§ Mr. Speaker
Before we proceed with the debate, might I mention to the House that there are many hon. Members who wish to speak in it. It is a debate which we shall all be studying. It will be of great assistance if as many hon. Members take part as possible, and I would urge hon. Members to be concise in the contributions that they make.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)
I beg to move,That the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure and the Second Report from the Select Committee on Procedure in Session 1963–64 be now considered.Before discussing the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure which have been presented to the House in the current Session, I am sure that the House would wish me to thank the Chairman and Members of his Committee for the work they have done and their diligence to the tasks set them.
I am afraid that the special instructions given to the Select Committee from time to time and our requests to them for priority advice led to some interruption of their more general reviews of problems such as the hours of sittings of the House. Whilst I cannot promise that we shall not ask the Committee for some more urgent reviews in the next Session—and I am making one or two suggestions today—I hope that we shall not unduly disturb their more general considerations.
May I now turn to the separate Reports. The First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure suggests a Second Reading Committee similar in some respects, but not in all, to our current procedure for the Scottish Grand Committee, the idea being to make a recommendation to the House whether a Bill should or should not be read a Second time. In that way, it is hoped that the Second Reading Committee would save the time which would otherwise be taken on the Floor of the House for Second Reading debate of that particular Bill. Such a procedure would mean that many Bills of a "non-controversial" character could be added to the Statute Book, and many desirable Bills for which no Government are ever prepared to find the time could be introduced.
173 The recommendation from the Select Committee is that the Second Reading Committee should be composed of anything between 30 and 80 members, but a minimum of 20 objectors rising in their places could stop the procedure being used at all. Implementation of the recommendation could achieve a big saving of time on the Floor of the House. But, in the past, in discussing similar procedures, there has always been difficulty in defining "non-controversial" and "unopposed" Measures. The suggested procedure which is now before us avoids that difficulty, because it is left to the House itself with 20 Members rising to decide whether the House would wish a Bill to be considered in that way or not.
The proceedings in the Second Reading Committee would consist of a Motion made by the Member in charge of the Bill, "That the Committee recommend that the Bill be read a second time". That Motion would be capable of amendment, so that the Committee could recommend against Second Reading and also so that its reasons for recommending against Second Reading could be reported to the House. On the other hand, in cases agreed by the Second Reading Committee, the question for Second Reading would come before the House for approval without debate. Members of the Second Reading Committee would be appointed by the Committee of Selection in the normal way and subject to the usual conditions. As an additional safeguard, ten days' notice would be given on the Order Paper of the intention to refer a Bill to the Second Reading Committee, and there would be, as is normal, discussions through the usual channels as to the suitability of treating a particular Bill in that way.
At that stage, if the Opposition of the day felt that the Bill ought not be treated in this way and the Government of the day felt that it ought, it would be very easy for the Chief Opposition Whip to persuade 20 hon. Members to stand in their places. There is no real difficulty there, but having brought the Bill back to the House after the deliberation of the Second Reading Committee, on a recommendation that it be read a Second time and the approval of the House to that Motion having been given without debate, the Bill would then continue its following stages, Committee, Report and Third Reading precisely as a Bill does 174 today. This is the first proposal by the Select Committee on Procedure in its First Report.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
There is one point on which I am not clear. Does the Minister who moves this Motion have to be the Minister in charge of the Bill concerned, or can a Minister move it in respect of any Bill?
§ Mr. Bowden
It would normally be the Minister in charge of the Bill. I perhaps ought to have said at an earlier stage that it would be a Public Bill, not a Private Member's Bill.
The second proposal from the Select Committee on procedure in its First Report dealt with the—
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
The right hon. Gentleman said that this would apply only to Public Bills and not to Private Members' Bills. Did he mean Private Bills?
§ Mr. Bowden
I appreciate that a Private Member's Bill is, of course, a Public Bill, but it is not felt that we should offer the procedure to Private Members' Bills and incorporate them in this new idea at this stage.
The proposal from the Select Committee on the question of sittings of the House is left very open. It will be recalled that we asked the Committee to look at this problem. It did briefly look at it and some evidence was taken, but the Committee decided to return to it in a further Report. The more one looks at this problem—and I know that we are all anxious to avoid late sittings and get on with the business of the House—the more difficult it becomes. The Select Committee on Procedure has promised to consider this in a further Report.
