HC Deb 17 January 1974 vol 867 cc921-2
Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order relates to your statement yesterday concerning the obligation on Ministers to answer Questions due to be answered but, in fact, remaining unanswered before any dissolution of this House. I submit that this is not a hypothetical matter, nor has it ever been hypothetical, since dissolution of this House at some future date cannot be hypothetical.

I appreciate as you mentioned yesterday, Sir, that Departments do their best to clear any backlog of outstanding Questions. The same would be true where notice of intent to dissolve the House were given well before any dissolution. However, where the interval is short and no comparable opportunity exists because the Member concerned ceases to be a Member, there is no immediate opportunity, as in a sessional prorogation, to raise the matter in the House within a few days.

I submit that this is a matter of great significance to the powers and privileges of this House and the accountability of the executive as I understand that at present none of Her Majesty's Ministers has an obligation to make any response to a Written Question at any time. Thus, if at the time of a dissolution at short notice there is an unanswered Question that is highly relevant to the issues of the day, such as is my Question No. 259—not Question 279, as I stated yesterday—tabled for answer on 15th January about calculations on the rundown of coal stocks, there is at the moment no obligation on the Minister concerned to answer it. I submit that there should be an obligation on the executive to be answerable to the House as guardian of the rights and privileges of hon. Members and of the people they represent. I ask you so to rule.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) has put his point very clearly. I am afraid that it is not one on which I can satisfy him. As matters stand at present, I cannot insist on a Minister giving an answer and there is no Standing Order governing the answering of ordinary Written Questions. I cannot direct a Minister to answer. I believe that there is a point involved here, and the Committee on Procedure might consider it.