HC Deb 21 March 1951 vol 485 cc2543-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Popplewell.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Question is "That this House do now adjourn." Brigadier Clarke.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

On a point of order. We have just had a Division of some importance, not in party terms but in the history of the House, and there is a point on which I should like to ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The point of order is this. We were informed authoritatively by one who was taking the view that the Motion ought not to be carried and one speaking with some authority, that there was not, in fact, issued directly or indirectly any party Whip in connection with——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The question of party Whips cannot affect the Chair in any way.

Mr. Nally

My point of order is this. Where there is a matter affecting the general privileges of the House, is it in order for the House and the country to be misled about the fact that a three-line Whip was issued to Members opposite?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think the Chair can have any cognisance of that matter. Brigadier Clarke.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

On a point of order. May I invite your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the Order Paper for today? May I point out that there is in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends a Prayer: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty"——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry, but I cannot listen to the hon. Gentleman. The position is that the Adjournment has been moved. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I have called upon the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke)——

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

On a point of order. When was the Adjournment moved? What happened was that a question of order was raised by an hon. Member opposite. But when was the Adjournment moved?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Prior to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) raising the point of order, the Adjournment of the House had been moved, and I had called upon the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Furthermore, the Motion is not debatable.

Mr. Churchill

I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would not wish the House to be misled as to what had actually taken place? Who moved the Adjournment of the House?

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

Can the Chair be questioned?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

All I can say is that the Adjournment of the House was moved from the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Churchill

Surely the proceedings of the House ought to be conducted in audible tones so that hon. Members may be aware of what is going on. Matters of considerable consequence from the procedural point of view ought not to be hurried and nipped through in a sneaking and unfair manner without the House being aware of what has taken place. Further to the point of order, may I appeal to the Leader of the House not to take part in a fraud upon the House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I would say that the Motion was moved in the normal way and that I have endeavoured to make a point, notwithstanding the noise on both sides of the House, of giving time throughout the debate and since for all hon. Members to hear what was going on. I rose and quite clearly called out, "The Question is that this House do now Adjourn"; and I called out the name of the hon. and gallant Member concerned, who rose in his place. That being the case, I am acting in strict accordance with the Standing Orders and I have no alternative but to call on the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has the Adjournment tonight to speak.

Mr. Renton rose——

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne) rose——

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

On a point of order——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Mr. Bing.

Mr. Bing

May I submit to you, Sir, on behalf of one-half of the signatories to the Prayer about which there seems to be such a dispute, whether it would be possible for you to appeal to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to allow the hon. and gallant Member who has the Adjournment to make his most valuable speech, which we shall all appreciate when it is made?

Mr. Renton

May I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? This is the third occasion upon which my Prayer has been down on the Order Paper and the third occasion upon which I have tried to move it. On the first occasion I withdrew my Prayer because the hour was late. and because, through inadvertence, I failed to notify the Minister responsible I was accused of gross discourtesy. I apologised at the time. This evening I was given no notice whatever that the Adjournment was to be moved against me. Moreover, I think I should remind you of the fact—because you yourself were in the Chair on the second occasion—that this is not the first time that this has happened, but is the second time. If I may presume to conclude my remarks, may I ask your guidance as to what a back-bench Member is to do when he wishes to exercise his humble duties?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am unable to offer guidance to the hon. Gentleman, except to say that perhaps the circumstances at the present moment seem to be rather exceptional.

Mr. Churchill

May I, on a point of order, ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether you do not consider that the House as a whole—the majority of hon. Members—have a right to hear and be conscious of the putting of a Motion for the Adjournment? May I ask, with great respect, are not you, Sir, in the Chair personally responsible for making sure that hon. Members are properly able to take part consciously in the decisions of the House? Is it not likely to be very detrimental in the future if steps like this are taken unfairly, as everyone can now perceive, for a kind of party dodge? Is it not likely to be highly detrimental to the whole character and conduct of the House at the present time? May I not appeal to you to let us have the Motion which was put before the House put in- the prescribed form and in a form which is audible to the House as a whole?

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

Is it not the custom of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for you to call an hon. Member before he can rise in his place? How, then, could the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) have indicated his desire to move his Prayer unless you offered him the opportunity by calling him? In those circumstances, may I ask you whether possibly quite inadvertently, you were not in error in not giving the hon. Member the opportunity of indicating whether he wished to move his Prayer?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Gentleman I say that I have acted in strict accordance with Standing Orders. In my experience, having had the honour of occupying a Chair for some seven years, the Adjournment has been moved in precisely the same fashion throughout the whole of that period. It was sufficiently audible for the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has the Adjournment to rise in his place, and the matter is, in my view, perfectly in order. I would further say that the time that we take up on these points of order must, in accordance with Standing Orders, come out of the half-hour allowed for the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition,- in raising a point with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the first occasion described what the Chair had done as "a fraud upon the House," and on the second occasion as being "unfair." May I ask you whether it is in order to describe a Ruling from the Chair as a fraud upon the House?

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Gentleman ingeniously and deliberately misquotes me. I did not say that what you had done was a fraud. What I said was that what had taken place amounted, in fact, to a fraud, and I say so still.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I did not regard what the right hon. Gentleman said as having any reference to any action I have taken.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

As I was to be the seconder of the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), I have consulted all my hon. Friends beside me and none on this bench heard the Adjournment being moved, nor did any of us see the hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench moving it. On past occasions, when these Prayers have been moved it has been the practice of Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy-Speaker to call the name of the hon. Member who was to move the Prayer. The issue tonight was confused by the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally), and my hon. Friend had no opportunity whatsoever of getting up and moving the Prayer.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) must permit me to say that he is quite in error. There are no fewer than four Motions on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State.for Scotland and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer before the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). Had the Adjournment not been moved, it would have been my duty to call on the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland and not the hon. Member for Huntingdon. I would respectfully suggest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) should now be permitted to proceed with his Adjournment motion.

Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)

In view of the fact that these Prayers are on the Order Paper, and that it was perfectly well known to the whole House that it was the intention to discuss them if the Government had not persisted in this method of moving the Adjournment of the House before the Secretary of State for Scotland or anybody else had been called, I should like to ask what redress hon. Members have got? [HON. MEMBERS: "None."]. Hon. Members must understand there is a limited period in which these Prayers can be moved, and what I wish to ask is what redress has this House got in this matter? [HON. MEMBERS: "None."] They must have, and they are denied the right to discuss these matters.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I thank the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) for raising this issue. Late on Monday night I took a certain course with regard to the Prayers that were then down. I intimated at that time that I would see what opportunity should be afforded for Prayers which might run out if no opportunity were give for calling them. I offered at that time to enter into negotiation with regard to the subject of prayers, particularly late at night. I was questioned yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition with regard to it and we had some exchanges, which in the earlier part were not unfriendly, and I am still anxious to enter into negotiation.

I stand by the pledge I gave, that all Prayers that would become, as I described it, time-expired if we moved the Adjournment before they were moved, should have an opportunity of being discussed. Of the two Prayers for tonight, the first does not become time-expired until 15th April and the second does not become time-expired until 21st April.

No matter what might occur with regard to the general discussions, I will undertake that an opportunity shall be afforded to the hon. Members whose names are attached to these Prayers— [HON. MEMBERS: "Not good enough."]—I will undertake with regard to the Private Members who have put down Prayers that I will try to come to an arrangement with them whereby, assuming nothing comes of the other matter, we shall be able to discuss these Prayers in reasonable comfort and afford hon. Members an opportunity of dealing with the matter. I may say, in addition, that I think we should be helped in dealing with these and other matters if the present clogging, as it appears to me— [Interruption.]—do give me a chance to finish—if the present clogging of the usual channels could be removed.

Mr. Churchill

I very much welcome the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and the tone which he introduces, but the great matter which lies before us is this, that a large portion of the House has been completely misled about the business that was transacted. In the hubbub that followed immediately after an exceptional division, something was put through very quickly, in that corner of the House, and then we are deprived of our rights and our Parliamentary procedure is altered and subverted by that. I must appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider care- fully the grave danger into which this practice leads us and which undoubtedly will cause further consideration to be given to these matters in the future. I say that the great majority of hon. Members in the House, on this side at any rate, had no knowledge of the business that had been transacted in undertones by the Government Whips.

Mr. Ede

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the first part—if hon. Members would not converse amongst themselves, I think my voice is sufficiently strong generally to be heard in the House—I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the earlier part of his remarks. As I understand it, after ten o'clock, if the Motion for the Adjournment is moved by a Member of the Government, the Chair has to accept it. It is not debatable in the ordinary sense, but half an hour is allowed for discussion on the Motion. I am exceedingly anxious to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement on this difficult matter of Prayers, which has both a short-term and a long-term aspect. The short-term is to deal with the present inconvenience that a number of Prayers are taken after ten o'clock, sometimes starting after midnight. The other night they started at 2 a.m. We have first to find some way of dealing with that.

Secondly, I agree with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on Monday evening, that the procedure with regard to Prayers and the difficulties presented in the way of dealing intelligently with them, so that the House can have some control over delegated legislation, is also a long-term matter which we should be well advised, in the interests of the House as a whole, to consider. I am exceedingly anxious to do all I can to facilitate reasonable discussion and the solution of these two problems.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I want to point out that it was said that I rose in my place. I did not rise at all. I was facing the other way when I was called and my hon. Friend told me that my name had been called. I merely turned round. I never got off my seat.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is, therefore, perfectly clear that it was the hon. Gentleman sitting next to him. I thought it was the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman sitting next to him heard me call upon the hon. and gallant Member to speak. That is sufficient for my purpose.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

May I put this point to the Leader of the House? It is a point of order. May I put it through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? The Leader of the House said that this particular Order runs out on 15th April and that we have plenty of time in which to pray against it. But may I, through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, put to the Leader of the House that these Orders which are produced by the Government and by Government Departments take effect from the date when they are signed in Council, and that between the time of the signature and the time when they may be annulled, the Orders take effect. So it is fair to say that we should pray against them if we think them objectionable or obnoxious as soon as possible.

Mr. Ede

I do not think that I need add anything to what I have just said. I know that at present there is very considerable inconvenience. I am anxious to end it as soon as possible, and I can assure the House that I am also anxious to get in touch with the hon. Members concerned to ensure for them that they shall get their Motions on to the Order Paper in reasonable circumstances as soon as possible.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

On a point of order. Has it not been the custom from time immemorial in this House that the mover of a Prayer should have the right to select his day? In these circumstances, is it not a gross breach of the procedure of the House that the Adjournment Motion should be moved when there are Prayers on the Order Paper?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

As the hon. Baronet will appreciate, the Chair cannot help that. The Chair is not the operating factor. If, in accordance with Standing Orders, the Adjournment is moved, the Chair has no alternative under Standing Orders but to accept it. Hence the difficulty in which Mr. Speaker and the present occupant of the Chair are placed.

Sir J. Mellor

May I, then, put the question to the Leader of the House? Is it not a gross breach of the traditions of the House to move the Adjournment?

Mr. Ede

No. Sir. It is not.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)

May I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Adjournment of the House has been moved and that, as all these points of order affect legislation, they are quite out of order.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Nineteen Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.