The Committee next looked at the question of Ten Minute Rule Motions. As the House will know, this is a procedure whereby a Private Member is free on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, under the current Standing Order No. 13, to ask leave to bring in a Bill. This can mean that if the Bill is opposed by a speech of ten minutes' duration and a Division takes place at that stage at 3.30 in the day on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, we can take up to 40 minutes of the time of the House before the normal business of the House proceeds. That 40 minutes 175 can also mean the exclusion of two hon. Members from the general debate which would follow.
The proposal is that by way of an experiment the Ten Minute Rule Motion should be taken at the end of Business rather than at 3.30. Standing Order No. 13 was substantially changed in 1960 following a recommendation of the Select Committee which then recommended that there should be only one Ten Minute Rule Bill—previously there were more—and that seven days' notice should be required. This is operating at present, but despite this the number of Motions has increased very considerably.
In 1958–59, the full Session following the Report after which we decided to restrict the number to one Bill, there were in fact 13 Ten Minute Rule Motions. In the full Session of 1963–64 there were 40 and in the current Session so far there have been 33. As the House is aware, if leave is given to bring in a Bill under this procedure the Bill takes its place in the queue with other Private Members' Bills which have been drawn in the Ballot. In the current Session, although private Members' time has ended, we had an example of Early Day Motions being moved for leave to bring in a Bill which, if such Bill had been brought in in Private Members' Time, would not have had time available to go through their stages.
When, as is often the case, Standing Order No. 13 is used, not for bringing in a Bill but merely for seeking publicity for a particular topic, although the House may decide to continue the practice, it is in fact an intrusion of one hon. Member at the expense of the rest of the House. As I have said, it can exclude two hon. Members from the general debate. It does not prevent the Government or the Opposition for they get full time for the debate. It is thought that such intrusions could be eliminated by changing the time in the manner suggested by the Select Committee and taking Ten Minute Rule Motions at Ten o'clock at night.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many Ten Minute Rule Bills in the past have got on to the Statute Book?
§ Mr. Bowden
I am not absolutely sure, but I think that in the last full Session there were three.
176 The Second Report by the Select Committee dealt with Question Time—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, East)
Will my right hon. Friend forgive me for interrupting? I apologise, but I had to leave the Chamber in order to get a Paper and was kept waiting for it. I know that my right hon. Friend remembers very well the Report of the Select Committee in 1959, which referred to this as a very jealously-guarded right which should be retained and which should be preserved. The Committee to which he is now referring was almost mandated on the subject in a curious way.
§ Mr. Bowden
I have very much in mind the Report of the 1959 Committee—in fact I quoted it—but I am suggesting that, while a Private Member gets nothing easily, he would have his Motion considered later in the day when it would not be likely to prevent other hon. Members from speaking in the general debate.
§ Mr. Hale
I apologise for interrupting again. I do not often do this nowadays. Apparently no one has mentioned—my right hon. Friend has not—that the private Member would get the opportunity at a time when any hon. Member can count the House out, destroy his Bill and leave him to go through the whole miserable process again without there being time for him to get the Bill through.
§ Mr. Bowden
This will be taken into consideration, but on balance I still think it worth while accepting the recommendation for a year. Then we can look at it again and, if desired, put the present procedure back again.
Let us look at the second recommendation, on Question Time. I think we are all agreed that hon. Members often have to wait a month, which is too long, before they can get a reply to an Oral Question. We have not been reaching as many Questions each day as we should like to reach. Thirdly, there is a growing habit among hon. Members that, whatever the form of the Question, they must ask a supplementary question. They regard it as something quite wrong if they do not rise in their places and ask supplementary questions.
Fourthly, and probably most serious of all from our point of view, there is pre-emption of the Order Paper by hon. 177 Members putting down Questions weeks and weeks ahead, which from their point of view may be very important, but which in fact mean that they are taking priority over other hon. Members and regardless of what may happen during those weeks these particular Questions have to be answered before more current and topical Questions can be taken. If one looks at the Order Book and compares its size today with that of a few years ago, one sees that the number is astronomical. For instance, in March, 1963, there were 551 Questions on the Order Book for Oral Answer. Two years later, in March, 1965, there were 1,149 Questions down for Oral Answer. The figure has doubled in two years. This is the sort of thing which mill continue to grow.
