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Questions (Transfer)

Volume 264: debated on Tuesday 24 October 1995

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3.41 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I refer you to some correspondence that causes me great concern. I tabled an oral question the other day to the Deputy Prime Minister—and if I recall correctly, there was a point of order on this matter only two or three days ago—asking

"What plans he has to meet representatives of Campbell's Soups to discuss competition in the production of soups."
To me, that is an important question, because Campbell's Soups, an American company, last August purchased Home Pride in my constituency, and last week announced that 120 jobs are going to be lost in Maryport.

I tabled the question after taking advice from the Clerks in the Table Office, and now, because of some civil servant's view that that question is not relevant to the Deputy Prime Minister, it has been transferred. I object very strongly, because I made a point of ensuring that it was in order so that, in two weeks' time, I could ask the Deputy Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box—it came up as No. 4 on the ballot—a question on this issue of great importance in my constituency.

I wonder whether you would ask the Parliamentary Clerk in the Cabinet Office to withdraw the letter that I have received, and to advise me that I can table this question. I do not do this only on my own behalf; other hon. Members are being affected by such decisions. We believe that we are being most unreasonably treated. It is very damaging to me in my constituency.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration. I have heard similar complaints from other hon. Members. As the House knows, I have no influence on or responsibility for the transfer of questions. It is not the Parliamentary Clerks who make transfers, but Ministers themselves who are finally responsible for transferring questions to other Departments.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter with the Deputy Prime Minister? I would encourage him to do so, because the matter can be dealt with if the hon. Gentleman would write to the Deputy Prime Minister raising the matter and asking him why the question has been transferred.

I understand that you would wish us to proceed in that way, Madam Speaker, but the reality is that the Deputy Prime Minister will say that he does not believe that it is his departmental responsibility, but a matter for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food But the issues that I am driving at are competitiveness and competition, which fall directly within the right hon. Gentleman's brief—it was on that basis that the Table Office accepted the question.

I believe that we have now got to the position where the Speaker of the House of Commons should intervene, with a view to protecting the rights of Back Benchers.

This is not a matter for the Speaker of the House of Commons; it is a question for the Minister concerned. It is the responsibility of Ministers to transfer questions. This is not the first time that it has occurred, and I take it seriously. I shall see what I can do, but I have no powers in these matters.

I do understand the frustrations felt by Back Benchers, who seek out the Minister who they feel is responsible for a particular matter, only to find that it is sent elsewhere. I have every sympathy; I understand the frustrations; I would ask the hon. Gentleman to write and ask for an explanation, and I shall do what I can.