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Questions To Ministers

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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On a fresh point of order. Mr. Speaker. The Order Paper today states that Questions marked in a certain way, referring to EEC matters, will start not later than 3.10 p.m. I had tabled Question No. 18 which was not marked in any fashion but which was pertinent to EEC matters since it referred to a member of the European Community. I was surprised that this Question was put in the first part and not in that area dealing with EEC matters to be dealt with at 3.10 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House for a long time, knows that I do not arrange the order of the Questions. His point of view will have been noted.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that approximately one-third of the Questions for answer by the Foreign Office today were about Africa, dealing with one part or another of that continent. Not one such Question dealing with the African scene was reached. It must have been obvious to anyone that, certainly since a few days ago, the most burning questions affecting foreign affairs would relate to Africa. It is unfortunate that things should have turned out this way. Is there any way in which you can use your influence to ensure that there is a better arrangement of Questions?

I tell the hon. Member and the House that these days—we might as well face the facts of life—I get far more hon. Members from both sides of the House wanting to ask supplementary questions. Whenever I move on to a fresh Question, I am conscious of looks of disappointment from both sides. That has slowed down our progress. That is why we do not reach these Questions.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is possible, in the arrangement of these matters, to ensure that on an occasion such as to-day higher priority is given to Questions of the type that I have referred to. I know the difficulty. Nevertheless, the situation has been known for some days. We have a situation today in which no Question dealing with the continent of Africa has been reached. This is a serious matter.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings. There were supplementary questions addressed to the subject. It would be a dangerous business to start tinkering with the order of Questions on the Order Paper.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to rise a second time on a point of order but this issue arises out of what you replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I would greatly appreciate your clarification. Is it for the hon. Member handing in a Question to specify whether it should appear as one of those Questions marked with a section mark to indicate that it relates to EEC matters? Is that a task for the Table Office, which comes under you, or is that something for the Department concerned to decide? It is because I do not know that I seek guidance from you, since I interpreted, or misinterpreted, your reply to my hon. Friend as meaning that he should have specified that his Question should have been in the EEC grouping.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The situation is that hon. Members address their Questions to the Department concerned and it is the Department concerned, in this case the Foreign Office, which would decide which Questions are put into the EEC section and which are put into the first section.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be far more sensible, since the EEC is clearly a foreign organisation, to have Questions concerning the EEC under the heading of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the same way as the other Questions, so that hon. Members cannot jump the gun with EEC matters but must take their place along with the other Questions?

I remind the hon. Gentleman—it is a matter of indifference to me—that there is great pressure in the House for there to be a Question Time devoted to EEC matters. If the House wishes to change its mind I have no doubt but that the Leader of the House would be amenable.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to prolong this interlude, but on Monday I had Question No. 33 to the Secretary of State for Industry. When I received my Answer, which I did not receive from the Floor of the House, I found that I was referred to the Answer which the right hon. Gentleman had given to Question No. 1. I could not understand why I had not been grouped with Question No. 1 at the time since I was in the Chamber. Do you think that that point and the others that we have discussed are matters for the Select Committee on Procedure?

These points have been heard by the Leader of the House. I hope that that sort of matter can be looked into.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I refer to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)? Is it not recognised that, while we should give adequate time to dealing with EEC Questions, there is now inadequate time available for Questions concerning the rest of the world? While it might be felt that some consideration should be given to ensuring that there is an adequate period of time available for EEC Questions, should not some further consideration be given to providing more time to raise other foreign affairs matters?

The point of view of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has been heard and will be registered. It could only mean that there would be less time for some other subject in which other hon. Members have particular interests in questioning Ministers. May we continue?