HC Deb 19 March 1956 vol 550 cc833-5
Mr. Albu

Mr. Speaker, may I raise with you a point of order of which I have given you notice? Last Thursday, in a supplementary question about the Imperial Institute, I referred to a remark made by a noble Lord in another place, and you allowed me to complete my supplementary question, but when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was replying to it, you interrupted him and said: We should not refer to debates in another place held during the current Session."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 555.] I put to you what I thought had always been the case, that it was all right in debate, at any rate, to refer to what was said in another place so long as one did not use the actual words used by a noble Lord in another place, unless they were the words of a Minister expressing policy. You then said: It is not in order to refer to debates in another place."—[OFFICI AL REPORT, 15th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 555.] A number of hon. Members have since suggested that that is not quite clear, especially in view of the fact that this took place at Question time and not during a debate, and I should be obliged if, for the benefit of hon. Members, you would make the position quite clear.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising the matter. Strictly speaking, all reference to debates in another place during the current Session, other than official, Ministerial speeches made in that place, is shown by a long list of Speaker's Rulings on page 435 of Erskine May to be out of order. Nevertheless, in debate the Chair has been allowed to use a certain discretion in permitting such reference in a paraphrased form and in proper language. That, I am sure, was what the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) had in mind when he put his question to me on the occasion referred to. At Question Time, however, which was when the incident referred to occurred, the rule is much stricter. No reference, either verbatim or paraphrased, to debates or answers in either House of Parliament is in order. The power to question Ministers is a valuable privilege designed to secure information or action. If references were allowed to recent statements in either House, Questions would tend to become a continuation of debate and would make unfair inroads on the limited time set aside for Questions of other hon. Members.

Mr. Albu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think that, at any rate in regard to debate, that statement has set the minds of a number of hon. Members at rest.

Mr. Bowles

In view of the fact, of which you are aware, Mr. Speaker, that in another place references are made to debates in this House within a short time of their occurrence, even as soon as the next day, and are not banned by this rule, I was wondering whether you would agree that it is a very bad rule and now out of date, and whether, as long as you are able to restrain hon. Members from being rude to their Lordships, that is about all that is necessary?

Mr. Speaker

I must not comment on practice in another place. Our rule is founded on a very wise principle which our predecessors found to be of value, namely, that both Houses should so conduct themselves as to act in a sort of courteous comity between them in the great duty they are jointly called upon to perform.

Mr. K. Thompson

I think we quite clearly understand your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, about references at any time to remarks made in another place, but your comment about Questions and references during Question Time to speeches and replies made in this House seems to me a limitation that has been observed in the breach very much in the past and would make Question Time extraordinarily difficult. What answer, for example, would a Minister give who wished to refer an hon. Member to a reply given him or another hon. Member in a previous answer or speech? How could an hon. Member ask a Question arising out of information given him by a Minister in an earlier answer, and genuinely seeking information?

Mr. Speaker

I know there are occasions when one has to use a certain amount of common sense in these matters, but it is the principle governing Question Time, and I hope the House will agree with me in this, that as far as possible Question Time should be devoted to its proper purpose and not made another opportunity for debate. Debate has its own place; so have Questions. If debate were allowed to invade the time for Questions, fewer hon. Members could ask their Questions to get information orally. This is a difficulty with which I am continually faced: I am continually striving—and I hope with the co-operation of the House—to ensure that as many hon. Members as possible have their Questions answered orally.