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Housing Statistics (Press Release)

Volume 499: debated on Friday 2 May 1952

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4.0 p.m.

On a point of order. I very much regret, Mr. Speaker, having to take up some of the time of the hon. Gentleman who is to speak on this Adjournment, but I desire to raise with you, for the information and protection of hon. Members, a matter of which—and I regret this—I have not had time to give you notice; nor have I had time to give notice to the hon. and learned Member whose name I must necessarily mention in this connection.

At 3.30 p.m. today there was available in the Vote Office to hon. Members of the House two White Papers, one giving the Housing Return for England and Wales and the other the Housing Return for Scotland, and, in accordance with usual custom, I understand that these were released to the Press with the proviso, of course, that no information about them should be disclosed before 3.30, because, as I understand it, nobody is allowed to disclose in any way matters which are the subject of White Papers presented to hon. Members at any time before hon. Members have had the advantage of seeing those White Papers.

I am, however, informed, Sir, that at a Press conference which began at 2 o'clock this afternoon the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), speaking not in his capacity of an hon. Member of this House, but in his capacity as Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Local Government at the Conservative Central Office, made a statement which included figures from the Housing Returns available to other hon. Members only, as I have said, some time afterwards, at 3.30 p.m.

I hold in my hand a copy of the Press statement under the heading, "Conservative and Unionist Central Office." Under the note "Release time" is "Immediate," that is to say, no time was put on the statement before which the figures might be released. Therefore, Sir, the hon. and learned Member concerned made use of these figures and published these figures before the time at which the figures were available to hon. Members.

I appreciate, and I repeat, that you have not had the time or opportunity to consider this matter, but I trust that you will at your leisure give consideration to it and see whether it does in any way offend the practices of the House.

I have a measure of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) has said. On the other hand, I have always felt some doubt about this. We all accept the idea that certain statements should be made in the first place to the House. The purpose of that is that if the statement involves a statement of policy, or anything like that, at once we are entitled to challenge it.

That is a very good doctrine and I have always agreed with it, although, from time to time, not always with the assistance of the party opposite, I have tried to protect Members of the House of Commons against the Executive when necessary. On the other hand, in this case a Minister is familiar with certain figures and makes a speech. I understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, judging from what I saw in the papers, made a statement. The fact that that document which bears his name was subsequently presented to Parliament makes it a little dubious as to where we are.

I made a protest because the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), when President of the Board of Trade, in a speech in the country gave an advance release of statistics which appeared in the Trade and Navigation Returns which, as all hon. Members are aware, are presented to Parliament every month on a Motion, which at the beginning of each Session, is moved by the President of the Board of Trade.

I think it is a good thing that the hon. Member for Reading, South, has raised this question so that we can have a clarification. I think that if a policy statement is made it ought always to be made first in the House. If a statement of facts is made I do not see why a Minister who has certain facts in his possession should not be entitled to say them on a public platform, or wherever he may be speaking. There are two issues involved: the one a statement of policy—and I always think this should be dealt with in the House so that the Opposition or any hon. Member should be able to challenge it and ask Mr. Speaker's permission to raise the matter at 7 o'clock, as was done in the case of Seretse Khama. But, when there is factual information, as in this case, I do not think it is quite in the category the hon. Member has in mind, although he was entitled to raise the matter.

I am anxious, if the House will bear with me, not to truncate or abridge the time of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies). Quite clearly, I cannot rule on this matter now as I have had no notice of it and the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), is not present. I think the House will agree that the best course for me is to say that I will inquire into the circumstances and, at a later stage, give a Ruling upon it.