§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the Leader of the House to move the Motion standing in his name, I think that it would be convenient for the House if we were to have a general debate on the Motion and on the two Amendments standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I am prepared, of course, to allow Divisions on each of the two Amendments.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we to take it that this is a new debate, or is it a continuation of the debate previously held?
§ Mr. Speaker
I should imagine that it is a new debate. We debated last week 1513 a mass of procedural Resolutions together, this one among others. I imagine now that this is a new debate. If the hon. Member has it in mind whether he has a right to speak—is that the point he has in mind?
§ Mr. Blackburn
It was not that that I had in mind, Mr. Speaker. What I had in mind was whether anyone who spoke in the previous debate would have any right to speak again this morning, except for the Leader of the House to move the Motion formally.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman was being so noble. I wrongly thought that he was thinking only on himself, I am sorry. I do rule that hon. and right hon. Members who spoke in the general procedural debate, which included this Motion, may speak in this debate.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
On that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood your Ruling to indicate that if I were fortunate
|That, during the remainder of the Session, where, in respect of a bill for imposing, renewing, varying or repealing any charge upon the people, either|
|5||(a) Mr Speaker has been informed that no general agreement to allot a specified number of days or portions of days to the consideration of the Bill in Committee 5 or on report has been reached, or|
|(b) any general agreement of which Mr Speaker has been informed is, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, working ineffectively.|
|10||a motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown that the Business Committee shall make recommendations to the House as to the number of days or portions of days to be 10 allotted to the consideration of the bill in committee, on report or on third reading, and as to the time by which proceedings on any parts into which they may divide the bill shall be brought to a conclusion in committee or on report and any further recommendations which may in their opinion be necessary to ensure the bringing to a conclusion of the proceedings on the parts of the bill allotted to those days or portions of days; and 15|
|15||the question on such a motion shall be put not more than two hours after the commencement of proceedings thereon:|
|That for the purposes of this Order the Business Committee shall consist of the Chairmen's Panel together with not more than five other Members to be nominated by Mr Speaker:|
|20||That, when the Business Committee shall have reported the resolution or resolutions containing their recommendations to the House, the provisions of sub-paragraph (c) of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) shall apply to the proceedings on any motions for the consideration of such report and on the consideration of the said report.|
§ In speaking to this, the main Motion, which are, of course, interesting and I will, if I may, make only some very brief anticipatory comment on the two Amendments, and would like to reserve the rest of what I have to say, if I get your permission to do so, Mr. Speaker, to the end of the debate, when perhaps I may be permitted to pick up some of the points the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) makes on his Amendments,1514
§ enough to catch your eye on the main Motion, I should be able to deploy the arguments in support of the two Amendments standing in my name, which you have been good enough to say you have selected, and that then, if so desired, a Division could take place on them subsequent to the decision on the main Motion?
§ Mr. Speaker
Not subsequent to the decision on the main Motion. If the main Motion were carried, the right hon. Gentleman's two Amendments would fall to the ground. Divisions on the Amendments would be prior to the decision on the main Motion.
§ 10.16 a.m.
§ Which are, of course interesting and important.
§ Perhaps I might first remind the House that during the course of last Wednesday's debate we discussed all the Reports, but when the Question was put after 9.30 there were evidently some hon. Members who thought that this Motion had not been discussed enough and exercised their right to cry "Object". 1515 I am pleased that they did so if there are any points that are still unclear in what I regard as an extremely important Motion and one that should be discussed fully, and I will try to answer those points in this debate.
§ I have taken the opportunity to re-read the OFFICIAL REPORT and I will try not to repeat what was said last time, but rather to take up points that did not seem adequately covered. The House will be conversant with what we said in the last debate. When I re-read the OFFICIAL REPORT, what struck me was that there seemed to be very little disagreement on this side about the desirability of trying this Sessional experiment. There seemed to be agreement between the Front Benches and back benches on this side that we should try the experiment. Many of our supporters wanted to go much further. They did not agree with the Motion altogether, but agreed it as a compromise with the objective of achieving an advance agreed by the two sides of the House. The disagreement seemed to me to be almost entirely among hon. and right hon. Members opposite, and I do not want to intervene this morning any longer than necessary while they argue out their differences. I think, however, that it would be worth saying one or two things, and perhaps, in order to clear up any misunderstanding, to summarise the nature of the proposal.
§ The proposal is a simple but ingenious adaptation of our Standing Order 43(b). Under this Standing Order, if the usual channels can agree an overall allocation of time for the Committee stage of a Bill, the Business Committee may allocate the time between the various parts of the Bill. So far as I know, this paragraph of the Standing Order has never been formally invoked in modern times, but I suspect that its very existence may have conduced to the informal arrangements about Committee stages with which many of us are familiar, and which hon. and right hon. Members opposite have described as a kind of informal voluntary arrangement.
§ The Motion starts from the supposition that it ought to be possible to agree for each Finance Bill a number of days' discussion in Committee ending at an agreed time each night. I do not talk 1516 here about perfection—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) pointed out something might blow up one night and we might go on for a couple of hours—but, broadly, to agree and get through without the arduous burdens we have had and, indeed, without the decrease in prestige which our performance often causes outside the House. This ought to be the case, and if such an arrangement can be arrived at there will be no occasion to use what I described in last Wednesday's debate as "reserve powers", but which I will now call "safeguards" because that word is preferable to hon. Members—the safeguards enshrined in the Motion.
§ I come to the safeguards. If there is no such agreement, or if the agreement has not been honoured, it will be open to the Government to set in motion a formal procedure. After preliminary notification to you, Mr. Speaker, they will be able to propose that the Business Committee should recommend an overall allocation of time. That Motion would be debatable for two hours, and when the Business Committee reported back its recommendations would be put without further debate. All this would be strictly carrying out the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ I emphasise that this unanimous proposal of the Committee was not something for which many members of the Committee would have voted on its merits. Most of the members wanted something different. Our hon. Members wanted to send the Bill upstairs, and I am still convinced that in due course the House will come to the conviction that the right thing to do with the Finance Bill is to send it to a Special Committee upstairs. I am, however, prepared, for the sake of reaching agreed progress, to listen carefully to all that the Select Committee or the House says.
§ We have argued this out for hours, and we have seen the pros and cons. We believe that it is worth trying this experimental procedure this Session as a voluntary agreement with a safeguard. All the members of the Committee regarded the balance between the rights of the Government and the rights of the Opposition as duly worked out in this proposal, but it still remained that some members of the Committee thought that 1517 the Bill should be split, and that part should go upstairs and that part should be dealt with here. Some hon. Members wanted to retain things roughly as they are, and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wanted to keep the mailer voluntary.
§ I take the speech of the right hon. Member on Wednesday last as a fair indication, and as a considered and experienced view of those who are seriously alarmed about the proposal. I accept that he is seriously concerned, and I have to meet that serious concern this morning. I frankly tell the right hon. Gentleman that I shall try to persuade him not to have this matter put to a vote, but to accept my arguments and to see the advantage of trying the experiment this Session.
§ There would be serious disadvantages to him and to the House if we could not agree on a unanimous proposal by the Select Committee on Procedure. If the House cannot go forward on unanimous recommendations of its own Select Committee, the rate of progress we are likely to achieve in procedural reform is very disappointing. I find this extremely important, and I am glad of the opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether he and I can reach a considered agreement, conscientiously agreeing about what we should do.
§ In his speech, columns 626 and 627 of the OFFICIAL REPORT are key passages. On a number of points, I believe that he and I entirely agree. We agree that we should have voluntary agreements. We are both agreed that that would make progress. This is all agreed between the two sides. Disagreement starts only when we have found a method of reaching a voluntary agreement with the necessary safeguard to ensure that it is carried out.
On this point, we ought to look carefully at the words the right hon. Gentleman used. He said:
All Parliamentary procedure is, in a way, a balance between the Executive and the House, and one of the ways in which the House can prevail against the Executive on the Finance Bill is by talking.
I entirely agree with him on this. If our procedures are to be effective, the Opposition have to retain their ultimate right, if they really object, to show their objection by talking—to put it bluntly, by delay. It must be able to show that. Equally, the Government have to retain
their ultimate right. If in the view of the Government the delay is degenerating to obstruction, they must be able to use those powers which ultimately, in the last resort, come to forcing things through. These are the powers of Parliamentary practice. Each has ultimate safeguards.
§ If anybody says that we are suggesting here that the ultimate safeguards of the Opposition are being thrown away, I reply that they are not. I would not vote for this Motion if I thought that in any way it reduced the ultimate power of the Opposition. What the Motion does is to say that we shall try this year, in a Sessional experiment, a method of time-tabling which has a safeguard attached that, in the event of the voluntary time-table breaking down, the Government will have certain powers of action.
§ Of course, it is right for the Opposition and everyone to look at that carefully, and to ask if there is any basic shift here in the balance of power between the Executive and the Opposition —or the House and tile Executive I would rather say, because there may be hon. Members behind me who want to use their powers of criticism on the Finance Bill. Are we shifting that basis? That was the basic anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that this proposal does shift it, and I shall explain why.
§ Let us, very objectively, try to see the advantages we can get from this, which I do not think will be denied, and which attracted all the members of the Select Committee. If we can get this agreed time-table, with the safeguard, I think that there is no doubt that the quality of our debates and the balance of our debates will be substantially improved. The right hon. Gentleman, when discussing common experience with me on the National Superannuation Bill, made a very significant remark.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That was a slip. That was not the name of the Bill. It was a very different Bill.
