HC Deb 23 February 1954 vol 524 cc210-2

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

78. Mr. G. M. THOMSON to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will recommend the setting up of a Royal Commission on the status, rewards and conditions of employment of the teaching profession in Scotland.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

On a point of order. I rise to seek guidance concerning the constitutional responsibilities of the Prime Minister. I understand that the Prime Minister has the sole responsibility for recommending to the Queen the setting up of a Royal Commission on any particular subject. I refer to Question No. 78, standing in my name on the Order Paper today, which asks the Government if they will consider the setting up of a Royal Commission on the teaching profession in Scotland.

I put this Question down for answer by the Prime Minister and it appeared originally on the Order Paper addressed to the Prime Minister. I do not raise the point of the transfer of Questions from one Department to another, as I know that you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled on many occasions that that is a matter of administrative convenience, and not within your control. But I do respectfully submit that this kind of Question is plainly the constitutional responsibility of the Prime Minister and ought to be answered by him to the House.

Furthermore, this issue raises matters of some importance to hon. Members, particularly from Scottish constituencies—but I think also from English constituencies—on both sides of the House. The Secretary of State for Scotland is out of our verbal reach today at Question Time, and is likely to be so until, I think, at the very earliest, 16th March. He will then have a large number of Departmental responsibilities to answer for of the type about which English Members can ask English Ministers on a weekly basis. In fact, the Secretary of State for Scotland sometimes seems to us to be almost a complete Cabinet in himself. We sympathise with him too much to ask that he shall take over the Prime Minister's responsibility for Scottish Questions.

With regard to Questions on Royal Commissions on Scottish affairs, I would submit that both for constitutional propriety and for the convenience of the House they should be answered by the Prime Minister himself.

Mr. Speaker

As the hon. Member himself has said, the matter has nothing to do with me. If Questions are transferred there is nothing I can do about it.

The Prime Minister

The Question has not been reached, or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would have given an answer. But if the hon. Gentleman will put down the Question again, and if he vehemently desires an answer from English lips, I shall certainly endeavour to oblige him.

Mr. Woodburn

A slightly different point of order arises. One understands that the Prime Minister reserves the right to transfer certain Questions to other Ministers. But when they are quite definitely Questions which he has asked another colleague to answer on his behalf, should not they appear in the same order on the Paper as the Prime Minister's Questions appear, and then be answered by permission, as part of the Prime Minister's list of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

That also has nothing to do with me. If the House wants to alter the rota of Questions, it is a matter for the House.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the Prime Minister setting a precedent? If in future Members have any vehement wish for him to answer their Questions, do we understand that he will accede to their request as he has done so gracefully today?

The Prime Minister

Only when they raise strong emotions of a national character.