HC Deb 21 January 1953 vol 510 cc204-5
Mr. Hale

On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, with regard to a Question which now appears on the Order Paper as Question No. 91 and which was originally put down to the Prime Minister and would have been called as Question No. 45 today? The Question raises questions relating to the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment and it has always been a rule of this House that that is a matter entirely for the Prime Minister. That Commission was announced by the then Prime Minister on 20th January, 1949, and Questions about it were answered by him as Prime Minister on 31st January, 1949, and there was no option for me now but to put my Question down as a Question to the Prime Minister.

I see now that the Question has been transferred to the Home Office, although the Chair has always ruled that there can be no Ministerial responsibility for a Royal Commission and the only method by which a Royal Commission can be interrogated at all is by a Cabinet request for information. The result is that that Question cannot be called, answered and debated and the next stage for Questions to be answered by the Home Office is 5th March next. So it would not be proper for me to say now what I would otherwise say—that there has been a long and intolerable delay in this matter.

I am not complaining of the Prime Minister's absence. Had I been asked to defer the Question until he returned from his holiday in Jamaica I would have raised no objection at all, but this constant attempt to deprive hon. Members of the right to put oral Questions to Ministers does not only apply to this House, and one's correspondence bag is becoming more and more filled with this sort of method of evading answers to matters of importance. I seek your guidance as to what method is open to me.

Mr. Speaker

It has been customary for a very long time for Questions to be transferred between Departments. That is considered a proper thing and, as Ministers can answer for one another, I am afraid that there is nothing out of order in this matter with which I can interfere.

Mr. Attlee

On that point, would it not have been possible here for the Question to have been put to the Prime Minister but to have been answered by another Minister on his behalf? This seems to be a Ruling where it is considered to be a Departmental Question, whereas the Question on the Royal Commission is not a question on Departmental matters at all.

Mr. Speaker

I am aware of the doctrine to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I have had no notice of this difficulty and perhaps I might be allowed to look into it to see if I can give a Ruling.

Mr. S. Silverman

Whilst you are considering the matter, Mr. Speaker, would you also bear in mind that if my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) had put his Question down as a Question to the Home Secretary, as it now appears on the Order Paper, it would almost certainly have been refused by the Table as being not a Question for which a Minister is responsible. Can it really be right to exercise discretion to transfer a Question to another Minister, to somebody who would not have been entitled to answer it?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Member is correct in what he says, but even if that is so I will consider it along with other matters.