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Questions To Ministers

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Wednesday of last week I raised with you the irksome question why it is that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster never answers Questions. I pointed out that even if an hon. Member were to table a Question he would have difficulty in getting an answer because Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy follow an exhaustive list of Foreign Office Questions which usually contain twice as many as can be dealt with in the hour that we have available.

I was aware of the difficulty of tabling a Question to the Chancellor of the Duchy dealing with matters of North Sea oil profits and Finance for Industry. I have now been informed by the Table Office—I suspected that I would be so informed—that no Question can be tabled relating to the affairs with which the Chancellor of the Duchy is at present dealing. I have attempted to table a Question relating to his present talks with the American oil company leaders about the marginal profits arising from North Sea oil exploration. I am told by the Table Office that such a Question cannot be put to the Chancellor of the Duchy. What is more, there is no Question whatever that can be put to him relating to the affairs with which he is currently dealing.

It was suggested to me that the Chancellor of the Duchy will go through the present Parliament, dealing with all of these multifarious pieces of legislation and interference of one kind or another, and never have to answer a Question. We could reach the farcical situation in which, by devising 12 heraldic titles for themselves, the 12 most important members of the Cabinet could avoid answering Questions relating to their departmental affairs.

I suggest that this is not a trivial matter. This is a question of a man who, in logic and in practice, has one of the most important Departments in this Government. The fact is that not only I, but any other Member of this House, from whatever side is unable to table a Question dealing with the affairs for which the Chancellor of the Duchy is responsible.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. This is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Member must use his influence with the Patronage Secretary on this matter. [Laughter.] I am quite serious. How the Government arrange their business—

How the Government arrange their business and what Minister answers for what, and how, is not a matter for the Chair at all. No doubt what the hon. Member has said will be noted.