HC Deb 10 May 1962 vol 659 cc770-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. John Arbuthnot, Mr. Blackburn, Mr. George Brown, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Grimond, Sir Lionel Heald, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth, Mr. Jain Macleod, Sir Samuel Storey, Mr. George Wigg, and Mr. W. R. Williams, be Members of the Select Committe.—[Mr. Iain Macleod.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move to leave out "Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir (Robert Grimston)

I suggest that we discuss, at the same time, the other Amendment in the name of the hon. Member, after "Mr. Iain Macleod", to insert "Mr. Sidney Silverman".

Mr. Emrys Hughes

That is agreeable, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I do not wish to take up a great deal of time on this matter. I believe that this is a reasonable Amendment. I have no objection to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), whose name we seek to delete, but we think that, in view of the fact that the Select Committee is to consider the question of what I may describe as "whipless Members"—two on the opposite benches and five on this side of the House—it is only fair and reasonable that one "whipless Member" should be on that Committee.

As the proposed membership stands, there is likely to be a majority against us of about eight to one, and we think that that is quite reasonable. I suggest to the Leader of the House that, in view of the fact that these "whipless Members" would have no representation at all under the Motion, the House should allow my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who is acquainted with their grievances, to be a member.

10.3 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

We are considering the question of names for the Select Committee on Procedure which was ordered by the House on 17th April last. It was also ordered, amongst other matters, that it should consist of twelve Members, and there are twelve names on the Order Paper. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) wishes to delete one name and to insert the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). Two points arise here. One is minor and the other major, but I am bound to say that each in itself would be sufficient to argue against and, indeed, to defeat his case.

The minor point is that it has been agreed by the House that this Select Committee should consist of twelve Members, and this is parallel with the Committee of Privileges, to which, in many ways, this Select Committee will be similar, both in composition and the way in which matters are referred to it.

It is clearly established that in all our Committees it is necessary to reproduce, though not necessarily precisely, the composition of the House. To do so precisely would often be mathematically impossible, but it is established that the Government should have a majority on the Committees. The minimum majority is seven to five on the figure of twelve, to which the House has already agreed.

Therefore, the first result—this is the minor point, but in itself, I would have thought, decisive—would be that if we accepted the suggestion of the hon. Member the Government majority would disappear and the figures would be 6:6. On strict party representations, which is the second point about whether, in effect, one can or should put an individual hon. Member on the Committee, there would be seven Conservative and Unionist Members, the strict entitlement being 6.9, and five Labour Members, the strict entitlement being 4.8. Therefore, mathematically there would not only be no grounds for considering representation by any of the seven independent Members of the House, but no grounds for considering representation by the Liberal Party, either.

As with the Committee of Privileges, however, and in accordance with established custom in the House on these matters, one seat is reserved for a Liberal Member and the Leader of the Liberal Party has put his name forward for that position. In effect, therefore, the position is that the official Labour Party is under-represented mathematically on the Committee and the Liberal Party is over-represented. That is inevitable.

What is suggested now is that one of the seven independent Members should be added. That is not a proposition which the House should entertain. Of the seven Members, only one—my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson)—was elected as an independent Member to the House and the others are in what may be temporary disagreement with their parties. In selecting the composition of these Committees, one tries to have regard to the position of the House and the parties which compose it. We have carried this out by the usual form of consultation.

I make one more point which is extremely important. If this was an ad hoc Committee to consider only the question and all the positions relating to minorities, it might be that one would have to look a little more carefully at the position to which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has drawn attention. That, however, is not the position. The idea is that we should have this Select Committee as a Standing Committee on Procedure and the following Motion which appears in my name in relation to Standing Order No. 58 (2) on minorities is only one of a number of matters of great importance which would be referred to the Committee. Therefore, we are not planning an investigation into just one aspect of our affairs in this House, but are seeking to have guidance from a number for senior Members of the House, of all parties, on a considerable number of matters of public business.

