HC Deb 07 April 1948 vol 449 cc169-72
Mr. Ellis Smith

I wish to ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on three Questions which I desired to ask and which have been refused. Let me make it clear that I cast no reflection on anyone. It is a question of the interpretation of what comes within the every-day running of the nationalised industries. In my view the Questions did not involve the daily management of the industries. They were Questions concerning the broad policy which Members of Parliament should be able to urge upon Ministers, who should, in the public interest, urge it upon the managements to adopt. This raises in a new form the issue of the relationship between Parliament and the nationalised industries. The vital democratic rights of the people's elected representatives are involved. I have read with care the rules on the admissibility of Questions, and not one word is said on this matter. The Lord President of the Council said on 3rd March last: None of us had better be final, conclusive or dogmatic about this matter. This as a question about which we have to learn as we go along."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1948; Vol. 448, C. 450.] Mr. Speaker, I ask for your Ruling.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) has asked me my reasons for refusing three Questions which he wished to ask of the Minister of Transport. One of the Questions was about special trains, one about cheap fares, and the third about the general administration of the nationalised railways. On 1st March the Minister, in answer to a Question asking him to issue directions to the Commission to run no special trains, refused to issue such a direction, and said the matter was one in the discretion of the Commission, while on 2nd February he refused to answer Questions on the issue of cheap tickets or to interfere in the day-to-day operations of the Commission.

It seems to me that the hon. Member's Questions are covered by these answers, and that under the existing Rules I have no option but to refuse them, for it is my duty to administer the Rules. It is for the House to decide what the Rules shall be and to change them if they so please. I can only add the words which the hon. Member himself quoted, because I am always bearing this thing in mind, None of us had better be final, conclusive or dogmatic about this matter. This is amp; question about which we have to learn as we go along. That is the way I regard all these matters, and I endeavour not to be too harsh, but I am bound by the Rules.

Mr. Smith

I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for your Ruling, which I shall in no way attempt to question. I should like, however, to ask whether it would be possible for you to bear in mind, between now and the time when this question is next considered, that the right of the British Member of Parliament to interrogate Ministers is looked upon throughout the world as a most important one, and that it should be safeguarded as much as possible? I venture to hope that a most generous interpretation will be put upon this matter, in order that this right may be safeguarded.

Mr. Gallacher

Are we to be told that if the people of this country feel that special trains should be run at a particular time and express that feeling to the Minister through their Members of Parliament, the Minister is incapable of passing that desire on to the board of the nationalised industry?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the Minister's responsibility, and not for mine.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Would it be in Order for me to call the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that you, Sir, have been placed in an unfortunate position by the Rules on this matter, and to ask him whether we can have an opportunity of amending those Rules?

Mr. Speaker

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will remember that at the beginning of March we discussed this matter for half a day.

Mr. Stanley

When I asked that question, Sir, I had in mind your concluding words that this was not a matter on which we could yet have a final opinion.

Mr. Speaker

I was merely quoting from the Leader of the House.

Earl Winterton

Does your Ruling apply only to Questions, Mr. Speaker? Would it be out of Order to raise matters such as the one which was raised by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) on the Motion for the Adjournment, or would you Rule that it was not in Order because it was not within the Minister's competence?

Mr. Speaker

The noble Lord has asked a very useful question. The Rules relating to Questions are much stricter than the Rules about Debates. Any of these matters could be taken up on any evening by the Member who was lucky in securing the Adjournment, and it would be perfectly in Order to discuss them.