HC Deb 13 July 1961 vol 644 cc583-5
Mr. F. Noel-Baker

On a point of order. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether I might draw your attention to the fact that today the Prime Minister has answered only one Question out of eight Questions put down to him. On Tuesday, he answered four. I think that I am right in saying that in recent weeks, the right hon. Gentleman has rarely, if ever, answered all the Questions put down to him. This puts hon. Members in a great difficulty. Often, they wish to ask the Prime Minister topical questions and to have an answer. It has become virtually impossible for more than a very few hon. Members to put Questions to the Prime Minister.

Would you not look at this matter again, Mr. Speaker, and see whether the Prime Minister could not be required to answer Questions at a specific time on a day when he is here? We all recognise the great burdens on the right hon. Gentleman, but this is a difficult situation. Could you not consider whether some arrangement could be made to enable us to put Questions to the Prime Minister from time to time?

Sir T. Beamish

Further to that point of order. I am sure that the whole House greatly regrets that the Prime Minister's Questions are so seldom reached, or that, if they are reached, only one or two are answered. I do not want to be unduly critical, but is it not a fact that the immense length of supplementary questions, particularly by Scottish hon. Members, is the main reason?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) was here on the last occasion when this invitation was addressed to me. I am very much concerned about it. My predecessors have never of their own initiative instituted a change of this kind. What I do on these occasions is to invite the wishes and feelings of the House in the ordinary way.

I am, however, bitterly disappointed that we have not done better today, although we have been doing a little better lately. Today, unfortunately, we had rather a patch of points of order in the middle of Questions; the reason was not so much the length of supplementary questions. We were not doing badly until then.

I am greatly obliged to hon. Members when they contrive to keep the length of supplementary questions and answers short. That helps us all. I would hate to introduce any nationalistic competition into this aspect of Questions.

Miss Herbison

Further to that point of order. Has not the hon. Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) used his eyes or his ears this afternoon to find that there is not a single Scottish Question on the Order Paper? [Laughter.] Even if there is laughter, the Questions asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) applied not only to Scotland, but to the fishing interest of the whole of Britain. Is the hon. Member not also aware that on Tuesdays, when the Prime Minister answers Questions, it is only about once in six weeks that Scottish Members have the chance of putting Questions on a great variety of matters to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that we are a bit tired of this?

Mr. Speaker

I am inclined to think that that slightly reinforces my hope when I suggest to the House that we do not complicate this rather difficult matter by nationalistic propositions one way or the other.

Mr. Shinwell

Could we not avoid all this frustration and these repeated protests about the Prime Minister's inability, or, no doubt, willingness, to answer Questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays if the proposal, which has been made frequently by a number of hon. Members, including myself, that the Prime Minister should answer Questions at 3.15 p.m. were accepted by the House?

Mr. Speaker

I have explained my position about that. It is true that the proposal has been made frequently. I think.hat it is known to exist as a proposal.

Sir T. Moore

Further to that point of order. Might we not consider the position of the Prime Minister himself? He has to go through all these Questions and come down here prepared to answer them. On occasions, his whole time, or seven-eighths of it, is wasted without his answering or being permitted to answer any Questions? May I, therefore, support the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that we again consider the possibility of the Prime Minister answering Questions at 3.15?

Mr. Speaker

I quite understand that. I think that the desire of the House to consider the matter is plain.

Mr. Gaitskell

Was it not the fact that following the last occasion on which the proposal was made that the Prime Minister should answer Questions at 3.15, there were discussions and it was agreed to give the existing arrangements a further trial? After what has happened today, however, perhaps the situation might be looked at again with a view to the Prime Minister answering Questions at 3.15.

Mr. Speaker

It is true that there were further discussions and that that was the result of them. The initiative in this matter should rightly come from somebody else. I am only anxious to work the system as the House desires it to be worked.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Further to that point of order. May I make the suggestion, which has not been made during all the time that this matter has been before the House, that a day should be allocated to the Prime Minister to answer Questions—a whole day?

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion will be borne in mind. It is, perhaps, wise to remember that it might require withdrawing one day from Scotland.