HC Deb 19 February 1919 vol 112 cc1065-9

The Committee of Selection shall nominate a chairmen's panel to consist of not less than four nor more than eight Members, of whom three shall be a quorum; and the chairmen's panel shall appoint from among themselves the chairmen of each Standing Committee, and may change the chairman so appointed from time to time.


I beg to move to leave out the words "the Committee of Selection shall nominate," and to insert instead thereof the words "there shall be."

This is the first of two Amendments, the second being consequential. The object is to enable the chairmen of very important Standing Committees to be elected by the House instead of being merely appointed by the Committee of Selection.


May I ask for an explanation of the Amendment? The hon. Member proposes that instead of the Committee of Selection nominating the chairmen's panel, that "there shall be a chairmen's panel to consist of not less than four nor more than eight Members, who shall be nominated at the commencement of every Session," but he does not say nominated by whom.


I consulted Mr. Speaker on this Amendment this morning, and I was advised in drafting it by one of the Clerks at the Table that the word "nominated" meant that they were nominated by one of the parties in the same way that the Committee of Selection is nominated by the Government at the beginning of every Session, and that then that nomination has to come before the House and that the House can divide on it, if they wish to do so.


I understand.


Yes, Sir. Those hon. Members who have only just come into the House should know that at the beginning of every Session, I believe, this Committee of Selection is nominated by the Government, and then that nomination is put to the House and the House is able to divide upon it. Under the scheme that is now proposed, the Chairmen of the Standing Committees will go on being nominated by the Committee of Selection, but my Amendment proposes, on the other hand, that the Chairmen of the Standing Committees shall be elected by this House. I feel that it does make all the difference, now that the, Standing Committees are going to be so much more important than in the past, and that the Chairmen of these Committees are going to have far more important duties than they have had in the past. In the first place, it is quite conceivable that enormously important measures will be sent up to Standing Committees, Bills exciting very bitter controversy, and also under the new plan the Chairman of a Standing Committee is not only going to have the power of giving the Closure upon Amendments in certain cases, but he is also going to have the power to give the Closure, upon the whole of the Committee stage upstairs. Supposing the first Clause of a Bill had taken a very long time, it would be in the power of the Chairman of the Standing Committee to give the Closure on the whole of the rest of the Bill, so that it should be reported at once to the House. I feel that that makes all the difference, and that, under these circumstances, it is only fair that the House as a whole should have the opportunity of saying whether they agree with the nomination or not. I am fortified in what I say by the very great authority of Mr. Speaker, who was one of the witnesses before the Committee on Procedure in 1914, and Mr. Speaker on that occasion said that he agreed that these Chairmen ought to be elected by the House, and he said that when the proposal was made that these Chairmen should have the power of initialling Amendments and sending those initialled Amendments only down to the Report stage of the House, but it is far more important that they should be elected by the House when not only they are able to initial Amendments, but that they shall be able to ignore Amendments altogether and give the Closure whenever they like. I should like to read the words of Mr. Speaker. The proposal was made to him by one of the Members of the Committee on procedure, "Would it not be necessary in some way to strengthen their position by some definite election so that when they gave these important rulings they should possess sufficient authority to carry them through?" Mr. Speaker then said, "Your suggestion is a good one. It would give the Chairmen more authority, and at the same time it would make them more careful from the knowledge that they are elected by the House and that they therefore owe a duty to the House as a whole. I think that would act as a very good check." I must say that I read that Report very carefully, and it was owing to the evidence given by Mr. Speaker that I put down this Amendment, and I feel that the Chairmen themselves would welcome this Amendment. I do not believe the ordinary Chairman in the least wants to have this great responsibility thrust upon him if he is merely nominated by the Committee of Selection. I believe that the Chairman if he knows he has got to have this great responsibility thrust upon him would infinitely rather be elected by this House. He would have more authority, and I think he would take very good care if elected by this House to send down the work of a Committee upstairs in a comprehensible and proper form. I therefore hope the Government will accept my Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I hope the proposal which has been made by my hon. Friend is one which will commend itself to the Government. The duties which are going to be borne by these Chairmen will very often be not a little bit less onerous than those cast upon Chairmen and Deputy-Chairmen of Committees here, when Bills are to be fought out in the heat of party passion. Circumstances are bound to arise in which they will feel a very great weight of responsibility, and I am quite sure that it would add to their feelings of support in the most difficult and arduous duties which must fall upon them if they had not merely the sanction of a body which itself had been nominated, but also the sanction of the House of Commons itself. To be nominated to preside over a deliberative assembly is not a very happy position, and I cannot conceive anything which would strengthen him more in those duties to which I have alluded than to know that he had been freely nominated and selected by the House of Commons itself.


I was rather attracted by the proposal when the hon. Member first made it, because it undoubtedly does give some power to this House, which I think they ought to have, but on thinking it over I should like to ask whether he proposes that the Chairmen shall be elected for the duration of the Parliament or every Session, and I ask for this reason. There are going to be a good number of these Standing Committees, and a very large number of Bills will be sent up to them, some of which will undoubtedly be very controversial. There are not a few Members who will not know the rules, and supposing a Chairman takes a strong line against a Member or against a few Members and offends them, what is to prevent them from coming down and saying to their friends "When So-and-so is put up at the beginning of this Session to be Chairman of Committees, don't you vote for him. Let us put in somebody else." I commend that point to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I believe I am right in saying the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means are elected for a Parliament, and if my hon. Friend would consent so to alter his Amendment that the Chairman of the Standing Committees should be elected in the same way as the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, he would have my support.




My hon. Friend has put forward an Amendment which has a great deal to commend it. Like my right hon. Friend behind me, I am attracted by it, but I do not think he has quite got over the difficulties he himself has raised by the suggestion that it should be for the whole life of the Parliament. It is not so easy to get a large number of people who will be available for that length of time. I confess that, Mr. Speaker, having himself taken the view that this would be an improvement, is probably the strongest argument that could be presented. The whole question is as to the best way to get the most competent Chairmen for the purpose. I think there is something in the view that particular people might attract a certain amount of hostility by their action. I am not prepared, therefore, on behalf of the Government to accept this change now, but if my hon. Friend is satisfied with this—it will be a very easy change to make—it will be carefully considered before the end of this Session, in consultation, with the officers of the House, as well as Mr. Speaker, and if the conclusion arrived at is that it is a better arrangement, I shall be very glad to suggest it to the House.


In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, I beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: Leave out "four," and insert "eight."

Leave out "eight," and insert "twelve."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]