§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be for the convenience of the House if, before I call on the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, I pointed out that I think it would be better if we had a general Debate on the first paragraph of the Motion. That would cover most of the Amendments which are down on the Paper and which subsequently might be called purely for Division if necessary and not for further discussion.
§ Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
On a point of Order, Sir. Does that mean you do not intend to call the Amendments?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have indicated that I will call them, I would say here that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) is in the wrong place and should come at the end of line 17, and that is where I propose to call it, not for discussion, because it could be discussed before then, but for Division, if necessary.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move,That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Procedure in the Public Business of this House and to report what alterations, if any, are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such business.When I told the House last week that the Government intended to propose the appointment of a Select Committee on Procedure and that we should ask the Committee to consider as a matter of urgency, and report on as soon as possible after proper consideration, the procedure of the House and its Standing Committees upstairs, I said that I thought this proposal was right because the country expect out of this Parliament five years of hard labour and they expect those five years of hard labour to be carried through wth proper efficiency coupled with the maintenance of all the essential rights and 985 principles of Parliamentary government. I should hope, indeed, that there will be no serious difference of opinion about the wisdom of the Motion and an inquiry and report on the procedure of the House in regard to Public Business. I do not think it raises any party issues or that it is fundamentally controversial. It seems to me desirable from the point of view of all sections of the House, and indeed of the people at large, that at this time we should set up a committee to look into our procedure on Public Business.
There was a Debate, which was initiated by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), on 26th May, 1944, in which there was a good deal of support for an inquiry of the kind which I am now proposing on behalf of the Government. I ask the House to approve the Motion not simply because our legislative programme is heavy—and that will be clear to hon. Members from the study which they have made of the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech—though the heaviness of the legislative programme is, of course, in itself a strong reason, but also because as, I hope, a good Parliamentarian, I am anxious, as I said last Thursday, that all the essential rights and principles of Parliamentary government should be maintained, and, I may add, the reputation of this great Parliamentary institution reinforced both at home and throughout the world; for our proceedings, I think we can claim, are looked up to as a model of good Parliamentary procedure in other countries in the world. This can only be done, and our high reputation maintained, if Parliament shows itself equal to the task before it which indeed is a truly formidable one, and must be so during the reconstruction period. The issue which is before the House was, I think, put very well in the notable speech which the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham made in May, 1944, in the Debate which he initiated. The Noble Lord said:This is the greatest unfettered sovereign law-making body in the world. There is no Supreme Court here, as there is in the United States, to dispute the validity of the laws we pass; and another place has been largely deprived of its powers to interfere with the laws we pass. Surely, the immense responsibility which is thus placed upon our shoulders involves us in an obligation to ensure that our procedure is equal to our needs and the country's needs, and that we are not—as we now are, in some respects—shrouded in the grave-clothes of a dead and vanished past. Hon. 986 Members should not fear the possibility that, in a matter of this kind, some cherished ideals, which have hitherto been held in high regard, must be abandoned. Surely, the only question is whether, with the majesty and the prestige by which it is surrounded at the present time, it can, or cannot, do its business properly.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1944; Vol. 400, c. 1076.]I think that statement by the noble Lord was an admirable statement of the case for the Motion which I have moved, and I think he rendered a service to the House at that time, by taking the initiative in regard to this matter on the Floor of the House. One of the reasons for the extraordinary adaptability of our Parliamentary system to changing circumstances has been the flexibility of our procedure, and in the past the House has kept its procedure under constant examination and re-examination. Indeed, the wonderful thing about our Parliamentary institution, studying its history over the centuries, has been its adaptability to changing needs and changing conditions. Some may think that many changes have not come as quickly as they might, and that perhaps we might have adapted our procedure earlier to meet modern conditions; but apart from that, it is undoubtedly the case that the House has never regarded its procedure or its practices as static or fixed, but has regarded them as adaptable and subject to modification in the light of experience.
