HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc305-7
Mr. Jasper More

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Much as the House must have admired your conduct of Prime Minister's Questions, may I draw your attention to the fact that if we follow consistently your ruling in relation to Questions Nos. 1 to 5 the result could be to exclude entirely the Opposition Front Bench and two Liberal spokesmen from participation in Prime Minister's Question Time? Do you think that this is a desirable principle for Prime Minister's Questions?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter. We have been conducting an experiment on Prime Minister's Questions and it is due to finish this week. Obviously it is the wish of the House that the Opposition Front Bench should be heard during Prime Minister's Question Time [HON.MEMBERS: "No."] Well, it is the wish of a great many hon. Members. I tried to meet it today by lingering on Question No. 5. Obviously, all of us responsible for the business of the House will have to look at these matters and see how they have worked out.

Mr. Neubert

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to consider some further points? The first is the practical point that if the present system is to be continued it makes no sense to have five successive hon. Members asking the same Question and receiving the same reply. That time could be used for other Questions.

However, I commend to you that the present system has some advantage in that those who put down specific Questions of substance may expect a considered reply. Those who ask shot-in-the-dark Questions must expect shot-in-the-dark Answers.

Thirdly, I commend the previous system as offering the opportunity twice a week to raise issues of immediate topicality of great importance to the public directly to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Carlisle

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it appears that Prime Minister's Question Time is becoming a total nonsense when there are 10 Questions of the same sort put down, would not one possible way out of the difficulty be a rule of the House that no more than two Questions in identical terms be tabled to the Prime Minister on any one day?

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Prime Minister can usefully list only once his engagements for the day, would it not make more sense if only the first Question of that nature to come out of the hat were printed and that the rest should be allowed to fall?

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could we agree—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

It is all right for hon. Members to interrupt the hon. Gentleman now, but we have so much business that at six o'clock in the morning they will not be half as cheerful.

Mr. Tebbit

Could we agree, Mr. Speaker, that the experiment that has been conducted since the Prime Minister's statement in May has not been a success in that it has neither improved the quality of the right hon. Gentleman's answers nor led to more substantive Questions being answered? As it has led us into various difficulties, it might be better if we went back to the preceding system.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not worth noting that despite the fact that we had five similar Questions tabled to the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend's job is to answer Questions whatever they are? My right hon. Friend comes to the House twice a week to answer Questions and sometimes he will be caught on the hop and sometimes he will be well briefed on the answers. It does not matter as long as topical questions are raised. However, is it not a pity that during the course of today's proceedings no one was called from the Government Benches to inform my right hon. Friend that the unemployment figures are a monumental disgrace and will not be improved until the Government change to a Socialist economic policy?

Mr. Speaker

I undertake to spend my recess considering what has been said. A very serious issue is at stake. Obviously the usual channels will have to consider it. The Prime Minister is very much part of the usual channels. However, we shall all have to consider the issue. I undertake to give the matter consideration and to make a statement when we come back.