HC Deb 20 February 1979 vol 963 cc276-386


[Relevant documents: First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1977–78 (House of Commons Paper No. 588); First to Eighth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure (Sessional) in Session 1976–77.]

Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]

4.29 p.m.

Mr, Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the opportunity to open the second day of this vital debate. It is vital because what is concerned is the future of the House of Commons and its procedures. Long after the economic debates that bulk so large in contemporary consciousness have been assigned to the bound volumes of Hansard—and no oblivion can be deeper than that—what we decide about the ways that this House operates will be of living influence. In this country we have no constitution; we have only procedure.

It is also fitting that the Opposition should be speaking first. It is a nice political irony, which I am sure will not be lost on the Leader of the House, that it is the Opposition that are pressing for reform and the Government, under the restraining influence of the Lord President, that are holding back. Truly there is no one more conservative than a retired radical.

Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) referred to the Leader of the House as an equivalent of Lord Wellington. Lord Eldon would have been a more appropriate comparison. It was Lord Eldon whose policy was to resist every innovation, no matter what sort, and to maintain everything, no matter what kind. The Lord President in his attitude to the House of Commons seems to take the same attitude that Lord Eldon took to the Court of Chancery: While that moves slowly you are safe—accelerate it and you are lost. I listened to the whole of yesterday's debate. There is no doubt that the dissatisfaction with the way that the House of Commons works, which is widespread in the country, is equally strong within this Chamber. From both sides of the House speaker after speaker rose to criticise our present arrangements. Our constitution is not working satisfactorily, and it is against that background that we must consider the report.

Of the three estates of the realm, it is only the monarchy—that is another historical irony for the Lord President—that is working well and upholding by its prestige the machinery of parliamentary government. The House of Lords, denied effective powers and a rational composition, is in danger of becoming a constitutional nullity. The House of Commons, dominated by party and confronted by an Executive backed by vastly increased resources, is also in peril of turning from an efficient into a dignified part of our constitution, a reservoir for Ministers but little else.

I do not wish to exaggerate the case for reform. In the debate hon. Members have been critical of this House, but there is much of which we may legitimately be proud. Let us not replace one myth by another, the myth of invincibility and omnicompetence by another of impotence and irrelevance. Yesterday some harsh things were said about Question Time. No doubt there is room for improvement. It is regrettable that Question Time is tending to become a gladiatorial arena rather than a means of probing Ministers' policies and intentions. We could return profitably, particularly at Prime Minister's Question Time, to an older tradition. Yesterday two hon. Members said that Question Time is useless and a charade, but it is nothing of the kind. Like so many parliamentary checks, it operates in advance rather than in arrear. Ministers are not contemptuous of Question Time.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

What does that mean?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) asks what that means. I shall explain. Ministers take into account that their decisions will be questioned in the public forum before they take them. It operates in that respect. From my experience as a Minister, in our Government—and I have no reason to believe that a Labour Goverment are different—we took clear account of Question Time. It was a major event to be considered in our political work. What is true of Ministers is true of every civil servant. We take the integrity of those in public service so much for granted that we perhaps fail to realise what a rarity it is. We fail to realise that it is there, because injustice and corruption are excluded through the public procedures of this House.

Some hon. Members have expressed fears that an extended Committee system will destroy this Chamber. I deny that. This Chamber will always be the centre of the House of Commons whatever reforms there may be in Committees. No one will move out permanently of what I might call the West End into repertory upstairs. This is the show piece. This Chamber is a theatre, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are a theatrical people. We have a strong, if suppressed, imagination. How else could we have created and sustained the greatest drama that the world has ever seen—and I do not exclude that of ancient Greece?

In architecture and spirit this Chamber is one of the great political inventions of mankind. I know on that point I shall find myself in total agreement with the Leader of the House. It is infinitely varied and adaptable. It is like the sea. One never knows the mood of the Chamber. To navigate the sea successfully is the quintessence of parliamentary art. What one gets away with one day can cause one to fall flat on one's face the next. Over a period this Chamber assesses everyone at more or less his true worth. It has the great capacity of being able to absorb everyone. It can absorb the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the right hon. Members for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and, I am thankful to say, even myself.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

What a quartette!

Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)


Mr. St. John-Stevas

The public, particularly since broadcasting, have found our debates noisy and at times perplexing. But noise in a legislative Chamber is a sign of life. In legislatures in other countries one may find silence, but it is the silence of the grave. It is silent because it is dead. No one goes there, because there is no interest in it. The House of Commons has always been a metropolitan cockpit. That has been its character. The public have an image of the House as a decorous tea party in which deity A converses with deity B, with perhaps not a tea break but a prayer break. That is false. That is not how the House of Commons operates, and it has never operated in that way.

May we, then, remove one of the false dichotomies from this debate? The debate is not a choice between the Chamber and Committees. We need both and we have always had both. In the time of Elizabeth I we had a much more developed Committee system than we have today. It is not a question of the Chamber or Committees; it is a question of getting the right balance between them. It is not a matter of eradicating one at the expense of the other; it is a partnership that we seek to build.

Another issue that was raised yesterday was the question whether hon. Members should be full-time or part-time. This generated a certain amount of heat. This, again, is a question of balance. It is becoming necessary for more and more Members to spend more and more time in the House because of the complexity of Government and the different functions that need to be discharged. Even if the majority of Members spend all their time here, surely there is still a place for a minority with outside interests. No system can ever make every Member of Parliament equally assiduous, dedicated or even ambitious. Members are rather like the clergy—they can do more or less than everyone else.

I agree with the judgment of Mr. Speaker King, who said, of a previous House of Commons, that it was the most dedicated and talented of any in our history. By and large, that is also true of the House of Commons today. Our problem is not lack of talent but how to employ the talent that we have to the best advantage.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

When I spoke yesterday, I was trying to say that we should not build too many priest-holes upstairs for the clergy of this place. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said earlier that this place was a stage and that the Committee Rooms were subservient to it. But if we send our best players on tour upstairs all the time they could become so expert that they get too involved in the long-running production up there instead of being down here.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an argument, but it is not one that I believe is soundly based. It is possible to be assiduous in the Chamber and to serve well on Committees. There are many examples of hon. Members who do so at present.

What I have said so far has been in praise of Parliament. I do not say that everything is perfect. There has been no golden age or classic period for Parliament. The whole secret of its success and survival is its willingness to renew itself, to change and adapt to the times. This Parliament is not a fossil but a living organism.

The report on procedure that we are debating this afternoon is the latest in a long series of reports, the first of which dates from 1837. It is designed to bring our arrangements into line with the needs of the present time. Those who have toiled on it with months of meetings, thought, study and research deserve the gratitude of the House. I congratulate the Chairman and particularly the Vice-Chairman, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who introduced it with clarity, lucidity and economy in his speech yesterday. That speech will be long remembered by those of us who were privileged to hear it. I congratulate him also on another epoch-making report on the preparation of legislation which has influenced this report and the whole process of law-making in this country.

The procedure report is a radical document but not a revolutionary one. It builds upon procedures which have been tried and tested over the years. It has improved these procedures and made them more effective. There are 76 recommendations in the report, but I cannot deal with them all. I shall deal with two main areas and then go on to say how the Opposition believe that the report should be dealt with.

The first area is that of the Public Bill procedure. There are 14 recommendations on this matter. The theme in this section of the report is that Parliament comes to consider Bills too late. Other interests are considered earlier. I accept that this House is not a lobby. There was an interesting suggestion put forward by the Opposition Chief Whip in a memorandum to the Committee in which he suggested a double Committee stage—a Select Committee stage followed by consideration in the normal Standing Committee form. That was considered, but it was not accepted in that form. I am inclined to regret that. However, the Committee did propose that the Standing Committee stage should be divided into two sections—a deliberative meeting, sitting up to three times, and then the normal Standing Committee procedure. The report says: In order to achieve this "this" means the examination of the issues behind the Bill— the committee should be free directly to question those who have drafted the proposed legislation and those who will implement it as to the purpose of the legislation, the evidence on which clauses are based, the degree and content of any prior consultation with outside interests, the effects which the legislation is expected to produce and the problems which will be involved in its implementation. I do not believe that these arrangements are perfect, but they are an improvement on what we have now.

Another recommendation on Public Bills was on the procedure under Standing Order No. 13 on Ten-Minute Bills. The report suggests that hon. Members should be required to deposit their Bill in draft form in the Public Bill Office before raising the issue in the House. I am against that recommendation. A Back Bencher does not have all that many rights in this House, but this is one of them. I am a Front Bencher at present, but I was a Back Bencher for a great deal longer, and no doubt in due course I shall be on the Back Benches again. It is a principle of this House that everyone, basically, is equal no matter where he or she sits.

