HC Deb 21 October 1953 vol 518 cc1976-9
Mr. Benn

On a point of order. I rise to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and would be grateful if you would listen to the point which I propose to make.

Yesterday in this House and in another place statements were made on the subject of Trieste. In another place the former Acting Foreign Secretary first informed their Lordships that two to three days' advance notice had been given to the Yugoslav and Italian Governments of the decision of the Allied Governments and, secondly, admitted that that might not have been right but said that the gist of the proposals had been made available to both those Governments.

In this House the Foreign Secretary said that no advance notice had been given to either Government, and he went so far as to say that very careful consideration had been given to the matter as to whether advance notice should be given or not and that the Foreign Office had come down very much against giving any advance notice.

I rise to ask you whether this is not a matter which concerns this House. First of all, the negotiations over Trieste were, of course, conducted throughout the period of the Foreign Secretary's illness by the Acting Foreign Secretary. Secondly, the point that I have raised is not a small point but is fundamental to the whole question of the Trieste policy of the present Government. I was waiting today to see whether the Foreign Secretary saw fit to come and make an explanation to the House about this, because it is clearly an imposition on the goodwill of the House that a direct contradiction between the two Ministers most immediately concerned should be allowed to go by without any statement being made.

I now come to the point on which I wish to seek your guidance. I wish to know whether this is a subject on which it is proper for me to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, not with a view to getting a debate on it but in order to give the Minister the only opportunity he would have of making a statement, or failing that, whether there is any other way in which the House may call for an explanation from the Minister in circumstances as unsatisfactory as the present one.

Mr. Speaker

I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Member has had to say, but I fail to discern in it any point of order on which I can be of assistance to him. In so far as Ministers make statements which in the opinion of the hon. Member are inconsistent with one another, that is a matter for debate in the usual way. Certainly, I can see no point of order at all for me in the matter.

Mr. Benn

Further to that, I rose not to a point of order but to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I sought your guidance as to how the House might get redress in what seems to me to be an offence against the House. I was asking you, first, whether it was possible for a personal explanation to be made, or, secondly, whether it was a subject on which it was proper for me to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Speaker

I see no affront at all to the House in what has happened and, therefore, no point of order for me to decide upon. Hon. Members ask my guidance and I freely and gladly give it on any matter which falls within my province, but as to how the debates should be conducted, that is between the two opposing sides and falls outside my province, and I am afraid that I cannot help on that. Hon. Members must seize such Parliamentary opportunities as present themselves.

Mr. Crookshank

Would it help, Mr. Speaker, if I were to say that I am aware of the points which the hon. Member has raised—I do not think the hon. Member asked the Foreign Secretary to be here at this moment of time to make any statement—and will call my right hon. Friend's immediate attention to the matter. I have no doubt—we all know my right hon. Friend's frankness and courtesy—that he will do what he can to meet the point which has been raised. I am afraid that on the spur of the moment that is the only offer I can make to the House.

Mr. H. Morrison

I appreciate your difficulty, Mr. Speaker, about matters which happen in another place, but it is of course the case that it is one Government whether Ministers speak in the Lords or in the Commons. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for the offer which he has made to my hon. Friend. In view of the points which my hon. Friend has raised and in view of the record of what took place in this House and in another place, I feel that there really is an obligation on the Foreign Secretary here and, I should have thought, on the Lord President in another place both to make statements which really give the facts and what is the policy of the Government.

Perhaps I might ask the Leader of the House the question in relation to the Foreign Secretary, but, although it is not for me to be quite so insistent with respect to another place, I should have thought that it was right that statements should be made on behalf of the Government tomorrow which will clear up this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Muddle."]—most unfortunate contradiction and muddle following upon the muddle of the decision. Might I have an answer to my question?

Mr. Crookshank

I thought I had said all that I could, in that I would call the immediate attention of the Foreign Secretary to the matter. For all I know, he may want to make a statement earlier in view of what has been said. However, I cannot take it further than that, with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, whose point I quite realise.

Mr. Hale

On a point of order. It is a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Here is a matter of grave importance and great emergency which has come to our notice in the last hour or so in relation to a serious and important matter on which the Prime Minister declined to answer a question yesterday. If we sought to move the Adjournment of the House, it would be our duty under the rules of the House to move it here and now. No one would wish to do that in view of the very ready response which has been made by the Leader of the House.

If it is the case that the Foreign Secretary is likely to make a statement tomorrow, no one will wish to move the Adjournment of the House now, but should we be in order in reserving the right to do that in case the Foreign Secretary does not accede to the suggestion of the Leader of the House? We ought to be on our rights in this matter. It is not a mere difference of view but a matter of diametrically opposed statements given deliberately in answer to a question on matters of fact by Earl Jowitt in another place when Lord Salisbury said that two or three days' notice had been given. We are now in the unhappy position that Yugoslavia is blaming London, Washington is blaming London and Italy is blaming Mrs. Clare Booth Luce.

Mr. Speaker

There is no question before the House. What has passed between the two right hon. Gentlemen has indicated the proper course to be pursued. We ought now to get on with the business of the day.