I would like to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, upon a particular point. Although, in some ways, the point is a more delicate one than that which has just been discussed, I would start with the assurance that no reflection is intended to be cast upon anyone.
Yesterday, in the Members Cloakroom, there was a large pile, rather gaily coloured, of gift parcels, with their distribution list attached The distribution list —I think it would be invidious to mention any names—was clearly of a political character. The contents of the gift parcels, from their shape, were obviously gifts of liquor. Inquiries elicited the fact that the gifts were from the Polish Embassy to particular Members of Parliament, who were obviously a certain section of a particular party.
The points upon which I desire to ask your guidance are these: to what extent is it right for the facilities of the House to be granted for a distribution—a mass distribution—of gifts in this way? To what extent is it legitimate, or desirable, or in Order, for hon. Members to accept presents from foreign Powers? Is the matter made better or worse by the fact that the presents are not universal but selective? If the House disapproves of such gifts, is there any method open to it whereby its disapproval can be made known to the donors? The last question is whether gifts of a selective character to Members of Parliament may or may not raise questions of Privilege.
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has asked me four questions, but I am sorry to say that I am not quite sure that I can remember them all. I would like to make a statement about this matter. I find that 24 parcels addressed to individual Members of Parliament were handed in by a representative of the Polish Embassy yesterday for distribution, but they were accepted in error. Only one letter or parcel from any one firm or organisation can be accepted. Consequently, as soon as the attention of the authorities was drawn to this matter, the parcels which had not already been delivered, 10 in number, were returned to the Polish Embassy with a letter explaining the regulations. I would suggest, if I may do so very mildly, that it would have been better if the Polish Embassy had consulted with me before attempting this distribution, which is strictly contrary to our Rules. I am sorry that the incident took place.
The point arises whether a breach of Privilege has not been committed. I would like to raise this question tomorrow, when you, Sir, will no doubt have had time to consider the matter.
I could not possibly answer a question about Privilege without notice. I do not think that there is any Privilege involved, but I do not want to answer the noble Lord's question offhand.
While thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for that Ruling, I would observe that, in so far as it is a Ruling, it is about the regulations under which the authorities of the House are at liberty to accept not more than one parcel from a single source. In my submission to you, I had in mind a definite question of principle which is raised by matters of this kind. Is there any means whereby we can ask your guidance, or whereby we can discuss in any way the circumstances in which it is legitimate for hon. Members to accept gifts from a foreign Power?
I am afraid I could not have expressed myself at all plainly. The point I was raising was not intended in any way to be hypothetical? It appeared from your statement, Sir, that certain of these gifts had, in fact, been accepted and taken away. I was, therefore, asking you for your guidance. I may have been receiving a gift of maple sugar from President Truman. I want to know in what circumstances one can legitimately accept presents of the kind which have been accepted by hon. Members? May we not have some guidance, or some knowledge of how we can discuss the matter? It seems very undesirable for hon. Members of this House to be in receipt of substantial presents on a selective basis from a foreign Power.
I am bound to say that these questions are complicated, and they are questions of which I have had no notice. I should think I might have had a little time to consider my answer. The short answer would be that I should have thought it was very embarrassing to Members of Parliament themselves to receive these presents. The very names were written, I understand, on some list in the Cloakroom and they were chalked off as the parcels were received. I am glad to say that my name was not on the list. I think it would have been most embarrassing, and I should have thought it was really undesirable that parcels should be sent in this way.
Is it not a fact that breach of Privilege can occur only if it is considered that the presents were given to Members of Parliament for the purpose of influencing them in their business as Members? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If that was the reason, as the interrupters now seem to insinuate, why the gifts were made, it does not seem that the Polish Embassy put their price very high.
Further to the point of principle raised by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), is not exactly the same point of principle involved if an hon. Member, for instance, accepts an invitation to dinner at the Embassy of a foreign Power, and have not those invitations in the past always been strictly selective?
As one who, like yourself, Mr. Speaker, was not included in the distribution list, may I ask, in view of the fact that identical receptacles are used for liquor and certain other things, including corrosives and poisons, how it is possible for the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) to know from the outward appearance of a parcel that it contains liquor?