HC Deb 16 December 1970 vol 808 cc1377-8
Mr. John Fraser

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you would give the House a general guidance on the difficulty facing hon. Members who wish to table Questions to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about price increases. I am raising, not a particular question, but a general principle which is causing difficulty to hon. Members.

It appears that Questions may no longer be addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the ground that "the Minister has disclaimed responsibility for restraining price increases". I understand that the Minister has so disclaimed responsibility, and that to some extent ignorance is bliss is a good defence. I am suggesting that the principle that indolence is also bliss cannot be maintained, because the Minister has statutory responsibilities for the matter.

For instance, under the Prices and Incomes Act, Part I of which is still in force, there is power for the Minister to refer price increases to the Prices and Incomes Board. Under various Agriculture Acts the Minister has statutory powers to determine prices. Where there are monopolies affecting prices, the Minister has power to refer them to the Monopolies Commission. During this week, when there was a state of emergency, the Minister had a statutory power which he could have used to restrain the price of candles or eggs.

Although the Minister disclaims responsibility, hon. Members nevertheless have a right to press him with Questions, even if they receive negative replies, about the exercise of the responsibilities which have been given to him by the House. If hon. Members cannot question the Minister, I submit that this is a grave abuse by a Minister of the Crown of his responsibility to answer to Parliament for things for which he is responsible by Statute.

Mr. Speaker

I thought that I had informed the hon. Member of what the position was about points of order in a letter that I sent him this morning. I have ruled on several occasions that it does not accord with the practice of the House for the refusal of a Question, or a group of Questions, by the Table Office to be raised as a point of order. If an hon. Member is dissatisfied with a decision by the Table Office, he can always have recourse to Mr. Speaker—which the hon. Member did not do in this case—and if Mr. Speaker's decision is then found unsatisfactory there are conventional parliamentary ways in which the matter can be raised by a Motion on the Order Paper.