I remember the ill-fated experiment in 1965, when the time for raising Ten-Minute Bills was changed to the end of the day's proceedings. This caused great resentment among Back Benchers, who were deprived of one opportunity of speaking early in the day and, on occasion, upstaging the Front Bench. I believe that this recommendation should be examined very carefully before it is adopted.

Another recommendation in this section which is of great interest is the question of time limits on speeches. It has been suggested that between 7 pm. and 9 pm Second Reading speeches should be limited to 10 minutes. There are arguments for this. There is nothing worse than leaving this Chamber with an undelivered speech. I imagine that it is similar to the feeling that a woman must get if she has a miscarriage. It is an appalling thing to go away with a speech undelivered. Nevertheless, I wonder whether this is a wise procedure to adopt.

One of the most valued freedoms of Members of this House is precisely that any limitation of time is self-imposed. There is a self-censorship. I think that we should look at this proposal carefully, whatever its superficial attractiveness, before we agree to it.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

is there not a problem about this? In any significant debate Conservative Back Benchers—or, as it will be in a year's time, Labour Back Benchers—cannot normally get into the debate until about eight o'clock in the evening, after the minority parties and Privy Councillors have had their say. When this rule is operating it will mean that no Conservative Back Bencher will have a chance of speaking for more than 10 minutes.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has put that point extremely cogently. I suppose that the argument may be that it is better to speak for 10 minutes than not to have an opportunity to speak at all. The arguments are balanced. I merely put that point before the House because it is a matter of importance and we should consider it carefully.

I turn now to the second area of the report—the proposals for an extended system of Select Committees.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

May we get this quite clear? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that on this first section of the report the Conservative Opposition support the key recommendation that Standing Committees—or, as we say, Public Bill Committees—should be able to take evidence? Am I right in thinking that he is supporting that key recommendation, although not the subsidiary ones?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The decisions on this report are matters for the House; they are not matters for myself, the Opposition or the Government. One can merely outline our general attitude and approach, and I am just about to do that. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) anticipated me. I am dealing at the moment with the proposals on Select Committees, which form the major portion of the report as well as its most controversial section.

We must ask ourselves why the Committee put forward these recommendations. No doubt it was reflecting the widespread public anxiety that the House of Commons is not, as presently constituted, discharging its functions adequately. We in Great Britain are rightly proud of our parliamentary government. But parliamentary government is itself a misnomer. It is not the function of the House to govern. In the last 700 years it has tried to do so only once, and that experiment ended in disaster, in 1653, with the Rump Parliament.

The function of this House is rather more complex. First, it is to subject the Executive to limitation, control and supervision, particularly in matters of taxation and supply. Secondly, it is to protect the liberties of the individual citizen against the arbitrary use of power. Thirdly, it is to focus the mind of the nation on the great issues of the day by the maintenance of continuing dialogue and discussion. Lastly, by remaining at the centre of the stage, it is able to impose parliamentary conventions or parliamentary manners on the whole political system.

It is quite clear from what is said outside the House, from what was said in yesterday's debate and from our own experience—so that this is not a consensus but a conviction—that that first function of controlling and checking the Executive is not being performed by Parliament as it should be. We have, in effect, a professional Government and we still have an amateur legislature.

In this section of the report the Procedure Committee is putting forward more effective means of controlling the Executive, not, I stress again, as I read it, as an alternative to the Chamber but as a supplement to it. It is radical, yes—revolutionary, no. The report does not suggest committees on the American Congressional model, and anyone who suggests that is doing a disservice to it. It does not suggest that committees should be able to take the initiative in policy, or that they should fulfil the investigatory roles of the Congressional committees. If one has a system based on the separation of powers, of course that is possible, but the central doctrine of our constitution is ministerial responsibility. What the report suggests is that that doctrine should be made more effective. It suggests rationalisation. It suggests building on the best parliamentary practice which has already become established, and making universal what has been described by the Vice-Chairman of the Committee as at present patchy and haphazard.

One can see that in that the report proposes that the Public Accounts Committee is to stay. We heard an extremely powerful speech on that matter yesterday from my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). The Statutory Instruments Committee is to stay, and so is the Committee on European Legislation and Consolidation. Although this is not recommended by the report, I hope that the Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner will also remain. But other Committees, such as the Expenditure Committee, the Committee on Nationalised Industries, the Committee on Science and Technology and the Race Relations and Immigration Committee are to go.

