§ Select Committee appointed to examine such of the Estimates presented to this House as may seem fit to the Committee, and to suggest the form in which the Estimates shall be presented for examination, and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein.—[Sir C. Drewe.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee do consist of Thirty-six Members.—[Sir C. Drewe.]
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move to leave out "Thirty-six" and to insert "Thirty-seven."
It will be known and appreciated by the House that I do not move the Amendment because I think that there is any special virtue in the number 36 or the number 37. I move the Amendment to provide for the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) to the Committee without disturbing the right to be appointed to that Committee of any other hon. Member who is, at the next stage of the Motion, to be so appointed.
For that reason, I should like to ask whether it would be proper to consider the Amendment with the next Amendment in the name of my hon. Friends and myself to insert the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood in the list of Members of the Committee. Then the true reason for my Amendment may be debated.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I think it is the view of Mr. Speaker that these two Amendments go together, and might well be discussed together.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
The situation in which the House finds itself is, I think, unusual and, in some ways, unprecedented. The Select Committee on Estimates has been appointed year by year now since, I think, 1912; except during the war years when its place was taken by the Committee on 803 National Expenditure. The House has adopted various methods in appointing Members to Select Committees. A Select Committee does a job of work which, were it not done by that Committee, would fall to be done by the House itself. Therefore, as it were, it does a work of delegated administration; and the House has always deemed it important that a Select Committee, which is, in a way, carrying out work that otherwise would be carried out by the House as a whole, should, in a loose and general sense, be fairly representative of the House as a whole.
It has adopted various ways of doing that. There have been occasions when Select Committees have been appointed by a ballot of hon. Members, indeed by a secret ballot. There was, I think, one occasion when about 20 Members were nominated. Then two Members were selected and each entrusted with the task, at his own discretion, of striking out four names from the list of 20. The residue, what one might call the "rump" Select Committee, became the Committee of the House. I do not think that anyone would suggest that we should go back to any of those ways of nominating Select Committees, because in recent times Parliament has worked almost entirely by a system of party alignment and party representation.
The easiest way of securing that a Select Committee fairly represented the House generally, however loosely, was to leave it to the Whips, the usual channels, to agree between themselves as to what should be the representation, and who should be the persons selected, without however—and I attach some importance to this—at any time taking away from the House itself the right and the duty to agree or not to agree with those suggestions or to amend them if it chose.
Naturally, in normal circumstances the House would not seek to interfere, because, in normal circumstances, no question of unfairness would arise. But in the situation in which we now find ourselves there are factors which the House as a whole may think unfair to individuals and to the House itself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lady-wood has been a member of the Estimates Committee for seven years. I think it would be conceded that he has been an 804 active, prominent and useful member. The last thing one would wish to do at this time of the evening, or, indeed, at any other time, would be to convert the House into a mutual admiration society, because it would be quite out of accord with its traditions. However, I think it fair to say, moderately, that my hon. Friend has been an extremely useful member of this Committee.
My hon. Friend was, at the end of last Session, and had been for a year, Deputy-Chairman of the full Committee, and he had during his seven years' membership been Chairman of a sub-committee for, I think, four years, or perhaps five. As Chairman of a sub-committee he had himself been responsible for four Reports, several of them of great importance, and some of them, especially the latest one, not without an element of controversy.
I think it would be conceded by everyone that but for recent happenings, which have nothing whatever to do with the Estimates Committee, my hon. Friend would have been nominated this year as he was nominated and appointed each of the previous seven years. I think that the House might, perhaps, agree with me when I say that while the House has a perfect and unquestioned right not to elect again even the most valuable member of a Select Committee if it does not wish to do so, it would still wish to have good reasons for not doing so.
What possible reason can here be suggested for excluding my hon. Friend from continuing the work on which he was so usefully occupied up to now? One knows what the reason is. It is that he and some others of us are not any longer represented—by their choice, not by ours—by the Opposition "usual channels." I am putting it in what, I hope, is a completely uncontroversial way.
§ Mr. Silverman
That, by itself, is not an unparalleled situation. For many years there have been small groups outside the two main parties, and I suppose, on one view of the matter, that had my hon. Friends and I chosen to be technical about it, one might numerically have compared our forces with those of the party which sits on the bench behind us, and, in that situation, I am not sure which of us would have had the prior right to 805 the Liberal room in the House. Of course, on that view of the matter, we should have been a recognised separate group, with, no doubt, a "usual channel" of our own, and the difficulty in which the House now finds itself might not have arisen.
It may be asked why that course was not followed. It seems, on the face of it, to be simple and not unfair. But it is at that point that the element of uniqueness enters into the problem, because my hon. Friends and I are still Labour Members of Parliament and members of the Labour Party. Indeed, I am afraid that we are bold enough to continue to think on the particular matter on which we were at difference from our colleagues—I except from what I am going to say now my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern)—that we might, in view of the state of opinion outside, say that we are not only loyal members of the Labour Party but the only loyal members. I do not expect my hon. Friends to accept that from me. A plebiscite among the rank and file, individual, members of the Labour Party up and down the country would settle that question once and for all.
Whether the House take the view that these six or seven members form a separate group or not, the answer about my hon. Friend's membership of the Estimates Committee ought to be the same. If my hon. Friend is regarded, for these representative purposes, as still a member of the Labour Party, there is no reason whatever for interfering with his membership of the Estimates Committee. If, on the other hand the House takes the alternative view that he is not, for these representative purposes, representative of the group of members above the Gangway but is one of a number of members who form a separate group by themselves, then, on the same general principle, that separate group would be entitled to representation on its own behalf on the Estimates Committee. I use the word "entitled" in a loose and general way. If we regard these six or seven members as a separate group, they are entitled to be represented on most of the main Committees.
There is no difficulty about doing it. I am not suggesting that anyone should be asked to give up his expected place in favour of my hon. Friend. My right 806 hon. and hon. Friends desire, because of what has happened, to have their quota made up only by members who are responsible to them. No one seeks to interfere with them, or to challenge them, or to alter the membership of the Estimates Committee. My Amendment seeks only to add my hon. Friend and, for that purpose I am now moving that the Committee consist of 37 members instead of 36.
Perhaps I may anticipate one objection, which might influence hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches more than those on the Opposition side. They will say, "That is all very well, but if we accept your proposal the balance of parties on the Estimates Committee will be altered, because the increased number will be obtained by having one member who, to all intents and purposes—or to all these intents and purposes—is a member of the official Opposition." I can understand the force of that objection, but it is not all beyond remedy.
If the Leader of the House thought that we were generally right in the view which I have been trying to express, but that to give effect to it might have that result he can easily put it right. The number can be 38. We would then have one more from each side, my hon. Friend would resume his activities—which I am sure that the House would like him to do—and the balance of the parties would be in no way affected.
It may be said, "But there is no notice of that and it cannot be done without notice." I too, have been doing a little homework, and I have discovered that the constitution of a Select Committee can be altered by notice at any time. If the Leader of the House thinks that it would be a reasonable solution to make the number 38, to add my hon. friend's name and—to balance him—to add an additional Member from the right hon. Gentleman's own side, that can be done, as he will probably agree, quite simply and readily. I feel sure that nobody on this side would have any objection to it at all.
I do not know that I can add anything to that statement of the case. One can elaborate it and go on hammering at it, but I do not think anything much would be gained by that. I have stated what I think the problem is. I hope that I have 807 stated it fairly—I have certainly tried to do so. I should like to conclude by saying this. This is not a party matter. It is a House of Commons matter. It is a question of the House of Commons electing its own Select Committees, and when one remembers that this Select Committee on Estimates is expressly precluded from dealing with any question which raises any matter of policy, the non-party aspect of what we are now considering is surely clearly reinforced.
In those circumstances, I would venture—and I hope that it is not an impertinence for me to do so—to express the hope that Members on both sides will be left free to speak and to vote on this according to their own judgment, their own conscience, and their own sense of the obligations which membership of this House imposes on them in such a matter. I do not know—I no longer have the right to know, or to ask—what decisions have been made by anybody on this, but I think it would be consonant with the dignity of the House, in dealing with this question, to allow every hon. and right hon. Member to cast his vote on whichever side he is directed by his own sense of what is right, proper and just.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has put the case so succinctly and logically that there is very little for me to add. We, the seven Members affected, seem to belong to a political no-man's-land. We have been described as rebels.
The fact that we have been so described, and may temporarily be isolated from our normal party associations, does not in any way alter the fact that we are Members of the House, that we have the support of our constituents, who wish us to remain here, and that, as long as we remain here, we are entitled, we believe, to representation on the Committees of the House. I am not a Member of one of those Committees. The only Committee to which I belong is the Scottish Grand Committee, which is regarded as a sort of penal servitude for hon. Members on both sides of the House.
But I suggest that whether one belongs to a temporary band of rebels or not 808 should not affect this issue. For example, the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) led a rebellion against the Conservative Party over the question of Suez, and I do not think that it has been held that because he happened to be a rebel on the Right he should be turned off the Estimates Committee. Indeed, I see his name on this Committee, so that the Right appears to recognise rebels even when they may not be recognised on the Left. At least, nobody will accuse the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East of being a rebel of the Left.
There is room in this House for the occasional rebel against party discipline. On some issues, men and women have to consult their conscience; they have to do what they think is right, and ultimately face their constituents and explain and abide by the decision of their constituents. I submit that there should be room on the Select Committee on Estimates for people who do not take the rigid party line and who, on occasion, are prepared to criticise fearlessly their own party, whether it is in government or opposition. This should decidedly be so in the case of the Select Committee on Estimates, whose duty should be to examine and probe, fearless of the consequences to Ministers and to Departmental chiefs.
