HC Deb 23 March 1976 vol 908 cc203-4
Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had occasion to shout some words from a sedentary position on Question No. Q1 to the Prime Minister. That Question referred to correspondence conducted by the Prime Minister on various unspecified subjects. You will understand, Mr. Speaker, as much as anybody, that the way in which hon. Members table Questions to the Prime Minister and the form of wording are severely limited. Therefore, it follows that supplementary questions bear a fairly distant relationship to the matter at hand and are related only tenuously to the original Question. If I may say so with respect, Mr. Speaker, there is an increasing irritation in the House that you are interrupting too much—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am expressing my own view, and I can express it in other ways if need be, but I put forward that view as respectfully as I can. There is an increasing irritation on this side of the House that you are seeking unduly to restrict hon. Members in the form of their supplementary questions, not only to the Prime Minister but to other Ministers.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Member for his courtesy. It is my responsibility to see that supplementary questions are related to the original Question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Undoubtedly, there has been a weakening on that score. I believe that it is in the best interests of the House that supplementary questions shall be related to Questions on the Order Paper, otherwise the House will become completely disorderly.

Mr. Atkinson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know, from your long experience, that this place reeks with privilege and patronage of the worst kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] You will also know that it is not so much a matter of being above or below the Gangway as of being above or below stairs. Today's Order Paper is a dramatic illustration of the privilege accorded to Privy Councillors and others in terms of treatment given to right hon. and hon. Members. I refer to Question No. 4 to the Prime Minister relating to Chancellor Schmidt.

Hon. Members have gone to the Table Office seeking to place a particular Question and have found that one set of rules applies to some Members and another set of rules to another set of Members. In other words, some hon. Members find their Questions ruled out of order. If an hon. Member seeks to ask the Prime Minister when he next intends to visit Barnsley, that appears to be in order, but if an hon. Member seeks to ask him to go to Barnsley to look into the NUJ situation there, or whatever it may be, that is ruled out of order, or the Prime Minister transfers the Question to the appropriate Minister. That is why I am saying that privilege applies to the Order Paper, as is clearly demonstrated today. We should surely try to ensure that Back Benchers have an equal chance to put sensible Questions to the Prime Minister and to other Ministers.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman put his point. I shall do my utmost—I can do no more—to see that the rights of Back Benchers are protected. I have tried to adopt that course ever since I came to the Chair.