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European Community (Council Of Ministers Meeting)

Volume 934: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1977

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask the Secretary of State—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the Secretary of State under an obligation to explain to the House why, at the last minute, he has decided not to make a statement on the meeting of the Council of Ministers yesterday when there are notices in every part of the House saying that a statement is to be made? I ask this particularly since this is of serious concern in Scotland in view of the apparent abandonment by the Government last night of the 50-mile limit policy. Could the right hon. Gentleman at least tell us that the Government will not back-track on the herring ban?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), because I told him this afternoon, before the House sat, that I intended to say something on a point of order on this very matter. That is what I was rising in my seat to do when the hon. Gentleman pre-empted me.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, it was originally intended to make the fisheries statement today, but it will be more convenient to make that statement tomorrow. I shall be making it tomorrow. In the meantime, none of the implications that the hon. Gentleman, or anyone else, might seek to draw from the day's delay should be drawn.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the Secretary of State kindly explain to whom it will be more convenient if the statement is made tomorrow?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the statement has been announced to the House, is not the House due a fuller explanation rather than one of convenience? Could you, Mr. Speaker, by using your good offices, put pressure on the Government to explain slightly more fully what is behind their actions?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There have already been two statements today and I would not have thought that it would be terribly inconvenient to the House if the statement is delayed until tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I came back from Luxembourg only this morning. If I had been allowed to make my statement in my own way, I had intended to include—and perhaps I may now remedy the omission—an apology to hon. Members for the announcement appear- ing on the annunciators that a statement was to be made. If this has caused any inconvenience to any hon. Member, I apologise to the House for it.

Order. I hope that we are not about to pursue mythical points of order, since the statement is to be made tomorrow. I have no doubt that some hon. Members, perhaps not the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), will be trying to catch my eye tomorrow.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter, of course, raises rather wider implications in respect of the procedural aspect and the efficiency and proper conduct of the business of the House. It is because you preside, Mr. Speaker, with such skill and dignity over our proceedings that I address you in this context.

It will be apparent to hon. Members that all the considerations to which the Secretary of State for Scotland referred were clearly known to him and to those responsible for Government business beforehand. These considerations must have been known to them when this matter was scheduled to be included in the business of the House today.

Will you therefore advise us whether there is any limitation on the discretion of Ministers in this matter? Is there any point at which, after business is tabled, the Government are not able to change the business because to do so would cause great inconvenience to the House? Apart from considerations of courtesy, considerations of the efficient conduct of the business of the House are also involved. I should greatly value your ruling on this, Mr. Speaker.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has great experience in the House. Obviously the Leader of the House will be aware, as are all other hon. Members, that there is difficulty if I inform the House that a statement will be made and hon. Members make arrangements to be here only to find that it has been postponed to another day. I can say only that I shall look at this question and discuss it with the usual channels.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already said, when notice of the statement was put on the annunciators we thought that a statement would be made today. I fully acknowledge that it has caused considerable inconvenience to many hon. Members that the statement is not now to be made. We shall do our best to see that such an occurrence does not happen again. The statement will be made tomorrow, as my right hon. Friend has indicated. I agree entirely that it would be wrong if the practice grew whereby notice of a statement was given and the statement was not made. We shall take every step we can to see that that does not recur.