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Questions To Theprime Minister

Volume 938: debated on Monday 7 November 1977

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I have a brief statement to make.

In May of this year the House agreed to an experiment carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure with regard to Prime Minister's Question. On 26th July last, several hon. Members raised points of order about the way in which the experiment had been conducted. I undertook to consider the matter and to make a statement in the new Session.

Despite the recommendation of the Fifth Report of the Sessional Select Committee on Procedure, hon. Members have increased the number of indirect Questions to the Prime Minister. In fact, they have risen from less than half the Prime Minister's Questions in May to about two-thirds of the Prime Minister's Questions in July.

The House will recall that in an effort on one occasion to reverse this tendency, I indicated my intention to call one supplementary question only on indirect Questions so that we could get on to the substantive Questions quickly, but it was quickly made clear to me from both sides of the House that hon. Members wished to ask further supplementary questions when topical issues had been raised. I intend to continue to try to meet the wishes of the House whenever possible by allowing a few more supplementary questions on such Questions.

In conclusion, let me underline that in my view the House as a whole is unsympathetic to what I call "shot-in-the-dark" Questions and I must continue to rule that supplementary questions on the indirect Questions will have to be seen to be linked in some way with the Question on the Order Paper if they are to be allowed. The rules of relevance are binding on us all.

As at tomorrow's Prime Minister's Question Time there are eight Questions asking when he will next meet the TUC and six asking him to list his engagements, I wonder whether it would not be more politic to increase the quality of the primary Questions rather than to curtail the supplementary questions?

Your statement, Mr. Speaker, raises the whole subject of Question Time. You may care to comment on that. Today is the first Question Time of the new Session; we did not reach Question No. 19, and this on a Monday. I know that I am one of the frustrated parties. However, generally, do you wish us to proceed by calling more Questions that are on the Order Paper and cutting down the supplementary questions? I ask this because over the years we seem increasingly to be taking questions arising from supplementary questions and fewer of the Questions on the Order Paper are being reached.

The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and he is quite right about that tendency. Today at Question Time we had some long supplementary questions. I am not blaming one side or other of the House in particular. Some hon. Members seem to feel that if they rise for a supplementary question they have a right to get in three questions instead of asking one. When there are Questions, as there were today. in which there are direct constituency interests for various hon. Members, I do my best, without prolonging it unduly, to see that hon. Members who have a constituency interest are called.

I deplore the fact that we were not able to get further than Question No. 18 today, because it is not fair to those hon. Members whose Questions are further down the Order Paper.

I hope. Mr.Speaker, that if you reply to the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) you will not accept his implication that a question about meeting the TUC was a "shot-in-the-dark" Question. Many of us would regard that Question in a quite different light from those about the particular engagements today because it allows a general question about the Government's conduct of economic affairs.

Is not the difficulty underlying the statement the wish of the House to do two things-both to question the Prime Minister about important current events and also to get through a greater number of Questions on the Order Paper? Is not the only way to resolve this to extend Question Time by a quarter of an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that both those objectives can be achieved? There is no other way of doing it.

That, of course, is not a question for me. No doubt it will be considered by those who can do something about it.