If I may mention only major occasions, there have been at least six general reviews of Parliamentary procedure during the present century and many others of lesser importance. There were the Balfour reforms of 1902, which were followed by important changes in procedure in 1907 and 1909, during what, I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will agree, was the great Parliament of 1906 to 1910. As a. result of that consideration then further changes and modifications were made. In 1913 the Whittaker Committee was set up, but owing to the war there were no practical results from that Committee until 1919. Then, in circumstances somewhat similar to those which face us now, the House resumed its examination of procedure and the Government put forward proposals which were intended to save the time of the House, to accelerate the progress of business and to improve the desirable opportunities of criticism and of Parliamentary debate and discussion.
In the twenties of this century a number of inquiries on particular points took place, 987 and in 1931 the last general review was begun by a Select Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Ernest Brown. Effect was given to some but not to all of the recommendations which Mr. Brown's Committee made. The interval since the last general review of procedure—that is to say, from 1931 to 1945, namely, 14 years—is thus, judged by the history of the present century, rather on the long side than on the short, and in view of that, it really is time that there should be a further review. The need for examining our procedure afresh is the greater both because of this lapse of time, as well as the immensity of the legislative and other work which confronts us at the end of the war, and because of the tremendous changes, affecting Parliament no less than the nation as a whole, since 1931.
If we are to get on with the heavy labours that face us, whether from the point of view of the Government or from the point of view of the House, if we are to get on with our job without delays which might be prejudicial both to the national interest and to the reputation of our Parliamentary institutions, it is essential that the Select Committee should lose no time in starting its work. The Motion accordingly proposes to empower the Committee to sit during the Recess and to instruct them to report as soon as possible upon any scheme for the acceleration of the proceedings on Public Bills which His Majesty's Government may submit to them. It would not be in place for me to detail the Government's proposals, but it may help the House if I say that we felt that it would help the Committee to be supplied with our provisional ideas of possible changes. I am able to add, with the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his friends, whom we have consulted—and I want to be perfectly fair about the way in which I put this point—that the proposals we intend to submit to the Committee are proposals which were drafted by a Committee of Ministers in the Coalition Government. I hasten to add that the Government as a whole were in no way committed to those proposals and certainly the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was, and as far as I know is, in no way committed to them.
§ Mr. Morrison
Nor was the Cabinet. The Cabinet as a whole was in no way committed to them; but much useful work was done, and in our judgment proposals came from the Committee that were worthy of examination, and we thought that, although we do not wish to be committed to them in detail or even in extent, they were a very good body of proposals which were eminently worthy of consideration by the Select Committee. Therefore, within the limitations which I have indicated, we have adopted them, and it will be those proposals which we will put to the Select Committee which, of course, will report fully upon them in due course.
§ Mr. Churchill
Am I right in understanding the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Government's proposals will not go further than those to which he has referred and which were the subject of discussions by a Committee in the days of the Coalition Government?
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The document we shall put to the Select Committee will be exactly the document which came from the Committee in the Coalition Government. From no point of view is anybody thereby circumscribed.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The right hon. Gentleman is referring to a document which apparently is known to some right hon. Gentlemen. Would it not be proper for the whole House to be made aware at once of those proposals?
§ Mr. Morrison
I have no doubt the whole House will be made aware of the proposals. That is for the Select Committee, but I should think it probable that the Select Committee would publish the document.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
On a point of Order. Is it not correct to say that if a document is referred to by a right hon. Gentleman in this House, it has to be laid on the Table?
§ Mr. Speaker
That document does not fall within the category of documents which must be produced to the House.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Clearly the opinion of the House upon this Motion 989 will be influenced by the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. Surely, it is now, and not after we have passed the Motion, that we should be informed of the details of the proposals.
