§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
the proposed purchase by the Government of an early warning system for the Royal Air Force.The matter is specific—whether the Government should purchase a British system or a foreign system. The matter is important because the decision will have fundamental consequences for our national defences, for Britain's defence industries and, of course, for the British taxpayer. The matter is urgent because during the next few days the Cabinet may make decisions on this matter and because, although the Secretary of State for Defence has publicly expressed his confidence in the British system, officials in his Department are publicly and actively canvassing the case for the purchase of the system of the foreign contractor.
We believe that the matter is so important that, before any irrevocable decisions are taken, it should be debated immediately in the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
the need for an independent inquiry into the purchase of a new early warning system for the Royal Air Force".I listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman said, as indeed I listened to the submission made yesterday by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in slightly different terms. I regret that I have to give the same answer as I gave yesterday. I do not consider that the submission meets all the criteria under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House today.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I beg your guidance please? My experience is somewhat limited, so this is a genuine inquiry. The Christmas Adjournment debate took place yesterday, so we do not have that opportunity for a debate, and by the time we reconvene on 12 January—bearing 1072 in mind the ardent efforts of the Boeing sales force—the ink could be dry on any contract that may ensue from these negotiations. Therefore, what possible opportunity could I have to bring the full opinion of the House to bear on a subject of such great gravity and seriousness?
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the exchanges that took place during the Christmas Adjournment debate yesterday evening and my demand that the Leader of the House should rearrange the week's business so that it would be possible to debate this important matter before decisions are taken. You will also have heard the strong refusal of the Leader of the House to change the order of business. That being so, what opportunities are now left to debate the matter before the Cabinet presents the House with a fait accompli?
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The issue was debated last night. Has the right hon. Gentleman told you why he was not here to discuss it last night?
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, it is imperative that the House should have an opportunity to discuss this matter before a Cabinet decision is taken. The Cabinet will meet on Thursday morning. If there is no emergency debate—we do not challenge your ruling about tomorrow—and since no business statement is being made today, clearly, by definition, there cannot be any debate on this issue before a decision is taken. Therefore, in what context are we to construe your judgment, Mr. Speaker, that an opportunity may rise? Clearly, no opportunity can arise in advance of a decision being taken.
§ Mr. Speaker
Business can be changed through the usual channels if that is a way of dealing with this matter. There have been cases of business statements being made other than at 3.30 pm.