HC Deb 08 November 1962 vol 666 cc1124-5
3. Dr. Johnson

asked the Attorney-General when it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner with powers to investigate individual grievances against Government Departments.

The Attorney-General

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement of the conclusions reached by the Government after their consideration of the Report of a Committee of Justice. The statement sets out the difficulties which seem to the Government to stand in the way of the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate grievances against Government Departments.

Dr. Johnson

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, however, that while one has not powers of foresight which enable one to see what is in his Answer, none the less there is much sympathy for this idea in this country, and not only in this country but in the Commonwealth as well, and that the Government of New Zealand have, apparently, been able to adapt a similar institution to this to their own Constitution without difficulty whatsoever?

The Attorney-General

I am, of course, aware of the interest there has been and the discussions there have been in many quarters about this proposal. It seemed to me that the statement which was to be made was too long to be put down in answer to a Question, and I therefore regret that my hon. Friend had not the opportunity of studying it before he asked his supplementary question.

Mr. Fletcher

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the statement, although it may reject the suggestion of the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner, makes some other alternative concrete suggestion to enable grievances against Government Departments to be dealt with more satisfactorily than at present?

The Attorney-General

The statement draws attention to the fact that the Government themselves have reviewed the possibility of further instances where appeals might be given as of right against the discretionary decisions of Ministers. It deals with that aspect of the matter but not with any other.

Following is the statement: The organisation known as Justice made two proposals: first that the Council on Tribunals should survey the area in which there is at present no right of appeal against a discretionary decision made by or on behalf of a Minister, with a view to providing a right of appeal in such cases to an independent tribunal; and secondly, that a Parliamentary Commissioner should be appointed to investigate cases of alleged maladministration. The Government consider that there are serious objections in principle to both proposals and that it would not be possible to reconcile them with the principle of Ministerial responsibility to Parliament. They believe that any substantial extension of the system of reference to tribunals would lead to inflexibility and delay in administration, and that the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner would seriously interfere with the prompt and efficient dispatch of public business. In the Government's view there is already adequate provision under our constitutional and Parliamentary practice for the redress of any genuine complaint of maladministration, in particular by means of the citizen's right of access to Members of Parliament. In their examination of the Report the Government have themselves undertaken a detailed review of the extent to which persons aggrieved can appeal against discretionary decisions. This review has disclosed a few instances in which provision for appeal might with advantage be introduced as an additional safeguard to the person affected by the decision, and these are being examined in greater detail.