HC Deb 19 February 1919 vol 112 cc1061-5

Each of the said Standing Committees shall consist of not less than sixty nor more than eighty Members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who shall have regard to the classes of Bills committed to such Committees, to the composition of the House, and to the qualifications of the Members selected; and shall have power to discharge Members from time to time, for non-attendance or at their own request, and to appoint others in substitution for those dis- charged: Provided that, for the consideration of all public Bills relating exclusively to Wales and Monmouthshire, the Committee shall be so constituted as to comprise all Members sitting for constituencies in Wales and Monmouthshire. The Committee of Selection shall also have power to add not more than fifteen Members to a Standing Committee in respect of any Bill referred to it, to serve on the Committee during the consideration of such Bill: Provided that this Order shall not apply to the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills.

Amendments made: Leave out the words "sixty nor more than eighty," and insert instead thereof the words "forty nor more than sixty."

After the word "not" ["power to add not"], insert the words "less than ten nor."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]


I beg to move, at the end, to insert as a new paragraph: Any Member of the House may give notice to add any number of Members not exceeding ten to a Standing Committee in respect of any Bill referred to it and such Motion shall be taken as the first Order of the Day after which such notice shall be given, and upon such Motion Mr. Speaker shall forthwith permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves and from one Member who opposes such Motion, respectively, and shall, without further Debate, put the Question thereon. I would appeal to the kind heart of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is always anxious to preserve the rights of private Members. I move this Amendment with confidence, as the condition of affairs has been so different of late from what it formerly was. During the last year or two we have had numbers of private Committees of Members who are associated together because they are interested in some particular subject. The Air Committee, in which I take a good deal of interest, consisted of 150 members, and there is a great Commercial Committee which consists of 200 members. There is a new Committee, the Transport Committee, which already consists of 140 members. These Committees are composed of men interested in some particular subject and who are more or less experts in that particular subject, and are very anxious with regard to any legislation that may take place in regard to the subject. I do venture to think that there should be some means of putting expert members' of this description on those Grand Committees. My right hon. Friend knows that the Committee of Selection in choosing the Standing Committees has regard to the composition of the House and the qualification of the Member and nothing more than that. The rule is, to make your Standing Committee a reflex of the House itself. The Government at the present time has some four or five hundred supporters and on the Standing Committees the membership would be in proportion to the number. Most of the members of these private Committees are no doubt supporters of the Government, but at the same time the Select Committee has no authority to take note of the existence of those private Committees and some of the men particularly interested in certain subjects might or might not be included on the Standing Committee's. We had an instance the night before last of the use of those Committees, when the Under-Secretary for Air brought forward a Bill asking leave to make certain regulations. What happened on that occasion shows the usefulness of a Minister recognising those Committees which are undoubtedly in existence though they are not official Government Committees. Take the Bill which is coming on very shortly for the establishment of a Minister of Ways and Communications. There is already a private Committee of 140 Members who are interested in the roads question. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to say that there should be some means of getting the selection of those Members interested in roads and in the road question, and who are road authorities as members of county councils and other bodies, and who really know the law on the subject, and what the local authorities of the country want. That Bill may go to a Grand Committee and it may quite well be that with the best wish to do what is right the Committee of Selection merely puts on A, B, C, D, or E, who may happen to be Members who have taken no particular interest in the question. No doubt they would do their best to make the Bill as good as possible, but they would not have the necessary technical knowledge. I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the ipsissima verba of my Amendment, but I would ask him whether he could not contrive some kind of scheme which would enable a private Member, who came down with the backing of a resolution of, say, a hundred or a hundred and fifty Members, to ask the House to put five or ten Members on the Standing Committee. The object of the Government, I am sure, is to interest all private Members in the work, and the only way to do so is by putting the right Member on the right Committee, as for instance, the road man on the road committee, the air man on the air committee, the commercial man on the commercial committee, and so on. I think if such a scheme as that could be arranged it would be greatly to the interest of private Members.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his statement which shows that he wishes this subject to be considered rather than to press his Amendment at this stage. He has made out a strong case for the kind of thing which he aims at. It is quite true that one of the objects we hope to achieve is to give greater interest to private Members and to make them realise that in doing this work they are doing work as important as if they were taking part in Debates in this House. Obviously, it is to the interest of the House that as far as possible the right men should be placed on the right Committees, but it would be rather difficult to adopt anything like this proposal. It is quite correct to say that Members are chosen from the point of view of the different strengths of parties in this House, and it is obvious that must be so in the main, and for this reason, that unless that is done you might not have the view of the majority of the House represented in Grand Committee and that Committee might come to decisions which would be reversed afterwards. It is obvious you must aim at having Standing Committees fairly representative of the House. But it is true, and I am sure my hon. Friend, who has experience of these Committees, knows it, that though that is the object of the Selection Committee they do not adhere to it in the same way with regard to the special members who are added. I am informed that in cases such as he has named the Selection Committee would take into account people who had shown an interest in the subject. But if the Committee of which he speaks was all on one side on the question that would not be a reason why they should be put on and so overload the general feeling of the whole House. I do not see how we could give effect to the hon. Gentleman's proposal, and I hope he will not press it.


Having regard to the kind way in which my right hon. Friend has met my proposal, I would ask leave to withdraw it, but I hope that he will consider whether something could not be done on the subject.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.