§ Mr. S. Silverman
I desire your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, to ask about a Motion which I sought to put on the Order Paper last night, but which, I understand, by your direction ultimately did not appear. I shall endeavour to put my point as shortly as may be and, of course, without raising any of the merits either way of the subject matter of the Motion, but I hope I may have your indulgence for a minute or two in dealing with the matter, because it seems to me that this is a question which involves the whole matter of the authority of Parliament and the right of Parliament to control the Executive in any action which a Departmental Minister takes, and I would say especially in matters where the Royal Prerogative of mercy is involved.
At a few minutes past seven last night, I took into the Table Office a Motion in these terms:That this House respectfully dissents from the opinion of the Home Secretary that there were no sufficient reasons for advising the exercise of the Royal Clemency in the case of Derek Bentley; and urges him to reconsider the matter so as to give effect to the recommendation of the jury and to the expressed view of the Lord Chief Justice"—who was the trial judge—that Bentley's guilt was less than that of his co-defendant, Christopher Craig.There were about 50 hon. Members who supported that Motion, not all from one side of the House, and among the 50 there were no fewer than 10 Privy Councillors, hon. Members who have held high office under the Crown. The 50 also included the former Solicitor-General and one of the former Under-Secretaries of State for the Home Department. I mention these facts as part of the claim which I would modestly make that the Motion was by no means a frivolous Motion; that it was a well-considered Motion, so far as one could make it so, and not a Motion which would be regarded in any quarter of the House as one which obviously ought not to appear upon the Order Paper.
When I took the Motion into the Table Office, it was accepted without any question of any kind. That was at a few minutes past seven. I remained in the 846 House until roughly half-past eight. No question had been raised about the Motion by that time, although to my knowledge several hon. Members, and I think one right hon. Member, had been to the Table Office and added their names to the Motion in the meantime.
I went home shortly after that, and at, I think, a quarter-past ten at night, when it was clearly impossible for me to make any representations to you, Sir, or to anyone else, I had a telephone message that, by your direction, the Motion would not appear upon the Order Paper. I do not know why that direction was given and I hope that, without disrespect, one may inquire the reason. I have looked at the authorities and I find—
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that perhaps the hon. Member will find what he is looking for on page 384 of Erskine May.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, and to one of my hon. and learned Friends, but I am afraid that neither of you has given me the authority for which I was looking. But I will not delay you while I find the one I was looking for. I remember it fairly well. I hope that I may paraphrase it. I found two cases in which a Motion might not appear upon the Order Paper. There was only one precedent that I found in which Mr. Speaker had directly intervened to prevent a Motion from going on the Order Paper, and that was a case where the Motion clearly was put down solely for the purposes of personal annoyance to a single Member. I could find no other precedent.
The other example, which was not supported by any quoted precedent although there were references in the footnote, was to the effect that a Motion would not be accepted and placed upon the Order Paper if it were wholly out of order. Clearly the first of those two could not have applied, and I submit with respect that the second could not apply either. So far from the Motion being out of order, it is clearly established by Erskine May. The paragraph I wanted to quote is on page 379 of my edition; states:A notice wholly out of order, as, for instance, containing a reflection on a vote of the House, may be withheld from publication 847 on the notice paper, or, if the irregularity be not extreme, the notice is printed, and reserved for future consideration.The other one is:When a notice publicly given is obviously irregular or unbecoming, the Speaker has interposed, and the notice has not been received in that form.Those are the only two. As to whether the Motion was wholly out of order, it has been established, and I think would not be contested in any quarter, that a Minister's action in the advice which he tenders to the Crown is, like any other action he takes, action for which he is responsible to the House of Commons. There is not any doubt about that at all.
There have been doubts as to when, at what stage in the proceedings, debate upon it would be in order or not in order. That is something on which I should like to say a few words in a moment, but nobody has ever doubted that when a Minister presumes to offer advice to the Crown upon the exercise of a Royal Prerogative, he is responsible to the House for the advice he tenders. The exercise of the Prerogative of mercy in this country is not an arbitrary act as it might be in some totalitarian State: it is as much subject to the constitutional principles of a Parliamentary democracy as any other act by any other person. It is not beyond challenge.
