HC Deb 23 July 1970 vol 804 cc810-27
Mr. Speaker

I was asked earlier this afternoon whether I would deal as a point of order with the matter of the letter which appeared in The Times this morning. I thought that this would be a convenient moment to do so. I can deal with the question only as one of order.

As the House was reminded yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)—c. 540 of HANSARD—the duty of the Clerk of the House is limited to giving advice. In this field the Clerk of the House acts as adviser on matters of parliamentary law and procedure. He gives advice only to those who first seek it from him. He advises the Speaker and hon. Members who consult him. Also, he advises outside bodies, such as the Home Office, if they ask him, and as was done in this case, but he does not rule. That is Mr. Speaker's province. In the parliamentary sphere, the Clerk offers what I might call counsel's opinion, but he is not a judge. That is the function filled by the Speaker and other occupants of the Chair.

That is the position today, and only the House by Resolution can change what is now our parliamentary practice, which has been maintained for many generations, indeed for several centuries.

Mr. Speaker is constantly advised by the Clerk, and I take this occasion to say how deeply the whole House and especially Mr. Speaker are indebted to him for his untiring and devoted service to us all.

Mr. Michael Foot

In raising two further points of order on the matters you have put to us, Mr. Speaker, may I preface them by saying that all of us in the House concur in what you have said in tribute to the Clerk of the House. However, some of us believe that serious questions were raised by the occurrences of yesterday and by the publication of the letter. Some of us sought, therefore, to raise the matter afresh in the House today by the method of a Private Notice Question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot raise the issue of a disallowed Question. He can raise the matter, but he must not mention further the point regarding a disallowed Private Notice Question.

Mr. Foot

I was not seeking to question the Ruling and disallowance of the Private Notice Question, but I hope that I am in order in saying that the disallowance of that Question means that we have to raise by another method—that is by point of order to you, Sir—the question which some of us sought to raise in this connection.

The House is faced with this situation. The reply of the Clerk to an inquiry from the Home Office is published, whereas the request from the Home Office is not published. The House has not, therefore, been informed of the nature of the request which came to the Clerk of the House. We have only this abbreviated part of the correspondence.

I submit that it is proper on a point of order first to ask you, Mr. Speaker, that you give an instruction that the original letter from the Secretary of State for the Home Department which gave rise to the reply should be placed on the Table so that we may be aware of the nature of the request coming from the Home Office.

My second point of order is that the reply sent by the Clerk has been quoted by the authorities in Northern Ireland. They have quoted the reply as meaning that even if the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) were able to come to the House and present herself at the Bar, it would not be possible for her to be sworn in. As you quite rightly say, Mr. Speaker, in your Ruling, no letter from the Clerk can constitute a ruling of this House, particularly in a hypothetical case such as this. It appears that the authorities in Northern Ireland have indicated that they have received information from authorities here, presumably the Home Office after taking into account the advice which it had from the Clerk. But when the authorities in Northern Ireland say that they are instructed or advised that if the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster came here she would not be sworn and that that would be according to the precedents of the House, they have misinterpreted the situation. Therefore, it should be made absolutely clear that there is nothing the Home Office was entitled to say to the authorities in Northern Ireland which could prevent them, if they so wished, making it possible for the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster to present herself. If she presented herself, it would then be your decision, Mr. Speaker, to decide whether she should be sworn in.

What some of us have sought to establish throughout the whole of these proceedings is that it is not possible for the authorities in Northern Ireland to say that they are prevented from taking the course of enabling the hon. Lady to come to this House. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will rule that nothing said in the letter by the Clerk constitutes a ruling of the House in any sense, but that it is merely advice given to somebody in the Home Office, and that the Home Office is not entitled, on the basis of that advice, to indicate to the Northern Ireland authorities that they should not allow the hon. Lady to come to this House. Many of us believe that the advice that should have been given by the Home Office to the authorities in Northern Ireland was that they should give her the facilities to come to this House and that no ruling that has come from this House in any way stands in the way of that taking place.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has said something of very great importance. He has endorsed what I said in my original Ruling. I have taken great care throughout questions on this matter to make Rulings only on order. I have said that I could not rule on the matter of the oath-taking on a hypothesis. The only rulings which are of any value are the Rulings that the Chair has made. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The Clerk from time to time may give advice to Mr. Speaker, or to any hon. Member, but the rules of the House are the Rulings of Mr. Speaker. The other point about the letter is a matter that the hon. Gentleman must take up with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Foot

When you say, Mr. Speaker, that I should take up this question with the Home Secretary, that was exactly what I was seeking to do when at the beginning of these proceedings I sought to put down a Private Notice Question. It must be remembered that the House will shortly go into recess, and I should have thought that it is open to you, Mr. Speaker, to make an instruction, according to the rules of the House, that a document which has been referred to in the course of interchanges in the House should be laid before the House and presented to it before we proceed later with other matters which are not directly relevant to this matter but are associated with it.

