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Military Court, Berlin (President's Statement)

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1945

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47.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy ofLancaster whether his attention has been drawn to an attack delivered upon the conduct of an Allied Power by the president of the military court in Berlin which is trying the ex-mayor of the Tiergarten district; and whether, as the words used go far beyond the judicial office and tend to destroy public confidence in the fairness of the trial, he will make inquiries, and, if necessary, take steps to secure that the trial is properly conducted.

On a point of Order. I desire to raise the question as to the admissibility of this Question under the rules of Procedure. Would you prefer, Mr. Speaker, that I should put my point after Questions or should I raise it now?

After Questions. We have got on so slowly that I do not think the right hon. and Noble Lord should raise it now.

:I assume that the hon. and learned Member is referring to various statements appearing in the Press concerning the failure of certain witnesses to appear before the Court. It would, of course, be the duty of the President of the Court to see that the defence should be given every opportunity of having its witnesses present. With regard to further alleged statements, whilst I have no reason to believethat this trial has not been properly conducted, if reports which I may receive should suggest the contrary, I would, of course, take such action as may be required.

Later

I desire to raise a question arising out of Question 47 on the Order Paper, and I would ask hon. Members to be patient with me while I put a point which is slightly complicated. I should like to say that in raising this point, Mr. Speaker, I make no reflection upon you or upon the hon. and learned Member who put the Question, but it seems to me that a fresh Ruling is required from the Chair on this matter. Question 47 makes a charge against the president of an Allied military court in Germany. Actually it is a British military court, but it has the status of an Allied military court. I would call your attention to Section 155 of the Manual of Procedure, which lays down that a Member whilst speaking on a Question must not reflect upon the conduct of the King or certain persons in high authority. There is a footnote to that which says that the persons in question include the Heir to the Throne, the Viceroy of India, the Governors-General of Dominions, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means and—and these are relevant words for the purpose of my point of Order—Judges of the Superior Courts of the United Kingdom, including persons holding the position of a judge, such as a judge in a court of bankruptcy or a county court. I would say that, on any reasonable interpretation, if it is not in Order to comment upon something said by a county court judge in the course of his work, surely a fortioriit should not be right to put a Question in this House re- fleeting on the conduct of the president of a military court in Germany, who has, I understand, almost the powers of life and death and is trying a civilian. This question could never arise in the time of any of your predecessors, when these Rulings were given, and in the circum stances—

:We cannot have two points of Order at the same time. The Noble Lord must be allowed to make his case and then the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) can raise his point of Order.

As the Noble Lord does not give way the hon. and learned Member cannot interrupt him.

But, Mr. Speaker, the point of Order on which the Noble Lord's observations were made—[Hon. Members: "Order."] It is a point of Order.

:The hon. and learned Member is in error. He cannot interrupt on a point of Order whilst a first point of Order is being put. He cannot intervene as if it was an orderly Debate. We must have a statement from the Noble Lord first.

The hon. and learned Member must not interrupt. I have called upon the Noble Lord. That is my Ruling and it must be obeyed.

I was going to suggest, with great respect, that in accordance with precedent—andI think there is precedent for the suggestion which I am going to make—as this is, so to speak, a novel situation which has arisen in consequence of the setting up of these Allied courts in Germany, you, Mr. Speaker, should give a considered answer to my question. I beg to submit that point of Order.

:What I had desired to submit as a point of Order I will now submit as a point of substance, and I say that it is grave breach of the most elementary courtesy—

The same situation arises here. The hon. and learned Member has risen to a point of Order—[Hon. Members: "A point of substance"]—and he must be allowed to make his case.

:I am astonished. I gave my Ruling perfectly clearly when the Noble Lord was speaking, and I have now called upon the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) to make his point of Order, and no one else must interrupt in the meantime.

:The first point I wanted to make on this point of Order was that there has been a grave breach of elementary courtesy in connection with the raising of this somewhat complicated point submitted by the Noble Lord. The Question has been on the Order Paper for a day or two, and my point is that he has given me no notice whatever of what he intended to do, so that I am called upon to answer this very complicated point without any sort of preparation or warning. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule, in whatever way is most convenient, that this point should be taken at a later date when I shall have had time to prepare myself. But if you do not want to make a mountain out of a noble molehill, and if it is for the general convenience of the House—and, after all, there are more serious things to come forward—that the question should be dealt with at once there are two things—

Perhaps it would be better if I gave my answer now to the point raised by the Noble Lord.

:Before you do so, Mr. Speaker, I should like to raise a point of Order. I should like to ask you whether it is not wholly contrary to the practice of the House that when a perfectly proper point is put forward an hon. and learned Member should refer to another hon. Member in the terms of the greatest discourtesy. [Laughter.] Perhaps hon. Members will listen before they indulge in their ignorant laughter. I would ask whether it has not been held again and again by your predecessors that in putting a point of Order a Member has no right to attack another Member in that way. It is a gross insult.

Obviously this is a somewhat complicated matter. I was not aware that it was to be raised and, further, I am bound to say that I did not see the Question on the Order Paper myself. I cannot, alter reading through some 150 Questions quickly, claim to have mastered and understood all the implications, and I prefer tohave time to consider it before I give a definite Ruling.

:May I on a point of Order, and failing that, on a point of personal explanation, most respectfully submit to you, Sir, that the reason I rose was not because I wish in any way to challenge your Ruling that points of Order could not be interrupted, but merely because, according to my hearing, which other hon. Members besides me support, the hon. and learned Member said he was not raising his point on a point of Order but as a matter ofsubstance?

That escaped my notice. I think all the same that it was more or less on the same point of Order, and came under my previous Ruling.