§ First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. Crossman.]
§ Considered accordingly.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament.We have a number of Motions on the Order Paper to implement the Reports from the Select Committee. I am in some difficulty, because if I were to speak in detail on them all I should be unduly prolix, but if I am too brief I shall be told that I have insulted the House. I am sorry if I speak longer than I need do, but I feel that the House should be given a survey of the Motions, although we shall not be asking the House to consider more than 12 of them this evening when we come to making up our minds upon them.
I should like to start by expressing thanks—I know that the whole House will let me do this—and, in particular, my own thanks, for the monumental task of the Select Committee. I know that these tributes are often largely formalities, but in this case I mean every word of it. I think that the whole House shares my appreciation, particularly of the work of the Clerk and of the Chairman for their devotion during the last 18 months.
During our procedure debates last December, April and May, I suspect that members of the Select Committee must have reflected, as I did, that the progress of the reformer in our House is both arduous and unpredictable. Nevertheless, I believe that the House is now in one of its reformist moods, and at the end of the second day's debate which we are allocating to procedure I have every hope that the Select Committee will have the satisfaction of seeing the great majority of its recommendations accepted into our procedures.
Having thanked the Committee, let me say a word about its future. Plainly, no one can expect it to go on examining our main procedures. It has done the job 243 we gave it. There is, however, one area which remains unexplored. I refer to the arrangement of our Parliamentary terms, which has remained unchanged since the beginning of this century.
Is it right that the normal Parliamentary Session should consist of four terms broken by three brief interludes and followed by nearly three months of so-called Summer Recess? Would it be better to have five terms so as to avoid what many of us feel each year to be an unduly exhausting summer term followed by an unduly long Summer Recess? And then there is the problem of the gap between the beginning of the calendar year and the beginning of the financial year, a gap which constricts the time we can give to consider the Finance Bill and so increases the strain of the summer. I think it was the late Nye Bevan who used to say that it was high time we abandoned a fiscal timetable which made sense only in terms of the corn king and the spring queen. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition echoed this sentiment in a long and interesting Third Programme interview the other day.
I must frankly admit that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees some formidable snags when I mention the financial year. Nevertheless, it seems to me high time that the House should consider afresh an annual timetable which has been left unchanged for so long. If anyone is afraid of precipitate reform I can assure him that the results of such a study are bound to be long term, if only because our party conferences, the dates of which are arranged years in advance, have now become a vital part of the Parliamentary year. So the Select Committee will have plenty of time to prepare its report.
Before I turn to the reforms which I am proposing this Session, it might be to the convenience of the House if I put them into perspective by briefly reviewing them against what we proposed and what we achieved last Session. When I laid that package before the House on 14th December I was told by several hon. Members, and this was repeated even more emphatically by observers in the Press Gallery, that a formidable indictment of our obsolescence had produced a mouse of a reform.
244 Let us see what we actually achieved. First, the Committee of Ways and Means and the Committee of Supply have been abolished and the whole procedure made much simpler and more intelligible. As always happens with obsolete traditions, once the flummery has been removed it is difficult to remember that it had ever existed. I think that I can claim that the same applies with even greater force to Black Rod's interruptions—abolished by a special little Bill which carefully preserves the mumbo jumbo for ceremonial occasions when it does not interrupt serious debate. That was done.
Our second reform of the Session was the compromise method of handling the Finance Bill which the Select Committee recommended for a Sessional experiment. We took a long time discussing it, and passing it, but, as far as I know it was a dead letter before the Session ended because the "shadow" Chancellor disliked it and preferred to rely on the traditional informal discussions between him and the Chancellor.
The conclusion which I have drawn from this experiment is that on this central and extremely important issue the division of opinion is too wide to be bridged by compromise, and I therefore recommend the House to come to a clear-cut decision to send the Bill upstairs.
Our third reform was the morning sittings experiment. It will not surprise the House when I now announce that we have decided not to renew that particular Sessional Order. We are determined to achieve the same purpose by a number of measures which I shall be explaining later.
Fourthly, we established an important new Select Committee to receive the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner. His first interim Report has only just been published and, not unnaturally, those observers who had written the project off before it was on the Statute Book have decided that the Ombudsman is only an Ombudsmouse. I am sure that the Committee will now give the matter urgent attention and advise the House as soon as possible whether this new instrument of investigation in Whitehall is working satisfactorily and, in particular, whether it is necessary to adopt any of those extensions of his powers which the Act enables us to make whenever we wish by Order in Council.
245 Lastly, we have been able to watch our first two Specialist Committees settling down to work. Once again, one is fascinated to observe how rapidly a radical innovation is absorbed into our customs and practice, because a year ago the proposal that Select Committees should sit normally in public was regarded as quite adventurous, and as for Ministers submitting themselves to cross-examination I can reveal to the House that this idea sent shivers of apprehension through wide areas of Whitehall. Nor was it easy for some Ministers and civil servants to accept the notion that our Specialist Committees are entitled to equip themselves with properly paid experts and to use foreign travel to facilitate their investigations. Of course, we have had quite a number of difficulties, misunderstandings and even an occasional explosion of wrath.
But the remarkable fact is how rapidly our two Committees has each evolved a strong corporate will and personality and what importance they have already achieved, not merely here, but in Whitehall and in the public Press. Indeed, the rapidity of their development in the few months since they were established has already outdated one chapter of a really outstanding book on the rôle of Parliament published the other day by that very distinguished journalist, Ronald Butt.
Basing his judgment on years of political experience, he reaches the conclusion that the Committees will never achieve the importance they have in other Western democracies simply because in Britain Ministers cannot appear before them. I am sure that he will be as glad as I am that he under-rated the capacity of our Parliamentary institutions to adapt themselves by sudden and unpredictable radical changes.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)
If the right hon. Gentleman intends to quote Mr. Butt's conclusions, he might as well quote them accurately. Mr. Butt said that the main reason why such a system could not work in this country was because, in the last resort, Parliament had either to support or oppose the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am not saying that Mr. Butt did not state that as well. I am only saying that he also said that he 246 was convinced that Ministers could not appear before these Committees and that they have done so since his book got into print.
I now turn to our new proposals. As the House knows already, although I have laid down 20 Motions for consideration, I shall only be moving a dozen of them tonight. These are the least contentious ones because we have decided to allocate a second day when the more controversial proposals can be debated and voted on seriatim. But it may suit the convenience of the House if I survey the whole range of our recommendations.
I do so because, while each of them must, of course, be considered on its merits, I ask the House to remember that they have been conceived as a balanced whole. In working them out I have sought to fulfil the aims I set before the House in my first outline of procedural reform last December.
I said then that the Parliamentary reformer must keep three aims firmly in mind. The first is to ensure that the legislative process enables policies to be translated into law at the speed required by the tempo of modern industrial change. The second was to see that the Government timetable is not permitted to crowd out debates on great issues and especially the debates on current controversies which provide the main political education of a democracy.
The third was that, while accepting that Governments must govern, we have to ensure that the House is strengthened so as to provide a continuous and detailed check on the work of the Executive and an effective defence of the individual against bureaucratic injustice and incompetence.
It seems to me obvious that these three aims are, to a large extent, inconsistent with each other and that, if even one of them is pushed to excess, another essential function of Parliament is endangered. That is why Parliamentary reform does not simply consist of discovering a number of useful changes and stringing them together.
What the reformer must try to achieve is a balanced set of changes, a harmonious combination of measures designed to make public Bill procedure more efficient, to restore the Floor of this Chamber as the forum of the nation's 247 political debate and, simultaneously, to strengthen Parliamentary control of the Executive.
Partly because it is so difficult to predict the effect of procedural changes, no Leader of the House can be sure, when putting forward proposals, that he has the balance right. All I can claim is that, in working this out, I have kept this triple balance always in mind. I hope that I have got it right. I believe that we have; but it is up to the House to make up its mind.
First, I deal with public Bills. In my proposals for improving public Bill procedure, I can claim little originality because the first five of them incorporate unchanged the recommendations of the Select Committee. As for the sixth, which is to send the Finance Bill upstairs, it goes beyond the Committee's unanimous recommendations and revives an old and very well-known and well argued proposal on which the Committee remained divided.
The first and most important recommendation in this field is in paragraph 17 of the Sixth Report—that there should be an arrangement for the voluntary timetabling of Committee and Report stages, with provisions for the agreements to be enforced, or, if voluntary agreement has not been possible, for a timetable to be applied as a last resort on the recommendation of the Business Committee.
This proposal of the Select Committee corresponds very closely with the procedure it unanimously recommended should be tried out experimentally on last year's Finance Bill. Timetabling by guillotine is and should be a last resort procedure. A timetable established by voluntary agreement and backed in the last resort only by the sanction of reference to the Business Committee seems to me a much more civilised way of trying to ensure that discussion of each bill is properly spread over all clauses.
The imbalance normal in present Standing Committees was emphasised by the Clerk of Public Bills, when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. I hope that we can look forward to a day when the normal practice upstairs is, first, to reach an agreement on a date when the Bill should be reported back and 248 then to plan a timetable which takes full advantage of the hours available and which is convenient to both sides.
Secondly, we accept the recommendation in paragraph 26 of the same Report that, if a Bill has had its Second Reading considered by a Second Reading Committee or by the Scottish Grand Committee, it should be possible, subject to safeguards, for the Report stage also to be taken in that Committee. We have tabled a new Standing Order on the lines recommended by the Select Committee and I am glad to tell the House that we are willing to accept, as a definite improvement in full accord with our intention, the Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He is right to remind us that, among the safeguards for a Report stage taken in Committee, must be the right of any hon. Member on that Committee to appear and move Amendments which he wants. If this concession were not made, then, in the name of improving the efficiency of procedure, we should be denying the individual Member one of the important rights accorded him by the Report stage of public Bills.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
On this and similar points concerning public Bills going to Second Reading Committee, would it not be reasonable to limit the days on which the appropriate Motions could be moved to Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, excluding Fridays? Would not this be more convenient to the House?
§ Mr. Crossman
I will certainly consider that. This is a non-controversial question of the convenience of the House.
Thirdly, we accept the proposal that Third Reading of a Bill should be taken formally unless at least six Members table in advance a Motion or Amendment objecting to this. An Amendment to Standing Order No. 55 is on the Order Paper.
Fourthly, we accept the proposal that the proceedings of a Second Reading Committee should be bound up with the following day's HANSARD. That is an obvious improvement, because what goes on in a Second Reading Committee should be regarded as being as much a part of the proceedings of the House as a debate in this Chamber.
249 Fifthly, we accept that the preliminary question on the consideration of Lords Amendments should normally be dispensed with and that the form of putting these Amendments should be simplified.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
This is about the only Motion I do not understand. Would the right hon. Gentleman expand on that explanation?
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not do so at the moment for good reason. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State will speak before the end of the debate, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, and I have asked him, in particular, to take in detail each of the Motions we are putting tonight, answer any questions and explain in full. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has asked.
I now turn to the main reform we propose to introduce this Session—taking the Committee stage of the Finance Bill off the Floor of the House and referring it to a Committee for consideration upstairs. This is a problem which the Select Committee tackled twice.
In its First 1965 Report it recommended us to divide the Finance Bill into two parts, one to be taken on the Floor and the other to be referred to a special Standing Committee upstairs. I believe that this solution still has its advocates, but I am sure that the Government were right to reject it. I am also sure that the Committee was right to challenge us to say how the Government would deal with the problem.
A reply to this was given in evidence to the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He recommended committing the whole Bill to a Standing Committee with a timetable. This proposal split the Select Committee. Broadly speaking, hon. Members on our side of the House supported my right hon. Friend's view. A few Opposition Members still wished to split the Bill, but most of them wanted no change at all.
The Committee was not content with this failure. Anxious to restore its record of unanimity, it finally agreed to recommend an ingenious Sessional experiment in voluntarily timetabling while keeping the Bill on the Floor of the House. But 250 though this Sessional Order was approved by a comfortable majority—the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was one of the few Conservatives who voted for it—most of the Opposition, led by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), went into the "No" Lobby, and we on our side agreed to the Select Committee's recommended compromise only with some reluctance.
On 19th April, for example, I remarked:…this is an issue where unanimity is difficult to obtain.I added, however:…very large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have come to the conclusion that…the one reform which would certainly revive our vitality and improve the standard of our debates, would be to lift the dead financial weight which cumbers the Floor of the House for so many weeks during summer and move it bodily upstairs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 596.]I also added that we could not consider this radical reform in isolation, but only as part of an overall reform of our whole public Bill procedure.
On this issue, we have not been in any hurry. In fact, we were willing to try a compromise which was spurned by the Opposition. That justified us in returning to our first proposal. Now that we can put it forward as part of a carefully balanced body of reforms, we feel that we can ask the House to consider it fairly on its merits.
What are those merits? They were defined long ago by one of my most experienced and subtle predecessors, Lord Butler. His evidence to the Select Committee in 1959 is so well known that I need not quote it fully. I will quote only one paragraph from his memorandum, because it seems to me to sum up the strictly financial, as distinct from the general Parliamentary case for taking the Bill upstairs. He said:…as conditions change tradition ought not to stand in the way of reform. While many of the Budget proposals embodied in the Finance Bill are admittedly of major importance, it seems probable that discussion of the detailed provisions of the Bill could be carried out at least as effectively in a smaller forum as in the Committee of the whole House. Provided that the House has an early opportunity to debate the broad principles of proposed tax changes (in the Budget debate and on Second Reading) and to discuss, and 251 if necessary reverse (on Report stage) any decisions taken in Committee of which it may not approve, it is not easy to see that any vital principle would be breached if the Committee stage of the Finance Bill were taken in a suitable Standing Committee rather than on the Floor of the House.Lord Butler's view was repeated recently by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, and I ask the House to study his evidence to the Select Committee. Obviously, a Committee of the whole House can still be justified when one is dealing, either with a short Bill which for special reasons needs a rapid passage, or, alternatively, where the issue is of the greatest constitutional importance. Now, I think, a Finance Bill falls under neither of these two heads. Normally, it is exceptionally long, exceptionally unintelligible and exceptionally in need of detailed examination by an expert committee.
A Committee stage upstairs not only relieves the House of a boring summer burden and so leaves room for more topical debates; it also provides a better chance of the Bill being improved by hours of scrupulous expert attention. There is only one proviso we have to make which is, of course, to ensure that every back bench Member still keeps the right to criticise the Bill and amend it if need be from his place on the Floor. If that can no longer be done in Committee, then room must be made in an enlarged Report stage. Again, Lord Butler has the first and the last word. In paragraph 7 of his memorandum he wrote:7. A consequence of such a plan might well be that Report stage would gain in importance and would require rather more than the customary two days' debate. This consequence might be regarded as acceptable in relation to the potential saving of the time of the House itself on Committee stage.We entirely agree with Lord Butler. In our view the Report stage should be extended from two to three, possibly four, days. That is something for discussion through the usual channels.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the Amendment on the Order Paper, on page 561, in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)? The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to indicate his attitude to the Amend- 252 ment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). Our Amendment relates to the sending of the Finance Bill upstairs and permits any Member of the House to attend, though not to speak or move Amendments.
§ Mr. Crossman
I explained that we are taking the contentious Motions separately, on a separate day, and that I intended to have a fully adequate discussion on this with all the Amendments considered. Then we can take them and discuss them and vote at our leisure. I am not putting this this evening, so I do not think that I will be tempted into a discussion of the Liberal Amendment.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The right hon. Gentleman has said on two occasions that he is only putting 12 of these Motions today and not the controversial ones. It would be of great assistance to the House if he would name the 12 which we are discussing today.
§ Mr. Crossman
I would like to survey the scene. We will come to clarification of what we are putting later.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Could my right hon. Friend tell us whether Standing Order No. 9 is today?
§ Mr. Crossman
Yes, Standing Order No. 9 is today. I regard Standing Order No. 9 as non-controversial. I shall be very surprised if there is any hon. Member who will refuse the Government leave to get this through the House this evening.
I come now to the third objective of our Parliamentary reform, the reorganisation of our weekly and daily timetable in order to relax the pressure which afflicts the whole-time Member. One of our pleasant fictions is the claim that membership of the House of Commons is now a whole-time job. It can be, but it very often is not and those who work whole-time here are more and more irritated by the way Parliament is run, not as they would have it run but in order to suit the convenience of the part-time Member who earns a living outside.
It was to relieve the strain on these whole-time M.P.s that the Select Committee on Procedure worked out their scheme for morning sittings and proposed to my predecessor that it should be introduced as a Sessional experiment. When I took over I observed that the scheme 253 had been fiercely opposed by Opposition members of the Select Committee and I realised, even before the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral said it, that the success or failure of this experiment would depend far less on the Government's wishes than on the conduct of the Opposition.
After all, the principle of the scheme was simple enough: to take time in the morning to consider the business which otherwise starts at 10 p.m. and so often drags on late into the night. It was a perfectly sensible idea—provided that the Opposition would actively assist in making it work.
What actually happened we all know, I am making no complaint whatsoever about Opposition tactics; it is one of the Opposition's functions to harass the Government, and since they had not attempted to conceal their dislike of morning sittings they were perfectly entitled to ensure that the time we gained each Monday or Wednesday by a morning sitting was pretty well lost again before 10 a.m. the next day. Despite the extra hours of morning work, the amount of late-night work was the same, or slightly more, than it had been in the last comparable Session, 1962–63. I have had the statistics worked out.
Indeed, ironically enough, the real gainer from morning sittings was not the hard-working back-bencher, but Her Majesty's Government. The list of business obtained by the Government during the 46 morning sittings of the Session is quite impressive. I will read it to the House: 20 Second Readings, 12 Committee stages, 18 Report stages and Third Readings, four Considerations of Lords Amendments, 24 Orders and Regulations and eight Prayers. Not bad for 46 short sittings.
While the Opposition were busy harassing us late at night, the Government were obtaining an easy passage for a remarkable amount of the kind of secondary Departmental business, which ambitious Ministers delight to get as cheaply as possible.
Unfortunately, the benefit procured by the Government through morning sittings was not matched by any corresponding benefit to the full-time Member. And I would say even more serious, the staff of 254 the House, particularly the Clerks and the doorkeepers, were being strained to breaking point when, for example, a 10 o'clock Wednesday morning sitting followed a Tuesday late-night sitting stretching to breakfast time.
Let me concede it to the Opposition: they made their point in the way Opposition's make their points and I concluded that, as a responsible Leader of the House, I could not repeat the ordeal to which whole-time Government back benchers and House officials were subjected last July.
When I reflected on this I found myself faced with three possibilities. The first was to accept the rejection of the morning sitting experiment and simply revert to previous practice leaving the whole-time Member as badly off as before and the House conducted for the convenience of the part-time Member. That I excluded straight away.
The second possibility was to follow the course pressed on me by a number of my hon. Friends, of rolling back the whole business of the House so as to conform with normal office hours. I gave this proposal careful and detailed consideration.
But the more I reflected on it the more it seemed to contain one central defect for anyone who cares about debates on the Floor of the House. If we roll all the business back so as to have Question Time from 10.30 to 11.30 and the big debate running from 11.30 to 6.00, with exempted business starting after the 6.30 adjournment, then it follows that Standing Committees cannot meet in the morning—that is, during Question Time and the two main speeches. In that case one must run them simultaneously with the main debate on the Floor of the House in the afternoon. One can do that to one or two Committees, with a great deal of protest on Thursday afternoons, but I just cannot envisage 10 or 12 Standing Committees suddenly suspending business so that Members can vote in a Division on the Floor. One cannot roll back the business in that way. It is a reductio ad absurdum.
Having rejected these two possibilities I turned back to the original aim—to reduce the likelihood of late-night sittings; and I came to the conclusion that there 255 was no simple formula by which this could best be achieved; it had to be a combined operation.
In the first place, as we have seen, the decision to put the Finance Bill upstairs will remove one of the main causes of the series of late-night sittings which produce such frustration and exhaustion each summer. We are not, if I may say so to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, putting the Finance Bill upstairs because hon. Members are soft and cannot stand the strain. We are doing it because we believe the right place to discuss Committee points intelligently is in a Committee. But I do not deny that this change will bring a useful by-product in relieving the pressure of night work in June and July.
Another reform which should curtail a number of sittings which at present drag on into the early hours is the proposal that affirmative Orders should be subject to a time limit like negative Orders. After all, a limit of time was imposed on Prayers, I think, by the Conservative Government in 1953. The change was made because the Laour Opposition of the day were using prayers to harry a Tory Government: a handful of Socialist guerrillas night after night would keep 150 Tory back benchers up into the early hours by playing out Prayers. So the Standing Order came that Prayers must stop at 11.30, and since it has been in force everybody has felt that the House was a healthier place.
To improve on this still further we now propose a time limit after 10 o'clock for affirmative Orders. If an affirmative Resolution Order is important enough it can, of course, be agreed through the usual channels to put it down for debate in the afternoon; and then the debate can run its full time. That is the second part of the combined operation.
The third part of this combined operation relates to counts. For reasons that will commend themselves at least to hon. Gentlemen behind me we propose to exclude counts after 10 p.m.
Finally, we propose a new Standing Order which will permit a morning sitting as a direct substitute for a late sitting on the night before. In future, if a debate is dragging on, it will be open to a Minister of the Crown to put the Question that 256 the sitting be resumed at 10 in the morning and carried on for such a period terminating before 2 p.m. as may be necessary to finish the business broken up the night before.
I confide in the House that I do not expect the ad hoc morning sittings of this kind to be frequent. Indeed the test of the Standing Order will not be the frequency with which it is employed, but its efficacy as a deterrent, as a means of reducing the number of occasions when hard working whole-time Members are kept hanging around the Palace of Westminster by a handful of Members, some of them amateurs, inspired by that unique combination of post-prandial high spirits and moral indigation which, late at night, can keep a debate going long after the the topic is exhausted.
Of course I know enough about the tactics of Opposition to realise that no Government can or should reassure their back benchers of a regular predictable early bed. Indeed, I would go further and say that the all-night sitting—despite the ill-esteem it has acquired among the public outside—must remain an essential ingredient of Parliamentary democracy. During the Report stage of the Finance Bill as well as in the three days allocated each session to the Consolidated Fund Bill, private Members have a traditional right to stay up all night in order to worry Ministers, and that right must never be challenged. I think that there come times—maybe they will come this Session—when a Government Measure arouses such profound opposition that the all-night sitting becomes a perfectly legitimate weapon of opposition. What we should seek to prevent is not the deliberate, determined all-night sitting as a method of opposition, but the haphazard late-night sitting dragging on to the early hours. It does not satisfy anybody or do any good.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
We have been regaled with the spectacle in recent months of the Opposition putting down on Report virtually the same Amendments as were put down in Committee, so that the whole Committee stage was dealt with over again. Will there be some means of dealing with that?
§ Mr. Crossman
That is a question that my hon. Friend should not address to the Leader of the House. The question 257 of what is selected for the Report stage is not for me. It is entirely for Mr. Speaker. I do not think that it is anything that I have to intervene in.
So I would sum up this part of my speech by saying that morning sittings, in the form in which we tried them, failed to do their job. I believe that our new combined operation may be more successful. If it is not, we will try again until we get it right.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether his new model of morning sittings will or will not make provision for Divisions or Counts?
§ Mr. Crossman
They will make provision for Divisions, but not for Counts. The Count will stay out after 10 p.m., If we remove Counts after 10 p.m., we remove -hem for the next morning.
