Skip to main content

Attache Cases (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1952

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

On a point of order. I am reluctant to trespass on the time of the House, Mr. Speaker, but I would ask you to give us a firm Ruling on the question of attaché cases which, as the result of the proceedings last night, has been left in a state of great uncertainty, particularly when the proceedings of last night are contrasted with what happened just under five years ago, when a somewhat similar incident was drawn to the attention of the then occupant of the Chair. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) will appreciate that I raise this point with no personal animosity against him. Indeed, there are very few hon. or right hon. Members on the other side for whom I have a greater regard. But it will be found—

Order. This is a point of order and I am asked to give a Ruling. I cannot possibly do so unless I can hear the point.

It will be found in column 2582 of today's HANSARD that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in concluding the matter, used these words:

"May I say … that … I did not leave the Chamber with the attaché case for any reason except to accelerate the progress of the debate and to ensure that the frivolous and ridiculous interruptions should be brought to an end. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2582.]
That decision, made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, was allowed to stand. It clearly carries with it the implication that if he, or any other Member, had not been concerned to accelerate progress, the case could have remained in the Chamber, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman with it.

This contrasts with what took place on 9th July, 1947, when the Official Reporters recorded, in the middle of a speech by the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), that there was an interruption; whereupon my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who had, apparently, brought in a case, rose and asked, on a point of order, whether there was anything wrong in his doing so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Crookshank) then said:
"We do not know what is inside it."
and hon. Members—HANSARD does not say from which side of the House; perhaps, from all sides—said:
"Take it away."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 2218.]
Major Milner, as he then was, gave a direction that although Ministers were entitled to bring in despatch boxes to assist them, if necessary, with their speeches, other hon. Members were not entitled to bring in any sort of cases at all. Although my hon. Friend who now sits for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), pressed Major Milner about this question of inequality between right hon. and hon. Members, the Chairman adhered to his Ruling and insisted that cases of any kind should not be brought in and that, if brought in, should be taken away. I feel, therefore, that we might have the matter cleared up; otherwise, it is the thin end of the wedge. We might have these benches looking like a railway left luggage office.

The hon. Baronet was kind enough to tell me that he would raise this point of order. I have considered the matter. There is nothing to be found in writing on this subject. It is all governed by the ancient usage of the House, and according to that usage there are certain articles which it is out of order for hon. Members to bring into the Chamber. They are, quite briefly, these:

Weapons. This prohibition does not apply to Court officials and to hon. Members who happen to be moving or seconding the Address in Court dress.

Decorations. These should be removed before entering the Chamber, except in the same two cases.

Sticks and umbrellas. These are not permitted unless the hon. Member concerned has a disability which makes their use reasonable and proper.

Despatch cases. These should not be brought into the Chamber.

An hon. Member is quite in order in bringing into the Chamber any books or papers which he may require to consult or to refer to in the course of debate; but with the exception of Ministers, whose despatch cases and official wallets are under a special dispensation, despatch cases should not be brought in.

I hope the House will agree with me that the Messengers who, under the direction of the Serjeant at Arms, remind hon. Members if they should unwittingly be transgressing these old customs, perform their duty with the utmost courtesy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—because it is easy for an hon. Member to forget these rules. I hope that this Ruling is firm enough for the hon. Baronet.

Further to that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I ask this question? There has grown up recently in the House a tendency for hon. Members to produce exhibits, such as a fish or other things of that kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Eggs."] Yes, eggs. I cannot remember all the things; I did not know this was to be raised this afternoon.

I should be glad, Sir, if you would give an indication that that also is rather unbecoming to the dignity of the House. I remember that on one occasion there was a suggestion that the Postmaster-General should produce the little gadget that was designed to be put on motorcars to stop interference with television, which was deplored. I think the House would agree if you would say that no exhibits of any kind, whether eggs, hats or pieces of clothing and the rest, or even red meat, should be allowed.

I agree that there are possibilities of mischief in introducing into the House exhibits such as eggs and other things, but there is a very old precedent going back to the time of Mr. Burke for the introduction of exhibits into the House. I had the pleasure of listening quite recently to an hon. Member who illustrated an Adjournment debate on clothes with a very interesting display of textiles. I should prefer to leave that to the good judgment of hon. Members.

If it is really necessary for an hon. Member to produce an exhibit to illustrate his argument, I see no reason why I should prohibit it in advance. I hope, however, that hon. Members will respect the spirit of our usages, which is that our Chamber should not be encumbered with matter from outside that is not relevant to the discussion.

Further to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Is there any limit to the size of bags which hon. Ladies may bring into the House?

The rule against despatch cases dates from a period before we had the advantage of hon. Ladies as Members of the House. I understand that the handbag in a lady's equipment fulfils the office of pockets in male garments, and I further understand that ladies' garments are not usually provided with pockets. I think, therefore, that it would be unreasonable to prohibit ladies from carrying handbags in the House. As to their size, I should prefer to leave that matter also to the good sense of the hon. Ladies who are Members of the House.

Can we also have an assurance that it is in order for hon. Members to bring coins of the Realm into the Chamber, but not to throw pennies at Ministers and ex-Ministers?

Further to that observation, may I ask you, Sir, whether your Ruling applies to bags from which cats might otherwise be let out?