§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ashley
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely,the plight of thalidomide children and the urgent need for their immediate relief.The Chairman of the Distillers Company Ltd., Sir Alex McDonald, has said in a letter to a shareholder:If the campaign now being conducted by the Sunday Times should result in the breakdown of the present negotiations the company may have no alternative but to consider, in the light of advice, whether it should take its stand on the legal issues.In my submission he is saying, in other words, that unless those campaigning for thalidomide children remain silent, the company threatens to withdraw its offer of £3¼ million; more importantly, it will make no further offer to provide for whatever future these children may have.
I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is a specific matter because it directly affects 370 children who are gravely and grotesquely deformed.
It is urgent because the threat can be carried out at any moment. The company has to consult only its conscience. It is urgent because, if it is carried out now, it will devastate families already stricken, superimposing a legal nightmare on a medical disaster; plunging armless and legless children into a legal quagmire and that after a decade of delay.
It is important, in my submission, because it is a threat to parents seeking to protect their children. For them the Sword of Damocles has been replaced by the jagged edge of a broken whisky bottle.
160 It is important because it is a threat to the freedom of the Press, because if the Press is unable to comment on a moral issue of this kind without retaliatory action being threatened against children the Press of Britain is no longer free.
Finally, I submit that it is important because it is a threat against Members on both sides of the House who have campaigned on behalf of thalidomide children. It is a threat that can go like an arrow to the very heart of democracy. If Members of the House are unable to express their views without the fear of reprisals against these children, we are no longer free. For parents, the Press and Parliament to be threatened in this way is not only urgent and important. It is, I submit, also intolerable.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely,the plight of thalidomide children and the urgent need for their immediate relief.The hon. Member was good enough to give me notice yesterday of his intention to make this application today. I repeat what I have frequently said, that my Ruling does not reflect at all upon the merits of the case. It is simply a procedural one. I regret that I cannot accede to the hon. Member's application.