I submit that there is room on the Select Committee on Estimates for somebody as tenacious, as independent-minded and, if I may say so, as tough on certain matters, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates). The Select Committee on Estimates has often been described as a committee of watchdogs of the public interest, but that is no reason why it should be held to be synonymous with Our Dumb Friends League. That is the position, putting it as clearly as I can.
In the House of Commons, which claims to be a democratic assembly, there is room on the Select Committee for people who can give useful service even if on certain occasions they do not happen to see eye to eye with their party. Therefore, I submit that it would be a good thing, from the point of view of public finance with which we are concerned in this Select Committee, if my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood, who for many years has played a very 809 important part in the deliberations of this Committee, and who has rendered useful service, independent of party associations, were added to the Committee, and pursued the work which he has done honourably and creditably up to the present.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put his case with moderation and a sincere feeling which, I think, impressed the House. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) put his case with his usual forcefulness and good humour. This is a House of Commons matter which ought so to be judged, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, he most of all, will so regard it when he replies.
The history of the appointment of Select Committee is lost in antiquity and difficult to discover. An excellent book was written recently by two of our eminent Clerks, "A People's Conscience," which describes how, in the nineteenth century, Select Committees were appointed by an ad hoc collection of Members who came together for the purposes of exploring a particular piece of administration with the desire to institute drastic reforms. There is no suggestion that at that time the appointment of such a committee or the membership of it was proposed by or opposed by the executive or that any opposition party leaders or Whips played any part in it.
Sir William Molesworth was an eminent Parliamentarian. He rose, as it were, from the ranks of the House. He collected Members around him. He formed a committee and was responsible for the amazing revelations on child labour, deportation, lunatic asylums and other questions which were followed by the great Acts of social reform towards the end of the last century.
It is only at the present day that we have articulated and canalised these activities in the hands of the Whips of either side. On page 588, Erskine May writes:It was formerly the practice in both Houses to leave it to the Member on whose motion the committee had been appointed to move the names of the members to compose it, but in the Commons it is now customary for the members of Select Committees to be nominated on the motion of one of the government 'Whips' even where the committee was moved for by an unofficial Member.810 But even so, up to the present time, and as far as this side of the House is concerned, I am thankful to say, still at the present time, the Whips are a convenient vehicle for the expression in the procedure of Parliament of what is agreeable and convenient to Members on all sides. No one can, therefore, have any possible complaint against the Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir C. Drewe), deputy Chief Whip of the party on this side of the House. He has produced exactly the correct number of members in conformity with past practice.
There is a Liberal, carefully selected, no doubt, with the acquiescence of the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party; and, no doubt also if there were genuine independents in the House who could be isolated and identified, a selection would have been made of one or other of their number.
It is not the business of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton to rootle round in the Labour Party to try to discover what groups of Members are on one side and what groups are on another and to make his selection, or even to secure the acquiescence of those Members in a proposal that one or other of those groups should be included. No blame lies on this side of the House. It lies on the Opposition Front Bench. It lies, I regret to say, in the hands of the Chief Whip of the Socialist Party.
I admit that the right hon. Gentleman has been very sorely tried in past months. One reads in the Press of the troubles he has had, but they are not our business, nor the business of the House to discuss on the Floor this evening. It is not our business to comment on what general disciplines he chooses to exercise in order to bring some of his recalcitrant followers to heel, but this particular discipline it is the duty of this House to examine and to criticise.
Select Committees of Parliament are not instruments of the Executive and they are not instruments of the "shadow Executive" either. If a Coalition Government were in existence today, with these procedures in operation, might it not be quite impossible to set up a Committee of the best-informed Members to serve on it because of the prejudices of the Whips on one side or the other?
The instance I have given took place during the war and the very opposite 811 occurred. The Whips on both sides, in coalition as they then were, in conformity with the wishes of the House, set up a Committee on National Expenditure, which Committee proceeded to act in a true House of Commons constitutional sense and criticised the Coalition Executive very thoroughly, so much so that it gravely embarrassed certain members of the War Cabinet. I am not suggesting that we should have any such concept now; there is no need for it.
Suppose a Coalition Government did not exist but there were a coalition view between the Front Benches on a particular subject such as the divorce laws, capital punishment, conscription, or immigration. With the procedures in operation as envisaged by the Front Bench opposite, might it not be impossible to set up a Select Committee of the best-informed persons on those subjects to deal with the matter?
The knowledge of what is happening tonight and the attitude taken by some right hon. Members opposite must be making Sir William Molesworth turn in his grave. If this restrictive practice continues much longer he will leap out of his grave and proclaim that some of the great reforms of the last century carried through by Select Committees in his name cannot be repeated in this century.
What has happened to the Liberalism of the so-called heirs of the Liberal Party? Why does the right hon. Member not reach out with grace and light towards his supporters and see that they can properly perform their functions in these important constitutional committees of the House? The hon. Member for South Ayrshire was quite right. He heaped coals of fire upon the head of his right hon. Friend in saying that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester South-East (Captain Waterhouse), the leader of a group which opposed the Government on the question of Suez, was still the Chairman of the Select Committee on Estimates. Why cannot the party opposite settle its differences in a well-mannered way so far as constitutional provisions of this House are concerned?
I hold no brief at all for the hon. Members for Nelson and Colne and Ladywood (Mr. Yates). Indeed, I disagree with nearly everything the hon. 812 Member for Nelson and Colne says. As for the hon. Member for Ladywood, I think that the Report he produced on the Foreign Service was fantastically irrelevant and inaccurate. I am extremely glad that we are presented by the Foreign Office this evening with a White Paper that puts the matter right.
The simple proposition would have been, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, to increase the numbers on the Committee by two, to have added the hon. Member for Ladywood and another hon. Member from this side; but that has not been done. The hon. Member himself has failed to propose that, and because he has failed to do it we are in a technical position tonight in which a vote for the hon. Member's Amendment cannot be effective; for it is clearly laid down in Erskine May that there has to be a Motion by prior notice of the number of Members before we can even discuss an additional name for the Committee.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
We are not in quite such difficulty as the noble Lord supposes. If the Amendment which I have moved were passed and only one Member added, so as to make the number 37 instead of 36, that is not conclusive for all time. The Lord Privy Seal could tomorrow morning give notice to extend the number to 38 and appoint an additional Member himself. I would myself have proposed 38 instead of 37, but I was afraid of being challenged by hon. and right hon. Members opposite as to who my colleague was on the opposite benches to make the number 38.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Whatever the hon. Member has failed or not failed to do, the technical position is that we cannot vote for his Amendment. As I have explained, the number has to be increased to admit one on our side in order to maintain the party balance. That has to be done by prior notice, and if it is not done we cannot discuss the name of any hon. Member on this side who can serve. Therefore, with much regret, I cannot support the hon. Member in the Division Lobby.
I sincerely trust that this will be the last time that the party opposite produces this sort of situation to the House of Commons. If it goes on doing this kind of thing, the House will lose the respect of many of our supporters throughout the 813 country who are deeply concerned about the maintenance of the constitutional position in this House and look to us to safeguard its rights and its principles.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
Perhaps it might help the House if I intervene now, and give a little guidance in what appears to be a very mixed battle. The first attack came from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on his own Front Bench, and then, quite unexpectedly, my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) started attacking the Opposition Front Bench also. We on the Government Front Bench seem at the moment to be immune.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I should like to make the general position clear, as I see it. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that this is not a party matter. Of course, the nomination of all Committees has to be decided by the House—it is always a House of Commons matter in that sense; but conventions have grown up over the years as to how to handle these matters most conveniently.
I must first advise that, as the noble Lord pointed out, the acceptance of what the hon. Member had in mind would not be made effective by passing the first Amendment. I must also make this point clear regarding the composition of this particular Committee. Its importance is well known to everybody; the good work that it has done has many times been praised in this House, and it is an old Committee. Until the time of its Report of 1947–48, it consisted of 28 members, but it then recommended to this House that the number should be raised to 36, so that it could have five sub-committees of seven Members—that is, 35 Members—plus the Chairman, and since that date it has worked on that basis.
The House ought to think more than once before changing the composition of such a Committee, which has specialised work to do, unless there is a recommendation from the Committee itself. The bulk of hon. Members who do not follow its 814 day-to-day work cannot be seized of the point as to whether the Committee should have five or four sub-committees and how many members it should have.
The last recommendation we, as a House, had from that Committee, was that the number should be 36. If we say here tonight, "Make it 37," or, as the second thoughts of the hon. Gentleman would make it, 38, we should have a figure which would not fit into the pattern on which that Committee has worked for the last five or six years.
§ Mr. Crookshank
It is no use the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) muttering, because no amount of muttering will divide 37 by 7 and give a reasonable answer. With 36 Members, the Chairman excluded, we are left with 35, which can be divided five times by seven, but with 37 or 38 it cannot be done. Mathematics are mathematics—
§ Mr. Crookshank
No, I have made my point, the hon. Gentleman understands it well, as I hope other hon. Members do.
Without a recommendation from the Committee as to the way in which it wants to carry on its business, arbitrarily to add one or two hon. Members—
§ Mr. Rankin
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give way? What he is suggesting is that the Committee should make a recommendation. He knows that the Committee is not functioning. How then can it make any recommendation?
§ Mr. Crookshank
The hon. Gentleman provides the House with glimpses of the obvious.
