HC Deb 29 April 1969 vol 782 cc1150-2
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what is the practice of his administration regarding Ministers answering points raised in a debate which cannot be answered during the course of that debate.

Q2. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Prime Minister what is the practice of his administration regarding Ministers taking part in the work of non-Government political organisations.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Exactly the same as that of our predecessors, Sir.

Mr. Marten

In that case, is the Prime Minister aware that questions which are now put specifically to Ministers during the course of a debate for answer after that debate are really being ignored? Is not this debasing the purpose of Parliamentary debate? Will he take action to put it right?

The Prime Minister

I know the hon. Gentleman's expertise and concern about the subject which I think he has in mind—the Anguilla debate. On that assumption, I reread the debate and the answers given. The hon. Gentleman received a full answer to his speech in the March debate and the subject was debated again in April. It is the experience of all right hon. and hon. Members over many years that they are not always uniformly satisfied, particularly if they are in the Opposition, at any one moment with all the answers given by the Government. I thought that the hon. Gentleman received a fair answer.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his predecessor did not have any Ministers who were members of the National Executive of the Labour Party? Will he confirm that Ministers who are members of that body are free to follow and support the policies of the Labour Party as determined by the annual conference?

The Prime Minister

It is a fact, as my hon. Friend has stated—no doubt after diligent research—that no members of the previous Government were also members of the Labour Party's National Executive. But it is also a fact—and it is not unusual in our history—that the Conservative Government included Ministers closely associated with the outside work of the Conservative Party, as, indeed, is the position today.

With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the position is that collective Ministerial responsibility applies in all circumstances no matter what other organisation a Minister may belong to.

Mr. Heath

Is there not a serious point here? The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at the beginning of his reply to the Anguilla debate, said that there were naturally a number of detailed points to which he could not reply off the cuff. That was understandable, and it has long been the practice, particularly in the case of the Foreign Office, that Ministers read through debates afterwards and send factual replies to hon. Members who have asked questions which could not be answered immediately. I know from my own personal experience that the right hon. Gentleman himself takes great care in sending me letters about points I have raised. All he is being asked to do here is to ensure that his right hon. Friends do the same.

The Prime Minister

I will certainly see whether, after the Anguilla debate, there are detailed points which could be dealt with in that way, and, indeed, if they are of more general interest, will also see that they are available to the House as a whole. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern but I remind him that in the Anguilla debate there were several questions about the discussions with Mr. Bradshaw which could not be answered because those discussions must be confidential. No Administration in those circumstances would answer. However, if there are detailed points which do not raise that difficulty I will certainly go into the matter.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

What is the point in answering those questions [Interruption.]—kennel up!—when the "bug wits" in the Government either do not know the answers anyway or, as reported in every newspaper, have the greatest difficulty, like the Prime Minister, in giving the true facts?

The Prime Minister

I shall naturally want to consider all the implications of that question. The hon. Gentleman will realise the difficulty of my colleagues in the Administration, in that their speeches are normally understood by Members of the House of average intelligence.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

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