§ Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted Business)
§ Line 11, at end insert 'or any Consolidated Fund Bill or Appropriation Bill'.
§ Leave out lines 14 to 17.
§ Line 27, leave out 'of a committee'.
§ Line 30, leave out' of such a committee' and insert on such a motion'.
§ Line 34, leave out from beginning to 'whichever' in line 35, and insert 'commencement of those proceedings'.
§ Standing Order No. 17 (Appointment of Committees)
§ Leave out Standing Order and insert new Standing Order (Appointment of Supply and Ways and Means) as follows:
§ 17.—(1) The Business of Supply shall be appointed as an order of the day at 472 the commencement of every session, so soon as an address has been agreed to, in answer to Her Majesty's speech, and so from day to day during the continuance of the session.
§ (2) The Committee of Ways and Means shall be appointed by the House at the commencement of every session for the duration thereof, so soon as an address has been agreed to, in answer to Her Majesty's speech'.
§ Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply)
§ Line 1, leave out 'Twenty-six' and insert 'Twenty-nine'.
§ Line 5, leave out 'the Committee of'.
§ Line 5, leave out from 'Supply' to 'stands' in line 6.
§ Line 15, at end insert '(except business as provided for in paragraphs (4), (5) and 6 of this Order)'.
§ Line 25, leave out from beginning to 'supplementary' in line 26.
§ Line 29, at end insert 'substantive motions, including'.
§ Line 31, after '[Expenditure];' insert 'motions for the adjournment of the House;'.
§ Line 37, leave out paragraphs (4) to (7) and insert—
§ (4) On a day not earlier than the sixth allotted day, being a day not later than the 6th day of February, Mr. Speaker shall, at ten of the clock, forthwith proceed to put any question necessary to dispose of such outstanding estimates supplementary to those of the current financial year as shall have been presented not less than seven clear days previously.
§ (5) On a day not earlier than the tenth allotted day, being a day before the 25th day of March, Mr. Speaker shall, at ten of the clock, forthwith proceed to put the question with respect to any vote on account and all such defence votes for the coming financial year as shall have been put down on at least one previous day for consideration on an allotted day, that the total amounts of all such votes outstanding be granted for those services. He shall then in like manner put severally the questions in respect of the civil and defence estimates, that the total amounts of all such outstanding estimates supplementary to those of the current financial year as shall have been presented not less than seven clear days previously be granted for the services defined in the supplementary estimates. He shall then in like manner put severally the questions that the total amounts of any outstanding excess vote (provided that the Committee of Public Accounts shall have reported that they see no objection to the sums necessary being provided by excess vote) be granted for the services defined in any statement of excess.
§ (6) On the last of the allotted days, Mr. Speaker shall, at ten of the clock, forthwith proceed to put the question with respect to each class of the civil estimates that the total amount of the votes outstanding in that class be granted for the services defined in that class, and shall in like manner put 473 severally the questions that the total amounts of the votes outstanding in the Defence (Central), Defence (Navy), Defence (Army), and Defence (Air) estimates be granted for the services defined in those estimates. He shall in like manner put severally the questions on motions is relating to any Navy, Army and Air Services [Expenditure] (provided that the Committee of Public Accounts shall have reported that they see no reason why Parliament should not sanction the virement temporarily authorised by the Treasury in each case) that sanction be given to the application of the said sums.
§ (7) Not less than two days' notice shall be given of the votes which are to be put down for consideration, on any day on which Mr. Speaker is, under this Order, directed to put forthwith any question, and any Member who wishes to declare himself with the Noes, on the putting of any such question, shall give notice not later than the previous day of his intention to do so; and after the questions on any such opposed votes have been severally put by Mr. Speaker, he may, if he thinks fit and with the assent of the House, put for each financial year only the question, that the total amount of all such votes outstanding for such year be granted out of the Consolidated Fund for the services defined in those votes.
§ Line 125, at end, add—
§ (10) During any proceedings on or in relation to the business of supply, notwithstanding anything in paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of Debate), that Order may be put in force when Mr. Deputy Speaker is in the Chair.
§ Standing Order No. 19 (When Chair to be left without question put)
§ Line 6, leave out from 'committee' to end of Standing Order.
§ Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of Debate)
§ Line 33, after '(4)', insert—
§ Except as provided in paragraph 10 of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply).
§ Standing Order No. 63 (Special procedure for Scottish estimates)
§ Line 4, leave out from 'that' to 'the' in line 5.
§ Line 7, leave out from 'responsible' to 'be' in line 9.
§ Line 16, leave out from 'them' to end of Standing Order.
§ Standing Order No. 82 (Recommendation from Crown when required on application relating to public money)
§ Line 6, after 'Parliament', insert 'or for releasing or compounding any sum of money owing to the Crown'.
§ Standing Order No. 83 (Certain proceedings relating to public money to be initiated in committee)
§ Leave out paragraph (1).
§ Line 6, leave out from beginning to 'upon' in line 7 and insert '(1) This House shall not be precluded,'.474
§ Line 10, at end add—
§ (2) Any charge upon the public revenue whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of money to be provided by Parliament including any provision for releasing or compounding any sum of money owing to the Crown shall be authorised by resolution of the House.
§ Standing Order No. 84 (Procedure upon bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue)
§ Line 9, leave out 'committee of the whole' and insert 'resolution of the'.
§ Standing Order No. 86 (Procedure on address to Crown for issue of public money) to be repealed.
§ Standing Order No. 87 (Procedure on Motion for charge on public revenue) to be repealed.
§ Standing Order No. 88 (Money committees) to be repealed.
§ Standing Order No. 89 (Consolidated Fund issues) to be repealed, and a new Standing Order to be made:—
§ '89. On a Motion being made in respect of any Consolidated Fund Bill or Appropriation Bill, that the Bill be now read the third time, the Question shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate; and when such a Bill has been reported with Amendments from a Committee of the whole House the Question on any Motion that the Bill, as amended, be now taken into consideration shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate'.
§ In accordance with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, we shall be considering, at the same time, the remaining five Motions in my name, that is to say:
§ 2 SITTINGS OF THE HOUSE (MORNING SITTINGS)
§ That on Wednesday, 1st February, and for the remainder of the present Session, the Standing Orders and practice of this House shall have effect subject to the following variations:
§ A. On Mondays and Wednesdays:
§ (1) The House shall meet at Ten of the clock in the morning and, after Prayers, proceed with the following business:
- (a) Statements by Ministers;
- (b) Motions for leave to bring in Bills made in pursuance of Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in bills and nomination of select committees at commencement of public business);
- (c) proceedings in pursuance of any Act of Parliament;
- (d) proceedings on or in relation to public bills;
§ (2) At half-past Twelve of the clock in the afternoon, if the business set down for consideration has not previously been concluded, the proceedings on any business then under consideration shall be interrupted, and, except as provided in paragraph (4) of Part A of this Order, the provisions of paragraph (3) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) shall apply to that interruption of business.
§ (3) Immediately after the conclusion of the business set down or its interruptoin a motion may be made, 'That this House do now adjourn', and at the conclusion of the debate on that motion, and in no case later than One of the clock, Mr. Speaker shall suspend the sitting without putting any question, until half-past Two of the clock, when the House shall proceed with business as provided in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) as if the House had met at that hour.
§ (4) When Mr. Speaker or the Chairman puts any question in the course of proceedings under paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) of Part A of this Order, if his opinion as to the decision of the question is challenged, then notwithstanding anything in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 34 (Divisions) he shall not direct that the lobby be cleared, but either Mr. Speaker shall instead declare that the proceedings stand deferred, or, if the House be in Committee, the Chairman shall leave the Chair and report Progress and ask leave to sit again and, after taking the Chair, Mr. Speaker shall likewise declare the proceedings deferred; notwithstanding anything in Standing Order No. 15 (Order of disposiing of orders of the day) any proceedings so deferred shall be resumed when 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 day's Sitting to a conclusion; whereupon Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put successively the questions upon which his opinion was originally challenged and any other questions consequent thereon, and, if the proceedings deferred arose when the House was in Committee, the House shall forthwith again resolve itself into the Committee and the Chairman shall forthwith put the question upon which his opinion was challenged and any other questions consequent thereupon, and thereafter shall forthwith report progress and ask leave to sit again:
§ Provided that when Mr. Speaker has so put each question or series of questions any further proceedings on the business shall be deferred to such day, being a day on which the House ordinarily sits, as the Member in charge of that business may appoint.
§ (5) An order of the day set down for consideration on a Monday or Wednesday morning and not disposed of before the interruption of business at half-past Twelve of the clock 476 in the afternoon of the day concerned, shall, unless proceedings thereon are deferred in accordance with paragraph (4) of Part A of this Order, be deferred or shall stand over as the case may be as if it were an order referred to in paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).
§ (6) If the House, having met on a previous day, shall have continued to sit until after Ten of the clock in the morning of any Wednesday, but shall have adjourned before half-past Two of the clock, then the House shall meet at half-past Two of the clock on that day.
§ (7) Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business) shall apply, in so far as Motions for leave to bring in Bills are concerned, as is provided in paragraph (1) of Part A of this Order, and not at the time specified in that Standing Order.
§ (8) When Business as defined in paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments, &c. (Procedure)), is proceeded with in accordance with provisions under this Order, that Standing Order shall apply with the substitution of Twelve noon for Eleven o'clock and of half-past Twelve o'clock in the afternoon for half-past Eleven o'clock, provided that any debate adjourned shall stand adjourned till the next Sitting for which the House meets in accordance with the provisions of this Order.
§ (9) Paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) shall have effect with the substitution of the words 'half-past nine' for the word 'ten' in line 8.
§ B. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) shall apply with the omission of the words 'after the expiration of half an hour after that motion has been made, adjourn the House without putting any question', and the substitution of the words 'put the question thereupon forthwith', instead thereof.
§ 3 NOTICES OF MOTIONS, AMENDMENTS AND QUESTIONS
§ That on Tuesday, 17th January, and for the remainder of the present Session, a notice of a motion, amendment or question which is given after half-past Ten of the clock in the evening shall be treated for all purposes as if it were a notice given after the rising of the House:
§ Provided that this order shall not apply to notices given after that hour in relation to a Bill which, being considered in committee or on report on the day on which the notice is given, is appointed for further consideration on the next day or the next day but one on which the House sits.
§ 4 AGRICULTURE
§ That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the activities in England and Wales of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to report thereon this Session;
§ That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit not-withstanding any adjournment of the House, 477 to adjourn from place to place, and to admit strangers during the examination of witnesses unless they otherwise order;
§ That Four be the Quorum.
§ 5 SCIENCE AND
§ That a Select Committee be appointed to consider Science and Technology and to report thereon this Session;
§ That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit not-withstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to admit strangers during the examination of witnesses unless they otherwise order;
§ That Four be the Quorum.
§ 6 PROCEDURE
§ That the Select Committee on Procedure have power to appoint Sub-Committees and to refer to such Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee:
§ That every such Sub-Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records and to report to the Committee from time to time:
§ That Three be the Quorum of every such Sub-Committee:
§ That the Committee have power to report from time to time the Minutes of the Evidence taken before such Sub-Committees and reported by them to the Committee.
§ I must begin by offering the thanks of the House to all the members of the Select Committee, or rather, the Select Committees, not only for the Reports which we are taking note of today, but also for the earlier ones in the series from which some of my proposals are drawn. I know well that there are only two kinds of thanks which Select Committees on Procedure really appreciate: first, acceptance and implementation of their Reports, and second, a mandate for further work. I think that I can satisfy them pretty well today on both points. I am recommending the House substantially to implement both the last Reports of the previous Parliament and the first Report of this as well as the main proposal in the earlier Report on specialist Committees to which the Amendment just accepted in the name of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) relates.
§ I have already agreed with the Select Committee that, when it has completed its two present remits, on Standing Order No. 9 and on methods of voting, there will be no further special remits to divert it from the task it wishes to undertake, that is, an overall look at our whole procedure and proposals on how it should 478 be organised. I have asked the Select Committee to let us have its report, if possible, by the end of the Session, because I agree with it that the problem is a grave one.
§ I summed up the problem last July in the first speech I made as Leader of the House, when I remarked that the authority of the House of Commons has been declining, is declining, and will continue to decline unless we take active steps to stop it.
§ There will not, I think, be much disagreement about the main cause—the simple fact that institutions developed under one set of conditions and designed to fulfil certain specific functions have been perpetuated under quite different conditions when old tasks have disappeared and new tasks have been added.
§ This is a problem which affects not only the House of Commons, but most of our other democratic institutions as well, particularly local government. When I was Minister of Housing and Local Government it fell to my lot to see for myself with fresh eyes what those who had devoted their lifetime to local government as officials or as elected representatives had long been aware of. Years before that, the structure of our local government had become an anachronism. It was, in fact, antediluvian, created in the horse and buggy age before 1900 and still functioning in the modern motor car age of 1966. No wonder, despite all the energy and enthusiasm of councillors and officials, that it is not working very well.
§ One of the most encouraging features of the present political scene is the courage and readiness of so many people in local government to recognise the need for drastic reform and to give a welcome to the new Royal Commission which we have established for this purpose. I suggest today that the need for reform in our procedures here at Westminster is not much less urgent. Shall we show the same readiness and courage?
§ Certainly, the challenge to us is far more daunting since we cannot leave the initiative to a Royal Commission. We have to reform ourselves, and we must start by asking ourselves soberly and coolly how far our old procedures fit the new functions which a modern Parliament has to fulfil.479
§ Let me describe the central problem as I see it. The physical conditions under which we work and many of our main procedures are survivals from a period when parties were weak, when the making and unmaking of Ministries still rested with the House of Commons, not with an electorate based on universal suffrage, and when the Cabinet was merely the executive committee of the Commons. Procedurally, we still behave as though we were a sovereign body which really shared with the Government in the initiation of legislation, which exercised a real control not only of finance, but of the administration of the Departments. But, today, not only the House of Lords has been shorn of most of its authority. The House of Commons, too, has surrendered most of its effective powers to the Executive and has become in the main the passive forum in which the struggle is fought between the modern usurpers of parliamentary power, the great political machines.
§ In this transformation of the parliamentary scene the House of Commons has largely lost the three functions for which its procedures were evolved and to which they are relevant, the making of Ministries, initiation of legislation shared with the Cabinet, and the watchdog control of finance and administration.
§ The question the reformer has to ask himself is whether we should look backwards in an attempt to restore the pristine powers of this House to which our procedures are relevant or whether we should accept our present limited functions largely as they are and adapt our procedures to them. I know that there are some of my hon. Friends who dream of a time when the secret negotiations of the Government with outside interests which precede all modern legislation and the secret decisions in the Committee Room upstairs which largely determine party attitudes will be rendered insignificant because the House of Commons will once again become sovereign and make decisions for itself. I think they are crying for the moon.
§ It is no good trying to reform ourselves by harking back to ancient days. An effective reform must be an adaptation of obsolete procedures to modern conditions and to the functions we should fulfil in a modern highly Indus 480 trialised community. Today, for example, it must be the electorate, not the Commons, who normally make and unmake Governments. It must be the Cabinet that runs the Executive and initiates and controls legislation, and it must be the party machines that manage most of our business, through the usual channels, as well as organising what was once a congeries of independent back benchers into two disciplined political armies. Since this is the structure of modern political power, the task of the reformer is to adapt our institutions and procedures to make them efficient.
§ I believe that there are three questions by which the working of the House of Commons can be tested, both today and for future change: First, is the legislative process designed to enable policies to be translated into law at the speed required by the tempo of modern industrial change? Secondly, can our timetable, so long as the Finance Bill dominates our procedure, leave room for debating the great issues and especially for the topical debates on matters of current controversy which provide the main political education of a democracy? Thirdly, while accepting that legislation and administration must be firmly in the hands of the Government, does the House of Commons provide a continuous and detailed check on the work of the Executive and an effective defence of the individual against bureaucratic injustice and incompetence? It is by these three tests, I suggest, that we should try out both our existing procedures and the proposals for modifying them put forward by the various schools of Parliamentary reform.
§ Here, I would call attention to one confusion which is always recurring in our discussions of Parliamentary reform. There is a great deal of talk about the need for modernisation, for equipping the House with a more efficient voting system, for improving our libraries, for improving our physical accommodation—even on occasion, for television. I would not decry for one moment modernisation of this kind, and I shall have something to say about it.
§ But there is a difference between modernisation and Parliamentary reform. One can, for example, be in favour of introducing loudspeakers into the House of Commons, or improving the Library system, and yet be opposed to every 481 proposal for adapting our procedures to modern conditions. Equally, one can be in favour of Parliamentary reform and yet determined to preserve tradition where it does not destroy efficiency.
§ I notice from reading the delightful new book by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who very generously gave me a copy—I would have bought it if he had not done so—that he is against all kinds of tradition, all kinds of ancient institutions, and dismisses them all as mumbo-jumbo. As a Parliamentary reformer, I hold a rather different view. I think that the British people, including the Scots, like their traditional ceremonies—not only our own Speaker's procession, but also the State Opening of Parliament, despite the strictures of my hon. Friend, and because I accept this as a fact my attitude to the ceremonies of the House is different from his.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the phrase "mumbo-jumbo" was not mine originally, but was a remark by Mr. Speaker? Is he aware that in the opening of the Scottish Grand Committee upstairs there is no mumbo-jumbo?
§ Mr. Crossman
I have read my hon. Friend's book very thoroughly. I ask him not to interrupt me, because I am trying to set a good example and make a short speech and I ask him not to tempt me to deflect from that.
I suggest that we should leave our ceremonies alone unless they hold up business or impair efficiency, and that brings me to the first of the proposals—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get rid of Black Rod."]—an amazing premonition from behind me—which I wish to bring before the House and which relates to one of these traditions, namely, the notorious appearances of Black Rod.
Here is a ceremony which undoubtedly, as we found in a recent debate, has done damage to our work and, on occasions, spoiled an important debate. That is why I join with those who seek to reform it. For some weeks we have been in consultation both with the other place and with the Opposition here and as a result I suggest to the House one possible solution—I have to be very careful here, 482 for this is subject to legislation and to Her Majesty's consent.
In the long run, I would hope that notification of Royal Assent would be reduced quite simply to the announcement by the Lord Chancellor or the Speaker that the Queen had issued Letters Patent giving assent to certain Bills the titles of which would be read either by him, or the appropriate Officer of the House.
However, it would seem reasonable to arrange for one arrival of Black Rod in each Session probably towards the end, at a moment which caused minimal interruption of our business with, of course, the usual one at Prorogation. For the rest of this Session, however, we might be content with limiting the present type of Commission to four with, once again, one at Prorogation. That would indicate the pace of reform of the House of Commons which is possible.
But if it is a mistake to believe that we can modernise our institutions simply by tearing out all ceremony and destroying traditional procedures, there is one aspect of our institutions which is pernicious mumbo-jumbo. This is the wide and, to the ordinary elector, the baffling gap between the way in which our parliamentary system is supposed to work according to its procedures and the way it actually works in real life, between what we purport to be doing and what we actually do. It is this gap between Parliamentary theory, Parliamentary procedure, and Parliamentary practice which, in my view, is largely responsible for the decline in the prestige of the House of Commons.
I suppose that the most obvious example of this gap is the elaborate procedure for "controlling Supply". When we take schoolchildren from our constituencies around the House, and tell them the story of the Civil War, I fear that we deceive both them and ourselves. We tell them that in a free country the Executive can obtain money and spend money only with the consent of the elected legislature. Of course, even as we tell it we know that the story is a myth, something which still had a substratum of truth about one hundred years ago, but which has only the slenderest relation to reality today.
Despite the heroic work of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committees, it 483 would be difficult to think of any democratic legislature where control of the Executive's expenditure by the legislature is less effective than it is here at Westminster. The British Parliament grew up with two great aims—to control Supply and to redress grievance. The machinery for the fulfilment of the first of these aims is now largely mumbo-jumbo and this despite the fact that with every decade the power of the State and the size of the public sector of expenditure grow steadily bigger. It seems almost true to say that the more of the taxpayers' money which the Government spend, the less effective is the check exerted by those elected to control it.
I have no doubt that in this respect at least the transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive has gone too far. We need to consider ways in which, while leaving the Executive the necessary freedom of action, we can develop institutions detailed, continuous and effective in their control. This reform would be good for the prestige of Parliament, good for the morale of back benchers, and, I believe, very good for the Government as well, because a strong and healthy Executive is all the stronger and healthier if it is stimulated by responsible investigation and criticism. That in a nutshell is the case for the two new specialist Committees which I am proposing to establish.
Before coming to that, I should like to say a few words about the Select Committee's Report of 7th March, which, as the House knows, was concerned wholly with financial procedure. Most of the Report is concerned with sweeping away the mumbo-jumbo which has clogged so much of our Supply procedure. That so much of the Report and so many of the recommendations are almost unintelligible, even after several days' study, to hon. Members with years of experience shows the extent to which we have been frustrating the efficient management of our affairs by clinging to obsolete ceremonial phrases.
I congratulate the Committee on its Report and should like to state that the Government recommend the implementation of virtually all its recommendations, the majority of them almost immediately by means of the modifications of Standing Orders which I shall be moving later 484 this evening. I will not give detailed references to the amendments in the Schedule which give effect to the majority of the Committee's recommendations. My right hon. Friend, who will be winding up for the Government, will, of course, be ready to answer questions about them if any hon. Member wishes, but I will briefly mention the few recommendations which are not covered by the Schedule. For convenience, I will refer to the summary recommendations in paragraph 21 of the Report of 7th March.
Recommendations 14 and 15, which relate to Ways and Means Resolutions and to a new form of provisional authorisation of taxes, will require legislation. We sympathise with them and will produce legislative proposals when we can.
Recommendation 13 is that there should be a Defence Vote on Account. We can see the advantages of this, but we would like to wait upon the more detailed examination of Defence Estimates which the Committee said in paragraph 16 that it was to undertake.
A few recommendations do not call for alterations of Standing Orders. These are Recommendations 9, 10, 11 and 18. These seem to be changes which Mr. Speaker and the Clerks, acting under his authority, can effect if it seems from this debate that the House so desires, and I will not detail those recommendations.
Of course, I realise that by sweeping away these procedural cobwebs we have cleaned up only the fringe of the problem of Supply. What really matters if we are to modernise procedure on the Floor and give ourselves time both for topical debates and much needed legislation is action about the Finance Bill. I have studied the Committee's Report on this subject. If I cannot announce a decision on its proposal for putting the Committee stage upstairs, it is because the Government want to consider it in the context of the overall report on procedural reform on which the Committee is now to concentrate so as to give it to us before the end of the Session.
But I give the Committee the assurance that we realise the full force of its arguments. We cannot provide the debates on the floor which back benchers rightly demand on topical issues until we have solved the problem of the Finance Bill. Since the Government, too, want more 485 time for legislation, the Government have as much interest in reform along these lines as back benchers or the Opposition.
I now turn to what is perhaps the most important aspect of Parliamentary reform—for the reasons which I have given—the extension of our Committee system and, in particular, the extension of Specialist Committees along the lines of our successful Nationalised Industries Committee. I am aware that there is a body of opinion on this side of the House that our aims should be not to deflect the energy of the House into Committees upstairs, but to restore its vitality here on the floor.
Personally, I believe we can combine these objectives, by trying to get more and better controversy on the floor while reviving parliamentary control of the Executive through the Committee system. I have already alluded to the problems of the Finance Bill and I now pay tribute to the detailed post-mortem supervision now exerted by the Public Accounts Committee—which celebrated its 105th birthday this year—and to the Estimates Committee, too.
But should we go beyond the supervision of expenditure? Should we experiment in giving to the back-bench Member a share in the investigation of administration and even of the policies of the Government? I am convinced that this is a debt we must pay. Some people talk as though it were still possible to make a sharp distinction between policy and administration and to lay it down that Select Committees and Specialist Committees should deal only with the latter and be excluded from consideration of the former.
But even a superficial study of the work of the Committee on Nationalised Industries, for example, will reveal that this distinction between policy and administration is often very blurred, and that it is the blurring which enables the Committee to do its most valuable work.
There are countless areas of public discussion and public concern which are not areas of party controversy and it is these areas which Select Committees can profitably investigate. This will have great constitutional importance. For one thing, we have to face the growing power of the State, the ever-widening expansion of Whitehall's activities, the ever-enlarg- 486 ing number of civil servants and agents of the State. At present, huge tracts of this public sector are virtually screened from accountability to the House of Commons.
I believe that, cautiously and systematically, the House of Commons should begin to bridge this gap. That is why, after careful consultation with the Opposition, we shall follow up the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the debate on the Address, and establish experimentally, for this Session, two new Committees—one, a subject Committee on Science and Technology; the other, the first Committee to study a Department, the Department of Agriculture.
Before I leave the subject of Select Committees, there is one other point in the Motions which I shall be moving, to which I call particular attention. It is that the two new Specialist Committees shall have power to admit strangers during the examination of witnesses unless they otherwise order. At present, as the House knows, Select Committees can sit in public, but the right to do so is a little mythical, because the withdrawal of strangers may be enforced whenever a single Member spies them.
Under the arrangement which we propose, these two Committees will be able to hear evidence in public, unless at any time they prefer to sit in private; and I hope that this example will be followed in the Sessional Orders continuing the existence of our other Select Committees.
