HC Deb 28 October 1970 vol 805 cc211-3
25. Mr. Marquand

asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects to publish his proposals for a new system of select committees.

28. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will now make a statement on the proposed Select Committee on Public Expenditure.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

The Government's proposals for the future pattern of Select Committees are set out in the Green Paper presented to Parliament last week. They envisage the transformation of the Estimates Committee into an Expenditure Committee and the reappointment of the Select Committees on Nationalised Industries, Science and Technology, Race Relations and Immigration, and Scottish Affairs. I hope to arrange an early debate on the proposals so that the Government may have the benefit of the views of the House before coming to a conclusion.

Mr. Marquand

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us are pleased that he has moved this far towards the Procedure Committee's proposals? Is he further aware that the size that he suggests in his Green Paper for the proposed Expenditure Committee seems rather too small to enable it to do the job that the Procedure Committee suggested it should be doing? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that when this Committee has been going for a little while its size will be considered again if it turns out to be too small?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. As regards the size of the Committee, I put this forward as a figure for discussion. I shall be pleased to listen to the views of hon. Members during the subsequent debate, and if necessary I shall reconsider the position as time goes on. What we all have to face in the House is the demands made on hon Members' time in the Chamber, and outside it, in committees. We have to find a balance between the various demands made on hon. Members. I have done the best that I could, and I hope that the result will commend itself to the House.

Mr. Sheldon

I welcome the Green Paper, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is some disappointment about the size of the Committee and about what appears to be a dilution of his commitment to the whole concept of the Public Expenditure Committee? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will be able to envisage the expansion of this Committee in the light of the recommendations that have been made? Can he give us the details of the arrangements that have been made for this year's review of public expenditure?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the question of the dilution of my commitment, I decided early in August that I would read all the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure and all the debates on procedure that had taken place for about the last ten years. These I have read and, having done so, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to go the whole way with a very large Committee on Expenditure while at the same time preserving the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration and the Select Committee on Science and Technology, all of which, from what had been said, I recognised had provided a valuable part of the House's work. I wanted to keep them. I tried to find the best balance between the two. As for the other points that have been raised, I would prefer to await the debate, when we can discuss them further.

Mr. Longden

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Select Committee on Education did a great deal of work inquiring into teacher training? Is that work to be sunk without trace?

Mr. Whitelaw

As the Government were committed to an inquiry into teacher training it seemed right to me that all the evidence taken by that Committee should be referred to the inquiry and be taken into account there. It seemed right to have one body rather than two doing it.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House is considerably in his debt for the consideration that he has given to the representations made to him in this matter? But has thought also been given to finding a way of avoiding the considerable hiatus between each Session of Parliament before a Select Committee is reappointed? If we can choose Mr. Speaker for a whole Parliament, cannot we choose a Select Committee for a whole Parliament also?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall look into that question. In the Green Paper I put forward the position as it stands, under which we are obliged to reappoint Select Committees at the start of every Session. That is the position. If it were thought right to change it, I should consider it.

Mr. English

On the question of Members' time, would the right hon. Gentleman consider putting some Bills through Select Committees, as was originally envisaged when Committees were set up for Bills at the latter end of the nineteenth century? A Departmental specialist Committee which also considered Bills would save Members' time and not waste it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I must admit that my reading did not go back as far as the latter end of the nineteenth century. Of course the hon. Gentleman's views will be considered when the whole problem of Standing Committees is considered. It is a wider question than the question of Select Committees only.

Mr. Stratton Mills

In the light of these proposals, what plans has my right hon. Friend for the Estimates Sub-Committees from the previous Session which had taken the bulk of their evidence but were unable to publish their reports?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should hope that the answer was that they would be taken over by the new Select Committee on Expenditure—if the House approves—when it is established and when it decides what Committees it will set up.