Those Committees are to be replaced by 12 departmentally related Committees which would, in many ways, do the same work but more effectively. They would also be working within a framework that provided for debate in the House and also provided that the Government should take effective note of what those Committees recommend. What the Procedure Committee has presented to us is not a revolution but a thought-through, rational, comprehensive system, a major reform based on existing experience.

My third and last point is on how the report should be dealt with. This is primarily the responsibility of the Leader of the House, and he should give the House an opportunity to vote on the report. He is a distinguished parliamentarian—that is universally acknowledged. He is concerned about and cares about the House. He holds a very high office indeed. In the early hours of this morning—there are moments of longueur even in this Chamber; it is not all thunder and lightning flash and sparkle—I looked through and noticed in "Dod" that he is thirteenth in order of precedence, taking precedence over dukes, which I am sure will comfort him.

The Lord President holds strong views on this matter and he has trenchantly expressed them, as is his right, to the Committee and to others. But in the last resort, however eminent the position which the Leader of the House occupies, he is the servant of the House and he is here to enable Members to express their views—and it is the views of hon. Members of this House that count, not those of the Lord President or mine. Since we have parliamentary time to spare, he should give the House the opportunity to decide on this report at the earliest opportunity, after we have had reasonable time to consider what has been said in this debate. This is what the Leader of the Opposition asked him to do in this House. I repeat that request today. He would gain the gratitude of the entire House if he gave an affirmative reply.

I believe that it is not only the Lord President's right to do that, but after what has been said in the debate it is his duty to let that decision be taken, putting down the motions and letting the House decide.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

If the Leader of the House refuses, will the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) offer the House a Supply day for that purpose?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that it will not be necessary for the Opposition to take action in this matter. I hope that the Government will take action. In fact, they are the only people who can take action. We could have another Supply day on this subject. We have given one Supply day to this debate. But I can give the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) this effective pledge: if the Government cannot take action in this matter, perhaps because they are no longer here when we return from the referendum recess, or because they have been mesmerised by the scepticism, doubts and fears of the Lord President, if after the next general election a Conservative Government are returned to office, we shall act.

I give the House and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West that pledge. In the first Session of the new Parliament a Conservative Government will present to Parliament positive, constructive and helpful proposals based on this report. We shall enable the House of Commons to exercise what is its undoubted prerogative and right, which is to take a decision on a report which has been so thoroughly, devotedly and wisely prepared.

5.0 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has spoken with his customary wit and wisdom. The first part of that sentence is at least intended as a compliment, and I am most grateful for the way in which he presented his case.

I join the hon. Gentleman in the very proper compliments that have been paid to those who produced the report. I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams) and to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who not only presented the report but also made a speech yesterday that was of great assistance to the whole House. Whatever view may be taken about this document—and some of my views have been anticipated—no one can doubt that it is a report of great distinction. It presents the dilemmas, problems and difficulties that have to be dealt with. It is the result of prodigious labour on the part of those who produced it, and there is nothing hypocritical or reserved in the compliments that I pay to those who have been responsible for it. I am especially sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington is not present for this debate, and that the debate was arranged at a time when he had made other arrangements.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford referred to my duty as well as to my right. I shall come to the matters that he raised almost in the sequence in which he raised them. I shall not seek to dodge any of the questions that he put to me. But I hope that the House will accept that, while I speak as one who is Leader of the House, I speak also as one who has spent as long on the Back Benches as any other hon. Member present. I can assure hon. Members that the views I present on this matter are actuated at least as much by that long period of the past, and a future period if it may come, as by the brief period during which I have served as a member of the Government.

It is true that one's presence in the Government is bound to tinge the views that one may hold on this subject, but it is also true that the rights of Back Benchers need to be watched even more jealously than the rights of an Opposition dealing with the Executive. That must enter into the discussion as well. I hope that I shall be able to illustrate that claim as I proceed.

I take as my text that passage from the report that was quoted by several hon. Members yesterday, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that the sentence in paragraph 1.5 he quoted, which I refer to afresh, makes our debate of much significance. It reads: The essence of the problem…is that the balance of advantage between Parliament and Government in the day to day working of the Constitution is now weighed in favour of the Government to a degree which arouses widespread anxiety and is inimical to the proper working of our parliamentary democracy. If that claim is true, it is a matter of major importance not merely for Parliament but for the people of the country as a whole. Moreover, if that view of the relationship between the Executive and the House of Commons is held by as large a number of hon. Members as that which served on the Committee, and if they reached that conclusion, that in itself is a matter of major significance. Therefore, I do not seek to dodge that aspect of the matter.

