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Questions To Ministers

Volume 390: debated on Thursday 8 July 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

May I raise a point of Order and ask your guidance, Sir, upon a matter which in my submission directly affects the interests of Private Members of this House and the public? I refer to the increasing tendency on the part of some Ministers to refuse to reply to Questions put down on the Order Paper and passed by the Chair. May I make my point by reference to what happened yesterday? Question No. 43 in my name was as follows:

"To ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works precisely what items caused the rise of 25 per cent. in building costs, which occurred between r8th March, 1943, and 2nd June, 1943?"
That Question is one which directly affects the interests of every household in the country.

I do not think the hon. and gallant Member ought to make a speech. He should confine himself to stating why he was not satisfied with the answer.

I apologise, Sir. The Minister gave me a direct refusal to reply. Will it be in Order if I quote to the House the alleged reply given to my direct Question?

It will be sufficient if the hon. and gallant Member says why he was dissatisfied.

I was dissatisfied because the reply did not attempt to answer the Question. Subsequently the Minister occupied nine lines of the OFFICIAL REPORT to cover up his refusal. What rights have Private Members against a Minister who refuses to answer a simple straightforward Question?

Has not the hon. and gallant Member given notice that he will raise this matter on the adjournment, and should not that be the proper occasion?

There was no Adjournment date available; therefore, I felt obliged to raise it now.

I am afraid I cannot give a very satisfactory answer. We have all had the experience of being dissatisfied with answers which Ministers have given, and no doubt Ministers have felt a grievance against Members for not being satisfied with their answers. There are several opportunities for Members to express their dissatisfaction, such as the Appropriation Bill, the Adjournment and the Minister's Vote. On each of these occasions hon. Members can raise questions about which they are dissatisfied. There are also Rules laid down. Questions which are not answered fully can be put down again.

May I take it from your answer that, assuming a Question passes the Table and is deliberately not answered, Members can continue to put down the same Question until it is answered?

I can only warn the hon. and gallant Member that the Table is a very close sieve. There may be disagreement as to what is fully answered and what is not.

Would it not console my hon. and gallant Friend if he were made aware of the fact that other hon. Members are occasionally dissatisfied with Ministers but have infrequent opportunities of expressing themselves?

Is it not a fact that the hon. Member received an answer occupying 13 lines of Hansard and that that was as satisfactory an answer to the Question as it was possible to be?