HC Deb 23 June 1971 vol 819 cc1427-9
Mr. Buchan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thought that it would be better to wait until the end of Question time before raising this matter. I should like to know whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked permission to answer Questions Nos. 44, 45 and 46 after Question Time. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the moment the largest industrial demonstration in Scotland's history is taking place. He will be aware, also, of the anger among all sections of the community on Clydeside, the trade unions, the churches, and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member has gone far enough. The answer is "No".

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order on Questions. Would it be better to do it now, or later?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would raise the matter now.

Mr. Lewis

Like yourself, Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House long enough to know that one cannot ask the Chair questions about the principle of transferring Questions.

I apologise to you for not having given you prior notice of this, but may I draw your attention to the fact that I put down a Question to the Prime Minister, dealing with a matter for which the Prime Minister is responsible. I asked for action to be taken that could be taken only by him. I asked whether he would arrange for free postage for the electorate to enable them to write to him on the question of the Common Market. There is a lot of interest in this matter, and as the Prime Minister is anxious to get the opinion of the electorate, I thought that that would be a good way of getting their views.

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Member's preamble prohibits me from allowing him to continue further on this matter. The hon. Member began by saying that this was not a matter for the Chair, and it is not.

Mr. Lewis

With respect, Mr. Speaker, you must hear me until I have completed my question because, as you rightly said, what I have said so far is the preamble to my point. I agree that if the Prime Minister is asked a Question it is within his prerogative to transfer that Question to the Minister responsible for dealing with the matter at issue, but I submit that he is not entitled to switch a Question in such a way that the whole purpose of the Question is lost. That is what the Prime Minister has done, and I am now shown as having asked a Question which I have never asked. I am shown as asking the Postmaster-General whether he will receive letters. I do not want the Postmaster-General to receive letters.

The point I wish to raise is that when a Question is transferred the text of the Question may be altered, if necessary, but the Question should still ask for the information which the hon. Member is seeking. The Question should not be altered as in this case, so that it shows me asking the Postmaster-General whether he will make free postage facilities available for the electorate to write to him. The Prime Minister ought not to dodge the Question as he has done in this instance, or in relation to another Question on page 1194 of the Order Paper. The Prime Minister continually dodges and evades Questions by transferring them to Ministers who have no responsibility for the issues raised in the Questions.

Lastly, it is obvious to me that if I were to ask the Prime Minister whether he did or did not say that he would cut prices at a stroke, there would be no point in the right hon. Gentleman's transferring that Question to the Leader of the House, because we know that the Leader of the House never said that—he merely supported the Prime Minister in what he said.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I shall consider what he has said. If I can find any trace of order in it, I shall rule at an appropriate time.

Mr. Onslow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you are considering the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), would you consider, also, whether it might be to the convenience of the House if some way could be found of enabling the hon. Gentleman to put bogus points of order to you in writing?