Mr. Speaker

The document the hon. Gentleman refers to has not been referred to by the Home Secretary. I have no power to compel the Home Secretary to produce the document. The hon. Gentleman can request the production of the document.

Mr. C. Pannell

If I go beyond the questions of points of order into the subsequent debate on a reference to the Committee of Privileges—

Mr. Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. It would help if he confines himself to points of order since we shall be debating the broader issues a little later.

Mr. Pannell

I would like to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, a passage from this letter because, with respect, I do not think that you have grasped the gravamen of the deep-seated unease that I have about it. The Clerk says: I write now to confirm that the proposition would be entirely contrary to the law and custom of Parliament as I understand it and on which I would advise the Committee of Privileges if they asked me to go before them as a witness (as they usually do). I do not think that it is up to the Clerk to pre-empt the advice which he intends to give to the Committee of Privileges.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you referred to me as a member of the Committee of Privileges. I did not know at the time that it was a gentle rebuke. You said that you thought that it would be better that, as a member of the Committee, I waited to hear the evidence. My answer to that is that this case is unique. As it is unique, I must not prejudge it, but, of all people, the Clerk should not prejudge it. If I had not been a member of the Committee of Privileges I would have asked you to rule that there had been a prima facie case of breach of privilege on the part of the Clerk. I feel as strongly as that about it. The letter is quite improper.

You are the servant of the House and, on occasions, master of the House. The Clerk is your principal officer. He is an officer of the House, not a civil servant, and he need not go out of his way to assist a ferret-minded official from the Home Office. I feel this deeply. If this matter was likely to be referred to the Committee of Privileges, the Clerk had the duty more than most to keep his own counsel and reserve it to a Committee of this House. He had no right to take it outside.

I think that I understand your difficulty more, Mr. Speaker, having now read the letter. Yesterday, you said that you could not rule on a hypothetical matter. However, the Clerk has given a hypothetical reply. Officials like the Clerk have not only to please the majority of the House but to carry the good will of the minority. I cannot claim to speak for the majority, but this letter is bitterly resented and considered improper by a substantial number of hon. Members. I hope that it will never occur again.

Mr. Speaker

I want to make two comments. First, the right hon. Gentleman thought that I implied some rebuke when I referred to the fact that he is a member of the Committee of Privileges. That was the last thing in my mind. Everyone in the House respects the right hon. Gentleman, not only for his parliamentary knowledge but for his knowledge of the Committee of Privileges.

We shall be referring this matter to the Committee of Privileges. I take it that what the Clerk was doing was to say, "This is the kind of evidence that I would submit to the Committee of Privileges if I were asked".

Mr. John Mendelson

Mr. Speaker, I was among those yesterday afternoon who, after the Leader of the House made his contribution, advised some of my hon. Friends not to continue the debate. I thought that we had had a helpful statement from the right hon. Gentleman.

May I submit this point of order to you now? One of the aspects with which we were concerned yesterday afternoon has not yet been mentioned. It is the urgency, before the House adjourns, of coming to a decision in the proper quarters so as to allow the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) to come here tomorrow, which is the last possible day, and be sworn in.

Without prejudice to the debate that is to take place later on, which will be on the general principle—as I understand it, that is the way that the Leader of the House wants it—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, after taking advice from the Home Office, would be prepared to make a further statement that, in spite of the correspondence which has passed and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) referred, the Government are now willing to use their good offices with Mr. Porter so that the hon. Lady may appear here tomorrow.

I urge this final point. The Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Porter, whom I and other hon. Members have met, is on record as saying that he has been guided in his decision by the advice that he received through the Home Office in London. Therefore, it would be logical that the Home Secretary could change this advice and thereby make it possible for Mr. Porter to allow the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster to appear here tomorrow morning.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but this is not a point of order for me. Throughout this historic occasion Mr. Speaker has taken the view that he may say nothing which expresses any point of view on the political implications of what we are discussing.

