HC Deb 21 February 1963 vol 672 cc631-2
Q1. Mr. Ellis Smith

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will initiate discussions with a view to amending Standing Orders so that in ordinary debates no speech made in the House of Commons shall exceed 20 minutes, except that by leave of the House an extension could be made of 10 minutes or 20 minutes on special occasions;

(2) if he will initiate consultations with a view to arranging that Questions should be taken between eleven o'clock and half-past twelve o'clock; and that the House should then adjourn until two o'clock and that proceedings should be interrupted at nine o'clock.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

No, Sir. Similar proposals have been made in the past. I am not aware of any general desire to adopt them now.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Does the Prime Minister remember advocating proposals of this kind when he was a smart-looking young Guards officer on this side of the Chamber? That being so, will he reconsider his reply? Will he have regard to the Report prepared by a committee of investigation of this House, and will he also remember that when he visited Australia and New Zealand procedures of this kind were in operation?

The Prime Minister

There are really two proposals here, one being to limit the length of speeches. Of course, we all feel that to be desirable. However, we do not have to suffer anything like what our predecessors used to undergo in the old days. The other proposal is that we should meet in the mornings. The difficulty in that proposal is, of course, that the Standing Committees sit on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one Standing Committee sits on Wednesday, the House sits on Friday morning, and I am not sure that to sit on Monday morning would be generally acceptable.

Mr. Warbey

Will the Prime Minister reply to my hon. Friend's second proposal? It has the great merit, compared with earlier proposals that we should meet in the mornings, that it would enable hon. Members to perform their duties in Standing Committees and still slip into the Chamber to ask their Questions and get their Answers. It would also give longer time for Questions, and for major debates in the House. The proposal seems to me to have very considerable merits indeed.

The Prime Minister

I think that it is a matter for the House to consider, but there are very great difficulties, as has been found in previous discussions of Procedure Committees.