§ Mr. Crossman
Whatever the Bill that the right hon. Gentleman was discussing —it was the "Great Swindle Bill"—he said:an enormous amount of time is generally taken on the first day or two on the earlier 1519 Clauses, but, as happened with that Measure, that is no indication that, in the long run, good sense will not prevail—.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 626–71In that, the right hon. Gentleman gave me a substantial part in my case.
The case which the Committee also made was that in the long run good sense does prevail in the House, but we usually start with a big injection of no sense, with points of order, postponements and delays, and we may waste two or three days before we get down to a sensible tenor of discussion. I believe I am right in saying that the unanimous view of the Select Committee was that one of the ways of getting good sense into discussion of the Bill from the first moment of discussing it, not three days later, was to get agreement before the Bill was discussed, and to get it firmly, so that we would know where we were.
That is the first great advantage. The second would be in the way we look to the outside world. I say in all seriousness that one of the things which does us no good in the outside world is the annual antics, or almost antics, we have on the Finance Bill—the all-night sittings. I will not say that they are to no purpose, but the actual changes achieved, and the improvements, can all be achieved with reasonable safeguards without those antics.
I believe that the second feeling of the Select Committee in recommending this to us was that this was an experiment to see if we could keep the Bill on the Floor of the House—that was a big concession from our side—avoid the antics, and get good sense operating from the start. I believe that the scheme worked out by the Select Committee will achieve that without any substantial surrender.
I must now meet the central point. The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be this new Standing Order, that the Government will have this power, and that this means a surrender. I said to him in the debate, and I repeat, that, if the safeguard were ever used, the main object would have failed. Of course, it would have failed if the safeguard were used, just as the main object has, in a sense, already failed when the Opposition have to start obstructing.
1520 The use of the ultimate weapon in Parliamentary politics is always a failure in the kind of discussions we want, whichever side uses the weapon. Whoever uses the ultimate sanction, we have failed in our attempt to get an orderly discourse between those who have more power and those who have less power. That is what this is about. A fair and orderly discourse depends on each side having ultimate sanctions, but not having recourse to them. That, honestly, is the essence of our Parliamentary system.
Therefore, we need restraint by both sides. I will say frankly to the right hon. Gentleman that there is something much more serious here than the reserve powers. If Government back benchers were to abuse the rights which they would obtain via this sanction, they would more effectively destroy this than any reserve powers. If Government back benchers were to filibuster on the ground that they now have the chance, they would destroy this agreement in a year, and the Opposition—rightly so—would not give it to us again. They would say, "The Government have used this agreement to have fun on their side. They have not used it to enable us to have a better balanced debate and to give us the real chance of having an orderly debate".
This experiment, which is only Sessional, cannot possibly take any other ultimate powers away. But, if it is successful, if it works, and if we can consider it with other alternatives, what it will have succeeded in proving is something which I want to prove, which is that in the House there are Members on both sides who want to make our debates work, who want the House to have a better image outside, and who want the House to conduct its business in an orderly way, making a better impression outside and better debates inside.
That is what the Select Committee was after. This is what I am after. This is what the right hon. Gentleman is after. This morning, we have to see whether he is right in doing something which is a very dangerous and extreme action—challenging the balanced compromise put forward unanimously by a Select Committee which included very distinguished Members from his own side of the House.
1521 I hope that I have said enough to indicate what I want to be the tone of this debate. I do not want it to be a party debate. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to think that this is important. He is right to bring it out so that everybody knows what we are doing, and knows what safeguards the Government will have and how it will actually work. Equally, I must emphasise that everybody must know that from the Government's point of view the whole essence of the matter is to have the powers but not to use them. I believe that this was exactly what the Committee wanted to impress on us. I thought that I could impress it on the House this morning.
In conclusion, I would simply say this to those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who seek today to defeat this recommendation. The recommendation is unanimous. It comes from a Select Committee which has shown itself to be an outstanding Select Committee on Procedure: it has gone into things as thoroughly as any of its predecessors. It says, "All of us would ideally want something better. All of us believe that it is important to get a step forward in improving our procedures. None of us thinks that this is perfect, but we are content to give up our personal views for the sake of a consensus".
I will be blunt. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is here. He has put forward most powerful evidence indicating that, in agreeing to this, the Government are making a substantial concession as to what they want. We want to take the Bill upstairs in Committee. If we cannot get anything by agreement, everyone must then revert to their original intentions. I would hope that the House will understand that we want to make this work if we possibly can and that the Government are making concessions from their point of view. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) had quite big differences from us about this. He had a view, with which I do not happen to agree, about switching the Bill, and taking it part here and part there. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would have liked that to be considered more. 1522 However, he made a concession so as to get an agreed proposal.
As the proposal has been agreed—agreed by the Select Committee, agreed by the Government, agreed by leading members of the Opposition Front Bench —those who decide to unseat a consensus so widely established as that may be doing a very ill service to the cause of Parliamentary reform by way of agreement.
§ 10.38 a.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The Leader of the House, when he sets out to be persuasive, which is not always, can be very persuasive indeed. This morning we certainly had, if he will allow me to say so, the most excellent example of him in that mood. I shall endeavour to respond in the same tone, though I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I begin with a criticism of him which I feel strongly—that is, that we should be taking this matter, which he himself rightly described as important and said should be fully discussed, this morning, or, indeed, at any morning sitting.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman could read the speech he made on 14th December without coming to the conclusion that the only impression he could have left in the minds of hon. Members, on the basis of which impression he obtained his authority to have morning sittings, was that he gave not the slightest indication that a matter of this sort of general concern to the House would be taken at one of these morning sittings.
I do not want to weary the House, though I have the right hon. Gentleman's speech here, by repeating what he said. I do not think that any hon. Member, whatever view he takes on the merits of the matter we now have before us, could have contemplated that, within four or five months of that speech, we should be taking a matter basic to the procedure of the House, and as such of concern to all hon. Members, wherever they sit, at a morning sitting, still less that we should be taking such a matter as this, which the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it describes as important. I must, therefore, register my protest against the matter being taken this morning.
1523 By his own course of proceeding, the right hon. Gentleman clearly began by indicating that this was a matter which the House should discuss in a full House during our normal times of afternoon and evening sitting. That, after all, is why he put it down for debate last Wednesday, together with other Motions. Whatever decisions we come to on this matter, and whenever we come to them, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not repeat this experiment—if I may use his word—of taking major matters of procedure at a morning sitting.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman forgetting that we have discussed this matter in a full House, with everyone able to participate once already? I cannot see any breach of agreement in, as it were, tidying up that debate. The House as a whole has had full opportunity and has discussed the matter.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am not sure that the House did have full opportunity. Formally, we took only the Motion to take note of four Reports from the Select Committee. There were eight Motions down, this and seven others, in a debate in which—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—some hon. Members were not able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I recall that there was some complaint about that. The hon. Gentleman, who is normally so perspicacious, has not seen the point. The Leader of the House has conceded that this is a matter to be taken during our normal hours of sitting by putting it down last Wednesday. What I object to is his departure from his own previous decision. I am appealing from the right hon. Gentleman drunk to the right hon. Gentleman sober.
Having said this morning that he was persuasive, I must say that he was the very converse of that on the business question last Thursday. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put to him that this was a controversial matter which he had himself undertaken should not be taken at a morning sitting. but the right hon. Gentleman resorted to an argument of which, I think, he will now repent, that, as this was not controversial in the party sense—he pointed out 1524 that right hon. and hon. Members like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) were broadly with him on it—it was not controversial within the meaning of his statment of 14th December.
No one who heard that statement could accept that for a moment. There can be, and there are, bitterly controversial matters in the House which do not go on party lines. Capital punishment is a good example. No one will say that it is not highly controversial, but, equally, no one will say that the controversy is on party lines.
Therefore, what is worse than the right hon. Gentleman's decision to put this matter down for a morning sitting is the reason which he gave for so doing. It is not for me to say, but I guess that he is right in saying that, on the merits of the matter, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends do not share the view which I take on the main question, but I doubt that there is anyone on these benches, whatever view may be taken on the merits of it. who would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should debate it this morning. I shall take no further time on the point, but I wish to make my protest absolutely plain.
I come now to what the right hon. Gentleman said this morning. He put to me—obviously, this is his strongest point—that the proposal came to us, as he put it, as the unanimous recommendation of a Select Committee. As one who has read this and many other Reports from the Select Committee. I wish humbly to express my admiration of the immense zeal and industry of the members of the Select Committee in dealing with these complex matters. None the less, there are two important qualifications to the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
First, as he himself admitted, this proposal, although it comes to us unanimously from the Select Committee, comes not as the unanimous wish of the Committee, but as a compromise between conflicting views. In many ways, it may well combine, as so many compromises do, the disadvantages of several courses.
§ Mr. Crossman
I suggest that a compromise is precisely what we mean by a unanimous wish. All of us must sometimes be content to wish to have a lesser 1525 gain so as to get any gain at all. This is what we mean by a unanimous wish for compromise.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I follow the right hon. Gentleman's semantics, but he will appreciate that there is, in practice, a great distinction between the unanimity of enthusiasm and the unanimity of compromise. The right hon. Gentleman said —I need not waste time on it—that many members of the Select Committee would have wished for other solutions. This is not, therefore—I speak subject to correction by my right hon. and learned Friend and others on the Select Committee—a matter which comes to us as the solution which the Select Committee unanimously thought best, but it comes to us as a compromise.
