§ Mr. Sheldon
On a point of order. I wish to raise a question of privilege.
Yesterday in the House the Attorney-General introduced a Petition and moved a Motion. The purpose of the Motion, as we know, was that Officers of the House may be allowed to give evidence to the courts. The unusual nature of the procedure is what I wish to raise, because on the Order Paper for yesterday there appeared no sign of this matter.
I suggest that the Order Paper is the way that we conduct our business. If matters do not appear on the Order Paper, then we do not know that they will happen. If they do not appear on the Order Paper there is a danger that decisions can be taken by this House about which we are not previously informed.
The unusual procedure that was used on this occasion was quoted as coming from page 64 of Erskine May:The motion for leave may be moved without previous notice.But it says that it "may" be moved without previous notice. Although that is permitted, what is also permitted is its appearance on the Order Paper.
But there is a further reference and, I suggest, a much more important one, on page 393, which says:Certain formal motions which are necessary for the transaction of business are sometimes made without notice …This refers to "certain formal Motions", which are "sometimes made". But this was much more than a formal notice, and even those formal notices—it gives a few examples of what are considered to be formal notices—are far more formal than the fundamental matter raised yesterday.
So, if we are now to define as a formal Motion that which instructs a Clerk or Clerks of the House to appear in the 1461 courts, where, if they do not reply, they will be guilty of a misdemeanour—for that is the working in the Official Secrets Act—if this matter is a formal one it opens the way to many more so-called formal ones appearing before the House without having come to our notice on the Order Paper.
When talking of the privileges of the House, we must distinguish between those privileges which are so often of a trivial nature—whether a newspaper has said something nasty about a Member, or misreported him—and those matters concerning the real privileges of the House, our rights and duties and obligations, so that we will not be in fear of Clerks carrying tales to various bodies because we treat them as close colleagues of ours.
So this matter, which was passed "on the nod" just after 2.30 p.m., at a time when very few hon. Members were present, only those interested in agricultural matters—[interruption.] This was an agricultural day, and everyone knows that that is not a day when large numbers of hon. Members representing a whole range of constituencies are present. This matter was introduced without appearing on the Order Paper. I submit that the certainty of business is the life-blood of this House. If we do not know what is to appear before us at any time, we will have to be here all the time, and that is a nonsense.
What we must ask is that nothing of great importance should take place in the House without appearing on the Order Paper. If we allow things of this kind to be called formal Motions, things like taxation, and so on—which possibly have less important long-term effects than this—might appear in the same way. I believe that in this case there was no emergency.
I believe that the method for introducing these matters, for unannounced Petitions, 1462 is for formal matters only and should be restricted to them. I believe that this is a most serious matter and that we have had no opportunity to discuss it properly or even to accept it "on the nod". There are reasons for accepting it, but also reasons for understanding what it is that we are accepting before we are called upon to do so.
I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider ruling that there is, prima facie, a case for this matter to be considered under the rules of privilege.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to the submission of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) with interest. What happened yesterday was, in my opinion, no breach in any way of the rules of order, including the passage to which the hon. Gentleman referred on pages 63 and 64 of Erskine May. If he wishes to raise it as a matter of privilege, I must claim my customary right to con-skier the matter for 24 hours.