§ Amendment to Standing Orders
§ Standing Order No. 8
Paragraph 5, line 38, after "circumstances", insert—
(5) Notice of a Question shall not be given for oral answer on a day later than 21 days after the date of the notice.
In reckoning the period of 21 days, no account shall be taken of any period during which the House stands adjourned for more than two days.
§ That for the Session 1965–66 the following paragraphs shall have effect:—
- (1) when any public bill has been printed, a Motion, of which not less than ten days' notice has been given, may be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of public business, that the bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee, and the Question thereupon shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate; and if, on the Question being put, not less that twenty Members rise in their places and signify their objection thereto, Mr. Speaker shall declare that the Noes have it.
- (2) a Second Reading Committee shall be a Standing Committee consisting of not less that thirty nor more than eighty members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection to serve on the Committee during the consideration of each bill referred to it; and in the nomination of such members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to their qualifications and to the composition of the House.
- (3) a Second Reading Committee shall report to the House whether or not they recommend that such bills ought to be read a second time; and they shall have power to state their reasons for recommending that a bill ought not to be read a second time.
- (4) the terms of a Second Reading Committee's report shall be stated on the Order Paper beneath the order for the second reading of the bill; and the Question for the second reading of such a bill shall be decided without amendment or debate.
§ That for the Session 1965–66 Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) shall have effect with the following modification, namely, that any such notice of motion, instead of being considered at the commencement of public business, shall stand over and may not be moved until after a member of the Government shall have signified to the Chair his intention to move "That this House do now adjourn", for the purpose of bringing the sitting to a conclusion; whereupon Mr. Speaker shall immediately call upon the member who has given notice of the motion to move that motion, and if the proceedings thereon have not been concluded at Ten o'clock he shall not interrupt them at that hour; and the Motion for the adjournment 192 of the House shall not be moved until after the conclusion of those proceedings.
§ That this House approves the Second Report from the Select Committee on Procedure in Session 1963–64; that during the Session 1965–66 all Select Committees shall have power to authorise the Clerk of this House to supply copies of their Reports to officers of Government Departments and to lobby journalists after those Reports have been laid upon the Table; that, when the Chairman of a Select Committee has been ordered to make a Report to this House, he shall not immediately lay the Report on the Table, but shall do so not more than two days before the publication of the Report.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
In view of Mr. Speaker's appeal for brevity in this debate, it is fortunate that the first sentence in my notes says that I may have many theories about the procedures of this House but the one which I am sure is correct is that most speeches are too long. I shall, therefore, try to conduct myself with reasonable brevity.
There has been considerable criticism of the work of this Session's Select Committee both in the Press and, directly or by implication, in the House. Being a member of that Committee, I am pleased to see that at least the recent P.E.P. paper, written by members of what is called the Study of Parliament Group, has taken a considerably more generous view. Certainly, the Committee worked very hard, in spite of some suggestions which were made to the contrary. If I may say so—and I hope I am in order—much credit is due to the Chairman, the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and also—again I hope that this is within the rules of order—the Clerk of the Committee who has been a tower of strength and a mine of original and acquired knowledge.
I do not think one ought to forget that the speed at which a Committee of this sort can work depends very much on the weight of evidence which it must study, and in respect of this particular subject there is no lack of evidence. But I want to reinforce, and perhaps take a little further, the point with which the right hon. Gentleman started. The House will note that in the first two paragraphs of the Third Report the Committee indulges, and, I think, indulges justifiably, in a complaint that the terms of reference inhibited its work. It had the broad terms 193 of reference which are usual, to study the procedure of the public business of the House and to report what alterations were necessary for the more efficient discharge of such business.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, it was also an instruction to the Committee to report first on three matters—the possibility of a Second Reading Committee, the times of sittings of the House, and the time at which Ten Minute Rule Bills should be taken. It is certainly my opinion, and I think it is fair to say that it was the majority opinion in the Committee, that the instruction to give priority to these three individual matters prevented the Committee from embarking in a proper and logical manner on the consideration of its main task. On that account, the Committee decided that the instruction to consider the times of sittings just was not possible, and that it had to consider the structure of the business of the House before it could come to any reasonable decision on the matter of times of sitting.
I want to go a little further on that. Since the war, procedure has been examined by a number of Select Committees and their recommendations have led to improvements in the working of our business, but previously they were always set up with broad terms of reference and it was not until 1958 that a Select Committee was appointed which proved to be the first of a series of what one could call "sessional" or "topical" procedure committees. They were set up in each of the following years.
The Committee of 1958 was set up in response to very much the same sort of demands made in the House during this Session and it produced a wide range of miscellaneous reforms, the greater number of which were subsequently adopted. Then, in each subsequent year, the Committee was set up again, providing a useful machine for considering specific points of procedure which had become topical or, if I may say so to the right hon. Gentleman, troublesome during the Session. I must also confess that it was a useful machine for taking the heat out of such problems.
Such a sessional or topical committee has its uses and should be continued. I think that the Government made a mistake at the beginning of this Session in trying to run together the topical com- 194 mittee and a committee on the old pattern with the old, wide terms of reference. I hope, therefore, that in the forthcoming Session the Government will set up a committee on the old, broad lines and a separate topical committee which can consider from day to day not the minor points but the individual points which may be referred to it by the House and which can be regarded very often as being quite separate from the main study.
In this connection, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is already before this Session's Select Committee a backlog of special points to consider—for example, the subject of proxy voting, which however important one may consider it, is not a matter which needs to be considered in the broad picture. There is also the very important and urgent matter of the casting vote, which the Committee has not looked at at all, and also the question of the raising of Privilege. I do not think that any of these subjects fall within the broad field and I consider that they together with any others which may occur during the next Session should be referred to a separate committee.
It might be said that there would be duplication of effort between the two committees but I do not think it beyond the wit of man to avoid that. It should be possible to have one or two hon. Members common to both committees. I do not think that that would be a breach of the accepted security of Select Committees if, in such cases, those members exchanged information.
§ Mr. English
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a sub-committee would achieve the effect he desires?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I do not know that it would. We all know that it is an arduous task to study the work that the House must do and if even some hon. Members were to be distributed to a sub-committee of the main committee I do not think that we should achieve the same object. Certainly, if I were invited to continue to take part in this study I should prefer to do it only on the terms I have suggested.
It is fair to say that we were not the first to consider the subject of Question Time and the proposal that no more than 21 days notice should be given of a Question. It was considered by the 1959 Committee, which recommended a 21-day 195 period of notice. It has certain disadvantages, but while the Government of the day may have been right not to accept it I am certain that the present circumstances of Question Time demand it.
I do not think that some of my hon. Friends will quite agree with me about this, but I am sorry that the Government have not accepted the further recommendation that there should be a limit on the number of Questions put down by an hon. Member during each Session. I do not know whether this appears in the evidence of the Committee, but the proposed total figure of 80–8 in each of 10 periods—has been exceeded during the last 10 years only by a small minority of hon. Members, so in fact such a limit would have been generous. Certainly it would have been a check on the habit of farming out Questions. I hope, therefore, that we shall be assured that this second recommendation will also in due course be considered by the Government if the 21-day limit does not prove satisfactory.
The third recommendation concerns the quality of support which should be given by the House as a whole to Mr. Speaker and certainly, in these sad circumstances, there is no need for a Motion. But the Committee wholly agreed that the real problem is that Question Time has lost momentum and, from my experience, I believe this mostly to be the secret. Without any sense of criticism of the Treasury Bench—because the Treasury Bench in my own day tended to commit the same faults—I say that unless an example of brevity is set by Ministers we shall never get a breakout from our present lethargic and long-winded habits.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
My right hon. Friend repeats the point made by the Lord President of the Council about the withdrawal of the Motion connected with Mr. Speaker. But is this a wise course? Might it not be considered later on as a criticism, indirectly, of Mr. Speaker, if such a Motion were to be introduced? The fact that we have a new Speaker, so that there can be no question of any criticism of his endeavours, surely provides the right time for such a Motion. If it is not dealt with now but brought in later it could be construed then as criticism of Mr. Speaker.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
That is a valid point but I believe nevertheless that the recommendation will not now be necessary. Just now, I heard one hon. Member opposite mutter, sotto voce, "And the Opposition Front Bench", when I referred to Ministerial Answers. I accept that. But the first long answer comes from the Treasury Bench and it is that which brakes the power to speed up in Questions. Mr. Speaker, by virtue of the unhappy event which has brought about his appointment, must regard himself as being in a very strong position to start us off on a new course and, speaking for this side of the House, I assure him that he will have every support from these benches in so doing.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the revision of the roster. He was right in saying that it was he and I who hatched the experiment of putting each Department into the roster once a week. It worked. It was quite an improvement in the circumstances of the day. Now, however, the Government propose to go back to the old system by giving a greater proportion of time to what are called the larger Departments and in these circumstances we do not object.
§ Mr. Bowden
But that is not my proposal. The Select Committee proposed that we should look at the question of whether or not we should go back to the system of the larger Departments having more than one day a week at Question Time. My proposal is that we should keep the system as it is now, with the present roster, certainly until Christmas, and look at it again later on.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. I misunderstood him. I thought that he intended to make the change now. I do not think it matters which system we have so long as it achieves more efficient results. As he himself said, these arrangements have always been flexible and it is right that they should be so. I hope that if the House intends to change the situation in respect of Question Time we might well be able to return to the old system again.
I am sorry that the Government have omitted from their drafting of the Motion on the Second Reading Committee the recommendation that the Committee of Selection should, among other things, not 197 unreasonably reject the application of any Member to serve on the Second Reading Committee. This recommendation was carried on a Division in the Select Committee and was supported by a number of Members on the Government side. The express purpose was to see that a Second Reading Committee, in which, after all, every Member might well have a positive interest, could not exclude any Member. We thought further that if every Member knew that he had the right to get on that Committee at request, there would be less chance of opposition to a Motion for a Bill to go to such a Committee by Members rising in their places. It is a pity that in this matter the right hon. Gentleman has allowed his ex-Chief Whip's head to overrule his House of Commons heart.
I know that when he replies he will say that the maximum number of 80 allowed to this Committee, as opposed to the 50 allowed for a normal Standing Committee, will mean that no Member need be excluded. I know too much of the tricks of the trade to accept that answer in the spirit in which it will be given.
I do not know whether the Second Reading Committee will be a success. I do not know that in the end it will save a great deal of time on the Floor of the House, because there will always be congestion at the later stages of the Bill. This is a matter of programme making and very difficult it is. I thought that I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that all the remaining stages of the Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I know that some of my hon. Friends thought that he did and it has been useful that he should clear that up. There is no reason, of course, why they should be.
Without question, as has been said in the Press, this arrangement will depend very much for its working on good will and good temper in the House, but so does the progress of all Government business. There may well be periods when it proves unusable, but that will not necessarily mean that it is a bad system. We shall all watch carefully to see whether it receives the publicity given to ordinary Second Readings, publicity not for our- 198 selves but that which is necessary to protect the public. Certainly the experiment is worth trying.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Opposition have apparently agreed to the Motion that the privilege of putting a Bill before the Second Reading Committee should be limited to Ministers? After all, private Members bring forward many excellent Public Bills and the Select Committee was set up partly to assist the power of private Members against the Executive. Could not private Members have the power to put the Second Readings of Public Bills before the Second Reading Committee?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
That question should be put to the Government. It is not unusual, particularly during an experimental period, for propositions of this sort to be restricted in this way. However, no doubt my hon. Friend will seek to be called and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will give him an adequate answer.
§ Mr. Paget
The right hon. Gentleman has very great experience of these matters. It has struck me as odd that it should be thought that this procedure would save more time than the time-honoured procedure whereby Governments put in Bills which they want to slip through late in the day, a procedure which seems to have worked very well.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I absolutely agree. Governments get away with murder so long as the temper of the House is good. I often think to myself that some of the ingenious schemes which have been put forward for saving time—for example, the suggestion that a whole Session's programme should be prearranged in advance—would take infinitely longer than the present rather hit-or-miss system which we have all employed in our time.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
I must press on or I shall not be able to keep to the splendid declaration which I made at the beginning of my speech.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Ten Minute Rule Bills would be begun at 10 o'clock.
§ Mr. Bowden
I may not have made myself clear. They would be begun after Government business, which could be at 10 o'clock, although might not normally be at 10 o'clock. It would be before the half-hour Adjournment debate.
§ Sir M. Redmayne
Whenever that might come. That might come before or a long way after 10 o'clock. [HON. MEMBERS: "Next day".] Or the next day. How true!
I am not perfectly clear about what is meant by the words:a member of the Government shall have signified to the Chair his intention to move, That this House do now adjourn'".Is that meant to be the usual business of a Whip whispering in the ear of the Chair, which has got me into trouble before now, or is the Whip to move the Adjournment and that to be rejected by Mr. Speaker in favour of the Member who has the Bill? That may seem to be a small point, but it is important to be clear, because when tempers are bad that is precisely the sort of point on which time can be wasted.
I suppose that the Motion for the Ten Minute Rule Bill would go on the Order Paper in its new place if this proposition were accepted and the issue could then arise only if the Government decided, as Governments often do, to drop one or two Orders of the Day, when we could get into an unhappy situation in which the Member with the Ten Minute Rule Bill might not be in his place, unless the Government had been particularly careful to see that he had been warned. These may sound fiddling things, but they are traps and they are traps as much for the Government as for anybody else. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look at the drafting of this proposal to ensure that he gets what is wanted. I appreciate that he wants to exclude Adjournment debates for the whole day and under Standing Order No. 9.
On the more important issue of principle, what effect will this proposal have on one of the privileges of Members? One has to decide whether the Ten Minute Rule Bill is a propaganda device or a serious attempt to initiate legislation. If it is a propaganda device, then there are obviously strong arguments against missing the early editions. On the other hand, if it is a serious attempt 200 to initiate legislation, a lot will go through at a late hour which would not get through at 3.30.
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) who in an interjection said that at the late hour a Bill could be counted out and all would come to naught. However, I remind the House that the Government have a specific duty to maintain a House for the assistance of Private Members in exactly this sort of situation.
§ Mr. Hale
Supposing we were discussing a Scottish Sewers Amendment Bill in Committee and the Member who had the Ten Minute Rule Bill, who would not know what the business was to be when he put down the Motion for his Bill, was told that the Committee might finish at about 10 or 11 or midnight; if the Member for Drumnadrochit who had a sewer in his constituency happened to come into the Chamber, the Committee stage could go on for a couple more hours. The Member with the Ten Minute Rule Bill might have been trying to go to the lavatory for two or three hours, but not daring to leave the Chamber. If suddenly a Whip moved the Adjournment of the House, the whole House would troop out and one Member, who previously used to object on a Friday at four o'clock, could then ask for a count. What chance would there be of getting 40 Members present at two or three o'clock in the morning? I once had an Adjournment debate about a matter concerning 500 million people and at 3 o'clock in the morning? I had an audience of one to hear what I had to say about tripanosomiasis and onchocerciasis. What is the point of this proposed change which will murder a cherished right of private Members?
§ Sir M. Redmayne
It is not for me to defend that too hotly. These are matters which the House will consider during the course of the day, if I can find a chance to sit down. As I said, it is the Government's duty to maintain a House for the convenience of Members on these occasions.
If this proposition should be adopted, Mr. Speaker will be seized of the fact that there will be a far greater necessity to insist on a reasonable adherence to the conventions, that the time should not exceed 10 or 15 minutes, because at that 201 time of day there will not be the same deterrent on Members through pressure from the House as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman made the perfectly fair point that what has to be weighed up is the balance between a privilege which is available to any one Member at any one time and the interests of the House. There is no question at all that a debate on a Ten Minute Rule Bill which interrupts an important day can knock the stuffing out of the House. It is up to the House to decide, and I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will say that this is an experiment and that it should be tried, and if Members find it thoroughly objectionable then we can go back to the old system.
The right hon. Gentleman made a tentative suggestion that Early Day Motions should be handed to the Table Office by 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock. It is quite true that the Early Day Motion has ceased to be an attempt to achieve a debate but it is, in his own words, just for publicity purposes. I would say that it is a very powerful means of exerting political pressure. This has shown itself more and more during these last few years.
It arises very often on something which has happened during the day in the House. We all know what we do, or what I understand other hon. Members do, because I have been prohibited from these things for so long. There is a great effort to get a sufficiency of signatures, so that the thing is impressive when it appears on the Paper the next day. I really do not think it will do for the Table to be closed for those Motions as early as this hour. Since HANSARD finishes at 10 or 10.30 perhaps Motions could finish at the same time. I think that anything earlier than that would not be acceptable.
One must of course consider the staff of the House, the printers and all who serve us. At the same time, their interests, their views on these matters must be secondary, if it is the opinion of the House that any of our practices, and any of our methods and so forth are necessary for the efficient working of the House.
On the question of the limit of two Questions I must say that when I first heard about this I was very resistant to it. I think that it removes another flexibility which is available to Members. I was rather horrified by the figures which the 202 right hon. Gentleman quoted, and I wonder whether we could have those figures printed in a report or a paper of some sort? I have never heard anything as high as £150 quoted as being the cost of a Parliamentary Question, and I would rather like to know how often such a cost is incurred and what is the average cost. Then I think we might be more easily able to make up our minds.
I have here a long list of the reforms which have been made during the last few years. It is too frequently said outside that Parliament is wholly resistant to reform of its own procedures. If one examines the record, one sees that there is a constant process of reform, both for the efficiency of the House and for the comfort or facility of Members. Perhaps one of the best reforms was the setting up of the Nationalised Industries Committee in 1955. It was largely on this example that the Select Committee finally based its recommendations in respect of the Estimates Committee. It is on that subject that I want to say one or two things.
The right hon. Gentleman was not willing to accept the major recommendations in respect of the examination of the Estimates and he said that he thought it ought to wait until such time as the Select Committee had proceeded further with its study of Supply. I believe that the Select Committee would proceed very much more confidently and profitably with its study of this wide question of how to save time on Supply procedure as a whole if it knew that its recommendations about the examination of the Estimates were accepted by the House.
There is a misconception about this. It is said outside, and it may well be said in the House, that the Committee has come down in favour of, or contemplates, a further move towards specialist committees, on the American pattern. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not use that phrase himself. Any careful study of the evidence given and of the proceedings on consideration of the draft Report shows that although such propositions were widely discussed, they were in the end rejected in favour of a more specialist organisation of the Estimates Committee, wholly within the existing conception of the relations of this British Parliament with the British Government. That I believe to be the nub of the whole thing.
203 There are reports, I know how often these reports are unreliable, that the right hon. Gentleman has gone a good deal further than this in private. I hope very much that we can be assured that this is not so. Equally it is suggested that the system envisages that the Committee should concern itself with policy, or that, on the other hand, it can hail in front of it Ministers to be pilloried, again on the American pattern. These suggestions are wholly controverted in the Report.