Second, even if it came to us with unanimous enthusiasm, it would still be, though obviously of high persuasive authority, in no sense binding on the House. The right hon. Gentleman himself has not hesitated to take a line different from that put by the Select Committee on others of its recommendations. I take an example which, I think, is favourable to the right hon. Gentleman, the proposal regarding the length of speeches. I disliked the right hon. Gentleman's Motion on the length of speeches and I was delighted the other day to hear that he would not proceed with it. But it was not the recommendation of the Select Committee. In my view, it was much less harmful than what the Select Committee had proposed.
The right hon. Gentleman, having himself taken a view different from that put forward by the Select Committee and having expressed his view on the Order Paper is not in a strong position to say, on another recommendation, that it is an overwhelming argument for accepting this proposal that it is a recommendation of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has himself accepted the right, which we all have, to take and consider thoughtfully what the Select Committee says and then to make up our own minds on what is right. This is the responsibility of us all, a responsibility which we cannot abdicate to any Select Committee, however distinguished, as this was, in its composition.
I come now to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the "annual antics" on the Finance Bill. Those 1526 annual antics—a nice phrase by which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman means a number of all-night sittings—vary greatly from Finance Bill to Finance Bill. They depend very much on the contents of the Bill, the nature of its provisions, their controversial character and their length, and they depend, also, on the amount of time which successive Leaders of the House make available for discussion. It is certainly my experience—I have had something to do with several Finance Bills—that a series of all-night sittings is not a necessary concomitant of Finance Bill Committee stages. We have sometimes managed without them, when adequate time has been provided by the Government and when, if I may say so without immodesty, Treasury Ministers have shown themselves willing to compromise and accept suggestions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to hear my hon. Friends' enthusiastic assent.
Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman was conscious that, once one is under a timetable on the Finance Bill, the Opposition are vulnerable to action by Government supporters. If Government back benchers care to speak for a long time on earlier Clauses in the Bill, or on earlier Clauses within each compartment of the Guillotine, they can deny the Opposition's opportunity for full criticism of some Government proposals or, indeed, for any effective criticism of others.
In his dramatic way, the Leader of the House said that, if Government supporters abused this opportunity, this would destroy his proposals. He says that, but there is nothing either in the constitutional position in the House or in the proposed Sessional Order to prevent the Government coming forward again with precisely the same proposals and using their majority to push them through. It is no good his saying that this would destroy it. Of course, it would destroy a good deal of the moral case for it but there is absolutely nothing to prevent the Government, having once achieved this as an experiment, having operated it for this Session, saying that in their view it has been a success, notwithstanding what has happened, and making it a permanent Order in the next Session.
§ Mr. Crossman
Perhaps I may explain what I meant, for I think that there has been a misunderstanding. When I said that it would destroy what we have achieved, what I hoped that we had achieved was, first, a unanimous view of the Committee and, secondly, what I think we can still achieve, a unanimous view of the House that this was the way to operate for an experiment, and I hope that the House will approve it without a Division.
I only said that that agreement, which was what we had achieved, would be destroyed by abuse on either side, in which case we should revert to our old positions of using what power we have. The whole point of the proposal is that it is not based on power, but on agreement, and it is that which would be destroyed by its abuse by Members supporting the Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. It would be more persuasive if he would back it with a pledge that if, in the Opposition's view, it has been abused—if it is put into force—he would not reintroduce it in another Session. That would be an encouraging safeguard. But if the right hon. Gentleman merely asks us to leave it absolutely in the Government's discretion to say, "It has been a success. We got our Finance Bill quickly, and, therefore, we feel absolutely free to use our majority in a subsequent Session, if we still have that majority", he is really giving us nothing.
If the right hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking that serious objection by the Opposition as to the way in which this has worked will bind him not to reintroduce it next Session, we should be getting somewhere near a consensus. The absence of such an assurance—and he is not looking very reassuring at the moment—very much detracts from the value of what he says. I do not understand why the Government are pressing forward with the proposal now.
I have not yet read the Finance Bill, but in the light of the Budget it would not appear to be likely to be one of the more seriously controversial of those which have been introduced by either side. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so insistent on pushing this through now in respect of the present Finance Bill? [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for 1528 Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) wants to intervene, I hope that he will set a good example, as the Chairman of the Select Committee, and do so in an upright posture. I want to know why the Government are insisting on this this Session in respect of this Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Crossman
Perhaps I can shorten the debate by replying to the right hon. Gentleman straight away. The reasons are twofold. First, the Select Committee made clear, and I accepted, that it would very much hope that some action would be taken on this, much the most important of their proposals. I have always known that the only gratitude for a Select Committee from the Leader of the House is to carry out the things it recommends.
Secondly, I felt that there was a widespread demand in the House for some advance on this issue. It would have been terrible to have this Report published before the Finance Bill, with no attempt made to implement it this year when, in a sense, it was an extremely easy year to test out the proposals because of the likely nature of the Finance Bill.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman has seized very quickly on this proposal. He has picked it out as the one to put forward, but I think that his explanation of his feeling for it might if genuine be equally applied to the others which he is not at present pressing.
Since he and I have been in the House —and I think that we came in together —no Finance Bill has been guillotined or had a compulsory timetable of any sort. We have proceeded on a voluntary basis, as he himself said, whereas on other major controversial Bills both sides have imposed a guillotine.
The doubt I have about the right hon. Gentleman's very prompt, as he would call it, and very precipitate, as I would call it, action in bringing forward this proposal now, is that he desires to establish a precedent for the time-tabling of all major Bills. After all, no Government since the war, however hard pressed, have ever timetabled a Finance Bill, not even the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their immensely complex and controversial 1965 Finance Bill. If the Finance Bill, for which there is no recent precedent for timetabling, is time-tabled, will not the next argument be that every major Bill—perhaps every 1529 Bill taken on the Floor of the House—is to be time-tabled as well? Can the right hon. Gentleman reassure me that that don not lie behind his proposals?
§ Mr. Crossman
The simple reply is, "No". My motive is that which I gave. The Committee produced a timely Report in time for it to be implemented for this year's Finance Bill. I thought that that was a straightforward reason for doing it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Those of us who know the right hon. Gentleman know that that is no doubt one of his reasons. In the light of that response, I remain very doubtful whether, having got it once for the Finance Bill, he will not use this as a step towards permanent time-tabling of all Bills. That is a view which has been expressed, if not by the right hon. Gentleman, by some of his hon. Friends and it would be a very serious invasion of the rights of the House.
Coming to its application to the Finance Bill—and this, I think, applies equally to other major Measures—the right hon. Gentleman was dead right when he said that time was the weapon of the Opposition. A timetable compulsorily imposed in default of agreement deprives the Opposition of the day of a great deal of that weapon. Hon. Members opposite will be in opposition again. They know that, and the events of the last fortnight may have brought them a good deal nearer that happy state.
I ask them to pause and think of the position of an Opposition deprived of the great weapon of time on the annual Finance Bill. The weapon of time acts to discourage a Government from putting too much controversial matter into one Bill because their managers on the Floor of the House say that they will never get it through. It acts as a strong incentive to make concessions to an Opposition in order to get time, and it also has the effect, on which the right hon. Gentleman touched, that when controversial Bills are being fought through against a vigorous opposition the Patronage Secretary of the day takes considerable steps to dissuade hon. Members on his own side from taking part.
I remember Sir Alan Herbert, a former Member of the House, saying that the most passionate speech by a Government back butcher in support of a Govern- 1530 ment Bill is as gall and wormwood to his Chief Whip. If he were frank, the Patronage Secretary would say that he agreed with that diagnosis.
Once the Guillotine is on, the Opposition are deprived of their advantage of a virtual monopoly of the Floor. The right hon. Gentleman says that that makes for a better debate, and considering the debating power of many of his Ministers there is a great deal to be said from that point of view. But the Government will get their business ultimately if they persist, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, rightly so. But if it is controversial business they should have to pay the price of a continuous bombardment from the benches opposite by way of criticism and analysis. This proposal shifts the balance in favour of the Government, and on a measure which has never been guillotined in my recollection.
I will come to the two Amendments in my name. The right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped for a high degree of consensus in this matter. He stressed this, and I hope that that means that if he is to insist on this Motion, he will reflect on the two Amendments which, in my view, will very much diminish the evil of this proposal. The first is to substitute Mr. Speaker for a Minister of the Crown as being the person who has to take a decision about whether an agreement is working effectively.
There is something quite wrong and removed from the ordinary principles of fairness for one party to an agreement to be the unchallenged judge as to whether that agreement is being implemented. All of us have made agreements and have felt quite sincerely that the other party has not been abiding by them, but it does not follow that an impartial third party or referee would agree with us. We are dealing with agreements which, under the terms of the Motion, are required to be notified to Mr. Speaker. They are agreements of which he is therefore aware.
I am sure that the whole House is with me when I say that we have the utmost regard and respect for the absolute impartiality and fairness of Mr. Speaker. Many of us would feel that this proposal would be more acceptable if it were Mr. Speaker who decided whether an agreement was being carried through effectively, rather than a Minister of the 1531 Crown. By the nature of things the Minister will be biased and will want to get business through. In addition, he is a party to the agreement.
If the right hon. Gentleman really wants a consensus and agreement, and does not want, as he rather indicated, simply to force this through with the aid of his majority, there is here a real means of diminishing the unhappiness and suspicion which this proposal, as he frankly avowed, arouses in the minds of many of us.
