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Standing Committee E (20Th February, 1962)

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 21 February 1962

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a matter arising out of the remarks of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) during the debate last night on local government in Greater London?

You will recall that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) asked your guidance about the position of hon. Members who wished to attend the debate, but who were members of Standing Committee E, which was sitting upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman was followed by the hon. Member for Greenwich, who said that he
"tried without success to get the Chairman of the Committee to permit us to take part in this debate. We have made representations on behalf of our constituents in that matter, which is a direct constituency interest and of interest to the people of London. There seems to be no good reason at all why this Standing Committee should go on at this exceptional hour. We have tried, but without any success at all, to get assistance upstairs, but it has been refused …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1962; Vol. 654. c. 281.]
As you will know, Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of a Standing Committee has no powers or duties about the sittings of a Committee, except to fix the time of the first meeting, to adjourn the Committee at one o'clock, to accept or reject a Motion for the adjournment, or to suspend the sittings of the Committee. At no time yesterday was I asked to accept a Motion for the adjournment of the sitting. The only thing I was asked was whether it was possible to fix the time at which the Committee should rise in the afternoon, and I had to rule that it was not competent for the Committee to fix beforehand the time at which it should rise at an afternoon sitting.

I am not so much concerned about the misrepresentation of the hon. Member for Greenwich. But I am concerned about the implication that it is possible in this way to criticise the conduct of a Chairman of a Standing Committee. May I call your attention to two precedents? The first was on 14th August, 1889, when Mr. Speaker Peel gave a Ruling in reply to a point of Privilege raised by the then Member for Sunderland, Mr. Samuel Storey.

While declining to rule that it was a matter of privilege, Mr. Speaker Peel went on to say:

"… I should like to say, regarding as I do all questions of order that may be raised in Grand Committee upstairs, that I cannot allow appeals to be made to me on points of order rising in Grand Committees, there being no such appeal, in my opinion, from the decision of a duly-constituted Chairman of a Grand Committee."
The other precedent to which I should like to call your attention is one given by Mr. Speaker Fitzroy, on 29th June, 1928, when he said:
"With regard to this question, of which the hon. Member has been kind enough to give me notice, I should like to lay down an emphatic Ruling that there is no appeal from the Chairman of a Committee to Mr. Speaker; and, in the second place, that, if any Member or group of Members have any criticism to make of the Chairman of the Committee, or, indeed, of anyone in the Chair, the proper thing to do is to put down a Motion on the Paper, so that it may be discussed in the ordinary way in the House."—[OFFICIAL REPCRT, 29th June, 1928; Vol. 219, c. 852.]
In view of what happened yesterday, I should like to ask you to confirm, as I feel certain you will, that the precedents I have quoted still hold good.

I am obliged to the hon. Member. Seeing these words in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I realise that they could carry the implication of criticism of the Chairman, and I reiterate our well-known rule that no such criticism is proper, save on a substantive Motion.

I do not think that the other point arises, because, as I understood yesterday's occasion, there was no question of appeal from some decision of the hon. Member himself. There would, of course, be no such appeal, but I do not think that it was made.