HC Deb 12 March 1919 vol 113 cc1289-91

I desire to ask you, Sir, a question with reference to the growing difficulty of dealing with the number of starred questions on the Paper. I understand from your ruling that without an alteration in the Standing Orders it is impossible to extend the time for answering these questions. The point I desire to put to you is, whether the Clerks at the Table could be invested with the discretion to unstar such questions as, on the face of them—[Hon. Members: "No!"]—ought not to lead to supplementary questions, and could be more properly dealt with by written answers, always, of course, subject to appeal to you.


Standing Order No. 9 deals with questions, and the starring or unstarring of questions is left, under that Standing Order, to hon. Members themselves. Even if I had the wish, I could not of my own power give any such instructions as the hon. Member proposes. I believe when the Rule was established, in 1902, that the proposal which the hon. Member has made, or something very nearly akin to it, was submitted to the House, and the House decided against it. Until the House reverses that decision and alters the Standing Order, I am afraid that I am not in a position to take any action, but I might appeal to hon. Members generally not to put down questions which involve replies containing a largo number of figures. They are really impossible to follow when read out it the Table, however clearly and distinctly they may be read out. They must be considered in print. Might I also suggest that questions which relate to the demobilisation of individual soldiers, although of great interest to the particular soldier, are really of no public interest, and might equally be dealt with either by letter to the Department, or by unstarred question? There is another series of questions, relating to the time when a Committee or Commission will report. That is a matter which is entirely out of the hands of the Minister. He can only give a general and vague answer. Therefore, those questions, I think, might also very fairly be put among the unstarred questions. If some limit were also put to the number of supplementary questions, we should then stand a very fair chance of getting through the questions. To-day, I think, we have got through eighty questions, and there were thirty supplementary questions. If the time which has been spent on the thirty supplementary questions had been spent on the questions on the Paper, I believe that we should have got through the whole list.