HC Deb 02 April 1963 vol 675 cc249-51
Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) wanted to raise a point of order. I am obliged to her for deferring the matter so that we do not spoil our improving average of Questions.

Mrs. Castle

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I wish to seek your guidance on what redress is open to me on having been prevented from tabling a Question to the Minister of Housing and Local Government today. Last month, I tabled a Question almost identical in terms to Question No. 11 on the Order Paper today. I tabled it on 19th March, but I received a written request from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government that I should withdraw my Question on the understanding that—I now quote from his letter to me— I would let you know as soon as I was ready so that you could put down the Question again. I was waiting for the Minister's intimation that he was ready to make a statement, and I could, accordingly, table a Question, when I discovered, late last right, that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) had been asked by the Minister to table a Question instead.

As you are aware, Sir, the hon. Lady is not sufficiently interested in her own Question to be present here today, or, at any rate, another behind-the-scenes arrangement has been made that she should not be here so that she would receive a Written Answer and I could not ask even a supplementary question.

I have here the correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary giving me a written undertaking as a result of which I did not put down a Question to him, as I otherwise should have done, because I trusted his honour in this matter.

In view of the growing habit of Ministers to indulge in this form of trickery, I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what protection you are able and willing to give to back benchers, equally if they are hon. Members of the Opposition as if they are hon. Members of the Government side, in order to see that they have their full rights?

Mr. Speaker

What the hon. Lady says does not raise any point falling within my control. Her quarrel is really with the Minister. I would not presume to advise her about the Parliamentary but none the less wounding things that she could do. She must obtain suitable advice elsewhere.

Mr. C. Pannell

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It was not a point of order, because it did not raise one. I shall hear the hon. Gentleman if he has another point.

Mr. C. Pannell

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I can understand your Ruling, Sir, that, as between a back bencher—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order".] I am raising a point of order. I can understand your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as between a back bencher or any Member of the House and a Minister, but do you appreciate that this has gone further? This sort of thing has already encroached upon your prerogative. Last year, we had exactly the same debate and we had exactly the same device when the Report of your Advisory Committee on Accommodation was issued. That was by-passed on that occasion by the Minister giving a "stooge" Answer to the Chairman of the Committee. So this really does affect you here, Sir, as well as others.

Mr. Speaker

No point of any sort or kind about that debate now arises. In so far as Ministers do things that they ought not to do with regard to answering Questions, or are alleged to do things that they ought not to do, no matter for the Chair is raised. I should not be discharging my duty if I allowed myself to be involved in it.

Mr. F. Harris

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was it in order for the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) to accuse the Minister of trickery?

Mr. Speaker

It was inherent in her rgument. That is why I did not stop her.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I shall not transgress the rules of the House. AH I want to ask is whether there would be an opportunity for me to make a reply to the hon. Lady? I think that she is really very "steamed up" about nothing.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly not on a point of order addressed to me.