Erskine May makes it clear that the challenge ought to be made, if it is made at all, by substantive Motion. I sought to put down a substantive Motion. There is nothing, on the face of it, that is out of order at all, so I submit with respect; still less can it be said that it is wholly out of order. It is at no point out of order It may be said, "Yes, but it is the wrong time." I thought that that, too, had been settled. I thought that it had been settled, after considerable controversy, that, whereas it would not be regular or permissible to seek to influence by Question or debate in the House the mind of the Home Secretary while he was still considering what advice he would give to the Crown, yet it became immediately challengeable in the House when he had made up his mind what advice he would give and had, therefore, tendered the advice.
On this occasion it was most important. This was the first occasion in the new reign of the young Queen of the exer- 848 cise of the most responsible of all the Royal Prerogatives. Is it to be said that this House may have its way—that the Home Secretary shall be responsible to the House for the advice he has given, but only when it is too late to overtake it? Is the House to wait until Bentley is dead before it is entitled to say that he should not die? No, Sir. I think that the decision was, quite clearly, that once the Home Secretary's mind had been made up, then he could be challenged in the House.
But, suppose I am wrong about that, there was nothing whatever in the Motion that called for debate this day. That, Sir, would have been a matter for you to determine—whether it would ever be called or whether, if it were called, debate on it would be in order. The fact, if it were a fact, that debate on it today would be out of order and debate on it tomorrow would be in order, was no reason for holding it to be wholly out of order last night. The only possible effect of removing the Motion from the Order Paper would be to remove from the control of the House a matter which is clearly one for which the Home Secretary is responsible to the House.
This is a matter which arouses interest of the deepest kind not merely in the House. I venture to think that if it were possible to put such a matter to the vote today, there would be an overwhelming majority of this House who would think that the Home Secretary had decided wrongly. I have here more than 200 telegrams, from all sorts of people all over the country —all of them except one holding the decision to be wrong, and that one telling me only that the Home Secretary would probably tell me to mind my own business.
Sir, I am minding my own business. That is why I am raising this question with you. It is the business of all of us if this boy hangs when we think he ought not to hang. This is a Parliamentary democracy, and we are all responsible for what occurs. I do not want to debate the merits of the matter. I shall debate the merits of it just so soon as you decide the House may debate it, whether or not a reprieve is ever given. But I say in these circumstances, with great respect, that you exceeded your authority in seeking to withhold this Motion from the Order Paper last night.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to what the hon. Member said, and I fully appreciate the deep feeling that exists in many parts of the country on this matter. I should like to state what my conception of my authority was for taking the action I took. The Order Paper is a document published by the authority of the House, and the Speaker is charged, among other duties, with doing his best to see that nothing out of order or irregular appears upon it. Frequently the Speaker has had to intervene—I have myself —when Motions are offered. I have convinced an hon. Member that a Motion was out of order or taken some action myself.
In this case, the Motion of the hon. Member, which I saw late last night, dealt with the case of a capital sentence which is still pending, and there is a long line of authorities of all my predecessors saying that, while a capital sentence is pending, the matter should not be discussed in the House.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) did refer to the general doctrine that any action of a Minister, and any responsibility which he exercises Departmentally, is one for which he is answerable to the House, but in this particular case of a sentence of a capital character which has not been executed, there is the strongest possible precedent for saying that the House should not discuss it, either by Questions, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House or by any other means whatsoever. On that there is no doubt at all in my mind; it has been upheld by successive Speakers for a great number of years, and I have the precedents here, if the House would like me to refer to them.
