HC Deb 07 July 1964 vol 698 cc214-5
Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask your guidance on a matter which I believe to be of considerable importance to the House. It will not have escaped your attention that there are today only three Questions on the Order Paper which are addressed to the Prime Minister. This is not because hon. Members are not anxious to put questions to the right hon. Gentleman, but because of his increasing practice of transferring Questions to other Ministers and not accepting responsibility for them himself.

According to Erskine May, Chapter 17, page 356, Questions should be addressed to the Minister primarily responsible. As the Prime Minister is taking primary responsibility for many aspects of policy, should not he be prepared to answer Questions on these subjects?

I refer your attention, Mr. Speaker, to Question No. 85 on the Order Paper, which was accepted by the Table as addressed to the Prime Minister. It was subsequently transferred to the Secretary of State for Defence. As the Prime Minister is accepting responsibility for the supply of arms to Spain, and is making electioneering speeches in the country about it, should not he be prepared to answer Questions in the House on the subject?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stone-house) must know that I cannot and do not accept responsibility for transfer of Questions. The Chair could not do it for a variety of reasons, and does not.

Mr. H. Wilson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While all of us recognise that Ministers do transfer Questions from one to another, and that you have no responsibility for it, could you tell us, for our guidance, whether the Prime Minister, for example, on realising that there is a widespread desire that he should answer a Question, could at least ask your permission to answer it?

Since, on this subject, the Prime Minister has shown such bravery about the supply of arms to Spain at a private dinner in the St. Stephen's Club, could he not show similar bravery in the House?

Mr. Speaker

It is no good trying to involve the Chair in these interesting matters.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that the House is gratified that the Government are not attempting the "one man band" technique which seems to be very popular in other quarters? Surely the procedure of the House is best served by Ministers who are responsible departmentally for accepting Questions going to the Box and accepting responsibility for the Answers.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman's observations are interesting, but not even instrumentally can the Chair be involved in this matter.

Mr. Shinwell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a growing practice of the Prime Minister of the day to transfer Questions to other Ministers when he is responsible for general Government policy. Although, in the past, Prime Ministers, when Questions were addressed to them, frequently transferred Questions, the practice is now much harsher than ever before. Since you have said, quite rightly, that you have no responsibility for this, would you allow me now to move a Motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker

No. Not now.