Of course the Committee is not sitting at the moment. We are proposing to set it up as a result of this Motion. But that does not alter my point, that the Committee which sat last Session, the Session before, and in previous Sessions did not suggest any alteration in the numbers. If there is to be an alteration, I would prefer the House to wait until the Select Committee itself suggests it Without that, by adding one or two more members, we should throw out the balance of its membership and the method along which, presumably, it works.
815 The argument with which the House is faced tonight is that put forward in essence by the noble Lord, and is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne was saying: that too much authority has been given to the usual channels in nominating the members for these Committees. The Whips, said the noble Lord mixing his metaphors, were a convenient vehicle—[Laughter.] I hope it is in HANSARD, it is on my notes as having been said by him. But, of course, it is the only way in which these Committees can be set up.
Erskine May has pointed out that it has been the practice for many years, for this reason: that the proportions of members on a Committee are roughly those of party proportions in the House itself. The suggestion of 37 would throw the proportion out of balance and would, therefore, not be acceptable on those grounds.
I have not intimate knowledge of how nomination is done in either one party or the other, but obviously it is the Whips, the usual channels, on both sides who know best who are available to serve on Committees. Obviously it is no good the House deciding on a name and then finding that the hon. Member in question will not be here for some time, perhaps because of illness or travel, or for some other reason. This, therefore, is the only practical way in which Committees can be set up. I hope that I carry the House with me as far as that.
Then the question arises in this issue as to what happens in the case of the hon. Gentleman and his friends whose names are not submitted by the usual channels to be put on the Order Paper. That is their own civil war. I am not concerned as to what the reasons may be. I am concerned only when I see the list of names and the names put on the Order Paper. It is not a matter for me, and I do not think it is a matter for the House. If I carry the House with me in saying that the usual channels are the only machinery by which this can be done, then, obviously, those of us who are concerned with the business of the House—myself in particular—can act only upon that advice.
This Committee has 18 Conservative Members, 17 Labour Members and one Liberal Member. The Liberal Party does 816 not get nominations upon every single Committee, of course, and it knows that, and that has been recognised. It serves on certain Committees but not on others because on any proportional basis in this House it is not entitled to have a Member on every Committee, particularly on small Committees. That would apply in the case of every other small party. It has done so in my time in the House. The Independent Labour Party, with Mr. Maxton, had representatives on Committees, but not upon all Committees, for the party had only a small number of Members.
The same is true if there is a number of independent Members; that is to say, Members who are genuinely independent and do not think alike, which must be the definition of "independence" in this technical sense. Perhaps the House would like to know how that was done when there were 15 or 20 independent Members. According to the topic which was to be discussed in the Select Committee, one or other of them or several of them would be approached, and they would get a reasonable representation from time to time. Obviously, they could not all be on one Committee because that would be throwing far too much importance, weight and influence on those who were independent in their views. There we have the position of the small party being represented, and the independents being represented, when there are any.
We are then left with the question of what the hon. Gentleman and his little group are. They are not a party. Therefore, I cannot take cognizance of them any more than I suppose Mr. Speaker takes cognizance of them in the sense of their hoping to catch his eye in all major debates as in the case of party Members. If they formed themselves into a party, and had a chairman and a Whip and all the rest of it, then, of course, the whole question of their position would fall to be considered by everybody in the House; but they are not in that position, and they are not independent.
In fact, the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates)—it is a pity in a way that one has to refer to an hon. Member by name, because here we are not dealing with personalities at all—went out of his way, on 6th December, to say:… I am certainly not an independent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 658.]817 I hope the hon. Member will now realise the difficult position in which I am placed because he has said that he is not an independent. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, "I am still a member of the Labour Party." I cannot force them on to those with whom I have contact as the long recognised—this is nothing new—nominating authority for Select Committees.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I put the point both ways—[Laughter.]—logically and fairly, I think. I say that one can either regard this group of seven hon. Members as independent or not regard it as independent. If one regards it as independent, then the right hon. Gentleman concedes that in spite of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates, or without the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates, we should be entitled to a place. I say also that if the true view—it is obvious that this is an anomalous situation about which people will have different views as to what is the correct view to be taken—is that we are not an independent group, but are still members of that group, then I say that the House ought not to permit my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood to be deprived, for a quite irrelevant reason, of his membership of this Committee.
§ Mr. Crookshank
Of course, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne can put the dilemma in that form.
All that concerns me is that, having asked for the 17 nominations for this Select Committee, and knowing something, as I suppose everybody does, of the trouble about the seven Members a little while back, I find it very difficult to do anything else, but accept the names from the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I advise the House to do the same, or it will get into very deep waters if hon. Members start trying to pick out particular hon. Members, whom they think to be more suitable to be on the Committee than those who have been recommended, presumably, after a good deal of consultation within the party concerned.
I am fortified in that view when, however much the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne claims the idea of independence, the hon. Member for Ladywood said: 818I may be regarded as a rebel member, but I am certainly not an independent. I sit as a Socialist. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 658.]The only part of this House where Socialists sit is on the benches opposite, and I cannot get away from that proposition. Therefore, while the hon. Member sits as a Socialist, and while in his view he is not an independent, it is not for me, to use the noble Lord's phrase, to go rummaging about to find the whys and wherefores about why his name was not submitted to be put on the Order Paper. His name was not submitted for that purpose, and I would advise the House to pass the Motion as it stands, without Amendment. I add that, as I said at the beginning, if this particular Amendment were adopted, it would throw the Committee out of balance and disturb its methods of working, and upset the party proportions which are inherent in the setting up of these Committees.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
It is unfortunate that we have had a very long speech in opposition to my hon. Friend's Amendment from the Leader of the House, because, as has been said by almost every speaker in the debate, this is a House of Commons matter. It is also unfortunate that we should have had a speech from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) which was completely deplorable. The Estimates Committee is generally considered to be a non-party body and I have never heard a more partisan, mischief-making speech in my life, nor a speech whose end was as weak-kneed as it is possible to imagine.
If ever there was an hon. Member of this House who attempted, in a high and lofty manner, to speak about the interests of this House and the duty of hon. and right hon. Members and then finished with a feeble little squeak, it was the noble Lord. I am sorry to have to speak in this tone, because, although the members of the Government Front Bench may not like it, this is a matter in which the House of Commons sets up a Committee for judging the Executive. The noble Lord himself has been a member of the Committee and knows how it operates. He knows that, in general, it does not operate on party lines, although, when we had to deal with Government trading matters, 819 there were times when the instincts of hon. Members opposite overcame them.
The noble Lord showed his partisanship when he attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) for the Report on the Foreign Office which was, of course, a Report of the full Committee of which the Chairman was his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse). The speech of the noble Lord was unfortunate in every possible respect. It has turned the tone of the debate from what it should have been into nothing more than a political party slanging match. I intend to try to bring the discussion back to the question of the Select Committee and its membership. I am not concerned with the political rights or wrongs or misdoings or otherwise of my hon. Friends who are no longer in receipt of the Labour Party Whip. I am very much concerned with the functions, the duties and the rights of the Select Committee on Estimates.
I hope that I will not be considered to be making a party point, because it may be made against either party when it happens to be in Government, but I suppose that the Government are not sorry that they have managed to go for so many weeks without the Select Committee. On the whole, the Executive does not like to have the affairs of its Departments examined even by a body which is completely impartial.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene. There is no foundation at all for that remark. I have been most anxious to get the Select Committee set up. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will bear me out when I say that we have had several conversations. I have wanted to arrange for the discussion on several days but it was not convenient for him. There has been no question of delay.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I want to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It was agreed between us at an early stage that it would be wrong for the discussion to come on very late at night, and that we should have to wait until there was a time when it could come on fairly early. The first time when it could have come on early was last Thursday and the date was changed from then until 820 today for my convenience and not for the right hon. Gentleman's.
§ Mr. Albu
I willingly withdraw, because I do not want anything I have to say to be considered in any party political spirit.
I base my remarks on my experience as a member of the Select Committee during the last four years. There is little machinery in the House for the investigation of the actions of the Executive and very little machinery for the investigation of Government expenditure. We have only two finance committees. We have the Public Accounts Committee, which is a body of considerable age and very considerable reputation, which has the support of the staff of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and everything that goes with it. This Committee does valuable work some time after the event.
The Select Committee on Estimates is rather slowly and carefully building up a reputation for its work. It is not a very old body. It has had a chequered career. It has, perhaps, performed its major work and created its major reputation under another name, as the Committee on National Expenditure, during the war, when, as the noble Lord said, it was not at all popular with the Government of the day. Since the war, the Committee has been re-established with a number of sub-committees and it has performed an increasingly useful function.
I do not think that any hon. Member wants to set up the sort of committee system which they have in some other Parliaments or in the United States, where committees investigate every detail of Government activity and try to assume some of the responsibilities of Ministers and heads of Departments. The Select Committee on Estimates will continue to hold its reputation and to do useful work only as long as it bears in mind the limitations under which it acts. It cannot perform the functions of close and detailed examination of a Department, or close examination of the efficiency of a large undertaking. That can be done only within the organisation itself, and with the full collaboration of those in charge.
But the Committee does very useful work in keeping Departments "on their toes" and in drawing attention to matters that need further investigation. I believe it very important that the Committee 821 should render its reports in a very careful manner; that in its reports it should not exaggerate or attempt to make the newspaper headlines. This is a matter for all members of the Committee. I would again remind the House that the reports of the Committee are generally unanimous and, in any case, differences among the members are almost always non-party.
