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Sittings Of The House

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1952

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do meet Tomorrow at Eleven o'clock; that no Questions be taken after Twelve o'clock; and that at Five o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question.—[The Prime Minister.]

4.10 p.m.

I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise for detaining the House for a moment or two. But I feel I ought to draw your attention, and the attention of the Leader of the House, to the fact that if we pass this Motion in its present form we may be depriving ourselves of what is very often one of the most valuable features of our proceedings.

The second part of this Motion says:
"that no Questions be taken after Twelve o'clock."
It does not say that none of the Questions printed on the Order Paper be taken after twelve o'clock. It says absolutely no Questions. Therefore, I take it that if any hon. Member asks your permission to ask a Question by Private Notice tomorrow at the end of Question time he will be out of order in doing so.

Furthermore, should any Minister exercise his discretion and ask your permission to answer one of the Questions on the Order Paper which have not been reached, again he would be out of order in doing so. I suggest that, quite inadvertently, there has been a slip in the drafting of this Motion. I do not know whether it would be in order for the Leader of the House to offer, perhaps, a manuscript Amendment, or something of that kind, because otherwise I do not see how, at any rate, those hon. Members who may wish to ask Private Notice Questions tomorrow can do other than vote against the Motion.

I do not know how many there are, but as you will know, Sir, particularly when an Adjournment, or a period of Recess is approaching, there is, naturally enough, an increasing pressure of Private Notice Questions. It would be a very great pity if, by passing this Motion, we were to deprive ourselves of that opportunity, because I must repeat that this Motion is absolutely worded and does not allow any Question at all, even a Private Notice Question, after twelve o'clock.

4.12 p.m.

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in this matter, because I recollect an incident which occurred just before the Adjournment at Christmas which might possibly be repeated if this Motion goes through unchallenged.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect that before the Christmas Recess many hon. Members on this side of the House tried for some weeks to get both the Minister of Education and the Prime Minister to say, in answer to Questions, whether or not it was the intention of the Government to cut the education services. Just before the Adjournment, on the Thursday as we were due to adjourn on the Friday, Questions were asked of both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education, but no answer was given.

Within a matter of hours of the House adjourning for the Christmas Recess the Minister of Education made a statement of great importance which, we feel, should have been made to the House. This afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) asked about the possibility of farmers being given another £50 million. This is very important, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) will support me. If, between now and the Adjournment, the Minister of Agriculture reaches a settlement to give £40 million or £50 million to the farmers, and if this Motion goes through, then, as I understand, it will not be possible for the Minister to tell the House that he is going to give £40 million or £50 million to the farmers.

I believe that we should at least protect not only the rights of the House and the rights of hon. Members, but should protect Ministers and give them the opportunity of making statements such as this. I think you will agree, Sir, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am sure, will agree that it is far better to have a discussion on matters such as this and to have the facts given to the House, rather than that they should be given during the Adjournment period.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the House will take the opportunity to deal with the very vital point which my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon has raised, and will give us an assurance that it will be possible for us to put Private Notice Questions, if they are accepted by you, Sir, as being in order, so that if we think there is a need for a Question to be put we will not be ruled out of order because we have passed this Motion.

Two hon. Members have expressed apprehension that if we passed this Motion it would prevent the Chair from accepting Private Notice Questions or prevent Ministers making statements, if that were necessary. It would not have that effect. This is a variation in respect of Questions under Standing Order No. 8, paragraph (3), which says that as a general rule no Questions shall be taken after half-past three, except such Questions as Mr. Speaker may allow to be asked by Private Notice, and other matters of an urgent character. So I can reassure the hon. Members who have expressed fears on the matter that the acceptance of this Motion would not prevent me from accepting Private Notice Questions tomorrow or statements being made.

I am grateful to you, Sir, for clarifying the matter, but should not it be clarified on the Order Paper? Naturally, I accept what you say, but it would have been perfectly simple for the Leader of the House or the Government Whips to have put down on the Order Paper a Motion which said that no Questions would be taken after twelve o'clock, except such Questions as you, Mr. Speaker, allow by Private Notice to Ministers.

May I ask the Leader of the House through you, Sir, whether, to make the matter more exact and more orderly, he will consider doing that on future occasions?

4.20 p.m.

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Tomorrow I have a Question which is well down the Notice Paper and may not be reached. I consider it is of public importance as it deals with imports of steel from the United States. It may be necessary to ask the Minister of Supply to answer it after Questions, provided that you will allow it. What I wanted to ask you now was, whether that would be possible if we passed this Motion.

If it were desired by the Minister to answer a Question on grounds of public importance, this Motion would not prevent that from being done.

I think it will be in the recollection of many hon. Members on both sides of the House that this has been the form in which this Motion has been put on many occasions, and that it has never led to any difficulty at all.

4.21 p.m.

I should be much obliged to the Leader of the House if he would confirm what has just been submitted. My recollection is that in the days of the previous Government, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was Leader of the House and when I was Leader of the House, this Motion was moved in this form. If that was so, then it seems to me a little difficult for us to press objection to it now, especially in view of what you, Mr. Speaker, have said.

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has said about the actual wording of the Motion. It does appear to be somewhat categorical and rigid, but I cannot quarrel with it because I have an unholy memory that I moved it in exactly the same form myself, without any such results as these today.

In view of the Ruling which Mr. Speaker has given, it seems to me that my hon. Friend's point is really safeguarded for tomorrow, but if the Leader of the House would clear up the question whether this is the usual form, and would, perhaps, undertake to look at it to see if it requires—I am not trying to commit him at all—revision for future occasions I should think that we could then let it go, if the right hon. Gentleman will give us those assurances.

4.22 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman's memory may be holy or not. He called it unholy. However, it is quite clear in this case. This is the common form, and it was certainly used by the previous Administration. In view of that, and in view of Mr. Speaker's statement about the possibility of Private Notice Questions and statements, there seems to be no point in continuing this discussion further.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider for future occasions—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—putting the intention in form on the Order Paper? What harm would it do to have on the Order Paper a Motion expressing exactly what the House wishes?

I do not want to commit the right hon. Gentleman necessarily to alter the form, but I think there is a point in my hon. Friend's earlier request. If he would be good enough to look at the matter to see if it is satisfactory, and to satisfy himself about it, without committing himself as to the future, it would be useful and acceptable. Then we could get on.

I am prepared, without—as the right hon. Gentleman said—any commitments, to look at this matter, and I feel very gratified that right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that right hon. Gentlemen sitting here are more suitable for looking into these matters which, for six years, they never looked at at all.

4.24 p.m.

We are very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your clarification of this difficulty, but I wonder if you would elaborate this a little in connection with an eventuality that may arise that a Minister may make a statement tomorrow at the conclusion of Question time, as the Minister of Pensions did today, to be followed by a number of questions put to him. Will it be in order, if a Minister makes a statement of some importance, for hon. Members to rise, as they did today, to put questions to him arising out of the statement he makes, though not Questions on the Order Paper or Private Notice Questions?

Yes, but there is one consideration which, I hope, the House will bear in mind tomorrow. It is that if there is a statement, and if there is prolonged questioning following it, that will eat into the time of Private Members who, at great trouble to themselves, have put down matters for discussion on the Adjournment. I should feel it my duty in the Chair, were I here, and those questions were to arise, to try to limit to a reasonable amount any supplementary questions. It would certainly be in order to ask supplementary questions.

Question put, and agreed to.


That this House do meet Tomorrow at Eleven o'clock; that no Questions be taken after Twelve o'clock; and that at Five o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question.