I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will withdraw his Amendment. If he studies the names which have been put forward of the twelve Members, I think he will agree that they comprise a wide representation amongst the parties in the House. Of course, the Committee will be anxious to have help, advice and recommendations which any Member of the House might put to them—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has more experience and is a greater authority on points of order than anybody on the Committee?

Mr. Macleod

Nobody would challenge his experience if that experience is governed by the number of lines in HANSARD concerning points of order. Even though the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne does not serve as a Member, however, I have a hunch that that will not inhibit him from making his views known to the Committee. Perhaps that is the best way of solving the matter.

I therefore hope that we can move towards this Standing Committee on Procedure, which will be of great benefit to the House, and that in view of what I have said the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

It is not altogether pleasant to differ from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I do so on this occasion. If the five independent Members on our side of the House were to be counted as a party, I think that they would be entitled to be represented by one-sixteenth of a man. If they were to be treated as separate individuals, I think that they would be represented by roughly one-eightieth of a man.

Speaking entirely for myself, I am in favour of Solomon on these matters. He succeeded in preserving the baby intact, and I am all for doing so. I should hate to see any of my hon. Friends cut to pieces to preserve a mathematical proportion of them on the Select Committee in question.

Moreover, I have some old-fashioned prejudices about questions of judges and people who come before them. The first matter that this Committee will have to consider is the rights of minorities. My hon. Friend, in speaking about this, stressed that and it was on account of that that he desired my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to be put on the Committee.

This Committee has power to send for persons and papers. It is a usual power, not an invariable one, and it seems to me that the right place, if, in fact, this is a question of deciding about minorities, for a member of a minority is as a witness before the Committee, which, after all, represents the whole House, rather than as a member of the Committee. If he were to become a member of the Committee he might run the risk of becoming a judge in his own cause, since it is substantially a question of a minority that has to be considered.

Therefore, without developing the matter any further, I agree on this occasion with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, and I take leave to remind myself that, while a wholly independent attitude sometimes has its advantages, occasionally it may have its disadvantages.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I wish only to say that we have had a coalition of casuistry. There was more casuistry from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in three minutes than I have heard for a considerable time. I want only to differ from him on one point. He submitted that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) could be divided into the proportion of one to sixteen. I hold the view that my hon. Friend is very often equal to sixteen Members of the House in other ways. Although he is small, that does not rule against him.

However, in view of the overwhelming coalition against me, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Mr. John Arbuthnot, Mr. Blackburn, Mr. George Brown, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Grimond, Sir Lionel Heald, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth, Mr. Jain Macleod, Sir Samuel Storey, Mr. George Wigg, and Mr. W. R. Williams, be Members of the Select Committee.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I beg to move, That the effect of Standing Order No. 58 (2) on minorities, being a matter relating to the procedure in the public business of the House, he referred to the Select Committee on Procedure. All I need say on this Motion is that this is the first of a number of matters which we will be referring to the Select Committee on Procedure, but the point arose, in some measure at least, from the operation of Standing Order No. 58, and I feel that we should take this matter first.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

May I take this opportunity, without occupying too much of the time of the House, to ask the right hon. Gentleman what kind of procedure he has in mind for referring matters to the Committee? I do not mean the procedure in the House, but that if some of us feel that this, that, or the other matter is proper for the Committee, how does he suggest that we raise it? Should it be raised in the first instance by a letter to him, or by a formal Motion on the Order Paper, or through the usual channels? I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends have several points, most of them non-contentious, which they may wish to raise and be considered as proper for the Committee.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

This matter affects minorities on both sides of the House and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some consideration to the injustice which we believe to have been perpetrated on the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) and the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). Both those hon. Members represented their constituencies on important and vital issues on which they dared to disagree with the Government. It is of the essence of the rights of hon. Members that they should be able, if necessary, to express independent criticism of Government or Opposition Front Bench policy without having what we regard as punitive and vindictive action taken against them.

