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Allied Bases (Questions To Ministers)

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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I have a brief ruling to make. Yesterday I promised to look into various points in connection with movements in allied bases. I emphasise that only questions about movements—that is, operational movements—are affected by the refusal to accept questions. Other more general questions about allied bases have been consistently accepted by the Table Office. That is how the question of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—question No. 32—came to be on the Order Paper yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the transfer of one of his questions to' another Minister. As he knows, that is not a matter for me. I hope that I have helped the House by making clear that the Table Office leans over backwards, if there is doubt, to try to help the hon. Member concerned. That is why the pro- hibition is limited to questions about operational movements.

Is it for the Table Office to decide what elements of a question constitute an operational movement and what do not? It is a very thin line.

It is a thin line. If any hon. Member is not satisfied with the ruling given by the Table Office, he can appeal to me and I shall consider it and exercise my judgment.

Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that whatever the ruling of the Table Office may be, if the question of security arises it is for the Minister to answer or not answer, as he pleases?

I am wondering, Mr. Speaker, whether your reply deals with the point of order that I raised yesterday. I raised the point of order following a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). We understand that the Table Office rules out questions that have been asked previously. It has time to do so. It has research facilities to enable it to ascertain whether the question was asked on a previous date. It would be impossible for you, Mr. Speaker, in a fraction of a second, to remember whether a question had been asked previously. It would be unfair to expect that of you, Mr. Speaker. It therefore seems that you should not block a supplementary question because it may or may not have been asked previously.

I should have explained that I apply the same rules to supplementary questions as to main questions put on the Order Paper. If a question is not in order to go on the Order Paper, it is obviously not in order to raise it as a supplementary question. I was not trying to say that the question was out of order because it had been asked earlier; it was out of order because it dealt with base movements. I am not making a new rule.