HC Deb 15 July 1985 vol 83 cc14-5
34. Mr. Chapman

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will bring forward proposals to require that written questions are tabled either by the hon. Member in person or personally written and signed by the hon. Member.

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

No, Sir.

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) asked a question on 29 April and pointed out that the number of written questions had doubled in the past four years and now cost over £1.5 million to deal with. Will my right hon. Friend have second thoughts about this? Does he agree that my proposal is fair, reasonable and effective, particularly if my right hon. Friend is not minded to recommend a limitation on the number of written questions that any hon. Member can table at any one time?

Mr. Biffen

Any decision formally to limit the number of questions that an hon. Member may table should appropriately proceed after the matter has been considered by the Procedure Committee.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is much evidence that this procedure is being abused by certain hon. Members? Is he aware that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) is probably the most expensive Member that there has ever been in the House and that his worthless written questions are costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds a year? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take steps to stop that nonsense from that hon. Member?

Mr. Biffen

That is an invidious accusation. It so happens that I have before me a roll of honour of hon. Members who have tabled the largest number of questions, and I have to say that the top three do not include my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels).

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

I thank my right hon. Friend for defending me. I ask questions on my behalf, I ask them myself, in my own interest and to prevent others from asking questions relating to my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are other hon. Members who ask many more questions that I do? Should they not be the hon. Members to whom this question is directed?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps we should come back from the league table, which I think it indelicate to publish, to the point of the original question. Many hon. Members are uneasy about the practice of hon. Members who sign the question forms and then give them to research assistants to table as they think fit. That is wholly contrary to the spirit of how this place works.

Mr. Shore

It would be quite wrong if any attempt were made to impose a limit on the number of written questions that can be asked by hon. Members. However, it would be interesting to have the reasons of the Leader of the House for rejecting the proposition that written questions should be tabled by the hon. Member in person. What does he have against it?

Mr. Biffen

It is a very interesting proposition that written questions should be not only tabled but written out by the hon. Member concerned. A very real departure of that magnitude should, I think, proceed after the Select Committee on Procedure has had a chance to examine it.