My main complaint about this preemption of the Order Book is that it is unfair to many Members. It could equally be argued that everyone could engage in it. However, if we all engaged in it the Order Paper would be so thick that it would need two people to carry it into the Chamber.
The general complaint is that fewer Questions for Oral Answer are being reached. This is attributed to the length of Questions and supplementary questions and, to some extent, to the multiplicity of Questions with slight variations in phraseology on the same subject. I am aware that this is largely a matter for the House. I have quoted in the House on a number of occasions the position 25 years ago as compared with the position today. There has been practically no change in the length of the original Answer by the Minister and of the first supplementary question, but there has been a very considerable change in the Minister's answer to the first supplementary question and in the second supplementary question to the Minister. This is where we seem to be losing ground.
The Committee recommends, first, that forward notice should in future be limited to 21 days, exclusive of adjournments other than weekend adjournments; secondly, that deferred Questions should be treated as new notices and should not have precedence; thirdly, that there should be a Resolution of the House expressing support for Mr. Speaker in 178 applying steps to increase the number of Questions answered and to control abuse of supplementary questions; fourthly, that each Member should be limited to eight Questions for Oral Answer a month; and, fifthly, that the rota organisation should give a greater proportion of time to the larger Departments.
The Motion tabled in my name secures a limit of 21 days with the object of preventing pre-emption of the Order Paper. Because of that, it is necessary to alter the present priority given to deferred Questions over Questions tabled on the day of deferment, to prevent evasion of the 21 day rule. Therefore, if a Question were deferred, it would not take precedence over other Questions already on the Order Paper. It would not be necessary to amend the Standing Orders to deal with this, since the priority rests only on the practice of the Table Office. Mr. Speaker might, therefore, if the House wishes, be invited to give the necessary' instruction to the Table Office to put this recommendation into effect directly the Standing Order amendment were agreed to.
This change would be necessary if the 21 days' notice recommendation were adopted, but there is a slight difficulty here with regard to transferred Questions. It is not a Member's fault if the Table Office or a Department transfers a Question from one Department to another. It is felt that, if a Question is transferred by a Department or by the Table Office, whichever is responsible, the Member should not be penalised and that that Question should retain its original priority.
As to the proposed Resolution to be passed to support Mr. Speaker, I should think that perhaps the House would not now wish to proceed with this so soon after the appointment of a new Speaker. It might however, be considered later on if we feel that it is necessary. Very largely the solution to this problem is in Members' own hands.
The suggestion of limiting Members to eight Questions a month seems to me to be an unnecessary restriction on Members and, in addition, a very difficult one to work. The House might wish to see what effect the present debate has in leading Members to accept self-imposed discipline 179 which would make such limitation as to eight a month unnecessary.
The Question rota is normally arranged through the usual channels and although, here again, there may be virtue in running the rota very much on its present lines until Christmas to see whether Questions speed up, we can make changes at any time. I have said on a number of occasions that I like the present system, which was agreed by me as then Opposition Chief Whip, of not having two days a week for any one Department. In practice this has worked extremely well. The figures show that no Department has lost as a result of it and Members have not lost. The turnover comes up reasonably quickly. If it is felt that it is necessary to change it, I am sure that the usual channels would be prepared to look at it again. In fact the usual channels do look at the Question rota at least four times every year.
In addition to the proposals recommended by the Select Committee, I would hope that the House would be willing to consider preventing Members from tabling more than two Questions for Oral Answer for any one day, any additional Questions being automatically treated as Questions for Written Answer. Moreover, should a Member withdraw one of his Questions for Oral Answer in favour of another Question, the new Question should not take the precedence of the withdrawn one but should take its normal place. This is purely a recommendation to the House which has not been dealt with in any procedural Motion before us now. It is something which might be considered. The House will recall that there is at present a limit of two Questions for Oral Answer to be asked on any one day, but this does not prevent more from being tabled. Last July one Member tabled 12 such Questions and none was reached. I raise this for future consideration simply because the preparation of Answers to Oral Questions costs about £3 per question more on an average than Answers to Questions for Written Answer. In the interests of economy and other things, I think that this proposal may commend itself to Members.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
How is the figure for the difference in cost arrived at? This has always puzzled me. If the figure is accurate it may 180 weigh very heavily in favour of Members accepting the recommendation.