§ Mr. Morrison
With great respect. I do not agree. The question before the House is whether a Select Committee on Procedure should be appointed. I thought it right, as a matter of courtesy, and with the assent of the Opposition, that I should tell the House the kind of thing we have in mind as far as the existence of a body of proposals is involved, but clearly the time for discussing the merits of those proposals, together with the report of the Select Committee, will be when the Select Committee brings its report to the House, and I should think it highly probable that the Select Committee will reproduce that document, or at any rate all the essentials of it. The Select Committee is, of course, in no way fettered. It will be perfectly free in considering the Government's proposals and perfectly free if it wishes to make proposals of its own.
§ Mr. Churchill
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he intends to accept the Amendment which has been put down from this side of the House, that the minutes of the proceedings should also be made public, in the report of the Committee?
§ Mr. Morrison
Hon. Members might wish to move their Amendments, but in view of the fact that, though we are in a general discussion, Mr. Speaker has indicated that we might decide on the Amendments formally when we get to them, perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman would like me to do, I might indicate now the Government's attitude to the Amendment about the publication of minutes of the proceedings day by day as they become available.
§ Mr. Churchill
I think it would be helpful. The statement on the first paragraph of the Motion could not really be fully envisaged without knowledge of the Government's intentions with regard to this Amendment.
§ Mr. Morrison
Before I have finished, I will deal with the Amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
Apart from the merits of the scheme, could 990 the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of what this document contains?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am in the hands of the House, but I should think that on the whole it would be inconvenient. I do not wish in that way to prejudice the deliberations of the Committee, and if the House sets up that Committee, one does not want to give them marching orders. We merely put proposals before the Committee for the convenience of the Committee and it would be inappropriate at this stage that we should discuss those actual proposals. The situation which is before us to-day, including the discussions which took place in a former Government, is curiously analogous to something which took place in the 19th century under Mr. Gladstone, and the consultations we have had with the Opposition are not dissimilar to consultations that he had with Sir Michael Hicks-Beech. Therefore, I would mention to the House what Mr. Gladstone said in 1886, when the Government of the day took over proposals for reforming its procedure and when it put these proposals before a Select Committee in circumstance not quite exactly similar, but something like those in which we are making our proposal today. Mr. Gladstone summed up the reasons for doing so in happier language than I could possibly aspire to. He said:It is really an acknowledgment which we feel to be due to the spirit in which the subject was considered by the laic Government and that we should not make what would be an unfair and untrue appearance of setting up a rival plan when we do not propose a rival plan.''That is very much the situation to-day.
§ Mr. Morrison
The difference, of course, is that in that case the previous Government were publicly committed to the scheme whereas that would not be a true description of the position of the right hon. Gentleman's Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition: asked me to indicate the views of the Government with regard to the Amendment which has been put down by various Members of the Official Opposition. That Amendment, which is the second on the Paper, asks, as I understand if, that the 991 minutes of evidence taken before the Committee shall be published day by day, as soon as they are available. I take it that the idea is that thereby the House would be kept informed of the proceedings of the Select Committee and, as a consequence, when the. Report from the Select Committee reached the House, the minds of hon. Members would be enriched by the knowledge of the proceedings to a greater extent than might otherwise be possible. I have carefully considered that Amendment. I think it is a reasonable proposal, and I would advise the House that the Amendment should be accepted.
With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) and some of his hon. Friends, it does not seem to me, with great respect, that the Amendment is necessary. The Select Committee will deal with the procedure governing Public Business, and Private Members' Bills are part of Public Business. It seems, therefore, that the Amendment would be redundant. Moreover, although it is competent for the Select Committee to deal with the matter if it wishes, nevertheless, the periodic struggle over Private Members' time is usually a matter between the House and the Government itself, and I doubt whether it would be useful. However, the Committee will be free, if it wishes, to deal with the matter, but I would not advise the House to adopt the Amendment. That is, briefly stated—and I have been very brief—the case for the appointment of the Select Committee, and having stated that case, I trust that the House will accept the Motion. Finally, I am sure that the House would wish the Select Committee, if it is appointed, all success in the important duties which will be committed to it.
