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Point of Order

Volume 599: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise this point order.

I know that you, Mr Speaker, have long been an advocate of reforming Prime Minister’s questions, and that you have been concerned about the impression it gives the public about Members in this House and the way in which we operate. Today, we saw new politics and a new style of PMQs in operation. We will wait to see how the public view that, but one of the consequences of today’s PMQs was that it was actually 22 minutes before we got on to Question 2 on the Order Paper. As well as being a champion of reforming PMQs, Mr Speaker, you have been an advocate of Back Benchers and of having our voices heard. In fact, I would argue that no Speaker has done more to give Back Benchers their voice. Do you, Mr Speaker, share my concern that in having a new style of Prime Minister’s questions, Back Benchers could be limited in being able to ask their important questions? I had Question 10 on the Order Paper today and we got through to Question 9. If next week the Leader of the Opposition reads out a question from Andrew from Burton, you will know that I have found a new way to get my question across. [Laughter.] Will you bear that in mind, Mr Speaker, and ensure that, in this new style of PMQs, Back Benchers have the opportunity to ask their questions?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and the very measured and good-humoured way in which he put it. I say two things to him. First, I always have him in mind. It would be difficult not to do so; he is a most assiduous contributor to our proceedings. Secondly, a change of style in Prime Minister’s questions—which is not a matter for me, but is perfectly legitimate and may well be widely welcomed—need not and must not delay progress through the Order Paper.

I think it is fair to say, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate this, that quite apart from today being a one-off—the first appearance of the new Leader of the Opposition—there is another factor in the equation: the very proper role that the Scottish National party, as the third largest party, plays in Prime Minister’s questions. That role did not arise in the previous Parliament, because the then third party was part of the Government and did not have questioning rights. The SNP, very properly, does have questioning rights, which it uses perfectly properly. I am not criticising it in any way, but inevitably those two questions mean it is more challenging to make progress down the Order Paper. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me for an assurance that I want to see swifter progress down the Order Paper so that Members at numbers 10, 11 and 12 as a matter of course do get called, as they did throughout the previous Parliament, he can be assured that I will make my best endeavours, and I hope the House will help me.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I glanced up at the clock when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition finished their exchanges and it was actually no longer than normal. The time was indeed taken up because of the SNP and it seemed that they were more statements than questions. I wonder what advice you give to Front Benchers, Mr Speaker, on the time they should take to ask those two questions.

There is no formal time limit, unlike in some Parliaments. Personally, I sense that colleagues would prefer that we preserve a degree of discretion and room for manoeuvre for the Chair, in the interests of the House. The general principle is minimum preamble and quickest possible focus on the substance of the question, which should then be delivered pithily and with the panache that the hon. Gentleman has characteristically brought to the House since his election 10 years ago.

Bills Presented

Armed Forces

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Fallon, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Philip Hammond, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Sajid Javid, Secretary Justine Greening, Secretary John Whittingdale, the Attorney General and Mark Lancaster, presented a Bill to continue the Armed Forces Act 2006; to make provision about service discipline; to make provision about Ministry of Defence fire-fighters; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 70) with explanatory notes (Bill 70-EN).

International Trade Agreements (Scrutiny) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies, supported by Hywel Williams, Mike Weir, Nia Griffith, Zac Goldsmith, Mr Mark Williams, Sir Alan Meale, Helen Hayes, Catherine West, Daniel Zeichner and Jo Cox, presented a Bill to require scrutiny of and enable amendments to international trade agreements, including investor state dispute settlements, by the European and UK Parliaments; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 November, and to be printed (Bill 71).