Oral Answers to Questions — Public Appointments (Ministers' Recommendations)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1947.

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Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern 12:00 am, 6th November 1947

asked the Prime Minister whether he will establish an Appointments Committee to examine any recommendations made by any Minister regarding the filling of any post which is in a Minister's discretion, and to require him to justify it.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

I have been asked to reply. No, Sir.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply will in no way allay the concern in the country at the ever growing political nepotism indulged in—[Interruption.]—and will he not, for the sake of the reputation of the Labour Party, reconsider that decision?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

Just a moment. May I say two things? There is no such apprehension in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is slander going on from elsewhere. But may I raise a point of Order? This is a charge—involving a number of Ministers—that His Majesty's Government are engaging in nepotism, which is pretty well equivalent to corruption, in the making of public appointments. I should like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman, to substantiate that, or else that he be directed to withdraw.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Of course, I quite agree that these very provocative supplemen-taries which very often do involve charges are really not quite in keeping with the standard of supplementary questions which are asked at Question Time. I am not averse, of course—I have forgotten what the correct expression is—to the "cut and thrust of Debate" and really strong statements. But to make a charge of corruption seems to me to be outside our Parliamentary procedure.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

May I say, first of all, that I did not use the word "corruption"? In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I and many other Members on this side of the House would welcome an opportunity of substantiating our representation.

Hon. Members:

Do it.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Does not the word "nepotism" necessarily imply a charge of corruption?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The hon. and gallant Member used the word on purpose.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of Order, may I draw your attention, Sir, to the action that you thought it right to take when my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) a little while ago made a statement which you thought involved a charge? In view of the fact that my hon. Friend, in response to your suggestion, withdrew his charges, ought not the hon. and gallant Member opposite to comply with that same Ruling?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I stand by what I said, of course. Insinuations and imputations ought not to be made. They are really contrary to what is written in Erskine May. Actually, whether "nepotism" means "corruption" I am afraid I cannot say off hand: I am not expert in the Oxford Dictionary. I think it is an offensive word, and I regret that it should be used. But I am not clear whether it means "corruption" or not. If it does mean "corruption" it ought to be withdrawn. If it does not, I do not think it need be.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Surely, the meaning of the word "nepotism" is that people are appointed to offices not by reason of their merits—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] —but in order that a Minister may show favour to some members of his family, or to some other personal connections—

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

—and if that is not a charge of corruption it is very difficult to see what it means.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Surely, that may be true of the word "nepotism," but my hon. and gallant Friend used the words "political nepotism." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The interpretation of that is, the charge we on this side make—that jobs are given to "the boys."

Photo of Sir Herbert Butcher Sir Herbert Butcher , Holland with Boston

Will the Lord President, with a view to rebutting any reflection on His Majesty's Government, consider granting an inquiry, as desired by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith)?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

That has nothing to do with this. It is quite a different matter. I want to say this perfectly frankly to the Opposition

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

On what Question is the right hon. Gentleman speaking?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

The Question before the House. The right hon. Gentleman really ought to follow the proceedings. I am answering Question 45. I want to say that I do not think it is conducive to the dignity of Parliament or our public life that these reckless charges should be made by hon. Members—

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

The right hon. Gentleman was asked a question and declined to answer it, and he is now making a speech. I rise to a point of Order.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

One can hardly describe the Lord President's statement as a speech. I think it is a vigorous repudiation of an insinuation that was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I would suggest now—I have said a certain amount—that we are engendering a good deal of heat, despite the fog, and that, perhaps, now we might get on with our Business.

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

It would be a pity if this ended inconclusively. May I ask the Leader of the House, as he raised the matter originally on a point of Order, whether he will, in fact, agree to an inquiry into the matter which is alleged?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

The answer is: "No, Sir"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—unless the people who are circulating slanders against Ministers will put their charges into writing and establish a prima facie case.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

On a point of Order. I want to ask if you have accepted, Sir, the point made by the Leader of the Opposition that the Leader of the House had no right to make a speech instead of a statement, and if you will apply that to the Leader of the Opposition?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The trouble is that I did not apply that statement to the Leader of the House. I said that the statement was not a speech, and that he was entitled to make it. I think that the hon. Member is barking up the wrong tree.