I have put this Motion down for two reasons. In the first place, if we look back in our history, we shall find that there is nothing new about public sittings of Select Committees. They quite frequently took place before the Second World War. in the second place, it has occurred to me, as it has to others, that one reason for the very disappointing attention paid to the Select Committees and their Reports, whether here or outside Westminster, may be the months which sometimes occur between the taking of evidence and its eventual publication.
Recently, we decided that the Reports of the P.A.C. and the Estimates Committee should be regularly debated by the whole House and we allocated three days a year to the process, but only a microcosm of the House turned up. Although the Reports have regularly provided first-rate material for debate, the sittings were 487 attended by only a handful of Members, which suggests that most M.P.s still regard the detailed control those Committees exert over the Executive as nothing more than a peripheral activity of this House.
It seems to me essential, if we are to restore the prestige and authority of the Commons, that we should give to the activities of these Committees the importance they deserve—which they have in every other democratic country—and it seems to me worth testing whether or not a Select Committee might gain strength by hearing evidence in public.
I am hopeful, therefore, that one at least of the new specialist Committees which we have established will try the experiment and that others may decide to do so in their Sessional Orders—
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Is it contemplated that these Committees will be able to call Ministers and cross-examine them in public? This is important.
§ Mr. Crossman
Again, I must be careful. The Leader of the House has learned that Select Committees are laws unto themselves in the way they conduct their affairs. I have studied their rules, and there is nothing in them which prevents the calling of a Minister, but it is for the Committees to decide. It would be interesting, as we are to have a year of trying things out, to see whether there might be a case for calling a Minister to give evidence. However, this will be up to the Select Committee—
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
Would my right hon. Friend elaborate on that point? If a Select Committee invited a Minister to give evidence, might he decline to come? Under what circumstances might he decline to give the information which they require? —[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Crossman
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has given the appropriate answer sotto voce. There is considerable respect for Select Committees on the Front Bench beside me. I think that Ministers would pay due attention to a request from a Select Committee to attend. I have not heard of a refusal to do so.
488 I turn now to the third traditional duty of Parliament, and, in particular, of the back bencher, the redress of grievance—
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Specialist Committees admitting the public. Is it intended that the existing P.A.C. and the Estimates Committee should also follow that practice?
§ Mr. Crossman
Nothing is suggested. I said that they have their rules for themselves. They could perfectly well pass a Sessional Order, if they wished. There may be very good reasons for their not doing so. I do not want to lay down laws about what the Committees should or should not do.
I know that the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries has carefully considered this question. Very cogent evidence was given to me that it might be well advised not to meet in public, owing to the traditional relationship which it has with the civil servants whom it examines. It is up to the Committees. We must evolve the experiment along the lines of the best way in which a Committee thinks that it should do its work.
I now turn for a moment to the third traditional duty of Parliament and, in particular, of the back bencher—the redress of grievance and the defence of the individual against administrative injustice. As I tried to show on the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, the doctrine of Ministerial accountability which used to be the main stimulus to the proper supervision of the Civil Service is now in danger of impeding the redress of grievance by the M.P. and stopping his vigilant inspection, criticism and control of alleged injustice or maladministration. That is the justification for the creation of the Parliamentary Commissioner, and I hope to see the Bill on the Statute Book.
What should be his relationship to the House, and especially to the back benchers whom he serves? In a speech in Stowmarket, as long ago as July, 1964, my right hon. friend the Prime Minister proposed a high-powered Select Committee to stand in much the same relationship to the Parliamentary Commissioner as the present P.A.C. does to the Comptroller and Auditor General; and the right hon. and learned Member for St. 489 Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) picked up this suggestion in the Second Reading debate on the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill.
So there is no disagreement on this and when the Bill becomes law I shall put down a Motion to this effect. Indeed, without a Select Committee, the independence of the Parliamentary Commissioner might well be undermined by a stream of Questions tabled by Members in order to discuss his activities. If he is to do his work effectively he must be protected from this barrage.
That will be one job of the Select Committee, which will also receive the annual Report on his activities, as well as decide how to present to the House those of his Reports which he refers to the Select Committee because they raise important general principles. Working under a Select Committee of this kind, I believe, the Parliamentary Commissioner will, in due course, evolve a modern doctrine of Ministerial responsibility and accountability, which takes account of the real relations between the political head of a Department and the civil servants under him.
Before I turn to the question of morning sittings, which, I think, the House will want me to deal with at some length, let me mention briefly the Committee's recommendation that back bench speeches be limited to 15 minutes and Front Bench speakers be invited to limit themselves—a good distinction—to half an hour. I mention it briefly, to show we have not forgotten it; indeed, I think it urgent to take action. But the Committee is just completing a report on topical debates and Standing Order No. 9 and I think that we shall do the recommendation better justice if we consider it in the context of that report. I assure the Committee that I propose to do so.
I now turn to the amendments which cover the Report of the Select Committee of 3rd August on morning sittings. We agree that a sessional experiment on the lines it suggests should be conducted on two mornings a week. What I propose, in brief, is that, on Mondays and Wednesdays, as from 1st February, we shall commence our business at 10 o'clock with Prayers. Immediately after Prayers we should take Ministerial Statements of secondary importance which, since they can now be made only at 3.30, are fre- 490 quently crowded out by pressure of business and are only to be found next day in HANSARD under the heading of Written Questions.
I suggest that, to give sufficient notice for the preparation of supplementaries, these Ministerial Statements should be printed on the Order Paper. Let me emphasise that important or controversial Statements or, for that matter, my own weekly business statement will still be taken at 3.30 p.m. The other business for the morning will consist of affirmative Orders, negative Orders, non-controversial legislation and the like until 12.30, when the Adjournment will take place, followed by a half-hour Adjournment debate initiated by a back bencher.
What is the case for morning sittings? The Select Committee's main—indeed its sole—concern was to reduce the burden on Members, particularly whole-time Members, of late-night sittings which had become so oppressive in the last Parliament. In fact, its proposal was relatively simple—to transfer to two mornings the secondary business which now has to be taken after 10 o'clock and which so often causes Members to miss their last trains home.
The Government have accepted the Committee's view and what our Standing Orders will be doing is to transfer to Wednesday and Monday mornings much of the business we are now taking on Wednesday nights and Thursday nights after 10 o'clock. I have no doubt that the success or failure of this Sessional experiment will be judged very largely —and rightly so—by whether we do, in fact, get home any earlier on these two nights next year than we have during the earlier part of this year, because that is what the experiment is about.
The only departure we have made from the Select Committee's plans relates to Adjournments. My predecessor had urged that Adjournment debates should be taken in the morning along with the other post-10 o'clock business, but the Select Committee preferred to leave them where they are. Thinking this over, I felt that the Committee had been less than just to my predecessor's idea. After all, the 10 o'clock conclusion every night, which we hope to achieve by having two Adjournment debates on Mondays and Wednesdays, would certainly prove 491 a great convenience to the Officers of the House as well as to us.
Moreover, the experiment of morning Adjournment debates may well alter and improve their character. At present, because they occur at the tag-end of business, when everyone else has cleared off, they tend to be lonely little affairs often limited to parochial issues. Transfer to the morning would ensure a much wider publicity for these half-hour debates, because they would catch the evening papers, and, therefore, would, I hope, encourage Members to use them for topical issues of wider interest. To encourage this, we are going to rearrange the Ballot so that the subjects can be selected at much shorter notice. I would add here that the second Motion I shall be moving this evening will provide, among other things, that it will not be possible to count the House out during these Sittings—
§ Mr. Crossman
Because we shall lay it down that it shall not be possible—and that, normally, any Divisions called in the morning will be taken at the end of the evening's business.
I have proposed Mondays and Wednesdays despite the inconvenience to provincial Members because of the need to reduce, as far as possible, the burden on officials of the House. They will be hard put to it to serve us on these two mornings and they would have found it impossible if we had chosen Tuesdays and Thurdays, as some people suggested, when Standing Committees also sit. I hope that hon. Members who serve on Standing Committees will agree with me about the choice of days—
§ Mr. Crossman
I should like to move on as quickly as possible. If some points are left out, they can be made by the hon. Member.
So far, I have discussed morning sittings in terms of the arguments used by the Select Committee in its Report. But there is more to the proposal than that, otherwise it would not have been opposed so strongly on the Committee.
What was it to which the opponents really objected? I do not think that it 492 was the idea of arranging our business so that it would normally end really and truly at 10 o'clock. That is a convenience which we all would appreciate. No, what the opponents on the Select Committee really saw—and wrongly saw—in this experiment was the thin end of a wedge which, if driven home, they were afraid might exclude the part-time M.P. from the House altogether. This is a serious objection, and I wish to answer it seriously.
My first answer is that the composition of the House has changed and that we need to adapt our timetable to the needs of newer Members, particularly those who will be, for the most part, whole-time Members. Before the war, the social composition of the House was still very restricted and hon. Members without a privileged education were a small minority. The Government, of course, and a small number of aspirants to Government, worked here whole time.
But in those days the majority of hon. Members belonged to business or the professions and expected to be able to earn their livings in the mornings and to come here late in the afternoon for a stint of public service and to spend an hour or two in the best club in the world. Naturally enough, the times of sittings remained as they were in Edwardian times; arranged for the convenience, on the one hand, of Ministers, and, on the other, for back benchers, most of them here part-time.
Since 1945, two changes have occurred to affect this. First, the work of the House, particularly on legislation, has largely increased, thereby requiring the hundreds of hon. Members who man these committees to work here in the mornings, and these became virtually whole-time hon. Members. Secondly, our social composition has become a great deal more democratic. The dominance of the country gentleman disappeared between the wars. Now the dominance of finance and the learned professions is also being challenged by the arrival of more and more back-benchers who have the kind of outside jobs which they just cannot carry on when they enter Parliament.
For obvious reasons, these new factors are felt rather more strongly on this side of the House; but they are in growing 493 evidence in the Conservative and Liberal Parties, as well. They are also reflected in the electorate's attitude to Parliament.
I was interested to see in a special social survey published in the Sunday Times that 75 per cent. of those interviewed thought that Parliament should be a wholetime job and that 75 per cent. also favoured morning sittings. It is clear that, in the public mind, there must be something wrong with a modern Parliament which cannot provide a whole-time job for the majority of its Members and, equally, a Parliament which fails to adopt normal business hours in the conduct of its business will be regarded as old-fashioned and backward looking. I believe that here, as so often, the public instinct may be sounder than some of us like to admit.
Up till now, if we are frank, our timetable has been designed to suit the convenience of those part-timers who earn their livings outside in the mornings and the whole-timers, often without these economic advantages, have had to lump it. This does not mean that one is against the part-time hon. Member. In our way of politics, the man or woman who retains an outside interest will always have an important rôle to play in the House of Commons, and that includes the trade union official as well as the company director and the political journalist as well as the barrister.
Up to date, we part-timers—for I was one for nearly 20 years and I therefore know the advantages I got by earning my living as a political journalist while others served on Standing Committees—have had things all our own way, because, on balance, a late start, even if it means a late night, is more convenient for the part-timer than an early night combined with an early start, which is the essence of our plan.
There would be some inconvenience to some part-timers resulting from our proposals, but in this matter of convenience is it not time that we gave some consideration to the needs of those who keep the House of Commons going during the morning hours when the part-timers are earning their living? I see this as a Sessional experiment and as a cautious first-step in shifting this balance of convenience in their favour. I certainly do 494 not regard it as a permanent solution and I am aware that many of my hon. Friends are prepared to back only what they regard as a half-way house because they regard it as a first step to rolling the whole timetable backwards so that we conduct our parliamentary business, as far as possible, in business office hours. Provided that it is practical, I see much to commend in this proposal. But that is not on the agenda this afternoon. It is something on which we can take a decision in due course, on the basis of what we have learned as a result of this Sessional experiment.
I will sum up the proposals I have put to the House. First, this is a useful beginning in the clearing up of the mumbo-jumbo of our financial procedure. Secondly, it is a cautious advance in the revival of continuous parliamentary control over the Executive by the creation of two new specialist Committees; and I emphasise that this is a Sessional experiment. Thirdly, the creation of a new Select Committee seeks to assure harmony between the House and its new instrument for the redress of grievances: the Parliamentary Commissioner. Fourthly, the experiment in morning sittings is consciously designed to strike for the first time a balance of convenience in the management of our business which reflects the increasing need for the Member of Parliament to be prepared to make his parliamentary work a full-time job.
I cannot claim that any one of these four is, in itself, a radical reform. But, taken together, and worked on and used to the full, I believe that they could give us the biggest advance on this front that we have seen since 1945.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I should, perhaps, begin my speech in a classical form by saying, "Unaccustomed as I am to speaking in this Parliament from this position". I shall, nevertheless, do my best, as a former Leader of the House, to advise it on these procedural matters, realising that there are a variety of views held by hon. Members on almost every matter to be discussed today.
I wish to get one thing out of the way first. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House referred to delays caused by the appearance of Black Rod from time to time. I agree that there 495 have been unfortunate interruptions in our debates, but I do not believe that it is necessary to take up the time of the House by passing legislation to solve this problem. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept my solution—because I believe it is necessary to have the Royal Assent signified in this way—a satisfactory answer could be found. I suggest that we meet at 2.15 p.m., on a day when there is a Commission, complete Prayers by 2.20 p.m. and then go to another place, returning to start Questions at about the right time. That is a simple solution which would require no legislation or controversy. Having disposed of that matter, I come to the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's contribution was fluent, able and plausible—but I wrote those epithets before I had heard it. Having heard it, I would only add that I agree with many of his generalities, but thought that it was singularly unconvincing in regard to some of these Motions. If I do not deal with every point he raised, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take that as meaning that I agree with him on them all. I ask him to accept—since it is important for the Leader of the House to feel that he has the confidence of all parts of the House—that there is no personal animosity or party political purpose in what I shall say. The right hon. Gentleman and I came to the House of Commons at about the same time. We have seldom agreed since, and frequently we have been rude about each other, though without any personal rancour entering into it. I say that there is no party point in what I wish to say because any party advantage emanating from the right hon. Gentleman's proposals must particularly lie with the Opposition of the day.
The right hon. Gentleman has treated the House of Commons as a whole disgracefully in the way in which these proposals have been brought forward. Indeed, it has been an affront to the ordinary hon. Member. First of all, the Government Whip is on. A case might be made out that, if there is to be some fundamental departure—such as specialist Committees on foreign affairs or defence, taken from the United States' precedent 496 —there might be a case for putting on the Government Whip. However, these are modest, tentative steps dealing with our procedures, such as the time available to us, therefore this is a case in which there should be a free expression of opinion.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that if this is an occasion when there should be a free vote, there should have been a free vote in 1960, when the then Tory Government put on the Whip?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I urge the hon. Gentlemen and his hon. Friends not to look back to the past all the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We are dealing with the present and the future and, to be frank, I admit that I have not the slightest recollection of what happened in 1960.
§ Mr. Crossman
When this matter was discussed at Question Time last week I was asked to give precedents and was bitterly rebuked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues for not giving them. As a result of that interchange, I have come armed with lists of precedents. I am, therefore, sorry to hear that he is now not interested in looking back to the past.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I am not asking for precedents. I believe that there are many ways in which our procedures could be improved. Many ways could be examined to make them more effective and I am not prepared to be bound by precedent. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentleman opposite may laugh, but I propose to indicate some of the ways in which I think we can go even further than the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. First, however, I must make it clear that on a matter like this, a matter which has been so modestly described by the right hon. Gentleman, there should be a free vote.
Secondly, it is wrong that these proposals should be put to us without there having been prior discussion of the Reports of the Select Committees concerned. That is really a discourtesy to the Select Committee on Procedure. Some very hard work has been put in on the First Report, for the Session 1966–67, about the times of sittings and some very interesting evidence was given to that Committee, particularly by Mr. Speaker. There should 497 have been an opportunity for the House to discuss that Report, to examine the evidence, and for back benchers to express their views before the Leader of the House made up his mind on this issue.
Consider, for example, the Motion on Agriculture. Before that was moved the Fourth Report, for the Session 1964–65, should have been debated. Careful consideration should have been given to the evidence of the Chairman of the Estimates Committee. Indeed, there is a great deal to be said for the evidence given by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) although under his pleasant exterior he conceals a number of oddities. This proposal is in direct conflict with the recommendation put forward by that hon. Gentleman to the Select Committee and I believe that, on a matter such as this, it would have been better if the House had had a chance of debating the Report so that, in the light of that debate, the Government could have made up their mind about what to bring forward.
Thirdly, contrary to all his promises, the right hon. Gentleman has tabled these Motions at such short notice that I do not believe that the average back bencher has had adequate time to consider or amend them. These are important matters —financial procedure, specialist Committees, times of sittings, and so on—and, while I am as ready for reform as are most hon. Members, we should have been given time to examine them. I am told, for example—and I have barely had time to read the Order Paper again—that the Leader of the House has himself amended these Motions today. For example, he has completely changed the date for the coming into operation of one of these proposals. I do not see how any hon. Member who was not a member of the Select Committee on Procedure could have had time to master that Motion. That is not the right way to treat the House of Commons. This is a bad day for Parliament.
I therefore hope that the House as a whole will not allow the Leader of the House to get these Motions today. Whip or no Whip, we should make it clear that if the right hon. Gentleman proposes to proced in this way, he will not have our support. As I say, there is no party advantage in this, one way or the 498 other. It is a purely House of Commons matter and the right hon. Gentleman should not be allowed, in view of the way in which he has conducted this exercise, to get some of these Motions.
After dealing with the method of presentation, I come to the merits. First, the proposed changes in our financial procedure. I was not a member of that Committee and have not had time to read the evidence again, either completely or carefully. However, my provisional view —and I have not yet heard the criticisms of what is proposed—is that it is more or less right. It seems that House of Commons control of Supply is retained and it seems that there will not be any interference with private Members' opportunities. I understand that it is designed that Second Reading debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill will be entirely for private Members.
However, one must consider the strain that is likely to be placed on the Chair. It will be impossible for Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and his deputy to carry out the amount of work that will be placed on them. Provision will have to be made for reinforcing the Chair if this new procedure is to be permitted.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to this point. It is proposed that notice of intention to oppose an Estimate should be two days. This, I believe, is too long a period. I understand that the Committee recommended one day and I suggest that it would be better if only one day's notice had to be given.
I agree that the debate on the Defence Estimates is a matter for further examination. There are certain matters which must be dealt with by legislation. One thing, in particular, which I hope will be dealt with by legislation is the business of putting the Budget Resolutions at the end of the Budget speech. This is quite unreasonable. They should be put at the end of the debate on the Budget. I hope that that will be dealt with as quickly as possible, perhaps in the next Finance Bill. Those are the matters I wish to raise on the Motion on financial procedure.
I am not against more Select Committees. I endorse a good deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said. A trend 499 in modern legislation is to leave what is, in effect, a taxing discretion in the hands of officials. There used to be the whole paraphernalia of Special Commissioners, General Commissioners and the courts. But if these matters are left in the hands of officials there is no way to challenge the decisions.
I give three examples. No doubt there may be examples under legislation passed by my party. Whether a firm gets an investment allowance is a matter for the discretion of the Board of Trade. I understand that certain exemptions from the Selective Employment Tax are a matter for the discretion of the Ministry of Labour. There will be discretion in the operation of the Land Commission when it comes into being. In each such case there should be a small Select Committee charged with the specific duty of examining how the discretion is being exercised. There is no question of challenging the policy. It should accept the policy as laid down in the Act, but should supervise the carrying out of that policy. That would restore to Parliament some authority over the Executive.
We agree with the setting up of a Committee on Science and Technology—what the Leader of the House called a subject Committee. It is very important that we should have a Select Committee able to consider the reports of the various research councils by which a great deal of public money is spent.
I am a little more doubtful about the agricultural Committee. It has a very wide remit. I have made my point about the Committee to Which the hon. Member for Fife, West gave evidence. In a way, the effectiveness of this Select Committee may be diminished by the wideness of its remit. It might be better to have a smaller Select Committee which does not wander over such a wide range of responsibilities.
I leave the question of public sittings to the good sense of the Select Committees. They are capable of deciding whether they are a good thing or not.
I have no objection to the Motion with regard to the Committee on Procedure.
I come to what is the most controversial matter, and that is morning sittings. I oppose the Motion on this matter for 500 a number of reasons. First, it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We should have made up our minds about procedural reforms before we decided on our hours of sitting. There are certain matters in paragraph 5 of the First Report about taking part of the discussions on the Finance Bill in Standing Committee, about voluntary time-tables, for which there is a lot to be said. The Report of that Select Committee deals with the possibility of getting more reasonable timetables for discussions of public bills.
Another matter which we should consider is the remodelling of our procedures to deal with Statutory Instruments. I cannot believe that Prayers should necessarily be taken on the Floor of the House. I cannot believe that we cannot devise a method to relieve the House of some, I do not say all, responsibility in this matter.
I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about shorter speeches. Before daring to utter a word on the subject. I analysed the length of my speeches in this Parliament. I have made four speeches and they took on average 16½, minutes each. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) raised a very long point of order at the beginning of one of them, and an hon. Member opposite made an intervention lasting about half a column of HANSARD in another. I have therefore managed to stick to the proposed 15 minutes for back benchers. It was Mr. Gladstone who said that it takes three minutes to make up a three-hour speech and three hours to make up a three-minute speech. Most of his speeches were three-hour speeches.
This question of making short speeches is a matter of industry and of working on them. I cannot believe that people cannot put their point of view comparatively briefly if they are prepared to try to do so. The very distinguished Members who speak from both Front Benches are perfectly capable of analysing and replying to a debate in 30 minutes. Therefore, why cannot they open a debate in 30 minutes? There may be special cases. For instance, it might have been necessary to give the Home Secretary a special exemption when he is dealing with a complicated Bill, as the other day but generally I cannot see why speeches 501 should not be limited to 30 minutes for Front Bench spokesmen and 15 minutes for back bench Members. That would have quite an effect on our proceedings.
My general point is that to put down this Motion on morning sittings before we have had a much wider look at our general procedures is putting the cart before the horse.
§ Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)
I agree that it would be wrong for a final decision to be taken about morning sittings unless it were taken in conjunction with a comprehensive review of procedure. But what is being suggested is not a final solution, but an experiment for a fixed period. Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that as a result of such an experiment additional evidence about the use to which morning sittings could be put might be revealed?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
If I were to give a straightforward answer to that, I would say that this proposal is so absurd that we, who do not believe in morning sittings, would say that we benefit from this experiment.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves the problem of the length of speeches, from which we all suffer, but which none of us has solved, should not we consider equalising time on both sides of the House in this way? If a 60-minute speech is made by a Member on one side of the House, three speeches of 20 minutes could be made by Members on the other side. This is a self-regulating device which would discourage Members from making long speeches. They would be discouraged by their own side.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I do not wish to get involved in this controversial matter about how long speeches take and how long they seem to take. I should have thought that this matter was already in the discretion of the Chair and that the Chair could deal with it, and, I hope, will deal with it, in the way my hon. Friend has suggested.
I have indicated that it would be wiser, before considering morning sittings, to examine procedural reforms. I come now to the general objection, because one must deploy the general objection to 502 morning sittings against any proposition for them. First, I doubt very much whether hon. Members have read the evidence given by Mr. Speaker and the strong points which he put forward against morning sittings. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal flies flat in the face of Mr. Speaker's evidence, given from page 16 onwards, about the position of Mr. Speaker and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.
Mr. Speaker said that his mornings and those of his officials and officers of the House are full from nine to one o'clock in preparing for Question Time, in scrutinising the Order Paper, in selecting Amendments and in dealing with Private Notice Questions, etc. On this proposal, two out of four mornings would no longer be available for him for that purpose. This is very painstaking work. Until I read his evidence I did not realise the extent of the commitment in time. This is one of the reasons why, within our procedures—I do not say that they are perfect—this House is efficient. The Chair and the Table take great care about the technicalities of our business. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal is a serious interference with that work and is directly contrary to Mr. Speaker's evidence.
Secondly, there is the question of pressure on Members themselves. One of the most stupid criticisms of this place is that Members are overpaid and under-worked. The people who try to court popularity by saying or writing that sort of nonsense have no knowledge of what we try to do in the House.
On the question of correspondence, I do not know the position of other hon. Members, but I reckon that I receive about 100 letters and send out 100 letters each week—10,000 a year. They take quite a long time to deal with. One must meet constituents. One visits Ministries and other places. One has to meet the demands of Standing Committees and Select Committees in the mornings. I think that one of the problems, of which I am not sure everyone is aware, is the difficulty of getting a quorum. I have the proud distinction of being Chairman of the Administrative Sub-committee of the Services Select Committee. Sometimes I sit trembling in my chair, wondering whether two of my colleagues will 503 turn up to hear the evidence of an important person, and usually we just make it. The other day I had to wander around the Committee rooms to see whether there was a Member whom I could induce to come into another Select Commitee. I am told that in one august Committee, too elevated to mention, the first substantive Motion was to reduce the quorum from 15 to 10. This is a practical problem, and if we superimpose morning sittings of the House on these other duties it will make it more difficult to man these Committees, particularly as I hope there will be an extension of the system of Select Committees.
