§ The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. CRAIK HENDERSON:
§ 77. To ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he is aware that the hon. Member for North-East Leeds gave him on 12th October the name and department of Mr. W. S. Venner, who had given the hon. Member the information regarding the waste of man-power and lack of work in that department, disclosed to the House on 23rd September; that although another interview was arranged for 23rd October, Mr. Venner received a letter of dismissal dated 21st October; whether he will arrange for Mr. Venner's reinstatement at his former salary; for a full inquiry into the reason for his dismissal; and give an undertaking that if Members disclose to Ministers the names of persons giving them information such persons shall not be victimised?
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Assheton)
I desire to answer Question 77. If the implication in my hon. Friend's Question is that Mr. Venner was dismissed on 21st October because of information given to me regarding an alleged waste of manpower in his Department, this is entirely untrue. I had no communication whatsoever with Mr. Veneer's Department until after my interview with him on 23rd October when I wrote at once to the Minister concerned. The last part of my hon. Friend's Question is, therefore, hypothetical and based upon a misapprehension as to the facts.
While, of course, accepting the Minister's statement that there was no wilful disclosure by him of the name of Mr. Venner, and while that is not actually implied in my Question, does the Minister not think that the dates of the dismissal are very significant and that it does appear that, whether from reading something out of the Debate in the House, or for other reasons, this dismissal did, in fact, follow because he had given away certain information—
§ Mr. Lawson
On a point of Order. Under what Rule or Standing Order can a Minister answer Questions after the appointed time?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is perhaps not generally known that it is perfectly in Order for a Minister to answer any Question which is on the Order Paper if he so desires with my consent on the ground of public interest. It is a right which is not often exercised but the right hon. Gentleman has exercised it to-day.
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman is he aware that this man was dismissed and that the dates coincide with the period between the alleged giving of the information to the hon. Member and the House, and his dismissal; and is he aware that if this kind of thing is allowed to go on, it will be a very serious matter, because Members cannot exercise their public functions unless information is supplied to them?
§ Mr. Assheton
I want to make the position quite clear. Mr. Venner saw me on 23rd October and brought with him a letter dated 21st October dispensing with his services. Any question with regard to his dismissal, of course, must be addressed to the Minister of Aircraft Production and not to me. I want to make it clear that the suggestion made in the Question could not possibly be founded on fact.
With regard to the Minister's last remark about the Question being addressed to the Minister of Aircraft Production, may I ask whether the Question was not, in fact, addressed to the Prime Minister and transferred to him as Financial Secretary; and will the Minister also keep in mind that he saw Mr. Venner on 12th October?
§ Mr. Assheton
I fully agree with that. I saw him in the company of the hon. Member. I did not inform the Minister of Aircraft Production until 23rd October. That was after I had seen Mr. Venner again. Mr. Venner was quite aware that I was going to do that and he did not object.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the Minister satisfied that the letter dated 21st October was, in fact, posted on that date?
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill
On a point of Order. May I ask why Question 74, which concerns 9,000,000 women, has not been called, while this Question which refers to the case of one man has been allowed?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have explained that it is at the discretion of the Minister to ask to be allowed to give an answer to any Question addressed to him on the Paper.