§ Mr. W. Yates
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to raise a point of order. I apologise for not having given you prior notice. I ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the reported orders of the Director of Military Operations in Cyprus for the reopening of operations in the island during a time in which, first, the Governments of both Greece and Turkey are in consultation and, secondly, when both the Prime Minister and the Governor of the island are engaged in urgent efforts to obtain a permanent peace on the island—this in addition to the offers made by those disaffected subjects of Her Majesty not only for a truce but for a permanent peace.
The first question is whether the matter is denfiite. The only advice that I have on the matter of definition is Reuters report this morning, at 10.54, which reported the reopening of large-scale operations. I got in touch with the head of Reuters foreign bureau and also with one of the directors of Reuters, and they saw no reason to withdraw the report made by one of their experienced reporters on the island. That was definite as far as Reuters was concerned.
1258 As far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, the War Office has not yet heard of the present operations, and I am informed that the Colonial Office is also unaware of them.
In view of the fact that it is also now impossible to get any further definite information, because there is a black-out on all news from the island, I suggest that that is as definite as I can possibly make it.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that I share the ignorance of the War Office and the Colonial Office about these matters. The hon. Member has raised an important point, no doubt, but his only authority for it so far is a report from Reuters. The House has not the information before it which would enable me to say that this is a subject which falls within the Standing Order. The hon. Member should put down a Question so that we can get the facts about it first. I could not agree that, as he puts it, the matter comes within the Standing Order.
§ Mr. Yates
May I pursue that matter a little further, Sir? I do not dispute in any way, or wish to make any comment upon, your interpretation of the rule— because it is a very difficult rule to interpret—but when, for example, a responsible news organisation, or the people employed by it, confirm their report and refuse to withdraw it, and the Government themselves refuse to give any information, does not that, by innuendo, mean that the report is, in fact, correct?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that that necessarily follows. The reason might be just ignorance, as it is in my own case.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Like everybody else, Mr. Speaker, I had no knowledge of the hon. Member's intention to raise this question, but now that it has been raised may I draw your attention to what seems to me to be a very close precedent for what the hon. Member is laying before you? On one day in June, 1946, the Government of the day began a serious military operation in what was then Palestine. The news came through only that morning and I sought leave on the same day to do exactly what the hon. Member is now seeking leave to do, namely, to raise the matter under the relevant Standing Order.
1259 The Speaker of that day thought that the point was well taken and, subject to the leave of the House, allowed the special Adjournment of the House to be moved. The Motion getting the support of 40 Members on both sides, there was a debate on that day which had a significant bearing on future events. With great respect, that seems to be a very close parallel to what the hon. Member is now saying.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not recall the incident to which the hon. Member refers, but in the present instance I should certainly require some more information before I put the Question to the House.
§ Mr. Bevan
Would you be good enough to inform the House, Mr. Speaker, when you consider information as being sufficiently substantial for an hon. Member to be allowed to move the Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9? Must it be an official statement by the Government before it is sufficiently substantial? If so, it would put us in a very peculiar position, would it not? As to whether there is substance in the statement, surely a submission could be conveyed to you quite easily by the Ministers themselves.
On numerous occasions hon. Members have moved the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 and have asked your leave to have a discussion, with the permission of the House, because they have heard something from unofficial sources. That is the whole purpose of the Standing Order. It deals not with official sources, but unofficial sources, and it is not, therefore, necessary that you yourself should be aware of the substantiality of a statement; you are merely concerned with the question whether there is a prima facie case for its substantiality.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that I should try to lay down any general canon as to the exactitude of the information that I would consider necessary. I can only put the matter in a negative way and say that, at present, in regard to this particular matter I do not think that I or the House have sufficient information to enable me to put the Standing Order into operation. That is all I can say.
The right hon. Member knows that in Questions a Minister cannot be asked 1260 to confirm or deny a report that appears in the Press, and, although it is not exactly parallel to this case, circumstances might arise when it would be appropriate to allow the Adjournment to be moved. I do not think that it is appropriate in this case.
§ Mr. Bevan
With respect, Mr. Speaker, this is of some importance as a general principle, quite apart from the issue raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates). He has informed the House that he has done his best this morning to establish the truth of the report, which has come from a very reputable source, and if he had not raised it today you, Sir, might say that he had not raised it at the first opportunity. Do we now understand that if a statement is made from a reputable source, and action is not immediately taken by an hon. Member of this House under Standing Order No. 9, he does not prejudice himself in the matter of raising it on a sub sequent occasion?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have only to deal with the statement as it is before me, and at present I cannot allow the question to be raised under the Standing Order. But if I had some more information, and the House had more information—which is more to the point than my having it- I would consider it again without prejudice as to the time. I think that we all ought to know something more about this.