§ Mr. Bowden
This is a matter which I would prefer not to discuss across the Floor of the House, because it is extremely complicated. If the hon. Gentleman would care to see me afterwards, I could produce to him a chart which I studied for half an hour and which I found difficult to understand. The truth of the matter is that the average cost of preparing a Written Answer is under £5. The average cost of preparing an Oral Answer is about £7. There are Answers which cost as much as £150. I am not suggesting that this is wrong, if Members want the information. If a Member tables 12 Questions and it is only possible to take two of them, there is some saving if the other ten are treated as Questions for Written Answer. There is a saving financially. There is also a saving of the time of the Department which has to collate the required information.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Is it more expensive to answer a Question for Oral Answer than a Question for Written Answer simply because more care is taken in providing the Answer?
§ Mr. Bowden
That is a very attractive suggestion, but in fact the reason for the difference is that Questions for Oral Answer have to be answered more quickly. One can sometimes get the information in a more leisurely fashion to reply to a Question for Written Answer. To secure the information for an Oral Answer, particularly on Colonial or Commonwealth Affairs, cables have to be used and telephone calls made. On average, the expense is precisely what I have said that it is.
The Third Report from the Select Committee deals with methods of expediting Finance Bills and makes a recommendation. This is not a unanimous recommendation. It is that an attempt should be made to draft the Finance Bill in such a way as would take account of the desire of the House to commit at least some of its provisions to a Standing Committee upstairs rather than their being taken on the Floor of the House.
The second proposal was that a Select Committee of the House, a sort of Business Committee, should recommend which provisions and new Clauses of the Finance 181 Bill should be committed to a Standing Committee upstairs. The third proposal was that the Business Committee should recommend a timetable for the consideration of the whole Bill. This is not a new step. It has been looked at by Select Committees on Procedure on two occasions before. The 1962 and 1963 Select Committees who looked at the problem were firmly against such a proposal even as an experiment. I have personally held the view, and I am on record as believing, that a Business Committee could be set up to deal with most Bills. It would be a Committee which would be set up at the beginning of the Session to which at the request of the House the Bills could be referred for timetabling purposes, but I have always been doubtful—and I have said this and it is in the evidence which I gave before the Select Committee—whether this should be applied to Finance Bills.
The timetable for the Finance Bill—for the Budget Resolutions—is extremely hemmed in by Statutes. Hon. Members who have had experience in government will know that the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913, the Parliament Act, 1911, and the Parliament Act, 1948, definitely restrict the Government of the day in timing from the point of view of the Finance Bill. It would be very difficult under present arrangements to accept a proposal that a reasonable time should be allowed between the Second Reading of the Finance Bill and the commencement of the Committee stage while the Business Committee made recommendations about the timetable.
Any division of the Finance Bill into budgetary or administrative sections is also extremely difficult. It is difficult to decide which Clauses of the Finance Bill are of such limited interest that they could be sent to a Committee upstairs, and it is difficult to argue, if there is not such a limited interest, that they should be sent upstairs rather than be considered on the Floor of the House. I have had research done into the recent Finance Bill, which the House will recall was not exactly a short one. It is thought that perhaps 3 per cent. only of that Bill could be regarded as administrative matter which could be taken upstairs.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Is not there some merit in considering the general proposition that if 182 when a Finance Bill is being drafted by the appropriate Departments and sub-Departments it is drafted in the light of its being split into two separate divisions there might be more scope for the proposal?
§ Mr. Bowden
I have looked at that point too. The Parliamentary draftsmen whose job it would be to divide the Bill in this way—and they are greatly experienced—find it difficult to decide which would be budgetary and which would be administrative. If the House wished to timetable Finance Bills it could do it. Machinery already exists under Standing Order 43, which during the past few months, as the House will appreciate, I have read on more than one occasion.
The Fourth Report of the Select Committee deals with the question of how best to carry out detailed examination of Estimates.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Does what my right hon. Friend has just said mean that he is turning down the whole of the proposals of the Committee on Procedure for expediting the Finance Bill? Does it mean that all our efforts to try to find a way of preventing our having to be here night after night and our view that this is the only possible reform with a chance of agreement are being turned down?
