§ Mr. McNamara
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, that is a different point of order; that is a treat in store.
Can you inform me, Mr. Speaker, whether the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food has asked your permission to answer Written Questions No. 99 and No. 101?
§ Mr. McNamara
Further to that point of order. I am sorry to delay the House on this; point, but it is a point which I believe is of fundamental importance to the House and to hon. Members concerned. In the debate on the White Fish (Inshore Vessels) and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) Scheme on 23rd July, 1970, I intervened in a speech that the Minister of Agriculture was making and said this at the end of my intervention:Will the right hon. Gentleman make his statement on the future of the White Fish Authority by the end of this year?The right hon. Gentleman replied:It is likely that by the end of this year I shall make a statement. In fact, I can give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking now that I make a statement before the end of this year about the White Fish Authority and other bodies, as I think it is very important that the authority and the people who work for it, as well as the fishing industry, should not be kept … dangling, if that is the right word, for too long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 892.]On later occasions my hon. Friends and I pressed the Minister on this matter. On 27th October, 1970 he said this:I have already undertaken to make a statement about the White Fish Authority before the end of the year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 14.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect, that is not a point of order. It is a point which can be raised during questions on Business tomorrow.
§ Mr. McNamara
Further to my point of order. There are two Questions down today for Written Answer which seem to be specifically on this point. I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on how hon. Members can be protected. Will you state how you will help to protect hon. Members when Ministers who have given undertakings to make a statement to the House dodge their undertakings on an issue which is of vital importance to us and to our constituents? The Minister knows full well that the only day which is available for him to make a statement about this matter this year will be tomorrow and that tomorrow the majority of hon. Members with fishing interests will be visiting the fish dock installations in Hull. This is a vitally important matter for us.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman came to a point of order, the point of order being that the Minister is making Answers to Written Questions, on which he cannot be questioned, rather than making a statement to the House. I have no power to interfere with a Minister's desire to make a statement either by means of a Written Answer or by means of a Statement to the House.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Further to that point of order. As the future of this Authority is widely regarded to be a matter of great importance, may I, through you, Mr. Speaker, appeal to the Leader of the House to make representations to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expressing the dissatisfaction which is felt on this side of the House at the fact that the Minister has chosen to hide behind a Written Answer in this way?
§ Mr. James Johnson
On a point of order. As I have just walked in and have met this bombshell, may I be allowed to say that, having seen a Written Question on the Order Paper and suspecting as an old Member that the Minister would perhaps make a statement today, I therefore staked my claim by tabling a Question later on the Order 1350 Paper? I would perhaps bear out all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I do not know what my hon. Friend has said, actually, because I have only just come in. Nevertheless, I think that it is a little below the standard which one expects in the House when a Minister, who has publicly told myself and my hon. Friends in the Chamber time and again that he will make a statement on this matter before the end of the year, skulks behind this technique. I think that it is a little shabby.
§ Mr. Speaker
The trusting faith of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) in his colleague the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will be noted by the House with deep emotion. I have already ruled on the point that the hon. Gentleman raised.
§ Mr. Buchan
On a point of order. This is an extremely important matter. It is a question, not only of the White Fish Authority, but of the Government's entire involvement with the whole structure of the fishing industry. For example, on 29th July, 1966, the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said this:The time has come when we should have higher prices for food and no subsidies for either the agricultural or the fishing industries … the nation has been molly-coddled for too long by receiving cheap food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 2127.]If it is in the Minister's mind to abolish the Authority, the whole structure of the industry is involved and he cannot be questioned on his Statement. It is therefore more important even than any announcement he may make about any particular body. It involves the Government's whole policy towards agriculture, fisheries and food. I hope that a statement will be made so that the whole position can be probed.
§ Mr. Hamilton
May I, through you, Mr. Speaker, seek to prevail upon the 1351 Leader of the House to make representations to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? The question has been put before, but it should be understood that many of us, either as consumers of fish—[HON. MEMBERS: "Point of order."]—I am on a point of order. Mr. Speaker will decide whether it is a point of order.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, I appeal to the Leader of the House, in view of the great importance of this question, to undertake to make representations to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is on the record as wanting to abolish the White Fish Authority and increase the price of food to the housewife. It is very important that the Minister should make an oral statement to the House with a view to being questioned. He could easily do that tomorrow without inconveniencing anybody in the House.