HC Deb 08 May 1963 vol 677 cc435-8
Mr. Pentland

On a point of order I should like to have your advice, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of concern to hon. Members representing constituencies in the north-east of England.

On Monday of this week, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), on a point of order, drew your attention to Questions which were on the Order Paper of that day in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. W. T. Rodgers). The hon. Member for Hereford asked you: Is it in order that Questions about the North-East should always be put to the Parliamentary Secretary for Science? You replied: I will look at the matter again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1963; Vol. 677, c. 22.] Yesterday, some of my hon. Friends who had put Questions to the Parliamentary Secretary for Science, as representing the Lord President of the Council, about unemployment in their own areas, were informed by the Table that those Questions had been transferred to other Ministers. This places many of us who represent the North-East in a dilemma, because we had always thought that, the North-East having a Minister for North-East affairs and having a special Question Time of our own, the range of our Questions bearing on North-East affairs would be very widespread.

Indeed, we had taken cognisance of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, when explaining in the House of Lords his appointment by the Prime Minister, said this: I liked to regard myself as being appointed the advocate of that region in Government circles. He"— that is, the Prime Minister— also asked me to produce what he called a definite plan. At any rate, I hope to indicate a strategy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 19th February, 1963; Vol. 246, c. 1275.] It was with the purpose of finding out what that definite plan is which he is advocating to Ministers in the Cabinet, and what is the strategy that he is indicating as a solution of the problems of unemployment, that we framed our Questions. Therefore, I should be very grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would explain to the House how we stand on this matter and how far our Questions can range to be acceptable to the Table.

Mr. Speaker

There is a real difficulty here, but it is not really one for me. The Questions which were put down about which the hon. Member raised a point the other day were quite rightly put down on the Order Paper as they were then, but it is within the power of Ministers to transfer Questions where they like. That is not a matter for which the Chair can take responsibility. I think that the hon. Member's quarrel really is with the Ministers concerned. I observe that the Leader of the House is present. No doubt he will have heard what has been said. I cannot, within the field of my duty, accept responsibility for the transfers of Questions.

Mr. Short

Is this not a matter which involves the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, and does it not rather make nonsense: of their responsibility if the only way in which we can question the Minister responsible for North-East affairs is to find a minute chink between the responsibilities of one Minister and another? Is there not a case, if there is to be a Minister for the North-East, for allowing us to put Questions over the whole range of North-East affairs?

Mr. Speaker

That is what we do at present, so far as the Chair is concerned, but what the hon. Member has said will no doubt have been noted.

Mr. Jay

Part of the difficulty here is, is it not, that we are not altogether clear whether the noble Lord's jurisdiction over North-East affairs has come to an end, or whether it has not? We have the Leader of the House with us at the moment. If he knows whether the noble Lord still has authority in the North-East perhaps he would say so. If he does not know, perhaps the Government could make up their mind.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod) rose

Mr. P. Williams

It is not one of the difficulties that the noble Lord is doing a jolly good job?

Mr. Speaker

It is better to permit one question to be answered before imposing another one.

Mr. Iain Macleod

If I may help the House on this point of order, there is, of course, no change in the functions. I appreciate the difficulty, but the House will see the difficulty in fragmenting the Order Paper on a regional basis, because there would be claims from the North-West and many other parts. This is an obvious difficulty, but we discuss these matters regularly through the usual channels, and if any changes are appropriate they are made at one of what we may call our natural breaks,, of which the next one will be Whitsun. If the hon. Member will allow me, I will take up through the usual channels the point that he has made to see whether there is any way—I see great difficulties to any possible solution—in which we can help.