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Decimal Currency

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 23 November 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Whitelaw].

10.10 p.m.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had proposed this evening to make a stout speech describing the undoubted advantages of a decimal currency system. On first examination that might seem to have been an appropriate course, but as the matter is under consideration by Her Majesty's Government at present the moment to make representations is clearly in advance of a decision rather than subsequently, though a cynical observation might be made that this is a matter which has been under consideration by successive British Governments ever since 1799. However, a study of Erskine May and precedent makes it quite plain that any debate of this sort would anticipate legislation and, therefore, be entirely out of order.

One could argue that it might be possible to make a speech in a different way and thereby skirt the rules of order, but I have too much regard for the rules of this House to honour them so to speak by breach rather than by observance. So it seems appropriate not to make the speech I had intended and to endeavour to use other opportunities on other occassions to press this course. I would not wish to embarrass my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and other hon. Members who might speak in this debate by leaving them in the same position. I might adapt the words of Disraeli, who was an unsuccessful candidate in my constituency of Taunton in 1835, and say:
"Though I sit down now, yet I am sure that this excellent cause will ultimately prevail."

I am a little disturbed by what has happened and what has been submitted to you, Mr. Speaker, under the guise of a point of order. It appears that because the Government are considering something—and have been con- sidering it for a considerable time, as the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has said—and have recently announced that they are considering it again, that precludes any debate on the Adjournment. This was put to you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) raised the point of order in a courteous phrase to explain that he concluded he could not raise the subject he meant to raise without transgressing a rule of order. This is that an hon. Member cannot discuss and debate on the Adjournment some grievance for which the sole remedy must be by way of legislation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand that the Adjournment debate which was to take place will not now take place? May I ask if it is in order once the Adjournment has been moved for an hon. Member to speak on any matter he wishes to raise?

Yes, the hon. Member is entirely in order, of course, if he has given warning to the appropriate Minister with whom responsibility rests of the topic he wishes to discuss. All my predecessors, while acknowledging the technical rights on hon. Members, have always emphasised the need for that to be done for the clear reason that no House of Commons advantage accrues from a mere ex parte statement to which there can be no reply.

Mr. Speaker, I take it that, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) is in terrorem of speaking on this subject because he feels that he may embarrass the Government, I, for reasons which I need not go into—

The hon. Member is not entitled to say that, because it represents, in my opinion, a misrepresentation of what the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said in a point of order addressed to me.

Further to that point of order. I apologise to the hon. Member for Taunton if I have misrepresented what he said. I do so very sincerely, especially as he is a neighbour of mine and I have to face him once a week going down in the train.

May I ask you for a little guidance, Mr. Speaker? I accept that this debate would, on the submission made to you by the hon. Member for Taunton, be out of order if the purport of any hon. Member's speech was to suggest legislation. I believe that is the position. But surely it is in order, albeit that the hon. Gentleman tells us that the Government are considering the matter, to impress upon the Government the merits of certain Measures and the advantages which we, representing our constituents, think might accrue to our constituents and to the country if certain particular Measures were considered by the Government. If it were otherwise, it would mean that no reference on this subject could be made.

Order. I do not want to stop the hon. Gentleman, except in so far as the rules of the House oblige me to do so. As far as I am at present advised, there is no possibility of introducing a decimal coinage in this country, however advisable, however much desired by the hon. Member's constituents, save by legislation, which takes it out of the range of topics which can be discussed in the half-hour debate on the Adjournment. That is the point.

Mr. Speaker, may I ask for your further guidance? These Adjournment debates are greatly valued by hon. Members. Many hon. Members have subjects which they wish to have discussed. They want to have the opportunity of a Minister being present who is able to reply. It seems very odd that an hon. Member should be able to get past the Table, or should be able to get a Motion accepted, only for the House to find at the very last moment that it cannot be debated. Is there no protection at all?