§ Mr. Bowden
Yes, Sir, it means precisely that, but I am recommending this to the House on the basis of recommendations to the House by the two previous Select Committees on Procedure, and on the basis of the fact that this recommendation by the present Committee was by no means unanimous. I am recommending that we cannot possibly find a way out of our difficulties at the moment other than by carrying on as previously in view of the fact that the three Acts which I have quoted would seriously handicap the handling of the Finance Bill at that time of year.
The first of four proposals is that the new type of Select Committee be set up, as a development of the Estimates Committee, with new terms of reference which would enable the Committeeto examine how the Departments of State carry out their responsibilities.183 The Select Committee on Procedure has expressed its anxiety that the proposed new Committee, which is a development of the Estimates Committee, should not lead to an encroachment into the field of policy. A number of witnesses who gave evidence, as the House will know, thought that it might do just that. The real question is whether or not we want to develop a system of specialist committees, not exactly like, but something akin to, the American Congressional Committees and similar committees which exist in certain European countries, or whether we feel that the proper place for policy discussions, as distinct from financial administration, is on the Floor of the House. With the best will in the world, I am afraid that once the terms of reference are widened as suggested—and I know that the Select Committee on Procedure was anxious to avoid this—the necessary detailed examination of Government expenditure and administration is bound to give place to policy discussions. In addition to that, we should lose a valuable part of the procedures on financial control.
The Government are prepared to consider the Select Committee's proposal, and I will listen carefully to today's debate, but as the Select Committee on Procedure has not itself discussed the method and lines of procedure of its proposed new Committee, I would recommend to the House that the terms of reference of the Estimates Committee should remain unchanged at present.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
On this important point, I think that it was the generally felt view of the Committee that the test of the administrative efficiency of a Department was not satisfied merely by the test of value for money, the test posed by the question whether a particular Department was economical in its operation. As I understood it, it was felt that there was a wider question which could be usefully investigated by a specialist committee going beyond the question to which I have just referred but not encroaching upon policy. Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the House—on what I repeat is a very important matter—whether the Government are disposed to agree with us on principle on that point? If objection were taken to the terms of reference which are being 184 put forward that would be well understood, and it obviously is a subject for further discussion, but on the principle of the matter to which I have referred, will my right hon. Friend indicate the Government's view?
§ Mr. Bowden
I have said that the Government are prepared to consider this and look at it, but they are very anxious that the development of the Estimates Committee should not get into the position where discussion of financial control and keen scrutiny of the expenditure of Departments is lost and replaced by policy discussions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) said quite frankly—and it is contained in the Report—that the Committee was anxious not to do that, but we find it very difficult to know how one can avoid it.
It has been suggested that the terms of reference which apply to the Committee on Nationalised Industries might be adopted. But these things are by no means on all fours, and one would be in great difficulty, I think, if the proposed new form of Committee, in discussing the activities of a particular Department, say, the Foreign Office, got bogged down in some aspect of foreign affairs instead of dealing with the administration of the Department, which would be its real function. This is the difficulty, and I think that one has to be very careful about it.
My mind is by no means closed. We are prepared to look at it again, and to continue to look at it. For the time being, when we set up the Estimates Committee in two or three weeks' time, it will be my hope that we can proceed with our present terms of reference, accepting one or two other proposals which the Select Committee felt would help.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Will my right hon. Friend refer to the answer to Question No. 24 given by, I think, the Clerk-Assistant, when he was asked about the proposed widening of the terms of reference?
He replied:It may be a little wider, Sir; I do not know that it is much. I think it would be very difficult to give terms of reference which would give an absolutely clear-cut division"—that is, between policy and non-policy. 185 Can my right hon. Friend give a more convincing reason than he has hitherto why we could not, as an experiment, give this extension to the terms of reference which was advocated by the Clerks of the House and by other well-informed people outside?
§ Mr. Bowden
My hon. Friend has called in aid the Clerk-Assistant. The Clerk-Assistant said that he himself would find it difficult to define policy and administrative decisions. This is the whole thing. A considerable amount of evidence was given on this point. The House may like to re-read the evidence on the point given by the Head of the Civil Service, who is very learned in this matter, too. I have not a closed mind on the question, but it is not an open and shut case, it is not black and white, All I am suggesting is that, for the time being at least, until we are absolutely sure, we should not change the present terms of reference.
