§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) to move his Motion, it is probably for the convenience of the House if I say that I do not intend to select the Amendment that has been put down, which seeks to add the words:in particular, by reviving effective Parliamentary control over Supply, inter alia by simplifying the procedure relating thereto; by increasing the use of Select Committees in examining the administration of policies approved by Parliament; by providing greater time for debating specific matters of public importance; by referring to Select Committees Bills, or sections of Bills, dealing with complicated technical or legal matters; by making greater use of the procedure whereby the Committee stage of Bills may be taken partly in Standing Committee and partly in Committee of the whole 1716 House; by associating Parliament in the inquiries and consultations leading to legislation; and by improving the facilities available for Members and Officers of the House and, as from the beginning of the next Parliament, increasing the remuneration of Members of Parliament and Ministers to enable them to carry out their duties in a more effective manner".
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I beg to move,That this House resolves to maintain Parliament as tie paramount forum of the nation and to bring its practices and procedures into harmony with this end and in accord with the needs of 1963.It is an occupational disease that from time to time public commentators should knock Parliament about a bit. I do not propose to do that this morning. I ask hon. Members who have studied my Motion to consider that the Motion itself is to the effect that we resolve to maintain Parliament as the paramount forum of the nation, and I wish to assert that it is the paramount forum of the nation and will continue to be so.
Those who tend to deride Parliament today should remember that it is no new fashion. It has all been done before, and it has all been done rather better. On 4th August, 1661, Pepys records how an acquaintance told himhow basely things have been carried on in Parliament by the young men, that did labour to oppose all things that were moved by serious men. That they are the most profane swearing fellows that ever he heard in his life, which makes him think they will spoil all, and bring things into a warr again if they can.This is the first of a long line of literary figures.
Charles Dickens sat in the Press Gallery and knew this place over the years, and any of his characters associated with Parliament always had an association which carried derision with it. He observed it from the Press Gallery and referred to it asthe great dust heap of Westminster … laughing, coughing, oh-ing, groaning, a conglomeration of noise and confusion to be met with in no other place in existence, not excepting Smithfield on a market day or a cockpit in all its glory.Some of us have a taste for essayists and my favourite is William Hazlitt, who in 1830, before the Reform Bill, wrote:Talk of mobs. See how few who have distinguished themselves in the House of Commons have ever done anything else.1717 Robert Louis Stevenson said:We all know what Parliament is and we are ashamed of it".Carlyle said:How was it possible to believe, much less to think, that in the Commons was rooted the strength of England and not its weakness.One could go through a whole series of distinguished names, including Sir Sidney Herbert and the late Lord Samuel. Incidentally, the late Lord Samuel thought that the worst Parliaments were always those with an overwhelming Conservative majority. He opined that the historians surveying the last half century couldhardly fail to distinguish the Parliaments of 1900–5, 1919–22 and 1931–5, as those which have rendered least service to the nation. Each lived in a state of confusion, and ended with little achieved.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe) rose—
§ Mr. Pannell
I am only on the quotation. When I am invoking the great literary figures I do not intend to give way.
It is the sort of legend that Parliament has been a noble institution which has fallen into decay. The phrase of the Amendment of hon. Members opposite is a lot of nonsense. Parliament today is better distinguished than ever it was. Parliament today its more sober than ever it was. Generally, we are not lesser men than our grandfathers were.
§ Mr. Pannell
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is, if she catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, to wind up the debate, and it would be a great shame if she tripped up her proposer. I can only tell her in parentheses that the last time I had the good fortune to move a Motion such as this, on 16th May, 1952, it was on the subject of equal pay in the public service, and it was a resounding success. My hon. Friend ought to be grateful. I am sure that she is.
More Members of Parliament wish to speak nowadays. When we consider the "greats" of the past, there were probably half-a-dozen fashionable gladiators whom people came to hear every night, but that was in the days when there was no television and when this House was the great forum of the nation. The majority of 1718 hon. Members, as any research will show, hardly spoke at all.
The speeches in those days were longer because there were fewer. One remembers Mr. Joseph Chamberlain speaking in the debate on the Plimsoll Line starting at five o'clock and at twenty-past eight saying, "Having concluded my few prefatorial remarks" and going on until ten o'clock. We do not stand for that sort of thing nowadays. The old debates with Latin and Greek tags and quotations running through them were the flamboyant sort of oratory of the nineteenth century and they would not he appropriate in this place today. I do not deride the mighty dead, but Parliament represents its clay and age, and this one does not do too badly.
I may say, and I hope that the Leader of the House is duly grateful, that in 1960 The Times caught on to the idea that the 1950 intake into the Conservative Party was the greatest qualitative intake which the country had ever known on the Conservative benches. [HON MEMBERS: "1945."] That was the year of the Labour Party. Hon. Members should keep up with things. I am speaking about 1950, which was the year which brought in Mr. Speaker and the Leader of the House. The Times wrote it in 1960, but it only caught on to an idea which had canvassed in 1958.
I do not want to keep too long on this subject, but I want to ram it into hon. Members that they should not underestimate themselves or talk themselves down. The other day I was reading Snowdon's memoirs in which he quotes Ebenezer Elliott saying:God send us no more giants but elevate the race.The Almighty did the one without doing the other.
One remembers that since that day there have been other giants. We all have our particular heroes, and I have my own very deep feelings on the subject, but one remembers that since that time we have had the Indian summer of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) and we have had Aneurin Bevan with oratory matching anything of Charles James Fox. We have had Richard Stokes, whose Report some of us will be quoting today, who was certainly a very good man, one 1719 of the best I have ever known. He had a sort of simple goodness about him. He was a Catholic and might very well have become a prince of his Church if he had gone that way. More recently, one remembers Hugh Gaitskell. I can only say that that memory is so close and poignant, a memory of one who treated me with greater kindness than probably any other human being has done, that I will say no more than that; but the whole House will say that that massive integrity and ability matched any of the "greats" of the past. Any of those people can be compared to the pre-Keynesian Chancellor of 1929–31. Do not let us get this thing out of proportion.
We tend to look on the great men of the past with reverence, and it is right that Parliament and the political parties should revere those who have served them in the past, just as they should cherish their history. But above everything, parties and Parliaments must be conscious of their historic mission and future. I hope that no one will underrate this institution of Parliament.
After all, an institutionorginating from the medieval royal council … successively served the purposes of the 15th century feudal baronage, the 16th century monarchy, the 17th century "gentry', the 18th century aristocracy, the 19th century plutocracy, and the 'mass democracy ' of our present age …and so, as adaptable as that, can still he adapted to our future needs. I owe that quotation to Mr. A. H. Hanson of Leeds University. He said that the British Parliament was genuinely one of the political wonders of the world and that it was right to supply it with universal admiration. He went on to say:Narcissism is an occupational disease of Parliamentarians".What he meant was that admiration, like patriotism, was not enough and that one must look to the future.
When we consider Parliament and make an assessment of it in our modern society, we have to see where it begins. It begins not here, but with the people who send us here. If I feel any spirit of humility at all, as I sometimes do when the mood takes me—[Laughter.]—I ask hon. Members not to laugh, because I am speaking of what is their experience, too 1720 —it is when I see the people pouring into committee rooms on election day working for us, helping to make me or any other hon. Member occupy the proud position of a Member of Parliament. I often ask myself, "What is there for these people at the end of the day? Why do they do it?"
It is a philosophy. Most of these people want to project their idea of the good life through politics. Do not let us ever play down the value of politics as a public service, whatever is said about the other place or political honours. This place, and probably the other place because it is older, are the greatest repositories of public service in the country. Do not let us demean ourselves.
When I see these people, I call to mind the words of an old Labour pioneer, the late Will Crooks, one of the first Labour M.P.s, who addressed the crowd on election day at Woolwich with the words:If I ever forget the folk from whom I sprung, may God forget me.I hope that every hon. Member says that when he is elected to the House. Let us not deceive ourselves that what has gone by registered the high-water mark of everything. All the lions and tigers are not dead, and those who think that only jackals prowl in the political jungle are severely mistaken.
In considering this place, one ought to ask what is the alternative to it. J. R. Clynes said that there was no alternative except breaking men's heads and women's hearts. He meant an authoritarian State. When people comment about this place, and when journalists write about it, one thing they do not understand is what the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A, Butler) once referred to as the life of the place. They do not understand the conversation, the camaraderie and the "know-how" which makes us pleased to be Members of this place.
Having said that, I think I ought, on behalf of everybody else, to reaffirm my faith in this House, and we start from the point that we believe in Parliament as an institution and that we desire to improve it. The first job is to deal with the control of the Palace of Westminster. When I was a shop steward I thought that relationship was everything, and I still think so. I think that the control of the Palace of Westminster by the Lord Great Chamberlain is something with which we 1721 cannot put up in 1963. He has no power while either House is sitting, but he has control of the Palace when this place is not sitting.
What is his title? He was given it in 1133 when Henry I left England. He was then Ralph de Vere, Earl of Oxford. The office was carried on through the family—though it was in abeyance from 1265 to 1485 until the time of Queen Elizabeth I when the claim was again staked to be the Lord Great Chamberlain at her Coronation.
In 1702 the male line dried up. It came down through the female line to the Ancasters, the Cholmondeleys, and the Carringtons, and that is why it rotates with every reign. The Court of Claims considered this in 1902 and did not think that the title was very good. It thought that it had been "phoney" for about 343 years and that the position ought to be regularised. There was a legend that the Lord Great Chamberlain acted as a sort of umpire, the upholder of the Magna Carta, but Sir William Anson exploded this idea before a Select Committee in 1902.
This is a Royal Palace but not a Royal residence. It has been built, rebuilt and rebuilt again, from public money, yet the Commons of England, elected on the broadest possible franchise, have not a respectable lease of tenancy in the place but are tenants, by grace and favour, so much so that when this House adjourns at 4 o'clock this afternoon the title of some Members might even be in question.
Mr. Speaker, looking back at the 1902 Report, one sees that your predecessor, who later became the Earl of Ullswater, complained that on a Saturday afternoon one of the custodians stepped him coming into the Chamber. This has a modern ring too.
There is a need for unified control. I can say this speaking from the back benches. My view is that the Prime Minister ought to advise the Monarch that the Lord Great Chamberlain should be a political appointment. If the Leader of the House objects to that, I can state the precedent of his own office, because there came a time when the Prime Minister advised the Monarch that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should be a political appointment, too. But, on the other hand, if a 1722 swop is needed, we could trade in the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for the Lord Great Chamberlain's job without any great difficulty at all. I am not dealing with the Lord Chamberlain who deals with plays.
If we were to appoint the Lord Great Chamberlain as a political appointment, we could give him one of the statutory secretaries in the House of Lords if necessary and secure unified control of the Palace without any time-wasting legislation in which neither party in this House wants to indulge.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
On this question of making this a political appointment, is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Lord Great Chamberlain should be a Member of the Government of the day?
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes. The point is that it would go out of the realm of the Cholmondeleys, the Ancasters and the Carringtons, and might well descend on the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch).
One of the difficulties of sitting on these Committees is the divided control between the Lords and Commons. The Lord Great Chamberlain has his own idea of his duties. He answered Questions before the Stokes Committee. It was put to him:I understand that what you are going to do is to make a short statement first and then possibly you will be willing to answer questions from Members?The Lord Great Chamberlain replied:I would just like to say this, that as you all know, my first duty is to the Sovereign who appoints me. My next duty is to look after the Palace of Westminster. After that, I consider it my duty to do all I can for the members of both Houses of Parliament.We are, therefore, third in priority and his first duty is to the Sovereign.
The Stokes Committee, which was set up in 1953–54, was a pretty powerful one. There were some big names on it. The present Home Secretary was a member. It unanimously recommended that there should he a body of Commissioners to run the House. Do 1723 not get me wrong. We have dealt with the Lord Great Chamberlain. I am dealing now with the control of the Commons. There should be a body of Commissioners presided over by you, Mr. Speaker, and you would appoint a vice-chairman who would be the day-to-day chairman. It would be constituted something on the lines of the Public Accounts Committee. It would consist, probably, of a leading member of the Opposition, probably an ex-Minister of Works as vice-chairman, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the House, and the Ministry of Works would be represented on it. It would be a House Committee which would run this place in the interests of the Members.
Another point is that its writ would run from Parliament to Parliament. The writ would run through the Recess. We would have to get over a constitutional hurdle, but we have done this before, for instance, with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. We had difficulty in putting the idea before the House because the services of a Parliamentary draftsman were withheld from the Select Committee. If this body were set up, it could have a sub-committee like the Library Committee to do the research and approach the problem intelligently and provide all the services we need. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn will dilate further on the accommodation question. This body would also have a kitchen committee as a sub-committee. All these things would be brought within its ambit to enable it to look after this place.
No local authority in the country would run its affairs as this place does. No body of elected persons would tolerate being pushed around by functionaries as we are. I have been a member of four elected authorities, and this is the only place where the functionaries run the elected members and tend to think that they are Parliament. It is about time that the elected element prevailed.
People may wonder what the present position is. It is that things stirred in this House from about 1780 on the control of the Palace, or rather the control of Parliament. Those were the days 1724 when there was wholesale bribery and corruption. It was not called the Fees Office for nothing, and the Speaker got a rake-off on Private Bill legislation.
I have been looking into your antecedents, Mr. Speaker—I mean the antecedents of previous Speakers—and I find that in 1834 the salary of the Speaker was reduced from £6,000 to £5,000 and that a set of plate was bought, which we now have, because there was a suspicion that it was sold back again to the new Speaker on appointment. As a matter of fact, I came across this business this morning. I think it was the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) who said, "Be careful with Mr. Speaker. He does not pay any Income Tax." I looked that up and found that in 1834, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, did not pay Income Tax but that a Bill was introduced in 1842 which made future Speakers liable to Income Tax.
A body of Commissioners was set up under Acts passed between 1812 and 1849 called the Commissioners of the House. It consisted of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State. This was a wonderful set-up at a time when the House of Commons really was the best club in Europe. This was even before the time when Mr. Gladstone could take four months off to fell trees at Hawarden. Of course, as the century went on, the Secretaries of State became busier and busier. Their duties now fall largely on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the Commissioners of the House are not subject to Treasury veto.
I tackled various Secretaries of State on the subject and said to them, "Do you know that you are a Commissioner of the House?" They replied, "What is that?" They did not know that they were Commissioners of the House. This system has fallen into desuetude. This affects the appointment, their salaries, the terms of service and the pension rights of the servants of the House, I would not suggest, Mr. Speaker, that you and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are exactly the same, but that is how it is done today. Of course, what we want is a body of Commissioners which is not subject to Treasury veto.
I want to bring in this point because we find that the House of Comons is very 1725 much subject to the whim of the Ministry of Works, acting almost as a sub-depot of the Treasury, and when the House wants further amenities there is a tendency, after it has resolved to do something, to find that a pay pause has intervened and that the project is cut down. So I hope that we shall take over the unified control of the Lord Great Chamberlain and set up a body which will manage our affairs.
Now I want to look at the procedure. One of the things much aired in the public Press is the idea of the Scandinavian ombudsman, and it has been suggested to me that the House itself already possesses a procedure to deal with this. It is the Public Petitions Committee, which has now functioned since 1844. It is suggested that we could set up a Select Committee to which matters could be referred, I sugest, by individual Members and which could make an inquiry where the arrogance of officers got between the citizens and these rights to justice. Here I think that most people who plug this idea tend to forget that the good Member of Parliament is as good an ombudsman as anyone. There is no mistake about that.
I am sometimes very much moved when seeing all sorts of cases. Letters are sometimes sent to me and other hon. Members. There seems to be a curious delusion that if they are sent to more than one Member at a time they receive better treatment. It seems to me that the Committee on Petitions offers an opportunity which might be worth examining. I hope that hon. Members will not think me remiss if I fail to put in every dot and comma concerning the suggestions of the Committee on Procedure on which I sat in 1958–59. A great cry goes up for more Committees. But we already have a proliferation of Committees. I find that those people who write in the newspapers about them and who call for new ones to be set up are not notorious for serving on the existing ones. Ask any of the Whips about that.
Perhaps for the sake of the record I might tick off the list of Committees which we already have. We have the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee, the Committee of Privileges, the Committee on Nationalised Industries, Select Committees, and Committees on Bills introduced into the House, the Standing Committees. These 1726 last Committees sometimes sit three times a week. Then we have the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Committee. We have public accountability from the private letter to Parliamentary Questions, Adjournments, and all the rest. There is no need in this place for anyone to be a frustrated back bencher. There are enough books to read and there is enough ignorance in the place to be put right.
The House should not be unduly influenced by those who come into the place only to make it easy to get out again. I want to kill the idea once and for all that the full-time Member is less worthy of esteem than the dilettante. The House works on four "Ds"—debate, dinner, Division, and departure. But there are far too many who consider the last three without listening to the first.
Now I come to the point that, broadly speaking, I am not in favour of committees on the American model. I happen to believe that the duty of Parliament is to assert and not to administer. It is true that Committees could well be made smaller. I agree with that. I propagated the idea, and discussed it with the late Leader of the Opposition, that the Finance Bill should be carved into two, and that if we want a new demarcation line new taxation should be debated on the Floor of the House and continuing taxation upstairs.
This is, of course, one of the difficulties where we need an annual Budget. Should we not have a look at our whole system of accounting? Should we really take so much time considering a routine? I know the argument that there may be only two or three hon. Members in the Chamber, but very often they are very well informed people. We may he considering a tax on wool, when the wool lobby is present. Every other country seems to be working on a financial system extending over two, three, four or five years. I remember the late Aneurin Bevan asking whether we ran our affairs on the rotation of the crops, on the basis of the agrarian society—seed time and harvest.
It is about time that we thought of ourselves as a great modern nation and about the whole structure of the way in which we conduct our affairs. A great number of reforms could be made. It is said that we all have to cluster in the Division Lobby in order to record our votes. But this is the quickest way of doing it. We 1727 cannot have buttons all over the place for people to press. They tend to go wrong. I happen to be an engineer, but ask any engineer to explain what happened at the Middlesex Guildhall a few weeks ago when all sorts of people were clocked into the wrong lobbies by an electronic computer. But as it was a Conservative majority which got its way it was moved that the record should stand.
There may be some merit in going through the Lobby. It used to be suggested that a Member going through the Lobby had time to reflect on his vote. No one believes that one, of course. The bowing that goes on goes back to the day when some Members used to send their manservants to vote for them. It was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who gave the best reason for going through the Lobby. He said that only in this way did Cabinet Ministers get to know their back benchers.
There is one other thing about which I want to say a word or two, and if I address you particularly, Mr. Speaker, it is because it is on the matter of Parliamentary Questions which, again, some consider to be one of the great bastions of our liberties. Personally, I think that it is a somewhat over-rated exercise, because the fact is that 80 per cent. of Questions are asked by 30 per cent. of the Members. In the old days, up to a hundred Questions were asked and, if we go back far enough, we find that the Speaker of the day tended only to allow a supplementary question when he thought that the questioner had received a dusty answer. It was an implied rebuke to the Treasury Bench.
Where did the rot set in? Again, one must refer to the right hon. Member for Woodford, because all the best opinion on both sides of the House agrees that, probably due to his annoyance in 1945, he started muscling in on everyone's Questions, and was twice rebuked for doing so. Things have now so developed that each Question becomes almost a small debate, with the result that only between 30 and 40 Questions are now answered. Not only does the questioner who gets a satisfactory Answer feel that he must still ask a supplementary question, but hon. Members will keep muscling in on other people's supplementaries, and I believe 1728 that to be a bad thing. It has not been unknown even for Members of the Front Bench to show an interest.
I really must warn Parliament where it is going if this practice persists. The idea of Questions is to hold as many Departments as possible accountable to this House, but we have now reached the stage where almost every Department is called to accountability only about once in three months, and can almost get away with murder. I tend to believe that there is the will in the House, if not entirely to go back to the old custom, at least to stiffen up considerably the practice at Question Time. If something is not done we shall need some other device, probably another half hour on Thursdays. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you will appreciate that I speak with the greatest respect when I say that the present tendency must be arrested.
