§ Mr. Arthur 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 serious public consequences of developments in relation to the Grunwick dispute and the imminent danger now in prospect.Like me and the rest of the House, Mr. Speaker, you will have been gravely concerned to learn today of the policeman admitted to hospital with serious head injuries as a result of events at Grunwick. We are all gravely concerned, too, about the other 19 people who have suffered injury in events there today.
It is evident that the situation has [...] deteriorating daily and now, with [...] morning's events, I submit that it is 1766 likely to become hourly worse. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a grave risk, from the way in which events are proceeding, that it will not be long before someone is killed in consequence of some of the conflict which has occurred in that part of London. It is better to seek to achieve a debate now than to do so subsequently against the background of a fatality of this kind.
I am aware that in considering such an application, Mr. Speaker, you are required to examine and consider, amongst other things, the probability of dealing with the matter in another way and at another time. In the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House this afternoon there was no intimation of a possible debate. There was a request from one of my hon. Friends for a statement about the dispute itself, which is not what my application deals with directly.
May I also draw to your attention Mr. Speaker, the evidence of the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon, which seem to indicate that the question-and-answer form is not the most satisfactory way of dealing with the issue anyway.
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that it is within your discretion either to grant a debate later today or to propose a debate on Monday. It might be ironic to make provision during the Report stage of the Post Office Bill on Monday, but I think that it would be more fitting, in view of the urgency, if you were able to see your way to recognising that the matter should be debated today.
I am aware of the importance of the fisheries matter which will be before the House later today. It will be for you to decide, Mr. Speaker, whether my application should have precedence over that matter. It would certainly be open to the Government to propose a suspension of Standing Orders to make good time that might be devoted to this issue rather than fisheries.
I wish to emphasise that between now and next Monday, or any other time during next week when a debate might be granted, there will have been at least two more busy mornings in the Grunwick area, with the possibility that we may be discussing a death rather than simply injuries by the time that debate takes place.
1767 May I also emphasise, Mr. Speaker, that my application is in different terms from that which was made on Tuesday? It does not deal with the Grunwick dispute itself. It is true that there is one ACAS aspect of that which it might be argued is sub judice. It could also be argued that the Secretary of State for Employment and the Law Officers have been busy in that connection, which would meet the question of dealing with the issue in another way, a question which you are asked to take into account. I am not seeking in my application or in any proposed debate to deal with individual arrests and charges. Obviously, they will be dealt with in court and can be subject to the sub judice rule as regards consideration in the House.
Thirdly, I submit that any complaints about allegations concerning individual policemen or groups of policemen, which may be subject to the use of the new procedure of the Police Complaints Board, would not be the subject of such a debate, because clearly they would also be in a sense sub judice. What I am seeking to have debated in the House is how the situation outside Grunwick is being handled.
There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been recent eyewitnesses to the events at Grunwick and who, with many others in London, have made comments about things they have seen at first hand. Whether it be right or wrong—which it would be improper for me to comment on in making such an application—it seems to be the fact that the policy of arrest and the use of force is not being exercised as a local discretion but is part of a deliberate policy ordered from the top. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]. I do not understand the protests. It is accepted that the police may in certain circumstances determine that it is—[Interruption.]——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It has long been established that in making an application under Standing Order No. 9 the hon. Member concerned makes a very brief speech outlining why he believes that I should grant the application, but he does not try to make a speech on the general issue.
§ Mr. Latham
I was not seeking to do that, Mr. Speaker. What I was seeking 1768 to do, with some emphasis, was to distinguish between the application I am making and one which I know you have already rejected and any other form of application which might relate to matters which are sub judice. I am urging that there is a case for the House to consider a situation in which it is being said, rightly or wrongly, that actions are being taken in some respects to enforce the law, in other respects partially and in other respects not at all.
What I am seeking to establish with the Chair is that the public consequences are considerable. There are at stake several matters of public concern, not least the standing of the police and the regard for their impartiality. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] This is a serious situation, and the place for a debate about it——
§ Mr. Speaker
I believe that the hon. Gentleman has made his points. Perhaps he would now be good enough to wind up his application and let me consider it.
§ Mr. Latham
I am simply urging, Mr. Speaker, that the situation is deteriorating at an escalating rate, that the place for these issues to be determined is this House, and that there should be a debate here because issues of public order are at stake. I believe that Parliament has a responsibility and a function to act as a safety valve in such situations. Unless we carry out that duty as a Parliament, the consequences of what happens at Willesden will be very serious.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice this morning that he would make this application this afternoon for 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 serious public consequences of developments in relation to the Grunwick dispute and the imminent danger now in prospectI have listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I have given thought during the day to the issues that are raised, but I cannot accede to the hon. Gentleman's application.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
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, 1769the Attorney-General's answer today to a Private Notice Question that he intends to inquire as to the intentions of postal workers to widen the interference with the mail in retaliation if he should initiate action to enforce the Post Office Act against those who have been interfering with the mail of Grunwick Processing Laboratories Ltd.I make this application because we have heard from the question-and-answer session this afternoon that about 85 bags of mail are immobilised in a post office in London in undisputed breach of the Act. There was no dispute about that at all. The Attorney-General said today that if the Post Office continued not to take action to enforce the law his intention was to find out how serious the retaliatory action of Post Office workers would be before he decided which way the balance tipped. That inevitably means that if the Attorney-General receives a very hostile and militant reply from the Post Office workers or the Union of Post Office Workers he will, in accordance with his answer today, decide that the balance tips against enforcing the law.
I put it to you Mr. Speaker, that under the terms of the Standing Order this is a matter of the highest importance, because it means that the principal Law Officer of the Crown is saying that if there is to be an unpleasant row he will not enforce the law, but that if he finds that the reaction—[Interruption.]—upon the public—I admit that he put it in that way—is not too serious, the balance could tip in favour of his enforcing the terms of the Act.
In my submission, the importance of this matter within the ambit of the Standing Order is that it undermines the authority of the law and subordinates it to organised militancy. The matter is urgent, because mail has been held up already for a considerable time, and the hold-up of mail on this scale in respect of a single user of the mail raises a matter of most urgent principle, because the damage being done to that mail user is obviously enormous.
Unless the machinery of Standing Order No. 9 is used there is obviously no prospect of the matter's being debated within the next 10 days, because we know the business for next week. It makes no possible provision for the matter to be debated. There is no way in which it could be introduced on any of the sub- 1770 jects announced. We also know the business for tomorrow.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that the matter comes within the three requirements of the Standing Order. It is urgent and important and should be debated so that we may express to the Attorney-General our view of the criteria he should use in deciding whether to enforce the law.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned 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 that should have urgent consideration, namely,the Attorney-General's answer today to a Private Notice Question that he intends to inquire as to the intentions of postal workers to widen the interference with the mail in retaliation if he should initiate action to enforce the Post Office Act against those who have been interfering with the mail of Grunwick Processing Laboratories Ltd.I listened carefully to the hon. and learned Member's argument. I am asked to take into account all the various factors and to give no reasons for my decision. I am afraid that I cannot accede to the hon. and learned Member's application.