§ Mr. Grimond
Is not the House in some difficulty over this matter? We are informed by the hon. Member that there is a black-out on news from Cyprus and that neither of the Government Departments that he has approached has any information. In a similar case before the Recess it proved that the Press knew a great deal more about something than the Government Departments concerned. If we cannot raise the matter in the way that the hon. Member has attempted to raise it, may we at least ask the Government whether they are prepared to make a statement on this matter and, if so, when they will be in a position to do so?
§ Mr. Speaker
At present, all I have before me is an hon. Member's statement, which I accept, that he has seen a report in the Press this morning. On the question of responsibility, a Minister is not responsible for what appears in the Press, and I must adhere to my decision.
§ Mr. Bevan
Of course a Minister is not responsible for what appears in the Press. We all understand that. Sir. But a Minister is directly responsible for what happens in Cyprus. It may be that there is no justification at all for the statement which has been made, but surely all we have to discuss is whether there is sufficient verisimilitude about the statement to justify the Government being given the earliest opportunity of reporting to the House.
We are suggesting, with respect, therefore, that the issue is sufficiently grave—as British soldiers' lives may be involved, and the possibility of a peaceful settlement of the Cyprus problem may be prejudiced—for us to give the Government an opportunity, at seven o'clock tonight, to make a statement on the matter. If the Government's statement is such as to reassure the House, the whole nation will have benefited. If, on the other hand, the Government cannot reassure the House, then the House will be seized of the issue.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to decide this question now, on the information before me. Standing Order No. 9 should not be used as a method of getting a statement out of the Government about facts for which there appears to be no foundation. One of the reasons why Motions moved under this Standing Order have frequently been refused is that the House has not sufficient knowledge about the matter, or that there is conflicting information about it. I have said that I will treat this matter without prejudice, I will not take the time factor into account. At present, I have heard only about a newspaper report, but if we can get some further information I think we should do so, and I should say that the hon. Member has raised the matter at the earliest possible moment.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Here we have a statement from a reputable reporter from Reuters, in Cyprus, which the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) has checked by referring to Reuters and to a director of Reuters. The Minister knew nothing about it and there is a 1262 black-out on news from Cyprus. In those circumstances, what we can have, apart from the information that we already have, on which we could base an application under Standing Order No. 9, it is extremely difficult to see.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that in this case we should hear what the Government have to say about it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but I think that tomorrow is time enough for that.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is always very difficult for an hon. Member to engage in a discussion with the Chair. But since when has it been the prerogative of the Chair —I say this with all respect—to say when it is proper to discuss a matter, except in respect of the Standing Orders of the House? It is not for Mr. Speaker to say whether this evening, tomorrow or next Monday is an appropriate time for the Government to make a statement.
Cyprus is not at the other end of the world. It is possible to get information from Cyprus within a few minutes, through the resources available to the Ministry. That has been done over and over again. It is, therefore, quite possible for the Government to be able to present to the House a statement on the situation in Cyprus tonight, if they wish. If the Government do not do so, it seems to me that Standing Order No. 9 is being reduced to the standard of sheer frivolity.
§ Mr. Crossman
I wish to revert to the precedent of Palestine which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). On that occasion I stood with my hon. Friend. We based our Motion for an Adjournment on a report in the newspapers. We had no official documentary authentication of that report, but we were granted an Adjournment then. We knew no more about that matter on that occasion than we know about this matter today. I am baffled to know how we can have greater authority than the report from Reuters and by the fact that there is a news black-out from the island. What are we to do when the Government are deliberately not knowing something in order to prevent a matter from being discussed? Surely, it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide whether or not, in your view, there is a case for believing that something is known by the Government but 1263 denied by them although they know perfectly well what is going on in Cyprus today.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
In view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) I ought to say this. So far as I am aware, no notice whatever has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) to any of my colleagues that he was proposing to raise this matter. I, as Leader of the House, had not heard about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not necessary."] It may not be necessary that I should. I am not questioning whether or not that is necessary.