I raise the subject of Standing Order No. 9 now because it is topical. I do not think that in this regard the House is so blameworthy. The Select Committee on Procedure considered this matter, and here I must read all that is in the Report lest it be thought that I am importing any of my own opinions into it. The Select Committee said:The main difficulty in our view lies in the cumulative effect of a long series of restrictive rulings from the Chair over the last sixty years. In the nature of things once a tendency to restrictive interpretation becomes established, the scope of the original rule becomes progressively narrower with each ruling that is made; the tendency in this case was established soon after the introduction of the rule and could not now be relaxed except by express instruction of the House. As a result Mr. Speaker's hands are so tied by the rulings of his predecessors that there is scarcly any matter which can qualify for debate under the standing order.The Ruling most admired is that of Mr. Speaker Peel, who observed:What I think was contemplated was the occurrence of some sudden emergency either in home or foreign affairs.…That is not the case now. I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who once remarked that if he said, "There are now two Russian gunboats at South Shields" you, Mr. Speaker, would have to rule that it was not within the ambit of Standing Order No. 9—first, because the Minister had not control over it and, second, because it had already happened. We therefore seem to have an expanding rule on 1729 Questions and a contracting rule on Standing Order No. 9. I ask the new Select Committee on Procedure to look at these matters. I must add that I notice a real awakening enthusiasm on the part of hon. Members opposite for stiffening up the Legislature against the Executive, but at least some of us have a pretty good record over the years.
How can we deal with all this? I am sorry if I am taking up too much time. I really have attempted to cut down my remarks, and I hope that other hon. Members will take up certain other points. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) makes the point that the weakness of Parliament lies in the strengthening of the party system taking place outside this Chamber. I do not entirely subscribe to that view. I believe that there is democracy and comradeship within the parties themselves. They do have their own affairs to consider, and it would be very odd if those who thought of the paramountcy of Parliament argued that hon. Members were elected delegates. But there are great social questions such as divorce, abortion and the like, not party matters at all, on which we spend but little time.
I ask the House again to consider the idea of the morning Session. I suggest that on Mondays at 10.30 p.m. we should adjourn till 11 o'clock in the morning and that there should be an adjournment at 11 o'clock until 1 p.m. The same thing would happen on a Wednesday. I know that some hon. Members would be in various Committees, but the rules in this case would be different. There would be a deputy in the Chair. There would be no Government spokesmen, except for Under-Secretaries putting the Departmental brief. There would be no party line, no Whips, no rules, no Standing Orders at all. Normally speaking, it would be a forum, and the subjects for debate would be chosen by a Business Committee.
I am sure that we would be surprised by what that would do to this House. There would be reports in the evening Press, and the legend that the debates in the other place are better than ours would die. In the main, the other place debates without responsibility and, in any case, I do not agree that, generally speaking, the standard of the debates there is higher than ours. In that respect, I invoke the 1730 aid of one of the greatest orators of all time, the first Lord Oxford and Asquith. He said that talking in the other place was like addressing a charnel house of corpses—
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The hon. Gentleman has suggested that the House would meet on Monday morning, and adjourn from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock. Did he mean that there should he an Adjournment debate between those hours?
§ Mr. Pannell
No. We would adjourn at 10.30 on Monday night, after the normal Adjournment debate. We would then go on from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. on Tuesday, debating subjects chosen by a Business Committee selected from both sides of the House. The party opposite will soon become the Opposition, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, thinking of the loquacious back benchers who will come here after the General Election, must relish the suggestion, because he knows that if they were allowed to speak in the morning they might not want to speak so much in the afternoon.
Another thing on which we are open to rebuke is that the Select Committee asked that drafting assistance should be provided for Members—and not just Members of the Opposition. That assistance has so far been withheld, and it is part of the impertinence of the Executive. At the present time, the great danger is the strengthening of the Executive, buttressed by P.R.O.s, Pressmen, hand-outs and the rest—and also by the Civil Service; a bureaucracy complete, and a Legislature not sufficiently armed to meet it. That is one of the dangers, and that is why we want more Library facilities. We should not have to accept everything we find in White Papers. The Economic Survey and the White Paper on Defence have been proved wrong.
Others may speak about hon. Members' salaries. I do not think this matter will be properly dealt with until we deal with Ministers' salaries. I am not making a party point when I say that there has been a great deal of cowardice about this. In order to take the question out of party politics so far as possible, with great respect I shall deal with Mr. Speaker's salary and with that of the Clerk. In 1834, when Mr. Speaker's 1731 salary was set, he had £5,000 a year apart from allowances. His Clerk had £2,000 a year. Mr. Speaker's salary now is £5,750 and his Clerk gets £7,015. If hon. Members do not think that a disgrace to the House of Commons there is no warm blood in their veins. It is a shocking thing.
One could refer to other cases. The Minister of Transport appoints Dr. Beeching at £24,000 a year, which is an anachronism. I am not taking only this one case, but I am sure that this sort of thing is poisoning relationships. It conveys the idea to civil servants that they are the professionals who are taking the decisions of the day. This Government are particularly open to the charge that hon. Members are prepared to go through the vale of tears of office in order to sell soda water at the end of the day. I would not hold that view, but it happens among hon. Members opposite that actually to have held great office is a recommendation for a business appointment. We must change the dignity of the office here. I ask hon. Members to pause and consider when an able Parliamentary Secretary is looked upon as a dogs body for the Executive. The Prime Minister has acted, but not too soon, on this business.
I hesitate to bring this in, but my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has written to the Prime Minister on the subject. There was a British-American Parliamentary Group Conference in Bermuda from 17th to 22nd February, 1963. Of course the American delegates had plenty of cars provided for them by the U.S. Air Force base on the island. The British delegation had to order taxis in the usual way, the cost being met by the Bermudan Government. They were given little tickets to make the claim. The United Kingdom delegation included the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. A friend of mine told me that on two occasions he saw the Home Secretary waiting at the kerb while his Metropolitan Police sergeant went to look for a taxi, but there is an early closing day in the place and then no taxis are run. Of course there was a great deal of running around and the delegates had to rely on getting lifts from the Americans.
§ Mr. Pannell
The Governor's car was brought up to receive a very high V.I.P. while the Home Secretary was running around trying to find a car. For whom was the Governor's car waiting? It was for the ex-head of the Civil Service, Lord Bridges. I can remember raising this kind of question in 1956 when no fewer than 12 Conservative M.P.s associated themselves in complaining about a similar state of affairs in Washington. I thought this had died down. A directive should go out from the authorities that Members of Parliament should be treated as honoured guests wherever they are, not because we ask for privileges for ourselves, but because we represent the British people.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Reading)
As I was one of the delegation in Bermuda, may I express the hope that the hon. Member is making no reflection on the Bermudan Government and all they did for that delegateion? It would be more than wrong if even the slightest hint were to go out from this House of such a reflection, because they were the most generous hosts to our delegation and to the Americans during that conference.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member probably does well to make that point. On the rate for the job, we ought to place Parliamentarians and Ministers in the same position as anyone else. I hope that Members of Parliament will look at that.
I must come quickly to the end of my speech. I can remember some words which Aneurin Bevan used in his last great Blackpool speech. He said that the burdens of public life are too great to be borne for little ends. We politicians serve great ends. In the last resort politicians are very much like parsons. None of us is as good as the gospel we preach, but at least we do not speak from a pulpit; we have to come down to the market place. I have never been a frustrated back-bencher. I still happen to believe that all the things I do are urgent and important. When I cease to believe that I shall get out of this place and get something in the City.
I do not know what hon. Members thought when I was about to begin this address, which I am sure is not worthy of the subject, but I have always been interested in politics. I wanted to come 1733 to this place 30 years before I arrived here and, even though it includes hon. Members opposite, I am not disappointed having come here. I still think that this is a great forum of public service. I will end with some words which the late Lord Dalton used in the first volume of his autobiography, when he quoted T. M. Kettle. This advice I would always give to a young man of the worth-whileness of the job we do and in insisting that Parliament should remain the paramount forum of the nation. It is for us to guard this heritage and see that its future is great.There is the two-edged sword that will never fail you, with enthusiasm for one of its edges and irony for the other. There will be always joy and loyalty enough left to keep you unwavering in the faith that politics is not, as it seems in clouded moments, a mere gabble and squabble of self-interests, but that it is the State in action. And the State is the name by which we call the great human conspiracy against hunger and cold, against loneliness and ignorance; the State is the foster-mother and warden of the arts, of love, of comradeship, of all that redeems from despair that strange adventure we call human life.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I am sure that the House will most warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) on the manner in which he has moved his Motion. He did it with a great fund of wit and knowledge. He was sometimes moving and always of interest, and I found myself very much in agreement with what he said. I happen to be an advocate of the idea of specialist Committees, and on that point I shall certainly wish to dispute some of his remarks.
He referred, in particular, in a most spirited and most effective defence of Parliament as a public service, to Parliament's adaptability, and certainly within the last generation or two there have been changes in our procedure here which have affected Parliament. But we have reached a turning point in the future of Parliament at which I think changes in procedure must be much more profound. He quoted Mr. Hanson of Leeds University, and perhaps I will do the same, because Mr. Hanson made some remarks which I, too, think are worthy of comment. He said:Admiration for the long-established inhibits willingness to promote, and sometimes even to contemplate, procedural changes fast and 1734 fundamental enough to keep pace with a socioeconomic situation which, in the 20th century, evolves with a frightening and unprecedented rapidity".That is happening to Parliament at the moment. The speed of the changes and the complexity of the problems with which we have to deal mean that our procedure must be brought nearer to reality.
Before I go on to the major question of procedure—because this is the fundamental question of the future of Parliament—I should like to agree with the hon. Member in what he said about Ministers. I think that the position about junior Ministers is one to which the Government and the Prime Minister must give serious consideration urgently. The position in relation to Parliamentary Secretaries, to which the hon. Member referred in particular, is most unsatisfactory. It is not clear how they stand in relation to the administrative side of the Government. If their titles were altered, that would have an important effect on public opinion.
Recently a number of my hon. Friends and myself wrote a pamphlet on this subject. In it we drew attention to the fact that industry, for example, did not appear to understand the title "Parliamentary Secretary". We constantly came across this fact. If it were indicated by a title such as "Deputy Minister" that the junior Minister was clearly the executive head of a Department in the absence of the Minister, that would be a worth-while reform, and it would do much to help to recruit the best people to take on these jobs to which the hon. Member referred. The question of salaries is entirely linked with that. I do not know why the hon. Member need necessarily be scathing about those who retire into the City in the present state of remuneration of junior Ministers, because that remuneration is absurdly unrealistic and should be reformed as soon as possible.
I agreed with him very much about Parliamentary Questions, and I draw attention to the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) on that subject, which I think is important and to which I hope full consideration will be given.
[That this House is of opinion that the length of speeches and the number and length of supplementary questions have 1735 increased, are increasing, and ought to be diminished; and most respectfully suggests to Mr. Speaker that his eye might fall less often on those who presume on the privileges of the House or weary it over-much.]
I am very doubtful about what the hon. Member said on morning sittings. I do not think that this proposal would receive a great deal of support in the House. Obviously there has to be a proportion of the House which is full time and which is engaged in running the House, acting as Whips and holding other appointments in the administration of the House generally. There must be a certain number of hon. Members who are here most of the time. But I do not believe that it would be possible to man morning sittings sufficiently every morning. I shall go further in what I have to say to advocate that there should be specialist Committees, that under Standing Orders the House should adjourn on a certain day each week and that these Committees should sit in the afternoon, which would enable those with outside interests to take part in Committees. This deals with much of the criticism of the Committees—that they could not be manned—but I am certain that morning sittings could not be adequately manned from the point of view of having satisfactory debates. I have long been convinced that if the House is to be something more than what has been described as a dignified monument to past debating glories, it must have radical changes in its procedure.
I agree with the hon. Member that accommodation is a very important aspect, but however much we improve the conditions in which hon. Members work here, we shall not improve Parliament and make it, as he described it, the great forum of the nation unless we courageously tackle the question of procedure. That is the fundamental problem. What is required now as a result of the debate is for the Government to reach a definite decision on setting up a new Select Committee on Procedure. Such a new Committee is badly required and hon. Members will recollect in this connection the Motion in the name of my right. hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald).
1736 [That this House, believing that reforms in Parliamentary procedure are urgently required, urges Her Majesty's Government to appoint a new Select Committee on Procedure with wide terms of reference, and that in particular consideration should be given to which detailed business should be removed from the Floor of the House to Standing Committees and to the appointment of all-party Committees to consider matters of economic, industrial, technical and scientific importance.]
It will be said that the sessional Committee on Procedure is sitting, and I shall be asked why this Committee should not consider these additional questions of the extension of the Select Committee and Standing Committee systems. I think that I am right in saying that the answer is that at the moment it has before it the question of putting the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs, and it also has a tremendous backlog of recommendations from the 1958–59 Committee on Procedure which have not been agreed upon or implemented. If these additional reforms which I propose to advance to the House are to be considered, clearly an absolutely new Committee is essential.
In mentioning the 1958–59 Committee, I draw the attention of the House—and I think that the hon. Member has a very strong point here in relation to the Motion which he put down the other day —to the fact that so few of its recommendations have been implemented. I have made researches on this point, and I have found that the Committee made 39 recommendations, of which a considerable number have been agreed—whatever that means—but only seven have been implemented. It therefore seems that the House, though often complaining of frustration, is not very quick or enthusiastic about taking action on suggestions which are made. The House has shown little enthusiasm for more specific suggestions but there is no reason why we should not endeavour to make them where we can.
The far-reaching reforms in the Committee system which I think are required are those which I think must be brought about entirely, as the hon. Member said, in relation to the traditional rights of hon. Members. I do not believe that it is impossible to reform the Committee system and to clear the House of a large 1737 amount of technical detail on the Floor while at the same time not breaching the privileges of the House. I am sure that this problem is not insuperable and that it should be attempted, but I do not think that anyone here is so arrogant as to suggest that he knows the answer without full consideration by a new Select Committee. It is a very complex question, and I think that that is the only way to do it.
But these procedural changes must be fundamental enough to keep pace with the political and industrial changes outside. When my hon. Friends and I wrote the pamphlet Change or Decay, we referred principally to industrial matters, but of course the changes required in procedure apply to all other matters considered by the House and to people of all professions and occupations. We certainly did not advocate that it was only a matter for businessmen, as was suggested in a certain quarter—perhaps by the hon. Member.
In this respect I thought that the 1958–59 Committee seemed rather timid in its approach. I think that it could have gone very much further into the problem of specialist Committees. For example, it debated the question of a specialist Colonial Committee, but not at very great length, and I found no more than two or three pages on that subject in the whole of the Committee's long Report.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Having spoken for so long, I do not wish to hold up the hon. Member's speech. But I think that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) will confirm my view that the majority of hon. Members on the Committee did not believe in the specialist Committee. We considered morning sittings and then considered specialist Committees, colonial and defence, as pilot schemes. That was the thinking of the committee.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) is mistaken in thinking that we gave little attention to the matter. In the Select Committee's Report he will frequently read the expression "the Committee deliberated". That entry may cover several hours of discussion. En fact, this matter was discussed very 1738 fully and the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is right in his recollection.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. One of the things which was not recommended was that there should be intervention upon intervention.
§ Mr. Neave
I am sure that that is a point of procedure which we shall all study, Mr. Speaker. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and the hon. Member for Leeds, West are quite right in what they say. I was not, there. I read the Report, which is not very brief, and I read the reference to specialist Committees. I think that the matter could be much further advanced, and I shall give reasons why it should be done. What is important is that the House should have more opportunity to debate the great issues of our time. There should be more debates on general principles.
Sir Edward Fellowes, the former Clerk of the House, expressed this in very important terms in paragraph 11 of his Memorandum to the Select Committee. He said this:I am convinced that sooner or later the House of Commons will have to approach legislation from the angle that Parliament lays down very general principles and that it is the business of the Executive to administer the law inside those principles. Admittedly Parliament would in that case have to devise machinery not only for checking administrative instruments before they came into operation but also for hearing, and having the opportunity to remedy, the grievances which might arise from the operation of such administrative instruments.That is the principle upon which I should like to elaborate. Sir Edward said that the House was not at the moment ready for delegation to that extent. That is why he advised a strengthening or an enlargement of the Committee system. Delegation to more Committees was the basis of the evidence Sir Edward gave before the Select Committee on Procedure in 1958–59. We have now moved on to a period when the problems facing Parliament have become even more complex, more difficult to scrutinise and control, and even more difficult to understand, particularly in the economic and industrial field. We have during the past few years seen considerable successes in the work done by Select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the 1739 Committee on Nationalised Industries, and the Estimates Committee. That is a possible model, and in the sense that the House has adapted itself to new things I believe that we could do very much better.
Before tackling that point, I must mention the Finance Bill. This is one of the key problems on the question of the reform of the Committee system. There is an important Memorandum by the former Leader of the House at Appendix 4 to the Report of the Select Committee of 1958. Hon. Members will see from that Memorandum that the Budget and Finance Bill debates alone take 16 days, or 10 per cent. of the Parliamentary time available in any one Session. This refers to the period since 1946.
I believe that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House is a serious burden to those hon. Members who are not directly involved with technical and legal points of taxation. It does not apply to every matter of policy, great matters like Purchase Tax, for example, being matters of political policy of importance, but I am sure that a very large part of the Finance Bill could be taken upstairs. If we are concerned, as we ought to be, to attract a new generation of Members of Parliament from various professions, these are the things which are a great deterrent to their coming here.
The Committee stage takes on the average eight to ten days, during which time the House might be otherwise engaged in discussing matters of great importance. I am referring particularly to the absence of any satisfactory debates on scientific questions in the House at present. Here are eight to ten days when the House might he debating other things, and technical subjects are absurdly neglected. There is a tradition, about which we shall hear later, I have no doubt, that taxation has always been taken on the Floor of the House. That has always been the tradition, but could it not be dealt with just as effectively, if not more so, in the smaller forum of a Committee?
§ Mrs. Castle
What, then, would a Member of Parliament do who had been approached on a specific item of finance, asked to raise it on this great occasion of the year, and had been forced to reply, "I am sorry, but I am not on the Standing Committee"? Would it not mean 1740 that he would then have to do it on the Report stage?
§ Mr. Neave
There is one possible disadvantage in this proposal, though I do not think that it outweighs the advantages, and that is that it might lengthen the Report stage. It might mean that that hon. Member would have to take the matter up on Report or find other means of approaching Ministers, for example. I believe that, if eight to ten days could be saved, the disagreements with the decisions of the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill would not be likely to prolong its Report stage for anything like that time. That is the answer to the hon. Lady's question.
Mr. Desmond Donelly (Pembroke)
Has the hon. Member addressed himself to the Memorandum by Sir Edward Fellowes on this specific point about hon. Members attending Committees without voting rights but being able to move Amendments, if they wish?
§ Mr. Neave
I have not particularly noticed that point, but I underst000d that Sir Edward had suggested that hon. Members might attend to move Amendments. I should have thought that that would complicate the procedure very considerably. I prefer to stand by the answer which I gave to the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) upon this point about hon. Members who are not actually members of the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill. Having a Standing Committee on the Finance Bill might involve the need for dividing the Committee up into sub-committees. There might be all sort of difficulties and complex problems, but it would surely save the large number of Divisions which take place on the Finance Bill. I do not believe that the whole House should be subjected to a large number of Divisions on the Finance Bill when it could be much better employed debating some of the great problems of our time. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will tell us how the Sessional Committee on Procedure is getting on with this problem, because it is tackling it now.
