HC Deb 28 July 1976 vol 916 cc653-5
Mr. Litterick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter which is not unrelated to the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). 'Whilst I understand that you are in no way responsible for the content of ministerial answers, I am sure that you noticed that the Minister of State explicitly refused to answer my question about industrial espionage being conducted by the agency of a foreign Power. How are my rights as an hon. Member to represent the interests of my constituents to be protected from the self-assumed powers of the Executive to define, arbitrarily, what is sensitive and what is not sensitive, and therefore to define what we shall discuss and what we shall not discuss on behalf of our constituents? That seems to be a severe and unjustifiable constraint on our responsibilities to our constituents. The matter is one of central importance to my constituents and, I submit, to the whole of the British people and I would, therefore, appreciate your advice.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of State said that it was not the practice to answer or to go into any detail about the serious allegations which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) made which were to the effect that a foreign Power, through an agreement under our communications system, was spreading commercial information which was secret and particular to this country. Although I was on my feet when the matter was raised you called only the hon. Member who put down the Question. I know that you are in no way influenced by the Minister, but will you make it clear that merely because a Minister says that it is not the practice to discuss a matter concerning a Government cover-up or Executive decision does not inhibit you from calling on whom you like to ask questions of the Executive when you choose because, surely, we must have open information and debate?

Mr. Speaker

I shall first reply to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick), who said that he was dissatisfied with a reply to a Question. I shall look at his request to see whether there is any way in which I can help him. But I served under five Speakers in the House and none of them was able to find a way and I doubt whether I can. I shall have to see what I can do.

I turn now to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). Of course, when a Question is tabled my freedom to call hon. Members to ask supplementary questions is unfettered. I try to hold a balance but it is not easy. Hon. Members may become dissatisfied because they are not called. Turning to the Question to which the hon. Member referred, the House, with my permission, had spent a long time on two previous Questions and I moved on quickly because I thought that it was not of such wide interest as apparently it was. It is always a matter of delicate judgment, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that matter to my notice.

Mr. Jim Spicer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary has left the Chamber, but I wish to draw your attention to the fact that in answering Question No. 1 the right hon. Gentleman made a major statement about breaking off diplomatic relations with Uganda. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and also the Leader of the House, to ensure that in future an important matter of that kind should he dealt with by means of a statement rather than in reply to a parliamentary Question?

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House will have heard that comment.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to go a little further than you did in your reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)? When a Minister says that a matter is out of order or that it is not in the public interest for him to reply, or whatever it may be, my hon. Friend seeks an assurance that it is up to you to decide whether you will allow supplementary questions. Is it not the case that the fact that a matter is being dealt with by a Minister, whoever he may be, from the Prime Minister downwards, does not preclude you from allowing any Member to ask a supplementary question? Is it not for you to decide?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman gave me good advice last week when he said that I should not rush to answer a question off the cuff. I would point out that so long as matters are in order, and if the question asked is a proper one, the discretion is with the Chair. I can say no more on that matter.