HC Deb 20 January 1977 vol 924 cc628-9
Q2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if, following his statement of 21st December, Official Report, column 465, he intends to give evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure concerning the nature of the Questions he is willing to answer during Prime Minister's Question Time.

Q6. Mr. Rost

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he has for improving Prime Minister's Parliamentary Question Time in the light of his remarks on 21st December 1976.

The Prime Minister

The Government referred Questions to the Prime Minister to the Sessional Procedure Committee on 12th January. During the Christmas Recess I made a detailed study of the development of Prime Minister's Question Time since 1945, hoping to find ways of improving the procedure, but I could not do so. I am therefore ready to await any conclusions that the Select Committee may reach.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Prime Minister try answering the question for a start? Will he cast his mind back to 21st December? Does he remember that on that occasion he introduced and discussed at length the subject of the National Association for Freedom, for which he has no ministerial responsibility, yet he still refuses to say whether the Marxist speech of his fellow-travelling Energy Minister represents Government policy?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) illustrates one conclusion which I had long since come to—that, apart from the merits of the answers, the effectiveness of Question Time depends on the good sense of the questioner.

Mr. Rost

If we could clear the procedural jungle on the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Question Time so that it was possible to deploy Questions in a more straightforward and sensible way, would the Prime Minister live up to his side of the bargain to uplift the value of Parliamentary Question Time by occasionally answering the question?

The Prime Minister

It is very difficult sometimes to give sensible answers to daft questions. As regards the future, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) and I share a feeling about this matter. It is one which has gone to the Select Committee on Procedure. I read what happened last time in 1971–72 when the Committee did not seem to come up with anything. However, I promise the House that I shall try hard if I get sensible questions.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend be just a little more generous? In view of the consistently poor quality of questions from the Opposition, will he make available to them on an adviser basis some of the services which are available at Downing Street in order to get more sensible Questions put on the Order Paper?

The Prime Minister

That is one way of doing it. Another way would be to see that whichever authority supplies the syndicates of hon. Members with questions also supplies them with answers.

Mr. Tebbit

It is your job to give the answers.