I do not want to speak at too great length, because I know that many hon. Members want to take part in the debate. There are much wider fields for reform to which I said earlier that I 1741 would refer. I do not think that a piecemeal approach and occasional concessions to back benchers are sufficient. I think that we now have an opportunity to modernise Parliament and do something important. Back bench Members clearly ought to take a larger share in Parliament's work, and they ought to have more opportunity to use their specialised knowledge and experience when they have it. I do not think that they have such opportunities at present.
The public as a whole sees us involved in what have been described elsewhere as mysterious and esoteric processes Most hon. Members themselves think that many of our processes are mysterious, and our procedure could be much simplified. This means adding to the advisory functions of the House, as distinct from the legislative ones of the moment, a new system of advisory Committees covering the whole field of administration. We suggest in the Motion in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey that industrial and technical matters should be dealt with. I think that members of the Liberal Party have added an Amendment referring to foreign affairs and defence. If Committees were reorganised on this basis, we should have to decide whether to do it by Departments or whether we should have to do it by subject areas. This is a very difficult decision on which I have not yet come to any conclusion, but it is exactly what the new Select Committee ought to be considering.
The Committee of Selection would have a very big and difficult job. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) is here. The Committee over which he presides would have a more difficult job than usual, because obviously we should want to get the best available Members with specialised knowledge on such Committees. We should have to avoid pressure groups, because that has always been one of the criticisms of this system. Therefore, the work of the Committee of Selection would be of paramount importance.
We suggested in our pamphlet that these Committees should have power to co-opt persons with expert knowledge from outside but that those persons 1742 should have no power to vote. I stand by that suggestion until it is shot down, because the closer Parliament and backbench Members come to outside interests and people with knowledge, particularly of industrial and technical problems, the better. That would greatly help the work of the Committees.
These Select Committees would have the duty to report to the House. The Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have impressed the public very greatly in past years as being some semblance of effective control and scrutiny by Parliament. We should build up these specialist Committees upon that basis. Although this is not a new idea—it has been advanced by many writers and many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House in the past few years—it is one which should be tackled, because our experience of Select Committees is that at least when hon. Members get together they try to do something which they think is in the public interest and come to decisions which are in the public interest. To that extent a unanimous decision by such a Committee would have great effect on the Government.
That is the answer to the criticism that we would be giving more power to the Executive. I do not believe that that criticism is valid. The real object is to give back benchers the chance to lead a more fruitful and effective life here and make the best of their opportunities.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I understand from the hon. Member's arguments in favour of specialist Committees that it would be possible for expert witnesses to be brought in. If so, how would one limit the number to be brought in, for a number of people might consider that in the present context of national affairs, they have a right to be present. Would that not create a tremendous difficulty?
§ Mr. Neave
Witnesses could come to Committees only as required by those Committees. I have also suggested that Members of, for example, the National Economic Development Council might be co-opted temporarily, without power to vote, on big industrial matters. I appreciate that this is perhaps a rather advanced idea for some hon. Members, but I do urge that it should be seriously considered.
1743 Parliament needs to be better informed of the workings of Departments. The suggestions I have made would bring back-bench Members closer to the Departments and enable them to exercise greater control over Ministers, because reports could be made on Departmental matters to Parliament and be discussed on the Floor of the House. If the Minister did not accept the advice given he would be exposed to criticism and it is untrue, therefore, to say that the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility would be affected. In fact, I consider that it is the traditional right of back benchers to have additional powers and regard themselves as doing a worth-while job.
The two criticisms which concern me most are these. First, how would these Committees be manned and, secondly, what would be the time for meeting? The first question can probably best be dealt with in this way. It has been suggested that some hon. Members do not at present attend many Committees and that they are interested in departure from rather than attendance on the Committee system. I believe that if these specialist Committees dealt with matters of interest to hon. Members concerned with them a lot of hon. Members would wish to attend. They would feel that they were playing a fuller part and I believe that it would be easier to man them than some would suppose. The Committees need not be too large—certainly not more than 15—and the time at which they meet is in a way closely linked to that.
I mentioned earlier that the Standing Orders permit the suspension of the House. Perhaps this could be done on Wednesdays, after Question Time, so that these Committees could sit until 10 p.m. This was suggested by Sir Edward Fellowes in his Memorandum to the Select Committee and I am suggesting that this proposition should be seriously considered by the Government because more work would be done by Standing and Select Committees between 3.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. than is at present done during the whole week in the mornings. We have power to vary the Orders to enable them to meet on special occasions.
1744 That seems to be the answer to the critics who have said that the idea would not be practicable. Nor do I think it is fair to say that this suggestion is like the American and French systems. Under those systems the Committees are of a more permanent nature and are not given specific jobs to do, as ours would be. I believe that we should find that we could avoid the worst features of those systems.
I should like to repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for Leeds. West on his success in the Ballot. He has certainly put forward a very interesting theme, one which I enjoyed hearing and which I have taken up in my own way on this question of the reform of the Committee system. If we modernise the House of Commons and give its hon. Members the opportunity to take part not only in legislation but in the advisory side of the House, I am sure that the House will regain its place as the proper forum of the nation.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert W. Bowden (Leicester, South-West)
I, too, would like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who, as we know, has a deep interest in this subject. He has tried very hard to get this matter discussed on the Floor of the House. Only those who know him closely appreciate how hard he has tried to do this, and no one was more surprised than he when he found that he had been lucky in the Ballot and had come out No. 1. It was obvious from his speech that my hon. Friend had spent a great deal of time in research on the subject. The other day he showed me some quotations he had come across about Parliamentary Whips dating from the 18th century. I will not quote them to the House, for I can assure hon. Members that they add nothing to the comments that are made these days.
It is only right that we should occasionally debate Parliament and Parliamentarians. It would not be a bad idea if we spent a whole day once a year on a subject of this sort. Although a debate like this may be more or less a pot-pourri, a mixture of the subjects which confront us, it nevertheless would be helpful to the Government, the Opposition and hon. Members generally 1745 if from time to time we reviewed our work, accommodation and the facilities provided for hon. Members. I believe, therefore, that a debate such as this is an excellent idea and one that we should repeat frequently.
I am glad, too, because the debate gives me the opportunity, after many years of enforced silence, to say bow honoured I always feel in being able to share in being an hon. Member of Parliament. Although I may grouse on occasions—do not we all?—I think that we all, the 630 of us, are extremely happy to be here. We are honoured that our constituents should have sent us here to represent them, and I am sure that those who wish it will be pleased if they are returned after the next General Election.
I deprecate the snide remarks that are made from time to time in some organs of the Press about our procedure, our work, and the attendance in Parliament of hon. Members. These come ill from some quarters where very much more should be known about what is happening in Parliament. Our Parliamentary democracy has been a model to the legislatures of the world for many centuries, and it still remains so. When a former colonial territory becomes a member of the Commonwealth and achieves independence it invariably adopts our procedure, or at least a part of it. That is a great tribute to us, although I appreciate that it does not necessarily mean that there is no need for change or that changes should not be made.
Everything is not perfect. Our procedure can be adjusted, the question of accommodation needs to be looked at—and perhaps our accommodation needs to be enlarged—and the conditions under which hon. Members work need considering. As I say, there is room for improvement. Let us say, to be quite fair about this, that in every Parliamentary year there are amendments and improvements in the procedure and in the accommodation. That arose largely because of the method we have adopted of looking at these things ourselves through Sessional and Select Committees. But I wish to make one or two criticisms. I do not propose to speak for long—an almost "maiden" speech ought not to be too long.
1746 My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West is quite right. It is wrong that in this Palace of Westminster—which has been the home of Parliament for centuries, where we are, it may be, guests of the Crown, or it may be tenants—we should have no control whatsoever over its running or over its staffing, and very seldom are asked to make recommendations about any proposed changes in the building structure. Under a constitutional monarchy, which, speaking for myself, I feel is the right thing for this country, we Members of Parliament touch the lives of the people at almost every point. It could almost be said that we control their lives. They may not like to feel that that is so, and it may be that we do not on occasions. But if we look at the day-to-day life of almost every individual in the country we see that that is a truism. We do control their lives. Every action that we take affects them in some way or other. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that 630 Members of Parliament, who have great responsibilities, ought to be permitted some say in the control of the place where they work.
Sometimes—I say this with a certain amount of diffidence—hon. Members feel that they are less than the dust. We have to put up with a number of frustrations, tiny little things about which we may not bother too much; the origin of which we fail to recognise and about which we may even know very little. One could quote them. It does not affect me at all, but who, for example, ever said that hon. Members ought not to smoke in the Lobby? Who has ever said that if I wish to go on to the Terrace and take a photograph of my wife or someone else's wife, for that matter—I must not do so unless I have a written permit from the Lord Great Chamberlain? Who has said that if I get a permit I may sit in a chair in a little room and have a photograph taken, a still photograph, but that moving cameras must not go in there? I am told that in another field in the British way of life, on the stage, certain ladies must not move. But they may have still photographs taken. The same thing applies in Parliament, and we ask, "Who said these things?"
Who dictates that our old colleagues, our old friends who have been Members 1747 of this House with us, must not come into the Tea Room some afternoon and have a cup of tea? That would delight them and they would enjoy it very much. Why cannot some of these restrictions be ruled out or altered? We know that rules and regulations are extremely necessary. But I feel that changes could be made without upsetting the Royal Prerogative one little bit—probably through a Commission—and then at least we should have some say.
Here we are guests of the Crown, and when approaches have been made to the Crown on matters which affect us there has been co-operation. There was the recent occasion regarding the appointment of the Serjeant at Arms. When the Prime Minister, on behalf of hon. Members, approached Her Majesty, the response was immediate. At once it was said that in future appointments of Serjeants at Arms there would he consultation. I am quite sure that there would be no difficulty whatsoever if it were suggested from this House that through a Commission or a Committee, or some such method, we should have greater control of some of the things affecting our day-to-day Parliamentary lives.
We already have important Select Committees which do things for us. I should like to pay tribute to the Kitchen Committee, which does not get many words of thanks, but which does an excellent job. It performs a task which no outside catering firm would perform. What outside catering firm would face the situation of being suddenly confronted at ten o'clock at night with the need to provide 120 breakfasts at four o'clock in the morning; or being told at eight o'clock at night that the House was up and that no one would be requiring any dinner? But the Kitchen Committee has to face such situations.
A few years ago there was a great deal of criticism about the subsidised meals which Members of Parliament were supposed to be having. Well, that criticism has gone, thanks to the present Kitchen Committee and its predecessors which dealt with the problem in a manner which I consider was correct. The protests came from the Press. Comments were made about Members of Parliament having subsidised meals. But 1748 when we analysed the costs, what did we find? We found that the highest subsidy was in respect of dinners in the Press Gallery. When that was drawn to the attention of the Press we had no comments, and that was the end of the matter.
We have the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports, which has done an excellent job and provided us with a new form of Votes and Proceedings, a really good one. That was a great service to hon. Members.
The point I am making is that similar Select Committees could deal with problems of staffing and accommodation and could do as good a job for us. Here is an anomaly. We have a Select Committee for the kitchen and another for publications and debates. But the Library is controlled by Mr. Speaker's Advisory Committee. No doubt that body does a very good job. But why not have a Select Committee of the House for that work, and also, perhaps, a Select Committee on accommodation? I think the answer lies in a careful examination of the position and that there would be no difficulty in getting a decision from the Crown which would enable us to have much more say in what happens in Parliament and what affects us.
I turn now to another subject, which is a rather controversial one, the suggestion that we should televise our proceedings, or parts of them. I know that this is a controversial matter. To be quite frank, to me the idea is somewhat frightening. I do not like it at all. I almost used the word "abhorrent." It is something about which we ought to think carefully. I was a little disturbed the other day when—I may be wrong—I thought that the Prime Minister was sympathetic to the idea.
Let me remind the House that this is a debating Chamber. Through you, Mr. Speaker, we address each other in debate. We are not speaking to the country or to the world outside. It is true that reports of our debates appear in HANSARD. But the very intimacy of our debates would be lost if the atmosphere were not as it is. It is equally true to say that there are public galleries in this place. But we are not conscious that there is anyone in them 1749 and we do not see them. We do not recognise them and we do not speak to them.
I am very much afraid that once the television cameras swung into action the whole atmosphere of this Chamber would change. I regret having to say it, but in my view if Members had in mind that there was an audience of something like a million people, instead of debating the subject and speaking frankly to each other as they do at present, they might "speak to the gallery," as the description goes, through the television cameras to people outside. I do not like the idea. Some Members do. But before we make any big change there, I hope that we shall consider it very carefully. No doubt, the broadcasting authorities would handle it with great dignity. In fact, if Richard Dimbleby were given the job he would make us appear more dignified than we are. But that does not detract from the fact that it is rather a dangerous thing. I do not want Parliament to become a sort of alternative programme to "That Was The Week That Was" or "Steptoe and Son", or "Coronation Street."
Sitting quietly on the benches without taking part in the debate, like spectators at a football match, one can often see more of the game than the people who are engaged in it. I have noticed that this House has its moods. It has its hilarious moods, its serious moods, and very often when an important statement is imminent we are apprehensive and giggle and behave rather like schoolgirls. I think that is right. It is right that Members of Parliament should react in that way. If an important statement is expected, the apprehensions about what its effects may be on the country have their effects upon us. A great deal of that would be lost if it were felt that the television cameras were trained on us. Television would add nothing to our privileges or to our dignity.
May I now say a word about procedure? I do not agree with people who say that our procedure is all wrong and should be altered considerably. I suppose I am a traditionalist. I would say that, by and large, it works fairly well. There are adjustments that have to be made, and they are made when necessary, but any major changes ought 1750 to be carefully thought out. We cannot upset our Parliamentary system to the extent of overturning it without causing outside repercussions. I know that our present procedure does not satisfy a Government who want to steamroller legislation through Parliament. It does not satisfy an Opposition who want to do nothing other than to delay or frustrate the Government in getting their policy adopted. It does not satisfy back benchers who feel that they want all the time available in the year. Nor should our procedure do any one of those things.
A great deal of nonsense has been spoken and written about this place. I read in a Sunday newspaper, which I do not usually buy, an article by a former junior Minister who referred to the debate on the Air Estimates in this House last Thursday and said that only six Members were present. That was probably true. What he did not know—perhaps he could not have known it— was that there were many other important Committees being held at the same time. Between 6.30 and 7 o'clock on Thursday of last week I was at a meeting in this House attended by 125 Members. Maybe it was felt that that was not an important meeting. But all the work of Parliament is not done in this Chamber, though that is the impression that the newspapers endeavour to convey.
This article referred to the fact that there were six Members present in the Air Estimates debate when £503 million had been voted for the Air Force. Every hon. Member knows that we did not vote one penny last Thursday for the Air Force. We have not voted any money for the Services yet. That has to come. So we get this sort of misleading nonsense talked and written in the papers which does us little good.
The Sessional Committee on Procedure is a good one, and, where it can, it ought to stop time wasting. We used to have a system whereby Prayers could run all night. A gentleman who is now in another place gained for himself a certain reputation—I do not know whether it was a good one—for what he considered to be harassing tactics upon the Labour Government. He kept us up all night with Prayers. That does not necessarily mean that we were 1751 engaged in our devotions all through the night, but we were engaged here for long hours. I am sure that it did not do him any good. It brought discredit upon him, and probably upon his party too. That has now been altered, but we can still debate a Prayer for a reasonable period.
I remember an occasion when the House sat up all night debating Purchase Tax on tintacks, after which, at about 4 o'clock in the morning, we turned to the subject of Purchase Tax on mouth organs. The public outside this place just do not understand these things. I am sure that if we asked members of the public to comment, we could not print their comments. That is the sort of thing that we have got to face—this nonsense of time wasting—and it can be done.
I have one or two suggestions to make. My late friend Hugh Gaitskell was always of the opinion that the Committee stage of the Finance Bill could be taken in Standing Committee upstairs. I think it is a very good idea, and I know a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who share that view. But I wonder whether the suggestion is workable. Let us look at it purely from the point of view of time. Let us consider it physically. The Budget is announced some time at the beginning of April. The Finance Bill has to leave this House at the end of June to go to another place. Under the 1911 Act they must have at least one month in which to consider it. That is three months, out of which, we have to take two Recesses—Easter and Whitsun. The Committee stage of the Finance Bill, on average, occupies eight days—something like 65 hours. If the whole of that stage were taken in Standing Committee, we would need many more sittings than eight. I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), and he did not propose that everything connected with the Finance Bill should be taken upstairs. So we begin to sort it out. We would not take taxation or changes in Income Tax or in Purchase Tax in Committee upstairs. In fact, there would be very little saving.
1752 Another suggestion is that we might split the Finance Bill into two, one portion dealing with new taxation arising from the Budget, and the other portion dealing with what one might call tax administration—such matters as, for instance, tax avoidance and things of that description. But that would mean two Bills. It would mean two Second Readings, two Report stages and two Committee stages. So we would not save any time, if time is the sole objective of sending the Finance Bill upstairs. I do not think it is workable, though many of my hon. Friends feel that it is. At any rate, let us try the experiment to find out whether we are right or wrong.
I am rather more concerned about the idea of specialist Committees. I may be the odd one out of 630 Members—
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
If I may interrupt the hon. Member, is not the real heart of my hon. Friend's suggestion that the overall number of Members of Parliament would not have to go to Standing Committee upstairs and would, therefore, be available to do an increased amount of work in the House? It is not only a matter of actual Parliamentary time in Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Bowden
I would think that this would apply to certain items in the Finance Bill. But the Finance Bill is the one occasion in the year when we are bombarded by requests from constituents about every conceivable part of the Bill. Every Member feels that he ought to be in the Chamber to vote if Amendments are put down dealing with any part of the Bill in which his constituents are interested. I do not think we could sort out any section of the Finance Bill and send it upstairs which would save any time on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. John Hall
The hon. Member has said that to divide the Finance Bill in this way would mean having two Bills with two Report stages and so on. I do not follow him. Why would we have to divide it into two distinct Bills?
§ Mr. Bowden
The idea that some of my hon. Friends have canvassed is this. In October or November there would be a tax administration Bill, therefore making the Finance Bill of April, May and June rather smaller. On pure tax administration, it nevertheless would have 1753 to go through the House. I accept that one might not have to do it every year it might be once in two years. But, there again, it does not save any time.
On this question of specialist Committees, I wondered what we should discuss if we set up a small Committee of, say, about 15. Let us consider such a Defence Committee, for example. Presumably, it would discuss policy. There could not be much saving of time if it were purely to discuss the Service Estimates because everyone would insist on having a full day on the Floor of the House on the Army, on the Navy and on the Air Force. We ought to do that anyway; it takes only three days in the year. There would also be two days of defence debate on the Floor of the House.
If it is suggested that we divide up the money Votes and take them upstairs, we should remember that we spend only one day on them in any case now when we go through the various Votes. Perhaps a Defence Committee could consider the money Votes for a longer period, but what worries me a little is the idea that a Defence Committee—or a Colonial Affair:, Committee, for instance—could discuss policy with only 15 Members present. Presumably, they will be knowledgeable Members from both sides of the House selected by the respective parties. As regards defence, I have heard it suggested that, because it would be such a small Committee, it could be given more information than could be given here on the Floor of the House, for security reasons.
Is there not a danger here? Should we not be setting up a small Committee of hon. Members from both sides which would, in that respect, become almost as strong and as powerful as the Cabinet? This is something which, though perhaps not worrying, is worth thinking about.
I have a personal suggestion to make about legislation. All Governments have certain legislation in a year which is extremely controversial. What usually happens is that, after the Second Reading of such a Bill, the Government decide that there shall be a Timetable Motion, and the Guillotine falls. The Bill is then debated on the timetable. Of course, the best possible arrangement—I accept that it is not always agreeable to the Opposition—is what one might 1754 call a voluntary timetable. No Opposition would look at that on Bills which are highly controversial.