Also, I do not see why Members should not be allowed a little recreation. If they devote the whole of their Saturdays to their constituents, or to some other form of public duty, I think that the possibility of having Monday morning off is not altogether disreputable or disgraceful.
One has to consider also the pressure on Ministers. I think that Standing Committees are a sufficient interference with Ministerial time. Government cannot be carried out unless there are meetings of Ministers in the mornings. If attendance at the House for two days a week is added, this is bound to diminish the efficiency of Ministerial consultation and decision.
It is difficult enough these days for a Minister to acquire authority in his or her Department. I think that Ministers ought to run their Departments. I do not think that they ought to be run by their civil servants, and I deprecate the frequent Ministerial changes from that point of view. This is not a party point at all. Unless the morning is predictably free, I do not think that Ministers will have a chance of organising their Ministerial activities so as to exercise control over their Departments. I think, therefore, that from the point of view of the machinery of government this added burden on Ministers will be quite disastrous.
I come next to the point about part-timers. It is part of the genius of our nation to be untidy both constitutionally and practically. Some people, of course, have to serve full-time in the morning on Standing Committees. There are about 200 Members whose presence here in the 504 morning is essential, but it would be wholly wrong to make it impossible for those who have other interests to serve in this House.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to journalists, businessmen and lawyers. Those who are not full-time in the ordinary sense of the word probably do 12 hours a day in the service of this House anyway, but because they are not full-time in the sense that they do not begin their day here at 10 o'clock in the morning they bring a breath of the outside world into this place, and if we were to deprive them of any outside interests Parliament would be a poorer place.
Another important factor to consider is the position of the staff of the House. I think that we are well served. The doorkeepers, for example, are a remarkable body of men, and many of them after a time become our friends. They know us by sight, and they take pride in seeing that messages are delivered to us as quickly as possible. They tell us who is on the premises, and what is going on. I think that they provide a unique service, which one appreciates only after a time. How many hours a week more will they work? What service which they provide will have to be given up because of this extra burden? What about other members of the staff in other Departments? Has this problem been thought out? What will be the extra burden on those who serve us well? What compensating lack of service will we get in some other direction?
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has long experience in this House. He has referred to the part-timers. As I understand the proposals, there are to be no Divisions in the morning, and only non-contentious business, Prayers, and so on, will be taken. It is my impression that when these matters are discussed now many of the part-timers are not here. I rather agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument about morning sittings, but for other reasons. Does he expect that more part-timers will have to attend in the mornings than now have to attend to deal with these matters?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I was trying to deploy the general argument against morning sittings. This might be an 505 experiment which will lead on to something else, and I think that these general objections are relevant. I shall deal with the particular proposals and the effect which they might have on us, but I think that it is right, on a Motion dealing with morning sittings, to put forward the general objections to them.
§ Mr. Crossman
What we were discussing was a transfer of work done after 10 o'clock at night to the morning, whereas it seems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is discussing a proposal to add so many hours in the morning and let the sitting run on as late as it does now in the evening. That is a totally different proposal.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
The right hon. Gentleman says that, but I have the most profound suspicion that that will not happen, and I think that my suspicions are amply borne out by the change of date from 17th January to 1st February. The date has been changed because the Government know that they dare not have this experiment during the first fortnight after we return from the Christmas Recess because they would have to disregard it and go on sitting late. I suspect that we will not sit any less late at night than we do now, and by this means the Government will get more time at their disposal.
I shall come back to the specific proposals in a moment or two. I have put the general objections—the points made by Mr. Speaker, the difficulty for hon. Members, for Ministers, the House of Commons staff, and the part-timers.
I think that the Government's proposals are half-baked. I think, to use a not altogether original phrase, that this is a political mule without pride of ancestry, or hope of posterity. These are not the proposals of the Select Committee, and of the Commonwealth Secretary. They are quite different. The proposals put forward by the Select Committee, by a majority of 8 to 7, and by the Commonwealth Secretary, were that we should meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and not on Monday at all. It was proposed that there should not be statements in the morning. There were other proposals, which I shall not go into now. The fact is that they were different from these proposals. [Interruption.]
506 The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) was Chairman of the Select Committee, and no doubt he will have an opportunity of explaining how they are similar. To my mind they are very different, and, from the point of view of posterity, I do not think that they will be the basis for any sane approach to morning sittings in the future.
Why Monday? This is a built-in preference for the London Member. I was born in Wirral, thank goodness. I have had my home there all my life, thank goodness. Wirral is 200 miles from London, thank goodness. Why should Battersea be better off than Bradford, or Camberwell than Carlisle, or Wembley better off than Wirral or Wigan? If the House is to meet at 10 o'clock on Monday morning, what chance is there of a Member who comes from what no doubt the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) would not altogether accept as the outer regions, but anyhow from places where men are men, of getting here in time? I deplore the excluding of this breath of fresh air which comes into this metropolitan miasma from places from which it is impossible to get to London conveniently by 10 o'clock on a Monday morning.
This is the most absurd proposal that I have ever heard in this House, and that is saying quite a lot, that we should come here at 10 o'clock on a Monday morning. Why 10 o'clock? Why make it half an hour worse and thus drive the barb in still further?
Who will decide which are second-class Ministerial statements? I believe that one of the essences of our procedure is to have a focal point in the parliamentary day, a time when most hon. Members are either on the premises, or in the Chamber. At the moment, it is half-past three, when there are Private Notice Questions, the Adjournment of the House can be moved, and Ministerial statements can be made. The remedy lies in more brevity in Ministerial statements, not in having a second-class lot slipped in at five minutes past ten on a Monday morning. This is absolutely intolerable, and one can see how this will be used by Governments from both sides of the House.
If one is worried about a statement, the thing to do will be to slip it in at 507 that time. Notice will be given on Friday that at five past ten on Monday morning somebody will make a statement about something. Often it is not until one has heard the statement that one can see the dangers in it, and I think that this will be an abuse of the procedures of Parliament.
The next matter to consider is Ten Minute Rule Bills. I am not saying that I am in favour of the present procedure. I liked the idea of a Ten Minute Rule Bill being taken at the end of the day's sitting. But there was a wide feeling on both sides of the House that these Bills should continue to be dealt with at 3.30 p.m. This is a complete disregard of that feeling. We are now to have Ten Minute Rule Bills in the morning.
The provision for having no Count completes the farce. If the passion for morning sittings is so great why do the Government decline to face the possibility of a Count? If the revolutionary zeal of the hon. Member for Fife, West is so burning, why should there be no Count? If the view is that this proposal will rejuvenate Parliament, and that we shall have these dynamic, purposive, gritty debates on Monday mornings, why not face the possibility of a Count? That completes the farce except for one further matter which is even more important, namely, the idea of having votes at the end of the day's proceedings.
Why should this be at 9.30 p.m.? Admittedly, it is half an hour better than 9 o'clock, which was the original suggestion, but one merit of having the vote at ten o'clock is that a Member can fulfil a public engagement at some distance from the House and still have time to get back to hear the closing speeches and vote. The proposal for voting at 9.30 p.m. has more disadvantages than advantages.
On the general principle, however, we know that as things are all Members do not hear all the arguments—but they probably hear some. Even if they do not attend they are probably told what has happened by other Members who have been in the Chamber, and they receive some impression of who has been good and who has been bad on the Front Bench and of the arguments. Under these proposals, with no Count being possible, the attendance in the morning will be 15, 508 20, 25 or 30 Members, which means that about 600 will not know anything about the debate. That makes a nonsense of the whole proceedings. This is a wrong, grave and bad innovation.
The Motion is wide enough to allow any business to be taken. If the Government were pressed—as this Government may be towards the end of the Session, when Acts of Parliament and other Measures are not coming forward fast enough—they could use this procedure to deal with business of real substance on Monday mornings.
I end with a sincere plea. This is not a party political issue, although there is a strange view—to which the right hon. Gentleman gave some support—that somehow, if we have morning sittings, it will be a blow against the Tory establishment. That is wrong, because establishments, whether Tory or Labour, have a very good facility for looking after themselves. There are establishments in every walk of life. There is even one on the Estimates Committee. Those who will suffer most will be the ordinary back bench Members; those who have to serve the House, from Mr. Speaker downwards in the heirarchy; Ministers and officials who are responsible for efficient administration in Government; the Cabinet and the House of Commons itself, whose good name I wish to cherish.
This procedure of having unattended debates on Monday mornings really will bring Parliament into more ridicule and contempt. The one body which will not suffer will be the Opposition. I see endless opportunities for the Opposition. But that is not the point. The point is the efficiency, stature and dignity of the House which are at issue. I hope that hon. Members will show their dissatisfaction with such force that the right hon. Gentleman will be obliged to ask leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
The descent or elevation to the Front Bench of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)—whichever is the right way to put it—has induced in him a very lively mood. This afternoon he has given the House a forceful and amusing speech.
The purpose of these proposals is to modernise our procedure. All hon. 509 Members, on both sides of the House, want to see modernisation take place as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. It is not only the new Members who have been acting as a pressure group—and a very good one—in asking for changes to take place and in demanding morning sessions. Older Members, who have suffered many years from frustrating and time-wasting activities of the kind with which Parliamentary procedures abound, are just as keen to see some of those procedures altered. Indeed, many of the older Members are more zealous to see that happen as they have suffered from these things during so many years of service in the House.
But it should not be held against us if we temper our zeal for reform with the experience which we have gained from long service. We should not be branded as reactionaries if we reject the claim put forward implicitly by many hon. Members that any change is a good change and an improvement. That is not so. We should consider every change on its merits.
Before saying a few words about these proposals, I want to express my regret that the House is not dealing with the question of modernisation with a proper sense of priorities. There is one change in our practice which cries out for reform, in the interests of Members and Ministers, and the dignity and stature of this House.
That is the procedure which we continue to permit in Standing Committees, under which groups of Members are able to obstruct business in such a way as to make many other Members—30, in the case of the Iron and Steel Bill, together with three Ministers and all the officials involved—waste hours and hours, taking two or three months to do something which we all know could properly and more effectively be done in a few weeks.
This is a procedure which no one, inside or outside the House, defends. It brings the House into disrepute. People think that we are fools, especially when they read about camp beds laid out for Members, and all the rest of it. The remedy for this state of affairs is simple, and is understood by every hon. Member. It has been recommended by the Committee on Procedure, but nothing has been done about it because it is largely a party matter. Oppositions have been unwilling to give up what they consider 510 to be some advantage in making a demonstration, by engaging in protracted fights in Committees, and thereby appearing to be doing their duty in a particularly ostentatious way, in opposing a controversial Measure.
One day, I hope that all parties—and it is usually the Opposition party at the time that is most reluctant to accept the obvious solution, which is to agree on a time table in respect of each Measure which comes before the House—will agree that this stupid practice, which brings this House into more disrepute than anything else, should be ended, and that the imaginary political advantage obtained by being free to obstruct by drawing out and wasting time, is not worth while. If it is given up by both parties such advantages and disadvantages as there may be will cancel each other out.
An important proposal before us today is that which seeks to set up two Select Committees—one to consider the affairs of the Ministry of Agriculture and the other to consider problems of technology. I was worried when I read of the proposal, but was relieved to see that the all-out demand of the advocates of specialist Committees have not been accepted by the Government, who are approaching the matter timidly and proposing only two Committees, one in respect of a Ministry which I suppose is the least controversial of all Ministries, and another in respect of the broad subject of technology.
I and many other hon. Members are fearful that the setting up of these specialist Committees will remove and weaken the authority of the House as against the Executive, but I do not want to develop the general case today. What alarms me is the wording of the Motion dealing with the Ministry of Agriculture. According to that, the Select Committee is "to consider all the activities of the Ministry in England and Wales." That is exceedingly wide.
My right hon. Friend said that all he wants the Committee to do is to look at the Ministry's administration, but according to the words on the Order Paper—and these are the words that matter—the Select Committee will be able to consider all the activities 511 of the Ministry, which includes, of course, policy matters as well. What my right hon. Friend says about what he hopes the Select Committee will do is one thing, but it will be empowered by the Motion to have an overrall authority, consider all matters to do with the Ministry of Agriculture, and once it begins to examine the Minister and his civil servants—there may be conflicting opinions of policy—and debate all the Ministry problems, grave difficulties will arise and such a Select Committee may do more harm than good.
I hope that my right hon. Friend's words will be accepted as a directive by the Select Committee and that it will go no further than the Estimates Committee or the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I was somewhat perturbed, also, by the fact that the Government did not follow the advice of the Select Committee on Procedure, which suggested that these new Select Committees should be sub-committees of the Estimates Committee, which is well experienced in separating policy from administrative matters. Taking the new Select Committees away from the Estimates Committee instead of accepting the recommendation of the Procedure Committee is alarming.
The major, or at any rate most controversial, proposal concerns morning sittings. I am very disappointed that the Government have not accepted the view expressed by a very large number of my hon. Friends—that this sort of matter should be left to the decision of Members of the House. I accept the proposition that procedural changes put forward to enable the Government to carry out their business more quickly or to introduce more legislation must be put forward by the Government as a matter of Government policy. But the proposals here are solely concerned with the convenience for Members of the House.
The idea is—although I am very doubtful—that it will be more convenient for Members of the House to do certain business in the mornings rather than in the evenings. A matter of that sort should not be imposed on the House by the Government, but should be left to the free decision of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
What evidence does my right hon. Friend have, knowing that the Conservative Party has a free vote, as to how many of them will vote for the Government?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not concerned with what the Opposition do. I understand that they have a free vote.
§ Mr. Strauss
What I am saying is that on this side we should have a free vote, and I am reinforced in that argument by the speech of the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Every right hon. and hon. Member in the Conservative Party who comes here today is free to vote with or against the Government as he or she wishes.
§ Mr. Strauss
My right hon. Friend complained today, as he has done in many writings on constitutional matters, that the authority of the House is declining. He said that it has surrendered much of its authority to the Executive. Yet, in this matter, which only concerns the way in which hon. Members carry out their duties as Members of Parliament, he is subjecting the House to the dictate of the Executive. If ever there was a matter in which the House should assert itself and decide what it is to do, it is this. But it is my right hon. Friend who is insisting that the Executive must order the House what it should do.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Would not my right hon. Friend regard it as of benefit to the nation that the House should conduct its business efflently?
§ Mr. Strauss
My right hon. Friend's duty is to get Government legislation through, but how and when it is convenient for the House to do so is a matter for the House to decide itself. Surely that is self-evident.
The idea of morning sittings is old, but the movement towards it was stimulated by the events of last year when, night after night, hon. Members had to stay here either all night or until the early hours of the morning. The newer Members, in particular, became infuriated by 513 what appeared to be our ridiculous and antiquated procedure. They demanded the simple remedy: why not do during morning sittings the sort of business being done late at night?
These proposals are a result of that pressure. I do not consider the question of morning sittings in any way to be a matter of principle. I would support them if it would suit hon. Members better to have them. It is really a practical and mechanical problem. Can we have Standing Committees two mornings a week and morning sittings of the House on the same days? The answer is that we cannot. So the question becomes whether we can have morning sittings on the other two days. Here we have to take account of the very strong evidence put before the Select Committee by Mr. Speaker, setting out the enormous difficulties that he and others responsible for ways and means and the Clerks would have in attending the House on these two mornings because their mornings are occupied in preparing the business for the afternoon when there is a Committee or a Report stage of a Bill.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I do not want to enter this argument, but what Mr. Speaker has said has been repeatedly referred to. I ask my right hon. Friend to read Question 62, on page 19, where, no matter what else he said, Mr. Speaker stated:Wednesday, if you like, is the natural day for an experiment if you decided to have an experiment.But Mr. Speaker's position on this matter should not be brought in too much. That is pressing it too far.
§ Mr. Strauss
We must consider the efficient working of our business. Mr. Speaker said quite rightly that he was a servant of the House and that if the House wanted morning sittings Wednesdays would be the best day. But he argued strongly about this and was against morning sittings. There are strong arguments against having the morning sittings suggested in the Motion. I am not arguing against them as a matter of principle. But the present proposal will not meet the demand made by so many hon. Members that they should sit in the mornings and the House rise at a reason- 514 able hour—6 p.m. or 7 p.m. We know that the House will not do that. We shall have to sit anyway until 9 p.m.
We shall still sit late at night if we have controversial Finance Bills and other Measures. But we are to have morning sittings as well. It does not want very much reform to enable us to deal with these smaller Measures which keep us so often until the early hours of the morning—discussing a Prayer or other minor business, with 100 or 120 Members present. I believe that nearly all these matters should go to Committees anyway and should not come to the House as a whole.
Another point that I do not think the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral really noticed, but which is important, is that it is now being suggested in these proposals that if votes are called for in the morning—and one can never tell when a vote will come up—the vote should be taken at 9.30 at night. If we are to accept that principle, which I do not like, we might just as well say that, on matters raised after 10.30 p.m., if there is to be a vote, it should take place at 3.30 the next afternoon. Then there would be no reason to keep large numbers of hon. Members here for a possible vote during the night. First, the solution proposed does not meet the contention of many hon. Members that there should be morning sittings instead of evening sittings. Secondly, by having votes postponed, we would not need to keep hon. Members here through the night.
I am convinced—and I may be wrong, but my experience convinces me—that, if we have the type of morning sittings suggested, particularly on Monday, we will have a derisory attendance. A small number of Members will consider odds and ends of all sorts of matters—nothing of national importance being discussed and with no debate leading up to the natural and proper climax of a vote. The House will show itself at its worst and will lower its status in public opinion.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Is it not worth reminding the House that Mr. Speaker said in his evidence that, if we were to choose a day on which to have the morning sittings, for obvious reasons it should not be Monday.
§ Mr. Strauss
I cannot remember that passage and it is not part of my case. The objection to Monday is obvious and will be in the minds of most hon. Members.
I want to come back to the principle that is proposed of having a discussion in the morning on a subject—perhaps an important one—and having a vote on it later in the day. This is an extraordinary principle. One could carry it logically forward and say that, on the Report stage of a Bill, on a large number of Amendments dealing with different matters all the votes could be taken at the end of the day, at 10 o'clock at night. We can logically go still further and suggest that, because it might be more convenient for hon. Members—and this is all being done for hon. Members' convenience—voting on all matters debated on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday should take place on Wednesday night.
To take the logic a step further, why not have proxy votes? One need not be in the House, one could be abroad on certain days when matters were discussed and need not hear the arguments, and then give a proxy vote two or three days later. I cannot believe that this principle is good for the House. It is not accepted in any national chamber throughout the world, as far as I know. We ought to stand by the practice that debate and argument should lead to the climax of vote decision and action. Any departure from that principle is damaging to the House.
We have been told that a review is being made by the Select Committee on Procedure, on a wide and comprehensive scale, on all the procedures of the House, with a view to modernising them. This is magnificent. We hope that at the end of the day it will come forward with a number of suggestions which will do away with the time-wasting and frustrating practices which have annoyed us and which impede the House in its work. We hope that those practices will disappear. These are to be wide-ranging and coherent proposals to make our procedure more ship-shape and modern. Why cannot we wait until we have this review, showing us how to save time and get rid 516 of night sittings, before we embark upon a new procedure which, at the best is doubtful and which many of us think is dangerous and bad?
It is a great pity that we should be asked to embark upon this doubtful and controversial piecemeal reform today, with all its dangers and doubts. We should wait until we have the comprehensive picture put before us in a few months' time. For these reasons, I cannot possibly vote to support morning sittings in the Division tonight.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I find myself in very general agreement with what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has said. There was one important aspect of his speech which may not be quite right. He deplored late night sittings and. I think, suggested that the use of the Guillotine should be become general. I imagine that he would agree that if there were to be a general use of the Guillotine it could only be if it were made compulsory in some way. If there were a general compulsory Guillotine that would be bound to enable any Government, from either side of the House, to get through a great deal more controversial legislation.
The result of the introduction of anything of that kind would necessarily be to alter very substantially the power of the Executive as against the House of Commons. That is something which both he and I would deplore, and here is the practical difficulty.
It is inevitable, if one has a democratic system, that one will have late nights and that some of the most important business will be transacted at a late hour. If one looks at international treaties it is remarkable to see how often they are signed or initialled at 3, 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. I am a keen supporter of imposing a time limit on Members speeches, so I will try to be short.
I wish to put two short technical questions first, I do not thing that anything definite has been said about the Government's intention to accept the recommended changes with regard to the Budget Resolutions and to initiate the necessary Amendment to the Collections of Tax Act in the immediate future. I hope that the 517 Minister who is to reply will say that that will, be done before the next Budget. Secondly, I would like to know what the Government intend by the wording, at line 35, of their proposals with regard to the financial procedures. It will be seen it says:On a day not earlier than the sixth allotted day, being a day not later than the 6th day of February, Mr. Speaker shall, at 10 of the clock, forthwith proceed to put …This is the ordinary Guillotine Motion, and it seems to be in conflict with paragraph 9 of the Sessional Order dealing with morning sittings, which will terminate the debate on every day, as I understand it, at 9.30 p.m. It will be seen that there are a number of occasions when the amended Standing Order will not apply to references to 10 o'clock. What do the Government intend?
Another technical matter deals with the meaning of paragraph 4 of the proposed additional Sessional Order which says:When Mr. Speaker or the Chairman puts any question in the course of proceedings …then the Division is to be deferred. Does that mean that the matter under debate for that particular Division is to be deferred, or that the whole of the business to which the proceedings relate is to be deferred? Or does it mean that the whole or the morning's business is to be deferred? Does this apply only to matters which are directly in point in the business, or would it include procedural matters? For instance, if a Member were to spy strangers or to defy the Speaker, would that mean that a Division would be deferred until 10 o'clock in the evening? There is a matter here which ought to be looked into as it seems to be possibly defective and doubtful.
There is general agreement that our procedure needs revision. I quite agree with the Leader of the House when he said that procedure needs to be revised in order to fit the circumstances of the times. On the other hand, our rules should be changed with the greatest caution, because they are the sole guarantee of the freedom of the subject. We change our laws by majority on the House, and we accept that that has to be so. But the rules under which the laws are made ought not to be changed by political majority but only by the general acceptance of the House of Commons. I am afraid that that 518 principle is being seriously breached this evening. One thing that was clear to all members of the Committee on Select Procedure was that every aspect of procedure has a bearing on many other aspects, and often on all other aspects. The Leader of the House has not, as far as I know, ever been a member of a Select Committee on procedure.
I deeply regret the decision that he has taken this afternoon in forcing through part of these recommendations which were carried by a party vote in Committee, and which, if they are carried at all here, will be carried by a party vote. It has been said that this is only an experiment. The trouble about experiments of this kind is that it is almost impossible to carry them through fairly. Those who are minded to see that the experiment is a success can contribute to make it so, whereas, conversely, those who wish to see the opposite can do their best to upset it. Either way, whatever may be done under an experiment of this kind, would be no real proof of whether this is a good or bad plan.
The proposal with regard to late sittings is a bad one. The merits of that proposal are even worse. They will be injurious in themselves, and they will fail to deal with the real problem confronting us. When I first became a Member of Parliament the House met at 2.45 in the afternoon, and what I believe was called "the interruption" took place at 11 o'clock. Our modes of life have changed, and although those times suited people 30 and 40 years ago, they certainly would not suit people now. An earlier day is perfectly sensible, and I would accept it most willingly. I can understand those who demand an ordinary working day for Members—by which I suppose they mean that we should meet at 10 o'clock and rise at 6 or something of that kind.
Ours is not an ordinary job, and anyone who comes to this House must accept that fact and must also accept that the needs of this place require that our hours of sitting are not the ordinary office hours. That is not making a very great demand upon Members; it is something accepted by doctors, nurses, policemen, airline pilots—one could go on ad infinitum. This proposal raises a fundamental question, which is: what sort of people do we 519 want as Members of this House? It impinges directly on that question. Mr. Herbert Morrison expressed a strong view about that when giving evidence before the Procedure Committee in 1959. At page 70 of the Report he said:… I take the view that it is undesirable that Parliament should consist of Members who are only engaged in Parliamentary Business and have no other contacts with other classes of activity.That was his opening remark when asked about the need for morning sessions. He came down heavily against any such proposal.
The practical difficulty facing the Leader of the House is that he has a very considerable number of supporters in the House who are not here on a part-time basis and who have no business or other contacts and special activities outside the House, I recognise that there is a real difficulty.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the constant repetition of the demand for morning sittings from so-called full-time Members tends to give the impression that full-time Members, of whom I count myself one, are at present totally unemployed during the mornings and are wandering about doing nothing? Would he confirm that the change will merely make a rearrangement of the order in which the full-time Members would do their various work.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not dissent from that for one moment. I think that all it does is to add some work in the morning, and we shall soon be working quite as long as before in the evening.
The attitude of the Leader of the House is really disclosed from remarks he made when he was not in a position of responsibility. He is reported as having said on 5th July, 1957:It is not merely the number of trade union candidates adopted by constituencies that has declined, but their quality as well. It is this decline in quality that is gravely affecting the Parliamentary Labour Party … The truth is that the trade unions are no longer sending even their second-best men into politics …They are desperately short of talent to man the key positions in the unions.The Government are supported in the House by a number of Members who are not busy in the trade unions, who are not busy in any other outside capacity, and 520 who are, like the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), who complains that they have nothing to do in the morning—
§ Dr. Winstanley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not attempt to correct the hon. Gentleman before when I thought that he misunderstood me. I was saying that the impression was being given that the full-time Member has nothing to do in the morning, whereas in fact he is already extremely busy attending to necessary constituency matters, correspondence and so on. Therefore, morning sittings will not suddenly provide the full-time member with something to do—as if he does not have anything to do at the moment! They will merely make him have to rearrange his whole day.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Member's point.