It happens that the report to which the noble Lord referred was that on the Foreign Office, which was examined by a sub-committee of which the hon. Member for Ladywood was the Chairman. I had very strong disagreement with the hon. Member and the members of the Committee on the form of the report. Anybody who reads the minutes of the proceedings will see that I carried that disagreement into Amendments and into discussion. Therefore, I am not supporting everything that my hon. Friend has done.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman will assist me by pointing out how the consideration which he is now advancing to the House is relevant to the question of whether there should be 36 or 37 members of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Albu
I did not rise on the Motion to appoint the Committee, because I thought that on the whole you, Mr. Speaker, would allow a fairly wide discussion on this Amendment. So far, if I may say so, the discussion has been fairly wide, but I am bringing my remarks to a close.
Nevertheless, there are very few occasions on which we can discuss either the functions or the membership of the Select Committee on Estimates, and I am surprised that hon. Members who are so interested in expenditure should be so unwilling to discuss it. As this is so much a matter for the House of Commons, and one on which the Executive or the Front Bench on either side should not exercise too great an influence, I feel that it would be wrong not to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood to continue as a member of the Committee. On those grounds, and because I am sure that the Leader of the House could find perfectly good ways of dealing with the difficulties which he has expressed to the House, I intend to vote for the Amendment.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave unanswerable reasons why this Amendment cannot be accepted. But I wish to be perfectly frank with the House, and to say that I remain unhappy about the situation which has developed.
Like my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), I shall be acquitted of any sympathy for the political views of hon. Members who find themselves in this situation. To me they are repugnant and fallacious. I rise to regret sincerely and deeply the disappearance from these Committees of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), because, however much they may annoy hon. Members on this side of the House from time to time, they are Parliamentarians of a very high order, and in my view they have served the House well on these Committees.
The Leader of the House may complain of the difficult situation in which he finds himself, and I think we all accept that. Nor am I proposing to attack in any way the usual channels on either side of the House. But I wish to put before the House what I think is the lesson that we can draw from this debate.
I am one of those who have always regretted the disappearance from our midst of independent Members. I am not going into the reasons for their disappearance, but they added a great spice to our proceedings and were of great value. The point has been made in this debate that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady-wood and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and their hon. Friends are not so much independents as Socialists. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that they are more Socialists than independents.
That puts us in a certain difficulty, but many of us remember the old I.L.P. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) was particularly vocal in those days, and here he is again in a similar position. As I say, we all remember the old I.L.P., and how it was possible to elect Mr. Maxton, Mr. Kirkwood and Mr. George Buchanan on to these Committees to participate in the work of the House. Therefore, I am not impressed 823 by the argument that the seven hon. Members opposite are independent Socialists. I should feel exactly the same if they were independent Mormons who had been refused the whip on the ground that they had failed to make the grade.
May I point out that though they are at the moment in a detached situation as Members of the House of Commons, they are seven in number, and, therefore, more heavily weighted in our midst than the official Liberal Party, which has a representative on this Committee. We are now told that they lack coherence, that the other night the hon. Member for Shettleston voted in one Lobby while his six colleagues voted in the other. Well, there are precedents to be found for just that situation, and so I think that they have had a raw deal.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had in mind—I thought I detected it running through his speech, and it was referred to elsewhere—that these seven hon. Members might find themselves back within the official Opposition fold before the General Election. That may well be.
If it is any comfort to them, I well recall an occasion when I did not like a Bill introduced by a Government of which I was a supporter, and when I voted against it 14 times in an all-night sitting. The next day I found myself in the Whips' Office and was threatened with just the fate which has overtaken them. It was getting near a General Election. I publicised the fact in my constituency, and it did me a mighty amount of good. That is a tip for the hon. Members.
If they are coming back to the official fold, then I would say to the Opposition Chief Whip, why exclude them now? If they are not, then surely they now possess an entity of their own, an individuality of their own, and should be accepted as such. Therefore, while my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has put up an unanswerable case which makes it impossible to support this Amendment in the Lobby, for the reasons he has given, I feel that it is an unhappy incident in the life of the House of Commons, that these seven hon. Members, whether they like it or not, now subsist in a separate pocket of opinion in our midst, and that we are losing two 824 excellent Members of our Select Committees. I hope it is an incident which will never be repeated.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I concur with all that has been said by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), and, indeed, by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in praise of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) and of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) for the excellent work which they have done on the Estimates Committee. All of us, I feel sure, feel great regret at the circumstances which have made it impossible for the names of the two hon. Members to be submitted, and, therefore, to appear in the Motion on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman on one point? I am not a member of the Estimates Committee, and never have been.
§ Mr. Robens
I should have said that it was on the Private Bill Procedure Committee. Nevertheless, I entirely agree with what was said about both these hon. Members, so that it is in no spirit of vindictiveness and no indication that their services were not very well received, that I am bound to support what the Leader of the House has said.
For good or ill, as has been explained by the Leader of the House and by the noble Lord, these names are submitted on a purely party political basis. It is a House of Commons matter, but it has now been laid down as a custom for the names to be submitted on a party basis, and on a basis proportional to the Members in the House. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne suggested that there was an easy way out by raising the number to 37. That immediately brought up the point that the Government would not then have a majority on the Committee.
Therefore, the hon. Member suggested that it would be open to the Leader of the House to recommend 38. Even that would not meet the case, because if there were 38 members of the Committee, assuming that the number was divisible according to the number of Committees, what would be the position? The Patronage Secretary would approach the Opposition Chief Whip and ask him for 825 18 names. He would be taking 19 names, because there would be one Liberal, to make 38. The Chief Whip would be only entitled to submit names of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because that is his only function. He is not here to represent independent Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I quite understand my right hon. Friend. He says that the Labour Chief Whip was bound to make the suggested change because my hon. Friend was no longer a member of his party. Is that the point?
§ Mr. Silverman
Then why does my right hon. Friend say that my hon. Friend, not being a member of that bloc but of another bloc, is not entitled in that other capacity to go on that Committee?
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Lady is a little tired. Her brain is not working as actively as normally. If she is so anxious that independent Members should be put upon the Committee, why does she not persuade the Patronage Secretary to put the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne on the Committee?
§ Mr. Robens
If the hon. Lady will be patient I will deal with one point at a time.
I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip can only submit the names of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, because he has no jurisdiction over anyone else. Therefore, he is not responsible now for the hon. Member for Ladywood or for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
§ Mr. Silverman
I understood that point the first time. What I am asking, if that is so, is why the right hon. Gentleman is advising the House to reject my Amendment? What is it to do with him?
§ Mr. Robens
I am advising the House to accept the advice of the Leader of the House, very largely because of the arguments which have been used, and because of the additional argument that, if there is an increase in the number of members of the Estimates Committee, then, on the present method of appointing hon. Members to that Committee, the Parliamentary Labour Party will still be asked to submit names for its proportion of the members. It still will not bring in the independent Members.
There is no more reason why the Parliamentary Labour Party should nominate independent Members than that the party opposite should. The fact is that if the number of members were raised to 38 the Opposition Chief Whip would be asked to supply 18 names and would produce them from members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because he is responsible only for members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It may well be a shameful thing to some people—
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument completely up to the point at which I last intervened. I understand that he will always claim the full representation for the Parliamentary Labour Party and will regard himself as confined to its official members. All that is perfectly clear and does not need labouring. What I cannot understand is why, if the House decided to increase the number to 38 in order to make provision for those hon. Members for whom he declines responsibility, he should want to come in and snaffle the lot.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Member must come back to the fact that the Committee is set up on a basis purely proportional between the parties.
§ Mr. Robens
It is no use the hon. Member saying, "Not at all." I have not had his long experience in the House, but I have listened carefully to what has been said tonight. I listened to the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, read from Erskine May. The Leader of the House reinforced that view, and I think it is clear to all the House that, whether or not it is difficult for some people, or whether or not we like it, the fact remains 827 that the number of members of the Estimates Committee is (a) decided by the House, and (b) those hon. Members nominated to it are nominated in strict proportion to party strength; and increasing the number would not necessarily bring in the independent members.
I do not want to go into the reasons why there are independent Socialist Members. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne himself, almost as a side issue, raised the question and talked of plebiscites. The independent Socialist Members are not independent because of a particular vote they gave, but because they did not act in accordance with the constitution of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It seems to me, therefore, that if one puts oneself, by one's own actions—
§ Mr. Robens
The point, surely, is that if hon. Members put themselves out of their Parliamentary association, difficulties such as these arise from it.
§ Mr. Robens
—that if members of a political party put themselves in this position these are some of the problems, some of the difficulties, some of the burdens that they have to face. It is very regrettable; nevertheless, we have to face it. It seems to me that we should support the Motion.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will excuse me if I do not follow his arguments in detail. For many years I have had a secret desire to be able to listen to a Socialist Party meeting. I think that everybody will agree that in the last 10 minutes we have probably been given a fairly good idea of what goes on.
In this Amendment there are really only two points which are of great value. Every one of us can realise the importance of independent Members. Every one of us can realise that this is a House of Commons matter. We can all realise all the difficulties, and talk about them with 828 great learning and at great length if necessary.
On this occasion, however, we are faced with the fact that this Estimates Committee has been built up with very great care to work on the basis of five subcommittees and a Chairman. If another one or two more members are introduced, the basis of its work is entirely upset. That means that it is not right to add a member. If, on the other hand, one took another point of view and, in place of one member, substituted the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), there might be a case.
The other point of view, so far as I understand it, is this. It is an excellent thing to have independent groups in this House, but they must be organised; they must have a whip and a leader, and they must all vote on the same side, more or less. On the occasion of the origin of this group, one voted one way and six voted the other way; the best of the lot was the hon. Member who voted by himself.
