§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the Order Paper there are Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I know that he is very keen and eager to answer them. On odd occasions, Mr. Speaker, you have extended Question Time to allow such 1591 Questions to be taken. May I ask you, Sir, whether in future you could rule that time will be allocated by your good self to the answering of these Questions?
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, may I draw your attention to Question No. 60, which is to the Secretary of State for Education and Science but was originally directed at the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, asking him to outline his plans for encouraging oil companies to engage in sponsorship of the arts? The Table Office accepted the Question but the Department subsequently rejected it. I understand from the Table Office that it has a certain amount of difficulty in defining the exact sphere of Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Since the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster often appears to be the next most powerful person in the Cabinet to the Prime Minister, may I ask you, Sir, whether a statement could be given by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster so that the exact and precise area of his responsibility could be defined and so that back benchers like myself, who are custodians of the Labour Party manifesto, could ensure that some degree of scrutiny was enforced on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? Unless that statement is forthcoming, we can go for months with Questions being rejected by the Table Office or, after being accepted by the Table Office, rejected subsequently by the Department of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
§ Mr. Rost
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Knowing your usual eagerness to protect the interests of Members of the House, may I draw attention to the fact that this is not the first occasion on which it has not proved possible to question the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has an important portfolio? Although we are pleased to see him here—he can do less damage while here than in his negotiations with the North Sea oil companies—we should be even more pleased if on occasions he would answer Questions.
§ Mr. Canavan
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support hon. Members in the complaint about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster hardly ever 1592 appearing here to answer Questions. I raised this matter last week with the Prime Minister, who also refused to reply. Would it not be possible, with regard to the energy responsibilities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for him to be given five minutes at least at the end of Questions to the Department of Energy until such time as his responsibilities in this matter are transferred to the Secretary of State for Energy?
§ Mr. Gow rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
First, the transfer of Questions is not a matter for me. It is solely a ministerial responsibility.
Concerning the point whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should answer Questions, although it is not a matter for me—the roster is arranged through the usual channels by those in charge of the business of the House—my own view is that the system should be rearranged so that there was a day on which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would be available to answer Questions. It very seldom happens. That is as far as I can go in helping the hon. Member.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. Far from even approaching any suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy is not here or does not want to answer Questions, in my experience, and within the knowledge of many hon. Members, my right hon. Friend has been here on occasions when the Questions were not reached. He has on occasions answered Questions to many of us willingly and fully.
Purely on the practical point, however, my right hon. Friend occupies the very influential office of economic adviser to the Prime Minister and he also speaks publicly at various functions. Only within the last few days, he has been addressing important associations of 1593 business men and others in pronouncing upon Goverment policy. This being so, there is every reason why a great deal of time should be made available for him so that he may answer Questions in the House of Commons. I hope that this suggestion can be taken on board in a completely neutral fashion, without anything critical of my right hon. Friend remaining. If he could be given permission to add a word to that now, it would help us a great deal.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Harold Lever)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be proper for me indirectly to acquaint the House with the fact that I am just as eager to gratify the weight of the curiosity of the House of Commons as some hon. Members are to have this burden of frustration relieved? I, like you, Mr. Speaker, am a servant of the rules and structure of the House, but I shall ensure that your comments and those of hon. Members are brought to the notice of those who may make decisions in this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This really is becoming an abuse. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, he has only to ask my permission and he will readily be given it.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This kind of difficulty with the roster frequently arises, and you are always in the position of having to say that it is not for you to fix up the roster as this is done through the usual channels. Is not the real solution to the problem that it ought to be your decision? I am sure that most hon. Members would be much more satisfied if it were a matter for your decision. Therefore, can you please have this responsibility taken out of the hands of the usual channels and put into your own?
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have made the point that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should see you about getting on to this so-called roster, or that somebody should make representations on his behalf, but is not the real difficulty that if my right hon. Friend made such a request and the request were to be accepted, he would be answering Questions every day of the week? He is responsible in part for textiles, he is responsible in part for educa- 1594 tion and science questions and for matters affecting the arts. He is also responsible for matters affecting energy and for matters affecting the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Department. That is the real difficulty. He could not present himself to answer Questions on all those matters on all those days.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is very interesting. With regard to the hon. Member's suggestion, if the House were to decide to entrust me with this responsibility I would willingly accept it.