I know that up till now all that I have said in this speech will operate, largely, though not entirely, to the convenience of the Government, and its whole-time back bench supporters. I say "though not entirely" because, as I have explained, the proposals for the timetabling of public Bills should give all back bench Members facilities for more balanced scrutiny of Bills; and the proposal to send the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee upstairs will relieve all Members of the burden of frequent night attendance which has been a feature of this Bill.
I now turn to the two other parts of the equation; the improvement of our debates on the floor here and of the scrutiny of the Executive which, as I have often said, Parliament needs to reassert. I come to Standing Order No. 9, etc. Last December, the Select Committee submitted an exceedingly important Report—the Second Report—on urgent and topical debates. Last April, I was urged from both sides of the House to accept this Report at once. In my reply, I emphasised that the Government were in no way opposed to the Report, but I thought we should postpone a final decision until we could read it alongside the Committee's proposals on public Bill procedure.
Well, now we can. We can now balance the aids to speedy and effective 258 Government legislation which the proposed reforms of public Bill procedure will bring against the improved facilities for topical debate and critical scrutiny, which implementation of the main recommendations of the Second Report will bring.
Let me make it clear that this was a radical Report; and although its implementation should greatly increase the opportunities for topical debate and delaying Government business and provide the enterprising back bencher on both sides of the House with more chances to challenge and criticise the Executive, the Government have accepted the Report more or less as it stands as part of their balanced programme of reform.
Plainly, the most important recommendation was the revision of Standing Order No. 9. We have put down a revised Standing Order—which we shall this evening be putting to the House—in the precise terms recommended by the Select Committee. This involves two major departures from the old Standing Order which are designed to get us away from the wordsa definite matter of urgent public importanceand from the body of restrictive precedent which grow up around them. For the words themselves we substitute:A specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration",and in a new paragraph we expressly absolve Mr. Speaker from the requirement to give reasons for his decision. Instead, we suggest that in exercising his discretion under the new Standing Order he should have regard to a criterion which we found in the Canadian Parliament, and which we learn works well there. In Ottawa, it is laid down that a subject can qualify for a debate under this Standing Order only if it appears to the Speaker:to be so pressing that the public interest will suffer if it is not given immediate attention".I think that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will know what I mean when I say that there were a number of subjects which were technically excluded by precedent in the past which clearly should have been debated at once and which from now will be able to be debated straight away.
259 One other important change in our practice will follow from the acceptance of this new Standing Order. At present, an emergency debate must take place between 7 and 10 p.m. on the same day. Under our new Standing Order Mr. Speaker will have the discretion to postpone the debate until 3.30 on the following afternoon. There are some emergency debates where immediacy is the prime requirement. They will continue to take place as now, at 7 on the same evening. But there are others on which an immediate debate often enforces on the Government a cursory, indeed an inadequate, reply whereas postponement for 24 hours will sharpen the issue by giving both sides times to assess the situation and prepare their cases.
I have every hope that our new Standing Order 9 will not only widen the range of topics by a debate being permitted, but deepen the quality of the discussion. Speaking for the Government, I would add that I welcome the reform because wherever the challenge can be effectively answered the Executive will gain and wherever it cannot be the Executive will not deserve to gain. Therefore, we welcome it. It stands as a welcome part of the instrument of Parliamentary democracy.
There are a couple of minor changes which we also accept from the Report of the Select Committee, which recommended that the Opposition should be entitled to earmark for short notice debate four half days out of the 29 Supply days at present available to them. We accept this, too, and are giving effect to it in one of the Amendments we have tabled to Standing Order No. 18, which will secure that the half days so earmarked are to be reasonably spaced over the year.
Finally, may I remind hon. Members that the House has agreed that within the usual allocation of 22 days, more time should be given to Private Members' Bills and less to Private Members' Motions—partly because we are increasing the amount of time for topical debate as a result of amending Standing Order No. 9. This reflects the increasing importance which Private Members' Bills have assumed in the last year or two; and I am pleased to see from the reports so far published about the subjects likely 260 to be selected by Members successful in this year's Ballot that hon. Members are still prepared to come forward with bold proposals for the solution of social problems of the day.
That brings me to the third factor which is the strengthening of the Specialist Committees. One of the major procedural advances we made in consequence of our debate on 14th December last was the setting up for the rest of the past Session of our two new Specialist Committees. One—the Select Committee on Science and Technology—was to consider a major governmental field of activity crossing the lines of departmental responsibility. The other was to consider the activities of a specific Whitehall Department.
I propose that both of these Committees should be renewed. In the case of science and technology, it is clear that this subject Committee satisfies a very important need and should take its place along side the Committee on Nationalised Industries. My feelings on the Agriculture Committee are a little different. The job of the Specialist Committee which investigates a Department of State is quite different from that of a Specialist Committee dealing with a subject. I was interested to see how this work could be tackled once it was clear that policy issues need not be excluded and that Ministers would give evidence in public.
Our original intention was that a Departmental Committee should spend one Session on each Department, and then move on. But, as we all know, the Agriculture Committee got involved in a long and arduous dispute, particularly with the Foreign Office, about the limitations which can reasonably be placed on its functions by the Executive. I myself believe that this argument, as revealed in the Committee's Report, and the Government's reply soon to be published, ended in a very constructive definition of value to all Specialist Committees. However, the result was that the Committee did not manage to cover more than a tiny fraction of the Ministry's activities, and we have therefore proposed that it should spend a second year studying the Ministry of Agriculture before moving to other fields of investigation.
I have been considering what further extensions of the Specialist Committee 261 system we can profitably propose. In this we are obliged to go slowly, not only because of the problem of getting enough Members to man a wider range of Committees of the high quality required, but because of the burden the existence of these Committees puts on the senior members of the Clerks Department. In this latter respect, the House will recall that right at the end of the last Session I was able to announce an agreement with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on the staff structure of the Clerk's Department which facilitated recruitment. But the announcement came too late to influence the first choices of successful entrants to the Civil Service Commission competitions this year, and, in any case, we have to remember that new recruits are not instantly capable of undertaking the full responsibilities of clerking a Select Committee. However, we have been pursuing economies, which have been discussed through the usual channels, in the staffing of certain other Select Committees which will give us a little manpower in hand.
I shall, therefore, propose at the appropriate time that there should be a second Departmental Committee—in this case to study the activities of the Department of Education and Science and the Scottish Education Department, which are not already covered by the Specialist Committee on Science and Technology.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there has been an all-party suggestion that a Select Committee should be created for the tourist industry, and it is supported by the Board of Trade and the Minister of State, and the Prime Minister has been approached. But the difficulty here is that it is an industry that is covered by five or six Departments. Could not that suggestion be considered as a matter of great urgency?
§ Mr. Crossman
We have had very great pressure from both sides on education. Both sides have thought that school education should not be neglected by Specialist Committees.
I also hope to come forward very shortly with the Select Committee's other proposal on Public Bills, to which I did not refer when I was discussing the general content of this Report. This is the recom- 262 mendation in paragraph 14 of the Report that in future regular use should be made of ad hoc committees to study and report on specific topics of possible legislation referred to them. One such topic is under consideration at the moment, and I hope to make a firm proposal very soon.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Why has Scotland been neglected in the appointment of these Specialist Committees? Is my right hon. Friend aware that at the present time there is great demand for greater Scottish power for Scottish Members?
§ Mr. Crossman
Perhaps I spoke too quickly for my hon. Friend, but I pointed out that the Committee on Education would specifically cover Scotland. If I had my way, it would always cover Scotland, but I would have to get agreement with the Scots.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
Would my right hon. Friend at this early stage try to distinguish between the Committees he wishes to set up, which we all support, and the Select Committees? Could we not have different names? The functions of, say, the Select Committee on Procedure, and the way it works—it has private hearings—distinguishes it very markedly from the kind of Committees set up to investigate Departments.
§ Mr. Crossman
What we are setting up is a Committee with the full august authority of a Select Committee. It is true that the Select Committee on Procedure is being used for different purposes—to discuss policy which it did not discuss before—in a way which was not done by the Public Accounts Committee or the Estimates Committee. But the structure and powers of the Committee are in that sense identical with those of previous Select Committees.
I must complete this survey of our procedural proposals by mentioning three further changes which do not fit into any of my three categories. The first relates to the broadcasting of our proceedings. I need not recall what happened last winter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I put the proposals of the Select Committee to the House and asked it to approve a closed circuit experiment in live radio and television. To many of us this decision by a single vote was a disappointment, but I have tried to use the period of delay to useful purpose.
263 I have been wondering whether we should not follow the course advised by the B.B.C. in its original recommendation, namely, that an experiment in closed-circuit radio should precede an experiment in television—piping a continuous live broadcast of our proceedings to a number of points where it could be listened to, not by the general public but by Members only; and that the B.B.C. would supply a small staff to prepare, experimentally, recordings with live extracts from speeches which would be played back at night in rooms where only Members could listen to them. After the experiment had run for a sufficient time the House would then be asked to come to a decision on whether the service should be permanent and available to the public.
I do not want to push the House into a hasty decision: I merely mention it this afternoon so that if it meets with the approval of hon. Members I can put down a Motion after both our procedural debates are over, and when hon. Members have had time to think it over and decide whether or not it is too adventurous for this House when the House of Lords is conducting this sort of experiment.
The last two of these miscellaneous proposals, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are both on the Order Paper for decision tonight. The first refers to Mr. Speaker himself. In view of our experience last July, I need hardly remind the House that under our present procedure the Speaker, and only the Speaker, is allowed to accept the Closure Motion. We have felt for some time that this is an excessive burden on one man. We have therefore tabled an Amendment to Standing Order No. 31 which will enable his Deputy to accept a closure Motion during a Report stage. I should hope that the whole House would agree that this is a reasonable lightening of the heavy burden which rests on the Speaker.
Finally, as the last item of this long procedural repast—a savoury morsel, or is it really a Christmas cracker?—I refer to Clerks' wigs and gowns. I have received representations urging that the practice of wearing wigs and gowns at the Table is a recent accretion to the traditions of the House which has the disadvantage of creating the impression 264 in the public mind that the Clerk is some kind of lawyer, or is dressed up in fancy dress.
Since strong views are held by individual Clerks on this matter—not all of them identical—I have gone into it with some care, and have confirmed my impression that, in fact, the practice could be abandoned by the Clerks collectively or individually without any decision of the House. But, for good and obvious reasons, the Clerks, whatever their opinion on the matter, unanimously feel that they would prefer the dispute to be decided by Resolution of this House. I have, therefore, tabled a Motion which will enable a decision to be taken and, having done this, I feel that I can leave it absolutely free to Members to make up their own minds. I make it perfectly clear that I am absolutely neutral as Leader of the House. The Clerks have asked us to decide this for them and it would be courteous for the House to come to a decision. I shall not vote on it because I want to show strict neutrality.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If the Clerks are to be allowed this privilege, why should it not be extended to Mr. Speaker?
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
Is this one of the non-controversial matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? It is the first time I have heard of it and I think there will be a lot of discussion on it.
§ Mr. Crossman
It was not considered non-controversial, but, after the explanation, I thought the House would feel that this was not something which should be foisted on the Clerks by the House, but something on which the House should make up its mind and decide upon.
That concludes this survey of the procedural changes comprised—
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
In connection with the question of the Clerks and their wigs, would the right hon. Gentleman kindly explain what happened about this in the Select Committee on Procedure? He has given no explanation how this came before the Committee and what decision was taken. He just rushes it in without the House 265 of Commons having heard of it before—
§ Dame Irene Ward
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to continue? He is generally quite polite. I should like him to give an explanation on this because we should like to hear about it. I think he owes it to the House to say what the Select Committee did on the matter and not just toss it in.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. What I will do is to make sure that my right hon. Friend the First Secretary when he winds up—
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Lady has asked me a question and I want to make sure that she has an accurate answer. I was not present in the Select Committee. I have just had a sotto voce communication from the Chairman of the Committee. I have nothing to conceal.
I should like to say one thing in conclusion. I hope that hon. Members will agree that in working out the proposed changes I have tried to achieve a fair balance of our three mutual and consistent aims, making public business more efficient, improving the quality of the topicality of our debates, and strengthening scrutiny; because, basically, these 20 Motions carry out the main body of reforms which we feel follow logically from the Select Committee's Sixth Report.
There is one thing I should perhaps add before I sit down. In their Reports and in Motions we have drafted upon that basis, the Select Committee and I have of course assumed that Parliamentary reform must be limited to the House of Commons. True enough, I concluded my speech last April with the words:Parliamentary reform, if it is to be thorough and pervasive, cannot be limited to a single House.I went on to say that I acceptedthe need for the reform of Parliament as a whole—lot reform in compartments."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 606.]I was in fact surprised last April when no one took me up on this point since I had already, months before, come to 266 the conclusion not only that the reform of our own House must be lopsided so long as we disregard the other place, but also that there will be very real functional advantages to be gained by changing its powers and composition in such a way that its work could become a useful complement to our own. A year in this job has made me realise much more than I did before that, however much we improve our procedures, we shall always need a second Chamber of scrutiny and revision. That seems to me to be true whether we look at the problem from the point of view of the Government, the Opposition or the individual back bencher concerned with the defence of liberty.
For example, I am pretty sure that the examination of delegated legislation could be far better done than at present. Here is a field which now occupies many of our night hours and which could he lightened by the kind of work sharing which reform of the other place will make possible for the first time. Here I suggest may lie the scope for the next main advance in Commons procedure, a reexamination of our working habits side by side with those of a reformed upper House. In view of the Bill relating to this problem which was announced in the Queen's Speech, we may expect that in our next Session the two Chambers of our reformed Parliament may be able to apply themselves jointly to the task of integrated Parliamentary reform.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral) rose—
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us are in some difficulty. We would like to have your guidance about what we are discussing on this Motion. The Leader of the House has referred to some of the other Motions on the Order Paper. He has mentioned that he proposes to put before the House by way of vote 12 of them. We are still left in the dark as to (a) what we are discussing on the present Motion and (b) which of the Motions are to be put to a vote at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
This debate will proceed on the Motion. That the House takes note of these five Reports. Therefore, anything will be in order which arises from those Reports. When we have 267 finished that debate it will be open for the Leader of the House to move any other Motion standing in his name.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
On that point of order. We want to get this quite clear. I think the Leader of the House will confirm that we have received an undertaking that there will be no Division on any of these matters tonight, that any which are objected to will be taken on a subsequent occasion, and that they will be debated seriatim then.
§ Mr. Crossman
I thought that what we had agreed was to put the non-controversial Motions seriatim this evening. I know from experience that I cannot predict what every back bencher will do, but we know what we would like to do.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Further to that point of order. Some of these Motions I shall certainly advise my hon. Friends to accept and we might get through those tonight, but there are others which I would not accept. Those, I take it, will be dealt with on a subsequent occasion. That is the basis on which we have been proceeding.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am just reflecting aloud. That seems a perfectly sensible suggestion. I thought that what we would do today was to list the least controversial and take them seriatim, but if anyone wants to vote on them tonight, I have no objection to having a Division tonight on anything which is objected to. It would be a free vote.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of the debate I understood Mr. Speaker to put formally Motion No. 1, and I understood that we passed it formally. It should be recorded that we passed it and in effect we then passed to the remainder with the Leader of the House, I suppose formally, moving Motion No. 2 to facilitate the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think the hon. Member is in error. As I understand, the Motion which the House accepted without debate was that the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Reports be now 268 considered. We are now discussing Motion No. 1 which is that the House takes note of the Reports.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is not the most important question, but I am concerned that after this Second Reading discussion we should take the Motions, seriatim and then go on to the next. I had understood that we would take the Motions and if anyone objected we would take the objection, but I am willing to consider the alternative. I did not know that there had been the suggestion made, but if the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) will give me a few minutes to consider it I will give him an answer.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
You have given a Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we can discuss only matters included in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure, but in fact Motions 14 to 16 are not recommendations of the Committee on Procedure but proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. He has been explaining his views for some time upon them. Surely we would be in order to give our views upon them also?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) is perfectly right. It will be perfectly possible to debate any of the subsequent Motions whether they flow directly or indirectly from the Report of the Select Committee. Mr. Selwyn Lloyd.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
There is quite a lot of ground to be covered this afternoon. Therefore, I do not propose to get involved in a whole lot of the wider issues which the Leader of the House raised about the Parliamentary terms, and so on. I join the right hon. Gentleman in his congratulations to the Select Committee for its hard work, on its sound sense, on the whole, and on its desire to change for the better, where practicable, the procedures of the House. I do so with a greater warmth because I myself was a member of the Select Committee. I join in the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to our Clerk.
The right hon. Gentleman surrounded his proposals with a lot of oratorical 269 ornamentation. He put forward his proposals in rather more flamboyant terms than I think that they deserve. Some are common ground, I should have thought. Others are unimportant, but nevertheless undesirable. There are some which are very bad indeed.
What I think that we have to try to get into the right hon. Gentleman's head is the realisation that change is not necessarily reform. There is a sort of mystical belief about that the position of the House of Commons today compares unfavourably with its stature in 1867, a hundred years ago, that the House of Commons then was supreme, that Ministers shook with fright when back benchers spoke to them, and that the Executive was cowed, timid and subservient.
In fact, that is a lot of nonsense. The House of Commons is much more powerful today than it was then. I do not believe that Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli were in any way terrified by their hack benchers. The Executive at that time—for example, the War Office—was a law unto itself. The only difference was that there was less of the Executive then.
In this current mood of running everything down, I think that criticism of the House of Commons and of its procedure has gone beyond reason. Of course it has its faults. One of the principal faults at present is the composition of the House. We can steadily and quietly improve and adapt our procedures, but we have to be certain that it is improvement. It is in this spirit that I propose to examine the right hon. Gentleman's proliferation of Motions. I shall do it, I am afraid, in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper, because I think that this will be an easier way of understanding what we really are discussing.
Motion No. 2 concerns Second Reading Committees. This will turn an experiment, which was covered by a Sessional Order for about one and a half Sessions, into the form of a Standing Order. We believe that this has been a success. It was used twice, I think, in the 1965–66 Session and seven times in the 1966–67 Session. We support it, and I would advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to allow this Motion to go through.
270 An undertaking was given at some time that the reports of the proceedings of these Second Reading Committees would be included in the daily HANSARD. If we do dispense with a Second Reading on the Floor of the House, it is important that what happens in the Second Reading Committee should appear in the daily HANSARD.
Motion No. 3 concerns Standing Order No. 5 dealing with the precedence of Government business. The Motion is designed to allow private Members to present their Bills by proxy. This, again, is a proposal with which I agree. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree to it this evening.
Motion No. 4 concerns Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading). This follows the Sixth Report of the Selection Committee. In the case of a reasoned Amendment, there will be a second Division after there has been a Division on the reasoned Amendment, except when the Amendment is, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months". That will be treated as a direct negative, and there will be only one Division. This, again, is a sensible arrangement. I suggest that my right hon. and hon. Friends should support it.
Motion No. 5 concerns Questions on Amendments. This will be a simplified way of putting Amendments. I think that this, again, is a sound proposal and should be supported.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
How, then, would the House deal with a situation where hon. Members wished to vote one way on one part of a Question and the other on another part? For instance, I think that on the Abortion Bill an occasion arose when hon. Members wished to vote against the Question "That the words proposed to be left out stand part" but against the words which it was proposed should be inserted.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
That is a question of which I would want notice. I should want to consult my advisers. I think that the First Secretary of State might deal with that question when the time comes. I should not be at all certain that I would give the right answer.
The sixth Motion concerns the consideration on Report of certain Bills by 271 a Committee. This is a new Standing Order. The Select Committee was unanimous about it. It applies only to Bills sent to a Second Reading Committee or to the Scottish Grand Committee. Twenty Members can object to this being done. I note with interest that the Government envisage up to 80 Members serving on such a Committee, which is to deal with Bills of minor importance. I shall return to this point in connection with something else.
I do not agree with the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). This is the thin end of a wedge which I personally would like not to see inserted. Provided that that Amendment is not carried, I shall be prepared to support Motion No. 6.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
That is a question which the First Secretary of State must clear up. I could not agree to this Motion if the Amendment were accepted. If the Amendment is not carried, I will agree with the Motion and advise my right hon. and hon. Friends so to do.
Motion No. 7 concerns Standing Order No. 9. We went into this very carefully on the Select Committee. We are pleased that the Government have accepted our recommendation. We are rather disappointed, however, that there is no Motion to approve our Report on this matter, because we believe, from Mr. Speaker's evidence, that he wanted very clear help from the House as to how he should try to administer this new Standing Order. We say this in paragraph 7 of our Report:Your Committee have in mind a return to roughly the frequency which obtained in the early years of the century, when an average of five debates a Session took place, though this should not be taken as intended to restrict Mr. Speaker's discretion unduly.I think that it is important for me to read paragraphs 8 to 10 also, although it would not have been necessary for me to have done so if the Government had approved our Report. Paragraph 8, which I read to make it quite clear that we are accepting the new procedure on the basis of our recommendations in the Report, says: 272Each word in the phrase 'definite matter of urgent public importance' has come to acquire a special significance in the light of past rulings, examples of which are given in Erskine May (pp. 362–69). Together these rulings amount to a formidable obstacle to the Member applying to make use of the standing order. There are certain specific relaxations that Your Committee consider should be made. They recommend that it should be possible to debate a matter which, although not of current ministerial responsibility, could be made so by legislation or administrative action, including intervention in overseas affairs. They consider that matters involving the ordinary administration of the law (ibid, p. 366) should be capable of being raised, though not any matter that is sub judice. They consider that in applying the rule of urgency the likelihood (as opposed to the theoretical possibility) of the matter being able to be raised in time by other means should be taken into account.9. By extending the standing order to cover subjects in which there is either an actual or a potential Government interest, Your Committee do not consider that they would be opening the floodgates to an unlimited number of debates, so long as the test of urgency is properly applied. This they believe can only be satisfactorily done by granting Mr. Speaker wide discretion in its interpretation and at the same time providing in the standing order that he shall not state the reasons for his decisions.This is more than a request to Mr. Speaker that he should not state his reasons. We felt that it should, with great respect to the Chair, be of a mandatory nature, that he shall not state his reasons.
This part of our Report continues:Your Committee are aware that Mr. Speaker is not obliged to state his reasons at present. They consider, however, that explanations tend to add to the force of precedent, thus diminishing the scope of the standing order.10. In order to relieve Mr. Speaker of the need to be bound by previous interpretations of the standing order Your Committee propose that the test of a 'definite matter or urgent public importance' should be replaced by one of a 'specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration'. They consider that when the revised standing order is passed the Rouse should at the same time resolve to approve this Report, thus giving Mr. Speaker authority to interpret the revised standing order in the light of the relaxations specifically recommended above, while bearing in mind the undesirability of debates under the order becoming too frequent and disruptive.I felt that it was important to read that passage from our Report into the record so that Mr. Speaker should know exactly where he is.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has 273 explained the point very clearly. However, as I was not a member of the Select Committee I am left in some doubt as an ordinary Member of the House as to what will happen to all the precedents which are so frequently quoted by Mr. Speaker. If Mr. Speaker is to give a decision without stating reasons, does it mean that all the precedents which are recorded in Erskine May will be null and void?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I am grateful to the hon. Member for interrupting because it is important to get this point absolutely clear. The idea of producing a new form of words was to sweep away all the precedents. There will be no precedents governing Mr. Speaker's discretion in these matters for the future. I think that flows from the new Standing Order, and I hope, therefore, that we shall pass that tonight.
With regard to Motion No. 8 dealing with the Closure of debates, we agree to that. I think there is too great a burden on Mr. Speaker and that it is right to allow Mr. Deputy Speaker to be able to put the Closure.