One cannot possibly have a group of this sort which splinters off for a little while, and whose members are, for all I know, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), later received back into the fold. It is ridiculous to set up a group of this sort, without any organisation, and regard it as having the right to overrule the whole of the working of the House, as would happen if this Amendment were accepted. If, on the other hand, we had an independent group, nothing would be more important than that they should have representation on this sort of Committee.
For that reason, I hope that the House will take the view that this proposition is quite unworkable, that there is no real, solid, independent group, but rather a group of persons who will dissent and will then come back when it suits either their Chief Whip or their leader, in which case, if this Amendment were accepted, we should be in the position of having added one additional Socialist Member, which would be utterly unfair.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
On many issues that come before the House—indeed, I think on the majority—I find myself in disagreement 829 with the hon. Members for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and for Lady-wood (Mr. Yates), but that is no reason for my opposing this Amendment. I regard it as all the more important that I should try to consider this Amendment as fairly and as impartially as I can.
I feel that strong arguments have been put forward for the Amendment, and I am all the more persuaded to accept the Amendment after hearing the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I really was alarmed at some of his remarks. His speech threw light on what I regard as a very dangerous trend in our Parliamentary life. I have tried to consider whether there is an answer to the arguments which have been put Forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. It may be that, in practice, a distinction could be made between a group which has only recently been compelled to secede from a main party, and a minority party or group of independents who have gone through the days—and it may be very gruelling days—of a General Election, and who, perhaps, feel that they are grossly under-represented in the House.
To put it in another way, there may be a distinction, in practice, between a group which is temporarily separated from the main body and a group which has been independent for many years and has every intention of remaining so. There may be something in that distinction, but I am not sure that it is appropriate and relevant on such an occasion as this when we are considering the appointment of a Select Committee on Estimates.
As hon. Members have said, this is not a party matter. It is a constitutional problem, and I doubt whether, in considering this constitutional issue, we can take into account the temporary nature, or otherwise, of this group of independent Members. We have to accept the situation as it exists. I appreciate the difficulties of the Leader of the House. It may well be true that this situation has arisen from a civil war, as he called it, but this civil war has been brought to the notice of the House. We cannot shirk it. We have to face it tonight.
I submit that there are five considerations which should weigh with hon. Members in deciding whether to support the Amendment. First, it is clearly the duty 830 and privilege of the House to appoint this Committee. I do not think anyone disagrees with that. It is the duty of the House, in appointing the Committee, to try to make it as far as possible representative of the whole House, and it would be wrong to delegate that responsibility to the Whips. I am not suggesting that the Whips do not perform a valuable function in the House, but there is at least a possibility that we may travel too far along the road towards government by Whips.
Secondly, it is clearly our duty to pay due attention to minorities and the interests of minorities, and there is at least a prima facie case that this group of independents, who have expressed a desire to be represented on the Estimates Committee, should be so represented.
Thirdly, we have a precedent for independent Members serving on the Select Committee on Estimates. I think the last hon. Member to serve as an independent was Mr. Kenneth Lindsay. Had it not been for the disappearance of independent Members in 1950, it may well be that we should have had more up-to-date precedents for independents serving on the Select Committee on Estimates.
Fourthly, there is no magic in numbers. The number was formerly 28 and was increased to 36. There is some force in the arguments advanced by the Leader of the House. I appreciate his difficulties but do not think they outweigh the serious matters of principle which have been raised tonight. I do not think it would be an insuperable difficulty to have 37 or 38 members of the Committee. It is not absolutely necessary that the sub-committees should be composed of five members each. I believe the Select Committee could work satisfactorily even if the number were not even.
Lastly, I suggest that there is some distinction to be made between Committees dealing with Bills and the Select Committee on Estimates. It is reasonable that the Government should have a majority on a Committee dealing with Bills, particularly where they are controversial. Even though the majority may be of only one, it is reasonable that the Government should require that majority in order that business may be carried through and that Bills may pass through Committee, or that there may be a reasonable hope of Bills passing through Committee. But 831 the Select Committee on Estimates is rather different.
I was impressed during the three years in which I served on the Select Committee on Estimates by the fact that if one were to listen in one would very often find it difficult to tell to what party a member of the Committee belonged. It is the purpose of the Select Committee on Estimates to examine Government expenditure, to examine the estimates and to do so as fairly and impartially as possible. I think it is to the credit of the Select Committee on Estimates that party considerations are, for the time being at any rate, very largely forgotten.
Therefore, the only possible argument against this Amendment—apart from the technical ones put forward by the Leader of the House—would be that the hon. Member for Ladywood is not a fit and proper person to serve, and no one has suggested that. The very fact that he has ceased to receive the whip may indicate that he has an independence of mind which may make him very useful and valuable on the Select Committee on Estimates.
Disraeli is reported once to have made the remark:Damn your principles, stick to your party.I suggest that tonight we might reverse that advice, for this is not an occasion when party loyalties should over-ride all other considerations. It is an occasion when it is the duty of the House to maintain the traditional respect for minorities and democratic principles. It is for that reason, which I think overrides all other arguments, that I propose to support the Amendment.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The House will agree that this Amendment has been moved and seconded in a reasonable manner. The House has always taken a special interest where the rights of back benchers are concerned. In the 10 years I have been in this House I have found that the House is always hyper-sensitive about the rights and privileges of back benchers as against either the Executive or the Front Bench of the Opposition, that the dignity and prestige of the House itself rests upon the recognition of the fact that the party machine is not everything in this House; and if we have moved into the 832 age when the party caucus completely controls what happens in this House, the House itself has less to give than it had previously.
I believe the public of these islands is as anxious as we are that the rights and privileges of ordinary Members of the House shall be acknowledged. There is not one hon. Member of this House who was not elected on the basis of loyalty to a party. Every right hon. and hon. Member, on both sides, obtained admission to this House by giving his public allegiance to the principles of one party or the other.
But, when that is said and done, within the bounds of loyalty which we all owe to those who voted for us on the basis that we would support the party to which we belong, the dignity of this House rests upon the fact that hon. Members have a perfect right, on issues of conscience, to do what my hon. Friends did. It would be a pity if the operation of the party machine should make it appear as though they were being punished for a vote they cast.
I believe all of us acknowledge that it is the mechanics of this question which have led to the real difficulty. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip for the Opposition was in an almost impossible position. From his point of view he regarded it as impossible to nominate my hon. Friend to continue to serve on the Committee. I suggest to the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Whip for the Government would do the same if an hon. Member had left the party to which he belongs.
But I believe that this is a House of Commons matter, and that we should get over the mechanical difficulty if the Leaders on both sides allowed freedom to their supporters on this question. Because, we need not deceive ourselves, this question of 37 members is not difficult to resolve. If the House decided tonight that another was to be added to the Estimates Committee, before the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House left tonight he would have tabled the necessary notice to give the Government its majority on the Estimates Committee. So, if the principle is to be acknowledged by this House that back benchers must have rights, regardless of the might of the machine, this is the opportunity for the House to let its will be known.
833 There have been many party speeches made on this issue. I suppose we cannot blame hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for trying to make he most of this occasion and to score as many party points as they can. It is inevitable that in this debating Chamber people do so, and that we seize every opportunity that we can. But, when our points are scored, the dignity and the prestige of the House is something even higher than the interests of our respective parties, and I believe that we shall be making a mistake if we tell the country that anybody who quarrels with this Front Bench or that Front Bench has lost his right to serve on important Committees of this House like the Estimates Committee.
Somehow, though my right hon. Friend feels inhibited by his responsibilities to this party to nominate those who no longer have the whip of this party, the House itself ought to give opportunity to the two Front Benches to have this matter put right by having the courage to vote tonight for the addition of another member to the Estimates Committee.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will not think me offensive if I say that a great deal of what he said, and most of what speakers immediately preceding him said, is irrelevant to the point which we are debating. The fact is that there are a certain number of hon. Members who say that they are not independent. They are also not official members of the Labour Party. It is from that position of not being either one of those two things that our present difficulty arises.
If they were genuinely independent, they would, on past precedents, be eligible for consideration to be on this Committee; if they were genuinely members of Her Majesty's Opposition, they would be eligible for their names to be nominated in the ordinary way. They are neither of those things and there is no half-way house. We know what they are not. It appears to be that they are thoroughly red herrings—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
This is an important issue. They a re members of the official Labour Party but they are not in receipt of the official Parliamentary Labour Party's whip, which is a different matter. Supposing that the whip is withdrawn from 50, 60 or 70 members 834 en bloc, is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that automatically those 50, 60 or 70 cease to have any Parliamentary existence in the sense that they can take part in no Committee of this House, and that neither bench would support any of their claims, and that that would be right?
§ Mr. Summers
I am not laying down any principles.
What I am saying is that the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) says that he is not independent. He is the judge of whether he is independent or not, and I accept what he says. Also, when the leaders of the Opposition say "They are not under our whip," we must accept the fact that those Members are not members of the Labour Party in this House.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and it is because they are neither of the two types of Member that I have described that the difficulty arises. Much as I regret the fact that the hon. Member for Ladywood, with whom I have worked for some years, does not look like continuing to be a member of the Select Committee on Estimates for some time, I find myself completely satisfied with the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend.
There is a point which has not yet been put. One of the reasons why I dissent from the case advanced for the Amendment, apart from the general grounds to which I have just referred and the arguments of my right hon. Friend. is that the solution advanced to overcome the difficulty is to make the Committee larger. I find myself totally opposed to the idea of making it larger. I think it is too large already.
