§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise a matter relating to the rights of Back Benchers. Fifteen weeks ago, on 16 December, I tabled a question to the Prime Minister about the third of a million pounds that was spent on cars for officials—not Ministers—at No. 10 Downing street, which is three times the amount spent on the Prime Minister's car. Fifteen weeks later, I have received no reply.
On 13 January—11 weeks ago—I tabled another question on a different aspect of the issue. Eleven weeks later, I have still not received a reply. Three weeks ago, on 7 March, I tabled a question asking when I was to receive an answer to the previous two questions. I have still not received an answer to that question, or to the previous two questions.
Last night, I telephoned No. 10 and I was told that various draft answers had been put to the Prime Minister, but these had been rejected and they said that they would come back to me today. They came back to me at about 11 o'clock this morning and said that they hope to put yet another draft in the Prime Minister's box tonight and, if he clears it tonight, I will get an answer tomorrow—which is not the most convenient of days, as hon. Members will appreciate—but if he does not clear it, I will not get an answer until after the recess.
The one good note in this episode came as a result of my impatience which prompted me to mention your name, Madam Speaker, and say that I intended to raise the matter with you this afternoon. In the last hour, I have received a telephone call from No. 10 saying that they have managed to catch hold of the Prime Minister who has now cleared a draft and an answer will be on the message board this afternoon.
You, Madam Speaker, are aware of the situation and I know how much you value the rights of Back Benchers. Is there anything that you can do to stop this abuse of our rights?
§ Madam Speaker
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has received an answer today to his questions. That has been reported to me. I appreciate that an inordinate length of time has elapsed since the right hon. Gentleman tabled his original questions. I notice that he, rightly, reminded the Department of the delay in a further question which he tabled earlier this month.
I believe that hon. Members have a right to receive written answers to questions within a reasonable period or to be informed of the reasons for the delay. I hope that, in general, all Government Departments will take note of the points I have made about this matter today.
§ Sir David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your help and guidance. As you know, a number of hon. Members were trying to catch your eye in the statement on trunk roads, but did not do so—that, of course, is not always possible. But sometimes we have Government statements at 10 o'clock at night. I wonder, therefore, whether after 10 o'clock 950 tonight we could resume questioning on the statement on roads which we have just heard and which is so important to our constituencies.
§ Mr. Sumberg
It is slightly different, Madam Speaker. You rightly ask in the House that Back Benchers make their questions extremely short—we all support that. Is there any way that you can invite Front Benchers on both sides of the House to make their questions and answers equally short? That would have given me the chance to tell the Front Bench the disastrous news that the M62 relief road is still to go ahead and how that is resented by all [Interruption.]—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I think that some hon. Members are not listening when I ask all Members to make their questions and answers brisk. I am equally concerned about Government Departments. I have made it known—I will put it like that—to each Government Department that I want brisk answers.
§ Madam Speaker
No, it is not news. The hon. Gentleman must not have been in the Chamber when I have constantly made it known to Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike that I want brisk questions and brisk answers. I am glad that that point has been reinforced by Back-Bench Members today.
As for returning to this matter at 10 o'clock tonight, that is a matter for the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman might use the usual channels to try his luck at getting a debate on transport at some time. He might then catch my eye during the debate and raise the points that he wishes to raise.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have to draw your attention to the fact that, upon emerging from the Chamber just now, I found a most interesting letter in my slot which was not there when I came into the Chamber. It is headed "MacGregor announces radical new roads prioritisation". I should have liked to read this letter before I listened to the statement. I do not know how many of my colleagues are in the same position, but it suggests that there may be reason to review our curious and archaic procedures so that all Members are well informed beforehand.
§ Madam Speaker
I was informed this morning that the Secretary of State and his Department were doing their level best to see that something like 400 Members received the letter. As soon as it was known that a statement was to be made today, the Secretary of State and his Department and the authorities of the House went to great lengths to distribute the letter in order to ensure that hon. Members received it as far in advance of the statement today as possible.