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Chairman Of Ways And Means

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

4.43 p.m.

I beg to move,

"That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the Chairman of Ways and Means on 5th April, 1949, in refusing to order the hon. Member for Norwich to withdraw a charge or accusation, publicly confirmed by the hon. Member, that an hon. Member of the Opposition had been guilty of a lying accusation was wanting in the impartiality required for the discharge of his office."
I should like to begin by repeating my sense of acknowledgment to the Leader of the House both for the restraint and courtesy with which he treated my Business question last Thursday and for having accorded time for the discussion of this Motion, which, I think, was well in accordance with principle, and for which I thank him. I hope that he will allow me also to thank him for the courtesy with which he received me personally. It cannot often be the case that a Private Member of the House approaches the Leader of the House as such in the ordinary working of the party system, and it was indeed a pleasant experience to do so and to find that one was received with courtesy and magnanimity, which was very much in the highest tradition of this place.

The right hon. Gentleman last Thursday invited me to take the Motion which stood in my name off the Order Paper without further discussion, and I should very much have liked to accede to that request because, if I may say so, I both understood and in some measure agreed with the ideas which I am sure animated the right hon. Gentleman in making that request. I very carefully thought the matter over, and the conclusion I came to without doubt was this: That a Motion of this kind ought neither to be put upon the Order Paper nor withdrawn from it without some public explanation to the House. I think that, whatever the dangers may be, I owe it to the House to make an explanation of this kind and that if any other course had been pursued it would have been a very dangerous and vicious precedent indeed. I must add that I do not myself feel that the withdrawal by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) of the expression which gave rise to the incident referred to in the Motion, made any difference one way or the other to that decision.

The Motion is not directed to the hon. Member for Norwich, but is directed to the conduct of the Chair, which remains unaltered whatever the decision of the hon. Member for Norwich may have been. I must add that whether hon. Members agree or disagree with the terms of the Motion which I have put down, the decision of the Chair on the occasion to which the Motion refers was a serious precedent, and I myself feel that it ought not to go forth without public protest. Therefore, on the merits of the Motion, I should have been wrong to withdraw it without making that protest.

The Motion itself charges the Chair on the occassion referred to, with a want of impartiality. I think that the House is entitled to know exactly what I mean by that phrase and what I do not mean by it. My allegation means this: that, not as a matter of error of judgment, but as a matter of deliberate choice, when what I submit was a clear.defiance of the well-established Rules of Order in this House was drawn specifically to the attention of the Chair, the Chair deliberately refused to enforce the Rules of Order but chose instead to apply some purely subjective and unascertainable criteria of its own to the Orders of the House and exercised its authority only in order to suppress those who sought to invoke the Rules of Order and not as a means of ordering those who had broken the Rules of Order to abide by them for the future or to withdraw their breach. That, so far as I can see it, is a want of impartiality.

It will be noted that I make no allegation in the Motion of party bias. I wish expressly to say here and now that that omission from the Motion was not unintentional. I meant to imply nothing of the kind, but I think that in a Motion of this sort everything one means should be said plainly and that there should be nothing whatever by way of innuendo or insinuation underlying it. Not only had I no intention of making an allegation of that sort, but I do not wish anyone to be under any misapprehension that any such intention was in my mind. The right of substantive Motion has, I think, been well-established for many years in cases of this kind. So far as I can ascertain, it was exercised as recently as a few years ago by Mr. Wedgwood Benn, as he then was, when he brought no fewer than 27 Members into the Lobby against the Speaker of his day. On the whole, I think that it is well that from time to time it should be established that substantive Motions of this kind can be put down by Private Members who have questions of principle which they seek to apply.

My charge, therefore, is this: that there was a deliberate refusal by the Chair to apply well-ascertained Rules of Order when an open breach of them had been established and specifically brought to its notice, and that the Chair used its authority for the purpose of suppressing those who had invoked them, and not for the purpose of enforcing the Rules. The existence of such a duty on the Chair has been established from the very earliest times. This is not a question of discretion; it is a question of duty, and that duty is laid down—I do not wish to quote the words because the passage is a little long—in page 438 of the current edition of Erskine May. Side by side with that duty there has been established the right of a Member to draw the attention of the Chair to breaches of Order, once well established, in order that the Chair may perform its duty, and perform it directly.