With five sub-committees, we find that it is almost more than is practicable for hon. Members to study in detail the evidence and papers of the four subcommittees of which they are not members so that they may do justice to their responsibilities in underwriting the reports brought forward by the other subcommittees. The general conclusions submitted to the House by the Select Committee on Estimates would probably carry greater weight if they were originally prepared by only four subcommittees and screened through the whole Committee instead of our having the present procedure. Not only would it enable more attention to be paid to the reports of the sub-committees, but it 835 would permit of a better attendance, in view of the absentees which necessarily arise with only three a side and a chairman.
I wanted the opportunity of stating that there is at least one member of the Select Committee who hopes that the time will come when a contrary recommendation to that of enlarging the Committee will be put forward; namely, that it should be a little smaller and have fewer subcommittees, and so carry greater conviction when recommendations are brought before the House.
On the immediate issue, the dilemma is one which cannot be solved in the way suggested, and I find myself in complete agreement with the arguments of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
It has been said by several hon. Members, without anybody dissenting, that this is a House of Commons matter. Hon. Members are to be congratulated upon the large number who are attending to listen to the debate. I am sure that no hon. Member on either side would suggest that any whips should be put on on a matter of this kind, and, therefore, it is all the more credit to hon. Members opposite—they are in larger numbers than those assembled on this side of the House—that they should have waited to cast their votes freely at the end of the debate. It would be a complete novelty if anyone were to suggest that the whips should be applied on either side on a subject which is a House of Commons matter.
I cannot think that there has been any effective reply to the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). Two hon. Members and one noble Lord opposite deeply regretted what was happening, but on the grounds that the Amendment was not phrased in a way which would achieve the result which they would like they managed to wriggle out of the possibility of voting on the subject. It would have been better if they had not made their speeches if that was how they were going to regard the vote.
If it is a major issue concerning affairs of the House of Commons, as they claimed—the noble Lord certainly made that claim—and if it is a matter affecting the Members and the conduct of the House—nobody put that point more 836 strongly than the noble Lord—surely those are not matters to be weighed in the balance against whether one or two extra Members should be on the Committee. Therefore, if we accept the argument of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), and the argument put by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), the logic is that we should vote for the Amendment; and even if the two hon. Members are not themselves going to vote for it, they may at least take credit for the fact that they have persuaded others to adopt a course which they themselves are not likely to adopt.
The argument of the Leader of the House, so it appears to me, seems to be the weakest of all because the right hon. Gentleman claims that the number itself is sacrosanct; although that argument has since been exploded because we have been told that the number ought to be smaller in any case although it still must be divisible by something or other. I do not think that the Leader of the House could have advanced his argument with any great assurance, because he knows that there can be a committee with one extra member on it. These allegedly complicated arithmetical problems can be worked out.
But then the Leader of the House went on to produce the most damaging of arguments against his own case by recalling the days of the Independent Labour Party. He mentioned Mr. Jimmy Maxton; but how did Jimmy Maxton get on to these Committees? How about Kenneth Lindsay? Was it done by the then Leader of the House; was it with the assistance of the Opposition whips? What was the procedure?
§ Mr. McGovern
May I explain that in the days of the I.L.P. it was studied policy not to be represented on these Committees; not to dissipate our energies there, but to reserve them for the House, and we were not members of these Committees at all.
§ Mr. Foot
That is interesting, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for putting our history right. But he must forgive me because I had accepted at its face value what I was told on this point by the Leader of the House.
However, what about Kenneth Lindsay; what about W. J. Brown, who was certainly a member of several of these Com- 837 mittees? They were elected, presumably, by the Government Chief Whip because he wanted to see that the whole of the House of Commons was properly represented; and I say that the Leader of the House should not say that he cannot operate precisely the same system which operated in earlier days.
§ Mr. Summers
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the illustrations which he now gives are all of hon. Members who were independent Members, whereas the hon. Gentleman who is the subject of this debate himself admits he is not an independent?
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
As I understand it, there is a new kind of political animal in the House today, and the Leader of the House says that the House is incapable of dealing with it. But if the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) reads his political history in greater detail, he will discover that there have been all types of varieties of hon. Members; those who were previously members of the Labour Party, or of the Conservative Party, and others who were more or less independent, and the House has always in the past been able to accommodate itself to the situation.
Now, however, it is argued that it is impossible for the House to accommodate itself to this new position; while others argue that it can. Somebody has said that the House of Commons can be likened to the trunk of an elephant; it can fell an oak or pick up a pin. I believe that the House can devise new methods for dealing with this new problem.
The argument with which I was dealing was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said that it is impossible for the Opposition whips to submit any other names than those of hon. Members for whom they are responsible; but it was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne in his interruption that surely my right hon. Friend should have been arguing against the proposition of the Leader of the House, and asking him why he did not take the responsibility on himself as other Leaders of the House have done in the past, of seeing that independent Members are represented on this Committee.
§ Mr. Foot
We have the authority of the Chief Whip and the spokesman for our Front Bench that they are not speaking for them. I should have thought that a good definition of an independent Member of this House is a Member who has no "usual channels" through which he can operate. I cannot imagine any other definition.
Mention of their independence is not a matter concerned with their political line or conduct. It is not whether they are red or pink Socialists or blue or semi-blue Tories that matters. It has nothing to do with the colour of their politics; it has to do with their relation to the official party machines in this House, and my hon. Friend assures me, and indeed it has been confirmed not only by his conduct but by the Opposition Front Bench, that he has no relations with the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Spearman
The hon. Gentleman has repeatedly referred to Mr. Kenneth Lindsay and Mr. W. J. Brown. Both those gentlemen, when Members of this House, frequently voted sometimes in the Government Lobby and sometimes in the Opposition Lobby. Is not that conduct a fair working interpretation of an independent Member?
§ Mr. Foot
One of the reasons why this problem exists is that my hon. Friends voted in a different Lobby from that in which their colleagues in the Labour Party voted. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking that they should be deprived of any representation on these Committees. I am prepared to concede that we cannot lay down absolute and final laws as to how we should elect the Committees. It is difficult to lay down an exact procedure which should be followed in all cases. The matter must be dealt with with some degree of tolerance.
It is essential, unfortunately, to have whips in this House. It is for the convenience of the House. Indeed, the House 839 could not operate without some form of whip machinery, but the same point of principle applies to this matter as applies to the general operation of the whips. The whips are essential for the conduct of party democracy, but they are only tolerable when their power is exercised with some degree of magnanimity, and here no magnanimity has been shown from the Front Opposition Bench or from the Government Front Bench.
If the two Front Benches try to operate the rules of the House, showing no degree of latitude and no degree of magnanimity, and making no attempt to try to make old and good traditions apply to new circumstances in a tolerable fashion, then they will be undermining the strength and the prestige of the House. It is for that reason that I hope that there will be a majority for the Amendment. I hope that no hon. Gentleman will demean himself so much on a matter which concerns the House of Commons itself, and which is admitted to be a House of Commons matter, as to go into the Lobby and vote purely because of the considerations of the party whip.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I very much deplore the present situation. I happen to be a member of the subcommittee of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) was the chairman. I have served on it for some years now, and I have much appreciated his chairmanship. I have noted with satisfaction his competence his conscientiousness and his efficiency, and I very much regret that this most unfortunate situation has arisen.
But almost every hon. Member has referred to the fact that this is a Committee set up by the House of Commons, and that the procedure runs through the usual channels. No one disagrees with that, but what I think is deplorable is that her Majesty's Opposition is using the official channels to take action against a section of its own party with which it is in disagreement. It is of the greatest importance that when we are setting up a House of Commons Committee we should remember that we are serving the House of Commons, and we should not seek to run private inter-party vendettas when we are trying to do our duty by the House. No hon. or right hon. Member opposite has explained to 840 the House that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood had already been invited to take up his position again as a member of the Estimates Committee, but, as soon as he recorded his vote, and a vote of conscience, the invitation of his own party whip was withdrawn, and that is what, in my estimation, constitutes a grave offence against the dignity and rights of the House.
I listened with very great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) had to say on this matter, and am bound to say that, as he represents the constituency next to mine, I was disappointed—
§ Miss Ward
I am delighted. I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman had such influence.
I know he has a great deal of charm. We all know that, but, unfortunately, on this occasion, because he does not come from my part of the world, he failed to call a spade a spade, and instead of trying to explain, as he was entitled to—he had not even read his brief—the position of Her Majesty's Opposition, he tried to hide behind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
By the time the right hon. Gentleman sat down I surmised that he was trying to ride two horses at once, which is quite impossible. If he wanted to make a forthright speech he should have said that the Opposition had decided that they were going to discipline the seven hon. Gentlemen who voted against their party dictates, that in their opinion they had a perfect right to do so, and that was their case. But the right hon. Gentleman had not even got the guts to say that, and I am very disappointed that he should have been so lacking in courage. Of course, I know it is a very unfortunate position for the Opposition—and I am enjoying it right up to the hilt.
I am fully seized of the need to have independent people sitting on a Committee which has the power, at any rate, to seek to complain to the Executive. I 841 am very keen on the machinery of government, and I enjoy the participation of independent Members. Therefore, I feel that it is very sad indeed that a great Opposition—great in a numerical sense, though small in this sense—should seek to pursue a vendetta against a few people, and should use a House of Commons Committee for the purpose of pursuing that vendetta.
