But, having voted for
Robert McIntyre, strangely this was no guarantee that he would be able
to speak for his electorate in the Westminster House of Commons.
When McIntyre sought to
"take the oath" in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 17th
April, 1945, he caused an upset which could only take place in an
establishment riddled by adherence to tradition and designed to
intimidate the newcomer and impose its establishment will.
Mr Speaker (D Clifton
Brown) made the usual announcement, "Will Members desiring to take
their seats please come to the Table".
Hansard records: "Mr
R D McIntyre, Member for the County of Lanark (Motherwell Division) came
to the Table to be sworn WITHOUT BEING INTRODUCED ACCORDING TO
The Speaker informed the
SNP’s new Member, "That it is the uniform practice of this House
that, when any Member comes into the House for the first time, he should
be introduced by two Members of the House", and he put the question
to Robert McIntyre as to "whether two Members of this House are
prepared to introduce him, in accordance with the usual practice
Well, in the words of the
Punch cartoon which appeared in the Times, "McIntyre was INTIRELY
ALONE,’ and could only state, "I was elected as a representative
of a Scottish constituency and ....", before Speaker Clifton Brown
shut him up. He had been asked a question and, in Mr Speaker’s view,
his answer, was "No".
What the Speaker did then
makes it quite clear that the House of Commons is not a UK Parliament
but an English Parliament carrying on the procedures and precedents of
"I have to call the
attention of the House to a Resolution of the House on 23rd February
1688 ..." stated the Speaker. The terms of this mysterious
Resolution are worth noting in full: "The House, being informed
that it was an ancient Order and Custom of the House, that, upon new
Members coming into the House, they be introduced to the Table, making
the Obeisance’s as they go up, that they may be better known to the
House; Resolved, that the said Order and Custom be for the future
In fairness to the Speaker, he did state that,
"I have had diligent search made
in the journals of the House and find that only once has a variation of
this practice ever been sanctioned - in
After a deal of searching out as to what could or
could not be done for Dr Robert McIntyre in order to allow him to take
his place in the "Mother of Parliaments", Sidney Silverman,
the Labour Member for Nelson & Colne asked if it would be in order,
"without going into whether the rules should be altered or not, to
suspend the Standing Order", to enable Robert to take his seat.
Against some protest, the Speaker conceded that it would be in order to
make such a notice and George Buchanan, the Labour Member for Gorbals
eventually was able to get the issue discussed.
The ensuing debate shows the House of Commons in all
its absurd pomposity. Here it is, in the closing stages of the War,
discussing whether or not to keep up a practice which was designed to
prevent impostors sitting in the place 300 years before, and the Prime
Minister of the day took time off pursuing his battle with Hitler and
the Japanese to use all his oratorical gifts to advise the House of
Commons to keep to its ancient traditions.
Reasons coming from other MPs give a deal of insight
into their difficulties. Arthur Woodburn, the Labour MP for Clackmannan
and future Secretary of State for Scotland, summed up the problem of
"guilt by association". "When a Member arrives at the
House, he is in a difficulty if he has to be sponsored by people who are
hostile to his political views it is equally embarrassing, even to
persons who may be personal friends of the Hon Member to sponsor him in
this House when, by sponsoring him, they automatically create the
impression that they or their party are associating themselves with the
Hon Member and his party."
In order to avoid such a compromising position
occurring, Woodburn submitted that the rule should be waived in the case
of a Member "of a unique party, a person who had nobody associated
To do them justice,
Labour MPs, in addition to George Buchanan and Modwyn Hughes (Labour MP
for Carmarthen) supported the motion to waive the rule, none was more
eloquent than Aneurin Bevan who put it clearly and succinctly,
"Whenever there has been a conflict in constitutional history
between the privileges, usages and customs of the House and the right of
the constituents of this country to elect a person to this House, the
right of those constituents has always prevailed ... and the House ...
is flying in the face of every single major constitutional precedent in
trying to set any role, regulation, custom or usage of this House
against the rights of the citizens of this country to be represented
here by any person whomsoever they select". He put it that,
"Robert McIntyre ought to be admitted and the Commons should not
bother any more about the matter". Notwithstanding such persuasion,
the vote went against Motherwell’s MP by 273 votes to 74, with both
Attlee and Churchill voting against.
