HC Deb 20 June 1974 vol 875 cc815-7

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I wish to make one or two critical remarks about this clause.

All too often in this Chamber, we assume automatically that Bills come before the House for a very good purpose and, at this late hour, many hon. Members think that they are not worth debating. However, I was struck by the remarks earlier of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley). He said that the function of this House was to control the people who sat on the Treasury Bench. That is a most important principle which we should always observe and of which we should never lose sight. This clause may well cause us to lose sight of that principle.

There was a time no doubt when the figure in Clause 2 was much lower than 91. I dare say that the number of paid servants of the Crown working in this Chamber as Members of it was quite small. In those days the English constitution, as it was at one time, the British Constitution, as it is now, was given greater expression from the point of view of parliamentary democracy than today.

We have now reached a stage where the proportion of Members who are paid servants of the Crown is very high indeed. Surely the time has come for us to put a limit on their numbers. We ought not automatically to pass Bills whenever it appears necessary and convenient for a Government to have more Ministers.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I think I am right in saying that in 1967 there were only 70 Ministers. There has been a great increase. This is deplorable, because back benchers are losing their influence. The more jobs there are for those who support the Government, the less the influence of ordinary Members representing various regions of the country.

Mr. Stanbrook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has made the point that I wish to commend to the Committee.

The old principle or doctrine of the separation of powers in the English constitution was so much admired by theorists such as Montesquieu that it was commended to Continental constitution-makers and was adopted by the Founding Fathers of the United States and enshrined in their constitution. However, while it has many merits, it never applied to the British or the English constitution. We prefer to mix the executive with the legislature and the judicial function. We have a system in which some of our judges are legislators and some—only some—of our legislators exercise the executive power. The smallness of the numbers is very important.

Those Members of the other place who are judges are few in number compared with the total of those who are entitled to sit in that place. Therefore, that judicial element, except when that place sits in a judicial capacity, is there in only a representative, but useful, capacity.

In the House of Commons we have an executive which is gradually becoming more dominant over the legislature. The strength of the executive is and should be in its control of the executive power. The strength of the legislature should be in its control of the executive.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the control of the executive by the legislature, may I ask whether he accepts that the Lord Chancellor should be discarded and a Minister of Justice appointed in his stead to be brought into this Chamber to be answerable to the legislature?

Mr. Stanbrook

I think that raises a somewhat different point. In essence, the hon. Gentleman is asking for a Member of this Chamber who is able to answer for the Justice Department, as he would call it, in the House of Commons. There may be a good argument for having a Member of this Chamber who answers for the head of the Justice Department, or, as at the moment, for the Lord Chancellor. We do not, strictly, have that at present. But the principle of having the head of the judiciary sitting in the other place as a Member, and yet also as a Member of that other place, is one which we have never disputed. It is of some value that we should mix these two functions. The point that I am trying to make—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

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