The most recent one is that of Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown. Many hon. Members will remember the case of the executions taking place in the Gold Coast, which was not so very long ago —in 1947—and on which Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown then ruled. He was asked for a definite Ruling, and he used these words:I would point out that, in my Ruling of 10th March, I was dealing with the particular case of persons under sentence of death on the Gold Coast. My remarks were, therefore, directed to the question of the Prerogative of mercy in the case of persons under sentence of death. It was the sentence of death that I had in mind when I said. by 850 way of supplement to my Ruling, that the Home Secretary could not be challenged on the advice he had given to His Majesty until after the sentence had been executed. This rule is, of course, not applicable to sentences of imprisonment. The practice of the House makes a complete distinction between capital sentences and other forms of punishment, so far as the Prerogative of mercy is concerned. Whereas the remission of a sentence of imprisonment, for example, can be urged upon a Minister at any time after its imposition, a capital sentence cannot be raised in Question or debate while the sentence is pending. After it has been executed, the Minister responsible may be criticised on the relevant Vote in Supply, or on the Adjournment. I have stated that that is the practice of the House, and I cannot alter the practice of the House… —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st May, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 2180–81.]Neither can I. The notice of Motion, as it was submitted to me last night, was notice of a debate which would be wholly out of order and a debate which could not take place. It was therefore my view, in the circumstances, and acting under my duty, that this notice should not appear on the Order Paper because it was one which could not be debated in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Silverman
Surely, what you have said, Mr. Speaker, means a considerable extension even of the Ruling—I would respectfully say the very doubtful Ruling —of the last Speaker, which you read. It is one thing to say that a debate on a particular day and at a particular time would have been irregular and out of order; it is quite another thing to say that a Motion upon the Order Paper is therefore out of order.
Every citizen in this country is entitled to bring pressure to bear upon the Home Secretary. A lot of them have been doing it during these last few weeks, and I dare say a good many more have done so today. Any hon. Member of the House, or any combination of hon. Members, may go to him and bring pressure to bear upon him or counter-pressure against the pressure coming the other way. It surely makes a mockery of the rights of the House to say that hon. Members of this House alone shall not be able to combine to put upon the Order Paper an expression of their opinions. That is not a debate. The Motion would have carried at the end of it the words "An early day." Tomorrow is quite early, and tomorrow, on any Ruling, the debate would be in order. 851 I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Ruling so far given was so narrow and so doubtful that it would be quite wrong to extend it, as your action last night did, to apply to a Motion which, in the normal course, would never have been debated at all unless the Government found time for it, and which could hardly have been debated today, and which, therefore, would have been wholly in order at any relevant time when it could have been debated, was out of order merely because it appeared on the Order Paper at a time when a debate might have been irregular.
I submit that in matters of this kind, where deep feelings are involved, not merely in this House but throughout the country, and on which the whole administration of justice might be brought into contempt, this is not the occasion to narrow still further the rights of Members of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Paget
In my submission to you, Mr. Speaker, the Ruling on which you have relied is based upon the decision of the Executive and not on the decision of this House. I have looked up the precedents, and I find that the precedents arose from Questions put to Ministers, and the Minister always answered by saying that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer that Question. That, of course, is an answer which any Minister can always give, but, in my submission to you, it has never been applied to a Motion, and a Motion such as this has never been ruled out of order before. That is the first submission that I would make.
The second submission I would make to you is to ask for your guidance and assistance. I think the great condemnation which we made of the German people was that they stood aside and did nothing when dreadful things happened. We are a sovereign assembly. A threequarter-witted boy of 19 is to be hanged for a murder he did not commit, and which was committed 15 minutes after he was arrested. Can we be made to keep silent when a thing as horrible and as shocking as this is to happen?
I ask your guidance because I feel that the great mass of hon. Members here feel with me that we ought to be provided with an opportunity to try to prevent this dreadful thing from happening.
§ Mr. Hale
May I refresh your memory, Mr. Speaker, in regard to what happened in 1947? I raised the matter then in a Question, and it arose in this way. I sought the assistance and guidance of the Chair in seeking to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 in order to call attention to some executions which were then imminent in the Gold Coast, and there was a very long discussion.
It will be within the recollection of all hon. Members here who were present on that occasion that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the present Prime Minister, intervened and made an attack on the then Colonial Secretary and said that he should go out and do something about it. That was done with the apparent permission and approval of the Chair. Subsequently, the matter was raised again in the course of debate, and further reference was made to it. Finally, Mr. Speaker was asked to give a Ruling on the question which I had raised with him, and in respect of which I had submitted documentary points to him.
That question was whether it was possible, by Question and answer, to raise questions of the Royal Prerogative. You will remember that, until 1916 or so, it was almost a commonplace to raise questions of the Royal Prerogative, and, historically speaking, this power was taken away from the House because we were executing so many decent Irishmen —[interruption.]—indeed, that is precisely what happened — that it became a burden on Ministers to defend themselves at that time. Since then, successive Speakers have ruled that Questions cannot be asked about the Royal Prerogative until the Minister's advice has been given.
