§ Mr. Farr
On a point of order. May I raise with you, Mr. Speaker, a point of order relating to Question Time?
Some weeks ago, I tabled a Question for answer by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food next Wednesday. On that day, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster happens to be answering Oral Questions first. But, in the expectation that he would take only his normal four or five questions, I tabled my Question to the Minister of Agriculture. However, I notice from the Order Paper which I received this morning that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now has no fewer than 56 Oral Questions on Wednesday, no fewer than 48 of which have been tabled by hon. Members opposite during the last few days.
It appears to me, particularly as the last time the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster answered Questions, on 3rd February, he had only five to which to reply, that hon. Members opposite desire 36 to shelter the Minister of Agriculture from Questions by tabling a number of frivolous Questions which could perfectly well be answered by Written Answers.
My purpose in rising is to ask whether you would be good enough to rule whether you consider such behaviour to be in the best traditions of the House and, further, whether you think that it is in the best interests of the House that hon. Members, on either side of the House, should be forbidden the opportunity to question the Minister of Agriculture for the first time in six weeks.
§ Mr. Speaker
I say nothing whatsoever one way or the other about the hon. Gentleman's suspicions. As regards the propriety of what has happened, a number of Questions, all of which are in order, have been tabled. I cannot assist the hon. Gentleman about that. It is the right of hon. Members to table Questions which are in order. If we found a great deal of interest in the activities of one Department, some adjustment of the roster might be necessary, but that has not arisen yet.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
Further to that point of order. Is not a rather serious situation arising and is not the House in danger of losing some of its dignity and its reputation? Are there not many examples, bogus points of order, or whatever it may be? We now seem to see Question Time, far from being a time devoted to the elicitation of information and having a bit of fun with the Government, being used as a party weapon at the cost of the reputation of the House.
While the interests of hon. Members are very important, the reputation of the House should be the dearest thing to all of us and above all the interests of individual Members. Can you not take a definite step, Mr. Speaker, to express your disapproval, or approval, to the whole House?
§ Sir D. Renton
Further to that point of order. Is it not a well-known fact, known throughout the world, that Question Time is the most effective instrument for the exercise of democracy in this country, and are not these practices, intended to destroy the effectiveness of Question Time, about the most killing thing which democracy can face?
§ Mr. Speaker
No one has greater concern than I about the state of Question Time, for obvious reasons. I do not think it right to make pronouncements about it myself. I hope to have the opportunity in due course to put my views to the Select Committee which the House has appointed to examine the matter. I doubt whether discussion of our practices after Questions, like this, very much helps one way or the other.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
On a point of order. As the Minister of Agriculture is bound to be keen to answer these Questions, can he not ask the Leader of the House whether he could answer them on Friday?
§ Mr. Speaker
No doubt if changes in our practice are recommended to us by the Select Committee, and adopted by the House, changes of that kind can be made. I doubt whether we are assisted by such suggestions now.