The second Amendment is to substitute six hours for two as a period of debate if a Motion of this kind is put forward. Here, 1 call in aid what the Leader of the House said, that if the reserve powers required to be exercised, this would be, to some extent an indication that the experiment had failed. This was putting it very fairly. He is at least suggesting that these powers should not be invoked except on grounds of extreme necessity. If this is so he ought to allow full debate on the timetable Motion. One cannot get that in two hours.
There will be a speech from the Government Front Bench and one of my right hon. Friends below me, and there will not be very much time for the rest of us. More important, we may desire to exercise our rights to table Amendments to the timetable Motion, as is often done. Obviously, it will be quite impossible to do that, and to argue that within a certain period, more time should be given to certain Clauses within a limited debate of two hours.
I put forward six hours as being the nearest rough equivalent to an ordinary Parliamentary day. On those days when we have morning sittings, and have the misfortune to have to terminate our main business at 9.30 p.m., this is nominally the length of the day. On other days, if there are statements, and so on, it is perhaps about the effective day's debate. If the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in his statement that he does not want to invoke this except on grounds of extreme necessity, that this is simply a reserve power, to be used only when all else has failed, he ought to be prepared to give a day to argument.
This is particularly so when one remembers that this is not a question of 1532 guillotining an ordinary Bill, which under our present rules can always be guillotined, but the Finance Bill, which has not, within living memory, been guillotined. If the right hon. Gentleman is to guillotine the Finance Bill, in fairness to himself, because he may have a very powerful case, and in fairness to the House, we ought to have a full day's debate.
If the right hon. Gentleman is right, and if this is unlikely to arise, he will be giving away nothing by accepting this. If he is wrong, and the matter requires to be debated, six hours is not unreasonable. To put it art its lowest, surely it will give us some reassurance that the power will not be lightly invoked, because any manager of Parliamentary business will not throw away a full Parliamentary day lightly. He may be prepared to throw away two hours. Again, this is a test of his sincerity and the conciliatory manner in which he put forward the proposal. If we are to guillotine the Finance Bill let us have a full day for debate.
I am conscious that, despite the fact that this is a morning sitting, many of my hon. Friends wish to address themselves to this important matter. The right hon. Gentleman knows the views of many of us about morning sittings. I should be guilty of the same sort of Freudian slip as the right hon. Gentleman was when he accepted that a National Superannuation Bill would be synonymous with a national swindle, in his observations at the beginning of his speech.
The point that I want to leave with the House is that as it stands, this proposal offers a serious threat to the balance of authority of this House as against the Government. It is without recent precedent to do this to the Finance Bill; it would greatly strengthen the Government in their authority over the House and the Opposition, whoever they may be. The right hon. Gentleman may say that this is only an experiment, but those of us with experience of this House know perfectly well what is likely to happen.
The Finance Bill is not likely to be a very prolonged Bill this year, and the right hon. Gentleman may well say that this has been a success, and it would then go forward, almost accepted, into the permanent Orders next Session. The right 1533 hon. Gentleman requires far greater evidence of need to make this change before seeking to make it, even as an experiment. He knows that his leadership of the House, and some of the things which he has done, and which we believe he plans to do, arouse serious doubts and suspicions in the minds of many of my hon. Friends. If he insists on pressing this forward without compromise on the two points that I have put forward, then we will feel that there are great dangers to the authority of this House. If the right hon. Gentleman wants this to go forward, then not only the Select Committee, but he too, should show a willingness to co-operate.
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) did not take advantage of his opportunities to go before the Select Committee and make some of his observations, so that they could have been considered by the whole Committee, and some recommendation made on these as well as the other points raised. It is obvious from his speech that he is against the proposals altogether.
There are various ways to stop proposals. Some people say that they are in favour of going into the Common Market, but put up so many proposals that it would be quite impossible. This smells to me to be the same kind of position for the proposals today. The right hon. Gentleman is raising conditions which make the proposals impossible. Take his recommendation that Mr. Speaker should be involved. My experience of disputes arising over the imposition of the Guillotine is that they are very bitter inter-party disputes. It would be wrong to ask Mr. Speaker to take sides when the parties are bitterly opposed. It is almost certain that the party which feels frustrated would blame Mr. Speaker for taking sides.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposal would arise only when agreement had been entered into by the two sides and when it was alleged by one side to be working ineffectively? Mr. Speaker would then he asked to adjudicate not on whether it was a good or bad agreement but on whether it had been worked.
§ Mr. Woodburn
When the matter had reached that point it would have become a bitter inter-party dispute and it would be wrong to ask Mr. Speaker to get involved in a party controversy of that kind.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames went on to argue why it should be six rather than two hours. To accept his proposal would mean retaining the existing system and we would continue to waste a whole day discussing the Guillotine Motion. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do what happens when Motions of this kind are discussed. The speech made from the Government Front Bench introducing a Guillotine Motion and the speech made from the Opposition Front Bench opposing it are reproduced practically verbatim with successive Guillotine Motions. On each occasion a Parliamentary day is wasted. Does the right hon. Gentleman want this system to continue?
What is the sense of the Select Committee recommending methods of saving a few Parliamentary days, in which reasonable business may be conducted, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to frustrate that effort by using up Parliamentary time in having the same nonsensical disputes which arise whenever the Guillotine is introduced? After all, it is only at the end of the day, when the Vote is taken, that the matter is finally decided.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that on a complex and important Measure like the Finance Bill it is necessarily a waste of time to argue proposed amendments, even within the structure of a Guillotine Motion, so that those Clauses to which the Opposition attach importance are properly discussed?
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman has obviously misunderstood the position, because the Select Committee did not recommend having a Guillotine Motion in the strict sense of the sort of Motion the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, where business comes to an end at a certan time and all outstanding Amendments fall or are approved, as the case may be, and the remaining parts of the Measure completed. That is not the proposal and I hope that the arrangement arrived at through the usual channels will not be based on that system.
1535 The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will recall what happened on, for example, the Measure to denationalise road transport. There was a voluntary timetable and the Bill was discussed thoroughly and wisely. There was not a Guillotine in the strict sense of the word. There was a certain flexibility on that occasion, it having been decided that the debates would terminate by a certain date. That is the sort of arrangement the Select Committee had in mind and it is to be hoped that this type of voluntary agreement will accomplish that satisfactory procedure.
The right hon. Gentleman spent a good deal of his speech dealing with his general philosophy of the House and referring to morning sittings. Is not the subject we are now discussing an excellent vehicle for morning sittings? There has been a considerable dispute going on in the House—the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of it—and some hon. Members have criticised morning sittings because, they have said, the Government have brought forward trivialities which are not really worth discussing. The right hon. Gentleman is now criticising the Government for having introduced something worth while discussing in the morning. He cannot have it both ways. I am glad that he has had this opportunity to air his views, and he must be grateful that morning sittings have allowed him that opportunity.
I thought, as I heard the right hon. Gentleman giving his general philosophy of Parliament, that he had become somewhat confused. This Parliament could not work under a dictatorship. The Select Committee could have put forward a majority view which might not have been accepted by the Government. For example, we could have put forward a majority view that the whole Bill be taken upstairs or we could have accepted the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) to send the business part of the Bill upstairs. Instead, the Select Committee decided that it was best, in the long run, to allow the House to decide what was best for the House. We heard evidence, considered the matter carefully and put forward three main possibilities. One possibility might have been that we 1536 do nothing at all, but that was not one of the three main possibilities which we put before the House. I believe that the Government have wisely adopted the possibility which we felt generally would work best. It is that we should try out the voluntary agreement idea before considering Guillotines.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is right to a certain degree, but would he say what opportunity the House has had to consider the alternatives?
§ Mr. Woodburn
My remarks are not right to some degree but are completely right. The House has had more time to consider this matter than many others. Only the other week we spent a whole day discussing the subject. Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the House does not consider matters of this kind merely in the Chamber but that hon. Members consider them after reading the various Reports that are published? In my view, the Government have taken a wise decision.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is rightly apprehensive lest the Government impose their will on the House. The Select Committee has been conscious of this but is aware, as are all hon. Members, that there is a multitude of ways of frustrating Government business if the Government are not, in the opinion of the Opposition, acting reasonably towards the House. This applies not just to the Finance Bill but to all Measures. The Opposition are able to delay, even stop, almost every Bill and every little Order that comes before Parliament. The Opposition can use un every possible moment of Parliamentary time—and this can be done to such an extent that Government business becomes frustrated.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, from his past experience, of how these matters work. When the Irish used these methods the Government were going to break down, although it simply meant that the liberties of the House to discuss matters reasonably were frittered away by the Guillotine, Kangaroo and other systems being introduced, along with the selection of Amendments by Mr. Speaker or the chairmen of Committees.
The Government have taken the view that the best idea is to proceed with a 1537 system of agreement between the Opposition and the Government to use Parliamentary time sensibly. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is aware of what has happened in the past when Finance Bills have been debated, though perhaps one can say that he was sitting in the stalls, in front of the stage, while others were unable to enjoy the performance because they had to stay up all night, probably because an hon. Member wanted to move a frittery little Amendment. Those who may stay up through long nights cannot enjoy the performance as much as those who are sitting in the front stalls. Consider those who work in the restaurants in this building and the other members of the staff who must be here. They cannot enjoy it. Nor can the public, because they think it absolutely stupid that grown men should be conducting their business in this way. Nobody hears about our deliberations because the Press cannot report them and a great deal is lost in the mists of HANSARD. The right hon. Gentleman is doing a disservice in trying to perpetuate this type of performance.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames went on to say that we had always managed to arrive at an agreement. The Select Committee examined that proposition. It is true that filibustering manages to occupy an odd day or two of Parliamentary time here and there. When we measured it, we found that it was marginal because the timetable is not decided by us but by the date on which the Finance Bill must reach the House of Lords. The Opposition does not have an unlimited amount of time in which to filibuster. We discovered that, in the long run, agreement has finally been reached. There are usually three days wasted in filibustering on the Finance Bill in an effort to get an extra day or two, but in the end the Bill proceeds normally on its way.
