As a consequence of devolution, the range of issues which are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office is narrower than that of other Departments. The introduction of topical questions might lead to a situation where a number of the questions asked fall outside the range of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In May, the former Leader of the House wrote to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee citing these as the reasons why we will not be introducing topical questions to oral questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that response, but would he not accept that especially with regard to Northern Ireland, although a number of issues are indeed devolved, there are very serious issues that are not devolved, and there have been occasions—some could argue yesterday even—when very important issues could do with being raised during Northern Ireland questions? So will he reconsider allowing just 10 minutes of topical questions? I am not really sure what harm that could do.
The concern has been that questions could be ruled out of order by the Chairman or that they might not be answered substantively, and that less time would be available for questions that had been balloted for in the usual way. This is simply an attempt by the House to ensure that the time is allocated as efficiently as possible.
I have no idea who this Chairman person is, but I will give the matter a bit of thought and see if I can work it out.
I have every sympathy with what the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) is proposing, Mr Speaker, but you are always very kind and assiduous in ensuring that all right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland get a chance to ask our questions. If we had topical questions, that would reduce those opportunities. Could we instead have more time for Northern Ireland questions?
There is pressure on the time in the House and we have a six-week cycle for questions to each Department. However, these matters are always carefully considered and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I will certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments.