HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc524-6
46. Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

asked the Lord President of the Council upon what aspects of the annual reports of the nationalised industries Ministers will in future answer Questions.

Mr. H. Morrison

I would refer the hon. Member to my answer of 27th November to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), when I explained the principles which govern the answering of Questions relating to socialised industries. The same principles apply to Questions arising out of annual reports as to other Questions, and, as I explained in my answer to the hon. Members for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) and Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) on 5th April, Ministers will answer Questions involving their own responsibilities in connection with annual reports. These responsibilities are laid down in the statutes. Broadly, it is their duty to lay the report before Parliament, and they have certain responsibilities for the form of accounts.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect his statement of 25th October last when he published what he claimed to be a comprehensive list of matters upon which Ministers would be prepared to answer Questions ranging from research to annual reports? Is it not a fact that all Ministers can, and do, evade Questions on the Order Paper by disclaiming responsibility and, at the same time, ensure that no further Questions on the same subject can be asked? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman dropped the humbug of pretending that the nationalised industries are accountable through our normal democratic procedure of Question and answer in the House of Commons?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman has the making of a first-class Hyde Park orator. I never did very well at that myself. The responsibility of the Minister in relation to the annual report is to lay it. To make the Minister responsible for everything that appears in the annual report would make him responsible for every detail of the management of the socialised industries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nationalised industries."]—hon. Members may call them what they like; I will call them what I like, too—which would merely mean that the politicians were meticulously running these vast commercial undertakings.

Mr. Mikardo

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when the nationalisation Bills were passing through the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Socialisation."] I will call them what I like, too—the Opposition continually protested that the Ministers were being given too much power over the corporations and demanded that the corporations should be free from day-to-day ministerial interference? How does he reconcile that with the attitude of the Opposition today?

Mr. Morrison

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot reconcile it at all. How the Opposition do I have not the least idea.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, despite his replies, the situation is confusing? The Table is refusing to take numbers of Questions which ought to be within the purview of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Will he give serious consideration, as was done in 1946, to the re-appointment of the Select Committee on Procedure and ask them to issue a short report on Questions after having heard evidence by the Lord President and other Ministers?

Mr. Morrison

I can assure the noble Lord that if he will study the various statements which I have made upon the matter he will find that the whole situation is as clear as daylight and that if he follows them he will be all right. I do not think it is part of his duty, in putting a supplementary question, to cast reflections on Mr. Speaker and the Table.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's last answer but one, is he aware that the objection is not to ministerial non-interference but to ministerial irresponsibility for interference?

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