HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc909-11
Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Out of 24 Questions tabled to the Home Office, no fewer than 10 were couched in identical terms by Conservative Members. They related to the urban aid programme. Those hon Gentlemen did not even have the wit to change a single word in the Questions. This seems to be an abuse of Question Time. It is a matter which has been raised in previous dispensations. As it is your duty, Mr. Speaker, to protect the interests of Back-Bench Members in all parts of the House, I hope that the matter will be discussed, either informally with the Leader of the House or by some other method, to seek to prevent this abuse.

Mr. Lipton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that I raised a similar point the other day. I do not know whether note has been taken by the Leader of the House of what was said by me and by yourself. We would welcome any approach by the Leader of the House to the Government worthies who sit on the Procedure Committee to get them to do something about it.

Mr. Speaker

This is by no means a new problem. The Select Committee on Procedure examined the very question raised by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in the 1964–65 Session. The syndicalisation of Questions is an old disease that breaks out from time to time, then it is forgotten, and then it comes back. But the Select Committee on Procedure did not find a way of getting over it. Perhaps the hon. Member ought to take the matter up himself with the Leader of the House, who looks as if he has a Christmas message to give us.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I hope that this is an impressive Christmas message. In view of the discussions in the House a few days ago with regard to this matter, and the exchanges again today, we are prepared to suggest that the matter should be referred to the Procedure Committee again, although we are not confident that it will find a solution that it was not able to find before.

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an important matter that could be resolved by Ministers themselves by refusing to take these Questions together and by taking them separately in turn as they appear on the Order Paper.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you think it right for the Committee to take into consideration the way in which the number of Questions answered by Ministers has been declining progressively over a number of years? When hon. Members want to get particular matters raised at Question Time, the natural reaction is for a number of them to pick on items of great interest and to put down similar or identical Questions. Ministers have the solution primarily in their own hands by giving shorter answers and, if necessary, by not linking Questions.

Mr. William Ross

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a very old trick. Would it not be as well for you to remind hon. Members that they do not have the absolute right of being called for a supplementary question?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must answer that one. It is too good to miss. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he says. Just as the Ten Commandments are necessary for all of us to preserve, the theory is better than the practice.

Mr. Pavitt

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If this matter is being considered by the Select Committee on Procedure can it at the same time look at the precedence of Questions on the Order Paper? I understand that at the moment the practice is that they are all put into a pile at 4 o'clock and then their places on the Order Paper are determined by the order in which they come out. As a result some hon. Members are lucky in the draw and others very often are not. Could not the Procedure Committee look at that problem?

Mr. Speaker

I am quite sure that it will.

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