HC Deb 27 November 1950 vol 481 cc781-3
50. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Lord President of the Council if it is now the policy of His Majesty's Government that Ministers should answer Parliamentary Questions on matters of general policy affecting the nationalised industries with which they are concerned.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

There has been no change in the position in this respect, and, as I think was shown by the recent debate, the practice which has been followed has had the general approval of the House. Ministers will only answer Questions on matters for which they assume responsibility, except to the extent that the Questions are covered by Mr. Speaker's Ruling of 7th June, 1948. Even then, as Mr. Speaker pointed out, it remains with the Minister to decide whether to answer any Question which has been allowed as being of "public importance." For an indication of the wide range of subjects on which Ministers will answer Questions in connection with the socialised industries, I would refer the hon. Member to my answer of 5th April last to the hon. Members for Fife, East (Mr. Stewart) and Maidstone (Mr. Bossom).

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does that answer mean that the willingness indicated on 13th November by the Minister of Fuel and Power to answer Questions on general policy affecting the industries with which he is concerned points to a difference between Questions to the Minister of Fuel and Power and Questions to other Ministers?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir. I think my right hon. Friend was, perhaps, a little bit kind on that occasion, but the statement to which I have referred, which I made in the House earlier, still remains the policy of the Government.

Mr. David Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of Transport has been very much less willing to answer Questions than hon. Ministers responsible for other nationalised industries? Will the Lord President do his best to keep the Minister of Transport up to the mark?

Mr. Morrison

My recollection is that the Minister of Transport has followed the perfectly proper doctrine as set out in Erskine May, and quoted by Mr. Speaker. May's "Parliamentary Practice" lays it down on page 334 that: Questions addressed to Ministers should relate to the public affairs with which they are officially connected, to proceedings pending in Parliament, or to matters of administration for which they are responsible. Rule (26), on page 338, excludes Questions …repeating in substance questions already answered or to which an answer has been refused.

An Hon. Member

What edition is that?

Mr. Morrison

As far as I know it is the latest edition.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, to the effect that there is no difference in the matter of Questions between the Ministry of Fuel and Power and other Departments, indicate that the rule enunciated by the Minister of Fuel and Power now covers all the other Departments?

Mr. Morrison

The statements which I have made in the House on this matter, both today and previously, represent the policy of the Government in the matter.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's reply that the Minister of Transport is not officially connected with the transport industry?

Mr. Morrison

I am not quite sure to what the hon. Gentleman's smart supplementary question refers, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is responsible to the same degree for answering or not answering Parliamentary Questions, in accordance with the statements which I have made from time to time.