§ (7) A Motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of public business, to be decided without Amendment or Debate, to the following effect, "That the proceedings on any specified business, if under discussion at Eleven this night, be not interrupted under the Standing Order 'Sittings of the House.' "or to the following effect, "That the proceedings on any specified business, if under discussion when the business is postponed, be resumed and proceeded with, though opposed, after the interruption of business."
§ Amendment proposed: Leave out the words
§ "If under discussion at eleven this night, be not interrupted under the Standing Order, 'Sittings of the House,' or to the following effect: That the proceedings on any specified business."
§ and insert instead thereof the words
§ "be exempted at this day's sitting from the provisions of the Standing Order, 'Sittings of the House,' and. if such a Motion be agreed to, the business so specified shall not be interrupted if it is under discussion at Eleven o'clock that night, may be entered upon at any hour, although opposed; and."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to give an explanation of the reason why he has moved this alteration. The words of the Order are now as follows:That the proceedings on any specified business, if under discussion at Eleven this night, be not interrupted under the Standing Order, 'Sittings of the House,' or to the following effect: That the proceedings on any specified business, if under discussion when the business is postponed, be resumed and proceeded with, though opposed, after the interruption of business.I do not quite see the point of the alteration, and I shall be glad of some explanation.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have never been more surprised at anything than in hearing my right hon. Friend say that he does not understand the proposed Amendment. If he does not I am afraid I do not. Under the existing Standing Order, of which we have had a lot of experience, we can move that the particular business we specify shall be continued after eleven o'clock, and that there can be no Debate upon that Motion. Over and over again last Session we put down under the Eleven o'Clock Rule more than one subject. My right hon. Friend did not object, and I am very grateful to him for it; but the House on several occasions could have objected had they chosen. They never did—possibly because some hon. Members 1256 were not quite sure of the Rule, but in the case of the right hon. Baronet I am sure it was because of goodwill to the Government. We are moving the Amendment for the purpose of making the Rule apply to more than one subject—that in all.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I always understood that under the Rule that could be done, if done in proper form. I think I remember a ruling of yours, Mr. Speaker, in which you said that any particular business could be exempted. Possibly my right hon. Friend did not put his Motion down in the proper form! I did not take advantage of the occasions—which I might have done had a Radical Government been in power—because I was desirous of assisting the Government.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: After the word "postponed" ["business is postponed"], insert the word "may."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Business of Supply.
§ That in the present Session the following provisions shall apply with respect to Business of Supply notwithstanding any Standing Order or custom of the House:
- (1) All Estimates, including Supplementary and additional Estimates, for the Army and Navy, Air Force, Civil Services and Revenue Departments, but not including Votes A and 1 of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Estimates, shall be referred to a Standing Committee instead of to the Committee of Supply;
- (2) The Estimates shall be allotted for consideration to the Standing Committees of the House in such manner as Mr. Speaker shall determine, and shall be considered by the Standing Committee in accordance with the customary form of procedure of the Committee of Supply;
- (3) A Motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown, after notice given, that certain Estimates or Votes be considered in Committee of Supply, and if such Motion be agreed to the Estimates or Votes therein specified shall be considered in Committee of Supply and shall be deemed to have been withdrawn from the Standing Committee;
- (4) If notice is given of the consideration of any Votes other than a Vote of Credit in Committee of Supply, Mr. Speaker, on the Orders of the day therefore being read, shall leave the Chair forthwith (notwithstanding anything contained in Standing Order No. 17);
- (5) A Standing Committee to which any Estimates are referred may report from time to time any Resolutions to which they have agreed. All Resolutions which have been considered by a Standing Committee shall, when reported to the House, be proceeded with as if they had been reported from the Committee of Supply;
- (6) Those Votes only of which notice has been given shall be considered in a Standing Committee on any day, the right being reserved to His Majesty's Ministers of placing the Votes in the rotation in which they are to be taken and of determining whether Estimates or Bills should be considered on any particular day.
- (7) Standing Order No. 15, which relates to Business of Supply, shall be modified as follows:
- (a) That Order shall be taken to apply only to Business of Supply in the Whole House or in a Committee of the Whole House;
- (b) Twelve shall be substituted for twenty as the number of allotted days, and accordingly that Order shall have effect as if the words "twelve" and ''twelfth" were substituted, respectively, for the words "twenty" and "twentieth" wherever they occur in that Order;
- (c) Paragraph 1 of the Order (which relates to Business of Supply being the first Order of the Day on Thursday) and paragraph 10 of the Order (which relates to Additional Estimates) shall not have effect;
- (8) The Committee of Selection shall have power to add not less than Ten nor more than Fifteen Members to the Standing Committee to which and Estimates are referred to serve on the Committee during the consideration of any specified Estimates, and the Committee of Selection and the Chairman's Panel shall have the same powers and duties in respect to Estimates as they have in respect of Bills referred to Standing Committees, in so far as they are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Order.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am sure the whole House will recognise that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has shown throughout this Debate a great desire to meet every point he possibly could consistently with the duty he felt he had to discharge to the whole House. There is no single point of real substance, so far as I have been able to see, which he has not gone a very long way to meet. It is because this proposal with which we are now face to face is one of overmastering importance—which has not only attracted very great attention in this House, but has also attracted a very large measure of public attention and a decidedly large measure of public uneasiness—that I feel confident that arguments, no matter from what quarter of the House they come, will be weighed by him with the greatest care and the greatest consideration. There are just a few points I desire to make, without any attempt at emphasising them by appeals to sentiment or anything of that kind—practical points which, I think, ought to weigh with us in considering this very far-reaching proposal.
First of all, this proposal strikes at the root of, indeed it sweeps away the real 1258 origin of, the power of the House of Commons as a whole. It takes away subjects from the floor of this House and sends them upstairs to Committee, which will largely meet in private—make no mistake about that—and which will come to decisions; and I regret that even an official summary of those meetings upstairs will not be available. It will be left to the recollection of Members, and occasional reports in the newspapers, as to what has taken place at the Committees on matters which are vital, not only to this country, but to the whole of the British Empire. Let me try to establish that thesis. In at least four or five—I will say four, to be quite safe—of the great topics to be taken upstairs, to be removed from here, are questions of policy, and not of expenditure. Let me see if we can agree upon this fundamental point. Questions of policy ought to be discussed on the floor of this House. I think I carry the main assent of everybody in the Chamber to that. Those who have listened to our Debates in Committee of Supply will, I am sure, agree with this, that the Foreign Office Vote involves a matter of policy. The Colonial Vote, with its vast wide sweep over the whole of the British Empire—there, again, it is a question of policy. I would ask hon. Members to carry their minds also to the Home Office Vote. The Home Office is not a great spending Department, but is the very heart and centre of the social life and work of the people. Matters of high policy constantly come up on the floor of this House affecting, not only a great industry like the coal industry, but the liberties of the individual. Over and over again, any Member taking his mind back for ten years, can see how often all these questions have come up and have been discussed in detail. I pass from that without further elaboration.
Take, again, the Board of Trade. It is not a great spending Department, but in the past it has also maintained a grip on all the great commercial aspects of this commercial Empire. Policy, again, possibly comes up in connection with other questions. I quite agree that on some occasional nights the discussion on a particular Vote has been devoted to rather small points; but I would ask my right hon. Friend sitting opposite, with his very long experience of this House, whether, on an average, it would be safe to say from his recollection of these four Departments 1259 which I have named that questions of policy, as distinguished from expenditure and detailed expenditure, were the main points we have had to discuss.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Well, it depended upon the subject. Supply may be as deeply interesting as any Second Reading, except in the case of very great Bills. We have a proposal before us dealing with this question, in the shape of the Ninth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. There are several right hon. and hon. Members within my hearing and sight at the moment who are members of that Committee. This was a Committee which also called to its aid the vast experience of Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means. As far as I was of any use at all, I practically said "ditto" to these two great personages. They asked the opinion of Mr. Speaker and of the Chairman of Ways and Means. What were these suggestions? Shortly, they were that these Estimates should be subject to careful scrutiny before they came before the purview of the Whole House. They suggested that witnesses should come before them, and that they should have professional assistance and work hand-in-hand with that most useful Department, the Public Accounts Committee. Everyone who reads that Report will agree that it was one of the most lucid ever issued for many a long day dealing with a highly complicated subject. They said:The policy is a matter for the Government and the House itself and not for Standing Committees of Estimates.I call that in aid of the position I am now attempting to establish. There are other Departments in the great range of the Civil Service to which I could allude in this discussion. Take another question which is not unimportant—the proposal that this should be for this Session only. That is a very attractive, I will not say seductive, proposal, because I think it is honestly meant. My answer is that there never was a Session in the history of any Parliament which we can recollect when it was more dangerous to make this experiment. We have heard it from hon. Members of the Labour party in this House, and we know it as a fact from our own experience and knowledge of the world, that this House is being very closely watched. There is a spirit 1260 of unrest abroad which is highly dangerous. In this Session this year, I do not hesitate to say that there is a spirit of revolution abroad. It is here. It has been epidemic over Europe and it is here among us to-day, and it will have its success or its failure according to where the conditions are favourable or unfavourable for it. I say if we adopt for this Session this tremendously wide and sweeping innovation, as it is granted that it is, we shall give a very favourable ground for the propagation of some of the worst forms of the danger which is among us. This House is composed of nearly 50 per cent. of new Members. I do not think this is the right time to introduce these changes. The new Members should have a fair opportunity of seeing the House of Commons work substantially on its older lines, except in so far as the administration demands that those old lines should be here and now fundamentally altered.