I ask the House, if it is in any doubt on these matters—and if perhaps it has not read the Report—to read it, because then it would be clearly and precisely seen what the Committee was aiming at. The right hon. Gentleman himself has said that there is danger in the proposed wider terms of reference that the Committee will go too far and so forth. The object of those terms is clearly stated in paragraph 7 and that is simply to give the Committee every opportunity for useful work within the limits to which I have already referred.
I do not want to appear too enthusiastic about this, or too hot in support of my colleagues on this Committee. I thought that we had come to a very sensible view and I am sorry that the Government have not accepted it. In July, 1964, a group of Members subscribed to a supplement of "Socialist Commentary" entitled "Three Dozen Parliamentary Reforms". This paper we all read with great interest, and with some of it we can agree. It started with the resounding sentence:If and when a Labour Government takes office, it will be bursting with ideas for reform.I think that the Committee's recommendations in respect of the Estimates Committee are a considerable advance in the power of inquiry into the Government's activities and I find it regrettable that the Government have proved so faint in pursuit of progress. It is true of course, that of the twelve colleagues in that venture seven are now Ministers of the Crown. It is thus that reforming zeal is controlled.
Some people outside this House find it strange that I ally myself with the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). Hon. Members will see from the Report that this was perfectly in tune with the eventual findings of the Report, and it is the eventual findings 204 which matter. The Committee itself was persuaded, without any bloodshed, to put into the Report a succinct sentence which gives much of the sense of the Amendment the hon. Gentleman proposed.
In respect of the Finance Bill I believe that the Treasury can do anything it tries, and I think that the Treasury has not tried very hard. I think that this ought to be looked at again. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not a new subject but there is a new point which we have produced between us, and that is the idea that, having separated the matter which is going into a Bill or Bills, it goes into two separate Bills. Those two separate Bills are then jointly debated on Second Reading. Thereafter, the budgetary Bill goes through the normal proceedings while the administrative Bill pursues its own course. Under these terms it is not subject to the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act or any other restrictive legislation relating to the progress of the Finance Bill
I am wholly opposed to the recommendation of a time table for the Finance Bill. If hon. Members are interested they will find my reasons succinctly set out in an Amendment on pages viii and ix of the Proceedings on the Third Report. The right hon. Member put some powerful views to the 1964 Committee in support of time table procedures for all Bills, but I am pleased to note that he appears, if only temporarily, to have changed his mind as to the desirability of that aspect of our procedure. As for morning sittings, the right hon. Gentleman said that the more one looks at the question the more difficult it becomes. I entirely agree.
In conclusion—and I hope that the House has noted how rapidly I have been turning over this mass of paper—in considering a reform of Parliament it is vitally necessary to study the reasons for any demand for change. It may well be that our existing procedures are not efficient, or are outdated in relation to the present-day work and responsibilities of Parliament. Many of these procedures are irreverently referred to as "mumbo-jumbo". I do not doubt that where they have become forms which are based on conceptions which no longer have any relevance to our proceedings they should be abandoned, and I am sure that in its next task the Select Committee will find 205 a very fertile growth of mumbo-jumbo in the question of Supply.
Secondly, it may well be that the work and responsibilities of Parliament are changing, and that procedures must be revised or devised to meet that change.
Thirdly, it may be that in certain circumstances—as in the circumstances of a low majority, or a large influx of new Members—complaints against our procedures arise simply because Members are impatient of the burden which those circumstances place upon them. I am sure that we are all in support of sensible and well-considered reforms, based on the first two reasons, but I hold strongly that we should not go hastily about any reform simply because the Members of any party—this is not confined to the Labour Party; it has all happened before—find the circumstances of Parliament wearisome or irritating.
In this connection it was noticeable that when, in June, a Motion appeared on the Order Paper making certain proposals for reform, the organiser of that Motion—the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) was reported in The Times as saying that the idea of associating one of the older Labour Members with the move had been rejected, and that:We take the view that new Members bring in new ideas and we have noted the tendency that the longer people stay here in Parliament the more they regard the system as perfect and not needing improvement. Having been Members for eight months, our experience leaves us in no doubt that, if we are to carry out Harold Wilson's promise that the country would have a greater say in Parliament, we have to get rid of a procedure which is designed to do exactly the opposite. With the bubbling-up, the ferment of ideas among the new M.P.s—of whom we think ourselves symbolic—there has got to be a better channel for the communication of ideas between the back benches and the Government.Without going deeply into the matter of "Harold Wilson's promises", on which I have certain views which would not be timely in this debate—and dismissing the point about a better channel between the back benches and the Government, because that is entirely a matter for the party in Government—I take the view that those Members who express so quick an impatience with our proceedings should not dismiss too lightly the wisdom of their colleagues. It is just possible that Members who have been 206 in this House a little longer see a little more clearly that some of the reforms which are so easily proposed would fail in their object for perfectly good and proper reasons, which have nothing to do with being a fuddy-duddy who has become so used to the House of Commons that he cannot see any place for reform.
We on this side will support any reforms which genuinely achieve, in the words of the terms of reference of the Select Committee,the more efficient dispatch of our business.I could wish that on this occasion the Government had shown themselves to be a little more ambitious in this respect.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
It is agreeable to follow the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne), who referred to the one occasion in the proceedings of the Select Committee when we happened to be in agreement. I have always followed everything said in every speech of the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest care, and I advise all other hon. Members to do the same. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman who made a speech in the Recess in which he suggested 28th October as a possible election day. That will be tomorrow. It was a very good idea. I wish his advice had been followed. We might then be looking forward tonight to celebrating tomorrow "Redmayne's Red Thursday". I hope that everybody will follow carefully what the right hon. Gentleman says. As for our agreement on one matter, I hope that everybody will take account of this rather formidable alliance. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, with the best good will in the world, that I hope it has done him as much damage as it has done me.
On the general issues at stake in this debate, I will try to follow his example in being as brief as I can. I am strongly in favour of the reform of Parliament, although many people accuse me of taking a different view. There are many drastic reforms of Parliament which should be carried out, and many of those drastic reforms could have been discussed by the Select Committee on Procedure.
I am not criticising the members of the Committee; any criticisms I have fall on my own shoulders as much as upon 207 any others. But there are many matters, such as proxy voting for people who are sick—a most urgent matter—the creation of much greater flexibility in our debates, and the reform of Standing Order No. 9 so that we can have much speedier debates on immediately topical questions, which, with many others, should have been discussed by the Select Committee, together with the frustration which is rightly felt by many hon. Members—and in particular many of my hon. Friends who have come afresh to the House—and which in my opinion derives primarily because this debating Chamber moves much too slowly to discuss the urgent debates of the time.
Further, similar subjects, such as foreign policy, are not able to be discussed with sufficient frequency; they are all put off for some two-day debate on a future occasion. If we had a system whereby every week 30 or 40 Members were able to force a debate in the subsequent week on a matter of immediate topical importance, we would help to restore the authority of this debating Chamber. It would do away with a great deal of the frustration which arises. I would have liked these proposals to be considered by the Select Committee.
These and many others would have been discussed had it not been for the fact that the Committee were sidetracked into a discussion on the question of specialist committees. The right hon. Gentleman said that he partly supported me on this matter. From his speech today I was not sure that I retained his support. I thought that he was retracting some of his enthusiastic support for this proposition. I am strongly opposed to the whole idea of extending these specialist committees, because I believe that so far from reforming the House of Commons it would inflict the gravest injury upon it. Although I admit that this proposal which has been put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure goes only a small way in that direction, I am opposed to it because I think that it could be carried further.
There are large numbers of my hon. Friends and many hon. Gentlemen in the House who see as the main cure for the disease of the present House of Commons an extension of specialist committees, either on the lines of those in the 208 American Congress or of those in some other Parliaments. I am strongly opposed to this proposition for reasons which I wish to state. I believe that if we could push this idea out of the way we could go ahead to real radical reform of the House of Commons.
First of all, I am opposed to this idea of small specialist committees because a Member of Parliament can only be in one place at a time. The curse of Parliamentary life at present is too many committees. I do not know the arguments of hon. Gentlemen who want many more. I have to attend too many as it is. Whenever I go to that corridor upstairs it reminds me of a Keystone comedy—people rushing hectically from one place to another without knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Some people get so obsessed about whether they will get to their next Committee on time that they do not attend to the business of their present committee. Why we are not even greater schizophrenics than we are already is a mystery to me.
Only some academic university professor could consider the present system of committees and conclude that the cure is more committees. The first reason which I have for being against this idea is that an hon. Member cannot have sufficient time to devote to further committees. Every new committee which is established means a further reduction in the number of hon. Members sitting in the House. The only reason that we have a good House tonight is that committees have not got started properly yet. We ought to have a system of curtailing committees instead of multiplying them.
My second reason for opposing this idea of small specialist committees is that it means that all the topics of debate in this House would be hashed and rehashed before they ever got to the House of Commons itself. By the time they got here, we would find the subject utterly boring or would be told by the members of the specialist committees that they knew so much more about the subject than the others that the rest of us were not supposed to speak on the matter.
The third reason why we should oppose these small specialist committees is that this is an excellent way to play into the hands of the Executive. The idea that 209 they will put the Minister "across a barrel"—a commendable purpose—is an error. The cosier the committee, the more likely it will be that we shall have bipartisan politics. Every Minister worth his salt knows how to diddle a committee of that nature. Therefore, all debates in those committees would be with the terms of reference laid down by the Government, by the Civil Service, and there would be a growing tendency towards more and more bipartisan policies.
The fourth reason—
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that if one can diddle a small committee one can equally well diddle the whole House?
§ Mr. Foot
It is not so easy to diddle the whole House, because there are there one or two who stand out when the others are all falling in with what the majority have to say. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) does not appreciate that, because he has spent his Parliamentary life doing exactly this. It is not so easy for them to get away with something when there are many more hon. Members watching.
I do not believe that these committees would assist in the process of cross-examining the Government, as some people suggest. More and more, I believe, the whole idea of Members conducting their main business in specialist committees mistakes the prime function of Members of Parliament. Of course it is right that Members of Parliament should be expert on some subjects, or that some of them should be experts, but the main business of Members of Parliament is to relate different forms of knowledge—in-cluding expert knowledge—and to keep the experts in their place, to know where the shoe pinches for the customers and to see that all questions are approached in a different way from that of the bureaucrats. These are the functions of Members of Parliament.
If we separate them in specialist committees, we shall be diminishing this function all the time and would end up with a situation such as they have to a great extent in the United States—where all power is transferred to the specialist committees and dissipated from 210 the central debating chamber. For these four reasons, I believe that we should set our face against the specialist committees.
Furthermore, and even more important, one of the main functions of a Member of Parliament is to sustain the connection between what goes on in this House and the people outside. It is to make sure that the Government of the day carry out the pledges which they made before their election, to make sure that there is a close connection between the discussion of politics within and without the House. The greatest danger we face in the House is that we should come to live as if we were cut off from the outside world. We have continually to break that down. One of the main functions of a back-bench Member of the House of Commons is to see this broken down. Ministers necessarily are engaged most of the time in their Departments and one of the main purposes of backbench Members of Parliament is to pierce the cocoon in which Ministers may be inclined to live.
Therefore, I hope that the House will put aside the idea that we can reform the House of Commons through specialist committees. It is a completely false scent. The specialist committee as a way of reforming the House of Commons bears the same relation to reform as the balloon bore to the development of aeronautics. It is a clumsy and pretentious distraction: that is all it is, so if we could push it out of the way we would be able to settle the problems both in the Select Committee on Procedure and in the debates in the House on how we are to make the House of Commons a body which represents opinion in the country, in which people in the country can see their own discussions and debates much more speedily reflected.
This is the kind of reform we need. In my opinion, one of the main ones—much more important than the things discussed in the Select Committee, and which I hope that the House will face sooner or later—is the televising of Parliament. This has to be done to restore this Chamber as the central forum of debate in the country.
This is the purpose of Parliament. My criticism of the Committee, of which was an undistinguished member, is that we never started by saying what was 211 the whole purpose of the operation. That was partly the Government's fault and partly, perhaps, it was our fault, but if there is to be real Parliamentary reform, we must first of all decide that we want it, then the principles on which we want it, and then to say to some committee, "How can we translate these principles into practice?". If we were to set up a committee to see how we could ensure that we had debates which were much more lively, much better attended, much more flexible and much more spontaneous, we could achieve the task and remove the frustrations which many of my hon. Friends feel. We should then have done a real service by ensuring the survival of the House of Commons.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I do not want to confine myself to agreement with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), but as most of my remarks are to be directed to the subject of the specialist committees, I am particularly happy to be following him, because I agree with him in principle. First of all, I would thank the Select Committee for the collection of Reports which they have given us and which are so helpful to us now. I note with interest the Motions on the Order Paper which the Leader of the House has moved to implement various aspects of these Reports.
I support the Motions which he has moved and, in particular, I should like to thank him for moving Motion No. 5, which refers to providing the embargoed copies of reports to the Press, which was a matter which I initiated when I was Chairman of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries. This is a convenience. It will not often be used, but there will be times when it will be used. I hope that in due course the House will approve it.
Turning to the main point about which I want to speak, which is the Fourth Report of the Select Committee and their plea for a more extensive use of Select Committees, may I commend them for their very cautious approach. I noticed that the Leader of the House was even more cautious in saying that he was not prepared at present to adopt that proposal. I believe that the House should be extremely cautious in developments in 212 this direction of the more extensive use of Select Committees.
Perhaps I have some useful comments to make because for some years I was Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which has evidently come under the attention of the Select Committee on Procedure and which apparently has been regarded by them as successful in its operations. There are some very real limitations in extending the experience of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries to Select Committees examining Departments generally, as the Select Committee on Estimates does. The first of these appears in the course of the evidence and in the Report, and it is that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries primarily examines the industrial working of each of these nationalised industries. The day-to-day operations and management of the industries are statutorily excluded from the responsibility of the Minister, so that automatically we have a very large field to investigate which is outside Ministerial control. This situation is completely different from that which is found inside any Government Department, where almost immediately investigations and inquiries begin to touch upon Ministerial actions and policies.
Even the members of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries at times have met policy issues. When the Select Committee has been considering industrial problems in some particular industry, eventually the consideration has built up to a point at which the issues presented touched upon Government policy. This is the danger point, and it would be fair to say that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has been so successful only because of a very remarkable team effort by all Members who have served on it over the years and by their self-denying ordinance in recognising what are the limits within which they could effectively work.
When I was Chairman I found that in practice there were two guiding principles which the Chairman had to have in mind if he were to avoid ruining the Report of his Committee. The first was to ensure that the evidence taken was comprehensive. This meant that the Chairman and the Clerk had to do a great deal of preparatory work to make sure that the questioning covered every aspect of the 213 industrial activities. Too often by the end of an inquiry one has learned all about the industry and one would have liked to ask many more questions if only one had known what the problem was at the beginning. The Chairman, with the help of the Clerk, must insure against this. That is done so that when the Report is drafted it rests squarely on the evidence taken and not on anybody's opinion.
The second and far the most important principle which was always in my mind when I was Chairman was that it is useless to attempt to reach conclusions which will split the Committee. The value of a Select Committee's Report to the House is that it is unanimous. As long as it is unanimous, any document from a Select Committee has great value because we know that it is the product of a number of our colleagues from all sides of the House who have objectively examined the matter under review and together have agreed that this is the right presentation of the information and these are the right conclusions to be drawn.
But as soon as there is a minority report, except for giving a certain amount of limited information the Select Committee's Report is useless. It interested me to see that the Select Committee on Procedure were given evidence by one of the Clerks, and that they looked with some approval on a reference to the Report on the gas industry in which the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries avoided reaching a conclusion on a difficult issue of whether more gas should be produced by the Lurgi process of complete gasification of coal or by imported methane. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries contented themselves with simply presenting the pros and cons and with reaching no conclusion. In my recollection, they did that for the very good reason that if they had tried to reach a conclusion they would undoubtedly have disagreed upon it, and their Report would have been useless to the House.
This is the point which I am trying to put before the House—that Select Committee action is effective, in my judgment, only in giving a unanimous story to the House and only if it avoids going to the point at which it touches upon political issues where there will be party differ- 214 ences. We had another instance of this in the Report on London Transport which was made to the House this summer. Hon. Members will have noticed that there was a critical resolution passed by the Committee criticising the Minister of Transport for action which he took on the affairs of London Transport at the time the inquiry was going on. This action by the Minister immediately tended to blur the objective approach which members of the Committee normally achieve and to cause Members to feel their partisan—and very proper partisan—loyalties to their own party. This therefore hindered the production by the Committee of an objective Report. It is necessary for the successful operation of these Select Committees not only that there is some self-denying ordinance by the Committee members but also that there is some consideration by Ministers for Select Committees when they are in operation.
This brings me to the major point which I am trying to make. I am not able to judge exactly the effect of the Select Committee's recommendations in this Report or to know whether the Select Committee on Estimates would find itself in difficulty if it went that extra distance. All I would say is that our experience in the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has been that it is successful only if there is the greatest care and co-operation by Members on all sides in avoiding issues which touch upon policy and which will cause division in the Committee.
§ Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)
It seems to me that the right hon. Member is saying that there are pitfalls in this specialist committee system which the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has recognised and has overcome. Would he care to argue whether the lessons which have been learned from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries would be equally adaptable to new committees which are established and whether the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has, in fact, pioneered the way?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I am sorry if my powers of expression are so feeble that I have not been able to make the point that I see the field of nationalised industries as a special field in that the industry is outside Ministerial control and therefore there is a large area of inquiry by the 215 Select Committee where Ministerial responsibility and Ministerial policy will not be touched. We have been successful in making reports on these industries only by having great care in not going further into the field where Ministerial policy would be touched.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
The right hon. Gentleman has had great experience of these Committees and has thought a great deal about the problem. I am prompted to interrupt by what he has said. Looking back, does he think that there ought to be Ministerial responsibility in the House for the nationalised industries? After his experience, does he feel that this responsibility should exist? I argued this point many years ago. I have always believed in accountability to the House of Commons, but as the years go by I increasingly fail to see any difference between answerability for the National Health Service and answerability for the Post Office or nationalised industries.
§ Sir R. Nugent
Fascinated though I would be to join in a discussion on this point, I think that I would quickly be ruled out of order if I pursued the matter further, particularly since I wish to keep my remarks short, as so many hon. Members hope to take part in the debate. For that reason I will not deal with the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
The reports of Select Committees are, of their nature, lengthy. They often take a year or more to produce. I suggest, therefore, that it would never be possible—if a Select Committee wished to inquire into a matter of burning interest and importance—to produce in time a report which would be anything like contemporary and useful to the House in its consideration of a topic which was occupying its interest.
I join the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in pointing out that the House is the right place for fighting out the great issues of the day which divide parties and people. We must be extremely careful not to let Select Committees reach a point at which they begin to discuss party issues. If they do, their reports will take on a completely different form. They will not have the same value as they have now, and if that happens it will not be in the general interests of the House.