I suggest that, instead of the present system under which a Timetable Motion is put down by the Government fixing a certain number of days for the Committee and remaining stages of a Bill, we should adopt this procedure. Immediately after the Second Reading has been concluded, a Motion would be moved—rather as one moves a Motion that a Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House—that the Bill be referred to a business committee, My idea of the business committee is not the existing Business Committee. The business committee I envisage would he set up at the beginning of the Session. It would not necessarily be a large committee. It would be composed of Members from both sides, and they could not have any particular interest in any special Bill. This business committee would itself consider and advise the House on how the time should be allocated. It would report to the House, and the House could accept or reject its advice.
The advantage of this would be that we should save a wasted day such as we have with the present method. It is a wasted day. Ever since 1898, Governments have been saying, "We are loth to do this. We do not want to do it. It hurts us more than it hurts you." Oppositions have been crying, "Gag. Stifling of democracy", and so on. This has been going on since 1898, and we do waste a day by it. If we spent half an hour less than a full day, the Opposition would feel that they were letting the side down by not taking the full amount of time.
I suggest that the other idea of sending the Bill to an independent group of Members for consideration from the point of view of the allocation of time would work much better. The advantage to the Opposition would be that it would save a wasted day which could be used on something else, and it would not give the Government the opportunity to decide the number of days as they do now. This would be decided by the committee.
Now, a few words about Parliamentary Questions answered orally, which, I regret to say, are becoming fewer and fewer. The other day, I looked at the figures. In 1946, Questions answered averaged 61 1755 per day. In 1961, they averaged 38. The number is probably running at about that level now. Supplementary questions are longer, very much longer. If one looks at it from the point of view of the number of lines occupied in HANSARD, the length is almost double. The answer to this is in our own hands, with assistance from you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that it is right for the House to get back to a number of Questions answered in a day much greater than 38. There is no more valuable part of our procdure than Question Time.
I come now to the controversial subject of Ministers' and Members' pay and allowances. This is something we always raise with a certain amount of diffidence. In my view, it is wrong that the scale of remuneration of Ministers and Members of Parliament should be lower in the Mother of Parliaments than in any other country of the Commonwealth of equal size or in most foreign countries. It is wrong that the British Prime Minister, any Prime Minister, should receive a salary less than that of a "pop" singer. It is wrong that we should regard any British Prime Minister as worth about five-twelfths of Dr. Beeching. We must start tackling this from the top. It may be—I do not know—that certain Prime Ministers and Ministers do not require a higher Parliamentary salary, but I feel that one should be fixed so that if, at any time in our history, Ministers take office who cannot afford to continue without a Parliamentary salary, it will be there for them if they wish. I remember an occasion when it was said in the House that Members who did not desire to take their Members' salary could, perhaps, not do so. I do not know how many are refusing it in these days, but there were, in fact, some at one time.
It is wrong that the salaries of Ministers should be lower than that of their Permanent Secretaries. This matter has been raised already. It is wrong, also, that young able Parliamentarians of any party should have to refuse an invitation from their Prime Minister to take office as Junior Ministers simply because they cannot afford it. This has happened.
I regard the best sort of House of Commons as one which is a cross-section of the country, having here business men, lawyers, doctors, miners, engineers and railwaymen. This is the best thing 1756 for the country. If it ever became something different, democracy in the country itself would suffer. The proportions and the number vary with elections of course, but the situation one desires to see cannot possibly continue for very long if the question of whether a man can afford to become a Member of Parliament is paramount.
I have said to a good many young men who have been aspirants to Parliament, "Before you decide to let your name go forward, talk it over with your wife and make quite sure that you can afford it. If your home is in the Provinces, if your constituency is somewhere else, and if you have to live in a London hotel for four nights a week, make sure you can afford all these things, bring up your family and educate your children as you would like to do." I think it only fair to say this to them.
It was said in the days of Dickens—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West referred to Dickens—that a crossing sweeper in our democracy could become a Member of Parliament. Today. we ought, perhaps, to add. "If he can afford the financial loss".
Let us have a few facts straight. It is important to get the facts straight because they are not generally known, even in the Press.
The salary of a Member of Parliament is £1,000 a year plus £750 expenses. These expenses are not tax-free, as the Press so often says. Every penny of them is taxable. We were told in the Press two or three days ago that a Conservative candidate for a constituency which I do not think for one moment he can win said that if he came here he would have to do something outside because he could not possibly afford to keep six polo ponies on an M.P.'s salary. As I say, I do not think he will come here, but I believe in Parliament being a cross-section of the community, and, if there is a place here for a comedian, then a comedian should take his place. It is true that we have already got one. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) is not in his place today. It was suggested in the Press last night that he was to become leader of the Conservative Party. I am sure that that cannot be right.
1757 This is a very difficult problem, and I wish to quote one or two figures. Members of the Australian House of Representatives receive £2,200 a year—that is sterling, not Australian pounds—plus allowances of £840, making a total of £3,040. In Canada the sessional indemnity is £3,000 plus expense allowances of £740. In France the figure is just over £3,000 and in West Germany it varies between £2,500 and £3,000 according to where the member lives. So one could go on.
We are always told when this subject is debated that it is not an appropriate time. There are always some reasons given why we should not even talk about it, much less do anything about it. One reason is that by so doing we are setting a bad example to the rest of the country. A second reason is that if Members' remuneration is increased it is inflationary. A third is that we are getting too close to a General Election, and a fourth is that it is too soon after a General Election. This problem will have to be tackled, and tackled courageously. It is, however, wrong that we should have to decide it for ourselves. I hope that the Government will decide to do something if only it is to take this issue off the Floor of the House once and for all and to set up a Select Committee or Committee of Inquiry to look at the whole problem of Ministerial and Members' salaries. We would not mind if the Government referred it to the National Incomes Commission if they so wished. That might work out quite well.
I appreciate the Government's fears about this, but we have had sufficient experience of all forms of government to know that an increase in Members' salaries is a nine-day wonder. It goes over the weekend with the football results, or something of that sort. Therefore, no Government should be disturbed about this. Any Government which faces a problem of this sort, which is truly difficult, gains credit for having faced it rather than having dodged it.
I wish to say a few words about travel allowances. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West spoke about the facilities for Members of Parliament to go abroad. Travel arrangements by rail in this country are not unreasonable; in fact, they are quite satisfactory. We get travel arrangements for triangular journeys—from Westminster to the constituency, 1758 from the constituency to home and from home to Westminster. When we are abroad not enough consideration is given to prestige, quite apart from the question of discomfort to Members.
I was a member of the British delegation to the Council of Europe for three years. The Opposition Members numbered twelve. The Foreign Office provided us with a taxi, one taxi, and in the corner of the windscreen was a tiny Union Jack which the taxi-driver had stuck on. Twelve of us in a taxi was a bit much, and those of us who could manage it used to try to get lifts. Many times I have gone from the Nouvelle Hotel in Strasbourg to the Council of Europe Assembly riding behind the Eire flag in one of that country's glorious limousines or behind the Belgian flag, and we have passed a little British taxi chugging along with eight or nine of our colleagues in it. I leave the point there, but prestige matters very much abroad.
I turn to the car allowance. This is an arrangement in which I took some part, and I take my blame for the part for which I was responsible. I suggested it to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury's predecessor. The suggestion came from some of our back benchers, but in our wildest dreams we did not visualise how it would work out. I think that the arrangement works something like this. I may be wrong about it, and I do not want to be unfair. The Fees Office or the Treasury, or whoever is responsible, borrows "Ernie" or sortie other computer from the Postmaster-General into which the registration number of the car is fed. Then the mileage, carefully and meticulously worked out by the A.A. and the R.A.C., between a Member's constituency and Westminster, taking off corners where necessary, is fed into it. Then is fed into it the age of the car and the cubic capacity of the engine. If it is an old engine, presumably the pistons have worn and the cylinders have gone a bit and the cubic capacity is increased, thus increasing its use of oil. Then the price of the petrol—not the best petrol, but, to be fair, it is not the cheapest; it is middle grade petrol—is fed into it. A button is pressed and a figure is arrived at, and that is what Members get for travelling between their constituency and Westminster.
1759 The saving to the Treasury is that the Member does not go by rail, for which he gets a first-class rail fare. But no allowance is made for depreciation of the car, for tyres, nor for one drop of oil—that sounds like Shakespeare.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have a wonderful bargain because the cost of travelling between one's constituency and here by motor car works out at about one-third of the cost of travelling by rail?
§ Mr. Bowden
Theoretically, that is so. I made this point the other day in conversation with some friends, and it was pointed out that Members might use their cars anyway, for which they would receive nothing.
I think that this matter could be looked at again. I sometimes wonder when going to my constituency and my wife is with me whether I should ask her to get out and run behind. No business firm would treat its employees in this way and we do not treat civil servants in this way. Why we cannot have a straight-forward car allowance of a couple of coppers per mile rather than all this complicated arrangement, I do not know.
I have touched on a number of subjects affecting Parliament and Parliamentarians. I am sorry for having taken so long. I hope that at the end of today's debate the combined efforts of hon. Members on both sides—because this is not a party debate—will find understanding and sympathy on the Government Front Bench and that, perhaps, even the Chancellor of the Exchequer will listen to what we have to say.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
It is a great honour and a great responsibility to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Bowden). As he has said, his was almost a maiden speech. I do not know when he last spoke on any subject other than on a Writ since about 1948. What is, perhaps, more important is the fact that this is the first time that there has been an opportunity for a Member of the House to offer him our congratulations on his becoming a Privy Councillor and to say how much pleasure that has given on both sides of the House.
1760 Certainly the right hon. Gentleman's speech followed the tradition of a maiden speech by being in no way controversial. I should like to say how much I appreciated what he said, which was of great value. It seemed to me that he confirmed the view that I wish to put forward, namely, that this is a subject worthy of a special Committee's consideration.
The right hon. Gentleman said that these matters require careful consideration, and so they do. He said that it would be a great mistake if the impression were to go out that we are decrying ourselves in Parliament. There is no reason for us to do so. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman seemed rather dubious about some of the points on which my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) is so keen and about which I myself would like to speak. All this is all the more reason why the right hon. Gentleman and every other right hon. and hon. Member should be concerned about this matter and wish to inquire into the whole of this subject. Hon. Members could make known their ideas to that Committee.
We should also be very grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) because he has drawn the Motion in a form which makes it possible for every hon. Member, no matter how different views may be on particular points, to accept the principle. Here again. I endorse the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seriously to consider the proposal for a Select Committee.
I also fully agree that the matter should not be referred to what I might call, perhaps not accurately, but at any rate descriptively, the standing Committee on Procedure, which has a number of specific matters before it and. of course, is always there to deal with any particular point as it arises. The Select Committee suggested would have to undertake what would amount to a whole-time job on this subject. There are many different aspects of Parliamentary reform and obviously a great many differences of opinion would be offered to such a Committee.
I suggest that we cannot expect to arrive today at any consensus of what should be done to reform our procedure. But what we can do is to make it clear to the Government and to the general public that back benchers are seriously 1761 concerned about this matter and wish to have it carefully considered. I believe that if that is made clear today, we shall find that this standing Committee will be appointed.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen want to speak on this subject and therefore I shall confine my speech to one single aspect. But it is a fundamental point. I believe that the House is not sufficiently equipped to deal with technical and scientific matters. There is no doubt about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon touched on this and I will delay the House for a few minutes only on it. It is important to point out that the present rate of exchange in scientific advance is so rapid that the pure scientist and the layman are drifting further and further apart every day.
This applies in legislative activity just as much as anywhere else—perhaps more so. Somehow or other, we must find means of building a bridge across what has been described as this great gulf, and the only man who can help us to do so is the practical scientist—what I might call, in the most general sense of the word, the engineer, who, after all, is a very appropriate man to build a bridge. He is the only person who can understand the language of one of the parties, the scientist—although even he will find it difficult to comprehend some of it—and who can translate it to the other party.
There are very few practical scientists in the House. Indeed, there are few hon. Members with any technical qualifications at all. Those who have such qualifications devote them to the service of the House most assiduously and it is interesting to note that two members of the present Government—the President of the Board of Trade and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty—are members of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and I believe that one of them is also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. But few other hon. Members have qualifications of that sort. No hon. Members are engaged in technological work while they are Members of this House.
That state of affairs seems to indicate that something must be done to enable men with such qualifications to become Members of this House. At the present time, it is physically impossible for them. Many of us will have talked to men 1762 interested in politics and anxious to enter the House. But one striking answer I had the other day from a man anxious to enter the House was that it would be impossible for him to attend in the mornings. That point has been discussed already by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and it illustrates the sort of problem we are up against.
When one considers the complications of modern legislation and the number of times technical or scientific points arise, one realises how valuable it would be for Committees and for the House to have available more hon. Members who could speak with practical knowledge, men who would have not only scientific qualifications but experience in day-to-day work in science and technology.
One example of the sort of subject that arises is that of aircraft noise. We know little about it. Yet it concerns a very large number of hon. Members and their constituencies. Have we got a policy towards it? Do we really know enough about the subject to be able to give a decision? What is to happen with regard to the siting of airports from which supersonic aircraft will fly? Lord Brabazon, who is an expert an the subject, tells us that these aircraft will be far noisier than anything we have had yet.
It is on that sort of subject that we want assistance from experts. Indeed. I do not think that we should regard with horror, as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends do, the possibility of a Committee of this House having technical advisers from outside to help it. It might even be possible—though this is a dreadful thought, some people would say—actually to co-opt such advisers to the Committees. After all, such Committees would not be dealing with amendments to Bills. I understand that they would decide these matters on an advisory basis and render a report to the House.
The difficulty is—and I say this with great respect to the right hon. Member for Leicester, South-West—that the Whips are never likely to look with much favour upon that kind of thing because back benchers would then be taking far too much part in decisions on policy, and, of course, that might he undesirable from their point of view. The Government do not like it and our 1763 friends the traditionalists tell us that we ought to remain a House of amateurs. I have heard that view expressed very eloquently. It is said, "We have always got an; we do not want to know too much about these scientific and technical matters, and it is much better to have people with a commonsense approach." But even in cricket we have had to give up amateurs. Do not let us have to retain them in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Merely to underline the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made; this very next week before the Public Accounts Committee there appears the Accounting Officer of the How, without the sort of facilities which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested, can we ask relevant and sensible questions of that Accounting Officer?
§ Sir L. Heald
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but I will not pursue the matter further.
It ought to be appreciated that this subject is causing considerable interest outside the House as well as in. Last year, I had the great privilege and alarming responsibility of delivering a lecture, which was called the Graham Clark Lecture, to the three societies of engineers in which I was asked to deal with this very subject. It was called "The Engineer and the Law" but "the law" was interpreted as meaning the making and administration of the law, particularly by Parliament.
I ventured to point out the importance of getting their help, and they replied that there were many of them—and by coincidence there is to be another discussion about it within the next few days —who would like to take part or assist in the business of Parliament, but they did not see how they could do so at present. I mention that only because it should not be thought that this subject is not actuating the minds of people outside the House.
As hon. Members already know, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, although an entirely unofficial body, incorporates outside assistance from eminent and practical men in all branches of science and technology. A great deal more use could and should be made of the capabilities of a Committee like that.
1764 I have confined myself to one aspect of the matter, but in my view it is fundamental. If we are to meet the problems of the present day and the future—and how much greater those are becoming every day—science and government must go hand in hand. For many reasons, very diverse reasons, reasons of finance and machinery and so on, that kind of cooperation is difficult. This is one of the subjects which I sincerely hope will become one of the important subjects for discussion by the Select Committee which I hope to see established.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. L Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am very pleased to be called immediately after the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). I intended to quote from his Graham Clark Lecture a passage in which he draws attention to the need to improve our machinery of government to deal with technical subjects but, as he has dealt with it himself, I need not say more and I can come straight to the subject of specialist Committees and the further question of whether the House should set up a Committee on Procedure to advise it as to whether these specialist Committees are desirable.
I start from the view that Parliament as a whole and the House of Commons in particular must meet the needs of the public. I believe that the public feels the need for the type of examination which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, and I believe that Parliament will serve the public better if it is better informed. I have no doubt that the ordinary back bencher is not sufficiently informed and would do his traditional job of examining and criticising the Government's acts much better if he were.
However, I should like to go further. I would be in favour of Committees much more on the Continental or American system. I realise that this would be a great departure from the tradition that one of the main tasks of Parliament is to examine and criticise the Government and to obstruct a great deal of what the Government may be inclined to do. According to the English view of democracy, Parliament has never attempted to take the initiative. It has left that to the Executive.
I am not sure from the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), 1765 to which I listened with great interest, quite how he envisages these Committees, or what their job is to be. If it is simply to equip the back bencher to do his traditional job better because he has more expert information at his disposal, then I am in favour, and that is done to some extent. It is essentially what the Estimates Committee does. It examines Estimates and makes available to Members a great deal of very valuable information about the conduct of the Government, after it has happened. We have other Committees which examine what the Government have done after they have acted and which may criticise the Government and which may make information available. That is a traditional job and to that extent what the hon. Member for Abingdon suggested would not be a great departure.
If it is thought necessary to have a new Committee on Procedure to examine how this job can be better done or extended, I would agree with that, but my own feeling is that this does not meet the whole need. In the last 50 years. all sorts of new jobs have been thrust upon the Government. I am not arguing whether they should have been thrust upon the Government, but the fact is that they have. We are remotely responsible for the running of the nationalised industries and for all sorts of administrative jobs. In addition to our traditional rôle, of criticising the Government after they have taken action, we have become involved in what I would call a supervisory rôle, in which our main task is not to attack the Government for something which they have done, but to try to help them to do things better. This is what the public expects from us. The public is worried about the nationalised industries being better run. Parliament should take cognisance of that fact and not treat the nationalised industries simply as an additional subject for party dispute across the Chamber and for hammering the Government.
Inevitably, these specialist Committees would trench to some extent on what until now has been considered the province of the Executive. They will develop ideas of their own. The hon. Member for Abingdon, the right hon. and learned Member and I think that they should be equipped with expert assistance and we want them to be able 1766 to co-opt experts. They are bound to develop a point of view of their own, therefore, and to generate interest among the public and to look to the public interests and not to party doctrinaire views.
Do not let us delude ourselves. This is a complete change and a complete departure from the traditional rôle of the English Parliament, although not necessarily of the Scottish. Therefore, I do not believe that this is a matter which can be referred to a Committee. The Committee would have to be instructed about what sort of specialist Committee it was to consider. Is Parliament prepared to depart from its traditional rôle and tackle this new rôle of supervision as I think it should? That is a decision of Parliament to which we would have to give a great deal of thought, because such a change would affect not only Parliament, but the Civil Service.
In Europe there is growing up a new animal, half civil servant and half politician. People who are running the Commissions in Brussels are speaking in the Parliament at Strasbourg. We should not be able to preserve the anonymity of the Civil Service once civil servants appeared in these Committees. Therefore, the whole of the political system would be affected.
At present, I am elected for a constituency. I and no one else am the responsible Member for that constituency. We have never had a list system in this country. The Government are responsible for the running of the country and responsibility is traditionally pinned on the Cabinet. But once there are Committees of this sort, we should have to parallel them in local government. We should also have to consider the government of Scotland and of Wales and devolve a great deal of power to those countries and possibly to regions of England. The change will have wider repercussions and it is a complete change in the role of the House of Commons.
Therefore, although I am in favour of the change, this is not a decision which could be taken by any ad hoc Committee. I will say no more about it because I want to make a brief speech, but I conclude this part of what I have to say by saying that I am in favour of specialist Committees of a new sort much more on the Continental and American style.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's argument. If Committees of the sort he proposes were set up, does he think that they should be given, as are Committees in the United States, sums of money with which to engage permanent staff and thereby equip themselves for doing the job for which they were created?
§ Mr. Grimond
Certainly they should be well equipped with machinery. but I do not know whether it would be done by providing them with sums of money or by providing the machinery and co-opting experts. They would certainly need expert staffs. I expect that they should be free to co-opt people and possibly to summon Ministers and probably senior civil servants and to examine them. I want to pass on from this. I am saying this is a major change and that we must not delude ourselves about it.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
It is not such a great change, because the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee already have staffs of their own supplied by the House.