The other point that I make is rather a smaller one of detail, and it is that by this proposal we shall reduce the days of Supply from twenty to twelve. What does that really mean? I say that under the proposal Vote A and Vote 1 of the Army and Navy and the Vote for the Air Force are to be discussed on the floor of the House. Those are the days that will count, and the days of Report of those Votes will count. I should be very much surprised if the Votes for the Army and Navy and the Air Force do not excite more public attention this Session than ever they did before. For the last four and a-half years we have been taking Token Votes, and little has been said as to what has been taking place in these great military and naval forces. The pressure of the War was so great that appeals were made to hon. Members to curtail discussion in the interests of those great Services. All this pressure has now gone. The grievances in connection with those forces will necessarily have to be ventilated on the floor of this House, and they will never be able to get these Votes out of the way in one day. Time and again they will have to continue the discusson, to meet the public demand for further information.
I will take six days, one for the Army in Committee and one for the Report stage, that is two days. I will take the Vote for the Navy, which will take two more days, making four; and two for the Air Force, making six days. That takes 1261 up six days out of the twelve, and it only leaves six days for the publicity required for the Foreign Office, the Board of Trade, the Board of Education, Colonial Service, the Home Office, and the whole range of the Civil Service. [An Hon. Member: "And for Scottish business!"] Yes, I have omitted that. On the whole I do not think you will get more than four days for the discussion of these great Services, and the policy of the whole thing cannot be dealt with in that time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We propose to make twelve days instead of twenty days for Supply. As I understand it, these twelve days will be as much available as the twenty days. So that at the worst there will only be a difference of eight days.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I do not think my right hon. Friend is correct, but in any case I will give him the benefit of the two or three other days, because it does not affect my argument very much. I press most strongly on the Government that to curtail great discussions of policy and the publicity of them is a most dangerous experiment to make at any time, and it is highly dangerous just now. We all remember the old method of redressing grievances and the method by which the Speaker used to be appointed. Now we know the election of Speaker is a matter for the House. We still go through the delightful old formula for the election of our Speaker, and I hope none of these old formulæ will ever be swept away—that they may remain part of our national life. You elect from among your ordinary private Members your Chairman of Ways and Means, and I should be very sorry indeed it these privileges were swept away.
I can look back on the experience of the past eleven years, and let the oldest Member of this House look back not to instances where these privileges have been abused. Let them charge their Parliamentary memories, and then I think they will agree with me when I say that on the whole our old practice has been a great advantage, as it has been the means of bringing about a real public service. The old system has often given 1262 opportunities for the discovery of private Members of real capacity and great usefulness, and good legislation has often resulted. Already the Government have very large and sweeping powers, and I do not grudge them one little bit. Properly used, as I believe they will be, those powers will not only conduce to the greater efficiency of the House, but increase its dignity and authority. There is no urgent necessity for this proposed change. On the other hand, there is a real danger which may be averted, and I beg my righthon. Friend, in the interests of this House, and also of the country, not to press this proposal.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I think everyone will admit that we have reached an order which requires a great deal of anxious consideration. I think the case against the proposal has been put with great clearness by my right hon. Friend opposite. At the same time I am bound to say that it has always struck me that our old procedure was really defective from a practical point of view. It is all very well to talk about the maintenance of control over finance, but everybody knows that finance, certainly since I came here, has never been controlled in any proper sense by the House, Take the Estimates. One of the most ludicrous performances we have gone through for many years has been that of an appointed day for taking the outstanding Estimates which have never been discussed and have never been before the House at all, and they have to be put one after the other keeping us up until all hours in the morning, because that is the day generally chosen by hon. Members who want to make up a good total in the Division Lobby. Let us get away from the hallucination that we really have a perfect system. Do not let us deceive ourselves or attempt to tell young Members that in the past there were really great financial critics in this House. There were no such, and everybody knows it. I hope at all events this much will be clear in this Order, that the Estimates will go to Committee. We have discussed this matter very often. A way must be invented by the House of going really into the Estimates, and I do not believe there is any better way than sending them to Committee. I should like to say, and I suppose it will be so, that the Committee will be a Standing Committee and will be able to get all the necessary information that may be required from or through a Minister of the Crown, and that 1263 the Committee upstairs will have the presence of various gentlemen of the Treasury, who are acquainted with and are able to give the necessary information. The voting of hundreds of millions in a block in the middle of the night is not a business transaction. Therefore, so far as I am concerned I am very glad that the change is going to be made. It is merely a Sessional change; we will see how it works.
I am greatly affected by what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that finance very often depends upon policy, nearly always, in many respects, depends upon policy. I do also recollect that very often incidents occur whether in the country at home, or abroad in foreign countries, which the House wishes to discuss. The way in which the discussion has hitherto been raised has been by asking the Minister of the Department concerned to put down the Estimate for discussion in the House. I do not think we ought to give up our opportunities of raising questions in this way. As regards the improvements that the Government are making in the Procedure of the House, I think there should be more time for the raising of questions of policy and for great Debates affecting not only the country at home, but the whole Empire, particularly in our foreign relations. The House ought to be very jealous of having a single day taken away on which it might discuss policy, and I would submit that we ought not to shorten the number of days on which the Estimates could be discussed in this House. But they ought to be so regulated that they would rather be Second Reading days of Estimates on which the principles of them might be discussed, and also the policy of the Home Office, the Colonial Office, of the Local Government Board, and even, I may say, once in the Session, of the Irish Office.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Oh, yes! The hon. Gentleman opposite, I think, will take advantage of that, no matter what he may say. I hope the Government will give us an assurance that the days on which Estimates would have come on will not be shortened, and that those days may be added to the general days of the House in some way or other on which policy could be discussed. I think that would be a great improvement and would give us a greater opportunity than we have had 1264 before of discussing vital questions of the policy of the Government. There is one other matter to which I should like to refer, and it is this. When we meet together, whether it is right or wrong, early in the year and not late in the autumn, as I think would be an improvement myself—but that is not under consideration—when we meet here we do so at a time when everybody is extremely anxious to have the policy of the Government developed with regard to their Bills of the Session. We are at once switched off to finance; finance must be got through before the 31st March. I myself would be glad if that had been done earlier, and that we could then proceed regularly with the ordinary business of the Session. But I think it must be conceded to the Government that it is essential as far as possible to facilitate in every way their getting through their finance before the 31st March, and, so far as I am concerned, under the existing circumstances I think they ought to have every opportunity for doing so. But subject to that, I would appeal to my right hon. Friend opposite most seriously not to take away from the number of days which is essential for the discussion of policy, but that he might endeavour to restore, instead of twelve days, twenty days, so that when we get back the Estimates, either on Report or in some other way, we may have preserved to us full opportunities for the discussion of the policy of the Government.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move, after the word "the" ["additional Estimates for the Army and Navy"], to insert the words "Foreign Office."
