§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. Before I call the Lord President to move the Motion standing in his name, I should make clear that strictly speaking the Motion and Amendment must be taken in three parts. We shall take the first part down to and includingMr. John Hall".Then I shall call upon the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) to move his Amendment, in line 6after 'Hall' insert 'Mr. Arthur Lewis'",and then we shall take the remainder of the Motion.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I beg to move,That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the practice and procedure in relation to Questions and Question Time in the House and to recommend what changes might be desirable:That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House:That Mr. George Cunningham, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. John Hall, be members of the Committee.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to debate the first part of the Motion. I rose as soon as you put the Question, just before you collected the voices, because before we come to my Amendment, I want to debate the principle of the Motion. I do not object to the Motion as such, but I want to make some comments and get some facts on to the record. I should like the Leader of the House to let me know when he announced the setting up of the Committee—
§ Mr. Lewis
I am very much obliged. I wish to pay the right hon. Gentleman a very sincere tribute and to thank him most sincerely for providing the opportunity to debate the matter and for meeting me to discuss it. I also pay tribute to the Chief Patronage Secretary for meeting me and discussing it. My only regret is that I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in three letters and a personal approach also to meet me to discuss it, but unfortunately he was too busy, and I have not had an answer to any of the letters.
I said that I am in favour of the Motion, but I have some comments upon the means and methods whereby the Leader of the House has agreed to set up the Select Committee. On the day the Committee was announced by him I happened to be speaking to some senior persons connected with the administration of the House, and they suggested that as I am in my 27th year as a Member, and had quite a lot of knowledge and experience on matters relating to the raising of Questions, I might well be on the Committee. My reply was that I have asked for nothing since I have been in the House and do not want anything, but in any case I did not think it was something I would apply for. Then I was approached by a prominent ex-Minister, who said, "I would imagine, as for three or four years now you have had the honour"—the dubious honour, perhaps— "of being one of the most prominent and persistent questioners, having knowledge and experience of what goes on behind the scenes, you would be on the Committee."
After those two approaches I wrote to the Opposition Chief Whip on 15th December. I cannot read the whole letter as my carbon copy is not clear, but no doubt the Opposition Chief Whip would produce the letter if need be. I wrote:Dear Bob,May I make a few statements of fact and then comment on same? I am now approaching the completion of my 27th consecutive year as an M.P. (for one constituency), which I believe does (or should) qualify me as a 'senior Member'. During this period I have only ever once had anything at all from the 1143 Whips' Office (which took about 25 years to achieve) and this was a visit to the troops in Germany. Although I have requested…a little consideration, there has never been any response….This now leads me to comment on the facts as enumerated herein: During the whole of my period as an M.P. I have been an active and diligent Member, and not what one might refer to as the 'regular absentee'. It is true to say, so I believe, that even my worst enemy (and I well know I have many of such), would have to admit (albeit reluctantly, no doubt), that I have never been an inactive or quiescent Member, and in the knowledge that 'self-praise is no recommendation', nevertheless I feel that I am entitled to boast of my activities with regard to parliamentary Questions in the knowledge that present and past Clerks to the House, Speakers, etc., have stated, privately and publicly, that I have become quite an 'expert', 'mastered the art of questioning', and 'achieved the honour of being…'the most persistent questioner—You will of course by now have appreciated the point and purpose of this letter, I hope? Yes, you have guessed correctly, that I wish to apply for membership of the recently announced Select Committee on Questions…The Opposition Chief Whip sent for me and told me that he had subsequently received other nominations. I will not divulge the confidential part of what he said, but he told me that he would put forward my name. I assumed that he must have done that, because I know him to be a man of his word and, therefore, I was amazed when the Leader of the House announced the names of the hon. Members who were to serve on the Committee, with no opportunity for discussion or amendment. I think the Leader of the House will agree that I could not have amended the Motion because it did not appear on the Order Paper until Thursday of last week, and that I could do nothing other than object if I wanted the matter debated.
I mean no disrespect to any hon. Member whose name appears on the list, but, with the exception of the Father of the House, who I am pleased to see here, not one has had such long or intimate experience on this subject as I have. I know that on Select Committees there must be fair representation, and the maximum number of hon. Members who can serve is 15. I see, however, that only 10 names are included, so five more names could be added if need be.
