Adjournment Debates

– in the House of Commons at 11:18 am on 16th November 1979.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian 11:18 am, 16th November 1979

May I gently and succinctly raise a point of order of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker? It has implications for all hon. Members who are interested in the scrutiny of the Executive by Back Benchers.

At 8.25 pm last night, seeing that it was likely that the business of the House would collapse, I gave notice to the resident clerk at the Foreign Office and to your office that I hoped to raise on the Adjournment the matter of the investment programme of the BBC's external services in general and in particular certain statements made by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in his winding-up speech in our debate on the BBC's external services. I say what the subject was because it would have been unrealistic suddenly at short notice to raise a completely new topic the details of which Ministers might not be expected to have at their fingertips. I also make the point that a Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office was around, having taken part in a previous debate.

I understand that the Chair deprecates the practice of raising second Adjournment debates at short notice. It was put to me that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who had given notice a great deal earlier, at 6.30 pm, should have the second Adjournment debate and that you, Mr. Speaker, would deprecate an hon. Member raising at 8.30 pm a subject for a further Adjournment debate. It is difficult for the House, because if one gives notice early and asks Ministers and civil servants to come to the House one often finds that the business of the House drags on. It is often difficult to estimate early in the day whether a debate will last. It is easier at 8.30 pm.

I am not in favour of dragging Ministers and civil servants to the House unnecessarily. On the other hand, our opportunities in the House for scrutiny of the Executive are limited enough, and when the business of the House collapses it provides an opportunity for hon. Members to scrutinise what Ministers have said.

I put it to hon. Members on both sides—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman is putting his point of order to me, not to the House.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as succinctly as possible, whether you have had any reflections on the ground rules for raising second Adjournment debates. I leave it at that.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for giving me notice of his point of order and for giving me an opportunity to make clear to the House the attitude that I have adopted since I have been Speaker, in the last Parliament as well as in this, on the question of second and, in the hon. Gentleman's case, third Adjournment debates. As it happens, the hon. Gentleman's debate would not have come on until 10.27 pm last night. He would have had only three minutes, so it is a matter of principle rather than what would actually have happened.

I have taken the view, as did my predecessor, that it is unreasonable after 8 pm to call on Ministers and their advisers to be ready to answer an Adjournment debate of which no notice has been given to the House. The House does not know the matters that are likely to be discussed. Only the individual concerned knows.

Like my predecessor, I have followed the rule that if the application is made after 8 pm it is an unreasonable application. I am mindful of my own experience as a Miniser that one cannot always get one's advisers at short notice. A Minister is not expected to answer off the cuff. What he says is Government policy and is said on behalf of the Government. In the last Parliament, I declined to accept applications after 8 pm, as I have in this Parliament. Until the House resolves otherwise, I intend to continue to pursue that policy.