Motion No. 9 dealing with Statutory Instruments is one which I cannot advise my hon. Friends to accept. It has not even got the safeguards in it which exist at present for Prayers. Under Standing Order No. 100, in the case of Prayers, Mr. Speaker only has to put the Question if he—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is the wrong one."]. I will not waste the time of the House on that point, but I thought there was a provision relating to Prayers whereby Mr. Speaker could, if he was of the opinion that the matter had not been sufficiently discussed, allow the debate to continue. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is Motion 18."] I think it is important that that reservation should be made. In any case, I do not think it is right that matters of such importance as are covered by the affirmative Resolution procedure should have this time limit.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
With respect, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is confused about Motion No. 9. It has nothing to do with the time limit on affirmative Resolutions. It has to do with the kind of Statutory Instruments that the Select Committee will be allowed to discuss. As a matter of fact, I hoped that he would agree to that one.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I beg pardon. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is correct, and I think that this Motion is quite right—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Would my right hon. and learned Friend allow me? He says "This Motion is quite right", but I see on the Order Paper an Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). In view of my hon. Friend's experience, I would not agree to this Motion unless his Amendment were accepted.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
My right hon. Friend took the words out of my mouth. I was about to say that I think the Motion is right provided my hon. Friend's Amendment is accepted, allowing the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments also to report if the drafting appears to be defective. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment.
Then we come to Motion No. 10, concerning the business of Supply, embodying the idea of the four half days. I think this is a good idea. It is part of the idea to have more time for topical debates. What I am not certain about are the powers of the Opposition in this matter. When we discussed it, it was on the basis that the Opposition would be allowed to ask the Government at short notice to insert into their business a half day. It would be unreasonable to expect the Government to do this at less than 24 hours' notice. But for some reason that idea of the 24 hours' notice has been omitted and no period is given. As I read the Motion, it can be done the day before, up to half-past 10 o'clock at night. I think that is asking too much. However, in giving this 24 hours' notice, I think this must be a right of the Opposition to get the half day. There must be no question of debating whether they get it or not. There must be a right to have the half day, provided that 24 hours' notice is given.
§ Mr. Crossman
If they are reasonably spaced over the year. That is the other provision to which I understood we agreed.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I think we can accept that it should occur about every two months. I was going to say "not more than one a month", but, in the accommodating spirit which I always 275 display, I agree that it should be every two months to begin with. I should like that point made clear.
Then I come to Motion No. 12, relating to the Question whether the Lords Amendments shall be considered. There is a case for retaining the right to divide on that Question.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Motion No. 11 is, I am told, purely technical and there is no point on that at all. That is a question of drafting and I think it should go through.
On Motion No. 12, there is, I think, an argument for retaining the right to divide, but on balance, perhaps, we should have confidence in the Chair. If Lords Amendments are brought forward under totally unreasonable circumstances without any chance or time for their being properly considered, I would think the Chair would accept a dilatory Motion and there would be a Division on that basis. Very rarely have I heard this question raised or voted upon, and I would think that this would be a good enough safeguard. I would not vote against Motion No. 12.
Then I come to Motion No. 13 relating to Amendments on Third Reading. It reads:The question for the Third Reading of a public bill shall be put without debate unless notice has been given by pot less than six Members of an amendment to the question or of a motion that the question be not put forthwith.Again I recommend my hon. Friends to accept that Motion. It appears to me that the provision for objection by six Members is a sufficient safeguard. So long as six Members can object, no harm is done by allowing that Motion to go through.
I am against the proposal in Motion No. 14 on the question of wigs and gowns. However, as it will be debated on a subsequent occasion I do not think it is necessary for me to give my reasons.
Motion No. 15, dealing with Standing Order No. 30 and counting, is quite illogical. If we are to have a rule for attendance during one part of the day, why should it automatically be changed at 10 o'clock at night? I can under 276 stand the relaxation of rules at times when people are normally having their meals, but otherwise it seems quite illogical. There might be a case—I do not accept that it is right—for doing away with counts altogether, but I cannot see a case for dividing pre-10 p.m. and post-10 p.m. Therefore, I would not support that Motion.
I will deal with Motion No. 16 separately because that relates to the question of the Finance Bill going into Standing Committee upstairs. Motion No. 17 deals with the voluntary timetable, which is part of the same matter.
Motion No. 18—about which I made my mistake earlier—concerns exempted business and the putting of the Question on an affirmative Resolution within an hour and a half. I do not see how that Motion can possibly be accepted. It has not got the safeguards of Mr. Speaker being allowed to prolong the debate if he thinks there has not been adequate discussion. In any case, an hour and a half could not possibly be accepted as the right time in which to deal with matters of such importance as affirmative Resolutions cover. Therefore, I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against that.
On Motion No. 19—Sittings of the House—I shall say more later.
Then I come to Motion No. 20 dealing with Standing Order No. 68 (Attendance of Law Officers in Standing Committees), which suggests that other Ministers besides Law Officers should be able to attend the Finance Bill Committee; I shall seek to resist this proposal. In any case, I do not agree that the Finance Bill should be taken in Standing Committee upstairs.
Going very quickly—perhaps too quickly—through the itemised Motions, I come to the three which I think deserve most comment today. First of all, I am strongly opposed to sending the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee. It is a Standing Committee consisting of only 50 Members. I have already said that uncontroversial Bills are sent to a Standing Committee of 80 Members. In any case, whether it is 50 or 80 Members, I am opposed to it.
Reference has been made to Lord Butler's memorandum. It is true to say that of four Conservative Leaders of the House, one—Lord Butler—took this 277 view. But he put forward a rather different proposal. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Appendix to the 1959 Report, he will see that Lord Butler was saying that if the Bill were sent upstairs it would give rise to a number of practical difficulties. He said:It is virtually certain that a single Standing Committee would not be able to deal adequately with the Bill in the relatively short period available. This difficulty could be overcome if the Standing Committee were to operate through two (or perhaps three) sub-committees. It should not be difficult to split the Bill into two or more parts according to the different taxes concerned. The Standing Committee might itself be responsible for dividing the Bill…That is a completely different conception. Whether it was very practical, I do not know. But that is not the proposition which we are being asked to examine today. Therefore, I do not think that Lord Butler's evidence bears out the right hon. Gentleman's case.
I have always favoured the variant that a Bill with very technical parts might be divided and that sections of it might be sent to a Standing Committee. However, when we went into the matter in the Select Committee, I found that the matters in the two Bills for which I was responsible which I regarded as technical and therefore suitable to send upstairs had taken a very short time on the Floor of the House. Therefore, I was shaken about whether it was practical or worth while to divide the Bill, because the technical, administrative matters go through pretty quickly on the Floor of the House.
However, if the Finance Bill were loaded with a lot of administrative, tax consolidation and technical Clauses, those parts might be dealt with by a Standing Committee. But I am utterly opposed to the general principle of sending the whole Bill upstairs. It is immensely important that the House should seek to continue to control taxation both as to the amount and as to the method of raising taxes. New taxes are more important than most of the other matters which come before us.
Take Corporation Tax. I am not saying whether it is good or bad but its long-term effect on the economy and on investment overeas and at home and the effect of Capital Gains Tax on our society, the position of close companies, the regulator, 278 the reform of Purchase Tax, an added value tax, a wealth tax, and the balance between direct and indirect taxation are all matters of supreme importance in the development of our economy and society. These are structural changes, to use the Prime Minister's current alibi, and as such should be given the fullest scrutiny at each stage on the Floor of the House.
The House of Commons can influence these matters. It is dealing with real things and what it puts in an Act of Parliament does, on the whole, happen. We may debate foreign affairs and all sorts of other matters, but action does not flow from those debates. In this case, action flows from the decisions taken. It is therefore very important that the Bill should be considered on the Floor of the House.
It suits the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have the Bill sent upstairs. He need not appear. The rows will be muted; the publicity will be nominal. With only one-twelfth of the Members of the House serving on the Committee, it will be plain sailing, particularly with the threat of a guillotine if anybody makes trouble. It will tend to stifle minorities in a sphere in which they can have real influence, because one cannot have much minority representation in a committee of 50. It will be convenient for Ministers and the Administration, but it will be bad for Parliament and a loss of power for Parliament as a whole.
It also weakens the power of the Opposition. It makes it much more difficult to raise a Parliamentary storm about some iniquity of the Government in the fiscal field. Representations from outside, without support on the Floor of the House, are much less effective. The Press, radio and television will be distracted to other matters, and what is happening upstairs will not be news to anything like the same extent.
It will be most unsatisfactory in practice. It will occupy the time of the Members of the Standing Committee for a full month to the exclusion of all else. I do not know whether this is a little bit of Machiavellian deviousness. Perhaps those who take a Left-wing view of foreign affairs will be incarcerated in the Finance Committee. The hon. Members on the Committee will not be able to take any part in the ordinary work of 279 the House. It is unfair on them and a loss to the House.
We have heard talk about more general debates. The time supposed to be saved on the Floor of the House will very soon be used for Government business. The lengthening of the Report stage does not meet the objections, because the Report stage of the Finance Bill is the last chance; there is no revision in another place. As for the Patronage Secretary's idea, I am not sure whether this will be part of the proposal. In his evidence he indicated that the Bill might come back to the Floor of the House, after having been in Committee, and be recommitted. Then there would be another Committee stage on the Floor of the House for a couple of days, then an interval and then the Report stage. That would not make anything but a shambles of our procedure.
This animal—the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs—is by ministerial convenience out of academic theory, and it ought to be shot.
I come now to Motion No. 17 which deals with voluntary timetables. There are two proposals. Paragraph (1,a) is a new guillotine procedure. If there is no agreement on a timetable, the Business Committee can be asked to fix one after a debate limited to two hours. The Business Committee's report is not debatable. I see no real advantage in this. The Business Committee is not the Government—that in theory might be better. The Government might lose a day because the Business Committee might give a day more. But they would pick up most of it by shortening the debate. I do not see the point of this proposal.
Paragraph (1,b) deals with the situation in which a general agreement is working ineffectively. I agree with the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that the Minister should not be the person to say whether it is working ineffectively.
The whole of this proposal is based on a compromise suggestion put forward by me in the Select Committee on Procedure to avoid the Finance Bill being sent upstairs. The House will remem- 280 ber the argument. I suggested that, except on rare occasions, the Finance Bill could be disposed of without unreasonable inconvenience by informal agreement. It happened in 1961 and 1962 with my Bills, although there was quite a lot of controversial material in them. I wanted that to continue.
Again, being fair-minded, I recognised that it was reasonable for the Government to have a long-stop in case the informal agreement broke down. That was the whole purport of the second part. It was unanimously agreed by the Select Committee and it became a Sessional Order last Session. Under that Order, all went well this year during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. There was an informal agreement. The House was not kept late. In view of this, the Government have acted shabbily in resurrecting this proposal to send the Bill upstairs. We will oppose this Motion.
I come to morning sittings. It is a very good thing to be magnanimous in victory—parcere subjectis and all that sort of thing. Since I heard that the right hon. Gentleman was abandoning this great reform—he called it a reform again today—of the House's procedures by instituting Monday and Wednesday morning sittings, I have tried to be kind to him. I referred to it as an experiment which the right hon. Gentleman had been wise enough to abandon. We foretold its utter failure. It was half-baked from the word "go". It put a grave burden on Mr. Speaker and the servants of the House and achieved nothing. There was the totally spurious claim today about the business which the Government got through in the mornings. But they would have got it through much more quickly in the evenings after 10 o'clock.
Now, to save face, and to propitiate the "morning sittings boys", we have this extraordinary suggestion that at a moment's notice a Minister should be able to move to suspend the sitting until the following morning. At midnight, the Minister loses his temper. The slumbering hordes in the tea room wake up. They want another party meeting or to go home or to draft another anti-Government motion. The Patronage Secretary loses his nerve, and the sitting is suspended until 10 o'clock the next morning. What about the servants of the House? What about Mr. Speaker, and the 281 Clerks? What about the members of the Standing Committees who have been summoned for that morning? What about the parties of school children and others which have been prearranged for a long time who go round the House of Commons? What about the engagements of hon. Members, the Press and the wretched Ministers with other duties to do who are brought back to the House? The result will be confusion, inconvenience, discourtesy, the breaking of engagements at the last moment and more irritation with Parliament.
What jam for the Opposition! The right hon. Gentleman can only have put forward this proposal in the belief that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will shortly begin a long period in opposition. If it was not that I really care about Parliament, as we are in opposition I suppose that I should not oppose this proposal. But I do care about Parliament. We have been talking about wigs and gowns, but perhaps caps and bells are more appropriate.
We should try to resist it, but the temptation for Opposition Members to force the Government to invoke the Standing Order will be difficult to resist. It will be asking for the lengthening of proceedings at night, and a small team could easily do that. We have had reference to a small team of the Labour Party doing it to us in connection with Statutory Instruments. In the morning, a new, fresh and small team will be able to make its appearance, perhaps with some more elderly Members included, and we will get the same jaded and irritated Ministers, with whom one cannot but have sympathy.
However, I eagerly look forward to what will happen. It will make fools of Ministers and the Leader of the House. I do not mind that, but it will be bad for the House of Commons. The Leader of the House showed an extraordinary lack of confidence in this proposal when he suggested that he did not think it would be used very much but that it would be a deterrent. It will be a deterrent—not for the Opposition but for the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has done it with his tongue in his cheek, in exactly the way he insisted on Monday morning sittings, realising that that was the best way to dispose of that form of sitting.
282 I have taken too much of the time of the House, but I have tried to indicate what we shall do. We shall certainly oppose that proposal. Without going into all the wider matters, the package in the shape of the savoury morsel of which the Leader of the House spoke, is like the curate's egg. It is good in parts, but some of it is very bad indeed.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
As a comparatively new Member, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the debate on procedure. Conscious of my limitations, having come only recently to the House, I should like to say how greatly I enjoyed my membership last Session of the Select Committee on Procedure and that before coming to this House I spent a number of years lecturing on government and studying Commons procedure from outside.
Having arrived here, I found the problems very much as I expected them. It was depressingly clear that since the war few major changes had taken place in our procedure. On rereading the debates which had taken place in the years since the war, it was apparent that the same problems had been posed which have been posed in many previous debates and even again today—that the Executive was too powerful in relation to legislature, that public esteem of Parliament was low, and so on. I was delighted to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) point out that that was not the case. I hope that he will persuade some of his right hon. and hon. Friends also to take that view, because I have a slight suspicion that some of them might be using this as a means of suggesting that suddenly, because a Labour Government are in power, Parliament's powers have become less. I was glad to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that that myth of Parliament was not true.
In the 1959 debate, an hon. Member expressed the hope that young Members would use their youthful exuberance in their desire to equip the House properly and adequately for its business. That seems to me to be the heart of the problem, because whether we be young or old Members the procedural changes which we are trying to bring about are allied to the tasks which we believe that the House should fulfil.
283 I suggest that the reason why little change has taken place since the war is that there has been a fundamental difference of opinion about what the House should do and about the rôle of the House and of its Members. Only over the last year have we begun to see considerable changes taking place. I would like to pay my own tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the fact that he has recognised this and has stood up to considerable criticism for some of the reforms which he has introduced.
Our concern on procedure is to look at two particular tasks which the House has to carry out if it is to be an effective Chamber. First, it should be geared to allow hon. Members to influence the formulation of policies and legislation and to act as an effective check on the Government. Secondly, notwithstanding that, the Government must be able to govern. If we accept those two important tasks, there are other questions which should also be taken into account.
Government is becoming increasingly complex. Therefore, I am concerned that the procedure of the House should be so arranged that the influence which experts have in our administrative procedures should be considered alongside the part that hon. Members can play in considering what advice they give to Ministers. And unless hon. Members have access to information, research and better institutional opportunities, they are unable to play that important part in formulating policy and legislation.
I suggest also that the time taken in getting Government business through the House is inordinately long simply because Oppositions have believed that their only weapon against the power of the Executive—which, I accept, is important—is the length of time which they have to oppose Government Measures. We have seen this again this evening in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral. In the way he has reacted to the various proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend, he has been concerned with the length of time which the Opposition should have to criticise rather than the effectiveness with which they use the time that is available to them. It is with those general points in mind that I should like 284 to consider some of the proposals which are now before the House.
It is gratifying to me as a member of the Select Committee to find that when we put forward our proposals, people take notice of them and recommend them to the House. I am particularly glad, as, I am sure, the whole House will be, at the acceptance of the Committee's recommendations concerning Standing Order No. 9. I have noticed the great feeling which is evident in the House. In the Select Committee, we were very much made aware of the great breadth of precedent which was weighing down Mr. Speaker in his interpretation of Standing Order No. 9. It is, therefore, right for us to start virtually again.
I am surprised that there should be difficulties concerning the allocation of time to Bills. If the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral is prepared to accept the arrangement for the Finance Bill this year, I am surprised that this general principle does not find agreement for other Bills also. I hope, therefore, that the difficulty can be overcome.
Reference has been made to the comparatively small point concerning the wearing of wigs and gowns by the Clerks. I was a little surprised at the Amendment by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page):when attending in the House according to their duty, in order to signalise their independence as servants of the House".With respect, I would suggest to the hon. Member that, although it was not intended, it could be taken as a suggestion that, if the Clerks of the House were not wearing those wigs, they would not be independent. I am sure the hon. Member did not mean that. I am sure, also, that it is a small matter not requiring any great constitutional battle between the two sides.
I turn to two other points which fit in with the general thesis which I have been trying to put about the position of back benchers and the position of the Executive. It seems to me that the Opposition, again, are making a great deal out of the Finance Bill going into Committee upstairs. From my short experience as a Member, and from my reading of the debates before I came here, I think it is true to say that by no stretch of the imagination can the Committee on the 285 Finance Bill be talked about as being a great debate between the two sides, with great issues being debated, and tremendous Press coverage, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman was suggesting.
Surely the detailed examination of the Bill can be quite satisfactorily, and, indeed, much more expeditiously, carried out in Committee upstairs, consequently leaving time on the Floor of the House for more general issues. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that a lot of the time which would be saved would likely go to the Government for Government business, is he really suggesting that all Government business should be opposed or that all Government business is bad? Surely there are many sensible measures which the Opposition can agree with, and which could usefully be gone into while the Finance Bill is in Committee upstairs? I hope that the Opposition will think again about this, especially bearing in mind the extra time there would be on Report, of three or four days. I would not have thought there to be any great problem here, and hon. Members will have every opportunity to put forward any points they may wish at that stage.
Again, as I tried to point out earlier, it seems to me that we have seen this last year a considerable number of far-reaching reforms which, as the years go on, will change the whole character of this place, and, in my view, change it for the better. In particular I refer to the Specialist Committees already set up. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that we shall see a further extension of these. I hope that in the very near future we shall see at least two or three further Specialist Committees set up, because I believe that this is the best way in which any suggestion of the Executive having inordinate control over Parliament can be counteracted.
I suggest that these reforms which we are discussing now affect much wider issues as well as those which I have already mentioned. I would point out two of them which seem to me very important. I think hon. Members opposite do Parliament some disserve when they pour scorn on the attempts of the Leader of the House to get the House up earlier than has been the case in the past. I think 286 they do Parliament a disservice because the general public do not understand—and, I believe, rightly do not understand—why night after night we spend hours here beyond midnight.
I quite appreciate and accept the point made by my right hon. Friend that there are occasions when it may be necessary for the House to go all night. As he said, there is the Consolidated Fund Bill, when hon. Members want to badger Ministers all night. That is fair enough, and quite right, but it seems to me that his attempts to see that we finish at a more reasonable hour are attempts which the general public accept as necessary. I would even go so far as to suggest that in many ways the general public are more likely to think less of Parliament as an institution by seeing us work through the night, because they will argue, rightly or wrongly, that people cannot do their best work at that time. They are more likely to consider that a reason for being against Parliament as an institution than some of those other reasons which, perhaps, we in the House would feel are more important.
I think, further, that on this whole issue of confidence by the electorate in Parliament—a confidence which is not as low, in my view, as has been suggested by some Members—that that confidence can be improved if, alongside the revision of our hours of work so that they are more sensible, there were to be further measures for a rapprochement between Parliament and the people. I welcome therefore the suggestion which my right hon. Friend has tenatively put forward this afternoon that we should have a limited experiment with broadcasting. I personally was one of those who voted in favour of an experiment with TV and I hope this will also come about soon.
It is my belief that, the changes in our procedure are altering the whole character of this place, and we are moving towards a position where the full-time Member of Parliament is the person to whom the whole of our procedure must be geared. Some people may regret this, but I think it is a fact, and, to my mind, it is a very sensible arrangement for running a Parliament, for the simple reason that, as I tried to suggest earlier, as Government itself becomes more and more complex, so, if Members of this House are to do their 287 job properly on the lines I have suggested, it is only by spending the majority of their time here that they can possibly do that. Of course, we recognise that within the House the people who are engaged on the Front Bench, and all Ministers, are, to all intents and purposes, full-time Members of Parliament.
When hon. Members suggest that we want outside experience coming in, and when they talk of the valuable experience which this House gains through the part-time Member, I wish they would be rather more specific as to whom they are talking about. The fact is that when we have talked about lawyers, about journalists, and about part-time business men, we have really covered most of the people who can spare the extra time to do two jobs. For vast numbers of people there is no possibility, if they come to this House, of taking a second job. Therefore, the sort of experience which the House will gain from part-time membership is a limited type of experience. So if we are to gauge our procedures correctly, we have to gauge them with the full-time Member in mind, and to recognise that this is the way in which Parliament must go.
When I say "full-time" I do not mean that they should spend the whole of their time in this Chamber or in this building, because I want to see full-time Members who are enabled, for instance, to sit on Specialist Committees of great importance, and able to get about to find out about the different aspects of the work on which they are expected to legislate.
Finally, I would take issue with my right hon. Friend in suggesting that the work of the Select Committee on Procedure and of reform is at an end. It seems to me there is a great deal to do apart from considering the terms of sitting. I hope we shall see many other Select Committees. I hope that we shall look more closely at private Members' time, because that is something else which could be improved upon a great deal. I was glad to see it proposed that we should examine the rôle of this Chamber in relation to the other place. In all these ways, we shall see the rôle of Parliament developing. Over the last year, we have made a very important and significant beginning in reforming the 288 procedures of this House, and I am very glad to have had some small association with it.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I am rather sorry that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) picked up from the Lord President the highly prejudicial and very inaccurate expression about full-time and part-time hon. Members. No real judgment of the contribution which hon. Members can make can be so simply stated, and I am driven to comment that, if it is suggested that there is a very large proportion of full-time hon. Members on the benches opposite, that was not demonstrated very conspicuously during the period when we had morning sittings. Then, apparently, "full-time" did not include the mornings.
This is a curious rag bag of proposals, some of them originating from the Select Committee, others quite contrary to the Select Committee, and some others quite plainly thought up by the ingenious mind of the right hon. Gentleman. However, the one connecting link in an otherwise disjointed batch is that, overwhelmingly, they are in favour of the Government of the day. In present political circumstances, I suppose that we should be grateful for that. It is evident that the present Government are under notice to quit, and the fact that they are making these admirable arrangements to facilitate the legislative programme of their successors should be a matter for gratitude. But, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, which, for the sake of Welsh nationalists, I will translate as, "Never trust a smiling Wykehamist". I have very grave doubts about whether this is quite the intention behind the right hon. Gentleman's proposals.
