HC Deb 05 December 1962 vol 668 cc1321-34
Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it optional to submit a play to the Lord Chamberlain for licence, and legal to perform an unlicensed play whether it has been submitted or not. In or about the month of May, 1737, a farce called "The Golden Rump" was brought to the Master of the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The Master, on perusal, found that it was designed as a libel upon the Government, and, therefore, instead of having it acted, he carried it to a gentleman concerned in the Administration. This gentleman showed it to some other Members of the House of Commons—I think that they were probably all Government supporters—and it was resolved to bring in a Bill for preventing any such attempt in future, and accordingly, on 20th May, 1737, Sir Robert Walpole obtained leave to bring in a Bill, which, among other things, provided that No person shall, for hire, gain, or reward, act, perform, represent or cause to be acted, performed, or represented any new interlude, tragedy, comedy, opera, play, farce or other entertainment of the stage or any part or parts therein, or any new act, scene or other part added to any old interlude, tragedy, comedy, opera, play or any entertainment of the stage, or any new prologue or epilogue, unless the true copy thereof is sent to the Lord Chamberlain of the King's Household for the time being 14 days at least before the acting, representing or performing thereof". So the Lord Chamberlain was given power to prohibit any such performance, and anybody defying the prohibition was liable to a fine of £50—and, indeed, still is—and, What was more serious, was liable to the forfeiture of the theatre licence.

That was the origin of the censorship of plays in this country by the Lord Chamberlain, and, in effect, although modified by another Act, that system has continued ever since, in spite of the angry and derisive protests of one generation after another of authors and dramatists.

I am now seeking to abolish this censorship which has continued for 225 years. In doing so, I feel that I have the support of a long line of eminent ghosts. I wish that our Standing Orders permitted me to put their names on the back of the Bill, for then, if the House gave me leave to bring it in, I would have the singular privilege of introducing a Measure sponsored by Lord Chesterfield, Dr. Johnson, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Sir James Barrie, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells and Lawrence Housman. Since, however, that would possibly be ruled out of order, I content myself with the support of living hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Throughout these two centuries generally it has always been the actors, the authors and the dramatists who have protested against the censorship. Not so many years ago, in 1948, there was held the British Theatre Conference, which was attended by about 450 persons concerned in one way or another with the living theatre. A motion calling for the abolition of the censorship was proposed by Sir Lewis Casson, on behalf of British Equity, seconded by Mr. E. P. Smith, on behalf of the League of Dramatists, and it was carried with only seven dissentients.

The theatre managers, on the other hand, have been generally in favour of retaining the censorship, and their attitude towards the Lord Chamberlain can be summed up really in the advice to children contained in Mr. Belloc's "Cautionary Tale": And always keep tight hold of nurse For fear of finding something worse. The case of the theatre managers—I do not wish to be in any way unfair to them—is that local authorities who license theatres are content to accept the decision of the Lord Chamberlain as to whether any play should be performed, but, if the Lord Chamberlain were removed, they might find themselves in difficulties with a great number of censorious watch committees. What they say, reasonably enough, is that they would rather deal with one censor than with a great number. It was for that reason that they were opposed to a Bill, introduced into this House in 1948, which would have abolished the Lord Chamberlain's jurisdiction altogether.

The Bill which I seek leave to introduce is quite different. I have adopted the proposal put forward by a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament in 1909. If this Bill becomes law, it will still be possible for anyone who wants it to obtain the Lord Chancellor's approval of a play before it is performed, but it will no longer be compulsory. It means that, in future, anyone who wishes to produce an unlicensed play will be free to do so. The protection of the Lord Chamberlain, if protection it be, will continue, but censorship—that is, the compulsory element —will come to an end.

The present system is really impossible to defend. It is full of anomalies, and I should like to mention only three of them. First, the 1737 Act was not retrospective. It applied only to new plays. No one can prevent the production of any play written before 1737. Anyone can produce "Titus Andronicus", one of the most lurid plays ever written, or any of the plays of Wycherley or Congreve, and the law cannot touch him. It is safe to say that if any of those plays had been written after 1737 it would not have a chance of getting past the censor.

Secondly, and more astonishing still, the Lord Chancellor has no jurisdiction over sound broadcasting and television. Sometimes a play the performance of which is forbidden before a few hundred people in a theatre may be shown to millions of viewers on the television screen.