216 In this connection, it must be remembered that the major Parliamentary battles are not so much about the facts as about what people feel about the facts. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was right when he said that it is our duty to inform ourselves of the issues with which the Government of the day are concerned. It is, above all, our duty to express the feelings of the people we represent. Their feelings are often not particularly well-informed. Nevertheless, those are their feelings and unless they are expressed here they will feel that the House is not discharging its job properly.
To give a simple example of this, in connection with a report of the Select Committee on the electricity industry. We considered the new financial targets which had been set and which had the effect of requiring the industry to provide a greater contribution from its revenue towards large capital expenditure. The result was that the price of electricity had to be raised. For all the rational arguments expressed by the industry, we were in favour of doing this, to provide extra capital, and we were agreed that an increase in the price of electricity would be the sensible course to take. However, there can be no doubt that the man in the street was saying, "Why cannot I get my electricity cheaper? Why do they keep on making it more expensive? "The man in the street was not in the least convinced by the rational arguments which had convinced us.
As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said, in giving information and making reports one must be careful not to dull the edge of criticism and so get a cosier bipartisanship which prevents the House from expressing the feelings which are commonly felt outside. The House has always seemed to me well able to express not only the conflict of ideas in the minds of the people, but also to express the passions which spring from the blood. In other words, the House really has the guts of the people expressed to it and as long as that happens and is thought to happen we need not fear that the House will lose the respect and authority which enables it to carry out its basic function.
I do not believe that an extension into the realm of specialist committees would be helpful. Indeed, it might deprive us 217 of the valuable, unanimous, factual reports which we now receive, and I therefore hope that the House will follow the lead given by the Leader of the House and will not be willing to accept such an extension.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I wish, briefly, to concentrate my remarks on three matters which interest me greatly. They are the Ten Minute Rule governing Private Bills, Question hour, and the recommendations concerning the Estimates Committee.
I intend to vote against the Government on the issue of the Ten Minute Rule. The privilege which a back bencher has to introduce a Bill at 3.30 p.m. is one of the most cherished privileges available to him. It is a steady whittling away of his rights that disturbs me, and the speech made by my night hon. Friend earlier in no way mollified or modified that view. Indeed, it went to increase my suspicion that once one gels into Government the back bencher matters little, except in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Hale
As I have had three Ten Minute Rule Bills before the House—none of which was objected to by a single back bencher on either side at any stage, but each of which was murdered in a different and insidious way by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance; one went upstairs and went through Committee, and then I was told that no time was available for further stages, one was refused a Financial Resolution and one was objected to every Friday—is it not reasonable to say, since clearly I shall not be called to speak in this debate either, that there are enough possibilities of frustrating private Members' legislation without shoving it off until possibly four o'clock in the morning?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have learned my lesson early on in my speech. My hon. Friend's point is taken, and I appreciate that he is saying that there are other reforms needed in dealing with Private Members' Bills—reforms other than the ones suggested by the Government. However, I will leave that point now, hoping that I have made my position clear.
I turn to the subject of Question hour. The back bencher cherishes this hour. 218 Each back bencher has an equal chance of getting at any Minister. He can select his target, both in personal and subject terms. He is sure that he will be called and, in view of the increasing frustration one feels in attempting to get called to speak in debates, it is inevitable that the back bencher will table Questions. Indeed, the more he is frustrated in his attempts to be called to speak in debates, the more Questions he will table.
At Question Time the shortcomings of Ministers are exposed. The House is quick to spot those Ministers who have done their homework and those who do not know their onions. Ministerial responsibility to the Legislature is at once obvious. Indeed, I suppose that Question Time is the nearest we get to catching a Minister with his trousers down. This is extremely healthy for efficient administration. I believe that the civil servants treat Questions seriously and that Ministers not up in their work fear Question hour more than they fear a formal debate, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) said, although I will return to his speech later.
The Select Committee on Procedure was certainly right in insisting that the number of Questions reached in any hour does not measure the success of that hour, but I must congratulate the new Speaker on a very fine beginning today in reaching more than 50 Questions in the first hour over which he has presided. This brisk approach is needed by Members of Parliament, by Ministers and by the Speaker. I must say that some Ministers in this Parliament are inclined to be far too argumentative in their replies. The best Minister I have heard at the Treasury Bench was the former Commonwealth Secretary, who answered "Yes", "No", "Maybe", and nothing else. I am not recommending Ministers to go as far as that, but going to the other extreme and doing as a Junior Minister did today—irrespective of the supplementary question, reading his brief word for word, and at length—should be ruthlessly stamped out by the Speaker with complete disregard whether it is a Minister or a back bencher who engages in this kind of time wasting.
The "hogging" of time by Privy Councillors or Front Benchers at Question Time also needs to be carefully 219 watched by the Speaker. The Tory Front Bench has a lot of up and coming young lads—and some old lads who are anxious to prove that they still have a future or, at least, that they have not yet got a past. There is a line of them, and the Speaker should watch them very carefully.
Another point about Question Time relates to Oral Questions to the Prime Minister. I have taken out some figures, and find that from 1st April to 31st July, 1964, when the former Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister, the number of Oral Questions put down to him was 264, or an average of just under 9 per day. The total number that he answered was 179, or 67.8 per cent. of the total—roughly two out of every three of those Questions were answered orally by the right hon. Gentleman the former Prime Minister. In the period from 1st April to 31st July, 1965, the number of Questions for Oral Answer by the Prime Minister went up to 408—an average of 13.2 per day—and the total answered by the right hon. Gentleman was 198. In other words, my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister answered more Questions in a similar period than did his predecessor—and, of course, the quality was infinitely better. But the average number answered orally was slightly less than six by my right hon. Friend's predecessor and slightly more than six by the current holder of the office.
This leads to more frustration. The back bencher is more frustrated when he cannot get his Oral Question answered by the Prime Minister than he is if he does not get his Oral Question answered by some other Minister. From the facts I have given it is quite clear that Questions to the Prime Minister have increased in one year by rather more than 55 per cent.; it may be an unusual year—we have a new Government and a new Prime Minister.
Consideration might have been given to this particular aspect of the problem, and I have a suggestion to make on it. I do not see why on Tuesdays and Thursdays, instead of the Prime Minister answering at 3.15, which makes the chance of questioning the Ministers preceding him that much less, he should not 220 come on at 3.30 until 3.45, so that the Ministers who precede him still get the same time as Ministers who answer on Mondays or Wednesdays. Moreover, we might consider restricting the number of Questions put down to the Prime Minister to one per Member. Whereas one can see the advisability of not restricting the Member in regard to his two Questions per day to one Minister we should make an exception of the Prime Minister so that more Members get a chance of questioning the head of the Executive.
I am glad that the Government have agreed to the three weeks' notice. I had quite a lot of vitriol and invective prepared for them if they had accepted the other recommendation that we should engage in restrictive practices by restricting the number of Oral Questions for a Member to eight per month. Far from restricting them asking Questions we should think of how to enlarge their possibilities. I do not see why we should not have the first hour on Friday morning for Questions. We might have morning sessions. That would require the presence of one or two Ministers only, and Members could put their Questions. We should be working for a more expansive rather than a more restrictive field.
The much more fundamental problem, and one which seems to me to get at the basic causes of the undoubted decline in the public esteem and prestige of Parliament, is, to quote paragraph 2 of the Fourth Report:The question of the detailed examination of the Estimates in the broadest sense …The House of Commons spends about one-third of its time discussing financial matters, but although it does that it has long since contracted out of any attempt at a detailed and comprehensive scrutiny of Estimates put before it by the Government—even in the narrowest sense. As a watchdog over public expenditure, the House of Commons has neither bark nor bite. Year after year the Government get all their way with all their Estimates. We can investigate in the Estimates Committee or on the Floor of the House, but year by year the Government get all their way. Not only that, but they can deceive the House quite easily by concealing details of expenditure. We had 221 the example of Mr. Attlee spending £100 million on the atom bomb, and no one in this House knew.
The House of Commons can connive at this process. In 1963, the Treasury managed to cut down the details supplied to Parliament in the form of the Civil Estimates from 1178 pages to 542 pages without a whimper of protest from the House. I have compared the number of pages of information in 1955–56 with those for 1965–66. In 1955–56 we had 1296 pages of detail of where the money was going. This year we have 636 pages, but this House took not a hap'orth of interest in that.
Supply expenditure is £7,000 million, in round figures. In 1938–39 it was £700 million—ten times more today—and such control of this vast expenditure as now exists resides, not in this House but in the Treasury and, more importantly, with the Cabinet in the making of policy decisions. It is those policy decisions that determine the long-term commitments, and it is just in this field of policy making that the elected representatives have no effective control. On the contrary, every hon. Member makes a constant clamour for policies that will increase commitments, whether it be pensions, education, housing or whatever. Each Member of Parliament has his own hobby horse, and each hobby horse has its own pressure group outside. So, far from this House controlling expenditure, there is pressure from it to increase it, and the people who control it are the Executive; in other words, the Treasury and, above all, the Cabinet.
These policy decisions are taken by the Government without any scrutiny in depth by the House, and with little consultation with the House. Parliament is very often the very last body to be consulted. Consultations are held with the T.U.C., with Service chiefs, with local authority organisations and with the Employers' Confederation. After that, the Government come to the House and say, "That is the policy". Then we have a debate and the Whips are on because the Government regard every major debate as a vote of confidence, and they get their way. Ministers read their carefully prepared briefs, hon. Members read their carefully prepared speeches, the vote is taken, and then we move on to the next debate.
222 That seems to me to point to the fact that, as at present constituted and with its existing procedures, the House is too big an assembly with too little time and not enough information to present any effective or detailed challenge to the Government. That challenge is coming, but what is a disturbing feature, in my view, is that it is coming not from the House of Commons but from the TV interviewer and the journalist. They can question Ministers uninhibited by any restrictive terms of reference and in full view of millions of electors. I believe that Ministers are often more afraid of Mr. Robin Day than of any Member of the House. We are in danger of getting to a situation in which true democracy begins and ends on polling day, and thereafter the Government become virtual dictators. The Prime Minister, with access to all the facts on any given problem and possessed of enormous powers of patronage with which he can buy the silence of his most garrulous and dangerous critics, becomes almost unassailable.
The question of lack of time raises problems concerned with the sitting of the House, the possibilities of taking certain items of business off the Floor of the House and the desirability of regarding membership of the House as a full-time occupation. We all have views on those topics, and I shall not develop mine now except to say that I want morning sittings. I think Members ought to be full-time, and more business ought to go upstairs. But, even assuming that more time were available, what we need in addition is more information. In support of that, I would cite the two examples of the White Paper on immigration and the Suez exercise. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale said that Ministers cannot deceive the House as easily as they could a Committee upstairs. He introduced a Bill precisely because he could not get at the facts about Suez. I think that a Committee upstairs would have stood a better chance of getting the facts than did hon. Members on the Floor of the House.
If I may refer to the White Paper on immigration, no one in the House knows what consultations took place with local authorities or Government Departments, nor what were the details of the Mountbatten Mission. How were the figures arrived at in the White Paper? We have 223 no means of finding that out on the Floor of the House, and the paucity of research facilities available to private Members is ludicrous. It is no reflection whatever on the staff of the Library or on anyone else in the House. It is simply that the bodies and facilities are not available. The dangerous consequence of that is that there is an increasing dependence on briefs from outside bodies. We saw that greatly in evidence in the course of the Finance Bill debates last June and July.
How can the gulf between Parliament and the Executive be lessened? The Fourth Report of the Select Committee suggested one way and only one way by which the House of Commons might secure a more efficient system of scrutiny of administration. It recommended the broadening of the scope of the Estimates Committee and a greater measure of specialisation in its workings, plus additional facilities for the employment of ad hoc specialist advice from outside the Government machine.
As the Estimates Committee is at present constituted, with its existing terms of reference, it does a useful job, although its usefulness has tended to be exaggerated from time to time. But it labours under very considerable handicaps. The Select Committee's recommendations will go some way towards removing or at least reducing those handicaps, and, although I was not glad about very much of my right hon. Friend's speech, I was glad that he said we could go ahead with providing additional staff. I am not sure where we will get them, because recruiting problems are quite serious. If we can get two Clerks instead of one supervising the Committee as a whole and if we can get one full-time Clerk for each of the Sub-Committees and can employ specialist assistants, then these recommendations which have been accepted by the Government will go some way towards solving a number of our problems.
I would ask my right hon. Friend a question which perhaps he answered in part of his speech. I am not quite sure what will be the total additional number of Clerks required, for example, to man the Standing Committees. The Clerks of the Estimates Committee also man the Standing Committees, and there 224 are two per Standing Committee. If those Clerks are to be wholly occupied with the Estimates Committee, it will mean a fairly substantial increase in the number of Clerks recruited and, if we accept the recommendation to send Second Readings of Bills upstairs, that will further aggravate the problem. I would like an assurance from my right hon. Friend that that is being looked into carefully and that the recent economy circular that has gone round to all Government Departments, including the Department of the Clerk of the House, will not adversely affect the possibility of getting those additional Clerks.
The employment of specialist assistants will certainly not make the Estimates Committee a serious rival in any field of expertise to any Government Department; nor would we expect it to do so. We would not pretend to be on a basis of equality in that regard. But it will make the Committee less easy prey to the civil servant giving evidence, especially a civil servant from a technical department.
Let me refer now to the question of specialist committees. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) said, there has been considerable misunderstanding of the proposition that has been put forward by the Select Committee. What has been recommended is already within the power of the Estimates Committee to implement. In other words, our Sub-Committees could engage in specialisation now, under their existing terms of reference. As hon. Members may know, our investigating Sub-Committees are known by a letter of the alphabet—A, B, C, D, E, F and G. They do not specialise in the accepted sense, though one or two may conduct inquiries on, say, military expenditure two or three years' running. But, generally speaking, they are not defined as specialist Sub-Committees as such. A member of the House on joining the Estimates Committee for the first time cannot know to which Sub-Committee he is to be allocated, nor can he know the subject that his Sub-Committee is going to investigate. The proposition now is simply that Sub-Committees shall be identified, not by a letter of the alphabet, but by subjects. The Clerk-Assistant suggested certain groupings of Departments, for instance a 225 social services group which would involve a certain number of subjects, defence and foreign affairs and so on. If we accepted this grouping it would mean an additional Sub-Committee, and, incidentally, a further Clerk.
There seems nothing revolutionary about that proposal, yet it was opposed by the unholy alliance of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe on the argument that this would detract from the authority of the House of Commons, that the number of Committees upstairs would empty ais debating Chamber—
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
So far as I understand, the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) accepted the proposal very strongly and rather regretted the view expressed by my right hon. Friend speaking for the Government.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I thought that the speech by the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe was in contradiction to what he voted for with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale during the Committee's proceedings. The arguments of my hon. Friend—who, I am sure, drafted the Amendment, because I recognise the language and phraseology—were that the proposal would detract from the authority of the House, the specialist committees would empty the Chamber, limit the range of debates in this Chamber, reduce spontaneity and flexibility in the proceedings in this House and take more and more issues out of politics.
His speech this afternoon was discussing a monumental Aunt Sally. He attacked a proposition that has never been made. Never at any time in the course of the Select Committee's proceedings were specialist committees suggested to question Ministers upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was suggested to the Committee, but the Committee did not make that recommendation. It set that aside and concentrated on other issues. What we are debating now are the other issues. I agree that this Chamber ought to be the central forum of discussion, but it must be informed discussion. I never thought that my hon. Friend would be so terrified of a mouse. That is all that this recommendation is, a mouse. Far from threatening the authority of the House of Commons, this proposition is designed to 226 enhance the prestige of this House and not to threaten or diminish it. The aim is to ensure that debates on the Floor of the House are based on more adequate information than is the case at present.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe referred to the Select Committee on Nationalised Indutries. I do not think many hon. Members would argue that debates on nationalised industries have not been better in this House since that Committee was set up and made Reports. I believe that the debates in this House would be the bettter for the additional information that the House would get from the specialist committees. Parliament can be, often is, and ought to be, a stage for spectacular displays of oratory. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is frequently one of the stars. I suspect that that is why he thinks rather than the Committees upstairs this should be the stage.
More importantly, Parliament is a body of men and women elected by the people to control the excesses of Government, to ensure that the Executive responds to the wishes of the elected Legislature. An effective debater and a good debate demand not only eloquence of expression, but eloquence based on factual knowledge. The specialist committees envisaged by the Select Committee cannot supply the eloquence, but they can at least provide the facts. I should go much further. Despite what my hon. Friend said, I would appoint other specialist committees to challenge, question and advise Ministers on policy and on proposed legislation. That is another matter and I shall not pursue it further.
A final word on the suggested terms of reference and their extension by the Select Committee. My right hon. Friend's speech this afternoon conveyed the impression that the Government are terrified that the terms of reference should be extended just a little. These were the words of the Clerk-Assistant in answer to Question No. 24:The terms of reference may be a little wider, Sir; I do not know that it is much.The reply of my revolutionary, modernising right hon. Friend could not have been bettered by the former Leader of the Opposition. In Question No. 298 my right hon. Friend, referring to the suggested extension of the terms of reference, said that he was afraid these terms were 227 too wide and might stray into the realms of policy. Later he said, as he has repeated today, that we ought to carry on as we are now. This is Tory policy in a nutshell. He went further and said that he had had complaints from Departments that the existing terms of reference were too wide.
From what quarters did these wild and dangerous proposals come which so scare and terrify my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and the Government? They came from the revolutionaries at that Table, the Clerks of the House. These are the most dangerous men in this Palace. They are deeply suspected by the Government and by my hon. Friend. They are the revolutionaries of this Palace. Why are they there? Because they see this place much more than we do. If we look at the proposals which have been made for reform of procedure in this House, we see that the most advanced time and time again have come from the Clerks of the House. They have gone much too fast and much too far for even the most progressive—selfstyled progressive—thinkers among Members of Parliament. I sometimes despair that we shall get very far in reform of our proceedings.
My right hon. Friend has said that he has never heard any complaints about the terms of reference of the Estimates Committee. He should have read the evidence of Mr. Lidderdale and Mr. Farmer in answer to Questions by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) which pointed out that there had been 10 years of complaint along these lines and the terms were changed in 1960 after Mr. R. A. Butler, as he then was, spoke in the debate. I plead with my right hon. Friend to have another look at these terms of reference. The Government have gone only part of the way in meeting the recommendations of the Select Committee. They have been far too timid and far too conservative. I hope that when further recommendations are made by the Select Committee they will not again lay themselves open to the charge of having dragged their feet.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peel (Leicester, South-East)
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I might find myself one day in agree- 228 ment with some of the basic recommendations of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). But I do. One of the many definitions of a politician is that he is a person who exists to tell the Civil Service those things up with which the public will not put.
