HC Deb 21 February 1906 vol 152 cc340-1

May I take this occasion of stating to the House the arrangements that we propose with regard to the answering of Foreign Office Questions? The House is aware that for the first time for a great many years the Foreign Secretary is a Member of the House. I need hardly point out that for the purposes of discussion and of keeping the hold of the House of Commons over the conduct of foreign affairs this is a very great advantage; but, unfortunately, the time when Questions are asked is the busiest hour with my right hon. friend in his office. He very often has to see the representatives of foreign Powers at the Foreign Office during the very hour when Questions are addressed to him in this House; and, therefore, what he has proposed, and what I think would be a very good arrangement, is this—that he should ask the House to receive the Answers to ordinary Questions from one of his colleagues, he promising to be as much in attendance here as is consistent with his duties elsewhere. If the House loses anything by this arrangement it must set against it the great gain it has in having the Foreign Minister in the House for all purposes. The Secretary to the Local Government Board, therefore, my hon. friend the Member for Dewsbury, will answer the Questions when the Foreign Secretary is not in his place. I think in that way both the convenience of the House and the execution of his proper duties by my right hon. friend will be served.

MR. D. A. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)

Will supplementary Foreign Office Questions be permitted?


No, Sir. According to the rule which has been in force for a good many years, no supplementary Questions are allowed on foreign affairs, whether they be addressed to the Foreign Secretary or to any one acting for him.

EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)

I must demur to that. The Prime Minister has stated what was no doubt a rule made tentatively two years ago, but it is a rule which was never observed in practice during last year, when supplementary Questions were constantly put to me and answered by me on almost every occasion.


Perhaps I put it too broadly in saying they were not allowed. I should rather say that the Minister answering Questions is at liberty to decline to answer them if he sees reason to do so.


That is so, of course, whenever it would be contrary to the public interest to make a statement; but may I point out, while not in the least desiring to quarrel with any arrangement to facilitate the work of the Foreign Secretary, that the particular arrangement now proposed is open to this drawback, that the Secretary to the Local Government Board will under no circumstances be allowed to answer supplementary Questions. To whom then should they be addressed? To the Prime Minister or some other member of the Cabinet?

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he recollects that when the attempt was made by the late Leader of the House to lay down the rule stated, it was met instantly by a Motion for the adjournment, for which the whole of the Liberal Party voted.


As I have already said, I stated the matter too broadly when I said it was a rule. It is rather a practice subject to exceptions. I would point out that it would be very easy to get rid of the difficulty, and there would be no reason at all why my right hon. friend should not be transferred to another place, but he desires to remain in the House of Commons and to give the House of Commons the advantage of having the Foreign Secretary here.