HC Deb 12 July 1961 vol 644 cc396-400
Mr. Wigg

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order arising from the reply given by the Minister of Defence yesterday to Question No. 96.

The right hon. Gentleman prefaced his reply by saying that he was answering with your permission. I take it that that was a courtesy and that your permission in such circumstances is always given. Later in his reply the Minister said: With permission, I will circulate further details in the OFFICIAL REPORT".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 211.] At that point, the right hon. Gentleman was, I presume, seeking the permission of the House.

When one refers to HANSARD this morning, one finds that there are three columns, not only concerned with details but containing a modification of a reply given by the Prime Minister on the 3rd of this month.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, is it not a grave abuse of the rights and privileges of the House that a Minister should modify a statement in this way, particularly at a time when both Front Benches are agreed on the commitment of troops to Kuwait and the conduct of the operation, and the only recourse left to individual Members who may wish to question the Government is to put Questions on the Order Paper? Any hon. Member who does that then finds that his Questions are dealt with in this way, at a time when both the Government and the Opposition are agreed that no debate should take place.

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman's grievance, if any, must be with the Minister, as it were, not with the Chair. The Minister does not in those circumstances, I think, ask my permission in any form in which I can refuse it. The words are not, "With your permission, Mr. Speaker", but "with permission, Mr. Speaker".

As in the case of a Minister answering in one Answer more than one Question, he begins with the words "With permission". I think that that is a courtesy and it does not represent a position in which the Chair or the House can refuse him permission.

I think that the same applies to the unusual position here, where, having given part of his Answer orally, the Minister says, "With permission, I will circulate further details in the OFFICIAL REPORT". That is really an operation which Ministers undertake, I suppose, to save the time of the House. Indeed, it would have been intolerable if all that long matter which went into the OFFICIAL REPORT had been put into our immediate post-Question Time yesterday.

The Chair could not undertake responsibility for censoring that kind of operation in any way because, of course, I do not in the least know what is in the statement which the Minister proposes to put in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have no chance of looking at it. I regret that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. From the point of view of the Chair, I think that that rightly states the position.

Mr. Shinwell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Minister injects into part of the statement he makes arising out of a Question put by an hon. Member, as was the case in this instance, a modification of Government policy which is not open to questions because it is inserted in the OFFICIAL REPORT as an addition to his oral reply to the Question, what redress is there for hon. Members who wish to put questions to the Minister of Defence on that part of the statement which is added to his oral reply?

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will find some way, in order, in which to reproach the Minister. I should like to think about the best way, if he has difficulty about it. But I do not think that the merits of the matter can conceivably be for the Chair in these circumstances.

Mr. Hale

Further to that point of order. Has it not always been the rule, Mr. Speaker, that one may not anticipate in this way Questions which are on the Order Paper? We have a large number of Questions already on the Order Paper for today about Kuwait, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) had Questions for Written Answer on the Order Paper for that day which were avoided by this device. With respect, we now find that there has been inserted in HANSARD a statement, nearly 2,000 words long, which gives a completely different version—a highly remarkable version—of the origin of the Kuwait expedition.

Today, when the Minister has purported by this means to talk about the disposal of troops in Kuwait, we are referred to his statement of yesterday for some information, and he refuses information about whether there are antitank guns there although we know that there are tanks in Iraq because the present Government supplied them—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Member can make a speech about all these things in putting a point of order. Perhaps I can deal with his point about anticipation, as I understand it.

It seems to me that the difficulty about that is that the Minister was, in answering orally and putting the statement into the OFFICIAL REPORT, answering a Question which was then, in fact, on the Order Paper. No rule of anticipation can prohibit him from doing that. That is the problem.

Mr. Wigg

With respect, Mr. Speaker, may I put it to you that, earlier last week, I put a Question on the Order Paper dealing with the details of troop movements? The right hon. Gentleman declined to answer it on the ground of public interest. I put three Questions down on Friday, and he said that he would make a statement during the week. He did not have the courtesy to tell me when the reply would be made. Then, we find that a Question is arranged between the two Front Benches for yesterday—

Mr. Bowden indicated dissent.

Mr. Wigg

Whatever the Opposition Chief Whip may say, it had been prearranged to put that Question on the Order Paper, and it was answered in such a way as to preclude certain fundamental questions being put to the Minister.

Mr. G. Brown

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—if it be a point of order. The allegation is made that this was a prearranged Question. Since it was my Question, may I have your protection? There was no prearrangement. I put a Question on the Order Paper. I had no way of knowing what my hon. Friend was doing. It happened that the Minister chose to answer my Question. May I submit to you my own point of order? Should not my hon. Friend now withdraw his allegation? Am I not entitled to some protection from the Chair in this matter?

Mr. Speaker

We are getting a very long way from anything which could conceivably be a point of order for the Chair. I am not sure that I heard the entirety of what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said because there was a certain amount of noise, but if he asserts that, by reason of the procedure adopted, his Questions for Written Answer which appeared yesterday were not, in fact, answered, or were not answered sufficiently, he is in no sense deprived of a remedy because, if a Question is not answered, he can put it down again for answer so far as it was not answered.

Mr. Wigg

When I approach the Table to put down further Questions, I find that I am now precluded from so doing because my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has given notice that he will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

I should be distressed to think that that had the effect that the hon. Member for Dudley thinks it has. My recollection of the notice was that it related to the weekly cost of what was called "this adventure". I do not think that the weekly cost was exactly the matter which the hon. Member for Dudley was pursuing.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Further to that point of order. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the notice of my Adjournment—when I get it—was confined to the question of cost, on which we have not yet had any information.

Mr. Speaker

It would appear that the hon. Gentleman and myself are in close agreement.

Mr. Wigg

I do not wish to pursue this any more, Sir, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has said that he would like to be protected, may I say that I went out of my way to verify the facts in consultation with the Opposition Chief Whip.

Mr. Speaker

All this is a long way from anything which could be a matter of order for the Chair.