HC Deb 06 May 1969 vol 783 cc283-4
Mr. Speaker

I promised to look into the matter raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) who complained that one of his Questions had been transferred and in the process had been changed from being an Oral Question to being a Written Question.

The facts are that the hon. Member handed in his Question addressed to the Foreign Secretary on 28th April. It was transferred to the Ministry of Technology the following day. Notice was published in the normal way on the morning of Wednesday, 30th April. The Question remained dated for 5th May, since it is the well-known practice of the Table Office never to change the date of a Question, except at the hon. Member's request.

If the hon. Member, on 30th April, had chosen to defer his Question to the day three weeks ahead, 21st May, on which the Minister of Technology is at the top of the list, he would have secured a high place among the Questions for Oral Answer.

As the House knows, a Question which has been fully answered cannot be replaced on the Order Paper since each Minister answers for the Government as a whole. It will, therefore, not be possible, in the light of the Written Answer given yesterday, for an identical Question to be resubmitted to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. John Mendelson

May I briefly submit that the main burden of my complaint does not deal with the portion with which you, Mr. Speaker, have just dealt? The main burden of my complaint is that it was wholly out of order for the Foreign Secretary to transfer this Question to the Ministry of Technology, because the Question that I submitted dealt with the authorisation of the export of military transport aircraft for use in South Vietnam.

I could not develop this point yesterday because I had not received the Written Answer. I have now received the Written Answer from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) and it reads: Any proposal by the firm to export military transport aircraft would be considered by Her Majesty's Government in the light of stated policy and of the circumstances at that time. I cannot comment on recent Press speculation."—OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th May, 1969; Vol. 783. c. 29.] The point that I make—and I believe that it is a serious point of principle—is that it is only the Foreign Secretary who can give authority for the export of military transport aircraft. It can never be given by the Minister of Technology. Therefore, in the light of this reply, it was wholly out of order for the Foreign Secretary to transfer this Question to the Ministry of Technology.

If back benchers are to have no remedy against such procedure, which I submit is wholly out of order, by not being allowed to resubmit the Question to the Foreign Secretary, in future any Minister could transfer a Question to another Department and there would be no remedy. Therefore, I urge upon you, Mr. Speaker, that, quite beyond the importance of the Question, I ought to be allowed to resubmit it to the Foreign Secretary to safeguard the interests of other hon. Members in future.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Yesterday, I ruled quite specifically on the point that the hon. Member has now raised. The matter of transfer from one Minister to another is not a matter for Mr. Speaker or the Table. Hon. Members from time to time find themselves in difficulties because a Question has been so transferred.

If I may try to assist the hon. Member, what he should have done, some time ago now, when he found that his Question had been transferred, was to take the matter up with the Minister concerned.