HC Deb 22 May 1919 vol 116 cc578-81

May I ask for your guidance upon a matter incidentally referred to by the hon. Member opposite. Grand Committee D, which is charged with the Acquisition of Land Bill, feel very strongly indeed the injustice that they wore not allowed to have an Official Report made of their proceedings, and to-day, by way of protest, they adjourned the proceedings. I have reason to believe that it is the intion of the Committee to continue to adjourn until such time as an Official Reporter is provided. I need hardly point out the extreme importance of the matters which are coming before that Committee, but, without disparagement to another Committee, Committee C, presided over by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Macmaster), I think, considering that that Committee, which is in charge of the Civil Service Estimates, is allowed the advantage of having an official report, although the Committee meets very seldom and for very small periods, the least that we can ask is that you will order and direct that an Official Report shall be made of the proceedings on this Bill. On behalf of the Committee, I ask for your guidance, advice, and assistance?


May I ask the Leader of the House if he will use all the resources of the House to prevent this attempt to stop the business of the nation?


There was the same demand in Committee 0 for an Official Report, and after some time an Official Reporter was provided. We have only had two Official Reports, and the Committee stands adjourned till next Monday, when it is expected that the Official Report will be continued. I cannot help deprecating this comparison of one Committee with another to the disparagement of one, and I may say that a very serious matter has occurred in connection with the Committee over which I preside calling for the attendance of Ministers, and it would be inconvenient if at this stage the reporter was withdrawn.

4.0 P.M.


May I submit to you and the authorities that there is very great difficulty in any body or Committee attempting to discriminate between the relative importance of different Bills before the Grand Committees, and, unless arrangements can be made for a general report being issued, I expect, from what I hear on the Chairman's Panel of the experience of various chairmen, that there will be a difficulty as between one Committee and another. It is not only the reporting, but also the actual printing of the proceedings that is frequently the difficulty. I do not think Members attach so much importance to having the Report the very next day as they do to having a record of what takes place, particularly having regard, I will not say to the growing system, but the frequent system adopted by Ministers in charge of Bills of promising to consider on Report on condition that the Amendment is withdrawn. In that respect I consider that the interests of this House at large are concerned, and that there ought to be a proper record kept of such promises which do not appear on the Minutes. Members are entitled to have such a record for guidance on Report. Therefore if it is not possible to issue the proceedings the very next day, if they were issued two days later it would suffice. All that is required is that the record should be kept.


I will consider with the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), the Chairman of the Publications and Debates Committee, as to whether arrangements can be made to meet the desires of hon. Members to see their speeches in print But I would remind the House that there are really very grave difficulties. Our official staff is limited. At the beginning of the Session it was only just capable of dealing with the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings here, and you cannot suddenly extend a small Department of that sort. It requires very skilled men to report Debates, especially Debates in Committee when a Bill is going through fast, dealing with a number of Amendments, Amendments to Amendments, new Clauses, Amendments withdrawn, rulings, and so on. You require a specially skilled staff for that purpose. We have not got one, and, therefore, to adjourn from day to day, in order to provide reporters, will not produce a reporter. The reporter does not exist; he is not to be found, and that, therefore, seems to be an absolutely futile remedy. The only thing possible is to introduce some reporters from outside. That we have been trying hard to do, but they are not to be found. We have approached the leading newspapers, and they have nobody on their staffs whom they can spare. We have approached some of the chief agencies, and they have nobody. Therefore, it is impossible to provide suitable men for the purpose. The next best thing is to provide men as nearly suitable as possible. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Or women!"] Where are the women who have been trained in taking down Parliamentary proceedings? They do not exist yet. They may come into being later on, but they are not here at this moment. We will do our best, and I have done my best, to supply the wants of A Committee and B Committee, and I have also found a reporter for C Committee; but what was the result? As soon as the reporter got there, the C Committee sat a very short time. I think there were ten columns produced, and the greater part was taken up with discussion on points of Order and the question of adjournment. The next day the same thing happened. There were nine columns produced, and a considerable part of that was taken up in discussing points of Order and the question whether the Committee should adjourn or not. Then look at the expense! It is not only the expense of reporting: there is the expense of transcribing, the expense of printing, of paper, of sewing and publishing. In the interests of economy I have done my best to damp down this desire for reports. The official proceedings are reported, but, of course, if hon. Members insist on having reports, well, I will, as I say, in communication with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford, and in consultation with the Editor of the Debates, do my best to supply them. But hon. Members must be content with what they can get. There must, I am afraid, certainly be some delay before the report can be produced. I assure hon. Members it cannot be done in a moment.


The more limited point would be met if there were in attendance some shorthand writer, who could take down, when a Member required it, before he withdrew his amendment, a note of that particular item as a record against the Minister of a promise to bring it forward. In that way it could be embodied in the Official Note which the Clerk keeps, and it would be shown that the amend- ment was withdrawn under conditions of that sort. I think that would meet a great deal of the difficulty, although, of course, it would not meet everything.


I think it would be very invidious to draw a distinction and to say that the only person whose statement you do not trust is the Minister, and you must take down what he says. If you are going to have a report, you must have a proper report. I will do my best to get it. I cannot do more than that, and I cannot produce it at a moment's notice.