HC Deb 30 April 1968 vol 763 cc999-1001
Q5. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now answer questions about the membership and functions of Cabinet committees.

The Prime Minister

The House knows that it has long been the practice normally to refuse detailed information about the Government's internal arrangements for the discussion of public business, although very general information about arrangements for the collective consideration of important matters is sometimes released when this is thought to be in the public interest. It has not been the practice to disclose the membership of individual Committees.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

As the Prime Minister has seen fit to blazon the formation of the Parliamentary Committee across the headlines, has not he an obligation to tell the House about the membership and functions of this body? If it is just a sort of Winter Emergency Committee for all seasons it does not matter, but if it is an inner Cabinet should not the House know who are its members and also who are not?

The Prime Minister

I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman was going to pay a tribute to the work of the Winter Emergency Committee in widening availability of productive capacity in the industries concerned compared with the situation which existed when we set it up.

I have blazoned nothing about the Parliamentary Committee. It is proper for it to be known that there is such a Committee, but it would be contrary to all precedent to indicate here or else-where the membership of the Commit- tee. There has been a lot of ill-informed speculation about it but that it not my responsibility.

Mr. Roebuck

Can my right hon. Friend explain whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) will be attending these meetings in his capacity as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Chief Whip, Patronage Secretary, or Deputy Leader of the House? If he does so in the last named capacity, will he relate it to his duties to the House?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first part of the question is "Yes". The answer to the second part is also "Yes".

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would not it be more suitable if colleagues of the Prime Minister, such as the Home Secretary, made announcements about these committees in the House and not on "Panorama?"

The Prime Minister

There is always a problem which all right hon. Members have of having these questions shot at them, but the existence of an Immigration Committee was announced by me in this House as long ago as 9th March, 1965. What is new about this is that a few weeks ago it was decided that responsibility for community relations in the widest sense, and the kind of problems that we were discussing last week, would be within the purview of this collective discussion. I think that that is helpful. I do not think that my right hon. Friend did anything improper in the answer that he gave last night.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In considering these very important functional matters, would my right hon. Friend give due regard to the relations, industrial and political, of Scotland with the rest of Europe, particularly Russia and the Far East?

The Prime Minister

All relevant questions affecting both Scotland and Europe and the areas covered by my hon. and learned Friend will, of course, be dealt with adequately on a collective basis in the future as in the past.

Sir G. Nabarro

Has the right hon. Gentleman not failed to observe that what the whole country wants to know is whether his position in the Government today is the same as it was on 16th January last, or whether it has in the interim suffered a profound change for the worse?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must not believe all he reads in the newspapers, especially the Tory newspapers. The position is exactly the same, but these questions relate to the functions and membership of Cabinet Committees and it has never been the practice to reveal them to the House. For example, even now, right hon. Gentlemen opposite have never informed the House of the terms of reference, membership and functions of the so-called "Pretext Committee" set up in August, 1956, to examine the circumstances in which it would safe to invade Suez.

Back to