As regards unparliamentary expressions and personal allusions, I also submit that the Rules of this House are very well known and established beyond doubt. I wish to read one sentence from page 431 of Erskine May—a sentence which I think we all need to take to heart, not least myself—and then to come to certain examples. The sentence I wish to read is this:
"Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Parliamentary language is never more desirable than when a Member is canvassing the opinions and conduct of his opponents in debate."
The learned editor of Erskine May then goes on to give examples of what he calls "expressions which are unparliamentary and call for prompt interference"—that is by the Chair. The examples he gives include the following:
"1. The imputation of false or unavowed motives."
I do not think I need read 2.
"3. Charges of uttering a deliberate falsehood."
Then it goes on to cite a number of precedents of that. I have read every one of the precedents under the head of charges of making a deliberate falsehood cited by Erskine May at that point—every one, that is, since 1867—and I have also read two which have taken place since that edition of Erskine May was published. I think I am correctly summarising them when I say that, whatever particular form of words is used, once it has become unmistakably plain that one Member is insinuating of another or saying of another in open terms, that he said that which he knew to be false, either in the House or outside it, then the Chair must and should intervene at once to direct the offender to withdraw—and that without any particular form of words.

But the precedents establish, I think, something more than that. They establish that there are certain words in the English language which so plainly or so usually carry with them that imputation that, whatever may have been the inner meaning of the person speaking, the Chair should intervene to direct the person using them to withdraw those words whenever they are applied to another Member of this House. The Chair has even gone so far in two instances as to apply that Rule to the word "falsehood" unaccompanied by any descriptive epithet, and I should have thought, and I believed it to be true, a fortiori, that the word "lie" or "liar," or the verbs and adjectives compounded of or derived from it, have always been so regarded, and that whenever that word, or any part of it, has ever been used by a Member of this House and the Chair has had its attention drawn to it, the Chair has always insisted upon the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the expression.

There are only two qualifications, I think, to be made about that Rule. You, Mr. Speaker—certainly in the speech which you made when you were inaugurated at the beginning of this Parliament, and I remember on one other occasion in a very happy speech—have referred more than once to the possibility of the Chair being what I might describe as judicially deaf; that is to say; not hearing as Mr. Speaker things which actually fall with an impact upon your human ears. I hope to persuade the House that certainly this is not a case where there can be any such pretence. Secondly, I think it is true to say that the Chair will very often put a charitable construction on words when they are capable of two alternative con- structions. But where the words are plain the Chair will not quibble; where the words in their ordinary and actual meaning convey an offensive imputation, then the Chair will direct the offender to withdraw.

I must say this, too, in all sincerity. These Rules are not meant for the protection of the reputations of hon. Members; they are not meant to prevent things being said which we do not want said in public; they bear no relation to whether the things that are said are true or false, or whether the charges are justified or unjustified. These Rules are meant to keep order, and the disregard of these Rules, and particularly the refusal by the Chair to enforce them, leads, as surely as the tides follow the moon, to the outbreak of disorder. That is absolutely certain. I must also add this, because I think it only right to do so. These Rules were worked out by our forebears in days when House of Commons life was much rougher than it is now. I hope I shall be forgiven if I say that this has been a very well behaved Parliament on both sides. I think it is due to us to say that it has been well behaved compared with Parliaments of the past, all of them I think, and it may prove to be very well behaved compared with Parliaments of the future.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is anxious to tell us the whole facts in stating his case. Does he think that the behaviour which led up to the remark in question being made was consistent with the case he is now making out? Does he not agree that some very provocative remarks were made prior to the making of the statement of which he speaks?

I want to be perfectly fair, but I am equally anxious to couch my remarks in a wholly unprovocative way. Although, of course, there are things I shall say with which hon. Members will not agree, I want to say them in such a manner that hon. Members will not feel in any way offended when I do say them. Perhaps it would be better if the hon. Gentleman would allow me to deal with these matters with which I propose to deal in the way in which I had planned.

