HC Deb 20 November 1968 vol 773 cc1290-2
36. Mr. Fisher

asked the Lord President of the Council whether, despite the merger of the Secretary-hips of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, he will arrange to retain separate Parliamentary Questions for these two subjects, so that hon. Members are not precluded by congestion on the Order Paper from obtaining Oral Answers once every four weeks.

Mr. Peart

No, Sir. As I replied to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) on 14th November, I consider the present arrangements already provide that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an appropriate share of Question Time.

Mr. Fisher

But has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that on Monday, when the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was answering, only about half the Questions for Oral Answers were reached. As that is likely to prove typical, does he think that there is a case for this very important combined Department having more Question time, as the two separate Departments had until this Session? Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to look into the matter again in the light of experience over the next few months?

Mr. Peart

I know of the hon. Member's great interest in this matter. I will sympathetically consider looking at it. Several Departments have almost as many Questions addressed to them as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I will not weary the House with the list. This is a very difficult matter.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not the case that over the years the amount of time for Questions and debate given to external affairs in the House has tended to go down, although there is considerable interest in the subject? Will my right hon. Friend at least undertake to look at this again in view of the merger of the two Ministries, see how it works, and be prepared to be a little more flexible?

Mr. Peart

The decision has been made. I have said I will look at it sympathetically. All I am suggesting is that other important Departments which affect the life and the economy of our country are also in the same position.

37. Mr. Marten

asked the Lord President of the Council why he, the Attorney-General and the Paymaster-General are each only to answer Questions once in seven weeks; and if he will take steps to increase the frequency so that one of them answers each Wednesday.

Mr. Peart

In fact, my right hon. Friends and I answer Questions as frequently as the other Departments on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Mr. Marten

As the Paymaster-General now has many multifarious questions to answer for in this House, ought we not to see her here more often? After all, unlike the previous Paymaster-General, she has nothing to hide.

Mr. Peart

I accept what the hon. Member has said, that there was no provision in the previous roster. The Paymaster-General is due to answer Questions, after only four weeks in the current roster, on Wednesday, 27th November. She will be due to answer again in the second week of the sittings after Christmas, a gap of five sitting weeks. I think that this is satisfactory.

40. Mr. Ridley

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will arrange for a limit to be placed on the number of days that may elapse between a Parliamentary Question being put down and being transferred.

Mr. Peart

I would refer the hon. Member to a Written Answer I gave on 23rd July last.—[Vol. 769, c. 91–2.]

Mr. Ridley

Without knowing what that Answer said, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that Questions have been transferred at later and later dates after being put down? Is he also aware that there is a curious coincidence in that the more awkward the Question the more likely it seems to be transferred? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that this obnoxious practice by Ministers will be brought to an end?

Mr. Peart

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I believe that in a particular case a Department did apologise. I will convey the feelings of the House to Departmental Ministers. I will act in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's question.