I quite agree with the observation of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that the present system of voting money is perfectly indefensible. I have, in two or three remarks I have already made in regard to these Rules, called attention to the way in which millions of money were sometimes voted without a single word of discussion and by a series of perambulations through the Lobbies. The way in which we have voted money away lavishly is perfectly ridiculous and farcical. Therefore I am totally in sympathy with the purposes of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, as I was in genuine sympathy with his proposal for the reference of Bills to Standing Committees. My criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is that I do not think it is adequate. I go further than 1265 that, because I think that the inevitable result of these proposals, especially if we do not adopt the suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles, will be to relax the grip of the House of Commons on the policy of the Government. My purpose is not to relax, but to enlarge and to strengthen control of the policy of the Government by the House of Commons. After all the selection of the items for discussion in Supply is very often chaotic and accidental. I have taken part in many such Debates in my hot youth, and I believe that on one occasion a discussion took place on the salary of the rat-catchers of the Palace. Of course the time devoted to that detail was taken away from discussion of more important subjects, but what I want to point out to the House is this: What is our control of the executive? In the first place it is almost impossible for anyone to discuss methods of detail in the Estimates without having had some previous knowledge or study of the Estimates.
We have had a Committee on National Expenditure. I wish to again call the attention of the House to the fact, already brought out, that that Committee on National Expenditure, in which that old Parliamentarian, the hon. Member for the City of London, took a prominent part recommended the creating of Standing Committees, in addition to the one Standing Committee already existing—I think two were proposed and a third was suggested—for the purpose of going into the Estimates. It is evident that it is perfectly absurd to imagine that a great public meeting such as this House is can go into the details and volumes of accounts with any efficiency. Therefore, certainly, there ought to be a previous examination of those Estimates by Standing Committees. That is to a certain extent the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, but that is simply an examination of the accounts from the point of view out detail, and not of policy. My suggestion to the Government is that the Standing Committee should have the power not merely to examine details, but also to discuss and even pronounce upon policy. I know that will be regarded by some hon. Members as a, revolutionary innovation, and I know the Leader of the House will oppose it. All officials will oppose me until the House is strong enough to take the matter into its own hands. With regard to the great departments of expenditure, the Army, the 1266 Navy, and the Foreign Office, this House should examine not merely their expenditure, but also their policy, and the necessity for that is illustrated by incidents still fresh in our memory, and drawn from the great War from which we have just emerged.
I am going to be as delicate and as reticent as I can in reference to certain matters which are not very much to the credit of our administration. Take the Army first. I heard Gentlemen getting up every night in the first nine months of the War and denouncing in every kind of term the Administration of the day. These attacks were more or less relevant. I did not join in them; I thought that it was not the time, in the emergency of the War, to criticise the Government without a knowledge of the facts. The remarkable thing was that in all these criticisms upon the Government of the day there was never a single allusion to the central fact which stood behind the question whether we were going to win or lose the War—namely, the state of our munitions. Yet it was the dissatisfaction of the country reflecting itself in the opinion of the House, and it was the daily publication in the newspapers of disasters that were overtaking our Armies in the field, because of the want of munitions, that overthrew the Government of the day and put a Coalition Government in its place. Not one word of that was mentioned in the House of Commons before the collapse came. I put it to the House, that if we had had a Standing Committee whose duty it was not merely to examine the accounts of the War Office—that is not enough—but a Committee who had the right to bring before them either the Secretary of State for War or the Under-Secretary of State for War and the officials of the War Office, and if that Committee had been presided over—he is a political opponent of mine, and therefore I can mention him without any suspicion of partiality—by a man like the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), do you suppose that we should have had to wait until May in order to find out that munitions were wanting and that the success of our Army and our cause was being endangered for the want of munitions? I say that any good Committee with a strong chairman would have found out that defect in our armour within a fortnight's examination of the accounts.
1267 I will take the Navy—another great Department. I have not yet had the advantage of reading the book of Lord Jellicoe with regard to his naval experiences, but I have read several extracts from it in the Reviews, and there are in that book several most startling revelations, save, of course, that we have now won, as to the defects in the Navy—defects in a system which, whatever else in our organisation we criticise, we regarded as perfect. Would anybody suggest, if we had had a Naval Committee in this House with power to examine not merely the figures, but the officials and the Ministers responsible for that Department, that these defects would not have been found out by the penetrating eye of some business man on that Committee? I now come to my third Department, on which I feel even more strongly, namely, the Foreign Office. I said the other night, and I repeat, that I regard it as dangerous to entrust the decision of peace or war to a single man or to two or three men, whether they be called Kaisers or Cabinet Ministers. Is not that a proposition which commends itself to the judgment of every man? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I did not catch the dramatic whisper of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Some of my hon. Friends in answer to the hon. Member said "No, no." I was not prepared to go as far as that, and I said "It depends upon what he means."
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
We are supposed to be in the halcyon days of democracy and to exercise omnipotent control over the executive, but we have little or no control over the foreign policy of the Government. I gave an example the other night how we gave four hours to the foreign policy of the British Empire and twelve hours to the affairs of a water company. As things are to-day and as they will remain if this Resolution be carried, our control of the foreign policy of this nation will be nil in this Parliament. We can turn out a Minister, but that will be little satisfaction to us if he has embroiled our relations with countries with 1268 which we ought to be in the most amicable relation. Our whole control is what I may call ex post facto control. The control has passed from our hands by decisions to which we are bound, whether we like them or not. That may appear an exaggerated statement, but let me call attention to a very remarkable instance that occurred not many months ago. I have reason to remember the night, because it was the first time that I had the pleasure of being present after thirteen months absence in America. In the course of a very interesting speech the Prime Minister stumbled into the statement that we were bound to come to the rescue of France by a compact. That was his word. I pricked up my ears when I heard the word "compact" and a much more important individual than I am, Mr. Herbert Samuel, who was at the moment representing the Front Opposition Bench, got up and repudiated the word. He quoted from the speech of Sir Edward Grey repudiating the word "compact." I remember, all of us here must remember, the night of 3rd August, 1914, when Sir EdwardGrey made the speech which was practically a declaration of War against Germany. Some people forget that the first speech that was made in defence of that policy was made from these benches by the late Mr. Redmond. He got very little thanks. The Prime Minister, I suppose, had brought to his attention the observation of Mr. Herbert Samuel, and with that quickness for which we all give him credit, he saw that it was necessary to come back and make an explanation. Therefore, after he had been absent from the House some time, he came back and made an explanation—My right hon. Friend opposite has challenged the word 'compact,' and I say at once, that I think the word 'compact' was much too strong to describe what actually passed. I think it is very important that any misunderstanding on that point should be instantly put right. I was alluding to the speech of Sir Edward Grey.Then having quoted from Sir Edward Grey he went on to say:I think the word 'compact' was too strong to use in that connection.But what was his next observation?In my judgment, it was an obligation of honour.An obligation of honour is a compact to an honourable nation, and therefore I see nothing but a distinction of words. I felt on the night Sir Edward Grey read out the communications between this Government and the French Government, and 1269 I feel now, that we were bound by an honourable obligation to come to the defence of France when she was attacked by Germany. I do not complain of it. I think it was quite right. I think our sense of duty to France was accompanied by our sense of duty to our own security as an Empire, and that if we had deserted France, as I am sorry to say we did not stand by her side in 1871, we should have been the first victims that would have followed the destruction of that great and honourable and civilised country. I am not complaining of all this. I only want to make my position quite clear. I knew long before I heard these revelations of the Notes that had passed between us and the French authorities, that we must be committed to the defence of France, because in passing through that country I saw that France had risen to a new height of self-confidence and courage quite in contrast with the spirit of depression and almost self-distrust which I had seen after the great defeat of 1871. My point is that the obligation was honourable and that it was right to enter into it, but that the House of Commons and the country knew nothing of the obligation. Is that right? Is that democracy? Is that control of Parliament? Is that control of the people? Is that compatible with the new evangel of President Wilson and the League of Nations, which I hope will be ultimately adopted by all the nations. I find that the very first of the Fourteen Points of President Wilson, which we have accepted and on the strength of which we got a proposal of Armistice from Germany, is this:Open covenants of peace openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.That is what I call democracy; that is what I call Parliamentary control; that is what I call popular control. Anything short of that is not Parliamentary control, or popular control or democracy. It may be supposed by some hon. Gentlemen who are listening to me that I am proposing something that is extraordinary and unprecedented in the history of legislation. As a matter of fact, I am trying to bring up the legislature of this great free nation to the level of the legislatures of other free nations. We are the exception. A Parliamentary Committee which has a right to examine the accounts and the policy of the public departments of the 1270 State exists in almost every legislature of the world. Take the United States, for instance. There no treaty, as we know, can be made without the concurrence of the Senate. They have a Foreign Affairs Committee there. Then in the Reichstag of the old German Empire there was a Budget Committee which had a right to examine the budget, and that committee had also a right to supervise the whole foreign and domestic policy of the German Empire. It had, of course, only a debating power, but still it had the right to discuss these things. In France they have neither a House of Lords nor a Monarchy, but there is not a single department there that has not its committee There are forty committees of twenty-five members whose duty it is to examine the accounts, and we who paid a visit some time ago to the French capital listened with amazement and admiration, and also with shame may I add, to those gentlemen there, seeing as we did their knowledge of every single fact in all departments—of the number of shells, guns and submarines, and of the foreign relations of their country. There I saw what I considered true democratic Parliamentary control. It is my complaint against the Government that they are not proposing to give to the Committees upstairs power to examine and control policy. In other words, the effect of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is not to strengthen but to weaken the control of the policy of the Government by the House of Commons.