Thirdly, this form of censorship by a Court official is peculiar to this island. It is rather fantastic that playgoers should not be able to watch in London scenes which they could witness on the stage in Washington, New York or in most parts of the Commonwealth.

I make it clear that this is in no sense an attack on the present Lard Chamberlain, on his predecessors, or on their staff. Those producers with whom I have discussed the matter, even though they are all extremely critical, have spoken in the very highest terms of the courtesy and helpfulness of the Lord Chamberlain's office. It is not the fault of these officials that they are called upon to discharge a function which is inherently absurd.

That absurdity has been demonstrated during the last few weeks in the case of two shows which are now on the boards in London. One is a Canadian review. During the course of the show, the actors take the day's newspapers and proceed to comment on various news items, moire or less "off the cuff". Since the Lord Chamberlain normally requires seven days' notice, this has, of course, created a most frightful difficulty.

The producer concerned received a letter from the Lord Chamberlain's office from which I should like to read two extracts. The first reads: I am to say that in the sketch entitled The Living Newspapers', the Lord Chamberlain cannot allow real improvisation and that the script for this item must be submitted for licence". The producer was then told that the cast could read anything from the newspapers provided … that you will nominate the journals which you wish to read and provided that you will let me have an undertaking that all comment upon the extracts will be dialogue allowed by the Lord Chamberlain. Later, the letter says: Such authority will be revocable at any time for any reason that in the Lord Chamerlain's view was sufficient". There is another case. A show being performed in London came from the United States. In it, the actors improvise on themes suggested to them by the audience. The producer is an American, Mr. Theodore Flicker. I have met Mr. Flicker during the last day or two and he vividly described to me his experience with the Lord Chamberlain's office. First, he sought to include in his show certain sketches satirising the Kennedy family, in the White House. These sketches have begin performed, without anyone objecting, for about six months in Washington. When objection was taken in this country, Mr. Flicker sent a cable to the President of the United States asking whether there was any objection to their being reproduced on the London stage. He received a cable in return from the White House saying that there was no possible objection. None the less, those scenes have come under the Lord Chamberlain's ban.

There was another scene of a different character. It was a scene in which the white racist Governor of a southern State in the deep south of the United States went to Heaven and when he got there found to his unutterable horror that God was a negro. That has been performed without any difficulty in the United States, but it was not allowed to be presented on the London stage. Above all, it was the improvisation to which the censors objected. Here, I quote Mr. Flicker's words: … to explain to Army officers how improvisation takes place is one of the most humiliating experiences of my life". Mr. Flicker pointed out to the officers of the censors' department that improvisation was one of the oldest forms of dramatic art. He reminded them, if "reminded" is the right word, that it was practised in Italy in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the Comedia del Arte, which has made a very great contribution to the development of dramatic art. It consisted of strolling players who went from one town to another. They usually performed the same plot, but improvised their dialogue as they went along. This was the origin of the pantomime as we know it. When this was referred to by Mr. Flicker, it made no impression on the Lord Chamberlain's Department. It was made clear to him that what was permissible in Renaissance Italy could not be allowed under any circumstances in twentieth century Britain.

I do not rest my case on these particular instances. I suggest that it is wrong in principle that we should impose on this form of expression a statutory censorship that we would not otherwise dream of applying to any form of speech or publication. I know that we have the censorship of films, which is sometimes equally silly, but that, at any rate, is not imposed by statute and we shall be able to deal with it before long. It is, however, quite indefensible that dramatists for the living stage should be subjected to this form of tutelage.

I end by citing the very well-known words of Mr. Bernard Shaw, in his preface to "Mrs. Warren's Profession." He said: All censorship exists to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress in initiated by challenging current conceptions and executed by supplanting current conceptions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship. There is the whole case against censorship in a nutshell. It is astonishing that we have put up with this essentially silly form of restriction for two-and-a-quarter centuries. For all that time, the dramatist in this country has been subjected to a wholly arbitrary veto against which there is no appeal. This is a lot of nonsense which has been going on for far too long, and we should put a stop to it now.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) has raised a matter which he describes as having continued for only two and a half centuries, and has entertained the House for the past quarter of an hour, perhaps I may, for just a few minutes, give my reasons why I hope that the House will oppose leave to introduce the Bill.

As to the history, my friend is quite inaccurate.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)


Mr. Rees-Davies

My friend at the Bar and my opponent in this debate. The position was that during his reign, Henry VIII appropriately decided that it was necessary to have a Master of the Revels. The Master of the Revels was the censor of those days and from that day to the present time there has been complete censorship. The Master of the Revels set up under Henry VIII permitted revelry without licence. We who are opposed to the introduction of the Bill are all in favour of revelry, but we do not want indecency or lack of licence.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

Who was Henry VIII to judge?