When I interjected on this matter last week, the Opposition Chief Whip, rather 1144 unkindly, said, "He is only interested because he is not on the Committee." That is right, and I had to object, because there was no other way to raise the matter. In my interjection, I said that the Leader of the House—I apologise to him—must have been responsible, because my right hon. Friend had promised to put my name forward and therefore must have done so. My right hon. Friend then said, "You are not on it and you are not going on it." That surprised me, because although the Opposition Chief Whip can recommend names, the ultimate decision is the Government's.
The Leader of the House is responsible, because he must have had my name and deliberately left it off. I do not know why: I have never asked for anything before. I know that I have a reputation as an awkward Member, and I do not mind but that should not preclude my having the same opportunity as every hon. Member. A previous Deputy Chief Whip once said to me, "As long as you are in politics, you will never get anything." I said to him and I say now—I did not come into politics to get a job or feather my nest. I wanted the opportunity to go on to a Committee and do a job.
No fee or payment is involved here. That is what surprised me. I could have understood it if it were a £10,000 a year job and there was a scramble to get on.
If my right hon. Friend put my name forward, and the Leader of the House left it off, for example, in favour of the Father of the House, I could understand and would willingly give way—
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
So that we do not get the Leader of the House into any trouble that he does not deserve, perhaps I might put it on record that my hon. Friend's name was never submitted to the Leader of the House. So the right hon. Gentleman has nothing whatever to do with the names nominated by the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Lewis
So the Opposition Chief Whip did not keep his promise to me. He is entitled to break his promise, but having given me this pledge in his office, he should at least have had the decency to say, before this went down, "I am breaking my pledge; I have not put your name forward." I would ask my right hon. Friend what happened between the 1145 date of our interview and the date that the Leader of the House put down the Motion. Is it true that the civil servants, the executive, resent "this chap", who is known as an awkward Member, who probes and causes difficulties? Or was it because the former Government and ex-Ministers thought that I might say or do something that might be rather embarrassing to them?
§ Mr. Mellish
I intervene again to ensure that civil servants and others are not involved. It so happens that after I saw my hon. Friend I received a number of other names and I was asked to consider them for this appointment. Had my hon. Friend come to see me about it and told me he was upset, I could have explained this to him personally. I would have told him that when this Committee meets it has to take a great deal of evidence.
The fact was in my mind, and it no doubt weighed with me heavily, that one of the people for whom the Committee would send, because it would wish to ask him a lot of questions, would be my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) in view of his vast experience, which he has rightly explained, of tabling Parliamentary Questions.
He has great experience in this field. Indeed, on one occasion he tabled no less than 1,500 in one day. I felt that the Committee would, therefore, wish to ask him questions and that it would be better if he were a witness before, rather than a member of, the Committee. As for any honour or glory of being a member of the Committee, I assure my hon. Friend that there was nothing intentional about the decision. Everything was done for what I thought to be the best interests of the House.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that explanation, though he will appreciate that he could equally have sent for me, particularly as my letter must have been the first one he got. The announcement was made on the 14th and he got my note on the 15th. He could have written to me saying, "Since I saw you and since making a promise to you, I have received a lot of other letters and I am therefore faced with a difficulty in sorting out the names."
1146 There is room for 15 members, so that another five could have been added—the three and two to keep the balance—and my right hon. Friend could have explained all this to me, because he must have known on the 14th and 15th that any Standing Committee or Select Committee can, before an order is put down, send for persons and papers. Like any hon. Member, I could ask to be received by the Committee, subject to the Chairman agreeing to that course. I could be invited, but there was no need for me to consider that possibility because I had been promised that I would be on the Committee.
My right hon. Friend may have thought that I could discuss the matter with him, but the first I heard of it after being given that promise was last Thursday, when I saw the reference on the Order Paper. My only chance of doing anything at that stage, other than letting it go through on the nod, was to object to it proceeding. If I had not objected then—and it nearly went through today—I would have missed the bus.
If, as my right hon. Friend says, nothing personal was intended, then he could have made representations through those mysterious "usual channels" to get an additional one or two members on the Committee. In this connection, while I need not speak for the Liberal Party, which is represented tonight in the person of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), if the Liberals do not desire to accept a place on the Committee, I might be adopted as the Liberal nominee.