Stress has been laid in several speeches in this discussion on the neglect of the Parliamentary services of Members of the House. A Noble Lord, who is certainly not the least distinguished Member of the House for brilliancy of intellect, has described himself as spending a good many hours of the day in reading five times in succession the same news in different papers. There was an hon. Member who used to sit in the last Parliament—Sir Henry Hibbert—the Chairman of the Education Committee of the county of Lancashire, who enjoyed the respect of every party in that great county and was loved even by those who differed from him most violently on political and on educational questions of which he was in control. He sat for several years in this House. Here was a great experienced mind at the service of the House of Commons, of the Government, and of the country, but Sir Henry was not asked to give any service. 1271 There was no room for him. There would be room under the systems now proposed by the Government, but there would be greater room under the system I suggest. I met Sir Henry in the Smoke Room one day, and said to him, "Where do you spend most of your time during the hours the House is sitting?" He replied, "In this corner." That is the use we made of this great trained mind. We condemned it to a corner in the Smoke Room of the House of Commons. I have never meta new Member of the House of Commons who was engaged up to the time of his election to this House in great business transactions or large local administration who has not said that the first six weeks or the first six months of his experience in the House of Commons provided one of the greatest disillusions of his life. I admit it is rather a come-down from the glorification of infatuated admirers in the enthusiasm of a General Election to the cold atmosphere of the House of Commons, where everybody is very much like everybody else.
But the real reason is this: These men do not obtain their great positions in this commercial country without great business experience and great energy and the devotion of every second of their time to the best work that can be produced in that time. They come to the House of Commons and find all they have to do is to wander from the House to the Smoke Room, from the Smoke Room to the News Room, from the News Room to the Tea Room, and from the Tea Room to the Dining Room. I heard it once asserted that Parliamentary life was simply boredom tempered by Divisions A man comes full of ardour, but he finds he is kept here from four till eleven at night; he is chained to silence, and surrounded by Whips. On the other hand, every man in the French Chamber has every moment of his Parliamentary time occupied in doing work for his country. On a Munitions Committee he helps to control munitions; on the Foreign Affairs Committee he helps to control foreign policy; and on the Shipping Committee he helps to control shipping. Every moment of his time is employed to the full. Here you have the real disease of this Parliament. That is why Parliament has become discredited. My sincere and inward fear, for I am a Parliamentarian and believe in Parliament as the best method by which society can be governed—my fear is that a 1272 palsied House of Commons, controlled by an Executive not sufficiently watched, will reduce to disgrace and despair the Parliamentary institution in which we all have so much pride.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
All the speakers have been good enough to say that I have done my best to meet the House, and I should like, in turn, to say that in my now pretty long experience I have never known a House of Commons so willing to help a Minister in getting through controversial matters. On this particular question, if it were possible for me to do anything to meet the views which have been expressed, I would gladly do it. I will deal with the speeches as fully as I can, but before doing so I should like to say a word or two on the very interesting speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). The hon. Gentleman said that the result of our present system is that the House knows nothing about foreign policy, whereas other Parliaments do get that knowledge. He gave as an illustration particular arrangements made between France and this country before the War. I am not going into that question now. But I do not think my hon. Friend can say that anyone except Ministers and ex-Ministers in the French Parliament knew the precise nature of the obligations which France had undertaken in the event of war with England or any other country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am very sure. The hon. Gentleman asked us to adopt the system which prevails in another country. But he has not given us the results of that system. And at any rate he has not shown us that it tends to prevent war. People, without talking nonsense, have pointed to the fact that Germany's autocratic Government was the cause of this War, but it should be remembered that in a House of Commons like ours, and under a system such as obtains in a democratic country like France, it is quite impossible to make any secret preparations for an aggressive war without its being suspected at least. With regard to the other part of the hon. Member's speech, I think most of us will be inclined to agree with his diagnosis. My right hon. Friend beside me tells me that in travelling in 1273 France he saw in a train the inscription, "Life is one—thing following another." What has happened in the House of Commons is that we form expectations which are not quite realised. But my hon. Friend will agree that the House has some curious attraction, and that there are very few people who once become Members of it who leave it except as a result of circumstances over which they have no control. I agree with what the hon. Member said as to the useless sort of life which is presented to a man who comes fresh to this place from a large business. We hope that even our proposals will help to make it more interesting. I remember very well one Scottish Member of the particular type to which the hon. Gentleman referred—he was well known and attended every Division, and he was a friend of mine. I said to him once, "What is it that makes you come?" He gave a better answer than mine, and it was so good that perhaps I had better give it in the dialect common to both of us. He said, "I have come here to keep somebody waur oot." I hope we shall be able to do something to give men of that kind a better reason for being interested in the House of Commons.
I will come now to the proposal. I say at once to the House that we found it much more difficult to get satisfactory proposals about finance than with regard to the other parts of the procedure. I want the House to face this problem. The custom of every Session has been that up to the 3lst March the whole time of the House was taken up more or less with financial business. In present circumstances it is that time which is of great value to the Government. We have to get the Second Readings of the big Bills quickly in order to be able to send them to these Grand Committees, and unless some change is made which gives us help during this early period the advantage will not be nearly so great as it would be otherwise. If we are to get that time, the obvious way to try to do it is to make some change in the proceedings on Finance. That is the explanation, at least, why these proposals are made. When we were considering them I was impressed by precisely the point of view put by my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) and by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last. Whatever may be said, our procedure is justified by long usage and theoretically giving us control. As a 1274 matter of fact, the time which was given by the Rules to Supply was to a large extent wasted. When my right hon. Friend spoke of the big questions we considered in Committee of Supply, I asked, him how many people were present? I have had some experience in this respect. For instance, I was in the Colonial Office, which was one of those to which he referred, and sat out a whole Debate, but you hardly ever had enough to keep the House if anybody had chosen to call a count. On the other hand, I have attended Debates on Scottish Estimates and have never found anybody there who was not waiting to speak, but whenever an English Member put his nose through the door he went away frightened, as if something terrible was going to happen to him. It is quite true that the present system does enable us to raise subjects in which there in intense interest, and when that happens it is an immense advantage. The question is how are we, without depriving the House of anything that is of real value, to save the time it is necessary to save? What are the objections, beyond those I have mentioned, to our present system of Supply days First of all, you have to have one on a Thursday. Old Members of the House know that the reason for that was that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was making changes Supply was put off by the Government to the very end of the Session, and this provision was put in to ensure that Supply should be discussed within a reasonable time. What is the result? I am sure that every Member of the last Parliament will agree that you had to have a Thursday for Supply whether anybody wanted it or not. I have seen my Noble Friend beside me (Lord E. Talbot) and the Whips on the Opposition Bench using their utmost ingenuity to find any subject for a Thursday which anybody wanted to talk about. Will it do to go on in that way?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is correct. The result is that if you rely entirely on that Rule you are compelled to have subjects discussed at a time when there is no 1275 special need for discussing them, and when a very big subject comes up, which the House does desire to discuss, you cannot find a day for it because of the way in which the House is congested with other business. The House will see that under this proposal we do deprive it of the Motion to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair. The reason for that is that these are days that come before the 31st March. We must try to save time then. We cannot do it otherwise. I should be glad to leave them in if we could get the time. My right hon. Friend said that is a bureaucratic custom. That is really all it is. It was based on the idea that grievance must come before Supply, and for that reason the Speaker was not allowed to go out of the Chair in order that the House might discuss Supply until grievances had been discussed. That was the basis of it, and it is quite right if you look at it as a traditional right. But would anybody in the House pretend that it has any meaning as a protection in our existing procedure? The real object of Supply days is that they enable the House, and particularly the Opposition, to discuss subjects, whether the Government wants them discussed or not. That is a great advantage. It will be rather more difficult to work now, because the Government will have some difficulty in deciding what particular subjects are desired to be discussed.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I will tell him something he does not know. He thinks he will make some arrangement with his right hon. Friend who sits besides him (Mr. Adamson), but perhaps some other group, far more numerous than either, will demand a discussion on some other subject. That is what I mean.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I need hardly say I do not want much of that, but I would point out that it is going to make it much more difficult to decide the questions to be discussed. The real objection to this proposal from the theoretical point of 1276 view, which has played such a large part in so many speeches is, in substance, that it means, if the House as a whole, or the Opposition, wish to criticise the Government, they will be prevented from raising big questions which they could raise if these Supply days were continued. That will be inevitable. One hon. Member, while approving of the principle of sending Bills to Grand Committees, urged that the House should not be deprived of these further facilities. The Government have always meant that. We thought that by these arrangements we should have a larger time available to give a day to the discussion of any subjects which might certainly arise or any subject on which there was a strong desire that it should be discussed. I should be perfectly willing now, provided the House gives us the rest of our proposal to enable us to save time before the 31st March—that means giving up the theoretical objection on the question of moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair—if you give us this, I will undertake to give the twenty days, but when I do that I do not of necessity say Supply should be taken on a Thursday or on a particular day, because really that is a disadvantage and forces us to take a discussion when the House does not want to do so. I am perfectly ready to alter the paragraph which gives twelve days to make it twenty days on that understanding.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the time which was allowed for the discussion of Estimates for Ireland will still be retained in the House? The discussion of all questions affecting Ireland can only be taken on the Estimates.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
What I mean is this. Will the Irish Estimates be sent to a Standing Committee? I want to know that first of all.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
If so, shall we be allowed a corresponding advantage from the point of view of time to be allowed to discuss matters affecting Ireland which we shall secure by discussing them on the Estimates?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think I can answer the question in the affirmative in this way; if under the old system a day would have 1277 been given to Ireland for the discussion of Estimates, a day will be given to Ireland under the proposals I have made. I hope that is satisfactory?