What the Select Committee and the Government suggest is that we should start off at once with sensible discussion of the Bill, and not wait until three days have been wasted on this performance of getting an extra day by losing three days. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is doing us a service with his proposal.
This is not a dishonourable compromise. The Select Committee did not 1538 compromise, but put forward alternatives. All members of the Select Committee felt that voluntary agreement, if it could be adopted, was best—not to have the Guillotine—and I shall be very disappointed if that is not the unanimous view of this House also. Otherwise, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, we are thrown back to considering whether Governments or parties use their power to impose their particular ideas.
The House does not work like that. We on the Select Committee were satisfied that if we recommended some drastic Motions and expected the Government to impose them on the House, we would be wrong, and that the Government would not do so. If they did, everything would break down. The Government have to consider the Opposition. That is the great virtue of our democratic system—it is not a dictatorship. Legislation is passed in this House taking account of the views of minorities on both sides. It is not a question of a dictator laying down the law.
Every hon. Member can influence Bills, and when that influence proves sufficiently firm and broad the Government accept the will of the House and do not put the particular matter to the vote. When the House wins, the Government give in. In that way, democracy triumphs, because this House is a synthesis of all its Members and of the Government. That is very important. Our foreign friends do not always quite realise the importance of the Government listening to and taking into account minority views.
When a Government and an Opposition have been elected, we have a complete Parliament. Some people sometimes think that all that is necessary is enough Lobby fodder endorsing the Government view, and do not realise that the individual Member has such power in this House as he has. I myself, a very modest Member of the House, could give quite a long list of things that have been achieved by individual Members pressing their views on the Government —whichever party it might be—and the Government very often being reasonable and seeing the virtue of doing what was suggested.
The Select Committee considered this matter very carefully. Here, I pay my 1539 tribute to all my colleagues on the Select Committee. They represent both sides. I can assure the House that hon. and right hon. Members opposite are not by any means "softies" when it comes to sticking up for their side. Nothing gets past them that would be injurious to the working of their own party. They played a very big part in getting a reasonable decision.
I also pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, who has been so diplomatic and hard-working in trying to get a solution. I also congratulate the Leader of the House who, in a remarkable way, in moving the Motion seemed to have discovered the inner thoughts of the members of the Select Committee. I do not know how he did it, though he may have discovered it from the cross-examination we gave him.
The House will do itself credit if it goes forward as suggested, and does its business reasonably. The House will be an important element of democracy in the future. Continental people are looking to it and to its experience to help them make a democratic Europe. If we can show them a good example of using our time properly, and if we can see that the world gets the benefit of our wisdom—because the reports of our debates are carried much further than we sometimes think—we shall have done well. We must show that we are businesslike, and have been able to make democracy work. Unless we can make it work here, the chances of its working satisfactorily elsewhere are not very great.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will reconsider his position—he has made his protest today—and allow the Government's acceptance of what the Select Committee thought to be the most reasonable of three or four suggestions before it, to be carried unanimously.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I shall not detain the House for long, but I should like to make a few points after the extremely reasonable speeches we have so far had. To me, the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), that the judge of 1540 whether there has been an infringement of an agreement should not be the Government but an independent person, seems eminently reasonable. I hope that the Leader of the House will indicate his acceptance of it.
With all respect to the Chairman of the Select Committee, I want to be slightly more unreasonable than others have so far been. This has been regarded very much as a House of Commons matter, but the control of taxation is much more a national matter. The right hon. Gentleman said that the midnight antics are causing the House to fall into disrepute, but I am afraid that the reasons for that disrepute and the failure of Parliament—and this applies to both main parties, and to the House as a whole. leaving out the vagaries and follies of individual Members on either side—is the total failure of the House to control Government expenditure.
The machinery for doing so is not there, and the people are not there. It was possible when we had a Budget of, perhaps, £60 million a year in the days of Mr. Gladstone, but Government expenditure has now become so complex and controversial, and almost incomprehensible that I believe that those who seek to reform the House should make their main attack on control of that expenditure.
That being so, the proposal that the control of Government taxation should be limited in time is very questionable. I think that we are now proposing to limit the amount of time available to an unreasonable degree. This is trying to make an honest woman of the Guillotine, under threat of the much more serious sanction, which we know has been proposed elsewhere, and has been referred to by the Leader of the House this morning, that if we do not now agree to compromise, the whole of next year's Finance Bill discussions will be taken in a Committee.
I believe that that would be wrong. This is the one way in which ordinary Members have some control over the taxation imposed by the Government. It may be foolish to sit up all night. It may be bad luck on the servants of the House. It may be bad luck on hon. Members, but this is a vital function of the House of Commons, and once it derogates its powers in this matter it will 1541 destroy itself far more effectively than in any other way.
This is where the Select Committee is at fault. It has failed to see the main issue because it is obsessed, as it must be, consisting as it does of party politicians and good and honest Members, with the interests of the House. What matters is the interest of the general public. This is what matters, and this is what the House should consider.
Let us consider the various compromises which could be worked out. I should like, to make two main points on this. The first was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames when he discussed the amount of time which would be available to those opposing Government taxation. This is the key point from the public's point of view, be it a Conservative or a Labour Government who are in office. Every speech in favour of taxation is a speech against the interests of the public. Every speech against taxation is a speech in favour of the interests of the public. Therefore, the waste of time which could take place under this proposal is absolutely fabulous.
Secondly, there is the important matter of the interests of minorities in the House. These minority interests are not represented by right hon. Gentlemen from the two Front Benches getting together. They are represented by the individual Member. He may represent some obscure industry, or be concerned with some obscure problem which is troubling one of his constituents, and he must be able to express his views. The opportunity to do so will be lost under this proposal.
I think that the House will behave in an extremely foolish manner if it goes forward with this proposal unconditioned by the excellent Amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend, and that it will be even greater folly if it tries to take the discussion of taxation away from the public gaze.
There is one final point which I should like to make, and this applies especially to the Chief Secretary, who is a hardworking, excellent Chief Secretary within his own lights, which I agree are dim. He has applied himself with great vigour to the discharge of his duties and his high office, but the fact remains that 1542 what the public want to see are Finance Bills correctly and intelligently written, and the more time that this House spends on something where it can achieve results, the better.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) referred to the failure of the House to control Government expenditure. That reminds me of something I said during the debate last week. I said that I could understand better the enthusiasm of those people who thought that 630 people were the ideal body to discuss the details of Finance Bills and the details of taxation if they showed the same enthusiasm for discussing the Estimates. That does not happen here. They are discussed by the Estimates Committee, but there is not the same enthusiasm to discuss the Estimates on the Floor of the House as there is to discuss the Finance Bill.
As I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), it seemed to me that nobody had ever told him that those who sat on the Opposition benches were no longer the Government. I shall not go into detail about the right hon. Gentleman's ardent plea that the decision should be left to the Opposition if they do not like what happens under this Motion. Nor shall I discuss in detail what the right hon. Gentleman said about the fact that so long as the Opposition were talking that would be getting the best of all possible worlds.
I am surprised that I have an opportunity this morning to make a speech at all. I should have thought that this was a continuation of last week's debate. It seems to me that when a Second Reading debate takes place in the morning, and is not completed and is put down for another morning, it is not intended to be a new debate, but a continuation of the previous one. Anyway, I am pleased to be able to take advantage of the Ruling which has been given because it gives me the opportunity to make a little clearer what I was trying to say at the end of the debate last week.
I do not think that the reporting of my speech last week reached the high standard which we always associate with HANSARD, but I am willing to agree that 1543 probably the fault was mine, and not that of the reporters, who do such an excellent job. I cannot have expressed myself clearly enough.
The point I was trying to make was in support of the Motion, but saying that in my opinion it did not go far enough. What I am going to say now will be anathema to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I believe that it would be to the advantage of debates in the House if we had a timetable for all major Bills—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—and perhaps I might explain why.
§ Mr. Blackburn
That was the point I was trying to make, and I shall not change my mind. As a matter of fact, I put this point to the Select Committee on Procedure in 1958–59.
§ Mr. Blackburn
As my hon. Friend says, I moved an Amendment to that effect, so it is not something which has just cropped up.
Last week, I did not say that I thought I had more experience of Standing Committees than any other Member of the House. I said that I thought that I still had more experience of chairing Standing Committees than any other Member of the House, and it is because of my experience as a Chairman of Committees that I put forward this view.
