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Questions To Ministers

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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Yesterday, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) raised with me a point of order on the application of the rules for questions. He submitted that the refusal by the Home Secretary at Question Time on 31 January to make any further comments on the subject of telephone tapping should not be allowed to prevent further questions being asked, since on the following day the Prime Minister had sent a letter to another hon. Member, which had created a new situation.

I have looked very carefully into this matter, since it is most important that the rights of hon. Members to question Ministers in this Chamber should be upheld to the utmost—within the rules, of course, that the House itself has imposed. However, I am satisfied that the letter to which the hon. Member referred did not add any new material information to that already given by the Home Secretary to the House, and that the further questions that the hon. Member sought to table were, therefore, properly refused in accordance with the rules confirmed by the House in December 1972.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the consideration that you have given to the statement and for endorsing the important principle that the rights of Back Benchers to question Ministers within the rules of the House should be upheld to the utmost. However, may I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the rules of the House are very narrow on this point and merit re-examination? The best way for this to be undertaken would be for you, Mr. Speaker, to examine, as you say, the rights of Back Benchers to question Ministers, and make a report to the House, or to establish a Speaker's Conference to make a report as quickly as possible, so that we may look at the matter afresh, particularly in view of the fact that we are getting information from a weekly magazine, the New Statesman, about new techniques.

The question of debates is entirely in the Government's hands, and Back Benchers look to you, Mr. Speaker, for the protection of their rights and, as you say, it is important that they should be upheld.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think that the House is aware that I take seriously the question of protecting the rights of hon. Members, but the other proposals that the hon. Gentleman has made will have to be followed up by someone other than myself. The initiative lies elsewhere.