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Volume 149: debated on Friday 16 December 1921

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Monday next."—[ Mr. Chamberlain.]

Having, I hope, liberated to-day one people, I crave the liberty of saying something on the Motion for Adjournment with regard to another people. I refer to the position as regards the Greeks and Armenians in Cilicia. There is a very strong feeling in favour of the rights of these peoples, and I ask if it is not possible under the Rules of Order to arrange for a discussion in reference to it?

I am afraid there is no opportunity for a general Debate on this Motion. I have looked up precedents as far back as 1856, and I find the rule has always been that no discussion can take place on the Motion for Adjournment from Friday to Monday.

I would make this appeal, that the circumstances are ex- tremely exceptional, that this is a very urgent question, that the Prime Minister is meeting with representatives of other Powers, and that we should be very glad of an opportunity of showing how strong the opinion of this Parliament and of this country is in favour of setting out the rights of these people.

I understand the ruling you have just given to be that no general discussion such as takes place on an ordinary Motion for Adjournment is possible on this Motion, but I venture to ask you whether it would not be competent to urge reasons why we should sit to-morrow rather than on Monday, and, as one of these reasons, the great urgency of this question, in view of the meeting which is to take place on Monday between the Prime Minister of this country and the Prime Minister of France, and that therefore it is desirable if we were to sit to-morrow that we should, on the adjournment of the ordinary sitting to-morrow, have an opportunity of saying something, even if only for the half-hour that we are allowed at the end of the sitting. I agree that a discussion would have to be very restricted, but I submit that we are entitled to say something on that solitary point before the meeting between M. Briand and the Prime Minister. I do not wish to try to do something which you, Mr. Speaker, think improper.

I should have thought the Noble Lord's experience at the Bar would have taught him the answer to his question. If I were to give way to that seductive plea, the whole Rule, which has existed for about 60 years, would disappear.

I am here to administer the Rules of the House, and when I have looked up the precedents, I cannot see my way to allow a departure of that kind, which would break down the Rule altogether.

May I give reasons why I think it undesirable that we should adjourn till Monday? That must be relevant to this Motion. If this Motion be not passed, the House will sit normally to-morrow, and that may be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is open for any hon. Member, surely, to say, "I prefer that the House should sit tomorrow for the following reasons."

The Noble Lord will see that there might be 600 Members in the House who, on subsequent Fridays, would avail themselves of the leave given if I failed in my duty in maintaining the Rule. The procedure that he suggests would be a mere evasion of the established Rules of the House, and I could not countenance it for a moment, but the very fact that on a Friday we do not even have the half-hour or hour that is usual on the other days——

That is a Standing Order. This is a special Motion, which should be discussed.

It cannot be discussed by bringing in the kind of questions which are relevant to an ordinary adjournment. It would be a mere evasion of the Rule, and my obvious duty is to stop it.

I desire to offer some reasons why I think it is very important why this House should sit to-morrow and not Monday, and I must be very careful not to transgress the ruling which you have given on the subject of what may be discussed and what may not. I should like very earnestly to ask the Government whether we can be quite sure that no irrevocable decision will be taken between this sitting and the next sitting of the House on any of the urgent and burning questions which are agitating the public mind. I can only point out the very deep interest that is taken, and the very great anger that is felt in all parts of the country that we should find ourselves in such a position that we are unable to discharge the solemn pledges we have given.

I will, of course, endeavour rigidly to adhere to the limits which you have put upon the observations which may be made, and my observations shall take the form of a vehement appeal to the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister for the discussion of a subject which to us is urgent, because tens of thousands of lives may be sacrificed even in 48 hours. Under these circumstances, and in view of the fact that the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman, and, I believe, other Members of the Government, are going to negotiate upon these important matters, they ought to have the full support of the House and country in the policy which we believe to be theirs, which has been proclaimed frequently, and never, so far as I know, has been departed from. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us some opportunity to voice those opinions, and so strengthen his hands in the important negotiations.

I desire to ask the Leader of the House if it is intended that the discussion of the Amendments should be resumed on Monday next. As a member of the Labour party coming from Ireland, I hoped that I should have had an opportunity of speaking in the Debate. I interrogated the right hon. Gentleman earlier in the day, and I understood that there would be practically no limit to the time which would be given to the Debate to-day.

