HC Deb 06 July 1960 vol 626 cc455-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

59. Mr. WYATT

To ask the Minister of Defence what further information he now has concerning the availability for service of the Blue Steel flying bomb.

Mr. Wyatt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which is quite different from the last one, but also arises out of Question Time.

May I seek your guidance about Question No. 59? On 22nd June, I accused the Minister of Defence of having misled the House of Commons, in a debate on Blue Streak on 27th April, by saying that V-bombers were now being fitted with the Blue Steel flying bomb when, in fact, this bomb was not in production. On 22nd June, the Minister indignantly repudiated what I said.

Mr. Speaker

What is the hon. Member's point of order?

Mr. Wyatt

I am just coming to it. I have to explain the preliminaries, Sir.

After that, the Minister wrote to me and said that he had misled the House and whether I would be kind enough to put down a Question again so that he could straighten the matter out. I then did so and asked the Minister whether he would ask your permission, Mr. Speaker, to answer the Question orally as he had orally repudiated what I said and which he now wished to put right.

I warned the right hon. Gentleman that if he would not ask your permission, if he refused to do so, I should raise this point—[An HON. MEMBER: "What?"] I warned him that if he would not ask Mr. Speaker's permission I should raise this point of order because I think that a matter which had taken place orally in this House, on which the Minister now admits that he was wrong, ought to be cleared up orally and not by way of a Written Answer.

As the Minister of Defence knows, and as Mr. Speaker knows, Oral Questions to the Minister of Defence will not be reached again at Question Time before we rise for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot allow the hon. Member or anybody else, to make speeches on a point of order about points other than points of order. The conduct of everyone involved may be all wrong, or it may be all right, but it is not a point of order.

Mr. Wyatt

Further to that point of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a paint of order"] I submit that this is a real point of order of substance. I was orally repudiated in this House—[Laughter.] I understand hon. Members opposite laughing because they know perfectly well the skill of the Minister of Defence at trying to avoid any mistake he makes—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not require the assistance of the House about this. It is not in accordance with my duty to allow hon. Members to usurp the time of the House to make speeches. I am delighted to bear them on what is strictly a point of order, but this is not a point of order, because I am motivated about the answering of Questions which are not reached by an application from the Minister to answer them. As the House knows, I have not in this instance received such an application, and no point of order arises.

Mr. Gaitskell

We are not desirous of involving you, Mr. Speaker, in a controversy which is not really your concern. But there is a point on which I think that we are entitled to seek your guidance and that concerns the conventions of the House. It is undoubtedly the case that the Minister of Defence has admitted that he gravely misled the House, and that he wishes to put the matter right. It is surely the normal convention, when a statement of this kind is made and then withdrawn privately, and when the Minister says that he wishes to correct the impression he gave, that it should be made orally. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, is this not the case so far as the normal conventions are concerned?

Mr. Speaker

I should not like to deliver a lecture on what may be or what may not be the conventions. I am really concerned with the practice of the House and the rules of order, which is, in any case, my duty. I know absolutely nothing of the circumstances of this matter. I entirely accept that the Minister has expressed a desire to correct something, but I really do not think that by calling it a matter of convention it becomes a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Gaitskell

In that case, may I ask the Leader of the House, in view of the situation which has now developed, whether he will invite the Minister of Defence to make an oral statement on this matter?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I understand that this matter refers to Question No. 59. If that Question remains on the Order Paper the normal precedent would be for it to be answered by a Written Answer. If it is taken off the Order Paper it will not be answered at all. I am putting this to the hon. Member only because if the Question is left on the Order Paper it would normally be answered, but if it is not left on the Order Paper, if the position is open, I undertake to discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Wyatt

If the Leader of the House is saying that the Minister will make an oral statement if I postpone my Question, I shall be very glad to do so.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must decide for himself what he does with his Question.

Mr. Wyatt rose

Lieu.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Sit down.

Mr. Wyatt

I was trying to give the Leader of the House a chance to behave in an honourable way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] If it would help him further I will withdraw my Question and put it down another day—postpone it.

Mr. G. Brown

Further to that point of order. I am sure that the Leader of the House is trying to help us, because he sees—if his hon. Friends do not—the importance of this matter, and that Oral Questions to the Minister of Defence will not be reached again before the House rises at the end of July.

Is the Leader of the House saying that he will discuss with his right hon. Friend the question of coming to the House and asking the leave of Mr. Speaker to make a statement? If he is saying that, he will help us. I am not clear whether my hon. Friend is beyond the time when, technically, he can remove the Question from the Order Paper, but no doubt we can put that right. The point at present is whether the Leader of the House will discuss with his right hon. Friend the question of his coming here and making a statement. Is the Leader of the House saying that he will do that?

Mr. Butler

I was merely taking the normal precautions to preserve the procedure. In the event of there being a Written Answer, it would be a rather different discussion that I should have to have with my right hon. Friend. So that there shall be no misunderstanding I shall certainly discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend, whatever the procedure.

Mr. Wyatt

This is a very important matter. Surely back-bench Members have their rights. I am prepared to withdraw my Question, if I may do so, to give the Minister of Defence a chance to answer it orally.

Mr. Speaker

The question for me is not what the hon. Member is prepared to do, but what he can do. As a matter of order, he can withdraw his Question up to the end of Questions and I declare that, because of what has happened, we are still within Questions.

Mr. Chetwynd

I am sorry to trouble you further, Mr. Speaker, but there is another complication. The Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) may be answered with my Question, which is the one before it and deals with precisely the same point. If my hon. Friend can defer his Question, I should like permission to defer mine.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I think that it is sauce for both constituencies.