HC Deb 31 January 1955 vol 536 cc855-63

Resolution of the House [1st December] relating to the appointment of a Joint Committee and Lords Message [2nd December] signifying their concurrence to the said Resolution read.

Motion made, and Question proposed. That a Select Committee of Seven Members be appointed to join with a Committee to be appointed by the Lords to consider what alterations, if any, are desirable in the practice and the Standing Orders of the two Houses relating to private legislation, having special regard to the desirability of lessening the expense at present incurred.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

11.38 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, to leave out "Seven" and to insert "Eight."

I am sorry to weary the House with this Amendment at this late stage. Although the underlying principle is very much the same as the one we have been discussing, there are certain essential differences to which I call the attention of the Leader of the House. The arguments he used in the previous debate do not exactly apply here. It cannot be argued that the Committee dealing with Private Bill procedure is in exactly the same category as the Select Committee on Estimates. It is a different Committee, which cannot be said to be organised on party lines.

It is a special Committee set up to deal with questions of Private Bill procedure which is a highly technical and procedural matter. The purpose of the Amendment is to make it possible to include among the members of the Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who has, up to now, served on the Committee. The essential difference between this Committee and the Select Committee is that it is in the middle of taking evidence. It has heard a considerable amount of evidence and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has taken an active part in the deliberations.

The Committee has already heard several witnesses, including the Chairman of Committee of the House of Commons, the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords, and representatives of the Parliamentary Bar, as well as the repre- sentations of the Parliamentary agents, so that a very large amount of extremely technical and expert evidence has been heard and I submit that it would be entirely wrong to remove one Member from this Committee and appoint another at this particular stage.

I submit to the Leader of the House that the technical arguments, mathematics and arithmetic do not apply to this particular case and that it would not upset the balance of parties in the House if this Committee were to be allowed to continue with eight members instead of seven, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, whose legal knowledge and knowledge of procedure is known to the House.

I know it may be a rather difficult matter to sell the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to the House of Commons just now; and he has, of course, his critics on all sides of the House. His critics on this side, when they want to call him anything bad, describe him not as a Socialist but as an extreme individualist, and the biggest individualist in the House. When hon. Members on the other side wish to describe him in the worst possible terminology they describe him as an adjectival nuisance.

But I do suggest that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has a very vast experience of procedure in this House and could render service to the deliberations of the Committee. He has listened to all this expert evidence and I submit it was not only an injustice to the hon. Member but it would be unfair to the Committee and to the House if, at this stage, he is dropped purely because of his action in another matter.

I therefore submit that this is a different matter, that the Leader of the House, having achieved his victory on what may be called the main opportunity of the other Amendment, could very magnanimously and very generously, agree to this without in any way handing over his authority, or injuring the usual channels or invalidating the arguments he used on the previous Amendment.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that this is really a quite different matter, and I appeal to the Leader of the House to accept this Amendment. Let me, first of all, refer to the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks on the proportional representation of parties in this House. If he looks at the names of hon. Members on the Order Paper, and their parties, he will see that it is suggested that the following be appointed: Mr. Bowles (Labour), Mr. Erroll (Conservative), Mr. Glenvil Hall (Labour), Lieutenant-Colonel Lockwood (Conservative), Mr. Mitchison (Labour), Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Conservative), and Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Conservative)—that is, four Conservatives and three Labour Members. The Chairman happens to be my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall).