That brings me very clearly to the incident, or series of events leading up to the incident to which the Motion refers. It began in the latter part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food, at the point at which he had been criticising the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson). I have looked at the precedents and I do not think I should be in Order in discussing in any way matters other than those which are strictly relevant to this Motion; indeed, I think I should be unwise to do so, even if I were in Order.

The point arose in the course of the Minister's speech at which he desired to say, and did say, that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was inspired by hatred of the Government and not by motives of patriotism. I feel myself that that might have been considered an imputation of an unavowed motive, but I make no complaint about the fact that the Chair did not intervene at that stage. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that this was only an example of Members of my party allowing their hatred of the Government to overcome their patriotism. Again, that is something upon which I do not think I need comment on this Motion; I simply narrate it as an event which led up to the incident upon which I am not only entitled but bound to comment. The effect of that was that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay)—I read from HANSARD, which, in parenthesis, may I say, has an almost miraculously accurate account of what took place in a matter of a few minutes or seconds; one would scarcely have thought it possible for shorthand writers to be quite as skilful as these have been—said:
"On a point of Order. Is it in Order for an ex-member of the Fascist Party to cast aspersions on"—
Then comes "interruption" in brackets. I do not wish to comment on that remark. It was withdrawn, and in my opinion it was rightly withdrawn by my hon. Friend who made it. It certainly was not a remark I should have made, because my state of knowledge about the right hon. Gentleman is greater than my hon. Friend's. It is not a remark I should have made about him in any circumstances. However, that remark was made, and I reserve the only comment I want to make about it.

That in its turn led the hon. Member for Norwich to rise immediately, except for one absolutely irrelevant observation from the Chair. The hon. Member for Norwich said this:
"On a point of Order. Is it in Order for hon. Members of the Opposition to make a lying accusation against my right hon. Friend?"
Those were the words he used and which he has subsequently withdrawn, and in my opinion has quite properly withdrawn. I draw the attention of the House firstly to the point that he did not say it, as it were, in heat. He rose and obtained a lull for himself by saying "On a point of Order," thereby making it quite certain that what he said should be heard clearly, and it was heard clearly.

The Chairman then replied with this observation, and this is the first note of direct criticism I want to strike. Having said,
"We can only have one point of Order at a time,"
the Chairman's reply to the hon. Member for Norwich was:
"I am not in a position to say whether the accusation was a lying accusation or not."
That means that the Chair had heard the words clearly uttered, as everyone in the House heard them, thereby debarring him from alleging official deafness, and secondly that he understood them in exactly the same sense as any Member in the House understood them, as meaning that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull was deliberately saying what was not true about the Minister of Food. At any rate, that was understood by the Chair, and it was understood by every Member of the House.

In my respectful submission, the words are incapable, subject to any legal quibbles any ingenious man may think of, of having any other construction whatsoever. I raised this point of Order therefore, and said, as I have said on other occasions when I have heard that word used:
"On a point of Order. I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) insinuate that something was a lying accusation. Do you, Major Milner, think that the word 'lying' should be used towards Members of the Opposition? I would ask you to ask him to repeat those words in order that they may be taken down, and I would ask you to ask him to withdraw the words 'lying accusation.' Can we not have the protection of the Chair?"
The Chairman then said:
"If one Member accuses another of telling a lie or being a liar it would be proper for me to ask him to withdraw. I did not gather that that was the imputation in this case. I do not, therefore, propose to ask the hon. Member to withdraw."
I submit from the facts as I have stated them, firstly, that it was absolutely plain that the Chairman heard exactly what the hon. Member had said, and secondly that the hon. Member had used an expression to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, clearly coming within the repeated Rulings of the Chair that that word and all compounds of it are out of Order, and that the Chairman had clearly understood the sense in which it was used. Instead of directing the hon. Member for Norwich to withdraw, the Chairman replied, firstly, by what I can only describe as a feeble joke, and, secondly, as a matter of arbitrary decision, that he did not propose to order him to withdraw. That is not impartial conduct on the part of the Chair; at any rate that is what I submit in these matters.

Is it not clear to the hon. Member that the Chair might possibly have observed, as the hon. Member has just read out, that the hon. Member for Norwich used the plural and was not referring to one specific Member of the Opposition?

