HC Deb 05 December 1972 vol 847 cc1103-6
Mr. Buchan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This morning I contacted both the Department of Trade and Industry and your office to see how one could raise the question of the Chrysler Corporation seeking to acquire a 100 per cent. holding in the British company. At that time you felt that the Private Notice Question that I had requested should be refused. I do not question that, but it would be helpful to have an indication whether, when dealing with such a situation in which a previous multinational company is now becoming a mono-national company in the hands of another nation, this is a subject which should be dealt with either by a Private Notice Question or by a statement from the responsible Minister. I seek your guidance on how these matters should be looked at in future.

Mr. Edelman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, sought to raise this matter. I felt that unless the matter was dealt with urgently it would be an accomplished fact and there would be no redress for this House in what is a matter of great importance to a very large number of workers in my constituency and elsewhere.

May I ask the criteria upon which your decisions are made where there is a case of urgency which, unless it is debated, will be overtaken by events?

Mr. Speaker

According to the custom of the House, that is precisely what the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) cannot do. It is an accepted convention of the House that Mr. Speaker's discretion in these matters cannot be raised by way of a point of order or in any other way. It is a matter for my discretion, and other ways have to be found of raising the matter. I have no doubt however that the hon. Gentleman's point will have been noted.

Mr. Benn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While accepting your ruling that Mr. Speaker's decisions about Private Notice Questions cannot be challenged by hon. Members, let me put the facts of this case before you.

When Chrysler originally acquired a holding in Rootes a statement was made in the House by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and on 29th July, 1964, an exchange of letters was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT constituting an agreement between Chrysler and the British Government. In January 1967 when these arrangements were varied I made a statement in the House and announced the conditions which had been arrived at between the company and the British Government. These were solemn undertakings.

In the case in question, the company has issued a Press release indicating that the Government have varied these conditions without choosing to make a statement in the House.

The urgency of this matter is that if it goes through there will be no opportunity for hon. Members to question Ministers by tabling Questions or even by raising the matter on the Adjournment. Therefore, without questioning your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I put it to you that the House must be able to review a unilateral change of policy by the Government in a matter of such importance where Ministers have not thought it right, as they should have done, to make a statement.

Mr. Speaker

I take that intervention by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) as not being a breach of the convention about challenging my discretion. On the question of a statement, I have no doubt that those in authority will have noted what he said.

Mr. Buchan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House is present, and I have no doubt that the whole House would be grateful if he would indicate whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry proposes to make an early statement about this very serious problem.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

I have listened to the exchanges. I should like to consider what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have said, including the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I shall report this matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Whether he will then consider it right to make a statement will have to be decided.