HC Deb 07 April 1971 vol 815 cc641-3

Motion made and Question proposed,

That Standing Order No. 8 (Questions to Members) be amended, as follows:—

Line 41, leave out 'twenty-one' and insert 'ten sitting'.

Line 42, leave out from 'notice' to end of line 45.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

1.12 a.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing this Report before us and for proposing these changes I hope that a successful experiment will result. But the recom- mendation in paragraph 6 might encourage Ministers to "pad up" and it might be a bad thing if they were able to put their pads in front of the stumps on all questions.

As for paragraph 14, the only real beneficiary on today's Order Paper would be the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). Also, this might not help Ministers who are second on the Paper, which might not be much comfort to the Minister for the Civil Service.

But, more seriously, hon. Members might seek to evade the new regulations by developing a different form of abuse, by getting together to duplicate or "tag" Questions, and if there is a limitation on supplementaries, this might make the task of the Chair difficult. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would undertake to keep an eye on this.

1.14 a.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for accepting all the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, of which I was a member at the time, except the one on the time on Question Time. We recommended that this should be one hour starting at 2.20 p.m. But the Parliamentary Lobby journalists represented that it would not be welcome to them in view of their important business engagements over lunch. In addition, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, said that he would find no difficulty, but perhaps it is wiser, since we had a change of Speaker, that this recommendation should not be implemented until we see how you find Question Time.

May I answer what my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said about the separation of pairs of Questions? This was recommended to Mr. Speaker by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). Mr. Speaker himself thought that it would be better. From Table 1 in our Report one sees that 6 per cent. of the number of potential questioners asked 40 per cent. of the Questions. So it looks as if Question Time is not being fairly shared at present. I know that hon. Members are able to get round any Standing Order and find ways of tacking on, but this will be a fairer system and I hope that the experiment succeeds.

My right hon. Friend has recommended the adoption of paragraph 6. That goes back to the old system under Mr. Speaker Fitzroy who occasionally allowed a second supplementary question, and avoids the difficulty alluded to by my hon. Friend of Minister's being able to pad up. Notwithstanding the padding up, the second supplementary question enables the active backbencher to hit the stumps. I hope that you, Sir, will welcome the recommendation in paragraph 6, particularly as it enables you to disallow a supplementary question if you think that it is not relevant to the Question. That again goes back to the old days of Mr. Speaker Fitzroy when more Questions were asked at Question Time than have been asked in recent months. I hope that this alteration will be to the benefit of the House.

Question put and agreed to.