It did occur to me, and the hon. Member has evidently not been paying attention to the HANSARD record which shows, although the plural was used originally by the hon. Member for Norwich, the Chairman's reply was:

"I am not in a position to say whether the accusation was a lying accusation or not."
The Chairman deliberately used the singular quite clearly, showing that the lying accusation was in respect of the accusation by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull. To do the hon. Member for Norwich credit, he has never denied that at any stage, because he is a man of honour. That is what he sought to impute. I raised therefore a second point of order, and said:
"Further to that point of Order, Major Milner. I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Norwich use the words lying accusation.' I believe I am in Order is asking him in your presence to confirm or deny what I have asserted."
In doing that I was not simply repeating myself, but was following your express directions, Mr. Speaker, made on 14th March, 1945, when you expressly laid down that that was the true course to follow if there was any question of the Chair having not caught the proper imputation of the words. In spite of your express Ruling as recently as March, 1945, the Chairman refused to do that, and in fact said:
"If the hon. Member for Norwich did make any accusation that a Member of this House, whether on one side or the other, was telling a lie or was a liar, then, of course, he should withdraw. If that was not the case, perhaps the hon. Member will indicate so to me."
The hon. Member for Norwich was perfectly candid about it. He never concealed the words he used, or the intention he intended to convey. Any ingenious interpretation that others have sought to put on them is wholly foreign to the honest nature of the hon. Member for Norwich, whose only part in these proceedings after this episode was in a manly fashion to withdraw what he said. He said:
"With the greatest respect to the Chair, Major Milner, I made my observation after a wholly false accusation that a Minister of the Crown was a Fascist had been made from the other side."
If there had been up to that point any doubt whatsoever, as there seems to be in the mind of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), as to what the hon. Member for Norwich meant, or the particular accusation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, that doubt is removed by that intervention.

On the whole, I would rather not. I think it is important that this Debate should not degenerate into recriminations. The House will give me credit, I think, for trying to put my point of view in a wholly unprovocative way. I am afraid that if I constantly gave way I should be drawn into a Debate which the House would probably regret. The hon. Member's questions are not always as simple as he claims, and they are not always questions. The Chairman then said:

"Order. We cannot continue on these lines"—
the only observation he made with which I agreed;
"Having regard to what the hon. Member for Norwich has said, I do not propose to direct him to withdraw."
I rose to make my third appeal to the Chairman, in an attempt to ask him whether he could not, in the circumstances, order the words to be taken down in accordance with Section 160 of the Manual of Procedure. At that stage, the Chairman said:
"…I must decline to hear the hon. Member for Oxford again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1993–5.]
It is no part of my case to harp upon any feeling of resentment I may have felt personally at that time. I only say this to the Chairman now: he has, like myself, been trained in the study of the law, and he must know how far down in the judicial scale one must sink before one deliberately refuses to listen to a person who is seeking to invoke the protection of authority to enforce the Rules of Order which it is their duty to enforce.

Therein lies the charge I make. I deliberately say that if the Chairman, in answer to the point of Order raised by the hon. Member for Norwich had only said, "It is not in Order to call a Member a Fascist, and it is not in Order to accuse an hon. Member of a lying accusation, and both hon. Members will withdraw," I believe that both hon. Members would have done so, and that the conclusion of that Debate would not have been one which most of us, for whatever reasons, now regard with feelings of regret. I believe that the refusal by the Chair to enforce the Rules of Order always leads to disorder, and I believe that the responsibility for the disorder on that occasion rests with the conduct of the Chair. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is why I have put down this Motion.

I wish to say three things in conclusion. First, if this had been an isolated decision I should not have adverted to it, but it is not an isolated decision. On the contrary, I believe that for over a period of months there has been a tendency—

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has raised the case of what was said on 5th April. Has he any right, Mr. Speaker, to bring any other matter forward for consideration now?

I was listening carefully. I do not think the hon. Member ought to go too wide.

I did not mean to, Sir, but I think I am entitled to say—and I do not think that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) is being as helpful as I know he intends to be—that over a period of months now—

On a point of Order, I think it is a well-recognised rule, Mr. Speaker, that no innuendo or attack whatever on the conduct of the Chair can be made except by a substantive Motion placed on the Order Paper. There is a substantive Motion on the Order Paper relating to an incident in which the conduct of the Chair is impugned. If there is any imputation on the conduct of the Chair other than that referred to in the Motion, I submit that that is wholly out of Order.