Hon. Members:

We want a withdrawal.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Order. The Leader of the House has put the matter perfectly clearly before the House—that if the matter is to be proceeded with any further these insinuations should be supported by definite statements in writing. In these circumstances, if the hon. and gallant Member does not choose to withdraw he need not withdraw, but we shall see what he subsequently puts into writing.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

Not only do I not wish to withdraw, I certainly will not with draw. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman—

Hon. Members:

No. Sit down.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, with courtesy—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Hon. Members ought not to engender more heat than they can contain. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking some question of the Leader of the House, and I think we might hear what he has to say.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

I was about to ask the right hon. Gentleman. with perfect courtesy—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

If the hon. Member insists on rising to a point of Order I will hear what he has to say.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I gave way before because I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman was going to ask a question of you, but if he is merely going to ask a question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arising out of the offensive lie which he has just told—

Hon. Members:

Oh!

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Order. I asked the hon. Member not to engender more heat than he could contain. He has now used an unparliamentary expression, and I order him to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

At your request, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the words "offensive lie," but I say that there is not a word of truth in what the hon. and gallant Member says.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I would point out to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that I had already asked him not to rise and engender more heat until we had heard what the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) had said. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne then rose before we had heard what the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew had to say, and I think the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is blameworthy on that account.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

I merely wished to request the right hon. Gentleman to give myself and other hon. Members on this side of the House an opportunity of fully justifying our suspicions, and the suspicions of the country, by a public Debate in this House.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

My answer again is perfectly clear. If the hon. and gallant Member will have the courage of his slanderous accusations—

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

His slanderous accusations—and will put in writing, with evidence, what he has said—if he establishes a prima facie case we will consider the matter.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that these are questions of opinion? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not engendering heat. Surely, if an appointment is made which the Government contend is done on merit but which in our opinion—I do not want to use an unparliamentary expression—is not on merit, those are questions of opinion, which cannot be put on paper.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Reading

On a point of Order. I understood you to say a little while ago, Mr. Speaker, when my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) incurred your displeasure, that unless he was prepared to put down a substantive Motion on the Order Paper you would require him to withdraw what he had said. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] That is what I understood you, Mr. Speaker, to say. Then the hon. Member—who is an hon. Member in more than the formal sense of the word—withdrew his remark, because clearly he was not prepared to put down a substantive Motion. Does not the same apply and should not the same criterion apply, to the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd), namely, he should be ordered to withdraw if he is not prepared to put down a substantive Motion.

Hon. Members:

He is prepared to.

Photo of Mr William Kendall Mr William Kendall , Grantham

Further to the last two points of Orders. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) made accusations which I understand he was willing to substantiate, and I myself would even add to the charge he has made. I wish to ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. How in the world can the hon. Member for Stoke make these statements and then subsequently be asked to withdraw, while the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) can do something rather similar and be allowed to get away with it?

Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne

With regard to the last reply of the Leader of the House after my hon. and gallant Friend made these allegations in this honourable House, what is the suggestion which the Leader of the House now puts before us?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

That he should say what he means.

Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne

Does the Leader of the House suggest that my hon. and gallant Friend should put it in writing privately, so that hon. Members who have heard these allegations should not be allowed to hear the subject of discussion? What is the point of it?

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

it appears quite obvious to a great many hon. Members of this House that there is some confusion in our minds, and we cannot really see the difference between the rulings which you have given, Mr. Speaker, on the statements of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and of the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). Would you, therefore, give us a little guidance as to exactly what the difference is? If there is no difference, why should not the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew be asked to withdraw in the same way as the hon. Member for Stoke was asked to withdraw?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I wonder if I might make a suggestion? I pulled up the hon. Member for Stoke for making insinuations and imputations, and, although he did not like it—if I may say so—he withdrew. Now the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew has also made imputations and insinuations, and although he does not like it, I am going to ask him if he will withdraw, because I think that will ease the situation a good deal. After all, "nepotism" comes very near to "corruption." We have had a lot of heat engendered, and I think the expression is offensive. While I do not suggest we should be mealy-mouthed in the least—if I may borrow that expression from the Leader of the Opposition—I think it is almost so offensive that the hon. and gallant Member would do well to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

With great respect, Sir —[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—I rise to a point of Order. Having listened to your Rulings, I understood that you directed the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to withdraw the words which he had uttered applying to the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd)—[Interruption.] —I am content to wait. He withdrew the words which he had used, namely, "offensive lie"

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

If I may correct the right hon. Gentleman, I think he is confusing what I said to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne with something I had said to the hon. Member for Stoke, which took place early in Question Time, and had nothing to do with this Question.