I apprehend that there is a difference between the 1947 case and this case because, in the former case, the Royal Prerogative was being exercised by the Colonial Governor and the responsibility of the Secretary of State was, at the most, a vicarious responsibility for the Governor's activities, and that there was less direct connection than there is in this case.
I suggest that a search of all the authorities discloses no precedent for saying that a Motion cannot be put down on the Order Paper in these circumstances, and that no such Ruling has 853 ever been given. The precedent which is called in aid, as I understand it, the one precedent which is referred to and particularised in Erskine May, is a precedent of a Member who put down a scurrilous Motion reflecting on another Member and referring to his conviction in the police court. I can quite understand that a Speaker may say, "I will not allow the Order Paper to be used for putting down purely scurrilous matters," but this is not a matter of that kind.
It may be for you, Sir, to rule that we could not have discussed that Motion today or that we could not discuss it at any time, or that we could only discuss it after this lamentable decision had taken effect and after a young life was gone. In my respectful submission, Mr. Speaker, what is happening here is this, and, with very great respect, the decision appears to me to go far beyond this unhappy youth's life.
The facts are precisely these. I came into the House yesterday at almost exactly 7.30. My hon. Friend told me of this Motion, and I went to the Table Office to sign it. It was then in the Table Office, and had been signed by a great many hon. Members. Indeed, the one remark made to me, if I may say so, was, "The paper is so full that you will have a job to get your name on it." I wrote my name in a small space.
No suggestion was then made that it was out of order. What has happened is that a Motion has been removed from the Order Paper, or has never been put on the Order Paper, after the House has risen, or after all chance of making a protest has gone. I submit that it has always been the rule of the House that the one way of raising a matter which cannot competently be raised in any other way is by putting a Motion on the Order Paper. One cannot challenge the conduct of Her Majesty's judges except by a Motion on the Order Paper, and one cannot challenge, it may be said, the Royal Prerogative except by a Motion on the Order Paper.
I want to submit one further point which I think is of very great relevance to this matter. It is within the recollection of any Member of this House who has been here during the past five years that we had a considerable discussion on 854 capital punishment during the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill, and this House carried a new Clause which I think was moved by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) calling for the abolition of capital punishment—[interruption.]—for the suspension of capital punishment for five years, my right hon. Friend corrects me —and my right hon. Friend was then Home Secretary and had the responsibility for exercising the Royal Prerogative.
He took a decision which I think everyone applauded at the time, that in view of the carrying of that Motion it would not be right to carry out capital sentences after the House had so determined. Capital sentences were therefore suspended, and it was announced that they were going to be suspended. It was said, "We will carry out the recommendation of the House and capital punishment shall be suspended for a period until another place in its infinite wisdom puts back the Clause." That was announced in the House by the Minister, and it was a matter on which the Minister was responsible to the House and on which the House could have put down a Motion saying it did not agree with it. It may be out of order to say that there were fewer murders in that period than ever before or since, but that is what happened.
I respectfully suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that once we have the situation where a Home Secretary can say in the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, "I am going to defer to the views of the House of Commons and am going to suspend capital punishment in deference to its decision," then, surely, it cannot be argued that this is not a matter in which there is Ministerial responsibility to the House of Commons.
If it be said that where there is Ministerial responsibility one cannot put down a Motion, then, with respect, Sir, that would be the gravest invasion of the rights and privileges of Members of this House made over the last 300 years. I speak with deep sincerity when I say that everyone respects the way in which you, Sir, have discharged your duties in the Chair, and everyone pays, not merely the respect they owe to the Chair, but a personal respect for the way in which you have carried out those duties. It is also with respect that I say that this was a 855 gross invasion of the liberties of the House, and that you, Mr. Speaker, are taking upon yourself a prerogative and responsibility which will be a burden to you in the future if this is done.
If it be in the power of a Speaker to say, "This Motion is not scurrilous, not sordid or not intrinsically wicked, but in my judgment it ought to be removed from the Order Paper," then he is taking a responsibility which is an invasion of our privileges and taking up a position which makes it possible for us to suggest that he is protecting a Minister or a Government, and I respectfully submit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am trying to put it with respect and courtesy, but I am going to put it, and am not going to omit one comma of it, because I am as much defending the liberties of the House at the moment as many more able men have done in the past.
