§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I beg to move,That this House calls for the establishment of a Select Committee to inquire into the possibilities of improvement in the House's methods of conducting its business.I should like to say how gratified I am at the interest that this Motion has aroused in the Press and elsewhere. I should like to preface what I want to say with this remark, that coming here in 1945 as a new Member, trying to get accustomed to the strange mixture of tradition and convention with which we conduct our business, under your wise guidance, Mr. Speaker, I naturally have felt very hesitant to criticise, because a new Member feels that there must be something here that he has not quite understood, and that some of the strange things we do here must have very deep meaning behind them.
But I do feel justified now, after some eight years of experience, in suggesting to the House that there is really no overriding reason why we should not attempt to bring the procedure into more modern lines. That is not to say that I would be dogmatic about it. It is certainly not to say that I would presume to lecture the House, and particularly the senior Members of the House, on how business should be conducted.
Far be it from me to suggest that I know all the answers. Still, I do feel justified in calling attention to some of the things we do here, because of certain remarks that have been made publicly and in a very widespread fashion. I do not intend today to attack anyone. Still less do I intend to make any party 530 points. This is a back benchers' day, and I am hoping that we are to have a debate on a high non-party level, because I am very jealous of the reputation of this honourable House and very nervous lest anything should bring it into discredit.
I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) here, and should like to quote a few words he said on 19th March, 1951, which are very apposite. He said at that time:It is time we considered where the reputation of this House will go if there is a much longer continuation of the process to which we have been subjected during the past few weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 2246.]My only purpose today is to ask the House to consider whether there is some way in which we can improve the way we do our business. After all, our constituents send us here expecting 100 per cent. service and expecting that we shall use the machinery of Parliament in the most effective way to try as far as we can to improve the welfare of the people we represent. We want to give of our best; we all want to do our best; and I am quite sure that I am by no means the only Member of this House who has been suffering under a sense of frustration, because we feel at times that we just cannot put forward our full efforts, for whatever reason.
I am certain everyone will agree with me, whatever disagreement may emerge later in the debate, that the present procedure is probably not the best possible. I believe that is putting it at its very mildest. It is worth considering whether it is the best possible. We may differ on remedies, and on whether any suggested remedies are possible or practicable, or even desirable, but I think that perhaps the greatest common denominator of agreement is that the machinery we are trying to work may not be the best possible.
I should like to assure the House that I have every respect for the traditions and the unwritten rules to which we work. Our historic ceremonies, too, play a very valuable part, and I should like to preserve them as far as possible; so please do not think I am coming here as an iconoclast who wants to "shatter it to bits and then remould it to the heart's desire." But does anyone contend that we should lose anything in dignity by adopting some more modern methods, if 531 we can find them? Even our ancient Westminster Hall is lit by electricity today and does not suffer as a consequence. I am convinced that we cannot tackle the ever-increasing pressure of business in 1953 with the methods of a past age. Lord Winterton said that when he was Father of the House, on 26th May, 1944, in much more eloquent words than I could find, when he said we shouldensure 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1944; Vol. 400, c. 1076.]Coming now to the wording of the Motion, I am indebted to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), and some 80 supporters that he had, for that wording. I have adopted his Motion in toto in the hope that it would help to create a non-party atmosphere for this debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Bilston (Mr. Nally) and Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) tabled Amendments to the Motion of the hon. Member for Devizes. They are Amendments to which I have no fundamental objection, but I have not included them in the wording of my Motion in case they did not meet with universal approval. I notice, too, that two of my hon. Friends have tabled Amendments to the Motion being debated today. The Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—in line 4, at the end, to addincluding the possibility of adopting a greater measure of the procedure of the committee system of government, similar to that prevailing in local government, and by giving additional powers to the Scottish Grand Committee to deal with Scottish business"—I would not argue with, personally, for a moment, but I leave him to make his own case, as he no doubt will. The other Amendment is tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley)—in line 4 at the end to add:a majority of the members of such committee to be honourable Members who are under forty-five years of age and who have less than ten years' membership of this House.I feel a little hesitation in saying that I approve of that, because when he says that the members of the Select Committee should not be over 45 years of age—
§ Mr. Hynd
The hon. Member for Devizes brought forward his point of view in a Question to the Prime Minister on 17th December, and on that occasion the Prime Minister said:I do not think that the appointment of such a Select Committee would serve any useful purpose at present.I do not know quite what he meant by "at present," whether it was just at that date or in the foreseeable future; but in reply to a supplementary question he said:I think a debate on this subject might well be useful, but we have no time at present for it.That was why on the same day, having been fortunate in the Ballot, I thought the House ought to have an opportunity for this debate which the Prime Minister said might well be useful, and that is the opportunity I am giving the House today. In reply to a further supplementary question on that occasion, the Prime Minister said:I think all these things should be considered, and there is no reason why friendly discussions should not take place, not only through the usual channels but through any channels which may be open."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 1403–4.]That encourages me to lay certain suggestions before the House.
This Motion is similar to one laid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) on 24th August, 1945, when the House agreed to set up a Select Committee. It is a legitimate question to ask whether a sufficient time has elapsed since the appointment of that Select Committee, and if I am asked that question, I would attempt to make two answers to it.
First, events have moved very quickly since 1945, and our machine needs frequent overhaul if it is to be kept at an up-to-date pitch of efficiency. On that occasion in 1945 my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South drew 533 attention to the necessity for maintaining flexibility of procedure, and urged that it must be adapted to changing needs arid changing conditions. I claim that we are in a period of changing needs and changing conditions. My right hon. Friend said:the House has kept its procedure under constant examination and re-examination,and he reminded us that the previous Select Committee was in 1931, and said that the interval of 14 years wasjudged by the history of the present century, rather on the long side than on the short"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 986–7.]Therefore, perhaps the interval of nearly eight years since 1945 might reasonably be considered as a suitable interval after which to appoint a new Select Committee.
The second answer is, I believe, even more important, namely, that the Select Committee of 1945 was set up primarily, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South said at the time, to present to it certain suggestions of a committee of the war-time Coalition Government, and it confined its consideration largely to what I might call some of the finer technical points of procedure, accepting all the time that those points of procedure must be considered within the framework of certain practices, which apparently are regarded as unalterable things which we just have to accept. I am bold enough today to suggest that the new Select Committee should look a little wider than that.
It may be tilting at windmills, but I am suggesting seriously that, not only are we fully justified now in reviewing our code of procedure, but that we want the new Committee to dare to question some of the things that have hitherto been considered sacrosanct in this House.
The first of those is, of course, late sittings. Nobody likes late sittings. They are probably the worst feature of the postwar Parliaments. Shocking as it may seem to some hon. Members, I say that late sittings are neither necessary nor desirable. I feel that we are quite wrong in attempting to legislate in the early hours of the morning, when we are tired. Our minds should be fresh and alert when we are dealing with important national and international matters, and legislation cannot be expected to be of 534 the best kind when dealt with in that way. It is very tempting to illustrate by mentioning some things that have occurred in the recent past, but I will not do so. It is far better that some of those scenes should be forgotten as soon as possible.
Surely I can get agreement on this. No businessman in this House would attempt to run his business in the way we run our business here, and to reach important conclusions in the early hours of the morning after a long, tiring day, when he is probably faced with important business the next morning as well. Furthermore, today new Parliaments are being set up in various parts of the world. Some Members of this Parliament have been privileged by being asked to advise on the setting up of these new Parliaments. Would any one of us advise a country setting up a new Parliament to run it on the lines on which we run this House, particularly in regard to late and all-night sittings? I very much doubt it. That is why I say that they are neither necessary nor desirable.
I say that they are not desirable, primarily because of the undoubted strain on the Members and especially on Ministers. I have no particular sympathy for the Ministers sitting on the Front Bench opposite at the moment; but it does not matter which party is in office—all Ministers suffer most severely from hours of that kind. Ministers have, no doubt, a long, tiring day. They have to be on the alert all the time. Other hon. Members can walk in and out of the Chamber as they please, go away and have a little rest and get necessary refreshment. The Ministers have to be on the qui vive all the time, and may have to contemplate a heavy day following, when they have to deal with very important national or international affairs. It is ridiculous, I suggest, that Ministers particularly, and all hon. Members, should be kept sitting up all night unnecessarily.
That may be considered by some people as a selfish point of view—thinking of our own comforts—but it is quite true. As this is the week-end when we are celebrating the birth of Robert Burns, I am sure that the House will forgive me if I quote from him,If self the wavering balance shake, its rarely right adjusted.That is admitted, but although starting from a selfish point of view, I think it is 535 important that we should maintain the highest pitch of efficiency as being due to our constituents and the country. There is, however, more in it than that. There is the question of the staff of this House. I repeat that hon. Members can go and have a little rest or necessary refreshments, but many members of the staff cannot do that. They work hard, long hours, which would be objected to by any self-respecting trade union in any other industry.
What about the uncertainty of it? If the staff or if hon. Members, if it comes to that, knew they were going to finish at a specific time, however late, they might be able to make the necessary arrangements; but they cannot. We never know how long the House will be sitting, and members of the staff have less opportunity than we have of controlling the time of finishing. So they have to hang on here hour after hour, and I say that that is most unfair on the staff and putting an undeserved strain upon them.
Perhaps I may be allowed to mention the position of hon. Members' wives. I am told that there is a song being sung with great success in a London theatre at the moment, which goes as follows:M.P.s' wives,Leading, oh, such solitary lives —Quite frankly, we don't think we've had a square deal,For our married life is so strange and unreal —They come home to bed at an hour that's insane,They drop off at once, and if we should complain,They wake up, say: 'Hear, hear,' then drop off again —Quite seriously, is it not time that we faced up to this kind of thing? Why cannot we have an absolute deadline, after which we say no more—make it midnight, for instance. Public transport is mostly still running at midnight. After that, hon. Members are sometimes stranded. Some sleep here during the night and some make long journeys home, and often very expensive journeys. I think that midnight is too late, but why cannot we have some kind of deadline?
If hon. Members say that is impossible, may I suggest that, at any rate, as regards voting—and this does not affect the staff, I agree—there should be a deadline. If hon. Members want to stay here and talk 536 after midnight, let them do it, but cannot we have a deadline regarding voting, and say that if any voting is necessary after that time, it will be done on the following day after Questions, or at some suitable time. I only throw that out as a suggestion for consideration.
I believe that the time-table and/or procedure could be revised, if we really got down to it. I had not the honour of being a Member of this House during the war, but I understand that the House was then able to meet at reasonable hours, make an early start and finish at a reasonable time at night. We meet early on Fridays, so why cannot we meet earlier on other days. I know the objections that will be put forward. The three principal ones are probably the question of Committees, the question of Ministers having to do their work in their Departments, and, no doubt, the question of Members of Parliament having other jobs.
Let me try to look very briefly at these three points. As regards Committees, I understand that the 1945 Select Committee suggested that the form of Standing Order 49A should be revised to enable Committees to meet in the afternoon, if necessary. That has been done, and Committees have met in the afternoon on rare occasions. But there are Committees— the Estimates Committee, for example, and the Public Accounts Committee— which meet in the afternoon when the House is sitting. If any one of the Committees could not meet when the House is actually sitting, we might have an occasional day when the Committee could meet during the day and clear up a lot of business.
I question whether it is impossible for Standing Committees to meet while the House is sitting. All Members are not in the House all the time. I should imagine that with a little good will and re-arrangement, we could have one or more Standing Committees meeting while the House was sitting. If not, if the House were to meet at reasonable hours during the day, why not consider having Committees in the evening, when only some Members would be kept here instead of the whole House being kept here? I realise that that, again, would be hard lines on the staff, and I do not press it for that reason.
As regards Ministers, I sympathise with Ministers who have to go in their Departments in the morning. But why only in 537 the morning? Surely Ministers, as well as other hon. Members, must have their minds absolutely fresh if they are to tackle the business of the House efficiently. After all, Ministers have offices in this building, and I suggest that they might be able to do a little more Departmental work on the premises and less in their Departments elsewhere. I believe that Ministers are expected to spend too much time in this Chamber. They are often kept hanging about here for no real reason, and we could very well arrange for them to spend more time in their offices here or in their Departments.
I now come to the crux of the whole business. That is the question of hon. Members having other jobs which take them out of the House. I suggest that we cannot resolve this point until we have decided whether being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job or not. That is what we come right up against. My contention is that it is a full-time job, and that a Member who attends faithfully at debates, takes his full share of Committees, keeps himself up-to-date by reading official documents, newspapers and so on, does his correspondence, looks after his visitors, and takes his reasonable share of other activities of this House, not to mention his work in his constituency, cannot do justice to another job.
I may be wrong. I may be told that there are cases of hon. Members who do a considerable job outside and a considerable job in the House, but I fail to see how that is possible. Speaking from my own experience—I am only giving my own opinion—I feel that no man or woman can do full justice to a job outside and also to a job here. One or other or both of the jobs must be neglected. Some outside jobs are, of course, quite impossible. Only certain jobs can be done while a person is a Member of Parliament. A miner cannot go and dig coal in the morning and come here in the afternoon, but it may be possible to do a little journalism or legal work or perhaps to be a director of a company, although not a managing director.
There are very powerful arguments against this proposition. One is that it is essential for Members of Parliament to keep in touch with the great big world outside. Accepting that for the moment, 538 why should Parliament have to take second place if it is necessary—and of course, it is—for hon. Members to keep in touch with affairs outside? Surely their first job is the Parliamentary one, and keeping in touch with affairs outside should be a secondary consideration; it is not the other way round, as we have been brought up to believe.
The other proposition is that the salary of a Member of Parliament is insufficient and that hon. Members must therefore try to earn something outside. I do not want to go into that matter in detail today and will merely say that, if that is the case, there is an obvious remedy, which is not that an hon. Member should go and earn his living outside and then come here when he has done his day's work, but that the salary should be made sufficient for the purpose of a Member of Parliament.
If, on the other hand, it is conceded that the work of a Member of Parliament is a full-time job, it would be much easier for us to arrange to do our business within more normal hours. For example, it might be possible to have a shorter Recess. I have never been able to understand why it is necessary to have a Recess in the summer of 10 weeks or even longer. If being a Member of Parliament was a full-time job, hon. Members would be able to do a little more Parliamentary work towards the end of the present Recesses. We should also be able to arrange more specialist work for the back benchers; we should be able to weld them into teams, after the fashion of other Parliaments, so that they could specialise in the work of certain Government Departments.
We ought also to encourage hon. Members to travel more, and I mean by that travel at home as well as abroad. Some hon. Members go abroad and are very impressed by what they see of industries in other countries, but I believe that if they had more opportunity of visiting our own industries they would be even more impressed by what they saw here. That thought has struck me several times, and I believe the matter is worth considering. More facilities should be provided for travelling about our own country so that hon. Members can see the best that our industries can produce instead of the best that other countries can produce.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
Is it not inconsistent to advocate shorter Recesses and also more travel? How is the travelling to be done if the Recesses are shorter?
§ Mr. Hynd
There is nothing inconsistent in what I am saying. I do not necessarily mean that the travelling should take place in the Recess. By means of a proper arrangement of the business of the House, hon. Members ought to be able to get about more while Parliament is sitting. If hon. Members are not inclined to accept my contention that the job of a Member of Parliament is a full-time one, let us face—
Mr. Glenvil Hail (Colne Valley)
My hon. Friend seems not to have faced up to one point. He argues that the job of a Member of Parliament should be looked upon as a full-time one. If so, what is to happen to a young man who comes into the House but later loses his seat? We want young men in the House.
§ Mr. Hynd
That is one of the risks of Parliamentary life, and we all have to take it. Many hon. Members have found themselves in a very unfortunate position when they have lost their seat, and they must weigh up that risk when they enter the House. The same applies to other jobs; hon. Members may lose other jobs outside the House and find themselves in very bad circumstances. I hope my right hon. Friend will elaborate his point of view later in the debate.
If hon. Members are not prepared to accept the proposition that this is a fulltime job, we must face up to it and, in the light of that, have a look at our procedure. I suggest that we have too many Divisions in the House—Divisions for voting purposes; not political divisions —and that Divisions have become almost a game, and a very time-wasting game. After all, whichever party is in office has a majority, and it will be very exceptional if, having a majority, that party is defeated in the Division Lobby, for that can only be done by a trick of some kind or by the accident of illness or death. Why do we, therefore, spend so much time trying to defeat each other in the Division Lobbies?
It has become something of a game, and a game which means that hon. Members have to stay here late at night. 540 Sometimes we have the ridiculous situation of Ministers being brought back long distances—they may be attending a meeting of the United Nations in New York —for a Division. We have seen invalids brought here in ambulances and carried to the entrance of the Division Lobby, and we have seen going through the Division Lobbies hon. Members who obviously ought to be in bed. Why do we do it? It is something which may not be capable of being adjusted by Erskine May, but it might be possible to discuss it through the usual channels. I do not care how it is done as long as something is done.
If it is necessary to regard the job of an M.P. as a part-time one, then we have to save time somehow. If it is a part-time job, that emphasises the necessity of avoiding late night and all-night sittings. If an hon. Member has done an early shift somewhere else and then comes to the House to take part in legislation, he is obviously not as fit as he would otherwise have been.
Whether we say the job of a Member of Parliament is a full-time one or a part-time one, I feel we must look at some of the things we do. I mentioned the voting system just now. It always seems to me to be rather an antiquated business to wait for the bells to ring and then go into the Lobbies and spend anything up to 15 minutes on a Division. The 1945 Committee suggested the use of a mechanical appliance, but it was rejected for various reasons. I am not in a position today to suggest what better method we could have without each hon. Member having his own place in the House.
When I was in the French Parliament recently, I noticed that the whip of each party was able to take a bundle of cards, which I understood represented all the members of his party, and put them into a box. That method might not be acceptable to the House, but it is only a suggestion and there are many other ways of doing it. It may be that some hon. Members are away from the House on legitimate important business, even on Government business; why should they have to make long journeys in order to be here for a Division, with the chance that there may not, after all, be a Division and that their journey will have been unnecessary? 541 Hon. Members may hold up their hands in horror at some of these suggestions, but I will dare another one which may not find universal acceptance. Why should we not have a time limit for speeches? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] There is the obvious retort to that remark at the moment, but I am taking full advantage of the absence of a time limit, though I can assure the House that I will not be very much longer. Why should there not be a time limit, at least when we are working under the Guillotine? Let us reduce it to that as a start. The radio has taught us that if a person has something to say, given a time limit he can say it in less time than it usually takes to say it in this House. I do not exempt myself from that remark.
It could be a very variable time limit allotting more time for things like the presentation of the Budget, but unless there is a time limit of some kind we are going to have a continuation of some of the undesirable things which are very much in our minds this morning. I believe there is a time limit in some of the Dominion Parliaments, and I am also told that my Scottish colleagues on occasion amongst themselves arrange a time limit and it works very well.