§ Mr. Grimond
It is a fundamental change. The Public Accounts Committee and similar Committees examine what the Executive has done and do not trench upon policy. They do not attempt to advise the Government. It would be deluding ourselves if we thought that we could set up specialist Committees of the sort which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Abingdon and I want and not find in the course of time that these Committees were taking views of their own about, say, the running of the railways.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
Is the right hon. Gentleman going so far as to suggest that these Committees should have the power to examine a Department's budget before it was spent, deciding whether it should be passed, and refusing to agree to the expenditure if it did not approve of it, which is rather the American pattern?
§ Mr. Grimond
Inevitably they would be drawn into that sort of position. I do not accept that they would merely be an extension of the Public Accounts Committee system. We could have that as well and that would also be neces- 1768 sary, but we are here considering a quite different function.
I want now to turn to what I regard as Parliament's traditional function, to criticise and examine the Executive. Here, too, Parliament has fallen down on its job. This question cannot be divorced from that of the parties. In the last 50 years, there has been an enormous growth of the strength of the party. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, but it has happened. For many purposes, the Chamber is by-passed and what is done upstairs in a Committee Room is more important than what happens on the Floor. Once the Government are established in office, they can maintain a majority, unless something quite exceptional happens.
We know, too, that the House of Commons is by-passed in other ways. People who want to bring influence on Ministers will go to see them. What the trade unions or employers' federations say to the Minister outside the House of Commons is probably much more important than what back benchers say in the House of Commons. That is a fact of life. I think that this is very largely due to the increase in the strength of the party.
Another point is that there is always a good deal of talk in these debates about the advantage of general discussion on large subjects. I rather enjoy these general debates on large subjects. but I think that we must keep in mind that politics is about power and is about discussions which are directed to influencing the mind of the Government. To have a long discussion from eleven to one about abortion may be a very interesting exercise, but candidly it is not politics, unless the Government are going to be moved to do something. When they send along some under-strapper simply to occupy their bench, I know this is not politics. The person that I want to see there is at least the Leader of the House so that his mind can be influenced. If we want to write to The Times that is a different matter, but airing views in general is not what the House of Commons is essentially about.
I am concerned because I think that we are not discharging our full duty of bringing effective pressure to bear upon the Government. I think that the 1769 simplest thing the Government could do, and I do not see why it cannot be done, is to stop treating every vote as a vote of confidence. Most votes perhaps must be so treated, but it would bring enormous life back to the House of Commons if people occasionally could follow their voices, which are very often against their vote, and if the Government were defeated they would not necessarily take this as a terrible loss of prestige.
Secondly, I fully agree with what has been said, that if back benchers are to do the job of criticising the Government they must be better informed. It is for this reason that I am in favour of giving them better facilities, and giving them more pay, because if they want to inform themselves effectively they have to have the means to do it, and that is what they have not got. They have not got secretarial assistance. The Library of the House of Commons is an absolute miracle. It supplies the whole House of Commons with information and assistance, and how it does it I do not know. But it ought to be very much bigger. When one goes to America one finds that each Senator has a proper office of his own. We have none of that and, therefore, we fail to discharge the job of criticism.
What sort of criticism is wanted? Here again the tradition in the House of Commons is primarily concerned with the rights of the individual and preventing him from being steam-rollered by the tyranny of the Government. I do not know what other hon. Members find, but I do not find in my postbag that many of the complaints are about maladministration. I do not and the people of this country groaning under an oppressive Civil Service. I very seldom find a valid complaint brought to me that the Civil Service is oppressive, or has been negligent or has administered the law wrongly. Occasionally, one gets such criticism as over the Crichel Down or the chalk-pit case but, on the whole, the bulk of the criticism which comes in my postbag is about legislation which people want altered. It is not that they think that the legislation is wrongly administered but that they want the law altered. I think that the House of Commons is a very bad legislature. It has not the set-up to do the job. We know the shambles that there would be if 1770 private Members had to institute anything more than the most simple Bills.
We can, however, do the job of criticism. I think that there is a great deal in the view about our legislation by Sir Edward Fellowes that on the whole it has to keep its broad principles—though I would not go quite as far as he would —and that there ought to be smaller Committees, but I would make it much easier to amend legislation. That is very often the complaint which I get from the public. Every often when legislation has been working for some time there is a demand for change. Governments are very unwilling to amend legislation and yet a lot of it does not work very well. I should like to see some simpler method of amending legislation and less time ostensibly spent in trying to draft it in the first place, which I do not think that the House of Commons should do.
Dealing with the point about the Finance Bill, it is all very well to say that 70 hours are spent legislating on this Bill, but they are not spent on legislation. They are spent on raising grievances. I use that example to illustrate my point. The House of Commons is good at raising grievances, but not at legislating. It is important that the House of Commons should raise grievances, because I think that the great point of the House is that it does things in public. Nothing which is done in Committee upstairs or privately in consultation with a Minister has the same impact as what is done in public.
The Press, the B.B.C., and television keep democracy ticking over, and once the Press ceases to report the House of Commons democracy will suffer. Every day the main headlines in the Press are about things raised in the House of Cemmons, and, much as we complain about the Press, and I do, do not let us delude ourselves. The Press is a vital part of democracy, and this is one reason why I have changed my views on television.
I used to be against the idea of televising the House of Commons, but it is an essential function of the House to raise issues and get them across to the public. I do not want the House televised direct in session but I want a programme like "Today in Parliament" put on at night because I think that this is a great function.
1771 If anyone doubts the extent to which the House of Commons has lost its power, let him consider one or two things which have happened recently. When two-thirds of the Cabinet were dismissed, this was nothing to do with the House of Commons. Several of them were considered by the House to be good Ministers, but they were dismissed as a result of a Tory Prime Minister's decision.
If one considers the discussions on defence, what is said in the Conservative Party Defence Committee is much more important than what is said in the House. Consider the case of this Chief who is to be sent back to his own country. This is a House of Commons matter. Although we may discuss it, and although the Home Secretary is a man well versed in British Parliamentary usage, nevertheless if the Government want a majority next Thursday they will get it, even though this is a single case of no importance to their policy. If it becomes a party matter they will put it through. I am biassed about this. We must have political parties, and I constantly try to stop Liberals from saying that in the Liberal Party one can do as one likes. I do not take that view. I have been a member of the Whips' Union. But it will do no harm to the country to have a little more flexibility.
If we want to return some power to Parliament, and I think that we do, we must reform our procedure to enable us to carry out our supervisory rôle. We must enable Members to bring as many major decisions as possible into the light of day and let people see how Parliament works. We must let the people know how the opinion of the Government is formed and see how decisions are taken in Parliament.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I disagreed with about half of what he said, but I do not propose to go into any great detail because, as a signatory to the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), I must not speak at great length.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is about time that we had a Select Committee on Procedure to go into 1772 these problems. I disagree with him about specialist Committees. One reason why they have them in America is that Ministers are not accountable to Congress. Ministers here are accountable to the House, and we have an opportunity of questioning them here rather than doing it in a specialist Committee upstairs. But this is precisely the sort of problem which ought to be examined by a Select Committee on Procedure.
There is one aspect which has not been discussed at great length. One of our duties in which we lamentably fail is that we have no effective control over Supply. For many years Supply Days have been used specifically by the Opposition for raising grievances which probably have nothing to do with the vast sums of money which are voted by the House at the end of the day. I suggest, as mentioned in the Amendment which has not been selected, that there ought to be some reform of the financial procedures of the House.
I am fortified in this by what is happening in Australia, where a tremendous change is being made in their financial procedures. I believe that they are on the verge of sweeping away many of the financial procedures which have ceased to have much relevance. For example, I wonder how many of the Members present today could tell me in words of one or two syllables the difference between Committee of Supply and Committee of Ways and Means? This distinction is to be swept away in Australia.
I have the Report of the Australian Standing Orders Committee. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if there is to be a Select Committee on Procedure it should adopt the view of the Australian Committee which says:The purpose of the review was: As a general principle, the elimination of unnecessary form and the adoption of procedures allowing more effective consideration and debating time; The establishment of new simplified procedures appropriate to the modern needs of the House.I agree that Parliamentary procedure is continuously evolving, but I think that so much public interest both inside and outside the House is being directed to this Motion that we ought to consider this problem.
Dealing with the suggestion that the Finance Bill should be sent to a Committee upstairs, I take the view that if 1773 this is done we shall not save a great deal of time on the Floor of the House, for the simple reason that the Committee will have to report by, at the latest, the end of June, or else, because of the complicated finance procedure, we shall not be able to get the Bill through in time to comply with the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913.
§ Mr. Channon
Or the Parliament Act. The other place must have 28 days in which to discuss the Bill, and by law it has to be through by 5th August. If the Finance Bill does not get its Second reading until 12th May. and if it is sent upstairs to a Standing Committee which meets for only a limited period each week, it may well not be possible to get the Bill back onto the Floor of the House for Report stage, which in any case will have to be increased in length, in time to send it to another place. In recent years Finance Bills have not been hotly contested on matters of great principle, but there may well be occasions when there are tremendous differences of opinion and it may be exceedingly difficult to consider the Bill in detail if it has to be sent upstairs to a Committee.
On the other hand, there is sometimes a small but complicated technical Bill dealing with legal matters which are not of particular interest to the overwhelming majority of Members, but which are of passionate interest to a small body of lawyers in the House who would like to go through the details of it. One example of this was the Copyright Bill. I am told by some of my hon. Friends that this was extremely important from a lawyer's point of view. About six Members of the Committee took an active part in the proceedings. The rest of the Members might just as well not have been present.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I was a Member of that Committee, but I am not a lawyer. I was particularly interested in one part of it. This is one of the difficulties which arise when one tries to limit the persons who can take part in the discussions.
§ Mr. Channon
I agree with the hon. Lady, and I hope she will agree with me that one solution is to do what was done with the London Government Bill. Parts 1774 of this Bill were taken on the Floor of the House and parts were sent to a Standing Committee. Portions of a Bill which are highly technical and of only limited interest should be discussed by small Committees, perhaps even Select Committees, and thus leave the House freer to discuss more important matters.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about one thing. Too often the House of Commons is the last place to be consulted about the details of a Bill. This happens all the time, When drafting legislation, the Government quite properly consult outside bodies so that they can get the widest possible agreement before bringing a Bill before the House. This is all very well, but it means that Members are usually the last people to know exactly what the Government are proposing to do.
When a statement is to be made, all the informed circles of Press and television get it in advance, but hon. Members are very often at the end of the queue regarding information. I do not think that it matters so much in the case of statements, but it does matter in the case of legislation. I think that more effective methods could be found, as we suggested in the proposed Amendment. Parliament should be associated with the inquiries and consultations which lead up to the introduction of Bills. If we had specialist Committees, perhaps this would be one of their functions.
I want, briefly, to say a word or two about remuneration. I entirely agree with everyone who has spoken so far on this point. It is a scandal and a disgrace to the House of Commons that Ministers—it may be that junior Ministers are more affected by this than anyone—sometimes have to resign because they cannot afford to carry on with the very low rates of remuneration. I think that a determined effort should be made, since we all face the same difficulties concerning this, to get agreed legislation which would operate from the beginning of the next Parliament so that it does not become a matter of party controversy. I think that, by and large, the majority of hon. Members are in favour of realistic steps being taken in this direction and that if we could get the matter taken out of the field of controversy it would be an enormous help.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Would not the hon. Gentleman be defeating his purpose by bringing the matter into the middle of the election, thus taking away consideration of the greater issues?
§ Mr. Channon
I do not think that I should if we could get an all-party agreement about it. If we are unable to do that, then, of course, it would be more difficult, but I should have thought it possible to get all-party agreement. Some attempt should be made to get a solution along those lines.
I suggest that we want to get extra lime for big debates. I only half agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on that. At certain periods it very often becomes extremely difficult to get debates on subjects which the public and we want discussed owing to Finance Bill procedures and other matters. Personally, I would kill two-day debates stone dead. I should much prefer to see a larger series of one-day debates. What I dread coming out of all this is that we shall got a four-day debate on a subject which is completely dead from 6 o'clock in the evening on the third day.
As I see it, the whole problem, if we get extra time, is how we are going to stop the Government taking that time for themselves. There is nothing to stop the Government doing exactly what they like with the time once we have created it. If we could simplify our Finance Bill procedures and do something about our facilities and hon. Members' pay, if some small technical committees could be set up, if we could do something about making the House of Commons more alive, more speedy and more responsive to the wishes of hon. Members for debates on important issues, it would he a great step forward. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will consider setting up a Select Committee as has been suggested.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
Not a single complacent speech has been made today, and I certainly am not going to make a complacent speech. I think we start by being in general agreement about caring profoundly for the House, for its traditions, for its place in the world, for what it has done and for what it will continue to do for the country in the 1776 future. But we are not only profoundly concerned. We have a good deal of cause to be alarmed, because the status of the House of Commons at the moment is dangerously low.
While I enjoyed the vivid speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) when introducing the discussion and we are grateful to him; I agree with everything he said about the past glories of Parliament and about seeing that anything done in the past must be done better in the present and future—it does not remove the fact that, very largely, power has moved away from this Chamber. In our concern about that fact we must look carefully at the remedies suggested in case we adopt remedies aimed at reforming and reviving the House of Commons only to find that we have still further reduced its essential meaning in terms of the world in which we are living.
For instance, there seems to me to be a great deal of muddled thinking about whether we want to be representative Members of Parliament or amateur civil servants or technical experts. Let us make up our minds what we are, why we are here and what ought to be our relationship with the Civil Service and with technical experts. I consider that we are here as representative people, that we like to feel that the voices of town and country, rich and poor, industrial worker, agricultural worker and professional worker can all be heard here.
We on these benches try to make certain that the voice of the poor is heard much more than in the past and that the voice of the industrial and agricultural worker, and not only of the great landowners, is heard more. But we are all part of the community. It is not only right but essential that the arguments between employer and employee, between rich and poor, between the upholders of the values of the past and those who wish to see a better future should be staged here, because one vital question to be asked is, If we do not have a House of Commons in which to discuss our problems and seek to find solutions, what is the alternative? That is a question which I put to younger members of my own party. I have put it to the most eager and dedicated of our younger members because some of them are extraordinarily scathing about the House and 1777 consider that, historically, it is a kind of hang-over and that it no longer counts at all.
If we discard the House of Commons, what instrument shall we use? We have either to count heads or break heads. That is not an original quotation of my own. It is a benediction for all kinds of historical reasons. We have inherited an instrument which, if we choose, can be used for effective social change, but that cannot happen unless, first of all, we are quite clear what our function is and quite clear that we are sent here as representative people.
Because I feel that so strongly I am not at all enthusiastic about what is called the full-time professional Member of Parliament. I should like to have that term defined and to know precisely what it means. Does it mean that on entering the House of Commons no one in Government or Opposition, back bench or Front Bench, should have any ties with business or with the professions? We should look at this very carefully. Are we going to become a gathering of professionals in the sense that we have no immediate contact with the jobs in which we have earned our living by the special skills and special knowledge which we had before coming to the House of Commons?
We had better be very careful not to underestimate the importance of diversity in this House. Some hon. Members may do the best jobs in Committees upstairs whereas others may do them on the Floor of the House. Some may spend more time than others in their constituencies. But it is very important that we should keep diversity of background and diversity in the way in which we tackle our public responsibilities. There is a place for the young, the middle-aged and the elderly.
In theory, at least, we always want to lay the emphasis on youth, but one modifies one's view as one's own age changes. Nevertheless, it is nonsense to think of the House of Commons being made up entirely of young people, any more than of its being made up entirely of the middle-aged or the elderly. We want the young, the middle-aged and the elderly of—I was about to say "of all sexes" but I will say of both sexes—
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
If the House of Commons is to be a microcosm of the whole nation, which I do not dispute, have we not a long way yet to go to reach that stage? For instance, the hon. Lady must be aware that we have a very small proportion of women in the House in relation to the country as a whole.
§ Miss Lee
Yes, we are both publicists. I do not say that this House is perfect in its representation, but it is a representative assembly.
Next, I want to see a House of Commons in which the Government, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet squarely accept their responsibilities. It is the duty of Government to govern. It is the duty of the Opposition to support the Government when they agree with the Government, and to bring forward reasoned criticism and alternative proposals when they disagree with them. That is why I view with very great scepticism some of the arguments put forward in favour of the so-called "specialist" Committees.
I share the desire to increase the status of back-bench Members of Parliament. I should like to see many more general discussions, and many more free votes. I believe that the power of the party machines has become too strong, and that in a Parliament such as ours where, essentially, we have two parties—and after hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party just now I think that we shall stay with two parties—
§ Miss Lee
That is very clear. I think that the Leader of the Liberal Party understands that.
There is a good deal to be said for having two strong parties in the State. That means having a Government and an alternative Government, but the very fact that we do not have the fragmentation of parties that is seen in many parts of the world means that inside each party 1779 there must be sufficient status among Members to ensure that they do not become mere creatures of their party machines. If we are to have two parties, let there be some diversity within the parties. which is what some of us fight for. If we have only two parties and each becomes monolithic within itself, on issues where both agree the dissenting voice of the citizen who is not included in the monolithic bloc is not represented at all.
I am not advocating anarchy. I am not advocating anything other than basic loyalty to the party to which we belong, but there must be checks and balances, there must be give and take. Furthermore, I want to see very many more of the arguments that bring us to our decisions stated on the Floor of the House of Commons, rather than having the arguments stated upstairs and merely the conclusions expressed in this Chamber.
What are we to do to enable the Prime Minister and his Ministers to get on with the job? Are we to give them something in addition to the Civil Service they now have, the advisory committees they now have? And let us remember that those advisory committees embrace experts from the outside world as well as a certain number of Members of Parliament. In addition to all that, the poor Minister has to state his case to his Cabinet colleagues, he then probably has to state his case to his party meeting, and then probably has to state it to some group within his party. If he is a man of any spirit at all he is fed up with the subject by the time he has to discuss it in the House of Commons —the freshness has gone.
If we are not satisfied with the Prime Minister. if we are not satisfied with the men and women who are given the responsibility of leading the main Departments of Government—sack them, and get someone else. But if, in addition to everything else, we plant in each Government Department an all-party committee with which the Minister will have to wrestle on top of everything else, it is just a recipe for muddling and inefficient government. A dog with a tin-can tied to its tail would have a free run compared with a Minister who, on top of everything else, had to be continually giving an account to an all-party committee of what he was doing within his Department.
1780 On the other hand, I believe that backbench Members could be used much more than they are used at present. For instance, there was an item on the news this morning which said that the Swiss President had turned up at the British stall at a trade exhibition in which some equipment we were seeking to sell had not been completed because, for month after month, some finishing—some wiring or other—had not got across there. That may or may not be true. It might have been put over accurately or inaccurately. but the same rather angry voice—and I sympathise with it, if the facts were correct—also said that, at the same time, a new representative of one of our car-exporting firms had made his appearance. There he was, functioning in Switzerland —and he knew no French, no German, no Italian. I do not say that it was necessarily a fatal defect, but Mr. Roy Thomson comes back after his tutorial course with Mr. Khrushchev, and tells many people in print and some of us in the House how Mr. Khrushchev had informed him that when there were orders going in Russia, the Japanese salemen and the West German salesmen were very much more on their toes than were the British.
These points may or may not be correct, they may be gossip, but I should like to see ad hoc committees of backbench members of the Government party called in by, for instance, the President of the Board of Trade to deal with particular issues. The Minister would say, "I want a number of you to go out to America"—or wherever it might be—"check up on the facts, and then come back and report. I want you to be my extra ears and my extra eyes'.