Therefore, on the party side of the matter, there are two Labour Members and four Conservatives from this House. I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman's argument, so far as it may have been thought to be relevant in the earlier debate, does not arise in this case, so there would be no difficulty in increasing the membership by one and increasing the Labour representation by one. Even then the Labour Party would be in a minority of one—three to four—so far as House of Commons representation is concerned.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire is perfectly right. Hon. Members know that when a Session comes to an end all Standing Committees and Select Committees also come to an end, and that is why we have to reappoint this one. We have already had six or seven meetings at which very important people have given evidence. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has attended every meeting, and anyone who read the Reports of the Committee will know that my hon. Friend has been very diligent in what he has been doing. As my hon. Friend said, probably six or seven people have already given evidence.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who has just left the Chamber, and who is the new proposed member of this Committee, would, I should think, find it very difficult to ask for the recall of any of the gentlemen who have already given evidence. It might be possible to do that, but it would be very difficult in view of the amount of time which they have already devoted to giving their evidence to the Committee as constituted before Christmas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has been pursuing one or two courses in his cross-examinations, and he will now be debarred, unless this Amendment is accepted, of being able to carry those cross-examinations to a logical conclusion in the case of the people who are to give evidence later on. Therefore, I feel that, in this case, the situation is rather different from the previous one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has been doing some very valuable work on the Committee. He has given up many hours to it. He is a professional man, and has probably suffered in the sense that he has not been able to attend to his professional duties which he might otherwise have done. He has been regular in his attendance of the Committee.

Having regard to all the circumstances, to the fact that the Committee has done part of its work, to the impossibility or difficulty of recalling old witnesses, and to the fact that my hon. Friend will be unable to examine future witnesses on the facts that he has already elicited from his previous examinations, I think that on this occasion the House should increase the membership of the Committee. As I said just now, even if it did that, the Labour Party would still be in a minority of three to four on the Commons side of Parliament.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

Does not the Leader of the House intend to say a word in reply to what my hon. Friends have been saying in proposing and seconding this Amendment? The right hon. Gentleman has had plenty of time in which to rise had he wished to reply to the arguments of my hon. Friends. After all, if this Amendment, also, is not to be accepted, it looks as if there is some vindictiveness at work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who from?"] Oh, yes, but from whom is another question altogether. It is no good right hon. and hon. Members opposite trying to look virtuous and to suggest that they have nothing to do with this. They troop into the Division Lobby to make sure that hon. Members on this side of the House are not allowed to serve on this Committee.

Earlier, we listened to a speech of high principle by an hon. Member opposite, but somehow the high principle got dissipated before the hon. Gentleman reached the Division Lobby, and he voted in a way different from the tenor of his speech. On this question, reason combines with sentiment to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) should be allowed to continue to serve the interests of the House on this Committee.

Everyone knows that my hon. Friend is a master on the question of the customs, the traditions and the usages of this House. There is no hon. Member to whom the House listens more carefully than to my hon. Friend when he is dealing with questions of procedure. It seems that we shall be cutting off our noses to spite our faces if we say that on this Committee as well my hon. Friend shall not be allowed to serve.

I do not want to enter into arguments advanced in connection with the previous Amendment, but I suggest that we are making a laughing stock of ourselves if on this, again, we obey our orders, tramp through the Lobbies and allow the party machine again to stamp its victory upon the House of Commons. Surely there is enough backbone somewhere for protests to be made against this sort of treatment for back benchers. I hope that in the next Division we shall at least have some hon. Members from the other side coming with us as a gesture of their lack of patience with the sort of policy now being pursued.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

It is getting late, so I shall be brief. No two cases are the same, otherwise they would not be debatable on the same night, but, of course, these cases are very much of the same nature. The subject-matter which this particular Committee is discussing is quite different from that of the other, but the fact that it sat in the same form last Session, while the other one did not, is a different point. I recognise all that. Obviously, if an hon. Member no longer sits on a Committee on which he has previously served, his experience is not available to his fellow-members on the Committee.

No hon. Member has a vested right, of course, to be on any Committee at all; that is why the nominations have to come before the House. The broad argument remains that the only way in which it has been found possible down the years to establish these Committees has been by receiving nominations from both sides. There is, of course, the exception which I mentioned earlier about smaller parties and truly independent Members. That applies in this case just as much as in the others.

The proportion between the parties, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has pointed out is four to three, and in this case the chairmanship is on the Labour side. Sometimes it is on one side and sometimes on the other. Those are matters which are discussed. That is how the machinery of this House works. One has to have some sort of machinery and, on the whole, the machinery for setting up these Committees has, so far as I know, been completely satisfactory for years past.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

Can the Leader of the House perhaps help us by placing before the House precedents in which it has been decided to change the personnel of such a Committee when the Committee was reappointed after the Recess?

