During his statement, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said several times that he could not answer the points raised by hon. Members because there could be, there might be or there may possibly be a case pending before the courts. Is that a new doctrine in the House? I have always understood that, when a case was before a court, we did not have the opportunity or the right to question Ministers on that matter, because the issue was before a court and comments here could prejudice that case.
I may be wrong, Mr. Speaker, but I have never before heard a Minister make a statement and say, "I cannot answer the hon. Member"—who had raised a perfectly legitimate question that the Minister should answer—"because there could be, there might be or there may possibly be a case before the courts." Is that a new doctrine, Mr. Speaker? Is that allowed in the House? Is it not time that Ministers should be told that, when there is not a case before the courts, hon. Members who ask questions have a right to be given answers to those questions?
In the first place, I am in no way responsible for answers that are given. Secondly, on the question about doctrine, it is not a doctrine upon which I can make a judgment. I understood that it was the judgment of the Secretary of State himself that, if he was to answer certain questions, that might be prejudicial. It is not a matter for me.
During the recent question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Trade and Industry from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page), like several of my hon. Friends, I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) ask from a sedentary position what my hon. Friend was being paid for his question. Did you hear that, Mr. Speaker? If you did, do you agree that the hon. Member for Walsall, North should apologise to the House and withdraw what he said?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you to reflect on two points that arise from the statement made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. First, while you are right in saying that you have no responsibility for the content of the answers given by the Secretary of State, if the phrase "I have nothing to add" goes unchallenged, through you and the Table Office, it becomes a blocking motion whereby further written questions may not be tabled.
The second and shorter point that I ask you to consider, Mr. Speaker, is that only five hon. Members were still standing at the end of the statement and many of us were also seeking to rise at the end of the statement about the murder of the Observer journalist when, again, we were not called. Like myself, other hon. Members may wish to raise constituency interests and perhaps you could bear that in mind the next time—
Order. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's comments is a matter of speculation, because no such question has been tabled. On the second part, I remind him and the whole House that it would be easy for the Chair to allow questions on statements to run out. It would be equally unfair to hon. Members who wish to participate in subsequent debates. I have mentioned today—
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether there is a special Standing Order which has escaped my attention in respect of the protection of Ministers when they are under fire. It is becoming increasingly evident to many of us on this side that there must be an order which you observe which is a kind of "protect Nicholas Ridley society". In view' of the last time on the Fayeds and again today—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are constantly exhorted at Question Time to get through as many questions as possible. Today you managed to get through no less than 43 questions. Unfortunately, however, you did so only because 30 Labour Members who had important questions on the Order Paper did not turn up to ask their questions. Those of us who are interested in Trade and Industry questions seek your protection to allow us to raise important matters. I wonder whether consideration could be given in such circumstances to your looking through the long end of a telescope to see hon. Members who are not here in order that questions that are on the Order Paper are asked and brought before the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you confirm that when a senior member of the Cabinet asks to make a statement in the House he makes it not only on behalf of his Department but of the Government as a whole? Might not it have been better to use other procedures? Four Departments wanted the matter questioned—the Treasury for Customs and Excise, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry. In view of the suspicion that the Ministry of Defence has displayed a Nelson eye for some time on the Iraqi orders, is not it unacceptable, as the Defence Secretary was present and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement was sitting by his side, that when I simply asked for the date when the Department first knew about the matter—a simple, artless, factual question—I did not receive an answer? One should not be told that it is a matter for the Ministry of Defence.
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), for which I thank him, and as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has not had the courtesy to withdraw his remark, may I make it clear to the House that I am paid by no Government and no Government agency?
I rise on a point of order to try to establish better in my mind the criteria that you, Mr. Speaker, adopt when deciding how long ministerial statements will be allowed to run. We have just returned from a fairly generous Easter recess—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Some of you."]—Some of us have. During that time, the matter which was the subject of the previous statement was running as a major item on all the news bulletins and was on the front pages of all the newspapers. There was—
—but I will tell the hon. Gentleman. The Chair has an obligation to balance the time available in the House and the hon. Gentleman has frequently been to see me to express his distress at not being called in debate.
Order. I have to balance these matters. There is great pressure to take part in the coming debate. As a result of these points of order, I regret that all the hon. Members who wish to participate are unlikely to be called.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am deeply disturbed at the failure of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement this afternoon about the slaughter of the four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment outside Downpatrick during the recess. The impression is gaining ground among people in Northern Ireland that IRA murders are so commonplace that the Government do not feel that they have to make a statement, which would give Members from Northern Ireland an opportunity to put questions about the security situation in the Province. As there is this crisis of confidence, and the Ulster Defence Regiment is under attack not only from the IRA, but by its propagandists, surely the Government should come to the House to make a statement about those murders and allow Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland to question them.