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Questions To Ministers

Volume 901: debated on Thursday 20 March 1975

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

I should like to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising from your overall responsibility for Questions in this House.

On 4th November last, in the debate on the self-employed, I had certain exchanges with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) on the question of the particular benefits to which the self-employed were not entitled. Suffice to say that, arising from those exchanges, correspondence took place between the hon. Gentleman and myself and, indeed, between the Minister and myself.

Yesterday I received a letter from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, the relevant portion of which reads:
"You now have the Minister's authoritative view. You got it in reply to a question which I, quite improperly, put down in your name. It is in Hansard for 10th November at c. 551."
The hon. Gentleman was indeed quite candid. He put that Question down without my knowledge or consent and drafted it in terms which I would not have thought appropriate to gain the full information which I required.

I make no complaint about the Table Office, because I believe the current practice is to assume that if one Member puts down a Question on behalf of another, that other Member has consented. But the Table Office has indicated to my staff that it objects to the fact that I had not properly signed the Question which had been submitted. When I inspected the Question, which was put down by the hon. Gentleman on my behalf, I saw on the dotted line at the bottom the initials "J.T."

I believe that this is the first time that such a thing has happened in this House. If it happened again and if it were extended, I believe that every right hon. and hon. Member might be put in great difficulties or embarrassment. In those circumstances, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask for your view on this procedure.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is true that, following a disagreement on a matter of fact, last week I put down a Question in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Party unsigned and un-initialled.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. It was unsigned and uninitialled. I have seen the piece of paper and I know that the initials "J.T." appear at the bottom. I can only say that I did not put those initials there. But, whether I put the initials there or not, I submitted the piece of paper with the right hon. Gentleman's name on it. Therefore, the Table Office might reasonably have thought that was a bona fide Question from him, not a Question put in by another Member without his consent.

I accept that it was wrong to do that. I did it on that one occasion with the wrong view of bringing these facts to the attention of the Leader of the Liberal Party. I accept that I ought not to enlighten his darkness by this device. It would be hypocritical of me to say that I am sorry—[Interruption.]—but I assure him and you, Mr. Speaker, that I shall not do it again.

I thought that after 30 years I should not be surprised by anything that happened in this House, but I confess that I have been very surprised today.

It is improper for any hon. Member to put down a Question in the name of another right hon. or hon. Member without his specific consent. We may have to tighten up some of our procedures to ensure that it does not happen again.

I understand that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has expressed his regret. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I so construe it. I think that, as he has expressed his regret and undertaken not to do it again, we ought to leave the matter there for today.