To ask the Lord President of the Council what is his estimate of the average number of oral questions submitted each day; how many of these are committed to written status after failing to secure a place in the ballot for oral questions; and if he will make a statement.
The average number of oral questions submitted each day is approximately 170. It is estimated that only about 1 per cent. are retabled by hon. Members as written questions after being unsuccessful in the shuffle for oral questions. The evidence suggests that the procedural change relating to the printing of questions has been a successful innovation and is widely accepted by the House.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when hon. Members have taken the trouble to table questions, they have done so for a particular purpose and that it would be valuable if those questions were answered? Does he therefore agree that questions that are not among the first 30 drawn in the ballot should automatically be tabled as written questions?
That was neither recommended nor agreed and there is a good reason for that. It is open to any hon. Member who wishes to have his question answered to retable it as a written question and the fact that only 1 per cent. have done so suggests that many are satisfied. Moreover, the House has a duty to use taxpayers' money wisely and the change has saved several hundred thousand pounds in printing costs alone.
Does the right hon. Gentleman include in that 1 per cent. my question to the Prime Minister, which I have tabled seven times, but which has remained unanswered seven times because I was not lucky in the shuffle, asking about information requested from the sequestrators of the National Union of Mineworkers? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, on a matter such as the appalling situation that has arisen in relation to the NUM and the lawyers, when a man has tabled a question five times, that question should at least be answered orally?
The hon. Gentleman is no different from any other hon. Member; if his question is unsuccessful in the shuffle, it is not reached during oral questions.
At risk of sounding like a long-playing gramophone record, may I again draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, if an oral question is not reached, an answer to it still appears on the board? Surely it would be sufficient just to print it in the record and it is not necessary to have a great paper chase when an oral question is not reached. Would not that save considerable resources and money?
It is a different matter when an oral question is not reached because it is one that was likely to be answered. We are talking about circumstances in which a question is unsuccessful in the shuffle and is not retabled by the hon. Member in question. When that happens, the question is not answered; nor is an answer put on the board. I believe that that is right, because the practice involves considerable savings in civil servants' time and because the original practice has been proved not to be necessary.