HC Deb 12 April 1960 vol 621 cc1081-2
40. Mr. Grey

asked the Prime Minister if he will instruct all Departments that when in future they give to the Press, with or without an accompanying statement, the Answers to Questions down for written reply, they should also make them available to all hon. Members by putting copies in the Vote Office so that they can be obtained on request.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I should be reluctant to change the existing arrangements which have, I believe, worked satisfactorily for a number of years.

Mr. Grey

May I ask the Prime Minister if he is aware how undesirable it is that outside bodies can have information before Members of Parliament? Is he aware that a recent Question was put down by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), in which a number of other hon. Members were interested, but there was no method of getting to know what the Answer was until next morning by reading it either in the Press or in HANSARD? Does not he agree that this is not a good thing?

The Prime Minister

This practice has gone on ever since I have been a Member of the House of Commons, and I have never heard it questioned before. If there is any feeling about it, no doubt it can be taken up through the usual channels. The only object is to meet the convenience of Members as far as possible.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is not the complaint of my hon. Friend not so much that it is the practice to inform the hon. Member who put the Question down, but of prior information being given to the Press so that it appears there before it appears in HANSARD? Will the Prime Minister look into that point?

The Prime Minister

It is that practice which has always gone on and I had never heard it challenged before. The Answer is supplied to HANSARD at the same time as it is supplied to the Press. If there is any feeling, it is entirely a matter for the House to decide.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in this particular instance this is not a repetition of a long-established practice at all, but this is the first time it has happened? It happened in the case of the Local Employment Act, when a great many people were interested in knowing what areas were in the list and what were added from time to time, and this procedure effectively prevents Members of Parliament from knowing what was going on.

The Prime Minister

It prevents them from knowing what is going on until the next morning.

Mr. Silverman

It is too late then.

The Prime Minister

As this Question was stated in general terms, I had no knowledge of what was the particular point raised. If a Question had been put down on any particular point I would have been glad to look into it.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware that I have some sympathy with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, because it would have been helpful if the information had been in the Vote Office? Therefore, if he could look into the matter, I am quite certain that it would be helpful to do so to both sides of the House.

The Prime Minister

Of course, I will look into it. Perhaps, it would be easier to discuss it, because there are other consequential things which may follow; for instance, Questions not raised or not reached which are normally printed, and so forth. We shall have to look into quite a considerable reorganisation of the present system, and I think I could not do that without some inquiry.