§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you a matter that could be raised only after a full study of the Official Report for yesterday, which hon. Members will now have had the chance to look at. I refer to the statement made yesterday by the Minister for Health about National Health Service pharmaceuticals. That statement occupies some nine and a half columns of the Official Report—c. 477 to 486. Despite that, some right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House were squeezed out from asking questions.
At the time, the Minister was suspected of filibustering. If we examine the official record we find that after his opening statement and the reply from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), the questions occupy some 144 lines whereas the Minister's replies occupy some 237. I ask you to examine that, Mr. Speaker, because it is a possible abuse of the House if a Minister, by giving inordinately long answers, is able to protect himself from full cross-examination on a highly contentious matter.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you also consider the episode regarding the Prime Minister's statement after her return from the Athens summit? Will you measure the number of lines taken by the Leader of the Opposition and compare them with the number taken by the Prime Minister? If you do so, you will realise that there is some equity in these matters.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
As, Mr. Speaker, you are to be asked to examine all of these lines in Hansard, many column inches and to rule on God knows what else before Christmas, will you take into account the fact that when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, (Dr. Owen) was the Foreign Secretary, he used to make long, fudging and mudging answers?
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps I can content myself by saying that I have, of course, studied Hansard, as I do every day. I have been somewhat perturbed at the length of questions and answers at Question Time as well as after statements. The House would help the Chair and itself if questions and answers could be shorter, as many more hon. Members could then be called.