5.0 P.M

I confess I think there is something inconvenient in the course which the Noble Lord has taken, and of which, I think, he was sensible himself. It is quite obvious that this is not a suitable occasion to attempt to discuss the grave matters to which he has alluded, nor do I conceive that there is need for any such discussion at all. I do not understand that there is any difference of opinion between the hon. Gentleman who first tried to raise this question and the Government. We are all anxious that everything that can be done should be done for the protection of these Christian populations. I am reluctant to embark on any discussion on the subject after the sense of the House has declared itself, that it is not desirable the Session should be prolonged in order that other subjects may be debated, but that it should be devoted to the one subject for which it has been summoned, and which it has now disposed of.

I see the Prime Minister has come in. May I ask him if it is not possible for the House to meet to-morrow instead of adjourning to Mon- day, in order that the questions raised by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), which are to be discussed by the Prime Minister on Monday with the French Prime Minister, may be debated here so as to give those who wish an opportunity of expressing their desire to secure the protection of the Armenians in Cilicia?

I am afraid I have been too lax in allowing the Debate, which, as I have already said, is not in order. If hon. Members will be good enough to look at the rulings of my predecessor on the 5th and 12th December, 1902, they will see that the Debate cannot be permitted.

Will it not be proper on Monday, if the House is not prorogued, to have a Debate on a Motion that the House do adjourn till Tuesday? Could we not then raise this matter and discuss this or any other question which it may be desired to bring forward? If the House is prorogued on Monday, will it not be possible to speak on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House until such time as the Prorogation is actually effected by the appearance at the Bar of Black Rod?

In regard to the first question of the hon. and gallant Member, certainly if on Monday there be a Motion to adjourn till Tuesday—a Motion "That the House do nod adjourn" involving as it would a sitting on the following day, then the usual hour before 11.30 will be open to hon. Members for the purposes of discussion. With regard to the second part of the question, that I cannot answer as I do not know at what time Black Rod may come.

Until he does come, there will be of course questions in the ordinary way.

But when the questions are finished on Monday, presuming there are not many, as is likely, would it not be possible, on a Motion for the Adjournment, to discuss this matter until such time as the appearance of Black Rod terminates the proceedings?

Seeing that the Prime Minister is now seized of the desire of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, may I ask him if the Government, after questions on Monday, will be prepared to make a Motion that the House do now adjourn, and thus give an opportunity for discussing a question on which hon. Members feel more keenly than I do, and also giving the Government an opportunity of expressing their views on a subject on which they have been very mum ever since the Treaty of Sèvres was signed? Will not the Government take the opportunity of allowing hon. Members who, after all, have come here to support them in their policy, to raising another matter about which they also feel as keenly as we do?

I believe that question has already been answered by the Leader of the House. The House has been summoned to deal with one topic, and if a Motion of this kind be allowed it might lead to further discussions. Yesterday, or the day before, I received a deputation from the Labour party and the trade unions on the subject of unemployment, because there was not an opportunity of discussing the matter in this House, as we were dealing exclusively with Ireland. In view of that, they assented to the idea of a deputation.

On a point of Order. Supposing that on Monday Questions terminate before the attendance of Black Rod. What will happen between the termination of Questions and the appearance of Black Rod? Will you, Mr. Speaker, leave the Chair, or is it the intention of the Government to move, "That the House do now adjourn," or is it open to any private Member to move "That this House do now adjourn"?

I have just explained that it is not open to any private Member to move an Adjournment of the House, and that in the ordinary course it is my duty to leave the Chair till Black Rod appears with his summons.

Would it be in order for me now to give notice that I will on Monday ask that a Motion about the Armenian Question should be taken after Questions, unless the Adjournment is moved by the Government for the purpose? If it will, I will give notice at once.

If the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is not able to grant time in this House for a discussion such as we desire, will he follow the precedent that he himself has just mentioned in regard to the question of unemployment, and will he receive a deputation?

A deputation of those deeply interested in this matter? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will see the importance of the matter.

I shall be very glad to receive a deputation. Not only my convenience, however, but the convenience of the French Prime Minister will have to be considered in this respect.

Question put, and agreed to.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3, till Monday next (19th December), pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.

Adjourned at Eight Minutes after Five o'clock.