HC Deb 01 July 1963 vol 680 cc30-3
Mr. Callaghan

May I raise a question of order on Private Notice Questions, Mr. Speaker?

As you may know, Sir, I submitted a Private Notice Question for your consideration at one o'clock last Friday, although under your rules it was not considered by you until midday today. At the same time, another Question was put down by a right hon. Member for Oral Answer next Thursday, when, I may say, it will not be reached.

It is stated on page 362 of Erskine May that A question cannot be asked by private notice in order to anticipate a question of which notice has been given. I did not put down a Private Notice Question in order to anticipate a Question. I put it down at the same time. I do not know which, by a few minutes, was first It seems to be stretching our rules—I do not say that in any denigratory sense—perhaps I should say that it seems to be a very odd feature of our rules that I should be forestalled in getting an answer on a matter which at least I think is of considerable public importance because a Member, at the same time, puts in a Question for Oral Answer which appears on the Order Paper and of which I can have no knowledge.

I have made some effort to try to contact the Member concerned to see whether he would be willing to allow his Question to be withdrawn on the ground that this is a matter of very great public importance. It is, in fact, as you know, Mr. Speaker, a bigger deal than was the I.C.I.-Courtaulds deal. Unfortunately, I cannot find the Member and, therefore, cannot get the Question withdrawn.

On 2nd May, 1944, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was allowed to ask a Private Notice Question, even though the other Question had not been withdrawn, on the ground that there was considerable public interest in it and that it concerned a matter of great public importance. It was in connection with negotiations with Spain. In view of the fact that the weekend rather alters arrangements on a matter like this, I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, would allow me to ask the Private Notice Question which I submitted to you last Friday and which you considered this morning?

Mr. Speaker

With respect to the hon. Member, the system does not work like that. It is not a question of putting down Private Notice Questions. They can be submitted to the Chair, but the Chair never considers a Private Notice Question for Monday before Monday. The process for getting them in begins at ten o'clock. They are not ruled upon until twelve o'clock, so that it is fair to everybody.

I am sure that the hon. Member will understand that it would not be fair to the right hon. Gentleman in question to allow him, by these exceptional arrangements, to anticipate the Question which he has on the Paper. It would take all the sting and value out of it. For that reason, and although I sympathise with the hon. Member, I do not think that it would be right to do as he suggests. I do not think that it would be fair to the right hon. Member concerned.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think, Mr. Speaker, that it would take any sting out of the Question, because it will not be answered orally on Thursday. It will receive a Written Answer. We are not pre-empting on anybody else's rights. This is surely a case of being fair all round. It is not only a question of fairness to the Member who put down the Question for answer next Thursday. It is also a question of fairness to a Member who, rightly or wrongly, may believe that a Question about a deal like this, involving about £500 million of capital, is also of public interest and should receive an Oral Answer.

May I again refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall was allowed to ask such a Question. As there is clearly very great public interest in the Burmah Oil take-over, may I be allowed to ask the Question now by Private Notice so that any subsequent action can follow in the normal way?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that would be fair. The hon. Member is under a slight delusion. The Question of the right hon. Member concerned is for answer tomorrow, not Thursday. That gives us a little more time to think about it. I cannot tell what will happen about the Question tomorrow—whether it will be answered in writing or whether leave will be sought to answer it at the end of Question Time. I cannot tell those things. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, but I must try to be fair all round and I think that priority in fairness is to the right hon. Member whose Question is on the Order Paper for answer tomorrow. I cannot deviate from that without deviating from fairness.

Mr. Wilkins

May I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to a letter which I believe all right hon. and hon. Members have received, which applies—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I suspect that the purpose of the hon. Member's remarks relates to Privilege. May I deal with another matter first? We will come to that in due course. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask you this, Mr. Speaker, on business? Would the Chancellor of the Exchequer be willing to make a statement on this matter tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

We cannot plunge into one matter in the middle of something else.


Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to help us.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

If it would be of assistance to the House, perhaps the best arrangement would be that it the Question which is put down to me for Oral Answer tomorrow is not reached, I undertake, with permission, to answer it at the end of Question Time.

Mr. Callaghan

Thank you.

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