HC Deb 16 November 1970 vol 806 cc867-9
Mr. Concannon

On a point of order. On 23rd July I submitted to the Table two Questions to which I was desirous of getting Oral Answers. I was willing to wait as long as possible, or to the nearest possible date, but I never thought that I should have to wait for 16 weeks and then find my Questions as Nos. 85 and 86 on today's Order Paper. These Questions were shown in the Order Book last week as Questions Nos. 7 and 8, and it came as a complete surprise to me this morning to find them at Nos. 85 and 86.

I know that there have been some changes in Government circles between Ministries, but I should think that the change in the Ministry of Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry would have been in name only. I hope that in future, when there are changes in Departments like this, Members' Questions, which have been in for at least 16 weeks, are taken into far more consideration.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he would raise this point of order. I have utter sympathy for an hon. Member who finds that, through circumstances over which he has no control, his Question appears at such a stage on the Order Paper that it is not likely to be called within the hour—and it would be anticipating a miracle if Questions Nos. 85 and 86 were called within the hour.

For the benefit of the House, the position is that when the hon. Gentleman submitted his Questions on 23rd July, before the recess, the order of Questions then in circulation indicated that the Minister of Technology, to whom they were originally addressed, would be answering first today. As the House will know, that Ministry was abolished during the recess and its responsibilities and Questions transferred elsewhere. These particular Questions were transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry which today, on the current order of Questions, is marshalled below the Foreign Office and the Welsh Office. I should add that the marshalling of Questions takes place in the last 24 hours before the Order Paper is prepared.

Mr. Concannon

Further to that point of order. I understand what you have said, Mr. Speaker, but, so that this does not happen again, will it be possible, since the Order Book is regularly printed, for my Question to be brought more up-to-date? There is hardly any way in which an hon. Member can discover when his Question will be answered, except over the weekend. May I submit this for inclusion in the "Guinness Book of Records", because I should think that 16 weeks must be almost a record for an answer to be given?

Mr. Speaker

There are longer record delays than that in the history of Parliament. It is impossible to marshal the Questions on the Order Paper until it is known what Questions are down for the day. They cannot be marshalled days in advance in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Further to that point of order. It may be some consolation to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) to know that many of us have suffered this fate. I have tabled a score of Questions for Oral Answer which have received written replies. It is as a result of the Government changes. I hope that the Government will ensure that it does not recur.

Mr. Speaker

It is no consolation to an hon. Member to know that someone else also has suffered.

Mr. Dalyell

May I now raise the point of order which you asked me to defer, Mr. Speaker? In dealing with Question No. 41 on the issue of the British Indian Ocean territories and the staging post at Diego Garcia, the Foreign Secretary asked that a Question should be put on the Order Paper. May I ask him, through you, Mr. Speaker, whether he would care to answer Question No. 76, which deals with the issue of the Indian Ocean staging posts?

Mr. Speaker

With respect, I have dealt with that, I thought clearly. If a Minister wishes to answer a Question which is far enough down the Order Paper for it not to be reached, he can intimate to the Chair that he wishes to do so. The Minister has not so intimated. It is proper for the hon. Gentleman to ask the Minister. The responsibility is not mine but the Minister's.

Mr. Michael Foot

Further to that point of order. When a Minister in reply to a Question says, "I would be glad to answer the Question if it was put down", and if that Question happens to be on the Order Paper already, surely the Minister could seize the opportunity which he says he would be eager to seize? It seems to me a slightly different point.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that it is the same point. Whether the Minister seizes the opportunity which the hon. Member advises him to seize is a matter for the Minister, not the Chair.

Mr. Evelyn King

On a point of order. I wish to raise a point of order which arises out of the words following "who" in Question No. 52.

I have always understood that at Question Time it is in order to ask for information; it is not in order to give it, particularly when the information given is, as I submit, false, and, whether or not it be false, certainly tendentious. The information given in the Question is that Mr. Benjamin Ramotse was tortured. I do not believe that statement to be accurate; but that is not my point. My point is that, whether or not it is accurate, the Question seeks to give information which should not have been included in the Question.

Mr. Speaker

The answer is quite simple. An hon. Member is responsible for what he alleges in Questions. It is not for the Chair to investigate what an hon. Gentleman alleges in a Question. The hon. Gentleman disagrees with the hon. Member who tabled the Question. That is not a matter for the Chair but a matter of disagreement between hon. Members.

Mr. King

Further to that point of order. I accept what you say, Mr. Speaker. However, I have always understood that to give information of any character in a Question is out of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I submit that information has been given in Question No. 52.

Mr. Speaker

If I were to rule in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman, it would be a blanket ruling which would take away the value of many Questions. I cannot give such a Ruling