I undertook yesterday to give a considered reply to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) arising from replies given to him and to the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) at Question Time on Monday.
The hon. Member submitted that when the Minister of State, Department of Trade stated on 29 June that an announcement about film quotas would be made shortly, she should have disclosed that on 25 June she had made an order prescribing what those quotas would be. As the hon. Member stated, the order was not laid before Parliament until 30 June.
In raising his point of order the hon. Member made reference to Standing Order No. 120. This order deals with the machinery for laying statutory instruments before the House but I cannot see that it imposes any obligation on Ministers to make public the contents of statutory instruments before they come to be laid.
In general, as I have often had occasion to rule, a Minister is responsible for the content of any answer which he or she gives, and, accordingly, I must inform the hon. Member that in my view this is not a matter for me.
I should like to raise a point further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. When I raised the point of order, I also referred to "Erskine May" as a source of guidance, and since I had only just received the information when I raised the point of order, I was not able to specify. However, I wonder, Mr. Speaker, if you could explain whether you examined page 136 of "Erskine May" in preparing your comments—which, of course, I appreciate. Page 136 says:
It may be stated generally than any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.
Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the House not being informed of an action which the Minister had taken could be construed as impeding Members in the carrying out of their duties, because there may well have been Members in the Chamber on that occasion who would have raised questions had they been informed that the Minister had taken a decision, and by not revealing that and by promising a statement, that sort of action was impeded. Therefore, I suggest that it would come within the ambit of page 136 of "Erskine May".