§ Mr. Michael Latham
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 that should have urgent consideration, namely,the apparent breach of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility by the Secretary of State for Energy in failing to oppose a motion criticising the Government's policy on public expenditure at a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in London on 28th April.576 Let me say at once that I gave notice of my intention in this regard by telephone to one of the Secretary of State's private secretaries in his private office at 11.40 this morning, directly after I had submitted my application to you, Mr. Speaker. I stressed to the lady that she should notify the Secretary of State at once.
I respectfully submit to you, Sir, that this matter should receive priority, first, because it is manifestly specific. It deals with a specific, named incident. Second, it is important. I submit that nothing could be more important for the conduct of Cabinet government than that Ministers should firmly uphold ministerial policy on all occasions. Indeed, in a Written Reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on 6th April, which was reaffirmed in a Written Reply to me on 13th April, the Prime Minister said:All members of the Government share a collective responsibility for Government policies.In another reply to me on 6th April the Prime Minister, when talking about briefing journalists, said:A Minister cannot express views on policy matters in a non-ministerial capacity."— [Official Report, 6th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 99.]I submit that such a proper doctrine must necessarily be extended to judgments by votes on policy matters as well.
Third, the matter is urgent. If the House does not take an immediate opportunity to discuss this apparent breach of Cabinet responsibility, a new precedent may be set which could be followed by other Ministers and which would thereby weaken the direct responsibility of all Ministers to defend the whole range of Government policy on public occasions. Such a precedent could also have the gravest effect on the ability of hon. Members to call Ministers to account in this House.
We saw, during the period of the EEC referendum, when Cabinet responsibility was temporarily abrogated, that Ministers could dissent publicly outside the House from Government policy but accept no responsibility for their opinions when questioned about them within the House. I believe that this is a serious matter. I have never previously used the 577 Standing Order No 9 procedure. I hope that my application will succeed.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the apparent breach of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility by the Secretary of State for Energy in failing to oppose a motion criticising the Government's policy on public expenditure at a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in London on 28th April".Under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration to the representations that the hon. Member has made, but I have to rule that his submisson does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Spaeker. Is it not an abuse of the House that a matter of this kind should be raised when the question of collective responsibility is not in the constitution of this House, or in that of any Government, and never has been? There is nothing whatever in the constitution that says that there must or must not be collective responsibility. It is something which has grown up but—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It would be out of order for me to allow the hon. Gentleman to make a counter-case. I have already ruled that it does not fall within the terms of Standing Order No. 9 and I have disallowed the application.
There is another application under Standing Order No. 9.