On the whole, they are bad proposals, because they transfer power from this House to the Executive. If I may, I will take one or two examples to establish that proposition. I begin by referring to one matter which has not been included, though the Select Committee spent a great deal of time on it. If this had been a genuine attempt to strengthen Parliament, something would have been included about Parliamentary Questions. There is not a single proposal to do that, yet every hon. Member knows that the Parliamentary Question is less effective than 289 it was, simply because of the sheer number of them and the lack of time for dealing with them.
Mr. Speaker is driven to make a very difficult decision either to allow proper probing on one Question or to allow a reasonable number of Questions to be answered in the course of Question Hour. I appreciate his problem, but the result of the decision which, in his wisdom, he has taken has been that hon. Members who are back benchers rarely get a second supplementary question. Having answered a good many Questions as well as asked them, it is my experience that it is the second supplementary question which really gets home. Any Minister, even the late Paymaster-General, can deal with one supplementary by brushing it off with an aside, a personality or a joke. It is the second supplementary which so often gets home. There is no time for them under our present timetable if Mr. Speaker is to call any number of Questions, and what I say about the difficulty in which he is placed casts no reflection upon him. However, Parliamentary Questions have been weakened as a result and are nothing like as effective as they were.
There is a simple alternative, and it is to allow more time. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), who was Chairman of the Select Committee, will recall that I submitted a proposal to the Committee which was designed to help to a small degree. It was to make Question Hour an hour, and not an hour minus Prayers, Private Business and Petitions.
However, it did not go far enough. A real reform would give at least one and a half hours for Questions, and any genuine Parliamentary reform would allow a longer time for Parliamentary Questions. Therefore, I judge these proposals and the motives behind them very much in the light of the fact that the one simple reform which could strengthen the control of the House over the Executive has not been included.
Turning to those which have been, if I understood the Leader of the House aright, the only issue on which he proposes to allow a free vote is whether the wigs should be taken off the Clerks. All the other proposals are to be forced through unilaterally with the Whips on. 290 Perhaps the First Secretary will dispute that if it is untrue.
It is rather characteristic of the Lord President to throw in the one sop of having a free vote on the Clerks' wigs. I protest against this way of dealing with Parliamentary procedure. It ought not to be amended, except on the basis of some measure of consensus. It is wrong to make the major changes to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) referred simply by using a party majority.
We are thrown the one concession about the Clerks' wigs. I shall certainly vote against it. I am against removing even the smaller marks of ceremony and decorum from the procedures of this House. If I had been disposed to support it, I should have been discouraged from doing so by the Lord President's interjection in reply to a question about Mr. Speaker's wig that he preferred to proceed seriatim. In other words, this is the first stage. I gather that he will proceed to have the breeks off the Serjeant at Arms, and then proceed to your own very proper apparel, Mr. Speaker. This is absolutely wrong. We need a little ceremony and decorum, and the wigs and gowns add to the dignity of our proceedings.
Another point which touches me a little is that anyone who travels in the Commonwealth will see identical wigs and gowns worn by the clerks in a large number of Commonwealth Legislatures in conscious imitation of our practice. It has added much dignity to their Parliaments, which include some of the newest as well as the oldest in the Commonwealth.
If we throw away this little adornment and ceremonial, we are deriding the way in which they have sought to follow us in externals which may be even more important in countries where Governments are more newly established than it is here. For my part, I shall vote to keep the wigs on our Clerks. I am sorry if they are uncomfortable, but it is my experience that one gets used to them.
Turning to the major matters, it is a monstrous proposal to send the whole Finance Bill upstairs and to do it as a result of a vote on party lines. It was 291 not a recommendation of the Select Committee. It is purely a unilateral act on the part of the Lord President. I take no bigoted view. When I was Chief Secretary, I myself gave evidence to a previous Select Committee in favour of splitting the Finance Bill and sending the technical parts of it upstairs, having in mind such matters as technical anti-evasion proposals. However, I was of the view and still am that the major taxation proposals can be properly taken only in Committee on the Floor of the House. They are of major importance in themselves. Some of them are of more importance than many separate Government Bills. The Report stage is no substitute, because there is no Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" on Report. We are in Mr. Speaker's hands over the selection of Amendments. In his wisdom, if he exercises that difficult responsibility in a way which excludes Amendments to which we attach importance, we have no chance in this House or in any other place of altering the major taxation proposals of the year. That must be wrong.
I notice that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich rather chided my right hon. and learned Friend for opposing the suggestion on the ground that he had agreed to some experiments in a previous Session. It indicates, if that line is to be taken, how unwise any of us are to look at any proposals of the Lord President other than with the greatest suspicion. If we are to be told that because we are prepared to look at some as an experiment in one Session we are to be denied the right to argue against them in another, it is a warning which we would take very seriously indeed.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I never agreed, as an experiment or otherwise, to send the Finance Bill as a whole upstairs.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I never thought that my right hon. and learned Friend did. I have far too high a regard for him.
Another practical point, which I wonder whether the Lord President has thought about, is that the Finance Bill is the only Bill which has to be through by a certain date or serious consequences follow. Under the Gibson Bowles legislation there is no authority to collect 292 taxes if the Finance Bill is not law by a date in early August.
If we have a long Finance Bill, how long will it take in Standing Committee? Standing Committees sit for much shorter times than the House. Their proceedings tend, in the nature of things, to be rather slower. What will happen to the Members of the Standing Committee if sufficient progress is not made? Nothing is worse than pushing a Standing Committee into all night sittings, which has happened.
Apart from the constitutional impropriety of sending the main taxation proposals upstairs, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will not involve himself in practical difficulties in getting the Finance Bill through this House in time to comply with the Gibson Bowles procedure.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) said, the next move will be the guillotine. Is that the intention? I understand that the permanent guillotine resolution would apply to the Finance Bill. Will the First Secretary confirm this when he comes to reply?
I am bound to say that I find this proposal, even apart from the Finance Bill, a very disagreeable one. It provides for a permanent arrangement for imposing the guillotine on any Bill at the cost of two hours debate. It is obviously intended to facilitate much greater use of the guillotine than at present. If the Government want to use the guillotine they can do it now, but it costs them a day's debate. I am willing to bet that there have been many occasions on which the Government have thought of the guillotine, but have thought it was not worth while spending an awkward and embarrassing day on getting the guillotine through. This is designed to make this procedure much easier and more frequent.
Therefore, we come to the point as to whether permanent guillotining of Bills, which some hon. Members opposite believe in, is a sound thing from the Parliamentary point of view. I do not think it is. Time, and the use of time, is the strongest weapon of an Opposition. The 293 way to get a minor concession out of a Minister is to debate the issue until he gives way. Everyone who has been a Minister knows that one has made concessions just to get on with a Bill. But if the Minister can just sit there knowing that when the clock gets to a certain time he will get his support from the smoking room and tea room and get his vote, he is deprived of one good incentive for making concessions to this House.
This supports the view that I put a moment or two ago, that the effect of the proposals is to weaken the influence of this House. It is also very much against the interests of the Opposition. Every hon. Member who has taken part in discussions on a Measure which has been guillotined knows very well that until the guillotine comes on hon. Members on the Government side are generally induced by the Patronage Secretary to be sparing of speech; but once there is a guillotine, once the Government are to get their Measure at a particular time, then, immediately, hon. Members opposite intervene with more frequency and take at least their share of the time.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
From a Government point of view that is a fair point. This is an advantage for them, although I have noticed in the last year that the Front Bench opposite has not always listened to contributions from its Back Benches with undue enthusiasm. I gather this may be even more so in the near future.
From the point of view of Parliament, this is harmful to an Opposition, because it is deprived of its secondary advantage of being able to take a large part in the debate on proposals which it is opposing. Therefore, both because of the weakening of the incentive in Ministers to make a concession and the depriving of the Opposition of their present debating advantage, the idea of a pretty general guillotining of Bills seems to be extremely bad from the point of view of the influence of this House and its authority.
I have put down an Amendment, which I do not propose to discuss now, other than to say that it is an extraordinary idea that when an agreement has been made between the two sides it should be 294 the Minister, a party to the agreement, who decides whether the agreement is not working and puts this machinery into operation. No man should be a judge in his own cause. The Minister is essentially a party to the agreement. Why should his opinion determine whether the agreement is working or not? If it were in your hands, Sir, in whom every Member of this House has complete confidence, though we should not like the imposing of the guillotine, we should accept that the difficult job of deciding whether an agreement was working was being decided with the utmost impartiality and fairness. We do not have that confidence in Ministers. I do not say that in any sense of personal offensiveness to Ministers.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I say it because all parties to an agreement are, as a matter of definition, partisan in their views on it. It would be true of Ministers from this side of the House as of Ministers from the other if we permitted this abomination to happen.
Then there is the curious proposal for no Counts after 10 o'clock. I wonder whether the House has reflected on the point of insisting on a quorum. A quorum in this House is very small—40 out of 625 or so. It surely is right that no business should pass this House without, at any rate, a modest number of Members being present. It does not do Parliament any good for Measures to be passed with a Minister, a Whip, an Opposition spokesman and a Whip alone in the precincts. If we have the business of no Counts after 10 o'clock we are introducing the idea of second-class business; that is, business, as a matter of definition, for which the full attention of Parliament is not required. This is a bad proposal. It is quite extraordinary, as the Lord President said in reply to me, that it should also apply to his new version of morning sittings, even though Divisions may take place during that time. I hope that we shall look again at this idea of turning Parliament into a machine in which, when less than 40 Members are on the premises, the business of the Commons of the United Kingdom can be conducted.
I think that the Lord President might have been a little more apologetic about 295 the collapse of his scheme for morning sittings in the previous session. We warned him that it would not work. They were, let us face it, a fiasco. They imposed a most appalling strain, as no one knows better than the Lord President, on those who serve this House and they imposed a wholly unnecessary and highly regrettable strain on you, Sir. They were conducted with a handful of Members present on occasions with the Gallery half closed as a kind of third-rate Parliamentary sitting. I am glad that they have been packed up, but they should never have been born.
This is a most extraordinary proposal which we now have, that a Minister, at half past ten at night, can suddenly, without previous warning or notice to anybody, bring about a morning sitting at 10 o'clock the next morning.
Would it really work? What about the duty rosters of the staff of this House, without whom we cannot work. They would have gone home on the basis of a duty roster that brings them in, in many cases, about mid-day. What will happen if suddenly a Minister decides to go on at 10 o'clock the following morning? I think that the Lord President more or less gave the show away when he suggested that this was really an in terrorem measure, the threat of going on in the morning, to enable a Minister to get his business through quickly. If the Lord President or any Minister is to conduct business in this way, he will soon learn that this House is not to be treated in this way and will find himself having his bluff called.
What will happen? Will they really be able to staff the House? What will happen to the engagements genuinely and properly made by hon Members for the following morning to be in a Standing Committee, or to see their constituents? Will these arrangements be upset by a decision taken and announced at an hour at which there will even be difficulty in printing the Order Paper? This proposal bears every evidence of not having been thought out. If the Government seek to invoke this procedure they will produce the most appalling shambles and something which will be very damaging to the House.
I am not dealing with the smaller proposals. I hope that the right hon. 296 Gentleman will reflect on what has been said and will be said by my hon. Friends about these major changes. The House has grown up in its own curious way, and evolved its procedures slowly over the century. There is generally a good deal of reason for most of the things that we do, even the ritual and the ceremonial, and there is almost everything to be said against trying violently and unilaterally, by the use of a Government majority, to change them in one step.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman likes to have the reputation of a reforming Leader of the House. I know that he almost always follows the mythical letter to The Times which adopts the reasoning, "Something must be done. This is something, therefore let us do it", but he is playing fast and loose with our procedures by proposing to introduce something in the nature of a permanent guillotine, by introducing haphazard fortuitous morning sittings and by seeking to send the Finance Bill in toto to a Committee upstairs. These measures may well suit the convenience of the Government of the day but they will be damaging to the House of Commons, and if the right hon. Gentleman persists in doing this damage the House will not lightly forgive him.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in congratulating the Clerks' Department on the work which has been done with regard to these and other reforms. I congratulate, in particular, the Clerk to the Committee concerned. Unlike the Leader of the House, however, who is probably bound to say so, I think rather more of his proposals insofar as they differ from those of the Select Committee on Procedure than I think of those of the Committee itself on some matters.
I thoroughly appreciate the loss of the morning sittings experiment as we have had it, and its replacement by this proposal. I do not altogether understand the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who differ radically on another point, to which I shall come, but who, on this question of the replacement of the old-type morning sittings' experiment, say that it will be 297 inconvenient for the staff or Members to be told that instead of staying all night to an indeterminate hour, or possibly until 10 o'clock the next morning, they can go home and get a night's sleep provided they are back here at 10 o'clock, until when they might have had to stay anyway.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Under the system by which staff are rostered it is almost certain that the member of the staff on duty the next morning will not be the man who was on duty the night before.
§ Mr. English
That is not certain if the House continues through the night. In any case, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that nearly every Department of the House has different practices and procedures for what occurs in that situation.
I share the Opposition's view about the count. I wholly approve of my right hon. Friend's Motion, but I feel that he should go further and get rid of the count altogether, or, perhaps rather than get rid of it, get rid of the quorum rule. Under this same Standing Order No. 30 which we are proposing to amend one has the peculiar position that 40 Members have to be here—and this is where the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames went slightly wrong—not because the House might be counted out, but because if they are not present in the Division the business will be deferred, and the business will in effect be counted out. If the business is likely to be controversial, 100 Members have to be here because of the closure rules, but either way it seems that the count is a little pointless.
The only reason that I can see for restricting the count to before 10 o'clock is to enable one to count out Private Members' Bills on a Friday, which I think is a most irrational way of getting rid of such a Bill. I accept that it is a legitimate tactic, but it seems that it is the only reason that is left for the count. A count cannot be called during mealtimes. It will not be called after this reasonable period in the evening. I agree with this, but I think that it should not be called at all, because the only purpose which it now serves is the obstruction of a Private Member's Bill which one other Member may happen to dislike. If someone dislikes a Bill introduced by the Government, or by a Private Member, particu- 298 larly the latter, he should vote against it and endeavour to get rid of it in the proper way and not use this tactic. This is the only purpose which the count serves, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend might go further and get rid of it altogether.
I want, now, to discuss the question of Committees. My right hon. Friend said that only one area was unexplored, namely, the annual timetable, and he would like the Select Committee to consider this. I agree with him on that, but it seems to me that there is another unexplored area which should be explored, namely, the procedure not only of the House, but procedure in Committees. In some cases it seems that the procedure of our Committees is archaic. They are not reported in the ordinary HANSARD. One got the ridiculous situation in a previous Session that when we were discussing hanging, so long as it was being discussed upstairs our record apparently did not bother about its existence, but when the same discussion came downstairs it was reported.
§ Mr. English
But it is not in the same volume, and it does not come out at the same time. Occasionally it comes out two or three days later. I have investigated this matter with great care. The whole practice arose accidentally because at one time Standing Committees were not reported at all. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is now proposing to have the reports of Second Reading Committees incorporated in the daily HANSARD. I suggest that my right hon. Friend might consider doing the same for the Report stages which have always hitherto been on the Floor of the House but will now be in Committee.
I come, next, to what happens in a Standing Committee. It imitates the House for no apparent reason. In many ways the procedure of a Standing Committee is archaic. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said that he did not like the idea of the Finance Bill being taken in Committee. What ground did he put forward for his contention? He said, first, that the procedure of a Standing Committee was inconvenient. I recognise that this is so, that hon. Members are tied to a Committee 299 in a way that they are not tied to the House, but this problem could be overcome. I recognise that it may take longer in Committee than the same procedure would on the Floor of the House, but this, too, could be overcome.
One argument is that the procedure in Committee is bad. It is archaic, but the answer is not to get the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House and keep everybody up all night, but to reform the procedure in Standing Committee. This could happen once we got the Finance Bill upstairs. If we have hon. Members sitting up there for that length of time, the Committee procedures may be reformed.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral based his argument for not taking the Finance Bill in Committee on the ground that it dealt with taxation. I cannot fathom this one. I know that this is a constitutional argument which has been put forward ever since the 17th century, but I cannot see that there is anything more important about taxation than there is about the expenditure that it is raised for. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that taxation ought to be discussed on the Floor of the House. We should discuss the details of taxation such as Corporation Tax, which affect the economy, but surely the mere fact that about 40 per cent. of our Budget is devoted to defence is an important matter to discuss? I have even heard this view propounded by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nearly every Bill involves expenditure, but they are mainly already discussed in Committee. Because of these Bills we have to raise taxation, but at the moment the discussion only of taxation, not of the expenditure which causes it, must take place on the Floor of the House.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Member has said that the Defence Estimates should be debated on the Floor of the House. Until we became idle they were. Hon. Members opposite once kept the whole House up all night on a discussion of the Defence Estimates. I agree that we should discuss them on the Floor of the House, because they are important.
§ Mr. English
I do not think that the hon. Member would really wish to put back on to the Floor of the House everything that we now discuss in Committee. 300 There is only one thing that is not normally discussed in Committee upstairs, and that is the Finance Bill. Why should this be so, provided we can provide adequate time on Report, which my right hon. Friend has promised?
I was happy that my right hon. Friend accepted my Amendment to his Motion No. 6. It may be that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral is under a misapprehension on this matter. I have offered to discuss it with him privately, and I think that he is prepared to do so before we reach it later.
Until the 19th century it was the practice of the House for any Member to be able to go to any Committee and move any Amendment standing in his name. It is still possible for a Member to put down an Amendment in Committee, although since the 19th century he has been precluded from moving it there, which seems odd. The practice which operated here before the 19th century has been carried on by other legislatures who have derived their procedures from ours. One reason why the American Congress can be so ruthless on the floor, to the extent of cutting down speeches to five minutes sometimes, is that a Member can put his point upstairs.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley)—the lonely Liberal in the House at the moment—raised this point in connection with the discussion of the Finance Bill in Committee. But this is different from my proposal because the point is that under our present procedure any Member who is not in a Committee has an opportunity of putting any point he wishes to raise on Report, provided it has not been discussed in Committee. If it has been discussed there I do not see why time should be wasted by allowing Joe Bloggs to move it on Report when Jim Smith moved it in Committee. But if it has not been discussed in Committee any Member can put down an Amendment on Report. This suggestion was therefore quite properly rejected in connection with the discussion of the Finance Bill upstairs.
As the Amendment to Motion No. 20, in the name of the hon. Member for Orpington is worded, in connection with the discussion of the Finance Bill in Committee, it would also allow unlimited possibilities for obstruction. It would be 301 possible for 300 Members to turn up, not only to propose Amendments but to deliberate on any issue raised on somebody else's Amendment. The hon. Member for Orpington does not include the crucial words, "take part in the deliberations of the Committee thereon" in his Amendment. Hon. Members could deliberate on anything. That would mean that the whole proceedings in Committee could be totally destroyed.
This point was not considered in relation to the question of discussing the Report stage in Committee. Here we have fallen into the danger into which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not fall. He warned us against the trap. We have considered these items as individual parts instead of as part of a package. If hon. Members will consider Motions 2, 6 and 13 together, they will realise that a great constitutional principle is involved. If the Government Motion had stayed as originally worded, for the first time in Parliamentary history it would have been possible for legislation to be passed without its ever having been debated in the House. There would be no discussion, except by Members of a limited Committee.
This is quite accidental. It is thought in one Motion that it would be a good thing to put non-controversial Bills into Committee for their Report stage; it is thought, according to another Motion, a good thing to put them into a Second Reading Committee and another Motion suggests that we should cut out discussion on Third Reading. It would therefore be possible, for the first time in our history, to preclude all discussion of a Bill on the Floor of the House. This is where the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames seems to differ from the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames says that these Motions assist the Government not the Opposition or the back bencher. He is right I think as regards legislation, but I do not mind this.
In my opinion Governments exist to legislate. But the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was unfair not to point out that there is much more time for back benchers in relation to other matters, such as matters arising under Standing Order No. 9. The right hon. Member was also wrong not to men- 302 tion that it is the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral, who in this case wished to keep back benchers out, and not my right hon. Friend, who is prepared to accept my Amendment.
Before this evening is out I ask hon. Members opposite to consider whether their attitude, is appropriate, because they are saying that there should be a form of legislation which is never considered by the House at all. I ask them to consider, as an Opposition, whether this is really what they desire, and what they mean. A constitutional principle is involved and it should be seriously considered by the House. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend to hear that he is prepared to accept my Amendment on this issue and I hope that the Opposition will further consider the matter before this evening is out.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I want to devote most of my remarks to the question of the Finance Bill's being taken upstairs. I agree with all the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in disagreement with the Government proposals, many of which are extremely damaging. Perhaps I may make a point about wigs. I knew about them because I saw a headline in the newspapers saying, "Cabinet Split On Wigs". Think of the general ruin that the Government are bringing on our country when we read in our newspapers of a Cabinet split on wigs. It shows their utter fatuity. The argument is put forward that somebody might mistake the Clerks of the House for lawyers. I suppose that somebody might mistake Mr. Speaker for the Lord Mayor's coachman, but he would be a fool if he did. To put forward arguments on that level seems degrading.
There is only one Wigg that we wanted to lose, and we have lost him. This must be a sadness to the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister and he were made for each other—equal in beauty as they are equal in honour.
§ Mr. Birch
I want to turn to the question of the Finance Bill's being taken 303 upstairs. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was a little simple when we last debated this matter earlier in the year. He seemed to believe that this was a genuine experiment by the Leader of the House and that the Bill would not be taken upstairs. He may have been impressed by something which I noted when reading reports of the debates the other day. This is what the Leader of the House said about this proposition of the timetable on the Finance Bill:I would not of course presume to put this proposal forward unless it had been something which had been tested in the Select Committee"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 252.]I think that my right hon. and learned Friend was impressed by that and did not believe that the Lord President would do any such thing. I am more cynical. I thought that if one would believe that, one would believe a sworn statement of the Prime Minister, which just is not likely to happen.
Now we have this proposal, therefore, not only to send it upstairs, but to guillotine it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said this in so many words the other day. The brashness of this proposal goes against some of the things which the Lord President said in some of the previous debates. In one, he said:…from the Government's point of view, the whole essence of the matter is to have the powers but not to use them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 1521.]That is to say, he would want everyone to be perfectly free to obey the police—that is what many people with dictatorial minds like—but not to order them about too much. But now the Prussian in him has come out and we are being ordered and pushed around.
I now turn to the evils of sending the Finance Bill upstairs. First, of course, there is the constitutional point that, as we have lost control of expenditure in this House, taxation is one thing over which we have some power and it is vital that we should not lose it. The Bill will go upstairs. Where will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be? Not in the Committee, I bet. He will be nowhere near it. We shall have those two gentlemen the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary.
304 There has been, I am glad to say, a change of Financial Secretary, but we still have the other one. Those two always reminded me of the characters in Marlowe's "Tamburlaine", Usumcasane and Theridamas. They were walking-on parts. If they opened their mouths, it was always nonsense which came out, and no one told them anything. That is the great thing which I always noticed about the Chief Secretary: although he may know something about dividend stripping he never actually knows what is going on.
When there is a debate in the House it is, admittedly, generally badly reported. The reporters are ignorant of certain subjects, perhaps, or idle, and not much appears in the papers. But if there is some surge of opinion and feeling, particularly if it is on both sides of the House, it does get through to the Press and the Government and something can happen. But what may happen with poor old Usumcasane upstairs? He will have no authority from the Chancellor to do anything, no gust of opinion will blow upon him, he will have no power to make concessions, no report will appear in the papers and no one will know what is going on, or what are the real feelings and motives of the people on this matter. This is wholly wrong and evil and it will be forced through by means of a Parliamentary Whip imposed by hon. Gentlement opposite.
