HC Deb 14 December 1964 vol 704 cc34-6
Mr. Speaker

On Thursday last I interrupted the proceedings on a supplementary question because, in my view, it was too long, and called the next Question without giving the Minister an opportunity of replying.

The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) suggested that this was a new development in our procedure and asked whether I would reconsider my Ruling.

The practice of the Chair in intervening to prevent lengthy supplementary questions is not new. I find, for example, that Mr. Speaker Fitzroy intervened on occasions to interrupt a long supplementary question and to call the next Question. Hon. Members will find examples in HANSARD in 1940–41, Vol. 367, at column 204, and even earlier, in 1935–36, Vol. 367, at column 51.

On Thursday, however, the normal practice, which I have also followed in recent years, was slightly complicated by the fact that the Minister rose to reply at the moment that I had determined to rule the supplementary question out of order on the ground of length. Technically, in these cases a supplementary question which has been ruled out of order is thereby withdrawn from the consideration of the House, and there was, therefore, technically nothing before the House for the Minister to answer. It would have been entirely contrary to practice if I had interrupted the Minister, or prevented his answering any question which was in order, and I think that in the exchange which followed that is the impression which may have remained in the minds of several hon. Members.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bexley for giving me the opportunity of allaying any misapprehension of that kind. Having said that, I can assure the House and, in particular, the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), that I was not acting—as I am sure Mr. Speaker Fitzroy was not acting—in any desire to penalise the hon. Member asking the question. My only object as the servant of the House is to try to help the House to make better progress at Questions. There must be some limit to the time occupied on one Question, in the interests of hon. Members with later Questions on the Order Paper. If too much time is taken on supplementaries the House must be prepared to move on.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

On a point of order. Will you advise a new Member how to ensure that a supplementary question is kept short when it is constantly interrupted by hon. Members opposite, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate and sympathise with what the hon. Member says. I may have misjudged the length of the question at the time because of the din, but the hon. Member seemed to be proceeding—if I may say so without offence—with admirable fortitude, despite the barrage of protest.

Mr. Heath

We are grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the consideration that you have given to this matter and the way in which you have clarified the situation which arose last Thursday.

Mr. Shepherd

May I express the hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will not be deterred from your purpose of shortening unnecessarily long supplementary questions by what has taken place.

Mr. Speaker

I shall not be deterred from trying to do my best for the House. It really is not easy. In 1959, a Select Committee recommended that the House should support Mr. Speaker in the matter of the number and length of supplementary questions, and the House took note of the report without anyone—as far as I can find—disagreeing with it on that point. How much effect that good resolution had I leave to hon. Members to judge. I find that mere appeals, although courteously received at the time, seem to lose effect rather quickly.

Interventions by the Chair are acutely distasteful to me, if not to everybody else, and usually tend to waste time in the end. So I would like to leave the matter to the good sense of the House. I am sure that we can do better than we have been doing.