Orders of the Day — Privilege (Right of Access to Members)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1955.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North 12:00 am, 16th November 1955

On a point of order. I raised with your predecessor in the Chair, Sir Rhys, a point of order concerning the rights of hon. Members' constituents, the people of this country, and the rights of Members of this Committee. The Temporary Chairman was good enough to say he would have an investigation made into the circumstances I described to him, and have a report made to the Committee. I want to inform you, Sir Rhys, that there are good working-class women outside—

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

Order. I understand that my predecessor in the Chair directed the Serjeant at Arms to make inquiries—

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

—and pending the receipt of his report we must leave the matter.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

That was some time ago, Sir Rhys, and there is some further information I should like to submit to you. I also ask your advice, Sir Rhys. These women are waiting out in the cold while St. Stephen's Hall is empty. Surely these women can be admitted into St. Stephen's Hall and not kept waiting, but enabled to have the opportunity to see their Members? I have constituents whom I arranged to meet in the Palace of Westminster, and the police and the authorities are stopping those women from meeting their Member of Parliament. I want to know what rights I have in this matter and what protection there is for the rights of my constituents.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

Order. I have no jurisdiction in that matter. The Serjeant at Arms has been directed to make a report. Until that report is received I have nothing to say.

Mr. H. Wilson:

Sir Rhys, about 20 minutes or half an hour ago, when your predecessor was in the Chair, I moved to report Progress. We did not press that Motion because we understood inquiries were taking place.

I refer to Erskine May, page 225, of the Fifteenth Edition, which states: When tumultuous assemblages of people have obstructed the thoroughfares, lobby or passages, orders have been given to the local authorities to disperse them. In the same page is a paragraph concerning persons repairing here to present Petitions. Surely, if an inquiry was ordered by your predecessor in the Chair some time ago we ought by this time to know whether those orders have been given by the Chair to the local authorities.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

I must wait until the report comes.

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

Further to the point of order. It is not a question of how long the Chair is prepared to wait for such a report. Of course, when the Chair has directed the Serjeant at Arms to make an inquiry it would be highly unreasonable to go on pestering the Chair until there had been a proper opportunity for the inquiry to be made and the report made; but there must be some limit to that, and if a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes have gone by and an inquiry has been made there ought to be some answer giving the result.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

That is not a point of order at all.

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

I do not know quite what it is, Sir Rhys, that you are describing as not being a point of order at all. The point of order I was endeavouring to raise with you was this. You told us a few minutes ago that we should have to wait until we had a report and, arising out of that, I was asking you to say how long it would be right to wait. It is difficult to see how that is not a proper point of order.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

It is not a question of a point of order. I do not know how long the inquiry will take. I am not in a position to answer that, but the hon. Gentleman's point is not a point of order arising out of the proceedings of this Committee.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Will you, Sir Rhys, deal with my point of order? Will you give instructions that constituents of hon. Members, including my constituents, shall be permitted to enter St. Stephen's Hall so that I can go out and speak to them in a proper manner and discuss with them matters affecting our debate?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

This matter of right of access is covered by Sessional Order of the House, and it is not for me to inquire into that at the moment.

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

I know nothing of the facts myself, but I have endeavoured to follow what has happened and I think that I am in the same position to deal with the matter as other hon. Members including, with respect, yourself, Sir Rhys, except my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis). I suggest that if my hon. Friend is correct, he has brought to the notice of the Chair a breach of the Sessional Order and we are asking that that should be dealt with.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

the proceedings of this Committee cannot be interrupted to deal with that, because that does not affect this Committee. The proceedings of the Committee cannot be interrupted. The matter does not concern the Committee. If there has been a breach of the Sessional Order that can be raised in the appropriate manner.

Mr. H. Wilson:

The point of your Ruling, Sir Rhys, is that the proceedings of this Committee cannot be interrupted except by a Motion to report Progress. Would you, therefore, accept such a Motion in order that the matter can be dealt with expeditiously?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

I cannot accept such a Motion, because this matter does not concern the Committee nor its proceedings. It concerns the House. It can be raised at the appropriate time in the House and not by an interruption of the proceedings of this Committee.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

As it will be agreed that if the complaint is made out this is a breach of the Sessional Order, and as the Committee cannot deal with it but only the whole House, may I submit with respect that surely the right step to take is to have the Committee adjourned so that we can resolve ourselves into the whole House? Can you say, Sir Rhys, how we can urgently alter the proceedings of the Committee for this purpose?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