Another Committee has suggested that we ought to limit the number of oral Questions. I support that idea and I throw that into the balance in the suggestions that I am making. Another thing causing many complaints are Prayers. They have kept us many long nights, and here again Ministers have to hang about as they have to do for an Adjournment Motion. I wonder whether we could not attempt some rearrangement of business to prevent that sort of thing. Why should a Minister have to come here at 10 o'clock at night because the debate might finish then but instead it lingers on to the early hours of the morning and all the time the unfortunate Minister has to sit here in case the debate collapses at any time?
Should we not, for example, have the Adjournment Motion earlier in the day, say after Questions? Could we not have Prayers at an earlier time, or if there are going to be late Prayers could we not next day have the vote, if there is to be a vote, as I suggested earlier in another connection? The Adjournment Motion is something definite, and we know it is going to last half an hour. Why should it have to 542 wait upon indefinite debates? I suggest that the definite should come first and the indefinite later.
I have another suggestion to make. At the beginning of each Parliament there is a ceremony for the swearing-in of Members which occupies something like three days. It may be a small point, but I think it is worth consideration when we are reviewing the business methods of the House, and we ought to be able to get some quicker system. We might get up en bloc and take the oath or sign a book or something. I do not think that that would detract from the solemnity of the occasion, because this taking of the oath individually is, in my opinion, a sheer waste of time.
I have occupied enough time already and there are other hon. Members who wish to make suggestions. I apologise if the House feels that I have skated too lightly over some of the things I have mentioned and have not gone into any detail about them. I did it deliberately, because I think that is the job of a Select Committee. What I do submit is that there is a prima facie case for a Select Committee, and I hope the Leader of the House is going to tell us that he is either going to accept the Motion or at least allow a free vote so as to get a real expression of opinion by the Members of the House.
The procedure under which we have been working for so long was originally designed to accommodate Members of Parliament when there was no payment for M.P.s and when they regarded Parliament as a place to go after they had attended to their own affairs, or a place for those with private means who regarded Parliament as the best club in Europe, as it was then called. I suggest that it is no longer the best club in Europe. Indeed, we have earned the title of the workshop of the nation, and it is up to us to justify that proud title.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acrington (Mr. H. Hynd) has moved his Motion with erudition, and he told us one thing that I did not know before, and that is that this is Burns' week-end. Perhaps it is incumbent upon me as a Sassenach to quote from the works of that 543 great master, and I think the most appropriate quotation which occurs to me now is this, and I hope the House will forgive me for my inadequate command of the accent:Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!There is a widespread impression throughout the country that this House has not been behaving during the past two or three years as well as it ought to have done. That is an impression which has been fostered by some of the organs of the popular Press and also by some hon. Members in this House. There is, of course, something in that point of view, but I believe that all these things are relative. We are the oldest deliberative assembly in the world, and it is incumbent upon us, above all people, to try to get these things into their right perspective.
I do not think there is any doubt that in the last 10 years Parliament has probably been better behaved than ever before in its history. I can remember 20 or 25 years ago sitting in the Gallery of the House of Commons and seeing five members of the Independent Labour Party suspended one after the other for what was considered an abuse of the Rules of this House. Today we hardly ever see an hon. Member suspended.
There was an earlier instance in which 37 members of the Irish Nationalist Party were suspended from the service of the House in the course of a single debate, but even that pales into insignificance compared with a description for which I am indebted to a book called "The House of Commons at Work" by Dr. Taylor, a member of the Clerk's Department of this House. Dr. Taylor quotes from the "Morning Post" of 18th July, 1835—the time of the great statesmen like Melbourne, Russell, Althorp, Palmerston, and Sir Robert Peel. This is the description of a debate on that occasion:The most confused sounds, mysteriously blended, issued from all corners of the House.… At repeated intervals a sort of drone-like humming, having almost the sound of a distant hand-organ or bagpipes, issued from the back benches;—coughing, sneezing and ingeniously extended yawning, blended with the other sounds, and produced a tout ensemble which we have never heard excelled in the House. A single voice from the ministerial benches imitated very accurately the yelp of a kennelled hound.544 It is indeed rare today to hear the yelp of a kennelled hound proceeding from the Government Front Bench even at the appearance of a Whip.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
It is only fair to add that Mr. Speaker of that date was sacked at the end of two Sessions.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I should also add that the occasion of the remarkable hilarity which I have described was the fact that the speaker had the rather curious name of Hughes Hughes. An incident of that kind makes our present disagreements seem like a love feast in comparison.
I was delighted that my hon. Friend said that he was no iconoclast in these matters and only wanted to improve the institution as we know it. I have known the Palace of Westminster, as a son, as a civil servant, and then as a Member, for more than 30 years. I share the love which all Members have for Parliament as an institution, even though at times our love is a little frustrated, and I would not like anything we say today in criticism of the conduct of this House to be regarded as being in any way derogatory to the institution of Parliament itself. What we want to do is to improve it. We want to make it better able to discharge its duty. We want to safeguard freedom still more effectively, because whatever defects we may have in this Chamber it is still the greatest bulwark we have against the kind of horrors we are seeing today in the totalitarian countries.
We are at the moment facing a very real difficulty because of the even balance of parties. It would be wrong for me not to admit that I would have preferred it if Her Majesty's Government had felt able to avoid some of the more controversial legislation which is before us this Session. But we must take a longer view. Let us suppose that this state of equilibrium extends for 10 years or more. It is inconceivable that every Government during that time will be able indefinitely to avoid legislation of a controversial character. Regardless of the difficulties that we face today, it is incumbent upon us, as Members of this House, to try to ensure that some system is arrived at by which it is possible to get through the business of the Government of the day 545 and at the same time to protect the rights of Private Members. The House has always been receptive of suggestions for improving its business.
I am glad that my hon. Friend gave us the figures of the length of time which has elapsed since the last Select Committee on Procedure was set up. As the problems of the country become more complex, so the problem of adjusting the machinery of the House to cope with them becomes more urgent. At this very moment we have two Select Committees sitting, one considering the asking of Questions relating to national industries and the other discussing the problem of delegated legislation. They are symptoms of the growing complexity of the problems with which the House is faced today and which are largely responsible for the cluttering up of its work.
In the first half of this century seven Select Committees were appointed to consider procedure. My hon. Friend has pointed out that it is eight years since the last one. On the law of averages alone, it is about time that we had another Select Committee, to consider not only the rules of the House but the conventions as well. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) established the last Select Committee, he was a little bit coy and refused to disclose to the House the proposals which the Government were going to place before the Committee. Nobody could suggest that my hon. Friend has not been forthcoming this morning about the suggestions which he has placed before the House for subsequent consideration before a Select Committee.
I support what my hon. Friend said about the reference of work to Standing Committees. From the point of view of the House it is shocking that the Committee stage of almost every Bill of a controversial nature has to be taken on the Floor of the House. To discuss highly complex legislation on the Floor of the House makes its consideration less effective and less efficient. We lose the intimacy that we have on Standing Committee, and there is always the temptation for hon. Members to make Second Reading speeches instead of dealing exclusively with the kind of point which ought to be discussed on Committee stage. I would like to see far more extensive use made of Standing Committees. I know that the Government 546 in present circumstances would always feel a little bit insecure, but it is always possible for the Government to repair ravages which have been made on a Committee stage when the Bill is reported back to the House.
There is one thing which Government Whips seem to have in common. Whatever party they come from they always seem to have an inferiority complex and such a lack of confidence in the moral and intellectual rightness of their cause that they are constantly afraid that if the slightest freedom is given to their supporters it is bound to militate against the interests of their party. It may indeed, on occasion, act in quite the other direction. I am sure that it would be better for hon. Members and for legislation if Governments were prepared to take the risk and send legislation to Standing Committee.
I should like to see more Standing Committees. The Scottish Standing Committee have done a remarkably good job of work. Having heard part of the discussion on Wales yesterday, I am forced to the conclusion that it might be an advantage, and for the general convenience of the House, if we had a Welsh Standing Committee in which debates of that kind could take place. There are other aspects of our work which could be referred to Standing Committees.
Today there is inadequate time for the discussions of many problems of interest to Members, and Private Members do not get nearly enough time for their legislation. I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington about the time of day at which we take Orders and Regulations. It is quite wrong that a paper like the "Economist" should be able to say, as it did last week talking about the time at which we discuss Orders and Regulations:This not only involves late-night wrangling when tempers are short; it means that the highly important task of supervising delegated legislation is still regarded, inappropriately, as a postscript to the day's business.We are expected night after night to discuss Statutory Instruments which are themselves as important as, and in many cases are more important than, many of the Bills now on the Statute Book which in their day were discussed in the greatest 547 detail before Standing Committees day after day during the day time and not late at night.
When we are faced with Measures which are of the greatest importance to the country and upon which partisan feelings run high, the only way to get them through now is by the use of Guillotine methods which inevitably mean that there are many imperfections and inconsistencies in Measures when they leave this House. I hate to think what experience will show to be the weaknesses of Measures like the Transport Bill which have only received inadequate consideration during their passage through this House.
If the time at our disposal is inadequate, then the point of my hon. Friend about the length of speeches becomes very relevant indeed. We all know that in discussions of important problems like foreign affairs there are hon. Members of this House who, regardless of the number of Members who want to follow them, very seldom speak for less than half an hour, and are so pleased with their ability to speak without notes, and apparently without thought, that we find them rambling on for three-quarters of an hour or 50 minutes. We should not be distressed, Mr. Speaker, if a form of temporary and selective myopia afflicted you when such hon. Members rise in their places.
I support very warmly the suggestion of my hon. Friend about the imposition of a time-limit upon speeches. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) put to me yesterday an interesting suggestion that we might try, as a convention of the House, that hon. Members called by you to speak between the hours of 5 and 7 in the evening should be expected in each case to confine their remarks to the space of 10 minutes. If we could adopt some suggestion of that kind we could avoid the more formal way of doing it by making a rule of the House limiting the length of speeches.
While I am on this subject perhaps I might suggest that the House would not be affronted if you, Mr. Speaker, did not feel under an obligation to call upon Privy Councillors to speak or to ask Parliamentary Questions merely because of the office they have held and regard- 548 less of the contribution that they are likely to make, unless, of course, they are speaking officially for the party to which they belong.
I support too the suggestion made by my hon. Friend about restricting the number of Parliamentary Questions. Anyone who reads the Order Paper of this House cannot fail to come to the conclusion that many of the Questions which are put down are not really necessary. If hon. Members could be restricted to putting down every day two Questions which called for oral answer it would be possible to cover far more Ministries. At the present time some Ministers literally go for weeks without having to face the House and answer oral Questions.
I want to say this. We should be making a grave mistake if we assumed that we can alter the situation merely by altering the rules and the Standing Orders of this House. The conventions of the House of Commons are just as important as the rules and the Standing Orders. They place obligations upon all of us and they are obligations to which both sides must respond.
Now I am going to say one or two things that may not commend themselves entirely to either side of the House. I shall start with the Ministerial benches. I feel that during the past few months the Leader of the House—and nobody has enjoyed his speeches in the last six years more than I have—has tended to concentrate rather more than he should have done on that aspect of his office which calls upon him to get through the business of the Government and has concentrated too little upon that aspect of his office which places upon him the responsibility of safeguarding the general interest and general freedom of the House. It was a mistake when he suggested to the House —when admittedly he was a little annoyed by the fact that the House had been counted out—that we should, as a kind of punishment, be expected to do two days' work in one. The Government really must not try to wave a big stick over this honourable House.
Now to turn to the Opposition benches. It is incumbent upon us to try to remove the chip from our shoulders. To put down votes of censure on right hon. Members who at times occupy your Chair, Mr. Speaker, who are the friends of most of 549 us in this House and the advisers of all of us, is not conducive to the smooth working of a legislative assembly of this kind. Both sides during the past few months have made mistakes, and I hope that the situation will soon pass which has given rise to errors of judgment of that kind. After all, when most of us respond for the last time to the call of "Who goes home?" history will soon forget our names and what we as individuals have tried to do in this House.
What will last, and will last for a long time, is the impact which we as a body, as a collective personality, have had upon the working of this House, upon its prestige and upon its traditions. I hope that we shall never let it be said that we refused to improve what was good or were ready to close our eyes to what was bad. The business of the Queen has to go through. Nobody questions that, but it must go through accompanied by the fullest opportunity for her subjects, represented by us their Members of Parliament, to discuss and to decide upon the great problems of their time.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I have listened with care and interest to the speeches that have been made. Both speakers advocated a time limit, but the first took 35 minutes and the second 23 minutes, so they have not set a good example. The second speech was much better than the first. The proposer took 20 minutes before he reached his subject. He used old clichés, such as that we cannot use the methods of 1066 to warm Westminster Hall in 1953. All that was a waste of time. What we wanted to know was what was the disease and what was the proposed remedy.
We have had some late sittings recently, but the authors of those late sittings are all missing from the debate today.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
Surely the hon. Gentleman was himself the author of some of the late sittings.
§ Sir H. Williams
I was referring to the immediate ones. If the hon. Member wants to refer to the one late sitting with which I was concerned on 8th March, 1951, let us have the details. [An HON. MEMBER: "An organised campaign."] I remember it well. We put down six Prayers all relevant to the 550 cost of living in the hope that there could be one debate. The then Speaker ruled that all had to be taken separately. Since then the practice of the Chair has altered, because the last time we had a debate on the cost of living which originated from the opposite side of the House, they were taken as one debate. Hon. Members have only to read HANSARD of 8th March, 1951. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) opened the debate. He was barracked throughout his speech. I was to speak for 10 minutes. It took me an hour to conclude my speech because of ceaseless obstruction. So it is no use referring to that incident, because the long delay then was entirely due to hon. Members opposite.
Now we come to the recent debates on the Public Works Loan Bill and the Army Annual Bill. Those prolonged debates were pure obstruction—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—and the hon. Members responsible are all missing this morning.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
I took a considerable part in the debate on the Army Annual Bill and am now listening to the hon. Member, though not with much advantage.
§ Sir H. Williams
I apologise. Sodom and Gomorrah are saved by one man. Let us study some of the proposals. The first major proposal is that it is undesirable for Members of Parliament to have an outside occupation. That we must challenge. If this House became inhabited solely by what I call full-time professional politicians, it would be a very inferior institution. The outstanding characteristic of this House, which I have been in and out of since 1924, is that there is no occupation with which someone here is not fairly familiar, there is no part of the world which someone here has not visited, there is hardly a language which someone here does not speak. To make this into a place of purely professional politicians would bring us into contempt with the public. They would say we knew nothing about it and had no effective contact with the world outside.
The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) said that we ought to visit factories. On Monday I was in a factory at South Wales of which I am a director, 551 refreshing my mind. [Laughter.] I do not know why that should excite laughter. It is a good idea to observe the operations in a factory for which one has some responsibility. On the previous Thursday I was at another factory concerned with an entirely different industry. The Thursday before I was at two factories at Stoke-on-Trent. Why was I at those factories? Because I have some connection with the three businesses concerned. It is a great advantage to have some knowledge of the way business is carried on.
Of course it may not be quite so good that so far as coalmining is concerned we have only retired coalminers here, but I agree that there are difficulties in a man who works in the pit being simultaneously a Member of Parliament. Many of us who are professional persons, who are consultants—I occasionally describe myself as a chartered civil engineer; I know I am chartered, whether I am civil is not quite the same thing—find that it is useful because it gives one some knowledge of the way things affect people. Therefore I reject absolutely the idea that we should be a body of full-time politicians. It would be a major disaster to the conduct of the business of this House.
That being the case, the question of sitting in the morning falls to the ground. We did it during war-time. I was here the whole time, and it was very hard work. We met at 11 o'clock. We had masses of constituency correspondence. It was a great battle to get through it. Yet we only sat three days a week and the sittings were short because we adjourned the House an hour before we thought the siren would sound, for obvious reasons. There was no organised opposition, except the little in which occasionally the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and myself indulged. Rarely were there Divisions except when the late James Maxton, for the purposes of demonstrating how few supporters he had, used to divide the House with three in the Lobby against the rest or, on the occasion when I put down a Prayer, the Government became confused and divided against themselves.
Now let us come to Standing Committees. Were we to abandon the principle, which I regard as sacrosanct, 552 that all Committees should be in proportion to the strength of the parties in the House—much as I should like to see that done in order to give the Government an effective majority of, say, five on Standing Committees—that would be a most dangerous thing. It would lead to a corrupt method of carrying out the business of this House. There has been one minor modification in the rule governing Committees, and that is that if a Member appointed to a Committee is sick, another Member can be appointed in his place. In the old days, the Committee, once set, remained unchanged.
The hon. Member for Accrington suggested that we should postpone certain Divisions until the next day, or take all the Divisions together. I have never heard quite such a stupid proposal. For example, I might move an Amendment to Clause 1 of some Bill which may or may not be accepted, and, having debated it, we get on to the next Amendment, and then, having considered four or five other Amendments, on none of which we vote, we discuss the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." Then later on we have five Divisions.
§ Mr, H. Hynd
Obviously, that could not apply if the House were in Committee, which is what the hon. Member is visualising.
§ Sir H. Williams
But the proposal has been put forward that we should accumulate these Divisions. That would be senseless because if No. 1 were carried, it might well be that No. 2 would cease to make sense and would be wiped out of the way. The idea that we should have a debate on one day with certain people being present, or having the opportunity of being present, and that the next morning before Mr. Speaker said, "The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day," we should have a Division is not, I think, a sensible proposition.
The alternative is to have a mechanical method of voting, but in that case we should have to rebuild this Chamber and make it twice the size. I remember, when we were discussing the rebuilding of this Chamber, the Prime Minister said he thought it absolutely vital that we should not have a Chamber any larger than the old one so that we 553 could preserve the intimacy of debate. Therefore, we have to rule out the mechanical vote.
I think our present system is as quick as anything one can think of, and in any case our constituents want to know how we vote. That imposes restrictions on modifications. I think my constituents are entitled to know how I vote, and I am certain that they will want to know a week today how I voted. It will be the most scrutinised Division list for a long time.
With regard to the imposition of a time limit on speeches, I do not think that is something which ought seriously to be considered. I never speak at great length if I can help it, and I do not think such a rule could be enforced without destroying the value of debate. There may be some matter under discussion on which a certain hon. Member is an outstanding expert. It may be an important issue, and the Member in question may not be a Minister. Therefore, to deprive him of the opportunity to develop the subject would be to the disadvantage of the rest of hon. Members.