The second proposal on the Estimates Committee coming from the Fourth Report is that the new Committee which it is suggested should be set up should function through Sub-Committees specialising in various facets of Government activities. The Government are of opinion that this is a matter for the Estimates Committee. There is nothing whatever to prevent the Estimates Committee subdividing itself into Sub-Committees looking at different Departments instead of dividing itself, as it does at present, into six or seven Sub-Committees. One might have a Social Services Sub-Committee, a Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-Committee, and so on, if that was the wish. But it is a matter for the Estimates Committee. If it regarded this as helpful and wished to do it, the Government would say, "By all means let us try it and see how we get on."
The third proposal dealt with the need for two Clerks to supervise the work of the new Committee and one full-time Clerk to each Sub-Committee, with a right to employ specialist assistance. If the present Estimates Committee, under its present subdivision or a new one, if that is accepted, would like to augment the clerical staff and employ specialist assistance, the whole question could be considered urgently at the right place, which would be the new House of Com- 186 mons Services Committee which it is proposed should be set up and which would have responsibility in this field, with the approval of the House—we shall be discussing it next week—and there would be no need to delay action.
The fourth proposal dealt with a problem which faces the Estimates Committee from time to time. The suggestion is that the Estimates Committee should have power to adjourn from place to place and, with the leave of the House, should be able to travel abroad when its investigations so required. At present it has been able to travel abroad only at the invitation of a particular Department, and it wishes to be free in this matter. The Government have no desire that there should be any semblance of extravagance whatever, but, on the other hand, if the Estimates Committee feels that any one of its Sub-Committees would wish to travel abroad and take evidence abroad in order to do its work, then, subject to the approval of the House—it would need a Motion—the Government would feel that this would be worth doing.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Will my right hon. Friend make quite clear that the cost of such a visit would be borne on the Vote of the Clerk of the House and not on the Vote of the Department?
§ Mr. Bowden
Yes, I take the point, which is very much a point which the House of Commons Services Committee would like to look at. It is important that the Estimates Committee investigating a particular point should be free of the Department in the sense that it is not being paid for by the Department.
I have one or two other points to make before I conclude. The first relates to Early Day Motions. I particularly wish to draw the attention of the House to certain developments in this part of our procedure. Early Day Motions are really requests for debates. Over the past few years—I have watched them over several years—their number has risen rapidly. While they may still technically be 187 requests for debates, they have developed into, and now are in fact, something quite different, and they are being tabled just for publicity purposes. It may be said that there is nothing wrong with that. So be it. If that is what the House wants, let the House have it. But it does lead to certain administrative problems. Every year since the war, they have been growing in number. While sitting here, I looked at the Order Paper and I see that we have reached No. 351 in the current Session.
The problem here is not so much a question of what we shall do about Early Day Motions. The problem is, rather, what are the printers of our Votes and Proceedings and the Clerks at the Table going to do to deal with this problem. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] The hon. Gentleman says "Oh", but the position is precisely that. Early Day Motions, tabled at a very late hour, are printed in the Votes and Proceedings of the House which hon. Members expect to be available early the next morning, on their breakfast table in many cases. If this is to continue, one has to face the fact that the Votes and Proceedings will be late.
I am simply drawing the attention of the House to this matter. I am not asking for any action, but I think that it is something which the proposed new House of Commons Services Committee might look at. Already the HANSARD coverage of our debates ends at a certain point, 10 or 10.15 or thereabouts. We might face the position that, unless we take some action, the Votes and Proceedings, if we have a particularly long night, as we do on certain occasions, will be very late.
This suggestion has come from the people who are responsible for getting out our Votes and Proceedings, and, in the normal circumstances, it is something which one would refer to the Select Committee on Publications and Debates. But, under our new procedure, if the House agrees, I hope that the House of Commons Services Committee could look at it.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Is not this point really so fiddling as to be hardly worth making? Surely, the alternative is that, if it is not possible or convenient to print an Early Day Motion and have the Votes and Pro- 188 ceedings delivered to hon. Members in time, such a Motion would have to be printed the next day.