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
It is natural that when a new Parliament comes together, especially when it is the successor of a ten-year Parliament, it should wish to review the procedure of the House in the light of the movements of modern opinion, and of the circumstances of the time in which we live. Therefore, it is not our intention on this side to oppose the appointment of a Select Committee, nor shall we discourage Members on this side from taking full part in its deliberations. There was, of course, a good deal 992 of anxiety because of the various declarations which have been made by leading members of the Ministerial Party, at different periods in their careers, about what they would do to Parliament when they attained a majority and all the dangerous and pernicious talk about Enabling Bills which, proceeding on the basis of one or two votes of the House, would enable great Measures to be passed into law, and then handed over for administration entirely to the executive Government, subject only to correction by the House by a vote of want of confidence or by the annulment of certain Orders which might be laid upon the Table.
All that caused a great deal of despondency and alarm when the right hon. Gentleman announced his intention to set up this Committee, on the very day that he took, with one sweep, all the time of Private Members away for the entire Session, which lasts about 15 months. However, I must admit—and I gladly do so—that the statement which he has made, that the present proposal of the Government will not go beyond the draft documen which is in existence, and which was prepared by one of the Committees of the late Coalition Government, does exclude a whole mass of extremely perilous and disastrous proposals which we had been given to believe might be thrust upon us, and which found no small backing in various speeches which the right hon. Gentleman delivered on these very subjects, in the period when he was a member of my Administration. I did not like those speeches at the time, and I would be very sorry to see them translated into full action at the present moment. This question of the draft document naturally excited comment from below the Gangway. The House does not know what is in this document. I did not know what was in it, until I looked it up during the course of the present Session. It was one of those numerous topics which-were discussed between the Ministers of both Parties, at a time when we were working together against a common enemy. It had not come, in that way, to the notice of the War Cabinet, nor was I informed about it, except that proposals for changes in Procedure were being discussed, and as soon as I heard that, I said it would be much better to leave that task for the new Parliament, and I gave an answer to a Question on that subject to the House.
993 But the House is certainly at a disadvantage in discussing this matter to-day without having the outline of the Government's proposals before it. The Motion says that it is to be an instruction to the Committee that they are to give priority to discussion of those proposals. I would not have thought it inappropriate if the right hon. Gentleman had told us what those proposals are. However, our time is limited and if that information had been laid before the House, I suppose our Debate would certainly have continued all to-day, and an additional Sitting would have been required to-morrow. That is not a decisive argument, but the Government have decided not to give us the information. On the other hand, they have made a concession which has a bearing on this. They will, for instance, accept the Amendment indicated, which stands in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finchley (Captain Crowder) and other hon. Gentlemen, and that means that, as soon as the Committee meets, after it has had its first few discussions on its own procedure or whatever is necessary, these proposals, which are to have priority, will be made public. I cannot think that they would not be made public. I do not feel committed to them in any way. It is certainly very proper that they should be examined by a Select Committee, and that we should be able to follow, from day to day, the evidence which is given before that Committee, so far as the Press may publish it. I understand that some circulation of it will be made even in the Recess. Is that not so?
§ Mr. H. Morrison indicated assent.
§ Mr. Churchill
Then we shall be able to follow the matter from day to day, and form our opinion gradually; we shall be going over the same ground in our minds as the Committee is going over in discussions at the moment, and we shall be abreast of the Committee, when proposals have to be laid before the House. Therefore, I think the House would be well advised to assume that a statement of these proposals is not essential to the discussions that we are to have to-day, and that we can set up the Committee, and await the Committee's method of imparting to us what are the matters before it.