For a great many years we have read and heard from constitutional historians and others that in this country the Executive is becoming increasingly powerful, at the expense of the sovereign Legislature. I believe that this is absolutely bound to happen in a society and a civilisation which is becoming increasingly complex, for the very good reason that the politician is necessarily temporary. He depends for his position upon the electorate every few years, whereas the civil servant is more or less permanent. Therefore, a civil servant becomes knowledgeable over a great range and variety of subjects. What is more, an increasing amount of power has to be delegated to the bureaucrat. We are getting very near to the position where an increasingly powerful Executive is operating under cover of the authority of a sovereign democratically elected Parliament.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) put his finger on the problem, but in the wrong way. He complained of the difficulty of attending all the committees and activities that now confront Members of Parliament. That is just the trouble. In a world which is becoming technologically and technically so much advanced, like the rest of the world Parliamentarians must become more specialised. There may be objections to this, but I think that it is inevitable. It is hopeless for Members of Parliament to think that they can speak and dilate upon all the varied subjects that now affect a highly advanced civilisation and attend committees which deal with all these matters and expect to be expert on them all. This is impossible. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale makes a great mistake by chasing up and down the corridors upstairs to go from one committee to another.
This means that a sovereign Legislature composed of elected representatives is becoming dangerously less and less sovereign and in touch with the Government of the country. There is even a tendency amongst some Ministers to become super civil servants and to forget 229 that they owe their power and position in the House to the electorate and not to Whitehall. They forget this at their peril.
This tendency must be reversed. It is all very well for people to criticise the United States Constitution. Possibly they go too far in the United States in knocking their civil servants and their experts about, but the fact of the matter is that Members of Congress exercise much greater power than Members of Parliament in this country do. I think that is right and proper. They do it because they control in a very real sense the moneybags, because they have a very real say in expenditure, much more than we do. They do that partly because, through their committee system, they can get a great deal more information than back benchers here can get.
If we want to reverse the growing tendency in this country to belittle Parliament, the status of ordinary Members of Parliament must be enhanced. I have heard it said outside the House, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members have heard it said, that if people want things done they do not come to Parliament or to Members of Parliament; they can get things done much better outside. This arises because of the tendency, at an increasing pace, for the Executive to gain power at the expense of the sovereign Parliament.
I believe that the Committee system could be adapted and evolved in the House of Commons to give ordinary Members of Parliament a great deal more knowledge and say in the government of their country. One of the great arguments against this is that security is the difficulty. If it is, ways must be found of overcoming it. We must try to evolve methods of security to meet that problem. I do not think this is a good enough excuse with which to fob off the necessity to give Members of the House of Commons more information and more power.
I know that with the present Government this is a particularly difficult problem. This is why I was so interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Fife, West. The theory of Socialism breeds bureaucracy. In the end it becomes so powerful that it becomes their master. I am sure many hon. Members opposite are aware of this problem. The proposal for an ombudsman goes some way to meet 230 this, but it does it on an individual plane and not on the wider one. We need to turn our attention to wider considerations.
To sum up on this point, I think that such wide delegated powers are now given to bureaucrats that they should be seen to be much more responsible to public opinion than has been the case in the past and less protected by political chiefs.
I turn to a rather more mundane matter which very much affects our work here. It concerns Parliamentary delegations which have to represent the House on such bodies as the Council of Europe, Western European Union, and the N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians. In my opinion, these delegations should be serviced by members of the staff of the House and not by Departments. We are a Parliamentary body. The servants of the House should service us abroad.
The money required for the day-to-day expenses of Members of the House serving on these delegations should come under a Parliamentary vote and not under the vote of some Department of State. I do not think it should necessarily follow that the allowance of a Member of the House serving on a delegation abroad should be exactly the same as that of a civil servant. A Member of Parliament has a different position. He has different duties to perform. The money required for this should come from a Parliamentary vote. It should be paid out of the Vote Office. It should be drawn by the Member before he goes abroad. It should not have to be claimed by him after he gets abroad or, worse still, after he has spent his money and returns here and has to put in an account. I hope that whoever replies for the Government will give some serious attention to this matter, because I think that many of us who have represented this House abroad have found ourselves often at an embarrassing disadvantage compared with our Parliamentary colleagues from other countries who—
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I do not intend to discuss in any detail the general propositions which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House put before the House in the speech with which he opened the debate. I do not do so because I find them too disappointing and too limited in their scope to be worth prolonged discussion. If all of them were adopted the effect on making our procedure more efficient for its job in the modern age would be virtually nothing, and one of the proposals would do intense harm. What we need is a much more drastic and fundamental overhaul of all our procedure as it has historically developed.
Our trouble is that we are trying to do a modern highly technical job with a machine, with very slight modification, evolved two or three centuries ago. This is not sufficient. While maintaining the principle and the traditions on which our procedure is based we have to bring it sufficiently up to date to make it a workmanlike institution doing a workmanlike job measured to the exigencies and requirements of our own day.
Somebody talked about bursting with ideas. My own experience is that almost all hon. Members when they first enter the House are obsessed with the idea of reforming it. They subsequently divide into two classes. There are those who give up the ghost and resign themselves to the situation as it is, either because they give up their ideas or find the job of making progress too difficult. There is the other class which goes on hoping and striving all the time without making very much progress at any time.
What is the great requirement of our Parliament? It surely is to get rid of its frustrations. Never at any time in our Parliamentary history has the average back-bench Parliamentarian had so little influence on any of the Parliamentary functions as he has now. We have little or no influence on policy. We have virtually no control whatever over public expenditure. The job of the efficient loyal back-bencher is to be present when the Whips want him to be present, to vote as they would like him to vote, to speak as often as possible if he is in opposition and wants to make difficulties for the Government and as little as possible if he 232 is on the Government side and wants to help the Government on with their business. We shall not make Parliament efficient, respected or worth while unless we succeed in attracting into our membership really energetic, progressive-minded young people anxious to make a career of the job, not in the sense of winning personal distinction but in the sense of making their mark on the history and development of their time.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I wonder how the hon. Member reacts to the reflection that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition has sat on the back benches.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not reacting to anything but trying in a short time to give my own thoughts, derived from what is now not a short experience of the House of Commons.
One of the fundamental needs is to attract young, ambitious, energetic men and women who are anxious to make a real contribution. We are not getting them because in our procedure as it is they have no opportunity of making any real contribution at all. One of the difficulties had always been that we were paid so little and a young man who married and perhaps started a family and wanted to give his full-time attention to the House found it was economically and financially impossible. I think that we have corrected that.
I think that we have corrected it for a long time to come, but that is not enough. People of the kind we want are not content to come here and sit on the benches and file steadily and loyally through the Division Lobbies merely for the money. We shall not find the right kind of people until we make it possible for them to have a real influence on affairs and until they feel that membership of the House is something more than a social distinction and that it gives them a real opportunity of doing creative work in the affairs of a democratic community. I do not think that there is any hon. Member who thinks that our present procedure enables this to be done.
I was a little shocked by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). He really must be careful about getting into the wrong company.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) got into mine. I did not get into his.
§ Mr. Silverman
That may be, but I think that my hon. Friend put it rightly himself when he said that he hoped that it had done the right hon. Gentleman as much harm as it had done him.
I know that my hon. Friend is in complete sympathy with the spirit of what I have said so far. I know that when he opposes specialist committees it is because he thinks that they will be a handicap and a detriment to the removal of frustration and not a help. For my part, on the specialist committee discussed in the Report of the Committee on Procedure I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but for the opposite reason. This kind of specialist committee will not do. The kind of specialist committee we want is a committee which gives the back-bencher the opportunity of close proximity to the making of policy and to the administration of affairs.
§ Mr. Silverman
And it is quite impossible for anyone to believe that we can do that in a full-dress debate on the Floor of the House with 630 Members most of whom are clamouring to speak. It is just impossible. If we must make a job of the thing we must propose a specialist committee, not like the American ones but like the Continental ones, which give ordinary Members a chance of having a direct impact on the conduct of affairs both administratively and in matters of policy. We shall have to do it some day. We shall not be able to get this fundamental reconstruction of our work by having a continuous Committee on Procedure taking this little point and that little point, crossing this small "t" and dotting that small "i" so that at the end of the years we are practically no further on than we were when we began. There must be something much more than that. However, I shall say no more on this subject now. It is very tempting to do so, and I should like to do so, but this is not the occasion for it.
I turn now to one proposal which I most earnestly beg the House to reject. I refer to the proposal that Ten Minute Rule Bills be taken after Government 234 business instead of before Government business. When one reads this proposal in association with the proposal for a committee to decide whether there shall be a Second Reading of a Bill, one sees that the result is to destroy for all intents and purposes the whole effect for private Members of the Ten Minute Rule Procedure. One is left with nothing.
It could easily be dealt with otherwise. Why, under the Second Reading Committee suggestion, is it limited to a Minister of the Crown making the necessary proposals? Why are Private Members' Bills excluded from it? If these two limitations were removed, the proposal to take Ten Minute Rule Bills at the end of the day would be tolerable because then one would not have the result that they were moved and opposed at the end of business when everyone is tired and wants to go home and no one is interested, quite apart from the fact that, even if one got a Bill through in those circumstances, it would take its place at the end of the queue for a Second Reading debate without the advantage of the proposal for a Second Reading Committee.
I remind the House that Ten Minute Rule Bills are not always purely gestures or propaganda exercises. They are sometimes, and none the worse for that, but it is not always so. If I may make a personal reference, I am thinking of my own Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill of 1956. At the beginning of that Session, there had been the ordinary Ballot for Private Members' Bills. We had persuaded the late Mr. John McGovern to take part in the Ballot and to introduce that Bill if he won. He did win. He won the first place. But he was unable to present that Bill or any other because he was at that time morally rearming Australia. So we lost our opportunity on that occasion.
What I did was to move the Bill myself under the Ten Minute Rule procedure, and, by some miracle which I have never been able to understand, no one opposed it. So it went through, and we then had to start an agitation, supported by hon. Members on both sides, to persuade the Government to find time for the Second Reading. They did not find time for the Second Reading quite at once, but they did find time for what they had refused up to that moment, that is, a 235 general discussion of the report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment.
When the House, in no uncertain terms, expressed what it thought about the Royal Commission's Report and what ought to be done, time was found for the Second Reading and the Bill was carried through all its stages without Amendment. If it did not become the law of the land, that was because the Home Secretary of the day had pledged himself to carry out the will of the House of Commons expressed on a free vote and also the will of the House of Lords expressed on a free vote, without taking the precaution of seeing that they would come to the same conclusion. He found himself, therefore, pledged to the House of Commons to abolish the death penalty and pledged to the House of Lords to retain it, and the result was the compromise which we are now removing.
This was an example of how the Ten Minute Rule can be used for positive legislation. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, if he is persisting with this proposal, and if the House allows him the proposal to postpone Ten Minute Rule Bills till the end of the day, at least he should remove the restrictions from his other proposal about a Second Reading Committee.
§ Mr. Paget
Will my hon. Friend help me on one point, as there seems to be some misunderstanding about the Ten Minute Rule procedure? It is quite unnecessary to secure leave under the Ten Minute Rule to present a Bill. One can present it without getting any leave at all. The purpose of the Ten Minute Rule Bill is solely to get publicity for one's Bill. Therefore, putting it at the end of business would totally destroy the purpose and value of that procedure. It would be something taken away in its entirety from private Members if that proposal were adopted.
§ Mr. Silverman
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right when he says that one can present a Bill for First Reading at any time. One does not need anyone's leave, and once one has done it, one is entitled to have the Bill printed and the procedure for getting a Second Reading is exactly what it was before. But I do not agree that the whole purpose 236 of making the speech is propaganda. It is also to influence opinion in the House against the time when one may have an opportunity to seek the voice of the House. Therefore, what my hon. and learned Friend says—I am sure he agrees—reinforces the argument which I am putting to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Silverman
People talk as though the Ten Minute Rule procedure was a great embarrassment to the work of the House. All we are concerned with is 20 minutes a day on two days a week. It might be more, but very rarely.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
The evidence given was that, on 35 occasions out of the 43, 8.5 minutes was the time taken, so, on average, in the whole of the period 1963–64, my hon. Friend is exaggerating when he speaks of 20 minutes.
§ Mr. Silverman
I always like to understate my case. It is much easier to correct an understatement than to diminish an overstatement. But I take it that my hon. Friends support me in the proposition that I am putting, that, as regards time, there is no real embarrassment to the Government at all.
I hope that the proposal will not be persisted in. It is wholly against the interests of private Members. The opportunities which private Members have for exercising any real influence on affairs are hopelessly limited and almost nonexistent. This is one of the very few occasional exceptions, and the proposal which is now made would destroy what little effectiveness it has left.
I shall take no more of the time of the House. I am glad to have had an opportunity to put on record my general attitude to procedural reforms at this time in the 20th century. The practical point I wanted to make was to persuade the Government to withdraw their proposal about the Ten Minute Rule procedure.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
It is very tempting to follow the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) in his general observations, and there is a very great deal in what he said with which I would agree, but I feel that I might perhaps be able to make a small 237 practical contribution to the debate by referring briefly to one of the Motions which has not yet been discussed in any detail since the Leader of the House spoke, and that is his Motion dealing with the proposed Second Reading Committee.
That Motion has just been mentioned by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and with what he said about it I should like in due course briefly to agree. Not having been concerned with this part of the discussion before the Select Committee on Procedure, I was very much interested in the attitude it adopted towards this proposal.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. An hon. Member has complained about the low temperature of the Chamber. I hope that those responsible for the heating arrangements will investigate the complaint. I am so sorry to have interrupted the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir L. Heald
One would certainly expect the temperature of the Chamber to be very moderate and I am sure that on your arrival, Mr. Speaker, it is very appropriate that it should be so.
I observe that the Select Committee appears to have had some concern on the question of referring the Second Reading of Bills to a Committee. I believe that it is a matter that we should briefly consider today. The Committee speaks of the danger of preventing hon. Members from exercising their constitutional right to express their views on the general principles of a Bill and to the risk to both hon. Members and the public inherent in any scheme which might have the result that some Second Reading debates would take place less in the public eye than at present.
The Select Committee then suggests in very general terms that appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that, so far as possible, the debate will receive not less public notice than if it had occurred on the Floor of the House. I have some apprehensions as to whether it will be possible for that result to be achieved. It has been said that non-controversial Bills should on the whole be the Bills to be dealt with by this new procedure. But when I considered what was meant by "non-controversial" I found that the Minister without Portfolio had, when he 238 gave his evidence, described "non-controversial" in the sense of a subject which does not divide the parties on party political grounds.
I believe that it is rather dangerous to approach the matter from that point of view, because it appears to assume—this is supported by other passages in the evidence—that the fact that a Bill deals with technical questions or problems is a reason for not requiring it to be discussed publicly in detail on Second Reading. I believe that that would be a very dangerous assumption to make because the function of the Second Reading is not only, as has rightly been emphasised by the Leader of the House, to give information to the public on the subject but to alert all those who are concerned with the matter all over the country so that they may know what are the dangers, possibly evils, that might arise from the legislation if the Bill is not very carefully scrutinised and amended. I believe that it is very important, particularly these days when technical matters have assumed such importance in our legislation, that we should bear that in mind.
I can give a practical example which occurred in the last few days. It concerns the Employees' Inventions Bill. It was introduced in another place. At the time it was thought—indeed, it was said—that it was a very minor matter dealing only with, in effect, a trifling Amendment to correct a drafting mistake in a 1949 Act. It was only when the Bill arrived in this House for Second Reading that it was pointed out by several hon. Members that the question of employees' inventions was a very difficult and serious one and that there had not been consultations with all the various bodies and organisations concerned, and that from the point of view of both the employee and the employer unless great care was taken with the drafting and very substantial Amendments were made, instead of the justice which the Bill on its face purported to do, injustice might result.
As a result of that, by the time the matter came up for hearing in Committee, a number of Amendments had been tabled, and it was recognised by the Government, very properly, that the matter was one which required further consideration. The Bill has now been withdrawn. It is hoped that there will be, 239 and I am sure that there will be, consultations with all concerned and that a good Bill will be able to be brought forward in the next Session, and if that is done, it should go through without any difficulty.
That provides a very practical example of the dangers that might arise if we found ourselves, for the sake of the laudable purpose of clearing the decks for what are considered to be more important Measures to be discussed in this House, pushing these technical Bills quickly and quietly away to a Committee. We might very well find that the Bills, when they were converted into Acts, were highly unsatisfactory.
I do not feel at all happy about what is said here about the possibility of ensuring that the debate in Committee will receive not less public notice than if it had occurred on the Floor of the House. It is the experience of everyone today that some years ago—not very long ago; when I first came into the House—Committee proceedings were much more widely reported than they are today. Now it is true to say that in many cases there is practically no report at all of a Committee proceeding. I should like to know that some consideration has been or will be given to how such a result can be not only brought about but even facilitated. If discussions in the Second Reading Committee do not receive the same kind of attention in the public Press as a Second Reading debate in the House does, I think it can be said that there would be a danger of the proposal doing very much more harm than good.
§ Mr. English
Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that we should put our own house in order by starting to print those proceedings in the ordinary daily and weekly parts and volumes of HANSARD?
§ Sir L. Heald
I would entirely agree with the hon. Member, but I should be afraid that one would not have the alerting of public opinion that one gets from an ordinary Second Reading debate, particularly if strong speeches are made and particular attention is not given to them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that there seems to be on the surface no reason why the proposed procedure of a Second Reading 240 Committee should not be applicable to Private Members' Bills. I have sympathy with the hon. Member because a Private Members' Bill which I managed to get through in spite of various difficulties, although it had nothing like the fame or importance of his Bill, certainly was one of some substance. I have never subscribed to the view that Private Members' Bills are merely a form of advertisement. If the Bill is one of any substance, it usually involves one in a great deal of hard work and not very much thanks for it. But these are Public Bills. I often find that members of the public have difficulty in understanding that there are Public Bills and, therefore, if the principle is applicable to Public Bills it is hard to see why a particular kind of Public Bill should be excluded just because it is presented by a back bencher and not by a Minister. I trust that the Government will have something more to say about that.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the next speaker, I should observe that I shall endeavour to see that, in our debates, all shades of opinion are represented but that I shall be disinclined to call a shade of opinion if its owner does not sit through the debate.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has referred to some specific and very important items in the Government's proposals and I shall not develop his themes on this occasion only because I wish to concentrate on one subject and one alone so that I shall not take up too much time. The subject to which I wish to address myself concerns the proposal for specialist committees of one kind or another that has been made from time to time and has echoed throughout this debate.
First, I want to establish one simple proposition. No matter what the actual recommendation in the Report might say, the serious background to the recommendation consists of the memoranda submitted, the discussions that have taken place and the general debate that has been going on for some time outside this House about the establishment of specialist committees in the broadest sense. I think that I should carry the right hon. 241 Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) with me in stating that simple proposition, although he was a little anxious to disentagle himself somewhat from too close a partnership with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot).
