HC Deb 04 July 1963 vol 680 cc582-3
Q1. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister if he will introduce legislation to make the office of Deputy Prime Minister a permanent feature of the Constitution of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

No, Sir.

Mr. Wyatt

Does not the Prime Minister think that it might help him in two ways? First, he would be able to delegate permanently the answering of Questions, that he said in an interview in May he cannot bear doing himself? Secondly, might it not help him in his interesting struggle for survival, which we are all watching with such sympathy—because he would be able to fossilise one of his more dangerous rivals?

The Prime Minister

Having made his well-prepared supplementary, perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to make an equally well-prepared reply. In several Administrations over the last 20 years it has been the practice of the Prime Minister to appoint a senior member of the Government to act as Deputy Prime Minister. This helps in the efficient dispatch of public business. But it is not an appointment submitted to the Sovereign and in my view it should not be so.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the Prime Minister, at the same time, say whether the office of Prime Minister is a permanent feature of the constitution?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it became so for the first time, as a recognised one, at the time of King Edward VII.

Mr. Wyatt

Would not the right hon. Gentleman care to expand his views on answering Questions, which he said he found so distasteful in the interview in May?

The Prime Minister

I did not say that I found them distasteful, but, like any form of public appearance, there is a certain amount of nervous strain. But I do my best.

Mr. H. Wilson

We are all sure that the right hon. Gentleman does his best, and we all agree with him that the first time his office was mentioned in the Table of Precedence was in 1906, but just to get the record right, would it not be right to say that the first time the title of Prime Minister occurred was on Disraeli's signing of the Treaty of Berlin, in 1878, and that the first time it appeared statutorily was in the Chequers Act? Since he has made his historical statement, should not we get that on the record?

The Prime Minister

There are so many occasions on which I wish to differ from the right hon. Gentleman that I will certainly accept his historical reminiscences.