HC Deb 13 November 1969 vol 791 cc622-5
Mr. Ian Lloyd

On a point of order. In raising this point of order, Mr. Speaker, I must, first, apologise to you and, through you, to the House for what may appear to be a somewhat tedious and lengthly preamble.

It will be within the recollection of the House that quite recently the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) published the minutes of its meeting on 8th July and days following. In that document there ocur the following words: A letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Mr. Speaker concerning relations between the House of Commons, the Treasury, and the Civil Service Departments considered. Resolved, That the Chancellor's proposals should be adopted. Following that, I put a Question, with your consent and knowledge, to the Leader of the House, asking him whether he would seek the agreement of Mr. Speaker to placing in the Library a copy of the letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Mr. Speaker concerning relations between the House, the Treasury and the Civil Service as referred to on page 3 of the Report that I have mentioned.

To this, the Lord President of the Council replied that it would not be appropriate to do so because these papers were Select Committee documents which had not been reported to the House. It would be right to inform the House what Erskine May says on one aspect of this subject, namely, A select committee … possesses no authority except that which it derives by delegation from the House by which it is appointed … the scope of its deliberations or inquiries is defined by the order by which the committee is appointed. The Order appointing this Committee is contained in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 14th November, 1967, when a Motion was moved by the then Lord President of the Council, now the right hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Crossman), to advise Mr. Speaker on the control of the accommodation and services in that part of the Palace of Westminster and its precincts, occupied by or on behalf of the House of Commons, and to report thereon to this House. There is nothing in the Order which states or implies that the Committee is empowered to consider relationships between the House, the Treasury and the Civil Service Department.

My point of order is, first, that since it is beyond the scope of the Committee to consider relationships between the House, the Treasury and the Civil Service these can be raised only if the subjects which it is considering themselves raise this question of considerable importance. If so, since it is a matter which is fundamental and sensitive to the House—and I think that in the opinion of many hon. Members it is increasingly fundamental and sensitive—surely the House as a whole would not only wish to discuss it but would have a right to do so.

Secondly, there seems to be a growing and undesirable practice for Committees of this kind to suppress documents by pleading privilege. Surely no Committee of the House should arrogate to itself the exclusive right to discuss matters of such importance unless—and I emphasise this —specifically requested and empowered by the House to do so.

I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on what steps the House may take as a whole to protect its legitimate interests in this matter.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) for letting me know that he intended to raise this issue on a point of order arising out of the reply to one of his Questions—although he will remember that when he submitted it to me he submitted the wrong Question and Answers and I had to find them during the interval between his submission and just now.

I must point out, however, that this is not the proper occasion on which to discuss the functions or powers of the Services Committee. As those powers were exercised in the last Session of Parliament, the Services Committee for the current Session, which has not yet met, has no control over documents which have not been reported to the House.

But there is a procedure by which such documents can be made available—the hon. Member asked me for guidance —namely, by putting down a Motion that they be laid upon the Table. If agreed to, the Motion would secure their production from the Committee archives.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

On a point of order. I beg to move, That copies of this document be laid upon the Table.


Order.The hon.Member has been in Parliament long enough to know that he must put a Motion on the Order Paper.