I am not concerned with personalities, be they Ministers past or present. I am here to represent my constituents and I am responsible to them. I represent their interests to the best of my ability. I have looked through the list. I have nothing against any of the hon. Members, some of whom did not enter the House until 1970. I see that they are already on other Committees. Never having been invited or had the opportunity, I should have thought that I could have done good work serving on such a Committee. That is not my comment. It is the comment of people whose names I cannot mention, including ex-Speakers of the House, and people who have had long experience, people who have been in the House for 30 years or more. They have said that 1147 they would have thought that I should have gone on the Committee. I have said that there was no need to worry because I was going on the Committee. It was rather unfortunate that I was not called in.
I apologise again to the Leader of the House because I felt that my name had been put forward and that it was the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip who may have dropped it. If I have thought wrongly, I apologise to the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary. I hope that when these things are arranged in future we might have the opportunity of discussing them and doing it on a better basis than in this instance.
§ 12.2 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I am in a slight difficulty at present. I understood that we were still discussing the Motion and not the Amendment thereto in the name of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). The hon. Member would probably agree that his speech was wholly directed to the Amendment, and as to why his name was left off. I am only too pleased to reply to that, but I am not quite clear as to what particular moment in the procedure we have arrived at. If we have arrived at the Amendment, I should be pleased to reply to the Amendment. It would seem that this is so, but I do not think that the Amendment has been moved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
The Amendment has not been moved, but it appeared to me that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) was discussing it and it seemed, therefore, that it was convenient to discuss the two things together.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
May I formally move the words on the Order Paper, Mr. Deputy Speaker? That would cover the point raised by the Leader of the House, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am afraid that we must get rid of the first part first, and then the hon. Member will have the opportunity to move the Amendment formally.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
One of my hon. Friends may wish to deal with the general issue. That is why I think that we should come to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is nothing to stop an hon. Member doing so at this stage, if we discuss the two things together.
§ 12.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
If we are now discussing the general issue and the Amendment, I should like to speak to them both.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on his sacrifice in volunteering to serve on a Committee whose task will be onerous and prolonged. I believe that the House as a whole will be grateful to him for his willingness to put his 26 years of experience at its disposal in dealing with a matter which affects every Member.
I support my hon. Friend's Amendment not simply because I have a high regard for his qualities and for the way in which he has overcome his customary diffidence and modesty in order to present his case and his claims for membership of the Committee, but also because he represents the interests of back benchers and private Members. That is the essential theme and reason why this particular Select Committee has been now nominated and presented to the House.
I was moved when my hon. Friend referred to himself as one who has been described as an awkward Member. That is a term of credit. It is every back bencher's duty to be an awkward Member. It is the duty of every private Member to resist the overweening power of the Executive. The origin of this debate and of the appointment of the Select Committee was precisely because the charge was directed against the Government of rigging private Members' Questions to a Department—not to the detriment of the Opposition as such, but to the detriment of private Members. It is therefore wholly appropriate that this Select Committee should be as representative as possible of the general interests of the House.
I join my hon. Friend in commending the quality of those who have already been nominated to this Committee. I have nothing but praise for the qualifications of those who have been nominated, but 1149 the reason I support the nomination of my hon. Friend is precisely that I regard him as a robust back bencher, one who will certainly see that the interests of back benchers, which he has observed, and in which he has participated for 26 years, are represented.
With respect to my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, I thought it rather sophistic when he suggested that my hon. Friend, instead of serving on the Committee, might be of more value as a witness. I suggest that the experience of my hon. Friend could be used to even greater advantage on the Committee, not simply in answering questions, but in posing questions.
There is no one in the House who has as much practical experience of challenging the Executive as has my hon. Friend. I do not agree with all that he says. I do not even agree with the manner in which, from time to time, he swamps the Order Paper with Written Questions. Nevertheless, having said that, it is in existing circumstances his right to do so, and it is commendable on his part that he exercises the right of private Members to bother the Executive.
The Leader of the House, to his credit, has always made it clear that he regards this Chamber as the grand forum of debate, the grand forum of inquisition by the private Member of the Executive. He has said that time and again, and he has done everything in his power to ensure that the private Member has the opportunity of questioning the Government and of debating issues of the day in the forum of the Chamber of the House of Commons.
Looking through the admirable names in the Motion, it seems to me that there is a wide spread of back benchers which is not represented, and I cannot help feeling that the prickliness of my hon. Friend—and I hope that he will not treat that description as in any sense pejorative—is something admirable, and something which should be represented on this Committee.
