HC Deb 20 October 1971 vol 823 cc721-3
35. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will now bring forward proposals to extend the time available for Parliamentary Questions on the lines suggested by the Select Committee on Procedure in the previous Parliament.

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

Last April I indicated to the House that I thought it would be wise to consider the effect on Question Time of the various changes implemented at that time. I am certainly prepared now to consider any representations as a result of experience so far.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does not experience so far confirm that if an hon. Member puts a Question down for Oral Answer to one of the Ministers named in Question No. 36 the odds are against his getting an Oral Answer? Does not that indicate that there is inadequate time for Answers to Parliamentary Questions? In view of the wisdom and quality of the Answers now given, would not the House be benefited by a longer time to enjoy them?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree with my right hon. Friend's last comment. The House as a whole must consider carefully how it wishes to use its time to the best advantage as between Question Time, Private Notice Questions and Statements, and the normal Business of the House. I am prepared to consider the exact amount of time which is used for each.

Mr. Fernyhough

Would there not be far more time for genuine Questions if Ministers who do not like to answer Questions did not seek to have too many "stooge" Questions put down?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would not accept that. Question Time would be much more profitable if the many odd Questions which are tabled for purely political purposes and which are not designed to seek information were not tabled.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend that 24 minutes each week could be added to Question Time if it began at 2.30 p.m. and Prayers were taken beforehand, with Mr. Speaker entering the Chamber at the beginning of Question Time at 2.30 p.m.? Is he aware that that would not rob anyone?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not for me to pronounce one way or the other on what your personal desires might be in this matter, Mr. Speaker. It is possible to start Question Time 10 minutes earlier if the House so desires. As yet I have not been made aware of any general desire of the House suggesting that this should be done. I am ready to consider it if I am given such information.

36. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is aware of the difficulty experienced by hon. Members in putting Questions for Oral Answer to the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Environment, Defence and Social Services; and what proposals he has to improve the position.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am prepared to consider any particular difficulties which may be represented to me. If changes in the Question roster would help I am always ready to discuss them through the usual channels.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Arising from that Answer and the Answer to the previous Question, can my right hon. Friend think of any other way in which the seven or eight minutes involved in the Select Committee's recommendations could be better spent than by allowing perhaps eight or nine Oral Questions to Ministers to be fully answered?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am quite prepared to consider that point of view and am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing it.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the increasingly unlikely event of this country entering the European Economic Community the scope of Questions of the kind to which his right hon. Friend is referring will be greatly limited, since the E.C.S.C. rules prevent general directives being issued, in which case no more general directive Questions could be put? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to safeguard the rights of the House in this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

If the hon. Gentleman does not think that we will enter I do not see why he is asking the question.