§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,The danger to postal services over Christmas arising from the Government's intervention in the dispute over working hours in the Post Office where talks have failed, and the fact that yesterday the Government announced their intention to suspend the Postmaster-General's or the Government's monopoly.Yesterday, you rebuked me, Mr. Speaker, for seeking to challenge your ruling by making points relating to the role of Parliament in this dispute. You said, Mr. Speaker —it is not an uncommon argument to come from the Chair—that there were other opportunities when these matters could be raised.
But the impact of a postal strike upon the whole community—upon individuals relying on the Christmas post, upon the business community and others—will be enormous. To put a question to the Prime Minister, to put a question on the business statement, to seek half an hour on the Consolidated Fund at midnight or a word on the Christmas Adjournment does not meet up, in my submission, to the enormity of what might happen as a direct result of the Government's intervention.
Normally, under Standing Order No. 20, Members rise and make a general argument. However, in this instance, I address my arguments specifically and exclusively to you, Sir. Standing Order No. 20 was designed to allow the House of Commons to turn its mind urgently to matters that affect the whole community, but for which there was no provision in the timetable of the House. During my 37 years in this House—and tomorrow is the anniversary of the day when I entered the House — I have drawn attention to the fact that the House must be able to discuss matters of urgency of this nature.
§ Mr. Benn
Often, if a matter is raised before it happens the ruling is that it is hypothetical; if a matter is raised when it happens the ruling is that it is too delicate to debate. After an event has occurred often the ruling is that it is too late to debate it.
Postal workers work 48 hours a week. The Government have threatened to lift their monopoly and they want to privatise services. The Secretary of State responsible for those matters does not even sit in this House. The people whom we represent depend on the postal services, appreciate the work of those who deliver the post and will not understand, and neither will the public, if this House cannot find time to discuss this matter.
The reputation of Parliament depends on being able to discuss urgent matters. When people talk about disorder in the House or disrespect for Parliament I submit that such problems arise partly because the rules of the House are very often interpreted in such a way as to prevent urgent matters from coming to the attention of Parliament and the public.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the 1137 House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the current situation in the Post Office dispute".I have listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman has said today, as I listened with care to his hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman well knows that my sole duty when considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business already set down for this evening or Monday. I regret that the matter he has raised does not meet the criteria laid down in that Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has raised the matter of my refusal to hear him yesterday, may I say that there are other opportunities whereby he may be able to discuss this extremely important matter. Perhaps I might suggest that the Consolidated Fund is one such opportunity.