HC Deb 06 December 1956 vol 561 cc1448-9
50. Mr. Warbey

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of his continued absence abroad, he will appoint a Minister to act as an acting or deputy Prime Minister.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have been asked to reply.

The office of deputy Prime Minister is not known to our constitution. But my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made all necessary arrangements before he left to ensure that the Queen's Government was carried on.

Mr. Warbey

Bearing in mind the embarrassment which was caused to Mr. Asquith in 1908 when Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman delayed his resignation from the Prime Ministership, and in view of the serious constitutional position which may arise tonight, is it not essential that the responsible head of the Government should be available here in Westminster to face the music and to tender the appropriate advice to the Crown?

Mr. Butler

The first person who would have wished to face the music is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself. The sole reason for his absence is doctor's orders. He remains the head of the Government, and I foresee that he is not likely tonight to be troubled in his sleep.

Air Commodore Harvey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the party opposite had a deputy Prime Minister and then threw him overboard when it suited them?

Mr. H. Wilson

Whatever the musical position of the Prime Minister, is it not a fact that in the previous Administration, when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was Prime Minister, if the Prime Minister went abroad, as he did on various occasions, he appointed a deputy or acting Prime Minister to act in his absence?

Mr. Butler

That happened in the Coalition Government, but I think it is a fact that the office of deputy Prime Minister is not known to our Constitution. It is also a fact that the Queen's Government is being carried on, will be carried on and will be handed back to the Prime Minister when he returns shortly to this country.

Mr. Jay

If the title is not known to the constitution, why was it conferred on the present Prime Minister in 1951?