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Prayers (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1952

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I raised with you last week, Mr. Speaker, the question whether the Prayer moved by the Opposition was, in fact, an orderly proceeding. Prayers within the prescribed period are, of course, exempted business because they are in pursuance of an Act of Parliament, but the debate the other night could not have taken place but for the Motion suspending the Ten o'Clock Rule, because that Motion was not in pursuance of an Act of Parliament and accordingly a Prayer would have dealt with something which in my judgment was improper because Her Majesty is enabled by Section 5 of the Statutory Instruments Act to do a legislative act, namely, to annul a piece of legislation which in itself is an act of legislation; by the terms of the Statutory Instruments Act Her Majesty has no power to do it. But if we could pray at any time it implies that Her Majesty can take a legislative act on the advice of one House of Parliament only, either this or another place. That seems to me completely contrary to customary practice, and I wish to raise with you what would be the position which would arise if what I call a disorderly Prayer were to reach Her Majesty?

This matter has been raised, as the hon. Member knows, on a previous occasion and I have already ruled on it. The position is that it is the undoubted right of this House to present a humble Address to Her Majesty on any matter concerning the public welfare. That is an old established right. This right was not restricted by the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, and undoubtedly it is also within Her Majesty's power to take such action as she may be advised to grant the relief prayed for. Therefore, it is in order for hon. Members to move an Address praying for the annulment or revocation of a Statutory Instrument, even although the 40 days have elapsed. Equally, Her Majesty may, on receipt of the Address, take such action as she is advised with regard to it.

A Prayer out of time—if I may use that expression—differs from one moved within the 40 days in two particulars. In the first place such a Prayer is not a proceeding in pursuance of an Act of Parliament for the purposes of Standing Order No. 1, and thus could not be entered upon after 10 o'clock if it is opposed. In the second place, a Prayer which is moved in time within the 40 days has the further effect conferred upon it by Section 5 of the Act of 1946 which is that if the Address praying that the instrument be annulled is agreed to by either House no further proceedings shall be taken under the Statutory Instrument. That effect would not flow from a Prayer out of time. But the right to pray and the right of Her Majesty to act as advised in the Prayer is undoubted and unaffected by the Act of 1946.

Further to that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, you said Her Majesty would take advice, but when the House passes a Prayer there is no advice Her Majesty can take. The Minister cannot advise Her Majesty not to annul because the advice of the House overrules the normal advice of those who do advise as members of the Government.

There are two sections of advice, the advice given by Ministers and the advice given by Parliament; and the advice given by Parliament in certain circumstances clearly over-rules any advice tendered by a Minister.

If the hon. Member looks at the Section again, he will see it is perfectly clear. The Section has the effect, once an Address is carried, of stopping any further proceedings under the Statutory Instrument. Then it goes on to say that Her Majesty may by Order-in-Council revoke the Instrument. That is to say, she may take such action as she is advised.

Am I right in thinking that a Prayer out of time has no preferential place on the Order Paper, and is on all fours with any other private Motion?

The hon. Member is quite correct, and the Prayers to which the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) refers would not have had that place unless the Government had moved and the House had resolved that Standing Order No. 1 should be waived in respect of them.

Then it does mean that the House cannot enter into any disorderly form of praying except with the assent of the Government.

I ought to add that the assent of the Government and the House make it perfectly orderly.

That was the point I was about to put to you, Sir. It is your duty to see that there is nothing disorderly of any sort in the House.