On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This concerns the deteriorating character of Prime Minister’s Question Time, which is doing so much damage to the reputation of the House and the reputation of politics.
Last week the Prime Minister asked the acting Leader of the Opposition four questions, almost more than she asked him. Just before the end of the last Parliament, he answered a question by raising nine issues none of which was the subject of the question asked. Prime Minister’s Question Time is becoming an exchange of crude insults and non-answers. As you know, Mr Speaker, I have written to the Prime Minister suggesting that he depoliticise the situation by convening all the party leaders with the aim of reinventing Question Time by giving it a format that would be dignified, still robust, but acceptable outside.
Might it not be a good idea to change the name of Prime Minister’s questions to Prime Minister’s answers, so that at least the Prime Minister would get the point? When he last answered a question from me, he handed the conduct of this matter over to you, suggesting that you take action.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As the House will be aware, my responsibility is to try to keep or, as necessary, restore order. I have no responsibility for the content of either questions or answers.
I do not mind saying to the hon. Gentleman what he may know in any case: that I have, on a previous occasion, written to the party leaders to make the case for a cultural change in the manner in which Prime Minister’s questions are conducted, and I received positive replies from them. The start of a Parliament might seem an auspicious time to try to bring about meaningful change, and I think it would be to the advantage of the House if Members were to take account of, and accord weight to, the very widespread public disapproval of the way in which the proceedings are conducted.
One method of dealing with the matter would be the convening of all-party talks, but that is not for me to do. I would smile on it, but it is not for me to lead. An alternative method might be to ask the Procedure Committee of the House, under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), to consider the way in which matters are handled, and to suggest either a continuation of the status quo or reform options. I think that is all that I can reasonably be expected to say on the matter today.
At the end of the last Parliament, Mr Speaker, the fire Minister told the House that firefighters in England who were found to have retired early would not face any financial penalty in relation to their pensions. Regional fire authorities are now challenging the legality of the Minister’s statement, which is leaving our fire and rescue men and women in limbo. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how best to clarify this very, very important issue?
Before I respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, I must correct myself. I should properly have referred to the hon. Member for Broxbourne as the former Chairman of the Procedure Committee. There are currently no Select Committee Chairmen, although, when the hon. Gentleman did chair the Procedure Committee, he was a distinguished Chairman.
The point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) is one of great importance, but it is not a matter for the Chair, and I therefore cannot rule on it. We will leave it there. [Interruption.] It is always helpful, when one makes a ruling, to have the sedentary support of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is a notable parliamentary specialist himself.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My constituent Mr Ali, a political asylum seeker, is facing deportation this evening to Balochistan, an area of political upheaval where political activists have been persecuted. Can the Home Secretary be encouraged to make a statement on such deportations to such unstable regions in the world?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity; he is newly arrived in this House, but he has already worked out how to get his point on the record. I feel confident that his words will be winging their way to the Home Secretary ere long on what is indeed a very important and urgent matter.