HC Deb 10 April 1952 vol 498 cc2982-6
Mr. C. R. Attlee

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any statement to make about Questions to Ministers?

The Minister of Health (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

As the House knows, suggestions have recently been made by hon. Members that Questions addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursdays, and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesdays and Thursdays which are infrequently reached, should rotate with other Departments. I do not much like that word, but that is the technical description.

Mr. George Brown

They are in a flat spin. That is what it means. They are all going into it.

Mr. Crookshank

This suggestion has been considered through the usual channels and it is felt that Questions to Departments which come after the Prime Minister's Questions at No. 45 should all rotate—not only the Agriculture and the Treasury ones, but the Foreign Office, Board of Trade, Defence and Food as well. I suggest that we might well try this arrangement for an experimental period immediately after the Easter Recess and see if it meets with the difficulties. It does not have to be immutable. If it does not work out satisfactorily, we can think again, but it is the best suggestion I can put to the House today.

Mr. Attlee

I am not quite clear on the statement. Can we take it that Questions to the Minister of Agriculture, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the rest, will still rotate after Question No. 45 and not come before Question No. 45? It is not clear.

Mr. Crookshank

I thought that they were to join the rotation on that day, but if I have it wrong, I apologise. The matter has been cleared through the usual channels, I understand.

Mr. Attlee

I do not think that the usual channels were quite clear on this. I understand that hitherto these Questions had their special day after Question No. 45.

Mr. Crookshank

That is right.

Mr. Attlee

I understand now that they will rotate with other Questions, whether before or after.

Mr. Crookshank

No, only after. If they went into the general rotation, they might not emerge for quite a long time. At present it is fixed in this order: Agriculture, Treasury, Board of Trade, and so on. It is that rotation which is involved, as I understand it.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is it not a fact that all this difficulty about the number of Questions answered would not arise if hon. Members would show more restraint and put snappy supplementaries instead of the interminably long questions in which many hon. Members opposite indulge?

Mr. G. Brown

I cannot believe that the position is as the Leader of the House last put it to us. If it is, it will certainly not help Agriculture Questions at all. It will make the position very much worse. I assume that the point is that these Questions, which come after Question No. 45, seldom get reached and that they are now to go into the general rotation on that day, so that once in a number of weeks Agriculture Questions will be first, then second, third, and so on. I understand that that will be the position, and it seems worth trying. But I ask the Leader of the House whether it is not a fact that once before Agriculture Questions were in that position but were taken out and made firm after Question No. 45 simply because we found that we so infrequently got to those Questions that we could not deal with policy. I hope the Leader of the House will stick to the point that this is not immutable, but only experimental, and that we may have a look at this matter again. Personally, I agree with the solution suggested by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams).

Mr. Crookshank

I think I have it clear now. I apologise. This is just an experiment. The right hon. Gentleman is right. These Questions used to be in the general list and then, because it was sometimes so long before they emerged, that Department were given a firm place at Question No. 45. That does not seem to have worked out either, so it is proposed, as an experiment, to go back to the general rotation and see if that works any better. It failed earlier but, after all, in the old days these difficulties did not arise. I am not sure how far they are merely connected with the general increase in the number of Questions or how far the difficulty arises from the greater number of Questions which are asked early in the Session rather than late and, I should imagine, early in the lifetime of a Government rather than late. There are various factors which have been mentioned which militate against the smooth running of Questions. I think the only course is for the House to give this a trial as an experiment. The right hon. Gentleman's interpretation is quite right. If I gave too snappy an answer, I apologise.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan

May I ask how many Departments will rotate after Question No. 45? I think my right hon. Friend mentioned the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture. Are there any others? Will it be once every third week that we shall get the Ministry of Agriculture Questions after Question No. 45?

Mr. Crookshank

They will not be after Question No. 45. They are coming into the general rotation. How often they will come is a matter for those concerned in the working out of these most elaborate schedules.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Is not the cause of the difficulty that the system by which Questions were put after those to the Prime Minister so that they might be reached has broken down, because nowadays they are not reached? Is it not true that the system now proposed by the Leader of the House is that only Questions to the Prime Minister should be fixed and that all others should rotate?

Mr. Crookshank

That is right.

Mr. William Ross

Would the right hon. Gentleman consult the Secretary of State for Scotland about these arrangements and also take into account Scottish opinion in the House? This means that on Tuesdays it will take very much longer before Scottish Questions come to the top of the list. As the right hon. Gentleman will realise, Scottish Members have to address various Questions to one Department whereas English Members can ask Questions of about five or six different Ministers. We have to tie down our Questions to one Minister on one day. If this new system retards us still further, Scotland, which disappears from Question time for five or six weeks, will now disappear for between seven and eight weeks.

Mr. Noel-Baker

May I ask a further question on a point of clarification? In what I last said I was wrong. In addition to the Prime Minister's Questions remaining fixed, will not Questions to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, the Charity Commission and the Church Commissioner also remain fixed?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is becoming a debate. Private Members' day has to be considered.