Photo of Mr David Kirkwood Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is speaking about the wrong Question again.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

A few moments ago, with my own ears I heard the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne use the expression "offensive lie," I heard you ask him to withdraw, and I heard him very becomingly defer to your Ruling. What I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, is that my hon, and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew did not rest his case on the use of an offensive expression but upon a charge. Therefore, I ask you if you would discriminate in your Ruling between the duty of hon. Members to withdraw offensive expressions which they use, and to withdraw charges—[Interruption.]—I am not speaking to hon. Members opposite, but. to Mr. Speaker—and to withdraw charges which it is perhaps their duty to bring to the notice of the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

That is rather different. The right hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear what I said to the hon. Member for Stoke, so perhaps I might go back to what that hon. Member said. He alleged, I think, corruption—or something very close to corruption—against the former President of the Board of Trade in the Coalition Government

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Against both of them—

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

I did not say "corruption."

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. Member did not use the word "corruption," I quite agree, but the imputation of corruption was there. Therefore, I asked him to withdraw, and he did so quite courteously. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, of course, used an unparliamentary expression, I ordered him to withdraw, and he did so. I quite agree with the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), one can make charges and so on; but one need not do it offensively. Nepotism "is really so close to "corruption" that I should have thought for the sake of the dignity of Parliament, it would do no one any harm to withdraw the offending word.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

I regret, Mr. Speaker, that you should have been led to believe that any remarks of mine were couched in an offensive spirit. Perhaps I may remind you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, that I suggested, in my supplementary question to the right hon. Gentleman, that his answer, which was a very abrupt negative, would not allay the unhappy suspicions and feelings in this House and in the country of a tendency towards political nepotism. If, Mr. Speaker, you are suggesting to me that the words "political nepotism" are an unparliamentary expression, offensive in intention and character, and if you interpret it in that way, I will withdraw it. It was not intended in that respect. I believe it to be true. Thousands of people in this country believe that there is political nepotism, and I do myself. In these circumstances, the issue should be debated in this House. I meant no offence to anyone. I represented the views of hundreds of thousands of people, and, with great respect, I will not withdraw the expression "political nepotism."

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I thought that the hon. and gallant Member started by saying that if I thought the expression had any offensive implication he would willingly withdraw it, but that if there was no offensive implication he would not withdraw. I do say that I think the way it was received—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members might remember that the Rule of the House is that Mr. Speaker should be heard in silence. I thought that there was an offensive implication; but, I feel, what does it matter if one withdraws a word, or any offensive implications, and will willingly substitute another word, which will then make the whole place calm and peaceful again. I think it is worthy of the House of Commons to do so.

Photo of Mr Christopher York Mr Christopher York , Ripon

As far as I can gather, you are laying down a precedent, Mr. Speaker, that Members of Parliament may not use the words "political nepotism." If that is the case, surely it would be reasonable for hon. Members to ask you to reconsider your decision, because it would severely limit the powers of criticism that the Opposition may wish to use in regard to the Government. I most earnestly ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider what may be taken in future as a Ruling.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I do not rule out the word definitely, but, as I said, there was a suggestion that there was corruption, and offensive, abusive and insulting language is not part of the Rules of our Debates. I have said what I think. Honestly, I should like to see a high standard in Debates. I do not question the hon. and gallant Member's intentions at all, but it gave offence, and it appeared to be abusive and insulting. Therefore, it was just going over the borderline.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

If, in your considered judgment, Mr. Speaker, the expression "political nepotism"—[Interruption.] Certainly, I said "political nepotism." If the expression "political nepotism" is of an offensive character in your view, Mr. Speaker, then I will gladly withdraw it, but solely because it is offensive in your view. I will not substitute it by any other expression—a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

On a point of Order. We are now on the question of what is a Parliamentary expression and what is not. I was always brought up to believe that "lie" was an unparliamentary expression, but greater latitude has been given to that in late years. "Liar" is unparliamentary, but "lie" has often hitherto apparently been passed. The hon. Member below the Gangway, very properly, withdrew his expression at your request. Therefore, "offensive lie" has been regarded this afternoon as unparliamentary. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, whether the expression "political nepotism" is unparliamentary. Is it wrong for the Opposition, or for any Member of the Opposition, or my hon. and gallant Friend, to put down a Motion on the Order Paper attacking the Government in which the expression "political nepotism" occurs? We must have the freedom of the use of language to describe the processes which are going on at the present time.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I did not rule it out of Order as a Parliamentary expression. I have no doubt that if any hon. Member wanted to put down a Motion including the words "political nepotism," it would be in Order. I was referring to Erskine May, which says: Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of Parliamentary language. On these grounds, I did not order the hon. Member to withdraw. I ordered the hon. Member below the Gangway to withdraw, because he used the word "lie," which is definitely unparliamentary. I asked the hon. Member for Stoke to withdraw, and I asked the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw. I leave it at that. Therefore, I did not rule it out as unparliamentary, but I rather opposed it on grounds of good temper. I wonder, after this fog and heat, whether we cannot get on with the Business of the House?