HC Deb 01 June 1954 vol 528 cc1090-2
Mr. Attlee

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal what business will be taken on Thursday.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

Yes, Sir. A debate will take place on agriculture in England and Wales.

It may at the same time be convenient to say that, as I informed my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) last Thursday, I am afraid that it has not been possible to arrange for a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, but it may be helpful if I inform the House that the Government have given careful consideration to it and have come to the conclusion that it would be unconstitutional for the House to pass an order of the kind suggested, or for one of the Committees of the House to seek to act as such in a foreign country. The House cannot, in effect, assert a jurisdiction which it does not possess. It is, however, quite open for Members of the sub-committee privately to make such inquiries as they choose anywhere they may wish to, and to report upon them in due course to the Estimates Committee and, through them, to the House.

Captain Waterhouse

I thank my right hon. Friend for the consideration which has been given to the matter, but I would point out that at no time did this subcommittee ever consider proceeding abroad as a sub-committee. All that was hoped for was that, while we proceeded abroad as private individual Members, we might have the services of a Clerk of this House.

Mr. Crookshank

That may be, but the mere taking of a Clerk makes it into a Committee.

Mr. Ross

Is the Leader of the House aware that the method he is suggesting was considered in 1951 by the Estimates Committee in relation to the work of a sub-committee, the president of which was the present Solicitor-General? That committee's view was that the device now suggested was a quite unsuitable and undesirable means of overcoming the constitutional difficulties. Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, give the House an opportunity as soon as possible to deal with this vital constitutional point?

Mr. Nicholson

If hon. Members of the sub-committee go abroad as individuals, presumably with their necessary expenses paid, why cannot a Clerk of the House do the same?

Mr. Crookshank

It is really impossible to discuss this matter further at this stage. There is other business before the House. I merely state the position as the Government see it.

Miss Ward

May I ask whether between now and the Whitsun recess the Government will consider what steps can be taken to control national expenditure abroad, bearing in mind that it is a constitutional right, indeed one of the main functions, of the House of Commons to control expenditure?

Mr. Crookshank

As I said just now it it is very difficult to proceed by question and answer in this way. All I have dealt with is the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which suggested a certain course of action. That course has been considered by the Government and the Government have come to the conclusion that it would be an improper action to take. As I thought it might be a convenience to the House to know, I added that it would be possible to obtain, in a private way, a great deal of the kind of information which the Select Committee wants.

Mr. H. Morrison

The Leader of the House has stated that this is a very difficult matter to deal with by way of question and answer in the House. Is not that a tacit admission that the best way to deal with it is by a debate, and would it not be wiser if he afforded facilities for a half-day debate? [Interruption.] This was a Report to the House of Commons. Hon. Members opposite may be in opposition themselves one day. Opposition time is sacred to the Opposition. Is it not right, on a Report to the House, that the Leader should give time for debating it? As he has now stated, it is really impossible adequately to deal with this subject by question and answer. Is not that an admission of the need for a debate?

Mr. Crookshank

I think the right hon. Gentleman is being very unreasonable. There was no need for me to make this statement at all. I made it because a request was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend for a debate, and I explained that it was impossible for me to arrange that. Therefore, I have stated the Government's view on the point.

Sir W. Smithers

As the business for Thursday is to be a debate on agriculture in England and Wales, can the Leader of the House say when the Crichel Down Report will be issued?

Mr. Crookshank

I am afraid that I cannot do that, but I do happen to know that there is a Question on that subject on the Order Paper to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Thursday.

Mr. Pannell

Could the Leader of the House give an assurance that before any debate takes place upon the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, somebody in the Cabinet will read the document? The answer of the Leader of the House this afternoon betrays the fact that there has not been any acute study of the issues involved.