What I think is important is that we should all exercise reasonable restraint and not be selfish. I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) is also a member. That Committee suggested that the number of Questions asked on one day by any Member should be cut down to two.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Does the non. Gentleman mean all Questions, or only Questions on nationalisation.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, all Questions. If the hon. Gentleman will read the Report of the Select Committee he will find that it made that recommendation. It would also help a great deal if Ministers would train their civil servants to draft short answers and if there were a class where back benchers could be taught to ask short questions and what is really a point of order. There are people who know what is a point of order but who yet persistently abuse the rule. On the other hand, there are hon. Members who have not the foggiest idea what is a point of order. I think the real remedy is to be found, not in having a Select Committee 554 to go into the matter, but in all of us imposing greater restraint and discipline on ourselves.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I think that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was unnecessarily critical of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) who moved this Motion. If it is irrelevant to say that we have contrived to use modern lighting in an old building such as Westminster Hall, then I should have thought it was equally irrelevant for the hon. Gentleman to apologise for taking an hour in which to make a 10-minute speech.
A good many proposals have been put forward by the mover and seconder of this Motion, but, in my view, I think we have to be careful not to make things too cut and dried in this House. After all, one of the duties of this House is to reflect opinion in the country, and if matters were made too easy it would be very difficult to show those finer shades of opinion or shifts of opinion which it is possible to show within the confines of the present regulations.
I also feel that certain of the difficulties we have experienced in recent months, or even in the past couple of years, are not so much causes of any trouble as symptoms, and that we have probably got to look a little deeper into what we want this House of Commons to do. If I may say so, I think that the two hon. Members opposite who have contrived to get in a word first in the columns of the public Press on this problem have both been somewhat superficial and, indeed, in certain respects, quite misleading and inaccurate when discussing some of the difficulties.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) seemed to suggest in one newspaper article that the main trouble was simply that he could not pair when he wanted to get away, and he stated quite inaccurately that there had been three-line whips each night in two given weeks. That is quite inaccurate.
§ Mr. M. Lindsay
Since the hon. Member has referred to me, I shall be obliged if he will allow me to correct him. What he has just said is not a fact. Actually, there was a three-line whip on either one side of the House or the other on two days, Monday and Thursday, in two consecutive weeks.
§ Mr. Beswick
That is not what the hon. Gentleman said in the article. He said there were three-line whips on both sides, and that it was impossible for Members to pair. Similarly, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) made what I thought were some equally superficial and inaccurate remarks in another article. He thought that part of the trouble was due to hon. Members raising points of order. He also made the most unattractively inaccurate claim that every Opposition Member admitted in private that he was in favour of the Guillotine. That is certainly not true. Anybody who took part in the transport debate would, I think, be against the sort of Guillotine imposed on that Bill.
I support the Motion. I would like to see an inquiry covering a wider field than that covered by the last inquiry to which reference has already been made. I believe that such an inquiry would reveal a double need. It seems that the whole core of this business is that we have to relieve this Chamber and this House of responsibility for detailed criticism of certain administrative functions; we have to give it much greater power and responsibility on the essentials of our national affairs.
On the one hand, I should like to see the House, and especially this Chamber, delegating some of its duties, and, on the other, I should like to see it getting a much firmer grasp of and devoting much more time to what I think are the bigger matters of national policy. For example, I think we ought to do much more in removing from this Chamber the discussions on our publicly-owned industries. Detailed discussions and questions ought to be taken away from this Chamber altogether.
I think that it would be possible to create other agencies through which the citizen-consumer can be protected. My own wish is to have really representative and powerful consumer councils whereby the consumer can obtain the necessary protection and put forward points of view on policy matters. In certain industries, such as gas and electricity, we might bring in the apparatus of local government again. There is certainly a need to spread democratic power much more widely in these matters. Possibly over a whole wide range of food affairs it would be possible to delegate respon- 556 sibilities to committees in a similar fashion.
But even if Parliament feels that it cannot let go of power in these matters altogether, I certainly agree that it should delegate to Standing Committees of its own much of this responsibility and so relieve pressure on the time of this House. If the hon. Member for Devizes was accurate at all when he said there were certain hon. Members who were not playing according to the rule, it may well be that these gentlemen are, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington said, feeling some sense of frustration that they are not able to contribute enough towards the government of the country. A good many of my friends say that it is possible for them to play a much more constructive and useful part in local government than they can here. That is a very dangerous feeling indeed, which on certain occasions may well lower the prestige and certainly the atmosphere of this House.
I think that it would be possible with some system of Standing Committees for more Members to play a more useful part. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) when he says that this Chamber is not a suitable place in which to discuss detailed matters, especially of administrative functional affairs. The time available and the kind of speeches that are encouraged here are not appropriate for the detailed control of executive matters.
In particular, I believe that there are two fields in which Parliament should have a much tighter hold than at present. I refer to the fields of defence and of foreign affairs. Certainly in the former case, and to a great extent in the latter, Parliamentary control is almost farcical. Far too much power is apparently vested in the permanent people, in the Service chiefs and the diplomatic officials. Parliament today votes large sums of money for defence, but hon. Members really know next to nothing about how that money is being spent. Control over defence policy seems to be getting more remote with each year that passes. The system of co-ordinating matters of defence, which has clear and obvious advantages in many respects, nevertheless means a centralisation of power which weakens democratic control. 557 I think that it would be very interesting for a committee of inquiry to establish exactly what is the present relation between permanent chiefs of staff and the Ministerial heads of the respective Service Departments. The position seems to me to have become much more complicated by the international military structure which we are building up. Field Marshal Montgomery, the other week, was emphasising and indeed boasting to a number of us that he had pressed certain policies directly with the Prime Minister. It seems doubtful enough when the chiefs of staff here can go over the heads of the Minister to the Minister of Defence. But if, in addition, the Deputy-Commander in Europe can go over both the Departmental Ministers of State and also the Minister of Defence to the Prime Minister, democratic Parliamentary control is becoming very remote indeed.
In any case, Members of Parliament today are given practically no information as to what is being done in defence matters with the taxpayer's money; and, despite all the protestations of the present Prime Minister when he was in Opposition, very little improvement in this respect has been made since he assumed office. The relevance of all this to me is that I think it would be possible to exercise a closer and more useful control by some system of Standing Committees and at the same time have the double advantage of relieving pressure on the time of this House. I know that a good deal of very useful work is done by the present Select Committee on Estimates, but they have to cover a whole range of Government Departments and it is quite impossible each year for them to do justice to their duties with regard to all Departments.
My proposal, therefore, would be that there should be different Standing Committees specialising on different Departments. I have no doubt that in the course of years Members of particular Committees would gather a great deal of information and experience which would enable them to grill very thoroughly and usefully both Ministers and chief executives of the Departments. I am suggesting Standing Committees responsible for particular Departments with very much the kind of power as have the present Select Committees on Estimates.
My own view, also, is that some control of this kind ought to be exercised in 558 the field of foreign affairs. At the moment it seems to me that foreign affairs are too much the prerogative of too few people, most of whom are not responsible to this House directly at all. Though the House has control of policy, too often the climate in which decisions are taken has been created by representatives in different parts of the world who have prestige, influence and opportunity far in excess of the democratically elected Members of Parliament in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
Would my hon. Friend add to those Committees a committee to deal with colonial affairs?
§ Mr. Beswick
That might very well be the case. I am not suggesting that these Standing Committees should be confined to the two which I have mentioned. I have simply given them as examples where I think we should concentrate more upon obtaining closer control of national affairs in some respects whilst relinquishing control over and responsibility for detail in other matters.
I believe that the majority of people in this House think, and I certainly agree, that greater use should be made of the existing Standing Committees. The Government should not be afraid of sending a Bill upstairs or of the possibility of a defeat in Standing Committee. Although I do not want what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) once described as "a babble of impotent Independents" in this House, at the same time I do not want to see just two big parties each rigidly controlled by party Whips.
There should be many more occasions upon which we could exercise our own independent judgment and consciencies. On detailed matters on Committee stage there should be much more room to vote according to our belief and conscience. If the detail happened to be a very big matter of principle about which the Government felt very strongly, then it should be possible to put the question up again on Report stage and, if necessary, make it a matter of confidence before the whole House.
There is one other matter on which I should like to touch with some diffidence, because it is a delicate matter on which remarks are liable to be misinterpreted. Something has already been 559 said on whether this House should be composed of full-time or part-time Members. Few of us can be quite unperturbed at the way in which one individual Member after another has declared that he cannot afford to remain a Member of this House. It is quite likely that on that account we may lower the quality of Members of this House. It is a danger which we must watch.
There is an argument, as my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington has said, for full-time Members with a full-time salary. There is an argument for part-time Members on a part-time salary, but I can see no argument for a system in which we have full-time Members attempting to make ends meet on a part-time salary. Therefore, I think that this is another matter which might well be considered by a Select Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friends who have moved and seconded this Motion and I hope that the House will accept it.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)
I do not want to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I hope that I shall not fall into the company of those Members in regard to whom the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) asked that you, Sir, should be afflicted with myopia. I think this is a debate in which we want a number of short contributions rather than lengthy ones.
For my part, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) upon the tone in which he introduced this debate. The debate might easily have been rendered sterile if it had been introduced by some foolish and superficial speech, and I feel that its value is largely derived from the tone in which he introduced it. The hon. Member made a number of suggestions with some of which we agree and with some of which we do not agree, but they are all worthy of consideration.
The only strong reservation that I would make about his suggestions is that of treating with any complacency the notion that membership of this House in itself should become a full-time job. If it is becoming a full-time job, that seems to me to be one of the great evils against which we must find methods to guard. It has been the great tradition of this 560 Parliament, as opposed to Parliaments of other countries, that it does not consist exclusively of full-time politicians but that there should always be sitting on the back benches a number of Members who are distinguished in walks of life outside Parliament and who can, therefore, bring independence and judgment into our debates, which would be impossible if Parliament consisted entirely of professional full-time politicians. It would be the greatest loss to this House if it became impossible for such people to enter Parliament. One of the reasons we must give our minds to some method of reform is to see whether we can save this House from becoming merely a House of professional politicians.
The way in which I approach this problem is this. We continually come across people who talk loosely about the folly of Parliament and the waste of time that goes on. In reply to such ill-instructed critics, we make a number of replies. We tell them that Parliament without party organisations would be an impossible place. No Prime Minister could be expected to take the responsibility of governing the country unless he had some assurance that his major Measures would be supported by the House.
We tell them that it is unrealistic to imagine that we can have a free vote on every Amendment in the Committee stage of every Bill, and that Members could not possibly know what each Amendment is about without the guidance of the Whip. We tell them that there are and should be divisions and differences of opinion within political parties, but that it is generally thought better that the divisions should, if possible, be settled privately, and that people who are loyal to their party in general prefer to present an appearance of unity in the Division Lobby and on the Floor of the House, In all those arguments there is truth.
But if they are the whole truth, then it is difficult to see what is the point of having Members of Parliament at all. Of course, there must be discipline in this House, but discipline must be balanced with freedom; otherwise, there is no point in being here. That is the great problem in all walks of life—the problem of balance. Of course, the Government must be carried on but at the same time it must be carried on with such a degree of freedom to Members of this House as 561 will make the existence of the House worth while and will provide that check upon the Government which the whole lesson of history teaches us is necessary to every Government that has ever existed.
That is no new problem. What is new is this. We have now moved into a new era where there is a new type of legislation and, therefore, we have to readjust our machinery to meet this new problem. It is not entirely a matter of Parliamentary procedure. I agree with the hon. Member for Rossendale that this House, like all other societies, can only exist if people are obedient not merely to its rules but to its conventions. That is an important point with which I entirely agree.
I agree also with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that there are all sorts of other reforms, such as the setting up of new bodies to which we might delegate our legislation, which are important to consider. We are not, perhaps, now concerned with considering those other bodies and their constitutional form under this Motion. We are concerned simply with considering, granted we have this House, in what way it is possible to do its business a little more satisfactorily than it is sometimes done. A number of suggestions have been made about which there is a great deal to be said.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) has suggested that we should revise the time-table. Other Members have suggested that we should find some other methods of taking our Divisions. There are obviously arguments for and against those suggestions. All we are asking for at the moment is that there should be an inquiry into the subject so that we can weigh up the balance of the arguments.
We can learn a lot of things from the experience of other countries. Last week, when I was at Strasbourg, I found myself at luncheon sitting next to a Norwegian Member of Parliament, and I discovered that, according to their system, at an election when a Member is elected a substitute is also elected. Thus if the Member has to leave the country on public business, he informs the Speaker and a substitute can then vote for him and speak for him in his absence. I am not certain whether we should accept such a suggestion here, but, at any rate, if we consider 562 the experience of foreign countries we find that there are a large number of things which they do differently from us. We do not want to copy all of them, but there is no harm in considering them and seeing what we can learn.
The most important thing on which we have to make up our minds is this question of what use we can make of the Standing Committee and what use we can make of the Committee of the whole House. I confess that my sympathies are with the hon. Member for Rossendale. I am doubtful how suitable an instrument is a Committee of the whole House for considering details of complicated and controversial Bills. There are perhaps 30 or 40 Members who take part in these debates, and then from time to time when the Division bell rings the remainder of us come in and vote without having listened to the debate.
Reference has been made to the farce of the system of a postponed Division when Members vote the next day, not having listened to the debate. But that is precisely what happens already. The vote takes place and the vast majority of voters have not listened to the debate. Most of us who have served on Standing Committees will agree that the debates in Standing Committees are on an enormously higher level because they take place in an intimate atmosphere and because the Divisions take place among Members who have listened to the debates, which gives reality to them.
I should be inclined to favour sending almost all our legislation, except perhaps the Finance Bill and constitutional Bills, to Standing Committees. There is the problem, it is true, at the moment about the narrow majority. As a general rule, however, now that we have the rule that a substitute can be put in for illness of a Member, even with a narrow majority a Government can carry its way on a Standing Committee. On special occasions when it loses the day on an important matter of moment it can, as has already been said, reverse the vote on the Report stage.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Would the hon. Gentleman agree, from the experience which we shared at Strasbourg, being on the same Standing Committee, that there is something to be said for the system by which, at a plenary session, a rapporteur gives an account of what 563 happened in the Committee and saves a tremendous amount of repetitive speeches?
§ Mr. Hollis
If we were to develop all the possible suggestions, it would take all the morning and afternoon. I hope the hon. Member will be fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye so that he can develop that interesting suggestion. I shall not delay the House with any more suggestions, but will sum up the present situation as I understand it.
As the hon. Member for Accrington was saying, when the Prime Minister answered questions on this topic shortly before the Recess, he said three things. First, he said that he did not think that the Committee would "serve any useful purpose at present." Then he said:I think a debate on this subject might well be useful …and later on:… while such a close balance exists and such bitterly developed party differences rule, it might be very difficult to arrive at any advantageous solution to our present difficulties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 1403–4.]My interpretation of those three remarks is that the Prime Minister admitted that there was a problem which would have to be solved sooner or later, but that he did not think the time to solve it would be reached until certain things came into existence, one of which was that there was a climate of opinion which was prepared to discuss this question on its merits.
If that was one of the conditions, the House should be very grateful to the hon. Member for Accrington for the contribution he has made towards introducing this climate of opinion. Nevertheless, whatever time is chosen it seems inevitable that we shall have to have a review of our procedure before very long. There are, as has been said already two Select Committees in existence. Whatever the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation may advocate in detail, it is quite certain to advocate changes that will inevitably involve an entire procedural re-organisation of our business.
I would ask my right hon. Friend if he can give consideration to a suggestion which seems to me to be the simplest way out of the difficulty. The Select 564 Committee on Delegated Legislation has been set up but, as I understand it, has not yet met. I can quite see the objection to having too many Select Committees at the same time; they might get in each other's way. But why should we have too many going on at the same time? Why could not the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation be so extended that they are given authority to consider the more general problems of procedure? That would help to satisfy everybody. If my right hon. Friend could comment on that point, I should be most grateful.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I intervened a moment ago to ask the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) to develop his point about Standing Committees. Earlier he said that, sharing, as do we all, a great affection and regard for our procedure, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that we might be able to learn something from the experience of other countries. It is true we are the Mother of Parliaments. But we are 700 years old and there is no reason why we should have a "mother fixation."
The hon. Member referred to what happens in many Continental countries. What is the practice there and what is the practice in the United States of America? The practice is that there are Standing Committees of Members to deal not only with legislation—in the way we have Committees dealing with legislation —but also with subjects generally, on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). Even Canada, whose Parliament is very much like ours, seems to be moving towards that system, and fairly recently they have introduced a Committee for External Affairs drawn from the parties in proportion to their strength in the Commons, to which the Minister for External Affairs goes and talks.
Let me illustrate, from my experience of two debates which have taken place in the last few months, the difficulties in discussing technical matters in this Chamber. In July, in a debate on civil aviation, there was discussion on the production difficulties of axial flow and centrifugal flow engines, their design and the logistic implications of their construction. There were not more than six or seven Members in this House who 565 knew anything about axial flow and centrifugal flow engines and the logistic implications of their method of production. One would not expect that there would be.
Again, in an agricultural debate we discussed the technicalities of cattle breeding and the elementary breeding aim of producing male calves which will turn into beef cattle and, from the same parents, female calves which will turn into milk cattle. There are possibly 50 or 60 Members who understand what that is all about. No wonder hon. Members did not think it remarkable when, in this House—just outside the Chamber —one hon. Member asked, "Dual purpose bulls? What on earth is the other purpose?" It is a technical matter which he did not understand.
I intervene to ask that details like this should be discussed in Committees. We have them for legislation, and we reserve our Committee points for these Committees. But neither of these debates which I have mentioned were concerned with legislation. They were in relation to the other and more important half of our work—criticism of the Government and debate generally—and we had to burden the House with our Committee points.
I have mentioned rapporteurs. As hon. Members know most Continental countries and international organisations like the United Nations and the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe have, on each of their Standing Committees, one member who makes a report to the full Assembly when the conclusions of the Committee have been reached. This cuts out at the next stage a vast amount of speeches, with hon. Members talking about safeguards and saying that they did not quite agree with this, or that the line they took was slightly different, because the rapporteur tries to convey to the Assembly—and with practice usually succeeds—not only the general conclusions and the points of disagreement but majority and minority views and the general trend of discussion. But he avoids the technical matters and Committee points in which the average member of the full Assembly cannot be expected to be interested.
The rapporteur from our Civil Aviation Committee would not have talked in detail about the logistic implications of 566 the design and production of different types of jet engines, nor would the rapporteur from the Agricultural Committee have talked unduly about the dual purpose of a bull.
