HC Deb 09 March 1972 vol 832 cc1654-7
Mr. John E. B. Hill

On a point of order. Is it quite within the spirit of the rules of the House regarding Questions, Mr. Speaker, that so many virtually identical Questions should be tabled, thus taking a large part of Prime Minister's Question Time? Might not this matter be looked at by the Select Committee, as it delays other Questions?

Mr. Speaker

I was given notice of a point of order on this point. If the hon. Member looks at page 325 of "Erskine May", he will see it laid down that When the Prime Minister himself has made a speech on a public occasion outside the House, a question may be asked about it only in the form of asking him to place a copy of the speech in the Library. It so happens that a good many hon. Members had the idea of asking the same Question. They were perfectly in order in doing so, and they all tabled them, more or less, at the same time. It is not unreasonable, when the Prime Minister makes an important speech, for hon. Members to seek to ask him about it, and this is the only form in which such a Question can be tabled. But I have no objection to the matter going to the Committee on Procedure.

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to that point of order. I do not think it has been the practice hitherto, Mr. Speaker, but you have called hon. Members from alternate sides of the House, hon. Members who did not have Questions down on this particular item but who, because they were called, excluded hon. Members who had later Questions down. This is a very unsatisfactory practice.

Mr. Speaker

Even the Chair is allowed a little variety. I called every single hon. Member who had a Question on this point and wished to ask a supplementary. I was quite within my rights in interweaving other hon. Members.

Mr. Hamilton

If you examine, Mr. Speaker, the way in which you called hon. Members on this occasion, you will find that hon. Members on the Government side of the House were called who did not have Questions down on this matter. That had the effect of excluding hon. Members who had later Questions to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) has been in the House a very long time. The question of selecting hon. Members for supplementary questions is entirely for the Chair. I would have been within my rights in not calling a single hon. Member for a supplementary question; but that would have been unwise and undesirable.

Dr. Miller

On a point of order. Would it be in order, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Prime Minister to make fewer speeches and the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) to make them instead?

Mr. Speaker

That certainly is not a point of order.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. You have just observed, Mr. Speaker, that it is for the Chair to select supplementary questions. The Chair, I believe, is under no obligation to select a supplementary question merely because an hon. Member has put down an original Question. If hon. Members were not selected automatically, would not that assist us in what has become the great nuisance of many unintellible Questions being simply put down for the purpose of asking a supplementary question?

Mr. Speaker

I have very great sympathy with the point of view put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope he will help me in quelling the indignation of hon. Members when I do not call them for a supplementary question.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I make the point that you are establishing a new precedent in this matter because you are interweaving with tabled Questions supplementary questions, which is not the normal practice of the Chair? Is it your desire, Mr. Speaker, to set this new precedent?

Mr. Speaker

I am setting no new precedent. I am following my own example; it may be a bad one. I have done this several times. When there have been several Questions from one side of the House, I agree that it would probably be unfair for me to call hon. Members who have not tabled a Question, unless I get in all those who had Questions down—which I have done. I have called every hon. Member with a Question down who was present and rose to his feet.

Mr. Ashton

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that when we reached Question No. Q3 the Prime Minister answered nine or ten other Questions with it. He asked permission to do so, but whose permission he asked no one seems to know. Would it not be of much more benefit if he did so on many occasions? Why is it that on some Tuesdays and Thursdays the Prime Minister says that, with permission, he will answer other Questions but on other Tuesdays and Thursdays he does not? Is not this an abuse of the House?

Mr. Speaker

It is a form of courtesy to say, "with permission", and I do not think that courtesy is altogether out of place in the House.