HC Deb 26 April 1966 vol 727 cc537-8
Q7. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister whether, in order to strengthen the powers of the legislature in relation to those of the executive branch of government, he will move to appoint specialist committees of Members of the House of Commons with full powers to interrogate Ministers of the Crown on policy matters and to publish full reports of their evidence.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friend to my speech in the debate on the Address on 21st April.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Prime Minister aware that I have read that at least a dozen times and that the more times I read it the less I like it? Can he say what persuaded him to accept virtually verbatim the recommendations of an outside body and reject the recommendations of our own Select Committee on procedure? Will he undertake that what he said last Thursday was not a firm proposition, namely, that evidence would not be reported back to the House necessarily by such committees as he has proposed?

The Prime Minister

I do not know to what outside body my hon. Friend is referring as having had its advice accepted. Certainly what I suggested last week was for discussion among the different parties and points of view in the House and was not put forward as an absolutely firm proposal which we would try to railroad through the House. The point my hon. Friend has mentioned is a matter for discussion. For example, it has been found useful in the case of the Public Accounts Committee for the Financial Secretary to be a member, although his contributions are not reported. Of course, it may well be that if Ministers were discussing these problems, or even giving evidence, it would be better not to publish the evidence. It is very arguable.

Mr. Crimond

Will the Prime Minister say why this proposal was not included in the Gracious Speech? Secondly, can he say whether the idea which he outlined in his own speech refers to the specialist committees of the type mentioned in the Question, or simply to ad hoc committees appointed for a particular period to investigate a particular matter?

The Prime Minister

What I was putting forward was that the House might wish to operate this idea of having one or two specialist committees covering particular Departments—this is quite apart from the regional committees which were proposed—and we would then treat that as an experiment. If the experiment succeeded, we might widen the idea to other committees and extend their period of existence for many years.