There are several respects in which I agree with that statement and where remedies of a far-reaching nature must be sought. But I do not agree with the whole of that doctrine, for reasons that I shall seek to indicate. There are certainly two features of our proceedings which justify that statement and where some remedy must be sought. First, there is the whole question of our control over the financial affairs of the country. I believe that there has been a serious change in the way in which the House of Commons is able to exercise control over the financial affairs of the Government and the country. That is a matter of the utmost seriousness. I believe that further remedies must be sought. Indeed, the Committee itself said: We believe, however, that the financial procedures of the House require more thorough investigation and propose that a further inquiry should be conducted, whether by ourselves or by another committee, in the next session of Parliament. There is a very strong case for that. Some of these changes have arisen from other affairs and from the attitudes and proposals that have come from other Committees. But I still believe—I think the House will agree—that that sentence points to the requirement that there should be a further and more extensive investigation with regard to financial control in the next Session of Parliament. Here I merely agree with what the Committee itself said. I do not suppose that there will be very much dissent from that proposition.

There is another aspect of the way in which the relationship between the Executive and the House of Commons has been altered in recent years, and it is of major importance that we solve this question; we certainly have not solved it yet. Far and away the biggest constitutional change that has taken place in the position of Parliament since the end of the war has been Britain's entry into the EEC. As many hon. Members argued at the time, that decision constituted a major change not merely affecting questions of sovereignty—supremely important though those may be—but in many respects it also altered the relationship in this House between the Executive and the House of Commons. In so far as it altered it, it altered it in favour of the Executive. No one can possibly deny that. That was one of the principal matters which we debated. It was denied at the time, but I do not believe that anyone can deny it now.

Our entry into the EEC and our adoption of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has often rightly described as a combination of negotiation and legislation—two things that do not go very well together—have had the effect, certainly with regard to European legislation, of tipping the balance between the legislature and the Executive. I believe that we should seek a remedy there. We have been seeking a remedy, but we have not yet been able to find it.

I am not quite sure whether a full remedy can be secured by the adoption of the proposal in paragraph 4.13. That paragraph deals with the question of EEC legislation and suggests that it should be transformed into a declaratory resolution. I am not certain whether that is a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter, although it would probably be better than our present situation. However, it does not achieve the result that has been suggested by some of my hon. Friends who have been most interested in this matter.

Some Opposition Members and, I believe, some of my hon. Friends are also pressing for the alteration of the European Communities Act itself. That alteration might be the most important way in which we could secure the effect. There are difficulties about the lesser method of achieving that effect—that is, by the declaratory resolution which has the support of the Committee. There are problems about what would be the legislative effect of a declaratory resolution of that character. Declaratory resolutions of the House are extremely important but they do not carry the absolute force of law. Therefore, that aspect should be taken into account.

I acknowledge fully that it is necessary for the House to seek a readjustment of the balance between the Executive and the legislature to regain, by some means or other, what we lost when the European Communities Act was passed. However, these are far-reaching matters. I do not say that we will be able to regain it all, but I hope that our future arrangements will be such that we can regain a considerable amount of what was lost. I hope that we shall be able to deal successfully with all the matters that arise from the way in which we try to deal with European legislation.

As Leader of the House, I have been provided with the considerable assistance of the Scrutiny Committee, which has given much time to the problem. We have sought to deal with the problems, but I do not claim that we have solved them.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I agree with the latter sentiments of my right hon. Friend, but does he agree that his general approach to the matter does not meet with the approval of many hon. Members? In regard to dealing with EEC matters, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he agrees with the proposals in the report for dealing with documents in Committee upstairs? Does he also agree that the House is owed another two days of debate—not these two days—which he promised the House on 28 November 1977 to deal with the specific matter of the declaratory resolution? It would be good for the procedure of the House if the Leader of the House and the Government redeemed that promise.

Mr. Foot

I have discussed the matter many times in the House and I am prepared to discuss it again to see whether there should be a separate debate. In the light of the fact that the EEC figures prominently in the report and confirms the major claim made for the introduction of the report, I believe that I am justified in referring to the matter. If I had not done so, I would have been open to criticism.