One of the reasons for this is the scuttlefuls of political dons who came into the House recently—one of the most useless collections of people I have ever come across. I estimate that every single one will lose his seat next time, which will be a great relief to everyone, and they will have to go back to lecturing. They may get their jobs back simply on the grounds that they cannot possibly know less about politics than when they got into Parliament, but they will not have had any time in opposition and will not know the extraordinary importance of the Finance Bill being on the Floor of the House from the Opposition's point of view.
For the truth is that not only do Conservatives object to Labour Government proposals in their Budgets. Socialists object strongly to what Conservatives put in theirs. They are cutting off their own opportunities for the opposition which 305 they are certain to enjoy not very long hence.
The House has been shabbily treated on this matter. I never thought that the Lord President was a suitable Leader of the House, because what is wanted in that position is someone who is trustworthy, trusted, patient and who can listen and has some attention to detail. Among the many glistering qualities of the right hon. Gentleman, none of these is found. He cannot listen and he is not trusted—and very rightly so.
This is a bad business. Having been so shabbily treated in the matter of the Finance Bill, I hope that my right hon. Friends will be very careful in negotiations for the reform of the House of Lords. I hope that they will have a tape recorder at every one of their meetings.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
I will not attempt to enter into argument with the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), except to say that he was quite wrong in one thing which he said about my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. I have always found him extremely trustworthy. One of his very few faults is his excessive candour—perhaps, on occasion, an indiscreet candour. I could quote dozens of examples from his life to prove this, but that is not really the point of this debate.
I welcomed the proposal which my right hon. Friend announced for a closed-circuit sound-radio experimental broadcast of our proceedings. He also referred in passing to the fact that the Other Place is conducting an experiment in closed-circuit television of its proceedings. I strongly suggest—with great respect to all those hon. Members whose opinions on this differ from those of the Select Committee which reported on this matter in the last Session—that this House will have to consider again its attitude to televising our proceedings in the light of the very curious situation which may shortly arise. The Other Place is going ahead with its experiment in three months' time, at the beginning of February. If that experiment seems to their Lordships to be successful and to depict the proceedings of their House satisfactorily, I presume that they will seek to make arrangements with the broadcasting organisations for public programmes.
306 Even many of those hon. Members of this House who voted against our proposal in the last Session would, I believe, feel obliged to think again if it were to come about that the proceedings of the Other Place went out to the world as the sole and exclusive visual recording of Parliament. I do not believe that hon. Members would like that and I therefore hope that, in due course, my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us, either after or shortly before the Lords experiment, that we shall be able to have another day or half-day to debate what we are to do about it if the Lords find their television experiment to their taste.
In conclusion, I would mention that, for the convenience of hon. Members of this House, arrangements are being made for them to see the Lords television experiment, if they wish to do so, on monitor sets at this end of the building. It is conceived that it would be inconvenient for hon. Members to have to walk right down to the other end of the Palace, and these arrangements are, accordingly, being made for monitors at this end of the building on which hon. Members will be able to see the experiment.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The longer I sit in the House the more extraordinary I find it. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) is advocating closed circuit radio for the House presumably so that hon. Members who are too idle to come into the Chamber may listen to the debate on closed-circuit radio without even leaving their chairs in the Tea Room or the Smoke Room. In view of the fact that the proposals being debated are designed to make Parliament more interesting and exciting and, therefore, to raise our prestige with the public, it is strange that at the same time it is suggested that we have closed-circuit radio in order that hon. Members need not be here at all. That is illogical.
As I look around the Chamber and realise that we are debating vital questions of the picture of Parliament in the eyes of the nation, I feel that many of the full-time Members of the House should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves that they are not here. Some hon. Members in the last 18 months have been great advocates of change—for example, the hon. Member for Berwick and 307 East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). Where is he tonight? Where are those people who have been perpetually pushing the Lord President of the Council towards getting rid of so many of our traditions? Not one of them has had the courtesy even to come to the House and listen to the debate.
§ Sir D. Glover
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I meant that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) does not even fly to the heights of the sort of hon. Member to whom I am referring. I am, of course, delighted to have him with us.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I should point out that Members of the party who are so satisfied with the House as it is are also conspicuous by their absence.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have a lot to debate. I hope that we can come to the subjects of the debate.
§ Sir D. Glover
I come, as I should, to the proposals before the House. When the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon—and made it almost a virtue—that he was abandoning morning sittings, I recalled my speech when we were debating the subject before they were introduced. I then said that the whole procedure was phoney and would not last for more than one Session, and it has not lasted for more than one Session.
May I turn to the other proposal about morning sittings—that a Minister under pressure, at 11.30 p.m., or midnight or 1 a.m., can suddenly rise in his place and put a Motion to you, Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of Ways and Means if we are in Committee, that the House should adjourn and resume its sitting at ten o'clock that morning. Hon. Members may ask what is the difference between doing that and carrying on with business that night. It is not unknown for me to make speeches in the House late at night, 308 so that I can speak with some experience, I say sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman that if the debate is going on at one o'clock in the morning, hon. Members taking part in it come under pressure from their own colleagues, on their own side of the House, who say, "For heaven's sake sit down and let us call it a day and go home". It may be that the Minister would get his business by 1.30 a.m., 2 a.m. or 2.30 a.m.
What happens if the Minister adjourns the House for it to resume at ten o'clock in the morning? Does he imagine that that will expedite business? Next morning the hon. Member for Ormskirk, refreshed and having had a good breakfast, will be in his place and will take good care to see that the debate goes on until two o'clock in the afternoon. What would have involved one more hour at night will probably involve four hours the following morning, the debate may still not be concluded and the Government probably will still not get their business.
That is the situation from the point of view of hon. Members, but what about the staff and servants of the House? I may be asked what is the difference between asking them to go on working late at night and asking them to come back early in the morning. But when they go on working late at night, at least they are already here. They work on for an extra hour or so and earn some overtime. But if the House suddenly adjourns at 1 a.m. in order to meet at ten o'clock that morning, who will get in touch with the staff of the House who have to man the machine at 10 a.m.? Many of them, I imagine, are not on the telephone. They are scattered all over London. They have their rotas and arrangements. Who will collect them together?
I do not know whether we are in order in the Chamber to meet without an Order Paper. If the House suddenly adjourns at 1 a.m., what about the Order Paper for the sitting beginning at ten o'clock that morning?
§ Sir D. Glover
I do not know. That is the Order Paper for the previous day. Many things may have happened during 309 the debate. Assume that it was the Committee stage or Report stage of the Finance Bill. Certain matters will have been dealt with and concluded. If we start with the old Order Paper, these cannot be removed. The Minister may have said during the earlier discussion that he would accept a proposal before the House. Any hon. Member who comes into the debate ought to have an Order Paper before him which makes that plain and which is relevant to the facts at that moment.
I will leave aside the question of the Order Paper, but in any event the procedure envisaged by the right hon. Gentleman will lead to longer time being taken for debate, not shorter time, and, secondly, will make it extraordinarily difficult, even more difficult than the old morning sittings, for the staff to man the machinery of the House. Those two arguments are overwhelmingly against accepting this innovation from the Minister and I shall have no hesitation in voting against it.
I come to the so-called voluntary guillotine. At times during my membership of the House I have been very attracted to the idea of a voluntary guillotine for all Bills. I still believe that we could probably work out a scheme of voluntary guillotines which on most occasions would be acceptable to the House. But the proposals before the House do not fall into that category, and I oppose them. Let us consider the difficulty about dealing with a voluntary guillotine. A Bill is sent to Committee, the Opposition look at it and assess it and decide that it would require, let us say, twenty hours—eight or ten sittings—in Committee upstairs. They may agree with the Government that that is a reasonable basis for the proceedings on the Bill. Then the Government—the Opposition cannot have any foreknowledge of it—during the proceedings of the Committee put down perhaps 100 Amendments. All Government Amendments have to be dealt with. So instead of the Opposition having 20 hours to debate their Amendments, they probably find that more than half the time will be taken up by debating the Government Amendments.
So if ever we were to get a satisfactory working of a voluntary guillotine the 310 Business Committee would have to be instructed by the House that on being approached by the Opposition for the equivalent of an extra day on the Floor of the House—six hours, or three sittings of a Standing Committee—because of the many Amendments put down by the Government, it would then, without being overweighed by the Government view, say, "Yes, we think that the Opposition have put forward a sound case and we grant the extra time they think they need to discuss the Bill".
Let us take the example of the proceedings on the Finance Bill in 1965. If that Finance Bill had been taken in Standing Committee and a voluntary guillotine had been agreed, and after agreement was reached the Government produced 800 Amendments, that guillotine in those conditions would have been the most outrageously unfair system to deal with the Bill unless the Opposition had some procedure within their power, as a right and not as a gift from the Government, to enable them to go to the Business Committee and claim extra time. If that could be organised I think that on a great many occasions the Opposition would withdraw their objections—I would withdraw mine, but I cannot speak for my hon. Friends—to the working of a so-called voluntary guillotine.
On the question of the Finance Bill going to a Standing Committee, I understand the frustration, anxiety and worry of those running the Government machine and those whipping the parties, when perhaps only a third or a quarter of the Members of the House take part in the Finance Bill debates. Last year about 187 hon. Members spoke in the debates on the Finance Bill. If the Finance Bill Standing Committee consisted of 80 members, that would represent less than half of those who spoke last year. Thus, that move alone would deprive more than half of those who spoke on the Finance Bill last year from their opportunity to do so again. Many of those people spoke only once, not like myself, and not like the Financial Secretary, who spoke on nearly every Amendment to that Bill.
I am told that it is proposed that there shall be 50 members of the Finance Bill Standing Committee. When the membership of the House is 630, that 311 is nothing like enough to meet the variety of subjects that hon. Members want to raise in Committee stage debates on the Finance Bill. Many hon. Members may wish to take part in a debate on one subject only. The proceedings on the Finance Bill, with the exception of four or five hon. Members, are rather like the changing scene in a variety show. There may be a debate connected with agriculture, and in troop five or ten hon. Members on each side who make speeches to say how the tax will affect agriculture, and then that Amendment is disposed of. Then the scene shifters come in. We may have a new Clause dealing with another subject, and a new team comes in on both sides of the House. It is, of course, a grind for the Financial Secretary and the Economic Secretary, and it is a grind for two or three occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, but it is not such a grind for the bulk of hon. Members because the teams are continually changing and so all hon. Members are not there the whole time.
The principal reason why Parliament ever came into being was for the voting of money. That is what the whole of the Finance Bill is about. So it is wrong to deprive hon. Members of the opportunity of speaking in those debates. Consequently, I shall certainly oppose the proposal. But if this procedure were to come into being, I would accept the proposal by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), believing that his Amendment is better than that of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) pointed out that the Labour Government have a majority and that it is likely that most of their proposals will become part of our procedure. As I have said, I shall fight against and vote against the matters of which I have spoken, but I feel that if this proposal is to come into being the suggestion of the hon. Member for Orpington, with the proviso of the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central, should become part of our procedure for the Committee and Report stages of Bills in small rooms upstairs. If this change takes place and we hardly ever have a Committee stage on the Floor of the House and no Report stage except for that on the 312 Finance Bill, the ordinary back bencher will have very limited opportunity to speak on a very narrow subject. So it is essential that he should be able to make his small point during the Committee stage or the Report stage of the Bill in Standing Committee. I hope that it will not mean 300 or more hon. Members lined up outside a Committee room simply to enable somebody who wants to make a point or move an Amendment to do so. Provisions should be made to enable such an hon. Member to enter the Committee room and make his speech with suitable safeguards. Otherwise he will be for ever deprived of his opportunities.
I consider, Mr. Speaker, that to remove the panoply of the Clerks and leave you in splendid isolation would be a most retrograde step. This House breathes and lives history. History can be alive and exciting just as much as it can be old and dead. I think of the people who come here and watch our proceedings. The atmosphere that we create as a place is appreciated all over the world, and I believe that our dignity is very much governed by the atmosphere in the little area in front of and surrounding Mr. Speaker. Consequently, I hope that the House will not do away with it.
Lastly, in the light of the alteration that is likely to take place in our procedure, there are those who may say that we do not want to spend our time discussing the details of legislation and that we should get on with the big subjects and have a great painting across the field of history. We already have 29 Supply Days on which we usually take big subjects. Now that every Committee stage and nearly all Report stages are to be taken from the Floor of the House, we shall have more days available including the 12 days that were devoted to the Finance Bill in Committee, and all these days can now be used for general debate. I should like the Leader of the House to tell me what the subjects are to be that we shall now debate on these great and important occasions. Even with a fast-changing world we cannot have a foreign affairs debate every week—the situation does not alter quite fast enough for that. Even with the present Government's economic management of the nation we can hardly have an economic debate every week. We should think 313 before we alter our whole procedures and thereby reduce back benchers' power to delve into what the Government are doing—
§ Sir D. Glover
Of course back benchers' powers would be reduced. We have here the Executive's charter, free and uninhibited, and that is what all back benchers will discover if these proposals are accepted.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I must tell the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) that he has got it wrong. No one has said that we must not spend our time discussing the details of legislation. What has been said is that 630 Members are not the ideal group to discuss the details of legislation What has amazed me in the speeches made by hon. Members opposite is the insinuation that the suggestion of sending the Finance Bill to a Committee is some sinister move by the Executive. This treatment of Bills is a matter that I have personally pursued for a great many years, but I will deal with that point later, along with a number of other matters on which it will be clear that I disagree with the hon. Member.
I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) when he said that we do not want change merely for the sake of change; that it must be to some purpose. We want a change in our procedure so as to make our work more businesslike, cut out a good deal of time wasting, and conduct our affairs at a more reasonable time. In so far as these recommendations meet those points, I welcome them.
It has often been said that delay is a very precious matter to an Opposition, but filibustering is pointless unless one thereby defeats the introduction of a Bill or, at any rate, delays its starting point. That has never been brought about, so most of this filibustering has merely meant putting a few extra hours of work on a certain number of loyal back benchers—because generally it is the same group of people who seem to spend the late hours here. As to filibustering, I think that tedious repetition might be applied collectively as well as individually.
314 Most hon. Members would be satisfied if they could feel that as a general rule business on most nights should finish at 10 o'clock, plus the half hour for the Adjournment debate. In so far as the suggestion for morning sittings meets that point, I welcome it. I certainly welcome the present suggestion for morning sittings much more than I did that put forward in the last Session. The Lord President is quite correct in saying that this would have a salutary effect on the speeches being made in the evening. If hon. Members knew that they might have to come back next morning, they might think twice about the number of speeches that were made—
§ Mr. Blackburn
And the length of them, as my hon. Friend says. I suggest that a debate allowed under Standing Order No. 9 might be very suitable for a morning sitting rather than our having to upset the programme previously agreed in the House.
To achieve our finishing as far as possible at 10 o'clock at night I would send all Prayers and affirmative Orders to a Committee. There is no reason at all why this House should not be sitting in two places at the same time. Hon. Members could be discussing one matter in the Chamber while other hon. Members discussed some other business of the House elsewhere. As it is, all sorts of Committees sit in different Committee rooms, and during the time that I have been in the House I have never noticed any wild enthusiasm for the idea that 630 Member should crowd in upon this Chamber from 2.30 until 10.30, or whenever the House rises.
A good many hon. Members will know that I have always advocated sending the Finance Bill to Committee, and also to have a timetable for Bills—particularly for the Committee stage. As to sending the Finance Bill to a Committee, the present Motion No. 16 is precisely that which I had on the Order Paper in the debate in 1959. On that occasion, the present Lord Butler persuaded me not to put it to the vote because, he said, "Even if you left the words in we could still send the Finance Bill to a Committee." It is equally true that if we take the words out the Finance Bill can still be taken on the Floor of the House.
315 In the 1959 Parliament, when I tried in a Select Committee on Procedure to deal with this matter of sending the Finance Bill to a Committee, I believe that I was the only member of the Committee who was not under strict instructions from his Front Bench to see that no changes were made. When it was known that I intended to move that the Finance Bill should go to a Committee, two "prima donnas" of the Finance Bill—Members known to be strongly opposed to its being dealt with by a Standing Committee—were added to that Procedure Committee to make quite certain that my suggestion was defeated. I have always maintained, and I still maintain, that 630 Members wandering in and out of this Chamber do not constitute the ideal Committee for discussing the details of the Finance Bill, or of any other Bill.
From my experience as a Chairman of Standing Committees, I am quite certain that we get better discussion of Bills when there is a timetable—agreed if possible—than when it is just left to chance. I remember being Chairman of a Standing Committee dealing with a Bill of 70-odd Clauses and a number of Schedules. That Measure took 31 Sittings—11 of them on Clause 1. That just does not make sense—11 sittings for Clause 1, and 20 for the rest of 70-odd Clauses and the Schedules. The difficulty is that if a Bill is very controversial an inordinate amount of time will be spent on the first Clause, and then, as time goes on, Members begin to get tired. I am sure that a timetable is to the advantage of both Opposition and Government, and if there cannot be an agreed timetable there should be an imposed timetable. There is sense in the suggestions made in this respect. No debates in this Chamber are more pointless than those which take a whole day to debate a Guillotine Motion. Hon. Members know exactly what the Government and the Opposition will say, and it is merely a waste of a day. I would rather that we had a two hours' debate.
The only thing I say about the suggestion put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is that the Amendment I moved in the Committee on Procedure in 1958 was an improvement. I have not looked it up for some time, but, if I remember rightly, 316 I also provided an opportunity for whoever was leading for the Opposition to refer the matter back if he did not think that enough time had been given to it.
I wish to refer briefly to one or two other matters. I have no objection at all to Motions No. 2 and No. 6, but I think my right hon. Friend should realise that he is holding out a hostage to fortune. If 20 hon. Members rising from their seats could stop this happening, that small group could very easily defeat what might be the general wish of the House. It should be pointed out that the amendment suggested in No. 5 will not work every time. An hon. Member opposite referred to a case this afternoon in which it might not work. An hon. Member might be in agreement that certain words should be deleted but he may not want any words added.
This also would not work if we wanted to save for a later Amendment. The wording has to be put differently if we want to save an Amendment which is coming later. Apart from the fact that No. 5 would not work in such cases, I have no objection to it. I have mentioned that a debate under Standing Order No. 9 should take place the following morning rather than having the business of the House interrupted.
I naturally agree with Motion No. 8, but I think we might have gone the whole way and the ability of Mr. Deputy Speaker to accept the Closure might have been made general rather than on a particular point. On Motion No. 15 I am rather surprised that the opportunity was not taken to make the position in regard to a count quite clear. I have no objection to the proposal about a count taking place after 10 o'clock. That might stop a lot of trouble, but it should be remembered that when the Opposition broke the agreement last Session on the Consolidated Fund Bill and a count was called in the early hours of the morning a position was created in which you will remember, Mr. Speaker, you did not give a Ruling but you gave advice. I think you said definitely that it was advice which you were giving. That might be taken as a precedent.
We shall have several different things happening with regard to a count. We shall have a count under those circumstances and a different rule for a count on a Friday. I agree that it must be 317 different then because the business for Fridays is generally planned many weeks ahead. Then we shall have a different rule under Standing Order No. 30 by which if a Division takes place between half-past seven and half-past eight and there are not 40 Members in the Division the business shall stand over until the next sitting. My interpretation of that Standing Order is that it was accepted that it would be a general rule that the business would not be lost but would stand over to the next sitting, but this is one of the matters which needs to be clarified. I am sorry that the opportunity has not been taken to make the position quite clear and that whenever a count takes place the same rules should apply.
I make this comment about Motion No. 14. I do not think we shall get our business more expeditiously whether the clerks wear wigs or not. I am certain that whether they wear bathing costumes or wigs they will still continue to give the same expert advice which they have always given. I have some sympathy with the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) which suggests that they signalise their independence as servants of the House. However, I do not think this is one of the major matters on which this House should spend a great deal of time.
If my suggestion that Orders and Prayers should be debated in Committee upstairs is not accepted, it is important that debates on affirmative Orders as well as Prayers should not be allowed to go on interminably. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral got it wrong when he was explaining what had happened. It was not because a Labour Opposition was keeping a Conservative Government up night after night. It was because the Conservative Opposition had been harrowing the Labour Government and then, when the Conservative Government came in in 1951, they thought it would be a good idea to stop that practice with the general agreement of the House.
The change took place after that Conservative Government came in, but it referred only to Prayers. I do not think anyone understood why it referred only to Prayers. It is quite sensible to make it refer to affirmative Resolutions as well as Prayers and have them debated for the same length of time. Whether debates are 318 on Prayers or Orders, I think you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that a great deal of your time is taken up in trying to keep hon. Members in order. So often do they want to discuss the main Bill on which an Order is based rather than the Order itself. This is a sensible way of trying to reduce the time spent in debating affirmative Resolutions.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I agree with very much of what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has said, particularly his remarks regarding ceremony and ritual. I was interested in what he said about his earlier attempts to get the Committee stage of the Finance Bill taken in an upstairs Committee. Although his position appeared to be entirely different from that of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), I think it possible for the two to be resolved and to arrive at a compromise. I will refer to this again when I deal with the Liberal Amendment on the subject.
Unlike the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), I make no apology for voicing the opinions of a very new hon. Member on the important matter of Parliamentary procedure. I value the experience of my longer serving colleagues, I welcome their advice and respect their opinions, but I believe that on this particular matter of Parliamentary procedure it may well be that the opinions of a new Member have as great if not even greater validity.
I recall clearly the first time I visited the House, 27 years ago. I had just concluded a three-day speaking tour with Mr. Arthur Greenwood, travelling round Britain making speeches about the war effort. At the end of the tour Mr. Greenwood was kind enough to bring me in here. As he brought me in, he paused on the threshold and said: "I am always a little embarrased at bringing a young chap in here"—I was a relatively young chap then—"We old ones are inclined to forget what it is really like"—he was not as old as all that—"We get used to it".
I resolved then that, if ever I found my way here by another route, I would endeavour to resist all temptations to get used to it and at least make a point of voicing my opinions before I had been 319 brainwashed by time into docile submission. It is the capacity of the British people to get used to things that makes for our innate conservatism. I use that term in its general sense to denote a mortal terror of change of any kind, associated with its corollary, the ability to tolerate the intolerable. It is time that we let go our grip on the past and took some steps forward into the future, provided that they are genuinely real reforms.
In bringing forward these Motions, the Leader of the House is asking us to consider something which, though it does not have as much immediate impact upon the nation as our economic policy, for instance, is nevertheless equally crucial to our future. I believe that Parliament is suffering from a decline in prestige. It may not be Parliament's fault, but people outside are beginning to think that in some way Parliament is not immediately related to the mainstream of ordinary life. I believe, too, that part of the disenchantment with the present Government which is felt outside springs, not so much from any allegedly wild Bolshevik policies which are being followed, as from a general feeling that government in this country is not competent. This stems from the fact that people are increasingly coming to believe that Britain does not possess the kind of political institutions which are capable of applying the right remedies at the right time.
This has been illustrated in many ways even in my short time in the House. I recall the Prime Minister's remarks only two or three days after the announcement of the introduction of the Selective Employment Tax, when, speaking to the Press, he said that he accepted thatthe tax is crude and clumsy in its implications but it can be refined later.I said then, and I say again now, that a pretty good case can be made out for trying to get things right to start with.
If there is an extension of the kinds of procedures which the Lord President recommends to us now in the way of pre-legislation committees, such matters will be kicked about a bit amongst Members before they finally arrive on the Floor of the House in a virtually unalterable form. I accept, however, that the problem is more difficult in relation to budgetary matters. Had the right kind of 320 Specialist Committee been in existence, we might well have taken a different decision on the decimal currency. There are a number of such issues on which the House could have made a contribution and assisted the Government to avoid mistakes.
