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Questions To Ministers

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In January of this year. I put down to the Secretary of State for Trade question No. 55, to ask

"the Secretary of State for Trade what negotiations are taking place between his Department and the Law Society on the introduction of changes in the Solicitors' Practice Rules in line with the recommendation of the 1976 Monopolies and Mergers Commission report."
The right hon. Lady the Minister for Consumer Affairs, who is unfortunately unable to attend the House today, replied:
"None at present."—[Official Report 4 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 51.]
I could not understand that answer, in the light of the right hon. Lady's statement at the seventh sitting of the Standing Committee on the Competition Bill, when, following a long statement that I made on the need for action on the basis of that MMC report, she said:
"my Department is currently negotiating with the professions concerned."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B; 20 November 1979, c. 339.]
I replied by tabling a further question to ask the Secretary of State
"if, following the reply of the Minister of State for Trade to the hon. Member for Workington",
in the light of this question, he could let me know when we could expect a statement following the consultations which are taking place. On 26 February, that question was transferred to the Attorney-General, without my being informed.

I raise this matter as a point of order, first because I believe that I should have been informed. I do not see why, because a question is embarrassing to a particular Minister, he or she should transfer it—or instruct the Department to ask the Table Office to transfer it—to another Minister, thereby denying me the chance to put that question on the Floor of the House, when it deals with a matter of substantial public concern—the charges of solicitors and the fact that there is no effective advertising among solicitors. I should be grateful if you could tell me what the position is, Mr. Speaker.

The House will have listened with concern to the hon. Member. Every hon. Member is entitled to be informed if his question is being transferred to another Minister: otherwise there is no protection of our Order Paper and no protection for Back Benchers. I can say little more than that to the hon. Member. I think that he was right to air his grievance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not deplorable that so many hon. Members should put down questions yet not be here when they are called, as happened today?

It is true that when I called the first half a dozen questions today, the hon. Members concerned were not here. As a rule, if an hon. Member is not in his place when his question is called, I get a personal explanation from him by way of correspondence. I am not asking for that for today; I am just saying that that is one of the courtesies which hon. Members normally follow.