Undoubtedly, the demand for morning sittings comes from those hon. Members who wish to find something to do during the morning. The proposal is not our old friend "jobs for the boys" but jobs for the old men.
As I have said, there is a real problem here, and that is the increasing pressure on Parliament's time. This switching about of frills will not help the position at all. It will not even deal with the problem of late sittings. We shall just go on suspending the rule and having late sittings as we have always had. The mere fact that there is vacuum between half-past nine and 11 or 12 o'clock, or whatever is the last time that hon. Members can get home to their beds, will be a standing temptation to the Government to suspend the rule and get in a little more legislation, and that is just what will happen.
My own belief is that the only way to deal with the problem is by other methods, on the lines suggested by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. Those methods were suggested by the Select Committee in alternative proposals I had the honour to move in that Committee. They will be found in its Report at page xxvi:
There is a number of other suggestions of the same kind which would tend to relieve Parliamentary time in a genuine way. They would enable us to avoid the horrors of late night sittings on unnecessary occasions. I believe that it is by those methods and not by the kind of thing proposed in the Sessional Order that we shall do what everybody in the House wants to do. I hope that the House will vote against the Sessional Order.
- "(i) That some limitation might be placed on the length of Members' speeches.
- (ii) That more business and more kinds of business might be dealt with by committees upstairs.
- (iii) That better and more specific arrangements might be made for the voluntary time-tabling of Bills, and
- (iv) That the recommendations of Your Committee's predecessors in their Third Report of Session 1964–65 relating to Finance Bills might be implemented."
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I want, first, to deal with the point advanced by hon. Members opposite that this occasion makes a precedent, that never before have a Government "whipped" in favour of procedural reform. That is not true. The first such occasion, if one wanted to refer to ancient history, dates back to 1832.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) referred to the Select Committee on Procedure, 1958–59, of which I was a member. Implementation of that Committee's Report was effected in part—after an earlier debate on a Motion to take note of the report, moved by the then Mr. R. A. Butler—on a Motion amending Standing Orders moved on 8th February, 1960. There were three Divisions on proposed Amendments. All three Divisions were "whipped" on the Conservative side, and two were "whipped" on the Labour side.
That has gone on continually. When one considers all the Select Committees during the period in which the Conservatives were in power, one finds that there is always a great authority resting with the Government on how they deal with any Select Committee's Report. For example, the House voted on a free vote to increase hon. Members' salaries, but that increase was denied by the Conservative Government. After they had said that they would accept a free vote, they decided not to implement it. Of course, Select Committees' Reports have been, and always are, largely determined 522 by the complexion of the Government of the day. I do not think that there is very much in that point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) asked us to wait a little longer. But this idea was put up to me when I entered the House in 1949. The House was ripe for reform then, and it becomes over-ripe as the years go by. Nothing has changed the complexion of the House more than the demand for accommodation. A couple of days ago I went to a celebration because the builders had finished work in Star Court to provide another 70 rooms. Who will take over the main part of them? The Shadow Cabinet. I only wish that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) had been at the celebration, because he and I negotiated that increased accommodation on a long-term basis.
It is now a fact that the House demands full time service, in the fullest way, of two-thirds of its Members. I do not underrate anything the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) said, but he will have to be here a lot longer before this place seems rational. I have never understood the great uproar for more Committees. In the main, the people who ask for more are not those who serve on the present Committees. I think we all know that.
The original ideas of morning sittings were advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and I on the 1958–59 Committee. But I always had morning sessions in mind as a device to keep matters on the Floor of the House and avoid reference to Specialist Committees, of which I have some suspicion, which is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot).
I have always thought that the best use of morning sessions would probably be to adjourn on Tuesday and Wednesday nights—I am not sold on Monday morning business—and move the Adjournment on Wednesday and Thursday morning for two hours to discuss topical subjects, or to alter Standing Order No. 9 so that Mr. Speaker could order that a matter could be considered the next morning, or at any time within the next 48 hours.
523 I do not want to discuss Standing Order No. 9 now. This is not the right time, and it is the use of morning sessions that I have in mind. This place would be given a sense of urgency on two mornings a week by what I suggest. Why is it that the other place sometimes gets the reputation, quite wrongly, of having all the best debates? It is not only because it is divorced from power, but because it is topical, because it catches the evening papers.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself. He speaks about a time limit on speeches. He was one of those hon. Members to whom I have referred whose speeches always sound longer than they are.
As I understand it, under these proposals, what will be discussed at the morning sittings will be the smaller matters, where it does not matter very much whether anyone is here. It is proposed to clear up in the mornings the type of things which usually detain us after 10 p.m.
Another argument which has been advanced is that the prestige of Parliament will be lowered. I have always wondered what this high level is from which Parliament has descended. I have argued this matter many times. It is not true. However, it has always been said in every age. Everybody worth while in literature —Pepys, Robert Louis Stevenson and Carlyle—has said this sort of thing.
I am proud to be a Member of the House. I rather think that during the 17 years I have been here the quality has improved. More Members speak than ever before. More people speak sense than ever before. We do not have just two or three people of that calibre, as used to be the case in the last century, making long speeches. It is changing social conditions which bring about change.
I am not so wedded to any of the ideas which I propounded when I served on Committees that I shall fight to the last ditch in defence of them. There will have to be a degree of experiment. There will have to be a degree of change. We shall not have to be too dyed-in-the-wool and think that something is 524 not worth trying. In the period during which I have been here I have seen things which have turned out to be roaring successes and other things which have turned out to be failures.
What we should be grateful for at the end of the day is that we at least have a Government who are prepared to take a decision to have a shake-out in this place. This is what we want. Acceptance of this place becomes inbred in us. Unless people are minded to make changes in their first days here, they will never make them. When I first entered the House, the then Labour Government thought that they were in for twenty-five years. Therefore, nobody was interested in making changes. In exactly the same way, when hon. Members opposite were in power they had little interest in procedure. They had little interest in the rights of the Legislature in their 13 years of power.
It is always the Opposition that gets the advantage. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral agreed with this point. When a party is no longer in power, they begin to take an interest in the rights of the Legislature. Therefore, I am grateful that the Government have adopted this idea. We know from the very evolution of Parliament, indicated at length by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that the social complexions of the place have changed. Parliament has not the same place vis-à-vis the Executive that it had, although I would not necessarily take quite as pessimistic a view as that taken by my right hon. Friend. Anything which will serve to restore us to that position and to make people feel that when they vote their vote really matters is to be welcomed.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South asked what sort of people we want here. To a great extent, we reflect the electoral and social climate of the times. Of course, we need the noble professions. We also need the filthy trades. The House would not be a representative place unless it had miners, engineers and all sorts of people who, by the very nature of their calling, have to give up that type of work when they came here.
In the past there has been a great accent in favour of the part-timers—for example, the "silks". We remember them. They blew in, they blew up, and they blew out; and they never served on 525 a Parliamentary Committee in 20 years. It is about time that we put that sort of idea behind us and said that, in the main, this place must be operated on behalf of the majority of the people, because we are all first-class Members.
I do not attempt to denigrate the efforts of that class of people and the effects produced by that class of people who bring in the experience of outside professions, what do they think the rest of us are doing? Being a Member of Parliament is a two-way street. I bring far more common sense to the House as a result of walking the streets of Leeds, West and talking to the people there than somebody who has been in a forensic hothouse all day. We all bring our own experience. This applies also to the Member who walks around his agricultural constituency. This argument is a "phoney" one.
I am 3ufficiently open-minded to hope that at the end of the day these resolutions will be passed and that we shall give change a chance and will not be too rooted in traditions to the extent that we on this side become even more conservative than some hon. Members opposite.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I shall restrict my remarks to the question of morning sittings and leave the remainder of the Sessional Order to others. I approach this question not in any way hostile to the recommendations of the Select Committee. I personally have no objection to the House sitting in the mornings if it thinks that it is the right thing to do, but I maintain that these proposals are completely "phoney". It is not the slightest use Parliament pretending that it is one sort of Parliament for two-thirds of the day and another sort of Parliament for a different part of the day.
If there is a demand in the House for us to sit in the mornings, let us sit in the mornings like an ordinary Parliament with all the pressures and penalties that apply to the remainder of the day. If there is not a demand for morning sittings and the hon. Member for Ormskirk comes in at twenty-five minutes to Eleven and calls a count, and if the House is counted out, it shows that there is not the demand for morning sittings that people say that there is. If there 526 is a debate and I challenge a Division, let the Division be taken at the time that I challenge it. This is Parliament working as a real, live Parliament. It certainly will not work as a real live Parliament under this Sessional Order. It will be like Hamlet without a ghost, or a football match without a football. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] It is the Sessional Order that is nonsense, because it is totally unreal.
The fact that it is being brought in like this leads me to believe that the Leader of the House himself does not think that there is as much demand for this alteration in our procedure as has been asserted. In other words, there is not a burning desire on the part of hon. Members to debate all these things at Ten o'clock on Monday morning; therefore, because there is not that demand, the books must be fiddled to make quite certain that the procedure of Parliament no longer continues to work.
We cannot call a count. We cannot have a Division. We cannot do any of the normal things that we are returned here to do—to challenge each other across the Floor. That is exactly what we are not to be allowed to do on these morning sittings. The Select Committee could have devoted its time much more profitably to considering the type of situation which arose last night when we finished our business with a most important Prayer whose discussion was limited to three-quarters of an hour. It would be perfectly possible to alter our procedure so that Prayers of that importance get at least an hour and a half's debate. That would not involve a great deal of alteration. It could be provided that no Prayer came on after eleven o'clock at night.
§ Sir D. Glover
That is the sole point of what I am saying about the artificiality of it. Who will be here to debate a Prayer at ten o'clock on a Monday morning. What will happen is that a Prayer which is important, probably about Scotland, will be put on the Order Paper for discussion at ten o'clock on a Monday morning because the Leader of the House will know that there will be no debate and that it will go through on the nod. This is fiddling with the 527 rights of back benchers. It is not increasing the power of back benchers. It is taking a lot of the rights and powers away from back benchers.
If the Leader of the House and the party opposite are convinced that there is a demand—and maybe they are right —for Parliament to do its business at a different hour than it used to do, that it should sit from, say, 10 a.m. to 9.45 p.m. on five days a week, that is a perfectly sensible and reasonable proposition. But if we are to do that, Parliament must at least be the same Parliament at 10 o'clock in the morning as it is at 2.30 in the afternoon, and not two different forms of Parliament. Otherwise, one is artificial and phoney.
There is no reason why the Select Committee should not have devoted some of its time to putting right the artificial system which has been growing up in recent days over the Prime Minister's interventions in the House over Rhodesia. I am not complaining about the Prime Minister's intervention, but we all know that we were stretching our procedure to breaking point to allow him to do so, which seems to me to be crazy. We should alter our procedure so that Mr. Speaker, on an occasion like that, can say, standing in his place, that the House be adjourned for three-quarters of an hour. There should be some system like that.
We did not increase our dignity the other night when the Attorney-General was deliberately filibustering his own Bill to keep the business going until the Prime Minister arrived. The Select Committee could easily have altered the procedure so that that sort of thing need not hapen. It only calls for us to be sensible about it.
I believe we can increase our efficiency much more in those ways than by doing something which, as an experiment, I do not oppose but which I do not think will work for the very reason that the Leader of the House is, in fact, making certain that it will not work. I wonder whether the Leader of the House really wants it to work. I think that he has been under a good deal of pressure from a lot of his new donnish Members who have come in in the last two elections and who are quite certain, after their long experience in this House, that they know 528 exactly what we have been doing wrong, that every previous Member of Parliament was a half-wit, and that they can put these matters right in a very short space of time. It is this atmosphere which has led up to these proposals.
§ Sir D. Glover
It is because right hon. Gentlemen such as the right hon. Gentleman who is trying to intervene and the Leader of the House know the great danger of what will happen, with the lack of interest in these morning sittings, that they are putting in the long-stops about no counts, no Divisions and no controversy, like a Sunday school afternoon party. The atmosphere will be so phoney that I doubt whether at any time on Monday or Wednesday mornings we will, in fact, get 40 hon. Members in the House if we tried. That will not raise the prestige of Parliament but will have exactly the opposite effect.
§ Mr. Chapman
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that there are only 40 hon. Members in the Chamber now and that it is a total myth to imagine that during a normal day there are many more than 40 or 50 Members in the Chamber at any time?
§ Sir D. Glover
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I accept this. But at least when the hon. Member is making a speech in a normal debate he knows that what he says will be challenged in the Division Lobby. He knows also that if he does not think there is enough interest in the House in this debate on procedure he can close down the whole procedure by calling a Count. That makes for much more real debate.
When we know that from 10 o'clock until 12.30 on Monday morning nothing can go on in his place that will alter the status of the Government one iota, I very much doubt if we will have 40 people on these premises merely because the House is sitting. They may be here because they are doing their mail. They may be here because they are on another committee in the House. It may be that they are interviewing some outside people or constituents. It may be that they are on the premises for all sorts of reasons, but they certainly will not be on the premises because of what is going 529 on in the Chamber, and they will have no interest in what is going on in the Chamber.
This will quickly permeate into the Press and into television, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, though bringing in this Sessional Order to try to raise the status of Parliament, will find at the end of the Session that he has, in fact, lowered its status because he has made it clear outside that a great deal of our proceedings are, in fact, phoney.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Many of the proposals brought forward today by my right hon. Friend will be very acceptable and welcome to the House. What he had to say about the matter of the appearance of Black Rod was, for example, welcomed. It is a great pity when a considerable parliamentary occasion, or, in the latest incident, a very distinguished speech, is spoiled by a circumstance of that kind. What he had to offer under that head was very welcome indeed. His statement about the mumbo-jumbo procedure for the control of Supply was welcomed, as was the proposal for specialist Committees arising out of that. These Committees are conceived to achieve a more effective control by hon. Members over the Executive in matters of Supply and to give hon. Members an opportunity of investigating administration.
All that is very welcome to most hon. Members on both sides of the House, and we are glad of it. My right hon. Friend made clear also that he realised the importance of the argument in favour of some of the consideration of the Finance Bill going upstairs. I attach great importance to this. As I understand it, he has not made any reference to that in the Motion before the House, but we have had an undertaking from him that he will give particular regard to recommendations on that subject.
I very much welcome what he had to say about the relationship between the Parliamentary Commissioner and the House of Commons. I had some reservations, which I ventured to express, about the shape of the Ombudsman's status and responsibilities as they developed in a recent Bill, but if we are to have a Parliamentary Commissioner with the character he now possesses, it 530 is very desirable that there should be this Select Committee intended to give, as I see it, an element of control and, at the same time, effective encouragement to the Commissioner.
My right hon. Friend has also said that when recommendations come forward he will study the proposals for a time limit on speeches. I very much hope that in due course we shall have a time limit on speeches. There is no doubt that a great many speeches are far too long. I therefore welcome, with sincere goodwill, these proposals. I think they are important, and they have, quite evidently, received a good deal of thought.
I must be forgiven if, inevitably on an issue of this kind which affects the procedure of the House, I have one or two reservations to make. I take the view that what is proposed, though important and welcome, does not go much further than approach the edge of the problems which face the House in the matter of procedure.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend acknowledges it. It is very important. In this matter, it seems to me, one must have a basic principle in mind and a particular objective in view. The aim of changes of procedure in the House should be that this Chamber should disencumber itself of the mass of detail which at present takes up so much time and should occupy itself much more with the great issues which in this country are never lacking.
My right hon. Friend acknowledged that this is a correct objective. It would involve a greater use of the Committee Rooms upstairs for much material which now occupies our attention on the Floor. It would call also—I mention this only in passing, and I know that the view which I hold is not shared by a great many hon. Members whose opinions I respect —for a change in the method of drafting Bills. I attach great importance to a new approach to the whole problem of drafting our legislation which would have the result that provisions in Bills involving major matters of policy were separated from the ancillary matters, the major points being available for discussion on the Floor and the ancillary matters going upstairs.
531 Not until a radical approach is made to this problem can we expect to make real progress. I believe that the very skilled draftsmen who assist us in these matters would very much like the opportunity to attempt this kind of change in the manner of drafting Bills. I may mention also that it would be a change welcome in the courts, because it is extraordinarily difficult, in present conditions of drafting Bills, to ascertain the basic objective of many provisions. It is all wrapped up in the detail.
I say, therefore, that the administration of justice in the courts and debate in this Chamber would alike be facilitated if such a change were made. It would have to be made gradually, and it would involve considerable intellectual exercise and effort, but I believe, that it is to be desired. I mention only in passing that, at present, the work of the Law Commission in clarifying our law at one end of the chain is threatened to be neutralised by obscurities in the new laws being passed by this House because our Statutes tend to get more difficult to follow and to comprehend, with a greater rather than a less degree of cross-reference, to the disadvantage of all.
I should have liked to see more fundamental reforms proposed under this head, but I readily acknowledge the difficulty of doing that in the comparatively short time that has been available since the recommendations were made by the Select Committee.
On the matter of morning sittings, to my regret, I differ from my right hon. Friend, and I shall now say a few words about that. I should be very attracted to the argument in favour of morning sittings if I felt that there was to be a real shift of business requiring attendance from late hours of the night to the morning. This would give well-deserved relief to many hon. Members and to Ministers as well. But I do not see that that result will be achieved by bringing forward into the mornings matters upon which, to a very large extent, hon. Members are accustomed not to attend anyhow at the later hours of the evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I cite as an example the Adjournment debate. As I understand it, this debate is to come forward to the morning. The fact is—there is no shame 532 in it—that, apart from the hon. Member who has the Adjournment and the Minister who has to be in attendance, hardly anyone else is in the House. It is mere self-deception to think that there would be any relief offered to Members by bringing forward the Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Irvine
Yes, there may well be an argument for the officials, but I am at present on the question of saving the time of hon. Members and making sure that they do their business at a reasonable hour and are not kept too late at night, a very proper and reasonable objective to have in view. My right hon. Friend knows me well enough, I hope, to know that I do not make these criticisms without a good deal of careful thought before uttering them. My complaint is that in the proposals for Monday and Wednesday morning sittings there seems to be no substantial relief offered to hon. Members, who all want to enjoy more reasonable, convenient and satisfactory hours at night.
Furthermore—here I know that I am in a minority on my side of the House —I oppose the proposal for morning sittings on much wider grounds than have so far been expressed. I see it as a move towards making Members of this House full-time professionals. It is the thin end of the wedge. That is my real objection to it. My hon. Friends must decide where they stand on this matter, which is one of basic importance and of principle. As I have said, if real time-saving were affected by the proposals, I should look at the matter rather differently from the way I do now. What is proposed is a step in the direction of the full-time professional Member without, as it seems to me, any substantial advantage to the timetable accruing.
I agree with my right hon. Friend when he says that it is right that we should balance one thing with another and take into account the circumstances that there are changes going on, and that there are now more hon. Members than formerly who choose to give whole-time service and are able to do so. There is a shift of that kind going on, and it should certainly be kept in mind, but when I 533 balance one thing with another in my mind I come down against the concept of a House of full-time professional politicians.
Let us remember that it will be a very hazardous full-time profession. What prevents our pride at being Members of the House of Commons becoming vanity is the circumstance that at any moment we can be thrown out by the electorate. It will be a hazardous full-time professional activity at the best. I do not regard it as a desirable development in the history of the House.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
My hon. and learned Friend will not have overlooked that the hazardous nature of this occupation has not prevented a situation in which there are always far more applicants than there are jobs available.
§ Mr. Irvine
I agree with that, and I see its importance. Many people enjoy hazardous activities. If membership of the House became a whole-time professional occupation, it would have its disadvantages and hazards for the family man, in particular. Let there be no mistake about that. And the more marginal his seat the greater the disadvantages would be. I say with candour that a man in active professional practice can give valuable service to this place and to his constituents, all the more valuable for his being in active practice. This proposal makes that more difficult. I will not put it higher than that.
I venture to say, I hope with due care and responsibility, a few words about the Bar and Parliament. To avoid embarrassment, let me take the case of members of the bar in an age group quite different from my own, who are between their middle thirties and middle forties and active in professional life. By that age, a man at the Bar will have proved his worth, or will have failed to prove it. The earlier years, which younger members of the Bar are now enjoying with a lot of work to do, will have passed and, at the age of which I speak, a man will have started to cope with the heavier work. It will be known whether he is a good lawyer or whether he is not, and in the profession one knows what the words "good lawyer" mean and the persons to whom they apply.
The question which I ask my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends is 534 whether it is desired to make it impossible for the successful man in the situation which I have described to come into this place, because that will be the result. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes; that will be the result. He could do most useful Parliamentary work in drafting and argument. But it will not be possible to be near the top of one's profession and at the same time to be an active and useful Member of the House if the concept of morning sittings is developed and if it is thought by the practitioner concerned, whatever the facts may be, that sufficient time for his professional work will not be available.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman must add one qualification—that we have an admirable pairing system among private Members.
§ Mr. Irvine
I take account of that. It is also said to me, "You need not worry about it, and if there is any substance in the point which you are making"—and I would have thought that it was too clear for argument that there was substance—"the reality is that there will be no need for him to be there in the mornings." That is what is described as the practical consideration. The point is thought to be met in this way, but this is casuistry. If there is no reason why he should be here, is not that tantamount to an acknowledgment that the time during the mornings is not to be usefully or effectively spent?
§ Mr. Irvine
Let there be no misunderstanding about this. The "duds" in the profession will be able to come.
§ Mr. Irvine
My hon. Friend says that there are some of those around already. I do not need to argue to the contrary. I am seeking to develop a serious point. If there is force in what my hon. Friend has said, the reason lies in the extent to which Parliament has already proved so demanding upon the time of the professional man. If there be substance, and there may be, in the criticism which my hon. Friend has just voiced, that is the consequence of the existing and developing degree of pressure. I would 535 have thought that it was most illogical and unreasonable to suggest that a process, which, according to my hon. Friend's view, has already had that consequence, should go forward.
This applies to all professions. If I mention the Bar as I have, going out of my way to deal with an age group to which I do not personally belong, it is because I know about the Bar and know and am interested in the relation between the Bar and politics; but it is true of every profession. If, as would be the result of what the Government propose, this Chamber becomes the centre and place for full-time professional politicians, it stands to reason that hardly any active practitioners in any profession will come here. I should have thought that it was absolutely manifest and beyond question that the House would suffer as a consequence.
§ Mr. Irvine
My hon. Friend thinks that it would be an advantage if it became impossible for busy, experienced and distinguished practitioners to be present in the House. If my hon. Friend entertains opinions of that kind, he is welcome in a free society to do so. He can argue through all-night sittings and through the year and not persuade me that there is any sense in his proposition.
My observations apply to all professions. Let my hon. Friends be clear about one thing—they apply just as much to one party as to the other. This is not a party issue. If I am right in what I would have thought was the obvious proposition, that it was desirable to have active and competent practitioners of the professions in the House, then, manifestly, it is equally true of one side as of the other.
That is my view on this matter. I intend to abstain when the issue goes to a Division. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) that it is a pity that the Whips are on, because this is a matter which affects us as Members of the House of Commons. But I shall abstain, and I hope that I have made clear my reasons for doing so.
I do not desire that the emphasis which I have placed upon the matter of morn- 536 ing sittings should conceal the fact that in my view the greater part of my right hon. Friend's proposals have great merit and for the large part they should be welcome to the House.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) has said many of the things which I might have felt inclined to say, and for the moment I will leave those comments alone. I share two things in common with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Like him, I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1958–59 and, had he been here, I would have recalled to his mind the quite interesting fact that that Select Committee was appointed because of a good deal of disquiet and discussion which had been aroused by comments from various quarters that the House no longer contained in it what might be called the very able people in the country, as, of course, through past generations it had always done, because this was always a deliberative assembly of the outstanding people in the Kingdom from every walk of life and every occupation. Strange to say, all the most distinguished people in our history, whether military, naval, business or anyone else, where always Members of this House as well. The leaders of all occupations at that time were here.
At earlier times, of course, there were not engineers and so on to the extent that we have them today. However, it was beginning to be observed that the leading members of even these new occupations were to be found here. For that reason, that Select Committee was appointed to consider whether there might be reforms of procedure to make our proceedings more expeditious and efficient. As often happens when a body is set up, it gradually began to address itself to other matters and to concentrate on how we could spend more time debating general subjects. That matter seems to be still with us.
The other thing which I have in common with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West is the view that it has been said in almost every century and every generation that Parliament is declining and is not what it used to be. This is largely exaggerated at present. There are some defects, which could be remedied.
537 I should like to say what they are and why these proposals will do little to help.
The greatest defect is that our debates are not sufficiently reported outside and little attention is paid to them. The reason is not only a defect in the newspapers or the broadcasting systems, but that of r debates do not matter as much as they ought to matter. If the decision at the end of the debate turned to a great extent on the debate, those debates would be adequately reported in the newspapers. On those occasions—I suppose that this to some extent is one, but on all those other matters when we have a free vote of the House—the debates are reported blow by blow by the newspapers and the broadcasting systems.
