HC Deb 29 June 1928 vol 219 cc851-6

I desire to call attention to the unusual procedure adopted yesterday by the Chairman of Standing Committee A, which is dealing with the Racecourse Betting Bill, in that he (1) waited from 2 to 2.45 p.m. for a quorum; (2) allowed a second vote on the Motion for the Closure, which was carried in the middle of Debate, when a few minutes before he had already accepted a similar Motion on the same point and had declared it lost; (3) convened the Committee at the unusual hour of 9.45 p.m., and kept the proceed- ings going till 11.40 p.m., when the House of Commons itself concluded its business at 11.10; and to ask whether steps can be taken to prevent a repetition of such action by the Chairman?


On a point of Order. May I ask whether the Chairman in question has had notice of this question?


I ought to explain that it was very late last night when we concluded our business, and that I indicated, I think, once or twice in my speeches in the Committee that I intended raising the whole conduct of the Chairman in the House of Commons at the first opportunity. I have not been able to see him this morning, and I am sorry for that.


With regard to this question, of which the hon. Member has been kind enough to give me notice, I should like to lay down an emphatic Ruling that there is no appeal from the Chairman of a Committee to Mr. Speaker; and, in the second place, that, if any Member or group of Members have any criticism to make of the Chairman of a Committee, or, indeed, of anyone in the Chair, the proper thing to do is to put down a Motion on the Paper, so that it may be discussed in the ordinary way in the House.


Following up that point, may I ask whether it is competent, therefore, for a Member who is dissatisfied with the conduct of the Chair not only to put a Motion down in the way that you indicate, but to question the title of an hon. Member of the House who is backing a certain Bill to take the Chair on that Bill in Standing Committee? Could the Motion include a point of that kind?


I should be sorry to give any Ruling on the last question that the hon. Member has raised; that is an entirely new point to me.


On the point of Order. Without dealing at all with the question of appeal from the Chairman of a Committee to yourself, would it not be within your power to take action if the Rules of the House governing Standing Committees, as stated in Paragraph 76 of the Manual of Procedure, were in your opinion flagrantly broken in the conduct of the proceedings of the Committee? Paragraph 76 refers to the times during which a Committee may sit, and relates those times to the times of meeting of the House. Do not the times of meeting of the House come entirely within your supervision, and would it not, therefore, be right for you to express an opinion regarding the holding of a Committee meeting after the House had closed its ordinary sitting?


The question of the Standing Orders is one entirely for the House. If it be considered that the Chairman has too much power, a Motion can be put down to amend the Standing Order. It is not in my power, if any complaint be made against the Chairman of a Committee, to give a Ruling; there is no appeal from the Chairman to me.


With great respect, my point was that there is a breach, as it would seem to me, of the privileges of the House as a whole, over which you preside and of whose rights you are the guardian. Paragraph 76 states what is to be the time of a Standing Committee's meeting, and relates that time to the Order of the House itself. It says that: A Standing Committee may sit whilst the House is sitting, and notwithstanding any adjournment of the House.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

"Notwithstanding any adjournment of the House."


"Whilst the House is sitting."


I do not see that anything can be done under the Standing Order in question, but, as I said before, if it be considered that there is a subject of complaint, a Motion can be put down in criticism of the Chairman.


May I ask if your general Ruling on this matter covers the first supplementary question put to you? May I ask if you are aware that the Chairman of Standing Committee A, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir E. Turton), is one of the promoters of this Bill; and may I ask if you will be good enough to take that matter into account in order to find, possibly, an explanation of the unusual manner in which the proceedings of this Committee are being conducted?


On a point of Order. May I mention that that particular point was raised before the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir E. Turton) took the Chair, and it was agreed by all parties that it would be perfectly in order for him to take the Chair?




On the assumption, as I understand it, that the proceedings of this Committee were to be conducted in a normal way.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

The suggestion has been made, by the point of Order raised by the Opposition, that something unusual or incorrect has been done by the Chairman of Standing Committee A. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Surely, it is fair to say that the fact of an hon. Member's name being on the back of a Bill has no more reference to his impartiality than the name of any hon. Member who voted either for or against the Bill in question would have to his impartiality. It is impossible, as it seems to me, to suggest impartiality, and partiality too, merely because a Member's name is on the back of a Bill. The whole essence of the House of Commons falls to the ground if suggestions of that sort are going to be made.


In reference to what fell from the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville), I would just like to say that that question was never raised in any formal way, and, so far as individuals were aware of it, and, so far as I was aware of it, we thought it would be improper for us to raise the question, in the hope and expectancy that the conduct of affairs might be such that we should never feel bound in any way to refer to it at all. It is only because of the course of the discussions that that matter has been mentioned later.


On a point of Order. A Ruling having been given by you from the Chair that this matter can only be discussed on a Motion, and a Motion not having been made, am I not right in saying that the whole of the discussion at the present time is out of order?


I was just going to say that the discussion which has taken place only emphasises how necessary it is, on questions of this kind, to put down a Motion for discussion in the House.


I understand from your Ruling that, if the Chairman of the Committee did exceed what the Standing Order allows in continuing the meeting of the Committee after the House had risen, the only alternative course is to put down a Motion condemning the Chairman of the Committee. May I ask what would be the position in the event of the House deciding that the Chairman had acted wrongly? Would the proceedings of that Committee be ultra vires?


I can but repeat what I have said previously, that there is no appeal from the Chairman of Committees to the Speaker, and that being so, it is not for me to express any opinion upon it.


If the Chairman of the Committee decides in any way whatever, are we to understand your Ruling is that, no matter how contrary it may be to the Rules of Procedure of the House, the only redress open to Members of the Committee who may feel aggrieved with regard to his action is to put down a Motion condemning that Chairman in this House and that, while we are in Committee, however autocratic, however unfair, however contrary to precedent or the Rules of the House his action is, we have absolutely no redress? Is that your Ruling?


The Ruling I have given, repeated several times, is that there is no appeal as to the action of the Chairman of the Committee to the Speaker.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

May I raise a different point. I put it to you, Sir, that when you adjourn this House at the end of a Sitting that has certain effects on the organisation of the House, the lighting, the police arrangements, the arrangements of the Kitchen Committee, and so on, and therefore the executive act of adjourning the House from the Chair has very important effects on the state of the House generally. I put it to you that this matter requires consideration from the point of view of the House as a whole. We might have this House rising at Eleven o'clock and a Standing Committee remaining in Session all night, with the whole staff of messengers, police, catering staff, and so on on duty automatically, even although you yourself have declared the House adjourned. I suggest that will require some consideration from the House of Commons point of view.


The Standing Order reads like this: All Committees shall have leave to sit, except while the House is at prayers, during the sitting, and notwithstanding any adjournment of the House.


Does that mean that a Chairman of Committees can call a meeting whenever he likes, on a Saturday or a Sunday when the House has been adjourned? This is an entirely fresh point.

Commander WILLIAMS

This Committee tried to sit while the House was at prayers.


Surely the Rule is more honoured in the breach than is the observance that a Standing Committee shall not sit while the House is at prayers. Committees are sitting every day when the House is at prayers. What we are concerned with is sitting all night when the House is not sitting.


I can only cite the Standing Order on this point.