994 Without in any way committing myself to these proposals, I certainly feel relieved that they are the limit of what His Majesty's Government propose. This House is not only a machine for legislation; perhaps it is not even mainly a machine for legislation, it is a great forum of Debate, and the process of legislation is not necessarily smooth because it is rapid or violent. The House ought to have the opportunity of moulding and shaping the laws which afterwards have to be obeyed by the people. The people give their obedience to the laws of this country to an extent remarkable, almost renowned. The people have been renowned for their obedience to law, but that is because the law comes to them from a Parliament which they themselves have chosen, and because it is believed that all views have had a fair chance of expression in that Parliament, that the minority as well as the majority have been able to put their hand upon the legislative proposals. While the Government of the day naturally carry their own programme, the legislation which emerges from our discussions is not simply party legislation, but legislation which bears the stamp of Parliamentary influence. Therefore, it would be a great mistake to think that all you have to do to improve the procedure of the House of Commons is to make it able to turn out the largest number of Bills in the shortest amount of time. That is all right if you are working a sausage factory; it is not quite the same in regard to matters which affect the lives and happiness of vast numbers of people throughout the country. And it is also in the interests of the Government, that their Bills should be really tested and sifted in Parliament, because, otherwise, all kinds of things slip through, which give needless offence when put into operation, and involve the Government in needless discredit.
Also, the House has a function not merely of passing Bills, but of stopping bad Bills from passing, or at any rate mitigating their effects, having due regard to the prevailing strength of the majority of the day. All this is part of our House of Commons system of life. I am very much impressed with this new House of Commons, with the pin-drop silence in which they listen to all speeches from all parties, and from all parts of the House, and with the earnestness and gravity with which the very large numbers 995 of new Members here are evidently determined to approach the serious and important tasks with which they are charged. I should deeply have regretted if any violent Measure of driving legislation through had smitten the House in a grievous manner at the very outset of the new Parliament. I think that it is not only, as I said, a question of legislation. The House is also a forum of Debate and in many ways that is more important, because we have to hold our position in the world. That very largely depends upon the respect which is shown to the House of Commons which no other country—I say it with all respect—has been able to surpass or even, some may think, to rival. There never has been an Assembly of such great powers, which has shown so much restraint in the using of them. Unlike the French Assembly of bygone days, the House has not attempted to govern; it has left that to the Executive Government, and has confined itself to the functions of supervision, correction, and, in the last resort, to the removal of Ministers, if they have thought it desirable.
I think there could be more elasticity introduced into our procedure. The Government have chosen one particular branch of our procedure which they wish to examine in priority, but I hope also the Committee will examine the question of whether we cannot have more general Debates, without prejudice to the necessary routine business. In the last Parliament before the war, there was some talk of Adjournments being moved once or twice a week, on the burning topics of the day, and a Debate proceeding at once upon them—it being, of course, understood that the Government got their Vote at the end of the Sitting, just as if the whole time had been spent on discussing that Vote. This would only be a reversion to the old procedure when, as is well known, each day. Members arrived with petitions from the country on particular subjects and, if the House was inclined, it took up one of those subjects and discussed it at once. However the Government got their essential business, their Supply, and all the routine Measures irrespective of these Debates.
I am most anxious that that process of general discussions should be widened. If the House is not able to discuss matters which the country is discussing, which fill 996 all the newspapers, which everyone is anxious and preoccupied about, it loses its contact; it is no longer marching step by step with all the thought that is in progress in the country. Therefore we should save as much time as we can from routine matters, for the purpose of enabling large Debates to take place. I think it will be generally admitted that in the Coalition Government, even during the war, a very large number of occasions were given for discussion of general matters, and it was also arranged that at the end of the discussion the state of Government Business was not prejudiced—in which the Chief Whip naturally had to take a very great interest. It seems to me also that five or six days are wasted on Supplementary Estimates with very poor results. Very small sums are involved, compared to the vast scale of our Budget, and yet discursive Debates arise on the Estimates. Time might be saved on that.
