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Questions To Ministers

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is becoming increasingly apparent that unless one has tabled a Question within the first three Questions to the Prime Minister, it is becoming impossible to have one's Question answered. Is it not possible to limit or discourage the length of answers, or to limit the number of supplementary questions—or, alternatively, without wishing to be accused of masochism, may I suggest increasing the length of time available for Prime Minister's Questions, otherwise many of us who wish to question the right hon. Gentleman will have no opportunity to do so?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed that when Parliament was to be broadcast one of the articles in Radio Times suggested that about 15 Questions could be expected to be taken on Tuesdays and Thursdays—I am referring to ordinary Questions rather than to Questions to the Prime Minister—and 20 Questions on Mondays and Wednesdays. Is this now your ruling, Sir, or can we hope that perhaps a rather higher number of Questions can be taken in future?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When reviewing the policy of Questions to the Prime Minister, will you also review the ridiculous convention which ensures that we have to ask strange Questions in order to have any hope whatever of their even being answered?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put a slightly different point of view—namely, that many of us feel that the increasing wish of the Chair over the years to take Question Time as fast as possible, and the practice which has tended to grow up in recent years that no backbencher is ever allowed a second supplementary question, works very much to the benefit of Ministers of the day, and that we do not wish to see Question Time taken any faster than it is at present?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the exchanges which have already taken place, will you take it from me that I take the opposite view, because I tend to get the impression that Question Time is pretty much as it has been over the past five years? In contrast to the point made at the beginning of these exchanges, could I remind the House that today Questions Q1, Q2 and Q3 to the Prime Minister were taken with Q19, which is in my name, because Mr. Speaker had the good sense to link it with 01, though the Prime Minister had refused to link it in accordance with previous rulings? Therefore, on this occasion, Mr. Speaker, I think that you can leave well alone.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does it improve one's chances of being called if one does not wear a tie?

Without attempting to take sides on this issue, may I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that you look back on the number of Questions that have been answered at different times? You may find that when the Prime Minister was away and the Lord President was answering, we dealt with Questions very swiftly and on several occasions my hon. Friends and I actually received answers.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Prime Minister has studiously avoided answering any Questions, perhaps I may suggest that his Question Time should be shortened rather than lengthened.

Without taking sides in this matter and without stigmatising any hon. Member, is it not a historical fact, Mr. Speaker, that years ago we dealt with 80 and sometimes 90 Questions daily and that on one historic occasion we reached three figures?

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. May I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on playing her part by asking a few questions as possible?

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has evaded an important question about matters which are likely to be dealt with at a late hour of this day namely, the 12 Members of this House who are to be selected by a body which is not constituted as part of this House to represent the opinions of this House in the European Assembly. I should like to know why we have not been allowed to ask questions about this matter and whether there will be an opportunity to do so on a future occasion?

That is rather a different point of order.

First, I shall deal with the various points of order about Question Time. The one sound answer is: short questions and short answers. However, the idea that the House of Commons can discharge its duty of questioning the executive by dealing with Questions very quickly makes matters very easy for Ministers. The fewer the supplementary questions, the quicker we go and the better it is for Ministers. I have always taken the view that one should try to probe the position of Ministers even if it means four or five supplementary questions. The mathematical argument about getting through 40 Questions, for example, with Ministers getting away with it apparently without having to give an answer at all, is not the right solution. I speak as one who answered Questions for quite a long time.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) about the European Assembly, Mr. Speaker. It is a matter for this House because the list has to be approved by this House. It has long been understood in relation to both the Council of Europe and other overseas assemblies that the names are selected by the individual parties concerned, but they require approval by this House and this will happen in this case.

May I conclude what I was trying to say? The possibility of lengthening the time for Prime Minister's Questions is a matter for the House and not for me. It may have been noticed that today I prolonged Prime Minister's Questions by seven minutes.