The following letter was submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Procedure and printed with its First Report, Session 1966-67, HC 153, The times of sittings of the House, with the Minutes of Evidence of 6 July 1966 (pp 48-50). See also the oral evidence from Sir Edward Fellowes and Professor Bernard Crick.
Letter from Sir Edward Fellowes, K.C.B., C.M.G., M.C., to the Clerk of the Committee
As regards morning sittings I adhere in general to the views expressed in para. 15 of my general memorandum of 1958 (see below) except that I doubt if any regularity the hour of rising is possible under existing procedure (by which I mean so long as the details of legislation are discussed on the floor of the House) and to those expressed in paras. 16-23 of my more detailed memorandum of the same year (see below) with the following modifications:–
1. That the experiment of morning sittings of the kind advocated might be limited to one morning a week (probably Wednesday) for a limited period e.g. after Easter to the beginning of July, when Standing Committee work is at its maximum, to allow of the House adjourning after Questions on that day.
2. As private Members would thereby lose an adjournment on Wednesday and another on Thursday if business postponed on Wednesday morning was resumed on Thursday evening and the House adjourned at its conclusion, it might be necessary to ensure that item (g) in para.16 of the memorandum was reached not later than 12 noon to allow of two ½-hour debates at least.
23rd June 1966.
15. Another of the grievances aired in the debate of 3lst January was concerned with the hours of sitting and in particular the obvious advantages of meeting earlier in the day and rising correspondingly early. In considering this problem the efficient administration of the Government is again concerned and I am sure that any programme which involved the attendance of Cabinet Ministers in the morning would stand little chance of acceptance. Nevertheless that type of business which is invariably dealt with by Under-Secretaries and much of which comes now at inconvenient or late hours might be examined with a view to taking some of this on some mornings. In this connection too it might be worth examining the possibility of achieving greater regularity in the hour of rising since the existing uncertainties in this respect must cause inconvenience and even hardship to many Members.
Paragraphs 16 to 23
16. It will be seen from the above time-table that it is suggested that on Mondays and Wednesdays the House should meet at 10.30 a.m. and proceed with–
- (a) Public Petitions;
- (b) Unopposed Private Business;
- (c) Unopposed Returns;
- (d) New Writs;
- (e) Motions for Addresses in connection with Statutory Instruments or Motions for the approval of draft orders or regulations;
- (f) Opposed Private Business;
- (g) Private Members’ Business on the Adjournment;
and at the conclusion of all such business or at 1 p.m., whichever was the earlier, Mr. Speaker should on Mondays suspend the sitting and on Wednesday adjourn the House. Some provision would have to be made to enable afternoon sittings of the House to take place on Wednesdays when the Committee work had abated or had not begun e.g. late summer or early winter.
17. The period between 10.30 a.m. and 1 p.m. I have called a “Morning Sitting”, and that between the time when the House resumes and its adjournment an “Afternoon Sitting”.
18. I suggest that the House should not be capable of being counted during a Morning Sitting.
19. The mover of any motion under items (d), (e) and (f) of paragraph 16 could, of course, always ask leave to withdraw his motion but failing that it is suggested that if, when Mr. Speaker puts the Question on any such motion his decision is challenged though but with a single voice, he shall thereupon declare the debate adjourned until 10.30 p.m. that day if it is a Monday, or 10.30 p.m. to-morrow, if it is a Wednesday morning.
20. The mover of a Motion at a Morning Sitting and the Minister in charge of each item of Business would be allowed to speak for 15 minutes but no other Member would be allowed to speak to the Question (or to any amendment thereunto) for more than 10 minutes.
11. It will be seen that the types of Business suggested in paragraph 16 would normally be in the charge of an Under-Secretary. The provision in paragraph 18 for a close time for a count would mean no member need attend unless he wanted to and the fact that under paragraph 19 no division could take place at a morning sitting should relieve the Whips of all anxiety. Theoretically I do not approve of a time limit on speeches, but if an experiment is to be made this might be the appropriate time in which to try it out.
22. A rough calculation has been made of the time occupied by each of the types of business set out in paragraph 16 and works out as follows:–
Items (a), (b) (c) and (d) might occupy some 5 hours in a normal Session.
Item (e) on the assumption that highly controversial draft orders or regulations will as now be taken in Government time might occupy some 19½ hours in a normal Session.
Item (f) might occupy some 22½ hours in a normal Session.
23. In a Session of 32 weeks which is the average length of Sessions since 1945, there are 32 Wednesdays but only 27 Mondays making a total of 59 Morning Sittings of 2½ hours each making a total of 147½ hours. The calculation would then work out as follows:–
Prepared by Simon Patrick, 6 August 2001