruling that, because I had not risen to my feet when the Chairman was on his feet and had not made my intention clear that I desired to intervene, I lost my chance to intervene.

We are therefore faced with this genuine dilemma, and I say that with all sincerity. I have listened to the speeches of other hon. Members who, I believe, spoke sincerely; in fact, I believe that everyone wishes to speak sincerely on this point. I do not think anyone wishes for one moment to challenge or undermine the position of the Chair. I am sure that was never in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, nor do I think he will try to force a Division on this Motion. Had the Leader of the House given time to finish it, the matter could have been disposed of much more easily and in the same spirit as that in which I hope it will be disposed of today.

I believe that the Ruling which you gave, Mr. Speaker, was technically right and clearly within the rules, and that my hon. Friend is wrong in his Motion in saying that you were out of order in doing what you did—

Mr. S. Silverman

I do not say for a moment that what was done cannot be supported by a literal reading of the Standing Order. What I am saying is that it is sometimes unwise to do what one may have a perfect right to do.

Mr. Hale

I am now in complete agreement with my hon. Friend, because that was much what I proposed to say. I would, with respect, suggest that it may not occur to the Chair that, when an hon. Member is called by the Chair to address the House and then his speech is immediately terminated, it may convey to people who do not know the rules of this House an imputation upon the hon. Member and he may get reported a little unfairly in the local newspaper. It may convey that the hon. Member appeared to be disorderly, or to be about to make observations likely to be disorderly, and so on. It does seem to me that the summary termination of a speech in the first sentence or so may be a very real hard-ship—

Mr. Silverman

Or before a word has been spoken.

Mr. Hale

Or, as my hon. Friend has said, before a word has been spoken. There was a previous instance where a few words had been spoken.

I venture to say also that it seems to me there ought to be some other procedure whereby we might, with the respect we owe to the Chair and the respect we owe to you, Sir, make representations on matters of this kind, about which I do say with sincerity there has been some feeling over these weeks. It has been said that there has been a tendency to accept the Closure time after time after a shorter interval than usual, and there has been a tendency to accept the Closure more often than it has been accepted in recent times, as, indeed, is shown by the figures. It has been accepted 37 times in this Parliament, which is as many times as it was accepted in the whole of the last Parliament, and it has never been refused.

Mr. Marlowe

When the hon. Gentleman refers to the number of times the Closure may have been accepted in this Parliament and the Parliament before, is he including the number of times it was accepted in Committee upstairs?

Mr. Hale

Oh, no certainly not.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I myself heard it refused three times in one morning. It was on a Friday morning on Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Hale

I am now, of course, referring to the action of the Government Chief Whip in moving the Closure. The hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) should know that. We have kept a fairly high standard up to now and I have tried not to enter into the realms of controversy. I should have thought that every hon. Member knew that what we are talking about is a Motion by the Government Chief Whip. I am trying to put this in as temperate a manner as possible.

I consider the whole procedure is grossly unfair to you. Mr. Speaker. I do not think the Chair ought to have to be challenged in this form in order to raise a procedural point. We ought to try to find some method by which it would be possible to make representations to the Chair on matters of importance affecting the rights of private Members without having to go through this archaic procedure.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

The hon. Member can always write.

Mr. Hale

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate), who has not the courtesy to rise to his feet, but of whose interjection I must take notice, says that I can always write. I did not know that. Quite frankly, I consider that for me to write to the Chair on a matter affecting the whole House would be discourteous. I may be wrong and if I am, I shall welcome the information. But I should have thought that it would be almost as monstrous a thing for me to venture to write to you, Mr. Speaker, and, from my limited knowledge and experience of this House to make observations about procedure, as it would be for me as an advocate to write privately to a judge to tell him what I thought about my client's case. I may be wrong and, if I am, I shall welcome the information

4.59 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I do not think it necessary for me to say very much on this occasion. I had hoped, as I indicated last Thursday, that perhaps the Motion might have been withdrawn. But as soon as it was clear that that was not the case the Government felt they must find time for the Motion, because, as has been rightly pointed out, it is the only way open to hon. Members to make any criticism they choose to make of the Chair.

I am, however, still sorry that the discussion has had to take place at all. I have listened carefully to what has been said, but these are matters very much of opinion because, you, Mr. Speaker, have. by the Standing Order, been given the full discretion as to whether or not you accept the Closure Motion. It is accepted in a variety of circumstances, sometimes to make sure that what has been debated all day shall not be made unfruitful by continuing after the clock shows us that the time for the debate to end has come. Or it may be moved when one or two hon. Members or more are rising to continue the debate. It may be moved when a Member has actually been called, as was the case on this occasion. Indeed, it has been moved when a Member has actually been in possession of the House and speaking. That has occurred within the last few days.

On all those occasions, Mr. Speaker, you are vested by the House with full discretion. I believe from what I have heard today that the House as a whole feels that you used your discretion correctly on the occasion in question. We are not criticising the use you made of it, but it is your discretion and these are matters of opinion. You have, in fact, occupied the Chair of this honourable House for only a few months, but in that short time I think that all of us, where-ever we sit, have noted how very careful you have been to preserve the rights of minority opinion.

I cannot believe that the occasion of which complaint is made today is one on which you in any way fell short of the high standards you have set yourself. If, therefore, I may be allowed to give any advice to the House, it is to ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in every part of it to support the authority we have vested in you and to show conclusively that so far as this incident is concerned the case has not been proved and that you enjoy our fullest confidence.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)

Any Motion criticising the Chair is one that must be entered upon after very care- ful consideration, because the whole of our proceedings here depend on support for the authority of the Chair, and the exercise of that authority always depends on the personal qualities of the Speaker. It is not a matter that can depend on the exact rules that are laid down. The question is the way in which they are interpreted and the spirit of the House.

I was not present on the occasion in question. I have talked with some of my hon. and right hon. Friends who were there and I have read the OFFICIAL REPORT. I myself should not have considered this occasion sufficiently important to have warranted going to the length of putting down a Motion. It is possible to discuss these matters. From time to time objections are taken to the course of debate. I have been here now for nearly 30 years, rather more in opposition than in Government, and I think that there is a natural tendency at first, when we are in opposition, not to realise always how things go.

I have met Members who were surprised that the Closure should be moved when a person was speaking. Of course, that is quite inevitable. It happens constantly in the course of the years. otherwise one could simply go on talking for ever. That happens in some countries overseas where they go in for extensive filibusters and people speak for 20 or 30 hours as they used to in this House at one time.

There has to be a certain amount of give and take in these matters. I do not think that there is a sufficient complaint to warrant putting down a Motion. It is alway difficult for the Chair to decide. I have confidence in Mr. Speaker that he is doing his utmost to preserve the rights of minorities and to conduct the business of this House, which is a very difficult matter. That is why I should always advise my hon. Friends to think carefully before they put a Motion down of this kind. The balance in this House is so very finely adjusted. When it is suggested that we should have some other method, I say that we should look very carefully at that.

This is one of the few assemblies in the world where we manage to get—with friction now and again, but not too much —a Government which, on the whole, gets its business through, and an Opposition which, on the whole, is able to make its point of view felt. My hon. Friend has raised this matter and has explained his position. I think that probably he has achieved his purpose by ventilating the matter, and I hope that he will withdraw the Motion. If not, I should not support the Motion, and I should advise my hon. Friends not to support it.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. S. Silverman

I have no desire to address the House at any length for a second time, and I propose in a minute or two to ask leave to withdraw the Motion. The opportunity was taken and I think that in spite of what has been said it was wisely taken. I am certain that nothing that has happened in this debate will have done the slightest harm to the authority of the Chair or to the dignity of the House. A matter which caused considerable anxiety has been fully ventilated, and we may all retain such opinions as we have.

The one new point in these circumstances was, I think, the acceptance of the Closure before a Member called upon to speak had spoken at all. Erskine May himself seems not to have known any more than I did of any other occasion. because in his own reference to the matter he says: Closure may be moved at the conclusion of a speech or whilst a Member is addressing the House.… The idea that it could be moved and accepted when a Member had been called and before he had said anything does not seem to have occurred to him. In all the circumstances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.