Mr. McNamara

I want, with respect, to refer to the Ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, gave in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) when you said that the original inquiry that came to the Home Office should be referred to the Home Secretary for a reply. With respect, Mr. Speaker, surely this inquiry came to the learned Clerk of the House as an inquiry being made of him as the servant of the House. This letter will, in fact, be in the archives of the Clerk's Department. It is, therefore, under your control and, by your direction, it could be placed on the Table of the House being, as it is, in a sense a question directed to the House as a whole which requires an answer of its opinion through the Clerk. Therefore, I submit that hon. Members should be entitled to see it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ruled on that point when it was put to me by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot).

Mr. Latham

I feel that I should acquaint you, Mr. Speaker, and the House with the contents of a telegram about this matter signed by Mr. Ivan Cooper, Stormont M.P., and Mr. Alan Morrison, who formed part of the deputation which made representations to Mr. Porter. The telegram reads: Stormont Ministry of Home Affairs inform us this morning that they have been acting on the basis of a Home Office Memorandum dated 14th July"— I ask the House to note that date— which states, 'We have been advised by the House authorities that a Member cannot take the oath while serving a term of imprisonment.' It is important that you, Mr. Speaker, should know of this telegram, because presumably such an authoritative statement could or should have been made only with your knowledge and approval, and, in fact, by you.

Furthermore, in an earlier submission to the House I reported that I understood that there had been a possible ambiguity in that the memorandum had said that a Member could not take the oath while in prison, which could have meant the physical place of taking it, or that the fact of being in prison precluded the Member from so taking the oath. But this is an unambiguous quotation from the memorandum sent by the Home Office.

The letter to which reference has been made, which has been published, is dated 21st July, the day on which I was in Belfast and the day after the deputation had been to see Mr. Porter, and the memorandum on which he was rejecting the representations being made was dated 14th July.

I also want to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House the fact that this is a matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) said, of extreme urgency, because further representations have been made today which I understand the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs has said he will consider and to which he will give a reply when he knows of the Ruling which he had heard you were likely to make today. If damage has been done—I will not join in any of the criticisms which have been made—it is incumbent upon those who have perhaps inadvertently been responsible for that damage to seek immediate remedy and redress.

It would appear that once it is made clear that the Home Office memorandum on which Mr. Porter's ruling has been based is incorrect, it is possible that he would agree that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster should fly here tomorrow to take the oath and thus overcome many of the difficulties.

Since I know and respect the fact that you will not rule on a hypothetical matter, would you please rule, as a fact, on something on which only you can rule, Mr. Speaker, which is that you have not ruled? That should be made quite clear to the Northern Ireland authorities so that they cannot use this as an excuse for refusing the hon. Lady the opportunity to stand at the Bar of the House tomorrow to take the oath.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for those comments, and I can rule straight away. I have not ruled in any shape or form that the hon. Lady, if she came to the Bar of the House, would not be called to take the oath. This is very important, and I am glad that the hon. Member has pressed the subject.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I urge you, without dealing with anything hypothetical, to make a statement as to the law of Parliament when it is clear and when it is plainly settled by precedent?

When my predecessor, Mr Bradlaugh, came to this House he appeared at the Bar. A protest was made, but Mr. Speaker Brand said, in effect, "I cannot hear any protest. This man is here with a writ of return. He will be sworn and when he is sworn I will meet him, and that is the first time I shall have met him."

Is not that precisely the situation if Miss Devlin were to appear here? She would stand at the Bar. She has been returned at a General Election and she would not, therefore, require a sponsor. She would walk to the Box and produce her return. At that point you do not inquire whether she is a reverend, a colonel or anything else. She is the person who appears in the return, she is sworn and you do not even see her until she comes to your Chair to receive your congratulations. This is the custom of Parliament. Why cannot it be declared publicly?

The only exception to this custom is when one has a Resolution of the House, which happens in the instance of a Member of the other place. If a person is a Member of the other place and attention is drawn to that fact, then he must not swear. Apart from that, a person swears and nobody can be heard until he or she is sworn. Then the Member goes to your Chair.

