Labour opposes one reform of Question Time

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Indy Politics
Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has rejected changes to the format of Prime Minister's Questions proposed by a powerful Commons committee. The Procedure Committee recommended in a report yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition should have to give three hours' notice of the subject of his question, writes John Rentoul.

The report suggests an experiment on Thursdays to require MPs to give notice of their questions instead of asking "open" questions on any subject. Tuesday's PMQs would remain unchanged, except for one simplification. It proposes that the House should abandon the ritual of backbenchers standing up to give the number of a tabled "open" question, followed by the Prime Minister referring them to the stock answer on his engagements for the day "I gave some moments ago".

The report proposes that backbenchers should give notice of the subject of their question by noon the day before and, "given the special position of the Leader of the Opposition, he could be allowed to give such notice as late as noon that day".

But a spokeswoman for the Labour leader said yesterday: "If the House feels it would like to change the role of backbenchers, that is a matter for it. But Mr Blair does not want to change his role. He wants to continue to ask questions without giving notice."

The idea of giving notice of "substantive" questions was supported by the Prime Minister in June last year, when he backed reform. He said he was prepared to answer any questions in any form, but thought exchanges might be more informative if questions were tabled the night before.

Don Dixon, Labour's deputy chief whip, said he thought Labour MPs were unlikely to support the planned experiment. Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, took up John Major's suggestion last year, and gave him notice of the question he wanted to ask two days later. But when he asked his question about people who had been mis-sold personal pensions, Mr Major said: "They would be wise to wait for [the Securities and Investments Board] report and not listen to the hon. genetleman's scaremongering."

Mr Flynn said he did not believe Mr Major was serious about reform: "The PM gave his Boo when I had not delivered my Yah."

Malcolm Wicks, Labour MP for Croydon NW, said he accepted that PMQs was "absolutely nothing to do with an intelligent legislature scrutinising an executive", but warned that the proposed changes were "in danger of loading the system in further in favour of the executive".

The committee's proposals are unlikely to be debated in the Commons until next year.