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Adjournment Debates (Counts)

Volume 437: debated on Friday 16 May 1947

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May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the incident which took place during the half-hour Adjournment last night, when a Count was successfully called? The hon. Member who called that Count was fully within his Parliamentary rights, but that half-hour is all that remains to Private Members for opportunity to raise any subject in this House. If that opportunity is to be curtailed, not only by the Government but by other Private Members, something like civil war in this House may result. Is it not the case that a gentleman's agreement exists that this kind of action should not be taken? If that is not so, would it not be in the general interest that such an agreement should be tacitly concluded?

Before you give your Ruling, Sir, I should like to associate myself very sincerely and deeply with what the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Harris) has said. The half-hour Adjournment is, as he says, one of the very few opportunities left to hon. Members, and I hope that you might indicate what you feel to be the general view of the House. You might, perhaps, consider a distinction between the Adjournment Motion and the moving of Prayers by hon. Members. In the latter case it would obviously be up to the hon. Member who put down the Prayer to maintain his own House. Having drawn that slight distinction, I hope that you will indicate what you feel should be done.

As the hon. Member who was responsible for the incident last night, may I remind the House that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), who attempted to raise the matter on the Adjournment, used something like threatening language during the course of the Business discussion on Thursday afternoon? If he made what was tantamount to a threat on that occasion, he must not be surprised at what happened last night.

Perhaps I might say one word from this side of the House. I think that the Government will admit—I am not dealing with last night's incident in particular but with the point in general— that pretty drastic demands have been made on Private Members' time in this Parliament, unprecedented in time of peace. I hope, therefore, that we can nave some arrangement whereby this half-hour, which is all the ordinary Private Member has, is a "live" half-hour for him, and is not to be subject to these sudden inroads which are not justified in the circumstances of Parliament as they are now.

We realise the point that has been raised about Private Members' time. I think it is quite true that the House generally has regarded this half-hour as being their particular right as Private Members' time. Of course, it is not possible for us to prevent anyone getting up at any time to call a Count—that is part of Parliamentary procedure—but we hope that the House generally will regard this half-hour as being Private Members' time and that it ought to be given. I think, therefore, that whatever may have been the cause of last night's incident, the experience will probably show that the House as a whole regard it as being their right.

I much appreciate what has been said by the Government Chief Whip. Might I reply to what was said by the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd), who accused me of using some threat which he said justified the action which he took? I would remind you, Sir, of what happened on Thursday on the discussion on Business. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut. -Commander Braithwaite) pointed out, I think with some justification, that owing to the great mass of Government business, the Adjournment was often being put so late that the purpose of hon. Members in raising matters on the Adjournment was defeated. I took the opportunity of saying, as I had the Adjournment for last night, that I intended to pursue the matter, however late the hour. I did not regard that in any sense as a threat. It was in order to give information to you, Sir, and all hon. Members of this House of that fact that I would continue. I thought it might be useful that that should be known.

I would, like to see this point cleared up. If it goes out to the general public that the House is counted out when a matter is raised by a Private Member, I think it creates a wrong impression that there is no one in the House concerned about the matter except that particular Member. The fact is that the Members of this House have been so overworked that it is impossible to pay strict attention to everything that comes up in the House. The real cause of the trouble is the fact that the Adjournment comes on so late that Members are simply worn out and have to go away. Even on that count alone many Members would be justified in calling a Count, not out of disrespect to the hon. Member who has raised the matter, but for the sake of getting home and getting a sleep.

It seems to me that there is no need, in view of what the Chief Patronage Secretary has said, for me to give a Ruling. Indeed, I do not think I can give a Ruling. It is laid down in our Rules, which I cannot alter without the assent of the House. After what the Chief Patronage Secretary has said, I think that the matter can safely be left there.