HC Deb 25 July 1960 vol 627 cc1086-9
Mr. Fell

I wish to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the report that United Nations forces are to move into Katanga from the Congo within the next few days.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, I had hoped to avoid asking leave to move the Adjournment of the House. In reply to Questions this afternoon, however, I did not get the assurances from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary for which I had hoped or, indeed, any assurances that the report to which I have referred would be negatived.

I will not take the time of the House for more than a moment or two at this stage, but, first, I want to emphasise that in my opinion this matter comes under the heading of "definite" because it is a report in a national newspaper of this country which has not, so far as I am aware, been denied by General von Horn or by anybody else. I consider that a report of a statement of such magnitude and such seriousness as this statement was would surely have been denied by now had it been incorrectly reported in this national newspaper.

Secondly, on the ground of urgency, things move so fast these days, and the troops, as was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, are moving in daily to the Congo, that the troops may move at any time across the border. Therefore, the matter may well come under the heading of "urgent".

I know that it would be possible, perhaps, to raise this matter tomorrow, but it may well be that even tomorrow could be too late if one is to have some influence on the matter. In regard to public importance, all I need say is that British lives and interests are at stake, as also is the tremendous British interest in the whole of Africa, which cannot but help be influenced by the turn of events in this part of the world. Therefore I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the Adjournment of the House to discuss this matter.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House pursuant to Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, a report that United Nations forces are to move into Katanga from the Congo within the next few days.

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Member for giving me some notice of his intention to make this application, so that I could have a chance to consider it. I regret that I do not feel able to accede to his request. I could offer other reasons why, but it is sufficient, perhaps, to say that one cannot move the Adjournment of the House on a mere report in a newspaper. From anything I have heard today I could not feel in a frame of mind to think that any of the facts that have been put to me are not at least in dispute, and I cannot regard this as a definite matter. Therefore, for that reason, I cannot accede to the request.

Mr. P. Williams

In your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, you did say that this is merely a report Which may or may not be the fact. Would not the situation of the House be eased a trifle if my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary could announce today whether this is a fact or not? If it is not the fact, then the sooner it is cleared up the bettor. If it is the fact then it is surely now a matter of urgent public business to which the House Should address itself. I understand from your Ruling that you accept that this is urgent, that it is immediate—[HON. MEMBERS: "No]—and that it is of public importance. Surely then—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not know what the hon. Member is making a speech about. I did not indicate any view about this matter. I said that I could think of several reasons why it would be necessary to decline this application. I stated one, which, in my view, was sufficient. I am very sorry. I must ask the House to take it, because that is my Ruling.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is, of course, a well-estab- lished precedent that neither a Question nor the Adjournment can be founded on a report, but that does put Members in a slightly difficult position, because, of course, the information with regard to this sort of thing does come through newspaper reports, and it means that an hon. Member has to accept the responsibility for asserting that which is reported. I wonder whether at some time it might be desirable to reconsider the rule about reports and not to have the artificial position in which the hon. Member could have put himself in order by asserting that the report in the newspaper—

Mr. Speaker

I do not accept that the hon. Member could have put himself in order by such methods. I do not think it worth arguing about very much, because the Motion is bad for other reasons, too.

As to the difficulty which the hon. and learned Member puts to me, it is one which the House should consider a long time before altering any rule or precedent of the House that it is not in order to debate matters till they are sufficiently definite and the facts are no longer in dispute. That would be serious.

Mr. C. Pannell

Are you fully seized, Mr. Speaker, on the point of urgency, that we are unlikely to get a reply upon this point from the Foreign Secretary if he is in another place?

Mr. Speaker

I have not said a word about urgency one way or another, nor a word about matters irrelevant to my Ruling.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. Without attempting to comment on the merits of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, surely the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) was quite in order in making his submission to you. I have only very limited experience of the House, but I cannot recall an occasion on which Mr. Speaker brushed a statement of that kind on one side without giving the hon. Member an opportunity to put his case. Surely it would not be safeguarding the rights of the House if an hon. Member, however unpopular his views, could not make a submission to the House or if a Ruling were given without the submission having been heard?

Mr. Speaker

I think that I was probably guilty, unwittingly, of some discourtesy to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams). I regret it. What the hon. Member was doing was assuming that my Ruling meant things that it did not mean, and I was anxious to interrupt that process. The Chair likes to make sure that it has in mind every relevant consideration. On this Decision I had hoped that the House would give up the practice of arguing with the Chair after it has given a Ruling, because I think that that takes up time. I do not say that out of any vaunting conceit, Put just because I think that it is for the benefit of the House, roughly, that that course should be taken.