HC Deb 04 April 1957 vol 568 cc583-5
Mr. Speaker

I have a short statement to make to the House.

On Thursday last I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) to consider the rules applicable when a number of Questions on the Order Paper are answered together.

First, in reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), which was whether every Member whose Question is so answered has the right to ask a supplementary question, I have no doubt that no such right exists. The difficulty lies in attempting to reconcile the rights of the individual Member with the rights of other Members and of the House as a whole. No hard and fast rule for effecting this reconciliation has ever been propounded. As in other cases where a similar conflict arises, the House has left the solution to the judgment of the Speaker. This judgment I must continue to exercise to the best of my ability until the House otherwise orders.

The Questions which gave rise to the point of order all related to tests of atomic weapons and the Bermuda talks. On this occasion the Prime Minister had four times stated that he preferred to answer these Questions in his speech opening the forthcoming debate. In these circumstances, it seemed to me better to give another Member the chance of asking a Question on another subject rather than have another repetiton of the same Answer.

The second point was raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, who asked whether a Member had the right to object to his Question being answered with others. On this, I see no reason to depart from my previous Ruling of 25th February of this year, that it is unreasonable for an hon. Member to object to an Answer which he has not yet heard. The alternative seems to me to involve a waste of the time of the House, since the Answer has already been drafted and will merely be repeated.

If the hon. Member asking the Question can subsequently show that his Question, or any part of it, has not been covered, the Question, or the relevant part of it, can again be put on the Order Paper; and I can remember many occasions on which that has been done. But to insist on an Answer being repeated a number of times seems to me an abuse of the limited time for Questions. I hope that in the general interest of Members with Questions on the Order Paper, and, indeed, in the interest of the speedy and regular transaction of its business, the House will support me in this view.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We are very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for the careful attention that you have given to the points which were raised by my hon. Friends and myself last Thursday. May I, with respect, put this to you? I gather from your Ruling that if an hon. Member objects to his Question being answered in conjunction with others he would then be entitled to put that Question down for further answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understood that. Did I gather that the right of an hon. Member to object to his Question being answered with others still exists?

Mr. Speaker

An hon. Member can object, but whether I should sustain the objection would depend on the nature of the case. Whether any Question could be put down on the same subject depends on the rule of the House applicable to Questions normally, namely, whether the Question has already been fully answered during the Session. If an hon. Member has submitted the Question on the ground that the omnibus Answer did not, in fact, answer his Question, that, if indeed it was so, would be a good ground for putting the Question on the Order Paper again for answer.

Mr. Griffiths

The customary way for Ministers to answer Questions in conjunction with each other is to begin by saying, "With permission". That does imply, Sir, that the hon. Member has a right to refuse permission.

Mr. Speaker

I think that I dealt with that. I would point out that on occasions I have known 30 or even 40 Questions put down on the same topic to a Minister. Probably that was a fortuitous occurrence. Someone more suspicious of hon. Members' motives than I am might have thought that there was some concerted action in the matter. I think that if the House reflects, to have a Minister read out 30 or 40 times a prepared Answer while other hon. Members are waiting to discuss topics which are dear to their hearts would not be in the interests of the House as a whole.

Mr. Gaitskell

To clear the matter up finally, Mr. Speaker, would you confirm that the phrase "With permission", is a figure of speech which has no meaning at all?

Mr. Speaker

I think that it has value in that it is a courteous exordium, and courtesy is never out of place in the House.