I submit that Mr. Speaker has not the power, and never has had the power, to take a Motion from the Order Paper unless it be so blasphemous, seditious, scurrilous and abusive as to be an obvious degradation of the Order Paper of the House of Commons. Here was a matter referring to Ministerial conduct and a matter of grave public urgency on which the public are deeply moved, and most of them deeply shocked. In these circumstances, I submit that the Motion should have been on the Order Paper today.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened with great care to everything that has been said and I should like to assure the House, first of all—and I hope it will believe me—that I am neither trying to invade its privileges nor trying to protect Ministers. I have to decide these matters in accordance with the Rules of the House. I have no power to alter them, and, indeed, I should be false to my trust to the House were I to play fast and loose with the recognised practices and Rules of the House.
My Ruling last night by no means prevents the House from taking cognisance of this matter. A Motion can be put down on this subject when the sentence has been executed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late."] Hon. Members may have their views upon it, and they may want to alter it, but that is the fact and that is the law I am bound to administer. A 856 Motion at that time would be in order, but the Motion which the hon. Member submitted asked the Home Secretary to reconsider his decision. Therefore, it was bound to be a Motion interposed before the sentence had been executed, and that, by all the authorities of the House, is out of order.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), if he will forgive me for saying so, was quite in error in supposing that this is some modern Ruling which stems from the Ruling I quoted earlier on. It is a thing of great antiquity in the House, and has been followed by all my predecessors. As far as I can find, there has been no precedent to the contrary of any debate in this House of Commons being interposed on a capital charge while it was pending.
Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, as part of the Ruling to which I have referred, went back to 1887 and 1889 in the cases of Lipski and Maybrick, and that is a rule which has been followed ever since. But to come to more modern times, I find it was sought to move the Adjournment of the House on two occasions in cases of this sort while the sentence was still pending, and the Speakers at the times were Mr. Speaker Lowther and Mr. Speaker Whitley. If the general doctrine which has been propounded today were correct, it would be a fit subject for the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. In the first case I am going to quote, the case of 29th November, 1920, Mr. Speaker Lowther said:With regard to the Motion for the Adjournment which I understand the hon. Member was proposing to make, I must point out that I could not accept such a Motion. It would be an interference with the ordinary administration of the course of justice. It has been laid down on previous occasions in this House that no Motion for the Adjournment could be accepted in such a case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1920; Vol. 135, c. 931.]Mr. Speaker Whitley, on a similar Motion before the House, said:Before I put this matter to the House, I must make it quite clear that no question of the Adjournment can arise on the subject of the advice tendered to His Majesty by a Home Secretary with regard to a reprieve, or the converse, of a criminal who has been convicted. That is maintained by a long series of decisions by my predecessors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1922; Vol. 155, c. 205.]857 Indeed, all the decisions are that way, and if I had allowed the notice to remain on the Order Paper I should have been in fact putting on the Order Paper a Motion that could not possibly be debated. That by no means prejudices the right of the House, in accordance with its own rules, to table a Motion suitably expressed at a later time. But a Motion asking for reconsideration of the decision was, I am afraid, one of those which, in my own mind, I had to come to the conclusion would be out of order. Therefore, the notice of Motion is out of order.
§ Mr. Bevan
There are, in my respectful submission, two issues here, upon one of which the House is very clear. It may be to the rest of the country rather stupid that the House of Commons can only intervene when the step taken is irremediable. That may appear to be silly and absurd, but nevertheless it is quite clear from the precedents that you, Mr. Speaker, are in a very strong position there and cannot be assailed.
But there is another issue. What you have done, as I understand it, is to remove from the Order Paper a Motion because it is out of order. I have never known that to happen except in circumstances that have been explained, because many Motions appear on the Order Paper which are known to be out of order. On the Committee stage of every Bill new Clauses are put down and Amendments are put down on the Order Paper and then declared to be out of order. What we are considering here is what is the precedent or the rule upon which you rely to intervene to prevent a Motion going on the Order Paper merely because in your view it is out of order. It is on that matter that we should like to have an explanation.