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I have an Amendment down providing that of the twelve days no less than six shall be allotted to Reports of Estimates considered by the Standing Committee.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot accept that. These subjects are not to be chosen by the Government, that is the essence of it. If I promise twenty days they should not be tied down to particular subjects, whether reported upon or not.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Is the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman this: That we should have twenty days for public discussion either upon Report or in Committee of the Whole House on the Estimates?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes. I will tell the House what I mean and I think the House will agree. Everyone knows, nobody better than the right hon. Gentleman, that the Estimates were used in the main as an opportunity for discussing some big question. I promise to give twenty days here so that they may be utilised for discussing any big question of policy which arises and which parties in the House desire to discuss. Is not that satisfactory? May I further point out that this is a Sessional Order and we are asking for it as an experiment for one year. I do not believe this will be a permanent arrangement. I have had the advantage of understanding how these things worked in the past. This is not at all a substitute for a detailed examination of expenditure, and it was never intended for that. It was meant to be a saving of time at a period of congestion. Nobody ought to know better than I that some improvement in the discussion of the Estimates or of expenditure is vital. The Select Committees which sat in the last Parliament were never looked upon in a hostile way by the Treasury at all, and we did our best to make use of the recommendations they made. They were useful. I have discussed this whole subject with my successor at the Treasury. He takes precisely the same view I was taking, that something has got to be done, and we have to have an examination of expenditure. I have examined very carefully the Report of the Select Committee on this subject. I am 1278 not going into it now, but I do not think that is a system which, as they put it, would work out. I am not sure—I am not pledging my successor or myself—that in expenditure we may not be driven to something approaching the French system in this matter. I think that is quite possible. But we should not have time probably to think out a different scheme this Session, and if we decide that it cannot be done this Session, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will set up again a Select Committee similar to the one in the last Parliament with the object of dealing with expenditure. From that point of view we are doing what we can.
What will be the use of these Standing Committees? I quite admit it is almost absurd to have in Standing Committees the kind of discussion we had here on Supply days, where it really was not an examination of expenditure at all. The whole object was to annoy the Government. That is of no use upstairs. What I hope will come from this is that the members of the Standing Committee who will have to deal with Estimates will see that it is no good making long speeches about matters of high policy. They will try to look at them as estimates of expenditure. That, at least, is my hope. How will that work? Do not let anyone think that under these proposals the Government is going to have an easy time. It is quite, the reverse. It is going to be a serious disadvantage to Ministers. They will have to attend these Committees and answer questions. People will be using every kind of ingenuity to find what this expenditure or that means, and things will certainly be found out there which would not have been found out in the ordinary way in the House of Commons. There is another danger. They may cut down, but fortunately they have not the power to increase, a particular item of expenditure. Of course, if it were a Minister's salary, obviously the Government could not allow that to go on, because they would have to resign, but I agree with my Noble Friend that unless it is something which it is impossible to leave as it is, we shall destroy the usefulness of these Standing Committees altogether if we give them the impression that, after careful and minute work, what they do is going to be upset again on the floor of the House of Commons. The Government has to run the risk of examination by this Committee. It therefore certainly is not in our interest. I do not 1279 think I can say more. In judging it, I ask the House of Commons to consider our difficulties. I ask them to realise that, though they may not like it, if anyone tried to form another plan they would like it just as little. But it is only for a single year, and it is an experiment which might be worth trying. I may inform the House that if we get through the Procedure Resolutions to-night we shall not take any other business.
Mr. J. W. WILSON
Supposing this Committee or Committees examine the Estimates in detail, there may be a great block of Estimates on their hands near the end of the Session. Are any means provided in order to get the Estimates back? It is a long time since we had a perfectly open discussion without Closure.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We shall have to take steps to see if any can be brought back to the floor of the House.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I should like to know whether one particular Standing Committee is to be set apart for the consideration of all the Votes in Supply, or whether some Votes will go to one Committee and some to another. If it means that one Standing Committee is to have all the Votes before it, it really means that this very important branch of public business is to be withdrawn from the consideration of all the Members of this House, with the exception of some fifty or sixty who will be on that particular Committee. If that is so, it appears to me to be very serious from the point of view of those Gentlemen who will be excluded from this consideration. The discussion which has hitherto taken place on this matter has been from the point of view of the House of Commons and the dealing with public time. But there is another point of view which has been rather left out of account—that is the point of view of the constituencies. At all events in theory—and I do not think it is a theory that ought to be entirely allowed, to slip away—the constituencies are entitled, through their representatives, to have a say, not only in the finance of the country, but in all the questions of policy which in the procedure of this House are tied up with considerations of finance, and therefore it will be in a very true sense of the word a revolutionary change if, out of the 707 Members elected from all parts of the country, the whole of this most impor- 1280 tant branch of business is to be confined to some fifty or sixty Members. An hon. Member spoke about the disillusion that befalls men when they come into this House, and there is one aspect of that of which I should like to remind hon. Members. There is a sort of general idea out of doors that a Member of Parliament has only to be in this House to be able to bring to the attention of Parliament all the hundred-and-one questions which interest people out of doors. Constituencies think that in everything which affects them, a small group of them or the whole of them, they have only to put their trust in their representative in this House so that he will take an early opportunity of drawing the attention of the Government and the public to it. A Gentleman is not a Member of the House long before he finds that week succeeds week, month succeeds month, and the Session slips away and he has no opportunity of bringing forward the particular question, which he, on behalf of his constituents, wishes to bring forward. One of the few opportunities hitherto has been in connection with some Vote of Supply.