The Committee cannot do that. There are proper times for raising this matter, but it cannot be raised now.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Surely it is competent for this Committee, if it so wishes, to report Progress and adjourn the proceedings in order that the House can then inquire into an alleged most serious breach of the Sessional Order.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

I have declined to accept the Motion to report Progress. That is a separate thing. The other is a matter that can be raised at the appropriate moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I have here the report of the Serjeant at Arms. It states: Some 2,000 persons assembled outside St. Stephen's Entrance about 4.45 this afternoon with a view to seeing their Member of Parliament. They were, and still are, being admitted to the Central Lobby as space there permits, in accordance with the usual practice. Their behaviour inside and outside has been orderly.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Arising out of that report—

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

The report cannot he argued. The business before the Committee is an Amendment to the Finance Bill. There are appropriate ways of dealing with the situation outside, and an appropriate time. I must remind hon. Members that the proceedings of the House of Commons are a matter of interest to every single Member. I am trying to uphold the rules of the House. The matter before the Committee is the Amendment and I have not accepted the Motion to report Progress. There are ways and means of dealing with the difficulties that have arisen today outside. Hon. Members can use those means, but this is not one of them.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

May I raise with you another point of order, Sir Rhys? I raised with your predecessor a question about alleged interference with the rights of constituents. Arising from that, the Chair instructed the Serjeant at Arms to have an inquiry made. In some respects that inquiry has been made, but a full report has not been given to the Committee. What right has an hon. Member to raise the matter when the report which has been made to the Chair has omitted the vital fact that women are not being admitted as heretofore into St. Stephen's Hall?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

The hon. Member can raise that matter at the appropriate time. That time, under the procedure of the House, is not during the proceedings of this Committee. The proceedings of this Committee are not being interrupted and I really must ask hon. Members to allow the business of the Committee to proceed.

Mr. Dugdale:

Further to that point of order, Sir Rhys. You have stated that this matter must be raised at the appropriate time. Surely that time is at this moment, when these people are here and cannot get into the building. How can any other time be more appropriate?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

No, this is not the appropriate time because the Committee is now engaged on other business, discussing an Amendment which is before it. Interruption of business is refused because immediate action by the House is not needed. Immediate action is not needed here because there are other ways of dealing with the matter and those means should be resorted to.

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

Surely there must be some way out of this difficulty. The ordinary opportunity of raising such a point, of course, is with Mr. Speaker, when the House is sitting. We all know that the House will be concerned all day today with a Committee stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "And tomorrow."]—and, therefore, if we are to wait for what, in other circumstances, will be appropriate occasions we shall have to wait until next Monday, when, obviously, it will be too late to remedy the difficulty. In those circumstances, surely there should be some way of dealing with the matter now.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

The report of the Serjeant at Arms clearly indicates that there are no immediate urgent circumstances and, therefore, the ordinary procedure should be resorted to.

Photo of Mr Alan McKibbin Mr Alan McKibbin , Belfast East

On a point of disorder—

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

Order. May I appeal to hon. Members? The Chair has certain duties to carry out and it cannot carry them out without the assistance of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I have given my Ruling and told hon. Members what the position is, as I understand it. That is not open to argument here. It may be elsewhere. I am making an appeal now that hon. Members should consult the procedure of the House and the dignity of the Committee and allow the business which is before the Committee to proceed.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Sir Rhys, I thank you and your predecessor for having the inquiry made. In view of the fact that you agreed to the inquiry, will you give further instructions that the women should be admitted to St. Stephen's Hall in the same way as members of the Housewives' League were admitted?

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

It is not for me to give that instruction.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

No, I have no authority to do it.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

A report has been made and laid before you, Sir Rhys, and presumably any report which is made by an Officer of the House, or anyone else, to the House of Commons is open to challenge by the House. If it is immediately urgent that it should be challenged, the challenge should be made here and now. I understood from your predecessor that before he would accept a Motion to report Progress he would cause inquiries to be made. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) said, that report may not be exactly in accordance with the facts, what can we do if we cannot move to report Progress?

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Carmarthen

Rightly or wrongly, I have declined to accept a Motion to report Progress. Hon. Members may or may not agree with me that that is the thing to do. A report has been presented. It shows no immediate urgency at all. In any event, if it did, it is not a matter for this Committee. I have already pointed out that the matter can be raised in other ways. I hope that it will not be debated any further and that the proceedings of the Committee may now be carried on. Hon. Members have redress in other forms.