One fault of this place—I hope that it will be understood that I believe that it has many virtues—is that it wastes talent. I believe that there is knowledge and expertise in all parts of the House. I believe that hon. Members bring with them to the House experience derived, perhaps, from long professional years in an occupation or from close contact with an occupation or a trade in their constituencies. From their outside lives they bring knowledge which could be very valuable to any Government, irrespective of the party to which an individual Member belongs.
Yet our procedure is such that back benchers are unable to make a constructive contribution in the formulative stage of policy making. This is the real problem. This is why so many Members feel frustrated. It is because they are not brought into things until it is virtually too late to change them in any way. This is why many hon. Members throughout the House welcome the establishment of Specialist Committees, such as the Select Committee on Science and Technology and the Select Committee on Agriculture, as at least a start in the right direction, a start towards a method of giving Members an opportunity of playing a constructive rôle rather than a purely negative rôle. I hope that the rather tentative steps which we are asked to take today will lead broadly in that direction.
It has not escaped the notice of people outside that from time to time Members of the House come across things and find things out which have gone wrong. It has also occurred to the people outside that Members always find these things out when it is too late to do anything about them.
§ Dr. Winstanley
Oh, yes. This was true of the Ferranti affair. It was true of the Bristol Siddeley affair. It was true of Blue Streak, which cost us £60 million or £70 million. It was true of 321 all manner of things, going back to ground nuts. In other words, in these spheres, hon. Members are often like watch dogs which cannot bark when the burglar is there because they are not allowed on the scene of the crime until the burglar has bolted.
Back benchers of all parties are asking for the opportunity to play a constructive part in time rather than merely having the melancholy satisfaction of being able to point out what was wrong at a time when they are no longer able to do anything about it. I hope that these proposals will go some way towards securing that.
The whole question of the resources available to hon. Members and the facilities provided for hon. Members is quite inseparable from these Motions. If we are to play our full part in these new procedures, we must have the proper resources. I have referred to Mr. Arthur Greenwood's embarrassment, as he described it, when he brought me in here 27 years ago. I think that that was nothing to my own embarrassment recently when I was visited by a United States Congressman, when I had to explain that I did not have an office to take him to, when I looked at his retinue of staff, all apparently on the payroll of the State, when he looked for my wholly non-existant staff, and when I had to explain that hon. Members can have a desk in this place if they are lucky in a ballot. In other words, an hon. Member is elected to represent a constituency and then, to do his job, if he is lucky he can win a desk in a raffle.
I do not wish to go further into that aspect now, but I hope that the Government spokesman who winds up will refer to the very necessary parallel measures for providing hon. Members with the necessary facilities if they are to do a better job under the new conditions.
I turn from general to the particular. As to late sittings, we have heard differing opinions and I would not like to prophesy the result. We have experienced the experiment with morning sittings. It may well be that, after an experiment with no late sittings, and spill-over to the following morning, we will regard a return to the genuine, good, clean, all-night sitting as a merciful release. We have heard a warning of what might be 322 done on these spill-over mornings. It is an experiment which is worth trying, because I cannot believe that it does this place any good to be sitting persistently night after night all through the night in the way that it has for so many years.
I am still not altogether clear about the Count and the Division. If we are to have a Division on a morning sitting, the vote will be a Count in itself. It will look a little funny if there is a Division and less than 40 Members vote, as is possible if Members know in advance that on a morning sitting there will be no Count. I see no particular difficulty about the change in the half-past eleven rule. This is a good thing.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned the Clerks' wigs. We should think carefully not about that particular matter but about the danger of being diverted from real Parliamentary reforms merely to tinkering about with ritual and ceremony. It may be that there is an advantage in that we now know more accurately when Black Rod is going to visit us, although it is my opinion that the time wasted by the unexpected visits to this Chamber of Black Rod was nothing compared to the time wasted through the kind of machinery we have to use in actually doing the work.
Therefore, I hope we shall not be diverted from the real purpose of Parliamentary reform merely to endless discussions about whether the Clerks should wear wigs. There may be an advantage if they do not. It may turn out that they all have red hair, or no hair. There may be all sorts of surprises in store for us if the wigs come off. However, it seems to me that it is very much a matter for the Clerks themselves. I hope, as I say, that we shall concentrate on real reform—real changes in the way in which we do our work—rather than on whether the Serjeant at Arms wears knee breeches or plus fours.
It is essential that the pre-legislation committees which have been referred to should be specific to the job referred to them. I understood that to be the case from the Leader of the House. A kind of blanket committee to do that kind of job I would regard as objectionable in every way, but a committee selected with the qualities of the various Members in mind would clearly be valuable. This is a 323 way of bringing the expertise of various Members, acquired in various ways, to bear on special problems. Provided that the committees are to work in that way, my party will certainly support the proposals.
I am sorry that the Leader of the House was unable to be more forthcoming about the new Specialist Committees. True, he mentioned education; but surely we have to go further, and I see no reason why we should not proceed more rapidly—
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard me when I spoke earlier. The problem is not one of desire. I should like to expand this procedure, but there are two limitations. One is the staff, the expert Clerks. The other is the manning of the committees by hon. Members. It is no good announcing the setting up of committees if we find that Members are not keen enough not only to man them but to do the work that is required, such as coming back here for a week during a long recess to do the drafting. I am not anxious to go faster than the merits justify.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I listened to him carefully. I heard every word he said and I have heard him repeat them just now. We cannot necessarily accept those as completely insurmountable obstacles. It has been put to me that if we were to extend the Specialist Committee system, the Estimates Committee work might be reduced and its sub-committees which employ many Clerks might not then be required to the same extent.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
May I point out that the Select Committee on Estimates has a sub-committee on science and technology? It remains to be seen whether that is any longer necessary in the light of the establishment of the main committee on science and technology. This might be extended in other fields.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I agree, and I hope the Leader of the House will consider that point.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the difficulty in recruitment and finding Members to serve, I believe there will be no difficulty in finding 324 Members to do a job which is worth doing. The difficulty is to find Members who will stay all night to do a job which, frankly, is not always worth doing, unless they are taking part in the debate or they have a special contribution to make. Therefore, I cannot regard that as an insurmountable obstacle. I think there would be an excellent opportunity for hon. Members in connection with the National Health Service and all matters pertaining to National Health, which could draw hon. Members from all parts of the House with experience in that kind of thing.
I give full support to the proposed experiment with radio. The hon. Member for Ormskirk totally misunderstood the whole point. He said that we were to have wireless reports around the House to save Members coming into the Chamber. As I understand, the whole object of the experiment is to decide what kind of production we are able to get and then to decide whether or not we are justified in going further and ultimately using that kind of procedure for broadcasting generally. This is something which I welcome.
I come now to the most controversial matter, namely the Finance Bill. The hon. Member for Ormskirk made much of the fact that there is a constantly shifting scene here during these long passages of the Committee stage on the Finance Bill, that a set of Members interested in agriculture, for example, will troop in and remain for a hilarious two or three hours and will then disappear when other Members come in to deal with other matters. I think this is true, but I cannot see that taking the Finance Bill in Standing Committee upstairs would necessarily stop the same kind of procedure being adopted.
The Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and myself was designed to allow a Standing Committee to have a certain degree of flexibility. It was designed and drafted with the advice of officials of the House—I say that for the benefit of those who have criticised the way in which it is drafted—to enable any Member of the House to attend any sitting of the Standing Committee which is considering the Finance Bill and to take part in its deliberations, though not to vote. To suggest that this is unworkable 325 because the whole 630 Members would go whooping upstairs to pack the Committee Room to bursting point is quite wrong. Those Members would merely go in in the same way as they come into the Chamber at the moment, at such times as they are interested, and they would seek to be called in order to make various points.
We are broadly in favour of the kind of reforms which the right hon. Gentleman proposes, and we are anxious to support them, but we do not dismiss the kind of arguments which have been put from this side of the House with regard to the ancient traditional duties of Members to represent their constituents on matters concerning taxation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has made this point in earlier debates on the subject. It is the job of the back-bench Member to ventilate his constituents' grievances. It is the job of hon. Members to point out how a particular tax or Clause in the Finance Bill might affect people in certain occupations in his constituency. It would be wrong of this House to accept a solution which prevented the ordinary Member exercising that very important and valuable function.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
The hon. Gentleman, speaking from the Liberal benches, refers to the limitation or handicap which would be placed upon a Member who was not able to take part freely in debates on a Finance Bill and express the grievances of his constituency. I share that feeling. But if a Member is not able to let his vote follow his voice because he merely goes upstairs to spend a few moments in the Committee Room in the hope of catching the Chairman's eye, then the Liberal principle is quite unsustainable. If one cannot vote according to the way one's views are expressed, there is a constitutional difficulty which I would regard as insurmountable.
§ Dr. Winstanley
—that the votes that he has cast year after year in opposition during the Committee stage of the Finance B ill have had any effect at all, he cannot know how the procedure works. 326 Surely, it is not the vote that matters. The vote never changes anything at all. What matters is the opportunity to say things—to point out how a particular matter will affect a certain group of people, the opportunity to get an answer from the Minister and to get a suggestion considered. The least of the rights in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill of which I would feel deprived would be the right to vote. It is not the vote which makes the crucial difference at that time; it is surely the speech.
I know that these controversial matters will arise later when we shall be able to discuss them at greater length. However, I ask the Leader of the House to look carefully at this point. It is a workable compromise. It obviates the necessity for all hon. Members to remain up night after night in order to vote and, at the same time, it preserves the right of any individual Member to say what he wants to say about any Clause in the Finance Bill.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has ever considered the difficulty of Members keeping in touch with what was going on during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs. In view of the narrowness of the staircases and the smallness of the lifts, the ability to keep in touch even while a debate is taking place on the Floor of the House is quite difficult. The idea of having to rush up and down stairs in order to find out the situation on the Finance Bill is an absolute nightmare. The thought of 630 Members rushing up and down stairs to see what the position is fills me with complete bewilderment.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I am sure that it is not beyond the ingenuity of hon. Members to discover ways of finding out the position. Hon. Members often have to find out what the situation is in Standing Committees. My experience, limited though it is, has been that hon. Members materialise with remarkable regularity when they wish to make a contribution. Surely it would be possible to have a timetable. I will not go further on this matter, but I am sure that it is possible for hon. Members to keep in touch.
In general, we are in favour of these proposals and we are anxious to support 327 them. However, we cannot support the proposal to take the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs unless something quite definite is done to safeguard the rights about which I have been talking. It can be done by extending the Report stage, but that would necessarily have to be associated with a more liberal method of selecting Amendments on Report. I think that it could be done better by accepting an Amendment of the sort which we have tabled, and I hope to hear later that the Leader of the House has accepted it.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)
I disagree with very little of what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) has said. I agree particularly with the emphasis which he laid on the need for back bench Members to get in at the formative stage in decision making. The point was not made better than when the Opposition Chief Whip said in his evidence in the Sixth Report:…everyone knows a Minister preparing a Bill is consulting all sorts of outside organisations, and indeed must do so inevitably. The one lot of people he never consults in any way before he prepares it are the Members of the House of Commons, the Members of Parliament generally. All too often the Bill is then produced in a form agreed outside and is then given to the House on a much more take it or leave it' basis…This is the essence of much of the reform for which many back bench Members look.
The question about the Finance Bill has been thoroughly thrashed out. I do not wish to add much to what has been said except to agree with the basic change proposed, namely, to send it upstairs. It is a sad comment on Parliamentary reform that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) tabled an Amendment in these terms in 1959. The matter has been discussed thoroughly every year but no decision has been taken on it. The time has come when a decision should be taken. The views of Lord Butler have been quoted many times today. He replied to the debate on Parliamentary reform in July, 1959, when similar ideas concerning the Finance Bill were put forward. He said:All that we have said is that there might now be an experiment in that direction "—.[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 164.]328 That was in 1959, eight years ago. Now at last we are to have an experiment—or at least a decision is to be taken one way or the other. The Government should take a decision and ask the House to support it. In view of some of the things which the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) said in a rather abusive speech, or, for that matter, in view of what the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said, I cannot see a consensus emerging. There will be no consensus between views of the sort which they expressed and views which have been expressed by many other hon. Members.
What the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said about why the Finance Bill should not go to Committee was not so much a criticism of the plan to take it in Committee but, justifiably, a very heavy indictment of Standing Committee procedure. All the things which he said about the Finance Bill are applicable to every Bill which goes to Standing Committee. Such Bills are not given publicity, not much attention is paid to them, and the procedure is slow.
This debate centred on the Finance Bill has relatively neglected the bulky Sixth Report which we are supposed to be considering which looked at the whole question of Committee stages. Perhaps it ignores it, to some extent, because the Report is just a trifle disappointing. That is no reflection of those Members who served on the Select Committee, but its proposals are rather weak.
I must confess that my experience of Standing Committees is confined to two occasions during the one Session that I have been a Member, but it is above average for a back bench Member to serve twice on Standing Committees in one Session. However, since I served on the Committee which considered the Iron and Steel Bill, I believe that I can say that I crammed a lot of experience into one of those two occasions. Serving on that Committee shook be a great deal. I used to lecture about Parliament. I am one of those Members whom the right hon. Member for Flint, West seems to detest so much. I thought that I used to take a fairly inconoclastic line with my students about Parliamentary reform, but I never said anything as harsh to match the actual experience of serving on a Standing Committee, particularly on that which considered the Iron and Steel Bill.
329 I volunteered to serve on that Committee with some sense of history. I realised that it would be a historically interesting and historically important Committee. I thought that the historical experience might be interesting. I found that to take part in such an historical process is painful as well as lengthy. It turned out to be the longest ever in Parliamentary history. The Committee sat for 150 hours. My experience on it was a hearty lesson for a green and young back bencher in learning the rôle of the Government back bencher in Committee. I discovered that it was almost a silent rôle.
The Leader of the House was very frank and accurate in his description when he admitted this in his evidence before the Select Committee. He said:I think myself speaking for the Government that one of the most interesting facets of Parliamentary life today is the life of the Government back bencher in Standing Committee. Even Members on the other side here can remember times when they were Government Members once and suffered the frustration that they were never allowed to say anything for fear of postponing the proceedings.My right hon. Friend summed up the position with typical charming and disarming candour. It is a pity that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has left the Chamber, because she took my right hon. Friend up on this point. She swore that nothing like that happened to back bench Members during the 13 years of Conservative rule, although she quietly admitted that she was as co-operative as she always tried to be when serving on Committee. My right, hon. Friend replied to her in a simple but very effective manner. He said:The hon. Lady is subjectively right in her statements and I am statistically right.I am sure that he was statistically right.
I checked what contributions hon. Members opposite made in Committee stages when the Conservative Party was in power. It turned out that their contributions were as meagre as those of Members on this side of the House when in power.
Therefore, in dealing with Standing Committees and the way they operate, the Sixth Report is rather disappointing. First—again this is no criticism of those who served on the Committee—the Re- 330 port is short of statistical information, particularly about how much effect a Standing Committee has on a Bill. Perhaps the members of the Committee were afraid to find out lest they might have confirmed their worst fears that a Standing Committee on an average Public Bill serves little or no purpose in changing the legislation which is put before it. The only statistic given in the Report is that clack benchers spend an enormous amount of time in Standing Committees. The equivalent of 80 Parliamentary days every Session is spent in Standing Committee.
Had there been an attempt, even in a general way, to take a sample of a number of Bills during the past few years, from which the Select Committee might have worked out the extent of change which a Standing Committee effects in relation to the amount of time spent on a Bill, its efforts would have been well directed. Information of that nature would have been valuable because, strangely, it is the one area in Parliamentary reform which even outside researchers and academics have not covered. There have been very few detailed analyses of the Committee stages of Public Bills in the House of Commons.
I make that comment because I wish to draw attention to two experiences of mine during the last Session. The first was on the Iron and Steel Bill. With the thankful support of some civil servants at the Ministry of Power, I did a rough analysis on the Committee stage of the Bill. Five hundred Amendments were tabled on that Bill alone, 490 of them were by either the Government or the Opposition. That was not due to any lack of power on our side of the Committee, because we had with us my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). We did not, therefore, have weak or untalkative back-benchers on the Government side.
Anyone who studies the 150 hours devoted to the Bill in Committee and who 'analyses the mere handful of useful changes that were effected in Committee cannot but come to the conclusion that those changes could have been conducted in about one-third of the time. Nevertheless, we went through the monotonous, incredible, tiresome procedure of waiting patiently while the Opposition exhausted 331 themselves and the Government back benchers remained quiet as the Bill went through. Apart from the handful of useful changes to which I have referred, the only change in which back-benchers took part—in this case, back-benchers on both sides—was to force a new Clause into the Bill to ensure that the siting of the Corporation's offices should be done with some regard to the centres of production of steel. The location of the office is now in Kingsway, Holborn. That is the final sad commentary on the way that Standing Committees deal with legislation.
My second experience in Standing Committee was on the Leasehold Reform Bill. The political division between the two sides was as great as ever, but on this occasion a constructive, as opposed to an obstructive, role was played by backbenchers, on both sides. The explanation is simple. Because of the strange chance nature of the type of legislation on leasehold reform, back-benchers had access to information which the Front Benches did not have. Back-benchers were able to speak from experience of the peculiarities of the leasehold system and could counter arguments used by the Government Front Bench. As a result, a number of interesting and useful changes were made by Government and Opposition back-benchers together. The real distinction was that the back-bencher had access to information which the Government Front Bench did not have and could use it in scrutinising and dealing with the Bill. The result was a more constructive Standing Committee.
That brings us to the need for a radical reform of the way in which Standing Committees operate. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that there now remain very few other measures of Parliamentary reform and, as the Sixth Report deals with Standing Committees, that is what one would expect. Nevertheless, the number of proposals which have come forward to make it worth while for an average back-bencher like myself to serve on Standing Committee are vey few.
My right hon. Friend has said that there is a pool of back-benchers who are always being tapped to serve on Standing Committees. He admitted that during 332 his 20 years of opposition he had managed to avoid it almost entirely. After my experiences to date, I am bent on following his example, but that is not because of any lack of desire on my part to do a decent job. I would like to do a decent job of work in Standing Committee. We should be given the setting in which to do it. There is nothing on the Order Paper or in the Sixth Report which leads in that direction.
I hesitate to suggest what could be done, because I realise that to do so could get me into deep water. When looking, however, at the way in which certain Private Bills are handled or the way in which expert advice is sometimes taken, outside witnesses are brought in and simple points are thrashed out, one wonders why those techniques cannot be used in Standing Committee. Would not that kind of innovation be a fair swap to the Opposition to give up some of their delaying tactics in return for genuine procedures in which we could constructively discuss Bills and analyse parts of them in detail?
I make that suggestion because the argument is used that we need specialist information and the opportunity to investigate and interrogate witnesses. The example of specialist committees is cited. Why does not the same argument apply to Standing Committees? Admittedly, there is a difference in what the two types of Committee achieve, but in basic procedure surely the same tactics should be applicable to a Standing Committee as to a Select Committee. If we had that sort of reform, Standing Committees should become more attractive than they are at present. I realise that some of my suggestions may be impractical, but at least they should be given consideration.
Whatever hon. Members opposite say, since my right hon. Friend became Leader of the House he has given us something of a new deal for back-benchers—except, that is to say, for the back-bencher in Standing Committee. He is not getting a deal at all so far as I can see.
I quoted earlier on shortly from what Lord Butler said in replying to the debate on Parliamentary reform in July 1959 and I should like to close with another quotation from him. This was on the general question of Parliamentary reform. Having heard about men of genius contemplating entering the House 333 and wishing to play an effective role, and people wondering how they could contemplate doing so because of the procedure, Mr. Butler, as he then was, said:The answer may well lie in the mouth of the younger Pitt, who said that he could not have run the House of Commons at all had not all his supporters, the country squires, been extremely stupid."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 37.]That was his reply. I am sure we are not going to get that reply to the debate today, but I hope we shall have a much more constructive role, and my plea is that those hon. Members on the Government back benches who have the misfortune of finding themselves on Standing Committees should not have to rely on the silent, ignorant rôle of the country squires.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) and I think he did the House a service in being, as I think he was, the first speaker in the debate specifically to draw attention to the rôle of the Government back benchers. The rôle of Government back benchers—I speak as one who has had some experience of it— can be at times tedious, and cart appear sterile, but in a sense they have asked for it. They have come here to support a Government their constituents have helped to elect along with them, and who are doing things which are unpopular with the Opposition, and the duty to support the Government, even at the expense of some inconvenience and tedium, is one which they cannot shirk. Therefore, in so far as some of these proposals which are put before us today by the Leader of the House are directed towards alleviating the situation of Government back benchers, I must confess I have no great sympathy with them.
I hope the hon. Member will get a constructive reply to his suggestion about the conduct of Committees, but I shall be surprised if he does, because—I shall come to this in the latter part of my remarks—I think the objectives of Leaders of the House as a class about back benchers include keeping them happily employed, but I doubt if they include bringing them within the ambit of constructive or influential contribu- 334 tions to the work of government. But I may be wrong.
There is one point I wish to put straight away to the right hon. Gentleman who, I understand, is to wind up the debate. I preface it by saying that it is odd but none the less true that in a debate designed to simplify and straighten out our procedure we seem to have been in a pretty good muddle throughout about what the actual procedure at the end of the debate is to be for dealing with the Motions put down by the Leader of the House. I am interested in this because today, admittedly rather late, I put down an Amendment to Motion No. 2 and Motion No. 6, Amendments which I do not want to press because I sympathise with the wish of the Government to get those two Motions through tonight. I do not think I need press the Amendments if the right hon. Gentleman can give me the assurance which I shall now ask for.
These two Motions deal with the question of sending Bills upstairs for Second Reading and for Report. Motions can be made by Ministers enabling this to be done, and they can be opposed by 20 Members who, if they oppose in this way, have a veto. I understand from the usual channels on my side of the House that in practice Motions falling under the heading of Motion No. 2 have in the past never been moved on a Friday. I do not think it would be for the convenience of the House if such Motions were to be moved on a Friday because 20 Members who might have an interest might—might—not be there. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give me an undertaking when he winds up that it will not be the intention of the Government to move such Motions on a Friday. If he can—I anticipate no difficulty—there will be no need for me to press my Amendments next time we discuss procedure.
The proposals of the Leader of the House have had on the whole a bad Press on this side of the House. Although I think some of them are bad—indeed, very bad; and I shall come to that—I do not think they are all bad. On the face of them, the proposals about our procedure under Standing Order No. 9 have a great deal to commend them, and I hope that we shall give them a fair 335 wind. A little flexibility was overdue, and it will be interesting to see how the experiment works out.
The other two main proposals are deplorable. I do not think that the proposal for a morning sitting as an extension of the conduct of the previous evening's business will work, and I doubt if it will be acceptable either to the House and to those who are responsible for facilitating its work.
I deplore the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs to Committee. When we discussed procedure last Session, I made much too long a speech at much too late an hour about it, and I do not propose to weary the House again with the arguments. But certain fallacious arguments have been put forward today in support of the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs. What happened this year under an experimental procedure has been cited. However, this year's Finance Bill was not typical. In many respects, it was far less controversial than usual.
