MPs reject giving PM notice of questions

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Suggestions that Tony Blair could receive advance notice of some of the topics he will face during Prime Minister's Question Time came under fire yesterday from Labour and Tory MPs.

The move is being examined by Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, among proposals for modernising procedures in the Commons.

The shadow Commons Leader, Eric Forth, demanded a "categoric assurance" Mr Blair would not be given "extraordinary protection" from the challenge of unknown questions. He said: "We know the Prime Minister is incapable of dealing with what we call the open question. And it would appear that so desperate is the Prime Minister's plight that he needs help to shut down the open question and to make sure all questions are planted and scripted."

During exchanges on the forthcoming business in the Commons, Mr Cook retorted that Mr Blair was in no need of protection in the encounters every Wednesday. But he said: "I personally have always taken the view that it is much better, if members are going to ask a question, if they are open and honest about the area in which they intend to ask the question."

David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, complained such a rule on disclosing questions would have prevented them this week from raising concerns on the French elections. "I think it would be a retrogressive step if we took away the opportunity of raising a contemporary issue," he said.

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