§ Mr. Bowden
That, of course, is the perfect answer, and I had in mind some such time as 8 or 9 o'clock at night. But it is something which ought not to be done without the House being aware of what is being done. Therefore, I suggest that the House of Commons Services Committee should look at it.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
I should regard it as a matter for regret if the observations just made by my right hon. Friend were to go to the House of Commons Services Committee without some challenge. I should like to tell my right hon. Friend that I came to the House under the impression that we held our powers pre-eminent and we could not be dictated to by the convenience of the printers or by others if the House had determined on a particular course of action. I could not accept the suggestion put by my right hon. Friend to the House.
§ Mr. Bowden
I take my hon. Friend's point, of course. I was simply pointing out that there is a difficulty. When we have our new procedure, and when the House of Commons Services Committee is functioning, we shall, I think, have a number of these questions to consider. The Committee ought to consider them. I also feel that no action whatever should be taken without the House itself being acquainted with the action which it is proposed to take.
There is another minor procedural matter to which I should like to refer. The Select Committee on Procedure in the 1963–64 Session—this is outside the four Reports that we are discussing—recommended in its Report that Select Committees should have a power to decide whether embargoed copies of their Reports should be issued to the Lobby 24 hours before publication. It further proposed that no Press conferences should be held until after publication and that the former practice of issuing confidential summaries of the contents of the Reports should be discontinued.
These recommendations have much to commend them. The present procedure is that the Report from the Select Committee is laid in dummy, after which the Clerk of the Committee is empowered to 189 discuss with the Lobby journalists the headlines of the Report, and then the Report is published and sometimes a Press conference takes place. The Select Committee was of the opinion that there would be great value to Select Committees if after the Report has been laid in dummy the Lobby could be provided with an embargoed copy so that by the time the Report is published the members of the Lobby will have had ample opportunity of studying it. It is felt that this could be helpful. This, if it is approved by the House, would require a Resolution of the House, which is now before hon. Members. It is a unanimous recommendation from the Select Committee, and it is on the Order Paper today, and I am drawing it to the attention of the House at the request of one of our Select Committees which feels that it would be helpful to it.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
Would my right hon. Friend refer to the last two lines of the Motion? I think that possibly these are so drafted as to prevent a Report being published during the Adjournment of the House, which at present it is possible to do. If this is carried today, I wonder whether he would consider an Amendment on this small point.
§ Mr. Bowden
Yes, Sir. I am well aware of the point. It has been looked at. It is not absolutely certain that my hon. Friend's point is right, but if it is necessary to put the word "sitting" between "two" and "days" this can be done at a later stage.
May I now sum up our proposals arising out of the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure? I suggest that we should provide that Questions should not be tabled more than 21 days ahead—this requires a change in our Standing Orders—and that, because of that, deferred Questions should not have priority. In addition, we should have Sessional Orders, thus making any changes that we make as a result of today's debate experimental rather than permanent. The proposals are that there should be a Second Reading Committee for public Bills, that Ten Minute Rule Motions should be taken at the conclusion of Government Business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays instead of at 3.30 as at present, and that the Estimates Committee should, if it wishes, divide 190 into Sub-Committees representing spheres of Government activity but under existing terms of reference.
The fourth recommendation is that, subject to the approval of the House, members of the Estimates Committee may travel abroad if their investigations prove it to be necessary. The fifth recommendation is that Select Committees should be given the power to decide whether Reports should be issued to Lobby journalists 24 hours before publication, Press conferences not being held until after publication and no confidential summaries of the contents of the Reports being issued.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "publication" in this context? Does he mean that the Committee should report to the Press before reporting to the House, or does he mean the general release of the document to the general public other than Members of the House?
§ Mr. Bowden
The procedure at the moment, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, is that the Report is first laid in dummy. The suggestion is that, after the laying of the Report, when the Report is printed and it has been decided to publish it on a certain day, two days before that the Press shall be given an embargoed copy which will enable them more closely to study the Report—as the hon. Member will be aware, this happens very often with many publications—and that on or after publication a Press conference shall be held. This is the unanimous suggestion of the 1963–64 Select Committee. It has been requested by a Select Committee, and I think it would be helpful.
Those are the Government's proposals arising out of the four Reports. Before I sit down, I should like again to thank the Select Committee for the terrific amount of work which it has undertaken during the present Session.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
I suggest to the House that it would be convenient to discuss with this Motion the four other Motions standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman and that they should be put formally at the end of the debate:That this House, taking note of the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1964–65, approves the amendment to 191 the Standing Orders of this House set out in the following Schedule.