Questions to Ministers.

– in the House of Commons at on 18 February 1929.

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Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Hackney South

On a point of Order. I should like to draw your attention, Sir, to a rejection made at the Table of a question which I sought to put to the Prime Minister, the question being: "To ask the Prime Minister—"

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. and gallant Member must not take the opportunity of raising a point of order to read a question which has been refused.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Hackney South

I have looked up the precedent in the authoritative book of Parliamentary Procedure by Erskine May, and I find that, on each occasion when a protest has been made, the Member has been allowed to read out his question. I can quote three or four precedents where that has been done.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I have not looked up the precedents, but I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Member to read his question on this occasion.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Hackney South

With great respect, I will endeavour to put my point without reading the question which I sought to put to the Prime Minister. It was rejected on the ground that it contained a statement of fact. I submit that every day statements of fact, usually beginning with the expression "In view of" or "Seeing that," are allowed to be put by the Table. On this occasion, the statement of fact which I sought to put was short; it was not argumentative or disputable in any way, and was within the cognisance of the Government. This fact was that a certain flying company proposes to make an issue of capital to the public. That point has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Air in a White Paper, and, without that point, my question had no intelligibility. My question asked the Prime Minister for facilities for Parliamentary discussion on the Government's action in granting a subsidy. I submit that the question is perfectly in order, and I intend to renew it to-day and to ask your permission to put it in two days' time.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The particular question to which the hon. Member refers was submitted to me, and the fault with it is the fault that lies in a great many questions, namely, that in the middle of the question it asks a question of a Minister on a subject for which he has no responsibility. That is a flaw in a question which can never be allowed. If questions were allowed to be put to Ministers on subjects and matters upon which they have no responsibility, the House will readily see into what difficulties we should be led.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

May I not ask, Sir, whether the Prime Minister as Leader of the House has not the sole responsibility for affording opportunities of discussing any matter of administration in reference to any act of any of his Ministers; and I submit that it is a proper thing to ask the Prime Minister for time to discuss a question of that kind.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

Had that been the subject of the question, it would have been a proper question to put to the Prime Minister, but that was not the reason I disallowed the question. In that question a particular question was asked of a Minister upon a subject for which he has no responsibility.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

When you say that a question must not be put to a Minister on a matter for which he has no responsibility, may I take it that that does not mean that we are precluded from asking questions for information from, for example, the Foreign Secretary on happenings that affect our nationals in foreign countries? That is a matter for which the Minister has no responsibility, but for many years Members have been allowed to ask for information on that subject. Another example is a case of the loss of a British merchant ship with passengers. Many questions have been put to the President of the Board of Trade, but his responsibility does not exist there. May I ask you, Sir, to enlarge a little on your Ruling?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I do not think that we should be employing our time usefully by entering into a discussion as to the various points on which Ministers have responsibility. It seems to me to be sufficient for the subject which we are discussing to say that questions cannot be put to Ministers upon subjects and matters in which they or their Departments have no responsibility. That is quite sufficient, and hon. Members must see that that must be the basis upon which questions can be put.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Is it not the ease that commercial flying is part and parcel of the Air Ministry's plan of defence, that the Prime Minister is Chairman of the Committee of Defence, and that, therefore, commercial flying is part and parcel of the policy of defence?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is referring to the hon. and gallant Member's question, but that is not what it was about.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I am sorry to press this point, but it is an important matter, involving the freedom of discussion in this House. I have had an opportunity of seeing the question, and I ask you whether, with this question of a subsidy for any particular purpose, it is competent for the Speaker of the House of Commons to refuse permission to a Member to ask the Leader of the House whether he will afford an opportunity of discussing that subject? If so, I should like to know what precedent there is for such a decision?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I really do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can understand the position—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The particular question which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested should be allowed I was quite prepared to allow, but the part of the question which is in brackets I would not allow; and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hackney, South (Captain Garro-Jones) would not cut it out, I could not allow the whole question.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Hackney South

The part of the question in dispute was the data or postulatory phrase in the middle of it. I do not propose to press the point at length, but I have looked up Parliamentary questions, and I can point out, with great respect, a list of similar questions that have been asked on every single question day. I have also looked up in Erskine May's book cases where protests have been made on account of questions being rejected by the Chair, and I have not been able to find a single ease where a question of this kind has been refused. I have attempted to put questions to the Chair on this subject several times, and I have had the greatest difficulty in getting these points put forward. For that reason, I propose to renew the question, and, if it is again refused, to take whatever action or recourse which is open to a Member when he considers that a very valuable liberty is being curtailed.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

If the hon. and gallant Member will cut out the part of the question which I have rejected, he is at liberty to put it the day after to-morrow, or even to ask it now.