asked the President of the Board of Education whether he is aware that some of the economies proposed by the Committee on National Expenditure are in the nature of a transfer of charge from the National Exchequer to the local rates; and whether he will supply an estimate of the amount by which the local rates will be increased if such proposals were adopted?
We have arranged among ourselves in our own party that, in the absence of Members, the Whips who are present should ask questions on their behalf, and we have therefore got the general permission of all Members of our party to ask questions for them when the Members are absent.
If I were to allow that in the case of one party, it would apply to all parties in the House, and would defeat the purpose for which the Rules were made. There must be a special request applicable to the particular question, and not merely a general request.
On the point of Order. You will, I daresay, have noticed that most of those are occasions when the Whips have to give it into their hands. It very seldom happens that we have, as we have to-day, an extra 10 minutes in which to proceed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]
Does that mean that when a question comes round for the second time, it is absolutely necessary that the Member who puts the question must be asked to do so by the Member in whose name it stands? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes—why not?"]
An hon. Member may send word to another hon. Member, if he likes, asking him to put a question on his behalf, but I must insist on that request being made particularly for that day, and in respect of that question.
What business is it either of the House or of anybody else what arrangements are made between the Member who puts down a question on the Paper and the person to whom he gives a standing order to ask his questions for him when he is not himself present? How does that concern the rest of the House?
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Education whether he is aware that some of the economies proposed by the Committee on National Expenditure are in the nature of a transfer of charge from the National Exchequer to the local rates; and whether he will supply an estimate of the amount by which the local rates will be increased if such proposals were adopted?
May I have a ruling from you, Sir, for the guidance of Ministers? My colleagues and myself desire to treat the House with respect, but, above all, we want to conform to the spirit of your ruling. The hon. Member a moment ago was informed by you that you could not allow him, under, so to speak, a general brief from his party, to put the questions of all the hon. Gentlemen who were not ready in their places to ask them themselves. The hon. Member, now that Question Time is over, except for Private Notice questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—now that you have twice gone through the Paper, and exhausted the usual opportunities, proposes to put as a separate question a question which is on the Paper, and which you have not allowed him to put. I ask for your guidance as to whether, in these circumstances, the Minister should now answer a question which a short time ago you said ought not to be put. If you rule that he should, my right hon. Friend will, of course, read the answer, but I should have thought that it was not permissible to read, as if it were a Private Notice question, a question which you have just ruled should not be put.
I think that, when hon. Members are not in their places to ask questions on the first call, and they are called for the second time, it is purely a matter of courtesy on the part of the Minister to answer. No obligation rests upon the Minister to be present if the hon. Member in whose name the question stands was absent when it was first called; and it is obvious that that applies with even greater strength when, at the third opportunity, an hon. Member rises and asks the question. It is a pure matter of grace and courtesy on the part of the Minister should he be pleased to give an answer to a question put in that way.
On that point of Order. I and my colleagues are only anxious to conform to your ruling, and to act with all due respect and courtesy to the House. The point, however, is this: You have ruled that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh was not entitled, a little time ago, to put, on behalf of an absent hon. Friend, a question appearing on the Paper which his absent hon. Friend had not specifically requested him to ask upon this day. The hon. Member thereupon reads the question from the Notice Paper, and puts it as his own. It seemed to me that that was to evade your ruling, if not, indeed, positively to break it. If you think it right that my right hon. Friend should give the answer which he has prepared, and which would have been given had the hon. Gentleman in whose name the question stands been present himself at the right time, or requested some other hon. Member to put the question in his name, my right hon. Friend will do so; but it appeared to me that if he had given the answer it would have been in defiance of your ruling.
On that point of Order. May I, before you give your decision, point out that the last thing of which the Opposition would ever be guilty would be discourtesy to the Chair? May I also point out that usually there are many more questions on the Paper than fill up the hour to which we are entitled, and that the only reason why some of us have been asking these questions to-day was the obvious fact that, the 96 questions on the Paper having been got through, owing to the absence of both Members and Ministers—
I think it would be very unfortunate if the observance of businesslike speed were to have the result suggested by the hon. Member, and, personally, I should not give any encouragement to that. As I have already said, the answering of questions on the second call is purely a matter of courtesy on the part of the Minister. No obligation rests upon him. With regard to what has already occurred, namely, the reading of a question from the Notice Paper, after the second call, the hon. Member for East Edinburgh was technically within his right according to the Rules of the House, but it is really in the interest of Members generally, and more in accord with the spirit of the Rules, that replies should not be given in such circumstances.