The words of Lord Butler were cited by the Leader of the House in support of his proposal, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) pointed out, the right hon. Gentleman quoted from Lord Butler rather selectively and in such a way as not to bring out the full sense of the context in which he was speaking. Whatever Lord Butler said and whatever construction is placed upon his words by supporters of this proposal, Lord Butler was not speaking as a back bencher, having spent 30 years in office in one form or another. In my view, it is the interests of back benchers, irrespective of the side of the House on which they sit, against which in the long run the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs militates.
Lord Butler had been through the mill, having been the Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the conduct of one of the most unpopular Finance Bills that I can remember. It was the year of the so-called "Pots and Pans" Budget, and it is not surprising if it left its mark.
Back benchers as a whole should realise that one of the effects of our present procedure is that the House can 336 bring the full weight of its influence to bear upon Chancellors who have made themselves responsible for unpopular and controversial proposals. When the House does that, it makes its mark, and it is not a bad thing that it should. I regret the proposed change in a most vital part of our financial procedure.
§ Mr. E. Rowlands
Besides making its mark, does it change anything? Can one quote instances of significant changes occurring as a result of back benchers spending night after night discussing particular Measures?
§ Mr. Ramsden
I think that it does in certain important instances. I recall a change in the treatment of the taxation of Government fixed interest securities in connection with the Capital Gains Tax two Finance Bills ago. Off the cuff, that is the best that I can do for the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that there are other examples.
The built up weight of opinion in the House does and can bring about changes. If we are to take the Finance Bill upstairs, I hope that more attention will be given to the possibility, which originates from the benches opposite with the Chairman of the Select Committee, of the re-committal of certain of the more politically contentious clauses before Report stage. That would be making the best of a very bad job, but it might be something. I was rather sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral did not pursue this possibility, which originates from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). I hope that we may hear something about that when the Minister winds up the debate.
I see no good reason in the proposal for curtailing debate on affirmative Resolutions. I cannot remember cases having arisen which would make it possible to argue that this procedure had ever been badly abused; but I can remember cases—one in particular—where very good speeches have been made because of extended debate on affirmative Resolutions. For example, the House may recall a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) about Hola Camp. I am charging my memory when I say it was on an affirmative Resolution. It may not have been. However, the right 337 hon. Gentleman was not called until 12 o'clock. Those present on that occasion would agree, I think, that what he said, while not particularly welcome to either side of the House, constituted a remarkable and influential Parliamentary performance. It would be a pity if such opportunities were curtailed. I can think of no argument from our experience for curtailing this procedure on the ground that it has been commonly used, as the negative procedure was commonly used, for extensive filibustering.
The Leader of the House began his remarks by expressing himself as animated by the reforming mood of the House and an anxiety to meet a general wish to enable legislation to go through at the tempo required by modern industrial change. I fear that I cannot altogether rise to the mood of the right hon. Gentleman, nor do I think that it is quite so simple as he would have us believe today.
Leaders of the House have their problems, as I know, having been Parliamentary Private Secretary to one. The existence of a large majority, which has to be kept happily and busily engaged, is a problem which it is not always easy to solve. There is a temptation to embark on a diversionary ploy. Although I do not question much of the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, this exercise in changing our procedure has some of the characteristics of a diversionary ploy and some of the disadvantages of such a ploy, because our procedure is not really too bad as it stands. When one embarks on making changes for the sake of making changes, inevitably one does some things which are perhaps foolish, as I think morning sittings were, and undesirable, as are the present proposals to remove Finance Bill upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman will, therefore, excuse us if, while we welcome some of these proposals that he has made today, we look at others very considerably askance.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
The right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) believes that taking the Finance Bill in Committee upstairs will act against the interests of back benchers. I have some doubts about this. I look at the Finance Bill slightly differently from the way in which 338 various hon. Members have considered it so far. I tend to put as the prime consideration what is good for the Finance Bill rather than what is good for the convenience of hon. Members.
One of the things that I have noticed during our annual study of the Finance Bill is that its scrutiny is obviously quite inadequate. This is known by all those who take part in the debates on the Finance Bill, and one thing that can be said with complete certainty is that nobody understands all of a Finance Bill, and that a large number of those who take part in the debate do not understand all that much of it.
I would like to see the study of a Finance Bill approaching that of an interrogating committee, whereby questions can be put and answers obtained. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) talked about the waste of talent in the House. The waste of time on the Finance Bill, when a large number of hon. Members are concerned to be present only to record their votes, or, on occasions, to wait a long time to add their modest contributions, this is far far less than what they could give, and the benefits which could be obtained from the proper use of their time.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms. E. Rowlands) put it splendidly when he talked about the silent role of a Member of a Standing Committee. We know that a Standing Committee may have a function, but surely the next stage of reform must be towards making greater use of interrogation, whereby questions can be put again and again and again until the questioner is satisfied. The right that we have at the moment of making a statement of our beliefs, and in Standing Committee putting an occasional question, is no substitute for this powerful means of obtaining information by the age-old method of question and answer adequately prepared and adequately pressed. If we are to provide for the study of our Bills the precise and accurate instrument, we will need to move in this direction.
I believe that the Select Committees have not made use of people in the best possible way. The relatively large number who now serve on a Select Committee could be replaced by fewer people making more extensive use of the question and 339 answer approach, and I believe that this is one reason for the great problem that we have in manning our Standing Committees. We have a large number of people sitting there playing their own silent rôles, when it would be far better to have a few people, intensely prepared, actively taking part in finding out what it is all about. Instead of having one person inadequately represented on a number of committees, it would be far better if each Member was concerned with one or two facets of particular interest and importance, and he could for a limited period become very knowledgeable and reasonably expert.
I think that when we finally get the Finance Bill upstairs we will have better discussions there than we have had on the Floor of the House. There has been an inordinate amount of time-wasting. We know that the most important matters are rarely disposed of in the way that they should be. Trivial matters are dealt with at great length, but important matters go through relatively quickly. A lot depends on the time of the day at which the matters are discussed, rather than the importance of the measures with which we are concerned.
One must give hon. Gentlemen opposite their due. It is obvious that from time to time they get angry when they realise that they are not making an impact. This is understandable, and it will continue. But far better is it that this waste of time takes place in Committee upstairs rather than that it should concern the whole membership of the House of Commons.
When we get upstairs those who expect much shorter discussions may find themselves mistaken; discussions may be more lengthy. The silence that has been shown on the Government back benches may be replaced with a little more loquacity. There is the further fact that hon. Members on both sides feel some deterrent about speaking when by doing so they are keeping their hon. Friends up into the late hours of the night. Moving upstairs may remove at least part of this deterrent.
In the lesser formalities of the Committee rooms upstairs changes and concessions may more readily be accepted. Too often we have great debates on 340 matters of principle when the amount of principle involved is rather small, and too often Front Bench speakers opposite try desperately to notch up a so-called victory which they can present to their party outside when they may be better advised, in the interests of good legislation, to deal with matters more quietly and thoroughly which they can much more readily do in the relative quiet of a Committee room upstairs.
The one thing that I feel uneasy about is the attendance required on the part of Members of the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill. Reference has been made to the comings and goings of hon. Members when the House sits as a Committee on this Bill. The comings and goings, as interest waxes and wanes, are due to the ability of certain speakers to get hold of trivial points and bore the House utterly. On these occasions those who do not need to sit through such speeches can take refuge in the Library, preparing their next speech, but if the Finance Bill goes upstairs this will no longer be possible.
One of the great burdens that my hon. Friends and I realise we may have to face is having to sit through a debate of excruciating dullness, where matters which are not of interest to us are being discussed. Because of the rather shorter time involved in the calling of Divisions we may need to be present for long periods. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this point and see whether he can make our labours in Committee a little less arduous, so that we may reasonably be expected to bear them.
I now turn to the question of late night sittings. I believe that they have had a profound effect on our Parliamentary procedures. We agree that it is rather more important to allow an hon. Member to speak, even though he is keeping us all from our beds, rather than to silence him and send him home with feelings of bitter anger. The need for sleep and the disapproval of the House at a Member's remarks coming at a late hour have been sufficient safeguards up to now.
I do not believe that the proposals that we are discussing will alter that situation, but they will give the Government the option of deciding whether to allow hon. Members to speak on in this way or, in cases where it may be of advantage not 341 to, to postpone the debate. I am not optimistic about this reform but I am prepared to try out the experiment.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is one of the great reformers. The true reformer has a difficult task. His road is always hard. He has to take responsibility for initiating new Measures, the effects of which he cannot entirely foresee. The amount of work and the effort he must deploy are always very great. We are very fortunate that on this occasion we have one who has a fund of ideas with the energy to carry them out, and we shall support him.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has contributed some interesting proposals about Standing Committees, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), yet both support the proposal to send the Finance Bill to such a Committee—I hope not before they see the sort of-reforms there which they desire. Having been a Government back bencher for many years, I have great sympathy with them as regards the enforced silence of Government back benchers in Standing Committee. I did not always obey such orders very thoroughly, and my experience was that when my party was in Government we were a little more in revolt on the back benches in Committee than are those who are at present on the back benches.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North need not be depressed by his own efforts in Standing Committee. He greatly contributed to that one on the Leasehold Reform Bill because of his great knowledge of the subject in his own constituency. This is the real value of Standing Committees, as he said—the access to information. Those of us who serve on Standing Committees are given access to information, not only from our knowledge of our constituencies but because people from outside offer it and brief us on subjects in a Bill. If that could be extended and Committees could have the power to call witnesses or civil servants from the Department concerned, that access to information would be even more valuable.
I do not think that I was the only hon. Member who was shocked by the deliberate division of the House which the 342 Lord President made into full-time and part-time Members and the derogatory tone he used in referring to "amateur politicians" and the half-time or part-time Members, which showed a complete lack of appreciation of one of the most valuable characteristics of our Parliament —that we are not a Parliament of professional politicians. If we are to order our procedure on the basis that we are all professional politicians, we have a great deal to lose.
Many of us are, if he wishes to use that term, "amateur politicians". This means that we do not rely for our livelihoods on pleasing the Whips and going into the Lobbies as Lobby fodder and that, because we are concerned from day to day with business, commerce and the professions, we can bring into the House up-to-date information on these subjects which the professional politician never has. Therefore, the House should order its procedure to provide for the part-time politician.
If part-time means that one is employed in something else in the morning and gaining information on other subjects outside the House, it does not mean that one is always part-time, because many of us are here the whole afternoon and evening and sometimes the whole night. For the right hon. Gentleman to make those derogatory remarks shows his failure to understand the nature of the House.
What happened to the Government back bench so-called "full-time" Members, to whom he referred, when we had morning sittings? There were empty benches there behind one Minister and a Whip. Had this been work on Standing Committees, the Government would have had to maintain a quorum, but because it was in the House, Government back benchers just did not attend. Of course, it was very nice and convenient for the Government to get their business without bothering to have a quorum of their own Members and to present themselves to the public as leading such a hard-working party that they were sitting all day. It was a phoney procedure.
May I deal with the two Motions which refer to Statutory Instruments, Motions Nos. 9 and 18. The scrutiny of Statutory Instruments by a Select Committee and the debating of Statutory Instruments by the House depends upon the parent Statute. Whatever the parent Statute 343 says about the subordinate legislation which it authorises, the House is bound to carry out the procedure accordingly. The parent Statute may say that a Minister has to make his subordinate legislation by directive or even by a letter which never comes before the House; or it may say that he is to legislate by Statutory Instrument, sometimes which need not be laid before the House, sometimes which must be laid before the House but in respect of which there is no further Parliamentary procedure, but more often by means of a Statutory Instrument which is laid before the House and which is subject to the procedure of annulment—that is to say, any hon. Member can put on the Order Paper a Prayer against such an Instrument and it can be debated within 40 days of its being laid before the House. The other type of Statutory Instrument requires an affirmative Resolution either because the parent Statute requires it to be laid in draft before the House before it becomes operative or because the parent Statute requires it to be laid when made and it becomes operative only on approval by the House or dies if it does not receive that approval; or in some form or another the House has to bring it in operation or keep it in operation by an affirmative Order.
The main division between Statutory Instruments which have to be considered by the House divides those in respect of which there has to be Parliamentary procedure by annulment by Prayer against the Order from those which require affirmative Resolution. To class these together is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the parent Statute in making this distinction between these two types of Order. This is fought out again and again in Committee and on Report on Bills going through the House. Shall the Minister be allowed to legislate by means of an Order which must first have the approval of the House or may he legislate by means of an Order which can be effective but which can be questioned by any hon. Member who chooses to do so in the House?
The modern reason for requiring this subordinate legislation to be by affirmative Order is that the affirmative Resolution procedure gives an unlimited time for debate in the House. The annulment 344 procedure has to end by 11.30 p.m. under the Standing Order which was first introduced in 1951, but very deliberately that Standing Order did not refer to Statutory Instruments which required an affirmative Resolution, and so over the years since 1951 it has always been clearly distinguished when discussing Bills that if the Minister is being given an important power to legislate—perhaps to create crimes or to impose taxes or to set up important schemes—then it should be done by means of an Order which require an affirmative Resolution in the House and which can be debated without any limit of time.
The Motion on the Order Paper seeks to make the two types of Statutory Instrument the same for the House. This is something in the nature of retrospective legislation. In many cases in discussing Bills going through the House, if hon. Members had realised that they would be given only a limited time to discuss a Statutory Instrument of this type, they would have insisted upon the matter being put in the Bill itself and the House legislating there and then about it. But because it is necessary and obviously wise at times to leave the Minister power to legislate, the House has been prepared to do that, with the protection that if it is one of those important cases it must be done by means of the affirmative Resolution.
This point has been made more evident in recent legislation by the present Government. On no fewer than two occasions the Government have altered a Statute on the day on which Royal Assent was given to it. In the case of the Prices and Incomes Act, on the very day Royal Assent was given a new Schedule was put into the Act by a Statutory Order. On the very day that the Building Controls Act received Royal Assent the vital figure of the amount requiring a licence was altered by Order. If that is going to be done, then the House must be given a full chance of debating it unlimited by the 11.30 p.m. Rule.
Another instance, again used by the Government, is what I call the "grandchildren" Order. This was applied in the case of the Rhodesia Act, in which the Minister is given power to make a general Order and the ability to delegate to himself power to make further Orders, 345 or delegate even to somebody else the power to make further Orders. These further Orders are so far down the list that I call them "the grandchildren". One has the parent Act and then the main Order and then there is someone making "grandchildren" Orders, perhaps without even bringing them before the House. That main Order ought to be left to debate without limitation of time.
For those two reasons in particular—there are many others—I think we must distinguish between the two types of Order, those which can be annulled and those which require an affirmative Resolution to bring them into effect or keep them in operation.
I look upon Resolution 18 as an effort to gag the House. It is certainly an Order which we never contemplated over the past 16 years when discussing legislation going through the House dealing with the subject of subordinate legislation.
As to the scrutiny of the Statutory Instruments before they are debated by the House after the Minister has made them, if there is any Parliamentary procedure applicable to them they are considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Select Committee has terms of reference which set out seven points for which it is to look in any Statutory Instrument which comes before it. These are points dealing not with the merits of the Order but with the form of the Order, whether it is retrospective, whether it imposes a tax, and so on.
But the Select Committee on Procedure puts its finger on one point where there is an omission from the terms of reference. It is true that the seventh term of reference is that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments may consider whether the form or purport of the Order requires further elucidation. But in applying that point the Committee has had difficulty at times when an Order has come before it where it considers that the drafting is defective. It has been rather difficult to squeeze a point about defective drafting into that term of reference "form and purport requiring further elucidation."
So, very rightly, the Select Committee on Procedure recommended in paragraph 31 of the Sixth Report:The terms of reference of the Statutory Instruments Committee do not specifically em 346 power them to report upon the drafting of an instrument where this appears to them to be defective. In view of the fact that it is not possible for the House to amend Instruments, your Committee attach particular importance to the Select Committee having the power to draw the attention of the House to any defects of drafting before affirmative or negative proceedings are taken, and they recommend that the terms of reference of the Committee should be amended accordingly.I am surprised that the Leader of the House did not include that recommendation in his Motion No. 9. As he has not, I have tabled an Amendment which I think would bring the recommendation on this point into operation.
§ Mr. Chapman
As the hon. Gentleman says, this was a recommendation of the Select Committee. I stand by it, and so does the Committee. But I wonder whether there is not some difficulty here on which the hon. Gentleman might comment from his experience. If the House accepted the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, which would carry out what the Select Committee suggested, would there be some danger of the phrase being misused by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments in order to take discussion of Statutory Instruments much wider than is the real function of that Committee? Would his form of words open the door to discussion of the merits of the Statutory Instruments?
§ Mr. Page
I do not think that the short phrase I use in my Amendment could possibly open the door to discussion by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments of the merits of the Instruments. What the Committee wishes to do is to call the attention of a Department to an apparent defect in drafting. The Department might be able to explain why it so worded the Statutory Instrument, and the Committee might be satisfied.
Let me give the background. The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, after examining an Instrument and being not satisfied on any point, calls for a memorandum from the Department concerned. If it is then not satisfied with the explanation in the memorandum, it calls before it witnesses from the Department. If it is then not satisfied, it reports the defect to the House. At that stage, the Select Committee's duty is ended. All I now ask is that the Select Committee should have the power to report to the House some 347 thing that appears to it to be a defect in drafting. My anticipation is that the matter would never get as far as that, because if the Committee were right the Instrument would be withdrawn, and reissued as redrafted. But the Select Committee would serve a useful purpose if it had that power.
The Select Committee on Procedure made other recommendations concerning the procedure of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. It recommended, for example, that that Committee should, perhaps, go into the merits of the Orders. There is great difficulty in this. There was a further recommendation that hybrid Orders—those affecting private interests as well as public interests —should be referred to a Joint Committee in a way similar to that adopted in another place. I believe that this would be welcome, but it is a very extensive and elaborate amendment which would need very careful drafting.
Motion No. 14 deals with wigs and gowns. I did not understand the reference by the Leader of the House to a "recent accretion", and his phrase about fancy dress and mysterious requests from someone that these wigs and gowns should be removed. The right hon. Gentleman did not say by whom the requests had been made, and I have not been able to discover by whom they were made. It was certainly not done by the Select Committee on Procedure. There is no recommendation in any of the Reports we are now considering, or in any other Reports, as far as I know, made by the Select Committee on Procedure, dealing with wigs and gowns.
All hon. Members are well aware of the responsibilities and the duties of the clerks of the House, their responsibility for the good management of the House, for the custody of the records of the House and so on. The Clerk of the House is in the place of Mr. Speaker at times. When a Speaker has to be elected or there is a vacancy through death, for example, he has that importance and dignity. The responsibilities of the Clerks-Assistant are also great. They keep the minutes of the House. They get our Notices of Motion and our Questions in proper order and they look after the Notice Paper and the Order form. 348 As my Amendment indicates, wearing of the wig and gown shows an independence of any party or Government in office. It shows that the Clerks owe their duties to the House itself and not to anyone else. It shows that they are learned in the procedure of the House. I have no doubt that this is the thin end of the wedge to remove any ceremony from Mr. Speaker himself. We shall finish with less dignity than the mayor and the town clerk in a local council meeting.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The hon. Member is quite wrong in all his assumptions. The matter arose from quite different sources. It was not the business of the Select Committee to consider such a matter. Therefore it did not consider it. I assure the hon. Member that he is quite mistaken in all his assumptions.
§ Mr. Page
We hear again of the mysterious sources from which this has come. I should have thought that it was obviously a matter for the Select Committee. If the House is to do anything about it it should have a recommendation one way or the other from the Committee. Until we have that, I hope the House will reject this stupid attack on the dignity of the House. [HON. MEMBERS "Nonsense."]
Motion No. 12, which deals with Lords Amendments, is of considerable importance, although it seems to be a slight amendment. It seeks to remove from this House the power to discuss whether we shall or shall not debate Lords Amendments, that is to say, whether the Lords Amendments have been brought to us at a time when it is possible for us to consider them in a proper way. One of the most frequent complaints I receive about the functions of this House is that we are producing unintelligible legislation. I hear this again and again, and have done so particularly over the last two or three years.
When we have time to think about the legislation and to take advice from outo side this House from people whom that legislation will affect, we have been able to produce some very good Acts of Parliament, but again and again this Government have brought in Amendments without the House having proper time to consider them. The 28 pages of closely typed Schedules whipped at us at the 349 last moment on the Land Commission Bill were a shocking example. The particular occasion to which Motion No. 12 would refer is that which occurred under Leasehold Reform Bill. At 5 o'clock one afternoon their Lordships finished with that Bill. They finished with the Third Reading of the Bill at 5 o'clock and they had made extensive Amendments in that Third Reading as well as very substantial Amendments in Committee and on Report.
There was no print at that time in this House. It was quite impossible to put forward Amendments to those Lords Amendments at the time when they finished at 5 o'clock that afternoon. They had to be taken by this House the following afternoon and so one had to worry the Clerks for the hours between 5 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the evening to try to find the numbering of the lines in the Lords Amendments so that one could put down Amendments to them which would be on the Notice Paper on the next day. If we are deprived of the opportunity of complaining about such a thing and saying that we do not want to deal with the Lords Amendments in such a rush, the House will be deprived of a point of procedure which is of great use to us.
I return to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North about Standing Committees and access to information. It is vitally important when we legislate that we should have access to information from outside. When Amendments are put on the Notice Paper overnight, the ordinary Member does not see them until the morning of the day that they are to be dealt with in the House. Only those who have the conduct of the matter are able to find out what is happening. How can the ordinary Member obtain access to outside information and ensure that we are legislating properly? It is the details of legislation that affect individual members of the public.
Some of us may think that we are here to take part in great policy debates. Most of us think that we are here as legislators to try to put on to the Statute Book laws in an intelligible form. Unless we have the time to do that, the time to think, the time to obtain information on various matters, it cannot be done. The public expects us to take care of this 350 side of the functions of the House. Many of the Motions which will affect Amendments to Standing Orders will reduce the opportunity and the ability of the ordinary Member to attend to the details of legislation.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I cannot believe that the dignity of the House is either enhanced or destroyed by allowing our Clerks, who conduct a very important job, to decide whether they wish to wear wigs.
The provision I want to deal with is Standing Order No. 9. During the 22 years I have been in the House I have studied this Standing Order quite a lot. I think I hold a personal record in having moved the Adjournment of the House under this Standing Order successfully on three occasions. I say this only to show that I can claim a little expertise in this subject and to lay the ground for saying that I strongly disapprove of the present proposals. I do not think that it will make things better, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it will make things worse.
Mr. Speaker, you have arrived at a fortunate psychological moment, because I was about to say that what is wrong with Standing Order No. 9 is you, Sir. I say that in a dynastic sense. What has destroyed Standing Order No. 9 and destroyed the purpose and the idea in which it was introduced has been a series of Speakers. Originally amongst the rights of Members of Parliament was the right to raise for debate questions of importance as they arose. The question whether it was urgent, the question whether it was a matter of public importance, was for the Member himself to decide; and, if 40 other Members rose and expressed their agreement with him and asked for a debate to be inserted, he had this right.
That right was abused by the Irish who wished to make this House unworkable. So it was said to Members of this House, "Please let us give Mr. Speaker a discretion and we will promise you that that discretion will only be used to prevent filibustering. Your right will be preserved." Mr. Speaker, it was not. A series of holders of your office defaulted on that undertaking. These are the precedents which we are always told hold 351 the hand of the Speaker. Every time a precedent reduces the opportunity which was promised to the House, that becomes sacred. But precedents work only one way, the precedents which allow the use of this rule always seem to be forgotten. It is only the precedents that restrict that remain.
