HC Deb 19 June 1907 vol 176 cc488-91
Mr. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)

asked if the Government had decided to take any action with a view of having the proceedings in Grand Committees reported.


That is a matter in which, if we take any action at all, it ought to be taken with great deliberation and caution. Hitherto the reporting of the Grand Committees has answered very well. It seems to me the reports in the newspapers are quite sufficient to inform Members of the House of what is proceeding. If we have a more elaborate report, or anything approaching the Hansard report—not necessarily verbatim, but a full report—I am very much afraid that the proceedings in Grand Committee will alter their character. At present they are conducted on an almost conversational scale; many members even making speeches without rising from their places The proceedings are on a different footing altogether from proceedings in this House. They are none the less effective, perhaps more effective, for the purpose of considering the details of Bills. Therefore we arc not disposed to take any steps now to extend the system of reporting.

MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)

asked whether the right hon. Gentleman's attention had been called to the fact that great inconvenience arose from the absence of any record of the statements made by the Minister in charge of a Bill during its progress through Committee.

SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)

asked the Prime Minister whether he did not think it; would be in the general interests of the nation that the proceedings on the Scottish Committee yesterday should be made public.


I do not know what the particular proceedings yesterday were to which the hon. Member refers, but I think the proceedings on the Scottish Committee generally, since it began, would be a lesson for the public. There may be occasions when some inconvenience is caused by what the right hon. Gentleman refers to, but I doubt if that occurs often, because the report which is furnished through the papers is usually well and carefully done, and may always be counted upon as including any important statement of that kind.


The right hon. Gentleman had said, I think justly, that if what goes on in the Scottish Committee were known it would be a lesson to the public; but how can it be known if the I right hon. Gentleman refuses to give us that report which he says is unnecessary?


I do not know that it is necessary to give a lesson to the public. It would convey a lesson to the public, but that is not the purpose for which the Committee is sot up. The Committees have been appointed, not that members should air their eloquence, or that any effect should be created on the public mind by their proceedings, but that Bills may be carefully considered in the interests of good legislation.


May I ask, leaving the public altogether out of account, as the right hon. Gentleman desires to do, whether it is not really of the greatest importance that the House, when it comes to consider and review the work of the Committee, should have some means of knowing what it is they are reviewing? Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision, not from the point of view of the public, but from the point of view of the labours of this House when on the Report Stage it has to survey the work of the Committee?


The right hon. Gentleman speaks of it as if it were an entirely new thing, and that there had never been a Grand Committee before which was not reported. We have had the experience many years, and we find that the present degree of report is adequate for the real purposes for which the Committees are constituted. Therefore, until experience leads us to another conclusion, we think it is quite sufficient to continue the present practice.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman had in mind that under the changes for which he had been responsible not only were Bills of great importance and of a very controversial character sent to these Committees, but also, for the first time in the history of Parliament, chairmen who were not officers of the House in the ordinary sense were charged with the very difficult and delicate duty of the use of the closure. Was not that a complete change, and was it not right that the closure, if its use were granted, should be exercised in the light of day?


In the first place, it is not quite the fact that no important and controversial Bills have hitherto been dealt with in this way. Mr. Ritchie's Licensing Bill was dealt with by a Grand Committee, and with success. As to the closure, I think I have mentioned more than once that I myself was the first chairman of a Grand Committee who off his own bat, without any rule or regulation to justify him, applied the closure, and with great success. That was a good many years ago. It would, however, have been an irregular practice if it had been often done. We have regularised it by giving the chairman the power of closure, which is inherent in the position of chairman in those circumstances.


asked whether for the last twenty years, during the existence of Grand Committees, there had been any expression of a desire on the part of right hon. and hon. Gentle men now in Opposition for the publication of the proceedings of Grand Committees.


I never heard of it.

*MR. MENZIES (Lanarkshire, S.)

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it was not the fact that a report of the proceedings of the Scottish Committee, of the length of two columns a day, appeared in the Scottish newspapers.


Order, order! The Prime Minister cannot be responsible for what appears in the Scottish newspapers.