Question to the Prime Minister

– in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 7th June 1984.

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Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West 3:49 pm, 7th June 1984

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I regret that you were unable to accept the question that I tabled for the Prime Minister on Thursday 21 June. I sought to ask the Prime Minister whether she would take steps to acquire a copy of the book by Mr. Bruce Arnold entitled "Margaret Thatcher. A Study in Power" for the library of No. 10 Downing Street. I understand that you refused to accept the question from myself and 25 other hon. Members under paragraph 54(17)of the Manual of Procedure, which states: Questions which raise matters of policy too large to be dealt with in the answer to a question, which are multiplied with slight variations on the same point, or which are trivial, vague or meaningless, may not be asked The question refers to the Belgrano. You will know, Mr.Speaker, that the Prime Minister has shown extreme reluctance to answer any questions in the House on that matter or on the Oman scandal, and that in the past couple of days she has done a bunk over the Daily Mirror disclosures. If you find one question tabled by 26 hon. Members unacceptable — remembering that it is extremely difficult for any question that is not in the first six to be answered and that therefore hon. Members always have the incentive to table more than one question in the hope of one being answered—I should be grateful if you would say what number of questions on one subject you would find acceptable. That would be helpful to all right hon. and hon. Members.

I am sorry to delay the House on this matter, but I and many other right hon. and hon. Members regard the circumstances of the sinking of the Belgrano as extremely important. We are deeply worried that for many months the Prime Minister, on this as on many other issues, has treated the House with utter contempt and refused to answer questions. This is our only opportunity to ask questions, and I should appreciate your guidance about your future actions in this regard.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The authority under which I disallowed those questions was that, in my judgment, they constituted "a campaign". I considered it to be grossly unfair to other right hon. and hon. Members who wanted to table questions to the Prime Minister. It seemed unacceptable to me to have 26 questions on the same subject.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Bearing in mind the fact that Hamish Hamilton Ltd., the publisher of the book, has reputable ——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into the merits of the situation.

Later——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that an important debate is to follow.

Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham Central and Royton

I want to ask for guidance on your earlier ruling Mr. Speaker, that the 26 similar questions were out of order because they appeared to be a campaign. First, I was not one of the 26 who tabled any of those questions. However, I have noticed that 57 out of 60 questions to the Prime Minister today are exactly the same. Why were they not ruled out of order as a campaign?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman fully understands the situation. The 26 questions which were submitted were substantive questions on exactly the same. matter.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We have an important debate to follow.