HC Deb 14 June 1961 vol 642 cc425-30
Mr. G. Brown

Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to countermand the dispatch of the 19th Brigade Group to Portugal. It would be wrong to argue the merits at this point, but may I submit to you, Sir, in support of my request, that there is no question about the definiteness of this, or the facts. They are clear and admitted by the Government. This is wholly an executive matter. Its urgency is that there is now very little time left, but just enough time left if an immediate decision were taken, to change the proposed venue for this training. The public importance of it lies not only in the repercussions on public opinion here, which, as most of us know, are very great, but the enormous repercussions in Africa of our identifying ourselves quite unnecessarily with a policy of Portugal, which is execrated throughout the world.

Mr. Speaker

There is one point about which I must not, in the circumstances, trust my recollection. I thought that the Minister said—but there were rather a lot of words at that time. [Laughter.] I do not mean on the part of any one hon. Member, but on the part of many. I thought that the Minister said—I should like to be corrected if I am wrong—that he would consider what the right hon. Gentleman had been putting to him.

Mr. Watkinson

Perhaps I may help, Mr. Speaker. I said those words. I also said that this exercise is not due to take place until early in July. I must, if I may, just correct the right hon. Gentleman. It is not possible to alter the venue of this exercise. It must either be cancelled or not. You, Mr. Speaker, correctly interpreted my words, but I think it only fair to state that I went on to say that I would consider the right hon. Gentleman's points, but that it would be very difficult to make an alteration at this stage for the reason that I have just given.

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is right.

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to countermand the dispatch of the 19th Brigade Group to Portugal. In those circumstances, I cannot accede to the application.

Mr. Brown

With respect, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, what circumstances? As I understood, the Minister said in answer to you—I am merely trying to clear it up—that he said that he would consider what I put to him. He went on to say that it was only fair that he should state that what he then said was that he could do nothing about it. What are the circumstances in which I am precluded from moving the Adjournment? The Minister is standing firm on something to which we are asking to be allowed to draw attention by moving the Adjournment Motion.

Mr. Speaker

I follow that. I am extremely anxious that on each of these occasions it should not be said that this is a wholly exceptional case in which I must give reasons, because, if so, it will happen every time. Frankly, I would infinitely prefer not to argue reasons, because I think that it is in the general interests of the House that I should not do so.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, but, before giving your Ruling, you yourself asked for some clarification, and I should like to raise a point which really arises out of your question. Are we to understand that if the Minister had said that he was not prepared to consider my right hon. Friend's question that would have influenced your decision? Are we to assume that, if the Government in such circumstances say that they will consider it, that is a reason for refusing the Adjournment?

I do not think that we are entirely clear about this. I should have thought, with respect, that the purpose of the Adjournment was to seek to change the situation either by a Motion of the House, or by influencing the Government's decision. Therefore, I cannot quite follow why, if the Minister concerned says that he will consider it, that is a reason for turning down our application.

I did not understand the Minister, just now, to give a clear indication that he was prepared to consider the matter. On the contrary, he made it plain that he was not going to change his mind. Could you, Sir, clear up something which arises out of your own question?

Mr. Speaker

I am put on the horns of a dilemma. Either I begin to argue reasons with the right hon. Gentleman, or appear discourteous. I have no wish to do either.

The reason why I asked the Minister to help me about what he said was that it is extremely difficult, over the whole period of Questions, to carry accurately in one's head the precise verbal matters. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in rising to explain his application to me, said, "There is a refusal to countermand. That is definite", or some such phrase. It was because I had not in mind at that time whether or no the words used by the Minister made it common ground that it was definite that I desired to amend my recollection before considering the application.

Mr. Paget

Is the position this, that when the Government have made up their mind then there will be something definite and we can raise the matter with you again, Sir?

Mr. Speaker

I do not propose to enter into arguments about that. I do not accept that that is in any way a dilemma for the Chair, or that my correction of my recollection about what the Minister said involves an indication of the sole or any reason on which I decide this matter. I do not think that it is a good idea that the Chair should be involved in argument about reasons.

Mr. Brown

I quite understand that, Mr. Speaker, and do not wish to transgress it, but we should be clear about whether the Minister has announced a refusal to countermand the order, as we, who were present at Question Time, together with yourself, Mr. Speaker, thought, or whether, in his last ambiguous statement, he was saying, "No. I am still considering whether I will countermand it". Would you, Sir, permit the Minister to say what is the position?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that I can properly do that. [LION. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because Question Time is over. What the Minister said originally will be a matter of record in the OFFICIAL REPORT. What he has said on this occasion is, I hope, clear in the recollection of the House. I do not think that I could allow him to be asked further questions about it now.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

In view of the Ruling which you have given, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to press for reasons in this case, but it puts us in an embarrassing position concerning considerations which may arise in future with regard to moving a Motion of this kind.

Either the Minister has said that he will not consider it or that he will consider it. If he will not consider it, one might have thought that it would be desirable for the House to express its view so that he might reverse his decision. If he said that he will consider it, it might be thought desirable that the House should express its view so that he might take the view of the House into consideration. But it appears clear to us from your Ruling, Sir, that the fact whether the Minister says that he will take it into consideration or not is a decisive matter.

It would be very helpful to the House in future cases of this kind, and might save a great deal of time, if the House knew what was the criterion in an answer of that sort.

Mr. Speaker

Once again, we get to the business of the Chair giving reasons. I do not think that it is a good idea that it should. I am sure that it takes up time. I do not propose to do more than exercise my judgment to its very best on each case as it arises. I shall not always be right. I hope that I shall not always be wrong, but I believe that it is to the advantage of the House to trust the Chair in matters such as this.

Miss Lee

May I respectfully say to you, Mr. Speaker, that on both sides of the House we accept that for you a Motion must be definite and urgent, and that we do not want explanations. But the dilemma in which many of us find ourselves is that we do not know whether the Government are saying that they are definitely not prepared to consider this matter at a later time. We are also in a dilemma because we do not know whether they are saying that this is not urgent, because we have a week or two to consider it, or whether the Government have a closed mind on the matter.

If we could be told that the Government are not prepared to consider the matter at this moment, but that they are not simply hiding behind the rule about definite and urgent, and would give us an opportunity in the very near future to debate it, that would make the situation much clearer and easier for many of us.

Mr. Speaker

The arrangement of business and the subject matter for debate is not a matter for me. No doubt what has been said will have been listened to. About what the Minister said I cannot help the hon. Lady further than by referring her to his words as they will in due course appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. There are now two answers about it.