I desire to ask you a question, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order. Some time ago, owing to the large number of questions which appeared on the Paper, you ruled, with the> general assent of the House, that a Member should not be permitted to put more than a certain number of questions, namely, three, on the Order Paper. The purpose of that was to prevent one Member from getting an advantage over others whose names appeared later on the list of questions. Since the House re-assembled after the Recess, on nearly every day, or on many days, the hour allotted to questions has not been exhausted by the number of questions on the Paper. In these circumstances, I submit to you that if on any day the number of questions, when asked and answered, has not exhausted the time allowed, on the second call you should permit Members to ask questions which they may have put down in excess of what is called the "ration." [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] As you know, Sir, the privilege of interrogating Ministers is one of the most valued privileges of the private Members of the House, and the more unequally divided the forces in the House may be, the more necessary it is that the minority should be protected.
It is quite true that for the last four or five days there has been a slight diminution in the number of questions, but I think I should be very sanguine were I confident that that was likely to continue. I understand that there have been certain temporary, but quite definite, causes for that diminution, and it would be prudent, for a little while, to wait and see. I would only say, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member, that, should it prove, over any continued period, that it might be possible to revert to a larger number of questions, I shall be glad then to put the matter to the sense of the House, as my predecessor did when the present rule was settled as to three questions being regarded as the maximum.
That might lead to a little misunderstanding. I believe that, when my predecessor established the present rule of three questions, it was done clearly in order not to allow certain Members to get too much advantage over the rest. I cannot say more at the moment. I will watch.
Are you, Sir, alive to the fact that the present Rule, as it is now working, seriously curtails the time allotted to private Members to question the Executive? Instead of an hour we are now merely having three quarters of an hour, and there never was an Executive which required more questioning.
Lieut-Colonel J. WARD:
Is it not a fact that we have had this time in the last two or three days largely because the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is now in a more responsible position in the House and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has been absent; and is it not a fact that usually, instead of being limited to three questions, he puts on an average about 30, and though his salary, like mine, is £400 a year, it costs nearly £2,000 a year to print the questions he puts to Ministers?