HC Deb 06 March 1961 vol 636 cc219-24

11.43 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your guidance on the subject in regard to which we sought redress in the points which were put to you a few minutes ago. Standing Order 95A is about ten years old, and it would seem, therefore, that it should be reconsidered at some time. I submit that the operation of the Standing Order which we have witnessed tonight can lead to an unfair result.

If we start a debate on a Prayer at 10.35, and if there be no recognition of any lateness of the hour, can it still be considered that there has been an adequate debate? Putting aside any question of the importance of the matter, if you in your discretion give that Ruling, what happens if hon. Members legitimately seeking to speak on what is an important Prayer in these days of delegated legislation are excluded by an hon. Member who supports the Regulations addressing the House for an inordinately long time within the circumscribed limit of the time we are allowed?

I want to give an illustration of this. Of the fifty-five minutes with which we were left for the discussion of this Prayer, six minutes only were occupied by the Minister; and I do not think that he would pretend that he has adequately answered all the points which have been made, or that he has defended his Regulations.

It is fair, therefore, to say that the Minister has not assembled his points. The hon. Gentleman himself complained that certain arguments which ought to have been deployed against the Prayer could not be used; he was not able to do so. In view of this, and the fact that the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) occupied some twenty-five minutes of the time avail- able, is it possible, Mr. Speaker, that the Standing Order might be recon- sidered by, say, some Committee of this House, or that there might be a debate on a Motion at the initiative of some hon. Member to say "That the hon. Member do sit down and stop speaking "?—[Interruption.]—I can certainly hear the voices of the vested interests being raised now against that, but if we are to have a legitimate ninety minutes for a Prayer against a Regulation, is it in order that they should be subjected to abuse?

If they are to be abused, then I say that we should scrap the Standing Order and allow Prayers to go on all night. What we need is fair play, and the Government and their supporters ought to help here. If not, we should resort to some other Motion. If there is a Motion, Mr. Speaker, would you draw my attention to it or, if not, inform us how it is possible to satisfy the wishes of the House?

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Those of us who were in earlier Parliaments had examples of the abuse of Prayers. Half of the night was often spent in discussing them, and I happened to be a member of a Select Committee of this House which ruled that abuse of Prayers should be terminated, but that the legitimate rights of the House were to be placed in the hands of Mr. Speaker so that if too short a time was allotted because of Divisions or other interruptions, or in any circumstances, Mr. Speaker might take the facts into con- sideration and use his discretion by allowing a further debate on the following night. I understood that the Standing Order was put there to protect the rights of the House against any abuse such as I think it will be agreed occurred tonight when the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), in a short debate, occupied an inordinate amount of time, with the result that other would be speakers were cut out and even the Minister had almost no time in which to make his reply.

I should have thought that this was just the sort of circumstance which you, Mr. Speaker, might have taken into consideration in deciding that further time should be given for our debate.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

When you gave your judgment, Mr. Speaker, just now you spoke of having considered precedent; but surely each of these incidents must stand by the importance of the Prayer at the time and not merely in relation to precedent. If we are to take precedents, you have not only to give a decision, Mr. Speaker, but to create a precedent. Whatever chance will there ever be for continuing a debate if we take tonight, both in relation to the lateness of the hour and the inadequacy of the time which we have been allowed for discussion, as being a precedent?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I might answer the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) first. Of course I look at precedents. It is what everybody in the Chairvirtually is required to do. I agree entirely with what he says, that every case must be decided on its own merits one way or the other; but I do not think it wrong to look at precedents in that context. I would say at once that in looking at precedents I do not create a new precedent by saying that the fact that discussion of the Prayer began at 10.35 p.m. does not represent a necessary reason for its adjournment over.

With regard to the intervention of the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), so courteously put to me, I accept that in general the reason for the creation of this Standing Order was very much as he said it was. I was one of the participants one way or the other in what was going on in those days. But, the House having chosen the terms of its Standing Orders, I take it that I am guided by them, though slightly confined as to considerations at which the Chair has to look. Looking at them in these circumstances, I reached the best conclusion that I could, including among the considerations the length of the speeches delivered from each side of the House in this context.

For my part, I cannot descend into the arena—if I may use that phrase—as between one side or the other. I do not seek to do so. I think we should all deplore it if any one hon. or right hon. Member in such circumstances of obviously restricted time were to take too large a bite out of the cherry. No further than that do I think it right for me to go.

With regard to the suggestion that we should have, as has another place, a Motion that an hon. Member should be no longer heard, I think it would not be improper to say from the Chair that one has entertained that idea. [Laughter.] Perhaps I should say no more than that. I think that on the day of a Guillotine Motion it might be better for the Chair to say nothing about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Twelve o'clock.