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Speaker's Statement

Volume 363: debated on Wednesday 14 February 2001

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I have a short statement to make about the conduct of Question Time. I wish to ensure that the four hours each week that the House devotes to Question Time are used to best effect.

The primary purpose of Question Time is to hold the Executive to account. "Erskine May" says that a question must either seek information or press for action, and that it must relate to matters for which Ministers are officially responsible. Questions are out of order if they relate to Opposition party policies rather than Government responsibilities. Moreover, a question should not be, in effect, a short speech. [Interruption.] Order. There is more.

Answers should be confined to points contained in the question—[Interruption.] Order. I must deal with criticisms from both sides of the House. As I was saying, answers should be confined to points contained in questions, giving only such explanation as renders an answer intelligible. A certain latitude is permitted to Ministers, but it does not extend to Ministers discussing Opposition policies at length, or to their putting a series of questions to Opposition spokesmen. It is those long-established rules that maintain the difference between Question Time and ordinary debates in the House.

Of course I recognise that, over many years, Question Time has developed as a lively occasion on which political points are scored. That applies particularly to Prime Minister's Question Time. As I said last week, although the same constraints apply, I think it right to allow the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition a greater degree of latitude.

I emphasise that I do not wish to interrupt the flow of questions and answers, but I believe that the House would work better, and would enhance its reputation, if Members followed the basic principles that apply to Question Time. In particular, it is crucial for questions and answers to be short and to the point; that will allow more Members to make a contribution.

Members on both sides of the House have got into bad habits at Question Time, and we must all co-operate to put matters right. I look to Ministers, and to other Members, to respect the rules and practice of the House. I also expect Members to allow me to preside over the House without sedentary comments or noises designed to influence the conduct of the Chair.