§ Mr. Donnelly
On a point of order. I wish to ask for your clarification, Mr. Speaker, of a Ruling which you gave yesterday, of which I have already given you notice. You may recollect that the matter arose out of a statement made by the Marquess of Salisbury in the House of Lords. We have had some difficulty during the period he has been acting Foreign Secretary in getting answers in this House of Commons. The Ruling which you gave yesterday was:… where the conduct of a Minister is particularly attacked and that Minister happens to be in another place there seems to me to be no impropriety whatsoever in him giving an explanation in his own House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 892.]It is not the conduct of an individual person or a Minister which has been attacked up to now, and what I should like clarification on is what we should do about the policies of Ministers in another place, because later yesterday afternoon, following a statement on Korea, the Minister of State, replying to a question which I put to him, in which I asked him to have a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly before the political conference, said:That is hardly a matter for me. There is to be a debate on foreign affairs in another place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 900.]Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:In any case, my noble Friend will be able to defend himself and his policy with accuracy in another place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 464.]In Erskine May, in page 434 of the edition Which I have, it says:The rule that allusions to debates in the other House are out of order prevents fruitless arguments between members of two distinct 1102 bodies who are unable to reply to each other… but it is mainly founded upon the understanding that the debates of the other House are not known, and that the House can take no notice of them.It has grown up by custom, and inevitably as the result of the need, that we can refer to Ministerial statements made in another place whenever they take place. But I submit that this is going a lot wider than that, and that it raises the very serious problem of how we are to get Ministerial responsibility in this House for what is one of the most vital public issues of the day; how we can conduct those discussions without attacking things said in another place; or widening the discussion far beyond the ruling of Erskine May because, after all, we in this House are elected and the people in another place are not.
The point that I am seeking to make is that the whole reason for Erskine May's ruling that there should be no conflict between the two Houses will be nullified if we start discussing what takes place in another place and debating it in this House. Conversely, the same thing will happen the other way. I should like a clarification of that ruling, and some idea from you, Mr. Speaker, how the interests of the House of Commons can be safeguarded.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is not really a point of order at all. There have been, in a number of Governments of which I have cognisance, Ministers in both Houses, and it is for the Government and not for me to say whether a Ministerial or other statement will be made in the other place or here. As long as there are Ministers in the other place the sort of circumstance that seems to trouble the hon. Member will arise, but that is a matter for the Government and not for me.
§ Mr. Donnelly
It is not a question of whether there is a Minister in another place; it is whether there is somebody accountable in this place. This is a much more valid point. All I am seeking from you, Mr. Speaker, now, is a Ruling as to how we can safeguard the interests of this House by somebody who is answerable to this House, which is elected by the people of this country?
§ Mr. Speaker
We had a foreign affairs debate the other day and Ministers answered on foreign affairs. I do not see what is the complaint of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that there is a tradition between the two Houses that we seek not to quarrel with each other, at any rate in public, and that is why the rule in Erskine May referred to by my hon. Friend exists, although there is an exception in Erskine May. May I put it to you that, as my hon. Friend has said, it was the case twice yesterday that when information was sought in the House of Commons we were fobbed off with a statement that a speech would be made in another place. Is that not calculated to embitter the relationship between the two places? I respectfully agree with you that it is largely a matter for the Government and I hope, if and when they appoint another Foreign Secretary, they will draw him from this place and not from another place as they have the acting Foreign Secretary. May I submit to you, Sir, that it is not conducive to good relations between the two Houses, when perfectly legitimate questions are put across the Floor here, for the Government to say, "We are not going to tell the House of Commons. Somebody else will tell the House in another place"?
§ Mr. Speaker
As the right hon. Gentleman says, that is, of course, entirely a matter for the Government and for hon. Members to make their own opinions felt and for some arrangement to be reached. It is not a matter on which I can do anything.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member is speaking further to that point of order, I have ruled that it is not a point of order, so that if he wishes to speak further to that he has no point of order.
§ Mr. Benn
It is further in the event of time, Sir. What I want to draw your attention to, Sir, is that in another place 1104 this afternoon the question of your Ruling yesterday was raised and Lord Woolton promised to make a statement in another place tomorrow on your Ruling. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I would mention the noble Lord by his office if I could remember it. My submission to you, Mr. Speaker, is that this is inevitably the result which will follow if we cannot, as back bench Members of this House, seek your protection against a Government which is constantly trying to fob us off by referring this House to statements made in another place. This may not be further to the last point of order, but may I respectfully say to you that it would be very undesirable if, as a result of your Ruling yesterday, there was a constant debate carried on day after day between the two Houses as to whether or not Ministers of the party opposite were to make their statements in this House or in the other place.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is asking me to dictate to the Government whether Ministers shall be in this House or in another place. I cannot do that. As for my Ruling, I shall await what is said in another place without undue apprehension.