There has been a good deal of discussion, and very important discussion, as to the opportunities for discussing Supply. My right hon. Friend just now referred to great questions of policy, and whether or not there would be adequate opportunity for discussing them. But in addition to great questions of policy, what may be called full-dress Debates on administration, there are a great number of secondary points, matters connected with, we will say, the payment of a group of workpeople, the administration of local post offices or asylums, or matters in connection with local administration which Members of the House look forward to being able to ventilate conveniently, and the only opportunity is in connection with some Vote of Supply. It is a very serious thing, however unavoidable, that only some fifty or sixty Members will have any opportunity, and that only upstairs, of bringing these matters forward. Of course, the saving of Votes A and 1, the Service Votes, from the operation of this Clause will give opportunities as heretofore for discussing on the floor of the House the main policy as regards those Services, but the experience of most private Members here is that the Debate on those subjects is confined to very few Members. Generally the 1281 Minister in charge makes a long and eloquent exposition on the administration of his Department, and he is followed by a few hon. Members who are either experts or are particularly interested in administration, and all the minor points which may be relevant to the Vote have to be left for other Votes than A and 1. Those opportunities will be gone except to a very few select Members, and that is a change in the procedure of the House which ought to be very carefully considered before this is made part of the permanent procedure. My right hon. Friend has told us it is not, as yet at all events, to be a permanent feature. I certainly cannot, after what, he has told us, in any way oppose the passing of this Clause now, because he has satisfactorily explained to us that the necessity of getting the Second Heading of Bills in the early part of the Session makes it necessary to clear the decks, so to speak. I hope, since he has promised that the whole matter will be carefully considered before a permanent change in our procedure is made, he will not leave altogether out of account the point I have brought to his attention, although I quite admit that it is of secondary importance compared with some other matters which were brought forward earlier in the Debate.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS.
I have felt it my duty to oppose so many of my right hon. Friend's proposals for the rearrangement of our Standing Orders that I am glad to congratulate him on this, which I think will give much greater power to private Members to deal with finanacial questions. Financial questions have hitherto been relegated almost to the end of the Supply day, because the days of Supply have been taken up with large and important questions. I am certain the private Member, for whom I have been fighting in the last two days, will have much more opportunity of doing useful work in Supply in this Committee upstairs. I think my right hon. Friend misunderstood something I interjected just now. When the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) was speaking as to the choice of days in Supply I suggested that there were several of us who would be able to choose, and my right hon. Friend said he did not want that. What I meant to intimate was that we were entitled to say we could not accept the view that the right hon. Gentleman. who represents such a very 1282 small number of Members, should have the whole selection of the subjects on these twenty days. I think his suggestion of twenty days is admirable. I suggested yesterday to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) and the Chief Whip that in allotting dates in Supply to different questions, with all deference to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean), as there is no Opposition in the real sense of the term it would be quite unfair to the large mass of Members of the House if the right hon. Gentleman or the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) should have the final say, but the Chief Whip in settling the days should pay some deference to the wishes of other large bodies in the House besides those two.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I only rise to express one word of hope that my right hon. Friend will not be led away by the hon. Member for the Scotland division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) into accepting the very dangerous proposal which he has made. The hon. Member thinks that all Departments of the Government need control. I do not think they need control; what they need is stimulation. I am quite sure the hon. Member would agree with me that the real difficulty of the present administrative system of this country is, not that we have a reckless set of administrators who are always trying to rush through experiments, but the difficulty is to get anything done at all. The complication of business is so great and so increasing, and the time of the individuals who are in control of the various Departments is so much occupied, that it is almost impossible to get any administrative reforms carried through, except those that are absolutely and vitally necessary. The hon. Member said that we should have been much better off in the War if there had been an Army and Navy Committee to watch the conduct of the War. Does he really think so? Does he really seriously believe that we should have had a more vigorous prosecution of the War if the administration of the Army and Navy had not only to satisfy the Cabinet that it was right, but had then to go and satisfy a Committee of this House? They would have been hampered at every turn. They would have scarcely ventured to take any step that was necessary for the defence of the country. The hon. Member thinks that such a Committee would have discovered certain defects which escaped the vigilance 1283 of the Government. I am quite sure he is wrong. They would work necessarily under extreme difficulties. They would be a body of critics and not a body of suggestors. They would not have sufficient information on which to make suggestions; they would be simply critics, and the result would have been, I am sure, a paralysis of the essential forces of the country.
I believe no better example could be given to show how dangerous these proposals are than the experience of this country during the late War. I do not want to say one word in the least way offensive in criticism of other countries, but I do not share the hon. Gentleman's admiration for their systems of government. I do not think they are any better than ours. I do not really believe they get better results. I believe an impartial survey of what has been done in the late War will show that merely as an administrative machine this country did not do so badly. I am sure that it did not do worse than the other countries who were engaged in the War. With respect to the Foreign Office I am sure the desired object would not be obtained in the least. A Committee sitting to examine into the Foreign Office would not be able in the least to drag into light the secrets that the Foreign Minister chose to keep. They would not be able to find out any more than this House can find out. In point of fact I do not think it would be able to discover secrets. My own belief is that the Foreign Office should keep in the closest touch with this House. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that, but the difficulty of any statement made by the Foreign Minister in public debate in this House is this, that it binds the Foreign Office—and therefore the Minister has to be exceedingly cautious—not only in this country, but all over the world. He has to be exceedingly careful what he says in public.
I think, but I am not sure it is the popular view, that Foreign Office Debates ought frequently to be held in Secret Session. In that case the Minister could speak much more freely. It is not a question of giving away secrets. The question is that of making statements which will afterwards be used against him by foreign Powers. If the statements were made in Secret Session he could speak much more freely. He is anxious generally to explain fully his policy. He 1284 does not want to keep from the House any material parts of his policy. He would be only too glad—and I speak as one who has been in connection with the Foreign Office—to have an opportunity of explaining what his policy really is. I know that is not germane to this discussion, but I am sure that if you dragged the Foreign Minister, already one of the hardest worked officials in the country, down to a Committee and cross-examine him as to what he was doing, and why he was doing it, you would not get any useful result, but you would sap his energy and you would infuse into the Foreign Minister, so far as you produced any effect upon the Minister at all, an anxiety to do as little as he could so as to avoid the criticism which he would have to face before the Committee. I do hope and trust my right hon. Friend, in his anxiety for economy, which I fully share, and in his great desire to find some means of control, and of bringing home to the House the necessity for curtailing expenditure, will not be led away into the plan that the hon. Member for Liverpool has put before him. That I am sure would be disastrous to the public administration of this country. It would not give any real Parliamentary control, but it would add enormously to the burden of the Ministers of the day, a burden which is a serious public evil under the existing state of things.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question again proposed.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It pleases me to find myself for once differing from the Noble Lord opposite. I cannot help thinking that the control of the public over public Departments exercised by these Standing Committees although it has obvious disadvantages at first, must in the long run lead to an improvement in the government of the country. This change in so far as it does put the different public Departments more in touch with Members of this House must in the long run improve the relations between public Departments and Members of the House of Commons, and give them some slight insight into the working of public Departments, and thereby suggest to those who are dealing with these Departments various ways of reforming the Departments, and getting them to move more 1285 smoothly in the long run. It is not as if these Committees were going to be small Committees like the French Committees consisting of ten or 15 Members. In that case there might be some fear of the hon. Members who sat on those Committees becoming officials.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I do not wish to be thought to have any criticism of the Government's proposal as it stands. On the contrary I think examination by the Standing Committees might well be productive of useful result. What I am afraid of was the adoption of the policy of the hon. Member for Liverpool.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am glad to find that we are of the same mind. I think the Government's proposals, so far as these Committees on Finance are concerned will lead to more effective co-operation between the House and the Departments, and will not tend to turn Members of this House into officials of those Departments. There is one point on which the Leader of the House has not quite met us. Many Members on this side are extremely grateful for the increase of the twelve days to twenty, but it should be observed that previously we had not twenty but twenty-three days. There was always one day getting the Speaker out of the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates, another on the Army, and another on the Navy Estimates, so that there were twenty-three days on which the administration and policy of the Government could be discussed. If the right hon. Gentleman could restore the whole twenty-three days we would feel that a good deal of our criticism had missed fire and that perhaps we were really getting a more efficient as well as a more democratic Government. But those extra three days rather rankle when we remember that the Government Departments to be criticised have increased in number and in the scope of their work.