I would not want a Minister to be saddled with a permanent committee, whose members would begin to know more and more about less and less, and who, when there was before the House a subject other than that on which they had specialised knowledge, could look at the rest of us and say, "I do not know anything about that—I cannot have an opinion". I do not want us all to become specialists in one or other field —though we are all specialists in something.
There is not a single Member of Parliament who is not a specialist. The woman who comes here after devoting a good deal of her life to the rearing of a family comes here with a great 1781 deal of specialist experience. The man aged 40 or 50 who has spent his working life in the coal pits or the steel works comes here with specialist knowledge, not only about those processes at which he has earned his daily bread, but also about the life of the community and life in the homes of the people. It is nonsense to think that the only specialists here are those with some particular type of legal or technical training.
It is one thing for a Minister to say that he would like to send his colleagues to do a particular job for him and another thing for all those permanent committees to be established. I should like to see much more diversity of financing. A Minister may say that he wants to send one or two colleagues to Scotland to find what Lord Hailsham is up to. A detective might be included in that little outfit. The Foreign Secretary might say that he wants to send one or two colleagues to be his eyes and ears to find out what is happening at that moment in Bolivia, Uruguay, Canada or wherever it may, but it would be nonsense to have a permanent committee of so-called experts in foreign affairs who would do nothing but go all over the world. That is nonsense whether it is a question of foreign affairs, financial matters or trade matters.
I want this House to look carefully at Change and Decay and the authors of Change and Decay to look very carefully at their own pamphlet.
§ Miss Lee
It is a very important point that has been made, and I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. In return I ask that the authors of the pamphlet should look at what they have been writing. On the first page they talk about our never having been concerned about priorities and planning. This is so blind. We have been trying to tell hon. Members opposite about priorities and planning for a very long time indeed.
It is no good to have some panic remedies suggested by a tired party at the end of a long period of government. While I would be very willing to accept any suggestions which I think worth while, do not let us under-estimate how 1782 important it is to have a Government which is governing, an Opposition which either supports Or criticises according to the merits of the issue, back benchers with much more dignity, if hon. Members will forgive my saying so, than some have shown on occasions in the past. In other words, our party, like our Parliament, is all the better if now and again we are candid critics of it and do not simply swallow 100 per cent. of whatever is put before us.
I do not see how a modern Member of Parliament can do his or her job unless he or she is given certain facilities. I accept the points which have been made about better remunerations for Members of Parliament, but in addition to better remuneration being needed, the working conditions of this House are quite intolerable. Every hon. Member ought to have a private room. We each ought to have a desk, a chair, a telephone, a filing cabinet, a few bookshelves and even a second chair so that when one is interviewing a member of one's family or a secretary that person also may sit down. I am not asking for anything lavish but it is too absurd and too undignified. in the strains of Parliamentary life that a Member of Parliament should not in some part of his Parliamentary day have the simple luxury of privacy,
Next we require an extension of the work now being done by our Library. If at any time in the evening I should happen to feel chilly, all I have to do to raise my blood pressure is to walk from the Libraries of the House of Commons to the Libraries of the House of Lords. There we see night after night the Library of the House of Commons overcrowded while at the Lords end there are empty libraries. If I had my way I should take over the whole accommodation of the Palace of Westminster for the elected members of this Chamber. If people want to hold on to the House of Lords, why not put it somewhere else? Why not put it across the road? There are suggestions about outposts of empire around Westminster being built for Members of Parliament, but we know that they will be severely under-used. We know the psychology of this Chamber. A working Member of Parliament wants to be able to get a quick meal or a quiet read as near to this Chamber as possible.
1783 Let us get our priorities right and stop all the pretence that we are here on a grace and favour basis. It is in the interests of the Queen and in the interests of the Palace as well as of ourselves that all this humbug should be ended. It is not the Queen who pays for this place but the taxpayers of Great Britain. There is no difficulty in understanding that when the Queen reads the Gracious Speech from the Throne she is reading what the Government have presented to her. We cannot hope that the outside world will treat us seriously if we do not treat ourselves a little more seriously. If we are to do our work we need better facilities than we have at present. One is privacy and the next is libraries and research on a greater scale than we have at present.
I ask even the most conservative Members, on both sides of the House, would they not even go to the length of seeing that the libraries of the Lords, instead of being empty in the evening, should be made available to Members of the House of Commons?
There is a great deal more that can and should be done. I do not want to go over ground which has already been traversed; I want to leave time for other hon. Members to speak. I insist that if we are to do our job we should pay attention to the preamble to the report of the House of Commons Committee investigating the procedure of this House in 1931 and in 1945. The 1931 Committee spoke of the diminishing status of the House of Commons. It did so because there was mass unemployment at that time and people outside did not see their problems reflected here. They did not feel that their grievances were being redressed here. The 1945 preamble is interesting by comparison because it says that the status of the House of Commons has never been higher.
Why was that? It was because in the atmosphere of that time the Select Committee felt that the House of Commons was a lively institution rising to its responsibilities, a place of vigorous debate and vigorous legislation. We are at a low ebb at present. When people see unemployment growing and problems at home and abroad which we seem incapable of solving, they do not have a very high opinion of the British House of Commons. When we have nurses 1784 coming here, miners, railwaymen and so on, they come because they look to us to redress their grievances.
Please do not let us still further debilitate the supreme responsibility of the House of Commons by trying to make ourselves into amateur civil servants or amateur technical experts. It is the job of Parliament to hire civil servants and to hire technical experts. We give them their honour and their remuneration. We give them their place, but I hope that above all we also remember our own place.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Lain Macleod)
I should like to offer the House some comments on the main themes which have emerged from this excellent debate. The whole House is genuinely very indebted to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), first, I think, for putting down a Motion which enables us to spend this day without arguing about its terms and which we can all accept, and, secondly, for the splendid speech with which he introduced it—and we also congratulate him on the swiftest transition which I have even seen to the Front Bench in the House.
I liked very much the first sentence of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). She said that not one complacent speech had been made today—and that is true. I am sure that the reason for our anxiety fundamentally is that over. the years, and indeed over the centuries, the forms of our procedure have not changed swiftly enough to match the changing type of hon. Member. The difficulty is that so many of our forms were planned for the days when comparatively few people took any real part in the inner working of Parliament. Nowadays we have to plan for far more combatants and for far fewer spectators, and therefore the first problem which we must consider is that of the allocation of time.
I have made the point before, and I only mention it now, that there are at least two new factors. The first is the emergence of the Commonwealth from the Colonial Empire, which puts a great burden of extra legislative time on a Government. But, of course, this is passing. The second is the increased complexity of modern international life, 1785 which adds enormously to the amount of legislation which one has to put before the House.
But it is not true that the Government dominate the time of the House of Commons. Indeed, there could scarcely have been a better illustration than that of the business which I announced yesterday for the coming week. I announced four Supply days and one day of private Members' time. In all that week the Opposition, either entirely by the selection of subjects or by the selection of the order of subjects, have the initiative. So it was that when the House was disturbed yesterday by the case of Chief Enahoro, the arrangement which we came to, and came to with great speed, and which I have announced to the House, involved an alteration of Supply time. At this time of the year, in particular, there are in fact practically no free days available to the Government. I wish there were. It would make my task on Thursday afternoons a good deal easier. The question is, how do we make the most efficient use of our time—and everybody turns at once to the Finance Bill. This is a great slab of Parliamentary time and, of course, it attracts the thoughts of the reformers.
Differing views have been put forward today. I will not stress the difficulties at all. I recognise that there are hon. Members who feel that this most important exercise in the presentation of our financial accounts to the nation should be carried out in toto on the Floor of the House. I myself do not share that view. I do not believe that, if we can devise improved ways of studying the Finance Bill, any vital element of control over Government finance will thereby be relinquished.
But there are formidable arguments indeed, and the Opposition Chief Whip mentioned some of them. There is the pressure on the time of Members and Ministers—Treasury Ministers in this case, of course—and Parliamentary counsel. There is the great problem of dividing the Bill. Thirdly—and this is a point which more than one hon. Member has made—we must be sure that if we embark on this exercise it will be worth while in the end. Because if we put an extra burden—and we shall do so—on hon. Members by this procedure, and we then find that those days are taken away by time added to the 1786 Report stage when we reach it, the exercise will have been fruitless indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who talked in terms of saving eight or ten days, was, I think, wildly optimistic. The calculations which I make indicate that two, or at most three, days could be saved for each Committee which we had upstairs. In other words, if we had one Committee, I do not believe that we should save more than two or three days.
But I make it clear that if we can save time in this way—and this is in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon)—I shall make no claim on it for the Government. The time would be available for debates on subjects which the House wishes to discuss.
Clearly, then, we ought to see whether this can be done, and we should do it quickly. I am, therefore, tabling a Motion today—and in this I have the support of the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party—requiring the Sessional Select Committee on Procedure to report on the committal of the Finance Bill. This will be the sole subject before that Committee.
There is an obvious difficulty in trying to carve up a Bill which one has not seen and on which no detail can be given to the Committee at this stage in the year. There is another obvious difficulty from the point of view of the Opposition parties—that they cannot say whether a Bill will be controversial until they know its proposals and see the Bill.
It might, therefore, be convenient if the Select Committee proceeded in two parts, as it were—the first theory and the second practice. In other words, as soon as possible—and I should like to set this up with the agreement of the House as soon as we can—the Committee should study the difficulties and call the evidence which no doubt it would wish to take; and then, as soon as the Bill is published, there can be further meetings of the Select Committee to examine and to report whether the House should make an experiment this year. I have mentioned the difficulties, but I also make it clear that I very much hope that we can go forward with this proposal and that we can find some way round the difficulties.
The Opposition Chief Whip mentioned the question of a Tax Management Bill. We have so drawn the procedural Motion, 1787 which I shall be tabling today, that it would be possible to consider some such Motion, but I cannot see at first sight that a Tax Management Bill will save the time of the House, which is the point in which we are interested for the moment. For example, we should need two Second Readings instead of one. I am very doubtful indeed whether we could take this, say, in November, which would, at least in theory, be a more convenient time for the House. Although I can see some attractions in it, I can also see some difficulties. But if I may, I recommend to the House that as this is deliberately put within the terms of reference of the Committee, we should leave it there for the moment.
May I take quickly two or three points on procedure? The first concerns the length of Questions. May I quote very briefly comparisons between 1937 and 1962? These figures are taken in both cases from the last weeks before the Christmas Recess, and I think they are extremely interesting. The number of Questions on the Order Paper was almost exactly the same—85 in 1937 and 89 in 1962. But the number answered orally was 61 in 1937 and 38 in 1962. There was very little difference in the number of supplementary questions—70 then and 63 now; nor was there much difference in the average number of supplementaries allowed per Question—1.15 then and 1.66 now. Where we have gone wrong is in the length of the supplementaries and in the length of the answers which Ministers give to the supplementaries.
If I may say one thing on Ministers' behalf it is that the average length of the Ministerial reply to the original Question was ten lines of HANSARD in 1937 and is now only 5.5 lines. We have done very well indeed there. But as soon as supplementaries start, all this disappears. The average length of supplementaries has doubled, from five lines to 9.9 lines, and the average length of Ministerial replies to supplementaries has also doubled, from three lines to 6.5 lines. Clearly my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) is on a good point there. It is all a question of the supplementaries, and both sides are at fault because Ministers' answers are too long and the questions themselves are of a formidable length. We could, perhaps, save something there.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I gather from my right hon. Friend that the number of supplementary questions was about the same in 1962 as in 1937 but that the number of Questions asked was only half as many in 1962 as in 1937. Does not that mean that the number of supplementary questions per Question answered has about doubled?
§ Mr. Macleod
No. I will find a way of putting this in the OFFICIAL REPORT, if hon. Members would be interested in it. Some of the figures are extraordinarily interesting.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
Is the Leader of the House aware that there has been a very considerable change during the last four years? He will find that far more supplementary questions are asked now than was the case four years ago. During the last four years the number of supplementary questions asked has increased considerably, owing perhaps to the greater tolerance shown to the House by Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Macleod
I am not sure about that. I will just give the figures for a few years. In 1946 61 Questions were asked; in 1949, 42; in 1952, 42; in 1957, 46; in 1959, 41 and now, 38. There has not been all that dramatic change. However, these are very interesting figures over the years. I will find a way of giving the House fuller information.
I want to say one or two sentences on the question of the Committee on Unopposed Bills and the proposals put forward by Sir Edward Fellowes. This is an idea which has always attracted me. The rights of the Opposition would have to be preserved absolutely. If a Bill was not unopposed in the true sense of the word, it would have to go through the ordinary procedure. However, I have always felt that here there might be some very small possibility of saving time.
There is one point, however, which has only been touched on today, where we might save, not so much time, but a good deal of inconvenience—this time, I am afraid, only for the Government side of the House, although the Opposition would no doubt claim an interest in any proposition of this nature. This is the increasing amount of business in which very few Members of the House are concerned which we have to take after ten 1789 o'clock. One has noticed this grow over the years. It has grown for perfectly understandable and respectable reasons, because it is convenient for an Opposition to ask during the Committee stage of a Bill that a given Motion should be subject to affirmative Order of the House. It is sometimes convenient to the Minister to agree to this proposition.
The net result of doing this over 15 years, with heaven knows how many Bills a year, has been to build up an enormous backlog of Orders which we have to take at this lime. The House will understand that the Government Whips have to operate in this instance on three different levels. They have to keep after 10 o'clock for these purposes at least 40 Members in case a count is called. They have to keep at least 100 in case there has to be a Closure. They have at all times to have a majority in the House.
A study of some of these Motions convinces me that we should be able to find a way here of having truly expert Members on both sides of the House—this is a variant of a proposal made in Change or Decay —to study these matters., and I think that we could still preserve to the full the complete rights of the Opposition and so of the House.
I turn now to the pamphlet itself, Change or Decay. It has been a best seller, and I congratulate my hon. Friends upon it. It is proof of the very great interest that there is throughout the country in efficiency as a whole, and this is perhaps why so much interest is taken in the efficiency of Parliament. I very much hope that later we will be able to return to some of the subjects mentioned in the pamphlet, although I must make clear that this is a wistful hope and not a firm promise of additional time.
I want to make one comment on what is said in the pamphlet about Ministers. Here I am not in agreement with them. What they suggest is, in effect, that Ministers should in many instances be more technically qualified or technically versed in the business in which their Department deals. I myself do not agree with this theory. Many countries follow it. In many countries the Minister of Health is always a doctor, the Minister of Education is always a teacher, and the Minister of Commerce, or whatever it may be, is always a businessman. I do not believe that this is a good theory. 1790 The reason is because of the Cabinet system which we have in this country, which I think some of my hon. Friends have taken too little into account. Because the important decisions in all Ministries are generally taken after discussion in the Cabinet, so it is possible to have Ministers who can, and do sometimes, move from one Department to another without necessarily having the complete technical, specialist knowledge that is wholly desirable for many of the people who work under them.
I know that as many hon. Members as possible wish to speak. Therefore, I have not time to go into what is said in the pamphlet about civil servants. I know that the remarks are addressed in general to the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. I would merely say that there is a very great deal indeed in what they say and I have a good deal of information on this particular subject to show the keen interest which is being taken in trying to increase the number of entrants in this field.
I turn to the question of the specialist Committees. The Opposition Chief Whip is not alone in having his doubts about this. I, too, have doubts. There are constitutional problems which have been touched on, and I think that there is at least one other point which must not be overlooked. I believe, for example, that the argument comparing such a system with that adopted in the United States rests on a false analogy. The real reason is, taking the example of defence, which is so often quoted, that here the Minister of Defence speaks at the Dispatch Box over and over again. At this time of the year we have any number of debates lasting late into the night. The Minister of Defence answers Questions. There can be Adjournment debates and the rest of it. The position is, therefore, quite different when there is that level of direct responsibility to the House by the Minister of Defence and by all the Service Ministers. The position is quite different when there are Ministers or Members of a Cabinet who are removed, except by such methods as specialist Committees, from close investigation by the House.
§ Mr. Wyatt
That would be all right if the Minister of Defence gave any information. He is not obliged to answer questions put to him. He is not obliged 1791 to say in advance why he wants to do a particular project and defend it. The House cannot examine him in detail. Surely this is the difference. It may be that he comes to the House and kindly tells us something about what he is going to do, but he does not submit himself to a thorough investigation, nor does his Department before it embarks upon a lot of projects which may be no good.
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not think that disposes of the point I made, which I believe to be a valid one, and some at least of the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Gentleman would no doubt arise in a Committee as well. However, I want to make it quite clear to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) that I very much welcome the interest that he and his hon. Friends have shown in this subject, and I will give the most careful consideration to the question whether a Select Committee of the sort he indicates should be set up.
I want to say a few words now on the question of publicity for the House, with particular reference to television. The Opposition Chief Whip said that he was against this. Frankly, I disagree with him. Here I am speaking personally. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear the other day, this is a matter for the House and when—it may take some time—we feel we should make a move in this regard I myself think that there is a great deal to be said for it. I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party. I do not think we should be too afraid of this. I remember very well two instances, one of enormous importance and one of much less importance, where I believe that before the event people were afraid of the impact of television. The one of the greatest importance of all was the Coronation of Her Majesty the Queen. Many people were deeply worried and desperately anxious about it and thought that it was wrong that television cameras should go into Westminster Abbey. In fact, it was one of the finest programmes that have ever been put on and one of the greatest services that could possibly have been given to the Royal Family.
The other incident I have in mind was a question about which very many people were worried, the televising of party Conferences. Many people thought 1792 that we should all end up speaking exclusively to the television cameras. As we know, this does not happen. I am certain that it could happen if we had endless—I mean continuous—televising of programmes. I do not think that would be right at all. I can see a considerable case for what might be called an edited version of "Today in Parliament" in due course.
§ Mr. Curran
On this question of the possibility of televising our proceedings, has my right hon. Friend taken into account the difficulties that would be involved, for example, all the apparatus, gear and mechanisms which would have to be brought into the Chamber? Would that make any difference to the conducting of our business?
§ Mr. Macleod
I am certain that these arguments are formidable but that they are also not insuperable.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
Is it not the case that the television broadcast of an edited version of proceedings in the House and the selectivity which would result could be the very thing which would do damage to the quality of the speeches here?
§ Mr. Macleod
It is possible, but one has exactly this difficulty with the sort of programmes that exist already and which inevitably compress the events, as in the newspapers and on sound radio. I hope that I have made this point clear. I repeat that this is wholly a matter for Parliament and that I speak today for myself, with probably some agreement and some disagreement in all parties. I am certain—and I agree with the Opposition Chief Whip on this—that if any move does come it could come only by general agreement and after the most careful thought indeed.
I was going to make a more detailed reference to the points that have been raised about hon. Members and Minister's pay, but the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party have arranged discussions at a very early date with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so I will, if I may, not comment today on what has been said in view of those arrangements.
I turn to the last main point I want to make. It is a subject to which the hon. Member for Leeds, West demoted a good deal of his speech—the question of the control and management 1793 of the House and the position of the Lord Great Chamberlain. What the hon. Member for Leeds, West is in effect asking is that the Royal connection should be severed since, whether or not the title is changed, that would be the effect if it became a political appointment. I doubt whether it is the general wish of the House that the Royal connection should be severed in this way; and certainly it is not mine.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I did mention other great offices of State which had their origin in feudal times and which have come under political nomination. There is the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal and others. When one goes to a Coronation one sees how old precedents are retained. The right hon. Gentleman, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will, I am sure, consider himself no less a loyal Minister of the Crown because he is under the nomination of the Prime Minister. I do not agree with the case he has made and that it means severance of the Royal connection. In fact, the Stokes Committee particularly addressed itself to this matter.
§ Mr. Macleod
I am glad to hear that from the hon. Member, but that was how I understood what he said. It is true that this is a Royal Palace but it is not a Royal residence and, therefore, I do not think that the similarity he has drawn between other offices of State is wholly valid.
