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Questions To Ministers

Volume 890: debated on Monday 21 April 1975

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection that the Prime Minister has said that Answers to Questions on the EEC have to be cleared with the Foreign Office, and if the Minister responsible does not like the Answers, the Questions are to be transferred. Unsatisfactory though that arrangement is, I am sure that the House understands and accepts it.

However, this afternoon we had many supplementary questions arising out of Questions on the EEC, and in one case—Question No. 9—the Minister refused to answer the supplementary question. In four other cases—on Questions Nos. 14, 19, 20 and 23—he gave substantive answers. The difficulty for the House is that we do not know whether those answers have been cleared with the Foreign Office or whether they represent a partisan view on the part of the Minister concerned. I respectfully submit—

Order. I have not yet had any indication of how the Chair comes into this.

I was coming to that, Mr. Speaker. The difficulty is that hon. Members are receiving answers but they do not know whether they would have received those answers if the Questions had been transferred after reference to the Foreign Office. I submit. Sir, that this puts hon. Members in an impossible position. Would it be possible for you to refer the whole matter to the Procedure Committee for study, since there is no point in our asking questions which are not to receive replies expressing the policy of the Government in these matters? The purpose of Question Time is to ask the Government to state or explain their policy, and if we are not sure whether we receive their policy or the policy of the Minister in his individual capacity we are in a hopeless position. I submit that it would be better, Mr. Speaker, if you ruled out of order all supplementary questions of this nature unless the matter can be cleared up to the satisfaction of all.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support my hon. Friend's suggestion that you should rule out of order all supplementary questions on these matters in order that there may be no confusion. On 7th April—this is to be found in Written Answers at col. 351 of Hansard—the Prime Minister said that Ministers "will state the Government's position". On several occasions today, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Industry refused flatly to state the Government's position. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that it would be far better if you ruled out of order the whole of this farce until the right hon. Gentleman follows the example of his more honourable Friend and gets himself the sack.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was on my Question No. 9 that the Secretary of State declined to answer when I asked for the Government's estimate of the level of manufacturing investment should we leave the Common Market, and later in reply to other supplementary questions the right hon. Gentleman indicated quite openly that he had a split personality, on some occasions replying as the Secretary of State for Industry and on others as the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. Our difficulty, Mr. Speaker, is to know where this split personality runs, and which twin has the Toni.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order, first, for me to establish that I did not clear my supplementary answers with the Foreign Secretary? In fairness to him, I think that I should say that. Second, is it not clear that the whole of this row is designed to cover up the embarrassment of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because the Conservative Opposition will take no notice of the referendum? That is what the whole thing is about.

Order. By about a whisker, the submission comes within the terms of a point of order, there being a suggestion that I should rule supplementary questions out of order. I shall consider that.