I am asked what action the Government are taking about a matter of which as Leader of the House I had no knowledge. As the question of Government action has been raised, in particular by the hon. Member for Coventry, East, I suggest that my hon. Friend put himself immediately in touch either with the Secretary of State for War—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has done that."]—or with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, or with whatever member of the Government he desires to contact, so that this matter may be immediately examined.
I say, further, on my own authority, that I will immediately bring this to the attention of my colleagues in the Government who are concerned. I do not believe that it will be necessary to make a statement today, but I think that the Government should have the opportunity of examining the authenticity of what has been said.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am becoming a little confused by so many points of order. I think that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is also speaking to a point of order. Let us have one point of order at a time. Mr. Bevan.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is not the Speaker yet.
Now that the matter has been brought to the attention of the House, Mr. Speaker, surely the only immediate forum capable of discussing this matter properly is the House itself, and the only venue by which the House can discuss it is under Standing Order No. 9. As that gives the Government several hours in which to find out the facts and report them to the House, I suggest that the Leader of the House should come to your assistance, Mr. Speaker, and offer to make a statement.
§ Mr. W. Yates
Perhaps I can help in this matter. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, will acquit me of any discourtesy to the Government, because I heard about this matter only this morning between eleven and twelve o'clock. Therefore, I had to check the statement and try to secure information from various Government Departments and from the news agency concerned. That took time.
When I came to the House, Mr. Speaker, I immediately consulted your Clerk and he told me that I should seek to move a Motion following Questions. I meant no discourtesy to the Government. A statement from the Government at a convenient time would be satisfactory. As the House knows, the only way that I could raise this matter was under Standing Order No. 9. There was no other way.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member had come to me with his information and had asked me for leave to ask a Private Notice Question under the ordinary procedure, if there was nothing on the Order Paper to prevent it, probably I would have allowed it and we might have found out something about it.
I really must draw the attention of the House to the fact that Standing Order No. 9 is a very useful weapon, but there is also the need, for general convenience of the House, for the ordinary business not to be unnecessarily interrupted. I do not think that anyone occupying my position should allow the business of the House to be interrupted without good cause. I think that that is right. That is, of course, a matter of opinion and the weight which one gives to all the circumstances. I do the best I can, and I do not think that this is a case in which I should allow that.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) was good enough to apologise for giving me no notice, and that I can accept, but if I had known something about it in advance, I could have made some inquiries. It is awkward when one is forced to deal with a situation about which one really has no knowledge. I have given the best answer I can. It is my opinion, and I hope the House will let it rest at that.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I think that this matter could very easily be settled if the Leader of the House would give us an undertaking that the Minister concerned would make a statement on this subject some time later in the afternoon. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask for that. Tomorrow is Friday, and many hon. Members will be going to their constituencies tonight. If he would do that—we realise that there may not be a great deal to say—and would tell us what is the position regarding Cyprus, and this story put forward by the hon. Member opposite, it might enable us to proceed with the business of the House.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
On a point of order. An utterly disorderly debate has arisen following your rejection, Mr. Speaker, of the request of my hon. Friend the 1266 Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9. It has now come to such a point that the Leader of the Opposition is not addressing a question to you, Sir, but to the Leader of the House. Does not all this point to the great undesirability of the House being enabled to argue with you on your decision?
§ Mr. Speaker
There are many views about that, and I agree that when one puts a person in the Chair one ought to accept his Rulings or get rid of him. As an ordinary individual, I have a natural tendency to show, if I can, that I am not arriving at my decision from bias, or any improper cause, or without consideration. I may have been too lax in trying to give my reasons for my decisions, and it might be better if I were more authoritarian.
§ Mr. Butler
I think that the best way to settle this—in view of the very great importance of not creating a wrong impression about Cyprus and not prejudicing the ultimate settlement which we all have in mind—would be if I were to communicate, as I have already done, with my colleagues principally concerned, and seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to the best means by which a reassuring statement may be made by one of my colleagues. That may not be possible today, because it is very difficult to interrupt business and obey Mr. Speaker's Ruling on this matter. I think that we must consult Mr. Speaker's views as to the best method of doing this and thereby settling this question.
§ Mrs. Braddock
On a point of order. I wish to raise a question about your responsibility in this matter, Mr. Speaker. I feel that, statements having been made in the House now, the Press and the broadcasting stations will make some reference to them tonight. Have you no responsibility to the mothers of the boys out there in Cyprus to make a statement that will give some comfort to them? Statements made in the House on the lines of those that have been made require either vindication or contradiction, in order to safeguard the many people out there and their relatives here.