I turn from that to one other point which I am surprised no other hon. Member has mentioned. Any committee which this Motion may set up should consider avoiding what so often happens when a Closure is moved. This applies to any Government Chief Whip. He does not want to move the Closure— let us be frank—if it is going to be refused; so he comes in, the debate being rather heated, goes to the Chair and asks if the Closure is likely to be accepted. Every Member sees that happen. What may be a perfectly legitimate inquiry takes on the air of a conspiracy between the Government and the Chair and, before we know where we are, in a heated debate the annoyance which is felt for the Chief Whip in moving the Closure is transferred to the Chair. We have to devise some method of conducting our affairs which gets over that difficulty.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), mentioned the matter of Questions. We all accept that Questions are a good illustration of something which has been introduced into our proceedings recently in terms of our 700 years history and which we all regard as of the greatest importance, as giving an opportunity to criticise the Government of the day. There is no better way of showing up a Minister than by letting the House see the way in which he deals with Questions from the Despatch Box.
Under our present system, Ministers are not put on their mettle often enough. I feel that a Select Committee should consider such things as this, should consider whether too many Questions are put down for oral answer and whether putting them down in advance and filling up the list squeezes out the more topical Questions. It is now possible to put down three Questions for oral answer many weeks ahead. During those weeks the situation may change and, as a result, the topical Questions fall a long way behind in the list. 567 We might consider not only limiting the number of Questions which an hon. Member can put to one or two a day, but we might also consider a scheme by which, each day, three Ministers take 15 Questions before coming, with No. 46, to the Prime Minister. The Questions put down to these Ministers would be the subject of ballot 24 hours before the day. There would then be 15 Questions to each of these three Ministers. After all, it is not only the information which is given in Questions which is important but the fact that Ministers are put on their mettle so that the House and the country can test them to see whether they know what is going on in their Departments and whether they are good Ministers.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East raised a point which we cannot develop because it is difficult to see how it can be related to the work which such a Select Committee would do, but I certainly agree that something should be done to prevent Ministers—there may have been some in our Government and there are certainly some today—from simply accepting a Departmental draft of an answer and reading it.
As an example, there might be a Question to ask the Minister for Circumlocution how many balls of red tape his Department bought last year and, instead of answering, "120, Sir," he reads, "I assume that the hon. Member refers to the calendar year, not the financial year. In each of the 12 months between 1st January, 1952, and 31st December, 1952, an average of between nine and 11 balls was bought by my Department." Our whole Parliamentary system has survived and flourished because it has been vital and alive. Reading long answers deadens it and does far more harm than a dozen all-night sittings by making it dreary and not sufficiently lively.
An important point which we must settle concerns the whole question of debate. We are not frank enough about the problem. Compared with other assemblies which I have seen and of which other hon. Members have experience, we debate rather than read set speeches, which is a good thing, but our whole method of debate is often unsatisfactory when we cover a wide field and 568 have a long debate, such as in foreign affairs.
Only too often, in spite of a certain amount of planning beforehand, an hon. Member who wishes to speak about the Far East follows someone who has been talking about the European Defence Community. We should study the problem, not only of giving Mr. Speaker a greater degree of selection according to the topics which he feels hon. Members may discuss, but of breaking up the debates into various topics, as far as we can. I think we are too shy of this. How often do we hear an hon. Member, rising to speak, say, "Mr. Speaker, I regret that I cannot follow the hon. Member who has just spoken because I want to deal with the Malayan situation." We all want to hear from him on the Malayan situation, but possibly two hours later.
Much has been said about short and long speeches, and I shall certainly not make a long speech. We have survived many calamities and disasters in this House. An hon. Member referred to the disgraceful behaviour 100 years ago, and I am happy to learn that Mr. Speaker of those days was subsequently sacked. We have survived many disasters, including a cross-eyed Speaker who created great confusion because there were habitually two hon. Members on their feet at the same time, each under the impression that they had caught the Speaker's eye.
But we shall not survive and shall not flourish if we do not at all times remember that we must do what our predecessors have done—change the rule as required and as time passes. We must never fall into the trap of giving excessive worship to what is and what has been.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I venture to intervene in the debate as I have had a certain amount of experience both on the Front Bench and on the back bench, and have looked at the problem both from the point of view of those who are anxious to get the business through and those who are anxious that the business of the day shall not go through.
I say this at the beginning: certain hon. Members have said that the debate is merely to advocate the appointment of a Select Committee and that this is not the place to make concrete suggestions. 569 I demur from that view. This is a Select Committee; we have selected ourselves. This is the moment at which to make concrete proposals. It is very easy to say in the abstract that things should be quickened up or that we should delegate more of our work, but the real point to meet is, how is it to be quickened up and what portion of our work should be delegated?
I am sure that the practical suggestions which have been made in the course of the debate are much more important than the general wish for a more speedy conduct of our affairs. I agree of course with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) that the important thing is to create a climate of opinion in which a reform of our procedure, if necessary, can take place. That is the primary purpose of this debate. The secondary purpose, which is also very important, is that we should have some idea of the sort of suggestions that will be made.
I thought, for instance, that the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) was most interesting in that respect. He made a number of concrete suggestions, among them a suggestion concerning the way in which Questions are set down a long time ahead, which has the effect of stultifying more immediate topics which the House wishes to consider. That is very important. We have seen one important facet of our work suffer a great deal from that—the Motion for the Adjournment. It still remains as a sort of fossilised relic of our procedure that an hon. Member who is dissatisfied with the answer to his Question says, "Mr. Speaker, Sir, I shall take the first opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment."
The only practical effect today is to closure any further discussion on the topic, because the topics set down for discussion on the Adjournment are stereotyped for a considerable time ahead and the opportunity which the Adjournment was meant to give—namely, that a longer discussion on an unsatisfactory answer should take place forthwith or at a very early date—has been completely stultified by the no doubt inevitable practice of setting down subjects for the Adjournment debate a long time ahead.
I think we need a much greater use of the Ballot and a greater use of the 570 random access to publicity and discussion. Too great a regularisation and canalisation and channelling of our debates and discussions is the surest way to kill the vital importance of this assembly.
For that reason, I am very jealous of any projects to take discussion away from the Floor of the House. I am uneasy about sending too much to Select Committees of Members specialising on particular matters, such as foreign affairs or colonial affairs or, for that matter, domestic affairs. I will refer in a moment to the Committee stage of Bills, but I would say that the over-use of the specialised Committee is a great danger.
Let me give a practical example. I think that the institution of the Committee of Imperial Defence was not a good step in the consideration of our public affairs by the Government of this country, for it tended to withdraw the vital consideration of defence from the laymen of the Cabinet as a whole, and it is the laymen outside whose final verdict is the one to which Ministers, both in Cabinet and on the Floor of the House, must always give the last word.
§ Mr. Beswick
Would not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree with the proposal that has been made by others than myself that we should have some form of Select Committee of lay Members to discuss defence matters, sometimes in secret, sometimes not? Would not that give to those lay Members precisely the power for which he asks?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No. That is just what it would not do. A Committee of lay Members rapidly assumes the role of specialists, and to that extent of people with authority; and one does not get the great, healthy, cleansing wind of opinion from outside, which sweeps away the smaller points and concentrates on the points of first importance.
I have had as a Minister to defend positions in Committee, in Committees of the Cabinet and Committees of the whole House and Committees upstairs, and in many varied surroundings. The only thing, I am sure, of which a Minister is frightened is the whole House. That is when a Minister really begins to pay attention to outside opinion, when this place, which has the power, which has the strength, which has the last word, begins to come into play. Then the 571 strongest Minister, bringing forward from his point of view, the most important matter, is bound to pay the very closest attention to it. Believe me, he pays much more attention to a debate where the whole weight of the House of Commons is being focused on him, in the hearing of his colleagues, than he does to any amount of expert opinion in a room upstairs, whence he can come out and say, "Well, the boys were rather fussy, but we have got the Bill."
§ Mr. de Freitas
I thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. I hope he does not think that my suggestion that we should have Committees like this on matters such as civil aviation was made because I feared the House as a whole is not competent to deal with it. It was because in debates like that, on civil aviation, if they are to be real debates, with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) getting up and talking about jets, very soon other hon. Members do not come into the Chamber at all because they are bored stiff, because it is not their subject.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That may be, but I have heard debates both on civil aviation and on military aviation in which the policy of the Government was obviously being moulded by the effect of the pressure from outside. I have seen a Minister fall because his replies on civil aviation were unsatisfactory.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is very difficult to draw that close distinction between a technical and a non-technical point. Even during the war I heard hon. Members go in considerable detail into things like the particular construction of tanks, and, believe me, a case one cannot effectively defend in the presence of a layman is an indefensible case. If it is really a good case, one can explain it in non-technical terms. The argument as between the axial flow and the other types of aero-engines, and on other vital points, will attract the attention of Members of the House of Commons, and they will not go out of the Chamber, but will come into the Chamber when that comes up if they know that here is a subject of 572 first-rate importance being discussed by a man who is technically competent to discuss it. We all come in to listen to that.
What makes us go out of the House is the occasion when some generous distributor of platitudes begins to scatter a handful of his favourite coinage as largesse amongst the benches. We can all do that for ourselves, and we are not interested when other people do it. It is not the sort of occasion when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) speaks on some aspect of aviation, to which he has devoted so much attention, but on some other occasion, when an hon. Member who has not, perhaps, applied himself so successfully to some other subject, speaks, and we can see his name on the annunciator, that we do not trouble to come into the House.
§ Mr. Beswick
I find the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument most interesting, and, if I may say so, persuasive, but would he not agree that, in an era in which public ownership widens, and the number of technical matters with which this House is involved increases, there is not a stronger and stronger case for delegating a certain amount of our work?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Until we get greater convergence of views, I do not think the delegation can fruitfully take place. At the present moment the experiment of the great nationalised industries is really a new one, and the House as a whole finds itself looking for a rather wider and more general review of these matters, rather than accepting the assumption that the whole thing must go on as it is, and could be better examined in close technical detail either by a Select Committee or a special Committee of this House or, as one hon. Member suggested—perhaps, it was the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) —by the greater use of consumer councils outside.
Consider, for instance, the great dispute of which we read in the papers this morning, the difficulties in the coal mines just now. I am not at all sure that we shall not find that eventually coming to the Floor of this House. It will certainly attract the attention of Members of the House, and attract the attention of the 573 Members of this House in a way which will not be satisfied—neither the country nor hon. Members will be satisfied—by a report of some advisory committee, however interesting and important.
Here flows the life-blood of the country. It is here that sovereignty resides. We cannot get away from the responsibilities of sovereignty, and one of the responsibilities of sovereignty is to be prepared to examine small things as well as great. It is not merely in the wide, general questions but in the close application to particular propositions that the use of sovereignty is properly applied.
There was a legend of the East of a king riding out to war, when a poor woman stopped him and asked that her cause should be heard. The king said, "I have no time to consider your petty troubles." The poor woman said, "If you have no time to consider my petty troubles, by what right are you riding out to seize great further fields of rule?" The king was rebuked. He got off his horse, and there and then examined the problem of the poor woman. After all. she had truly said, "This is what your rule is all about."
I have seen Parliament stopped—the whole day's business stopped—for the purpose of considering one particular case. We all remember when Tom Johnston brought up the Savidge case. The whole of our Parliamentary work was stopped—and Parliament was crowded—to consider whether one girl in one instance had been unfairly questioned by the police force of this country or not. That was exactly because of this power we have of concentrating our whole attention on a particular case. It is the strength of Parliament, and, if it is too far withdrawn from Parliament, it will lead to the diminution, not to the improvement, of the power of this House, and of the respect in which it is held by the country.
Now we must, of course, observe the voluntary limitation which we are putting on ourselves as to short speeches today, and I do not wish to speak at length, though I would say this in passing as to speeches. Again, as a Minister, I was not afraid of debates in which 20 hon. Members made a 10-minute speech each. What I as a Minister was afraid of was the well-informed man who got up for half an hour or, if need be, 35 minutes. 574 For the first 10 minutes or so one can be quite happy. In the next 10, the Minister sees his colleagues beginning to eye him, at least with curiosity. In the next 10 minutes or so, the Chief Whip comes and says, "Minister, you must do something about this. It is a powerful case that is being put up." He does not say that when he knows the hon. Gentleman in question will sit down under a voluntary limitation in nine and a half minutes' time.
The well-informed back bencher making a longish, well-informed speech is the way in which well-informed opinion can make itself felt on the Floor of this House. Let Parliament beware of adopting some general limitation by which front benchers speak for three-quarters of an hour and back benchers speak for 10 minutes only. However, I am not at the moment pressing anything upon the attention of the Minister too closely, as I do not wish to make too long a speech.
This is an occasion upon which we are examining a new situation. The situation, that of the close balance of parties, is new in the experience of most of us, although not of all of us. A close balance of parties in Parliament is an old story. As we pass from a narrow balance to a sweeping majority, or from a sweeping majority to a narrow balance, we shall always have a change of approach. That change of approach should, I think, be the subject of a little more experience before we set up a Select Committee to examine it here and now.
There are already two Select Committees examining the problems of the nationalised industries and of delegated legislation, to which reference has already been made. I am not sure that the time has come either to set up a third Select Committee, or to adopt the interesting suggestion of broadening the field of inquiry of the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation to include all the problems of procedure which affect Parliament just now.
The figures of the use of the Closure in Parliament are rather an interesting indication of the heaviness or lightness of pressure on individual Members and on the machinery of the House. Between 1900 and 1913 the Closure was carried, on an average, 42 times a Session. In 575 1909 when, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party will remember, there was a period of very close balance of parties indeed, it was carried 124 times. In the short and close balance of 1929–30 it was carried 96 times. After the sweeping wave of 1931, in the next Session it was carried five times. It may be that we are in for a long period of very close balance. Certainly we are in this Parliament, but I think it is premature for us to review the problem by the very thorough procedure of a Select Committee ad omnia at present. I prefer the Select Committees ad hoc, investigating delegated legislation and the nationalised industries, which are already going on.
The difficulty in which Parliament is always placed is that the purpose of Parliament is controversy. We come here not to agree but to differ. If we all agree, there is no necessity for our being here. This is the place for argument, where differences of opinion are brought out. What we should consider is, not how differences of opinion can most easily be smoothed away, but how they can be brought fruitfully to conflict. People speak of an overlap, but the cutting power of a pair of scissors arises at the point when the top blade and the bottom blade overlap.
It is conflict of opinion that we are sent here to resolve, and Parliament will always insist on examining and resolving differences by means of controversy. Therefore, our problem is not how we can find the speediest methods of agreement, but how we can find the most fruitful conduct of argument. If we approach the problem in that light I think it leads to a different end from some of the proposals advanced during this debate.
I will say only this in conclusion— although I would be perfectly willing to speak for a long time on this subject, because it is one in which I have naturally taken a great deal of interest, and in which as an old hand at the Parliamentary game I still have the greatest interest, because it is by means of our procedure that we secure our results. I think that the climate of opinion is the really important matter.
The limiting of unduly long debate by the Closure, the Guillotine and the 576 various devices we have set up is necessary and advantageous if it is proceeded with in a reasonable spirit. We must be able to shorten debate, and we must have these various devices for bringing debate to a close. But, it must be done in such a way as to bring the maximum amount of thought, conviction and opinion to bear on the particular problem under discussion. If that be the purpose of our investigations, then I am sure our investigations will be useful and fruitful.
The great maxim of Arthur James Balfour was that it is and must be the purpose of us all to see that the machine works. If there is a body of opinion anxious to see that the machine should not work, then that body of opinion will break Parliament, or Parliament must break it. If, however, we desire to make the thing work, then the more argument, debate and controversy, and the wider and sharper the conflict of opinion there can be, the better, more particularly here on the Floor of the House. The purpose of all our work must be to clear away the smaller and less important issues so that the greater issues can have the consideration of the House as a whole. Here is where authority lies, and by that this House will stand or fall.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
A great number of reforms have been suggested for the conduct of business in this House, and I should like to suggest one straight away. I regret that the old rule, that Motions of this kind should be debated upon a Wednesday and not upon a Friday, has been done away with. I regret that this Motion has come on a Friday, when so many Members of the House are now on their way back to their constituencies and to other public appointments.
We are debating today one of the most important questions that could arise in this House, or really in any democratic institution, namely, the working of this House and its position. Democracy the world over is on its trial, and democracy can only work through its institutions. If its institutions become ineffective or inefficient, then democracy itself will fail, and what we are considering is whether this House, as at present constituted and working under its present rules, is as efficient and effective as we would like it to be. 577 To my mind, that is the most important question Members of this House could possibly discuss. We can debate amongst ourselves whether we are in favour of one thing and against another; whether, for example, if I might take the much vexed question of nationalisation, we are in favour of the nationalisation of some industry or against the nationalisation of some industry. Important as those matters are, they shrink into insignificance unless we can debate those questions at all. We can only do that if democracy still has faith in this House, and still regards it as the best method of expressing the opinion of the public as a whole.
One thing which I should like to have heard from Members, and especially from the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), who moved this Motion, was a better definition of the purpose of this House. I was rather alarmed at some of the statements he made. It looked to me as if he were thinking of this House as an executive, and that its sole purpose was to get through the business with the least amount of trouble, and to record its decision straight away —the kind of decisions that should be taken by an executive, showing how efficient it was in coming to a decision, and then seeing that its decision was carried out. That is not the function of this House.
There was a time when we did not have an executive here at all; for awhile we did without. I think that it was a very good thing that we brought the executive back and that they are again here with us. But this House is not an executive. This House is a deliberative, consultative, advisory body—that is its position. Therefore, I cannot possibly understand the hon. Member suggesting, for example, that when there are Divisions Members might leave a card saying, "This is the way I am going to vote and want to vote." Does the hon. Member think that speeches have no effect whatsoever here, or that deliberation is a waste of time? If we carry that to its logical conclusion, we abolish this House altogether. Why bother to have us here; why bother to have speeches, long or short; why bother to cut them down: make up our minds, sign a card and say, "That is what I feel." But that is not this House.
578 Lord Campion, when he was Clerk of this House, and with his vast knowledge of this House, in my recollection said that this House had four functions. I am not quite sure that he did not reduce them to three—but very rightly he put as the first function of this House that it should be the leader of public opinion, the forum for public opinion, where we should debate and discuss and where differences could be expressed publicly, openly, with conviction and with sincerity and, in that way, act as a guide for public opinion.
The second function was that we were the watchdog of the expenditure of public money which the public, who have sent us here, have to provide—the watchdog to see that that money was not being mis-spent by the Executive. The third function was that again we should be the watchdog or the trustee on behalf of the public and the Executive in its administration generally. These two are really so closely interlinked that we can almost regard them as one. The fourth— and the last one—was that we were a legislative assembly. If I may say so, I agree with that great authority.