I have one other view which, if I had shaped this Motion, I would have added as an instruction to the Committee. Would it not be well for us to try to revise our method of examining Estimates? We have the Public Accounts Committee which reports upon irregularities of expenditure after they have occurred, but there are the Estimates of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and certain other large spending Departments which are brought before the House on the various Supply Days, as requested through the usual channels. It would be a very great advantage, in my opinion—and I speak after 42 years of active service in this House—if, for instance, the Army Estimates were examined rapidly in two or three sittings by a Committee, a dozen or 20 Members, representing all parties in due proportion, who would focus the points of criticism, or the issues which have to be raised. Then the Estimates would come, in due course, before the House. There would be no interference with Ministerial responsibility by having a short report from such a Committee. This would, I think, make the discussions much more informal than they are when they consist simply of individual statements by Members on matters in connection with a particular Department in which they are interested.
I hope the Committee will not, because priority is: asked for the Government's 997 proposals, feel themselves in any way inhibited from entering upon other matters which would improve the efficiency of our procedure. I hope they will also see in what way time can be saved on routine business, in order to repay the House for its concessions in regard to that routine business, by a more liberal employment of the power to discuss matters of general interest. We must not regard this House as a mere treadmill. The importance to the people of the power and popularity, and I may say the drama of the House, is very great. Nothing could be worse than that the House should cease to command the active interest of the great masses of people throughout the country. Everything should be done to make sure that it does that.
I quite recognise that the complications in our affairs are vastly increased and that necessary legislation must be passed. It may be that the Committee will find some method of speeding up the procedure. It may be that they will find these methods without injuring the freedom and the power of the House as a whole, to deal with legislation and without injuring the character of our Parliamentary life. I therefore wish the Committee God speed in its work. I must also say this, that the best way of speeding legislation is the tact of the Leader of the House and the good will of the House as a whole. We are not going to hamper what we consider necessary legislation for the great process of transition through which we are passing. But the leadership of the House of Commons is an intense and searching test of any man's nature and character, and this must become apparent in his prolonged and intimate relations with the House. It would be no use to try to supply any defect in leadership by rough dragooning methods, or by getting Committees to pass all kinds of rigid restrictions on Debate because, in my experience, what is thus gained on the swings, is very often lost on the roundabouts. There ought to be fair, reasonable and tolerant leadership of the House. We shall see, as this Parliament advances, whether we are to have that or not. I am sure it is the general hope that we may be so advantaged, that we may be so fortunate. It will be our continuous object and desire, not always attainable, to carry the great mass of reasonable opinion with 998 the Government of the day, on all matters on which we are not sundered by party differences.
§ 12.0 noon.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
It is with some diffidence that I find myself addressing the House to-day from a rather different angle from that which I have been privileged to occupy recently, but my task is made all the easier, because I find myself very largely in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion. One thing, which I noticed about his remarks, was his reference to Mr. Gladstone, and 1886. For a considerable time I have noticed his tendency to go back to those days. Whether that is right or wrong, I do not know, but it is interesting to watch the reversion. I think those of us who have watched the proceedings of this House in the last years, who realise the immense length of the last Parliament, and how long has passed since we last had an inquiry of this sort, recognised it as inevitable that we should set up an inquiry into the whole of our methods of procedure. In this House procedure has been based on either practice or form, but there is nothing sacred about it. There is nothing which we cannot alter, and there is nothing which should not be altered to suit the convenience of the House of Commons and is in accordance with the desire of the people as a whole.
That is as far as practice and form are concerned, but in connection with this Motion, there is one thing about the House of Commons which we should endeavour to protect throughout all time. That is the contact of the electors with the machine of Government through the ordinary Private Member. That, I believe, is one of the most essential parts of our work. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that we should have more chances for big Debates on vital matters, of which there has been an obvious lack in the past. On the other hand, those who have watched the work of Private Members who do not always take part in our great Debates have seen them exercise a great influence in the House. Perhaps I might give one illustration. Those of us who listened to the speeches made during the last 20 years by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), on all sorts of subjects, realised that he had an intensely close contact with the people of his own coun- 999 try, that he spoke with enormous sincerity, and that again and again, whether supporting or opposing legislation, he exercised a very good influence on the Government as a whole, as a. Private Member. That is the kind of thing which it is essential to preserve. Further, I have noticed a very singular likeness between this Parliament and that of 1918, in its seriousness, in its close contact with the Services, and in many other ways. From this a danger arose. We rushed through an enormous amount of legislation and then had to reverse the machine. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite know that I am no well-wisher of their Government, but I hope that they realise that, whatever party is in power, there is something to put above party, and that is the House of Commons and the people as a whole.
