Adjournment Debates

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1964.

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Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth 12:00 am, 19th November 1964

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wish to ask your guidance on a matter of which I have given you notice.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I am not certain whether the hon. Lady is seeking to ask another business question, and I wish to be sure that no other hon. Member has a business question to put. If there is no further business question, I will hear her point of order.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wish to have your indulgence in raising a matter on which I have given you notice.

I should like to know whether there has been any alteration in the procedure governing the Adjournments of the House. Ever since I have been a Member, Adjournment debates have been very much prized and valued by backbench Members, and, as I understand it, it has always been the policy that the Adjournment belongs to the Member fortunate enough to have the opportunity to raise a matter on such occasions. Moreover, the Member concerned has the right to speak for as long or as short a time as he or she likes, and, possibly, by courteous agreement, many Ministers will inform the Member how long they would like in the Adjournment debate for the purpose of answering questions which are put. I assume that there has been no alteration in this procedure.

Last Thursday evening, I had the Adjournment and I raised the subject of security. I made a very short speech because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) asked me whether I could find time for him to make a short intervention, which I gladly did. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was given a very reasonable time in which to reply, as both my hon. and gallant Friend and I spoke fairly shortly.

The Financial Secretary gave his answer, and then, to my consternation, he announced that he had given notice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) that he intended to deal with a matter which my right hon. Friend had raised in the general debate two days before my Adjournment.

I had been given no notice of this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in spite of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley had had this notification from the Treasury Minister. It caused me tremendous surprise, and I thought it very discourteous—I am not now arguing about procedure—because, had I known that he wanted this additional time to deal with my right hon. Friend's comments on the previous occasion, I should have made a longer speech, as would have been my right and privilege.

All I am asking is this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it in order for an alteration in the Adjournment procedure, as I understand it, to be put in motion by a Treasury Minister without discussion with the House? In all the years I have been here, I have never known a Minister answering an Adjournment debate to take part of the time to answer a full debate on another occasion which really had nothing whatever to do with the Adjournment subject which the hon. Member had raised.

All I want to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is whether we are having an alteration in procedure, and, if so, whether we could debate the alteration in the House, or whether we are to accept the normal procedure, which is that an Adjournment debate is a matter for the Member concerned, who can speak for as long or as short a time as he or she likes.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) for writing to me yesterday. Perhaps I might say, first, that I should have been glad to talk to her about this matter privately. I have given some consideration to the points she raises. For the guidance of new Members, especially, I would point out that the Chair has no power to judge on matters of taste, judgment or argument. It merely rules on points of order and on preserving the traditions of the House as the servant of the House.

The hon. Lady's submission has placed the Chair in a position of considerable embarrassment. The time of the House is precious, and it is quite wrong for the Chair to listen to and to answer points of order not immediately arising out of the business of the House.

I have studied the debate to which the hon. Lady has referred, and the Rulings then given. I myself was in the Chair. Nothing happened in that debate which was out of order. The Minister who answered the debate was, as I ruled in the Adjournment debate, not out of order, and I could only have intervened in the disagreement between the hon. Lady and the Minister at the risk of myself taking sides in the debate. For this reason, I cannot this afternoon give the hon. Lady any further satisfaction than to say that nothing that happened in the debate was out of order and nothing that happened in the debate was against the traditions of the House.

There are many legitimate opportunities to raise grievances. Many hon. Members are sometimes dissatisfied with the replies of Ministers. This is not a rare occurrence in the history of Parliament. However, I hope that hon. Members will not raise grievances as points of order and take the time of the House in this way. I am always glad to receive private representations from hon. Members on any occasion, and to advise them to the best of my ability.