That is the proper order in which one should regard this House. Therefore, the great question is: Are we today performing these four functions effectively and efficiently? Quite obviously, we are not. That is the reason for this debate. Therefore, what we have to consider is: What is the reason why we are not performing these functions rightly; and whether we have, therefore, anything to suggest by which we can improve the manner in which we tackle our duties?
Why is it that we are not today dealing with these four matters in the way that we feel they should be dealt with? Obviously, this House is overworked. It has so much to do that it cannot possibly legislate effectively, and no amount of change of rules is going to alter that. I hope that there will be published soon a book which I know is under consideration, and for which a great deal of preparation has been made. It is being prepared by one of the greatest authorities on this House that this House has yet known. In mentioning this to me, he pointed out that between 1832 and about the 80's the Irish came to the conclusion that the one and only way 579 in which they could get Home Rule for Ireland was to so misuse the rules of this House that they would stop this House from working effectively. Until that time the functions of the House were such that there were very few rules. I am emphasising that to show that so much depends upon good-will and confidence, and that, however carefully we may frame our rules, men will find ways of misusing them in a way in which it was never expected that they could be so used.
Now we are obviously having so much to do that we cannot deal with any one of these things in the way we should. Take, for example, the first function— the leadership of public opinion, the forum for the expression of the views of the public. Business has to be arranged at least a week ahead, and, unless we can take advantage of a very narrowly-worded rule, anything which is of vital importance to the public cannot be debated in this House until days after it has been debated in the public Press. So really we have given up our function of being a forum of public opinion to the public Press, and, seeing the way in which it is being conducted today, it is nothing like so sound a forum as is this old House. One would have liked to see this House again in a position in which a Member could come down to this House and say, "This is a matter which really concerns the public most at this particular moment." As it is, there is no time to do that.
May I pass to the next question—the watch-dog and the proper use of the public purse. The late Sir Stafford Cripps very rightly said on one occasion, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Members of this House had deserted that right, and that the only person nowadays who tried to keep a check on the expenditure of the public purse was the Chancellor himself. That is a tremendous admission and a tremendous reflection upon us as individual Members of this House.
The third function—administration. What do we get? We are going to have a series of debates on Supply, and that practically gives us, together with Question time, the only opportunities we have of dealing with it. Now I come to the fourth function—legislation. I do not like 580 legislative matters to be taken by Committees upstairs. As a general principle that is wrong. It is wrong for this reason —that every one of us individual Members has an individual responsibility in regard to a particular piece of legislation.
We ought to take part in framing legislation, but if a Bill is sent upstairs to a Committee, participation is limited to a proportion of the Members of this House and others of us cannot take part, except in the short time which is set aside for the Report stage, but that is all. Because of the shortness of time, the House has had to resolve that, unless there is a Motion that the Bill shall be taken on the Floor of the House, ipso facto the Bill goes to a Committee upstairs.
It has been suggested that there should be more Committees. The Leader of the House will remember that he and I sat on the Select Committee in 1945 which went into this very fully. The trouble was that it was impossible, first, to man the Committees and, second, to get the Committees properly advised. We were so advised then by Lord Campion, who was then the Clerk of the House, and we largely followed the advice given us by that great expert.
There we are. The House is overloaded. What can we do about it? It is suggested that we might save a little time even on swearing-in. I hope nobody will take the oath as if it is a mere matter of form. I happen to be a Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and I have always insisted that each member of the jury in whose charge the person is put and upon whose verdict the liberty of the man depends, should take the oath individually.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley
Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the practice of the Ministry of Labour in regard to the call-up could be followed without damaging the oath? Would it not be possible to have a method of times and letters of the alphabet? That would in no way destroy the dignity or the importance of the taking of the oath.
§ Mr. Davies
It would destroy the whole spirit of it, and it is the spirit of it, not the mere form, which matters to me. Everyone should realise the solemnity of the fact that we are now elected by our fellow men as Members of this House. 581 It has been suggested that we might vote mechanically. Those of us who have been perhaps too long Members of this House know the value of the vote when it takes place. How often do we remember tempers seething and scenes in the House, of course over-described next morning by the newspapers. Then at last comes the Division. It takes some time, and then we come back like lambs and all is forgiven and we go about our various ways. Instead of saving time, a mechanical device would waste time.
All these matters are paltry, but there is one thing which would go a long way to save a lot of time in the House. The House should delegate not to Committees of the House but to other bodies work which it has to do itself today. I wonder what the House would be like if in the 80's, after the wonderful report drawn up by Sir Charles Duke, the House had not delegated to the county councils the duty of looking after the counties. If the House had not passed the County Councils Act, 1888, we should have had to be dealing with all those matters today. The same thing applies in regard to the Municipal and Urban District Councils Acts passed between 1888 and 1894. We have had another experience in regard to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I had proposed to allude to the 1888 Act. It contained Section 10 which enabled this House to delegate to county councils matters which would have normally come before the House. That Section was never used and is not now the law of the land because the Local Government Act, 1933, did not re-enact it. I have always thought, contrary to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, that the 1888 Act was one of the great opportunities that this House missed.
§ Mr. Davies
I rather agree, but I was using it in a different way. I am well aware of Section 10 and of the effect of the 1933 Act. The point I was making was that in the 1888 Act we said that there were local administrative matters which really ought to be taken away from the House and put in the hands of a smaller body. The same thing happened with regard to other local authorities. Then came the question of Home Rule for Ireland. That was argued in the main on the question of the right of a nation to govern itself, 582 and one can argue that today with reference to Scotland, Wales and England. But there is another way. We should look at it from the point of view of the conditions in the House and the way in which we are working today. We should look at it from the point of view of ascertaining what can be done to save the House itself and to enable better administration to he undertaken.
The House delegated to Northern Ireland the duty of administering the six Counties of Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Parliament. While the Northern Ireland Parliament deals with the local matters concerning the Six Counties, Members of Parliament come to this House from Northern Ireland and take part with the rest of us in other matters which are far wider in their scope than Northern Ireland. How rarely is a Question asked in this House by an hon. Member from Northern Ireland except upon a very general subject? There is never a Question about a Northern Ireland local matter, for such Questions are asked in Belfast.
But take the case of Scotland. I have known the whole of Question time to be absorbed by Scottish Questions, and, with the best will in the world, I honestly cannot take the close interest in whether injustice is being done to a Scotsman in Inverness that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) can.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgotten that Scottish hon. Members have to concentrate Questions upon a variety of interests on one Minister? We have no Minister for Education, for example. We have to concentrate very much into the one day.
§ Mr. Davies
I am emphasising that. Time is taken in this House in dealing with Questions which, following the example of Northern Ireland, could be dealt with as well, if not better, in Edinburgh.
§ Mr. Davies
I thought the hon. Gentleman would agree. The same would apply with regard to Wales. Yesterday we had our debate on Wales. There are 37 Welsh Members of Parliament. We are allowed one day for that debate, and 583 one day only, and it came out of Parliamentary time. The debate lasted about six hours. The Home Secretary, very rightly, took a whole hour in his review of the situation and another 35 minutes to wind up, leaving the rest of the time to be divided among 37 constituencies. Was that fair to Wales? Was that proper administration? Was that the way to ascertain what the problems of Wales are and what are the answers to them?
What is more, the questions that were raised could not possibly have interested other Members of the House. We alone knew their implications and what was happening. Take, for example, a road from one part of Wales to another. Of what interest was that to anybody else except ourselves? Such questions could have been much better debated had it taken place—I will not name the place— in Wales rather than here, and so save the time of this House.
I am not putting it on national grounds. I could so put it, but I am not because there is one part of this country which presents far greater problems than Scotland or Wales. I am referring to the position of the 11 million people who are within 30 miles of the Floor of this House—the tremendous problem of Greater London. In Scotland there are under 5 million people, in Wales 2½ million. Welsh and Scottish Members are up and doing on behalf of their people. Who is concerned about the welfare and position of the 11 million people who are living within a radius of 30 miles of this place? They have far and away much greater problems of transport, feeding, health matters and education than either Wales or Scotland.
The Select Committee considering this question came to the conclusion that they ought to be under one administration. Nothing has been done about it. The area is now being administered not by a Minister at all, but by nine civil servants in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, under the chairmanship of one civil servant. They meet together and they decide the fate of the 11 million people. I am sure they do it as best they can for they are all able and I am not criticising that. But how can this House enter into all those questions?
584 If we are discussing the effectiveness and efficiency of this House, let us see in what way we can relieve this House of a great number of questions which can be so much better handed over to some other body that will know all the facts, and so allow this House to deal with major questions concerning the welfare of the country as a whole and through that the welfare of the world. That to my mind is the question to which we should address ourselves in order to consider how we can make this House effective and efficient.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I am sure all of us on whatever side we sit are grateful to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) for making such profitable use of his good fortune in the Ballot. I certainly listened with great interest to his speech and also to that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) who seconded the Motion. We all appreciated the good tempered and uncontroversial way in which they put their points.
We have just listened to an extremely interesting speech from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I am not too happy about this idea of large scale delegation of business to Wales and Scotland. My reason is that the economic programme for the whole of the United Kingdom is so very much bound up. There are so many questions affecting Wales and Scotland on which English Members have a right to be heard. I remember listening to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) when he spoke at length on the hydro-electric scheme for Scotland. Whether one agreed with him or not, he as an English Member was perfectly entitled to speak about it, and that is why I am not happy about this suggestion of delegating large parts of our work to other bodies in Wales and Scotland.
The hon. Member for Accrington raised the question of whether or not membership of this House should be regarded as a full-time job. There are overwhelming reasons why it should not be so regarded, and the first is that there 585 is no question but that the electorate of this country mistrusts the idea of professional politicians. They do not want to think of us as full-time professionals at Westminster.
The second reason against this suggestion is that if this House becomes more professionalised in membership, it is going to suffer in the quality of its members. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) was perfectly right when he said in a debate shortly before we broke up for Christmas that already one came across a number of people of varying political opinions who would make admirable Members of this House, but who nonetheless did not want to become Members because they could not spare the necessary time. That is another reason why membership of this House should not come to be regarded as a full-time job.
There is one argument to which I should like to draw the House's attention which militates strongly against the idea that we should meet at a time when we might otherwise do work outside. That would discriminate very unfairly in favour of the Members of whom I am one, who find it easy to earn their living while actually remaining physically in this House. If one happens to be a journalist, that type of work can be perfectly easily done inside this House, whereas, of course, it is the barristers, who in the past have supplied a very large part of the distinguished membership of this House, who are handicapped by the Parliamentary conditions of the present day.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Is not rather the case that the barristers are the people who benefit by the present arrangement? They are able to do their court work in the morning and come here in the afternoon. Is not the discrimination under the present arrangement against people whose normal occupations are such that they cannot follow them and be Members of the House?
§ Sir E. Boyle
I quite agree, but barristers would come off the worst if we met in the mornings, and even at the present time, what with narrow majorities and difficulties over pairing, a good many barristers do not want to become Members of this House.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
The hon. Member has made a point which he said is widely approved, that full-time professional politicians are not desirable, but the argument which he has recently advanced would suggest that in that event the only people who could afford to be Members of Parliament would be journalists and barristers, and I think the general public would prefer to have professional politicians than to have a House consisting of journalists and barristers.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I think it is fair to say that in the past a large number of barristers and members of the legal profession have been extremely distinguished Members of this House, and it would be a great pity if they were not able to be Members in the future.
A further point put by the hon. Member for Accrington on which I should like to dwell for a moment is the question of whether there should be an absolute deadline to Parliamentary sittings. Some of us are inclined to be a shade unreasonable about all-night sittings. It is not wrong that once in a while the Government should ask us to sit all night. The custom has grown in recent years on the Finance Bill of either sitting till 11.30 or else sitting right through the night. I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was the Minister who introduced that custom, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer followed it in the last Finance Bill.
It seems to me to be hardly fair to say that we should never on any occasion have an all-night sitting. When on the Finance Bill we are discussing a complicated matter like Purchase Tax, it is reasonable for the Chancellor, once in a while, to say that we must get to the end of our debates on Purchase Tax before we go to bed on a particular day. Otherwise we should have sitting after sitting on some such complicated subject During the last Finance Bill I remember going to sleep outside the Chamber when we started to discuss leather goods, and I only finally woke up when we got on to household furnishings about 5 o'clock in the morning.
To me it does not seem unreasonable for the Government to ask us to sit up until say, the whole of the Purchase Tax 587 discussions have been finally completed, and I do not think we can expect any Government to agree to a system whereby all-night sittings are done away with completely.
I have not been convinced by any argument presented by hon. Members opposite that the appointment of a Select Committee at the present moment would serve a really useful purpose. There are many Members who have strong views on the kind of reform of our procedure which is desirable. Judging from the speeches which we have heard today, I should not care to be the Chairman of any Select Committee on this subject or the hon. Member who is given the duty of trying to prepare a draft Report. It would be extraordinarily difficult to get together a coherent report on the basis of the very varying views which are held on this subject by enthusiasts. I do not believe that this House would be able to agree upon any large-scale reform of our Parliamentary procedure, and of the ways in which we do our business. There has not been one major suggestion today to which a very large number of objections cannot quite reasonably be brought.
On the subject of Standing Committees, there is a good deal to be said for the view that it is better to take the Committee stage of a major Bill upstairs than to spend a large number of days upon the Floor of the House; but there are not any new facts which need to be elicited on this point. We all know the arguments for and against sending Bills upstairs and taking them on the Floor of the House. The only question is what decision should be made. There is no point in having an inquiry into the matter. It is for the Government to make up their minds on the basis of the evidence before them whether they will take the risk of sending a Bill upstairs with a very small majority, or not.
There is a very great deal in what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the importance of more Members being able to take part in discussion of a major Bill, but there is one argument on the other side which I think has not been mentioned today. There is nothing more trying for hon. Members than a running whip persisting over a very large number of days, and there is a very strong temptation for Opposition Whips to maintain a running three-line 588 whip on their side; which then means that some 500 or so hon. Members are in this House for many hours at a stretch, of whom only 100 at the most want to take part in the debate.
One of the reasons why Opposition Whips feel a temptation to put on a running three-line whip on these occasions is that the public outside think it most disastrous if suddenly the Government's majority rises to 50 when it should be only 15 or 20. If we could get the public accustomed to the idea that it does not terribly matter upon the Committee stage of a Bill if the Government get a majority of 15, 20, 30, or 40, that would do something to ease the situation in regard to pairing when a Bill is going through its Committee stage on the Floor of the House.
In his very reasonable and able speech seconding the Motion the hon. Member for Rossendale said, I should have thought very truly, that one of the important things in this House is that we should try to observe the conventions. I want to allude to a few conventions that we have possibly neglected a little during the last year or two. In the first place, speeches are often rendered unnecessarily long by too many interruptions. There is a tendency, when a Member is reasonably courteous in giving way—I think I have never refused to give way in debate—for a number of Members to seek to interrupt him. Of course, there are hon. Members who challenge interruptions by talking as though this House were a rough public meeting—that is a short and certain way of turning it into a rough public meeting—but, in general, hon. Members are a little too prone to seek to interrupt an hon. Member who has shown himself ready to give way.
Secondly, I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) that too many points of order are raised by hon. Members who know perfectly well that they are not points of order. A few hon. Members unquestionably raise a large number of points of order which they know to be fraudulent.
Thirdly, it has sometimes seemed to me that we strain the patience of Mr. Speaker rather far when we are on the Report stage of a Bill, because there is a tendency to behave as though the 589 Report stage were the Committee stage all over again. That is particularly the case when the Bill has a rather small number of Clauses in which there are only one or two main points to discuss, whether on Second Reading, Committee stage or Report stage. I have always understood that the Report stage should be very much more formal than the Committee stage, and that we should not chip in for a moment or two just as we feel inclined, and as we are invited to do when we are in Committee.
I would say a word, finally, on the subject of non-controversial legislation. One reason why the House is overworked is the very large volume of departmental legislation which has to go through during the Session. I know that my right hon. Friend, and I am sure his predecessors, have always done their best to prune the volume of non-controversial legislation to a minimum, but the work of the House is very much affected if a few hon. Members—and I want to be as uncontroversial as I can— use this non-controversial, Departmental legislation as the occasion for making prolonged speeches to hold up the progress of Government business.
Unquestionably that has happened on several occasions during this Parliament. I can give two examples. It certainly happened last year on the Export Credits Guarantees Bill and it happened near the end of the last Session over the Isle of Man Customs Bill. This has one consequence which is very serious. It means that we spend far more Parliamentary time discussing secondary matters than major matters which are really important, and which, as the Leader of the Liberal Party said, it is our chief duty to discuss.
In recent times the House of Commons has come in for rather serious criticism. When we are talking to our constituents we should not overstress the inconveniences of Parliamentary life. Do not let us forget that the Press give the general public a rather one-sided picture of our activities. They report the incidents—the booing, and so on—but they do not always say so much about the more constructive work which some hon. Members are trying to do. One consequence of this debate should be that all of us, when we are talking about Parliament in our constituencies, should give as fair a picture as we can of Parlia- 590 mentary life, as we who take part in it have come to know it.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I should like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) for bringing forward this matter for discussion. While I do not agree with all that he has said, on the other hand I think it is as well that from time to time we should have, in the almost gentle atmosphere which we have had today, a discussion on the way in which we have to live together—that is what this Motion means—and the way in which we can achieve the purposes for which our constituents send us here.
First of all, we have to face the fact that Parliament is a living and constantly growing institution. I hoped, when I became responsible for buying my own clothes, that I should not be faced with the problems with which my parents had to deal in providing for a growing child. I regret to say that in recent years I have found that I have been growing in a direction which my parents never had to contemplate and that I have needed adjustments to garments that I had hoped would serve me for a very long time.
Parliament also is continually growing, sometimes in the most unexpected directions, in the responsibilities which it has to shoulder. It is quite useless for us today, facing the problems of delegated legislation and nationalised industries, to think that the procedure which suited the oligarchies before the great Reform Act will enable us to discharge our functions at all satisfactorily in these days. Therefore, it is as well that from time to time we should have discussions, and if necessary detailed discussions, with regard to the situation that concerns us at the time.
There is another thing we have to face in these days. We are definitely committed now on both sides of the House, and by all parties that aspire to representation in this House, to the doctrine of attempting to make democracy work. I do not know how many hon. Members read every day in "The Times" the little extract referring to "The Times" of 100 years ago. A few days ago we were celebrating the centenary of the advent of Lord Aberdeen to the Premiership. In another place he was attacked by his predecessor in office for what he proposed 591 to do. He had a majority in the House of Commons even smaller than the one under which we suffered a year ago. He said that if Liberal measures were good, there would be Liberal legislation; if Conservative measures were good, they would have Conservative legislation; but he deplored hearing the noble Lord refer to the possibility of democracy, for he saw no sign of it and he could assure the noble Lord that any effort to obtain it would be fiercely resisted. Just as Sir William Harcourt said that we are all Socialists now, I take it there is no one in this House who would think I was saying anything controversial if I said we are all democrats now, though some of us have a queer way of showing it.
