HC Deb 09 March 1964 vol 691 cc37-9
Mr. Speaker

I have a statement to make to the House.

The House will recall that at the end of our discussions on the Lords Amendments to the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asked me to rule, at my convenience, whether or no the form in which the Navy Estimates were presented was accurate.

I undertook to consider what the hon. Gentleman said. I have done so, and my conclusion is that, upon both constitutional and procedural grounds, I must forgo any wish to meet the hon. Member's request. I will explain why.

What we received was a Royal demand for Supply, that is to say, that, after we had been warned by words in the Gracious Speech to expect Estimates to be presented, Estimates were, by the responsible Minister, presented to the House by "Command of Her Majesty."

It is not for the Speaker—even were the Estimates still to be now within my field of responsibility—to pronounce upon the terms in which Her Majesty's request to us is expressed. But the Estimates are not. Any action of this House, upon a Royal request for Supply, must—in accordance with one of the oldest and most fundamental rules of our Constitution—be begun in Committee, so that the Estimates were in the normal course of financial procedure referred to the Committee of Supply and they had been so referred before the hon. Member addressed his request to me.

In such circumstances it would be quite improper for me to attempt to say anything more in answer to the hon. Member.

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Do I take it that it would be in order to raise this matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will understand that it is a very important ancient rule that I have cited. It means that Mr. Speaker must not, at this stage, interfere in any way or he would be outraging the constitutional rule by which we go.

Mr. Shinwell

This point was raised originally with the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee. In view of the fact that the Chairman rejected the submission made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and myself, namely, that what the Estimates provided for was the anticipation of a decision that can be taken only by the Minister of Defence when the Bill becomes law, is not this a matter to be referred to the House, and in those circumstances does not the responsibility rest upon you, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

No, it does not. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, what happened before anything was raised with me was that the Estimates, which are a matter to be dealt with by the Committee, had already been referred to the Committee of Supply in the ordinary course of the financial procedure. I must remain out and above at all stages now.

Mr. Ross

When this matter is raised with the Chairman, in Committee, will he ignore the action which you took the other night, Mr. Speaker? When the question was raised on the Adjournment of the House you proceeded to put the Question without any further debate. You could do so only on your judgment that the raising of the Motion was an abuse of the House. It will be very difficult for us to raise a substantive point when, by implication, you have already given such a Ruling.

Mr. Speaker

That has no bearing on the Chairman's view, in any way. I was ruling in the circumstances in which I ruled, and those circumstances had nothing to do with the circumstances in Committee.

Mr. Wigg

Would it not be of assistance to the House, and would it not also save you from embarrassment, Mr. Speaker, if the Leader of the House—if not today, perhaps tomorrow—made a statement to the effect that the Government recognise that they have made a mistake and have inadvertently misled the House by not taking into account the full circumstances, and will withdraw the Estimates and submit them in a proper and correct form?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member's observations do not raise any point of order.