§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I wish to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, on the matter of a Question. It is an individual matter, but I think it has general applicability.
I refer to the fact that on 10th December, 1971, I raised a series of Questions about what I claim to be neglect on the part of the Department of Trade and Industry in failing to carry out the law in regard to irregularities by certain company directors in fleecing the investing public with reference to their company business. I received an Answer.
I have just received a letter from the Department of Trade and Industry from whch, if I may, I shall read, inter alia, relevant points. It is signed by the Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It says:You will remember that in his Answer to your Written Question on 10th December, 1971, Mr. Ridley informed you that during 1967–68 the Metropolitan Police had made inquiries as to possible exchange control offences. He now finds that this information was erroneous. The Metropolitan Police do not normally make inquiries as to exchange control offences. Such inquiries are made by the Treausry. Indeed, Mr. Ridley has been told by the Treasury that this aspect of the matter was inquired into during 1971. Mr. Ridley has asked me to apologise on his behalf for this error.Of course I accept the apology unreservedly, but is it not the normal custom and practice that if a Minister inadvertently gives a false reply to an hon. Member—and I accept that this can and does happen—it is incumbent upon the Minister to make a statement in the House and apologise to the House—because once a Question is accepted for Answer it becomes the property of the House and the Minister, for the purpose of the record, should make it clear to the House that he has given wrong information? Otherwise, other hon. Members would not know that they have received 1511 false information from the Government, however erroneously it may have been given.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I deprecate what the hon. Member is doing. Under the guise of a point of order he is raising what he has described as the custom and practice of the House. It is not a matter of order. It may be a matter of custom or convention, and with such a matter I would rather it were brought to me privately first so that I might examine what possible action should be taken. No question of order can possibly arise in this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must not challenge my Ruling in that way. The Clerk has proceeded to read the Orders of the Day.
§ Mr. Lewis
On another point or order, then, Mr. Speaker. I must insist that this has happened before. Under previous Speakers I have done exactly the same, and I have been told that the necessary alteration will be made in HANSARD. I have been told that that was the correct course. Therefore, I hope that I shall be able to put HANSARD right.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. What I said was that the hon. Member was raising a matter which he regards as one of custom or convention which I would much prefer to be raised privately first and not under the guise of a point of order. If the hon. Member has another matter which is not a point of order, I can arrange for it to be raised at a suitable time, but I have given my Ruling on this point of order.