HC Deb 07 November 1966 vol 735 cc1101-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. James Davidson, Mr. Deedes, Captain Walter Elliot, Mr. Charles Pannell, and Mr. S. C. Silkin have leave of absence to present, on behalf of this House, a Bookcase containing Parliamentary and Constitutional reference books to the Parliament of Singapore.—[Mr. Crossman.]

9.38 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I rise to oppose the Motion because I wish to obtain some information as to the devious means and methods whereby these particular delegations are appointed, or selected, or elected.

Some 20 years ago, I raised a similar question on a similar occasion and was told that. because I was so new and inexperienced in the membership of the House, it was very wrong of me, after being here for only a couple of years, to have the temerity to raise—indeed, even to think of raising—such a question. I hope, having been here a few years longer, it will not be suggested that I am doing anything wrong in raising this question. I know, of course, that it is not the custom or the practice for such Motions to be debated. May I interpose by saying that I was told on the very highest authority, by one very much up in the establishment, that so long as I am here I would never get anything—and it seems as if I never shall; so here let me declare that there is no purpose in my expecting ever to get anything. I declare out immediately. I know that that is the position.

Over the years I have been told—it has been generally true—that those who are sent on these visits are invariably right hon. or hon. Members with long experience in the House, often having held Ministerial rank. This does not seem to apply in this case.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will listen to the points I shall make after he has finished discussing something with one of the Whips. I want to know whether there is any relationship in the method by which one gets appointed. Does one make application? Does one have a word with the Whips? How does one do it? Originally I was told that it was done on the basis of seniority and length of service. It can hardly be said that that is the basis in this case. It certainly is not so in the case of one individual who it is proposed should go on this visit.

If it were suggested that, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) were to go on this trip, that would be right and proper, because we all know of the wonderful work my right hon. Friend has done for many years, both in the House and outside, in Commonwealth and Colonial activities.

I do not know whether the C.P.A. is contacted or consulted. Strangely enough, I have heard today that in connection with a recent delegation the advice of the C.P.A. was sought. I do not know whether the Association does advise on this, but apparently one of our colleagues was sent to a Commonwealth country. The man who was selected to attend celebrations in a Commonwealth country was the only Member on this side who is against the Labour Party's policy on Rhodesia. Yet he went to one of our Commonwealth countries for the purpose of celebrating independence. I am not against the Member concerned, but surely if an hon. Gentleman is to go for the purpose of representing the House at celebrations it should be someone who is persona grata with Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should speak to this particular selection.

Mr. Lewis

I was going to ask whether in this case such august bodies as the C.P.A. are consulted, or is it done through the Whips' Office, or through the usual channels?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

I am listening to my hon. Friend with the greatest attention. I suppose he is criticising the members of the delegation. Is it that there is some particular deficiency in any particular Member to which he wants to draw attention?

Mr. Lewis

No. I thought that my right hon. Friend was talking to a Whip. If he was, he could not listen to me and talk to a Whip at the same time. That was why I called his attention to the fact that I was speaking. If he had been listening, he would have heard my argument. I shall repeat it, subject to Mr. Speaker's giving me permission, so that I shall not be accused of tedious repetition.

I said that I wanted to know how these visits are organised and in what way those concerned are selected. I said that I first raised this question about 20 years ago. This cannot affect any person mentioned in the Motion, because to the best of my knowledge and belief none of them was here 20 years ago, so I could not then have been attacking any of them and I am not attacking any of them particularly now. I do not know how they are selected, appointed, or elected. Does one put one's name forward?

I am not going into the matter of the C.P.A. in full. I give it merely as an example. One can apply to the C.P.A. year after year but one never gets one's name on the list. I have never heard the facts about this selection. How does one get to put one's name in? I have been told already that I shall never be allowed anything at all in the House. I have been told this on the very highest authority. I therefore rule myself out.

Some of my hon. Friends who have only recently come to the House ask me how this is worked. I tell them that I do not know.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)

By Zulu tribal law.

Mr. Lewis

I do not know whether it is done by Zulu tribal law. I should like to know, so that when one of my hon. Friends approaches me I can say "This is what one does. One sees the Leader of the House. He says 'In this case this chap has been to Singapore. He has probably got friends there or he has got some connection and hence he can apply'" If it is a visit to one of the other Commonwealth countries which will eventually get home rule—it might be Wales—it would be nice for one of my Welsh hon. Friends, and I could say to him, "This is one of the things you should put in for. As you have got Welsh blood in you, you might stand a chance."

Unless one knows how to do this, one cannot give advice. I should always be happy to explain the position if I were able. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) interrupted and said that it might depend upon tribal law. If that is so, I should like to know. I was not able to get the information 20 years ago. I have tried through the usual channels and I have not been successful. If there are some means of using the usual channels perhaps we can be told how it is done. Perhaps there is an unofficial group. Does one have to be a member of some unofficial group. I see that the Whips are advising the Leader of the House on how he should reply. I do not know whether the Whips are involved. Perhaps one has to belong to one of those groups, which the Leader of the House remembers, which was not registered in his day. I have never had an opportunity of becoming a member of either his group or of any of the present groups. There might be a Singapore group of which I am not aware. The Leader of the House ought to tell us.

I do not think any of the hon. Members whose names appear in this Motion are present at the moment. Therefore, I cannot ask them how they got their names on the list. The only alternative is to ask the Leader of the House to explain so that I can tell my friends what is the method of getting on to the list—here comes another of the Whips to give advice—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member need not interrupt himself.

Mr. Lewis

Mr. Speaker, I would not want to interrupt myself because I know that the Whips can do it through the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House interrupted me a little while ago to say that he did not understand what I was saying. I commented that he was getting advice from the Whips, and whilst I was then speaking a Whip came into the Chamber. Now another Whip has come——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please come to the subject of the Motion?

Mr. Lewis

What I am saying is that if this is decided through the Whips, will my right hon. Friend tell me which Whip one should approach? How does one get into this inner circle? That is all.

9.48 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

We had assumed until recently that we should have a normal debate on this Motion, but my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has raised this interesting problem of his experience over the last 20 years and his failure to become a member of a delegation. I can only tell him that I share his apparent, as he thought, unique experience. In the course of 20 years I had the same misfortune as he has had. Never once was I invited to form a part of any delegation at all. But I must admit that it never occurred to me that this was a subject which one should raise on the Floor of the House of Commons.

Our job here this evening is to move a Motion. I moved it formally because a gift is to be made to a Commonwealth country and we were deciding to select a delegation to go with that gift. The delegation, like all delegations, has been selected with the help of Mr. Speaker. I am glad to say that my hon. Friend had nothing of any kind to say in criticism of the membership of that delegation. I simply say to my hon. Friend that the sort of information which he needs after 20 years, and which, perhaps, I needed after 20 years, is not to be obtained on the Floor of the House but more easily by ordinary conversation with others. If my hon. Friend has no criticism of the membership of the delegation, I suggest that the House should approve the Motion, which I had hoped to move only formally, and proceed to other business.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. James Davidson, Mr. Deedes, Captain Walter Elliot. Mr. Charles Pannell. and Mr. S. C. Silkin have leave of absence to present, on behalf of this House, a Bookcase containing Parliamentary and Constitutional reference books to the Parliament of Singapore.