§ 10.44 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
I beg to move,That the matters of the form of the Defence Estimates; of the disclosure of matters contained in the Reports of Select Committees; of the allocation of time to proceedings on public bills; of opportunities for brief speeches; and of the method of signifying objection during the time for unopposed business, being matters relating to the procedure in the public business of the House, be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure.This Motion deals with a number of points, although I do not think that I need say very much about them. There is the suggestion that certain matters should be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure. These are, firstly…the matters of the form of the Defence Estimates…That follows a Report from the Estimates Committee of 19th February and 944 the Public Accounts Committee of 3rd March. The Motion then deals with…the disclosure of matters contained in the Reports of Select Committees…This is so that the Select Committee can consider whether reports from committees which deserve adequate Press coverage, discussion and so on are given an opportunity to receive that; and whether any alteration in procedure is necessary;…of the allocation of time to proceedings on public bills…there has, I think, been a feeling that there should be further consideration of that matter:…of opportunities for brief speeches…there is a Motion on the Order Paper, signed by many hon Members, and it is appropriate that the Select Committee on Procedure should consider those matters. Views have also been expressed about…the method of signifying objection during the time for unopposed business…and I earlier agreed that this should be referred to the Select Committee.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will you be good enough to advise me on which Amendments, if any, are being called?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
The first Amendment in the name of the hon. Member—after "speeches" to insert "of morning sittings"—has been selected. It would be convenient, I think, for the hon. Member to speak on it now.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I very much appreciate that advice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I was very pleased when I first saw this Motion on the Order Paper. I thought that it provided private Members with a great opportunity to use the impact of their experience to improve future procedure. I have heard many conversations in many quarters of this Palace of Westminster and have read many comments and analyses in the newspapers critical of our procedure, and I thought that as this present Parliament will terminate within six months, if not before, the Motion provided a great opportunity for hon. Members now serving the House to make constructive proposals for the 945 consideration of the Select Committee on Procedure.
I felt that the matter should be treated as one of extreme urgency and that the Select Committee should meet as often and as regularly as possible so that its Report could be prepared before the termination of this Parliament and then form a basis on which those in the next Parliament could benefit by past experience. For example, during this Parliament Mr. Speaker has had great experience which should be drawn on by the Select Committee.
It was with such thoughts in mind that I tried to put a number of constructive proposals on the Order Paper. Some were not allowed, but, as a result of the advice of the Clerk to the Table, which I much appreciated, I was able to put down the following early-day Motion—That this House is of the opinion that Mr. Speaker should be consulted by the Select Committee on Procedure in order to obtain his advice based upon his experience during this parliament, that the matters before the Committee should be treated urgently so that their report may be implemented early in the next parliament, and that consideration should be given by the Committee to the Procedure applied in the Australian and New Zealand Parliaments"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope that he will bear in mind that he is, in fact, speaking now to his Amendment—after speeches", insert "of morning sittings".
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Yes, but when we are considering the Motion moved by the Leader of the House it is surely right to make some constructive proposals which should be considered at the same time by the Committee. All that I am doing is making further proposals which might receive the Committee's attention.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is perfectly in order in speaking on the Motion which has been moved, and he himself has not yet moved his Amendment to restrict the debate, but he would be out of order in referring to other Amendments of his own which have not been selected.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Do I understand that as I have had the good sense not to move my Amendment yet I have not restricted the debate and, therefore, I 946 am in order in speaking on the original Motion?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I had the privilege about 18 months ago of visiting Australia and New Zealand. I spent a great deal of time in the Parliaments of those countries in listening to debates and talking to Members behind the scenes. As a result, I am convinced that although ours is looked upon as the Mother of Parliaments we have now a good deal to learn from others. One of the matters which gave rise to the original Motion was the question of limiting speeches. I have often felt sorry for the Chair when speeches have gone on for a long time and when many hon. Members who have waited to make their contribution have had to go away disappointed. The time has arrived when hon. Members should assert themselves and should insist that speeches should take up no more than 20 minutes, except on a great occasion, just as happens in New Zealand and Australia; the Member speaking would have the right to ask for a further ten minutes and thereafter a second ten minutes, making 40 minutes in all. Surely, with the aid of the enormous amount of documentation now published, that length of time should be sufficient to explain anything that needs saying.
I have had a fair amount of experience. I know what goes on behind the scenes. I know that Ministers are provided with a large amount of "paper", and the least said about some of it the better. I am convinced that most statements should be and could be made within 40 minutes. Several Prime Ministers in my time have confined themselves to 20-minute and 30-minute speeches. It would be all the better for this whole assembly if the House would insist on its right to give more hon. Members the opportunity to speak.
I therefore move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, after speeches", to insert of morning sittings".
I do this to give the Select Committee on Procedure the opportunity of considering the matter. It was said during the war that what I now propose could 947 not be done, for many reasons which I will not go into at the moment. But during the war we did it, and the proceedings finished, if I remember rightly, between 5 and 5.30 p.m. If it could be done in wartime, then it could be done in these times.
There are, I know, objections, but some of them really ought not to be made, because the business of this House should come before everything. In my view, the only proper objection to the proposal is the one about Ministers' time, and for that I have a great deal of sympathy, because if a Minister is doing his job well he has his hands full and is working almost day and night. I know the large amount of work which goes on in the Departments, and for that I make all allowance. Even there, though, arrangements could be made to get over the difficulty. Therefore, I am suggesting that the House should meet at 11 o'clock in the morning, and that the time of termination of business in this House should be between 5 and 5.30 p.m.
If that were the basis upon which the business of the House and of its Committees were transacted, it would be much better for the efficiency of the House, and also fairer to the staff. It is all wrong that we should employ the staff for the number of hours a day we do; that is long since out of date, and the time has arrived when someone should speak out about this. I have had a fair amount of experience, and I have no hesitation in saying that the staff of this House, from the Clerk to the servants outside, are amongst the most conscientious people serving in any capacity anywhere in this country.
It is not only a question of the efficiency of the House in this Chamber; it is also a question of accommodating the many Committees, and more of them, which will be required if the policy of devolution and modernisation is to be carried out, and if we are to get the best service from the staff who serve us well. The time has arrived when a little modernisation should take place in the times in which they serve the House. It is for these reasons I have moved the Amendment and made the suggestions I have.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Anything which the hon. Gentleman the Member for 948 Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) says of course carries great weight, because he has been a respected Member of this House for, I think, nearly thirty years. The suggestion in his Amendment has been considered before, and I think that even he will admit that there are considerable arguments against it. Nevertheless, I am perfectly happy that this should be considered by the Select Committee, and I am perfectly prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That the matters of the form of the Defence Estimates; of the disclosure of matters contained in the Reports of Select Committees; of the allocation of time to proceedings on public bills; of opportunities for brief speeches; of morning sittings; and of the method of signifying objection during the time for unopposed business, being matters relating to the procedure in the public business of the House, be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure.