HC Deb 25 July 1983 vol 46 cc779-80
19. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will propose the setting up of a Select Committee to consider the practice and procedures of the House relating to parliamentary questions.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

This is a matter for the House and could be included in a general review of procedure.

Mr. Dalyell

Did the Leader of the House follow the exchange on question No. 1 between the Secretary of State for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)? Can he imagine any previous Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer whom he and I have known—Selwyn Lloyd, Reggie Maudling, Ian Macleod or Tony Barber —treating the House and their senior Cabinet colleagues so disdainfully? Should we not have a Select Committee on the parliamentary manners of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Biffen

I regret that I was not in the Chamber for the exchanges on the first question on the Order Paper. The issue which the hon. Gentleman raises could well be included in a general review of procedure.

Mr. McWilliam

Will the Leader of the House tell us what he thinks is the usefulness of Question Time if the Chancellor of the Exchequer flatly refuses to answer straight questions that are put to him?

Mr. Biffen

I have always found Question Time of immense value in the parliamentary battle. The questions that are not answered often prove as useful in the campaign as those that are.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend inquire into the number of questions that are tabled to each Minister? When he has done so, will he write to me or make the information known in some way so that the House can assess which Department attracts the most questions? Is he aware that the Department of Transport seems consistently to attract the most questions? Will he therefore try to ensure that the parliamentary timetable is scheduled to take account of this?

Mr. Biffen

Should a general review of procedure encompass Question Time, I am sure that the point made by my hon. Friend will be considered.

Mr. Maxton

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the rearrangement of Question Time, because questions that are taken on Monday afternoons come up once every three weeks whereas those taken on Wednesdays, which include the important Question Time attended by the Secretary of State for Scotland, come up every four weeks?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have already raised this issue. I am anxious and prepared to consider it through the usual channels if there is a desire for change. Were any change essayed, it would affect many other questions.

Mr. John Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of what happened this afternoon when, in response to question No. 1, the Secretary of State for Energy declined to give information to the House which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will indubitably give in a written answer within the next few minutes? Is that the way in which the Government intend to treat questions that are tabled for Ministers who are responsible for their Departments? What does he think of this practice, bearing in mind his responsibility to protect the interests of the whole House? Does he agree that those who ask questions are entitled to receive honest answers from Ministers?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point could be considered in a general review of procedure. I shall refer his comments and anxieties to those of my right hon. Friends at whom they are directed. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been long enough in the House to know that this is not the first time that such a practice has been adopted.