It would be a very serious thing if the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means actively intervened between hon. Members and the Order Paper and refused to allow a Motion to be put down because in their view the Motion is out of order, and therefore estopped the hon. Member concerned from having a discussion as to why he thinks his Motion is in order. This is a very serious step and ought not to be blurred with the other one as to whether we could discuss whether the Royal pleasure has in fact 858 been exercised. I submit therefore, Mr. Speaker, that whereas you rely on excellent precedents with regard to the one, you have not succeeded in proving to me that you have relied in a proper fashion —that is, in proving to the House—on proper precedents or rules in respect of the other matter.
§ Mr. Silverman
May I say at once, Mr. Speaker, that no one believes for a moment, or is even pretending to believe or intending to say, that in the action you took you were intending to do anything other than preserve the rules of order and therefore, by preserving the rules of order, preserve the liberties of the House. If we differ from your decision it is not because we question the motives of it, but because we are bound to look at the thing for ourselves, although ultimately we may have to accept your Ruling.
Despite what has been said, I am going to claim to move a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9. Before asking you to rule upon that, I should like to submit, with regard to the precedents that you have quoted to the House, that in both those cases the House was attempting to interfere with the Home Secretary before he had come to a conclusion as to what advice he would give, and that it has to be afterwards.
That is borne out by the terms in which the then Speaker gave his Ruling. He said, as you have quoted, that this was the ordinary administration of the criminal law. The use of the Royal Prerogative of mercy is not the ordinary administration of the criminal law. It is directly the opposite. It is the decision of the Crown under the Royal Prerogative that the ordinary administration of the law shall not happen; and when the then Speaker was saying that the Motion was seeking to interfere with the ordinary administration of the law that could only have been true if the Motion had been put down when the Home Secretary had not yet made up his mind.
My Motion does not seek to interfere with the administration of the law in its ordinary course. That has gone by. There has been a trial and a verdict and a sentence and a recommendation to mercy. There has been an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal and there have been petitions to the right hon. and learned 859 Gentleman the Home Secretary. The ordinary course of the law has exhausted itself. What happens then if the House and the nation do not wish the ordinary course of the law to be carried out in a particular case? It is exactly on that point that the Royal Prerogative of mercy is invoked to change the ordinary course of the law and to substitute something else. And in considering what advice he will give, the Home Secretary is entitled to the benefit of any advice that anyone may feel qualified to give him, and not least the advice of the House of Commons. I do not know what has influenced the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He has not said, and undoubtedly will not say unless there is a debate, but I dare say that representations have been made from this and that quarter.
It might be of great assistance to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and in the highest sense in the public interest to enable him to know what the view of the House is about the decision—as we think the unfortunate decision—which we hope is not going to be an irrevocable decision, that he made yesterday. It is for that reason that I seek leave to move my Motion.
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9:To call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the decision of the Home Secretary not to advise Her Majesty to exercise the Royal Prerogative of mercy in the case of Derek Bentley.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9:To call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the decision of the Home Secretary not to advise Her Majesty to exercise the Royal Prerogative of mercy in the case of Derek Bentley.For the reasons that I have given and on the authorities that I have already cited, which are an unbroken line of cases, I cannot accept the Motion.
§ Mr. Donnelly
Further to this matter and on a point of order, may I alternatively seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House on a different issue? I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9: 860To call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the action of Mr. Speaker in directing that the Motion submitted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne should not appear on the Order Paper today.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9:To call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the action of Mr. Speaker in directing that the Motion submitted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne should not appear on the Order Paper today.I cannot accept that. It has been ruled several times that the action of Mr. Speaker cannot be a cause for the Adjournment of the House. There is another course open to the hon. Member which should be followed.
§ Mr. Hale
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) put a question to you, Mr. Speaker, of supreme importance but, unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I think under a misunderstanding, intervened before you had time to reply. The House is entitled to hear whether there is a precedent for Mr. Speaker refusing a Motion of the kind put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. I submit to you that I have gone through the authorities and have never found a case.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) mentioned two points. The first was the fact that a debate on this matter today would be out of order because of the precedents which I have cited. He seemed to agree with me about that. Secondly, he asked for information on the question whether, even admitting that the debate were out of order and it could not take place, I was in order in directing the removal of the notice from the Paper? In answer, I would say that I was, because the notice was out of order, and, in accordance with the authorities I have quoted, Mr. Speaker is the guardian of the Order Paper, which is a document of the House of Commons and which is a record, not of the views expressed by hon. Members, but of the business projected. If the business cannot be taken in the form in which it is put down, it is quite proper to direct its removal.
