§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman gave me notice that he wished to raise a point of order.
§ Mr. Lewis
You are quite right, Mr. Speaker. I was about to make that point.
At 2.58 pm I gave notice to your secretary that I should like to raise a point of order at the end of Question Time. I was under the impression that the end of Question Time meant just that. I have been sitting here patiently waiting. I have listened to the business for next week and to two Standing Order No. 9 debates. You now propose, Mr. Speaker, to go ahead with the presentation of a Bill. Does the end of Question Time mean that, or does it mean that I can raise the point of order after 10 o'clock tonight?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman and I became Members of this House on the same day. I am therefore well aware of the extent of his patience. I apologise. The end of Question Time means the end of Question Time, and I should have called the hon. Gentleman earlier. Strangely enough, I did not notice him.
§ Mr. Lewis
I dare not say it to you, Mr. Speaker, and I shall not, but I can tell my hon. Friends that I cannot believe that remark. I wish to raise a genuine and difficult point of order.
Today's Order Paper contains 40 questions to the Prime Minister. Of those questions, 36 are identical. Four questions are slightly different. Three of them clearly refer to Prime Ministerial responsibilities. I refer to Nos. Q5, Q23 and Q34. However, in my opinion, to which I am entitled, No. Q12 is a sponsored question. Ministers of all parties conveniently arrange through the usual channels for such questions to be included. By that I mean that they are arranged with their party political hacks.
If I had wanted to table a question that asked the Prime Minister whether chickens are laying eggs, the Table Office would not have accepted it. It would have argued that the Prime Minister had no ministerial responsibility for such matters. I should have had to accept that, as I always do. Strangely enough, this question looks like a sponsored question, because normally the Prime Minister refers anything concerning agriculture and agricultural products to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I believe that such a Minister exists and that he deals with agricultural matters concerning the Common Market.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you have no responsibility for the questions that are or are not accepted. However, if an hon. Member is entitled to table a question to the Prime Minister, or to any other Minister, which is obviously not within his or her ministerial responsibility, and if another hon. Member is prevented from so doing, the first hon. Member has an advantage. Discrimination occurs. We know, Mr. Speaker, that yours is the most difficult job in the House. You have to give all hon. Members a fair crack of the whip. It is almost impossible to do that because you are tied by rules, regulations, restrictions and precedents. Nevertheless, it cannot be right that the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, should be able to manoeuvre a question on to the Order Paper that gives precedence to an hon. Member to the exclusion of others.
439 Is it possible, Mr. Speaker, for you to hold discussions through the usual channels and to advise even the Prime Minister that she should not try to take advantage of Members of Parliament or to manoeuvre sponsored questions on to the Order Paper? If the right hon. Lady wants to make a statement, she has the right to do so. I know that you will always accord a Minister the right to make a statement. I suggest that when something like this happens the Prime Minister should ask for permission to make a statement and should not be allowed to manoeuvre a question on to the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course, I shall consider the matter. I have some knowledge of the questions that are included on the Order Paper. Ultimately I am responsible. If a question is refused, hon. Members can appeal to me.
I understand that the Prime Minister has not refused any substantive question that has been included on the Order Paper in an effort to break the system of the open question—I do not wish to put blame on the Prime Minister—and to return to substantive questions if possible. However, I shall consider the matter.