Where I come much closer to the point he was making is on whether we should look at the question of Commissioners. I am not certain that all the advantages claimed by the hon. Member for Leeds, West would flow from a change here, but there may be scope for using the experience of some hon. Members; and you, Mr. Speaker, will no doubt recall that on a recent occasion three senior hon. Members of the House were invited to advise you on the structure, of the Department of the Clerk of the House. There seems no reason why such advice should not be made available to you, Mr. Speaker, or to the Commissioners, when some particular difficulty arose on which it was felt that the interests of hon. Members were at stake.
1794 This is not a matter on which one can be dogmatic. The Opposition Chief Whip put forward some points of view. I do not think that he would get unanimous agreement on the question of smoking in the Lobbies, for example, but there must be changes and we must have machinery which will enable us to give effect to die changes which the House as a whole wishes to be made. I should be very ready to consult on this matter and see if we can agree what we want among ourselves and how best these changes can be effected.
§ Mrs. Castle
Regarding the question of the Royal connection and the harm that might come from severing it, could the right hon. Gentleman explain what will be the position of the Bridge Street extension into which Parliament is to overflow? The right hon. Gentleman has agreed, I understand, with the final Report of Mr. Speaker's Advisory Committee that those premises shall be considered to be within the precincts of Parliament. Are they, therefore, to be within the precincts of the Royal Palace, and, if not, are we to have half of Parliament within a Royal Palace and half within the property of a Government Department?
§ Mr. Macleod
The answer, in short, is "No". But I do not want to go into the Bridge Street proposal in great detail, because I have undertaken to find another day for this matter. Nevertheless, I will certainly listen to the points the hon. Lady wishes to put forward.
Throughout everything that has been said today there are two main feelings: first, that we want to do everything we can to bring this House, its procedures, its amenities and its working conditions into tune with the need of a truly up-to-date democratic Assembly; and, secondly, we want to do this in as little a disruptive a way as we can in relation to the traditions we have inherited. It is true that some of the remedies proposed might well bring diseases worse than those they set out to cure. Naturally, I recommend the Motion to the House. It was moved with real feeling and encyclopædic knowledge by the hon. Member for Leeds, West and I repeat my gratitude to him But passing the Motion itself represents only an earnest of intention and I think that much wider action, wherever possible by agreement between the House generally, will be the 1795 answer; and we as a Government will gladly play our full part.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
With one part of the speech of the Leader of the House I entirely disagree, and that is on the question of televising the proceedings in this Chamber. Since so many points have been raised in today's debate, I will not delve into that subject, except to say that I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) on the speech he made, on which he had obviously done a lot of research, his luck in the Ballot, the subject he has chosen and the fact that he chose a subject about which he had a Motion on the Order Paper.
It is surprising that on almost every Thursday afternoon when the statement on business is made one hon. Member after another gets to his feet and asks the Leader of the House if he has noticed a certain Motion and if he will find time for it to be debated. It is strange that if those hon. Members happen to win a place in the Ballot they never seem to choose a subject on which a Motion appears on the Order Paper to which they have put their names. I am glad that on this occasion my hon. Friend chose a Motion which he had previously had on the Order Paper.
The Motion before us is wide enough to enable us to discuss the remuneration of hon. Members, accommodation in the Chamber and the procedure of the House. I will begin with what I consider to be the most difficult—the payment of hon. Members—because it is always difficult to discuss one's own rate of pay. Most hon. Members have dealt with this topic of salaries by starting at the top, with the pay received by Ministers, and working down, hoping, perhaps, for a few crumbs to drop upon back benchers. I intend to approach the subject from the other angle and start with the pay of back benchers—who, surely, need it the most if they are to rely entirely on their Parliamentary salaries. It is not easy ever to discuss this question of salaries, and it is unfortunate that we have to do so every so often. To some hon. Members 1796 the size of their Parliamentary salary is merely of academic interest and, provided that it meets their London expenses, the amount does not really matter very much. But many back bench Members, particularly the younger Members with young families, must be facing great difficulties at the present time and their position must he desperate. I do not believe that the people of this country want their politics on the cheap or object to a reasonable salary being paid to Members of Parliament.
We are not suggesting for a moment that hon. Members should be paid at the rate of American Senators or Congressmen. Of course not. But it might interest hon. Members to know that messenger boys of about 16 or 18 employed on the floor of the House of Representatives are paid at the same rate as British Members of Parliament.
My right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip was quite right in his references to conferences abroad, and he touched on a very important point. It is obvious at all international conferences that British representatives are regarded as the "poor relations", which is not a good thing for the prestige of this House. Although we are not asking to be paid at the same rate as American senators, or anything approaching that scale, I think it reasonable to expect that there should be some comparison between the salaries of British Members of Parliament and the salaries paid in the Canadian, Australian, French and German Parliaments. If as the Government hoped we had joined the Common Market. I wonder whether we should have been left with salaries as they are or whether they would have compared with those paid to French and German representatives.
Two years ago, when I was in America, with the forthrightness which is typical of some Americans I was questioned on several occasions about what I was paid as a Member of Parliament. When I told my questioners, they said, "Why do not you do something about it?" I should be very willing to do something about it. But I am afraid, however, that the initiative must not come from me but from the Government. I am reminded of a train journey which I took some years ago in the company of an American and his wife. After repeated 1797 questions the American discovered that I was a Member of Parliament. He asked, "What do they pay you?" At that time the salary was £1,000 a year, and I told him so. He said, "You cannot live on that." I said, "Some Members have to." He said, "That is absolutely impossible." I think the American thought that we were able to "make something on the side". He said, "What jobs have you in your gift?" I said, "None." He asked, "What jobs have your party in their gift?" Again I said "None." The American looked at me and said, "Do you mean to tell me that you cannot even appoint the sub-postmasters in your constituency?"
As I say, I think it is time that the position of some hon. Members was recognised. I am distressed to see young men who come to this House and find the expense of being a Member of Parliament much higher than they anticipated, having to dash round trying to secure a directorship here and a directorship there, at the very time when they should be spending as much time as possible in the House of Commons imbibing its atmosphere and learning something about the procedure.
Other hon. Members have referred to the problems of Ministers. If the situation of some back-bench Members is desperate, I consider that the position of Ministers is just farcical. On 2nd February, 1960, I put down a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking whether he would state for each Government Department the number of civil servants paid at a higher rate than the Minister and the number paid at a higher rate than the Parliamentary Secretary or Under-Secretary. The reply was this:I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list showing for each Department the number of officials who are paid more than the Minister in charge; the total number of such officials is 52. The extraction of comparable Departmental figures for officials who are paid more than a Parliamentary Secretary would involve extensive inquiries. A rough estimate of the total number of such officials is 4,500."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1960; Vol. 616, c. 778.]A list was given of the number of people paid more than Ministers. In the Treasury there are eight who are paid at a higher rate than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the Foreign Office there are nine paid at a higher rate than the Foreign Secretary, and there is at least 1798 one in every Department who is paid more than the Minister.
I consider that Ministers are among the hardest worked people in this country. Merely from the point of view of the prestige of this House I think they ought to be paid at a higher rate than their officials, because the Minister has to "take the rap" for anything which may go wrong in his Department. I should like to read to the House a quotation from Crossbow. Some hon. Members will have heard of the publication before. In 1960 there was an interesting article by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) about the House of Commons. I may be prejudiced in favour of part of this article because the hon. Gentleman considered that I ought to have a higher rate of pay. This is what he had to say about the remuneration for Ministers:On the other hand, the Parliamentary system is not kind to our Ministers. It is arguable that they are subjected to greater strain than Ministers in any other democracy in the world. They are expected to run their Ministries, to master the House of Commons, to tell funny stories after banquets, to he attractive television personalities, to be great platform orators, to stay out of bed for all hours of the night, to speak and vote in the House—and to plan for the future. For all this we offer salaries that would be sneezed at by any self-respecting amateur tennis player. Perhaps the first objective of any parliamentary reformer should be to raise the salaries of senior and junior Ministers. It is bad to break a man's health through overwork, but it is idiotic to drive him out of office because he isn't being paid enough to support his family and future. The four Ministers who have resigned for financial reasons in the past three years have six sons and seven daughters between them.There is another quotation which is important.But for how long can those with outside interests count on the existence of a willing minority to shoulder the principal burdens of organisation while the part-timers add to their incomes outside?I thought that quotation ought to be read. Certainly something should be done.
I cannot see how it has come about that Ministers are not counted as Members of the House of Commons. The problem should be solved by a reasonable payment to back benchers; and Ministers, in addition to the salary which they get as Ministers, should also get their full salary as Members of the House of Commons. They still are Members, and it is about time, from the Inland 1799 Revenue's point of view, that this farcical idea that a Minister must be considered as living in London was abolished. Obviously, he has got to keep another home going somewhere.
§ Mr. Blackburn
He should have his salary as a Member of Parliament, and in that way his salary would be brought slightly above the salary of his permanent official. Whenever the salary of the permanent official was raised, the Minister's salary should also be raised automatically, and so on down to the back bencher. Consequently, we would do away with the practice of repeatedly coming to the House with a begging bowl—
§ Mr. John Hall
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that to bring up to the present-day value the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, as from the date when it was first fixed, after allowing for present taxation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would require something in the neighbourhood of £75,000 a year?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I did appreciate that, but I thought the figure was £84,000. I was not intending that the salaries of senior Ministers should be brought into that range, but I would bring them just above the salaries of their permanent officials.
My next point relates to accommodation in this House. We are working in a building that was not constructed as a legislature. Consequently, we have got to put up with all the difficulties which exist. There is no hope of having a Canberra or a Brazilia, so we have got to make the best of the conditions that exist. There have been some slight improvements in the past few years, and in a few years' time, when the additional accommodation is provided above the Upper Committee Corridor and in Bridge Street, we can look forward to something a little better than we have at present.
But I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West that an approach should be made to Her Majesty. I cannot believe that Her Majesty would be in the least worried if we said that we would like to take over the running of our own House of Parliament. It would not make the slightest 1800 difference to her. Of course, the approach can only come, through the Prime Minister, from this House, but it is important that we should be able to plan the running of our own building. We have far less power in this House of Commons than any councillor has in a town hall. I should like the Commissioners to continue to look into the difficulties under which Members are working. The conditions here are probably worse than those in any other Parliament in the world, just as our salaries rank amongst the lowest paid to Members of Parliament.
My next point is the question of procedure of this House. I do not know whether hon. Members realise how much the procedure has changed during the past few years—only in small matters perhaps, but there is a great accumulation of them. If hon. Members look at a copy of the proceedings of the Select Committee on Procedure in 1958 and 1959 and look at the changes which were accepted and which have taken place. they will be rather surprised. But there are other recommendations which were made by that Committee and which have not been carried into effect, and it might be advisable to look at them again.
I am not quite clear what hon. Members opposite mean when they suggest that another Select Committee should be appointed. In the pamphlet Change or Decay—which I think is a wrong title, because I do not think there is any chance of this House decaying—reference is made to the appointment of a new Select Committee. A Select Committee on Procedure is already in existence. I think it was the Guardian that referred to it as a high-powered Committee. I think it is a very strong Committee, although perhaps, being a member of it, I ought not to say that.
I should, however, like to see an alteration in the terms of reference of that Committee. The Select Committee was appointedto consider any matters which may be referred to them by the House relating to the Procedure in the Public Business of the House.I should like the terms of reference to read:That a Select Committee be appointed to consider matters relating to the Procedure in the Public Business of the House"—not to consider every single item, but to have a roving commission to consider in 1801 general the procedure of the House. I firmly believe that the Floor of the House of Commons is entirely the wrong place to deal with the detailed business of a Bill. Standing Order No. 38 (1) provides thatWhen a public bill (other than a bill far imposing taxes or a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill, or a Bill for confirming a provisional order) has been read a second time, it shall stand committed to a standing committee unless the Rouse otherwise order.In that there is no mention of constitutional Bills, which are generally taken on the Floor of the House. Why, I do not know.
I am strongly of opinion that the Committee stage of every Bill should, if possible, be taken upstairs. Many constitutional Bills are non-controversial, and a very small Committee could be appointed to deal with them. However, as a Chairman of Committees, I ask that we do not have very small Committees for very controversial Bills. I remember one Bill of last Session of the Committee on which I was Chairman. A Committee of 20 was appointed, and the Bill turned out to be very controversial. We had twenty-five sittings, that is, we sat for 62½ hours on the Committee stage of that Bill. For 62½ hours, I listened to speeches from about four Members of the Committee and the Minister, which gives them all an average of about 12 hours each. I repeat that, as a Chairman of Committees, I am certain that controversial Bills should not be dealt with by very small Committees. For most of the Bills to which I have been referring, it could be a small Committee.
Perhaps I ought not to say a great deal about my views with regard to the Finance Bill since I shall be one of the members of the Committee discussing whether it should go upstairs or not, but I see no reason why, at the moment, the whole of the Finance Bill could not be sent upstairs. I see no objection to the House sitting in two places. If there is a Committee of fifty upstairs considering the Finance Bill, there are still 580 Members left who can be considering something else on the Floor of the House, and the people concerned with the Finance Bill are not necessarily those who would be concerned with, say, a debate on agriculture or on colonial affairs. I see no reason why, in order to deal with the business of the House 1802 as expeditiously as possible, that could not be done.
Incidentally, I wonder whether the hon. Members who wrote this pamphlet, Change or Decay, realise that, if we carry out their suggestions, they will have to attend the House more than they do now.
Now, the question of specialist committees. I suggest that, if we are to send the Finance Bill or any part of it upstairs, one committee we should appoint is a finance committee. In the Select Committee on Procedure of 1958–59, I moved an Amendment that the Estimates should he referred to the Estimates Committee because I felt that we were not giving sufficient attention to the Estimates. This Amendment was defeated in the Select Committee, but it has since been taken over by the Government, and now the Estimates are submitted to that Committee. I made that suggestion because there was no other Committee to which they could be referred. However, if we are to have part of the Finance Bill taken upstairs, we could have a finance committee which, in another part of the year, could consider the Estimates in detail, leaving the Estimates Committee to carry on with the excellent work it has been doing in the past.
Those are a few ideas with regard to our procedure. There are so many points one would like to consider that, obviously, one cannot deal with them all now.
I come now to the matter of Questions, which has been referred to several times already. I am glad that you are back in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, because I did not want to say in your absence that I thought that you were far too generous to Members at Question Time. I cannot see why any Member should have a pre-emptive right to a supplementary question on someone else's Question. I would like to see us getting through far more Questions than we do now. I am sure that if you, Mr. Speaker, stopped people who make speeches instead of asking questions you would have the full support of the House.
The Committee in 1958–59 suggested that there should not he more than 21 days' notice for Questions. I wanted 1803 a shorter time than that, but in order to meet the wish of the Committee, I agreed that we should make it 21 days. That has not been carried out. I notice that someone had a Question on the Order Paper yesterday for answer in May. That sort of thing is just nonsense. If Questions are put down so far ahead, when the time for the Answer draws near the Questions which are topical are down the list and the old questions are up the top. I see no reason why Questions should be tabled more than three weeks ahead.
Whatever we do and whatever changes we make, our chief aim must be to attract to this House people with a purpose and people who feel that they have something to contribute. When they come here, we should make them feel that they have a really worth-while job to do. I think those of us who have been in the House for some time have come to acquire an affection for it. One of the tragedies is the strange nature of our job. Even though we may think that we are doing a good job and are happy in doing it, the electorate may decide that it is time that we should retire. However, while we are here, let us try to make the job we have to do worth while. It is an important job, and, whatever changes may take place, let us do it in the interests of the House as a whole and not in the interests either of those who are supposed to be full-time Members or of those who are supposed to be part-time Members.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Sir William Robson Brown (Esher)
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) asked whether the authors of Change or Decay had taken into consideration the possibility that our proposals might use even more of their time. We do not agree with that, but even if it were so, as long as that time was used to effect and did not result in the frustration which sometimes occurs in the House hour after hour and day after day, all would be well.
First, I wish most sincerely to thank the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) for tabling the Motion, which is so topical and which the authors of Change or Decay stimulated. After we tabled our Motion, we saw the Chief Whip to see whether time could be given 1804 to debate it. We were told that there was not time for a debate in the foreseeable future. That shows how difficult and tight is the Parliamentary schedule. That is why we are grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West for tabling the Motion and for moving it in such splendid and brilliant Parliamentary fashion. In fact, he was an exponent during the early part of his speech of the 19th century oratory and wit.
Although we bemoan the fact that the House has few great debates these days, I feel sure that we shall be able to say at the end of the day that this has been a great debate. I do not think that any hon. Member, with the exception of one, has introduced party points. Everyone has spoken from the heart, and for my own part and on behalf of many of my hon. Friends who will not be able to speak today I endorse the belief that we all share the pride of being a Member of Parliament.
I have detected in the speeches today a reluctance to effect change. This is rather typical of the British character, but sometimes we can take too long to make changes and, consequently, the nation is irritated and critical of us. I hope that all we have said today will receive consideration. I speak for my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that we do not regard any of our ideas as being absolute. Nor do we believe that they should all be carried out in their entirety. We drafted the document with great care and consideration for the House.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West reminded us that the public still believes that this is the best club in Europe. But the only part of its life that is club-like is the friendliness that exists. The club idea is non est, and has been for many years. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that we are apt to live in the past and be overpowered by it. We are always reminded of the great speeches of Disraeli and Gladstone, but we should remember that they spoke for two, three, or four hours at a time. No wonder so many other Members in those days fell fast asleep with their top hats over their eyes.
I want to try to cover some new ground and not be repetitive of what has been said already. One angle of the Budget has not been mentioned. At the turn of the century, the House had to deliberate 1805 budget expenditure of about £138 million. It may surprise hon. Members as well as the public that we now discuss, in the same time, expenditure of £6,500 million. Above all, we must be the guardians of the public purse. We must scrutinise carefully in every way possible, both in committee and on the Floor of the House, the rising Government expenditure wherever it may be. Now it is fifty times more than it was at the turn of the century.
The days are gone when we could go into quiet debates and have a pleasant time with polished wit and quotations. We are living in a technological world and we are not moving with it as we should. The world outside is expanding, and we must expand with it. I want to dispose of the idea that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I want to recruit large numbers of scientists and specialists in any particular field. That is not our wish. We want to recruit a broad representation of brains and expert knowledge. To do that, we must make Parliamentary life worth while both financially and in the power to make a contribution. These men must not feel that they are wasting their time. They must also feel that the opportunity to be a Minister is a rewarding one and that when they serve their nation, although they will have to sacrifice much family life, the sacrifice will not be too big.
This House must be the power house of the nation. It must not be a talking shop. It must command the attention of the nation and its procedures must be geared to the needs of the century. We must attract the best brains of the country. I would like to feel that in every young schoolboy and schoolgirl there is a built-in ambition to become a Member of this House. The more we make it possible, the more we make it desirable, the better off we shall be. The House has always been bigger than the man. This place cuts down people as well as raising them up. It is a place like no other legislature in the world.
I shall cut out certain things I had intended to say, since time is against me. We must retain the best of our procedure and clear out the unnecessary. I repeat that what my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are after is not time saving but to ensure that the time of the House is used to the best possible purpose. That is an entirely different thing.
1806 An all-party Standing Committee system demands close examination, and we ask for no more than that. Let us study it carefully, because, worked properly, it could save the House time and use the valuable time of men of good experience not as lobby fodder, but in the making of a genuine contribution to discussions. I would hope and believe that any deliberations of a Standing Committee would be re-examined by the House itself.
I do not want to repeat what has been said about the salaries of Ministers, but I feel in my heart that we have to deal with the salaries of not only Ministers themselves, but Parliamentary Secretaries, who are in an anomalous position which cannot be tolerated by reasonable men who want to do a reasonable job of work. Their pay is wrong, their status is wrong, and the attitude of the general public and the industrial world towards them is also wrong.