I do not share the pessimism of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) about this House, its present capacity for dealing with matters and the way in which it still discharges the four subjects which he quoted from Lord Campion as being our real concern. This House is like "Punch," it is like cricket, it is like everything worth while in English life—we never think it is as good as it was yesterday. Yet it is astonishing how in all those subjects somehow or other we only value the things that our fathers thought were not as good as what went on in their boyhood. I am not one of those who believe that humanity has been getting progressively worse, particularly in this country, through the ages and especially during the last 100 years.
I was hoping to be able to quote— and it might have been accepted by the House as an example of erudition—from what Lord George Bentinck said about all-night sittings in that book compiled by Commander Stephen King-Hall. Indeed, I rather suspected the right hon. Gentleman quoted from it the other day what Mr. Gladstone said—that the answer is in the negative. I spotted that one last night and I went out for a few minutes to try to get the book but found that someone else had forestalled me.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
I have the book here. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to read it?
§ Mr. Ede
It is extract 164 or 146. The The reference is to all-night sittings and to the gentleman who had dined out and turned up at 10.30 the next day. It was a proof that the ills from which we suffer are not our own invention but result from problems that are pretty well permanent. So I hope the House will not be too pessimistic—
§ Mr. C. Davies
I was pointing out that the House today is over-worked and cannot deal with these matters. It is not a question of pessimism but of letting up on certain work so that the House can do so much better what it has to do.
§ Mr. Ede
At the moment I was not dealing with the right hon. and learned Gentleman individually but with the House as a whole because, on occasions, one does hear groans in the Tea Room and Smoking Room and elsewhere which justify the comment I was making.
Let us face up to this. We are the greatest deliberative assembly in the world because of the way in which we have insisted that the House as a whole is the body that has to be respected. I can think of no greater tribute to the power we possess than that once or twice a week the Foreign Secretary appears at the Box and answers Questions put to him by hon. Members of the House. He has to face not only the Question, the answer to which can be drafted in the office, but the supplementary question which may be thrust at him quite unexpectedly by some hon. Member who, with no one suspecting it before, has considerable detailed knowledge of the phase of affairs under discussion.
I take it that nearly all of us here recollect an afternoon when there was a discussion on Tibet, a remote part of the world—
§ Mr. Ede
Well, I shall not weary the House with it. I gave a paraphrase and that is sufficient. I am sure hon. Members will recollect that on the occasion I have mentioned a quite new Member of the House, who had been returned at a by-election in this Parliament, rose in his place. He had been in Tibet and showed us that he had not merely a general knowledge of that country but a detailed knowledge of the actual 593 subject under discussion unexpectedly at that moment.
This reinforces what was said by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut-Colonel Elliot) as to the tremendous resources of knowledge and capacity which this House has at its disposal and which well up on the appropriate occasion, so that the hour always seems to find the man. What an advantage it might be to us if Mr. Vyshinsky had once or twice a week to be subjected to the same process. It might even also be an advantage if the Secretary of State in the United States had to undergo a similar process.
That leads me to say this: we enjoy this great power because of the flexibility of our rules and the flexible way in which we can meet situations as they arise. The United States of America, thinking that they had been driven into rebellion by the placemen who supported the Government in the House of Commons, established a convention that no member of the Executive should sit in their respective assemblies. The result is that whereas we with a flexible Constitution and an ability to change our rules have been able to get rid of the evils of the 18th century, they are bound by convention to a system which I think works out—and I know a great many American politicians agree with me—far worse than ours has worked out over the centuries.
I want it to be understood that in this matter I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington said, that this is a private Members' day. In the next sentence he began to quote me as an authority. I do not speak today on behalf of the party, because, quite clearly, the party has not discussed this matter. Even if it had. I do not think this is the kind of subject on which party decisions can be binding on individual Members of Parliament.
We are here as a House engaged in the discharge of the four functions mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. We have to face the fact that the great enemy of all Governments is time. I do not care what Government it is in these days, its problem is to get into a Parliamentary Session what it thinks ought to be done. It is only because the Government controls our time that it is able to contemplate 594 governing at all. It expands the time at its disposal by suspending the 10 o'clock rule, as it now is.
I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington that if he set a dead-line—I do not care what time it is—Members would always be faced with the fact that the House can on any given day suspend any of its Standing Orders, and the dead-line would then become a very live one. And, of course, the Government, while supported by a majority of this House, can contract the time of the Opposition either by the Closure or the Guillotine.
I do not intend to say anything controversial on that subject at the moment, but I recollect that in the 1929–31 Parliament when the Labour minority Government were in office we lost a Division to suspend on a Monday the 11 o'clock rule, as it was in those days, because the Celtic fringes had not arrived in full force.
My hon. Friend spoke about the game of beating the Government on a Division. That game, played in accordance with the English spirit, is no small part of the pleasure of being a Member of this House. For instance, we lost on the Cheese Order, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite was counted out on the Steel Bill. It only makes the proceedings rather livelier. There is some resentment at the time, but we live and learn by our experiences. I would add that we never tried to move the suspension of the 11 o'clock rule on a Monday after that.
That is a problem that faces minority Governments, and also, to some extent, Governments with a small majority. Therefore, the House as a whole, both Members of the Opposition and Members supporting the Government, are entitled to expect that the Government of the day will recognise within reasonable limits the extent to which they are circumscribed by the existing Parliamentary situation.
I am bound to say that in some respects the present Government have not yet realised the full extent of the circumscription within which they legislate. They are trying to carry through a system that neither Peel, Disraeli nor Salisbury attempted, although they in their time had a far greater majority than that enjoyed by the party opposite. The present Government are trying to carry 595 through a counter-revolution, a thing never previously attempted in the Parliamentary history of this country.
Sir Robert Peel accepted the Reform Act of 1832 in the Tamworth Manifesto. Disraeli went even better. He stole the Whigs' clothes while they were bathing, and instead of carrying on a counter-revolution, pushed the revolution already taking place a bit faster. Salisbury, succeeding the late Liberal Government from 1880 to 1885, made no attempt to reverse the legislation that they had carried through. The present Government have attempted to do this by keeping on the Floor of the House two big Measures which can only satisfactorily be discussed upstairs.
I am quite certain it was a mistake to attempt to get the Transport Bill through under a Guillotine on the Floor of the House. The debate that followed could not be described as a debate at all, and I think the Government will have to think again. I rejoice in the fact that they have agreed to see what a voluntary arrangement on the Steel Bill will achieve, because, although I disagreed with nearly everything said by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). I did agree with his last reference about self-discipline.
A House that possesses such tremendous powers as this House possesses, and which ought to possess such great powers, can only exist with credit to itself and advantage to those it seeks to serve if its individual Members are prepared to exercise that self-discipline. I share the view expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove, and I speak only for myself. I think that the two Select Committees now sitting are dealing with important details of our work, and the answers they give, if they are accepted by the House, will very shortly determine the conditions of work over the years that lie immediately ahead.
Therefore, I would prefer that a Select Committee to deal with this subject should not be appointed until such time as we have received and considered the two reports that we must now await. I certainly could not accept the view—I speak now as a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation—that the terms of reference of that Committee should be expanded to cover the 596 whole general issue. I am quite certain that would be disastrous to all concerned.
I am not very greatly concerned about complaints of misbehaviour. The Plimsoll line is a standing advertisement of what can on occasion be achieved by misbehaviour. The Army Annual Act that we shall consider this year as a result of the sitting of the Select Committee will be a standing memorial to the alleged misbehaviour of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and his Friends. On occasion there are things which even in this House can only be put right by people courageous enough to defy conventions. It needs very great justification, but, on occasion, the justification is forthcoming.
I recollect Colonel Spender-Clay saying on one occasion when he moved the reelection of Mr. Speaker FitzRoy that the qualifications for the Speaker were twofold. He had to know the rules of procedure and he had to protect the conventions of the House, and his greatest difficulty occurred when so often the conventions of the House were in direct contradiction of some of the Standing Orders.
This is a live institution. It has preserved its place in the respect of the world and the respect of right-thinking people in our own community because it has always been just greater than the conventions. The conventions have been designed to ensure that this institution shall never be cramped but always helped by the Standing Orders which it passes. I hope that on this occasion, after the discussion which we have had, it may be felt that when we have two Select Committees sitting it will be unwise to add a third at this moment.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
Perhaps it would be convenient if I said a few words now, because this is such a fascinating debate that as many hon. Members as possible will want to take part in it. I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said, though I do not think that when he ended he was quite as uncontroversial as he had said he was going to be, because he talked of us on this side of the House as counter-revolutionaries. We really are not that sort of thing. We do not even look like it. What we are doing by our 597 major legislation in this Session is trying to improve by modification what we found when we came into power.
This really has been a most interesting discussion, and a great number of suggestions have been put forward. When the debate is over, I undertake to go through everything that has been said once more and to consider whether possibly some of the suggestions, if they were agreed upon by everybody, could not be applied in one way or another. I do not commit myself, but I will certainly not put "Finis" at the end of this debate and not think of the matter again.
I have been a Member of this House for a long time now, and it so happens that I have been concerned with these matters. I was a Member of the last Committee on procedure set up by the late Government. Curiously enough, I gave evidence before the Select Committee of 1930 on the attitude of the Private Member and naturally I have followed these matters ever since. The question today is whether we should have another Select Committee or not now. I should like to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said, namely, that as we as a House have already set up two Select Committees to consider certain important aspects of procedure, it really would be wiser to wait and see what they tell us before we embark on another and a wider investigation.
I know that the suggestion was made— and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields does not want it accepted—that, as it has not started taking evidence, the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation should have their terms of reference changed and become a major Committee over the whole field. That ignores the history of this affair. We who were deputed by the House in 1945 to investigate all these matters came to the conclusion that there should be set up a special Select Committee to deal with delegated legislation, because we saw even then that that would be one of the big problems of the coming years. That was a unanimous recommendation. We did not feel that, although we were dealing with the whole field, we could also deal with that problem.
598 I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields regrets, and I very much regret, that his Government did not find it possible to set up a Committee three or four years ago, in spite of the pressure of business. But having at last set up a Committee, I think that now it would be very unwise to change again and ask for a bigger Committee to go back to the 1945 position. I am speaking not as a Member of the Government. The Government have nothing more to do with this affair than have the official Opposition. This is a House of Commons matter. If I may, I should like to give such advice as I might think myself entitled to give, if for no other reason than as an older Member. My advice is that I do not think that the Prime Minister was wrong when he replied that it would be premature to have such a Committee as is now suggested at the moment.
I am quite sure that the cleavage is not between young and old Members, either young or old in age or in experience or in both senses. It would be very foolish to resent suggestions of change because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields said, this is a living entity and part of human nature. Nevertheless, some of our troubles are constant. Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, leading the Opposition, gave evidence before the 1930 Committee on the vexed question of late sittings, and he said that he did not think anything that could be done could obviate that problem. In the same way as it was pointed out by him then that human nature is constant—that is one of the factors which we have to bear in mind now with regard to Parliamentary procedure.
The 1945–46 Select Committee came to the general conclusion that there was nothing very much wrong with our present procedure and they rejected Lord Campion's great scheme of reform, though they went into it most carefully The suggestions made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) that we should set up special Committees to overlook Departments and so on were very interesting, but I think that that argument was well demolished by my right hon. and 599 gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove. If we are going to talk in terms of a change of that kind, that is far more than making alterations in procedure. That is a revolutionary change in the way of handling the House. One would want to have a great deal of thought before coming to any such solution, which up to now I do not think has had anything but very spasmodic support.
It may be that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields says, as majorities are large or small one aspect of the problem is emphasised rather than another, but that is dangerous. Here I take words, not from Lord George Bentinck, which I could not find, but from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), whom also I cannot find today. Only last December the right hon. Gentleman said in a debate on a censure Motion:It is very dangerous to attribute to Parliament what are really the shortcomings of parties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1877.]We could think of that now in the context of this debate. It is rather interesting, because hon. Members, and most of them learned gentlemen, who have taken such a tremendous part in all these questions of procedure and points of order—even the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—have not spoken in this debate. Indeed, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has not been seen in the debate. It has been left to hon. Members who perhaps have suffered from some of the machinations of those hon. Gentlemen to take part in this debate.
It is not only the rules and Standing Orders which affect our lives. It is the conventions, and the business of the House is not the only part of our national affairs where that is true. I hope I am not saying anything wrong—I am merely taking it from the newspapers—but whenever there is trouble on the railways we are reminded that if everybody worked to rule practically nothing at all would move. Fortunately they do not all work to rule. They adopt broad conventions, and no doubt from time to time there have been and there will be disputes about that.
If we all worked according to rule, nothing would be accomplished. Every 600 word of every line of every Clause would be debated, and Parliamentary business would come to an end. But then we surely ought, on the other hand, to assume that what we are sent here for, except for the odd revolution which turns up from time to time, is to make Parliament work and not to disrupt it. If people want to disrupt Parliament, they take other measures. They do not send a lot of Members here as a result of the suffrages of their supporters in order that they should disrupt and abolish the whole place. At least, we have not reached that stage yet.
On the assumption that we are not here to wreck it, it is right to do our best to make it work according to the conventions and the rules which exist to assist us. This House does not work unless there is a general spirit of give and take—not only in front of the Speaker's Chair but also behind it. That does not altogether depend on any particular side of the House. There has to be the give and the take both ways, and some of the difficulties, troubles and inconveniences that the House has recently been put to may have been through an inadequate appreciation of that fact.
Perhaps I should comment on two or three of the specific points which have been made and which are on rather larger issues—first, the suggestion which is inherent that we ought to change our times of sitting, and that sitting in the morning would help. That has been raised today. It is always in the background of the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) dealt with that point. It comes back again to the question whether Members of Parliament ought to be considered as full-time or not. I think that certainly the weight of opinion expressed today has been against that.
It must not be forgotten that Ministers have great administrative duties to perform and that the analogy of what took place on three days a week in war-time does not hold water in peace-time from that point of view. It must be remembered that the Standing Committees sit in the morning. The more pressure that is put, as it is today, to send more work to Standing Committees, the more difficult it becomes to envisage the House sitting as well. Some of the speeches today have given the impression that 601 nothing is sent to Standing Committees at all. But even last Session 12 Bills went upstairs. We have had to take the urgent Bills like the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill on the Floor of the House. I am not sure that it would be decent to send that Bill upstairs; it has never been done anyway.
But apart from such Bills, the other Bills that we have introduced, such as those dealing with town and country planning, education and white fish, are going to Standing Committees. It is not our intention to fail to use Standing Committees, but as they sit in the mornings we must consider with some care any suggestion that the House should sit much earlier than it does.
As long ago as 1759 there were complaints, and Mr. Speaker Onslow said that the late hour of commencing Parliamentary business had "shamefully grown of late" because it had then got to 2 o'clock. Earlier, at one time the House sat at 8 o'clock in the morning, and it was found that many Members were not there.
§ Mr. Crookshank
All down the years it has got later in the day owing, amongst other reasons, to changed habits and customs of the people. Mr. Speaker Onslow, at that time speaking in an entirely different position from yourself, Mr. Speaker, said:It is not the fault of the King; his hours are early. It is the bad practice of the higher offices, and the Members fall into it, assuiting their late hours of pleasure, exercise, or other private avocations. The modern practice, too, of long adjournments at Christmas and Easter, and the almost constant adjournment over Saturdays, are a great delay of business and of the sessions. This last"—that is to say, the almost constant adjournment over Saturdays—was begun by Sir Robert Walpole for the sake of his hunting, but now everybody is for it.I think that is still the case, as far as I know.
The only other point on which I want to comment—although, of course, I shall study them all—is that relating to lengthy speeches. This question of lengthy speeches is most remarkable. This is always discussed by every Select Com- 602 mittee on Procedure, and none of them has ever found any better answer than to recommend to the good sense of Members how long they should speak.
There is one strange thing; I do not know how to account for it but perhaps we might benefit by the examples of other people. I had the idea of looking to see how many speeches were made on the first two days on which we sat this week —Tuesday and Wednesday—in both Houses over comparable periods of time. I do not say this always happens, but on Tuesday the other place sat for 2 hours and 22 minutes and there were 12 speeches on a subject as controversial as one could wish—retired officers' pensions. I cannot believe that if this House sat for under 2½ hours and debated that subject, we should have had as many as 12 speeches. I doubt whether we should have had six. On the same day over the same period of time, the debate here only contained eight speeches.
On Wednesday the same thing happened again. In the other place there was a debate for 3 hours 13 minutes on two different subjects and there were 14 speeches. In the same period here there were eight speeches. I do not quite know why the other place should manage to get in so many shorter speeches; yet everybody admits that the debates in the other place are of quite as high a class as ours are. Some, of course, put them higher. Anyway, nobody has said that they are much worse. Yet they appear to be much more compressed.
I do not believe that we can make any rules, but if there are possibilities of making experiments by voluntary agreements and so on, let us try them. There is nothing to prevent us doing it, but I do not think any Select Committee would come to any different conclusion in the future than it has done in the past. It really comes back to the question of self-discipline largely, and that was made abundantly clear in the Select Committee on Public Business in 1848. This is what they said:It is not so much on any new rules, especially restrictive rules, that Your Committee would desire to rely for a prompt and efficient despatch of business by the House, but increasing business calls for increasing consideration on the part of Members in the exercise of their individual privileges. Your Committee would desire to rely on the good 603 feeling of the House, on the forbearance of its Members, and on a general acquiescence in the enforcement by the Speaker of the established rule of the House which requires that Members should strictly confine themselves to matters immediately pertinent to the subject of debate.I do not think any modern Select Committee could put those sentiments into better words, and I do not think those sentiments are misapplied today.
We hear and see all sorts of reports of what happens in other Legislatures, but we must remember that we in this House have been instrumental in setting up Legislatures all over the world under the British Crown, and people look to us for guidance as to how they should behave, just as those other Legislatures look to your Rulings, Mr. Speaker, for their rulings on problems which are similar. So that we all have a great responsibility in this matter. But I do not think it would be helped at the moment by setting up another Select Committee.
I am sure that everybody has great hopes that the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation may find the solution to this post-war problem. It was not a pre-war problem. In the two years before the war there were very few Acts under which Prayers and Resolutions came up. They could, but they did not. In 1937 there were only three Prayers and in 1938 only one, and the whole time consumed in each of those Sessions was less than one-and-a-half hours. It is a post-war problem and an urgent one and I think we should be well advised to leave the Committee to do its job. I do not say that after they have finished it may not be necessary to consider wider issues again, but at the moment I do not think it would really be to our general interest.
