HC Deb 31 March 1977 vol 929 cc593-4
Mr. Mates

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 persistent refusal of the Prime Minister to answer questions about the newly-created joint consultative committee with the Liberal Party which he announced in detail in his speech to the House on 23rd March". I believe that this matter has been exacerbated by the fact that the Leader of the House treated the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) at Business Time today as if this topic were something of a joke.

That it is specific cannot, I think, be denied, because whether there is a pact, an arrangement, a deal, an understanding or a shot-gun marriage, there is a joint consultative committee. It consists of hon. Members of this House who have not been detailed to us. Its Chairman is the Leader of the House, and it is discussing House of Commons business and House of Commons policy. Therefore, it is unarguable that the matter is specific.

The matter is urgent because, as has been made clear in the first part of the discussions on the Budget, there is likely to be a difference of opinion, which presumably will be discussed within this committee, and the House has a right to know at least the basis upon which the discussions will take place.

My submission is that this matter should take precedence over Monday's business because of the crucial importance of the vote to be taken on Monday night, when some part of the consideration of how various Members cast their votes will inevitably depend upon the decisions reached by this joint consultative committee of which the House has been given no more than the barest details.

I do not wish to detain the House. I have not brought this matter to you lightly, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, this is the first time that I have ever raised a matter under the Standing Order. I feel strongly about this issue but, being something of a realist, I imagine that the balance of probability is that you will not be able to grant this request on this occasion. If that is so, may I ask one thing? It may not be within your power to rule, to guide or to direct any Minister, from the Prime Minister downwards, as to how he answers questions, but, bearing in mind your known responsibility to Back Bench Members, I, for one, would very much value your opinion as to how you see the rights of Back Benchers being maintained in the face of a flat refusal by the Prime Minister to answer questions on a matter of national importance.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House will allow me to congratulate the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) on his maiden application under Standing Order No. 9. I fear what it will be like when the hon. Member has been in the House even longer and makes further applications.

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 persistent refusal of the Prime Minister to answer questions about the newly created joint consultative committee". As I said about the earlier application, it is not for me to measure the importance of the issue. All matters brought to me under Standing Order No. 9 are undoubtedly important. I have to decide whether the matter must be given precedence over business set down for Monday.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member and I have given careful consideration to what he has said. Unfortunately, I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

As for the hon. Member's request for information, I can say nothing in public about the matters he raised.