HC Deb 17 November 1959 vol 613 cc980-4
Mr. Nabarro

On a point of order. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that this is the third occasion now in two weeks when I and, I suppose, a large number of other right hon. and hon. Members have come here to listen to the Prime Minister answer Questions addressed to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Prime Minister is not here."] Yes, my right hon. Friend is here. He is seated at the end of the Front Bench. I can see him. As we have, on this side of the House, again been frustrated in listening to our Leader answer the Questions addressed to him, cannot we appeal to you once more, Mr. Speaker, to have the Prime Minister brought in at 3.15 promptly to answer the Questions addressed to him instead of our having to listen to a lot of routine, Departmental answers of relatively small consequence?

Mr. Donnelly

Further to the point of order. Are you aware, Sir, that behind the facade of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) there are two very strong points of substance?

Mr. Nabarro

Hear, hear.

Mr. Donnelly

First, there is the matter of the Questions addressed to the Prime Minister. Secondly, there is the point about the right hon. Gentleman who has just been answering Questions. It is quite possible that, owing to the arrangements, we shall not have the benefit of the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box before Christmas, and I notice that a large number of the Questions addressed to him today still remain unanswered orally. This stems partly from the right hon. Gentleman's dual responsibility in that he is also answering Questions dealing with Welsh affairs.

As the Leader of the House has just come into the Chamber, I wonder whether he can tell us what consideration he has given, first, to the matter of Questions addressed to the Prime Minister, and, secondly, to having a second day for the Minister for Welsh Affairs to answer Welsh Questions.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member rose to a point of order which was addressed to me, and I will seek to answer it. First, I do not propose to declare that of which I am aware with regard to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), which deals with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.

As to the second part, I appreciate the difficulty of hon. Members arising out of the fact that we make such poor progress with Questions some days. I appreciate the difficulty, although it really must be a matter, one would think, for discussion primarily through the usual channels as to what arrangement of a new kind, if such be desired, the House would wish to make.

Mr. Osborne

Might I put this for your consideration, Mr. Speaker? Since this problem will arise whichever Minister is answering first at Question Time, is it possible for you to consider with the usual channels whether some of the Questions which are purely constituency Questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and cannot be as important to the whole House as Questions on international affairs—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]— could be dealt with in some other manner, so that the important Questions in which we are all interested could be dealt with by the Prime Minister at least by 3.15 p.m.?

Mr. Speaker

I feel confident that that is a point of the kind which would necessarily be discussed through the usual channels if this matter is to be considered at all.

Mr. Hamilton

Surely a much more important point of substance, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that we have not had the Secretary of State for Scotland answering Questions in the House since July and that we are not likely to have the opportunity of asking him Questions before Christmas? Moreover, the Secretary of State, unfortunately, appears on a Tuesday after the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Will whoever is to look into this bear in mind that the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for virtually all Departments in Scotland, and will the usual channels consider specialising the Questions on Scotland and allow Scottish Members to ask housing Questions relating to Scotland in the same order in which Questions are addressed on the Order Paper to English Ministers?

Mr. Gaitskell

For my part, I would think it quite proper that the usual channels should discuss the two questions of the time at which the Prime Minister should answer his Questions, a point which was raised in the Select Committee on Procedure, and whether there should be an extra day for the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, a question which has often been under consideration with other Departments before. I should like to say that I do not think that it would be appropriate for the usual channels to interfere in any way with the discretion of hon. Members to put down Questions for oral answer as they please.

Sir A. V. Harvey

You said, Mr. Speaker, that the matter could be discussed through the usual channels. As Question Time is mainly back benchers' time, could the discussions be widened and could back benchers as a whole be brought into them to discuss a matter which vitally affects them?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

We had it in mind that the question of the Prime Minister's time for answering and the question raised by the Select Committee, that there should be two Questions only per Member per day, should be among those which we should resolve after Christmas in relation to other matters of procedure which I have undertaken to lay before the House. I think that that would be more convenient. I agree that it leaves a small period before Christmas when we may have a bit of a jam, but I think that we should leave it until then and take all the procedure questions together, for that would be more satisfactory. I have heard the points of view of a great many hon. Members, and I will discuss the matter also through the usual channels and attempt to reach a conclusion in good time.

Mr. Shinwell

Why does the right hon. Gentleman propose to discuss the matter through the usual channels, because if a decision is reached through the usual channels it may be binding on back benchers? Why should we be shackled to the usual channels? Will the right hon. Gentleman also take note that in the course of our proceedings this afternoon only one Privy Councillor from the back benches asked a supplementary question, and it did not happen to be me?

Mr. Butler

I cannot shackle myself to a particular decision. I should like to say that in most cases of procedure a Motion is put on the Order Paper, and when the Motion is put on the Order Paper any hon. Member will be able to debate it and give his or her opinion. That, I think, will indicate that we are not shackling the right hon. Gentleman to the usual channels, which is a very difficult and slippery process to undertake.

Captain Pilkington

Do you not agree, Mr. Speaker, that one answer to this problem is shorter supplementary questions and shorter answers?

Mr. Speaker

I have already made my plea to the House about it.

Mr. Manuel

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It seems quite obvious to me that if we are to pursue the conversations through the usual channels on the lines of the present time allowed for Questions we shall make very little headway. Could we not agree to consider the extension of this liveliest period in the House by 30 or 15 minutes in order to obtain a better solution of the whole problem?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer problems of that kind as points of order. I have no doubt that the hon. Member's suggestion will have been heard.