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British Legion Branch (Mr Speaker's Presidency)

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1952

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May I raise a matter of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker? I understand that it has been the practice of Mr. Speaker to be the President of the House of Commons Branch of the British Legion. I also understand that a meeting of that body was held yesterday at which you were duly elected President; but a report appears in the Press which would seem to make you a party to actions by that body in urging increases of pensions on the Government and in sending a deputation to the Government.

I think one would realise that it is very wrong that the impression should get abroad of Mr. Speaker supporting or taking part in activities of this kind. Perhaps you would be good enough to make a statement in order to clarify the position?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman both for giving me notice of this matter and giving me an opportunity of removing any misunderstanding which may exist. I was asked to take the chair yesterday at a meeting of the re-constituted House of Commons Branch of the British Legion. The business was to elect office bearers for the year and to hear an address from the National Chairman of the Legion.

I was told that my predecessors in the past had acted similarly and had accepted the Presidency of the Branch. The meeting was attended by Members of all parties and the discussion was quite non-party. The officials elected were of both the main parties in equal numbers, each party proposing and seconding candidates of the other side, who were elected without opposition.

In accepting the office of President I made it clear that—to use my own words—I would be a singularly useless member because I could take no part in discussions. I took no part in the subsequent discussion and I expressed no opinions of any kind, confining myself strictly to the calling of members and putting the questions proposed.

It is customary for the Speaker to accept the presidency of certain nonparty organisations. One might instance the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Empire Parliamentary Union and so on, in addition to the British Legion, and he does that in order to emphasise the non-party character of the proceedings. I do not think anyone present at the meeting yesterday or at any similar meeting I have addressed would associate Mr. Speaker's opinion with any resolutions come to by the meeting.

I realise that that has been the position, but the fact, as understand it, was that at the meeting a decision was taken to send a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to seek an increase in pensions. I would respectfully suggest that that should have been done at a meeting at which you, Sir, were not in the chair because, although this is a non-party organisation, there are a number of nonparty organisations of old age pensioners and ex-Service men who are engaged on pressing their claims on the Government, and while it is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, I suggest it should not have been done when you were there in the chair, as President, because of the strictly nonpolitical and non-party nature of this organisation.

On a point of order. Might I ask you, Sir, whether the comments on and criticisms of your conduct as Speaker should not—if it is thought right to bring them forward—be made the subject of a Motion placed in due form upon the Order Paper?

On that point of order. I did not offer any criticism of you, Sir. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman heard what I said. I criticise those who put this forward when you, Sir, were in the chair.

I would say to that, of course, that when I took the chair I did not know what resolution would be proposed; but I am bound to say that my own recollection of the meeting and its harmonious non-party character was such that I saw nothing very dreadful in a decision being come to to send the deputation to the Minister. There is nothing in that that commits one to policy one way or the other.

I do not think, myself, that I did anything wrong; but one has to be careful in these things, and perhaps we can dispose of the matter in that way. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is perfectly right in saying that if there is any desire to criticise my action in the matter, that can only be done by a substantive Motion.

Ballot For Notices Of Motion

Coal Utilisation (Efficiency)

I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the need to utilise coal to the best advantage and the failure of many users to adopt the most efficient method of fuel utilisation, and move a Resolution.

Productivity

I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the necessity for a rising level of productivity as the only means of achieving full employment and a rising standard of living, and move a Resolution.

Incentive Payments

I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the desirability of encouraging a system of incentive payments in industry, and move a Resolution.