§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I desire, Mr. Speaker, to bring before the attention of the House a personal matter, on which I want an explanation. On Tuesday evening last, between six and seven o'clock, I banded in to the Table three questions which were due to be answered to-day. On looking at the Order Paper yesterday I found that none of my questions were there, and I immediately approached the Table in order to find out why they had been omitted. I was then told that I had been notified of certain errors in my questions which had to be remedied. I had received no such notification, and subsequent inquiry at the Table revealed the fact that no notification had been sent. With some minor alterations two of those questions were put on the Paper, but the third question was held back for further supervision and, if necessary, correction, on the ground, I understand, that there was a reference to a foreign Government, and it was not considered pofitic for the question to appear in that form. I want to put it to you that the question I put down contained nothing that could be construed into a reflection upon a foreign Government or upon individuals who 546 were not named, but who are referred to in the question. I do not know whether I should be in order in reading the question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that would be desirable. I intend to invite the hon. Member to see me in the course of to-day about that question. It certainly ought not to be read in advance.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I accept your ruling, but I want to put it to you that there is nothing in the question to which exception can be taken, not so much, at any rate, as appears in certain questions which have passed the Table and have been put to Ministers in the House by hon. Members only this week. I would like to know why it is that certain questions coming from certain Members of this House seem to be more strictly supervised than questions coming from hon. Members of other sections of the House. I submit that an hon. Member of this House, according to the Rules of Order relating to Questions, has a perfect right to put a question asking for information. He has a perfect right that this question shall appear, or, if there is something wrong, to be notified that his presence at the Table is required in order that what is wrong in the question may be corrected; and that this should be done as soon as possible. That has not been done in this case, and I submit that when questions are put down for Ministers to answer at subsequent dates if anything happens to those questions, if there is anything wrong in them, the Member 547 ought to be notified as soon as possible, so that there should be no delay in the appearance of his question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have looked into the matter to which the hon. Member refers, and I have to express to him my regret that by inadvertence the customary notification was not sent to him on Tuesday. The fact is that his questions were at the Table, by inadvertence, put along with questions in respect of which cards had been sent; and that is how it happened. The House will remember that Tuesday last was a day of very great pressure as far as the officials at the Table were concerned. There were no fewer than 17 Divisions, and there was a large number of Amendments involving close attention to the minutes (duties which come first), so that I think it is not altogether to be wondered at that there was on this occasion an absence of the usual notification.
I demur to the suggestion that there is a right to notification. There is a practice that wherever practicable, having regard to the exigencies of business, hon. Members receive such notification. The hon. Member, if he will look in Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice," will find the words, "subject to the exigencies of business." It is desirable that notification shall he always sent if it be in any way possible. There are occasions when an hon. Member hands in a question just as the House is rising, and it is impossible to get into touch with him in time that day. In the present case I hope the hon. Member will accept the statement I have made. His question came to my personal notice only just before the House rose last night. If the House had sat longer yesterday I should then have asked the hon. Member to see me, as I propose to ask him to do to-day, in regard to one of his three questions. The other two, which require purely verbal alterations, will appear on the Paper.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I accept the explanation, but I want the House to realise that one of your statements does not apply to my questions. You have said that when questions were handed in as the House was rising, the Member concerned could not be notified. My questions were handed in between six and 548 seven o'clock on the Tuesday evening. I must refer to one other matter, and that is the right of Members to have notification. While Erskine May says, "as exigencies of business may permit," the most recent ruling, given in this House by your predecessor, was in 1920. I have looked up all the precedents in Erskine May. The most recent ruling was in 1920, regarding a question which had been handed in by Mr. Hogge, and had inadvertently been left off the Order Paper in the same way as mine have been. Mr. Speaker's statement then was:I regret that the hon. Member was not told. It was owing to the absence, through illness of some of the Clerks at the Table. The procedure is that, whenever a question is handed in and not allowed, the Clerks at the Table inform an hon. Member. Owing entirely to the unfortunate incident which I have mentioned, this was not done in this particular case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1920; col. 2101, Vol. 134.]The fact that other Members received notification on the Tuesday appeared to me to indicate that the exigencies of business did not affect the matter, and consequently I thought it best to raise it to-day. One last word. While I accept the explanation, I am informed the two questions, with minor alterations, were altered on the Tuesday night, and they have not yet appeared on the Order Paper. They are not even on the Notices of Motion issued this morning. It was because of that that I felt it necessary to raise the matter here.
§ Sir NICHOFAS GRATTAN-DOYLE
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to take notice of the innuendo conveyed in the original question pit to you by the hon. Member, namely, that there was unfair discrimination with regard to questions that were handed in at the Table?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did notice it, but I thought I could trust the House to pass that over. I think the House is perfectly well aware that I apply the same rule to everybody. Questions from different parts of the House at times cause a certain amount of difficulty. I cannot praise or blame any one part of the House in the matter.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I was quite prepared to let the whole thing drop, but as this 549 particular matter has been raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle North (Sir N. Grattan-Doyle), I cannot do so now. I am accused of having made an innuendo against certain individuals in this House. There appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-day a question put by an hon. Member who sits on the benches opposite. That question viofates in every way the position put up to me at the Table with regard to questions that ought not to be asked in relation to foreign Powers. You, Sir, know my question and have seen it. Had it appeared on the Order Paper in the form in which I handed it to the Table, it would have contained no reference in any way, no innuendo or reflection as to what is being done by the foreign Power to which the question drew attention. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Newcastle North is absolutely unfounded. There is in the OFFICIAL REPORT a question that is more distinctly and directly carrying a reflection on a foreign Power than my question did.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On that point I want to submit that there is a growing dissatisfaction among certain Members of this House that at the Table they do not get equal treatment with other Members of the house. In view of that, can you take any action to inquire into the position?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would only comfort the two hon. Members by saying that I have had similar feelings expressed from other parts of the House with regard to the way in which I have dealt with their questions. My blue pencil is quite impartial.