HC Deb 25 June 1953 vol 516 cc2094-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

46. Mr. S. O. DAVIES

TO ask the Prime Minister, if, in view of the widespread revulsion of feeling against the United States Government in this country, he will take steps to have their Embassy and Consulates here closed within four weeks and all United States armed forces withdrawn forthwith from British soil.

Mr. H. Hynd

On a point of order. As this Question is based on a very obvious misstatement when it talks about, the widespread revulsion of feeling against the United States Government in this country, could not this mischievous Question be ruled out of order?

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members themselves are responsible for the facts they put into Questions. I feel that, whatever opinion one may hold about it, the hon. Member is entitled to put down the Question.

Captain Pilkington

Is there no limit to which a Question as obnoxious as this can go?

Mr. Speaker

There are certainly rules of order, but there is certainly also a doctrine in this House which we must be very careful to preserve—namely, that of free speech.

Brigadier Medlicott

While no one would wish to limit the fullest expression of free speech, is it not clear that this Question contains a misleading statement of fact and that the House is entitled to be protected from having its Order Paper used for propaganda purposes, based upon statements which are utterly misleading and, I think we are entitled to say, intended to be malicious and damaging?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that if either I or the learned Clerk at the Table started to scrutinise the truth of every statement which appears in Questions we should be undertaking a task which is beyond our scope. It is for the House itself to express its opinion about Questions which are asked, not for Mr. Speaker or the Clerk.

Mr. Nicholson

Surely this Question goes further than seeking information. We should not ask you, Mr. Speaker, or the Clerk to take action if it were seeking information. This Question purports to give information—information which is a downright untruth; and I think the House has the right to ask you or the Clerk at the Table to protect them from that.

Mr. Speaker

I have ruled on the point of order. It is for the House itself to deal with hon. Members, not for me.

Mr. Gough

Is it not a fact that it is not necessary for the Minister to answer the Question but that he could treat it with the contempt which it deserves.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly the Minister is under no obligation to answer Questions, but it is for the Minister to make up his mind as to his course of action, not for me.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

My right hon. Friend has asked me to reply to this and other Questions addressed to him today.

My right hon. Friend does not for one moment accept the mischievous and irresponsible assertion in the hon. Gentleman's Question, which is wholly without foundation. The second part of the Question does not therefore arise.

Mr. S. O. Davies rose


Hon. Members


Mr. Davies

It is my desire to put a supplementary question to that answer and I ask for the protection of the Chair if the yells on both sides of the House can still the consciences of hon. Members. My supplementary question is this: are we to understand from the reply that the Government are utterly indifferent to the horror felt by millions of peaceful British men and women at the cold-blooded murder of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg?

Mr. Speaker

That does not arise out of this Question.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he realises that the opinions expressed in this Question have no support on this side of the House?

Mr. Crookshank

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I will so inform the Prime Minister. I may add that that equally applies to this side of the House.

Mr. S. Silverman

Nevertheless, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind and communicate to his right hon. Friend that not merely in this country but all over the world, and including His Holiness the Pope, including the President of France, including people who have never been suspected of what is commonly called anti-United States feeling, there is a genuine emotion of horror against some events in the United States in recent days?

Mr. Nicholson

May I ask whether the hon. Member who asked the Question is a Russian agent or merely a lunatic?

Mr. S. O. Davies

I must put this in all seriousness: has an hon. Member no protection from the Chair when utterly irresponsible charges are made by individuals whose presence in this House can be justified only by the care they exercise for their own personal interests?

Mr. Speaker

Without expressing an opinion on it, I must say that this Question was certainly of a provocative character, and generally Questions of that sort get the same sort of answer as this one got.

Mr. Silverman

On a point of order. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that there was nothing which could be held to be reasonably provocative by any normal minded person in the supplementary question which I put. May I ask whether it is in order or consistent with the dignity and prestige of the House for Members who share opinions so widely held by eminent persons in many parts of the world to be described in the terms used by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson)?

Mr. Speaker

I was not referring to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I was referring to the original Question which started all the trouble.

Mr. Silverman

I was fully aware that your remarks were not addressed to the supplementary question, nor was my point of order. My point of order referred to the remarks made on the benches opposite about my supplementary question. Those words included a charge of being a Russian agent or, alternatively, a charge of lunacy. I make no comment on the second epithet; coming from where it does, one regards it as rather a compliment than otherwise. But the charge of being a Russian agent must surely be out of order.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid I did not hear the remark which caused the trouble very well. I heard only something being asked about lunacy. If the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) made any aspersion against the loyalty of another hon. Member, he ought to withdraw it.

Mr. Nicholson

I asked a question which I admit was somewhat provocative, but I say that anybody who so attempts to embitter international relations, as did the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies), who put the Question, may or may not be loyal to this country, but he is certainly not loyal to the ideas of peace which he professes.

Mr. Speaker

It was stated by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that the hon. Member for Farnham accused another hon. Member, even by supposition, of being a Russian agent. I did not hear the words perfectly myself because there was such a noise going on, but if he did do that, he ought to withdraw it.

Mr. Nicholson

I asked whether the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil was a Russian agent or a lunatic. I think that is what I asked. If there is anything in that which is offensive against the rules of the House, I will, of course, obey your Ruling. On the other hand, I am answerable not to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) but to you.

Mr. S. Silverman

With all respect, more than any susceptibilities of mine are involved here. There is involved the dignity and prestige of the House of Commons. I say it is not consistent with them, nor with our usages, that an hon. Member should accuse another, without a justification of any kind, of being disloyal and of being an agent of another country. You have said that if such a charge were made—and we all heard it made—it should be withdrawn; and I submit to you that if it is withdrawn, it should be withdrawn fully and unreservedly and not in this half-hearted, mealy-mouthed fashion.

Mr. Speaker

If there were any imputation, which was a little doubtful in my mind, it has been withdrawn, and I think the House should pass on.

Mr. Nicholson

I never wish to lay myself open to the charge of doing anything half-heartedly and I will use any words that you put into my mouth, Mr. Speaker.