The Leader of the House opened a little depressingly by saying that we should not suffer from delusions of grandeur but should accept that sovereign power had passed from this House and into the custody of the Executive and the great political machines, as he called them, and that we should accept and rationalise this diminished rôle.
I cannot agree with that. I was happy, as so often in the case of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches over the years, to find that by the end of his speech he was arguing against the beginning of it and suggesting ways in which we might recover the influence which he felt we had lost. I agreed with the latter part of his speech, that the pervasion of the Executive of the function of Parliament has become far too great and the Whips have become too powerful and ever-present.
The real trouble about our debates is that the result is a foregone conclusion. Governments come to the House without the need to argue to get their legislation. It is in their pocket before they come. Unless we alter that, we shall improve neither the quality of our debates nor the esteem in which they are held and the publicity they get. They will not deserve that publicity. They will be public relations operations unrelated to the decisions taken.
One of the difficulties which hon. Members find, apart from the matter which I just mentioned, is that of speaking at all in a debate on a major subject. In the Select Committee of 1958–59, we made a recommendation which was not 538 implemented. That was for an hour, coinciding roughly with dinner time, of five-minute speeches. I am sorry that it was not tried. There are many occasions when, rather than be left out of an important debate, an hon. Member would be content with a five-minute speech. He could make his point. I am not in favour of a general time limit for speeches, but obviously we would all like to see shorter speeches.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) quoted Mr. Gladstone as saying that it took three hours to prepare a three-minute speech and three minutes to prepare a three-hour one. There is a good deal of truth in that. If an hon. Member has not prepared his speech carefully, he rambles, repeats himself and does not know when to stop. If he has prepared it carefully, he makes it quickly. What encouragement is there for an hon. Member to spend three hours preparing a speech when his chance of delivering it is one in ten? That is the point, as we all know.
Several hon. Members have said that Parliament has changed, in the sense that nowadays it is not just a few gladiators who speak in debates but the general body of hon. Members. They are articulate. They have to be, or they get into trouble with Crossbencher or their constituents, or both. A high proportion of hon. Members in the House now usually wish to take part in the debates.
I said in the Select Committee to which I have referred—this was probably quite rightly ruled out of order by the Chairman, Mr. James Stuart, as he then was —that no changes in our procedure would solve that problem unless we faced the fact that an assembly of 630 Members, nearly all of whom want to speak, is an impossible proposition and that we ought to face up to reducing the size of the House to 500 and possibly fewer. If we did, we should find that all the other problems had either disappeared or declined to a scale which was easily manageable. No change which we make by sitting on Monday and Wednesday mornings or by limiting the time of speeches will make an assembly of 630 people a viable deliberative assembly when they all now actively want to take part.
539 I turn now to morning sittings. This ground has been well covered, so I can be brief. I am against this proposal not only because it could be the thin end of the wedge. The Leader of the House was honest and frank about this and said that it was the thin end of the wedge—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. He said that it ought to be. [An HON. MEMBER: "He said it was the first step."] Yes, the first step. The right hon. Gentleman did not evade this. He faced up to it and said why he thought so.
He said that the character of the House had changed. Even though it was not expressed, I believe that the implication was that there were more hon. Members of the House who did not come from a privileged educational class but who represented ordinary occupants and who were not able to combine them with the work of the House. Is that true? In my own time here, I have noticed a change in the composition of the House, but I believe that it has been in the opposite direction.
The Party to which I belong has not changed greatly, although perhaps a little, but in the Party opposite I have noticed a striking decline in the "cloth-cap" component and a marked increase in the number of those who come from different walks of life.
The hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill was right to say that these arguments do not apply only to one side of the House. There are plenty of professional people opposite. Like the hon. and learned Member, I am at the Bar, and I would not be surprised if there were more practising barristers on the opposite side of the House than on this. In other professions, also, I would not know on which side the balance lay. This transformation has taken place on both sides.
However many hon. Members opposite respond to the Party Whip—that is what it is tonight many of them will do so with a heavy heart. I hope that many will abstain, because this is, and is expressly meant to be, the beginning of a process which the Leader of the House described as "adapting the procedure of the House" to the new king of Members, whom he described as miners and so on. As Mr. Speaker said in evidence and as 540 many hon. Members have said tonight, we shall simply end up by getting it both ways. Nothing is more certain.
Does anyone seriously think that what keeps us up late at night is non-contentious business? Not at all. When this House sits all night it is because the business is highly contentious, on every occasion. Therefore, having these innocuous and anodyne morning sittings will make no contribution to a solution of the problem. The House should notice the significant phrase of the Leader of the House. He said that it was not only the miners and the engineers who were interested: the Government were as well, because they were looking for extra time for Government legislation.
That is a pretty ominous note. I believe the Leader of the House said "non-contentious", but who will decide whether legislation is contentious or not? How long will it stay harmless? Of course, this will develop. It will be merely an extra encroachment upon our time.
The House will become the poorer because those who come to it will, as the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill said, be only those who have not succeeded in their chosen vocation outside, whether it be a profession or business. They will come here and nobody else. What will that do for the reputation and efficiency of Parliament and for the conduct of public business, which is, after all, properly the charge of those who come here?
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
The Select Committee is very grateful to the Government at least for one thing that its recent Reports are clearly commanding the Government's attention. This debate is evidence that two of the most recent ones are being immediately brought to the House with definite proposals and recommendations. After my long time in the House, which now totals 15 years, there seems to be a new spirit of demand for reform, to which the Government are responding. I am grateful, as I am sure the Committee is, that our work is being noticed in this way with an energy and attention not equalled before.
The Committee is immensely enthusiastic about its work. It is pressing on and if one reads its last Report one 541 has an idea of the volume of work it is doing. I am giving away no secrets in saying that we are very advanced on our work on Standing Order No. 9 and will shortly have something definite to recommend. We are busy with other matters connected with urgent and topical debates. We will soon have something to say about electro-mechanical voting, which was mentioned in the last Report.
Another matter on which we must answer to the House soon is the question of the Finance Bill. However, the initiative in this matter is not with us. We have already said what we think, although the Government turned down our plan. We have since gone back to the Government on this matter and an exchange of correspondence was published in the last Report. In this, we said to the Government, in effect, "You tell us your ideas and we will issue yet another Report in an effort to clear up the handling of the Finance Bill".
Beyond that, we want to do a wide-ranging survey which my right hon. Friend mentioned in his speech. There is an immense willingness on the part of the Committee to respond to the enthusiasm of the House—a new-found enthusiasm this decade—for procedural reform. We are doing our best and working hard.
It is clear that three real principles emerge from the work of the Committee and that they tune in well with the Government's proposals today. We are trying implicitly to follow these principles. They are, first, to clear away the mumbo-jumbo, as far as we can, from our proceedings and to modernise them. Secondly, we are trying hard—and our recent Reports indicate this—to identify the less important matters which can be taken away from the House and can properly be sent into Committees upstairs. Thirdly, we are trying hard to sharpen the opportunities and open up greater possibilities for Parliament to have a greater check on the Executive and to be a real forum for the deep clashes of opinion which it is proper should take place in the Chamber. I am sure that we will be delighted with the outcome of this debate in the sense that it will refresh us, as a Committee, and urge us on with a feeling that 542 the House is more interested than ever before in the work we are doing.
I regard the need for shorter speeches as one of the most important issues before the House. Although I cannot speak with inside knowledge, I strongly suspect, from some of the remarks made by Mr. Speaker recently, that he has strong feelings on this issue, too. The present Mr. Speaker has had one immediate good effect on our proceedings. He has put into Question Time a pace and momentum, not forgetting brevity, which we have not had for many years. I have the feeling that Mr. Speaker similarly wants to do something to reduce the time taken by hon. Members in their speeches.
One difficulty at present is that we cannot be sure exactly how this should be achieved. The Committee on Procedure recommended, in paragraph 8, that, apart from hon. Members' moving Motions and Ministers opening debates, the speaking time should be limited to 15 minutes, with a guillotine at the end of that period, and that Ministers should try to limit themselves to half an hour. I hope that that recommendation will be considered.
I am speaking personally, and not on behalf of the Committee, when I say that there are difficulties in this proposal. For example, there is no reason at all why, in certain circumstances, hon. Members who feel strongly on an issue should not be allowed to speak for, say, half an hour. When there is no great pressure of hon. Members wanting to speak and there is plenty of time available—and it sometimes works out that way—it might be to the advantage of the House to allow longer speeches. It might happen that Divisions planned to take place at a certain time would not be able to take place at that time because the debate had run out of speakers. There might, therefore, be occasions when the strict guillotine suggested by the Committee would not work and would be inappropriate.
Another example which might appear to be against my Committee's findings on this issue would be on a day when the House was considering a Prayer in which a particular hon. Member had a great interest. He might not move the Prayer, but, as a back bencher, the subject might mean everything to him and his constituents or the group opinion 543 which he represents. In those circumstances, it would be wrong to limit him to 15 minutes. For these reasons, there are difficulties in the precise system suggested by the Committee. Bearing that in mind, I have a suggestion to make, remembering that, as my right hon. Friend said, this is part of a pledge made by the Government—that they will deal with it soon, certainly when our Report on Standing Order No. 9 is before them.
My idea is that the matter should be more largely and completely placed in the hands of Mr. Speaker and that on a day when a large number of hon. Members wish to take part in a debate he should have the authority to say, "I have to inform the House that I have 60, 80, or whatever number it might be, hon. Members who wish to speak, and I propose to take advantage of the Resolution passed by the House giving me authority to interrupt an hon. Member after he has spoken for 15 minutes and to remind him that this is a day for limiting speeches to that time". I would go further and suggest that Mr. Speaker could go on to say, "Any hon. Member who breaks this rule must incur my displeasure, and hon. Members who are constantly breaking the rule must run some chance of not being called in future debates".
On many occasions I have almost sensed the heartbreak in Mr. Speaker's voice when he has said, "I hope that hon. Members will be brief." It is to their eternal shame that they have spoken for half an hour or longer. My suggestion would be one way of handling the 15 minute rule. We should put more authority in the hands of Mr. Speaker on days when he is hard-pressed to get in the large number of hon. Members who wish to speak. There is no reason why we should not adopt my suggestion, as we are placing more and more trust in Mr. Speaker. This is right, and we should increasingly let him be the trustee in matters of this kind. We willingly follow his Rulings. I can see no objection to our allowing him to have this extra power.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Has my hon. Friend thought that it would be a grim thing if we laid a lien on Mr. Speaker by saying that hon. Members who do not behave themselves today will pay for their mis-behaviour tomorrow? This is not a sixth- 544 form of politics and I do not believe that Mr. Speaker should be armed with this power, as many county council chairman are so armed.
I suggest that the best way to handle this problem would be to have a 15-minute time limit, to have an hon. Member's attention drawn to it at the end of that period and for him to be told that he has two minutes longer in which to complete his remarks. Only then would Mr. Speaker call it a day, with the result that every day everybody would have an equal chance of speaking.
§ Mr. Chapman
As always, I respect my right hon. Friend's advice. Perhaps it would be best if I withdrew that part of my suggestion. However, we would all expect Mr. Speaker to be particularly hard on an hon. Member who consistently broke his Ruling in that way. Having said that, I bow to my right hon. Friend's greater experience.
§ Mr. Mikardo
There are certain difficulties about having an automatic time limit imposed either permanently or on certain days. For example, would it not mean the end of the practice of giving way which, although sometimes abused, is of considerable value?
§ Mr. Chapman
If my hon. Friend will read paragraph 8 of the Committee's last Report he will see that it states that the occupant of the Chair should be allowed to safeguard that practice by allowing more time to make up for interruptions. The Committee realised the difficulty mentioned by my hon. Friend; but there are other reasons why it might be necessary to retreat a little from the Committee's proposal in this matter. That is why I made my suggestion.
As there is not likely to be another Report from the Committee on this matter, we are largely in the hands of the Government. They will have to find their way towards meeting what is now, I believe, the unanimous feeling of the House that something must be done about this matter. As I explained, I have felt for Mr. Speaker on days when we have debated such topics as Rhodesia and entry into the Common Market. Time and again Mr. Speaker has explained that he was hard pressed to get a greater number of hon Members into the debate. Despite this, hon. Members still speak for more than half an hour.
545 One of my hon. Friends took the remainder of the time, from 8.30 until the wind-up and reply speeches at 9 o'clock, the other evening, when it was clear that it was hoped to get at least one other hon. Member into the debate. This practice should be brought to a stop as soon as possible.
I do not wish to enter the controversy about morning sittings. I trust that we will examine the suggestion on the basis on which it was put forward by the Committee and not on some imaginary basis. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) spent the middle part of his speech making a case against the sort of morning sitting that was not proposed in the Report. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) to some extent did the same. They made a case against having what I would call full-blooded morning sittings on major parliamentary business. That is not the proposal of the Committee. The scheme proposed would not rule out the membership of part-time hon. Members and it would not involve the paraphernalia of voting, and so on. Let us stick to the proposal.
§ Mr. Chapman
Having spoken about short speeches, I would be the first to transgress if I were to give way and delay the House for too long.
The real nature of the experiment of morning sittings is along the lines mentioned by the Leader of the House. An attempt will be made to take the business that keeps us late on Wednesday and Thursday nights and transfer it to Monday and Wednesday mornings. My right hon. Friend went on to say that if we find that we still sit late on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the experiment will have failed. I am absolutely with him. That is the precise basis on which the Committee recommended the experiment. Let us examine it only on the basis on which it was submitted. It is an interim attempt, pending the wide-ranging review which the Committee will conduct, and is designed to get hon. Members home on two nights a week at a reasonable hour.
546 As I understand it, the main argument against Monday and Wednesday morning sittings is that the House will be empty on those mornings and Parliament will fall into disrepute. I urge hon. Members, with all the force at my command, to get this matter into perspective. Today, when we are discussing what is supposed to be a matter of great interest to hon. Members, there have never been more than 50 hon. Members in the Chamber at any one time, after the first two speeches.
I have looked in at Question Time on Mondays and have found that the average attendance even then is only 80 hon. Members. It is proposed to take in the mornings the business that we now conduct after 10 p.m.—the sort of non-controversial business on which, at nights, the attendance does not exceed more than a score, often less. On Fridays, when the House does a lot of its best work, I have frequently been unable to count more than a dozen hon. Members in their places.
Let us stop pretending to the electorate that hon. Members sit here like stuffed dummies all day long and that that is their job. It just is not true. Do not let us put-up arguments against morning sitting on the false assumption that hon. Members are supposed to sit here all day. That never was true and never will be true. I put a question on this matter to an outside witness, Professor Crick, when the Committee was taking evidence, and he said: This is quite true. Indeed, a lot of the fault for the misunderstanding about this must lie with us as teachers of politics in that we do not make it clear to the electorate outside that Members of Parliament do not sit, 600 in a row, listening to everything that goes on in the Chamber.
On those mornings we can have as good an attendance as we have after ten o'clock at night. The House and the reputation of Parliament would be no worse for that, because this is precisely the sort of attendance of the specialists involved in the subject under discussion.
I hope that we shall examine this matter on the basis put forward by the Government and the Committee and not erect it into something which it does not pretend to be and that there will be no argument about keeping out part-time 547 Members. It is, indeed, fully tailored to help the part-time Member. It is an experiment only for a limited period until we can have a more wide-ranging report on procedural reform. It stands or falls as an experiment on the basis put forward: will it get Members home on these two nights? Does it help the full-time Member to have a more reasonable life in this place?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It is time that the balance of convenience in this place was shifted in favour of the full-time Member. That does not mean that the part-time Member has no place here. He has an important place. But I am sure that we can accept a revolution which has occurred: this place is now more composed of full-time Members than part-time Members, and it is about time that they got a little bit of the primary consideration.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking after the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure. As a member of that Committee, I pay tribute to him for his guidance and chairmanship of the Committee's work during the past Session.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Leader of the House. It was an impressive speech, but the proposals do not match the greatness of his speech. I can only hope that his speech foreshadowed some of the more fundamental reforms which will be forthcoming in the lifetime of the present Parliament. I agreed with all the basic principles which he outlined, including the one reiterated by the Chairman of the Committee, that the balance of convenience should be tipped more in favour of full-time Members and that the growth in the number of full-time Members is both inevitable and, in my view, desirable. I therefore reject the views of those who are against morning sittings on the ground that this is the thin end of some kind of undesirable wedge to remove part-time Members.
There was only one principle which the Leader of the House outlined with which I disagreed, and that was when 548 he said in passing that he regarded the modernisation of Parliament as being quite different from Parliamentary reform. I do not take that view. Questions about the way in which we get messages in the House, about an efficient telephone service, better library facilities, living accommodation for Members with distant constituencies, and accommodation for working in the House instead of entering a raffle for a desk as one's first duty on coming into the House are part and parcel of Parliamentary reform. I hope that in the broad sweep and leadership which he gives in the House he will not cast these things aside in favour of procedural reforms in the Chamber, because I regard them as equally important in making effective the role of M.P.
I agreed with what the hon. Member for Northfield said about time limits on speeches. I hope that we shall have the system which he has recommended—not a guillotine, not a curtailment of freedom of speech, but a warning from Mr. Speaker when a reasonable time limit has expired. This would be effective and it would work, because every Member, except the Member currently speaking, would wish him to accept the time table. The pressure in the Chamber would be effective in making speeches shorter.
I welcome very much the proposals to appoint two specialised Committees. I hope that these are merely the forerunner of a greater extension of this system. The Lord President of the Council said that Parliament's control over voting cash was quite insufficient. I agree with that. The greatest reform will come with the removal of the consideration of part or all of the Finance Bill to a Committee upstairs.
I believe that the source of complaints about late-night and all-night sittings lies, not in the minor business transacted after 10 o'clock at night, but in consideration of the Finance Bill and other occasions when highly technical matters are being discussed with a few Members who have specialist knowledge in the Chamber while hundreds of us wait outside through the night to vote on subjects about which we know very little. It is that which has brought Parliament into disrepute and caused the trouble and difficulties facing the officials and servants of the House and caused the strain on Members and it is this which has not been tackled in 549 the proposals before us today but which I hope will be tackled in the future recommendations of the Committee on Procedure.
On the question of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, it has been put to me that this is such a vast field that there is a case for a sub-committee of that Committee to deal specifically with aviation matters. I should like to know whether the Select Committee will have power to appoint sub-committees to deal with more specialised branches of its work.
I ask the Government whether they envisage that we might have such a committee to deal with Scottish affairs. I have always argued that the Scottish Office is the Department of State least open to public scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people. The Secretary of State for Scotland is present during Question Time only about once every six weeks, but he covers a field of activity —agriculture, education, home affairs, and so on—on which English and Welsh Members can ask questions on different days of the week. Therefore, the Scottish Member is at a disadvantage in dealing with Scottish affairs.
The appointment of the Committee on agriculture will widen that gap because it will deal only with the Ministry of Agriculture whose writ does not run in Scotland. This will increase still further the disadvantage of the Scottish Member as against the English Members. There is a case for saying that the appointment of a Scottish Select Committee should appear early on the list. The Committee on Procedure to which we are giving authorisation in the Leader of the House's proposal to set up sub-committees should at an early date establish a sub-committee to consider the question of Scottish procedure in particular and to see whether it can be brought more up to date.
The intervention of Government in the everyday affairs of our constituents and constituencies is becoming greater and it has correspondingly become less open to scrutiny on the Floor of the House. In my short experience as a Member, I believe that while many Ministers are most anxious to discuss and are cooperative in discussing with Members questions of policy of their Departments which vitally affect their constituencies, 550 there are some who feel reluctant to do this. The open debate on the Floor of the House should be supplemented by greater willingness on the part of Ministers to discuss matters of policy which have a fundamental effect on a Member's constituency, even if he is not in the same party. There should be much more coming and going between Members and Departments of State.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
When would Members find time to attend this proposed Committee, since the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish Standing Committees are sitting constantly for a large part of the year? Which mornings would the hon. Gentleman devote to this other Committee?
§ Mr. Steel
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Scottish Grand Committee has, if my memory serves me aright, sat only once since the Summer Recess. Sometimes its deliberations might be better conducted in a Committee of the kind which I am proposing. All that I am asking is that this matter should be investigated and the case considered.
I come now to my view on morning sittings. If we are to have more Select Committees, which is what I want to see, there will be a greater conflict between the attraction of the work in the Chamber, be it Question Time, or debates, and the duty on a Member to sit on a Committee to which he is appointed. This conflict will be further increased if there are also sittings in the mornings.
I have been looking ahead to next term to see what I shall be doing in the mornings. The Scottish Grand Committee will be sitting on most Tuesday and Thursday mornings. My Private Member's Bill Committee will be sitting on Wednesday mornings. Therefore, even before we come to these proposals, I shall be sitting three mornings a week. This is often not appreciated outside the House. People do not appreciate the extent to which Committees meet in the morning. It is a complete myth to think that we all turn up here after lunch to begin the day's work.
Let us look at the business for today. Later tonight, we are to discuss the Loch Lomond Water Board Order, a matter 551 which affects only about a dozen hon. Members in the South-East of Scotland. When the present debate is concluded, hon. Members will leave the Chamber, and probably not more than 12 Members will discuss an important matter which affects a very small part of the country. Nobody will criticise Parliament and say that it is wrong for a small number of Members to be here late at night discussing this important matter, because not the same small number will be here every night. This is why I am not over-impressed with the case which has been made for shifting that type of business to the morning, because in the middle of the morning some criticism could be made that only a few Members were participating in the debate; and, therefore, the dignity of Parliament might be endangered.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
As a member of the Opposition, the hon. Gentleman finds no difficulty, late at night, in either attending the debate if he is interested, or in going home if he is not. While business is being carried on in this House, it is the duty of the Government to keep a House, which imposes a duty on a large number of hon. Members on this side to sit in the House while the hon. Gentleman is discussing Loch Lomond.
§ Mr. Steel
That is a fair point, and I concede it right away. I look forward to enjoying that situation myself at some time.
I am most concerned about the proposal to sit on Monday mornings because here the Leader of the House has departed from the view of the Select Committee. I think that too much of the business of the House, its procedures, and its facilities, are directed by the interests of the London or suburban Members. Many Members from Scotland and more distant parts of the United Kingdom travel to the House on Monday morning, and what is really being said is that either we are not expected to attend here on Monday morning, or, if we are, we must chop off one further night from being at home with our families.
I think that this is a serious problem confronting Members who live far away 552 from London, and one which is not often appreciated. I know that one hon. Member of the party opposite, a young man, gave up a safe seat because of his family difficulties, and this is a problem which is faced by many hon. Members. We should not lightly remove another night at home from the Member of Parliament who lives away from London.
There is a vast difference in the attitudes adopted by Members to their constituencies. I recall that on one occasion my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party, while travelling on the night train from London, met a Member heading for the North of England. This was some time ago. My right hon. Friend asked him why he was looking so depressed. He replied that it was not because he was going to his constituency now, but that he would have to do so again the following year. This view is rapidly disappearing, but there are many Members who do not require the same close contact with their constituencies as others do because constituencies vary very much in their demands.
The Leader of the House represents one section of a large city. He is bound not to have the same close contact with his constituency as I have, representing as I do three counties and eight towns. He is bound not to have the same number of individual problems affecting his constituency as do some other hon. Members.
We all received a letter from the Postmaster-General asking us to visit our post offices and cheer up the people who had to deliver the Christmas mail. I shall do this, because it is a good thing to do, but it will take me two days to get round the post offices in my constituency, and five days to visit the hospitals and eventide homes. This must be appreciated by those who argue that Members ought to live in London during the Session, and that parliamentary life ought to be geared to this. I live in my constituency, and I go there every week. I think that this is the right thing to do in my situation, and that it is the right thing for many Members to do. Monday morning sittings will hit me and others like me.
In the Committee, for all those reasons, I opposed the idea of morning sittings as proposed by the former Leader of the 553 House, but when it came to the presentation of the Report I was willing to vote for it on the ground that it was purely experimental. Because of my generosity of heart I thought that it should be given a trial and perhaps proved wrong, but several changes have been made to our recommendation. The House is to meet on Monday mornings. There is not to be a Count. Provision is made for a deferred vote. There is something new called a second-class statement. All these things lead me to think again, and to conclude that on balance, it would be better not to accept these recommendations.
I oppose the proposals before us not because I am against reform, but because I believe that accepting them would give us an appearance of reform without the substance and might hinder the introduction of further sweeping reforms to make Parliament more effective which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bring before us later on, and in which I wish him every success.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I want to make one or two comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and then go on quickly to Specialised Committees and morning sittings. The hon. Gentleman's criticism of the proposed Specialised Committee on Agriculture is one which should be made and which I was going to make. It has a bearing on what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). I am not sure whether it was a criticism, or support, of myself. It was perhaps a bit of both when he referred to my evidence to the Committee where I said that I preferred the Specialised Committees to be by function rather than by governmental Departments. If this were the case, the criticism made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles about Scotland being excluded from the Agriculture Committee would not be valid. If it were agriculture in general rather than a particular Department of Agriculture, the point would be met.
