HC Deb 12 February 1968 vol 758 cc949-51
Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, it will be within your recollection that, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), the Minister of Technology admitted that he had, inadvertently of course, misled the House about a future Question on which he would be giving the number of Beagle aircraft for which firm orders had been placed.

May I ask whether, as one would expect, the right hon. Gentleman has asked your permission to make this up to the House by making a statement now?

Sir A. V. Harvey

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker, it will be within your recollection that the Minister said that the Question had been withdrawn. My colleagues and I have done some research, and I cannot find evidence of the Question having been withdrawn. I think that it would be satisfactory to us all if the right hon. Gentleman were to clear up this matter, because it is of some importance. Back benchers should not be fobbed off with this kind of treatment.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order. I can find no record whatsoever of any Question being withdrawn since the beginning of this month. I can find no record of a Written Question, so I do not believe that it could have been unstarred. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman owes it to us, having given my hon. Friend the answer that he would reply to the Question at a later stage, to give us the information which he has refused to give. This is typical of all his answers on this important question of Beagle aircraft.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

When I answered the supplementary question, I had clearly in mind the idea that a Question was down on the Order Paper on this subject. If I am wrong about this, if my memory let me down, I apologise unreservedly to the House.

Having said that, I think that it would not be right to seek to answer a Question of this kind without it being down on the Order Paper. The reason for this will be evident when I answer the Question. We are here talking about a particular firm and its commercial prospects. I would not wish to rely on a recollection in answering a Question as important as this. I repeat that I apologise if, accidentally, I was under the impression that such a Question had been tabled, and it has not.

Mr. Burden

Further to that point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No point of order really arises. Hon. Members have conveyed their opinions about what they regard as the Minister's failure to answer.

Sir A. V. Harvey

As the Minister has apologised for having unintentionally misled the House, may I say that I accept the apology very willingly, but will follow the matter up at a later date.

Mr. Peyton

On a different point of order. Mr. Speaker, I would like, with respect, to ask what advice you can give the House and Ministers about the action they should take in these cases. Though the Minister has apologised, and everyone accepts that, he stated quite clearly that he was going to answer this Question. He must have had the impression that somewhere in his voluminous notes there was the Answer. Accepting the Minister's reply, and accepting his good faith, he must, nevertheless, be in a position to answer the Question.

Mr. Speaker

I can only go back to the point of order itself. Mr. Speaker has no power to make a Minister answer in any way which is pleasing to hon. Members. Indeed, on the simple point of order, a Minister is not compelled to replay. He has taken notice of the recriminations which have been made against him. He has, however, apologised.

Mr. Ridley

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the answer to Questions Nos 16 and 17, I give notice that I shall raise them on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is too late.