HC Deb 14 June 1956 vol 554 cc759-61
45. Viscount Hinchingbrooke

asked the Prime Minister whether he will move to appoint a Select Committee on Procedure in the Public Business in this House to report what changes in the practice or procedure of the House are necessary or desirable.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

My noble Friend's proposal has been carefully considered. The last Select Committee on the Procedure of the House sat in 1945 and 1946 and many of its recommendations were put into effect towards the end of 1947. It does not seem that the time has yet arrived for another general inquiry into procedure. However, there are certain matters of procedure to which attention has been drawn recently, and which might well be examined. We propose, therefore, to ask the House to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the practice of moving Amendments on going into Committee of Supply on the Service Estimates, the numbers required for a quorum and for the Closure in Standing Committees, the Constitution of the Scottish Standing Committee, and the question of Money Resolutions. A Motion will be tabled in due course.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that full reply, may I ask if he is aware that there are wider reforms which might be considered or reconsidered? There is, for example, the question of machinery for the control of finance by Parliament on the lines of the memorandum submitted by Lord Campion before the last Select Committee, which was approved of by the Committee. Can my right hon. Friend hold out the hope that a Committee might be appointed next Session for such wider purposes?

The Prime Minister

I am proposing, as I say, to table a Motion, and we are perfectly ready to hear the views of the House on the Motion when it is tabled. As regards the topic which my noble Friend has raised, there is, of course, existing machinery of all kinds, including such bodies as the Public Accounts Committee, and I would not care to commit myself at this stage. As I say, we are ready to table this Motion and to hear the views of the House. This is a matter for the House; it is not a party matter.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that, broadly speaking, we are in favour of a Select Committee being appointed and are quite agreeable to the topics which he has suggested being included for consideration? As regards the question of financial procedure, would not the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this matter was very exhaustively considered by the previous Select Committee, and that it is certainly unusual that another Select Committee of a general kind should be appointed after merely six or seven years?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in the facts he has stated to the House. I think I should tell the House that it is also true that it is rather unusual to have a Select Committee on Procedure so relatively soon after the last one. On the other hand, it did seem to us that there were a number of topics, which I have stated, which might well and usefully be examined. That is why I have suggested the procedure that I have.

Mr. Elliot

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the suggestion of a review of the constitution of the Scottish Standing Committee will be received with very great interest by hon. Members in all parts of the House and, indeed, by public opinion without? Is he aware that, even this morning, it was a matter of great comment that, while we have been able to spend some 23 days on each of two Bills, we were able to spend only half a morning on the subject 'of agriculture, which is of the very greatest interest to a great many hon. Members?

The Prime Minister

I was not there, but I am informed that the half-morning would have been regarded by English spectators as a very full morning.

Mr. Ellis Smith

As one of Mr. Speaker's historic duties is to defend the rights of private Members, as a result of which we have established one of our most constitutional rights, will the Prime Minister, before the Motion is finally drawn up, consider consulting Mr. Speaker in order to learn of Mr. Speaker's difficulties?

The Prime Minister

Well, Mr. Speaker, I had hoped, perhaps not wrongly, that the object of this Select Committee would be to ease the working of Parliament and, therefore, not to add unduly, Sir, to your burdens.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Can the Prime Minister inform the House when we may expect action on the Report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure which sat last year?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to give me notice of that question.

Mr. R. Bell

Will my right hon. Friend consider adding to the terms of reference the present need for having a seconder to an Amendment on Report, which wastes a great deal of time?

The Prime Minister

That is a matter which can well be raised when the Motion is on the Table.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that the trouble with the Scottish Grand Committee is that it is packed with English Members who have offended the Conservative Chief Whip who are sent there as a form of punishment and only come to vote at the end of the morning without having heard the discussion? Could he not arrange for their liquidation?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that we have viewed the matter quite in that way. I think the hope was that they lent a little helpful support to the decisions of the Committee.

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