Cannot we just say that? That is all that is necessary so that the Parliament and Ministers of Northern Ireland may be aware of the practice of this House. That is all we ask, and, with the greatest respect, I cannot see why they should not be told by you that that is the practice of this House.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Further to that point of order. Before you rule on the point which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has put to you, may I strongly express the hope that you will not accede to that request, Mr. Speaker? One other consideration must be borne in mind, judging the circumstances of this case as I understand it. There could be certain circumstances in which the hon. Lady referred to might arrive at the Bar of the House in a way which Parliament would certainly not condone—[Interruption.]—and I believe that one of the things that has been disturbing a great many hon. Members—

Hon. Members

What circumstances?

Mr. Russell Kerr

What is the innuendo?

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am putting a point of order to you, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I shall be allowed to put it in the way I had originally intended. What I had in mind was that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster was convicted for an offence she committed when a Member of this House in the last Parliament. What has happened since the General Election has led to her incarceration. There are many ways in which someone in incarceration might eventually arrive at the Bar of this House, not all of them legitimate ways—

Mr. McNamara


Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Not all of them would be legitimate ways. All of us who have ever tried to serve this House by taking the Chair, here or in Committee, have recognised all along that we must not rule hypothetically. I beg you not to accede to the request of the hon. and learned Member.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The House and you, Mr. Speaker, have been put in an impossible position as a result of the correspondence which has passed between the Home Office and the Clerk. The Clerk should never have been asked to make any kind of ruling or to give any kind of advice to the Home Office because the Home Office was not a client of the Clerk. The analogy of counsel and client breaks down at that point. In that situation, what has happened now is that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster and the House have been severely prejudiced as a result of the advice which was given, quite innocently, by the learned Clerk.

In that situation it seems that there can only be some kind of exceptional way which will put the matter right in order that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster should not suffer as the result of that advice, without any kind of redress, because if this matter is not cured before tomorrow evening, then it cannot be cured at all in relation to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. What I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, is that in these exceptional circumstances it would be right for you to communicate directly with the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland and make it plain from the Chair itself that no Ruling has been made on this matter, and that you would not be prepared to rule till the hon. Lady stood at the Bar of the House requesting the right to take the oath, and that in those circumstances any other advice which had been tendered, from whatever source, was completely without any authority. Unless this exceptional way is taken with your full authority behind it it is quite likely that this to-ing and fro-ing between officials will go on till the matter cannot be put right at all. I would ask you yourself to communicate with the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is quite clearly a very real and difficult dilemma here. The House recognises that, and I hope that the House would agree that it would be the worst thing for the dignity of the House if the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster were brought to the Bar of the House and you, Mr. Speaker, were then to rule that she could not take the oath and that she had to go back again. That would be a disastrous situation for the dignity of this House, I should have thought.

I fully appreciate the Ruling which you have given, that you cannot decide a matter which is hypothetical. However, there is—and I think that this supports what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said—a passage in Erskine May under the heading of "Duties of the Speaker under usage", page 248. It reads as follows: He rules on points of order submitted to him by Members on questions either as they arise or in anticipation". I submit that in a case such as this, a unique case, and one where the dignity of the House is very much involved, it would be open to you to solve this dilemma by ruling in anticipation on the assumption that the hon. Lady were present in person and you then had to give your Ruling. If you were to decide that you could not give an anticipatory Ruling of this kind and the hon. Lady were left in the position that she had to be brought here in order to be told that the Ruling was against her, that would be something which the House would at all costs wish to avoid.

Mr. Michael Foot

May I submit to you further, Mr. Speaker, that your Ruling today means that a fresh situation is created because you have ruled very plainly that no decision has been made that the hon. Lady would be debarred from taking the oath if she were to come here. I am glad to have your clear assent on that subject. In that situation it is clear that your authority has been usurped by the Home Office. The Home Office has taken on itself, as revealed by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham), as long ago as 14th July to intervene in a matter of this kind and to give advice to the Northern Ireland Government, advice which they have accepted.

In that respect the Home Office has exactly defied what the Leader of the House said yesterday should be the position. Yesterday the House fully agreed that the right hon. Gentleman had greatly helped us because he stated: Whether the hon. Lady can present herself at the Bar of the House must, I imagine, be a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. That is a position many of us have been seeking to establish for a long time. He went on to say: the decision about whether she takes the oath is not something in which the Government have any standing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1970; Vol. 804, c. 547.] If the Government have no standing it was utterly improper for the Home Office to communicate with the Northern Ireland Government, particularly through the Secretary of State who is charged with the duty of advising the Northern Ireland Government on these matters. It was improper for the Home Office to have taken this action whether on the advice of the Clerk or not.