We are not the only House which sits late. I noticed that this week the Italian Chamber had a very prolonged sitting. They sat for three nights and two days continuously. According to the report in "The Times." when it was over someone asked for a comment from the Italian Prime Minister and he said: "With patience everything ends well." I hope that is also true of this debate and that, having raised such an interesting topic, the mover of the Motion will not pursue the matter further at 4 o'clock.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
Perhaps I may be permitted to say one word about the Amendment which. I understand, it is not proposed to call. It seems to me that the course of the day's debate is in itself a much more eloquent case for the Amendment than any I could have made. I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) on proving the case for the Amendment which I have tabled.
[At end, add "a majority of the members of such committee to be honourable Members who are under forty-five years of age and who have less than ten years' membership of this House."]Having listened with interest and respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, I must say in all sincerity that I am not convinced that an adequate answer has been made to the case stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), particularly if one takes into account the contributions from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). Those four speeches have stated a case for a quite searching and perhaps ruthless examination of existing Parliamentary procedure.
I want to make it clear that like my hon. Friends I recognise that in the evolution of the institution of Parliamentary democracy the British House of Commons has led the world. In much of its methods of procedure there is that which can truly be called the wisdom of the ages. What I find somewhat irritating is that the wisdom of the ages is so often used to defend the follies of the present day. I have not heard an adequate answer to the criticisms made by the mover of this Motion of the obvious anachronistic absurdities which are perpetrated during every Parliamentary Session.
I agree that it is not enough to seize on the more obvious fatuities and make detailed suggestions, but the hon. Member for Accrington was quite right, in principle at any rate, in what he said about all-night sittings and the desirability, occasionally at least, of meeting in the mornings. I believe that he is right in calling for an examination of time-tables 605 and a time limit for speeches, and so on. I believe he is also right in his reference to meaningless Divisions.
I was not impressed by the reply of the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). Every Member knows that when this House constitutes itself a Committee and when sittings run late, hon. Members do not know the subject on which they are voting, let alone the merits of argument of either side, and it is no criticism of hon. Members that that is so. Rather it is a criticism of the procedures of this House. Moreover, it is worth remembering that a man who comes to this House at 30 years of age and survives to the present age of the Prime Minister is likely to spend one whole year of eight-hour days in the Division Lobby, often voting in Divisions which are quite meaningless to him and meaningless to any national affairs of State.
It is because I take that view that I have the temerity to put my Amendment on the Order Paper. It has become clear to me over the past three years that in its procedures this House exercises a compelling and growing fascination on hon. Members, so that with the lapse of time even the revolutionary intransigent falls victim to its captive power, so that the procedural vices of yesterday are transformed into the virtues of today. That being so, I genuinely believe that there is a need for a Select Committee and that that Select Committee should be manned by the younger Members in this House.
That is not to assume that those of us with three, seven or even 10 years' experience in this House can replace or do without the wisdom of older Members; but there is a need to face up to the fundamental point that the tasks now confronting this House are radically different from those in the period when present procedures were shaped. We ought not to be surprised that this problem has arisen in an acute form. We have had the growth of a complex economic system; we have had the growth of the Welfare State and we have had the development of nationalised services and industries, and it would be surprising if the Parliament that was shaped in the days gone by were able immediately to respond to the new challenge.
It is possible to argue that the problem arises in an acute form only because the 606 House, during this Parliament and the last, has been evenly divided. There is some truth in that argument. Indeed, it may well be that the overwhelming majorities which existed between 1931 and 1950 masked this problem for nearly 20 years. If hon. Members will study the business of this House over the past three years I think they will agree with me that no one, in any assessment of priorities, could possibly say that the man-hours spent on particular subjects had any relation whatever to the importance of real problems confronting Britain and the world. We have seen this House transformed into a semi-permanent Committee. During these debates the number of hon. Members taking part has usually been rather smaller than the number of hon. Members who take part in Committees upstairs.
For my part, I believe that a solution of this problem requires the approach made by the hon. Member for Devizes and some others. We must recognise that the House itself cannot hope to act as a semi-permanent Committee to deal with Bills and with problems thrown up by delegated legislation and problems thrown up by nationalised industries. It must be prepared to overhaul its Committee system. I believe that, while they have done and are doing useful work, the existing Standing Committees are not the answer to the problem. There must be a much greater functional distribution of duties between hon. Members. I see no escape from the establishment of Standing Committees attached to the respective Departments of State.
Obviously, the composition, powers and responsibilities of such a Committee would require careful study, and I do not pretend to have the final answers to the problems raised by the proposal. But it seems to me that such Committees should be responsible for a detailed examination of all Orders issued by the Department to which they are attached and, in addition, should be responsible for the Committee stage of Bills promoted by that Department. In the case of major Bills, it might be thought wise to add other members to the Standing Departmental Committee.
At this point, I would say that the first time I discussed this problem, back in the middle thirties, was with a pioneer of the Labour movement, who spent 30 years in the House and who for a time 607 was a Cabinet Minister. I refer to the late Fred Jowett who, in Blatchford's "Clarion" 50 years ago, raised the kind of problems which have been in the foreground of today's debate. Whatever weaknesses may be found in the schemes which Jowett propounded, we shall find that there is no answer to the problem of effective Parliamentary Government in the Welfare State unless there is a functional distribution of duties among hon. Members. That is a great tribute to Jowett's foresight.
It is all very well for the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove to talk about the sovereignty of the full House, but surely the present position is simply that unless the full House is prepared to allow a great deal of business to go through on the nod, there is congestion of business and all-night sittings, tempers are frayed and Parliament does not exercise its sovereignty because it does not do its job effectively.
As I listened to the two right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Front Bench, I began to wonder whether they were talking about the same Parliament as that of which I have been a Member for the last three years. We hear a lot about the conventions of the House. I am not sure whether the convention of the House is that the Queen's Business must be carried through or whether it is that the Opposition's job is to oppose, obstruct and destroy the Government's time-table by stealing days from the Government. Frankly, over the past three years I have seen much more evidence that the latter convention operates than that the former operates. I put it to the House that it is inevitable that that should be so in any Parliament which is more or less evenly divided. Once you get great controversial Bills with a maximum of party feeling behind them, then inevitably these situations develop.
It seems to me that, unless we are prepared not only to deal with the more obvious absurdities but also to have a thorough probe of the fundamentals of our procedure and to establish Departmental Committees, there will never be an adequate answer to the problems of Parliamentary democracy in Britain at a time when the Welfare State is being created, when great industries and services are being nationalised and when democracy is being extended into more 608 and more departments of our public and social life.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I hope I shall take advantage of the advice which has been so frequently and wisely offered by many hon. Members on all sides of the House in today's discussion —to keep our speeches short; but I want to make one or two observations about some of the points which have arisen.
First, may I reply to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), whose speech and method of approach we all appreciated, on the question of whether or not membership of the House should be a whole-time occupation. Although I do not expect all hon. Members to agree with me, I hold very strongly to the view that it would be highly undesirable if all hon. Members were to spend their entire time exclusively within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster without any other stake or any other interest in the country outside.
That would be highly undesirable. It would be quite contrary to the best traditions of Parliament and to the best interests in regard to the general quality of Parliamentary debate if membership of the House of Commons became a purely professional occupation. I believe it to be essential that a considerable proportion of Members of Parliament should be able, in their own business outside the House, to feel the effect on their own private or professional affairs of the collective legislation which has been passed by Parliament.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
But has the hon. Gentleman contemplated what would be the position if all hon. Members had other occupations? Does he not agree that if that were the case, the procedure would not work?
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
Yes, I had contemplated that, but the hon. Member will be the first to recognise that the great strength and quality of the House is that it provides, and I hope always will provide, for a mixed bag in the sense that it provides for a wide variety of Members who can come to represent in the House all sorts and kinds of interests and constituencies. We must not impose any uniformity upon those who seek to stand for election to the House. 609 In passing, may I say a word about the very difficult question of Parliamentary salaries, to which reference has been made. Although I have always held the view that no one should be debarred from membership of this House by lack of financial means, I think we should be moving on to very dangerous ground indeed if the Parliamentary salary were such that it automatically removed any need for any other sources of income. I think that that would be moving on to very dangerous ground indeed.
§ Mr. Nally
I appreciate the clarity with which the hon. Member is making his point. Assuming what he says to be accurate, would he be prepared to support a Motion, if it should be put down—and I should be delighted to do it—whereby it should be an obligation on every Member of Parliament, as a condition of his Parliamentary candidature, that his Income Tax returns should become public documents at the date when he is nominated? If the hon. Gentleman will agree to support that I shall support his argument of the undesirability of Members not having other sources of income apart from politics.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I do not see why the Income Tax returns of candidates for Parliament should become public property, any more than the Income Tax returns of any other section of the community. I cannot think that that argument holds water at all.
Most of the difficulties we have got into in the last two or three years, and, indeed, the very reason why this matter is being discussed today, spring from a combination of two circumstances. One is that we are going through a phase, as has been said by other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, when the strength of parties is so evenly balanced. The other is that this phase now happens to follow closely upon another phase when there was a great deal of legislation. I do not want to be controversial now, so, perhaps, I must restrict myself to saying that, at any rate, in some quarters there is a feeling that there has been in the past rather too much legislation.
I am not at all in favour myself of rushing in to alter the rules. I agree with my right hon. Friend and with a number of other speakers, though I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend the 610 Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), that we had much better let the two Select Committees make their Reports to see what thy say, and see how the situation develops. Much depends on how we play the rules.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) likened our Parliamentary procedure to the game of cricket. Well, of course, we all know that one can hold up a game of cricket almost indefinitely and still keep within the rules. If the sky is overcast one can appeal continuously against the light. One can always pretend that someone is moving behind the bowler's arm. One can go on thus indefinitely and make the game quite impracticable, but still keep within the rules.
So there may be—perhaps on one or two occasions there has been—the danger that, while still keeping within the rules, we make the whole procedure of Parliament, and our lives in Parliament, a complete farce. However, I do not think that this is a very real danger, because I believe that the best solution of our problems, and of the difficulties of procedure and of the pressure of time upon Members of Parliament, is to pay more attention to the spirit than to the letter of the rules.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I should like to deal with the point which the Leader of the House made. I think the very simple explanation of why speeches in this House are longer than in the other place is linked up with the question of Parliamentary time. We are under such pressure here that if an hon. Member is called he is tempted to make the speech which he failed to make last week as well as the speech he has been called upon to make, and also the speech which he hopes to make next week but fears he will not be able to. Because we are so pressed for time our speeches do tend to become unduly protracted and unduly irrelevant.
I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), and very glad that he and I have been called, because we are both very junior Members of the House with very little experience of Parliamentary procedure, whereas most of the speakers today so far—I think with the exception of the hon. Baronet the Member for Handsworth 611 (Sir E. Boyle)—have been people of great experience.
It seems to me that we younger Members who come to this House now have a very important contribution to make. In the first week, we are quite clear how the whole thing ought to be reformed. I certainly had no doubts at all. As one goes on one becomes a little less certain about it. It is very important to look at the problems of the present critically, and to do so before having been here for so long that the rot has set in. If I should have the good fortune to persuade my constituents to send me here for long enough, I am sure I shall reach the stage when I shall as much resent any proposal for changing our procedure as I would resent somebody occupying my favourite armchair in my club.
In the first place, we ought not to be too squeamish about all-night sittings. It would be a very bad thing for the House, for the country and for democracy everywhere if we reached the stage where there were no great issues dividing the parties, about which we were not both delighted and pleased to be able to sit up all night shouting at each other. When discussing great issues we do not want to have to put on kid gloves, or to hold back the clash of opinions and the thrust of party struggle. Any attempt to gloss over our differences and to pretend that we are, after all, a gentlemanly crowd not wanting to do anything which may cause disturbance to the smooth flow of our relations is an extremely mistaken approach to politics.
It is equally wrong if we sit up all night merely in order to try to persuade the outside public that we have strong views when we have not got strong views at all; if we indulge in a form of shadow boxing on great issues of principle on which we feel profoundly hostile to each other in order to create the impression that we are earning our salaries when we are not. That is the real danger of drifting into the habit of having all-night sittings simply because nobody is able to halt the flow of oratory.
I want now to deal with a point raised by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and to some extent by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), namely, the function of this House in discussing matters of public 612 importance. I am glad the right hon. and gallant Member is not in the Chamber at the moment, because I can risk using a platitude. If the House is to be the "Grand Inquest" of the nation it must have time to devote to that work, and it must not be bogged down in a lot of technical detail which, by reason of the size of the House, it is not a suitable body to discuss. If it becomes so bogged down in that mass of detail it will not be able to do the job it ought to be doing, which is to act as this "Grand Inquest" of the nation.
Any Government is obviously anxious primarily to get through their legislative programme, and they are therefore reluctant to give up Government time. The Opposition, with its allotted Supply Days, is interested primarily, whatever Opposition it is, in looking for party advantage. It will put down for Supply Days mainly those questions which are likely to repay dividends from the party point of view. What is discussed on private Members' days is literally a gamble, and there is no certainty that major questions will be discussed. Let me give two illustrations of matters which have interested me, and which I think ought to have been discussed in this House, but which owing to the working of our procedure have never been discussed.
Before I came to the House there was a great public outcry about the welfare of children, and there was a debate in the House leading to the setting up of the Curtis Committee, as a result of which the Children's Act was passed. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was in office, I suppose about two years ago now, there was published the report of the Children's Department of the Home Office. That is a report which comes out only at very considerable intervals, and is a document containing a most valuable account of the work that has been done after the tumult and the shouting over the legislation has died down, and after the implementing of the legislation. But this House has never found time to discuss that.
On the same subject there was the report of the Estimates Committee, dealing with approved schools, and, since then, one dealing with child care. This House has never found time to discuss either of these documents. There is a whole field of vital importance to the 613 welfare of a section of our community which has not been discussed because it has not been the kind of issue to bring headlines and party advantage.
Another matter has already been touched upon by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. That is the question of town planning. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), brought out a report which was a complete summary of all that had been done to carry out and implement the town planning legislation of his predecessor, which had been passed by this House. That included, among other things, information about the shelving of the recommendations of the committee, of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I were Members, dealing with the administration of London regional planning, a matter which, I think, well deserved Parliamentary attention. That has not been discussed.
I do not mention this as a matter of complaint or of criticism. I mention it to suggest to hon. Members that there is a real need to do something about our Parliamentary procedure, and a real need to find time to make certain that this kind of issue will have the attention of the House. How can that be done? I have given some thought to this question, and I was horrified to find that what I thought were good ideas had mostly been put up and suggested many years ago. The obvious answer, I am sure, is the abolition of a committee of the whole House.
That is not a new suggestion. It has been put forward today. It was first put forward, I think, by Erskine May in 1854, nearly 100 years ago. I am sure that there are many hon. Members who read their Bagehot with their milk as schoolboys, who remember what he said about a Committe of the whole House:One of the most hopeless exhibitions of helpless ingenuity and wasted mind is a committee of the whole House on a Bill of many Clauses which eager enemies are trying to spoil and various friends are trying to mend.I do not want to be accused of partisanship, so in this connection I will mention the last Parliament and the Leasehold Bill. It was a Bill which took up a great deal of Parliamentary time, and which could perfectly adequately have been discussed upstairs.
614 What are the objections to taking a Bill upstairs? There is, first, the difficulty about a Parliamentary majority. If the electorate chose to have a finely-balanced House, that is perhaps very unfortunate for our convenience, but it is not a ground for altering our political procedure or postponing reforms merely because we have got into difficulties, and the kind of difficulties which the electorate presumably expected us to get into when we were returned. Any major set-back that occurs in that connection can be settled on Report stage, and I think that in practice a great deal of business could be done without any serious risk of defeat on a major item.
The second objection, I have always thought a most disingenuous one. It was raised on behalf of the Liberal Party today and previously, that it was most important on a major Bill that all hon. Members should have the right to take part in discussions on Committee matters, and that such discussion should not be left to a small selected group. I took the trouble to calculate the number of people who took part in the debate on the Transport Bill. There were, in fact, 36 Members of the Labour Party, 35 Members of the Conservative Party, and one Liberal, making a total of 72.
That total was not so very much more than we could have on a Standing Committee for a big Bill. Many Members in the House had constituency points to put forward. as I had, and we were unable to get into the debate, which stretched over several days. Again and again it was the same people who took part in the debate—the people who knew something about transport and would in any case have served on a Standing Committee.
Therefore, it is really disingenous to talk about the independent-minded people who are anxious to take part in the debate on the Committee stage of a Bill. I do not believe they exist. A Standing Committee will always do the job more efficiently and effectively than a Committee of the whole House. That means that there has to be an adequate Report stage for the Bill.
Some of my hon. Friends may have forgotten that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland brought his luminous intellect to bear on the problem many years ago and, in a book 615 entitled "Practical Socialism for Britain," which I hope all my hon. Friends and most hon. Gentlemen opposite have read, he deals in a very masterly way with the many problems relating to the reform of Parliamentary procedure. Incidentally, he spoke with considerable emotion about the bad effect of all-night sittings. He said:A large part of Government business slops along without any time-table whatever, and often slops over beyond 11 p.m., and sometimes into all-night sittings, which exhaust the minds, bodies and tempers of the participants and help to bring Parliament into ridicule and disrepute. Physical fitness and mental freshness, both in Ministers and in the general body of M.P.s, are necessary conditions, seldom now fulfilled, of efficient democracy.My right hon. Friend's suggestion, which in part goes back, I believe, to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, is to have running concurrently a series of Standing Committees dealing with the Committee stages of legislation, a Committee for the general allocation of time, on the lines of our Business Committee, to see that the Report stage is spaced out so that it covers the whole Bill, and, if necessary, to have the House meeting only for Questions on certain days in the week and then dividing itself into the various Committees upstairs to get on with the legislation.
Obviously we do not want to cut out Questions, for it is vital to have Questions every day, but there is no reason why the House should not meet for Questions and then the Members who are not on the Committees could happily retire and pursue their interests and avocations. A scheme of that sort certainly needs to be examined. I do not understand the point of view of those who say there is no problem and that there is nothing which is worth discussing or putting before a Select Committee.
To turn to financial control, I have been concerned by the small amount of attention which is paid in the House to the work of the Select Committee on Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates. There ought to be certain of the allotted days, which are, after all Supply Days, at the discretion of the Chairman of the Estimates Committee so that he would have the right to put down for discussion matters which he and his Committee felt ought to have 616 full consideration at a sitting of the House.