It is well within the memory of some of the older Members of the House that, on the occasion of a famous strike at Covent Garden, my hon. Friend laid down in front of a 6-ton lorry. The effect was dramatic—the lorry backed away—and I cannot help feeling that a private 1150 Member who can bring that kind of weight to a confrontation is one who clearly would be of the greatest value in standing up to the juggernaut of the Executive by presenting himself in his power, whatever the kind of resistance, which surely is what this debate is all about, and what the charge of Question rigging is all about, too.
I support the Amendment, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his courage in presenting it. There are very few hon. Members who would be able to overcome their natural hesitation in attempting to talk about themselves in the manner in which my hon. Friend has done, and which he achieved with great objectivity. What he did was to present in his person the token, the symbol and the expression of the back benches in order to assert that the usual channels are not simply to enter into a private confluence in order to make great decisions of this kind which affect the rights of private Members. It is not good enough for the usual channels to enter into their subterranean channels and come out after a murky journey with some conclusion which may well be hostile to the interests of private Members.
So I join with my hon. Friend in that defence of the private Members which is essentially at the origin of the decision to set up a Select Committee to inquire into the method and system of Question Time. The Leader of the House will recognise that Question Time is the last bastion of the private Member of Parliament. It is the only opportunity, with respect to the Chair, when a private Member has the absolute right to make himself heard; when even if his question is not answered orally he can at least make sure that he will get a reply from Ministries and Ministers.
It is in that sense that this debate is of the utmost importance. I regret deeply that the choice of members has been so limited. I regret that in a sense these choices are traditionally made in a hugger-mugger fashion. But tonight I think it right that we private Members should assert very firmly that a decision of this kind which affects the fundamental and basic right of the back bencher should not be taken in some sort of conclave between the Whips on this side, and the Whips and the Leader of the House on that side.
1151 This is a matter which affects private Members, and I congratulate my hon. Friend once again on having raised it. I believe that in so doing he has rendered yet another service to the House.
§ 12.12 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) has made some statements about the value of Question Time to back benchers which would be widely agreed in the House. It is because of the need to do everything we can to ensure that Question Time lives up to the very high reputation it has outside the House and in many countries that it is right that a Select Committee of the sort now proposed should be set up and inquire into the matter. I do not think that there is any dispute about the importance of Question Time and the need to ensure that it is used to the very best advantage. I agree entirely on behalf of back benchers, because it is their occasion.
The hon. Member went into some discussion of the merits of the various hon. Members who might be on the Committee. He suggested that it was advisable for those on the Committee to have weight. He seemed then to suggest that the weight would be valuable in order to stop lorries running over them at various stages. Some members of the Committee would certainly have the weight, but I doubt whether they would have been able to stop the lorries to quite the same extent as the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) apparently did on a previous occasion.
However, to return to the serious point involved, once it was decided—and, I think, widely accepted in the House—that such a Select Committee should be appointed, it was necessary to decide the size of the Committee. For myself, I believed that a Committee of limited size was right, because it will no doubt be necessary for it to take, as the Opposition Chief Whip said, evidence from a wide variety of people, and to have considerable discussion and consideration of a most important problem which is obviously put before us—indeed, the whole question of how Question Time 1152 should be best organised in the interests of the House as a whole. Therefore, a limited Committee was, in my judgment, right. Once that was decided, the normal procedures followed.
The Opposition Chief Whip has been very fair in setting out the position from his point of view. Having occupied that job in the past, I confirm that the Government of the day suggest a particular number for the Select Committee and it then suggests how many Members should be provided by the Opposition, after which the Opposition nominates which Members should serve on the Committee. That is the accepted procedure, and that was exactly the procedure that was followed on this occasion. It could be argued that there should be a larger Committee, though I would be against that because I believe that a limited Committee of this sort of size is, on the whole, right in these circumstances.
Therefore, I must rest on the fact that the Opposition were asked to submit the names of those whom they wished to serve on this Committee, and they did so. The name of the hon. Member for West Ham, North, was not so selected. I appreciate, as the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) has said, that the hon. Member for West Ham, North, has considerable knowledge in this House—indeed, more than I have—and more knowledge of Question Time. I fully accept that. Nevertheless, the system that has always been followed was followed. I do not think that, because of this, the hon. Gentleman's considerable knowledge will necessarily be lost to the Committee. But I suggest that, having followed the normal procedures, having proposed to set up a Select Committee which I believe the whole House wants, this was the right way to go about it. Therefore, I hope the House will endorse the proposal and, indeed, the names which have been put forward.