Mr. Rees-Davies

Therefore, through the days of the Star Chamber and of the Privy Council came the position as early as 1828, a hundred years before the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich said, in which the Lord Chamberlain in that year himself imposed through his Master of Revels, who was an officer of the Lord Chamberlain, an absolute veto under the then common law of England. I chide the hon. and learned Member for having his history quite so fallacious for the next hundred years. It is true that in 1737, on grounds of political expediency and because of the political satire of the day, a Statute to that effect was introduced. The matter progressed until 1843. In that year was passed the Theatres Act, which is the existing Statute under which this power derives.

The House of Commons has cognisance of the matter on a number of occasions. Following 1843, when the Lord Chamberlain took control over the basic 40 theatres of the London area, including, I am happy to say, that of Margate, Windsor and one or two others, the rest of the control was passed to the local authorities, who, as hon. Members know, exercise major control over plays throughout the country.

On three separate occasions, this House then set up Select Committees. On each of those occasions—in 1853, 1866 and 1892—the House, by its Select Committee, approved the position of the Lord Chancellor and the local authorities as the licenser of both all the theatres and the plays, with an absolute veto over them. In 1909, a Select Committee was again sat up. On that occasion, although it made certain alterations, the Select Committe stated emphatically why it considered that some form of licensed control was necessary.

I should like to read to the House a passage from the Report of the Select Committee, which I should like to adopt, because it sets out so well the Select Committee's moral and principle approach to the matter. This is what the Select Committee said in 1909: We consider that the law which prevents or punishes indecency, blasphemy and libel in printed publications would not be adequate for the control of drama. Ideas or situations which, when described in a printed page may work little mischief, when represented through the human personality of actors may have a more powerful and more deleterious effect. The existence of an audience, moved by the same emotions, its members conscious of one another's presence, intensifies the influence of what is done and spoken on the stage. Moreover, scenes in a play may stimulate to vice without falling within the legal definition of indecency; they may include personalities so offensive as to be clearly improper for presentation, which yet are not punishable or libellous; they may outrage feelings of religious reverence without corning within the scope of the Blasphemy Laws; and they may give occasion for demonstrations injurious to good relations between this country and Foreign Powers without coming within the purview of any law whatsoever. The performance, day after day "— and—I stress this—night after night— in the presence of numbers of people, of plays containing one or other of these elements, would have cumulative effects to which the conveyance of similar ideas by print offers no analogy. We conclude, therefore, that the public interest requires that theatrical performances should be regulated by special laws. Therefore, it is quite erroneous of the hon. and learned Member to try to distort history into a suggestion that on repeated occasions this House has not voiced firm opinions against complete licence in this matter, and for good reason.

The hon. and learned Member failed to refer to the position generally as it obtains throughout the mass media of entertainment. In the case of television, we have the self-imposed censorship—and very severe it is—of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Yes —laying down their own standards, which the country accepts from men of impartiality and integrity.

In films, there is absolute control, first, over the licensing of all cinemas, and, secondly, over the content contained in them by the watch committee, who can withdraw those licences. They rely on a quite independent body, the British Board of Film Censors, which, although not a statutory body, offers them guidance and whose guidance they accept. In passing, hon. Members would, I think, wish well to the British Board of Film Censors, whose fiftieth anniversary occurs this week, and thank the Board for the good work that it has done. Long may it continue to do it.

If we were to give leave for the Bill to be introduced, and later to be passed, it would merely be the thin end of the wedge for breaking down the position which obtains for film censorship.

In the whole field, consequently, of mass media, we happen to have something which is traditional and dates back about 400 years—the position of the Lord Chamberlain. Could this House find anybody who was more impartial politically, more independent financially, a man of greater integrity, or whose endeavours in this matter could be more truly impartial—indeed, a person of intelligence and someone who, if I may now appeal to the baser instincts of hon. Members, does not cost the nation a penny piece?

Therefore, we would do well to be careful before making a change merely because it is said that something has no particularly democratic origin. It has an origin that has been upheld for centuries in the House of Commons. It has been accepted by Select Committees on no less than four occasions in the past century and it is set out, as the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich can read, in the Select Committee's Report of 1909.

