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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs Questions

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise again the point made previously by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford shire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) about the allocation of time for general Foreign Office questions. It seems to be the impression of all hon. Members that it is preposterous to have only half an hour every four weeks for these questions. Will you, Mr. Speaker, advise the House about the status of the present time arrangements and how they might be changed?

First of all, it is not half an hour; it is 25 minutes. For five minutes we seek heavenly wisdom from above, and our prayers are not always answered. Those who manage the affairs of the House—the usual channels—must be approached if hon. Members feel strongly about this matter, and it appears that they do.

Later

On a point of order about Question Time, Mr. Speaker. One appreciates that there are difficulties in dealing with specific issues at Question Time. However, will you take into account the fact that on the question of Rhodesia, as the Lord Privy Seal said himself, there are many areas that need to be discussed? Is it possible for you, Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind that this House is responsible for events taking place in Rhodesia, to prevail on the Government to make a regular weekly statement on progress in that country? There are serious issues at stake and to rely on chance private notice questions does this House no credit.

This again is a matter for the usual channels, and hon. Members should pursue it in the normal way through their party machinery. This afternoon I allowed nearly 10 minutes on Question 1, which was a considerable share of the 25 minutes, because I knew that the matter was of considerable interest.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is true that there are private ways in which hon. Members can raise matters about the time allocated. However, surely there are other occasions when a more open approach should be made, as on this occasion. My Question 4was put on the Order Paper as a result of all-party discussions with various engineering organisations, and some hon. Members who wanted to supplement the questioning on this matter did not do so because they wanted to question the Lord Privy Seal about Helsinki. That raises the question of those hon. Members who do not voluntarily pursue points that we have commonly discussed.

Secondly, is it not the case that the embarrassment suffered today by the Lord Privy Seal arose because he is the Lord Privy Seal and not the Foreign Secretary? The Foreign Secretary, being in another place—

Order. With respect, that is not a matter for me. On the earlier point, the House has expressed its opinion and no doubt it has been noted by those responsible.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to pursue this matter, but the issue of Question Time has been raised on a number of occasions. Today during Foreign Office questions we had to deal with international affairs, European matters and overseas development. Will the Leader of the House undertake to look again at this problem and make some recommendations?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am well aware of the difficulties. As hon. Members know, I have done my best to try to accommodate the wishes of all hon. Members. The great difficulty is that if there are to be more questions for one subject it means less time for other subjects, and no one is willing to give up any time to a subject other than his or her own. Certainly, in response to what has happened today I shall look at the matter again and discuss it with the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore). Certainly I shall seek help from above and, if necessary, help from below as well.

Order. Amend, I hope that we can now leave that matter with the assurance of the Leader of the House that he intends to look at it further. There is nothing to be gained by pressing it further this afternoon. I believe that the House is anxious to move on to the statement that is to follow. A large number of hon. Members also wish to speak on the rate support grant later.

If hon. Members feel that they have something to say that is of the utmost significance and will help the House, I shall call them.

Order. If we were open to suggestions, we would be here all day. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House. If he has a substantial point of order, on which I am required to give a ruling, perhaps he will now make it or for ever hold his peace.

I was hoping, through you, Mr. Speaker, to suggest to the Leader of the House that, like questions about the regions of England, Scottish and Welsh questions could be referred to a Committee.