HC Deb 02 November 1960 vol 629 cc179-81
Mr. Speaker

Prime Minister—statement.

Mr. Lipton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a submission to you, because the House is being placed at a disadvantage. It is the convention of the House that a personal explanation is not subject to questions or discussion, whereas a Ministerial statement can be subject to questions and discussion.

To that extent, therefore, and without trying to anticipate what the Prime Minister will say, the House will be placed at a disadvantage for two reasons. First, according to the convention of the House, questions and discussion will not be permitted. Secondly, it will be too late, if that explanation is made, to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, because by the time the personal explanation has been presented to the House it will be too late to seek your permission to move the Adjournment of the House under that Standing Order.

In those circumstances, I respectfully suggest that if it is possible the Prime Minister should make a Ministerial statement instead of a personal explanation. The House will then be in a better position to deal with the matter.

Mr. Speaker

With the first part of the hon. Gentleman's submission to me I can do nothing but be in extreme agreement. Neither question nor debate is permissible upon any personal explanation.

The hon. Gentleman's difficulty about moving the Adjournment of the House is, with respect, misconceived, because we are in the middle of the debate on the Address. It is very difficult to apply Standing Order No. 9 in those circumstances, because the topic is one which can be raised in debate. I do not officially know what the Prime Minister will say, but I suppose that in all probability if we arrange, as, I understand, is the desire of the House, to have a general debate about Central African Federation and kindred topics this week, there might then be an opportunity to get very near everything which would arise in this context.

Mr. S. Silverman

I should like to put this to you, Mr. Speaker, with respect. A personal statement which is not debatable and on which questions are not permitted is, by custom, I think, limited to personal explanations by hon. or right hon. Members about their conduct, or about something which is personal to themselves. I do not think that there is any—certainly I cannot recall any—precedent for a personal statement in the strict sense being made in connection with a contribution to the general debate through the House over a statement by a member of the Government or a Minister on policy.

The difficulty which my hon. Friend contemplated arises, surely, out of the use of a personal statement in circumstances in which a personal statement is not suitable.

Mr. Speaker

I have some difficulty in considering the hon. Member's point. I do not know, at all events officially, what the Prime Minister will say. Until I hear that statement, I cannot form any view whether it is rightly or not rightly a matter of personal explanation.

Mr. Manuel

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point I wish to raise is one on which I am sure the House will appreciate your guidance, Sir.

I take it that the decision either to make a personal statement or to make a Ministerial statement is the responsibility of the Prime Minister himself. I am sure that it would be from no Ruling of yours that if there is to be a statement today in connection with Scotland and the Polaris missile base, following what has appeared in today's Press, which contradicted what the Prime Minister said yesterday, he himself would be a party to not wishing questions to be asked.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must confine himself to points which are matters of order. It is nothing to do with the Chair what form of activity is undertaken by Ministers in this context. The Prime Minister—statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a short personal statement.

When referring in my speech yesterday to the communications between myself and Sir Roy Welensky I said: It would, of course, be contrary to practice to publish the actual texts. I went on to say: … I can tell the House that my assurances to him were in exactly the same words as those I have used in Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1960; Vol. 629, c. 29–30.] Of course, this could not have been so. What I intended to say was, "… in exactly the same sense as the words that I used in Parliament." This phrase was in my typewritten notes and I had previously communicated the text of this whole passage to Sir Roy Welensky.

I do not know how I came to make this deviation from my notes, and when my attention was called to it I immediately sent Sir Roy a further telegram explaining my mistake. I have thought it right now to come to the House and put the matter correctly for the record.