I make no complaint of the fact that the hon. Member for West Ham, North, has thought fit to raise this matter or, indeed, that he has been supported by the hon. Member for Coventry, North. They are absolutely within their rights. But I do claim that if Select Committees are to be set up, the established procedure is the best way of doing it and, on the whole, best serves the interests of this 1153 House. On that basis, I hope the House will now accept this Motion.
§ 12.18 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I would have been prepared, as I think many other hon. Members would have been ready, to let the proposition go through without a debate, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President has properly said, hon. Members have a right to debate these questions if they wish and, therefore, when they do debate them I think it is right that we should give our views.
I make no comment on the selection of individual persons or the accusations that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), except to say that I have absolute confidence in what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) as to the circumstances in which he dealt with the matter. I have no doubt that he has faithfully told the House what occurred and what was the situation. Everybody who knows my right hon. Friend knows that to be the case.
Of course, it is always invidious to select Members for different Committees. It is not an easy task. But I think that it was all the more difficult in this case, in the sense that it was thought advisable to have a small Committee.
I wish to intervene in the debate mainly because of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). He seems to suggest that there has been some secret arrangement or secret deal between the Front Benches in the setting up of this Committee. I assure my hon. Friend that nothing of the sort occurred. It would be quite improper for any such deal or arrangement to be made, especially about a matter of this kind, namely, a consideration of Question Time, a matter of paramount interest to hon. Members on both sides, and back benchers in particular.
Certainly, I would not be a party to any deal for the convenience of the Front Benches at the expense of the back benches, and particularly on a matter of this kind. It would be most reprehensible, and I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North that nothing of the sort has occurred. I hope that he 1154 will, therefore, be able to sleep happily in his bed, having heard that assurance.
I give the assurance all the more strongly in view of the origin of this proposal, which was the highly controversial topic of the planting of Questions. This is one of the matters which will have to be investigated. Nothing could be further from our thoughts than the idea that that matter will be overlooked when the Committee begins its work. That was the origin of it, and it is one of the matters which will have to be investigated most carefully. But there are other issues concerning Questions which have to be examined, and it was thought reasonable that they should be examined by a Committee of this nature in the same process and at the same time as we had our discussion and investigation into the planting of Questions. But I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North, and anyone else who is interested, that those of us who have been appointed to the Committee from this side of the House regard that as one of the most prominent matters which we are determined to have investigated. That is not a secret deal between one side and the other. It is a determination on the part of those of us here, and perhaps hon. Members opposite will be equally eager to investigate the matter; we shall have to discover that. But, certainly, we have been party to no secret deal on the matter of planted Questions. We want a Committee of the whole House to see that it is properly investigated.
I feel that it is improper to suggest—if my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North or anyone else suggests it—that this will be a Committee not properly representative of the back benches. One has but to look at the list of names. There are hon. Members there who have figured prominently in our debates, many of them distinguished back benchers, and still back benchers. The Father of the House is the most distinguished back bencher of all, in one sense. He is to be a member of the Committee. He has upheld the rights of back benchers throughout his whole political career, so far as I know, except for the brief interval when he was a Minister—and I do not suppose that that altered his view of the matter. I trust that it did not.
I do not think that anyone who knows anything about the House of Commons 1155 will say that the list of names proposed shows a membership which has been packed for the convenience of the Front Benches. Nothing of the sort has occurred. It would be scandalous, particularly on a matter of this kind, if there were any attempt by the Front Benches to interfere with the absolute determination to investigate these matters to the full.
§ Mr. Edelman
My hon. Friend suggests that I am attributing improper motives to those who constituted the Committee. I hope that, on reflection, he will consider that that suggestion is itself improper. It is a judgment, which may be wrong; but to describe it as improper is really to attribute a motive which is certainly not present.