It seems to me—and, I hope, to a great many hon. Members—that in these days it is necessary to do our best not to permit anything which would lower the national morals through commercial exploitation, or would lower the English language by permitting more obscenities into it. Any hon. Member who likes to go to the Lord Chamberlain's office will see the utter filth and muck which arrives on the desk there.

Thirdly, we should do our best to seek to prevent unwarrantable infringement in the private lives of defenceless individuals, often dead; the law permits libel of the dead, but it can be stopped by the Lord Chancellor. We need to prevent incitement to vice in what I call the brothel type of play, which is of a commercial type of exploitation, and, finally, we should assist those in the management of theatres to get guidance in advance, for one cannot commercially expect to operate a play without knowing beforehand whether it is acceptable.

In those circumstances, there is no warrant and no need for the Bill. There is no pressure for It at all, except from a few hon. Members opposite who always seem to feel that they represent the intellectual genius of the country, but who have neither the historical knowledge nor the intelligence to have the proper conduct of what might be called a play of this nature. I hope that the House will oppose the Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Com- mittees at commencement of Public Business):

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. DINGLE FOOT and Mr. THORPE were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, and MT. REES-DAVIES and Mr. WILLIAM CLARK for the Noes.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

(seated and covered): On a point of order. I am informed that those who are named as Tellers are not counting, and I ask that the Division be called again, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is fatal. The Division is off. I will put the Question again.

Question put:

The House proceeded again to a Division

Mr. Hale

(seated and covered): On a point of order. May we be told why there is a second Division, Mr. Speaker? Those of us who walked through the Aye Lobby saw no irregularity at all. What we are told is that some Consea-vafives were dismayed because they had voted in the wrong Lobby by mistake.

Mr. Speaker

I expect that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was outside the Chamber at the moment I dealt with it. The ground of objection was that hon. Members other than Tellers appointed by the Chair were telling.

Mr. Hale

Further to that point of order. I happened to be in the Chamber and I had the privilege of hearing the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) raise his point of order. What concerned me was that the statement of fact was accepted at once without investigation as to whether the statement, which I am sure was perfectly honourable and perfectly straightforward, had been verified. So far as the Ayes Lobby was concerned, and so far as my vote was concerned—and I am concerned to vote again, if I may—we saw no irregularity.

Mr. Speaker

I follow what the hon. Member is saying. Had there been any dispute about the facts, of course I would have had the matter investigated. However, there was complete silence about any dispute about the facts. In those circumstances, I treated the facts as not being in dispute. The hon. Member's opportunity of observation does not settle the matter, because presumably he

Division No. 13.] AYES [4.8 p.m
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Gunter, Ray Owen, Will
Bacon, Miss Alice Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Barnett, Guy Hannan, William Pavitt, Laurence
Beaney, Alan Harper, Joseph Plummer, Sir Leslie
Bence, Cyril Healey, Denis Rankin, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hilton, A. V. Robertson, John (Paisley)
Bowles, Frank Houghton, Douglas Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Carmichael, N. G. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Short, Edward
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Channon, H. P. G. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hynd, John (Atlercliffe) Snow, Julian
Curran, Charles Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Spriggs, Leslie
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Fit. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lawson, George Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)
Delargy, Hugh Lee, Frederick (Newton) Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Donnelly, Desmond Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Warbey, William
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John Lipton, Marcus Wilkins, W. A.
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Lubbock, Eric Williams, LI. (Abertillery)
Edelman, Maurice Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Winterbottom, R. E.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Weodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Fernyhough, E. Mason, Roy Worsley, Marcus
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Milne, Edward Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Ginsburg, David Mitchison, G. R. Zilliacus, K.
Gourlay, Harry Morgan, William
Gower, Raymond Morris, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Oliver, G. H. Mr. Dingle Foot and
Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Oram, A. E. Mr. Thorpe.
Agnew, Sir Peter Gresham Cooke, R. Neave, Airey
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Barlow, Sir John Gurden, Harold Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Biffen, John Hall, John (Wycombe) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Bingham, R. M. Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Osborn, John (Hallam)
Black, Sir Cyril Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Bourne-Arton, A. Hastings, Stephen Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Box, Donald Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pitman, Sir James
Braine, Bernard Henderson, John (Cathcart) Pitt, Dame Edith
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hiley, Joseph Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Pym, Francis
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Hughes-Young, Michael Quennell, Miss J. M.
Buck, Antony Hutchison, Michael Clark Rawlinson, Sir Peter
Bullard, Denys Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Bullus, Wing-Commander Eric James, David Rees, Hugh
Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.) Jeger, George Reynolds, G. W.
Campbell, Gordon (Noray & Nairn) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Ridsdale, Julian
Chichester-Clark, R. Jennings, J. C. Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)
Cleaver, Leonard Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Russell, Ronald
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S)
Cooke, Robert Scott-Hopkins, James
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Kaberry, Sir Donald Sharples, Richard
Cordle, John Kenyon, Clifford Shepherd, William
Corfield, F. V. Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Costain, A. P. Kimball, Marcus Spearman, Sir Alexander
Craddock, Sir Beresford King, Dr. Horace Speir, Rupert
Cunningham, Knox Langford-Holt, Sir John Stevens, Geoffrey
Dance, James Leavey, J. A.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stodart, J. A.
Doughty, Charles Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Studholme, Sir Henry
Drayson, G. B. Litchfield, Capt. John Summers, Sir Spencer
Duncan, Sir James Loveys, Walter H. Talbot, John E.
Eden, John Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Tapsell, Peter
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McArthur, Ian Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)
Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J. MacColl, James Temple, John M.
Farr, John McLaren, Martin Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Finlay, Graeme Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.>
Fisher, Nigel Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) McMaster, Stanley R. Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Gammans, Lady Marshall, Douglas Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Gilmour, Sir John Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Vane, W. M. F.
Goodhew, Victor Mawby, Ray Vickers, Miss Joan
Grant-Ferris, R, Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Walder, David
Green, Alan Morrison, John Ward, Dame Irene

