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Allocation Of Time Motion (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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Before I leave the Chair and the House goes into Committee on the National Health Service Bill, I have a short statement to make that, I think, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was about to ask me to make.

Earlier this morning I was asked to give a Ruling on the meaning of certain words in the Allocation of Time Motion which we were then discussing. The words were these:
"After the day on which this Order is made, any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill shall be the first Government Order of the day shall be considered an allotted day for the purposes of this Order."
The point put to me was, in brief: as we were then in this calendar day, today could not be the first allotted day. This contention was urged by certain hon. Members, who supported their arguments with precedents which I had not had time to consider, but as it also formed the basis of a Motion for the Adjournment of the debate, moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), I had to rule on the submission at once.

I ruled, basing myself mainly on Standing Order No. 1, that the point was not valid. I promised to consider more carefully the precedents cited, and to make a considered statement at this time. I wish to express my gratitude to the hon. Members who kindly furnished me with their authorities and put their views in writing to me. All these I have carefully considered, with other material.

The difficulty arises from the distinction between a calendar day and a Parliamentary day, in that in our practice the word "day" means a Parliamentary day or Sitting, unless clearly otherwise defined. For example, when in 1936 the House met on Wednesday, 22nd July, and rose after 1.0 a.m. on Friday. 24th July, that counted as one Sitting or one Parliamentary day, and the phrase "this day," which was used in deferring many of the Orders of the Day of 22nd July, came eventually to mean Friday, 24th July. It is only when the House goes on sitting beyond the hour of 2.30 that the words "any day after the day on which this Order is made" mean a day two or more calendar days later than the day on which the House began to consider the Order.

Therefore, in this instance, the Sitting or Parliamentary day which began at 2.30 today represents a day later than the day on which this Order was made, which was the day or Sitting that began yesterday.

In 1912 the Guillotine Resolution for the Welsh Church Bill was passed at 5.0 a.m. at a Sitting which began on 28th November. On Friday, 29th November, the Bill was not the first Order of the Day, and that Friday was not the first allotted day (as the Journal shows), although the Bill was in fact taken during that Friday. This was a point put by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). The Bill was put down as the first Order on Thursday, 5th December, which was therefore the first allotted day. That case was, therefore, quite consistent with the present practice. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), quoted the Military Service Act, 1939, when a different form of words was used in the Guillotine Motion, but that was because it was wished to start an allotted day immediately after the Guillotine Resolution was passed.

It follows from these circumstances that the House can now properly proceed to consider the National Health Service Bill in Committee on the first allotted day.