I quite agree, and I gave a warning that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) should not go very far into this matter.

I am certainly taking note of that warning, Mr. Speaker. I was not raising any case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—other than the construction which I deliberately place on this incident. It is this: that the Chair, instead of enforcing the Rules of Order, which are perfectly plain and applicable to this case, deliberately chose as a matter of policy to substitute for those Rules of Order in this case a private and unascertainable criterion of its own in place of those ascertained Rules of Order. That is what I meant, and I deliberately accuse the Chair of a want of impartiality on this occasion.

I will say no more about the Chair on this matter except this. My own view—and I wonder whether the House agrees or disagrees—is that this House will take from the Chair almost any degree of exercise of authority. It is not afraid of a strong Chairman; indeed, it loves a strong Chairman; but it will tolerate that only in so far as authority is used to enforce the objective criteria imposed by the Rules of this House. But when the rebuke, the decision, the authority, is replaced by the subjective criterion of the feeble joke or the sneer, then I submit that the House is going down the slippery slope.

In putting down this Motion I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whom I have criticised in plain terms to believe that I was not actuated by any feelings of personal malice or spite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] On the contrary, my feeling of conscience on this matter has been absolutely imperative. I believe I could have obtained many signatures to this Motion had I tried, but I have deliberately not tried to get any, or to enlist support from this side of the House or from anywhere else. I felt it my duty, as a servant of the public in this House, to make a solemn protest about what I regarded as a deliberate and vicious precedent.

I have discharged my duty and I am, therefore, free to say that I do not desire to embitter things further by pushing this Motion to a Division. It would be a tragedy, in a matter of this kind, to do more than make the solemn protest I have made. The Motion had to go on the Order Paper so that I could do what I conceived to be my duty. I withdraw nothing, either from the Motion on the Order Paper or from what I have said.

I earnestly say to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that I sincerely wish him well in the conduct of the Chair. I desire to do nothing which may cause future bitterness. This matter is one for the House to decide as to the proper course to take. I apprehend that the Prime Minister may have something to say on this Motion, and I therefore propose to give way, without more ado, to enable the right hon. Gentleman to give such advice as he may think suitable.

We cannot have an irregular Debate. Does any hon. Member second the Motion?

I think the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) had a question which he wished to put to me. I think he rose, and I would have given way. I shall answer him if I am allowed to do so.

5.20 p.m.

The conduct of the Chair in this House is supported by a great and honourable tradition and one has always to take the greatest care before one makes any aspersions on the conduct of the Chair and particularly a charge of partiality. I listened to the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) with great care and his charge really came not to a charge of lack of impartiality but a mistake of judgment. The hon. Gentleman has been conducting this post mortem in the calm of this afternoon, but we have to look at what the Chair did in a very different atmosphere at the end of a hot Debate, with a crowded House, and with a great deal of noise and with accusations being flung across the Floor.

It is a fact that at times like this a Member who wants to get in above noise very often uses the words "On a point of Order." It is quite often not a point of Order at all, and if the Chair took strictly every single point of Order it would play not into the hands of the Debate but perhaps into those of obstructionists. I was present on this occasion. I came in when the House was already a little noisy. It was getting still noisier. There was shouting across the Floor and a number of Members shouted out the word "Mosleyite," which was objected to. A more specific statement on a point of Order was made by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay). There was subsequently a statement made by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton). I do not think it was so absolutely clear as the hon. Member for Oxford says. It would take a great deal of argument to show exactly the reaction of the House to those particular words "lying accusation." It is a question of whether it was an accusation against a particular Member or a number of Members. That makes a difference.

I am not proposing to argue the case one way or the other, except to say that the hon. Gentleman is very clear on it. He has had a long time to study authorities, but it is another matter when one of these things is thrown to the Chair when there is great heat in Debate. The Chairman has to make up his mind. The suggestion is that in every case the Chairman's duty is simple and that he has to take a certain action. However, I do not think it is always quite that. The position of one occupying the Chair in this House is something like a referee in a football match. He often has to interpret the rules a bit in order to see that the play goes on in the best possible way. In my experience of the House I have seen Debates conducted where the Debate would have been brought entirely to a futile end if there had not been, as we say sometimes, a certain deafness or a certain action on the part of the Chair.

