HC Deb 28 January 1969 vol 776 cc1115-7
Mr. Iain Macleod

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise a point of order on which perhaps the Leader of the House can help us? I have in my hand, and there is available in the Vote Office, the Government White Paper, "Proposals for earnings related social security". Clearly, this is a document of the highest importance in which all hon. Members are interested.

My point of order is that it has been given to the Press, and, quite properly, will be discussed by hon. Members tonight on all channels of television and radio. However, as the White Paper says, it is presented to Parliament. In my view, therefore, there should have been at least a statement by the Secretary of State presenting it to Parliament. In this way, Parliament should be recognised as the first forum to discuss it, and not the last forum after everyone else has had a chance to discuss it.

I would be grateful to know whether the Secretary of State has asked permission to make a statement on this matter, and whether the Leader of the House will take into consideration the point that I have made to him today.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have had no such request from the Secretary of State. The matter itself is one for the Leader of the House. Perhaps he can say something about it.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I will note the point which has been made, although I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that White Papers have been issued previously without a statement first being made to the House. However, I understand his feeling. I believe that the White Paper should be debated as quickly as possible, but that is a matter entirely for the Minister concerned.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Further to that point of order. I understand that the Minister for Social Services is himself appearing on television tonight to comment on the White Paper. I feel that he ought to have appeared at the Dispatch Box before going on television. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the right hon. Gentleman is appearing on television tonight?

Mr. Manuel

Further to that point of order. Many White Papers have been presented by the Opposition as well as by the Government on various legislative matters that were to come before the House without them having been introduced at the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, would my right hon. Friend make certain that we have ample opportunity to debate the White Paper before legislation is drafted?

Mr. Peart

It may help the House if I comment further on this point. I have no authority to intervene when a Minister or any other hon. Member decides to appear on television or radio. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there is no rigid rule here. I agree that it is sometimes for the convenience of the House that a Minister should appear before the House, but it is for the Minister to decide.

Mr. Heath

Further to the point of order. The Leader of the House has a duty to the House. He knows full well that if the Secretary of State goes on television and radio tonight he will be asked questions. Should not this House have had the first opportunity, on what is a major White Paper, to question the right hon. Gentleman? There are, of course, White Papers presented without statements first being made in the House, but this is a major White Paper on an issue of major policy and the Minister has not given hon. Members an opportunity to question him first.

Is not this lowering the position of Parliament? Should not the Secretary of State have appeared here to make a statement and give the House an opportunity to ask him questions before appearing on television and radio?

Mr. Peart

Like the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), the Leader of the Opposition has raised a point of order and I have said that I will convey it to my right hon. Friend, who has not made a statement today. There will be a full debate on the White Paper. I remind the House that it deals with a very highly technical subject. Hon. Members might care to examine the White Paper. I shall certainly convey the views of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Paget

Has not a misunderstanding occurred? It is the Minister's duty to inform the House, and he has done this. On this occasion he has done it through a White Paper, which he expects us to read. He informs the public, whom he does not expect to read a White Paper, through the medium of television. In the case of a complicated White Paper such as this, he leaves hon. Members an opportunity to read it so that they do not put a lot of questions to him before having read it. We could not have read it before Question Time and, therefore, had we asked a lot of questions about the matter now we would have made a nonsense of the whole thing.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that hon. Members will not attempt to debate a point of order.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is the Leader of the House aware that in the case of a White Paper such as this it is the desire of hon. Members that the Minister should amplify it before the House? As it is too late for the Secretary of State to do that—[HON. MEMBERS: Why?]—unless special arrangements can be made for him to be here quickly, surely the Minister should invite one of my right hon. Friends to appear on television with him tonight and share the programme?

Mr. John Hynd

Am I wrong in recollecting that the Minister announced to the House yesterday or one day last week that the White Paper would be available today and that he therefore made a statement? Did not hon Gentlemen Opposite suggest then that we should have a debate?

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.