HC Deb 05 March 1953 vol 512 cc561-3
Mr. Dodds

On a point of order. I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, upon a matter of some importance and urgency. On 25th February there appeared on the Order Paper this Question: Mr. Dodds to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, following consideration of the problem of the best procedure to deal with the financial situation of trading organisations where the losses caused by the recent floods exceed £5,000 and are not covered by insurance, he can yet make a statement to clarify the situation. As I have said, that was on the Order Paper on 25th February and it has been continued on succeeding dates and even up to yesterday, 4th March. The Question was for oral answer on 5th March, which is today, and was put to the Home Secretary.

Yesterday afternoon I received a letter which had been sent by a messenger from the Home Office and which said: The Private Secretary presents his compliments to Mr. Dodds and begs to inform him that the Question in his name to the Home Secretary, No. 83, on page 1808 of the Order Paper, for answer on Thursday, 5th March, has been transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Speaker, the fact is that today the Home Secretary is at the top of the list for Questions while the Chancellor of the Exchequer is second from the bottom. As a result, it was impossible for me to have an oral answer and impossible to put supplementary questions.

Now, Sir, I am not challenging the right of a Minister to transfer a Question to another Department, but, in view of the circumstances, I should like to ask consideration of two points. First, I submit that it is wholly unsatisfactory that, when a Question has been on the Order Paper for answer for so long, it should be taken off the Paper the day before it is due for answer so that it is impossible for an hon. Member to receive an oral answer. May I ask you what protection hon. Members have in that respect?

Secondly, as the fact that this important Question has been transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicates a change of policy, which is of the greatest importance to employers and workers now on the dole, I would ask whether you have any power in the matter, or whether in any way you can encourage the Government to make a statement today or tomorrow to clarify a muddled and a serious position.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

In reply to that point of order, I must apologise to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) and take full responsibility for the delay which occurred in the transfer of the Question. It is the fact that the Home Office have been concerned in rather a number of the questions before the House, but that is no excuse. I have taken steps to see that this will not occur again. In the meantime, I express my unqualified regret to the hon. Gentleman for the inconvenience caused. Dealing with the second part of his question, may I say that I will consider it; and for the moment, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman will accept my apology and leave it at that.

Mr. Dodds

I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's apology.

Mr. Janner

Further to that point of order. While I appreciate the apology which has been offered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "And accepted."]—and its acceptance—I have a point of order to raise about another Question which was put down. I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, about another Question which was put down and which requires an immediate answer. It is Question No. 67, which was submitted to the same right hon. and learned Gentleman and in respect of which I received a similar reply yesterday. My application to you, Sir, is this: that in view of the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has appreciated this difficulty, he might be persuaded to get his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reply to the Question today, because there are a large number of people who are anxious to know what their position is.

Mr. Speaker

I have frequently expressed the view that when Questions are transferred it is for the convenience of hon. Members that adequate notice should be given. In this case there seems to have been some delay, for which the Home Secretary has taken all responsibility. He has explained the circumstances. It occurs to me that it may not be unconnected with these events that recently, owing to the floods, there has been a great deal of ad hoc Departmental responsibility. May I express again, on behalf of the House, the desirability that when transfers occur they should be notified to the hon. Member concerned at the earliest possible moment?