Skip to main content

Questions To Ministers

Volume 828: debated on Thursday 16 December 1971

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House has on many days discussed the issue of Parliamentary Questions. Some hon. Members are finding themselves in a rather difficult situation when they put down Questions and have to be guided by the Table Office. When we accept the guidance of the Table Office that we cannot put down a Question to a particular Minister but it should go to the Prime Minister, and we put it down to the Prime Minister, we find that he dodges it and transfers it. The result is that we are very much lower on the Order Paper with our Questions. Also, from time to time, you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, have found it necessary to opine on supplementary questions. I do not suggest that your Rulings have not been needed. My point of order concerns Parliamentary Answers. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in the Chamber, because my point of order is particularly relevant to his conscience. I represent a constituency where every month there is a growing problem of unemployment——

Order. The transfer of Questions is not a matter within the rules of order. I can on this occasion help the hon. Member because we now know that there is to be a Select Committee to go into all matters affecting Questions. As I have previously indicated to the House, I have been concerned about the transfer of Questions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will volunteer to give evidence to the Select Committee.

The paradox is that, by having my Question transferred from the Prime Minister to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I at least get a reasonable reply, not a sort of obscene frivolity——

Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing my indulgence. He must put the matter of principle or practice to the Select Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just said that there is to be an inquiry into the whole issue of Question Time. I am particularly glad that you mentioned it in the presence of the Leader of the House. Is it possible for either you or the Leader of the House to tell us now, or next week, the terms of reference of that Select Committee? Many hon. Members wish to know whether the Select Committee will deal not just with the future but with the strange case of the planted housing Questions. Will they come within its ambit?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. William Whitelaw)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I said when I made the suggestion that I would wish to discuss the membership and terms of reference of the Select Committee through the usual channels and throughout the House. I think that this is the proper way to proceed. I am very anxious, in general terms, to ensure that the Select Committee should be free to inquire into all possible aspects of Question Time and Question Time procedure. What I have just heard this afternoon and what I have noticed happening constantly at Question Time, both in Opposition and in Government—I was always silent in Opposition, which was perhaps a good thing—has convinced me more than ever of the value of a Select Committee to go into the whole aspect of Question Time and Question Time procedure, which I do not think is what it used to be.

If it were my rôle to give advice, which I do not think it is, I should say the past, the present and the future.