§ Mr. Foot
All I am saying is that, if the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North had been left without comment by those who were partly responsible, whether from this side or that, it might have been supposed that we accepted the implication or inference of what he said. Whether he stated it or not, there was a strong inference that there had been some kind of collusion between the two Front Benches on the matter. I assure him that nothing of the sort has occurred. Responsibility for the Labour members on the Committee rests with the Labour side and responsibility for the nomination of those on the other side of the House rests with the Government. There has been no hint or suggestion of collusion of any sort between the two sides. There are bound to be controversial issues in the investigation precisely because of the origin of the investigation—the discontent in the House about the planting of Questions. Many other matters will come into the discussion which will be for the Committee to decide.
This Committee like other Select Committees will report to the House of Commons and the House will retain full authority over the whole matter. So nothing will be done about Questions to interfere with the rights of back benchers without back benchers having absolute control over the matter. It will not be within the power of this Select Committee, any more than any other, to impose its will on back 1156 benchers. So I repudiate entirely, whether my hon. Friend intended to make it or not, what I took to be the inference in his remarks that in some way the rights of back benchers are being undermined, interfered with or not respected by the way the Committee is constituted. The exact opposite is the case. The Committee has been established to vindicate and sustain the rights of back benchers in respect of Questions. It will ensure that their rights shall not be undermined by the planting of Questions by Ministers in a manner that is considered reprehensible and also will consider the other protections that are required for back benchers.
So far from back benchers seeing this Committee as something which should be criticised, it is a move which can only be beneficial for them in putting their Questions, in protecting their time and their rights. When this Select Committee reports, back benchers of either side—even my hon. Friend may have overcome his sceptical mood by then—will have the opportunity to judge. Some hon. Members do not appreciate that all Committees are required to report to the House and this is one of the major protections of the rights of back benchers.
Far from apologising in any sense for the establishment of this Committee, I believe that every back bencher should welcome it as a sign that we are determined to prevent any infringement of their rights at Question Time and, if possible, to enhance and extend their power to question the Executive.
§ 12.29 a.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate but at one point the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) referred to the absence of any Liberal Member on the Committee. For the sake of the record I make it clear that no request was made to the Government for a Liberal to be present on the Select Committee. To ask for a Member on every Select Committee would place an intolerable burden on a small party. In fairness the present Administration and that which preceded it have always been extremely generous in considering requests from the Liberal Party, as and when the occasion has arisen, for the appointment 1157 of a Member to Select or Standing Committees. That is a happy arrangement which has worked reasonably well and has overcome the difficulty of ensuring that no minority is neglected while not imposing an unreasonable burden on the minority party in the House.
The fact that we do not have a Member on this Committee does not mean that we do not have any interest in the matter. The fact that I am here at this hour indicates that we do. But, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, we all have a duty not only to watch what the Select Committee does, but to receive its report and comment on it, and we will certainly do that.
I do not wish to comment on the selection of individual Members, for I believe that to be more correctly a dispute within a party and not particularly a matter for the whole House. Indeed, it would be a dangerous precedent if the Government altered names submitted to it. It would create a difficult and unusual situation for the future. Perhaps this matter could have been dealt with more appropriately at a weekly meeting of the Labour Party. It might have been placed on the agenda and we could have got on with appointing the Select Committee.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North made the interesting suggestion that he should represent our interests on the Committee, and I am deeply touched by his offer. His own Chief Whip might like to arrange a transfer, but from our point of view it would have to be very large. Seriously, while I appreciate his point of view, I want to put on record that we welcome the setting up of the Committee, and the fact that we are not represented is largely of our own choosing.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I beg to move, That Mr. Arthur Lewis be another Member of the Committee.
I have made my point and I will not detain the House. In view of his assistance and the way in which he has granted an hour for this debate, may I assure the Leader of the House that there is nothing personal in the Amendment, which was moved as a means of getting 1158 the facts on the record? May I explain to the Liberal Chief Whip that this was the only way? The matter arose last Thursday and raising it at the party meeting would have been too late, and so I had to object. I had to propose the Amendment in order to get a debate.
May I explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), the shadow Leader of the House, that, although I may be able to give evidence to the Select Committee I shall not be able to prod and probe and question witnesses; nor shall I be able to do so when the report comes before the House.
However, having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Alexander Lyon, Mr. Peter Mills, Mr. Cranley Onslow, Mr. Stanley Orme, Mr. Robert Redmond, Sir Robin Turton, and Mr. William Whitelaw were nominated other members of the Committee.
That Four be the Quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]