§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate very much to raise this point of order, but I should like to know whether you have any difficulty in seeing people below the Gangway on the Conservative Benches. I know how many times I have caught your eye this parliamentary Session and I know how many times a number of hon. Members who have been called by you today have also caught your eye this Session. How do you actually judge whom you should call for supplementary questions? I have been in the Chamber from Prayers to this moment. Others whom you have called came in and moved out. I do not question your right to call whom you wish, but, on behalf of all hon. Members, I seek justice in the calling of hon. Members to ask supplementary questions.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of the Chairmen's Panel. If an hon. Member in one of his Committees misbehaved in any way, would he call him?
§ Mr. Winterton
I have not misbehaved—[Interruption.] I am grateful for your reference to my service on the Chairmen's Panel which I consider a great and serious responsibility. I hope that in this place I have always acceded to the requests and the authority of the Chair. At no time has anyone said that I have misbehaved in this place. If I have, I apologise, but I expect justice from the Chair.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Like many hon. Members. I have considerable sympathy with the difficulty in which you have been placed by the efforts of the Secretary of State for the Environment to rig Question Time to stifle discussion on the poll tax, a matter which the Government find most embarrassing. To avoid your being placed in unacceptable difficulty in future, may I suggest that you have a quiet word in the Prime Minister's ear and suggest that at the next Cabinet meeting he makes it clear to his colleagues that any attempt to rig Question Time by linking large numbers of questions together is unacceptable to you and to Back Benchers on both sides of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not my function to have a quiet word in anybody's ear. [Interruption.] It was a rather large number of questions to link today. Such matters are frequently best sorted out through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is raising a point of order. He has already asked a long question. Hon. Members will debate the Opposition's motion today. This takes time out of it.
§ Mr. Nellist
I am grateful that at least the Secretary of State changed the practice that was prevalent a few days ago and actually notified hon. Members that he intended to make a linkage. You, Mr. Speaker, will recognise that 16 questions were reached today, eight of which were on the poll tax, and on which seven supplementaries were 952 asked. The other eight—half of them were reached—raised 19 supplementaries. Could you consider whether advice should be given to Ministries that, by such a linkage, they skew the distribution of supplementaries so that a false picture is given of the importance that hon. Members attach to a subject? What is the point of hon. Members putting questions on matters relating to the poll tax if, by that linkage, the Secretary of State can halve or reduce to one third the amount of time that the House spends on the subject?
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not it right to point out that the reason why so many questions were linked is that so many questions were packed on the Order Paper the previous day? Is not it also worth pointing out that the best part of half an hour was devoted to answering questions on the community charge? Surely that was quite long enough.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Allow me to deal with these matters. I cannot accept that there is packing on the Order Paper. In this Session we have the new arrangement of the shuffle and only the first 40 questions are printed on the Order. Paper. A few months ago, more than 100 were printed, so it is a matter of luck. I repeat that the best way to sort out the matter is through the usual channels. Linking is not my responsibility.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
On a different but very serious point of order of which I have given you prior notice, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise the House whether any approaches have been made to your office about the possibility of a statement regarding the loss earlier today of the fishing vessel Premier and its six crewmen, all of whom were from my constituency and three of whom were from the one family. You will appreciate the grief that now engulfs the communities of Lossiemouth, Hopeman and Burghead in my constitu-ency, as will all hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies. I therefore think that the matter requires an early statement to the House about the facts of the case so that the families know exactly what happened.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Am I correct in recalling that similar tragic circumstances in the past have led to a private notice question being allowed? Am I also correct in saying that the House traditionally has shown particular concern about and interest in those who occupy themselves in dangerous activities such as fishing and that, therefore, the House likes to have the opportunity to let its feelings be known on such a tragic occasion as this?
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In just two tragic incidents in three weeks, Scotland has lost more fishermen than we lost in the whole of last year. The House should demonstrate its sympathy for the families concerned. In that regard, it should also be in a position to ask questions of the appropriate Minister. I therefore ask that a statement be made by the relevant Minister some time this evening.
§ Mr. Salmond
May I say, briefly, that Members from all constituencies that represent the fishing industry would have liked a private notice question to be discussed today?
§ Mr. Speaker
We do not discuss my discretion on private notice questions in the Chamber. I remind the House that there is a debate on fisheries tomorrow when that matter can be explored and, during the debate, perhaps the Minister responsible will be able to give us——
§ Mr. Speaker
Sit down, please. The Minister may be able to give a response to that tragic accident with which I know that the whole House has sympathy.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The comments you have made about the debate on fisheries tomorrow night are sensible. If the tragic events of today are referred to, however, would it be possible to separate that matter from the general debate so that a brief statement could be made on it at the outset?