HC Deb 01 December 1960 vol 631 cc587-90
Mr. Shinwell

May I raise a point, Mr. Speaker, which I have raised on previous occasions? There are sixteen Questions on the Order Paper down to the Prime Minister. Surely after our experience over several months, familiar to all hon. Members, we desire some change to be made immediately to enable the Prime Minister to answer Questions. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, in the interests of hon. Members, whether it is possible to address a representation to the Prime Minister that he should proceed to answer Questions, on the days appointed for his Questions, at 3.15 p.m.?

Mr. Speaker

I will take what the right hon. Member has said to me as a representation so addressed and in the presence of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Might I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that it appears to me that you made a somewhat unusual Ruling on my supplementary question to Question No. 35? If I heard you aright, you said that there was some argument in the supplementary question, which I was seeking to put over despite the loud mouths on the other side. How can one otherwise frame a supplementary question, which must to some extent be contesting the Answer which the Minister has just given, or it is of no use? We cannot swallow everything which Ministers tell us. We have discovered that time and time again. If the idea of incorporating some measure of argument or disagreement is to be barred from supplementary questions, what the hell is the use of putting them?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The House knows, and the hon. Member knows, that I strive to help the House to get along with Questions; it is the wish of the House that I should do so. I confess that through my being too indulgent, sometimes, the rules about questions are not sufficiently rigidly enforced by the Chair. I understand the Ruling to be that, though one may use argument in debate, questions importing argument are out of order. I will check my words by reference to the authorities and I will unhesitatingly apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House if, when I read the terms of the question which the hon. Member asked, I think that my Ruling was wrong. In that event, I will say so. It is very difficult to be quite sure. I thought that it was a question which was all argument and nothing else.

Mr. Bellenger

With reference to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I do not know whether it is within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, but before the war the House seemed quite often to get through all the Questions on the Order Paper—as many as are on the Order Paper today. With due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, may I suggest that perhaps you can help to get Questions over in ways which are well known to you as the occupant of the Chair? If that is not to be done, then it is a farce putting Questions down to the Prime Minister and finding that only one of them is answered.

Mr. Paget

I do not know whether you are aware, Mr. Speaker, that Question No. 45, in my name, has been down to the Prime Minister every day on which he has answered Questions since we reassembled after the summer holiday and that it has not yet been reached. The position at the moment is that the only Questions which the Prime Minister ever reaches are those which have been put down several weeks in advance, so that he never answers a topical Question.

Mr. Speaker

This is one of the days when, without seeking to be vaunting, I do not accept very well that the Chair was to blame. I did my best to propel the House on all the time.

Colonel Beamish

Is there not a close connection between the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the point raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin)? Is it not within the recollection of all of us that a few years ago we regularly reached Question No. 60 or even No. 65? Is it not there-for very much in the hands of the House itself if we want to get beyond Question No. 40?

Mr. Speaker

I constantly appeal to the House for its assistance. I need it.

Mr. Turton

I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will bear in mind that the Select Committee on Procedure made a direct recommendation as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I think that we have had a sufficient period of experiment now to show that the present method is not working. We all want to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answer Questions, and we are being denied that opportunity day by day. I think that the time is coming when, through the usual channels, we might reconsider this experiment and adopt that which the Select Committee on Procedure actually recommended.

Sir T. Moore

This subject is in all our minds, although we may not all have asked questions about it. We all realise that the Prime Minister deals with a wider series of subjects than any other Minister in the House. Every Question which is put to him, therefore, is of intense importance, possibly, not only to all of us here but to many outside. May I reinforce the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), following the recommendation by the Select Committee, that we automatically turn to the Prime Minister's Questions at 3.15 p.m. without any interference by points of order or anything else?

Mr. Gaitskell

While it is obviously desirable that we should try to get through more Questions in total than we have been doing recently, are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that not only was the proposal that the Prime Minister should answer Questions at 3.15 p.m. made by the Select Committee but that it has been repeatedly pressed from these benches upon the Government? I ask the Leader of the House to have another look at this matter. No reasonable explanation has ever been given as to why the Prime Minister should not answer Questions at 3.15 p.m.

Mr. Rankin

Further to my point of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is it not the case that on Monday of this week we reached Question No. 58? [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member was not here."] I was here and I put two supplementary questions. The reason for this progress was that most of the Tories were absent on Monday. They are here today.

Mr. Blackburn

In the debate on the Select Committee's Report I moved an Amendment that the Prime Minister should answer Questions at 3.15 p.m. but I did not press it to a Division on an assurance from the Leader of the House that we would first try the experiment of the Prime Minister answering Questions at No. 40. The experiment has gone on long enough and it is quite obvious that for the Prime Minister to start answering Questions at No. 40 is not satisfactory to the House. I think that it would be a good idea to adopt the 3.15 p.m. procedure.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that enough views have been expressed to make the feelings of the House plain.