HC Deb 08 October 1946 vol 427 cc20-3
45. Mr. Keeling

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that in the period of the Session between the Whitsun and the Summer Recesses Oral Questions to the Minister of Town and Country Planning were only reached once, to the Minister of Works twice, to the Minister of Supply, Attorney-General and Dominions Office three times, and that altogether during this period 1,452 Questions put down for oral answer were not reached and less than a third of the Questions to the War Office, Board of Trade and Ministry of Food were reached; and whether, in view of the value of Questions and the limited opportunities now available to Private Members he will propose an increase in Question time.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for sending me the figures upon which his Question is based. The proposal to increase Question time has been raised before, but the Government consider that its adoption might well result in more Oral Questions and even more supplementary questions. This was found to be the case in 1916 when Question time was extended for a short period of the Session. I venture to suggest, Sir, as you have done on several occasions, that we might be able to get through more Oral Questions if, in the general interest, hon. Members would cooperate in reducing, so far as possible, the number of supplementary questions. I would add, if I may, that it would also help if Oral Questions were reserved for matters which are not suitable for Written Questions or cannot be dealt with by correspondence with the Minister concerned.

Mr. Keeling

Is the Leader of the House aware that the chief value of an Oral Question is that one can put a supplementary; is he also aware that there is a widespread desire in all parties for more oral answers?

Mr. Morrison

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. That is, of course, the main attraction of Oral Questions, but, whilst I concede that hon. Members whose Questions are not reached would like more time in which they might be reached, I think, in the light of experience, it would lead to more Questions, and then we should have the complaint that we were cutting into the time allowed for the Debates which follow and which concern the main business before the House.

Mr. Stokes

Is not the chief difficulty that at last we have got a "live" Parliament, and will the Leader of the House bear in mind, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has said, that the whole point of Members asking Questions is for them to pursue them with supplementaries, if necessary, to the inconvenience of my right hon. Friend and his associates on the Front Bench?

Mr. Morrison

Personally, I like supplementary questions very much. It is only a question of having some degree of restraint in the interests of other Members who have main Questions to follow. As to the "live" Parliament, I quite agree with my hon. Friend. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy a "live" Parliament.

Mr. De la Bère

It wants livening up more.

Mr. Eden

In view of the formidable figures which this Question reveals, and while as a former Leader of the House I admit some of the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman, might I ask whether he will consider asking the Select Committee on Procedure to look at this problem again in the light of the position revealed by this Question?

Mr. Morrison

It is perfectly competent for the Select Committee on Procedure to include this in the matters which they consider, but, honestly, I do not think the case is strong enough for the Government to ask them to do so. I ask hon. Members to look up the history of 1916 when the time for Questions was extended. They will find that it resulted in a large number of additional Questions, so that it did not solve the problem.

Mr. McGovern

Is it not very odd for the suggestion to come from the Front Bench—

Mr. Morrison

Which Front Bench?

Mr. McGovern

The Government Front Bench—that supplementary questions should be curtailed—seeing that all the hon. and right hon. Members of the Front Bench take precedence over back bench hon. Members and use it fully? Is it not in the power of Mr. Speaker to curtail supplementary questions?

Mr. Morrison

The last thing I would do would be to impinge on the powers of Mr. Speaker. All I did was to repeat some observations Mr. Speaker made some time ago.

Captain John Crowder

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has asked hon. Members to put down more Questions for written answer, could he not ask the Departments to give the answers in a reasonable time, because one can only get an answer quickly by putting down an Oral Question?

Mr. Morrison

That is an old story, and I agree that in the past there have been complaints about it, but the Government did take steps to see that the Departments were hurried up. If hon. Members find that answers are taking a long time and they will let me know, I will take it up with the Departments concerned.

Major Beamish

Would it not save time it the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) would cut down his supplementary questions by 50 per cent.?