Order. I follow the grievance, but the hon. Gentleman has something in mind which does not, in fact, happen. I receive in my official person applications for the half-hour Adjournment debate. By the practice of the House I am given a choice once a week. Subject to that, all the rest is decided by ballot. I have no power upon an application to say, "The hon. Gentleman cannot bring this within the rules of order". All I can do is to write to him and say, "Beware, my friend, of difficulties". I have no right to decline to accept the application. The hon. Member has the right to come here on the Floor of the House, should he decide to do so, to contend as against the duty of the Chair that he is entitled to say what he wants to say. That is why one cannot avoid this kind of instance. There is no way of protecting the House against that.

Further to that point of order. Am I not right in thinking, Mr. Speaker, that it is within the province of the Government to suggest whether for the purposes of the rules of the House a particular subject is or is not in order?

No. I make no deceit. The Chair might well consult a Government Department about its view whether responsibility rested with it or not, but the view of the Department does not bind. The Chair decides whether the responsibility exists.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) used the phrase, "On a point of order" so I pursue that. May we ask the hon. Member, through you, Sir, to make this clear. He gave his reasons tonight—

Order. There is no mechanism whereby the hon. Member can, through me, address a question to another hon. Member. Such a process does not exist in our procedure.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your guidance? As a result of the action of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the House has been deprived of an Adjournment debate. As Parliamentary time is so important, is there some means by which the House can protect itself against further action of this kind?

There is not really any abuse. An hon. Member who acquires the Adjournment, either by decision or through the ballot, as the case may be, has the right to come here and, should he decide that he can confront some difficulty with which the rules of order prima facie face him, he is entitled to try to do so, having acquired his right to the Adjournment. I regret, of course, that time may be lost, but there is not really an abuse involved.

I was not suggesting an abuse, but was merely dealing with the technicalities of the position that has arisen. If I suggested any abuse, I withdraw it.

No, I did not mean to put any such construction upon the hon. Gentleman's words. What I mean is that the hon Gentleman whose Adjournment it was has done nothing more than assert a right, and has decided, at rather a late moment, that the horse will not run.

If we are precluded front discussing the decimal coinage system because its introduction would involve legislation, would it be in order for me, Mr. Speaker, to make a speech against its introduction, which would not involve legislation?

Since we are now on the Adjournment, perhaps I may say a few words quite literally on the Adjournment.

The hon. Member for Taunton gave as his reason for not raising on the Adjournment the subject of decimal coinage the fact that it would require legislation. What, I think, is puzzling the House is that that was equally true—and, if I may say so, equally obvious—when he close the subject for the Adjournment. I wonder whether it would be possible for the hon. Gentleman to explain to the House what has happened between the time when he put down the subject for the Adjournment and now which has in any way altered the position, because it was surely clear, as a matter of fact, that the introduction of decimal coinage would require legislation.

I do not think that it is fair to put that on the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). I intervene, greatly daring, from the Chair to say so, because I happen to know what did happen. It would be in the form of a letter from myself pointing out to the hon. Member the perils that might attend him on this occasion. In the circumstances, I do not think that it is fair to allow the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), without intending in any way to be unkind to the hon. Member for Taunton, to be unkind to him.

I have two points of order, Mr. Speaker. First, we have had this evening a whole series of points of order that have taken up a very large proportion of the half hour normally allowed for this debate. On that basis, in the event of the hon. Member not taking advantage of his great opportunity in having this Adjournment debate, is it not true that any other hon. Member, provided he keeps within the rules of order, can raise any point he likes, irrespective of whether or not the Minister is here? Would it not, therefore, be correct for me now to make a speech on any particular hobby horse of my own, as long as I am in order?

My second point of order is to ask whether, if my first point of order be correct, I have half-an-hour from now to make that speech, or whether the time taken up on these points of order is deducted from the time I have? Whether or not the Minister answers, I should like to know that.

As to the time factor, I am compelled by Standing Order to adjourn the House when the half-hour elapses, so the hon. Gentleman's eloquence in raising his final point of order was merely subtracting from the time he might otherwise have.

I am not certain whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the time, but I have dealt with precision once this evening with the point he otherwise raises. I think that it is not really desirable in the interests of the House—and, certainly, my predecessors have emphasised that view—that hon. Members should make, as it were, ex parte statements on topics which happen to be of interest to them, without any prospect of any reply or balance of debate in the matter. That is why my predecessors have discouraged that practice.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Ten o'clock.