(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the suspension of Mr. Gash, a teacher at Lowdham Grange Borstal Institution, for writing to the Press regarding corporal punishment; and whether he will take steps to revoke the suspension pending full inquiries.
On a point of order. Before this Private Notice Question is answered, Sir, would it be possible for an explanation to be given to the House as to why permission was given to ask a Private Notice Question in circumstances which, apparently, offer no justification for it in that there is no emergency of any kind?
The hon. Member really must not say that. It is not the practice of the Chair to give reasons for allowing or disallowing any Private Notice Question. I judge the matter to the best of my ability under the Standing Order governing such affairs. I may be right or I may be wrong, but I allowed it and nothing but that.
Further to that point of order. Although we respect the right of the Chair to make its own decision in this matter, I suggest, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that in these matters, when some of us have had Private Notice Questions disallowed, or we have been advised not to pursue them, this is one occasion when I think that the Chair, with great respect, might take the House into its confidence. This is one of the occasions, above all others, when you, Sir, choose between one Member and another and one side and another and justice must be seen to have been done. With great respect, it does not appear to be that way to us at this moment.
If the hon. Member desires to assert that the Chair is not acting justly as between one hon. Member and another, he really must take the steps which he knows to be appropriate, because I cannot suffer that without a question raising it. I will tell the House this—
Order. I would not hesitate to give my reasons were it not that I would think it set a bad precedent for myself and my successors to do so. I think that if the point came when the House was not prepared to trust the Chair to exercise its discretion to the best of its ability, it would be right for the House to lay down some other rule. But at present I take my orders from the House in the form of the Standing Order which gives me absolute discretion in the matter. I assure the House that I seek to exercise it absolutely fairly and impartially in every way.
While respecting what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I think that you will agree that it may be rather difficult for some Members to understand the principles which guide the admissibility of a Private Notice Question. I think that what has happened today is that it has not been quite clear what are the principles involved. Other Members might like to put down Private Notice Questions of a similar character. Could you, Mr. Speaker, indicate to us what principles ought to guide us in putting down Private Notice Questions?
I cannot take the matter further than refer the House and the right hon. Gentleman, without seeking to be discourteous—it is one of the most abominably difficult duties of the Chair to make these decisions—to the terms of the Standing Order which is my guide in the matter.
In so far as certain words of yours, Mr. Speaker, seem to rebuke me, may I make it perfectly clear—and I hope that when you read HANSARD you will appreciate that I did make it perfectly clear—that I did not question your Ruling at all. What I am concerned about is that the feelings of hon. Members about what has been done should be patently clear on the record—the question of urgency and other things and bearing in mind the hon. Member from whom the Question comes.
These are the sort of questions which oppress us, and I hope that, while appreciating that you must uphold the dignity of your great office, you will equally appreciate that we are just as sensitive about the rights of Members. We may not always be quite so fortunate in the person we have in the Chair, and I want to make it quite clear that if any words of mine appeared to imply any rebuke to you, Sir, then I withdraw them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his regular courtesy. I was not seeking to rebuke him. I thought that he was saying something which he could not, within order, say. I am not rebuking him in the least. I do not object to hon. Members asserting their views. I am not in the least concerned about the motives which inspire a Question, or from which hon. Member it comes, or what are the known views of the hon. Member. I guide myself by the terms of the Standing Order as best I can. I do not claim always to be right. I do claim to do the best I can under the guidance which the House lays down for me.
Another point arises apart from the alleged urgency of the question. In view of the fact that the gentleman in question who is in trouble is a constituent of mine who has already approached me, what is the position regarding the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), who has jumped the queue? Had he taken steps to inquire, he would have found that the man in question was in the employ of the Ministry of Education. This is known to the Home Office. It is rather shocking that for purposes of publicity of this kind the ordinary courtesies of the House are not observed. At least, the Ministers concerned might allow the hon. Member who represents the constituency in which the matter occurs to have an opportunity to do his service to his constituents.
The hon. Member quite fairly addresses me. I confess that I did not know anything about whether the man was a constituent of his. I merely judged the value of the Question under the Standing Order, and nothing else.
—and that the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) could have put down a Question for Oral Answer today, when it would have been first on the list. Is it not one of the rules of the Standing Order that there must be some immediacy about the matter which could not be met by Questions in the ordinary way?
The word "urgent" is in the Standing Order. All that the hon. Member has just said is one of the matters which I considered and, none the less, reached the conclusion which I did reach. It may be right or it may be wrong, but I did it.