I say at once that I regard the proposition before us about specialised Committees as a bit anaemic. Nevertheless, it is a timid step in the direction in which I want to go. I call these Specialised 554 Committees, rather than Specialist Committees, because they will consist not of specialists but of lay Members of Parliament, assisted, I hope, by highly qualified, technically skilled people about whom my right hon. Friend did not speak this afternoon. I shall return to this point shortly.
If we get these Committees adequately manned and adequately staffed with the necessary administrative clerks and technical advisers, this will enormously strengthen the control of the Executive by the Legislature, which is basically what Parliamentary reform is about. I think that the frills have been given an undue proportion of time in this debate. Morning sittings, short speeches, and so on, are all trivia compared with the relationship between the back bench Member and the Front Bench Government spokesman.
If we can get these powerful Specialised Committees armed with adequate staff, they will be able to do what has never been done in my lifetime, and what I suspect has never been done in the lifetime of Parliament. Back bench Members will be able to examine and criticise Ministers in depth, in width, and at length. Everything they say will be taken down in evidence and used against them. By producing this kind of report and this kind of evidence the ensuing set debates in the House will be infinitely better informed than is the case now.
The second reason why I think that this is a very great advance is that it will give more Members of Parliament more worth-while work to do. Time and time again, before a new Member has been here for six months, he says "I am bored", just because he does not know where to obtain necessary information. If he does get it he hardly ever has an opportunity to use it in the House. It is as well to bear in mind what has been stated repeatedly, that this House is increasingly becoming a workshop, with a greater number of full-time Members.
I have no time for what are called, with great reverence, the traditions of the House. I would sweep them all away. I regard this as no more than a talking factory, where we get on with the job of governing the country and all this rigmarole, with a fellow coming in in gaiters and with a stock around his neck, 555 is absolute nonsense. The sooner we get rid of all this and have a "shake-out" here the better it will be.
Many back-bench Members feel this sense of frustration in having to do so much of what is apparently of absolutely no account. In parenthesis, it would be dishonest to pretend that there are not still some Members who are very content at having nothing very useful to do. They regard the place as a club—a rather convivial meeting place for garrulous layabouts waiting for their life peerages or their pensions. I like to think that there are fewer of them than I tear in fact there are.
The third reason why I am in favour of these Specialised Committees is that they could undertake some inquiries not only by way of cross-examining Ministers but also into problems which are now pushed out to departmental Committees, or, worse still, Royal Commissions—the bane of our lives. In 99 cases out of 100 they are stalling devices used by Governments who are either unwilling or unable to take their own decisions. The Royal Commission or the departmental inquiry is too often a cloak for governmental cowardice, and often its report is not debated in the House; it is put away in a pigeonhole and forgotten.
Select Committees would, in this respect, work much quicker and would be more in the public eye—my right hon. Friend has said that their sessions would be open to the public—and it would therefore be much more difficult for the Government to shuffle out of their responsibility if the Press were on the ball and were reporting what was taking place.
My fourth reason for being in favour of specialised Committees is that they could do what no Member can do at the moment—and this was not mentioned by my right hon. Friend; I would like him to clarify it—play a part in drafting legislation, even controversial legislation. Ministers and their civil servants could attend these Committees and exchange views and ideas on certain questions without final commitment on either side. Tomorrow we are debating the Optional Mortgages Bill. Its details have never been spelt out by my party. At the time of the General Election, we were given 556 the broad general principles and we had to do the best we could at the election, with great results. The Government subsequently worked out a scheme, but where did they take it? Not here; they took it to the building societies. The building societies rejected it. They said that it would not work. So the Government said, "We will have another crack." We did not know what the first scheme was. They took the second scheme to the building societies and not to us, and the building societies said, "We approve of that."
Having obtained the sanction of the building societies, the Government are now introducing the Bill and we shall be faced with it tomorrow, with the good grace of the building society movement. If we had had a Specialised Committee the problem could have been discussed with the Minister concerned and his civil servants, and, on the basis of their evidence, when we were presented with a Bill we would have had the report of the Specialised Committee in front of us, in which case tomorrow's debate would have been much more informed, and back benchers would have been brought much more into the picture than they have been up to now.
The criticisms of the Specialised Committee idea have come primarily from what I call the self-designated Left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party. On 27th October, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), in launching a vigorous attack on the prospective proliferation of these Committees, said that they would blunt the edge of party political controversy and take party politics out of the House of Commons and push them into Committees upstairs. My hon. Friend, like the Minister, has never been a great Committee man. In fact, although my hon. Friend made great play about getting steel nationalisation through in the previous Parliament, he is not on the Committee that is dealing with it in this Parliament. I wonder why. I wonder whether he pressed his case to be on that Committee. I rather suspect that he did not. He is a very great performer in the Chamber, but he does not like the hard graft and the unpublicised grind—[Interruption.] That is true.
§ Mr. Hamilton
He does not like the unpublicied grind of a Committee upstairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) argued that Ministers would be able to manipulate these Committees and mould them to their will; that they would be able to brainwash Members into subservience. I think that my hon. Friend grossly over-estimates the capacity of Ministers and grossly under-estimates the capacity of the back benchers who would constitute these Committees.
These arguments are extremely weak. The arguments for Specialised Committees are unanswerable, in my view. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us what will be the proposed size of these Committees, and whether their terms of reference will allow them to question Ministers on policy. I should also like him to spell out in more detail than he has so far what he proposes to do about staff—the administrative clerks and the specialist assistants—and the consequent problems of promotion in the staffing of the House. I should also like to know whether such committees will be able to travel abroad if need be, as the Estimates Committee has recently been allowed to do.
Having mentioned the Estimates Committee, I should like to know what relationship my right hon. Friend sees developing between it and the specialised Committees. In my view the objective which he has in mind could have been achieved by extending the terms of reference of the existing Estimates Committee, by increasing its numbers and enlarging its staff and resources. The Government encouraged the Estimates Committee to engage in some degree of specialisation. It has done so with some success. I would not wish to overplay it, but we have specialised our subcommittees. We have a specialised subcommittee on Science and Technology and another on Building and Natural Resources, which deals with agriculture, among other things. They are Committees on a functional basis, which is what I wanted.
The sub-committee of the Estimates Committee now dealing with science and technology has already produced one report on E.L.D.O. and our space research programme, and is engaged on another. If this new Specialist Committee is set up for the remaining period 558 of the Session, inevitably there will be some kind of overlap. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he visualises the Estimates sub-committees and the Estimates Committee gradually dying a natural death. If not, what machinery does he intend to create to prevent the kind of overlapping and duplication of work and, may be, of staff as well?
Presumably, if the experiment succeeds —and I hope that it will—gradually we will extend these Specialist Committees, which will mean the gradual demise of the Estimates Committee. I hope that my right hon. Friend will set up a specialist Committee on defence, and then we might get at the truth about our support costs in Germany, which we have not been able to get so far. This is one of the advantages which would accrue from a Committee of this kind.
But if, as my right hon. Friend seems to agree, this proposal of an experiment with an extension of Specialist Committees means the demise of the Estimates Committee, with that Committee being relegated to the third-class compartment of the Parliamentary train—in this I am not speaking for the Estimates Committee but personally—I would welcome such a move. I would welcome the obliteration of the Estimates Committee, however, only if the Specialist Committees taking its place are more powerful, more highly efficiently staffed and are able to do the job as between the Executive and the Legislature. I am an empire builder in reverse.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) referred to me as an establishment and associated me with some kind of establishment. I did not think that I had given that impression in the time I have been in this House. However, I will leave that and will come to comments about morning sittings. People outside just cannot understand why we do not meet in the mornings and yet our sittings go on until the early hours of the morning. I do not put that as the reason for sitting in the mornings, because it betrays what has been called a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the job we do here and the functioning of a Parliamentary democracy. Here we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech, on our right to "bellyache" before we give the Government of the day what they want. 559 and on the rights of the Opposition to oppose the Government. That is a right I would defend to the death, but equally I would defend the right of the Government to govern.
This is the real essence of a democratic Parliamentary system, and it is always difficult to get the very delicate balance between these conflicting interests. If we tried to seek a rigid adherence to the clock, it would put us on the high road to dictatorship and to the substitution of a façade of democracy for the real thing. Obstruction, delay, even filibustering—detailed examination of the Government's business, as the Opposition call it—are all legitimate weapons, which I myself have used, in the hands of an Opposition. We shall all have occasion to use them. No doubt we on this side will have occasion to use them in future, because there is bound to be a change of sides at some time.
Drastically to reduce any of these weapons through a Standing Order timetable would be a retrograde step carrying the gravest implication. Therefore, my acceptance of the need for morning sittings is not based solely or even mainly on the need or desire to get away early at night. No proposals for morning sittings of themselves could guarantee that we would get away early, not even the present proposal.
If I were in Opposition, and we got these morning sittings, I would immediately get round a table in a syndicate and ask how we could get round them and defeat the objective. That is perfectly legitimate. I lay odds of 10 to 1—perhaps I should not put the odds as high as that, for it would be stupid to do so, but I would lay a bet—that the Opposition will find some way of defeating the objective of this proposal.
I see another reason for morning sittings. I do not see them as an embarrassment to part-time Members, although I am bound to say that anyone who pretends to do a job outside this House and a job inside, and both of them efficiently, is deceiving himself and deceiving those he is trying to convince. One cannot do adequately and efficiently a genuine job outside and a genuine and efficient job inside.
Parliament is no longer that kind of place, because the balance has tilted in 560 favour of full-time Members, for reasons we need not go into. The procedures of the House should be geared to the full-time Member's needs rather than to those of the part-timer. We have heard the views of lawyers today, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and the hon Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). But lawyers are the most tightly knit conspiracy in the country and the most unloved profession. They say that only the ablest members would come here. I did not understand whether they would not or could not or should not be here. I am not sure what they were trying to prove, but if our procedures have to be geared to that type of Member, God help our Parliamentary democracy.
Morning sittings should be full-blooded, and I agree with those who say that there should be votes and counts. If we seriously believe in morning sittings, let us have them. Let us not have a shadow of the House as it starts at 2.30 p.m. To suggest that we should have a vote at 10 p.m. on what has been discussed in the morning is absurd. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said, this is the high road to proxy voting and all kinds of abuses. If we are debating something we should vote immediately afterwards and not ten hours later when some-crawls in from the bar, asks what it is all about, and then goes into the Lobby. That is not the way to run Parliament. Let us have full-blooded morning sittings or none at all.
We should also use these sittings for topical debates. We all know what I think of the other place. Frankly, I would blow it up and start again. But it does have the advantage that it can have a topical debate whereas we cannot. Our morning sittings should be used increasingly for that purpose. We should hold debates on immediately topical matters, and this would enhance the prestige of morning sittings and the prestige of this House.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) has put a great deal of thought into this matter over a long period and given useful advice and 561 evidence to the Select Committee. He has told us a great deal about it today. But his assertion that it is impossible for an hon. Member to do a useful job outside is ridiculous. He cannot possibly tell. He simply wishes to support his own conviction by insisting to the House that things are as he thinks.
The hon. Member made his usual wild attack on tradition. His attitude is philosophically somewhat removed from ours. We hold that we are changing something that it has taken 600 years to build up and that, if we engaged in that kind of approach, we are liable to throw the baby out as well as the bath water.
The hon. Gentleman made some interesting revelations about the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) to which we listened with rapt attention. I am sure that there is a good deal in what he said but it would have been interesting to hear the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale's reply. He is not here however.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
It should be said that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is one of the most assiduous Members of the House. These personal attacks on him are not fair.
§ Mr. Hastings
It is interesting to hear what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has to say, but it is to his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West that he should address his remarks and not to me.
But I agree with the hon. Member for Fife. West when he says that the crux of the debate is really the specialist Committees. The other matters we are discussing are important to us, but the heart of the matter is the question of control of the Executive by Parliament. I agree with a great deal of what he said in this connection.
The question of morning sittings has played a good part in the debate. I heartily disagree with the proposition, principally because I believe that it is a complete misconception to represent the professional Member of Parliament as an ideal in any way. What is the professional M.P. a professional at? He will turn, if we do not look out, into a professional in just the forensic hothouse that 562 the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) called it, a professional in all the procedures and complexities which the hon. Member for Fife, West wants to bring down, and will become increasingly out of touch with the pressures of life outside.
I accept that it is difficult to do an outside job as well. It is difficult to do an executive job in industry, for instance, but one can make a fist at it and I dare-say that one can be useful. At least, when one is around the boardroom table or in one's office, one is subjected to the pressures and direct effects of the legislation we pass in this place and one is getting it at first hand rather than at fifth, sixth, or seventh hand. This is an indispensable function in Parliament and one we can ill afford to do without.
The question of specialist Committees is excessively complicated. I read the evidence with the greatest interest and I think that it takes into consideration the complexity, in particular, of our relationship in this place with the Executive. It is this sort of communications problem in which the mind could lose all impetus. I believe that the House is in debt to the Committee that it was able to fight through the miasma and make these recommendations. I am at a disadvantage because I have not been a member of the Estimates Committee or the Public Accounts Committee. One feels that a special relationship does tend to build up between officials and these two Committees which it is hard to understand when one has not experienced it oneself.
The hon. Member for Fife, West implied that these specialist Committees would summon Ministers when they felt like doing so. From the evidence—and I can understand it, having been in official life myself—I believe that this might well result in spoiling that special relationship, particularly in science and technology, when it may be more efficient and effective to get information from officials than from Ministers.
If the officials feel that at any moment the Committee examining them is to turn to their Minister, they will be much more reluctant to give the information and much more inclined to say, "I will leave that to my Minister," or "Why not ask 563 him?" This is a natural objection to that approach. I am not saying that it should rule it out but it is one of which we ought to be aware.
There is a vast difference between the two Committees suggested by the Lord President. I regard agriculture as a dubious experiment. I cannot see where it will get us. I am an agricultural member and I know that there are many adequate ways of informing oneself of what is going on in the farming world. The N.F.U. see to it and our own party committees are probably very good at it. Speaking for our own, I am sure that this is so. This will be a general inquiry into the working of a Department whose affairs are relatively open in any case. I cannot see the justification for the experiment, except as a timid approach to a much bigger problem.
What is by contrast vastly more important is the approach to science and technology. It is upon this that I want to concentrate. It is true to say that debates on these subjects, and there are several related, in this House—I have said this before in connection with aero-space—are, unhappily, very largely a waste of time.
They are a waste of time, because they descend into polemics, as we always tend to do, sitting opposite one another. This is part and parcel of our affairs. They are a waste of time, secondly, because a Member of Parliament dealing with this question, in which he cannot be an expert, needs to refer to papers and to expert opinion and advice. They are also a waste of time because at the moment we lack the vital information necessary to make anything else. Although it goes without saying that this Chamber is perhaps the finest in the world for great occasions, it is not ideal for the cold appraisal of technical facts.
The official point of view has perhaps not been dealt with very deeply so far. In the evidence on this matter the officials seem to be saying two things. First, they are saying that there is no difficulty for a Committee of this kind discussing the past. Policy is said to be the difficulty. What I think this means is that there is no particular difficulty in discussing the past, but there is difficulty about the present or the future. This is an im- 564 portant consideration if I am right in my interpretation of the evidence presented to the Select Committee. The second thing said is that discussions leading to an inquiry into the machinery of government would be liable to cause embarrassment.
To take these propositions in turn, it is precisely this tendency to relegate our Committees, the Estimates Committee, in particular, and the P.A.C., of course, to the level of the post-mortem which has reduced effectiveness, particularly in any role associated with science and technology. Vast sums of money, seen in retrospect, without any current knowledge of the problem which has led to the gradual building up of this expenditure, create a sense of shock and incomprehension which would not be there if the Committee were enabled to follow the process as it went along.
Mistakes in the administration of technology, be it aero-space or atomics, can often be directly traced to mistakes in or faulty machinery of government. Current attitudes, where there are mistakes, are not likely to change unless new thought or influence can be brought to bear, and the only way to do that may be to change the machinery of government. To limit the discussions of these committees in this way or to fail to face this problem would be to fail to do the job at all. If there fails to develop an adequate relationship between officials in Whitehall and these committees, then the whole purpose will have been lost.
It is nonsense, and I hope that the Leader of the House will consider this carefully, to ask a specialist Committee to consider science and technology in limbo like this. It is like setting up a Committee to inquire into the sky or the sea. Is it to be ships or fish, or the desalination of water? What is to be the approach. The field is far too diffuse and large for this to be meaningful, and before we start on a matter of this importance, we should give some consideration to tying the committee down to a reasonable brief.
How should one approach the problem? It is not an exercise in developing relations between Whitehall and Westminster This would be simply to modify and make more intricate a field of communications which is already incomprehensible to the layman in any case, without achieving any objective change. The 565 approach should be to consider where the national effort is failing and then to provide Parliament, through specialist Committees, with the means to learn about it, and to pursue success, rather than simply to conduct an inquisition into past failures.
This is an important approach which would be all the simpler if we could say that we had something that we could recognise as national technological objectives, as is the case in the United States, Russia, or I suspect France. This is a matter outside this debate, but it is worth reflection. Where are the areas of failure into which one might expect the Committees to look? The main area of failure does not lie in industry, which is the sole creative force without which the national economy would come to an end. It lies with the Government and in this connection the Government are three things—inventor, banker and customer.
They are capable inventors, who have shown scant ability to organise their inventions; they are a bad banker with little understanding of risk finance and little knowledge of production problems, and they are a very uncertain customer. The need for definition of the Committee's work begins to come clear from those propositions. The sort of objective one might give to it might be to consider the vast and growing area of relations between the Government and industry as a whole. The Committee would not restrict itself to inquiries of the Government machine. It will have power to summon persons and these persons should, clearly, come from situations and professions way outside of the Government machine, if it is to accomplish anything. They should be managers and technologists, not employed by the Government.
Secondly, it might be instructive for them to look into the whole question of research and development, but not exclusively Government research and development, which the Committee concerned was inclined to recommend, since this also has been shown to fail both from the practical approach and in relations with industry. Thirdly, one could as I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) said, make aero-space a separate division of the Committee's responsibilities or set up another sub-com- 566 mittee to look after this. This is a diffuse area, though it is just traceable and manageable and it is an excessively important one.
The Committee should be encouraged to become familiar with current production problems, with the vast projects of State, one could almost call them today, in both civil and defence spheres. It is important, again in relation to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife, West said, to reflect that if one is to set up a Committee to inquire into science and technology it will inevitably lead to defence and it may not be able to conduct its inquiry sensibly or effectively unless it is prepared to face this.
There is no question that there is a great deal wrong with our administration of this vast complex of subjects and I welcome, first, the specialist Committees in principle and, secondly, the fact that this particular heading has been selected for early attention. We cannot lay down the exact course that this Committee will pursue and I believe that it will cause embarrassment to individuals and perhaps to Departments. We should not be afraid of this. There will probably emerge stopping points, papers may be asked for, which for good reasons cannot be produced.
This is the sort of thing which a specialist Committee, starting from scratch will have to face, but unless a beginning is made soon then Parliament's grasp of what is perhaps the most vital and complicated sector of the Administration, will slide perhaps beyond recall. For those reasons, I certainly welcome this particular proposal and shall support it. I welcome it just as heartily as I oppose the matter of morning sittings, for reasons which have been so well expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend. It is a mixed bag which the right hon. Gentleman has brought to us today. There is good in it as well as bad. I think that it has been brought forward in undue haste, and I agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend said at the beginning of the debate in that connection.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
While I may agree with other things said by the hon. Member for 567 Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), I could not agree with him when he said that the proposals had been brought in in too much of a hurry. My complaint is that we have had to wait so long for some of the recommendations now on the Order Paper. Many of them have been before the Government for a very long time.
I welcome the fact that very many of these recommendations are being brought forward in the form of this Motion, but I would have thought that it would have been perfectly practicable for this to have been done a long time ago. So far as I have criticism it is in relation to the other matters, but I fear that the very complexity of the Motion will cloak the value of this range of proposals in the spheres of supply and procedure. This should bring to Members in the House, and to those outside, a great deal of valuable clarity about the kind of work that we are doing, and get rid of a great deal of the misunderstanding about our activities.
The main propositions in the Motion, about which there have been dispute, are the propositions for the setting up of Select Committees and for morning sittings. It is very natural that we should have had very lively contributions on these subjects. But some were very wide of the mark, and although some came from Members who have been in the House for a very long time they did not disclose a great amount of information or knowledge of the actual practices of the House.
I now turn to the establishment of the new Select Committees. I prefer the proposition, in effect, put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure that we should use and, if necessary, change, the existing Estimates Committee and its subcommittees, making them the more efficient bodies that we would like to have. I doubt the value of duplication. I very much fear that the establishment of these two Select Committees is bound to mean a duplication of work unless there were an early decision, which I would think would be a mistake, in spite of the recommendation from its Chairman, on the more or less immediate winding up of the present Estimates Committee. I would have thought it far more valuable to follow up the recommenda- 568 tion of the Select Committee on Procedure to remodel the existing Estimates Committee, giving it the wider powers required and ensuring that it does an efficient and valuable job.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If we go ahead on the lines the Government have proposed so that there are Committees very roughly corresponding to Departments, that surely does not leave the Estimates Committee by any means functionless? Should we not have more and more all-across-the-board inquiries instead of narrowly defined departmental inquiries?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am glad that my hon. Friend intervened on that point. I was coming to that matter. I feel very strongly that in addition to the strengthened Estimates Committee we should have considered the establishment of what I would call "Commissions" to investigate specific problems. The kind of issues which, as my hon. Friend stated before, tend to be shuffled off at the moment to departmental Committees, inter-departmental Committees and Royal Commissions, should be brought into the House as part of Members' natural work.
We have, particularly today, the range of expertise amongst our membership that could very well investigate a large range of subjects which tend to be left to departmental committees, inter-departmental Committees and even to Royal Commissions. One can conceive of Commissions of the sort I suggest being established to examine problems likely to result in legislation, and in that way introducing a number of Members to some of the preliminary discussions and problems relating to legislation. That would have been a valuable undertaking for the Government to carry out.
I am concerned about the proposals for the first Select Committees proposed in the Motion. One would certainly welcome that on science and technology, but I would hardly have thought that agriculture would qualify as one of the first to need special investigation. I rather agreed with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire on that point. If ever there were Departments with which we need opportunities of contact, they are the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Affairs Department. These deal with subjects concerning which we are on the whole denied an opportunity of regular 569 discussion and debate on the Floor of the House. It would be very valuable if we could begin to establish specialised committees for detailed discussion of them.
I have some doubts on whether the new specialised Committees should be able to call Ministers for interrogation, particularly in the savage way contemplated by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). There is point in the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and other hon. Members that if this happened, and these inevitably small Committees were made into the bodies where all the most vital, lively interrogations were going on, that would inevitably reduce the interest and vitality of the House itself. That is a very real danger. It is no use my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West saying that this is merely a view of a few Members who do not play much part in Committees. I thought that that sort of personal criticism was below his normal level. That kind of personal abuse and attack is a rather foolish waste of his time.
I believe that we must try to hold the balance in this matter. We must try to ensure that, unlike the United States of America, we preserve a real vitality on the Floor of the House. That is vitally important. On the other hand, we want to ensure that there is a full opportunity for the active use of Members, and I would have thought that that was more likely to be done through Committees as part and parcel of our existing Estimates Committee.
Another point which it is very important to follow up concerns the proposed new Science and Technology Select Committee which may prove to be of value. I hope that there will be opportunity to enable eminent scientists in all ranges of disciplines, including medicine, to break the barrier which they increasingly feel is erected in this country between themselves and the politicians. There are many eminent scientists who want to make closer contact with the politicians to explain the kind of rôle that science can play. It is very important to the health of our society that that kind of barrier should be broken down, and the more opportunity there is for confrontation and contact the better.
If that is to happen, and the new Select Committee is to undertake that rôle and 570 carry out that work, it is important that the Committee's members handle their witnesses from outside rather differently from the way in which they are used to handling each other, and in which they handle some of our civil servants, who are used to appearing before committees of that sort. It is very important to use this chance of building up a closer relationship between science, those eminent in it, and Members of Parliament. But there must be a conscious effort to build up understanding and good relations between them, and witnesses should not be treated with the scant respect which very many of us show to ourselves. That understanding must be built up over a period of time.
I think that we have heard a great deal of rubbish from hon. Members on both sides on the question of morning sittings, and on full-time and part-time work. I cannot see how the proposal in the Motion before us on which we are to vote could make any significant difference to the part-time Member. I fully agree with my hon. Friends and others who emphasise that it is about time the great majority of Members should be given some consideration in this matter. I am sure that that is right.
I also utterly fail to understand why those who claim that it is of vital significance for the House that we should have Members retaining close contact with other interests think that the only way to achieve that is by retaining another paid job. That is quite beyond me. Very many of us in the House—I am sure that this applies to both sides of the House—find it perfectly practicable and possible to undertake a great deal of voluntary work and keep a wide range of contacts with voluntary organisations of many kinds. That maintains a freshness of outside outlook and contact which does not interfere with the duties we feel we have here to the House.