My point is that if we judge this from the position of the Chairman, we know that he has to act in a heated House when there are a great number of accusations flying about one way or another. Therefore, I do not think it is fair in a case of this kind to charge the Chairman with partiality. He might presumably have called to Order the hon. Member for Solihull. He did not do that. There might have been a great deal going on in the House and he let the thing go on. In difficult circumstances, the Chairman was trying to do his best to get that Debate through in an orderly way.

It is a pity to put a Motion of this kind on the Order Paper and to hold a post mortem and dissect the whole thing with precedents afterwards. If there is an accusation against anyone in the Chair for acting from improper motives that is one thing. I do not think the hon. Member for Oxford intended that. What it boils down to is that he has suggested that there had been a lack of judgment. Everybody who has been in the chair at a meeting has been conscious at some time or another of the difficulty of coming to a right decision. I have seen wrong ones and right ones.

While we must insist on the Rules of Order, there is a danger of being over sensitive in this House. As a matter of fact, there has been over a period of years, I am told on the good authority of old Members, a considerable softening of manners in this House. When I read some of the Debates in the past I am surprised at what people got away with. That softening of manners in a good thing, but we must not be too meticulous. The Chair has a right always to see that it does not interrupt the actual Debate but keeps the effect of the Debate going. The occupant of the Chair has to exercise his judgment. I am sure that that is what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did on this occasion under very difficult circumstances.

5.26 p.m.

We have listened to the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and we have heard of his investigations. It would have been proper on his part if, when he came to the portion of Erskine May where it referred to good temper and moderation, he had closed the book and left the incident at that, because I am going to submit, as one who sat through the whole of the Debate, that it was want of good temper and moderation on the part of the hon. Member for Oxford that led to many difficulties that happened that evening. I believe the Chair acted impartially and quite properly. It is well within the discretion of the Chair to interpret the whole of the matters in the manner in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did that evening.

The second point I wish to make is that no one can be sure that the report in HANSARD is exactly what happened on that occasion. I myself have a little experience of writing shorthand, and I know the facility with which a circle can be left out to turn a plural into a singular. It is not at all certain that every syllable and every word of what took place is actually contained in HANSARD. In the first case the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) intervened on a point of Order with a question to the Chair, which was:
"Is it in Order for an ex-member of the Fascist Party to cast aspersions on"
The Chairman treated that question by saying that it was not a point of Order. I see nothing improper in that. I would remind the House that today we had a similar question put to the Chair, when Mr. Speaker was asked,
"Is it in Order to refer to this incident as a foul and bloody murder?"
Mr. Speaker's answer to that was:
"It is not in Order."
I submit that the cases and the decisions are similar. In both cases they were absolutely proper.

What Mr. Speaker said this afternoon was

"I should think probably not."

I should think probably there is so little difference in that, that it is not worth bothering about.

The next point I want to refer to is the point of Order made by hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton). He said:
"On a point of Order. Is it in Order for hon. Members of the Opposition to make a lying accusation against my right hon. Friend?"
The answer to that was:
"I am not in a position to say whether the accusation was a lying accusation or not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1949; Vol 463, c. 1993–4.]
That might easily mean that the Chair did not hear any of the things which were being referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich. In the first place, it is a reference to a number of accusations and not to a single accusation at all. I say that the Chair on that occasion dealt with the matter in a perfectly impartial way and is deserving of the full support of this House.

5.31 p.m.

I much regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has put down this Motion, the operative words of which are "wanting in impartiality." I do not think that to ordinary, plain people that can mean anything but a suggestion that the Chair was either seeking to be, or was in fact being, partial. I heard the whole of that affair and I thought that the occupant of the Chair was trying to be fair to both sides. I thought he was seeking to further the progress of the business of the Committee. I therefore regret this Motion and I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it.

5.32 p.m.

