On a point of order, Major Anstruther-Gray. I wish to raise with you a matter of order. I have arranged for a number of my constituents to come to this Palace to meet me to protest most strongly against the Budget. Those constituents have an appointment with me—
With respect, until you have heard the point of order, Major Anstruther-Gray, you surely cannot say whether or not you will accept it. May I now put my point of order?
No. I have given my Ruling. I have heard enough of the point of order to know that it is outwith what I am prepared to deal with just now. I call Squadron Leader Cooper to continue his speech.
With respect, Major Anstruther-Gray, I am asking you to uphold the rights of back bench Members of this House. Until you have heard my point of order, with respect, surely you cannot say whether it is in order or out of order. I am asking on what authority, whether on the authority of the Chair or the authority of this House, constituents who are peacefully lobbying their Members are prevented from coming to see their Members to protest against this iniquitous Budget? What rights have hon. Members to see their constituents who have appointments? Who gave the order to prevent these peaceful women from lobbying outside? Can some arrangements be made for these women to see their Members?
What the hon. Member said has been heard and, as far as I am concerned, there is no point of order that affects this Committee as we are now proceeding. I call Squadron Leader Cooper to continue his speech.
If it is brought to the notice of whoever is presiding over the sittings of the House or the Committee that there is a serious interference with the privileges of the House, surely that is a matter which ought to be attended to at once? I know nothing about the facts, but if the facts are anything like what my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) says they are, that is a matter which it is his duty to mention at once, and which ought to be inquired into at once.
Mr. H. Wilson:
Would you be prepared, Major Anstruther-Gray, to accept a Motion "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," in order that the matter can be dealt with by Mr. Speaker?
May I first reply to the right hon. Member for Huy-ton (Mr. H. Wilson)? Inquiries will be made; they are not delayed in being made by reason of the fact that the debate is to continue. When inquiries have been made further action can be taken if necessary.
May I support the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). A number of good, decent, honest housewives—not "phoney" Housewives' League members—arranged to come here to see me and other hon. Members to produce tangible evidence of how this iniquitous Budget is interfering with their standard of living. I suggest that my right hon. Friend is quite in order in moving that the debate be adjourned. We ask permission to report Progress so that we can obtain evidence from these women who know what this Budget is doing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I am in order.
I am asking the Temporary Chairman to consider the Motion as there are women present—I am told there are some thousands—outside representing various constituency interests of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I would suggest that rather than hon. Members trying to shout me down it would be as well if they went outside and discussed these matters with those women. I suggest that this is quite a legitimate Motion. Hon. Members are meeting in Committee and trying to discuss something of which those women may have knowledge—
I hope the hon. Member is not under the impression that I accepted the Motion to report Progress, because I did not do so. The hon. Member has heard that inquiries are being made. They are in course of being made at this moment. I propose that the Committee shall continue the debate until these inquiries have reached a conclusion.
Is it not customary, in accordance with the traditions of the House, that when a matter affecting the privilege of hon. Members is raised it should he summarily dealt with by Mr. Speaker? Would it not be proper, and in accordance with the rules of the House, that you, Major Anstruther-Gray, should make the appropriate arrangements so that Mr. Speaker might resume his place in order to deal with this matter? Is that not customary?
The right hon. Member has great knowledge of this House. I cannot deal summarily with a question until the facts are available. I am obtaining facts, and meanwhile I think the Committee would be well advised to continue with its proceedings. I call Squadron Leader Cooper to continue his speech.
I always understood that if a matter affecting the privilege of hon. Members was raised it could not be dealt with by the Chairman of Committees nor by a Temporary Chairman of Committees. This matter is solely within the prerogative of Mr. Speaker. Therefore, if such a matter is raised, I assume that Mr. Speaker should be asked to resume his place so that the matter might be dealt with. Perhaps you could say, Major Anstruther-Gray, whether within your knowledge—which, presumably, is as great as mine—a Temporary Chairman can deal with a matter of Privilege, even if the facts are retailed to him?
I think the first question is to get the facts and then a Temporary Chairman may decide if he is entitled to go into the matter or to seek higher authority. At the moment the facts are being sought. Meanwhile, I think the Committee should continue with its business. I call Squadron Leader Cooper to continue his speech.
Mr. H. Wilson:
A few moments ago, Major Anstruther-Gray, I sought to move to report Progress in order that the Committee stage could temporarily be ended and Mr. Speaker could take the Chair, to which the answer you gave was that inquiries were being made. It might appear a commendable course of proceeding for my right hon. and hon. Friends to wait for those inquiries to be made, but we want to know whether a statement could be made to the Committee that, as soon as the inquiries are complete, we may again seek to move to report Progress, because I am advised that the point raised by my hon. Friend is a matter of considerable urgency.
I do not know when it is envisaged that Mr. Speaker will resume the Chair. It may be 10 o'clock tonight or, if certain rumours are correct, not until 10 o'clock tomorrow morning—in which case constituents of my hon. Friend, energetic and keen as they might be, will be somewhat wearied and may leave the Precincts, when it will be too late to raise the question. Therefore, I ask if the Committee can be given an assurance that, as soon as inquiries are complete, that fact will be made known to the Committee so that we might then seek to take whatever steps are open to us, particularly by a Motion "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."
I have not accepted the Motion to report Progress until inquiry has elicited some facts because, unless we know what the situation is, we do not know what is the proper thing to do and, until the facts are forthcoming, I think it is better that the Committee should continue with its business. I can reassure the hon. Member that every step is being taken to discover at once what is the situation.
I am sure that the Committee understands the fairness of that reply, but I asked whether you could give an assurance that as soon as the facts are established the information will be placed before hon. Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "How soon?"] That is on the assumption that the facts will be established in five or ten minutes or something like that. It should not take long. I assume that the Committee will then be informed so that we can move the Motion which, judging on what you have said, I presume you would accept.
I am in a difficulty in that I cannot commit my successor in the Chair to a course of action, but the Committee may rest assured that, if the facts warrant a statement, that statement will be made without delay.
How can you, Major Anstruther-Gray, say that you cannot commit your successor in the Chair and at the same time indicate that a statement will be made? How can you know that a statement will be made in sufficient time for these ladies to be able to visit their Members? Many of them have, I believe, to return considerable distances and have trains to catch. If there is a long delay they may be prevented altogether from visiting their Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. North (Mr. Lewis) addressed the Committee for a considerable time after the Motion to report Progress had been proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), so surely the Motion must be deemed to have been accepted by the Chair. We were all concentrating our atention on that Motion and unless my hon. Friend, who addressed himself quite clearly to the Motion in his last lengthy intervention, was out of order throughout, surely it must be deemed that you have accepted the Motion. My hon. Friend made it plain that he was addressing himself precisely to that Motion. Other hon Members, such as myself, were looking forward to a debate on that Motion, and we are sharply disappointed in our expectations by your Ruling that you decline to accept it. May I respectfully submit that in allowing my hon. Friend to be heard for a considerable period the Chair has de facto accepted the Motion to report Progress and that that Motion ought now to be occupying the Committee.
It is within the purview of the Chair to accept such a Motion or not to accept it. May I make clear to the Committee how the matter stands? I have already caused inquiries to be made. If it will make the position clearer, I will now officially direct the Serjeant at Arms to have inquiries made and to report to the occupant of the Chair. After that, whatever action the occupant of the Chair sees fit to take will be taken.