HC Deb 18 November 1970 vol 806 cc1227-9
35. Mr. Lipton

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will move to amend the Standing Orders to provide that Questions to Ministers shall not be tabled more than two weeks before such Questions are due to be answered.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to him on this matter on 28th October.

Only two hon. Members have so far approached me, but I will continue to keep these matters under review.—[Vol. 805, c. 215–6.]

Mr. Lipton

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that no hon. Members have approached him to maintain the present system, so the score is two to nil? Three weeks being a long time in politics, will the Lord President of the Council take note that, as a result of the present arrangements, the Order Paper is cluttered up with a load of silly old rubbish which prevents topical Questions from being asked at the appropriate time?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would not be right for me to follow the hon. Gentleman into any comments, critical or otherwise, on the Questions which are put down on the Order Paper. There are problems concerned with the Question roster as it is today, in particular in connection with the introduction of a large new Department. I am prepared to consider the whole problem. I think it right to keep the present Question roster and the present arrangements until Christmas, but I am willing to consider changes thereafter, if that be the general wish of the House. It is a matter for the House.

Mr. Turton

As the right hon. Gentleman has on previous occasions said that he was anxious to hear the presentations of hon. Members, will he arrange a short debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure on this subject before the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will certainly consider what my right hon. Friend says, but I cannot give him a firm guarantee on that. If I cannot find time for such a debate, I shall be happy to hear all representations and try to assess the mood of the House—which can frequently be done without a debate.

Mr. Barnett

Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Prime Minister, who is seriously abusing Question Time by regularly evading Answers to Questions? If we do not get Answers between 3.15 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we might as well dispense with the whole paraphernalia.

Mr. Whitelaw

I can very well understand why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite might like to dispense with the whole procedure—they have recently been so badly worsened in it.

43. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is aware that during the period from the resumption of sittings in October to 12th November it was possible for Ministers to answer orally only 452 of the 1,120 Questions put down for Oral Answer during that period; and whether, in the light of this, he will give further consideration to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session that the time allotted for oral Questions be extended to one hour.

Mr. Whitelaw

I recognise that the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman present the House with a problem. Of course, I will consider further the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I thank my right hon. Friend for what I construe to be a sympathetic reply. Would he agree that the figures suggest that the situation is now similar to that which caused the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Parliament to recommend that the addition of perhaps five or six minutes to Question Time would greatly increase the effectiveness of this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I said in answer to earlier questions, I am certainly prepared to consider carefully all the representations made to me on this point. I believe that the changes such as my right hon. Friend proposes are a matter for the House as a whole, and I would be prepared to regard them in that sense.