I wish to make only two very brief points. For the first, I will revert to my interruption of the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), which I am sure he misunderstood. It was not the word "accusation" which I suggested should be plural, but the word "Members." The point at issue is that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) made a general accusation against a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite. This may sound a small, trivial point, but it is not so trivial as it sounds on first hearing, for the reason that although it is out of Order to make imputations against, or to accuse of lying, a specific hon. Member of this House, the custom has been that it is not strictly out of Order, however undesirable it may be, to make imputations against groups of Members. This is the point I wanted to make and which the hon. Member for Oxford misunderstood when I interrupted him.

I say not only that the Chair was not guilty of the partiality of which he has been accused. Let us make no mistake about it; the hon. Member for Oxford was not accusing the Chair of error of judgment or of anything like that. His speech rubbed it in and made it clear that he was accusing the Chair of a deliberate policy of partiality. I say that not only was the Chair not guilty of that charge but that he was not even guilty of an error of judgment. I suggest that it would be most unfair to the Chair that this Motion should be withdrawn, that there should be no Division and that he should be left under this very grave imputation. I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford will not withdraw the Motion, and that if he seeks to do so the House will refuse him permission, so that there may be an overwhelming majority of hon. Members from both sides of this House in the Lobby to defeat it.

5.35 p.m.

I intervene for just a few moments to speak in support of what has just been said by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). No more serious charge can be brought against you, Sir, or the Chairman of Ways and Means as Deputy-Speaker, than an accusation of want of impartiality. Such a charge ought never to be brought unless it can be supported by the clearest possible evidence. Like all hon. Members I have read through the HANSARD report. I fail to see a single instance there where a charge of partiality can be brought against the Chair. In my view, which I think is the view of all hon. Members of this House, this Motion ought not to have been put on the Paper at all. Still worse, the hon. Member for Oxford has not only made the charge that on that occasion the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was guilty of partiality, but that his behaviour was a culmination of a whole series of incidents. If the hon. Member intended to mean that, he ought to have included it in the Motion.

I deeply regret that this Motion remained on the Paper for so long. No charge ought to be made against you or either of your two deputies unless it is debated immediately. You are here to protect the interests of individual Members and to see that the business of the House is conducted properly. In addition, there is a duty upon us, which is that you and your deputies are entitled to the full protection of the House on all these occasions.

5.37 p.m.

I desire to detain the House for not more than two or three minutes. There is no doubt that the proceedings that night had become a little heated. There was a good deal of temper on all sides and I am sure that a good many things were said that were afterwards regretted. That is why it is such a great pity that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) should be the only Member of this House who allowed his bad temper to survive the occasion. Everybody else next morning had forgotten it, but not the hon. Member. He had to put his Motion upon the Paper. Not merely that, but after several days he thought it fair to make the kind of speech that he made this afternoon, and then not even to move his Motion at all until he was compelled to do so from this side of the House.

I cannot imagine how any Member of the House could possibly act more unfairly than to make the kind of speech that the hon. Member made, then first to seek not to move his Motion at all so that he could never be answered, and then after it is moved to seek to withdraw it so that it could never be defeated. It shows quite clearly how ill-advised the hon. Member was, when we think of the kind of accusation that he made. In the end, he said, at one point the position went beyond doubt. The point that he chose, in order to illustrate that his charge was proved beyond doubt, was that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) said that something was a wholly false accusation. I submit that there is nothing either unparliamentary or out of Order in saying that an accusation is false if it is false. It may be out of Order to say that it is a lie but it is not out of Order to say that it is false. The particular accusation that was made that night was not only admittedly false, but the hon. Member who made it withdrew it later that night and accepted an assurance that it was false. Therefore the point which the hon. Member for Oxford uses in order to prove his case, seems to me to disprove it beyond further argument. I hope that the House will retain possession of this Motion, not allow it to be withdrawn, and defeat it unanimously.

5.40 p.m.

I was not present on the occasion of the Debate which gave rise to the contretemps which has been discussed today, but I have read the pages of HANSARD, and the view that I formed is that although there was in my opinion an error of judgment on the part of the Chair, there was nothing that occurred then or has occurred since which justifies the imputation of want of impartiality on the part of the Chair. All of us are capable of making mistakes, and in the Chair at a time of high dispute and sometimes high temper a Chairman who was never wrong would be something more than human; but that is not the issue here. The charge is not that an error of judgment was made; the charge is of a want of impartiality on the part of the Chair, and that is the issue with which we have to deal.