May I give an example? I sought to move the Adjournment of this House on the question of the murder of the Viljoen family in Rhodesia, the bringing of blood and violence into the issue. On that I brought a pretty exact precedent in the initiation of that kind of violence in Kenya when the Adjournment had been granted. Every time I had succeeded in moving the Adjournment of this House—and that is on these three occasions—it has never been without an argument. Each time the holder of your office, Sir, has said to me, "No, this will not do," and each time I have argued with him, as have other hon. Members, and there has generally been about a 20 minutes argument before the Chair has been persuaded to grant the Adjournment.
Indeed, in one case the Motion was originally moved by one of my hon. Friends—this was on the question of the Bahraini prisoners—and the Speaker held that his Motion was out of order. I then moved the Motion in a different form to get round the objection which the Speaker had taken to the previous Motion, and I succeeded.
Those were the precedents. But when you came into office, Mr. Speaker, those precedents were ignored and wiped away. We were told that there might be no argument as to your Ruling. Before, there always had been arguments. But it was then said when some protest was made that if there were to be no argument, the Member who moved the Motion would at least be given an opportunity fully to put his argument to you before it was either accepted or rejected. If one is arguing that the circumstances are important and urgent, it is quite inevitable that the kind of things that show that the matter is urgent and important are also the kind of things that one may also be urging when moving the Motion. This was allowed.
I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) trying to raise the question of Vietnam. 352 He was, I think, allowed 12 minutes to expand on the importance and the urgency of what he sought to raise. But each time it is further and further restricted. When I tried to do that same thing today, I was not allowed half a minute before I was told that I was out of order. Therefore, each time it is you, Sir, and your predecessors in office who pare this down, because the Speaker wishes to get the business of the House through and naturally reacts against anything which interrupts or postpones that business.
This proposal—and I say this with due respect—goes in exactly the opposite direction. It takes the matter even further out of the hands of the House. Paragraph (3) provides:A Member intending to propose to move the adjournment of the House under the provisions of this order shall give notice to Mr. Speaker by twelve of the clock, if the urgency of the matter is known at that hour.This is a wrong provision. Standing Order No. 9 should be about the question which arises at Question Time or in a Ministerial statement—the question which blows up and the excitement arises at that point. It may be a Private Notice Question. Whatever it is, when something arises, the first thing which one does is table a Private Notice Question. If the answer is unsatisfactory, one moves on and says, "This is unsatisfactory. Let us have an immediate debate." If the matter blows up at Question Time, we shall be told that it was not urgent at 12 o'clock, and even though the question had not been asked the subject was known at 12 o'clock, and one cannot move the Adjournment of the House. I have seen the way in which one reason after another is given for not adjourning the House.
What this means is that the matter is being handed back to the usual channels and that we may get a debate if the two Whips agree and Mr. Speaker has been given notice by 12 o'clock.
§ Sir Do Glover
I support what the hon. and learned Gentleman was saying, but paragraph (3) goes on to provide:If the urgency is not so known he shall give notice as soon thereafter as is practicable.Surely the Member could give notice immediately after an answer has been given to a Private Notice Question?
§ Mr. Paget
Precisely. The unsatisfactoriness of the Private Notice Question is what makes it debatable, but what the Private Notice Question was about may have been known before 12 o'clock, and therefore it will be said, "But this matter which you wish to raise was known before 12 o'clock. Why did you not raise it?"
§ Mr. Chapman
My hon. and learned Friend is misreading the paragraph. It is not a question of the matter being known by 12 o'clock; it is a question of the urgency of the matter being known, and the notice is to be given when the urgency is known. When an unsatisfactory answer has been given to a Private Notice Question the matter will become urgent and my hon. and learned Friend will succeed in his application.
§ Mr. Paget
I have never known urgency to arise because the answer to a Question is unsatisfactory. Urgency arises- -and all the precedents show this —because, perhaps, a Spanish prisoner is held, because prisoners are being taken out of the jurisdiction or because murders have occurred in Kenya. The urgency arises from the circumstances and not from the answer given by the Government.
The instinct of the man who is responsible for our debates—and that is you, Sir—is to get the business through. The instinct of the Chair has always been restrictionist. The opportunities for restriction in this sort of provision seem to be unlimited.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Surely this proposal takes away the precedents about which my hon. and learned Friend is so concerned. It will be for the Speaker to judge, in the light of the events, irrespective of from where the pressure comes, whether the matter is of such urgency that it should be debated. The effect of this proposal will be that we shall get more debates within one year than we have had in four or five years in the past.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot argue against a background of three or four debates.
§ Mr. Paget
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I come next to the question that we are getting away from precedents. We are getting away from them to give an unfettered discretion to Mr. Speaker. But who made those precedents? They were made by Mr. Speaker and a series of Mr. Speakers before him. I remember where we started. We began with a right in hon. Members to move the Adjournment of the House. It was within their discretion, not within the discretion of the Chair. It has been the precedents of Mr. Speaker which have cut down that right.
It was Mr. Speaker's precedents which, to my mind, have gone back on the undertaking to the House that if hon. Members gave a discretion to protect them from filibustering, they would not lose any right to the legitimate use of this procedure. Therefore, to give to the very office which has destroyed the procedure last time an unlimited discretion to do it again does not seem to me to be the way to make the Order work, and I do not believe that it will.
Paragraph (1) of the new Order specifiesa specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration".Paragraph (4) provides for additional factors which Mr. Speaker must consider. All this goes to restrict the use of the Order. I do not believe that its effect will be more debates except when both Front Benches want them. Under the new Order, we are not likely to get debates from the back benches any more than we did before.
I still believe that we should go back to where we started. If 40 hon. Members are not enough to demand a debate, I would agree; let us say 100. If, however, at any time in this House 100 hon. Members rise in their place who wish to insert three hours of debate and are prepared to accept that the day be lengthened by that time, if we are a responsible House with respect for ourselves and each other that is something to which the 100 Members should be entitled. It is the House which should decide this. It should be our discretion and our responsibility. I do not think that the rule will he workable until we go back to where we were—possibly 355 substituting 100 for 40—before the Irish obstructionists made a nonsense of it,
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The First Secretary of State (Mr. Michael Stewart)
It was understood from the beginning of the debate that we should not tonight ask the House to decide anything on which there would be a difference of opinion. The House will, therefore, want me first to deal with those of the Motions which are not basically contentious but about which a certain number of questions and arguments have been advanced. After I have done that, I shall want to say a few words about some of the contentious Motions. What I say in that respect, however, can be regarded only as an interim comment by the Government, because we will debate those contentious Motions more fully on a later occasion.
Following the example of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), I should like to take the Motions in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper. Motion No. 2, about Second Reading Committees. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for an assurance that the reports of the proceedings of those Committees would be included in the ordinary HANSARD, and the answer to that is, yes.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) was anxious that a Motion of the kind referred to in this new Standing Order should not be moved on a Friday, and I can definitely give him that undertaking. I do not think, therefore, that the House will have any difficulty about assenting to Motion No. 2.
Now Motion No. 3. There is, I see, on the Paper, though I do not know if it is to be moved, an Amendment to this Motion. Apart from that Amendment I do not think the House has any difficulty about Motion No. 3. This, I think is a reasonable proposition, and it is for the convenience of the ordinary Member of the House, the Private Member. I thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was altogether too harsh when he implied that the whole package was for the convenience of the Government. This, although admittedly a Government measure, is quite clearly for the convenience of private Members, 356 and there are other more formidable examples as we go along which disprove the right hon. Gentleman's assertion. I do not think that the making of the Amendment on the Paper would really help us.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not selected that Amendment, in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham).
§ Mr. Stewart
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker.
With regard to Motions No. 4 and No. 5, which are both aimed at avoiding certain confusion when votes are called, I have known experienced Members of this House who, although they knew exactly how they felt about how they would vote in substance and essence, always had to ask somebody else at the last minute which Lobby they had to go into in order to produce the result which they wanted. I think that with the acceptance of Motions No. 4 and No. 5 we shall get that right. Particularly as a result of Motion No. 5 we shall know that if we are in favour of an Amendment we vote "Aye" and if we want to vote against an Amendment we vote "No". We shall know also that if we are in favour of the Second or Third Reading of a Bill we vote "Aye", and if against it we vote "No". Again, this is not a major matter, but I think a help to hon. Members.—[Interruption.]—I think I shall be dealing with the point which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) has in mind. That was the point whether the Amendment was so phrased that it involved two Questions. I am advised, Mr. Speaker, that it would be entirely within your power to put the two parts as two separate Questions, and I assume that that is what you would do. So I think difficulty would not arise on that ground.
Motion No. 6, letting Bills, which have been to a Second Reading Committee or Scottish Grand Committee for Second Reading, have their consideration on Report taken there as well. I must say, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did, that we had sympathy with the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), but I understand that it did not command general agreement, and it will be for my hon. Friend to consider 357 the matter when his Amendment comes to be called.
§ Sir D. Glover
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that, I think it ought to be made clear that disagreement was not on one side of the House only. I support the hon. Member's Amendment.
§ Mr. Stewart
I see, but I certainly understood that it was the feeling of a number of hon. Members opposite that acceptance of that Amendment would make the Motion unacceptable to them. I think the House will realise what is involved here, that my hon. Friend's Amendment is on an important point.
One might get a situation in which a Bill could go through and at no time whatever would a particular hon. Member have had a chance of expressing his opinion about it. The doubt expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral was that, even if that was so, this was a dangerous remedy to apply to the problem, and he saw it as the thin end of a wedge.
The House will want to weigh up this matter, and we may or may not be able to reach agreement on it tonight.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I take it that the undertaking about Fridays applies to this Motion as well as to Motion No. 2?
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes. As to Motion No. 2, the undertaking about Fridays applies to Motion No. 6.
We now come to one of the most interesting points which is contained in Motion No. 7 dealing with Standing Order No. 9. I do not think that it can be disputed that the Government deliberately are inviting the House to do something which strengthens its position as a House and that of the ordinary hon. Member as against the Government. It enables the House, possibly with a sudden upsurge of feeling, to say flatly to the Government, "Put the business which you have for tomorrow into your pocket and bring it out some other time, because we intend to discuss a matter which we think is important." That is not a minor concession.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why there was no Motion definitely approving what the Select Committee had to say on the matter. I think that it was felt that there would be a danger, if 358 we started selecting particular pieces from the Select Committee's Report and mentioning them in that way, that it might be construed restrictively—that the same general agreement did not go with other parts of the Report. However, Mr. Speaker, possibly you will have in mind, when the occasion arises, what was said by my right hon. Friend about procedure in Canada, where the rule is that the matter must be discussed if the public interest would be damaged were there not to be immediate consideration of it. I believe that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who discovered this piece of Canadian procedure, and it has been of value to us in weighing up what formula, if any, can govern the application of Standing Order No. 9.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I take it that the Government accept paragraphs 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the Select Committee's Report?
§ Mr. Stewart
There is no question of our not accepting them. I was trying to explain why the Government had not put the point formally on the Order Paper. Certainly the Government accept those paragraphs.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) feared that the new Standing Order would go in the wrong direction. In view of his experience in making use of the Standing Order, we listened with respect to what he said. However, I cannot think that he was right about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) dealt with the sudden situation where hon. Members realised in the middle of Question Time, possibly as the result of an answer given or a statement made, that there was something on which a Standing Order No. 9 debate should take place. My hon. Friend said that it would be quite properly held that the urgency was not known until the unfortunate Minister had answered the Question in a way which enraged the House, as might be the situation. He pointed out that there would not be that difficulty.
My hon. and learned Friend next noted the fact that Mr. Speaker will not give reasons for any decision. That, surely, is something which my hon. and 359 learned Friend should welcome, because it is this provision which prevents the fresh accretion of precedents. I think that the principle which my hon. Friend advanced, that when there are precedents there is always a tendency for them to narrow rather than widen, is probably a sound principle. That is why my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton should welcome the fact that the Speaker is not required to give reasons for his decision. The House will find that this is a much more satisfactory way of handling the problem of topical debates than the one we have under Standing Order No. 9 in its present form.
I need say no more about Motion No. 8 than that successive Select Committees on Procedure have made this recommendation since the year 1914 and it is perhaps time that we agreed to it.
We all listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said on Motion No. 9, and we feel we can accept the Amendment that he has moved. There was consideration about whether to accept this point, which was the second of the Select Committee's recommendations, before we saw how we got on after accepting the first, which enables the Select Committee to consider all general Statutory Instruments. The Government's first view was that it might be better to accept that first recommendation and see how it got on with that before making this additional change, but the hon. Member for Crosby has argued persuasively about this and the Government are happy to accept his Amendment.
Motion No. 10 is the proposed Standing Order that will provide half Supply Days. I give the assurance that, subject to the two months rule, it is understood that the Opposition will have the automatic right here which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral claimed. It was suggested from the benches opposite that the Government might want 24 hours' notice, which this Motion would not give them. If the new Standing Order provided that there must be 24 hours' notice it would only be on a Monday or a Tuesday that this device could be used effectively. If one tried to use it on Wednesday one would not get it on Thursday, because the Government must have 24 hours' notice, and one 360 could not get it on Friday because it was Friday, so one would not get it, therefore, until the following Monday. That would be a rather ungenerous form of giving a concession. By resisting the Opposition suggestion here, therefore, the Government makes future Oppositions a present of Wednesday as well as Monday and Tuesday on which to make effective use of this new Standing Order.
I was interested to notice that in going through these Motions the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral inadvertently omitted No. 11. I am not at all surprised. I found it very difficult to understand, but I assure the House with confidence that it is a necessary piece of tidying-up and I trust that it will be agreed.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Crosby on Motion No. 12, Lords Amendments. On occasions where the Government have made clear in advance their intention of having Lords Amendments considered on a particular day, this Motion, that the Lords Amendments be now considered, would not be necessary. But if that were not so, then the Motion to consider the Lords Amendments would have to be moved. I think that there is sufficient safeguard here. I think it is reasonable that in our approach to procedure we should try to remove things which have become purely vestigial, because it damages the dignity of the House if we preserve a piece of procedure solely because it has always been there.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Is it not a fact that in the last year, on two or three occasions, this Motion has been a very useful vehicle for the Opposition who have objected to Lords Amendments being rushed on? It is the only means by which one can object to Lords Amendments being taken so quickly as to make it embarrassing for the Opposition, and perhaps impossible to have outside consultations. On the other hand, in the normal course of business it goes through quite easily. Why not leave it as a useful safeguard when the Government are trying to rush things?
§ Mr. Stewart
This cannot be rushed to that extent, because there has to be an Order of the Day for the Lords Amendments for it to operate at all. If hon. Members feel that Lords Amendments have been brought before the House too 361 speedily, there is no difficulty, particularly for somebody as experienced as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, to make that point clear when discussing the Amendments themselves.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The only opportunity that we will have, once this Motion goes through, will be when the Motion to agree or disagree with the Lords Amendments is being discussed. It will then be too late to take a decision of the House on whether this is the right moment to do it, and, I would have thought, doubtfully in order.
§ Mr. Chapman
Is it not the case that if my right hon. Friend gives way on this, there ought to be a debate on whether we will start discussing the Report stage when it is the first Order of the Day? For example, if the Report stage follows too quickly on the Committee stage, the right hon. Gentleman will claim that we ought to have a Motion to consider the Report stage. This is a vestigial thing, and ought to be cleared out of the way.
§ Mr. Stewart
There is a clear difference of view about this, but I agree with my hon. Friend.
No. 13 cannot operate if as few as six Members object. The House can therefore safely feel that this is something which can properly be done. As I see it, it will most likely be of use to the House when a Bill is not really controversial. It will obviously never operate on a really controversial Bill, but I have noticed on several occasions that although a Bill was not controversial it was of considerable interest and importance, and when it came to the Third Reading, the mere fact that there was a Third Reading debate made both the Minister in charge of it and his opposite number feel that they would be discourteous to the House if they did not speak for at least 15 minutes, and once they started others joined in. This is an unnecessary procedure. Very often the Measure has been fully discussed, and there is no question of controversy about it. This is the kind of thing that we can properly do without.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Going back to the point about Lords Amendments, it would be in order, would it not, under Standing Order No. 28(2) to move a dilatory Motion that further consideration of the 362 Lords Amendments be adjourned if it was felt that the matter had been rushed? That right will be preserved.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That right will remain, and that may be of some reassurance to his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman says that it will remain, but surely it will remain only if the Chair is prepared to accept a dilatory Motion. There would be no right to object to taking Lords Amendments then; it would depend solely on whether the Chair was prepared to accept a dilatory Motion.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is true, but it is not wholly unreasonable to give discretion to the Chair on a point like this. The House must weigh up this question.
I have concluded my comments on the Motions that we trust the House will be prepared to agree to tonight without a Division, but it would not be entirely respectful to hon. Members who have referred to the controversial Motions if I did not say a little about them, although it can only be intermediate, and we are discussing them more fully on a later occasion.
First, I want to say something about the Finance Bill. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral referred to the enormous importance of new taxes to the economy and the life of the country, and pressed this as an argument for not having the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs. I wonder whether this doctrine of the unique importance of taxes can be sustained. Is the organisation of transport or of the steel industry of less importance than certain new taxation proposals? I doubt whether it could be maintained that either question was, or that that was the case with local government Bills dealing with the whole structure of local government finance and the raising of enormous sums of money, having an effect on the development and prosperity of industry.
For some time we have agreed that all those subjects can properly go upstairs, and the doctrine of the peculiar importance of new taxes, as distinct from certain other topics that we could readily send upstairs, cannot be maintained.
Secondly, even if we did believe in this doctrine, we would still have to ask the 363 question—and I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman here assumed something without troubling to prove it —whether the best service is done to the importance of new taxes by considering them on the Floor of the House or by sending them upstairs. Nobody disputes the desirability—indeed, the essential requirement—of the Finance Bill being properly debated, but the issue before us is the question where we will get the Committee stage of the Finance Bill most effectively debated.
One Member referred to the pressure that the House can bring to bear on a Minister. I have had experience of that both in the Chamber and in Committee, and in my view a well-informed Committee can be quite as skilful in driving a Minister into a corner as can the House when sitting as a Committee on the Finance Bill. I would have thought that the advantage lay with the Committee upstairs from the point of view of Members who want to chivvy a Minister.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not dispute that. I was only mentioning new taxes because that was the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral. During the right hon. and learned Member's speech the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) was so engaged in reflecting on the vitriolic character of the speech that he was going to make that he did not entirely notice what his right hon. and learned Friend was saying. I will refer later to some of the points made in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
It was argued that more publicity was given to the debates on the Floor of the House during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill than there would be if it were debated upstairs. I wonder whether that is so. The Committee on the Steel Bill had a great deal of publicity and I can remember the same of Committee stages of certain other notable Bills.
We should notice that we are here creating a new thing—the Finance Bill Standing Committee. This will be an 364 important new element in the life of the House, and I think that it will win a place for itself in the esteem of the House and a place for itself in publicity and the regard of the nation, which will be to the advantage of the Bill.
§ Sir D. Glover
I regret to say that far too much of the publicity over the Steel Bill in Committee was about beds for Labour Members and the awful time they were going through, and far too little about the actual discussion on the Bill.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member should read a different paper.
I cannot accept the proposition of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that we cannot suppose that the time saved will be used to the benefit of hon. Members. He assumed that any such time would be swallowed up by the Government. I must say that, in a debate on a series of Motions which contain the opportunity for a snap Supply half-day and for many more or at least an increased number of debates under Standing Order No. 9, it cannot be maintained that the Government come here desiring to snatch away hon. Members' time.
I want to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West. His main objection was not only that we would send the Finance Bill upstairs but that we would guillotine it. But the proposals with regard to allocation of time for Bills which we are making will be the same upstairs as downstairs. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that no Government would ever give an absolute pledge that they would not guillotine a Bill because they knew that once they gave such a pledge they would be helpless. So all this high-minded talk about the wicked Government conspriring against the House really had as little substance as I think the right hon. Gentleman himself realised.
But he made it much more credible by that gift for elegant vituperation of which he is such a master. We learned, for instance, from his speech that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a knave and that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral is a simpleton. The right hon. Member for Flint, West has rather a habit of ascribing bad faith and dishonesty to anyone 365 with whose politics he does not agree. In the fist place, this process is not quite as funny as he thinks it is, and, in the second, it is an engaging impudence when it comes from a Member of the Government which practised the notorious Suez deception on the House.
Even the right hon. Gentleman's literary reference was "phoney". He likened my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to Marlowe's character Theridamas, who, he said, had merely a walking on part. He was relying, I suppose, on no one being able to remember the play very well, or he would not have described a character who produces some of the most beautiful, and memorable lines in the whole play as having a walking on part. When t he right hon. Member speaks, he usually produces all these learned references from art, literature, politics and history and it is only now and again that he hits on one which some of us actually happen to know. It is alarming to find that, when he does that, he has it all wrong. One wonders how often this happens in his elegant periods.
There was a more serious contribution, characteristically to be expected, from the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I want to tell him that the matter of what should be done about Question Time is certainly not be regarded as a closed issue. The package, if that is the right term, of measures here is not the last instalment for all time. It is still open to the House to consider whether Question Time ought to be extended. But I think that the right hon. Gentleman stretched logic a bit when he said that because there is no proposal here to extend Question Time—
§ It being Ten o'clock the debate stood adjourned.
That the Proceedings on Government Business may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Crossnum.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Stewart
— the Government are engaged in a conspiracy against backbench M embers. I am not quite sure that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that Question Time is always to the advantage of the private Member as against t the Government. It depends on 366 which Member is questioning and which Minister is answering. The heart of the matter is that Question Time is a moment of truth, and the country probably learns more about the real quality both of Ministers and of back-bench Members at Question Time, but as to whose advantage it redounds is another matter.
§ Sir D. Glover
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the timetable Motion? During the debate I made a suggestion which would be a great safeguard to the Opposition.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is not one of the Motions to which we are asking the House to agree tonight and, with an eye on the clock, I did not propose to pursue it now.
The last point I wish to take up was made by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames when he said that no doubt when we came to the controversial Motions they would be pushed through with a party majority. If he looks back he will find that most of the major procedural changes to which the House has agreed were agreed as the result of a Division. History does not always recall exactly what the Whips said to their Members on both sides, but it records that when those Divisions were taken the tellers were Whips and the voting was clearly on party lines. There is nothing new in that. As a matter of fact, it is almost inevitable that this should be so because any good instalment of reform is bound to be a balanced package, something which pleases Government and something which pleases back-bench Members, and the Opposition of the day will always agree to the bits which please private Members and vote against the bits which help the Government, while the Government will use their majority to get through their side of the package. That has happened over and over again. It is bound to happen.
It is incumbent on the Government to listen patiently and carefully to the debate and, as I hope I indicated in dealing with the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Crosby, where there is a strong argument, to accept that argument. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House will study most carefully what has been said in the debate about the controversial Motions. But it would be misleading the 367 House if I did not say that at the end of the day there are bound to be differences of opinion and that, for reasons which I have given, there are bound to be party votes on the disputed matters. It is quite usual for the Government to use their party majority if they do so after listening genuinely and trying to meet the points in dispute.
I have used the phrase "package". We should notice that we have been striving over many years to see whether we can produce a form of legislature which does not fall into either of two opposite extremes which may destroy democracy. Democracy can be destroyed if Governments keep repeating the phrase "The Government must govern" so often that they can think of nothing else. Democracy can also be destroyed if we are so in dread of Governmental power that we provide opportunities for unlimited discussion before we can ever reach the smallest ha'porth of decision. Both those things can discredit democracy. Our Standing Orders are an attempt to provide a balance.