§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
May I raise a point of order of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker? It arises from a Written Answer given on Friday. I ask leave, to make my point, to read the Question and Answer.
I askedthe Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has of the extent to which the rise in house prices in 1972–73 was due, especially in London, to the financing of property speculators (a) by the banks and (b) by building societies.The Minister of State, Treasury replied :The rise in house prices was due to a variety of factors. Building societies are restricted in the proportion of their advances that can be made other than to private householders or prospective householders."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 547–8.]My point of order is this. I know that you are not responsible for the nature of Answers, but just as you properly insist that a Question must be a Question, so, I think, it would be in order for you to insist that an Answer must be an Answer. This was a total non-Answer. The reply may as well have been, "The moon is made of green cheese."
33 I ask you to rule that, while a Minister may refuse to answer if he chooses of may say that the information is not available, he may not utter words in reply to a Question which have no relevance at all to that Question. Thus, if he is asked what estimates he has of a certain thing, he must produce an estimate or refuse to do so or say that he cannot do so—and he may or may not give reasons for his Answer. But I suggest that what he may not do is to reply to a specific Question with a vague generalisation which has little or nothing to do with the Question.
If you were not so to rule, I respectfully submit that the Government could reply, "The moon is made of green cheese", to all Questions and thus reduce Question Time to nothing whatever. I respectfully request you to rule accordingly.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is trying to tempt me on to dangerous ground. If I were to rule when an Answer is an Answer, when a speech is a speech or when a point is a point I should be in serious difficulty. However, I think the hon. Member is perfectly entitled to make his point and I hope that others who have more responsibility than I have for the content of ministerial Answers will note what has been said.