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Crown Agents

Volume 940: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the loss of more than £200 million through the operations of the Crown Agents."
I make this application, Mr. Speaker, although I have not had an opportunity, as I otherwise would have had, to let you know earlier in the day that it was my intention to do so. But in doing so I am returning, as you, Mr. Speaker, and the House will know, to a good earlier tradition whereby on many occasions matters have been brought to the notice of the House and the nation at a time when nobody could in advance make up his or her mind whether the Adjournment ought to be moved.

I want to link this also with another earlier practice, which to my regret and the regret of many other Members has fallen into desuetude. That was the possibility in days gone by of immediately adjourning all other business before the House to indicate the particular gravity of the information presented to the House by a member of the Executive.

I know that other procedures have been introduced to replace that earlier right of Members of the House of Commons. Question Time is one of those procedures. But, as you know, Mr. Speaker, many of those who know a great deal about the procedures of the House hold the view that this replacement is no real substitute for the earlier power of Parliament to deal immediately with something that has arisen, and to do so in such a way as to indicate to the nation at large, not so much to other Members of the House, the grave view that the House or Members of the House take of the news, the report and the submissions that have been received from a member of the Executive.

I therefore must make the application in a somewhat modified form. We all know that there would have to be a certain limited delay imposed by you, Mr. Speaker, if you were to accept this application. It would now probably be the beginning of next week before such a debate could be held, because it has not been your custom in recent years to arrange such a debate for a Friday.

My first reason for claiming urgency is that it would be an indication to the nation that the report received this afternoon from the Minister has not been received as a routine matter which can be handed on to a committee of inquiry that will sit in private but that there is an immediate reaction that regards this as such a grave scandal, of such grave proportions, that some action should be immediately initiated by the House.

My second reason for making this application is this. If a debate were to take place on Monday, over the intervening three days right hon. and hon. Members would be perfectly capable of studying the report published this afternoon and of consulting additional material, and it would be possible for the nation to see that the terms of the inquiry were subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons and that no delay occurred. If a debate were arranged at a later date, it might be argued that by demanding a debate one was postponing the setting up of the committee of inquiry and the starting of its work. No one in the House wants the country to believe that any of us would wish to postpone the immediate work of the committee of inquiry, although many of us may be dissatisfied with the terms under which it is to work. For instance, if hon. Members wish to argue that it should be a committee that works in public and not in private, they should be able to do so without delay.

There is one other reason why it is urgently necessary to accept the motion and to allow a debate to proceed without delay. Everything that Parliament does has meaning only, as we all know, if it is understood by and is in tune with the mood of those outside in the electorate. The mood outside is very much concerned with matters of public expenditure and with arguments that are being adduced by the Executive on the impossibility of granting claims that many of our citizens have at present. Let it at least be seen that every kind of possible and potential demand that the Minister has indicated for further public money will be scrutinised immediately and without further delay.

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has rightly exercised the privilege of hon. Members who seek to move the Adjournment of the House on a matter that has arisen without the House having warning before 12 o'clock.

I listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman's arguments in which he claimed urgency and the importance of the subject in general. I have said when I have rejected other applications that it is for me to decide not whether a matter should be debated but whether it has urgency and should be given priority. I am persuaded that the House should have an opportunity to discuss this matter. Does the hon. Member have the leave of the House?

The leave of the House having been given

The Motion stood over under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business upon Monday next.