§ Mr. Mendelson
It appears that my hon. Friend did not have that impression, but no doubt the matter can be cleared up later on. The right hon. Gentleman seemed anxious to make clear the distinction between the final recommendation that had been adopted and the broader proposition of specialist committees in general. I think that he will accept that as a fair description of what he said.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to accept my second proposition—that those who are actively pursuing the more limited changes that are mentioned in the Report are dead keen on getting a much broader reform of this House and a much broader arrangement of specialist committees and of the part they will play in Parliamentary procedure and Parliamentary life. I believe that this is quite freely admitted by the most active hon. Members advancing the idea, and I am glad to see that I carry several of my hon. Friends with me in that second proposition.
There is no reason why the debate should not take place on the broader proposition because it is a proposal that has been widely discussed in many circles and this is a time, I believe, when we should put on record where we as individual Members stand. It is very much a matter for hon. Members as individual Members. I would go so far as to suggest that, if this proposal were once started and then carried to its further conclusion, it would mean the most fundamental change that has occurred in this House for a very long time.
Indeed, in stating at the beginning that I am completely and utterly opposed to the suggestion of specialist committees in general, and that I am opposed to these particular proposals because they would, I believe, open the door to this wider de- 242 velopment, I want to state some of my own reasons, which have not been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, who also opposes such specialist committees.
I want first to refer to the experience of the United States, then I hope we may turn to the additional point made about continental specialist committees put by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). I begin with the American experience because, whatever one might say—and some of my hon. Friends have suggested it in recent weeks—one must take a major power that has been basing its politics upon Parliamentary institutions for a long time in order to draw proper examples for one's case. Obviously, therefore, the experience of the United States must be looked at first.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, with his critical attitude towards the academic profession, said, during his speech, that it took an academic professor to come along with such a proposal—and my hon. Friend pronounced the word "such" in such a manner that he obviously meant that it was an absurd proposal. But it is by no means agreed among academic professors that these specialist committees are a good idea. I want to pray in aid a brief quotation from one of the greatest experts, Professor Charles A. Beard in his book "American Government and Politics". Discussing the committee system late in his career and after a lifetime of experience in teaching and researching into the American system of Government, Professor Beard wrote:Owing to the high prerogatives enjoyed by committees, to the secrecy that surrounds their operations, and to the pressure of lobbies on them, a great deal of criticism has been directed against the whole system as a piece of legislative machinery … It would be idle to contend that the indictments brought against the committee system are to be lightly dismissed. In the House of Representatives, at least, it certainly tends to break responsibility into thirty or more fractions and to reduce that chamber to the level of a 'rubber stamp' for committee reports. Since debate on the floor is likely to be ineffective, the secrecy that surrounds committee proceedings is made all the more objectionable.That is a classic statement from a highly reputable American source against the whole case that has been built up in various circles here advancing the idea of specialist committees as a solution for 243 our Parliamentary difficulties. But this is not the end of the matter.
There is involved in this criticism a whole range of experiences that have interfered with the democratic process in the American system of Government. If one looks closely at the important committees—particularly those for defence and foreign affairs—one sees the growth of close relations between members of those committees and the Government Departments concerned. When my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) puts forward the idea of these committees as though this would defeat the Executive and make hon. Members, either as individuals or as groups, more powerful vis-à-vis Government Departments, I find it highly amusing. Nothing could be further from reality.
Time and again, the powerful Government Departments in the United States connected with defence and foreign affairs have developed close relations with members of the appropriate committees of Congress so that, after a man has served 10 years on one of the committees, far from using additional information which may have come his way during the proceedings against the Executive, he has become the mere mouthpiece of generals and admirals and officials concerned. It often takes corrective action from outside to bring some clean and clear air of discussion into the proceedings.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the American system, but can he relate it to affairs in this country by saying whether he foresees any dangers of the committees which we propose becoming secret?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am coming to that by discussing the nature of the work of the committees proposed and I shall do it in my own time.
§ Mr. Heffer
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the difference between the American system and what is being suggested here is that the American Executive is separate from the Legislature? Surely there is no possibility of developing in this country the situation which has developed in the United States.
§ Mr. Mendelson
That is an argument put forward on many occasions, but in a short time, if I am given a chance, I will show why I think that at this early stage we can clearly foresee similar dangerous developments in our own system.
However, before doing so I will turn to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne when he rejected the proposal that we should in any way introduce the American Congressional Committee system, but instead have specialist committees on the Continental system.
On three occasions, for periods of three months each, I was special correspondent for one of our weekly reviews in Bonn, in 1954, 1955 and 1956. I had the opportunity to study at close quarters the work of the Parliament of the Federal Republic then and again in 1959 and 1960. A number of specialist committees had been developed and some members of the German Parliament were very proud of them while others were immensely critical.
The committee which I studied particularly, from the outside, of course, was that on security and defence. What happened was that within only a few years there developed an upper crust of Members of Parliament, a group of people on the inside by virtue of belonging to the security and defence committee.
The Minister of Defence would say at the beginning of the committee's proceedings, "For the next half an hour what we shall discuss can be public knowledge and can be discussed between you and your colleagues and your constituents; for the hour after that we shall enter into the grey zone and while that will not be top secret, I would rather that you did not disclose any of the facts I shall mention in this committee; finally, for the last half an hour we shall discuss highly secret information and it would be a breach of the constitution and close to treason if you talked to any of your colleagues about the matters we shall then discuss".
That system was accepted and the result has been far from more members of the West German Parliament being in a position to criticise the executive on 245 these vital matters. Those not on the security and defence committee, except for two or three top leaders in each party, get no information on these matters worth having and those on the committees are handicapped by the prohibition and the very fact that they are members of the committee.
If we were to introduce a defence committee on those lines—and this is not contradicted by the most straightforward advocates of the system and I am sorry to mention his name when he is not here, but my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, while an advocate of such an all-party defence committee, has the clarity of mind not to disagree about what the result might be—the results would be quite obvious. The committee might have 30, 35 or 40 Members. They would be on the inside and would be not only taken into the confidence of the Minister of Defence more than all other Members who could then be called ordinary Members, if I may use the term, but would be taken to all sorts of establishments. While ordinary Members might be taken to those establishments and talked to by the Admiral, the members of the defence committee would be shown far more and would usually be there on condition of secrecy. Far from developing a whole new apparatus of detailed knowledge which Members could then use to redress the balance between the Legislature and the Executive, we should make the position of the Executive much more powerful than it has ever been.
In all periods, whenever the future and life of Parliament are being discussed, people rush into making ill-considered proposals for reform without making a close analysis of the difficulties. One of the major and decisive reasons why there has not been enough informed debate and revelation of detailed information in the House has to do with the fact that over many years the Front Bench of the party in opposition, whatever party, and the Front Bench of the Government of the day have been in basic agreement on many policies. This is not often mentioned, but quite obviously if the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliaments between 1959 and 1963, for example, on some of the most basic issues of defence and foreign policy, for instance, felt that he basically agreed with what 246 the Government were doing, he would not spend so much of his time revealing new facts and pushing for disclosures and so on.
The main duty and the main task in making Parliament the centre of debate are at all times on the shoulders of the leaders of the Opposition and the leaders of the Government and if those two Front Benches do not want to do it, it will not happen. Secondly, if we want to equip back benchers with better opportunities and better facilities to play their part we must make it easier for them to force the Government to disclose information and enter into real debate. This has to do with research services; this has to do with independent sources of information for back benchers; this has to do with a secretary for each Member of Parliament; this has to do with the possibility of Members of Parliament having more frequent interviews all over the country with people outside Government, but involved in Government policy. This is an avenue which would be worth exploration.
Specialist committees have another serious drawback which I have not yet mentioned. It is often asked by well-meaning people, particularly outside Parliament—we often get this question at meetings—"Why do you fellows not all get together? There are so many able people in Parliament on all sides and there is the common good. Why do you not appoint the ablest man to each job, irrespective of party and never minding about different philosophies which can be debated when you are at universities and in private friendships? When the job has to be done, why not get together and get the ablest from all parties and form a coalition Government?"
Behind that argument is the denial of the wisdom of hundreds of years and first developed in this House of Commons, the wisdom which tells us that it is essential that in the forum of national debate there should not be any blurring of policies by the getting together of people who believe that because they know a few more facts, they can now find a neutral solution to all major problems. This can be the complete abolition of one of the major if not the major purpose of the House, namely, to become a 247 centre, if necessary, of conscious agreement in times of national crisis, for instance, but at all times to carry on the great national debate on the great issues of the day.
It is thought that 35 Members of a specialist committee could oblige civil servants to appear before them and be cross-examined. However, my hon. Friends must not assume that because Ministers find it possible not to say to Members of Parliament in committee anything which they do not wish to say, Civil Servants will be any different. In fact they are normally the people who think up the basic answers for their Ministers who then put them forward in debate.
Therefore, there is nothing gained by this proposal. The idea, once got abroad, that in these committees, with expert advice, one could always get some sort of sensible agreement on what ought to be done, would stultify and falsify debate. Once this system had carried on for a number of years in committees, then, as Professor Beard points out, the committee debate would be the only important debate and there would be, when the matter finally reached the House of Commons, a charmed circle of those who had taken part in the debate repeating what they said there. Most of the other Members would be regarded as rather outside that circle. It would be the beginning of the destruction of one of the most important elements of the House of Commons, namely, the ability to produce a real political challenge from one side to the other, and if necessary, by a combination of Members, from the House to the Executive.
In these discussions there are always a number of people who say, "Yes, but if you think that this proposal would do serious harm to the most effective work that the House of Commons can do, what is your answer to this point?" Is it in fact proved that the Executive is acquiring more and more power vis-à-vis Parliament and the House of Commons in particular? I should like to make two brief points on that. First, it has been the main characteristic of our system of Government and the British constitution that the Executive has always had paramount influence and power in Parliament. Here I would say that a number of 248 academic teachers seem to make this discovery every 50 years or so.
One accepts that it is equally true that in the last 35 years or so, because of the advance in technology, and because of the large areas of secrecy which have become predominant, in the field of defence for instance, where there are smaller and smaller groups of people who know about the things that really matter, and about decisions that really matter; but the answer to that must be that Members of Parliament must be put in a position of acquiring more knowledge and having more independent sources of information so that they can be a match for the Executive, because they have information that they have come by in their own way.
I close by saying that we ought to direct our attention to the development of these services and facilities, and brush aside the dangerous proposal of specialist committees, which is irrelevant, and would not prove a solution to our problem.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
When, last October, the Labour Government took office, there were some people in this country who thought that they would never sleep safe again in their beds at night. Pulsating, dynamic reform was to them a threat of bloody revolution. If there be any such people left tonight, I am sure that they will now sleep safely, having studied the Government's proposals for Parliamentary reform. They are timid and very modest indeed. I am conscious of the observation which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne), that the demand for reform, or the agitation for reform which has taken place in the last few years, outside of official bodies such as the Select Committee on Procedure, has not been on party lines at all, but has rather been a division between the newer and younger Members and the older Members. He pointed out to us that we should be prepared to listen to the wisdom of those who had spent a long time in this House. This is an argument of valid substance.
What depresses me when we discuss Parliamentary reform, either privately with other Members, or on public platforms, or in this House, is the attitude which I have found so often from other Members who say, "Well, my boy, I used 249 to think like you, but when you have been here as long as I have you will change your mind." This conjures up a picture of me in ten years time, at the ripe old age of 37, saying to some new Member who has just come into the House, "Well, my boy, I used to think like you, but when you have been here as long as I have", and so it goes on from decade to decade. There is no impetus, no inclination to undertake any study of serious fundamental reform.
We have had a most interesting discussion. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) spoke on the rôle of specialised committees. Although the Committee on Procedure Reports have turned this suggestion down, if the full Report is studied it will be found that it did not so much turn this suggestion down as turn down any suggestion that the whole question of specialised committees should be thoroughly investigated, which is a slight difference. The minority of four, of whom I was one, suggested that the Committee should obtain further evidence on these matters, from such sources as the Congress of the U.S.A. and the Legislatures of Canada, Western Germany and France. This was really all that we suggested. It was not a suggestion that the system of specialised committees should be adopted, but merely that we should be willing to investigate them thoroughly and to find out some of the weaknesses which have been mentioned, and see whether we could not adapt the idea to the particular traditions of this House.
While accepting the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Penistone on the dangers of this ingrowing of specialised committees, I think that he will also concede that he accepted the most easy example of this in dealing with a specialised committee on defence. Obviously matters of national security and so on are called into play. This is the easiest example to take in which the dangers of ingrowing are most obvious.
On other aspects of government I think that this danger is not so great. The Government have rejected the modest suggestions from the Committee on Procedure, that within the present Estimates Committee we should turn towards specialisation. I think that I heard the Lord President correctly when 250 he said that it would be an unfortunate precedent to have committees studying policy as well as administration. I would submit that we have a precedent for this within the House, in the form of the Scottish Grand Committee, which discusses broad matters of policy as well as simply technical administration. I do not think it is correct to say that there is no precedent for establishing committees outside this Chamber which can discuss matters of policy.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who, very correctly, is very concerned that we should re-establish the Floor of the House of Commons as the centre of power, the centre of debate, and gave as examples the fact that we have not been able to have immediate debates on foreign affairs, and other matters of immediate national interest. In my submission we cannot expect to have these opportunities of debates quickly and flexibly; we cannot expect to reassert the position of the Floor of the House of Commons unless we can take away from it the detailed discussion of things like the Purchase Tax on ice cream, which may come up in an annual Finance Bill, and which may weary us through night after night. This is the danger which is being ignored in asserting that everything should take place on the Floor of the House of Commons—that we overload the Floor of the House of Commons, and therefore cannot see the wood for the trees and cannot give the matters of real national and immediate importance discussion because we are so busy dealing with other matters, which could more competently be dealt with in committees elsewhere.
I would like to add my own disagreement to the Government proposal to change the time of the Ten Minute Rule Bills, and the disagreement of such of my Liberal colleagues as I have been able to consult in this matter today. I feel it would be best left as, it is at present. Even though the Government's proposal is only an experiment, I hope that perhaps in view of the opinions expressed in this debate, they might proceed no further with it.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
The interesting thing about this debate is that, in effect, it is founded 251 upon the report of a specialist committee. Nobody has yet seen fit to mention the fact that according to the opponents of specialist committees this debate should not be taking place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) on presenting to us, for the first time in this debate—the whole of which I have sat through—a cogent and well-argued case against the specialist committee. He has put the case as fairly as it can be put, but in my opinion he has merely made a very good job of a very weak case. He said that because Members in the United States Congress sit in specialist committees they do a terrible thing—they meet Ministers and Members of the Government. In this assembly we do that every day of our lives. Every Member of this House knows every Minister of Her Majesty's Government far better than any member of Congress tends to know the overwhelming majority of the members of the Cabinet of the United States. Let us be clear about that.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I have never said anything critical about meeting or mixing with Ministers. What I said was that a Minister of Defence or a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under the American and German systems tells the members of the specialist committee, in closed session, a lot of things which he then binds them not to reveal to their colleagues.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) answered that point when he said that the hon. Member for Penistone chose the particular case of defence. We should not forget that we constantly indulge in the sort of practice which my hon. Friend mentioned. On both sides there are specialist groups of Members who very often meet Ministers—if they are Government supporters—or Opposition leaders—if they are Opposition members—in order to discuss specific topics, such as housing or defence. The real purpose of a specialist committee is to put together many of these people, with one other distinction, namely, the publication of some of the discussions that are held at present in two halves on either side of the House. To the extent that 252 a subject does or does not arouse controversy, it is something which will work itself out in practice.
Some of the case against specialist committees is unanswerable, because the case has been put from two opposite directions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) says that the publicity which would attach to specialist committees would detract from the importance of the House of Commons itself. He wants to televise the House, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone told us, on a former occasion, that he does not. His objection is that the committees would be meeting in secret. This is what happens at the moment, with back-bench groups of both parties. I fail to see that one could possibly imagine a situation in which one could defend a specialist committee on any ground if it were going to meet at one and the same time both in public and in secret.
The situation is that in logic one suits one's case to the need arising at the time. It is conceivable that one might have a defence committee meeting in secret in order to hear certain things. I am certain that it is also conceivable that one would have the committee meeting in public on other occasions. It is now the practice for our Select Committees to meet in private. It has been the practice since the last war, but it was not the practice before then. Circumstances change according to the requirements of society and the desire of the House, and it would be the desire of the House and its Members who form the committees that would determine under what conditions those committees met.
We are also told that it is not the Members who form the Committees that matter, but the class society that we are creating—that we are creating a society in which some Members will be on Committees and some Members will not. In my opinion there are sufficient Departments of Her Majesty's Government to provide places for every Member who wants one.
I shall not put forward all the arguments in detail, but I say that the Select Committee did not take either extreme. It did not say, on the one hand, "Let us have no change at all; let us have complete conservatism" or, on the other hand, "Let us go the whole hog with 253 a specialist committee system, invented out of thin air." The Select Committee suggested a reasonable compromise and, what hurts me most of all as a member of that Select Committee—and I agree with the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) on this—is that this compromise, representing the good old British step on the way towards a change, whereby we might see whether any of the fears expressed by hon. Members are true, has been rejected.
I suggest that there are occasions when we might have another debate on the principle itself, with, perhaps, a free vote of the House on the issue. We do not have any Motion on this issue specifically before us, although it would be valuable if we did.
In this age the whole procedure of science in this country is by way of controlled experiment. What a good idea it would be to set up a controlled experiment in this case. Let us have specialist committees for certain Departments and not for others, and see if we can draw any comparison. Let us see if there is not some merit in the scientific method. We could see whether the fears expressed by certain hon. Members are true or whether the desires and hopes of many of us are true. We could test the situation.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
It is clear from the debate that no one party or large group in this House possesses a monopoly of the desire to improve or reform our procedures. This desire spreads across the whole House and covers the whole range of experience, even if it is also clear that if certain proposals were to be carried out we should need two Houses of Commons—one to get on with the work of governing the country while the other was being reorganised.
Although we may welcome some of the proposals of the Leader of the House we must recognise that they are drawn up and biased in favour of the Front Bench establishment and against the back benches, Even the Second Reading Committee proposals which might possibly save time on the Floor could do so only in order to provide more time for the Government of the day. They are not likely to be invoked very often, or to save a great deal of time.
254 The most disturbing point about the proposals which the Leader of the House has put before us concerns the question of specialist committees. I believe the fears of encroachment into matters of policy have been exaggerated, that the arguments deployed against the so-called specialist committees are inflated, and that we should be able to consider the question and come to a decision on it more easily and effectively if we tried to establish what we are attempting to do.
I believe that what we are attempting to do is to restore power to ourselves—power which we have lost owing to the growth and the gross inflation of the Civil Service in a complex society. Our object should be to try to recreate a situation in which the Government of the day are forced to justify their administration in depth, and in which there is not necessarily a quarrel on policy, but simply on method. All hon. Members who are present will probably agree that it is now exceptionally difficult for Parliament to penetrate the protective fog of Whitehall. We can appreciate this particularly at Question Time. Many Questions are tabled—however many there may be by an individual Member—with the aim of getting into the Administration and finding out what is going on in order to pinpoint something that is obviously wrong.