I fail to understand why lawyers and other groups who have the opportunity of carrying on their own well-paid work in the mornings, and who then come here at some time which suits themselves in the afternoons and stay on in the evenings to prepare their briefs on the premises, should feel that they bring a particularly lively and vigorous way of life from outside any more than those of us —I do not plead my own case in any 571 specialised way—who feel that we manage to maintain contacts by a wide-range of voluntary work. I believe that this would be the normal expectation in the House. I hope that we shall not hear much more of this special pleading, which annoys many of us considerably.
I would have preferred the recommendation made by the Select Committee that morning sittings should be restricted initially to Wednesdays. On balance, that would be a much more valid proposition for the start as an experiment, but I am willing to support the idea that morning sittings should take place also on Mondays. I do not understand why hon. Members should not come on Mondays for business which might specially interest them. I see no reason why that should happen any less than it should happen when debates take place at ridiculous hours up to midnight and even afterwards, as they often do at present.
Whatever other hon. Members may feel, I take the view that it is much more of a disgrace to the House that we should carry on deliberating at times when it is patently obvious that the wits of Members are not as clear as they otherwise might be than it is for debates to take place in the mornings, even with a small attendance. I believe that this Motion will be a valuable first step on the road to clarifying our proceedings, which is all-important. I think that as time passes we shall understand more and more how important this step is. It will help to give us rather more flexibility, which is important.
I hope that gradually we shall so shape our procedure as to make it more and more possible for the House to have a greater sense of immediacy and to be able to deal without delay with matters which are of public concern. I hope that some of the tidying-up which is now being done will prepare the way for such a change, which will come later. I hope, too, that it will help to make the House a more efficient forum than it has been in the past and will enable it to exercise greater control over the activities of the Executive. I welcome the fact that in introducing the proposals my right hon. Friend made it clear that that is the Government's objective.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
This has been a very interesting debate. Debates are always interesting when the House is considering its own affairs in a free and unfettered way. It is a pity that the Government have put the Whips on, because this matter concerns Members in all parts of the House, whatever party they belong to.
These proposals have been offered to the House as a kind of package deal. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) that the package is singularly ill-assorted. The problem of setting up the specialist Committees is clearly quite separate and different from that of morning sittings. The two things do not go together.
I hope that it will not be thought that the specialist Committees on Science and Technology and Agriculture will not become involved in controversial matters of policy, because they will: it is inevitable. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire touched on this point from a slightly different angle. If a Select Committee is established on science and technology, before we know where we are it will delve into all the pros and cons of scrapping or not scrapping the Concord, or whether we do or do not buy aircraft from America.
If a specialist Committee on Agriculture is established—my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) will correct me here if I am wrong—it will be very difficult to avoid its becoming involved in the highly controversial issue of whether it would be good or bad for agriculture if the United Kingdom joined the Common Market. With the best will in the world, I do not see how this could be avoided.
These Specialist Committees will have power, like all Select Committees, to "send for persons, papers and records". I imagine that these powers for the new Committees will be limited in the same way as they are for the present Committees. In other words, it would be unwise if these Specialist Committees were able to compel Departments to disclose the advice they gave to Ministers. If this were possible, if the Committees had access to departmental minutes to Ministers, it would naturally inhibit civil servants from expressing their views very 573 freely to the Ministers concerned. If in future specialist Committees became involved as deeply as that, the result would be undesirable.
On morning sittings, I hope that we shall head from the Government why they have selected Mondays. We have not so far had any answer on this point. It was not the recommendation of the Select Committee. All sorts of arguments for and against Monday morning sittings have been advanced.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I should have thought that there was an obvious reason for selecting Monday morning, in that it does not interfere with the main Committee mornings.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
As we have not had an opportunity of debating the Report of the Select Committee, and as the Select Committee did not recommend Monday morning sittings, it is reasonable to ask the Government why they have selected Mondays. Monday mornings will impose a very considerable extra burden on the Chair and on the clerks, the officers of the House, who, quite apart from Members, must do a great deal of preparatory work for the Monday morning sittings either on Saturdays or late on Sunday evenings.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that Monday morning sittings will give a built-in advantage to a Member who is fortunate enough to represent a constituency fairly close to London or, I might add, who represents a Scottish constituency and who travels to London on the Sunday night sleeper in any event. However, Monday morning sittings will put at a considerable disadvantage a Member who represents a constituency a couple of hundred miles from London and who will now have to travel to London on Sunday evening instead of spending all day Sunday with his family.
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), but I absolutely agreed with him that to arrange the sometimes non-controversial business for Monday mornings but then to delay votes on that business, be it Prayers or anything else, until the evening 574 makes an absolute mockery of Parliament. The whole principle of the House is that the vote follows the argument. It is true that all hon. Members do not always follow the argument. They are not always here. But at least they can if they want to. The idea that we can have a Prayer to annul a Regulation on Monday morning and that the vote on that Prayer will not be taken until 9.30 on Monday night makes the thing an absolute farce. If the House wants that, the only practical way of doing it is not to have the vote on Monday or Wednesday night at half past nine, but to delay it for another 24 hours until the Tuesday or Thursday night, by which time hon. Members who were not present on the Monday or Wednesday morning can have the opportunity, if they so wish, to read what had been said in HANSARD published the following morning. If the House does not want to have the vote in the morning when the business is taken, then, for heaven's sake, give hon. Members an opportunity of reading what is said before they vote.
I also agree with the hon. Member for Fife, West that the Monday and Wednesday morning sittings will give the Opposition a very considerable tactical weapon. It would not be difficult to devise ways and means of compelling many Ministers to come to the House and to wait in case they were required to deal with the business, thereby taking them away from their Departments, which would make the administration of their Departments much more difficult. It is an easy weapon to wield, and I am not sure that it is a good thing. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral that Ministers should administer their Departments, and the morning is about the only time they can.
The most specious and the most bogus argument in favour of Monday and Wednesday morning sittings is that they would transfer to those two mornings what otherwise would be debated late at night. I ask any hon. Member who has been in the House for any length of time whether he really thinks this is so. My own view is that it is not a question of "either or". We know that it will be "both and". Every Government, no matter which Government is in power at a given moment, has to get their legislation through. The pressure of legislation 575 builds up all the time, as every Government seem to load on to the House a legislative meal which is more or less indigestible within the time. Unless Governments exercise a self-denying ordinance and restrict far more than they have restricted hitherto the amount of legislation they want passed in a Session, hon. Members will know perfectly well what will happen. When we come to the end of June or the middle of July, when legislation is moving rather slowly, when there is a hold up, and all sorts of other unexpected things intervene, the Government of the day will start suspending the 9.30 rule on the Monday or Wednesday and the House will sit until three in the morning on the Tuesday or Thursday morning, having also sat from 10 o'clock on the Monday and Wednesday morning. In fact, it will be not "either or" but "both and".
There is the further point, apart from the question of how we may "fluff" the business that, if we sit on two mornings a week in addition to the two other mornings on which there are Standing Committees, we turn the screw one more round to make membership of the House a whole-time professional occupation. This is a matter of opinion. Some hon. Members think it is a good thing. Others do not. I myself am very doubtful about it. We shall make it to that extent more and more difficult for any hon. Member to do any other kind of job, or to have much contact with the outside world. It is a matter of degree. If we start sitting on Monday and Wednesday morning in addition to Tuesday and Thursday, we shall become so close to being a whole-time professional body that, whether we like it or not, we shall restrict—let us face this—the field of choice of candidates—this applies to both parties equally —to those who have not much of a career to give up or to those who can afford, for one reason or another, to take the chance of political life.
What man embarking on a career in which he sees the possibility of success or in which he is already half-way up the ladder will want to come into the House of Commons, perhaps at a by-election a year before a General Election, have a year here, then be defeated at the General Election, be out again for four years, succeed next time and be in 576 for three, and then find himself out again? It would be a very chancy business. Whatever hon. Members say, the more the House sits in the morning, the more we restrict the field of choice of candidates. This is cold and, perhaps, unpalatable logic, but it is absolutely true nevertheless.
No doubt, I shall be told that I am old fashioned, but I have always felt that one of the great strengths of the House of Commons lies in the extraordinary variety of experience which hon. Members have and can bring to its deliberations. Almost every occupation or profession is represented on the benches of both sides. It is vital that hon. Members, or at least a substantial proportion of them, feel in their own affairs the effects of the legislation which they have a hand in passing. Otherwise, we shall all become like goldfish swimming in a bowl, having no contact with the outside world because there is no time. We shall see the outside world only dimly, through a glass darkly, and when we do see it in reality it will be a bit of a shock.
I cannot believe that this would be good. I cannot believe that it would enhance the reputation of Parliament or, still less, improve its efficiency. For this reason, I am against morning sittings, and I am against the package deal which the Government have introduced because I believe that the two are quite incompatible.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said that the Leader of the House had made a good and able speech. He used a third adjective with which I would not agree, but I go with him in the other two and, what is more —to quote the right hon. and learned Gentleman—I had thought of those adjectives before the right hon. and learned Gentleman used them. I regard the overwhelming bulk of the Motions put before us by my right hon. Friend as admirable—the one on financial procedure in which he has taken up the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, the minor one on Notices of Motion, and, above all—as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, this is most important—we have at long last decided to change our system and introduce 577 specialist Committees on the lines of the American and Continental committees. They may work out somewhat differently in our British atmosphere, but we are at least trying what nearly every other legislature in the world has found an extremely useful device for its purposes.
I regard the proposal for specialist Committees as of overwhelming importance, but I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) to note my hope that his Committee will consider the procedure of our Committees, which is immensely archaic. I noted in one Report 13 archaisms of our Select Committee procedure. Many of these have now been dealt with. For example, the Leader of the House has taken one matter up and now a majority of the Committee will be able to decide whether the Committee should sit in private or in public. It has been a basic difficulty in our procedure that the majority on the Committee cannot decide many things, and this, it seems to me, is ridiculous.
I have said that I accept the overwhelming bulk of the Motions, and I come now to one which I do not accept, the one dealing with morning sittings. I do not regard this as a particularly good Motion at all. It is a substantial improvement upon the Report of the Select Committee on the Times of Sittings of the House, but I feel that the whole issue has been mishandled. Above all, it has been mishandled in that we have a Government Whip on this Motion. It is said by some of my hon. Friends that the Opposition have an unofficial Whip on. If they have, the point is irrelevant because, in my view, they would be justified. They would be justified, because there was a Government Whip on, in effect, in the Select Committee on Procedure. The Committee on Procedure had its membership altered so as to include members who were in favour of morning sittings. One of them told me that he did not wish to go on it. Secondly, I understand, a draft Report was produced by the Chairman, and thrown out by his Committee and, thirdly, when he produced another draft Report it was carried only as the result of the unanimous votes of the Labour Members.
This is not to say that hon. Members are not in favour of morning sittings, 578 but one hon. Member who voted for morning sittings himself told me—and I believe him—that he had voted for it merely for that reason. He is in favour of morning sittings, but does not like the Report for which he has been forced to vote. That will be the situation of many of my hon. Friends tonight. Some, like myself, will abstain, but many will be voting for a proposal in which they do not believe, although many will be voting for proposals of which they approve. However, it is wrong that we should have a proposal of this character when, by other means, we could have carried through a sensible considered proposal.
If the Government wish to put forward changes in procedure, they are perfectly entitled to do so, but it is wrong to use the supposedly non-party basis of a Select Committee as an attempt to cover up the fact that this is a Government proposal. Its wrongness has been shown by the fact that the Whips are to be put on. If the Government wish to change procedure, they should be honest about it and not attempt to conceal it by the supposedly non-party basis of a Select Committee.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend has had his chance to say whether it is nonsense. This is a complete gimmick. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that the procedure on the Floor of the House was much better than its American counterpart, partly because it was a dramatic procedure. We are here taking away the drama and saying that we are to have morning sittings because we have never attempted to educate the public into an understanding of what we do in the mornings. We are to have morning sittings to persuade the public that we do something in the mornings, but we are to have them in such a way that there will be no Divisions in the mornings, so that hon. Members will not have to attend if they do not want. This is hypocrisy and a gimmick, and it is quite appalling to me.
Many hon. Members believe in having morning sittings. Personally, I am a full-time Member and believe in the House working full-time, either in Committee or on the Floor, not necessarily just on the Floor, but I do not believe in bamboozling 579 the public with a piece of hypocrisy of this character and saying that we are to have business in the mornings, although making sure that it interferes with nobody's routine.
§ Mr. English
That would be a proper proposal, but the proposal which we are considering is not the proposal of the Select Committee.
The effects of the proposal to meet at these times have not been fully considered. I say that because many subjects were omitted from the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure. Seventy-two pieces of evidence given by hon. Members were suppressed. Hon. Members submitted evidence to the Committee which has not been reported, and, from consultation with other hon. Members, I have found that that evidence included points never considered by the Select Committee on Procedure.
For example, there is the subject of research. I do not mean the sort of research which the Library can and does do. but the sort of research which means going round outside organisations and finding out their views on what Departments have said to them on subjects in which we are interested, because Departments do not tell us all we want to know about the subjects in which we may be interested.
There is the question of the Services of the House. I understand that the Leader of the House will look into this. There is the question of full-time and part-time Members. Above all, there are many points connected with the timetable of procedure. Here, I agree with the assertion of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral that it is putting the cart before the horse, in many cases, to decide on time before deciding how it will be used.
There is also the question that some hon. Members wish to extend the time of the House. This is good, from a Government point of view. Some hon. Members think that, by meeting in the mornings, we will be able to avoid meeting in the evenings. This is desirable for the man who lives in London, but does anyone 580 think that all our constituencies want is 630 Members, all of whom move their families to London? That is not what the country wants. These are not arguments for or against morning sittings, but they should have been considered in the Report. They were submitted in evidence to the Committee.
It is wrong that evidence should be suppressed in this way, simply because it disagrees with what the Committee was determined to do. If the new specialist Committees did this, we would come to a poor pass and they would give no benefit to the House. After all, a Committee is supposed to be a forum for the evidence presented to it. That has not happened in this case.
On this issue, I believe that the Government have the right to say how much of the time of the House they need to get their legislation through and how that time should be used, although there are many ways in which the Opposition can influence that time. But on an issue of this personal character, the Government having said that they need a given amount of time, I should have thought that the domestic circumstances of hon. Members are so infinitely varied that this is one issue which we could leave to a free vote—not the amount of the time of the House, not the use of that time, but when in the day that time should begin.
This is something which personal considerations must enter into, and it is by no means unreasonable or unjust to say that, provided that the amount of time and work is done, it does not matter very much to a Government or to one side of the House or the other where it is. It matters very much to individual Members.
I am glad to see that the Government have taken the point that these morning sittings should not clash with Committees. It is ridiculous to propose to increase the power of the Committees and at the same time to detract, by doing so, from the Floor of the House, if the meetings of the two coincided. What I dislike about this proposal, as I have said, is that it is a hypocrisy. It is not the genuine morning sittings which we wish to see and which are part of the Labour Party's policy. It is hypocritical in that sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield, the Chairman of 581 the Committee, said that he thought it might be temporary and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said the same thing. I hope it is.
If we are to have morning sittings, let us not be hypocritical about it and say that they are for the benefit of the public, adding, "You need not attend, you need not vote, you need not be here at all if you do not want to." I cannot bring myself to vote for what I believe to be a hypocrisy.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Although all hon. Members are seeking to be brief, most of us would like to have heard a slightly longer speech from the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He expressed himself with considerable courage and force, and what he said about the background to the Select Committee casts a very different light on the speech made by its Chairman, who would do well not to sit there muttering to himself, but to think very hard about what he appears to have been a party to.
I, too, wish to be brief and I will concentrate mainly on morning sittings, partly because I agree with many of the other proposals, although I do not think that they go far enough to restore effective power to Parliament. But I do recognise that may be finally achieved only by a much more radical reform, a real divorce between the legislature and the Executive, than is apparently contemplated, even by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). If we are now to take a step towards the American specialist committee system, we must recognise that we shall probably, in the end, have to go the whole way and divorce the legislature and the Executive on the American pattern.
My second reason for concentrating on this subject is that the idea presented to us is dangerous and irrelevant, and the arguments in its support by the Leader of the House were irrelevant and superficial. We witnessed one of the right hon. Gentleman's famous "great leaps backwards". Although many arguments have been deployed against the proposal, by no means all have yet been heard in full.
I would ask the House to consider the effects of this proposal on its own 582 services. It is 400 years since a Mr. Speaker Onslow was first dragged protesting to occupy that Chair, but I forecast that, in future, we may find something more than token and traditional resistance from those of our colleagues whom we elevate to the high office of Speaker, because of the heavy burden which we are increasingly placing upon them and which has not been fully considered in the proposals now before us.
What of the staff of the Serjeant-at-Arms, the badge messengers, the Official Reporters, the maintenance men and the cleaners? Have we considered the effect there will be upon their ability to discharge their services if we pre-empt this Chamber in the day-time? I doubt it very much. I doubt whether the exchange of three hours—this is what it is, effectively—in the morning for a problematical time in the evening, will make their burden any lighter and the hours they have to work any more civilised.
Another aspect of the proposals which has not yet been mentioned in the debate is their effect upon the access of the public to the Palace of Westminster. The effect will be to cut out two of the four "Members' days", for taking parties of constituents around the House of Commons. I have a constituency close to London, and I receive a large number of requests to take round parties from women's organisations and of schoolchildren. I try to do it whenever I can because it is a valuable opportunity for people to learn about Parliament. In this proposal, we are cutting in half the opportunity and the valuable right of the public for access to this place to learn about its proceedings.
As to the effect on the composition of the House, we have had a great deal of argument about the relative merits of full-time and part-time Members. I will not go on at length about this, because we could discuss it all night. But I must challenge the assumption, which has been implicit in a great deal of what we have been told on this issue, that one can judge an hon. Member for the amount of time he spends in the Chamber. This is a dangerous assumption and one which I would not care to sustain.
Having said that, there are a number of points which must be considered. I hold no brief for lawyers. I used to 583 believe that there must be too many lawyers in Parliament. I have changed my view, mainly because of the time I have spent in Standing Committees considering legislation line by line—some of it, like the Land Commission Bill, utterly incomprehensible even to the lawyers, and some of it scarcely worth considering at all unless one has among the members of Standing Committees men who are qualified in the law to explain the application of proposed legislation and to interpret involved provisions. If we were to do anything to deprive this Legislative Assembly of the advantage of having members skilled in the law, we would, I fear, be going a long way towards damaging the capacity of Parliament to discharge its proper functions.
Today, again, we have a visitation of university lecturers. I believe that their stay will be brief, a temporary phenomenon, and that they will, in due course, return to render valuable service to the cause of higher education. Meanwhile, I see no need to adjust our rules for their benefit for the brief period until the next General Election.
There is a further and overriding need for Parliament to preserve the part-time element. If we tip the balance against hon. Members who are not able to turn up for every two-line Whip we will be depriving ourselves of people with firsthand experience of the impact of legislation on business and industry—indeed, of trade unions, too—and of first-hand experience of taking important decisions in business and industry. If we are not to have men with this experience, we will become a secondhand Parliament—a Parliament in which we only know what people see fit to tell us—and if hon. Gentlemen opposite consider that that is a state of affairs to be encouraged, I disagree with them most strongly.
We must then consider the effect of these proposals on the content of debate. I do not know what proposals may eventually be introduced for a new Standing Order No. 9, but I doubt whether those who press for definite matters of urgent public importance to be debated will be satisfied with them being taken on Monday mornings. It may take us some way towards producing a Parliamentary "Panorama", but it will 584 not bring us near to achieving the purposes which hon. Members seek when they advocate changes of this type.
I fear that all it will amount to is a morning kickabout for the Extra A XV before the big match in the afternoon. This will not get us far, and we shall shortly see the Government pre-empting this time for legislation of their own. If any hon. Member challenges that, I can only answer that we know what compulsive legislators the present Government are.
The real purpose of the proposals for morning sittings is simply to provide public relief for the politically unemployed, some of whom, since they first raised their demand for this relief, have found other employment and some of whom no one appears to be particularly anxious to find employment for, other than their own Whips. If this is a correct diagnosis of the situation, then it is entirely wrong that the procedures of Parliament should be frivolously and cynically altered for this purpose and that this should be passed off in the guise of modernisation and reform. The Leader of the House knows this, and he has had to resort to the Whip for his supporters because he also knows that, without the use of the Whip, this proposal would be rejected, just as hon. Members rejected his proposal to televise the proceedings of the House.
Hon. Members should not imagine that those of us who oppose this proposition do not support reform. I can think of many ways in which valuable reforms could be made, particularly in regard to specialist Committees. I would support any reform to restore and promote democracy and efficiency in this House, but I do not believe that we should lightly agree to arrangements which are designed simply to make our own lives easier, or to make things easier for the Government of the day.
One hon. Member intervened a short while ago to express some self-pity about his having to stay up all night to keep the House going. Is he not aware that, being on the side of the Government, that is part of the contract he entered into when he became a Government back bencher? If he cannot take it, then I pass on to him the advice my sergeant major gave to me when I was in the 585 Services, "If you cannot take a joke, you should not have joined." I warn the hon. Gentleman concerned that I shall probably wake him up in the middle of our next all-night sitting to tell him the same thing.
Life should not be easy for us. Our existence should not be a comfortable one and this applies as much to alterations of our hours as it does to increases in our pay. We should think long and hard before voting ourselves these things. The case for morning sittings has not been made out and I hope very much that the Leader of the House will withdraw the proposal.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
I do not propose to comment on the matters raised by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), because he devoted most of his speech, as did most of his hon. Friends, entirely to the question of morning sittings—a question which seems to me to be far the least important of the several issues before the House—and also because he did little more than say several times what was said many times previously, perhaps somewhat better, if rather less vehemently by his hon. Friends.
I wish to say a few words about specialist Committees, which seems to me to contain, if they work out in the way in which many people hope, the best promise for a real revolution in our procedures, in relations between front and back benches and in the effective and informed working of the House of Commons. We have heard comments today on one of two methods by which it is proposed to extend the Specialist Committee system, namely, the setting up of two more Select Committees. In addition, if one reads the Committee's Report, and, still more, the evidence submitted to it, one sees running through it the general idea of encouraging an extension of the operation and an increase in the effectiveness of the Specialised Committees, both the new ones to be set up and the existing ones.
I should like to make a few observations on those proposals based on my very short experience as Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I speak only for myself and 586 not for the other members of the Committee. It warms my heart to see in the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Procedure some highly complimentary references to the work of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which I note with keen appreciation and a total lack of immodesty, because they refer to a period before I was a member of that Committee.
The first question which arises in considering this matter has been raised many times by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is whether the extension—in power as well as in size, in influence as well as in numbers—of the system of Specialised Committees will tend to devalue the proceedings of this Chamber. That is a view expressed by what I suppose I can only call the holy alliance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), which the Chairman of the Estimates Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), called the self-designated Left of the Labour Party—an appellation which will come as a bit of a shock to at least two of those three Members.
I do not often differ, anyhow in public, from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, because I find that when I do the course of events generally proves him to be right and me to be wrong; but I differ from him on this occasion. I think that he is wrong in believing that an extension of the Specialised Committee system will blunt the edge of political and ideological and almost philisophical differences between the parties across the Floor of the House. I should be the last to want to do that.
If I thought that there was any danger of this development blunting the edge of political controversy, I should be very much against it, because I believe, like my hon. Friend, that democratic Parliamentary systems which are dominated by coalitions—either overt coalitions like the one in existence in West Germany, or covert coalitions as we had in the unlamented days of Butskellism—are not healthy democracies. It is true that the clash between political ideologies honestly, sharply and toughly expressed is a vital ingredient of our Parliamentary 587 democracy, but the debating of these basic differences, like all other debates, is always more meaningful if it is an informed debate, if it is based on the widest and best collection of facts possible.
To my mind, the real threat to the status and effectiveness of this Chamber derives not from any danger of the blunting of controversy across the Floor of the House, but to a factor mentioned several times today, notably by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West, and that is the shift in power which we have seen in the last few years away from the back benches to the Government and the consequent undue dominance of the House by members of the Government.
There are a number of reasons why that shift has taken place, but there is only one of these many reasons which is germane to the subject that we are discussing today, and it is that the increasing complexity of Government creates a situation in which Ministers, briefed by their staffs, know much more about the details of Administration than back benchers can possibly know, and therefore are in a position to blind us with science, which they try to do all too often.
In my view, the great value of Specialised Committees—there are other values as well—is that they will enable at least some back bench Members, on at least some topics, to face Ministers on somewhat more equal terms than we have at the moment, and because they will be able to face Ministers on somewhat more equal terms, they will be able to increase the accountability in practice, and not merely in theory, of Ministers to Parliament. That is to say, they will strengthen Parliament's ability to carry out its traditional watch-dog function over the Executive.
I want to see the work of these Committees widened. I want to see them doing very much better than they have done up to now, well as they have done, and I think that there are three things which we ought to consider, not all of which have been mentioned today, but which have been canvassed by the Select Committee and by people who gave evidence to it.
The first is the question of the appearance of Ministers, as well as civil servants and others,—not instead of, of 588 course—as witnesses before these specialised Committees. I have had the experience in examining a nationalised industry, of questioning a senior civil servant—the Civil Service head of his Department—who was an absolutely superb witness, and who was extremely helpful, but every now and again we got to the point where there was a stop in the questioning because, quite properly, he said, "You cannot ask me that one". What he was really saying was, "This is a matter of policy and I am not responsible for it. The Minister is responsible, and if you want to ask questions about it, it is not I who should be asked." A good deal of fruitful inquiry was vitiated in this way.
