HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc555-6
35. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

What recent representations she has received on the arrangements for Prime Minister's questions. [55918]

Mrs. Beckett

I have received occasional letters about the content of Prime Minister's questions, but no recent proposals to alter the arrangements.

Mr. Amess

Now that we have 18 months' experience of the new-style Prime Minister's Question Time, will the right hon. Lady consider reverting to the original arrangements? Is she aware that many hon. Members feel that the weekly visitation means that the Executive are no longer being properly scrutinised? There is also some frustration that, although the Opposition keep asking questions, they receive no answers.

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that those who believe that a return to the previous system would be better are allowing their prejudices to triumph over an examination of the facts. Since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister got rid of the preamble, there is far more—probably almost twice as much—substance in the answers than there was before. My right hon. Friend has missed only one Prime Minister's Question Time since May 1997—when the Belfast agreement was being negotiated. He has also made more statements to the House than his predecessor over a comparable period. Those who are insinuating that the Prime Minister comes to the House less often or is less accountable have not studied the facts.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will consider the number of questions asked by the Leader of the Opposition. His six in succession tend to be repetitive and miss the point. If we want a sharp, clear exchange of views, perhaps short, sharp questions, limited in number, are the solution.

Mrs. Beckett

I certainly would not venture to give advice to the Leader of the Opposition on how he should conduct himself. I know from experience that that post requires considerable skill.