Therefore I ask you to rule—and this seems to follow directly from what you have said—that an immediate investigation must be initiated by your office to discover how it is that the Secretary of State in this House should usurp the rights of the House as a whole and, in particular, should usurp your rights and give to a subordinate Parliament of this country advice quite contrary to that which you have given the House today. I submit that the case is now clear that the Home Office has improperly used its power to give wrong advice based on wrong evidence as to what the rights of the hon Member for Mid-Ulster are. In other words, the Secretary of State for the Home Department has been guilty of exactly the offence which the Leader of the House said was improper. He said that the Government have no standing in this matter. Why, therefore, was it that the Government took on themselves to delay proceedings to such a degree that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster has been denied her rights? This is what has happened. It is a very serious question and one on which you have to rule whether it is proper for the Secretary of State to act in this manner.

Mr. Speaker

The last submission by the hon. Member would be more proper in the debate coming ahead. [An HON. MEMBER: "It will be too late then."] Order. I am being addressed on a matter of order. I have said from the start of this that the only concern of Mr. Speaker is the order of the House, that the issues on which many hon. Members feel very deeply are issues for the House and issues for individual hon. Members. The hon. Member who first raised this matter, for instance, himself visited Armagh Gaol and tried to do something. It is quite in order for any hon. Member, except Mr. Speaker, to attempt in some way to meet the problem of the hon. Lady who is now in Armagh Gaol.

Mr. Foot

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, the question I was raising as a point of order is not one which would fall naturally into the debate we are to have later, which is on a much more general question. What we are discussing is the question of who has thwarted the right of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster to be present in the House and see whether she could take the oath. Some of us had thought previously that it was due to a confusion about the Rulings in the House, but that conclusion has been completely removed now, and you, Sir, have ruled quite clearly that the hon. Lady is not debarred in that sense.

However, advice has been given to the Government in Northern Ireland which has led them to believe that they are qualified and entitled to prevent the hon. Lady from coming here. That has been done on the basis of advice from the Secretary of State. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if it is not possible for you to rule on this matter, although I would have thought that it is possible for you to say that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has disobeyed the rules of the House, I suggest that the Leader of the House, particularly in view of his statement to the House yesterday, should secure the attendance of the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the House as soon as possible to explain his conduct.

Mr. Orme

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Through you, Sir, I should like to press what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has just said. The Lord President of the Council now has a duty to the House. Following your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which has been very clear today, that the hon. Lady could appear here, the right hon. Gentleman could now assist the House by clearing the lines with the Home Office and with the House that the hon. Lady could be brought here if he were to advise Mr. Porter in the Northern Ireland Government that this Government have no objection to her being brought to the House. If the right hon. Gentleman took that decision now asid told the House that at the moment, it would clarify the position.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

Following the points of order, Mr. Speaker, I think that I perhaps owe it to the House and to hon. Members who have raised these matters, and in view of what I said yesterday, to say a few words at this stage.

I do not detract one word of what I said yesterday. I then said: Whether the hon. Lady can present herself at the Bar of the House must, I imagine, be a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. I am prepared to discuss that with my right hon. Friend to discover what the position is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1970: Vol. 804, c. 547.] I have done so, and I can confirm, as a result of that discussion, that it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government whether the hon. Lady could present herself at the Bar of the House. I know that the remarks I made yesterday were brought to the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. On the basis of this, the Northern Ireland Government have to make their decision as to whether they are prepared to allow the hon. Lady to appear at the Bar of the House. That seems to me to be a perfectly simple proposition. That I believe to be the position as it is at present.

Mr. Michael Foot

Is the advice that the right hon. Gentleman has now given to the House as to what is the status of the Northern Ireland Government exactly the same advice as that given by the Home Office to the Government of Northern Ireland on 14th July?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that I must not be drawn any further. This is what I promised the House yesterday that I would find out. I have found it out. I having found it out, and my remarks having been drawn to the attention of Mr. Porter, I do not think that Mr. Porter and the Northern Ireland Government in coming to the decision about the hon. Lady are in any doubt. They read of our proceedings yesterday. They also clearly read of the letter which was published this morning in The Times. I think that they quite understand the position. They have to make their decision quite plainly on the basis of the facts as they know them now.