§ Mr. Bevan
Before we leave this matter, the last statement made by you, Mr. Speaker, is an extremely serious one. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I ask hon. Members to listen to what I have to say. I have been responsible for a good many Bills in this House; do I understand your Ruling to be that a Minister can make representations to the Chair and have removed from the Order Paper—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Please listen, because anybody can make representations to the Chair if he is a Member of the House. Do you, Mr. Speaker, say that if a notice, which has been put down tonight, is out of order it will be ruled out of order tomorrow? Does the Chair, then, take the responsibility of standing between an hon. Member who wishes to move it and the Order Paper? [HON. MEMBERS: "That is most improper."] If hon. Members will please let me put my point, it will help.
We are, in fact, discussing at the moment the rights of all hon. Members in all parts of the House. It is unnecessary to argue this matter as if we were in conflict with the Chair. What we are seeking to do is to find the frontiers of Mr. Speaker's Ruling in these circumstances, and I say that, whereas Mr. Speaker is the guardian of the Order Paper, the very word "guardian" has been interpreted to prevent appearing on the Order Paper today the Motion to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.
In the whole of my experience in Parliament, the use of the function of guardian of the Order Paper has not been used to remove from the Order Paper a Motion merely on the grounds that Mr. Speaker says it is out of order. We ought to have the precedents and rules for that. If we cannot have them—and I say this with every respect—then it is absolutely essential to discuss the matter on some other occasion so that we know where we are in the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
In view of the suggestion which was inadvertently made, I should like to make it abundantly clear to the House that in deciding this matter last night I received no representations from any Minister or anyone else. I hope that is clearly understood.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman did not suggest it, but it might have been thought from what he said that that was so, and I wish to make it clear that I had no representations of any sort. There was a little doubt in this matter and it was referred to me. I had to make up my mind whether this was a proper notice to put on the Order Paper. In view of what I have said—I need not again go into the reasons which I have already given to the House—I decided on the course I did, and if the House is dissatisfied with my decision it must take the proper steps.
§ Mr. Speaker
In what I was saying I was imputing no evil motives to the right hon. Gentleman. The words which I referred to as used by the right hon. Gentleman were—Is it to be taken that it is in order for a Minister to go to the Chair and make representations about this or that? While it was a good point on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, it might have been supposed from what he said, it having been said in the context of this case, that something of this sort had occurred last night. I want to make it abundantly clear that nothing of the sort happened.
§ Mr. Hale
What I was saying when I was interrupted was that no one has suggested, no one has thought and no one has implied that there was any approach to you, Mr. Speaker, by a Minister of the Crown, but once you say you have the power which today you stated you have, you cannot stop a Minister going to you and making representations, and it would be your duty to listen to any representations that a Minister might make. That is the first trouble, difficulty and abuse to which this procedure leaves the House open. 863 I want to submit one further point. As I understand it, it is open to every Member of the House to present an Address to Her Majesty on any subject which is appropriate for a humble Address, and the exercise of the Royal Prerogative would always be a subject for a humble Address when the powers have been delegated to one of Her Majesty's Ministers and constitutionally exercised by that Minister. It was out of that delegation of the right of the Crown that one seeks to present a humble Address to the Crown and ask the Crown to interfere in these matters.
Surely the Ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, that you can remove a Motion from the Order Paper leaves it open to us—and regrettably open I may say—to put on the Order Paper a Motion for a humble Address to Her Majesty. That is a regrettable method of having to deal with it. No one has any desire to embroil the Crown in a matter for which the Crown constitutionally has no direct responsibility, and which is constitutionally and properly exercised on the advice of a Minister. That was always the dilemma which arose in the Gold Coast case. I would remind the House that I sought to see the Lord Chancellor as the Keeper of the King's Conscience upon 864 that matter rather than make a direct approach to the Crown. I think the whole House ought to ask for a Ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, and that we should be told what are the precedents for this procedure.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will do my best to enlighten the House if I am asked a question. This Motion was not addressed to Her Majesty and different considerations apply there. I merely state that if the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) wants an answer to his question, I should be much obliged if he would think it over and let me have its terms, when I will do my best to answer it.