Writing in the
"Evening Citizen" later, Robert McIntyre defended his position
by making the point," It happens that I very clearly stated to the
people of Motherwell and Wishaw that I would give no allegiance to the
London-controlled parties. Self-government for Scotland was the chief
issue which was put before the electors."
He saw the problem of
party difficulties for any MP who acted as a sponsor. The Order of 1688
had been devised long before party allegiances and before press and
communication techniques made elected representatives widely known, but,
more importantly for Robert McIntyre, "It should be noted that 1688
was before the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England (1707). If
resolutions of the old English Parliament are binding to the Parliament
now at Westminster, then it would appear that the present Parliament is
merely a continuation of the old English Parliament and is not a united
Parliament based on the Treaty of Union."
He had hardly stepped off
the night train from Edinburgh when he had been confronted with the
House of Commons in its most overbearing mode and insisting on a stance
which had little real or practical meaning.
Some appreciation of the
problem to be overcome is expressed in the description of the situation
by William McIntyre, Robert’s brother, who was present in the House of
Commons and who witnessed the event.
recall of the happenings are: "On the afternoon on which his
election (Robert’s) was announced, Mr Arthur Woodburn told me in the
course of a telephone conversation that, "Of course., they couldn’t
sponsor him". When he went to the House, Dr McIntyre naturally
looked to Home Rulers to sponsor him ... They were to be found among the
older Labour Party members ... He asked James Barr. Barr said he could
hardly do that. "You see," he said, "my agent was over
speaking against you". I tried to persuade Barr on the grounds of
family friendship ... he was a friend of my parents and had consulted my
grandfather (Rev George Morison) when he was considering leaving the
church for politics". Notwithstanding Barr’s reluctance, he
returned sometime later and said he would do it whatever happened."
assessment was that the issue of his sponsorship had become a Party
matter and it would be more fitting for him to go forward without
sponsors to take the oath or affirm.
Having been defeated in
this endeavour, Robert decided that he was "sufficiently
kenspeckled" and was introduced next day by the Rev James Barr and
One of the interesting
aspects of the whole affair is that, while the Speaker made reference to
a variation of procedure in 1875, no one seems to have examined exactly
what happened on the previous occasion. What did happen is most
revealing and is worth noting, even at this stage, as a point of
On February 18th, 1875,
Dr Edward Vaughan Kenealy, who had been returned in a by-election for
Stoke-on-Trent, sought to be introduced without sponsors, in
contravention of the Resolution of 1688. None other than the Prime
Minister of the day, Benjamin Disraeli, moved that the 1688 Resolution
be dispensed with, and this was carried without a division, in stark
contrast to the overwhelming rejection in the case of Dr McIntyre and
the Prime Minister in 1945, Churchill, speaking against.
DR EDWARD VAUGHAN HYDE KENEALY
A surprising aspect of
the reaction of MPs to the sponsorship issue of Robert McIntyre is that
there does not seem to have been much examination of what happened back
in 1875 and the personalities involved. If there had been such an
examination, the absurdities of the House of Commons posturing would
have been even more clearly revealed.
Dr Edward Vaughan Kenealy
was a barrister who had been elected as an Independent for
Stoke-on-Trent on 14th February 1875 with a majority of 2,000. His
conduct in the courts in relation to a famous 19th century case
involving a claimant (Arthur Orton) to the Tichborne Inheritance had
resulted in his being disbenched and disbarred. His sole reason for
entering the Commons appears to have been to continue to ventilate
grievances, real and imagined, affecting the court’s decision.
made him extremely undesirable, and thus his inability to find the
necessary sponsors. Disraeli carefully avoided going into details of the
reasons for Dr Kenealy’s plight stating, "I think there are
circumstances connected with the present case which render it desirable
that we should not insist upon its enforcement". That is the Order
of 1688. When pressed further on the issue as to what he meant by
"circumstances", he offered the weak explanation. "I was
told the Hon Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had not succeeded in obtaining
two Members to introduce him, and I thought it might be painful to his
feelings to allude to this fact."
