HC Deb 11 June 1997 vol 295 cc1158-60 4.16 pm
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you will agree that it is good for democracy and of benefit to the House that the questioning of the Prime Minister on a regular basis be free and open. Did you notice that, during Question Time, quite extraordinarily, for every question and supplementary question, only one Labour Member stood up at any one time? That either demonstrates an extraordinary telepathy, or suggests that questions to the Prime Minister are not free and open but are being manipulated. I suggest that Question Time is being abused. May I ask you to investigate?

Madam Speaker

I cannot accept the premise on which the hon. Gentleman bases a point of order that is not really a point of order. The number of people who rise has nothing to do with the Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman were to look through the Order Paper carefully, as I do, he would see how few opportunities there are for Back Benchers on either side to put a question to the Prime Minister, because of the way in which the ballot operates.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

No, not on the same point. It is not a point of order; it is a matter for the House.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

On a separate point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you look at the Official Report to see whether, in your judgment, the length of time that the Prime Minister takes to answer questions is crowding out the opportunities for Back Benchers to put them?

Madam Speaker

I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that I am recording the length both of answers and of the questions put to all Departments. I have not yet completed my inquiry, but when I do I shall have some useful information, which I shall take up with the shadow Leader of the House, as well as with the Leader of the House. I am looking forward to doing so.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It was kind of the Prime Minister to come to the House today when clearly he had many international commitments, but there will be occasions when it will be unreasonable for the House to insist on his attendance. It occurs to me that one of the snags of the new arrangements is that, if he is not here on a Wednesday, there is no further chance to question him during that week. I wonder whether you could see that a message gets to the Leader of the House about this point. A week might be a long time in Parliament, but two weeks is such a long time that it is even enough to elect a leader of our party.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman's comments will have been noted by those on the Treasury Bench.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I appreciate that questions to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury could not have gone on for ever, but, now that we have a Labour Government, could we have brief, Attlee-type questions and answers? The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who has just left the Chamber, asked three questions, which chipped away at vital time that you might have allowed Opposition Members to use—although I am in no way criticising you, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is not criticising me. I wish we could get back to the Attlee days—particularly at business questions. At that time, Members asked long rambling questions and the Leader of the House simply answered, "No, not next week," and moved on. That was a good period, and it would be splendid to get back to that sort of thing. As Attlee said, "No good at the job—out".