I know that there are some hon. Members who fear that if Ministers appear before these specialised Committees there is a danger of the proceedings developing into a party dogfight. I think that those who have had experience of these Committees would deplore it if that took place. If one can speak of the Committees which exist now, the P.A.C. Committee, the Estimates Committee, and the Committee on Nationalised Industries, the whole history of the work of these Committees suggests that there is not any great danger of them developing into a dogfight in that way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was worried about the Minister of Agriculture appearing before the proposed new Agriculture Committee. He thought that the Opposition would get at him and that the two sides would get into a battle. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has just been carrying out an investigation of the Post Office which, for all practical purposes, is the whole of one Ministry, and one could not have had a sounder and more objective examination than we had, quite devoid of party overtones.
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Gentleman has been talking about Ministers attending specialised Committees and about them coming here on Mondays and Wednesdays, and possibly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to pilot a Bill through a Committee. When will these poor Ministers have time to run their Departments?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am not talking about their coming in on particular days. So far there has been no difficulty in getting 589 them to work. The House is like the rest of the world—full of willing people. Some are willing to work, and the rest are willing to let them. I am not worried about that. To those people who have the same sort of fears as those expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall about the dangers of these Ministers coming along, the short answer is that if we find that the system is no good we can drop it—which is also the answer to all those hon. Members who have been worrying about the effect of Monday and Wednesday morning sittings.
Some have said that we cannot have Monday and Wednesday morning sittings because there will be nobody here. Others have said that we cannot have them because all the lawyers will be here. Some have said that we cannot have them because there will never be anything worth while to discuss, and others have said that we cannot have them because the Government will start pushing legislation into them. Why not try it and see what happens? The same consideration applies to the proposal that Ministers should be called as witnesses before specialised Committees.
Another question has been touched upon only lightly today, namely, whether these Committees should sometimes sit in public. They already have the right to do so, unless a Member spies strangers; but we are talking about an actual change of practice. There would be a good deal of value in that, provided that the occasions on which the Committees sat in public were chosen with care.
Some sittings are clearly totally unsuitable. A great deal of the proceedings are so highly technical and specialised and, of necessity, arid, that there could not possibly be a great deal of public interest in them. Furthermore, a member of the public could not just walk into one of these sittings; it would be like going to a cinema and seeing the twelfth episode of a twenty episode serial without having seen the previous eleven episodes, and Members would be referring to documents having all sorts of abstruse references.
Nevertheless, there are some things in which the public would be interested. We make a mistake when we talk about the Press coming in, in that we are apt to think purely in terms of the daily Press. 590 Many matters that come before the Estimates Committee and the Nationalised Industries Committee have a great interest to the relevant parts of the trade Press, the technical Press, and the other specialist Presses. If we had a Committee on the Ministry of Education, The Times Educational Supplement would often want to have someone there, and the Committee on Science and Technology would often be visited by somebody on behalf of the journal, the New Scientist. I am sure that the journals of trade associations and trade unions would find much of interest to report in the public sessions if they were chosen with care.
I now turn to the question of staffing these Committees. If the objective is to enable back benchers to meet Ministers on more equal terms than at present—and bearing in mind the enormous resources and expertise which Ministers have at their disposal—we must have in these specialised Committees a little more expertise at our disposal. I hope that nothing I say will be taken as any criticism of the clerks, who are a wonderful bunch of chaps, but who are, of necessity, general practitioners. In some fields we need specialist advice, not in respect of the subjects dealt with, but on the techniques.
Three different proposals have been canvassed in this regard. The first is that the specialised Committees should borrow staff from the Ministries that they are investigating. I hope that that suggestion will not be considered for one minute. That does not make any sense at all. We would be putting on the members of that staff an impossible burden of double loyalty. Their loyalty would not be first to the House but naturally to their own Department. I hope that my right hon. Friend will also bear in mind, in case he has thought of this idea—I do not think that he has—that there would be great difficulty in the relations between the Committee clerks and the staff brought in from Government Departments.
I hope I am not saying anything wrong, but I have had the impression that even some members of the Procedure Committee have felt that this need could be satisfied by hiring, ad hoc, specialists for two or three months as needed. That 591 was at least the view of some witnesses. But that is not the right answer. The important thing is not to get an expert in a subject but in a technique.
The Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee, the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and the new specialist Committees corresponding to Departments will, between them, provide enough work to justify our having a full-time statistician. Committees of the House get many statistics presented to them, and sometimes they are not in an easily digestible form. Indeed, in the last few years, it has been the fashion among some statisticians to present statistics in all sorts of funny ways. They began with graphs and went on to little men, each one representing a million beefeaters, and now they seem to exercise their ingenuity in finding ways not of presenting statistics simply but of showing how clever they themselves are in finding new ways.
In these days, when we examine questions of cost benefit analysis, of discounted cash flow analysis, budgetary control and other indices for measuring performance, we could certainly use a full-time cost accountant amongst the various Committees, along with an expert in management structure and industrial relations, especially where, as the Estimates Committee has started to and as the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is about to do, we carried out cross-the-board inquiries were a good deal of specialist techniques in comparison between one institution and another are needed. If, in addition, we need the services of a petro-chemist or some other expert we could go to the universities for them.
I hope that I have not detained the House too long and that my observations will be of value in considering taking the matter of specialist Committees a stage further.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
This debate has seen the House at its best in that we have had right hon. and hon. Members from both sides giving their views on how they would like to see our procedure conducted. But the debate has been marred by the shadow of the 592 Party whip imposed by the Government. It is very different from the last debate we had on a Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, on 27th October, 1965. In that debate, if I remember aright, 20 Conservatives and 108 Labour Members voted in favour, while 28 Conservatives, 87 Labour and 3 Liberal Members voted against. That is how we should conduct our debates on procedure. These are not party matters. They affect the convenience of hon. Members as parliamentarians and not as party members.
I was very struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and the principles on which he addressed himself to this question. He has been a model Chairman. Indeed, he succeeded me through a mischance as Chairman of that Committee. I wish to put three principles on which we should address ourselves to the question of procedure.
First, we are trying to make this House a better forum for live debates. Secondly, in doing so, we are trying to remove from the Floor of the House matters that are of local or are not of paramount interest to the nation. Thirdly, and not least important, we are trying to make the procedure of the House more intelligible to those in the gallery and outside. It is against that background that I want to examine one or two points put forward by the Leader of the House and to underline some of the questions which I hope the Minister without Portfolio will answer.
I am surprised how little hon. Members have talked about the recommendations on financial procedure, which are revolutionary. I am strongly in favour of them and I am grateful to the Leader of the House for having accepted them. But we must realise that they will impose a greatly increased burden on the Chair. We made certain recommendations in our Report, suggesting that one or two senior members of the Chairman's Panel should be appointed to assist Mr. Speaker and his two deputies in the conduct of business. I hope that the Minister without Portfolio will tell us whether the Government intend to take action on this.
The Leader of the House said that he would deal with the Ways and Means Resolution next year. I hope that it will be made clear whether the next 593 Budget will be under the new rules, as proposed by the Select Committee, or whether these changes will be included in the Finance Bill itself.
We put forward quite clearly a recommendation that notice of opposition to a Supply Vote should be given only one day beforehand and I regret that the Government have altered this to two days. I hope that they will reconsider this. It will be much more convenient for Members if it were a 24-hour notice rather than a 48-hour notice.
I intend to criticise the right hon. Gentleman's speech at this point, because he said that he was implementing the Select Committee's recommendation on specialist Committees. He is doing the reverse: he is completely contradicting it. What we recommended on specialist Committees, rightly or wrongly, was to take the Estimates Committee, broaden it out, extend its activities and make it a more wide ranging and powerful body. This is not being done and this is the weakness of the proposals for specialist Committees.
I am all in favour of making hon. Members better acquainted with the working of Government Departments, but we cannot have duplication of work. The Estimates Committee is now examining, by sub-committee, technology, and perhaps we will have another specialist Committee on technology. For all I know the Estimates Committee has a sub-committee on the Ministry of Agriculture, which deserves a good deal of investigation. I am surprised at the attitude of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), because he is usually a doughty defender of what he believes in, and also in himself. As I see it, what he is really wishing to do is to commit early suicide as Chairman of the Estimates Committee.
The hon. Member put one wise and notable question to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that it will be answered. He asked whether these specialist Committees could examine Ministers in width and depth. I am not sure how one does this lateral and longitudinal examination of the Ministers. We must be clear about this, because those of us who know the House know the danger in such a scheme. If we allow Members of all parties to examine Ministers in width and depth, sooner or later we will have a party dog 594 fight on a Specialist Committee. Let us not be starry-eyed about it. I want to see Members better informed. There ought to be a certain widening of the scope of the work of the Estimates Committee, but let us try to avoid having party skirmishes upon these specialist Committees.
In my view, these morning sittings mean nothing at all. It is an extraordinary thing that, of this proposal the last Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine)—a most distinguished Chairman of that Committee, who would be Chairman today but for the fact that he was forced to retire at a crucial time due to ill-health —said that he thought the proposal was unwise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who has as much Ministerial experience as any one on the other side of the House, condemned morning sittings and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), a former member of the Select Committee on Procedure, ridiculed the proposition.
If any further backing of this condemnation is needed may I remind the House of the words of Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was, on 13th July, 1959. He said:I do not like the idea of morning sittings. Hon. Members have a lot of other things to do in the mornings. What sort of morning sittings would this be? So far as I can tell, by definition they would be sittings of no importance where a limited number of Members could have a go, as they do on the Adjournment. The more I look at the suggestion the more it seems to me that of all the dull periods of Parliamentary sittings, this would be the dullest in this or any Parliament.and that is saying something.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman, who has a great love of Parliamentary tradition, will think again before he embarks on this meaningless proposal for morning sittings? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham, West said that it was carried in Committee by a Labour majority. That is not quite true. Of the Labour Members of that Committee, eight voted in favour, two abstained—
§ Mr. Chapman
The right hon. Gentleman ought not to say things like that. One hon. Member was abroad at the time. That is not a proper thing to say.
§ Mr. Turton
One Liberal voted against and one Conservative abstained. The House should consider the weaknesses of the proposals of the Leader of the House. These are not even the proposals that the Select Committee was considering. They are quite different proposals in a number of material points. In every case where there has been a change from what the Committee tried to recommend, it is for the worse.
The first point is the selection of Monday as a day for morning sittings. You were good enough, Mr. Speaker, to give evidence to the Select Committee, and in answer to Question 62 you said, quite clearly:…for obvious reasons it ought not to be Monday.I think it a great pity that when the Select Committee advised that if this experiment were tried it should be on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and when there is the advice of Mr. Speaker that for obvious reasons it should not be a Monday, the right hon. Gentleman selects Monday as the day for his experiment. He will undoubtedly cause a grave hardship to hon. Members who live in Scotland and the North of England. This will deny them the opportunity of taking part in the debates if the debates are of any importance and they want to take part.
Secondly, it was suggested in the Select Committee that the experiment should definitely be tried on a Wednesday or Thursday so that one of the days would be a day when Committees were sitting. That has not been done. The experiment in morning sittings is valueless if one will not be able to tell how the House works when Standing Committees are sitting on the same day. That was the whole purpose of the proposal put before the Select Committee by the former Leader of the House, the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
Thirdly, there is a very difficult point that has not been mentioned today, the 596 question of Ten Minute Rule Bills. In the Select Committee we were given an undertaking that if Ten Minute Rule Bills were moved to the morning sitting there would still be opportunities for Members to raise them in the afternoon on at least one day a week. At page 42 of the Select Committee's Report, in answer to Question 190, the former Leader of the House said:I think there are Ten Minute Rule Bills where the decision as to whether they should be allowed to proceed or not would depend on the persuasion of the Member moving it in a full House and it would not be likely to be a full House in the morning.In answer to Question 192 he said:We are at the moment on two days a week, Tuesday and Wednesday. I think if we left them as they are you would meet your point.In other words, the hon. Member who had a Ten Minute Rule Bill that required a full House to get it through, to persuade Members of its importance, could still choose one day in the week. The right hon. Gentleman has altered that in his new proposal by saying that Ten Minute Rule Bills will always be taken in the morning, and at no other time. I believe that to be a very great mistake.
Fourthly, there is the point so well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that taking morning sittings on those two days will make it extremely difficult for Members to take visitors around the House. It will cut down the time available for that. That is no unimportant matter, because I believe that it is very important that visitors, especially from overseas, should be able to see around the House.
Perhaps I may reinforce my point to which the hon. Member for Northfield objected by quoting a member of the Committee who was not present at the Division. At Question 97, the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) put this to you, Mr. Speaker:…I am perturbed by the suggestion that if we had morning sittings we would have non-contentious matters, adjournment debates, and so on. I fear if this programme were allowed it would finish Parliament. The morning sittings themselves would become derogatory. Do you think this would be a danger if we were to have a morning sitting devoted to trivial matters, largely speaking?The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central could not be present at the Division. I hope that the hon. Member for Northfield will acquit me of unfairness 597 if I draw the deduction that there might well be some connection between that observation by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central and his absence from the Division.
I hope that I have said enough to show that this experiment of morning sittings is the worst of all possible experiments. The one proposed by the former Leader of the House was far better. The present Leader of the House has said that this is a cautious step. Presumably he means that he will experiment. May I ask him— for how long? After all, if we start on 6th February, which is a fortnight later than was intended the day before yesterday, we shall soon get to the Finance Bill. Does the Leader of the House propose, when the Finance Bill is in Committee, to have morning sittings on Monday and Wednesday? That question should be answered by the Minister without Portfolio.
I believe that there is great need to reform the procedure of the House. I personally think that the Government are mistaken in delaying the decision on a time limit for speeches. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Northfield did not back up his own Report, but tried to run away from it today. I believe that we should be none the worse if we stuck to a limit of 15 minutes for back benchers and 30 minutes for Front Bench speakers, except in the Budget debate or on a detailed Bill. Further, the practice could be adopted of always having a detailed White Paper accompanying a complicated Bill.
The great importance to me is that we should move towards getting more live debates on the Floor of the House. I believe that this will be done if we make the right recommendations on Standing Order No. 9. Further, I believe that we can do much to reform the whole legislative business of the House. By these means we shall save and achieve far more than any experiment of taking away what occupies no Member's time in the House in the evenings and dealing with it in the mornings.
I am very worried, after listening to the debate, about the strain that the Leader of the House proposes to place on the occupants of the Chair, on the Officers and Officials of the House, and on the 598 messengers, by these proposals. I hope for these reasons, that the Government will think again and not introduce this experiment.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister Without Portfolio (Mr. Douglas Houghton)
My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons opened the debate in what has been described as an impressive speech which revealed, I think, a grasp of historical change in our Parliamentary institution and the constitutional philosophy underlying the debate.
Having paid my right hon. Friend that tribute, I hope that he will allow me to tell a little story about him, because I shed a mournful tear about the proposal to put Black Rod under severe restraint. I well remember an occasion when the appearance of Black Rod was not only welcome but, indeed, fortuitous, because my right hon. Friend was in the middle of his speech—he was then in opposition —when Black Rod came in. Naturally, my right hon. Friend sat down. We all trooped out. One of my hon. Friends audibly said, "That will just give Dick time enough to change his mind". [Laughter.] It seems a long time since we heard the racy speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). We got a lot of fun out of it, and so did he. He asked, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), why we were putting the Whips on. The answer is, because the Parliamentary Labour Party decided to do it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was not a decision of the Lord President or of the Government. It was a decision which our party made, and we are entitled to put the Whips on if we want to put them on After all, the Conservatives put the Whips on on previous occasions, and they were perfectly free to do so.
§ Mr. Houghton
But I have only just started. The reason why we took that decision was that we were committed in our election manifesto to parliamentary reform. The Labour Party keeps its promises. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Houghton
The only complaint that the Opposition can make is that we do not fulfil them all at once. Here is one which we are carrying out in the debate today. In 1947, 1952 and 1960 during the debates on procedure, although we have no knowledge on whether the then Government had the Whips on, the Government tellers were the Government Whips.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether it is not unusual to ask the House to give a decision about recommendations from a Select Committee without having given the House an opportunity of debating them beforehand. Here again, post-war precedents are very mixed. Sometimes proposals have been brought before the House without prior debate, and sometimes they have not.
On this occasion, we can say that morning sittings have been discussed now for 10 years. They were thoroughly mulled over by a Select Committee in 1959, and voted down only by a Conservative majority on the Select Committee. Now that the tables are turned, we are being criticised for doing the same. We are the Government now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said that in October 1964, and it is still true today.
The three main proposals before us arose from two Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure and the Government's promise to extend the system of specialised Committees. The two Reports of the Select Committee, which we are asked to note and act upon, deal with two main subjects. First, the financial procedure, which has been referred to as mumbo-jumbo, and, second, the times of sittings of the House.
The Reports themselves, and the Motions on the Order Paper to give effect to them, have a common aim and a limited objective, to allow hon. Members to get home at a more reasonable hour, and to cut down the weary hours of uncertainty and waiting until midnight and after for essential but relatively minor business to be dealt with.
600 This will accomplish something, but it will not achieve all that many of us would wish. Two additional possible remedies for avoiding late night sittings are referred to in paragraph 5 of the Select Committee's Report, first, in the reference to the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, and, second, in the Select Committee's belief that the House should accept time-tabling of Bills as a more regular feature. I do not want to dwell on those two matters, still less to prejudge them, because we are assured that the Select Committee is to go into both of them further.
As regards our procedure on the Finance Bill, we have had Reports from a number of Select Committee on whether we could cut down the time of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, and varying conclusions and opinions have been reached. I am sure that it is the wish of the House that a conclusion should be come to on this matter fairly soon. It has been a constant grumble for as long as I can remember, and it came to a new crescendo of irritation and indignation at the time of the Finance Bill of 1965.
All that we are after here is to achieve a more reasonable workaday life for Members of Parliament, and to night we have the opportunity to make a start. Let us get moving on this. Let us not be afraid of it. Let us try reform by trial and error, especially in view of the conflicting opinions as to the effectiveness or desirability of the rather minor changes which we propose to make.
I stress that the proposals are intended to change our hours of work and not to extend them. They will fail in their main purpose if they do not reduce late-night sittings. It is a shift of non-contentious business from night to morning, and discussions through the usual channels will select the sort of business which it will be suitable to take.
I come now to the proposals themselves. First, the mumbo-jumbo. Principally, by abolishing the Committee of Supply we get rid of the farce whereby the Committee of Supply, which may have done nothing, resolves to report Progress and ask leave to sit again solely for the purpose of enabling a major debate to take place on a Opposition Motion or a Motion for the Adjournment 601 of the House. The Serjeant-at-Arms moves to and fro, the Mace is put up and down, Mr. Speaker leaves the Chair and perches temporarily at the end of this Front Bench while the mumbo-jumbo is gone through, and all is then set for battle. The Committee, therefore recommended the abolition of the initiation of Supply in Committee.
Supply Days, the Committee says, should be more easily recognised for what they are, that is, Opposition days, because, since the inception of the modern system of voting the Government's annual Supply in the House, which was instituted under Balfour's direction in the years 1896 to 1902, party has come into Supply much more than financial control. Indeed, it has long been recognised that the modern system of voting Supply and Supply Days given to the Opposition emphasises the official status of the Opposition. The present proposals frankly admit that.
Several questions have been asked about the proposals on finance which appear in the Select Committee's Report. First, the question on strain on the Chair. The proposal is that the Chairman of Ways and Means will continue to function on the business covered by these proposals as he used to do in Committee of Supply. That will relieve Mr. Speaker of the strain of having to take the Chair in the House when otherwise the Chairman of Ways and Means would have been in the Chair while the House was in Committee.
§ Mr. Turton
The right hon. Gentleman will have in mind that it was the recommendation of the Select Committee that it should not be merely the Chairman of Ways and Means but that, in addition, we should have two members of the Chairman's Panel.
§ Mr. Houghton
It was not thought necessary to add the Chairman's Panel to the Chairman of Ways and Means in this procedure.
A question has been asked about Standing Order No. 18, under which not less than two days' notice shall be given of the Votes which are to be put down for consideration when the Estimates are before the House on Guillotine days.
602 The reason for two days' notice is that the Government must put down the Votes which are to be taken on the Guillotine day two days ahead so that those hon. Members who wish to notify Mr. Speaker that they propose to vote against one or more of the Estimates shall do so the day before the day upon which the Guillotine falls. This is to allow for grouping of Estimates which are not being challenged in Divisions, to separate them from those which are, and I think that it will be for the convenience of the House that it is done this way.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked whether the changes about the Budget Resolutions would be brought in in time for next year's Finance Bill. The answer is that this requires legislation and it is unlikely to be possible before the Finance Bill. But if the arrangements which have been followed in the past two years are continued, that will overcome the difficulty of having to decide at the last moment on a vote on the Budget Resolutions, the difficulty which this proposal is intended to overcome.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South asked whether, if a Division were pressed in a morning Session, it meant the deferring of the Order or other business. The answer is, yes, until 9.30 the same evening, when the Division would be put by Mr. Speaker when he was of the opinion that the matter was going to a Division in the morning sitting.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If there is an Amendment in the course of the Committee stage of a Bill and it is challenged, will the rest of the Committee stage of the Bill be deferred?
§ Mr. Houghton
If there were to be a Division on an Amendment in Committee, that would bring that Order to an end until 9.30 that evening, that is to say, no further progress could be made on the Bill during the Committee stage until the Motion or Amendment had been disposed of by the Division at 9.30 in the evening.
There were two recommendations of the Select Committee which the Government have not adopted. Neither has been mentioned in the debate. One is for Friday sittings and the other is for an extra 15 minutes to be allowed each day for Question Time. We have not felt it 603 desirable to extend Friday sittings by an hour. We think that that would achieve nothing. Nor do we think that it is suitable to extend Question Time, until we come to much bigger reforms of the procedure of the House.
I now turn to the matter which has received most attention during the debate —morning sittings. The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) said that my right hon. Friend had stated that he regarded the proposal for morning sittings as the thin end of the wedge. That is not true. My right hon. Friend said nothing of the kind. What he said was that he discerned among hon. Members opposite a fear that it might be the thin end of the wedge, but my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that these proposals were experimental and were entirely without prejudice or prejudgment of any further proposals which might come later.
It is true that we have slightly changed in detail, but not in principle, the recommendations of the Select Committee both as regards the days of meetings and the time of meeting. But the two main issues which have been raised in criticism of these proposals were the suggestion of a small attendance and the prohibition of Counts and Divisions during morning sittings. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) condemned these in very strong terms as not being the right way. It shows how cautious they are. It shows that we want to make a beginning and to see how we go. The Sessional Order will last only for the remainder of this Session. Then, morning sittings, if we are to have them, can be introduced only by a new Sessional Order, although the House will have full opportunity to debate the experiment a reasonable period beforehand—
§ Mr. Houghton
There has been some criticism on this side as well as on the other and there may be converts on the other benches, as well as on these.
604 The House will have the opportunity to decide when the time comes. I wish that we could get rid of the mythology of attendance of the House. We shall have as good an attendance at morning sittings as we now get on most Fridays, and certainly a better attendance than we get in the House at midnight or one o'clock in the morning on many matters. Let us be realistic about this and not humbug ourselves into thinking that there is some kind of mythology about being in the House at certain times of day and not at other times. This is a change of time.
The experiment will show whether it is acceptable or not. Here is a classic case of the proof of the pudding being in the eating. Although there is so much opposition to these proposals on the benches opposite, I hope that we can rely on their co-operation to make the experiment at least a fair test of whether or not it is acceptable to the House. The hon. Member for Hendon, South suggested that those in favour of the experiment will try to make it succeed and those who are not may not give their co-operation. I hope that nothing like that will happen and that, if the House decides on this, the experiment will be given a fair test—
§ Mrs. Jill Knight
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he did not notice me standing up earlier. I should like to ask why he seems to be ignoring the fact that this is a very grave step for the public. They like to come over this House very much, and 38,000 every year will be stopped from doing so by these measures.
§ Mr. Houghton
That is another piece of mythology. Hon. Members sometimes think that the eyes of the world are upon us when we are sitting at one o'clock in the morning. They are not.
I turn finally to the Specialist Committees. First, the size of the committees will be not more than 15. There is nothing to stop the specialist Committees from questioning Ministers in depth, in breadth or any other way. They will have a full-time clerk and authority to hire research. I cannot promise that there will be a specialist Committee for Scotland. That will depend on experience. I should have thought that the Scottish 605 Grand Committee was enough to be going on with.
So we come to the end of this debate. We on these benches are entitled to ask the House to approve these proposals. The changes will enable hon. Members to keep a sense of proportion about some of our minor and non-contentious business. There is nothing radical about them. Change comes slowly and cautiously in this House. The best thing that I can advise the House to do is to try it and see—they may be surprised.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, taking note of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of the last Parliament and the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure approves the amendments to the Standing Orders of this House set out in the following Schedule, which shall take effect on the seventeenth day of January 1967.—[Mr. Crossman.]*