HC Deb 20 December 1962 vol 669 cc1446-8
Mr. G. Brown

Before we reach the business of the House, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the matter of a Private Notice Question. Have you any information to give the House about the form in which a Private Notice Question which was submitted to and accepted by you, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) on Thursday, 13th December, was not the same as that which the Prime Minister said that he had received?

Mr. Speaker

I can speak only for myself and my office. The Question which I allowed and which was communicated to the Ministry of Defence, that was the first Department then involved, was the Question asked by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). I do not know whether the First Secretary can help about the rest of this matter.

The First Secretary of State (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have had some consultations about this and I should like to say that the Prime Minister would wish me to say that, although the form of the Question given to the Government was, as my right hon. Friend said, more general than that which was asked by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), this was not due to any act of omission on the part of the right hon. Member nor, of course, of your office, Mr. Speaker. The comment on the Question was made in good faith, but, naturally, the Prime Minister regrets the circumstances which gave rise to it.

Mr. G. Brown

May I press the First Secretary? Those of us who were here will remember that the Prime Minister made a very great show in an attempt at denigration of my right hon. Friend to the point of, first, sitting down and declining to go on with the Question, and, when pressed, said, as reported in column 580 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that day, that he had received notice of a more general Question and proposed to make a more general Answer.

The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to answer a Question which, in fact, my right hon. Friend had not put. If, as I understand it, the breakdown was an administrative one somewhere in the Departments for which the Prime Minister is responsible, is not the House and my right hon. Friend personally entitled to a much mare generous apology than has been made, and an attempt to find how and why this happened?

Mr. Butler

I have already generously acknowledged that absolutely no fault lies at the door of the right hon. Member for Smethwick.

Mr. Lipton

Whose fault was it?

Mr. Butler

I have also acknowledged that no fault is in your office, Mr. Speaker. So far as I can find there was an error of a typographical character in transmitting the Question to the Prime Minister, who received it in a different sense. I should like to express the regret of the Prime Minister that this should have been so and to apologise to the House as it is entirely in our own sphere that a mistake was made.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Naturally, I accept the apology that the right hon. Gentleman has made, although I would have preferred an apology for the way in which the Prime Minister behaved on that occasion. I should like to make that clear.