HC Deb 08 December 1988 vol 143 cc457-8 4.46 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will no doubt have noticed that during Prime Minister's Question Time, in order to prevent hon. Members from asking questions about the historic unilateral troop cuts announced by the Soviet leader yesterday, the Prime Minister deliberately quoted at inordinate length from Mr. Gorbachev's speech in the United Nations yesterday. I accept that the right hon. Lady is entitled to do that, but it is not the first time that she has clearly indulged in a practice designed to reduce the number of hon. Members asking questions. Prime Minister's Question Time is, arguably, the most precious time in the House and extends to just two 15-minute sessions a week. If the Prime Minister intends to persist with such behaviour, should you not raise the matter with her, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for what is said from the Dispatch Box, provided that it is in order. It is permissible for Ministers and the Prime Minister to read their answers.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that you are in a difficult position when a Minister persists in abusing Question Time, as the Prime Minister has done during the last three or four sessions of Prime Minister's Question Time. The right hon. Lady has read statements rather than make statements to the House on which she could be questioned.

When Opposition Members ask questions—which is all that they can do—you sometimes intervene, Mr. Speaker, and say that we must try to be brief. In view of the Prime Minister's growing and persistent abuse, is it not possible for you to point out to her that it is precious Back-Bench time and that she, too, should learn to be succinct and not abuse our proceedings?

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When considering the conduct of Prime Minister's Question Time, you might also wish to consider the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition, who was called four times and thus prevented other hon. Members asking questions. It is a little rich for Opposition Members to complain that they do not have time to ask questions when, in fact, they continually persist in shouting down my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when she is answering questions.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, as somebody who is neutral in the main argument—although I am hardly on the side of the Prime Minister—say that Mr. Speaker Thomas and Mr. Speaker Lloyd, I think, used to allow injury time at Prime Minister's Question Time for three or even four minutes beyond 3.30 pm if there was a feeling that there had been any abuse. Is that not a possibility open to us when the Prime Minister makes the sort of statements that she has done on a number of occasions recently?

Mr. Strang

I am grateful for your answer, Mr. Speaker, but the issue here is the length of time that the Prime Minister takes to quote from speeches. If we were to take that to its logical conclusion, the Prime Minister could stand at the Dispatch Box and read a statement for 10 minutes. Surely in those circumstances she should be pulled up.

Mr. Speaker

That would be considered an abuse, but I have not so far noticed an abuse of that sort. A certain scope is given to both Front Benches at Question Time. It is true, as I hope the House will agree, that I am anxious to call as many Back Benchers as possible, and that is helped by brief questions and answers.