HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc872-4


Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had any intimation that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may make a statement on the implications of the millennium bug for vital services? A letter has come into the public domain today from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Secretary of State for Defence. Apart from showing that the former seems to receive the mushroom treatment in the Cabinet—kept in the dark, with all the implications that flow from that—the letter expresses the right hon. Gentleman's fears that vital services such as electricity and telecommunications may be severely interrupted and that the Territorial Army will no longer have sufficient strength to respond to civic emergencies in some parts of the country.

That view is different from the view that the Government have expressed on the implications of the millennium bug. Is that now the Government's position—or is the Secretary of State for Scotland out on a limb again? At the very least, we should have an immediate statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to clarify the position.

Madam Speaker

I have not been informed that the Secretary of State wants to make a statement today. The hon. Gentleman can seek a statement either through the usual channels or perhaps in a question to the Leader of the House in business questions tomorrow.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Monday, in a question to the Leader of the House, I mentioned the number of questions that the Leader of the Opposition asks at Prime Minister's Question Time and the amount of time taken. Today, that amounted to six minutes in the first half and four minutes in the second—exactly one third of the time was therefore taken up by questions from the Leader of the Opposition. That cannot be right, as all hon. Members have equal status in the electorate's eyes. May I urge you, Madam Speaker, to use your good offices to arrange either for fewer questions to be asked or for someone to give instruction on how to ask short and pertinent questions?

Madam Speaker

The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to ask six questions at Prime Minister's Questions, but daily I plead with hon. Members to ask brisk questions and with Ministers to give brisk answers. I am afraid that, most of the time, my pleas fall on stony ground. However, I am pleased that some hon. Members are noticing the fact that we are not getting through the Order Paper at Question Time as quickly as we should, not only at Prime Minister's Questions but daily.

I place on record again my plea to all hon. Members—whether they are Front Benchers or Back Benchers—for brisk questions. Surely hon. Members can work out a question before they come into the Chamber, so that they know what they want to say instead of rambling on. I hope that Ministers, too, will take my admonitions to heart, as their answers tend to be far too long—quite unnecessarily so on many occasions.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Yes, Sir Peter—I hope that you are going to support me.

Sir Peter Tapsell

Indeed I am, Madam Speaker. I am going to go even further and suggest that the solution to the widely acknowledged problem of Prime Minister's Questions is that we should revert to the practice of having them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Will you support the House by making representations to that effect to the Prime Minister?

Madam Speaker

I will certainly let the Prime Minister know of the hon. Gentleman's point of view.