HC Deb 07 July 1964 vol 698 cc222-5
Mr. Speaker

I have a statement to make to the House.

The hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) lately put to me the suggestion that some warning should be given of Ministerial statements.

I am anxious to help the House as far as I can, and propose to arrange—if that be the wish of the House—that a notice shall be placed in the Members' Lobby when I have received, privately, notice that a Ministerial statement is to be made. It will, however, be impracticable for that to be done if the necessary notice does not reach me until after about 2 p.m. on the day in question.

I have consulted the Leader of the House, who has assured me that the Government would be glad to see effect given to this proposal if the House wishes, so long as it is clearly understood that, for one reason or another, there may be occasions when arrangements for Ministers to make statements are changed at the last moment. In particular, one can imagine that in exceptional circumstances a Minister might wish to give some information to the House at shorter notice.

What is posted up in the Members' Lobby can, therefore, be regarded as informal guidance for the assistance of hon. Members and not as an intimation of "notice" in any formal sense. With this warning I should like to commend the proposal to the House and if it meets with the House's approval I will introduce it forthwith.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. G. Brown

My hon. Friends and I are very grateful for your efforts in this matter, Mr. Speaker, and for the response that the Government have made. I am sure that it will be for the benefit of the whole House. May I ask you one question? There are occasions when Ministers decide to answer Oral Questions out of order. In effect, this is the same as making a statement. Could that also be subject to the same procedure? Could we be told that a Minister will answer, say, Questions Nos. 99, 100 and 101 at the end of Question Time, if they are not reached? That would also help us.

Mr. Speaker

It is my statement, and I suppose that I should answer. I will give consideration to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but the House will appreciate the essential distinction between that which was raised before and this point. If an hon. Member who is interested in the answer to a Question does not take the trouble to turn up—in the expectation that it will not be reached—that is his affair. He has had warning from the Order Paper. On the other hand, he may have no warning about a Ministerial statement. It is a different matter. He merely has to rely on what the Order Paper says.

Sir J. Maitland

I thank you for the consideration that you have given this matter, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make one comment. My great-great-grandfather came to the House at the end of the eighteenth century, and was here for seventeen years. All the researches that I have been able to make have not revealed that he ever said or did anything in this House. I sometimes think that he must have been rather wise. The point is that when my great-great-grandson comes into the House, and he makes researches to see what his great-great-grandfather has done, he will discover that I was responsible for this stupendous innovation, and for that I thank you.

Mr. Bellenger

It used to be the custom for hon. Members who wished to put a Private Notice Question to a Minister to do so by 12 noon. The Commonwealth Secretary is often in the habit of making statements to the House, some of which could reasonably be deferred to a Question from a back bencher or even a Front bencher on either side of the House. Therefore, if you leave it until two o'clock in the afternoon before the Minister informs you that he wants to make a statement it does not give much time for hon. Members to be informed and, if they have an interest, to be in the House when the statement is made.

Mr. Speaker

Everything that the right hon. Gentleman says is quite true, but I am doing as best I can.

Mr. P. Williams

I welcome the announcement you have made, Mr. Speaker, and would like to add one plea. I hope that your statement and this development will not lead to a multiplicity of Private Notice Questions, thereby transgressing on the normal time of the House.

Mr. Speaker

This arrangement has no effect upon Private Notice Questions, one way or the other.

Mr. G. Brown

I am not sure whether I made myself absolutely clear, Mr. Speaker. The transferring of an Answer to the end of Question Time can occur whether or not the hon. Member who has put down the Question is present. A Minister may decide that he wants to make a rather fuller Answer, which then becomes of rather wider interest to the House than the Answer that hon. Members thought he might make to the Question. The Minister will then say, "With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this Question at the end of Questions", whereupon that Question takes on the character of a Ministerial statement. When a Minister desires to do that, will you consider the possibility that that could also be subject to the new procedure that you have suggested?

Mr. Speaker

I have said that I will consider it. I do not know whether I made the distinction plain. Once a Question is on the Order Paper, whether it is answered in its normal position or at the end of Question Time the hon. Member who has put down the Question has a warning of its existence. I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but that is the distinction between the two matters.