HC Deb 03 May 1972 vol 836 cc389-91

Mr. Atkinson (by Private Notice) asked Mr. Speaker if, in view of the uncertainty in the application of thesub judicerule to industrial disputes, he will exercise his discretion under the Resolution of 23rd July, 1963, by permitting debate on all matters affecting the National Industrial Relations Court until the House has come to a decision on a Report from the Procedure Committee on this subject.

Mr. Speaker

I decided to allow this Private Notice Question to myself, which is a somewhat unusual procedure—I am not certain about how good a precedent it is—because I am aware of the anxieties felt by right hon. and hon. Members on this matter.

I cannot bind myself in the manner suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but I promise carefully to consider in each case all the circumstances as they arise and to exercise my discretion as appropriate. Nevertheless, I would hope for a speedy report from the Select Committee on Procedure, although that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to put to you personally my Private Notice Question, and I thank you for your interim reply.

I believe that the Committee will not be able to report to the House before July, and, therefore, we shall not have a decision on the matter before then. As least, it looks as though that is the approximate time scale. In view of that and all that is happening on the industrial front, Mr. Speaker, are you first of all saying that you will favourably consider allowing the House to debate a possible fresh application by the Secretary of State for Employment to the court for an extension of the 14 days' cooling-off period, which was the court's ruling in the railway dispute? Do you not agree, Mr. Speaker, that before that matter can go back to the court it is essential for the House to debate whether extra money is being made available by the Government which would possibly justify the court's extending the 14 days already granted? Secondly, do you agree that we should want next week to discuss the possible engineers' dispute at C. A. Parsons and Company Limited and the dockers' dispute? Therefore, can you indicate whether your rulings on those matters will be favourable before the Minister makes up his mind whether he should apply for an extension of the 14 days' period already given by the court in the railway dispute?

Mr. Speaker

I think the House would want me to pronounce on each situation as it arose. All I can assure the House very genuinely is that I am very sensitive to this point, and I shall try, therefore, in reality to exercise my discretion.

Sir Elwyn Jones

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, Mr. Speaker, may I say that we welcome your approach to this matter? The discretion is entirely in the hands of Mr. Speaker. In view of the peculiar difficulties with which the Industrial Relations Act presents the House—in that, for instance, by submitting to the court a matter of possibly great national importance the Secretary of State can not only prevent the House deciding upon the matter but even prevent it discussing it by reason of the application of thesub-judicerule —we welcome what appears to have been a liberal interpretation of the rule on Mr. Speaker's part, and hope that certainly in this interim period the greatest latitude will be exercised in regard to questions in this difficult field.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. and right hon. Members must put their own interpretation on my words. I realise that there is a very important point of principle here concerning thesub judicerule. I am very sensitive to the argument that it would be wrong to deny the House the right to discuss matters of great national interest just because some matter has gone to a court. I am not prepared, and I do not think that anyone would expect me to be prepared, to rule on a specific case in advance. With that the House must be content.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that as a result of the somewhat liberal interpretation of thesub judicerule the National Industrial Relations Court cannot be regarded as being exactly in line with any court in the land? This bears out what many of us on this side of the House have suggested—that it is a political arm—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. I allowed a Private Notice Question to be put to myself. That in itself involves problems for the Chair. It also involves the Chair in having to select those hon. Members whom it will allow to put supplementary questions. What the hon. Gentleman has just said was a supplementary question, not a point of order. I did not call him, and I must be allowed to continue.