We should be very careful, in setting up this Committee, to see that it has the guiding intention of safeguarding and improving the procedure of the House of Commons. This is a wide Motion, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman who moved it has indicated that he will accept the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friends. That is a helpful sign. Frankly I am a little worried about the tail of the proposal. That is where I see difficulties. The Government have their own plan. What I want to know, and what the House would like to know, is whether when those plans are published—and that is not clear yet—we are to consider those Government plans in this House separately, or are to consider them with a considerable amount of other evidence? Shall we have a fairly wide report, taking in other points of view, and is this House, before settling its procedure, to have some knowledge, in making that judgment, of the position not only from the Government's point of view, but from other points of view as well? That is important. There art: many new Members in this House who, in the next three or four months, will probably learn our ways with remarkable rapidity, and will be able, say, by about Christmas, to form a rather good judgment of how we work. But there were also Members in the last Parliament who knew little of the working of the House of Commons, and there are Members like myself, who have had experience both before and 1000 during the war and who would like to refresh our minds and ideas on the working of Parliament in the future.
Every one of us would be helped if we could get a wider understanding of Parliamentary affairs at the present time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council can assure us that nothing will be done to force ideas on to the House and that every Member will have the chance of learning how the House of Commons is likely to operate. If the Government do that, they will get through their work with greater expedition. I also hope that on this matter of procedure, we shall be able to reach agreement between the various parties—because it affects us all. I hope we shall be able to reach agreement on these matters which will facilitate the working of Parliament, for a long time ahead.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
All in the House are agreed that some examination of our methods of procedure is necessary, but it is not so easy to agree upon what changes can be made. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion told us that there had been at least six general inquiries into procedure in this century, and it was interesting to hear the Leader of the Opposition to-day put practically the same points which he put before a Select Committee in 1931. Those points are still important enough to be raised in 1945. That Select Committee of 1931 failed to implement the evidence which was given, or the recommendations that were made, and it is still left for the House of Commons to devise some way of making its procedure work in accordance with the demand.
As has been said, there is nothing sacrosanct about the Rules of the House. In the past, we have had legislation which devoted great attention to detail and routine. In the nineteenth century we had greater flexibility of Debate, which devoted greater attention to detail. The change in the nineteenth century was probably greater than that of the twentieth century. There were the inventions of gas and electricity and railways, and other social changes. The House did not begrudge the time given to details of these matters. The twentieth century produced a dividing line between principle and detail. If you look at what the House did in the twentieth century, you 1001 will find that it treated as matters of detail matters which should have been regarded as matters of high policy. Let me take one right for which we fought—the right of trial by jury. That has been regarded as a matter of detail in the twentieth century, in that control of it has been vested in the Executive and not in this House. Take the financial crisis of 1931 which was resolved, according to the Report of the Donoughmore Committee, by passing six Acts dealing with financial matters, and giving to the Executive a large measure of control of taxation which should have been in the control of this House. Surely, matters of taxation are not matters of detail; they are matters of principle which should be kept within the authority of this House alone.
If one examines, for instance, the volume of legislation and change in the nature of legislation in recent years, particularly due to the last two wars, it will be found that there has been a great increase. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council quoted Gladstone and 1886, when Statutory Rules and Regulations had not begun to be published. In 1889 they had begun to be published, and it is interesting to compare their volume. From 1901 to 1914 the annual output of Statutory Rules was something in the neighbourhod of 1,000. In 1920–21 the number had more than doubled annually. It is argued that this is rather a convenience and that detailed matters of administration should be left to the experts; and that the House, in some mysterious way, is not competent to deal with them. I should like to challenge that view.