The second point I want to make is that this is not an accusation made in the heat of the moment. In the same way as all of us can make mistakes in the heat of the moment, all of us can make wrong imputations in the heat of the moment, but this is not so made. It is made subsequently, and it is persisted in after the opportunity of a graceful withdrawal has been provided. That seems to me to be a fact of some importance. The Lord President of the Council invites the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) to come into discussion, and though I was not present, I can pretty well guess that the Lord President would have urged the hon. Member for Oxford not to persist in this Motion. However, he persists in it, and it my view that as he has persisted in it, a vote must be taken upon the Motion.

There must be a vote because otherwise things would be intolerable in this House. Every one of us has a right to put down a Motion attacking the Chair, and if we feel that the Chair has been wrong, that is not only our right; it may conceivably be our duty. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the late Member for Caernarvon Boroughs putting down on the Order Paper a straight Motion of censure on the Speaker. We all have that right, but the one thing we must do if we exercise it is to come to the House, state our case for attacking the lack of impartiality of the Chair and stand by the decision of the House of Commons. That is the situation with which we are faced. Withdrawal before today would have been possible and proper; withdrawal today would be quite improper and we ought to make it impossible. Therefore, in agreement with other colleagues, I suggest that we should retain this Motion on the Paper and insist upon a vote on it.

5.43 p.m.

We have now had a fair Debate on this matter. It is perhaps a pity that it was not handled with greater brevity in the opening speech of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) because there is some feeling, I gather, among my hon. Friends that the House ought to come to a decision. I am not resisting the idea that the House should come to a decision. I think that in all the circumstances, having got as far as we have, we had better come to a decision; but there are two ways of coming to a decision. One' is to try to get a Division somehow so that there is a majority and a minority, and the other is, if the House is virtually unanimous, to decide about it by the question being put and by its being negatived without a Division.

If I may say so, the course of the Motion being negatived without a Division would be the best way because even if a limited number of Members voted, it is not nice for the Chair and we want to keep the Chair in good relationship with the House. Therefore, my advice to the hon. Member for Oxford would be to take the course whereby the Motion can be negatived, and my advice to the House as a whole would be that there is no point in taking a Division merely for the sake of having one, if the House can virtually decide unanimously that the Motion should not be carried. I hope that the course I have suggested will commend itself now to the House.

5.45 p.m.

I want to associate myself with what the Leader of the House has said. In these matters we have to think not only of the present but even beyond the present, and it would be most unhappy to have a Division if the House can take its decision without a vote and having a minority on an issue which affects the authority of the Chair. I feel sure that for the future guardianship of this House that will be the right course to take. I hope that it is a course which my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) will be able to take.

5.46 p.m.

I certainly propose to accept the advice given from the two Front Benches. I think I have the right to say this, and I propose to say it if I have the right. One point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made was a good one, but as a matter of fact it was unjust. He said that this Motion had remained on the Order Paper too long. I agree with him, but the Leader of the House will agree with me that there were circumstances beyond my control and beyond his control which caused the delay which were not my fault at any rate. I should have preferred to have it dealt with at a much earlier date, but I think it was thought that it would be convenient that the Leader of the House should be present at this discussion, and certainly I fell in with that decision, which I think was right.

It is also quite unfair and wrong to say, as did the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that I sought not to move the Motion. I sought to give way to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister who, I apprehended, had something to say. It was not in order—as I thought the hon. Member rather wrongly suggested—to avoid any further discussion that I gave way to him; I thought it might be too late for him to say that which I thought he had it in his mind to say if I did not formally give way. I have not sought in any way to run away from the things I have put down.

It has been put by the Prime Minister that this was a heated Debate, and I certainly take that fully into account. I have also taken into account the other things which the Lord President said. My own view is exactly that put forward by the Leader of the House. I had to put this Motion on the Order Paper in order to make what I regarded as a protest which it was my duty to make, and now, having made it, I am quite free and quite willing to see it negatived in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

Question put, and negatived.