For instance, there is the new Railway Department which would naturally require at least a day to discuss. Then there is India, which is now going to be put on the Estimates, and the day for discussing the Indian Budget will become a day for discussing the Indian Estimates here. Then we have the Food Controller, the Minister of Commerce and many other new Departments, so that we have got a large increase in the number of Government Departments whose policy and administration ought to be watched by this House. Therefore it is unfortunate to see the days 1286 allotted to discussing that administration, and keeping in touch with the working of these Departments, cut down from twenty-three to twenty. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the long speech at the beginning of each day by the Minister in charge of the Department was one of the best ways of keeping Members of the House, and consequently our Constituents, in touch with what the Government Departments were doing, and though we sometimes jibbed at Lord Haldane when he gave us a three hours' speech on the Army, we all knew, having listened to that speech, that we should be able to go down and tell our constituents what the Government were doing. The value of this House is not in trying to persuade the Government to do something or in the Government in persuading us to do something. Its value is that the Government, by means of Members of Parliament and through the Press, is able to give its case for its administration. If the Government cannot give its case, then the public and the Press are apt to go quite wrong and to blame the Government quite unjustly and quite unnecessarily.
It is most important, indeed it is essential, that Ministers should have a chance of stating to the public their views. They will get some sort of chance upstairs by watching these Committees, but owing to the extremely limited accommodation for the Press and the absence of verbatim reports, it would be extremely difficult for those whom I may call minor Ministers to get their case stated to the public. One of the chief difficulties of our Indian administration is that Indian Ministers have no chance of getting their case put before the Indian people. They have tried a bought Press and all sorts of means to put forward their case, and yet there is unrest, although the Government, in ninety-nine cases out of 100, could have explained and have justified their actions in particular matters. We want our Government here to have the best opportunities of stating its case. We will criticise it here, but let it have a chance of stating its case here just as its critics have a chance of stating their case outside. For that purpose I do beg that the Government, if not this year at least next year, will give us not only twenty-three days, but perhaps more.
And when these days are given, do not let them be given for the discussion of 1287 one single subject, but for the discussion of everything that would be discussed on the Estimate of the Department concerned. For instance, if we are discussing the Board of Trade, do not let the whole of the sitting be devoted to the question of whether the Board of Trade is keeping foodstuffs out of the country. Let any Member be able to raise any other subject. We do not want one single Resolution; we want to deal with the administration of the whole Department. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's made a very sound point. Many Members are interested in some particular subject, and if you are going to take these twenty days and devote them to certain Resolutions put forward, whether by the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) or by the Opposition Whips, then you are curtailing free discussion in this House just as much as though you did not allow us the twenty days. For instance, when the Colonial Office comes on we want to be able to discuss different subjects, whether the cartel in Nigeria, the administration of British East Africa, or the action of the British South African Company, and we do not want to be cut down merely to one subject. Therefore I beg the Government when they give us these days not to give them on one subject, but to give them on one branch of the Estimates, so that we shall retain the privilege of private Members, and so that we may have all complaints about the grievances of our constituents discussed in a full House in the middle of the day, and that we shall not have to resort, as we have had to do during the last four years, to speaking on the Adjournment, which is an extremely unsatisfactory way of raising the question.
Then, I think, the Committees on the Estimates should go in rotation. There is plenty of argument, of course, in making a Grand Committee which deals with the Foreign Office Estimates, for instance, deal with all Estimates. They will get, perhaps, to be more efficient in their criticism of administration, in seeing where money can be spent and saved, and what questions can be asked. But it is not fair to give the whole of the Estimates to one Grand Committee. We ought to spread them out over a lot of Grand Committees, and by co-ordinating the action of those Committees we should come to see the best way of making the Committees' criticism effective from a financial point of view. We have tried various expedients. 1288 I have sat on the Estimates Committee. We tried there a system that did not work. Now you are going to have another failure. Perhaps four of these Grand Committees, if you will allow them to go on working at this, will get to know the situation, and we may involve a satisfactory way of getting the unnecessary expense of these Departments cut down.
Further, I do hope that the Government will see that Members are changed on these Committees. If you put on fifteen Members for the Colonial Office and fifteen Members for dealing with the Foreign Office and fifteen different Members for the Board of Trade, let the old Members be changed. More than that. I would urge that the Grand Committees themselves, where practicable, should be changed from Session to Session, so that you would not have the same men sitting on these Committees every year. It is necessary that they should be the same in the case of the Public Accounts Committees, or perhaps the Selection Committee, but in the case of these Grand Committees let us have a change so that every Member shall have a chance of getting on, and do not let us confine the Membership to the fortunate people who manage to pull with the Whips or with the Selection Committees. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the twenty days, and I hope that he will see his way in future to increase it to twenty-five days.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As a Member of the Committee on National Expenditure and Committees, I would like to say a few words. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that the Estimates Committee was a failure. The Estimates Committee was a new Committee set up in 1912. It was continued in 1913 and 1914 but was not set up in 1915 as there were no Estimates. Being an entirely new Committee it had to make rules and to start operations at the beginning, but I think I may venture to say that the Estimates Committee was a great success. I see another hon. Member present who was on that Committee. He is not of the same party as I am and I do not know what his opinion is. It 1289 must be remembered that the Estimates Committee is not to be judged by what happened in this House, but by its influence on the Departments. From my personal knowledge, and I was chairman of the Committee, I came to the conclusion, which I believe is correct, that it had a very salutary effect upon the spending officials of the Departments, because they never knew whether they would not be called before that Committee to answer extremely awkward questions. Perhaps I ought to explain for the benefit of new Members that that Committee consisted of twenty-six members and had the power to send for persons, papers and records, and hear evidence and have cross-examination. That is a very important power and a power which is not given to the proposed Standing Committees. Just like the Public Accounts Committee we had an official who was a servant of the House and was employed all the year round. He had the right to go into any Department and investigate Votes and expenditure and report to us, and we could call upon any official and ask him to justify what had been done. I think, personally, that would be a far bettter way of proceeding than by sending the Estimates upstairs to Committees consisting of forty or sixty people who would do what is done here. They have no power to call witnesses or to hear evidence, and what will happen? Certain questions will arise, probably minor questions, such as whether a certain person should be paid rather higher wages or matters of that sort, but when larger questions arise they will not be reported, and the public will not know what is going on. The Government will say, "Oh, it is true, they did move a reduction, but it was only in Standing Committee, and we shall not pay any attention to it, and nobody knows anything about it." Therefore the result of these proposals will be to free the Government from perhaps very necessary criticism. There will be no opportunity given to Members economically inclined to see that no undue expenditure takes place. I think all Members will agree that one of the disadvantages at present is that the majority of Members are in favour of increasing expenditure and not of economy. Economy is only possible when you get a Special Committee, like the Estimates Committee, consisting of a small number of Members who set aside all party feelings, and who sit simply as Members of the House. That is what 1290 took place on the Estimates Committee, and that is the only way in which you can get any actual control over expenditure.