Though the Amendment is very interesting, I cannot see that, even if we carried it, the hon. Member for Ladywood would get on to the Committee, because, as far as I can make out, it would still be within the competence of the Opposition Chief Whip to invite No. 37 to sit on the Estimates Committee. It is quite true that naturally a Conservative Member would be appointed, but that would not ensure that the hon. Member for Ladywood would be on it.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she has, perhaps, overlooked the fact that there are two Amendments, which, by permission of the Chair, are being discussed together. The first is to change "thirty-six to "thirty-seven," and the second is to add the name of my hon. Friend.
§ Miss Ward
I apologise, but I had not heard the announcement from the Chair that we were discussing the two Amendments together. We have been discussing the question of adding one name and making the number 37. If the hon. Member for Ladywood were going to rejoin the Estimates Committee, then that would be a very important matter.
I do not wish to say any more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know that hon. Members opposite do not like it. but, once again, I repeat what I said before, that I feel very conscious of this vendetta being pursued in the setting up of a House of Commons Committee, and I deplore the fact that the Opposition should have exercised a vendetta without considering, first of all, its duty to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I think it is unfortunate that membership of these Committees has, apparently, to depend primarily upon party membership. Surely, the primary consideration when electing a person on to one of these Committees should be his 842 suitability, and, if he has been on a Committee before, his record of service on it. I should have thought it irrelevant whether or not an hon. Member was a member of a particular political party. I cannot reconcile myself with the view that has been expressed from both Front Benches that nominations for these Committees must come through the usual channels.
I was interested in the point raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). I had it in mind to make the same point. He asked what would have happened if 17 Members of the Labour Party had been expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party, or 27 for that matter.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Harris
Supposing that 27 Members had been expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party, that would have entitled them to one representative on this Committee, assuming that we make the appointments on a party basis. Does that mean that the Leader of the House would have asked the official Labour Party for only 16 names instead of 17?
Is the only criterion constitution as a party? I should hope that a man's suitability for the job would be the first consideration, but I am told that nominations for these Committees should come from the leadership of the parties. Are we bound indefinitely to this particular tradition? What rule binds us to it indefinitely? I should have thought that the strength of the House of Commons was its flexibility, but here we have an individual case where an hon. Member has given excellent service—he has been deputy-Chairman of the Committee and Chairman of a sub-committee—but, in the eyes of the outside world, he is to be expelled because he voted against German rearmament.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
May I inform the hon. Member that in most cases the whip was withdrawn for voting against that, but that one hon. Member had the whip withdrawn for voting for it?
§ Mr. Harris
I am very concerned about the effect of what we are doing tonight upon the country at large. Every one of us, I think, has had to put up from time to time with a good deal of joking criticism from friends and constituents because we are continually having to go into the Lobby either against our will, or because we are whipped into it.
§ Mr. Harris
I have seen hon. Members of the Labour Party go into the Lobby with tears running down their cheeks. It is no use the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) saying "Speak for yourself" when talking about going into the Lobby against one's will. Members of the Labour Party went into the Lobby with tears running down their cheeks when they had to vote for their own Government's Motion in relation to Mr. Seretse Khama. Mr. Seretse Khama was sitting at the back of the Chamber, and I saw Labour Members go to apologise to him because, on the whips' orders, they had had to vote against him.
The country sometimes thinks that we are an odd lot. They think that we are very weak. We have to explain to those who joke about these things just why we have two parties, and why we have to obey the party whips—because we do not want chaos in Parliament and so on. I have an enormous respect for the party whips. I have no doubt that we could not get along without them, and we need the usual channels, but surely there should be some limit to the power of the whips.
This has been called a House of Commons matter. I prefer to regard it as a back benchers' matter. It is not often that we have an opportunity to say what we think of those on the Front Benches, but in this matter, I think, the Front Benchers are operating what I might call a restrictive practice, and it should be referred to the Monopolies Commission.
This is a very serious matter. I do not want to see the hon. Member for Lady-wood (Mr. Yates) or the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) expelled from these Committees because of their party political views. Those views stink in my nostrils, but those hon. Members are good House of Commons men, and surely what we need on the Committees are 844 good House of Commons men, men with good experience, and men willing, apparently, to give their time to the work. I should hate to be on the Committees—I have to earn my living—but if hon. Members have given good service in the past that should be the criterion.
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) has referred tonight to the question of the party whips. I do not know what is happening in his party, but I understand that in our party the whips are on. I am very sorry that they are on. I should have thought that this was a back benchers' matter, on which we could all vote exactly as we feel is right and proper, because it is of constitutional importance to the working of Parliament.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I had not intended to intervene, but the last observation of the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) was one which could not be permitted to pass without comment. The Leader of the House got up with the reticence and courtesy that he usually displays, and spoke to the House in a temporising fashion and indicated that, with reluctance, he had come to the conclusion that he would have to tender certain advice, and sat down. Speaking from great experience, having spent some years in the House, he felt it his reluctant duty to indicate an opinion to his hon. Friends.
Now we are told that they are to have their bottoms smacked if they do not vote in accordance with the whip. [Interruption.] I am referring to whips. The origin of the term is well known, and I should have thought that the metaphor that I used was precisely that which was conjured up in connection with that process.
The hon. Member for Heston and Isle-worth gave a fanciful picture, which I have never seen, of Labour Members weeping as they advanced slowly and reluctantly through the Lobby. The pictures which used to be seen of Tory Members emerging from the Lobby under the direction of Captain Margesson had never been seen in history since Dr. Keats ceased to preside over Eton.
I am concerned at the attitude of the Leader of the House, and I do not think the matter ought to be left here. There has not been a speech made yet in which someone has not said that this is a House 845 of Commons matter. What is the meaning of "a House of Commons matter"? The meaning is that it is something in which Members are concerned as Members of the Commons and not as Members of a party, something in which Members are here to serve the interests of the House at large and not to follow the party line. Then we are told that the whips are on. I hope that the Leader of the House has been listening to me. I do not press it on him too closely, as it may not be wholly agreeable, but I hope that he is gathering remotely the purport of my remarks.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has spoken, and I am sorry that some of his observations were criticised, because I agree with most of them. But I am sure that he has not read his whip, because he indicated a clear point of view. Nobody would apply to the noble Lord the term which used to be applied to us when we on these benches were in government—the term "Lobby fodder." I would not make such an accusation against him. But if he has read his whip, I think it was a little ingenuous of him to conclude his remarks by saying that he had reluctantly come to the conclusion that he had got to vote against the sentiments that he had previously expressed, without saying that there was at least another reason for doing so.
It may be, of course, that the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth has misread his whip, as I have known happen. Perhaps he has misread the whip, which was directed to the Cocos Islands Bill and the Northern Ireland Bill, and not to this matter at all. If that is so, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will make it clear.
I have always found the Leader of the House very courteous and considerate, although there have been times in the past when there was disagreement, but I suggest—and I want to use the most modest words that I can—that the mathematical argument was not founded upon any previous system of mathematics. He said, "You have to have 36 members, because you divide that number by seven, and you do that by knocking off the Chairman, and then it works out all right." But what happens when someone is ill? What happens when two people are ill? We cannot divide by seven 846 when somebody is away. We then have four on a Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said we cannot have six. He said it is mathematically impossible to add one to one of the Committees, but of course we have to subtract one about once a month. When the smog is about we might as well subtract the lot. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is all too fanciful.
Let us apply the argument to another section of his mathematics. He said, "We have to represent all parties, and the Liberal Party has one member." I am very happy that it has one member. I should be the last person on earth to use any words which could be understood to limit the Liberal Party's right to have one member on the Committee. But on sheer mathematics it represents one one-hundred-and-twentieth of the membership of the House. There are only 35 members of the Committee, so the Liberals immediately upset the mathematics.
But that is not all. When my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip of the Labour Party finds it impossible to recognise six of his flock, his mathematics are at once out of joint because he has based them on a Labour Party membership of 294 or whatever it might be, and not on 287 or 288—for I am not sure where my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) stands on this. If he will forgive me for saying so, I am not sure where he stands on one or two things, although when he expresses himself it is fair to say that there is then no misunderstanding and we always know where he stands.
We are in a mathematical dilemma, for the mathematics seem to have no basis. If we made the number 37 or 38, it could not possibly be argued on any figures that these adjustments would be other than relatively unimportant. The right hon. Gentleman's explanation will not do.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) said that this was a new situation. I must say hon. Members opposite are to be congratulated on their tact about their colleagues, for we have had two independent Conservatives in the last six months. I think both the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) were independent Conservatives for a considerable period.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, but I can speak for myself, and I would point out that there is a big difference between the position I was in and the position in which the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) finds himself. I resigned from the Conservative Party whereas the hon. Member and his hon. Friends appear to have resigned from the Parliamentary Labour Party but not from the Labour Party as a whole. They are, therefore, in the position of being neither independent nor members of the party.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely took a courageous decision, and is entitled to the credit for it. However much one disagrees with an hon. Member, one always admires him when he takes a courageous decision. I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member, for we now have the position made clear; I did not know that he had resigned from the party as well as declining the whip. This is the point: my hon. Friends are not members of the Parliamentary Labour Party but they are perfectly good Labour Members. They are, therefore, neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring.
This is the first time that I remember in the history of Parliament when there has been no independent Member. I am not one of those who regard that as necessarily a good thing. It is said that this is a new situation. 1 have been a Member of the House for only 10 years—not quite that; let us look back over those 10 years. There was Sir Andrew Duncan, who sat on the front bench and yet said, "I am not a party member." There was Sir John Anderson—Lord Waverley—who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and who said, "I am not a party member."