I do not believe that any comfort is to be drawn from proposals which may or may not be laid before us in the fairly near future to establish an ombudsman. What we should be concerned with is exposing and rooting out inefficiency in the Civil Service. I do not refer to misconduct, but to straightforward inefficiency. That is our greatest enemy, and its defeat is the greatest task which an ordinary Member of Parliament can hope to engage in. He can seek to make the administrative machine more efficient and more fair in its effect upon his constituents' daily lives.
The need to do this is more important even than the need to provide time for two more back benchers to take part in debates, as we can over-estimate the importance of what we say here in debate. I am prepared—perhaps even those who have already spoken would be prepared—to concede that our words will not shake the world. Even the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whose 255 contributions we always value and who would be such an attraction on television—he might be put on at the same time as "Steptoe & Son" and "Coronation Street" by B.B.C.2 if they could obtain his services—might be persuaded to admit that there is no one to be convinced in debate, that nothing is likely to be achieved in the positive sense.
I must not embarrass the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), but I would mention that there are occasions when hon. Members fail to be convinced in debate. That is a valuable purpose of debate. Sometimes hon. Members do feel that they cannot bring themselves to follow their Front Bench into the appropriate Lobby. In that sense debate is useful. But there is not much argument to be won and there is little impact to be made deep in the vitals of the Civil Service—which is where we should be making our presence felt.
I think that it is becoming clearer and clearer that morning sittings will not be of great value to us as a House, that they would not improve our efficiency, that if we are kept late at night this is often because the Government of the day is inefficient and not because Parliament is inefficient. I believe that it is essential in any consideration in future of the question of morning sittings that we should remember how important many members of the public regard their right of access to the Palace of Westminster, which they exercise very freely during the weekday mornings. We must also remember how important it is that whatever reforms we introduce into our procedure, we should not take out of that procedure the vital element, the test that it can impose on the stamina and resolution of the Government's own supporters, no matter which Government it may be, and that this test of time which is built into our procedure is something we ought to cherish.
As for Early Day Motions, it would not matter very much if some sort of "guillotine" were imposed on them at 8 p.m. I am certain that the number of Early Day Motions reflects only the number of hon. Members kept in the House late at night. They while away the hours exercising their ingenuity. But if the Leader of the House would consider a possible compromise—he may be in a compromising mood—would it not 256 be possible for Early Day Motions bearing 10 signatures, or nine so as to accommodate the Liberal Party, to be accepted rather closer to the hour of midnight than those Early Day Motions—and there is a considerable number which seem to find their way on to the Order Paper—which bear only one signature, and which languish there, blooming but completely unseen?
But probably the best and most valuable contribution which we as Members could make to the more effective procedures of the House would be to keep our speeches shorter.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)
On the last day of our Session before we rose for the Summer Recess, an event occurred which was probably unique in the whole history of Parliament. When the late Speaker and many hon. Members went to another place to hear the Royal Commission, some Members of the House remained behind in order to use the occasion to express their opposition to the archaic ritualism and ceremonialism in which many of our procedures are engulfed. Technically, this was a "non-event". It is not recorded in the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT and the House took no official cognisance of it, because from a technical point of view it had not happened.
However, non-event or not, I believe that that incident was in many ways much more significant than some of the matters which are officially regarded as having taken place during the last 12 months. It reflected the feelings of the overwhelming majority of new Members of the House that the time had come for a basic reappraisal of all our procedures and all our methods of operation, that the time had come for the House to bring itself forward into the second half of the twentieth century and no longer to preserve merely for old time's sake certain methods and forms of working which, however much they might have had justification two or three hundred years ago, can certainly not be justified in the conditions of today.
Old institutions—and Parliament is an old institution—have a habit of falling captive to their own past. We need to ask, what is the purpose today of procedures which have been cherished for so long? We need to ask whether any 257 longer in current terms it is possible to defend many of the ways in which we operate. An instance of the various stages of the legislative process. At a time when the annual load of legislative activity was very much lighter than it is today, it may well have been defensible that all Bills should go through the same stages—through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading.
It may have been defensible that, in most cases, these stages should all be taken on the Floor of the House. But nowadays, when the web of Government spans a much broader area than it did in those days, when the annual amount of legislative activity is so much heavier, can we continue to defend this process? The Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, in recommending, in some cases and in certain conditions, that Bills should have their Second Reading in a Standing Committee, made one move in the right direction by revising the traditional legislative process at least for those Bills. But I do not believe that the Motions which the Leader of the House moved or the proposals contained in the Select Committee Reports go far enough.
Could we not consider, for instance, the possibility of Bills themselves being far less detailed and technical than in many cases they are today? Could we not consider the possibility of dealing by way of Statutory Instrument rather than legislative enactment with some of the detailed points which are now included in the text of the Bills? If we can establish in certain cases Second Reading in Standing Committee, is it not also feasible to consider having Report stage in Standing Committee and, indeed, to consider Amendments from the other place also in Standing Committee? If we were to do this we would speed up the legislative process and we should enable more time to be available in this Chamber for debates on more general topics.
What is true of the legislative process is equally true of the system of voting. The present voting system pre-dates the party system as we know it. The present voting system—the business of tramping through the Lobbies—in which we spent many hours a few months ago, assumes that each Member is making an individual, independent choice in determining the way in which he will vote. That might have been true many years ago. 258 It certainly is not true today. We vote in accordance with the mandates of our party. We vote in accordance with the political principles which we place before the electors and which the electors send us here to represent. We vote in these ways because we are party representatives. Cannot we recognise this by revising our voting system?
It may be too early for hon. Members to accept the kind of change which I personally have in mind in which one would assume the support of an hon. Member for his party unless he informs Mr. Speaker otherwise. It may be as yet too advanced a proposition for the House to consider, but I believe that at the very least we should consider abolishing the wasteful and tedious process of tramping through the lobbies and that we ought to consider whether it is possible for a modern electro-mechanical voting system to be used which would cut down very considerably the time which is taken by voting under the present antiquated arrangements.
I could continue on other points, but I will briefly mention only two. The House would agree that it would be welcome if hon. Members made brief and concise speeches. I am attempting to do my best to provide a model in this respect. But we all know that there are some hon. Members who make not brief, concise speeches but tedious and repetitive orations. As an experiment, would it not be possible at certain stages in debates for a time limit to be imposed on backbench speeches—possibly for the final hour of each major debate? This would enable more hon. Members to participate than are able to participate today, and it would perhaps do no harm at all to the somewhat verbose hon. Members who would then be impelled to put forward much more encapsulated and in all probability, therefore, much more valuable contributions than they put forward now.
I also hope that a future Select Committee on Procedure will look at the traditional system whereby Bills which have not completed all their legislative stages are killed off at the end of a Session. The result may well be that the House has wasted hours and possibly days in consideration and debate which have led to nothing at all. Why should it not be 259 possible for the Government to put forward resolutions at the end of a Session carrying over certain Bills to the following Session? If this were done—and it would be done only with the consent of the House—a great deal of time would be saved and the operations of the House would become more efficient.
The Select Committee, the Report of which we are considering, has only scratched the surface of the problem. In its third Report it suggests that there is a need for a more comprehensive review of the entire working of Parliamentary procedure than was possible by the Select Committee last year. I profoundly hope that this need is met and that a new Select Committee on procedure will review the whole field, because this is a subject which goes wider and deeper than merely the question of the revision of rules. This is a matter which involves the effectiveness of democracy. We need to restore the reputation of the House as a forum of national debate and decision. We need to arrest the trend of power from Westminster to Whitehall.
There is a need for the elected representatives of the people to influence the climate in which governmental decisions are made at least as much as the climate is influenced by civil servants, by advisory committees and by outside pressure groups. I believe that by reforming the procedure by bringing ourselves up to date, and by thinking more of the future of Parliament than of its past, we can preserve the freedom and democracy to which all of us, irrespective of party ties, are dedicated.
§ 8.16 p.m.
Sir Hugh Monro-Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) spoke of wasteful tramping through the Division Lobbies. Some day, perhaps, he will be a Minister, and he will find that the few minutes made available by a Division are not without their use.
I find extraordinarily little public knowledge of and interest in the rules of the House. A great many of my constituents, and I think of the constituents of other hon. Members, think that we spend our time sitting in this Chamber listening to one another. As a Member for a London constituency I have occasion to show 260 people in here to hear a debate about this time of night, and their first exclamation is always, "Where are all the Members?" I suppose that this lack of knowledge and interest in inevitable. All rules of procedure are necessarily fairly technical, but it is very unfortunate that this should be so because it is the rules of procedure of the House which are the basis of our civil liberties, and those rules could easily be undermined. It is not the mere existence of Parliament which ensures our freedom but the way in which we do our job here. If Parliament becomes inefficient or impotent, the first thing which will suffer will be our personal freedom as citizens.
I will not base my argument on the view that the power of the Executive is too great. On the contrary, I recognise that the power of the Executive is great and I believe that, whether we like it or not, it will grow greater. I do not see any help for that. I do not like it, but I think it quite inevitable. But if it is inevitable, then that is the best reason why we should ensure that we make the machinery for the supervision of the Executive by Parliament as modern and as strong as it can be.
As I see it, we have three essential functions. The first is to choose an Executive, a Government; the second is to criticise legislative proposals by the Government; the third is to criticise the administrative policy and actions of the Government under the law as it is. This Parliament is often referred to as the Legislature. It has been referred to during the debate at the Legislature. We are not a legislature; we do not make the laws, for that would be quite impossible under modern conditions. Laws are made by the Government and are brought by the Government to the House, and all we can do is to criticise them, improve them maybe, and either refuse them or pass them. But we do not make them. Our procedure must enable these other purposes to be served simultaneously, though there is a good deal of conflict between the purposes. There is the conflict of time, to which reference has been made. If we spend a great deal of our time criticising legislation, we will obviously have difficulty finding time to criticise administration.
There are deeper conflicts than that. To give an example, the power of the 261 House to choose a Government rests on our power to dismiss a Government—in the sense of making it impossible for that Government to carry on—by voting against their proposals. This very power to dismiss a Government is itself stultifying our power to criticise a Government because if we criticise too much, if we vote against their Measures too much, we obviously intend to stop that Government from doing their job. Nowadays any Government can say—indeed, always say—"This Measure is essential to our policy" and in that way every Government makes it almost impossible for any of their supporters to vote against them.
We have seen examples of that this Session. While I will not refer to them because I do not wish to be controversial, one need only look at the work in another place. Sharp criticism, even voting, cannot have the effect of bringing the life of a Government to an end and we see growing influence and importance there. We may or may not like this, and while on the whole the influence of this House has tended to fall because of our power to dismiss a Government, the influence of the other place has, for the reason I have explained, tended to increase. This is something which we must watch carefully. I have often wondered if we could correct this position and if there was anything in our procedures to enable us to do so. I do not think that it could be dealt with by procedure. The remedy would probably be something like a fixed term for a Parliament, but that is outside our debate today and perhaps we can return to it on another occasion.
There is another serious conflict between the functions we must perform which is also caused by the increasing responsibility of Government. The duties of hon. Members are becoming so onerous that service in this House is becoming a full-time matter. When I first came here, as long ago as 1924, the leading men in all walks of life thought it their duty to come to this House at some time and do a stint of work here. The leading lawyers, leading industrialists, leading figures in the City and leading trade unionists, too, all came here for a certain spell. With rare exceptions, that is no longer the case. There are very few leaders in any walk of life who can now come to this House. It is impossible for them to continue to do their jobs outside and do the 262 work that is necessary here. I am not talking only of distinguished leaders. What I say is equally true to a large extent of those engaged in many other spheres.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I give my personal experience. I am the chairman of the governors of a school, of a charity, and I also try to carry on a business which is concerned with overseas trade. These may not be considered to be important matters, but it is exceedingly difficult for me to do my duty here and at the same time carry on those jobs. I believe that it is working at jobs of that sort that enables hon. Members to do their job properly here. At any rate, I tell my constituents that. I state it on the front of my election address and they seem to believe me.
I am not criticising those who come here without having outside jobs, but we are tending to become a body of professional politicians briefed by others outside the House. We are losing the experience and contact with outside activities which we used to have as hon. Members, and any action which tends to increase that tendency is bad. In particular, morning sittings would, I suggest, make it impossible for those with outside activities to be hon. Members.
At the same time, I fully admit the other side. If this House is to be representative of the people of the country there must be a proportion of people here from all walks of life. We must have coal miners, teachers and a great many others who, by the nature of things, cannot carry on their jobs while they are here.
Here is the dilemma—how to conduct our business in such a way that we can have in this House, as we should have, those connected with outside activities and who work at them and those who wish to come here on a full-time basis and who wish to work full time here? I believe that this is not an insoluble dilemma and that the recommendations made by the Select Committee are moving in the direction of finding the solution. It is that a great deal of the work which was formerly, and is even now, done on the Floor of the House could better be done elsewhere. We have seen large movements in that direction this century. All Bills used, not so long ago, to be taken on the Floor of the House. Very 263 few are now taken here but in Standing Committee. We have seen Select Committees on Public Accounts, Estimates and the Nationalised Industries all doing work which formerly had to be done on the Floor of the House or not at all.
I am not for a moment suggesting that the Select Committee on Estimates or any development from that can do the work of the Committee of Supply. It cannot. The Committee of Supply obviously must deal with policy and the Select Committee on Estimates cannot deal with policy. I think that I speak for all members of the Select Committee on Procedure, of which I was a member, when I say that we all thought it quite impossible for any Select Committee to deal with policy as the House can.
On the other hand, that does not mean that we ought not to have a very thorough inquiry into a great many things for which the Government are responsible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) pointed out that there was a wide difference between inquiring into the nationalised industries and inquiring into a Government Department, and with that I agree. On the other hand, many Government Departments are responsible for matters much more like the nationalised industries. We have things like hospitals, the Atomic Energy Authority and the Post Office, and hon. Members can think of many things that can be looked at in much the same way as a nationalised industry.
It is of the greatest importance that hon. Members should be able to make themselves fully conversant with what is going on inside the Departments if they are to discuss policy on the Floor of the House. There is, therefore, an immense field of work here, work which ought to be done but work which I do not think is at present being done nearly as thoroughly as it should be or might be if the Fourth Report were fully implemented. For that reason I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne).
If we have such a system I believe that the right thing is to have a great deal of committee work going on, not on the Floor of the House but elsewhere, during the morning. In that way we would have some hon. Members who concentrated on committee work within the 264 House, others who brought their knowledge and experience from outside, and all contributing to the debates together. That, indeed, is the time-honoured way in which we conduct our affairs. The corollary to this, which I do not think has yet been suggested, is that if we have that system the work done on these committees should be paid for. Indeed, I believe that there is a very strong case for saying that proper fees should be paid to hon. Members who sit on Standing Committees now. If that system were extended we would be going in the direction of a solution of our problem.
I am glad that a time limit on notice of Questions is to be set, but I very much regret that the Government have not seen their way to put a limit on the number of Questions which each Member may ask. However sternly the rules are enforced by Mr. Speaker, I do not believe that the present proposals will be sufficient to prevent the present trouble, which is quite adequately described in the Second Report. Put simply, it is that there are too many Questions for it to be possible to answer them in the space of one hour. We did not diagnose the cause of this trouble—we had to report in rather a hurry. We tried to report by, I think, Easter.
There is a tendency, which has been expressed today, to believe that the pressure on Question Time will case off; that natural causes, or something like that, will make things easier in another Session. I do not believe for one moment that that is so. The increasing field of Government activities will mean that Members will want to put down more and more Questions. Further, the professsionalisation of which I have already spoken will mean that Members individually will want to put down more and more Questions for their own reasons. Those tendencies are here, and here permanently, and both will increase.
A few years ago I asked an hon. Member who is not here now but who was a very regular questioner, how many other regular questioners there were. He said that he had calculated that there were just over 30. If hon. Members will look at Table 8 in page 14 of the Second Report they will find from the last column that in the 1962–63 Session 51 Members between them asked 46 per cent. of all the Questions, and that in 265 the 1963–64 Session 56 Members asked 51 per cent. of all the Questions. In other words, about one-tenth of the Members asked over half the Questions, and that tendency is increasing all the time.
Whatever else may be said, whether this is fair or unfair, it is certainly an undue share of the time available. If it is suggested that the remedy is that other Members should compete with them, it will only make things very much worse. I feel sure that the only real remedy for the problem is that of rationing. The Select Committee proposed 80 Questions per Session. As a matter of fact, there were only 23 Members who asked as many Questions as that last year, so it would not be a very serious burden on anyone. If hon. Members care to work out who those Members are, I do not think they will change their opinion.
Objection can be taken that there are genuine cases when it is necessary for a Member to put down a great many Questions. Some hon. Members will remember Mr. Peter Smithers, when he was Member for Winchester, conducting a campaign—I am glad to say successfully—to prevent gas being stored under Winchester. I have made inquiries about the details of that case and, if hon. Members care to take my figures, they are these. Mr. Smithers asked eight Quesfor oral answer during the whole of that campaign, which extended slightly over a month and is therefore slightly under the ration now proposed. Of those Questions, only six were answered orally. The rest of the campaign consisted of astute supplementaries put by him and interventions during the statement on business, with which no one is proposing to interfere. It is fair to say, too, that had that occurred during the present Session and had he been confronted with the same situation, he could not possibly have conducted such a campaign, because he would not have got in six or even two Questions.
I hope that the Government will have second thoughts. Sooner or later, they will be driven to do so, and the sooner it is the better, because the present situation is seriously interfering with all hon. Members in their work.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
In the few minutes during which I shall detain the 266 House, I want to turn away from the general matters that have been raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Monro Lucas-Tooth) and refer to one particular aspect of the proposals before the House. I am deeply concerned with the proposal that the Ten Minute Rule should be interfered with in the way suggested. It is an attempt to shift our only right to initiate legislation away from the centre of the Parliamentary stage to the shadowy, empty wings. I do not regard it merely as a procedural change, because it is part of a whole process which for 100 years has led to the devaluation of the Member's role, to the reduction of his decision-making capacity, and to the strengthening of the whole oligarchic tendencies which are inherent in the modern political system.
I find it ironic, particularly from a Committee upon which such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) sat, that we should have a proposal which has been suggested, apparently, as helping to modernise Parliament and trying to increase the importance of the back bencher, but which is taking away the sole remaining opportunity that a Member has as of right, as distinct from chance, to be a legislator.
It is part of the historical process of a century ago that a private Member could defy his Whip with impunity. He was genuinely responsible to his conscience and genuinely responsible to his constituents. He spoke always within wide limits as he wished., and it was this independence on his part which gave the House in those days not only its particular collective character but made an important check on the Executive.
With the growth of the party system every hon. Member's independence has inevitably and particularly been eroded while at the same time that erosion has first strengthened the Executive, then diminished the power of the Executive, and now placed it where it enormously reinforces the Premiership. With the discipline such as we have today, when the House is so nicely and evenly divided, I am not surprised that an hon. Member should put forward the proposition that since we have party allegiance we need not bother to go into the Lobbies at all. I find this an extraordinary suggestion, but the hon. Member has in fact met the realities of the situation where, 267 in consequence of the tightening up of the party system with party discipline higher in a House so nicely and evenly divided, the independent Member becomes nothing more than Lobby fodder.
Of course, I am not prepared to look at the growth of this power as inevitable and necessary when party loyalties, patronage and the centralisation and unification of a powerful Civil Service administration conspires to extinguish the Member's decision-making capacity. Nor do I regard it as a process which cannot be arrested, but it means that on each occasion when the Executive moves forward to take away the right of an individual hon. Member the action of this House should be to obstruct any such attempt made on the part of the Executive.
Take the little Ten-Minute Rule we are talking about, which is regarded as a comparatively unimportant change. The Ten-Minute Rule itself came into existence as a restriction imposed upon individual hon. Members. It was a restriction which came about because there was an attempt to clamp down upon a minority view—upon the Irish view. It was because the Irish were using the House in order to put forward their own campaign that this Ten-Minute Rule was brought in and the right to initiate legislation on the part of the private Member was limited to a Tuesday and Wednesday.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
The hon. Member will, if he is accurate, inform the House also that the Ten Minute Rule, having been abolished for the purposes of the war, was re-established by the first vote which defeated the post-war Labour Government.
§ Mr. Abse
I am coming to the point and will develop the history. I would not expect the historian of the House not to be aware of the matter. Do not let the House think that the battles which have taken place over the Ten Minute Rule were something in which the House engaged as some little affray. We are participating in a long historical process and we should not easily abandon this right without having some understanding of what has gone before, even if the Committee appears to have ignored it in an extraordinary way. After that restriction had been placed on private Members 268 it led to the creation of this Ten Minute Rule and we had, as the right hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) has pointed out, attack made upon it in each war—on both occasions.
Once we had a situation in which there could be an authoritarian Government, at that moment there was always an attack made on this rule. It was done in the First World War and in the Second World War. It occurred immediately in the "Phoney War" in November 1939, Chamberlain wanted to end completely for the period of the war the possibility of hon. Members to introduce legislation under the Ten Minute Rule. Hon. Members should know that when that came about Clem Attlee opposed it most vigorously. His words should be remembered. In November, 1939, he advanced this argument against extinguishing the Rule during the period of the war:Will the introduction of a Bill by Members under the Ten Minute Rule … really do anything to hamper the proper carrying on of the war? I suggest nothing of the sort. I believe it is an extremely useful thing that legislative proposals should be brought before this House quickly and with certainty.… It may be said it is futile because the Bills will go no further, but in this House there are always a great many Bills introduced which go no further. It is a method of ventilating a question and of putting proposals before this House in a concrete form. I think it is a desirable thing. There is no reason to think it will unduly impinge on the time of Government business, and I do not agree that we ought to be bound by the precedent of the Parliament that sat in the last war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1939; Vol. 355, cc. 98–9]That was during a wartime period.
§ Mr. Abse
Let me continue. I ask hon. Members to remember how long it was before we were able to win back our right to the Ten Minue Rule. It was taken away for a temporary period during the war, just as this is supposed to be an experiment. The House should be warned against such experiments. I say to the credit of the Conservative Party, and no doubt the right hon. Member for Carlton played a prominent rôle in getting it back—
§ Mr. Abse
I acknowledge it. It took until 1950 to get it back. The then Leader 269 of the House, Herbert Morrison, tried to persuade the House that it still should not give private Members the Ten Minute Rule, but he was not listened to by the majority of the House and he was defeated by a narrow margin. That is how we got it back. The Executive has always been concerned to contain this right. It did it, as the Leader of the House said, in 1960, when it imposed the limitation that only one Bill could be introduced per day, not two, and that extra notice had to be given.
The Executive is now at it again, because once again it wants to extinguish this right and put in into limbo. Once the Ten Minute Rule is transferred to where it is suggested it should go—immediately before the Adjournment debate—that will be the end of the effectiveness and the purpose of the Ten Minute Rule.
It is futile to argue that the Ten Minute Rule is of no use. History shows that it has not only brought about valuable Acts such as the Vagrancy Act and the Infanticide Act. It even brought about an Act to control red biddy in Scotland. A number of useful Acts have been introduced in this way.
Even more important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr Sydney Silverman) has pointed out, it was through the medium of the Ten Minute Rule that he initiated the process which will lead, within the next few days, I trust, to the abolition of the death penalty. The Ten Minute Rule is one of the few ways we have of throwing immediate and important issues into the arena. What use is it for my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) to talk about the need for urgency and the need to bring debates on to the Floor of the House with great speed when the Select Committee, of which he was a member, has recommended that one of the few ways of bringing a burning issue before the House immediately be extinguished?
It is a method of commanding the attention of the public. Last Session it was deployed to direct attention to issues such as abortion, divorce, homo-sexuality, and infanticide. Those subjects may not be regarded as important by party managers, but they are regarded 270 as important by large sections of the community. They are matters of discussion by the public and by the Press. Is it to be said that the House will exclude such issues?
Are we going to say that we are going to give an opportunity to hon. Members to evade and avoid becoming involved in issues which they know to be controversial? The Ten Minutes procedure can be and is being used in that area of legislation which impinges on human relationships and it is precisely the occasion when if one takes a stand either way one is bound to provoke some opposition from some of one's constituents. Therefore, if we transfer the Ten Minute Rule occasion from the middle of the day and put it at the tag end of the day all those who wish to avoid these issues will welcome such a proposal, but if we retain it in the middle of the day people will have to stand up and be counted, as they should be counted.
If we allow this Motion to go through in its present form so that we consign the Ten Minute Rule procedure to limbo we shall be doing a disservice to our successors, and we should remember that we act not only for ourselves in deciding these procedural matters. We shall do a disservice to the House because it will be believed outside that the private Member's rôle is being further encroached upon and that this House is dodging issues which the public think should be stirred up.
I hope that the House will examine how much time this process takes. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House talked about its taking 40 minutes. He was not as fair as he usually is. Figures on the record as a result of the good work of the Clerks show that of 43 Ten Minute Rule Bills brought before the House 35 took an average of 8.5 minutes and the balance, which involved Divisions, took less than a half hour on average. To suggest as a reason for getting rid of the Ten Minute Rule as at present practised that time is so precious for back benchers does not bear examination.
I should like to refer briefly to other general issues. I interpret the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale as meaning that the less one knows about a subject the more authority one has for expressing opinion 271 on the Floor of the House. This is not a thesis which commends itself to me. My hon. Friend was insisting upon the rights of individual Members and insisting that if Members gain greater expertise and more specialised knowledge in the way suggested we shall be devaluing this Chamber. I do not see the danger in that way. I have already seen the Chamber being devalued by the way in which individual Members are not able to influence policies and have insufficient opportunities to influence the Executive.
I believe that my hon. Friend is being a romantic in putting forward a view which perhaps could be put forward by a man of the Renaissance but which has no relevance to the sophisticated politics of the twentieth century in which we have to live. The very complexities of society today mean that people have to be better informed and better equipped, otherwise we shall be powerless before the Executive. Unless we are in a position to acquire this knowledge and equip ourselves with more information, the Executive can play ducks and drakes with us on the Floor of the House. The minority suggestion that we should start examining what is happening in Legislatures in other parts of the world is valuable and should be taken up at a time when we know the inadequacies of our present system. Is it not time that we emancipated ourselves from xenophobic attitudes and began to see what we can learn from other Legislatures? This can and should be done. If we do not, the rôle of the back bencher may be dimished yet further, and we can all begin to feel that we have nothing to do but, as one hon. Member almost proposes now, press a button and go home.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will not expect me to follow him in the refinements of the argument surrounding the Ten Minute Rule Bill procedure. I begin by joining with the Leader of the House in congratulating the members of the Select Committee on the excellent Reports which they have produced and the material which they have provided for the debate we are having today which, I think, ought to be one of many devoted to this subject.
272 The propellant behind the whole of this discussion is that, at the beginning of a new Parliament, there is a feeling of frustration and of difficulty, a feeling that the voice of the private Member is not heard, that information is not available to him, that the authority of the Executive grows greater and wider, and, if more Government Departments are created, will become greater and wider still. My own sentiments in this debate go, to a large extent, with those expressed by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). We ought to try to make the Chamber of the House of Commons a more effective instrument than it is at present. I can well understand my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) joining with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in that vote in the Select Committee when theirs were the two voices against the remainder of the Committee in taking the decision it did, because, in essence, their wish was to make this Chamber a more effective instrument in attacking or scrutinising the views and policies of the Executive.
I believe it to be against the interests of Parliament to attempt to set up specialist committees which would detract from the work which ought to be done on the Floor of the House and which would, in my opinion, contribute nothing in preparing a Member of the House to make himself better informed. The problem is not here just for this Parliament. It was here twenty years ago. As a young Member then, one went through exactly the same experience. One felt that one could not make much impression, either by Question or by speech, on the views of the Executive. I took great trouble as an individual to make myself self-sufficient. I even made, at my own expense on a slender budget, journeys abroad to places like Singapore and Simonstown only to find, at the end of that experience, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) observed, that I was the prisoner of security. While making myself personally better informed, I found that, in returning to debates in the House, my frustration was, perhaps, even greater because the knowledge put in my possession by the Government and their agencies as I made my personal reconnaissances literally sealed my lips when I participated in debate on the Floor.
273 The problems that we have been examining today are not new either to this Parliament or the one which preceded it. Some of my hon. Friends, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), will recall that during the war such distinguished Parliamentarians of the past as Mr. L. S. Amery were lecturing on what would be required to make Parliament a more effective body in future. If I remember rightly, Mr. Amery was then recommending a separate industrial Parliament, an engineering Parliament, to take care of the detailed legislation concerned with economics and away from the broad policy discussions of the House of Commons. These were novel trends, novelties which we could not in their time comprehend.
Perhaps the best Committee we had during those years was the Select Committee on National Expenditure, which through the Vote Office submitted fortnightly reports to us on industries and policies being followed. I always rather regretted the breaking up of that Select Committee. I thought that its form during the war had much to commend it for transformation in peace to meet our needs now.
Above all, I join with the Leader of the House who showed no favour to the formation of specialised committees but did what he could to prevent them as they are indicated—only indicated—in the Report. I heartily agree with him that we might get better control over Question hour. Do not let us be misled by this merely in terms of numbers. I was present on 2nd March, 1939—this is cited by the Select Committee—when the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Ernest Brown, got through 100 Questions. He achieved that only with the immense co-operation of the House, particularly towards the end of the Question hour. A quick gallop through Questions of a perfunctory nature is not really Question hour. Questions should be buoyant, cogent, and to the point. Sometimes when within the space of an hour 20 or 30 Questions are called which contain much buoyancy and point counter point, it is like a good rally at tennis. That is the sort of Question hour we want. If we merely and perfunctorily discharge the question by saying that we achieve 60 or 70 Questions a day by just galloping through them with perhaps a 274 rather dull House of Commons, that is not the sort of Question hour I should like to see in future.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I understand that I have only two or three minutes in which to make a few observations. I was rather dismayed to hear at the very beginning of the debate an appeal by Mr. Speaker to hon. Members to keep their speeches short because he understood there were a large number of hon. Members who wanted to speak. I have always felt that this ought to be a debating chamber and not a place to which hon. Members come with speeches prepared perhaps a week or so in advance. My view is that we should try to answer the points raised in the debate, and that is what I want to do for just a moment or two.
The observations that I want to make were inspired by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who endeavoured to warn the House that on many of the matters that come before us we are, to use his word, "diddled" by the Executive, and that if we had specialised committees they would be "diddled" by the Executive and have the wool pulled over their eyes. My hon. Friend also warned us that this happened to us in this Chamber as well.
I suggest that the House has even been "diddled" over this debate. The Committee on Procedure was asked to investigate the conduct of business mainly because of a Motion that I tabled before the Summer Recess, which called for a reconsideration of the hours at which this Chamber functions. The matter came before the Committee which, by devious means, found all the reasons in the world why it should not advise the House on any change of hours, at least for the time being.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
My hon. Friend's reference to "devious means" puzzles me. Without regard for anything other than the interests of the House, the Committee felt it important to decide, before turning to the issue of the times of sittings, how the business of the House ought to be distributed. For example, the whole question of specialised committees and how that should be determined had an obvious bearing on the times of sittings.
§ Mr. Wilkins
That is what I meant by "devious means". I thought that my hon. and learned Friend would understand what I had in mind. But this is the point. The Select Committee on Procedure spent a long time discussing how to deal with certain aspects of business, including the creation of specialised committees, instead of dealing with what I submit is the principal question which we wished it to consider—the time and length of sittings.
I believe that if, as a House of Commons, we had made a decision that we would no longer tolerate this utterly foolish business of sitting through the early hours of the morning and had said that we would carry out our business between 10.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m., perhaps with extensions for major debates until 10 p.m.—that would still have given hon. Members a reasonable period for rest—the House would have found a way to accommodate all the business it is required to do. We have put the cart before the horse.
It seems to me that all the reasons in the world have been sought or suggested as to why we cannot change the hours of the House. I know that this proposal for alteration was inspired on this occasion by some of the newer hon. Members, but you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I know that the matter has been raised in the House on at least three occasions during the past 20 years. Yet we still have not come to a decision about it. Nor shall we reach a decision as long as there are interests which are concerned to be away from this House in the mornings.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and to all hon. Members to make the first decision—the one which requires that there shall be a change in the sitting time of the House. I am certain that it is not beyond the wit of my right hon. Friend, or of hon. Members, then to decide the way in which business should be conducted.
I share the apprehension of most hon. Members who have spoken today on the subject of specialised committees. I have some reservations and strong doubts about sending Bills to a Committee for Second Reading. I rather doubt whether the hon. Members who had not taken part in the discussion of the Second Reading of a Bill would be prepared to accept the 276 recommendation when it came back to the House.
I hope that when we come to make our decisions on these matters we will put first things first and decide that we shall come to the House in what I call civilised hours and have adequate opportunities for the necessary rest which everyone protests that we need and that we will find ways of accommodating the business of the House within a reasonable time.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
The purpose of the debate and of the Reports which are the subject of the debate is to discover the best way of improving the effectiveness and the efficiency of the House. Although I join with other right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating the Committee on its Reports, I regret the absence from the Reports of any repetition of the unanimous recommendation which was contained in paragraph 27 of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in 1959, a unanimous recommendation that, at the discretion of the Chair, during major debates there should be set aside one hour for short speeches and that those speeches should be limited to five minutes. I do not know whether the period of five minutes necessarily would commend itself to the House, but I hope that this unanimous recommendation from 1959 will still provoke the House to action upon it.
One of the best ways in which we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the House is to recognise the importance of time and the virtue of brevity in debate. It is silly to suppose that all speeches in this Chamber are brief. Some, by inordinate repetition—to be perfectly frank—are more wasteful of Parliamentary time than any other feature of our Parliamentary life. Time is valuable in the House—we all know that. Time means government; times means opposition to government. It means the opportunity to circulate ideas upon which future legislation may flourish or fail. Time is the essence of Parliamentary debate. The brevity of a speech is almost always a better test of its value than its length.
Time, unhappily, is precious, so precious that, as Napoleon said, few of us have time to be brief. When George Bernard Shaw was apologising for writing 277 a long letter, he pleaded that he had no time to write a short one. Outside the House, in industry, time and motion studies are considered to be of great value in improving efficiency. It may be that if we had a time and speech study in the House we could come to some surprising conclusions. Though wit and profundity and originality may occasionally escape a speaker, brevity is always at his command. One of the simplest and most fundamental ways in which this House can improve its procedure and make the best of its present procedures is to see that it makes better use of its time in debate.
In December, 1963, a Motion which many Members may remember was put on the Order Paper. It was a Motion that this House would welcome the implementation of the unanimous recommendation of the Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, 1959, that an hour be set aside, at the discretion of the Chair, for brief speeches on the occasion of major debates. That Motion had the support of more than 100 Members from both sides of the House. I hope that those Members who supported that Motion, who are still in this House, and there are many of them, will remember their enthusiasm for it and will do all they can to persuade the Government to accept the recommendation, made I believe at the instigation of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
The argument that to quell a speaker in the flood of his oratory is in some way offensive to principles of liberty of speech or democracy, or some obscure constitutional principle, is completely overwhelmed by the counter-argument that there is no greater offence to democracy than to keep a speaker silent when he has a point to make, because other speakers go on for an unconscionable length of time. I look at the clock and I see that I have just taken four and a half minutes. I think it perhaps is, without undue modesty, about time I sat down.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) for referring to a proposal which I made to an earlier Select Committee. I believe that inserted 278 in major debates, perhaps two-day debates, there should be a single hour for those who have just one short point to make and who otherwise, if they are called, feel they somehow owe it to themselves to pad it out to 15 minutes. It would be an improvement worth trying, and we could always experiment with it.
The first point I want to make is with regard to the Ten Minute Rule. The Ten Minute Rule is that which allows people to explain to the House and to the public the purpose of the proposal which they have in mind. It has nothing to do with getting a Bill through. Anybody can propose a Bill. He can put it on the Table and he can get it printed and he can then put it down for a Second Reading. There it stops unless he gets the support of the Government. He can do that whether he gets the leave of the House under the Ten Minute Rule or not.
The purpose of the Rule is to enable the Member to make his proposal public, and that purpose is totally defeated if it is put at the end of the proceedings. It becomes as useless as the Adjournment debate has become. One has missed the Press and there is an audience of one in the House. There is no short debate.
The position of back benchers has been whittled away steadily by the demands of Government. What is proposed here is simply to take away from back benchers the right to make views or facts public to the House and to the Press. This is a rare opportunity for us today, and it is one which, as back benchers, we would be insane to throw away. I certainly hope that the Government will not proceed with this, but if they do I hope that, on a free vote, it will be defeated.
My second point concerns specialist committees. I always have been strongly in favour of them. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that this House should have more time to debate grievances, but we can have more time only if something is cleared away. What the House cannot do, and has always failed to do, is to deal with the administration and expenditure of Departments.
279 In matters of administration we do the best we can at Question Time, but it is always very difficult to obtain information to work on. On the Floor of the House in debates upon the Votes of certain Departments we are never able to express full criticism of their administration. It is quite impossible. As for expenditure, the idea that the House controls it is a fiction. I spent several years in charge of Service Estimates from the Opposition point of view. The Estimates of Departments are in such a form as to give the very minimum of information. They afford no basis for detailed discussion. The only occasions on which there is anything to bite on is when the Estimates Committee has a go at a specific aspect of the Estimates. Then some information is obtained. Then it is possible to criticise by working on the information obtained. That is what we need, and that is what specialist committees should do.
