HC Deb 07 April 1982 vol 21 cc952-3
Mr. Speaker

Whilst in the Chair at Question Time I received notice of two points of order.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I shall be brief, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance, and perhaps that of the House, on the rulings relating to open questions. We all appreciate and understand your wish to bring some order to our proceedings and perhaps to try to avoid the unruly way in which questions sometimes jump from subject to subject during Prime Minister's Question Time.

I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to question No. 2 which fell foul of your ruling. I was advised by your office that I might not be called for a supplementary question as question No. 2 had been designated as an open question. There is in this situation a particular problem about the relationship between Ministers and the heads of nationalised industries. We are often ruled out of order by the Table Office if we table detailed questions on the activities of nationalised industries, because they are considered to involve managerial policy.

Will you consider, Mr. Speaker, whether the relationship between a Secretary of State and the head of a nationalised industry could be excluded from your general ruling about open questions?

Mr. Speaker

I must advise the hon. Gentleman that if a question is out of order at an early stage it is also out of order at a later stage. I am determined to do my utmost to avoid open questions when the House cannot possibly have any idea of the supplementary questions that are likely to be asked.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wish to raise a point of order about the newly elevated Minister at the Foreign Office, who misled the House on 3 February 1982. During questions on the Common Market I asked a question about the $100 million of arms being sent to El Salvador. I called on the Foreign Office to condemn that. The right hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) replied: The hon. Gentleman has not studied the statement on El Salvador put out by the Foreign Ministers of the Ten last year. If he had, he would not draw such violent conclusions about our policy."—[Official Report, 3 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 299.] I have now received a letter signed by the Minister in which he admits that he unintentionally misled me. However, he misled the House. He replied not only to me, but to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the whole House. He said that he now realised that the text was not in fact published as a declaration by the Ten, as I had earlier understood. I remembered the text, but not the fact that in the end it was not used". Whether the Minister involved comes from the Foreign Office—with all the calamities that have recently ensued—or from any other Department, or whether he is a Minister at the Foreign Office who has just been upgraded when the rest of the Ministers have been sacked, he has a duty to tell you, Mr. Speaker, and the House from that Dispatch Box that he has made a mistake and has misled the House. I call on the Minister to apologise to the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has made his point of order.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for having given me notice of his point of order. As he said, he asked a supplementary question on 3 February, and in reply I referred to a statement by the Ten on El Salvador as a statement that had been made. As he correctly states, the statement was prepared but not made. As soon as I had discovered the error I wrote on my own initiative to the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Skinner

Two months later.

Mr. Hurd

With permission, I shall place a copy of my letter in the Library.