HC Deb 11 April 1957 vol 568 cc1294-6
45. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recommend the appointment of a Select Committee to review and inquire into the working of the present system of Government with a view to reducing the burden on Ministers and securing the more efficient working of Parliament.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this matter. The idea behind his suggestion requires consideration and I intend to give it further study.

Mr. Donnelly

While thanking the Prime Minister for that courteous answer, may I ask whether he can give any indication of the speed with which he can carry out that further step and of the priority of this matter?

The Prime Minister

This raises very large questions as to the functions of Ministers and their duties to Parliament, and the great increase in work, which of course has grown up with the complexity of modern government. What, perhaps, I would try to do would be to consult Ministers and ex-Ministers—those who have had long experience—to see whether something could be done which would make this work easier and to that extent, one hopes, more fruitful.

Mr. Parkin

A General Election would help.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would it not tend to decrease the burden on Ministers if there were a committee system instead of a Cabinet system? Would the Prime Minister consider doing anything as revolutionary as that?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the hon. Member is asking me to consider committees of the Cabinet, or committees of Parliament.

Mr. Hughes

Committees of Parliament.

The Prime Minister

Does the hon. Member mean Standing Committees upstairs?

Mr. Hughes

No, Sir. I mean giving greater opportunity for running the country on the committee system rather than on the Cabinet system.

The Prime Minister

To abandon the system of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet would be quite a large measure and would need a certain amount of study.

Mr. Gaitskell

Since the Opposition also have a close interest in this problem, may I ask the Prime Minister whether, when he made a reference to ex-Ministers, he included ex-Ministers on the Opposition benches?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I was not thinking of any immediate difficulties that might face the Opposition. I was thinking, perhaps, of some of our very experienced colleagues on both sides of the House, who, from a detached position and because of their long service, might give us some help in this matter.

Hon. Members

Lord Salisbury.