I should have liked to say something about the Finance Bill, but I will tease the hon. Member for Leeds, West by reminding him that, although he criticised the appointing of committees, in his own speech he advocated the appointment of two or three himself. We cannot escape the fact that committees are necessary to make Parliament work.
It is interesting to note that hon. Members from my own side of the House—and no doubt hon. Members opposite—volunteered in greater numbers than were necessary to serve on the Standing Committee discussing the Contracts of Employment Bill because they were interested in employment conditions. This shows that if Committees of the right kind and the right size and for the right purpose are appointed, there is no difficulty about getting volunteers of the right kind to serve on them.
It is not from vanity that I keep referring to our pamphlet, but it has been mentioned several times in the debate, sometimes critically and sometimes otherwise. I should like hon. Members to study some parts which cannot be mentioned today, but one which has some relevance to the debate is that concerned with the drafting of new Bills. It frequently happens that we are presented with Government legislation and that we simply have to get on with it, particularly hon. Members who are Government supporters. We may have to support 1807 something about which we are not as enthusiastic as all that. We suggested some machinery whereby some legislation, certainly that containing technical elements, could be examined by a Committee before the Bill proper was drafted. One example which we quoted was the famous Pipe-lines Bill. A tremendous amount of time was wasted—I should say "used", for we should never use the word "wasted" in this connection—on the Floor of the House which could have been saved if the Bill had been drafted more accurately.
I have one word to say about spending Ministers. We recommended that in the spending Departments there should be Ministers specifically nominated to keep a watchful eye on the expenditure of the Department all the time, not as we now have watchdogs barking after the money has been spent and groaning after the money has gone, but keeping an eye on the huge contracts which are made and whioh are sometimes a little vague to us and on the general expenditure of the Department. If there were the right men, this would be a worth-while appointment. They need not be men who could make speeches, but they would need sound experience.
We are an industrial nation and we stand or fall as an industrial nation. We have no other opportunity to build ourselves up in this world. Our glory of the past is of no use to us. The world will judge us by what we are today and tomorrow. The House should make its procedures so acceptable to young and middle-aged men and women outside it who have a contribution to make to it that they can be satisfied that the examples they have heard from present Members of the frustrations and wasted time have been eliminated and that their knowledge and experience can be put to use. We need this sort of thing for the guidance of the nation.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Like every hon. Member who has spoken today, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) on giving us this very infrequent opportunity of dismissing the affairs of the House of Commons, and on his brilliant introductory speech. I assure him that if I interrupted him during his speech it was not that in 1808 any way I disagreed with what he said. I was merely trying to draw attention to the fact that the House is now multi-sexual. It sometimes needs reminding that women have at last been admitted to membership. I remember reading in one of the books on Parliament's history which we all tend to absorb when we first come into the House that the word "Parliament" originally meant a "talk" and that it derived from the after-dinner gossip of monks in their cloisters. I sometimes feel that the monastic period has not completely disappeared. We have all of us today, as my hon. Friend the Member fox Cannock (Miss Lee) said, approached this question with a sense of urgency. It has been interesting to see how the tabling of this Motion by my hon. Friend has unloosed the floodgates of unease among us and the pent-up frustrations which so many of us feel. The record attendance here for a Friday is an illustration of one of the purposes of my hon. Friend's action in choosing this Motion, namely, the sense that we do not participate as back benchers in the control of our own affairs to the extent that we ought to do.
It is a marked commentary on the way in which the House of Commons is run and the consequences of the out-of-date machinery that we adopt that there has not been a debate on accommodation in the House of Commons and the facilities for hon. Members since some of us forced one on the Government as long ago as March, 1960, as a result of the succession of Questions which we put down and the Parliamentary agitation which we launched. So here we are, three years later, queueing up to seize the opportunity of expressing our views about the things that we feel are wrong.
We come here this afternoon against the background of the very unhappy knowledge that Parliamentary institutions are under attack everywhere in the world. They are under attack not merely in the immature countries but also in some of the most familiar centres of long-established democracy. When we say that, do not let us think with complacency of how much better we do things here than they do in France under General de Gaulle. We should make a very great mistake if 1809 we did not realise that the same creeping apathy towards Parliamentary institutions and Parliamentarians which is invading the French public could not also invade the British public, to the detriment of all the things in which we believe. Indeed, I was interested to see the other day a quotation from a Frenchman, M. Jouvenel, who runs Bulletin Sedeis, a bulletin of the Institute of Economic and Social Studies in France. In 1961, in a treatise on Parliamentary Government, he said:Parliamentary Government has vanished in England quite as much as in France though in quite another way … In the House of Commons the minority can do nothing because it is a minority, and the majority can do nothing because it has to keep faith with the Government. Though in theory the House of Commons can do anything, in practice it can do nothing. Its power is a myth.He went on to argue that the same process of the strengthening of the Executive's rôle in representative Government was going on here, and that even here we had our monarchisation of Government which can take place just as much under a Prime Minister as it can under a President. I therefore think we have been right to spend some of our time this afternoon in looking at some of the fundamental background which ought to underlie our approach to the procedural changes which we ought to undertake if we are to reverse this dangerous process.
I believe that some rather confused arguments have been put forward in this context this afternoon, because the first thing we have to realise is that Parliament today is suffering from its virtues rather than from its vices. It is the plain fact that it has too much work to do on too little pay. It has too many ideas and too few opportunities to express them. It is not that the talent is missing. I do not think that the problem is to attract a better type of person into the House of Commons. I think that we have wonderful material whose capacities for contributing to our discussions are not unleashed to anything like the degree they ought to be, and are not harnessed half as effectively as they ought to be to the establishment of the control of the elected representatives over the Executive.
I do not think that we shall solve this situation by confusing the functions of Parliament, and here I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member 1810 for Cannock. This is what made me uneasy about the corporate State undertones of the document Change or Decay. I am not suggesting that there was any kind of Fascist intention there, but I believe that it is a dangerous argument to say that legislation today is so technical that we must have technical bodies to examine, to do the work that this House of Commons in an unselective way cannot do. Indeed, the implication is that we are not fit to do it, because the whole purpose of this document is to attract more industrial and technical experts into the work of representation.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I do not think that the hon. Lady has read the document closely enough to understand our objectives. We did not refer to technical people. We talked about the whole broad field of society and everybody in it. We did not suggest that there was anything wrong with the existing Members. We were trying to encourage young people to come in who might otherwise be frustrated under other circumstances.
§ Mrs. Castle
I read the document carefully. It referred to the kind of people which the hon. Gentleman wanted to come into the House. It referred not merely to young people but to people with more technical experience than apparently we have at the moment.
As regards the type of Committee which the hon. Gentleman has in mind, what he calls for are Standing Economic Committees of Members of Parliament with industrial experience to make preliminary examinations of all Government economic Bills.
I do not know how we begin to define an economic Bill in that sense. Would we include, for instance, transport as an economic subject? Obviously it has immense economic ramifications, but in the consideration of the question of transport there is a very different function for Parliament than there is for the experts who might be advising us. Heaven knows, it is bad enough having Dr. Beeching as head of British Railways without having him the Minister of Transport as well.
The point is that the House of Commons is a debating Chamber and not a board room. It is our job, on the basis of the technical advice which should 1811 certainly be made available to us to set out the issues of public interest within which the conflicting technical demands have to be solved. I suggest that it really is not the job of specialist committees sitting outside the Chamber—a move that is more likely to empty the House still further during the remaining debates—to examine all the expert evidence and the technical processes. This ought to be done by the respective parties' own specialist groups in reaching their own conclusions about the issues involved.
I know, for instance, that on colonial affairs, this is what we do in our specialist colonial group. We see the people who come over with constitutional ideas and arguments. We listen to the experts and hear reports from our own Members who have travelled all round the Commonwealth, and, having done that, our job is to distil out of that evidence the issues of national interest. Hon. Members of all parties should be doing that from their different approaches to politics. We should be distilling the principles and the issue involved and then argue them here in the House of Commons and not consider them, as it were, out of court and out of the public eye.
I believe that if we want to increase public interest once again in Parliament our job should be to ascertain the issues and not to iron them out. Our job should be to argue the principles, and, in so doing, to educate the people whom we are brought here to represent to regard politics as something higher than just a technicality. If we want to increase interest in Parliament we must give the minority a chance to become the majority. At present, the lack of interest in our debates in the House springs, I think, from the fact that nobody is interested in a conflict the outcome of which is prejudged and pre-known.
I get a little tired when I hear people say, "Let us clear all the details out of the way so that we can debate the great issues of our time". Has anyone tried to debate these great issues in this Chamber from the back benches? Has anyone sat here hour after hour, without a cigarette or a cup of tea, watching one's collegues who are no more interested in one's ideas about 1812 the great issues of our time than they are in learning Sanskrit, and the moment they have made their speech out they go.
We have had a better attendance here today on a Friday than we have on many great issues of our time, even on important international issues. Why? Because everyone in the Chamber this afternoon believes that his or her contribution might improve something and lead to a change—might lead to some positive results being achieved.
Therefore, if we want to revitalise the House of Commons, we have to give the back bencher more responsibility, and we can do it in two ways. First, we should make the debates of this House genuinely debates; that is to say, we should abolish altogether the practice of little notes being sent to Mr. Speaker beforehand by interested individuals so that he does a kind of balance-sheet of his own—I am not complaining in any way of his behaviour; it is a practice that has grown up—and say to himself, "That member comes from here, and that one from there. That Member has such-and-such an interest".
There should not be any Speaker's list, Mr. Speaker should listen to the debate and decide, as he sits in the Chair, who next to call, without any predetermined idea—"Well, old so-and-so seems very keen—he's been sitting in all the afternoon. Why not give him a chance?" Or he might say to himself, "We have had a speaker from Scotland, perhaps we might try Lancashire next"—
§ Mr. Curran rose—
§ Mrs. Castle
No. I know that the hon. Gentleman will say something nasty.
Surely, we could give hon. Members the one responsibility they do not want, but one that would give them the status they ought to have—the responsibility of making up their own minds on the great issues without waiting for the Division Bell to ring and then asking the Whip, "How do we vote this time?" It is a very painful and arduous responsibility, but I believe that free votes could be given over a far wider area without at all necessarily overthrowing the Government.
I have a very unorthodox idea to put forward. Why should we not have a double veto operating in the House of Commons? I mean a veto by back 1813 benchers on both sides on any act of Government which they do not approve, in the form of an adverse vote which does not bring down the Government, with the Government having the over-riding right to go ahead if they think it in the public interest to do so. That would give to these debates in the House of Commons the dramatic excitement of the unexpected outcome, and a real battle.
Having said that, I want to deal with one of the main aspects of this debate that has not been dealt with very thoroughly by previous speakers, and which was most skilfully dodged by the Leader of the House. We cannot expect back benchers to take on these real and challenging responsibilities unless we give them the physical setting and the facilities to do so. We shall not even begin to equalise the struggle between Members of Parliament and the Executive unless we begin to treat the Members' needs much more seriously. Hon. Members opposite have spoken in favour of certain procedural changes, and we have heard a lot about the need for more adaptability, but in no realm have we failed more to adapt ourselves than in the very simple one of giving to hon. Members the tools to do the job.
We do not need a tremendous amount of research or examination to know that hon. Members are grossly underpaid for the job. They cannot afford to provide themselves with the necessary secretarial facilities—they cannot even afford the postage to answer people outside their constituencies who may be interested in a speech they have made. We talk about keeping a "live and vital democracy", but I know that out of my own pocket every week I have to find shillings for postage stamps for correspondence, not only all over the country but all over the world with people who are interested enough in what is happening in the House of Commons to write to me about it. All this has to come out of an inadequate salary.
My French friend, Monsieur de Jouvenel, pointed out the significant fact that the Congress of the United States had much better control over the Executive because in Congress the physical plant had been expanded to keep pace with the growth of the Executive, whereas in Westminster and in the Palais 1814 Bourbon, M.P.s remained as cramped as ever while Government offices proliferate. If we want an example of this in its modern form—and this is a challenge to the Leader of the House—we see one in the new Bridge Street scheme, which was reported on to the House quite recently. For years hon. Members complained that we were in a strait jacket. There was inefficiency owing to physical difficulties. We were then told that there was to be an opportunity for us to expand and breathe again when the Government acquired the whole of the Bridge Street site, 230,000 square feet.
But for what is that to be used?— Government offices. We on the Accommodation Committee, advisory to Mr. Speaker, had a handout from the Government—the Government's diktat—that the House of Commons had finally been allocated 40,000 square feet. We were not asked if we thought it adequate. Nor were we asked how many square feet we thought were needed to give each Member his own office and desk and space for a secretary. We were told that the Government needed more Government offices and they would make available to us 40,000 square feet out of 230,000 square feet. The balance was to be taken up by the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, pubs, restaurants and shops. That is the rating in which the British House of Commons stands with the Executive.
Of course, a number of improvements in the accommodation of this House have been made over the years, but, if I may say so without offence, that is no thanks to the Government. It has been an uphill battle. The all-party committee has worked in great harmony and unanimity in getting better conditions for the staff, the Press and the B.B.C., in getting more filing cabinets and extra desks and even permission for Members' wives to use the Harcourt Room. We have worked hard ever since we were set up in 1960. That has proved the value of having an Accommodation Committee, sitting regularly, to whom hon. Members can bring their problems resulting from the pin-pricks of the Administration, but we have had to fight the Government every inch of the way. This is the kernel of our argument for a change in the control of the House.
1815 I shall give a very simple illustration of how our present machinery works. In May, 1960, my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) started a battle for a second copying machine. It is bad enough for us to have to pay our own secretaries' salaries without having to pay the cost of their typing copies of letters because there is not a copying machine available. There used to be one in the Fees Office for the use of which there was a charge of 4d. a sheet. My hon. Friend put a Question down to the Minister of Works in May, 1960, asking for another. The Minister said that it was not a matter for him and the Question was transferred to the Treasury.
In due course the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered the Question, whether or not another machine could be made available and the service be free to hon. Members. "Oh" he said in shocked surprise rather like the chap in Oliver Twist, "There is a machine available. If hon. Members find the existing facilities inadequate they may care to make representations in the first instance to the House authorities." Is not this just what our old friend Dick Stokes used to complain of? No one is ever responsible and we have to go chasing round the mulberry bush to find someone who will take responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was aware that we have to pay 4d. a copy to have a photostat of our letters even for Parliamentary business, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:I will pay attention to any representations which the House authorities might care to make to me".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1960; Vol. 624, c. 191.]A month later I asked, "What representations has he received from the House of Commons authorities?". He replied, "I have given thought to it and I will allow hon. Members £2 more a year of free stationery so that they may have a few free copies from the copying machine. We asked, "What about another copying machine, and may we have it free?" The Financial Secretary said, "If the hon. Lady will make some representations to me I will consider it".
1816 I went on a personal deputation to him. Finally, in December, 1961, 18 months later, another copying machine was provided on the interview floor of the House and—a dramatic democratic development—we are now allowed three free copies of any Parliamentary document. If by any chance we have four constituents involved, then we have to pay 4d. for the fourth copy.
But what about the times at which it may be used? We find that certain hours are fixed. By whom? Not by us, not by the Minister of Works, not by the Treasury. I have tried to table Questions to the Minister of Works askingwhether the hours during which hon. Members and their secretaries have access to the copying machines in the Fees Office and on the interview floor can be extended to the rising of the House".But it is not a matter for the Minister of Works or for the Treasury. It is a matter for the House authorities, whom I cannot question on the Floor of the House.
I discover that my secretary can work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but that if I want an urgent photostat copy of a Parliamentary letter at 10 p.m., at which time I am often doing my correspondence, as are other hon. Members, the office is closed. The hours are fixed by somebody else—by the House authorities, and sometimes not even by our own House authorities. Whenever I go to the House authorities I am received with the utmost courtesy, but sometimes the reply is, "Mrs. Castle, we believe that the majority feeling in the House is against this." How do they know? What means have they of assessing the feeling in the House?
Moreover, under the present Royal Administration of this Palace, the moment the House goes into Recess our House authorities cease to have any control, and back it goes under the control of the Lord Great Chamberlain. Thus, the hours during which my secretary can photostat letters during the Parliamentary Recess, when I continue to work as hard as when the House is sitting, as no doubt do other hon. Members, are decided by the Lord Great Chamberlain. I suggest to the House that this helps to make us look a figure of fun.
1817 There is a whole list of things for which we have been fighting. We not only have this tedious battle, we not only have to go through this Hampton Court maze of administrative machinery, but we sometimes get a flat "No", and we have no means of redress. The Accommodation Committee asked for certain changes in the Library. We complained about the state of the research service compared with that in any Government Department in Whitehall or the Library of Congress. We got the number of the research staff increased from four to five, with one more promised in the Session, 1963–64. We asked for a translation service, but nothing was done. We asked for an abstraction service, but nothing was done. We asked whether the Library could be air-conditioned so that we could at least stay awake while we prepared our speeches, even if other people fell asleep when we delivered them. We were told that it was too expensive. The question was raised of a gallery access system so that a busy M.P. could choose his own books, as can be done in any modern Library, but we were told that it was too expensive.
The same point arose in connection with my request—and that of Members of the Accommodation Committee—that we should have a central dictation system in the House of Commons. I want this in addition to my capacity to employ a personal secretary. Sometimes even the most devoted personal secretary can be smitten suddenly ill with 'flu. There is no means whereby an hon. Member can, in such an emergency, be sure of dictating an urgent letter. We have a private commercial agency, Ashworths. When they are rung up, they often say, "I am sorry. There is no time until tomorrow".
§ Mrs. Castle
Why cannot I march into a telephone kiosk, as I could in Shell Mex House, for example, pick up a telephone, and dictate an urgent letter on to a dictaphone? We fought for this in the Accommodation Committee. I saw the Financial Secretary about it as long ago as July, 1960. He said that he would consider it. Finally, the Committee sent out a questionnaire to M.P.s 1818 some people having thought that M.P.s were neither interested enough nor intelligent enough to handle it. One hundred and seventy-six M.P.s replied that they would like a central dictation scheme. As a result, in the Report of the Accommodation Committee of July, 1961, we unanimously recommended that such a scheme should be introduced for a trial period of 12 months. What has happened to the recommendation? It has disappeared into the limbo of Government procrastination. It is the Executive that is deciding how we shall be equipped with the facilities to do our job.
The Government have treated us deplorably in this campaign to get improved facilities in the House. It does not even matter that an all-Party Committee has unanimously agreed something, as we unanimously urged the Government to introduce the roof scheme extension in July, 1961. What an extraordinary state of affairs that was. On 2nd August, 1961, Mr. Speaker gave our Report to the House, in which we urged that immediate steps should be taken during the Recess to make this extra accommodation available under the roof. When an hon. Member tried to question that Report, Mr. Speaker said, "I cannot be questioned on it". As soon as the House had risen for the Recess, we found that there was a Written Answer on the Order Paper in reply to a Question asked by the Chairman of our own Committee to the Minister of Works which enabled the Minister of Works to say, when the Committee had been disbanded and when the House had gone into Recess, that the Government had after all decided to postpone the roof scheme.
Can hon. Members wonder that I am not very excited by the offer of the Leader of the House that we might have another Advisory Committee? We say that the decisions about the facilities of M.P.s should be in the hands of a Commission, consisting of the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, one or two key Ministers, and back benchers; that you, Mr. Speaker, should be the Chairman of the Commission; that a back bencher should be your Vice-Chairman, and that the Vice-Chairman should be answerable to the House and he could answer questions on the running of the House, 1819 the accommodation facilities, and so on. The Commission should make an Annual Report to Parliament. The Report should be debated annually.
The House of Commons should decide for all its Members how they should be equipped in the job they have to do. Nothing less than that will satisfy us. I hope that the fact that all of us accept the Motion this afternoon does not mean that that great reform will be shelved.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House resolves to maintain Parliament as the paramount forum of the nation and to bring its practices and procedures into harmony with this end and in accord with the needs of 1963