Further to that point of order. May I put this to you, Mr. Speaker? We have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) that he has been interceding in this case. He has had it under consideration and has been taking it up with the Minister. Surely, Mr. Speaker, if you had been informed by the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) that this matter was of no urgency, because it has been, and is being, considered by the appropriate Minister, you would have come to another conclusion about admitting it as a Private Notice Question.
I would not rule on what the situation might be had I had information which I did not have. I rather hope that we may get the Question answered, so that, perhaps, the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), whose constituent it concerns, might conceivably catch my eye and ask a supplementary question.
I fully appreciate, Mr. Speaker, your quite proper objection to giving reasons why, in any particular case, you allow or do not allow a Private Notice Question. As I am sure you will understand, however, the fact that you allowed the Question has been received with considerable surprise, because it is an unusual case. I certainly do not recollect a Private Notice Question on such a matter being allowed before.
I should like to put two points to you, Mr. Speaker. First, I wonder whether you would consider, not now but for the guidance of hon. Members, who often seek to put down Private Notice Questions, making a statement as to the kind of reasons which guide you in the matter. This would be of real help to hon. Members on future occasions. Secondly, would you not agree that it is a well-understood convention in this House that when an hon. Member puts down a Question, let alone a Private Notice Question, about the constituent of another hon. Member, he normally informs that hon. Member?
I do not know—I should like to think about it—whether the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question to me is one for the Chair. I am not sure that it does not come in another region, about which it would be wrong for me to say anything.
I very much understand the desire for—I would welcome them myself if they existed—the suggestion concerning setting out a string of principles applicable to the interpretation of the Standing Order. In many cases, I find it a difficult matter. I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but the range of Questions submitted for Private Notice is so great that the task of trying to expand the terms of the Standing Order by any vigorous exegesis would be impossible.
Further to that point of order. In view of the much greater knowledge of the circumstances which we all have now compared with what you, Mr. Speaker, knew when the Question was allowed, would it now be possible, in this new set of circumstances, to request the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) not to persist with the Question?
Further to your reply, to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, is there not a rough comparison between this case and that of the special procedure for moving the Adjournment of the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance, of which hon. Members fairly frequently seek to avail themselves and on which, very often, you are good enough to indicate briefly the reasons which lead you to allow—or, more often, to disallow—the Motion? Is there not an analogy here?
Every time I indicate reasons, I regret it. I freely admit to the hon. Member and to the House that I sometimes get tempted by the attractive way in which hon. Members tempt the Chair into stating reasons. I do not wish to encourage such bad habits in myself.
The Answer to the Private Notice Question is as follows: Mr. Gash is employed as a teacher at Lowdham Grange. According to normal practice all such staff are required to obtain authority before making any public statement on matters arising out of their employment in the establishment. I understand that Mr. Gash did not seek any such authority and he has been suspended from duty pending an investigation, the results of which I await.
All that I understood the Minister to say was that some form of inquiry was at present going on. That does not, in my view, apply the principle to which the hon. Member was referring. I hope that we can hear this question and get on.
It was only yesterday that it was announced that this man had been suspended. It was only at half-past twelve today that I got your permission, Mr. Speaker, to put down the Question. Therefore, I had no time to consult the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer). [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] May I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he is aware that many people are asking—and my post already today shows this to be the case—whether Mr. Gash would have been suspended when he queried the opinions of 53 of his borstal students and got the answers that 51 against two were in favour of corporal punishment rather than borstal—
I am not satisfied that there is an abuse, but I have had great difficulty in hearing what the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) was asking. I think that he had nearly finished his question.
That is what I want to do, Mr. Speaker—to ask my question. May I try to complete it? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If those 53 students had declared that they were in favour of borstal as a deterrent instead of corporal punishment, would Mr. Gash have been suspended? I want to know what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can give as an answer to the letters which I have been receiving this morning.
Is it not quite clear, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree, that the motive which lies behind the putting of this Question is that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) is not so concerned about the freedom and liberty of the individual as with putting across his own particular point of view, which has now become an obsession with him?
While I make a point of always disagreeing with the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), and certainly disagree with what I understand to be the opinion of Mr. Gash, does there not seem to be something rather peculiar about these circumstances? Am I to understand that it was the particular circumstances of Mr. Gash's contract which made him liable to suspension from his duties, or that it was simply because he gave expression to an opinion on a matter which, whether we agree or disagree with him, I would have thought, candidly, that he had a right to express an opinion about without being suspended?
I think that we should take this as calmly as we can. We want to be fair to Mr. Gash and clear this matter up in the proper way. So may we await the results of the investigation, when I shall find out exactly what happened? I did not hear about this until just before one o'clock. I did my best to get the information before I came into the House for Question No. 1. I should like further information before giving a further answer.