HC Deb 17 December 1945 vol 417 cc914-6
46 Mr. Keeling

asked the Prime Minister whether he will answer Questions which affect all the Fighting Services equally; or if he will arrange for them to be answered by the Lord President of the Council on his behalf.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

No, Sir. There has for some years been a growing practice of putting down to the Prime Minister Questions relating to all three Services. In many cases these Questions are concerned with detailed matters of administration giving rise to supplementaries involving problems on which the Prime Minister is not, and cannot readily be, informed. On such Questions a fuller and more speedy reply can be given by Departmental Ministers who are directly concerned with these matters in the normal discharge of their administrative duties.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has a large interest in the majority of these Questions, I have arranged with the Service Ministers that all such Questions which do not specifically involve the responsibility of the Prime Minister as Minister of Defence should be answered by the Secretary of State for War.

This will mean that Questions on high Defence policy, strategy and operations involving all three Services will be answered by the Prime Minister. Factual Questions and those involving detailed matters of administration will be answered by the Secretary of State for War. Questions of manpower relating to allocation, call-up and release should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Keeling

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that the present system is unsatisfactory from the Members' point of view, firstly, because the Secretary of State for War really cannot answer on behalf of all three Services, and, secondly, because the War Office Question list is already overloaded?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the first part of the supplementary question, I would answer that arrangements have been made, where a Question concerns the other Services, for the Secretary of State for War to get full information from those Departments. On the second supplementary, the real purpose of putting these Questions to the Prime Minister is to get an answer by what I would call an unfair advantage over other Members who put Questions down to the Secretary of State for War. It is true there are too many Questions to the Secretary of State for War on the Paper, as Mr. Speaker said the other day, relating to individual cases. The device of combining a Question which relates to one Service with Questions relating to others, in order to get it on by No. 45 or sooner, is to be deprecated.

Lieut.-Colonel Lindsay

Is the Prime Minister aware that the practice of putting down Questions on individual cases is growing only because there is no other way of getting answers from Ministers in a short space of time?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of that, but I am sure that hon. Members realise that there is an immense pressure at the present time on questions of demobilisation and on individual cases, and that it is impossible to return an answer at once.