There is one thing I want to say about security. When I was an Opposition speaker on Service matters I obtained a certain amount of information about which I had to be discreet, but the amount of genuine security matter which becomes available in this way is absurdly exaggerated. I remember saying to one Secretary of State for War—as the office then was—"Look here, suppose the Communists got you and gave you the truth drug so that you were helpless. What could you tell them that would be of any advantage to them? "I remember that his reply was, "Well, I can think of just one thing which might save them a little time, on a new bit of weapons research." That was the lot. Searching his mind the Minister could find nothing more. I believe that outside Service Departments there would be nothing at all, from the security aspect.
I cannot say that I have ever found myself embarrassed by the confidential or security information that I was given, from the point of view of criticising the way in which Departments were being conducted. I do not believe that a committee, even if given a certain amount of classified information, would find itself embarrassed to any extent. That applies only to the Service Departments.
I now turn to the procedure which would probably be adopted for these 280 committees. First, they should have the power to send for papers and persons, and those persons should include the Minister. The Minister should be cross-examined by those on the committee as to the Estimates which he is putting forward and the demands which he is making and his civil servants and other people who support these demands should go there and answer questions. That is the first job of the committee—to get the evidence. Its report is a subsidiary matter. The first job is to get the evidence and provide this House—which is, after all, responsible for these activities—with something which they have the opportunity to examine.
On the question of making a report, I agree that a Select Committee is effective only if it is unanimous and I find that the most curious thing is that when a Standing Committee is set up it knows that its function is to disagree: when a Select Committee is set up, it knows that its function is to agree. It is extraordinary how well a Select Committee works on that basis. On certain matters, of course, there is not unanimity and then all that a Committee can do is to say that on this matter some people take one view and others take another. On the points on which they agree, they can say that something can be done. This is an extremely valuable procedure and something which, at this time, we should vote for.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I am sorry to stand between the Leader of the House and his flock, or squadron. I have a good deal I want to say, and I always find that the longer I speak the more fluent I get: but tonight I propose to leave out practically everything and come to one point which I may, without egotism, regard as mine, because I was the chap who brawled and not quite threw half-bricks through windows, but at any rate tried to attract attention to the great constitutional question of whether or not votes causing the imposition of new taxation ought to be plainly seen to have a majority in the House of Commons.
I think that the question so posed, and I think that is a fair way of posing it, pretty nearly answers itself. But the House was not very interested, at least not so much as I thought it ought to have been. We have had several speeches 281 today reminding us that procedure in itself has no interest or importance, that one must never think about it without referring it to the constitutional arrangements one has or desires.
There can be no more historical or essential function of this House than answering the Executive when the Executive asks for Supply. On that occasion, I even went so far against my natural inclination and the ordinary decencies as to put down a Motion which it was held might be reflecting upon the Chair. And afterwards to amend that and then to remove it: I did that partly because that Committee had then been invited to advise, and I felt sure, and, indeed, I might have felt sure this evening, too, of attention, but I thought that if there were tine the House ought to be informed of the point before the winding up; I might even have felt sure this evening that the Leader of the House would give us some assurance now that this matter having been referred for advice to the Select Committee and being and having been now for three or four months an urgent matter, is a matter which no longer brooks any delay, whatever other duties it may now have.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowden
May I, by leave of the House, reply to what has been an excellent debate. I think that the debate has clearly indicated to the House—and I say this with great respect to the new Members, many of whom come here with the idea that they have all the answers to all our problems and who believe that there can be a complete change in our procedure—that it is very difficult indeed to reach any form of agreement on these procedural matters. The debate has taken place across party; it has included some members of the Select Committee, some supporters of the recommendations and others who have not supported all the recommendations. But the debate has shown that on these procedural matters it is very difficult to reach agreement.
In my view, this is as it should be; it is part of the value of the history of this country, not only in the procedure of the House but in our constitution, too. There is nothing formal, nothing set about it: like Topsy it just "grow'd", and I think that that is probably the right way.
282 May I first deal with one or two general points which have been made, including some which have been made by the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne). I agree with him—and I said this in my speech—that to some extent we have frustrated the work of the Select Committee on Procedure by asking them to look at priority matters. He has suggested that perhaps there might be two Committees. This means one more Committee and it is a difficulty. But I am prepared to look at the matter, because there is no doubt of the problem.
The hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) raised a point, which ought to be considered, concerning the casting vote. The question of proxy voting ought to be looked at, as well as a number of other things. They are priority matters. On the other hand, we should permit the Committee to go ahead and have a general look at the whole field of procedure. I am prepared to look at the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion and to see which way it can be done in the next Session, without preventing the Select Committee on Procedure from getting on with their job.
The right hon. Gentleman also appealed to me to persuade Ministers to be brief in answering questions. I will do my best. As I said earlier, our research shows that it is not in the first Answer that the difficulty arises; it is in the supplementary answer of the Minister to a supplementary question, with probably another supplementary question following it, that we get into difficulties. But I will do my best to persuade Ministers to be briefer. He asked me about the cost of Questions and whether the House could have some information about it. I understand that there is a Question on the Order Paper about the cost of Questions, and this information will be available to all hon. Members in reply to this Question within a few days.
The hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) spoke about short speeches and the proposal for one hour of five minute speeches which was a unanimous proposal of the 1959 Committee. I remember this very well, and he will remember that it was referred to as the Parliamentary Children's Hour and was more or less laughed out of court by the Press and everyone else. I see no reason why we should not experiment, 283 however. I am not sure what it would require. I do not think that it would require any change in Standing Orders but it could become a practice of the House. We might discuss this with our new Speaker in due course.
May I come to the more detailed points? First, I was asked about the Second Reading Committees. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) was worried in case there would be inadequate publicity of a Bill dealt with in such a Committee. I do not think that this would be the case, because the Second Reading Committee would be covered in the same way by reporters and by the Press generally, and I do not think there would be any danger of inadequate publicity. It is important to realise that these would not be Bills which were highly contentious and likely to reach the headlines. They would, perhaps, be more in the way of amendments or Bills which came from the Law Commissioners, and perhaps dealing with lawyers' law, if I may so term it. The Bills would not perhaps be those which attracted the headlines but they would be extremely valuable and of the type which ought to be on the Statute Book. I do not fear the danger which the right hon. Gentleman envisaged.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe again made a point which he made to the Select Committee—I have read his evidence—that some Members might be excluded from Second Reading Committees. He gave the answer himself. He knows as well as I do that there are seldom occasions on which more than 40 Members on either side of the House want to speak on Second Reading. I do not think that pitching it at a figure of 80 as a maximum would mean that anyone would be likely to be excluded. Of course, we could have a look at it. As an experiment for one year, my guess is that we will not need anything like 80 for a Second Reading, but after that year we could try again if there are difficulties. In any case, hon. Members would make their representations through their own Whips, which they often do, or direct to the Committee of Selection.
It has also been suggested that this procedure would help only the Government and would not help back benchers. I do 284 not accept that. I believe that back benchers as well as Government and official Opposition Front Benches would be equally interested in the sort of Bill, law reform and so on, which would come under this procedure.
A great deal has been said about Ten Minute Rule Bills. We have been reminded that under Standing Order No. 37 a Bill can be presented to the House without debate. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made it absolutely clear that the purpose of a Ten Minute Rule Bill is to state the reason for wishing to bring in such a Bill. This can be done as equally well after 10 p.m. as it can at 3.30 p.m. and I do not agree with one of my hon. Friend's who said that there will be a loss to private Members. There will be nothing of the sort. Hon. Members will not be losing anything but will merely be taking such matters later in the day. [Interruption.] If something is lost because the matter is taken later in the day there would seem to be not very much enthusiasm for the matter which it was desirous to raise at 3.30 p.m. As I say, I do not believe that there will be any loss but that this is an experiment which is worth trying.
Several points were made about the Finance Bill in connection with the Third Report. The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe made the rather novel suggestion of a joint Second Reading of a Bill, which could be treated after that as two Bills, one dealing with tax administration and one with budgetary matters. On this suggestion, we return to the problem of who will divide the Finance Bill into its two parts. Is it to be Parliamentary Counsel? They would find it an extremely difficult thing to do. I was asked this question when I gave evidence, and I felt that the only possible way by which this could be done would be for a Select Committee of the House to look at the Bill and try to divide it, but that would probably lead to greater controversy than anything else.
The Select Committee of the House would report to the House that it had proposed to divide the Finance Bill in a certain way and that certain Clauses should be taken on the Floor of the House and others in Committee upstairs. That Report would be debatable and 285 such a debate could quite easily go on for a whole day, related to particular Clauses of the Finance Bill, and any hope of saving time that way would have gone. Anything involving the House having to make a decision after certain proposals have been made—and it is right that the House should make decisions—would mean the House debating the matter and, as I say, a great deal of time which it was hoped to save would have been lost.
Another point arises. Assuming that this were done and that the Bill was divided in this way, with parts of it going upstairs, would there not be a tendency for those parts which come down to be likely to need a longer time on Report? Is there not such a tendency with a Bill like a Finance Bill?
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) spoke about Purchase Tax on ice cream and suggested that that was the sort of thing which could go upstairs for discussion. It must be remembered, however, that that is direct taxation. Is it suggested that direct taxation should be considered in Committee upstairs? I am sure that that is not the view of the House. It is one thing to look at these matters superficially, but we must get down to the details involved. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that while, on the face of it, this suggestion might seem an easy thing to do, it is not.
I remember the late Hugh Gaitskell and I discussing this matter at length. He was of the opinion that one could, every two or three years, have a special Bill to deal with tax administration and take it outside the Finance Bill. In theory that sounds all right, but any one who has had experience of Government will know precisely what would happen. One would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Is this really essential this year"? The Leader of the House or whoever was responsible for other legislation would feel that the other legislation should take precedence, with the result that the tax administration would not occupy a special Bill.
Another point is that very often tax administration is tied up with certain taxation proposals in that particular Finance Bill. So these are extremely 286 difficult things to decide, and it is for that reason that the Government have recommended that, whilst we should continue looking at it, we should continue to leave it where it is at the moment.
I come now to the Fourth Report, which has proved to be the most controversial. We have here the question of an extension of the Estimates Committee with new terms of reference. One thing evident from the speeches made today is that even members of the Select Committee themselves disagree about what exactly should be done in this form of extended Estimates Committee. There are those who feel that this is a slight extension of the terms of reference which will enable them to do their work more efficiently, some who feel that there should be an opportunity of policy discussions, while one or two Members—true, outside the Select Committee on Procedure—have expressed other views.
We have just now heard that one hon. Member feels that Ministers should be called to these new proposed Select Committees to be questioned on policy. We are getting very far from a scrutiny of finance and control of finance when we are in that field. This is the real danger of this proposal. In my view it is not clear from the Select Committee's Report, or clear in the view of many other hon. Members who have read it, that what is required is a simple extension of the powers of the Estimates Committee. There is the fear that we are bound very easily to get into the field of policy, which ought to be debated on the Floor of the House.
In paragraph 5 of the Report we are assured that the Committee sought to avoid drawing attention away from the House, but it might do just that. In paragraph 8 we are told that it is not wished that the Select Committee should get involved in party politics, but how can we avoid it once we get into the realms of policy? In paragraph 9 we are told that the Committee agrees that it is not easy to differentiate between pure policy questions and other questions, so we are back again to square one and the difficulty of decision in this field. Paragraph 13 tells us that the members of the Select Committee have not continued their discussion far enough to tell us procedurally how we would 287 operate the new proposed development of the Estimates Committee if, in fact, the House agreed to do this. I said earlier that we have not by any means got a closed mind on this matter. We would not agree, at the moment, anyhow, as our present thinking is, to an extension of the Estimates Committee in such a way that policy discussions on specific matters would be taken from the Floor of the House into small Committees.
Reference has been made to the work of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and comparisons have been made. If hon. Members have read the Report, and I am sure they have, they will know that in the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Procedure there is an example of the Nationalised Industries Committee discussing the relative value of methane gas and the Lurgi production method. This is pure policy. This can be done in the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries—a nationalised industry is a public body which is trading, but it is not in any way comparable with a Government Department.
If one uses that sort of analogy, and I have been trying to think of one, is it argued that the proposed Select Committee could look at the relative values of, shall we say, one rifle as against another, and argue that in Committee? Is this the sort of thing that is wanted? Many members of the Select Committee on Procedure would say that they had no intention of doing anything of that sort but, on the other hand, many have argued in that direction. So here, again, until such time as the position is made very much clearer I think that we had better stay with the terms of reference as they are.
It is suggested that there should be one year of experiment in which, if the Estimates Committee so wishes, it can subdivide itself in a very different way, as the Chairman of the Estimates Committee suggested, and, rather than alphabetically looking at specific subjects and items of expenditure, examining spheres of Government Department activity. Let us see how that goes and perhaps have a look at it again, because it is proposed only as a Sessional change, to see if anything is necessary in the way of alteration.
288 My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), who was kind enough to tell me that it was not possible for him to be here for the winding-up of the debate, was worried that back benchers have very little influence in the Chamber and are losing what little they have. That is said very often, I know, and it is easily said. I hope that, within a few days, my hon. Friend will be getting the Royal Assent to a very important Private Member's Bill. He was helped in the sense, firstly, that the Government provided some time and, secondly, that the House agreed that he should have additional time with morning sittings. He was helped in those respects, but it was a private Member's activity. If that is not regarded as a fair example, he quoted the further one when he introduced a similar Bill some years ago.
He told us that in his view young people who ought to be thinking in terms of a Parliamentary career are prevented from coming here and frustrated because they feel that, once they got here, they would have no influence whatever over the executive. That is the sort of thing that people say, but is it true? If I decided tonight not to contest the next General Election—and I hasten to add that I have no such intention, all being well—I am quite sure that at the subsequent selection conferences in my constituency there would be very many able young men anxious to come here to fill the vacancy, and they would probably do so much better than I. Every Member knows that that is the position. Young people are not prevented from coming here because they are frustrated.
The degree of knowledge outside the House about our procedures is abysmally low. I read an article in a newspaper by a man who criticised our procedures and criticised hon. Members sitting here on our red benches. He had obviously not even seen the Chamber.
I reiterate what I said before. We propose no action whatever on Early Day Motions or on tabling not more than two Parliamentary Questions per day, other than to ask the appropriate Committees to look at them. In one case it will be the House of Commons Services Committee, which it is hoped to set up next week. Every hon. Member who has been in the House for any length of time—and, compared with some, my 20 years 289 is a relatively short time—knows very well that procedural changes are taking place every year. They may not be regarded as major but, if one looks back over the years, they are considerable. Many new Members may feel that they are not radical enough or quick enough, but I doubt very much whether they would agree amongst themselves on any proposals for changes, any more than the rest of us would. That is one of the problems and, as I said earlier, it is right.
Parliament is not here for its Members, or for the Government or for the Opposition. It is here for the government of the country. It is because of that that the division of our time, about which there has been so much criticism, goes on as it is. It is a difficult equation to work out. There is time for the Opposition, time for legislation, time for back benchers, time for debating grievances before voting money, and time for private Members' legislation. All these things are worked out fairly equitably, and I am not speaking in a party sense now. It is quite wrong to say that back benchers are losing opportunities or are getting less time in the House now than they were 20 years ago when I first came here. It is perfectly true, and the point has been made that for the first five years of the Labour Government, from 1945 to 1950, there was no Private Members' Time other than the half-hour Adjournment, but since that time Private Members' Time has been restored. Very largely as a result of the activities of Mr. Aneurin Bevan, four additional half-days for discussion were agreed upon. There is more time available now for Private Members' Bills and Motions than at any time in the last 20 years. It is a fine balance, but I think it is about right.
I am sure this debate has been of value, and I propose to sit down now for this reason. We are all procedural experts, and I understand that hon. Members want to divide on some of these Motions. I want to give them the opportunity to do so. If the Motions go down, so be it. This is a House of Commons matter, but if I continued the discussion until 10 o'clock there would be no opportunity for hon. Members to declare which way they want to vote. For that reason, I shall sit down so that they may express their decisions.
§ Mr. Iremonger
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you guide the House on this point? The Leader of the House said that he is sitting down now so that hon. Members may divide the House if they want to do so and there can be a Division on one or other of the Motions which are to be put. The point on which I should like to have guidance is this. Suppose the business were to continue and the debate were to be carried on until Ten o'clock, is it the case that a Division challenged when the Questions are put individually after Ten o'clock causes the whole business to be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Speaker
The simple answer is that if in those circumstances the business is opposed after Ten o'clock it will have to be deferred. It will have to be taken some other day. Mr. Iremonger.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I thought the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was rising to a further point of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) was already on a point of order.
§ Mr. Abse
I wished to speak on that point of order. Further to that point of order. Am I to understand, since there is no exemption Motion on the Order Paper, that it would be open to any hon. Member to say Aye or No to any of the particular Motions before the House and be able to speak to the Motions and oppose them?
§ Mr. Speaker
It would not be in order. The Leader of the House made that perfectly clear. At Ten o'clock if any of the Motions on the Order Paper are opposed they will not be taken tonight, if opposed in any shape or form.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In view of the Ruling you have given, Mr. Speaker, I have risen and you have been good enough to call me and I hope I shall be able to make one or two statements to the House with the perfectly frank intention, which I believe will receive the approbation of a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it should not be possible 291 for the Government to get this business because it is not desired—by me at any rate, nor I believe by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that the virtual abolition of the Ten Minute Rule procedure should be put through the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Vote."] The general sense of hon. Members who have intervened from a sitting position seems to be that it would be perfectly in order to vote. [HON. MEMBERS: "A free vote."] I accept the point.
There is a further point which the House might well consider. I am not perfectly satisfied that the Leader of the House would not be prepared, if given time, to reconsider his decision that this procedure should be abolished. I feel that this is an appalling encroachment upon the already diminishing rights of hon. Members. I believe that there are hon. Members other than myself who have very greatly valued this procedure and who regard it as having a unique merit.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that he and hon. Friends of his are sitting behind the Leader of the House for the purpose of voting on it to give the Leader of the House his way. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am disposed to be fortified by the assurance that there are indeed hon. Members opposite who propose to vote in that way. I have heard individual Members who have spoken during the debate say that they oppose the recommendation of the Leader of the House, but there are many hon. Members who have entered the House since then whose view is not known. They will be disposed, as the House knows full well, to take the lead of the Leader of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In the rather informal sense of the House that we have been able to take, it might be wise to allow this to proceed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If that is the hon. Gentleman's opinion, he must be quick, otherwise we shall not be able to.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In that case, in order that we may divide on Order of the Day No. 4, I shall be glad to resume my seat.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Reports considered accordingly.
That this House, taking note of the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1964–65, approves the amendment to the Standing Orders of this House set out in the following Schedule.
§ Amendment to Standing Orders Standing Order No. 8
Paragraph 5, line 38, after "circumstances", insert:
(5) Notice of a Question shall not be given for oral answer on a day later than 21 days after the date of the notice.
In reckoning the period of 21 days, no account shall be taken of any period during which the House stands adjourned for more than two days.—[Mr. Bowden.]