The fact is Kenealy’s
reputation was well known - indeed, he was notorious and it is for this
reason that no MP wanted to stand beside him as a sponsor.
Notwithstanding all of this, the House of Commons saw fit to waive the
Order of 1688 in 1875. No one seems to have had either the time or
resources in 1945 to reflect on the implication of the behaviour of MPs
towards Dr Vaughan and the contrast with Dr McIntyre. It may be they
wanted to avoid the implication that, if you were a well known rogue and
wanted to use the House of Commons to indulge in a personal campaign,
procedures were adjusted to admit you. But, if you were principled and
wished to stand up for your country’s interests, procedures were
Entering the war-time
House of Commons was hardly the sort of experience conducive to making
one feel exactly at home. It has to be remembered that the Commons
itself was not entirely at home. Because of the effects of the bombing,
it was meeting in the Lords, their Lordships being quartered in the
Grand Committee Rooms off Westminster Hall.
McIntyre’s stance was
quite resolute, in that he took the view that, if Members or any Member
resented his presence, he had the obvious answer that he really did not
want to be there either!
In this assertion, he was
giving voice to the dilemma of SNP Members of Parliament and, in a way,
contradicting his own intentions. In seeking election to Westminster
(and local government) SNP candidates had several aims. To promote the
cause of independence and to convince the Scottish people that it was
wrong to accept second class status, and that Scotland had the resources
and capabilities of governing itself, just like any other western
nation. But, in order to achieve the goal of independence, the SNP had
to win a majority of seats or votes in a general election. This task
could not be accomplished at one attempt and, therefore, the MPs elected
to Westminster had the choice of sitting in a parliament of which they
did not really approve and try their best to represent Scotland’s
interests and the interest of their constituents, or boycotting the
place. Having taken the Party political electoral course rather than of
an all-party/no-party Scottish Movement, McIntyre was obligated to
represent his constituents at Westminster and to use the House of
Commons to articulate Scotland’s needs and rights as a nation.
Unfortunately, the time
he had at Westminster to do this was very short indeed, but his maiden
speech on 1st May 1945 shows him well up to the task he set for himself
He stated: "...I am in a rather singular position for I, and the
colleagues who will shortly follow me from Scotland, come here with no
intention of interfering in the affairs of this country or reforming any
of the legislation or changing any of the customs of this House. We come
with the intention of returning as soon as possible to our own country
where we may, under democratic government, achieve the long-needed
reconstruction of Scotland. In the meantime ... it is necessary for us
to do everything in our power to safeguard the Scottish position from
any further deterioration."
The topic for debate was
more than apt for this purpose - the Education (Scotland) Bill - which
sought to apply to Scotland the Government’s policy for the
development of education in Great Britain.
In McIntyre’s view,
"In Scotland, you can have either a Scottish education, or an
education which is a poor imitation and copy of the English product.
Scottish education has a different fundamental social basis from any
English education". Developing his argument, the Motherwell MP
stated, "The fundamental basis of Scottish education has always
been a democratic one. On the other hand, the basis of English
education, it appears to me as an outsider, is of the nature of a caste
He went on to illustrate
the different understanding of the meaning of "public" school
in Scotland by telling the story. "I have a friend who recently
applied for a commission in the British Army. When asked what school he
was at, he said he was at Knowtop Public School. He got his commission.
In Scotland, I always considered that the
word ‘public’ meant everybody and that everybody matters. In
England, it seems that ‘public’ means those that matter and that
those that matter are not everybody."