Mr. Latham

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to say that the facts as presented by the Leader of the House do not correspond with the facts that are being communicated from Belfast. This very morning the Ministry of Home Affairs still stood by the memorandum to which reference has been made as if there had been no exchanges at all in the House yesterday. The only comment to the representatives who went there, made by a secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, was that it could not be held responsible for the mistakes of the British Home Office.

I believe that there has been some correspondence from your Office, Mr. Speaker, in which it was made clear that the hon. Lady could not take the oath in prison.

The point we are trying to press, and what I think is the primary and only urgent point at present, is that something has been said which purports to have been in your name. Cannot you redress that, Mr. Speaker, since your authority appears to have been misquoted, and cannot you make it clear to the Ministry that you have not ruled in the way that it has been led to believe you have ruled? Unless you do that, it seems to me extremely unlikely that the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland will believe that there is any change in the situation since the memorandum of 14th July.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, that is exactly the point the hon. Gentleman asked me to put clearly. I have not ruled—and this is perhaps the third time I have said this today—that if the hon. Lady appeared at the Bar I would not call her to take the oath. This is clear beyond a peradventure.

Mr. Will Griffiths

The Leader of the House has reiterated that the authority in this matter is vested in the Government of Northern Ireland, but we know from what has been said in the House this evening, and the correspondence in The Times this morning, that it may be reasonable to assume that a decisive factor in the decision taken by the Government of Northern Ireland was the advice tendered to the Home Office by the Clerk. We now know that that advice was tendered in good faith, but, as you have explained, Mr. Speaker, by a convention in our proceedings was neither seen nor endorsed by you. Therefore, if it is the fact, as seems reasonable, that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster is denied a possible opportunity to come here to take the oath by the action of the Clerk of the House, surely it is your duty, in your supreme authority, to rectify that error and rule tonight in a way that will make it clear to the Government of Northern Ireland that the advice tendered by the Clerk was not the decisive advice that should have been tendered by you.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Again, I make it perfectly clear that I cannot enter into the assumption that the hon. Gentleman make as to how Stormont decides its policy. This is not a matter for Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his own argument, but these are not matters of order for me.

Mr. Paget

Cannot we take this just a little further? It is now clear that on 14th July information was given to the Stormont Ministry which was plainly erroneous. It is equally clear that the very forthcoming and forthright statement which the Leader of the House made yesterday, and which we all understood, was not understood in Ireland. Would the right hon. Gentleman just go a little further and say that he will communicate with the Northern Ireland Government to make it clear that they understand the situation, that the communication of 14th July was an unfortunate mistake, and that what he said yesterday meant that if the hon. Lady did come here and presented herself for the oath she would be treated according to the normal procedure of the House? If the right hon. Gentleman would just make that clear to the Northern Irish authorities, I feel that we should all be satisfied, Mr. Speaker's position would be clear and the House would have renewed confidence in a Leader in whom I think it already has great confidence.

Mr. Whitelaw

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I can clear the matter up now. Naturally, after what I said yesterday I had a conversation with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who undertook to have further conversations with the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. I know that those conversations have taken place today. I think that I can assure the House that whatever decision the Northern Ireland Government may come to today they will take it in the full knowledge of what passed in the House yesterday and, indeed, in the full knowledge of what I said and of what was published in the papers this morning. They are in no doubt of all these facts in coming to their decision. I hope that that gives the assurance that the hon and learned Gentleman asked for.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is not the difficulty entirely due to the fact that the Government know, the Clerk to the Table knows and most hon. Members know, that if the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster were to come here and take the oath, Privilege would mean that she would not need to go back, because she would be privileged to stay here? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am asking Mr. Speaker whether this is so, and I do not seek the advice of hon. Members. There was a case some years ago when there was an identical situation.

Once in the precincts, an hon. Member cannot be ordered to go back, cannot be ordered out. If the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster were now to say that she would agree to go back, once having taken the oath, perhaps the Home Office would change its mind.

Mr. Speaker

I have already said that I am not ruling on a hypothesis. This is a hypothesis following a hypothesis.

I would rule on a question of Privilege after giving it 24 hours' consideration.

It now appears that we may move on.