HC Deb 11 July 1979 vol 970 cc468-70
Mr. Dykes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your guidance and apologise for not giving you notice of my point of order. It may be that there is still some confusion in the House about the order of Foreign Office, EEC and Overseas Aid questions. There is some feeling of dissatisfaction. It is felt by some that the slot for Foreign Affairs questions is too short, as is also the slot for EEC questions, and that it may be possible to take Overseas Aid questions on a separate occasion. I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, now that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is in the Chamber. There is still some disquiet about these matters.

Mr. Shore

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have had exchanges with the Leader of the House. It is on the record that he is considering these matters sympathetically and intends shortly to make a statement. May we have some clarification?

Mr. Stoddart

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to prolong the argument, but I feel that it is right to point out that Foreign Affairs questions deal with the world, which is a large place. Bearing in mind that questions Nos. 2, 3 and 5 were taken together and that two hon. Members were absent, we dealt with only nine questions to a Department that is concerned with the whole of the world. I urge the Front Benches to get together and to do something.

Mr. Flannery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Why cannot we have the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in this place instead of in the House of Lords? It is totally undemocratic that we cannot question directly the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot hear the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). Is the hon. Gentleman raising a point of order for my attention?

Mr. Flannery

Yes, Mr. Speaker. Why cannot we have the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in this place to question instead of the totally undemocratic—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a matter for the Prime Minister and not for me.

I explain to the House once again, in case there were hon. Members not present when we had a similar situation the other day, that when Overseas Development questions finished—[interruption.] Order. I am not competing with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). When Overseas Development questions finished, I returned to EEC questions because they would have run to 3.30 pm if Overseas Aid questions had not been on the Order Paper. When I exhausted EEC questions, I returned to Foreign Affairs questions, which would have run to 3.30 pm if the other questions had not been on the Order Paper.

Mr. Farr

It seems to some of us to be unfair that about 30 or 40 questions were tabled to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, to which only 25 minutes were allocated, and that less than half of them were reached while 30 minutes were allocated to EEC and overseas development questions, all of which were reached. That is not an irregular occurence. It places those who have tabled overseas development and EEC questions in a privileged position as they may be almost certain that their questions will be answered. I suggest that time is reallocated so that the EEC allocation is properly reduced.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Winston Churchill.

Mr. James Johnson rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Leader of the House is trying to catch my eye to speak and illuminate further the points of order that have been made.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for singling out my eye. These are rather complicated matters. I am trying to take into account the wishes of hon. Members and also the wishes of Ministers concerned. We are pursuing the matter, and I hope to have something to say shortly.

Mr. Churchill

Questions on foreign affairs slipped in the course of the previous Parliament from once every three weeks to once every four weeks, and we have seen Question Time on foreign affairs reduced from 55 minutes to 35 minutes, and now to 25 minutes. Surely the present position is unsatisfactory.

Mr. James Johnson

Will you kindly confirm, Mr. Speaker, for my sake if for the sake of no others, that the EEC and the Commonwealth are part of the world and part of foreign affairs?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful for that information.