§ Mr. Kaufman
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a matter which I submit affects the rights of Members in this House, and of which I have given notice in advance both to the Lord President of the Council and to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) who are both affected by this matter.
In the debate yesterday on the first Motion relating to the Summer Adjournment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said:I presume, and one imagines that the Leader of the House will give an assurance at once, that there will not be any statement of Government policy affecting the steel industry generally whilst the House is in recess. I imagine that the Government will make it quite clear that such a statement would have to be made in the House of Commons itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1562.]This was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) when he intervened in the reply of the Lord President to ask: 1740Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to respond to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that the major statement which is expected should not be made during the Summer Recess but should be made in Parliament when Parliament is in session?The Leader of the House responded immediately by saying:I noted that request, and the House can assume that any major policy statements for which the Government have responsibility will be made to the House. … Any major statement"—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) will help me. Nothing that he has said so far is a matter of order for the Chair.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am arriving at it almost immediately. However, I felt it necessary, in fairness to everyone, to relate what took place yesterday. Perhaps I might complete my quotation. The Leader of the House said:Any major statement of policy by the present Government will certainly be made to the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1563–4.]We took that as an assurance. However, on today's Order Paper we see Question No. 159 for Written Answer which reads:To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has determined a financial objective for the British Steel Corporation; and whether he will now complete the capital reconstruction of the Corporation provided for in the Iron and Steel Act, 1972.That clearly is a planted Question, put down to obtain a major statement of policy from the Government. I do not in any way accuse the Lord President of having said what he said yesterday in bad faith. I believe that he was completely unaware of this Question—
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Sit down. My hon. Friend for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is raising a point of order.
§ Mr. Kaufman
As I was saying, I believe that the Leader of the House was completely unaware that this Question, which was put down yesterday, would go on the Order Paper. Nevertheless, the House has been placed in a difficult position in that, despite the assurance of the Lord President about a major aspect of steel policy, there is a Question on the 1741 Order Paper for Written Answer, the answer to which hon. Members will not see until the House is in recess. What is more, my right hon. and hon. Friends who speak for the Opposition on these matters have not been given notice of the Written Answer so that, whatever transpires today, no one on the Opposition Front Bench will be able to deal with the matter adequately.
I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is a matter in which the House has been gravely affronted and that recompense should be made to the House so that the pledge given by the Leader of the House may be fulfilled.
§ Mr. Rost
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek a direction from you that the phrase "planted question" be withdrawn? As you will know, over the time that I have been in this House I have put down numerous questions relating to the steel industry. I have a constituency interest in it. I object to the suggestion that I am able to put down Questions on these pressing matters only if they are planted.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As to whether the word "planted" is a reflection on the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), I am not sure. Certainly during my 27 years as a Member of this House very many Questions have been planted by both sides. I do not think that there is any objectionable inference in the word "planted".
As for the point raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), whatever other comments may be appropriate on the matter, it is nothing whatever to do with the Chair.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not it proper to raise from this side of the House, in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said, the question whether an effort has been made by the Government to seek an opportunity to make a statement on this matter? I submit to you that it is one of the gravest importance to the House. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick in that 1742 I am certain that the Leader of the House had no knowledge when he addressed the House yesterday that a statement of this kind was to be made today in a Written Answer or by any other means. Either the reply to the Question raises important matters, which is presumably the reason why the Question was put down originally, or it contains no fresh matter, in which case it is more than likely that the Question would not have been put down.
I suggest that the Question deals with precisely the matter that was put to the Leader of the House yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to say that a Government statement would be made in this House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not have said that had he thought that a Written Reply to a Question covering a matter of such wide-ranging importance as this were to be made the following day.
I ask you as a point of order, Mr. Speaker, whether, in the circumstances, you have received from the Government a request that a statement should be made today, even though that in itself would be an inadequate way of dealing with a matter which should have been dealt with many days ago so that hon. Members representing steel constituencies had a proper opportunity to raise matters affecting their constituencies. It is a matter of supreme importance which is causing great anxiety throughout all the steel constituencies. This is shameful behaviour from the Government, and it is even more shameful if they do not follow it with a statement here and now.
§ Mr. R. Carr
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder if I might be allowed to comment. Last Thursday, in reply to a question on the business statement I said:My right hon. Friend is committed as soon as possible—but I do not think that it will be before the rising of the House for the summer—to making a statement about the long-term strategy of the British Steel Corporation's investment plans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 970]Rightly or wrongly, when I was being pressed about this yesterday I had in 1743 mind this major strategic statement. The words that I used yesterday were:…the House can assume that any major policy statements for which the Government have responsibility will be made to the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1564.]I want it to be quite clear that I was in my heart thinking about what I had said last week. I knew that there was a Question down for Written Answers today. I had noticed it. That is about the financial targets of the capital reconstruction of the steel industry. These are totally different matters and much less important. This is not the major capital investment strategy which, rightly or wrongly, I had in mind. What I had in mind was my answer the previous week. I think that financial targets have been set for the nationalised industries by this Government and by previous Governments on a number of occasions without making statements in the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is highly irregular. I have ruled that this is not a matter of order. It is a matter for discussion, debate and comment. In the interests of Private Members with business later, I cannot allow it to continue.
§ Mr. Mendelson
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some time ago several hon. Members representing steel constituencies were referring to the kind of statement to which the Lord President has now referred and they were told, quite apart from the exchanges which took place yesterday—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) is now discussing what hon. Members representing steel constituencies were told—
§ Mr. Mendelson
I had had only two sentences in which to try to make my 1744 point of order. I think that I am entitled to make my submission as best I can. My hon. Friends representing steel constituencies made the request some time ago. They were told that these statements on the financial targets and on the Government's responsibility for the future of the steel industry would be made in Parliament. Therefore my point does not rest on the statement of the Lord President and the exchanges which took place yesterday. It rests on the abuse of the power of the executive to—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Chair has no responsibility for the statements or actions of the Government.