Unless there is a timetable, the first few Clauses of a Bill are discussed exhaustively, and the later Clauses are passed over far too quickly. I happened to be the Chairman of the Bill which has been referred to this morning as "the great swindle". I was also the Chairman of a Local Government Bill, which we discussed for 31 sittings. It was a major Bill, and 11 of the 31 sittings were taken up with discussing the first Clause. When the number of sittings was reaching the late twenties, some Members who thought that I had been rather tough as Chairman when we were discussing the earlier Clauses said to me, "Can you not stop so-and-so from talking?" They rather over- 1544 estimated the power of the Chairman, but the point was that they were weary of the discussion, and the later Clauses were passed over too quickly. This is what usually happens, and this is why I think it important to have a timetable for all major Bills. The important matter is not how many speeches Opposition Members can make, or for how long they can go on making them, but how adequately we discuss the details of the legislation which is before us.
I sincerely hope that hon. Members will allow this experiment to go through without a Division. I understand that it is merely an experiment for this Session, and that further discussions can take place later in the light of what happens. What I find strange about the House—and I referred to this last week—is the difficulty one experiences in getting a change in procedure carried out by the House. Everybody to whom one talks is, in broad terms, agreed that we need to streamline our procedure, that we need to alter it in this way or that, but when we come to a specific suggestion they are all against it. That has been my experience ever since I came to this House.
I hope that this proposal will be allowed to go through, so that we can see how the experiment works. It is nonsense for us to sit up right through the night discussing the details of a Finance Bill. As my right hon. Friend said, some prima donnas of our Finance Bill debates enjoy that, but the rest of us do not necessarily do so. I expect that constituents tell other hon. Members, as they tell me, that they cannot understand the nonsense of Members of Parliament thinking that they can discuss adequately the details of a Finance Bill in the early hours of the morning.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) is a strange Member, or whether he has a strange constituency.
I hope that the House will allow this experiment to go forward. Let us not just say that we are in favour of changing our procedure but are not prepared to try any experiments.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames knows that the suggestions contained in his Amendment are not very sensible.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I shall not give way, because the right hon. Gentleman spent a long time making his speech and entirely forgot that on the previous procedural debate everybody tried to make short speeches.
It is not right to place upon Mr. Speaker yet another duty. That was my objection to the suggestion about the length of speeches. We should not try to foist off on to Mr. Speaker the onus of making a decision in such a matter. That is what I regard as wrong about the right hon. Gentleman's first suggestion.
The right hon. Gentleman's second suggestion, also, is nonsense. If it is suggested that we should discuss for six hours whether or not there should be any change, I say that we ought to have a guillotine Motion to begin with.
I hope that hon. Members will allow the experiment to go forward, so that, in the light of that experiment, we can consider what should be done in future.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I intervene now in order to make it clear that I am making an opening speech and not a closing one. I did not follow immediately after the Leader of the House because I thought it better to let one or two of my hon. Friends speak first. Now I feel that I ought to rise in case my loyalty to the Motion should be strained by what might be said by other hon. Members supporting it. There will be a free vote on this side of the House. My views were expressed in the debate on Wednesday, 19th April, and I again intend to support the Motion.
I know that my hon. and right hon. Friends—and some hon. Members opposite—are very suspicious about any agreements arrived at between the Front Benches. Therefore, in order to preserve my position, I must point out that my support of the Motion does not include approval of taking this business at a morning sitting. In the debate on 14th December the Leader of the House made it clear that morning sittings would be used for non-controversial legislation and the like, and the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) who wound up the debate, used the phrase "minor and non-contentious business". This 1546 question is certainly not a minor one, and it is certainly highly contentious. By taking this debate at a morning sitting the right hon. Gentleman has reinforced some of my hon. Friends' arguments about experiments being the thin end of the wedge. Having said what I have said about morning sittings, however, I want to come to my approach to the Motion.
In my view it is not wrong to try to arrange our affairs so that discussion is reasonably balanced and reasonable hours are worked. It is a benefit to both Government and Opposition if the discussion is not bunched on one or two Clauses—if a great deal of time is not taken up on them and the rest of the Clauses are not properly discussed. This approach does not involve a sacrifice of the rights of the Opposition. This is a satisfactory approach, provided we preserve in some form the right of the Opposition to use the weapon of time and the right of Government to use the ultimate sanction of an enforced time table.
I also believe that the difficulties over most Finance Bills have been greatly exaggerated. The dreadful Bill of 1965 has been responsible for a great deal of this trouble. That was a very bad and contentious Bill. It took about 16 days in Committee, and rightly so.
§ Mr. Lloyd
My hon. Friend says that that was not enough. I will not repeat what I said in the last debate, but usually, with a little common sense on the part of the Chancellor of the day and the Opposition spokesman of the day the thing works out fairly well through the usual channels. There is a little give and take. Occasionally there will be a late sitting, but generally speaking the thing works reasonably. We do not usually have very late sittings at the beginning of a Finance Bill.
That is how I should have preferred to leave the matter, relying upon the good sense of the House and the skill and tact of the Front Bench spokesmen and the usual channels. I must admit, however, that a majority of the Committee on Procedure wanted the whole Bill sent upstairs. Some people felt that if they consented to its remaining 1547 on the Floor of the House, or abstained from recommending that it should go upstairs, something more than a voluntary agreement, by way of a long-stop, was needed. In fact, the Government already have a long-stop in the shape of the Guillotine, and this proposal is a form of guillotine.
My right hon. Friend the, Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said that this proposal would make the Guillotine an honest woman. I am not sure that that would be so, because under the new procedure all the old cries about "gag" would be appropriate. The Government can be abused in exactly the same way under this procedural Motion as they would be under a Guillotine Motion.
I do not wish to discuss the question of the length of debate until I have heard the Government reply. The difference between this procedure and the Guillotine is that the number of days will be fixed by the Business Committee, consisting of the Chairmen's Panel and five other Members. We know that with that sort of Committee the Government do not automatically get their way. When the Government fix the length of time for debate under a Guillotine Motion the Government take the decision and the Business Committee merely arranges the time table within the number of days decided by the Government, but under this proposal the Business Committee will fix the number of days. That is a concession by the Government.
In my opinion this is a reasonable solution. I hope that, as a result, we shall be able to keep the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House and have it reasonably debated. Some of my hon. Friends have approached the question entirely from the position of the agreement's breaking down. I am sure that the usual channels will be anxious to make this agreement work and will not want to bring this sanction into force. There will be a great deal of endeavour on the Government side and through the usual channels to see that the procedure works and that the ultimate sanction does not have to be entertained. In my view this is the correct course to adopt, and I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will support the Motion.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Healey)
I am exceedingly nervous in wandering between the fusillades of two such experienced Parliamentarians as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the right hon. Gentleman for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). If some of the things I say seem inept or naïve, I hope that they will forgive my inexperience.
My hon. Friend said that one of his reasons for pressing forward with this reform was the widespread demand for a change in our procedure. I think that he was absolutely right in that. This demand has come not only from within this House—although I have gained the impression that the pressure within the House has been much greater in recent years than in the past—but from outside the House. It reflects the serious concern about the authority of Parliament and the way in which the House conducts its business.
On this point, I follow completely the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who said that this was a national matter concerning matters of national importance and not merely a cosy chat between ourselves as to how we should arrange our own affairs to suit ourselves. It is an important matter concerning the efficient transaction of the country's business. I believe it right that the House should discuss this reform, and discuss it urgently.
I pass to the point of consensus. There is undoubtedly much to be said for reforming our procedures by consensus where a reasonable consensus can be obtained, but I rather wonder just how far one has to go to achieve a consensus of absolutely all shades of opinion in the House. It would be quite intolerable if procedure had to be held up because an absolute and complete consensus could not be obtained. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was quite right in saying that the division of opinion is not between the two sides, but entirely on one side, or largely on one side, of the House. The Select Committee over which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) presided with such success has 1549 done an exceedingly good job and probably got as far as it was reasonably possible to expect it to get in achieving consensus of opinion. To go beyond that would be to hinder an important useful reform.
A great deal of play has been made with the weapon of delay, or time, as a weapon for the Opposition and as a weapon for dissident back benchers on the Government side, whatever Government happen to be in power. The House is very seriously under-rating another power to which I referred in my somewhat hurried speech last week—the power of investigation. I seriously suggest that we should approach the business of legislation and government in a slightly more scientific spirit than the spirit which has persisted and which perhaps has been traditional. Obstruction is all right; it is a Parliamentary weapon, a weapon of debate but it is not a very constructive weapon. It has been suggested by people who know a great deal more about these matters than I know, that in itself it is not a very effective weapon, and even those who use it become tired of it.
Much better than the weapon of obstruction is the weapon of informed investigation and inquiry, a careful analysis of what the Government are proposing, a detailed examination of what the defects of those proposals are, and what alternative arrangements can be made. For this reason I am still quite unrepentent in advocating the sending of this business to a Committee which can deal with the matter in a sensible, scientific fashion, which can thoroughly analyse the proposals, I suggest to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone that it can give a much more effective examination of the control of expenditure than can possibly he achieved by a body nominally of 600 people debating into the early hours of the morning.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
So far as concerns Government expenditure, there is a great deal to be said for Specialist Committees, but we are talking now of the question of controlling Government taxation, which is a different matter.
§ Mr. Hooley
The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that expenditure and taxation are different problems, but the same principle applies. If we want a sensible analysis and discussion of taxa- 1550 tion we cannot have it by endless repetitive speeches from 12 midnight until 10 o'clock in the morning, which often is what debates on the Finance Bill boil down to. It would be much more sensible to have a Committee interested and reasonably expert in these matters which could have an informed discussion on the matters at issue.
