WESTM NSTER HAUL
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MEMBERS of Parliament are still being thoroughly selfish and unfair.
Don't worry, this journal is not courting imprisonment for contempt of the House. Those are the words of Mr Speaker in one of the admonitions he feels he should give more and more at the start of Question Time.
It's the old, old trouble. Most MPs are incapable of asking short questions and most Ministers let their answers run on regardless.
So what was Speaker George Thomas to do when he took the chair for transport questions, knowing that there were 81 of them on the Order Paper? Even in the old days they would have done pretty well to get through. half of them; nowadays if a quarter were answered it would be something of a triumph.
The warning he came out With was shorter than some he has uttered recently: "I propose to intervene if supplementary questions advance arguments rather than ask questions."
A somewhat risky pledge, for there are some MPs who relish an argument with the Speaker. They never criticise his decisions of course, and treat him with the greatest deference, but all those "with respects" can take up an awful lot of time.
In the event, all turned out reasonably well. Right from the start the Speaker showed that he would stand no nonsense and promptly squashed what he considered to be an irrelevant supplementary question from Jim Callaghan No, not that one. This was the Labour Member for Middleton and Prestwich, who has only been in the Commons since 1974 and has not yet had time to rival Big Jim.
The Speaker had to work a little more with his other intervention — twice he had to remind Tory Peter Temple-Morris that he had to ask questions and not make statements.
But that was all he had to do, for on the whole the transport ministers and their questioners behaved themselves very well. Indeed both William Rodgers and John Horam gave model first answers (twice the Secretary of State found one word sufficient), though they did tend, on occasions, to find themselves caught up in a battle of words signifying nothing.
The ending of petrol tax took up quite a bit of time — this was the first occasion MPs had to tackle Mr Rodgers face-toface on the topic — and Mr Horam got pretty involved in the roads issue.