HC Deb 26 November 1958 vol 596 cc358-62
31 and 32. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what report is received by Her Majesty's Government of the deliberations of the Conferences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Parliamentarians; to what extent hon. Members representing the United Kingdom at these Conferences are instructed by the Government: how such hon. Members are appointed; and whether he will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the names of the hon. Members who have served at such Conferences in 1955, 1956, 1957, and 1958, respectively;

(2) the total expenditure incurred by Her Majesty's Government in expenses and allowances to hon. Members attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation parliamentary meetings in the three years 1956 to 1958.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Parliamentarians' Conference is a private and unofficial body, supported by grants in aid from member Governments, including Her Majesty's Government. I understand that you. Mr. Speaker, and the Lord Chancellor, are responsible for the selection of hon. Members attending the Conference after consulting the Whips. These Members are not instructed by the Government, nor do they have any responsibility to report to Her Majesty's Government. I do, however, receive copies of the debates and resolutions of the Conferences from its Secretariat.

Expenditure on the annual Conferences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Parliamentarians in 1956 was £711, and in 1957 it was £920. The figures for this year's Conference, held in Paris last week, are not yet available.

In addition, in the three years 1956 to 1958 there has been further expenditure of £651 for subsidiary meetings and visits to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commands.

I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the names of hon. Members who have served on these Conferences.

Mr. Shinwell

As Her Majesty's Government are responsible for the expenditure incurred on behalf of those who attend the N.A.T.O. Conference of Parliamentarians, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange to place in the Library of the House, or make available to hon. Members, reports of the deliberations at these conferences? Secondly, will he suggest to his right hon. and learned Friend that, on the ground of equity, it would be more desirable to adopt an alternative method of appointing delegates to these conferences, either through a ballot, to which hon. Members could apply, or through a Speakers' committee, in which case the committee would be solely responsible for the selection of Members, presumably on grounds of qualification, without recourse to any instruction from the Whips on either side?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I will certainly bear in mind the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think there is any great criticism to be made of the way in which these Members are selected, but if the right hon. Gentleman has a complaint, or feels, perhaps, that he would like to attend these conferences, I should certainly support him.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman please understand that I am quite sincere, and that I am trying to treat this matter objectively? I have never desired to go to these conferences. I have never approached the Chief Whip on the matter and I do not intend to. All I ask is that, on grounds of equity, every hon. Member should have a fair chance of attending conferences of this kind, and will the right hon. Gentleman please understand that? Will he also please reply to the other part of my supplementary question which was, will he make available a report of the proceedings, because we are responsible for the expenditure incurred?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I will certainly see if that can be done.

Mr. Bevan

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this? I am speaking only for myself and not for my party in this matter? Is not it undesirable that there should be in this House any further extension of the powers by which the party machines can confer favours on back-benchers? I think that there has been an extension of those powers to a dangerous extent and, so far as I am concerned, after many years in Parliament, I deplore it.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I do not know whether I am in a position to speak personally, but I agree very much with what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Bellenger

May I ask you a question, Mr. Speaker? If names are submitted to you on the recommendation of the Chief Whips, is not it rather undignified for you merely to "rubber stamp" what the Whips say?

Mr. Speaker

It would be, were that the position. But there are many things about which I ask the Whips for nominations because that is the only way I can deal with them, and past Speakers have done the same. When I get the lists I concern myself to make sure that the hon. Members whose names appear on them are, in my opinion, fit and proper persons to go. I presume that I have a responsibility to the House in that respect. If the name of an hon. Member were suggested to me and I did not think he was a good man, I should ask about him, but I do not think that has ever happened. There are few hon. Members in fact there are none in the present House of Commons—whom I should consider not to be fit and proper persons.

In the case of the two branches which exist in this House, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on the one hand, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the other, they meet regularly in our House of Commons and are branches of Members of our own House. Delegations which they send abroad are chosen by a committee, over which they ask me to preside. But in this case there is no such organisation and the only way in which I can find Members willing to go is by asking the Whips.

Mr. Paget

In order to clarify the matter, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether the object of this exercise is to assist N.A.T.O. or to amuse Members of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

I am not concerned with the object of it. I get an invitation. The invitation is sent to me to send so many hon. Members to this conference. I suppose the invitation is sent to me as I am a sort of central point in the organisation. I ask the Whips whom they would like to send, and they send me a list which generally contains the names of more hon. Members than are required, and I make a final selection from that.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman able to tell the House where this curious organisation originated, this Parliamentary conference of the N.A.T.O. Council?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

It was spontaneously agreed to by members of all three parties in this House.

Mr. Wigg

Is not it unworthy of the Minister of State to sneer at my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and to suggest that he might want to go to these conferences? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that if my right hon. Friend did wish to go, there is no Member of this House who has done more to further the work of N.A.T.O. than my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Certainly I had no intention of sneering at the right hon. Member for Easington. I said I thought that he would be a most admirable person to be a delegate to these conferences.

Following is the information: The following are the hon. Members of this House who have attended the annual conferences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Parliamentarians during the past four years:





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