Nevertheless, in the consensus which has so far emerged we have the proposition before us now. It has another serious disadvantage, quite apart from the fact that it does not give an opportunity for serious analysis. That disadvantage is that it does not free the Floor of the House for general debates on matters of urgent importance. This is a very serious defect of the compromise. I should have thought that the Opposition would have picked on this defect, because, clearly, it limits the chance of the Opposition to raise matters of great public urgency if the Floor of the House is taken up with very detailed Committee procedures.
I hope that in the interest of getting somewhere forward the House will adopt the proposals. This is contrary to my preference, but I nevertheless support them. I have only one question to ask and perhaps I am being naïve. I am not altogether clear about the meaning of the word "days" in the Motion. Are we to take it that a day means from 2.30 until—
§ Mr. Hooley
—such time as hon. Members stop speaking? I understand that this is automatically exempted business. Is the day to be something which will be agreed through the usual channels and that it shall be agreed when we shall stop, or has it some other meaning? I do not know of any definition of a Parliamentary day in our Standing Orders.
§ Sir D. Glover
I think that the correct Parliamentary expression isuntil the rising of the Housewhatever time that may be.
§ Mr. Hooley
I am grateful to the hon. Member. What worries me is that it might coincide with the rising of the sun.
§ Mr. Chapman
Has my hon. Friend continued to read line 11 of the Motion? The definition of "days" is improved for his purpose by line 11.
§ Mr. Hooley
I have re-read line 11 hastily, but it does not enlighten me. I must plead ignorance and I should like to have more information about this.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think that the meaning we had and the meaning of the Select Committee was that the period of rising, while not absolute, would be something discussed through the usual channels. I think that it was also made clear, in deference to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), that no precise time would be fixed in anything put to the House. There could be some discretion. Broadly, there would be some discretion about roughly when the House would rise each day.
§ Mr. Hooley
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend, but I am still uneasy about the basis of compromise. However, if that is the situation I must accept it. I do not wish to delay the House any longer. I have made clear all along that I do not regard a Committee of the whole House as a sensible proceeding for this or for any other Bill. It is antiquated and time-wasting and has great practical disadvantages. I am all in favour of the Finance Bill going upstairs to Committee. I hope that in the interest of as wide a consensus as we can get on this issue the House will adopt this proposal as an experimental measure.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)
I can put the attitude and intention of the Liberal Party quite shortly. We hope that the House will accept the Leader of the House's Motion—
§ Mr. Wainwright
I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should suppose that freedom excludes unanimity. I am equally surprised that he should require any assertion from me that all of our votes from this bench are, in the best sense of the word, free.
I was saying that we hope that the House will accept the Motion and will agree to make this experiment, which is based upon agreement. We do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House when he says that this is a lucky year in which to put the experiment to the test. We do not consider 1552 that the Finance Bill, which was published yesterday, will provide much of a test of the proposed new procedure, and we should much prefer the new procedure to be tested on a tax reforming Finance Bill of a major kind which would test it really thoroughly.
Nevertheless, this happens to be the moment at which this agreed compromise is offered to us, and we consider that it should be accepted and tried because we regard the proposals in the Motion as the alternative to something which Liberals would resolutely deplore, that is, the removal of the Committee stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "All Liberals?"] All Liberals with whom I am acquainted would deplore the removal of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill from the Floor of the House.
It may be said—I can almost hear it being said by some of the right hon. and hon. Members who have been pleasantly interrupting me—that Liberals are in favour of giving way to ugly Government threats and that we are simply backing down in face of an even worse proposal which has been threatened. This is not wholly true. Clearly, there has for some time been a strong force of opinion outside Government circles and the administrative nexus in favour of taking the Finance Bill upstairs in Committee, and we have to reckon with that force of opinion on the back benches as well. Furthermore, to say that we are resolutely opposed to the removal of the Finance Bill debates from the Floor of the House is not to say that the procedure should remain exactly as it has been.
We recognise that there is now a great deal of legislation which should have very careful consideration in the House, legislation which has more effect upon the pockets of the people than many Clauses in a normal Finance Bill. We are anxious that there should be more time and more room for discussion of other legislation involving levies and other charges upon the people, or upon many of them.
Nevertheless, even allowing that many Clauses of the average Finance Bill affect only—
§ Mr. Wainwright
I shall be assisted if that point can be cleared up in the Government's reply. I had assumed that the Motion referred simply to taxing statutes and would not apply, for instance, to a Measure like the Land Commission Bill. I shall be glad to hear the official interpretation of the proposal. But, be that as it may, it seems to us that a Finance Bill, even though many of its Clauses in a normal year are recondite and affect only a small number of people from time to time, must be looked at as a whole, and, as a whole, the Finance Bill is the great Measure imposing a charge upon the people. We should be bitterly disappointed to see any of it removed from the Floor of the House. Rather than run the risk of that happening, we prefer to accept the proposal before us this morning.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
It seems to me that we are discussing two separate matters, first, the procedure on the Finance Bill, and second, the question of timetabling Bills, whether they be Finance Bills or other Bills.
To begin with, I take up a point made by one hon. Gentleman opposite which expressed his philosophy, with which I totally disagree, of the object of this House in dealing with a Finance Bill. He said that any blow, any opposition—he meant reasonable opposition, of course—to a tax proposal was a blow in favour of the people. I am not quoting his exact words, but that was the philosophy behind his statement. It is, indeed, the old philosophy of this House, and I accept that the hon. Gentleman was expressing what has been the tradition of the House for centuries. It is a tradition with which I utterly disagree.
It is true—there was a Gallup Poll recently to prove it—that what most people in the United Kingdom would like would be increased services and reduced taxation, but they realise, in practice, that their desire for the one must be balanced against their desire for the other, and they give us the job of trying to strike the balance.
1554 It does not seem to me that one should make the proposals for raising money to pay for services any more or any less difficult to get through the House than proposals to increase the services themselves and the expenditure upon them. In my view, the two things ought to be balanced, and to say, as has been the philosophy of the House, that one should be able to create an enormous service by one sort of procedure and yet pay for that service only by a much greater procedure, with 22 stages throughout the year, in one way or another—hon. Members will recall that from an earlier Report—is, in my view, unbalanced and ridiculous.
It dates back to a previous age when the whole idea and philosophy of Parliament was that, if possible, Governments ought not to exist and that they ought to be kept to the minimum if they had to exist for some purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is not the philosophy of the majority of people in the United Kingdom today, and, if hon. Members opposite think that it is, that explains their present numbers in the House.
On a minor issue, the hon. Gentleman to whom I have referred missed another point because his attitude assumes that, in talking on the Finance Bill, one is opposing a tax proposal. From a Government back bench point of view, it is most unlikely that one is necessarily opposing a particular tax proposal, but one may well have suggestions to improve it or alter in some way what is in the Bill. This is the normal situation of Government back benchers, irrespective of which party is in power. It may be true also of others in the House. In my view, the assumption about opposition which is embedded in our procedure is wrong.
How should the particular problem of the Finance Bill be dealt with? In my opinion—here I flatly disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and others who spoke in the same sense—the Finance Bill ought to go upstairs to a Committee. I regard the proposal now before us in respect of the Finance Bill, which I shall support when it comes to the vote, as only a palliative and temporary measure. It is not what the majority of Members want.
1555 I noticed that the representative of the Liberals, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Richard Wainwright), spoke, contrary to their claim to desire reform, in favour of the tradition that the Finance Bill should remain on the Floor of the House. Who actually wants it to remain on the Floor of the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] If one assumes that every Member who spoke, even only once, in the normal years 1961 and 1962 is interested in the whole of the Finance Bill remaining on the Floor of the House —an assumption which I would not care to make—then, at the most, there are 175 out of 630 Members of the House of Commons who want to take an interest in the Finance Bill.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
This is the most bogus line of argument that I have ever heard. Just because, on a half day's debate, only six Members speak out of 630 does that mean that the 624 are not concerned?
§ Mr. English
I am not clear where the hon. Member gets his half day from in the case of exempted business. As I recollect it, Finance Bills have not been restricted to half days. The point is that there is a large body of Members—and there is no need to blink the fact—who are not particularly interested in the details, the minutiae of taxation proposals, or the detailed changes which may be possible in a Finance Bill. The same is true of any Bill. Members have their own specialities, and rightly so.
This House is most effective because different Members have different specialities and know their subjects. But they cannot be Jacks-of-all-trades, nor would they be effective if they tried to be.
§ Mr. Hirst
The question that we are considering so seriously is the supreme right of the individual Member to represent his constituents' views on any particular aspect of the Finance Bill, and if it goes to the Committee, 550 Members are excluded from that supreme right on fundamental legislation.
§ Mr. English
I entirely agree with the hon. Member and I was coming to this point. It does seem appropriate, in the case of the Finance Bill, to remove it from the Floor of the House, so that all those Members who are tied to this House while a few of them enjoy them- 1556 selves on the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House, in the middle of the night, should not be kept here.
The sort of Committee that I would suggest is one of the proposals mentioned in the Report, and I congratulate the Committee on this Report because it discussed with great care all the alternatives. It did not just take one and push it at us. It has given us all the possibilities. Page vi of the Report mentions the possibilitythat any Member should have the right to address the Standing Committee and move Amendments in it, but not to vote …It seems that this is what is required, that a Member, as the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) says, should be able to go to the Committee and say, "We are discussing 267 Clauses, but it is Clause 122 which affects my constituency, and I want to come here and explain why it is so, and defend my constituents' interests". I agree with the hon. Member that this would be a good idea. What is unfortunate is that people who say that they do not want the Finance Bill to go into Committee are associating in their minds the Standing Committees of the House as they are at present with this proposal, and imagining that they would be excluded forever from discussing anything in the Committee. I do not think that this should be the case.
