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Questions To Ministers

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you a point on which I want your guidance?

Order. I do not want to stop the hon. Lady, but I am anxious to get the help of the House about this. I am not entitled to use up the time of the House in giving guidance. If hon. Members, including the hon. Lady, who desire guidance, like to come and see me about it, I will do the best I can.

I was about to ask for your Ruling on a point which, I think, will be of interest to all hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, much as I should enjoy a tête-à-tête. May I ask you whether you would advise us to whom questions which concern more than one Government Department should be addressed when we are seeking to table them?

I ask you this because, yesterday, I put down a Question to the Prime Minister asking him with what Government Departments the Portuguese Army Chief of Staff had had official discussions during his recent visit to London. That Question was transferred for reply to the Secretary of State for War.

On receiving the Secretary of State's Written Answer yesterday I discovered that the Portuguese Army Chief of Staff had had talks not only with the Secretary of State for War, but also with the Secretary of State for Air. Is it not customary that, where more than one Government Department is involved in responsibility for a certain situation, the Prime Minister should reply? The result of the transfer of this Question is that the Prime Minister has evaded responsibility for the actions of his own Government.

If and when there is a specific question to be ruled about I will do my best to rule upon it. I am not prepared to rule in the abstract like that, because circumstances with regard to particular Questions might vary. As the hon. Lady and the House know, the Chair can and does accept no responsibility for the transfer of questions. Her grievance, if any, is not against the Chair, but against a member of the Government.

In view of your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) should see you to seek your guidance, would it not be advisable, before this event occurs, for you to seek the guidance of hon. Members?