HC Deb 04 March 1958 vol 583 cc974-6
Mrs. Braddock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have some advice from you? You will have noticed that last night, in the Adjournment debate, I asked why the House was finishing so early. As I explained then, I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means has the right to ask for Private Bills to be taken on certain days at seven o'clock. I know that it is understood that that information is always conveyed through the usual channels, but I also understand that at about half-past five last night it was known that there would not be any opposition to the Manchester Corporation Bill and the other Private Bill.

We were discussing for only a very short time yesterday the question of the consequences of the Rent Act, and at five minutes to seven many hon. Members on both sides of the House still desired to make a contribution to the debate. In view of that situation, will you consider whether, on future occasions, when the Chairman of Ways and Means finds that he does not need the time that he has asked for—when, after the House has voted to allow Standing Orders to be suspended, and, after full discussions with the promoters of the Private Bills concerned, he finds that agreements are reached without discussion on the Floor of the House—the debate can proceed instead of finishing at seven o'clock, as it did last night?

Mr. Speaker

The duty of putting down opposed Private Business for discussion at seven o'clock is entirely a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, and not for me. The duty is laid on him by the Standing Orders. The hon. Lady will realise that any sort of criticism of the Chairman of Ways and Means must be made in the form of a substantive Motion and cannot be raised in this way, or on the Adjournment All I can tell the hon. Lady is that when I rose at the conclusion of the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland last night I heard voices on both sides of the House saying "Divide" and I looked round carefully to see whether—

Mr. Callaghan

"Resign", not "Divide".

Mr. Speaker

What I heard, as I thought, was, "Divide".

I looked round to make certain that no other hon. Member was waiting to speak. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an hon. Member standing in the Gangway by the door. It was, in fact, the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons), but when I looked more carefully, I found that his erect posture was due not to his desire to speak, but so that he might be in a favourable position to enter the Division Lobby. Therefore, there being no hon. Member offering to speak, it was my duty to put the Question, which I did. That is all I am concerned with, and there is nothing more I can do about it.

May I say, also, that when we came to the Manchester Bill and I put the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," it was a great surprise to me that no one rose to oppose the Bill.

Mrs. Braddock

I am not criticising the Chairman of Ways and Means, Sir. I am asking whether, when it is discovered that it may be necessary to alter the procedure and the Chairman of Ways and Means knows there will be no Division or long statement about a Bill, we could alter the procedure so that important matters under discussion can be further discussed. I raise this because I know that people outside the House wonder why the House should rise at half-past eight in what seems to be the middle of an important debate. I want them to know that it was not the fault of hon. Members on this side.

Mr. Speaker

The only advice I can give to the hon. Lady is that on Friday we appointed a Select Committee to study matters of procedure and the possibility of improvements and that perhaps this question might be referred to that Committee.

Mr. J. Stuart

I suggest that the hon. Lady is not being fair, Mr. Speaker, because there can be no criticism of the Chairman of Ways and Means. It was his duty to do what he did and the duty is placed upon him by Standing Orders. Until they are amended the Chairman of Ways and Means must carry out the Standing Orders.

Mr. Diamond

One understands the difficulties which arose and resulted in a situation last night which I am sure was unwanted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Hon. Members most anxious to speak were prevented from doing so by a series of accidents about which there can be no possible criticism. In view of your statement, Mr. Speaker, that you saw nobody rising to catch your eye, may I ask whether it was apparent to you earlier that, had the debate continued longer, there were other hon. Members most anxious to catch your eye? Had it not been for the understanding that the vote was to be taken at seven o'clock, they would have persisted in their attempts to catch your eye.

Mr. Speaker

I can tell the hon. Member and the House that I had applications to speak from hon. Members on both sides of the House, enough to carry on the debate until ten o'clock. The shorter time at our disposal made my task of selecting hon. Members to speak doubly difficult.

Sir H. Butcher

Yesterday being a Supply Day, had not the Opposition special rights regarding business?

Mr. Speaker

It was a Supply Day, but the Chairman of Ways and Means had the right, indeed the duty, to put down opposed Bills for that day whether it was a Supply Day or not. This week we have three full days which are Supply Days, so that his choice was very limited