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Questions To Ministers

Volume 927: debated on Monday 7 March 1977

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I return to the earlier point of order about the Post Office—

Order. I have ruled that that was not really a point of order. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too late"] Order. The hon. Member is very good to try to assist me, but I will try to manage without his help; we might do a little better. As I have already said, I cannot intervene in what happens in another place.

I just wanted to suggest, on a point of order, that Questions which have been accepted by the Table Office in relation to nationalised industries often go far beyond Ministers' legal statutory responsibilities for nationalised industries. I refer particularly to Question No. 22 in the name of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) which asks

"at what proportion of capacity the steel industry is currently operating".
That goes beyond the responsibilities of Ministers. It would help if, where Minis. ters are responsible for matters, the Table Office would take Questions and if where Ministers are not responsible it did not take them.

In fact, the Government are responsible under the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Act for the level of charges in the Post Office. Therefore, it seems to be totally appropriate that the Government should be held responsible for the threatened increase in postal charges, whereas they cannot really be held responsible for the level of capacity at which the British steel industry is operating. Might that not help to solve the problem in which the House finds itself?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I will consider what he has said. If I find that there is anything helpful that I can say to the House, I will certainly do so. If I find that there is nothing very helpful that I can say, I shall regard silence as golden.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has your permission been sought by the Ministry of Defence representative to answer Question No. 34 today? If that permission has not been sought, could you ensure that the Written Reply reaches me not in two or three hours but very quickly?