Some hon. Members on this side of the House are sometimes described as independent Labour Members. We are here as members of the Labour Party in our constituencies and no punitive action should be taken against us because we sometimes disagree with the occupants of the Front Bench. In the history of the House, great contributions have been made by hon. Members who have acted according to what they thought was right, irrespective of what was stated by their Front Bench. After all, we place them on the Front Bench and although we agree that Whips are essential to the conduct of the House, we do not think that Whips should be the "bosses" of the House.

We have been referred to as independents and are frequently mentioned by the B.B.C. and other organs of radio and television as independent Labour Members. I object to that because I am as much a Labour Member as any of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I represent my constituency and if necessary I will fight for the Labour Party in my constituency. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I notice that hon. Members opposite are far more enthusiastic when I say that than when it is said from their own side. I have always noted that when an hon. Member on this side of the House criticises his own Front Bench he is regarded by hon. Members opposite as somebody courageously stating an independent point of view and, similarly, when an hon. Member opposite makes the same sort of protest against his own Front Bench he is a hero to this side. Sometimes individual hon. Members should express points of view which might challenge the orthodoxies of the House.

There is the case of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), whom we are glad to see in the House from time to time, who was regarded with as much dislike by the Chamberlain Government as we are on this side of the House. Further, I recently made researches into the political biography of the Prime Minister. There was a time when the Prime Minister did that most awful thing—he walked into the Labour Lobby on the occasion of a three-line Whip. What the Whips said about the Prime Minister on that occasion I gather is unprintable in any political study.

I suggest that, although we may differ sometimes from those who hold orthodox views, the people who stand for something when they think it is right and are prepared to fight for it in their constituencies, are essential to democracy. I hope that after this homily the Leader of the House will take it into consideration in the deliberations of this Committee, and that in due course we who are now the outcasts of Westminster will be able to have some idea of what goes on in this place, just as other Members of the House do.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Perhaps I might reply briefly to the points that have been made. I drew some analogy earlier with the Committee of Privileges in the way that we might refer matters to this Select Committee on Procedure, and what I envisaged—and I am glad that the hon. and learned Member raised this point—is that whether it comes through the official channel, or as a representation to me as Leader of the House, or whether it comes, as it might well do, thrown up in the ordinary hurly-burly of debate, it is possible that something may emerge in that way, a formal Motion should be put on the Order Paper in similar words to the one that we are now discussing on the rights of minorities. I think that in that way we shall be able to refer the matters which the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested, and perhaps any others that the House may wish to suggest.

Mr. Mitchison

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, is he suggesting that these Motions should be put down only by agreement, or that they should be put down by any Member who wishes to do so?

Mr. Macleod

I think that we would have to follow a similar procedure to that of the Committee of Privileges and put them down in the name of the Leader of the House. That is what I envisage. I do not think that it will cause us any difficulty.

To turn to the immediate point of minorities, again I hope that when we decide to refer a matter to this Select Committee on Procedure we will take the Motion itself more or less as read, and have discussions, if any are necessary, when the Report is returned to us from the Select Committee. All I say on the observations of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is that it is not, with respect, right to say that punitive action was taken in relation to the two hon. Members. No action at all was taken, and perhaps this is the matter that was raised in complaint. But what we are to consider and finally report to the House is whether Standing Order No. 58, which has operated for some time, operates to the disadvantage of minorities, and individual Members, and the House will be apprised in due course if it agrees to this procedure of the views of the Select Committee.

Without indulging in his polemics, I assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that I share his view that whether a Member is a member of one of the big parties, or a member of a small party, or whether he has no party allegiance, it is part of our duty to consider his rights in relation to all the activities of the House. This is really the thought that lies behind the Motion which I now recommend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the effect of Standing Order No. 58 (2) on minorities, being a matter relating to the procedure in the public business of the House, be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure.