HC Deb 20 January 1971 vol 809 cc1064-5
40. Mr. Spearing

asked the Lord President of the Council if he is aware that the effective Question Time allocated to the Department of the Environment between 27th October and 18th December was approximately 165 minutes compared with approximately 270 minutes allocated to the equivalent Departments on the original Question schedule for that period; and if he will now take steps to increase the time allocated to the Department of the Environment so that its first place time is equivalent to that given to the displaced Departments.

Mr. Whitelaw

Although I do not think the hon. Member's comparison is a valid one, I am sure that he knows that I am always willing to consider changes through the usual channels, if that appears to be the general wish.

Mr. Spearing

Concerning validity, is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the figures which I have provided are not correct or that they are an inadequate reflection on what is likely to occur in the House?

Mr. Whitelaw

In the first instance, the problem is complex because, in making a comparison, one must take into account not only the occasions on which a Department is top for Questions but the likelihood of its being reached when it is not top. That is certainly a possibility in the particular case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Concerning the roster, having had considerable experience both in Opposition in the last Parliament and now in Government, I can say that one of the great problems in preparing a Question roster is that it is impossible to satisfy everyone's requirements and needs. I am certainly prepared to do my best.

Mr. Cant

While appreciating that the number of minutes devoted to Questions is of paramount importance, may I ask the Leader of the House to try to persuade his right hon. Friend that his Department would acquire much greater status in terms of improving the environment if it would place the reclamation of land in the key sector of capital expenditure when he comes to think about this problem some time in the future, and whether he would talk to him about this matter with particular reference to the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

Mr. Whitelaw

I learn most things very slowly, but one thing which I have learned since I have been Leader of the House is that it is extremly unwise for me to depart from questions of Business into questions of policy. I will, therefore, not be tempted on this occasion.