§ Sir D. Glover
This is terrible. If the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) is allowed to go and speak in the Committee with no power to vote, and therefore no power of delay, his constituents might just as well write the Committee a letter.
§ Mr. English
The fact that a Member is able to go and to make a speech there would take some time. The other point is that we are associated with other Members in this House, either in parties or in groups, and if an interesting case comes from a single Member, if it is a good case, perhaps other Members will take note of it and assist him, and some of these will be members of the Committee. It is also a pity that the Procedure Committee's Report dismissed this in a rather cavalier fashion. It raised the arguments of the hon. Member for Orms-kirk (Sir D. Glover) that it deprives Members not on the Committee of their vote when they come to speak on an Amendment or a Clause to which they attach great importance.
1557 It is not wholly unusual in this House. Members have been known to make speeches in one sense and vote in a different sense because of our system of parties and whips. Nor would it wholly matter. We are talking about a Committee. One must also consider what one should do with the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House and that must be taken with any proposal to put the Finance Bill in Committee. I agree with hon. Members who, referring to the massive Finance Bill a year or two ago, said that they would certainly want to discuss Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax and so on.
This is reasonable and sensible. What one must endeavour to do is distinguish between principle and detail. I am not talking of splitting the Bill, the whole Bill must be put in the Committee. The detail should go to the Committee, leaving the principles to be discussed on the Floor of the House. Our American cousins have developed our procedure in this direction. They have used our Report and Third Reading stages to elaborate this into a portion of the time where principles of Bills can be discussed on the Floor of the House. I think that we could take a leaf from their book.
If there is any suggestion to put the Finance Bill in Committee, which would clear the Floor of the House of a tremendous amount of detailed business, then as a quid pro quosome of the time so taken from the Floor of the House should he given back to Members on the Finance Bill, to discuss major issues and principles connected with it.
§ Mr. Chapman
Would my hon. Friend comment on the alternative put forward by the Committee which was instead of allowing visiting Members to a Committee, the Bill should be recommitted to the full House? Its suggestion was that it should come back from Committee for, I think, a couple of days in order that the House, in full Committee, could discuss some of the big principles of taxation. Is not that better than visiting Members?
§ Mr. English
The second proposal of the Committee is a different version of the idea which I am putting forward, namely, that if one takes the Finance Bill off the Floor of the House, one should give some of the time thus saved back to Members on the Floor of the House so that prin- 1558 ciples, rather than details can be discussed. To do that by recommitting the Bill might not be the right method. In effect the way that the Americans do it is to say, "These are the really contentious items upon which there is major opposition on principle, and these are the subjects upon which we will have the debates." I am not sure that recommitting the Bill is quite the right way to do it, because theoretically, when one recommits a Bill, one is allowing every detail or comma to be amended, whether or not it is important.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Member said "recommit", and that is the normal meaning of the word in the procedure of this House. The House as a whole wants to discuss principles of finance and taxation on the Floor of the House, but the majority of the House do not want to discuss the details of such proposals on the Floor. It is important that a Member should be able to put a particular point of view of his constituents before a Committee in his own words.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Why is it only on the question of taxation that a Member should be able to put a point of view of his constituents?
§ Mr. English
If we were discussing the procedure of every Bill, then the hon. Member would certainly have a suggestion which ought to be considered. The proposal that I am suggesting is only that which was the practice of this House until the 19th century. It was one of the 19th century reforms which altered this system. It was possible for any Member to go into a Committee and put his point of view, although he could not vote.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that life in Standing Committee is hard enough already? Has he envisaged the possibility of an almost unending queque of hon. Members waiting to speak, with virtually no prospect of terminating the Committee's proceedings?
§ Mr. English
Of course I have envisaged that possibility. I am also aware that the procedure which this House adopted for many centuries and which has been inherited by the Congress of 1559 the United States is not a totally impossible one. There will obviously need to be rules and I suggest that the Chief Secretary would not have made the same suggestion in his evidence if he thought that it would mean keeping his Finance Bills off the stocks forever. If the system worked, it might be wise to extend it to other Committees. We are here discussing a way to allow hon. Members to put, in their own words and not through the mouths of other hon. Members, the case on behalf of their constituents. Under our procedure an hon. Member can table an Amendment to a Measure which is in Committee upstairs, but he must persuade another hon. Member to speak to it.
This suggestion has been dismissed rather cavalierly in the Report, although I appreciate why. The Select Committee obviously felt that a large number of hon. Members would object to it. We must find some way of preserving the rights of the individual back bencher and at the same time preventing every detail of every Finance Bill having to be discussed on the Floor of the House.
Now upon the other aspect of this debate—the timetabling of Bills, if the timetable applying to a Bill contained roughly the amount of time desired by the Opposition multiplied by two, I do not believe that anyone would object to such a timetable. The effect of a timetable is to give Government back benchers an opportunity to speak. Presumably if the time required by the Opposition were multiplied by two, there would be ample time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or by three."] Multiplied by two, perhaps—but multiplied by three, I do not believe that that will ever happen.
I am prepared to support the Government's proposal as one means of shortening the procedure. I hope, however, that when my right hon. Friend says that he is introducing it as an experiment, he is doing so not merely in an effort to keep our procedure short but to try to take off the Floor of the House the details of this and other Bills which have this ghastly tendency of being discussed in great detail by half a dozen hon. Members who are passionately interested in the subject while hundreds of other hon. Members must sit around on the premises waiting to vote at two o'clock in the 1560 morning. This is not the way in which our legislature should be run.
In the end, the timetabling of Bills would not appear to be a completely desirable procedural reform. I hope that it is in this respect that, while I support my right hon. Friend in his desire to experiment, the Government will use this breathing space to consider how the basic substantive procedure applying to the Finance Bill and other legislation can be reformed.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) held out some alternative ideas which were certainly of great interest and originality. The one which was received with horror by a number of hon. Members was his idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and some of his colleagues, and an equivalent number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, should be visited in the Committee rooms upstairs by endless queues of hon. Members anxious to make speeches and equally anxious to shove off without having to attend those Committees any more.
§ Mr. Peyton
Would my hon. Friend address his mind to this question: what is the point of Government back benchers filibustering on a Government procedural Motion, such as we had from the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)?
§ Dr. Bennett
That intervention passes my comprehension, perhaps because I am not sure what my hon. Friend is getting at.
This has been an illuminating debate, not least the illuminating opening remarks of the Leader of the House. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for upwards of 40 years and have always known him to be a formidable dialectician. Whether he is trying to be persuasive or overbearing, he is at all times a formidable Parliamentarian. I am not absolutely always quite so sure that I am as impressed by the grounds on which he bases his arguments as the skill with which he deploys them. I have often found this to underlie some of his ingenious arguments.
The right hon. Gentleman gave us a flash of tremendous candour, and I found that refreshing. He admitted at the outset 1561 that all Government supporters wanted to send the Finance Bill upstairs. That is true. Almost every speech made by hon. Gentlemen opposite this morning has been in favour of adopting that course. However, this is, perhaps, a common quality of all members of the Government party which is in power. I believe that it was even to be noticed occasionally when my party was in office. It is fair to say that all Governments would like to see the Bill out of the way because it is an economy of effort for Treasury Ministers not to have to stand up to the barrage of abuse which they may get.
§ Mr. Blackburn
If what the hon. Gentleman is saying is correct, would he explain why I did not get more support from the Conservatives when they were in power?
§ Mr. Blackburn
Support in the efforts which I have been making for a number of years to get the Finance Bill sent to a Committee upstairs.
§ Dr. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman has my profound sympathy. I am sure that he is finding some interesting alternatives being adduced now. If the present proposal fails, as I think it must, he may yet find the Leader of the House attempting to force the House to accede to the hon. Gentleman's wishes.
The Leader of the House said that both sides had agreed, in the Select Committee and in the previous debate, that voluntary agreements are desirable for the progress of any Bill. That is absolutely true, but the fallacy of the right hon. Gentleman's argument in this respect lies in the fact that voluntary agreements on an ad hoc basis, though desirable, are already common practice in the House. There is a certain amount of susurration behind the Chair on some occasions late at night and this occasionally leads to a Motion 1562 suddenly being advanced for the House to report Progress; and, oddly enough, that Motion is suddenly carried.
§ Dr. Bennett
I used a word which applies to the conferences which go on on the Government Front Bench occasionally and which certainly went on today throughout the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The Leader of the House, the Chief Secretary and Patronage Secretary carried on their own private whispered debate. The Leader of the House will know that the word I used is a classical term meaning prolonged and silent whispering.
This sometimes goes on late at night when both sides are getting tired and when the Government are prepared to be more placatory and when the Opposition are prepared to forfeit some of their right to criticise. This is done in the joint desire to get to bed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Our minds seem to have been moved towards that endeavour by the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. I should, perhaps, make it clear that it is a joint desire to get to bed and not a desire to jointly get to bed.
Certainly, voluntary agreements to timetable a Bill are universally desirable and approved. However, the real danger lies in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman wants to get the agreement firm before the Bill goes into Committee. This idea of getting a firm timetable agreement first would give a complete carte blanche to any form of Ministerial intransigence. The Opposition must have some weapon with which to make Ministers suffer for their intransigence, arrogance, ignorance, or—
§ It being half-past Twelve o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.