HC Deb 19 January 1982 vol 16 cc155-6
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have often complained about hon. Members simply tabling questions on the Prime Minister's engagements and about the lack of substantive questions. I am sure that the Prime Minister put a good deal of work into her answers to the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and myself, which relate to substantial issues, and of which she was warned. Will you reflect on any guidance that you might give about whether it is right to complain about the Prime Minister simply answering questions of which she has received no warning, rather than questions that have been tabled in advance? I make no personal complaint on this occasion, because my hon. Friend's question would have been called before mine, but the matter involves an issue on which the House might care to reflect.

Mr. Speaker

May I say that the House has the remedy in its own hands. Hon. Members put down these open questions, not me. I deplore the fact, and I have made it quite clear, that Prime Minister's Question Time is not devoted to substantive questions of which notice has been given to the House. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's question was not reached.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you not use your own good judgment to call only one question when there are a number of identical questions on the Order Paper?

Mr. Speaker

I have given a great deal of time to considering ways in which I might help the House in this connection, such as trying to bracket together a number of questions. However, I am the servant of the House, and it has been made quite clear to me by the very fact of the Order Paper itself that the House is prepared to continue with the present system.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood you to say that you have given, or are giving, consideration to the matter. Might I suggest that in that consideration you bear in mind the fact—and it is a fact—that for very many years Mr. Speaker would not permit a supplementary question unless that supplementary had a bearing either on the original question or on the reply? With great respect, may I say that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who reneged on the Labour Party, raised a question that had nothing to do with the original question or the ministerial reply. With respect, I am sure that had it been me or my hon. Friend and some other Speaker, that Speaker would have ruled the question out of order. I suggest that we should get back to the time when supplementary questions had to relate to the original reply or to the supplementary.

Mr. Speaker

This is not the first time that I have had reason to be obliged to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis)—and I am obliged. I agreed with what he said, until he came to the part about himself and his hon. Friends. However, the House should realise that the open question changes the character of Question Time. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) missed out the words Would the Prime Minister, in the course of her busy day, consider". That was all.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

So did the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker

That little formula makes almost anything permissible. A former Prime Minister is present, and the Prime Minister herself.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Two former Prime Ministers are present.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise. We have two former Prime Ministers here—and one missing. If the House had fewer open questions, it would be possible, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, to deal with substantive questions.