Again, I was disappointed to find that I had been anticipated and that that recommendation had been made 20 years ago by a Select Committee on Procedure, it having been suggested in 1932 that three allotted days should be put aside for discussion of matters arising out of the work of those two Select Committees. That recommendation was made 20 years ago, and yet we are still waiting for some action.
Those of us who are more junior Members of the House and may never see 20 years' membership in the present uncertain political scene have some excuse in feeling that there is some need for urgency and for putting pressure on the Government and the House to do something about it. The purpose is not to take away power and authority from the House as a whole or to deal with matters in a backstairs way, but to make certain that Parliament can give its attention to the great main issues, to the remedying of grievances, by Questions, discussions and Adjournment debates, and to a review of expenditure in discussing the Reports of the Select Committee on Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates and in giving attention to the principles of legislation, instead of getting bogged down in interminable wranglings about minute Amendments produced mainly by members of my own profession.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. M. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
Most of us who are here today are very glad that this debate was initiated and that it has been carried on in a constructive manner rather than in a controversial one. It is very clear to all of us that the very narrow majority at present prevailing puts a great strain on Parliamentary business, and it should be clear to most of us that that may continue for many Parliaments.
A good many of us feel a considerable anxiety that, unless we can manage our affairs better in the future than we have done lately, there will be three very serious consequences. First, good men will be lost to this House. I do not believe it will be a good plan for us so to order our arrangements that only professional politicians can be Members of this House. What the country wants is not to have highly technical Members 617 of Parliament, but a cross-section of the country in the House. The House would lose a great deal if we did not have the services of some of those who have other jobs, and who, through those jobs, can bring here an experience and a width of outlook that they would not otherwise have.
The second consequence is that the country would be very greatly disturbed. I was very impressed during the Recess to find how much men and women of all parties in my constituency were disturbed at what had been going on in the House in recent months. Finally, I think that the democratic system might be in some danger.
It might well be that there could be alterations in procedure which would make things easier, but I do not think that that can be a substitute at a time of narrow majorities for some sense of tolerance between the parties, or, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, a sense of give and take. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) made what I thought was a most admirable speech. He said that during the last two or three years there had been faults on both sides. That was the right way to approach the problem. After all, if we are to spend our time trying to justify ourselves, we shall not get anywhere at all. It is not the past we are interested in; it is the future.
It was the "Economist" which recently said that government by democratic discussion could only be properly conducted under two conditions. One was that the majority should respect the right of the minority to criticise. It may well be that in recent months there has not been enough time given to the minority to criticise. The second condition was that the minority must respect the right of the majority to decide. There can be no doubt that in the past Opposition Members have employed delaying tactics, making speeches not aimed at convincing the House or getting alterations made or making wise criticisms, but delivered entirely to obstruct.
All of us in the Chamber at the present moment are members of one of the two major parties, and, as the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said, it is our job vigorously and determinedly to oppose each other. Sometimes, in our enthusiasm to do that, we are apt to 618 forget that the party system is not an end in itself but only a means to an end. In a very short time the country will have forgotten all the party or personal triumphs that have been secured by successful delaying tactics and seemed so terribly important at the moment, because, in the long run, all that matters is how far we have contributed to carrying out the Queen's business in a democratic manner.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
This debate has been very important. Like the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman), I have found among people of all shades of opinion in my constituency considerable fear about the way in which the business of this House has been carried on. There can be very little doubt that, owing to what has happened in the last 12 months, this House is in danger of losing its prestige to some extent.
That is all the more important because it affects not only opinion in this country but world opinion, particularly in the places where the danger of totalitarianism is very real. If the Mother of Parliaments does anything by omission or commission to lower its own prestige, we shall strengthen the forces of totalitarianism in those parts of the world where the issue is still at stake. It is absolutely vital that we should try to see where mistakes or failings have taken place.
I agree very much with a remark made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) about the climate of opinion which pervades this House and this country. That seems to me to be the real thing that matters. Unless it is sound, no paper constitution or rules of procedure will have much effect. It is the climate of opinion that seems to be affected. I agree that there are times—and there have been times recently—when we can afford to sit all night and have a bit of a row on something on which we feel strongly, but we must not do anything which would prolong the debates unnecessarily after twelve o'clock. Occasions will arise when party feeling is sufficiently strong to make it necessary for the Opposition to go all out and show the country that they feel strongly upon a matter of that kind, whatever it may be.
§ Mr. W. Nally (Bilston)
This argument has been adduced from both sides of the House, but I do not think that it is justified. Would my hon. Friend care to explain how the country will be impressed by the fact that important matters can be discussed, argued about and voted upon at three o'clock in the morning? What shadow of evidence is there that the reasonably sane people of the country are in the least impressed when we go on in that way? I should have thought the effect was exactly the reverse.
§ Mr. Price
That point of view is all right, too. I am arguing against obstruction becoming a custom, but many people are impressed if the Opposition goes all out on one occasion or perhaps two; but there is danger in making a practice of it.
I came to the House thinking it would be a good thing to have a Select Committee appointed by the Government to go into procedure, but I am impressed by what the Leader of the House said. There are two Committees sitting now and we might hear what they have to say before we raise a wider issue. It is always a good thing from time to time to review procedure. Eight years have passed since the last review in 1945 and certain things have changed, so the time may have come when we should look into our procedure again.
Possibly there is a case for postponement, but before long, especially after the two Committees on delegated legislation and nationalised industries have reported, we should appoint another Committee to go into the matter more widely. Meanwhile it is the climate of opinion that matters and although heat may arise at times, I hope that we shall remember that the Queen's Government must be carried on.
We might consider what things such a Select Committee should investigate. For instance, there is the question raised by certain speakers today as to whether foreign affairs and colonial affairs should not go before Select Committees as in Continental Parliaments. I know there are arguments against that. There is the danger that it might undermine Government responsibility. Committees of that kind would inquire into policy, and policy must be a matter for the Government of the day which this House must either accept or reject as a whole, and to put some body between Government and the Legislature might be unwise.
620 Possibly in that form it might not be desirable, but I have always been impressed by the work of the Estimates Committee, once known as the Committee on Public Accounts. Before and during the war I served on the Select Committee on National Expenditure which dealt with the expenditure on the war, and here the House performed its function of being controller of the public purse. There is always danger of the question arising as to what is policy and what is not. On the Select Committee on National Expenditure, our Chairman, Sir John Wardlaw-Milne, the then Member for Kidderminster, often had to pull us up on this matter by saying, "This is policy." It seems to me that those are all things into which we could very well look in the near future, and, even if we do not appoint a Committee at the moment, I think we shall have to appoint one sooner or later.
It is really a question of the spirit in which this House carries on its business. I often think of the words of the prophet in the Valley of Dry Bones in the Book of Ezekiel, where he says:Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.I think we want the winds of party controversy tempered with tolerance and public spirit to inspire our procedure in this ancient House.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
While sitting here I have been turning over in my mind just what it is that makes in this House a debate good or bad. I think the answer is that a good debate arises when Members of Parliament are conducting their affairs as Members of Parliament and not as mere delegates either of a group or of a political party. I think if one looks through the debates in this House which have reached a high standard, one will find that they were made on occasions when Members were sitting as Members of Parliament. We do not sit in this House as delegates of any group or party, and I hope that we shall never be delegates in that sense.
I have not been in this House very many years, but I think the thing that one notices most after being a Member for a little while is the change in one's personal attitude towards one's political opponents. This is something which 621 very few people outside this country really understand. We form quite strong political animosities and enmities across the Floor of this House, but, at the same time, we also form many friendships which extend outside and beyond Parliament Those friendships are one of the things which enable this House to work at all. All those hates and prejudices which we bring into this House frequently mellow and sometimes fade with the years.
What is the position in which we find ourselves today and which has given rise to this debate? I think we have been passing through what one might call a "silly season." It has been said that the temperature of the House of Commons is always either rising or falling. At the moment, I think it is either falling or has fallen, and that we should be grateful for that. For the moment, at any rate, the silly season is over. We should remember that it is perfectly true to say that as the power and influence of back benchers diminish, so, in exact proportion, the power and influence of this House diminish.
Various suggestions have been made today regarding what is wrong and where we are making the mistake. I believe it is true to say that there are shortcomings in the rules which govern our behaviour, but I think the fault lies rather less with rules than with people. It is rather our own personal behaviour which is fundamentally at the root of the difficulties at this moment. In this context one might well congratulate both the Opposition and the Government on their agreed Time-table for the the Iron and Steel Bill, for example. I am greatly hopeful that we shall now reach a situation whereby, by mutual consent, we can adhere to that voluntary Time-table.
I heard an hon. Member just now discussing what the country feels as a whole about all-night Sittings. I do not think anybody who has arrived at this House in a taxi and seen the light burning in the Clock Tower and have heard the observations of the odd taxi driver can be left in any doubt whatever as to what the average person in the country thinks. I do not think we earn any respect at all by any all-night Sittings at any time on any matter.
In an Assembly like this, it is very difficult to construct rules which will give 622 the full rights of free speech and, at the same time, not leave gaps through which "barrack-room" or "mess-deck" lawyers can drive a coach and horses. That is the root of our difficulties. Where one finds one has to give latitude and freedom for intense and sincere feeling, one is also giving that same freedom to insincerity and to those who are known as barrack-room lawyers.
I have no time to go through all the suggestions that have been made, but one with which I agree is that greater use could and should be made of the Committee system upstairs. It is true that there are certain difficulties which concern an Administration with a narrow majority such as there is in this House today. After only seven years in this House I do not consider myself competent to express an opinion, but I believe that we have two alternatives only. Either we adopt in Committee upstairs a method of assuring that the Government have a sufficient majority to work —and here one comes up against the problem which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)—or else one must face a situation where the Government can re-adjust the situation themselves either at a later stage in this Chamber, or in another place.
That second position involves the proposition that Administrations and Governments must be less sensitive to defeat in Committee upstairs. One finds Governments over-sensitive on matters about which, in the view of both their opponents and their supporters, it is quite unnecessary for them to be quite so sensitive.
One of the mistakes which we all make on all sides of the House is that we are inclined here to lose our sense of humour as regards our own personal constitutional position. It has been said that democracy is on trial here. If it is, it will stand or fall by the behaviour of each individual one of us in this Chamber. It certainly will not be saved by bringing forward cases of alleged breaches of Privilege, be they fraudulent or otherwise.
That is not the salvation of this House. Democracy will stand or fall by the behaviour of each of us, especially at a time like this when there is a narrow majority. It will not be saved by what might be called pomposity outside this 623 House and childishness inside it. The rules which govern the behaviour and conduct of this House are not perfect. They never will be. Certainly they require investigation, but I think that by far the most important feature of this whole problem is the way each one of us individually, and also as parties, conduct ourselves in the affairs of the House.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I agree, as I imagine the majority of hon. Members do, with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) has just said. I do not agree, however, with the relative importance that he has given to one matter. He has stressed the importance of personal behaviour, with which I quite agree, but in stressing that he has left out of account another matter which is just as vital. That is the matter which was referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) when he pointed out that the House is overworked—not hon. Members; they may or may not be overworked, but the House as an institution is undoubtedly overworked.
I would remind the hon. Member for Shrewsbury that democracy is on trial and will stand or fall not merely by the behaviour of the individual Members of the House, which is perfectly true, but also by the way in which this House as an institution adjusts itself to whatever new strains and new situations come upon it.
§ Mr. Langford-Holt
I am sorry to interrupt, but my point was that democracy would stand or fall not only by the behaviour of each individual one of us, but primarily so. That is the point I wished to make.
§ Mr. MacPherson
Then we are probably in agreement. I was in disagreement with what seemed to me the proportion of the hon. Gentleman's argument rather than with the actual substance of it.
It is to the question posed by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that I wish to direct a few remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) gave a pertinent example of the way in which important matters are 624 left out of consideration in this House simply because the House has not got the time. This is not a post-war problem; the problem existed before the war. Delegated legislation is one expression of it. Lord Hewart's book was produced away back in 1929 or 1930.
Since the war the situation has greatly intensified. We have added a great deal to the responsibilities of government and of the House in supervising government. We have dropped certain things. We have dropped the India Office, for example. But what we have added is, I think, far greater than what we have dropped, not merely in the establishment of Ministries which did not exist before but in the great increase in size, volume and importance of economic matters and the increasing amount of time that the Government and the House have to give to those things.
If we concentrate our attention purely on what we in this House do, we are apt to mistake the proportions. Suppose we look at what is happening elsewhere in the Commonwealth. If we look at the Parliament of Australia or the Parliament of Canada we find institutions which are vigorous and lively Parliaments, and yet they have nothing like the amount of subject matter or the range of territory to cover that we have. Neither of them has to administer the Scottish Department—although there are some people in Scotland, I believe, who feel that it might just as well be administered from Ottawa. I do not share that view, but I believe it is held by some.
The Parliaments of Australia and Canada have no responsibility for colonial affairs. They do not administer education; they do not administer anything connected with local government. In foreign policy and in quite a number of other matters their burdens are far lighter than ours. Yet in spite of that, they are not weak Parliaments. They are vigorous, lively organisations. I suggest that if this House shed a certain amount of its responsibilities elsewhere it would not, through that action, in any way suffer as an expression of democratic ideas and methods.
The difficulty is to find the proper way of shedding the load. One suggestion which has been fairly fully canvassed today is that of making greater use of specialist committees in connection with individual Departments. I do not like 625 that suggestion. I came across it first in recent times in an article written by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). I did not like it then and I do not like the appearance it has taken on today. I think the final judgment on it was given by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). He put his finger on the lack of connection between the Committees and what he called the "wind of public opinion." I think that is the answer. One would not quite trust a system of that sort.
A second suggestion, which has not been discussed today but which I think is within the range of practical politics, is to devolve a great deal more work than is done at present upon another place. When I think of Parliament as two Houses working together I often picture in my own mind the old bicycle of the 1890's—the penny-farthing—but if one talked of the two Houses today as a penny-farthing one would have to correct the proportions. The penny would be immensely bigger and the farthing immensely smaller because, whatever we say of the quality of the work done in another place, the amount of it is very small indeed.
In order to give the other place more work it would be necessary also to give it a broader and sounder democratic base. One would have to reform its membership radically as well as reform its powers. There is a further danger, though not a fundamental objection, to that as a method of reform. In general Parliamentary experience elsewhere the tendency has been for second Chambers not to be vigorous and lively bodies. I am afraid that has been the tendency whatever care has been taken in thinking out the membership and methods of working. The tendency has been for those bodies to be either dead or half-dead.
§ Mr. MacPherson
Not in America, either. There are exceptions and it may well be that with our inherited and still existing Parliamentary skill we might be able to overcome the difficulty; but the difficulty is there. A reformed second Chamber would be a very difficult thing to bring into being as a lively and vigorous organisation.
626 The third possibility is one which was touched upon by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery— devolution to other legislative bodies inside the United Kingdom. He mentioned Wales, Scotland and London, which all seem to me to be possibilities. We could perfectly easily consider shedding the load fairly considerably to such bodies, in the main in connection with those topics which did not involve the major economic interests of the country.
When the hon. and learned Member mentioned Northern Ireland, however. I thought he chose out of the whole range of the Commonwealth the one really difficult example, because the Northern Ireland Parliament is, in the public mind, rather bedevilled by other considerations which are not essential to the question of legislative devolution. But if he looks beyond Northern Ireland, to Australia, Canada and a large number of other countries both inside and outside the Commonwealth, he will find that it is a system that works widely and well.
Devolution of that sort, with a Parliament meeting in Wales or Scotland for, say, a couple of months in the year—not by any means a full-time legislative organisation—is a system which we could hardly fail to make work, for the very obvious reason that it is working effectively and well in so many other countries. All the problems inherent in it—the financial relations between the centre and the sub-Parliament and all the other relations between the two—are already well understood from previous examples. That seems to me to be the most likely avenue of major improvement in the conduct of our business.
In conclusion, I would point out that it is not necessary and, in fact, not wise to assume that in a period of this sort— a post-war period which, as has been said, is also the end of an era—that, while we have to make considerable changes in the economic life of the country and in various other aspects, we can coast along on the existing legislative machinery without trying to undertake very considerable changes in it. The likelihood is that if we do not adjust ourselves a little in order to bear the heavy strain, the machinery will suffer a good deal.
Over the years which we can see ahead of us—the next 10 or 20 years—it is very 627 likely that we shall be under considerable strain in matters of economic policy and foreign policy. In order that we should have a legislative system which can take that strain, we should be well advised to consider fairly radical alterations, including the possibility of shedding some of the subjects, such as health and education, to sub-Parliaments, thus reducing the load on this Parliament, which could then concentrate on major topics and could give them much fuller attention.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
I have not attempted to intervene earlier in the debate, because, unfortunately, I was unable to be here at the beginning. I apologise to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) for my failure to listen to him. Nevertheless, I have been here consistently for the past two and a half hours and I am glad of this short opportunity to speak.
I am, I confess, one of the old brigade, having been in the House for a consider-
§ It being after Four o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.628
§ able number of years. While hon. Members who have been here for two or three years may have new ideas, it is the older Members who have experience of what has happened in the past. One good example is this. Just before I first had the honour to become a Member, the time at which the House adjourned was 12 o'clock. Just before I got into Parliament it became 11 o'clock, and recently it became 10 o'clock. It is true that we have put the time of Questions a little forward, to 2.30 p.m., whereas in my time it was 2.45 p.m.
§ There is one fallacy which I should like to mention to the House which Member after Member has raised. It is the idea—
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 50; Noes, 71.627
|Division No. 62.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Nally, W.|
|Albu, A. H.||Foot, M. M.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Grimond, J.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hastings, S.||Padley, W. E|
|Beswick, F.||Hollis, M. C.||Paget, R. T.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Holman, P.||Parker, J.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Houghton, Douglas||Reeves, J.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Usborne, H. C.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||King, Dr. H. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Langford-Holt, J A.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon W. E.||McLeavy, F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Mr. H. Hynd and|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mulley, F. W.||Mr. Anthony Greenwood.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Barber, Anthony||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Gough, C. F. H.||Nicholson, Godrey (Farnham)|
|Beach, Maj Hicks||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Black, C. W.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Heald, Sir Lionel||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Braine, B R.||Heath, Edward||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Robertson, Sir David|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Russell, R. S.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P G. T.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Bu'lock, Capt. M.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (0rpington)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Llewellyn, D. T.||Summers, G. S.|
|Channon, H.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Longden, Gilbert||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Cole, Norman||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Vosper, D. F|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H F. C.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Eden, Rt Hon. A||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fisher, Nigel||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E||Sir Edward Boyle and|
|Fort, R.||Maude, Angus||Sir Herbert Williams.|