HC Deb 06 November 1978 vol 957 cc501-4
49. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects to publish the Government's reply to the recent report of the Select Committee on Procedure which contained recommendations on departmental Select Committees.

55. Mr, Hal Miller

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will bring forward proposals to implement the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure for expanding the functions of Select Committees of this House.

60. Mr. Beith

asked the Lord President of the Council what plans he has to implement the proposals made by the Select Committee on Procedure in its recent report.

Mr. Foot

I hope to arrange a debate on this major report as soon as possible.

Mr. McCrindle

If it is true that the monitoring of the activities of Government Departments by Parliament has deteriorated and that some restoration of the influence of this House upon the activities of Government Departments is desirable, can the Lord President think of a more direct way of achieving that objective than by accepting the recommendation of the Select Committee to have a Select Committee to shadow each Government Department?

Mr. Foot

That is, of course, one of the major recommendations—perhaps the major recommendation—from the Committee. I am sure that the House of Commons as a whole will have to consider such a proposition very carefully. It is certainly a far-reaching proposition, and I believe that the House should approach the matter in that way.

Mr. Miller

Will the Lord President give us an assurance that, in view of the rising public concern about the concealment of Government Departments—more particularly, perhaps, over the Rhodesia issue and sanctions—there will be a free debate on the need to establish Select Committees with the terms of reference mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle)?

Mr. Foot

I give the hon. Gentleman the indication that there will be a debate in which the House will have every opportunity of giving its view on the matter. In saying that, I am not accepting the hon. Gentleman's premise in the earlier part of his question.

Mr. Hooley

Since the Queen's Speech has shown, quite properly, an anxiety to reform so many sectors of our public life, is it not urgent and proper that we should now get on with the job of reforming the procedures of this House? Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that he will set aside his medieval prejudices against Committees and come to the House with positive support for the very moderate and constructive report that we have had from the Select Committee?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is trying to prejudge the debate which we shall have on these matters. I repudiate any suggestions that my views on these matters are medieval. It is simply that I am very doubtful whether we should seek to engraft upon this House the methods of government which are used in the United States of America.

Mr. Dykes

With regard to the Select Committee's recommendations on the handling of official documents, does the Lord President of the Council approve of the way in which the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) passed round a Treasury document in the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee on Friday? Does he have a comment to make about it now, and will he investigate it?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that that question arises from the Questions on the Order Paper. Therefore, eager as I am to satisfy the hon. Gentleman, I have no intention of doing so at this moment.

Mr. William Hamilton

May we take it from the replies given by my right hon. Friend that he will arrange a debate before a formal written reply, if any, is sent to the Select Committee on the proposals? Will he give an undertaking that that will be a two-day debate, preferably before Christmas, so that there may be legislation on the proposals, if need be, before the General Election?

Mr. Foot

I think we should still consider whether the Government should first make a statement on the report. I think that probably the best way to proceed is for the House to have the debate before the Government come to conclusions on the matter. If that is the desire of the House, I am sure that the Government will take that into account. I think, therefore, that the best way to proceed is for the Chairman of the Committee and others to present the matter to the House, for the House to have a debate and for the Government to take fully into account the views expressed.

Mr. Pym

As the issues raised by the report of the Select Committee are farreaching—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that—how does he envisage the debate taking place? Does he envisage one general debate on the whole report, or will he break it up in such a way as to enable the House to concentrate for part of the day, for example, on the proposals for a Select Committee? What does he visualise? I support the right hon. Gentleman in the idea of holding an early debate so that the House can give its opinion, but it is a matter of how that debate is to be organised.

Mr. Foot

I am prepared to take into account any representations of the right hon. Gentleman on the way we might have the debate on some of the important questions, such as those which have attracted special attention and those which have already been mentioned. The Select Committee has also made recommendations about how we should conduct EEC business in this House. That is another major section of the report. I believe that we should consider carefully what is the best way of proceeding to have a debate which is not too diffuse but can concentrate on some of the main issues.

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