Reference has been made to the ninth Report of the Committee on National Expenditure. We went into the matters concerned at very great length, and took a great deal of trouble to investigate them. That Committee consisted of very distinguished Members of the House, and the only result of its Report is that every single recommendation we have made has been ignored by the Government. We say, for instance,The presentation of Estimates to Parliament serves, no doubt, a useful purpose. It secures publicity for the sums which they include and fixes responsibility for their expenditure.We have already agreed that there is not to be any Official Report of these new Committees. The Report continued:It has an indirect influence also on Members and Departments, since there is always the possibility that any item may be selected and challenged. The Debates in Committee of Supply are indispensable for the discussion of policy and administration. But so far as the direct effective control of proposals for expenditure is concerned it would be true to say, that if the Estimates were never presented and the Committee of Supply never set up there would be no noticeable difference.I think that is the experience of every Member of the House who had studied Supply and the proceedings of the House in Committee. We wanted to remedy that, and our remedy was not to set up a big Committee of fifty or sixty people who would have no more effect than the Committee of this House, but to set up a business Committee consisting of a small number of members. We proposed to set up two such Committees, as we thought one Committee could not deal sufficiently and efficiently with all the Estimates in the year, and that if necessary there should be a third Committee. I thought myself that two would have been sufficient because it is extremely difficult to get a regular attendance. It must be remembered that in this Committee of which I speak there was generally a very full attendance of Members. We wanted Members who not only understood finance but who would attend so that they would follow the whole proceedings throughout. That seems to me to be the best proposal I have ever known made for economy in this House, if it is the desire of the House to be economical. Personally, I think, that at the present moment our chief object should be to secure economy, because if we do not do that I do not really know 1291 where we are going to, though I will not pursue that aspect of the matter since it is rather outside the question. That is the only way to assure efficient control. The way that is here proposed does not do that. All it does is, is to remove Members from responsibility. It destroys the old right of the House on Committee of Supply to raise questions of grievances and of policy. If the recommendations of the Committee on National Expenditure had been carried out, the old system of enabling Members to ventilate their grievances on Supply would have been preserved. We made other suggestions which I need not go into now. I can assure hon. Members we devoted many days to the consideration of these proposals, which were very carefully thought out. I cannot conceive why our recommendations were not accepted. If it really was the sincere desire of His Majesty's Government to promote economy and efficiency in discussing the Estimates, I say undoubtedly they ought to have accepted our proposals. But if it merely wants to shift the difficulties from their shoulders and so arrange that the important questions shall be discussed upstairs without anybody knowing anything about them, then they have succeeded in their object. I am quite certain they will not by these proposals either ensure economy or that private Members will be able to exercise the old privilege, which they have had for centuries, of ventilating their grievances in Committee of Supply. All these Rules are revolutionary, and I think they are bad. This is the worst of all of them, and it is put down for the present Session only. If it is a good thing, it ought to go on for ever. I do not want to draw conclusions, but I have my own opinion as to the reasons why these particular proposals are made.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I should not like the Debate to be closed without, so far as I am concerned, and those who are associated with me, expressing to the Leader of the House and to the Attorney-General our appreciation of the courtesy with which they have met us. I think the Government will agree that there has been no obstructive criticism, but that we have all tried to arrive at the largest good for the greatest number. With regard to this particular proposal, so far as I can see, it goes a long way to meet the main portion of our position, which was that policy should be discussed in public, and the experiment is going to be made for 1292 a year. I hope that in the discussion of the details of these Estimates great good will come from this proposal. I again express my regret that the Government have not seen fit to have an official summary for public use of the proceedings of these Committees. I am certain there will be great dissatisfaction about it. However, they have taken that decision, and they must take the consequences. I I do not wish to end on that note, but to express again our grateful appreciation of the courtesy and fairness with which we have been met.
I understand that the only Amendment to make is the Government Amendment to leave out paragraph (b)?
§ Sir G. HEWART
I beg to move, to leave out paragraph (b).
Amendment agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ "Money Committees (Reports).
§ The proceedings on the Report of the Committees of Ways and Means and Committees authorising the expenditure of public money, except the Committee of Supply, may be entered upon after Eleven of the clock, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted under the provisions of the Standing Order, 'Sittings of the House.' "
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That this Order be a Standing Order of the House."—[Sir G. Hewart.]
§ "Consolidated Fund Issues.
§ A Resolution authorising the issue of money out of the Consolidated Fund reported from the Committee of Ways and Means may be considered forthwith by the House, and the consideration on Report and Third Reading of a Bill ordered to be brought in upon such a Resolution or Resolutions may be taken forthwith as soon as the Bill has been reported from Committee of the Whole House."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not know whether it is any use appealing to my right hon. Friend to withdraw this new Standing Order, the effect of which, as I understand it, will be to allow the three stages of a Money Bill to be taken on one day, that is to say, the Committee, the Report and the Third Reading. The custom from time immemorial has been 1293 that while various stages of other Bills could, if urgency required, be taken on one day, no more than one stage of a Money Bill could be token on one day unless on a Motion made by a Minister of the Crown authorising that to be done. During the War that was done on various occasions, and I never remember it being opposed, but now we are going to say that the various stages of a Money Bill can be taken on one day. It very often happens that when in Committee on a Money Bill certain things occur, on the next day when the Report takes place a Member may have thought of something which ought to have been put in, and it gives him an opportunity of bringing that question up, or again the private Member will be deprived of his rights of criticism on Money Bills, and this at a time when we have taken away from the House of Lords the power of dealing with Money Bills. I therefore hope the Attorney-General will not press the Amendment.
§ Sir G. HEWART
The proposal is to enable the necessary but nevertheless formal vote in Ways and Means for an issue of money out of the Consolidated Fund to make good the Supply granted to His Majesty to be considered on Report on the same day with the Committee stage and the Third Reading on the same day with the Report. As a matter of fact, that time-saving provision has frequently been made in the case of specific Bills. My right hon. Friend would not be in any way debarred from being heard on every one of those necessary stages. It is a permissive proposal for the mere purpose of saving time.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As I understand it, it is not that a Motion may be made so that we can say we do not think it ought to be done, but it is a new Standing Order authorising the Government to take all these stages on one day, and we should have no opportunity of doing anything to prevent that. We should only have an opportunity of discussing the different stages as they arise.
§ Sir G. HEWART
That is what I meant. It would be possible to take these stages upon one day, but on every one of those stages those who had objections to raise could be heard.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
But that does not meet my point, which is that when an objection is raised on a particular day it is 1294 considered, but on the following day fresh matters may present themselves, and what did not appear very important on the day it was raised might have become very important. I think that my right hon. Friend knows that a discussion on the Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill is not generally taken, and it goes through in a very few moments. So that there is no question of saving time, but it is another attempt to whittle away the privileges of private Members.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, "That this Order be a Standing Order of the House."—[Sir. G. Hewart.]
§ "Money Committees.
§ Notwithstanding any Standing Order or custom of the House, if notice is given of a Resolution authorising expenditure in connection with a Bill, the House may, if the recommendation of the Crown is signified thereto, at any time after such notice appeal's on the Paper resolve itself into Committees to consider the Resolution, and the Resolution, when reported, may be considered forthwith by the House."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I must raise objection again to this. I think this is rather more important than the other one. It means that when a Resolution, authorising expenditure of money in a certain Bill, is sanctioned by a Committee, the Report stage can be taken at once. Many Resolutions appear suddenly at the Clerk's desk, and no one knows about them. The Resolution merely authorises an expenditure of money which the Government think fit, and I have several times said that before we sanction such a proposal we really must know how much money the Government is going to spend, or, at any rate, give some idea. The answer has always been, "We do not exactly know, but we can give you an answer on the Report stage," which is taken a day or two afterwards, when the Government is in a position to give an answer. The Report stage has then been taken advantage of to put a limit upon the amount, and it has sometimes resulted in the defeat of the Government. Under the new Order, it would be impossible for the Government to give an answer. The Government may say that they do not know what the amount is, the Report stage will be taken within two or three minutes of the Committee, and the matter is ended, and we shall never be able to find out from the Government what it is they are going to spend. I 1295 think this is very much worse than the other, and I hope, as I have been unfortunate in the other, I may get some return with regard to this one.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If the right hon. Baronet will allow me to say so, he has approached this matter in a thoroughly characteristic way. What is his complaint? It is, if I follow him, that a document is mysteriously produced from the desk of an official, and the House is suddenly made aware that a Financial Resolution is necessary. He thinks this proposal is going to aggravate that?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Report stage is put upon the Order Paper, whereas the other appears on the Clerk's desk.
§ Sir G. HEWART
That is the reverse of this proposal, which is for the simple purpose of expediting procedure in connection with the financial provisions of a Bill. At present, as the House is aware, the Committee and the Report stages must be taken on separate days, and what is proposed here is that that process may be taken in two days, or conceivably in one day. But, I am sure, my right hon. Friend observes the important words, "at any time after such notice appears on the Paper."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I gather that this Resolution is to be printed on the Paper. I do not think this ensures that that will be done.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I am sorry to differ from the right hon. Baronet. At present the terms are not disclosed. This notice will require a disclosure of the terms.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Am I to understand that the terms will be anything more than. "It is expedient to authorise the expenditure out of public moneys" for such-and-such things, and that the amount will not be specified? That is my point. As I understand, the document which used 1296 to be on the Clerk's desk will now appear on the Order Paper, and my point is that we ought to have a second occasion, to allow the Government an opportunity of putting in a limit to the amount.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If my right hon. Friend will look at the terms of this new Standing Order, the condition is "if notice is given of a Resolution authorising expenditure in connection with a Bill." That does not mean notice that some Resolution is to be proposed. That notice means a notice giving the terms of the Resolution.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I do not know whether the exact amount is given in each case. In some cases it is. Whatever the full terms of the Resolution may be, those are the terms of which notice has to be given in order that this condition may be satisfied.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid I have not been convinced, because I never remember an occasion in which the amount has been put in, except when I have moved a Resolution, to put it in, and carried it in that form.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, "That this Order be a Standing Order of the House."—[Sir G. Hewart.]
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do no adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes before Nine o'clock.'