I know the answer. Hon. Members opposite cannot give it, so I will give it. They will say, "But this was bogus. This was to deceive the electorate. Everyone knew they were Tories but we used to tell the country that they were independent-minded chaps and we got a lot of advantage from it." I know that.
There was Mr. Lipson, the former Member for Cheltenham. The hon. Member for Cheltenham was an independent Conservative. No one would doubt his sincerity as a Member of this House. He said, "I am a Conservative, 848 but I will not accept the Parliamentary whip." He was in this identical position and he was on these Committees. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) put him on them, because he was the Leader of the House at the time. He submitted the names to the House and moved the Motion. It is really incorrect to say that here is a new situation which has not happened before.
It has been said that this is a matter for the usual channels. What are the usual channels for? They are there to smooth out difficulties between the parties on House of Commons matters, matters of business, and so on, and to express the party view, to say "We regard this as a Motion of censure," and so on. The usual channels work admirably to cut out a lot of argument and debate of that kind, and to show the general view of the House.
That works until there is a marked disagreement, and then, of course, it comes before the House. This is the correct Parliamentary procedure. The usual channels do, for convenience, and usually to the complete satisfaction of the House, the job which the House would have to do itself—and waste a lot of time over—if there were not this organisation to do it. When we reach a situation in which that organisation acknowledges it cannot function correctly it is a matter for the House.
If I understood what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said, I think there is a great deal in it and I do not express marked dissent from it. My right hon. Friend said, "How can you expect my right hon. Friend to put the hon. Member for Lady-wood on this Committee when we have just withdrawn the whip from him? My right hon. Friend is the Parliamentary whip of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and it is only reasonable and sensible that he should nominate members of the Parliamentary Labour Party receiving the whip." I do not necessarily accept that, but it seems an eminently reasonable point of view. I do not think it is open to criticism or attack. I would have said that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood has done rather special service, it might be better to have a little reflection and discussion, but in the main I do not dissent from that argument.
849 11.15 p.m.
But once we have reached that position, seven Members are not being represented, because my right hon. Friend says, "I cannot nominate them because I am not issuing the whip to them." I do not think anyone would say that I am misrepresenting the argument or not putting it precisely as it has been put to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne intervened and asked, "Who does it?"
The answer is, the House. I know that the right hon. Gentleman opposite can make an ingenious argument that if we carry this Amendment we will get an extra Labour Member on the Committee. No one doubts the sincerity of my hon. Friend; of course he is a Labour man—and, in my view, a very good one. Everyone knows that the right hon. Gentleman can put it right. Everyone knows there is no real dilemma. Everyone knows that if the House, as a House, says, "This is an unfortunate situation and, without wishing to cast any censure, we should like to put it right," of course it can be done, and an adjustment made later. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he commands such support that even if there were the possibility of opposition he could have the adjustment made. There is absolutely nothing in that point, and in those circumstances what justification can there be for issuing a whip on this matter? It is not customary to disclose the nature of the whip, but I do not think my right hon. Friend will object to my saying that in those circumstances no whip was issued on this side of the House. And it is right that one should say that in the peculiar circumstances, although it would have been a wrong thing to do, it might have been understandable if it had been done; if my right hon. Friends were feeling angry or frustrated or annoyed, it might have been done.
But my right hon. Friends have not done that, and they had more temptation to do it than the other side of the House. In those circumstances I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House frankly whether a whip has been issued, and whether, on reflection, having listened to the arguments, and having listened to every speech saying, "This is a House of Commons matter, this is not a party matter," he thinks he ought to put it right.
850 There is one further argument. The other thing which has been said from start to finish in this debate by hon. Member after hon. Member is, "When I go to the Estimates Committee and listen to people talking, I would not know, from what they said, to what party they belong." There is a reason, very often, in examining Estimates, why there should be a party point of view, because the object of the Estimates Committee is to secure economy. I am not saying that in any ironical sense.
However, one cannot tell what party they belong to. Then what does it matter? What are we arguing about? The entire discussion has been on the basis that party is so vital to the Estimates Committee that the slightest variation in the balance would upset the whole thing. But then Members say, "We cannot tell to which party they belong. If it were not for the colour of their tie, or some other well-known emblem, we would never know." Then why are we having this discussion?
I cannot sit down without making a final point. It is an important one. I do not know anything about the qualifications for being a member of the Estimates Committee. I have never been a member, I have never been asked to be a member, and I have never been asked if I wanted to be a member during the 10 years I have been in this House. So I have no knowledge of its workings. But I was at one time interested in the law and Constitution, and there was a day in this House when a famous Resolution was moved in 1760, if I remember aright, by Dunnin, who said that the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished.
I think the power of the whips has increased, and when I say that I am not making any criticism of the whips. I think they are called upon to perform the most difficult, delicate, and onerous duties, and I think that the present burden has been put upon them as a result of a position in which for some years the party balance has been so small that it has been necessary to have almost every hon. Member of this House in attendance. It has been an almost intolerable burden.
The whips have to decide whether someone is fit enough to come and vote on a vital issue. [Laughter.] I thought I heard the cock crow once, and I paused 851 for the other two. The hon. Member who laughed was not here in those rather dirty days, when we had to bring cripples and women with fractured skulls from hospital, and when we wheeled dying men through the Lobby in bath chairs—
§ Mr. Hale
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was trying to be conciliatory but, for a moment, I was distracted from my main argument by something in the nature of an animal noise.
There is no doubt that an intolerable burden is placed on the whips. My experience in the last 12 months, during which I have had to endure a good deal of illness, has made me grateful for the courtesy and consideration which I have received, but it still is a serious matter when we get to the stage that the whips have to consider matters of this kind—to decide whether one man shall be allowed, for business or domestic reasons, or for reasons of illness, to pair, and another shall not, and to decide who shall go on Committees.
§ One of my hon. Friends intervened to say that questions of suitability were hardly relevant. When an hon. Member opposite—I think the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth—said that it was a question of picking the ablest men, one of my hon. Friends said "When was that done?" It was solace to my feelings. I think it is open to comment that, on the whole, the system of picking the ablest men might be the preferable system in the circumstances. However, the situation is as I have said.
§ I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say that whoever issued the whip in the circumstances was ill-advised, and that he does not ask his flock to follow—I was about to say "his crook," but that word might be deemed to have been selected for some malign purpose—the pastor. I hope that he will say that in the circumstances he does not make that demand, and will let each vote according to his conscience on this occasion, even if it cannot be permitted in the future.
§ Question put, That "Thirty-six" stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 31.853
|Division No. 28.]||AYES||[11.26 p.m.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S)||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Fell, A.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Fisher, Nigel||Longden, Gilbert|
|Barber, Anthony||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Barlow, Sir John||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||McLean, Neil (Inverness)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Gough, C. F. H.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Gower, H. R.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Birch, Nigel||Gresham Cooke, R.||Maude, Angus|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mellor, Sir John|
|Bowden, H. W.||Hargreaves, A.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Morris, Percy (Swansea. W)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Heath, Edward||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Neave, Airey|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon P G T||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Bullard, D. G||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Holmes, Horace||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph(East Grinstead)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Page, R. G.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Pearson, A.|
|Colegate, Sir W. A.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Pickthorn, K. W. M|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F C||Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J||Pitman, I. J.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Iremonger, T. L.||Popplewell, E.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Kaberry, D.||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Kerby, Capt. H. B||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Kerr, H. W.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Redmayne, M.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Ward, Miss I (Tynemouth)|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Wellwood, W.|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Touche, Sir Gordon||Wilkins, W. A|
|Sharples, Maj. R. C.||Turner, H. F. L.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Turton, R. H.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Spearman, A. C. M.||Vane W. M. F.||Wills, G.|
|Stevens, Geoffrey||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Studholme, H. G.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Summers, G. S.||Wall, Major Patrick||Sir Cedric Drewe and|
|Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||Mr. Richard Thompson.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Grimond, J.||Rankin, John|
|Albu, A. H.||Hale, Leslie||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Baird, J.||Holt, A. F.||Royle, C.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Crosland, C. A. R||McGovern, J.||Wigg, George|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Willis, E. G|
|Delargy, H. J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Yates, V F|
|Foot, M. M.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Plummer, Sir Leslie||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Norman Smith and Mr. Wade|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Blackburn, Sir Alfred Bossom, Mr. Dryden Brook, Miss Burton, Mr. Norman Cole, Sir William Darling, Viscountess Davidson, Sir Eric Errington, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Hobson, Mr. Holt, Mr. Horobin, Mr. H. Hynd, Mr. T. W. Jones, Mr. MacColl, Mr. Malcolm MacPherson, Commander Maitland, Major Sir Frank Markham, Mr. Mulley, Mr. Godfrey Nicholson, Mr. Nigel Nicolson, Mr. Ormsby-Gore, Sir Ian Orr-Ewing, Sir Leslie Plummer, Brigadier Prior-Palmer, Mr. Proctor, Mr. Kenneth Robinson, Mr. William Ross, Mr. William Shepherd, Mr. Sparks, Mr. Geoffrey Stevens, Mr. Summers, Mr. Tomney, Miss Ward, Captain Waterhouse, and Mr. Ian Winterbottom to be Members of the Committee:854
§ Seven to be the Quorum:
§ Power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; and to report from time to time:
§ Power to appoint Sub-Committees and to refer to such Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee:
§ Three to be the Quorum of every such Sub-Committee:
§ Every such Sub-Committee to have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to adjourn from place to place:
§ Power to report from time to time Minutes of Evidence taken before Sub-Committees.—[Sir C. Drewe.]