HC Deb 08 May 1952 vol 500 cc549-51
45. Mr. R. J. Mellish

asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange for Questions addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, as representing the Lord President of the Council, on health matters to be answered by the Minister of Health.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Winston Churchill)

The Lord President of the Council is responsible to Parliament for the work of the Medical Research Council and, as I stated in the House on 20th November, Questions about that body should be put down to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works as representing the Lord President.

Questions on health matters generally should not, of course, be addressed to the Lord President of the Council but to the Minister of Health.

Mr. Mellish

Is it not ridiculous that the Minister of Works should be answering Questions on cancer research, for example? Is it not about time that the whole matter was looked at again, including the system of having the Lord President of the Council in the other place instead of here to answer Questions himself?

The Prime Minister

I cannot think that this is an urgent matter, although it has become very topical. The only Question that has been asked since the Government took office about the work of the Medical Research Council was one by the hon. Member himself, on 29th April, which he very properly addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and which was answered by him. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is learning anything now, or is taking the first opportunity of making a protest against what is definitely established.

Mr. Mellish

Surely the Prime Minister realises how ludicrous it is for the Minister of Works, of all Ministers, or his Parliamentary Secretary, to have to get up in this House and answer Questions on health matters. Ought not the right hon. Gentleman to arrange for all health Questions, including those on cancer research, to be replied to by the Minister of Health or his Parliamentary Secretary, and not by the Minister of Works?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is much point in what the hon. Member says, because it would only have been to his credit to have seen the point when he asked his first Question a short time ago.

Mr. Wyatt

Does it matter in this Government which Ministers answer what Questions, because they all have an equally bad grasp of the subject?

The Prime Minister

It certainly does not matter so much in this Government as it would if the party opposite had to answer Questions, either on foreign or on domestic affairs.

Mr. Lewis

May I raise a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, for our guidance? You will recollect that for a number of weeks past, we have not been reaching much further than Question No. 45 to the Prime Minister. Some weeks back you were good enough to point out that it is not your prerogative to tell Ministers how they should answer Questions or whether, in fact, they should or should not answer them at all, and that, of course, we appreciate. But you went on to say that so far as you personally were concerned, you felt that where it was possible for Ministers to circulate long answers, it would be advisable for them to do SO in the OFFICIAL REPORT and that you would like Ministers to keep their replies short.

May I ask, Sir, whether you can again put to the Ministers concerned, on behalf of both sides of the House, the request that when there are long replies they should as far as possible try to circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Speaker

What I said on that occasion—it is still my own opinion—is that I think it is for the general convenience of the House for long answers, especially when they involve a number of figures, to be circulated. As regards the progress of Questions generally, however, I would point out that that is to a great extent in the hands of the House. If not only Ministers' replies, but supplementary questions also, are made as brief as possible, that will assist in the progress of business.