HC Deb 07 May 1953 vol 515 cc567-9
47. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement regarding the allocation of responsibility for answering of Foreign Office Questions during the temporary absence of the Secretary of State.

The Prime Minister

Questions on foreign policy should be put down to the Foreign Secretary. During the regrettable absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have assumed charge of the Foreign Office. Whether I or the Minister of State or the Joint Undersecretary of State reply to a particular Question must depend on the circumstances. In each case we shall do our utmost to give the most convenient service to the House.

Mr. Donnelly

Before asking the right hon. Gentleman a supplementary question, may I express what, I think, is the universal opinion of the House, that we wish the Foreign Secretary a very speedy recovery and an early return to this Assembly of which he has been a member for so long?

With regard to these questions, does the right hon. Gentleman mind, so far as the Korean problem is concerned, if we put down Questions to him and they can then be deferred downwards if the matter is suitable? But may we assume at the beginning that the Korean truce talks are the personal responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the right hon. Member for expressing what, I know, is the universal feeling of the House at the loss we have suffered by the temporary absence and severe illness —which he is recovering from—of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Overwork played a large part, I think, in making his case more serious.

With regard to dividing up Questions, they are not divided upon the basis of importance. They always are put to the Foreign Secretary and divided up according to what is found to be the most convenient arrangement for the Department and for the House. It might very often be that one of my right hon. Friends will answer all the Questions. But there are certain things I am particularly concerned with at the present time and I am anxious to deal with myself.

Mr. H. Morrison

We all associate ourselves with what my hon. Friend has said and with what the Prime Minister has said about the absence of the Foreign Secretary, and we all wish him well.

There is a practical problem which I do not expect the Prime Minister to answer at the moment, but perhaps he would give his attention to it; namely, that if the House could have, so to speak, some guiding principle in the classification of questions it would assist hon. Members in knowing whether it was possible to put Questions down to the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State. I do not ask for an answer now, because I appreciate the complications. But if the right hon. Gentleman could consider the classification of Questions and would give the House guidance at some early date it might be useful.

The Prime Minister

I accept personal responsibility for the allocation of Questions. We have all been through this— both parties have had the misfortune of having Foreign Ministers ill and having to make arrangements to carry on the business meanwhile. I take responsibility as to who answers Questions. They are not divided from the point of view of the most important ones being answered by me and the less important ones answered by my two highly competent colleagues.

Mrs. Castle

Would the right hon. Gentleman give instructions that where a Question is put down to him and transferred to the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, or vice versa, the hon. Member who put down the Question which is so transferred is notified before it is answered?

The Prime Minister

Yes, provided that time allows.