was not in the Lobby in which the irregularity was occurring. I must not detain him too long.

Mr. Hale

I am much obliged, Sir. Ayes 77, Noes 134.

Williams, Dudley (Exeter) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Wise, A. R. Mr. Rees-Davies and
Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater) Woollam, John Mr. William Clark.
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to clarify the Ruling which you gave on the Division? You told the House that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said that the Division, for one reason or another, had been improperly taken and that view was not contested anywhere else in the House and, therefore, you accepted the view that he had given, and you called the second Division.

Do I understand from that that in future cases, if an hon. Member says for one reason or another that a Division has been improperly taken, and if that is not contested, then automatically there will be another Division?

Mr. Speaker

I did not give any general Ruling at all. All sorts of circumstances may arise. I thought it quite right and sensible on this occasion. I did not understand anybody to dispute the proposition of fact. We would be in difficulty if that were so. If not, the matter would appear to be academic.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When I went to the Division Lobby in the first Division over 80 names were being called by the Tellers. When I went through on the second occasion there were, as you will have heard from the Division figures, only about 70. I heard hon. Members stating, after the first Division, that they had mistakenly gone into the Division Lobby. As I was standing there I heard them say, "What do we do?" One said, "We had better be quiet about it," and then someone went up to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and there followed the point of order. I am wondering whether there was any connection in that.

Mr. Speaker

I am not certain what point of order the hon. Member is raising. If there is not a point of order, I think that we ought to move on to the next business.

Mr. M. Foot

Can you tell the House, Mr. Speaker, what it was that was alleged that had gone wrong with the first Division? I only wish to understand the situation, because it might apply in future cases. I heard the right hon. and learned Member make his point of order. I may have misheard, but I did not hear him state what he thought had gone wrong with the Division. If we were informed about that it would be of assistance to the House.

Mr. Speaker

What I thought the right hon. and learned Member told me—I would not quote his words—was that persons other than the Tellers appointed by the Chair were telling. That proposition of fact, if it be right, is fatal to the Division on the precedents.

Mr. Hale

On a point of order. On previous occasions, I think I am right in saying, the practice has been to call for a report from the Serjeant at Arms on the accuracy of the contention that a Division has been improperly conducted. Indeed, if there were hon. Members acting as Tellers who had not been appointed, whether by mistake or otherwise, surely it would be proper to ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the matter and report to the House on whether there was some impropriety of conduct by Members who assumed the function of Tellers, whether by mistake or otherwise?

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker, are you aware that it is being stated that those Tory Tellers who were appointed could not count beyond 60? In view of that, they would have lost the Division, and, therefore, they managed to get a second one to correct that error.

Mr. Speaker

I nominate the Tellers, if any, without making a close study of their standards of academic attainment. I do not propose to ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate this matter in any way. If there was the slightest risk of any substantial injustice, I would hurry to investigate the matter, but I do not believe that it exists, and I think that we ought to get on with the business of the House.