HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc615-7
Mr. Heller

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the course of earlier exchanges, one of my hon. Friends was told that he should not stray beyond the terms of the Question to the Prime Minister. May I appeal to you to consider the situation? If we keep Questions so narrow, the only things we shall be able to deal with are those relating to whether the Prime Minister will visit Oslo, Huyton, Liverpool or elsewhere. Because of the nature of Questions to the Prime Minister, the matter of tabling them obviously raises wider issues. May I appeal to you not to keep these matters so narrow as to prevent the House having a genuine discussion based on the Questions which are tabled? I believe that if we were expected to confine Questions too strictly, we might as well wrap up Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he presented his point of order. I am the servant of the House and I want the House to have its wishes fulfilled. I shall consider the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman and notify the House in due course.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you also consider the Report of the Select Committee in 1971–72 which dealt with the subject of parliamentary Questions? That Committee examined the Prime Minister's part in Question Time and we found it hard to find ways of improving the situation. At that time it was the practice to permit supplementary questions to go as wide as some hon. Members endeavoured to get today. The Select Committee suggested that that practice should continue. However, if it is your wish to start breaking precedent, may I personally assure you that you will have the full support of some hon. Members in breaking some of the precedents in this place, although not perhaps this one?

Mr. Speaker

The House must realise that I regard precedent as my great protection. I intend to follow precedent in the attitude I take. I think that older Members of the House will know that the present custom has developed only recently. However, I have undertaken to look at the matter, and since we have before us a heavy programme of business, including statements, I hope that we shall quickly conclude points of order.

Mr. Molloy

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If your endeavours to limit the extent of supplementary questions are aimed at enabling more Back Benchers to ask supplementary questions, will you consider imposing the same strictures on Front Bench as on Back Bench speakers?

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I assure the hon. Member that I shall try to apply the rules fairly and impartially to both sides, and to Front and Back Benches.

Mr. Fairbairn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If as a result of your consideration you should come to the conclusion that supplementary questions to the Prime Minister should be restricted to the subject matter contained in the Questions, will you also ensure that the answers are restricted to the subjects contained in the Questions?

Mr. Speaker

By long custom, the occupant of the Chair never takes responsibility for ministerial replies.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is as well that the House should continue to regard Questions to Ministers as a battle of wits between Ministers and those who question them. May I say that, for my part at least, anything you can do—and, indeed, as you have already done since you have occupied the Chair—to keep Question Time moving fast and the questions addressed to Ministers reasonably relevant, the better, and the more we on the Back Benches can dodge your rulings and get into the heart of Ministers, the better too.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.