HC Deb 10 January 2001 vol 360 c1079 3.31 pm
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that the Prime Minister's final answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition lasted precisely one minute and 50 seconds. Given your periodic appeals for brevity on the part of right hon. and hon. Members and the fact that you are empowered to impose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me tell the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that this is not the first time that she has made a great deal of noise in this Chamber, but it will be the last time.

Mr. Bercow

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given your periodic appeals for brevity and the fact that you are empowered to impose 10, 12 or 15-minute limits on Back-Bench contributions to debates, would you consider the imposition of a one-minute limit on the Prime Minister's answers to questions, so that he does not waffle irrelevantly, to the disadvantage of the House and the country?

Mr. Speaker

I am concerned at every Question Time that Back Benchers should get an opportunity to contribute. Today, I was disappointed at the slowness of progress. I hope that my disappointment will be taken on board by the Ministers concerned and by those on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Prime Minister's Question Time is an opportunity for hon. Members to raise serious issues, in particular constituency issues. Yet again today, more than half the time available has been occupied by the Leader of the Opposition, with specious questions and so-called jokes halfway through. The right hon. Gentleman finished at 3.17 pm and only six hon. Members were called from the Order Paper. Surely there is a case for asking the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions and not make semi-speeches.

Mr. Speaker

I expect short questions and short replies, which would allow Back Benchers to contribute.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not part of the problem the fact that when the Prime Minister is supposed to be answering questions about his policy he launches into long rants about Opposition policy, for which he has no responsibility? Could you not exercise your discretion to prevent that from happening with the frequency that it so regrettably does?

Mr. Speaker

The one thing for which I do not have responsibility is the content of the answer or the question.