§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I desire to ask your advice, Mr. Speaker, on a question of procedure. The Merchandise Marks Bill came before a Standing Committee this morning, summoned in the usual way, and at three minutes past, Eleven the Chairman adjourned the Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: Speak up!"]—on the ground that there was not a quorum present. I and everybody I have consulted are of the opinion that there was an established practice, or an unwritten law, that a quarter of an hour's grace should be allowed for the meeting of these Committees. I would only add this further: that the Committee consists of 60 Members. There are 25 selected from this side of the House—I think I am right in that figure—
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
And over 33 from the other sides, the Liberal and the Government Benches respectively. At three minutes past Eleven o'clock there were present 14 Members from this side of the House, and up till six minutes past Eleven, when I protested against the Adjournment, there were 18 Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] I was saying that at six minutes past Eleven there were 18 Members from this side of the House ready to sit on the Committee. There were a number of Members from the other parties outside the Committee room. What I want the House to consider is this: Is there such a Regulation or established practice that this grace is allowed? If not, is it possible, having regard to the existence of three parties in the House, and the requirement that a 382 quorum of 20 should be present, and seeing that this Bill is calculated to raise party feeling; seeing there are two sides of the House opposed to the Bill, and only one wanting it—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member, in raising a point in regard to the procedure of this House, to raise disputable questions with reference to the parties in this House? If so, if he is allowed to do that, will it be allowed for hon. Members on the other side to make a reply?
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I did not intend to raise any controversy. I was only desiring to show that, as there are now three parties in the House, and the old position requires 20 for a quorum in Standing Committees, it seems difficult to obtain that quorum of 20 on a Committee.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The question of a quorum on a, Standing Committee is governed by a Standing Order of the House, and only the House can alter it. The hon. and learned Gentleman can table a Motion, and see whether the time can be found for alteration, if considered necessary, of the Standing Order. With, regard to the other matter, there is no appeal to me from the decision of the Chairman of a Committee. As to any custom or practice relating to the time allowed for the assembling of a quorum, if there be any such rule or custom it may have been brought in by the Chairmen's Panel: I have no knowledge of it. The hon. and learned Gentleman can raise any question of that sort with the Chairman of the Panel.
§ Mr. PRINGLE.
On this point of Order. May I put it to you that the matter of time at which the Chairman decides that a quorum is not available is a matter entirely within the discretion of the Chairman, and in exercising that discretion he has regard to the form of proceedings on the Bill, and in this case he had regard to the fact that at the first meeting of the Committee it was necessary to wait 20 minutes, and then a Motion for the Adjournment was only defeated by the casting vote of the Chairman. At the second meeting the Committee had not a quorum, and it was only at the third meeting that this action was taken.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These matters do not concern me, and I have no opinion upon the question. The Chairman of each Committee is quite independent, and the only question is that there may be some rule or practice which has been made by the Chairmen's Panel. As I say, I have no knowledge of any such rule, and I can only leave the matter there.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
Is it within your knowledge, Mr. Speaker, that the result of this decision will be that the Bill automatically goes down to the bottom of the list of Bills going before that Committee, and this is a very important matter? In view of the fact that it has been the regular practice of some hon. Members of the Committee to remain outside the Committee Room, is it not very necessary that the Chairman should not appear to take sides in a matter of this kind?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must decline to deal with any question of that kind. What I have already said makes it quite clear that I have really no jurisdiction in the matter.
§ Mr. W. G. NICHOLSON
May I point out that there is no time laid down in the Standing Orders as to how long the Chairman of a Standing Committee should wait, but there has been a customary rule that he should wait 20 minutes. As regards the question of the Bill going to the bottom of the list, I think the 20 minutes is recognised in that rule. The Chairmen's Panel passed the following Resolution in June, 1920:That where on two successive sittingir4 of a Standing Committee called for the consideration of a particular Bill the Committee has to be adjourned by reason 384 of the absence of a quorum within the first twenty minutes of the time for which the said Committee was summoned, the Chairmen do instruct the Clerk to place the particular Bill at the bottom of the list of Bills then waiting consideration of that Committee, and that the Committee shall forthwith be convened to consider the other Bill or Bills then waiting.I think there has been a general rule that the Chairman should wait 20 minutes, unless an agreement has been come to between the various parties of the House that it is for their convenience that the matter should be adjourned to some later date.