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Ministerial Statement (Error)

Volume 486: debated on Wednesday 18 April 1951

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May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question regarding the practice of the House, arising out of the reply by the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs to Question No. 25 today, when he had, unfortunately, to admit that he had given an inaccurate answer during a debate—which, incidentally, had the result of curtailing that debate? Is it not the practice that when Ministers find that they have made a mistake, they should take an early opportunity of saying so in the House, whereas not only in this case has the Minister made no statement until Question Time today, but within the last fortnight exactly the same thing happened in connection with a reply by the Postmaster-General about the number of people who would be employed in dealing with certain accounts.

I should like to ask whether it is to be left to Private Members to find out if Ministers have made inaccurate or false statements and then to get an apology as a result of questioning them, or whether it is not the more normal course that as soon as Ministers find out that they have made mistakes—which everybody can make; I am not questioning that—it is their duty to come before the House and to take an early opportunity of saying so.

I do not think that that is a question which I can be called upon to answer. All these matters must be matters for the Ministers concerned; I cannot lay down any rules about it.

Is it not, may I say with respect, Sir, the duty of the Chair to see that as far as possible Ministerial responsibility is carried out? Ministers are responsible to the House, and if they fail in their responsibility who will deal with them, if not the Chair?

It is not for me to have Ministers up "on the mat," so to speak. I cannot do that.

Do I understand from your last remark, Mr. Speaker, that if a Minister breaks a rule of the House, it is not for you to chide him?

The noble Lord is exaggerating. I never said, and nobody suggested, that rules of the House were being broken. If anyone breaks a rule of the House, I deal with it; but this is not a rule, it is a matter of custom.

I should like to make it clear that I did not know that the statement in question was inaccurate until yesterday afternoon. That may be my fault, but I was not in any way intending to deceive the House.