Mr. Crookshank

I have not got that information at my finger's end—and I do not know that it is really relevant. Of course, it is a Committee set up for each Session, otherwise some procedure would have been devised to have it run on until it finally reported. It has not been done in that way.

Mr. Greenwood

If the right hon. Gentleman now says it is an entirely new Committee can he explain how it is able to take into consideration evidence which it has not heard?

Mr. Crookshank

Each Committee is a new Committee, because Sessions end and reappointments have to be made. In this case, the same terms of reference are there, and I understand that the evidence of last Session is being taken into consideration. I took it from the hon. Member from Nuneaton, who is a member of the Committee, that that evidence was to be taken into account.

Mr. Bowles

What I said was that my hon. Friend, who has already cross-examined six to eight witnesses over six to eight sittings, will not be present when we come to discuss our final recommendations. He will not be able to continue his line of argument through cross-examination of future witnesses, and the old members of the Committee will probably not be able to recall previous witnesses. Therefore, the only people left fully seized will be the members who have been common to both Committees. That is why we think it a mistake to change the membership of the Committee halfway through for such a paltry reason as this.

Mr. Crookshank

I have no knowledge of what the reason is, except from what I hear in this House. All I am concerned with is that the nominations are sent to me by the responsible authority which has always exercised its right and it is not for me to interfere with its nominations. That is all I am saying, and that is broadly the argument which I submitted to the House on the previous occasion, and which was accepted.

I quite recognise that there are differences in degree and detail in this matter, but the same principle still applies, that unless Committees can be set up through nominations by particular parties or by independents or smaller groups, it will be quite impossible ever to start up any of these Committees at all because it is only from those sources that one can learn who is available and, in many cases, who wants to serve on them. I hope, therefore, that the House in this case will take the same view as it did previously.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I think the Leader of the House did himself less than justice in making the reply that he has made tonight. The responsibility rests with him. Of course, he is a party man, and a good party man, but when he has discharged his duty to his party he still has his duty to the House of Commons. It is no good him falling back on the argument that we must have some machinery and that, having accepted the nominations which have been put forward, he has discharged his duty. When the nominations have been received, the right hon. Gentleman has still got his job to do, not as a Tory but as a House of Commons man.

The right hon. Gentleman has cut very heavily into his integrity by making the reply that he has made tonight. However long he may remain in the House of Commons, or however long he may be in another place, when he turns back the pages of HANSARD and reads what he said tonight, he will be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

It is unusual for an hon. Member who is himself the subject of an Amendment to intervene in the debate on it. I only do so because it seems to me that for once in my Parliamentary life I may be able to do so and at the same time be of assistance to the House—assistance, that is, by saving myself and the House any further embarrassment in this matter.

I allowed the Amendment which two of my hon. Friends so generously moved and seconded to go upon the Order Paper for two reasons. One was that it seemed to me that as the Committee was of a quasi-judicial nature, it required, when it came to give its report, a situation in which those who deliberated upon what they would recommend to both Houses would be people who had heard all the evidence. In the situation which was developing it looked as if one Member would have heard the first part of the evidence and not the second, and another Member would have heard the second part of the evidence and not the first.

The other reason was that I confess that I enjoyed membership of the Committee and was able to deceive myself perhaps into thinking that I was of some assistance to it. But I have heard the discussion on the previous Amendment, and I have heard the right hon. Gentleman's reply. I think that perhaps I can save the House a considerable amount of time if I say at once that I have no further desire to serve upon this Committee.

Mr. Speaker

In those circumstances, does the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) desire to withdraw the Amendment?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Yes, Sir. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee to have power to send for persons, papers and records, and to report from time to time:

Three to be the Quorum:

Mr. Bowles, Mr. Erroll, Mr. Glenvil Hall, Lieutenant-Colonel Lockwood, Mr. Mitchison, Mr. J. Enoch Powell, and Mr. Geoffrey Wilson to be Members of the Committee.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

Message to the Lords to acquaint them with such of the said Orders as are necessary to be communicated to their Lordships, and to request them to appoint an equal number of Lords to join with the Committee appointed by this House.