I understand fully the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and of other hon. Members. His is not the unanimous view of the House—and that does not mean that there is anything wrong with it—but if we are to carry out the objective set out so clearly in the report, which is apparently embraced by most Members of the House, we shall have to apply ourselves to the matter. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome that. I believe that to be the major question affecting the disbalance that has grown in recent years between the Executive and the legislature.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

In view of the history of the matter, and although a declaratory resolution has less force than other action that the House may take, surely my right hon. Friend would agree that the declaratory resolution has more force in supporting the procedure of the Scrutiny Committee than has the answer of a Minister in the House. That is what we rest upon at the moment. In view of previous undertakings, cannot my right hon. Friend undertake that the Government will introduce a declaratory resolution to regain a little of the power that has been lost to the Executive?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give my right hon. Friend the guarantee that he seeks, but I can answer the first part of his question. A declaratory resolution would have more effect than would a general statement by a Minister. I understand fully why my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members have urged a declaratory resolution. However, I am applying my mind to a part of the report, and it is no good hon. Members saying that is a distraction from other parts of the report in which they are more interested. I am dealing with a most prominent part of the report.

I turn to the other major controversial matter that has been raised in the debate. I am as entitled to give my views on the matter as anybody else, and I will give them openly and freely. I have had the good fortune to spend most of my political life in—and occasionally outside—the House and I have a duty to give my views not merely as one who happens temporarily to be a member of the Government but as one who has spent a long time applying his mind to the problem.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford said that there need not be a great conflict between having Select Committees and keeping the Chamber, which he described as the theatre or grand opera of Parliament, as the focal point of debate. I understand that argument. It is the argument of many hon. Members, some of whom have contributed to the debate and the evidence of the Committee.

The reason why I have taken such a consistent and persistent view, on the Back Benches as well as on the Front Bench, is that I believe that we should at all costs protect the position of the Chamber. I do not say it because I believe that there must be grand Victorian drama presented on the Floor of the Chamber. I do not say it because I believe that politics is primarily a theatrical affair. I do not say it because I believe that it gratifies—even though it may occasionally do so—the egos of those who have the chance of participating. I say it for very different reasons. I believe that access to the Chamber by an individual Member, throughout his whole parliamentary career, is the supreme attribute of the House of Commons which distinguishes it and makes it the place that it ought to be. I believe that if that attribute is broken, injured or impaired, great injury will be done to the House.

Mr. Spearing

What has that got to do with Select Committees?

Mr. Foot

I have been patient with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and I hope that he will be patient with me. I have answered his questions courteously and politely, and I will continue to do so. I will try to answer his intervention.

It is not only the question of major debates but the fact that a Member of Parliament is able to exercise his right—even if he does not do so—to have access to the House and put a question or raise a matter in a debate, or that it is known that he is able to do so. There is also the fact that he is able to put extremely unpopular views—often views held only by him. That access to this place is of paramount importance. My hon. Friend asked what that had to do with Select Committees. I understand the argument and I shall try to explain my views.

The proposal is for a range of Select Committees which are supposed to deal with the major question of the disbalance between the Executive and the legislature. That is not a minor matter; it is a proposal for dealing with a major question. If those Committees, applied to each Department, are to rectify such a disbalance, they will have a predominance in our parliamentary affairs which will be different from anything that we have previously experienced.

Some hon. Members may say that that is a distant fear, but it is exactly what has happened in the United States. I know that the United States has a different constitution from our own in many ways, but the more powerful the committees have become in the United States, the more debased or ineffective have become the House of Representatives and, to some degree, the Senate. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who have served in the House for some time have a duty to give their views on these matters.

It is my opinion that if we set up the 12 Committees to examine the matters proposed in the report on a regular basis we shall have not merely a further draining away of attention from the Chamber—and I have explained what I think about that—but the strength of Parliament being increasingly transferred to such Committees, thereby injuring the position of individual Members.

It is no use any hon. Members believing that the establishment of those Committees, with their special access to Departments, will not interfere with the position of individual Members who want to raise the subjects covered by the Committees—and the whole range of Government action will be covered by those specialist Committees.

I believe that another likely development is that the Committees will become a shield for the Departments. My hon. Friends may think that that is a fanciful idea, but my guess is that top civil servants are among those who will favour the proposal, and I would not blame them if they believe that the result will be to protect them from what can be a far more persistent and effective criticism of the Executive in the House.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the highest point in the role of Select Committees in the House was the mid-Victorian period—a period in which the relevance of the Chamber was never greater?

Mr. Foot

They were a very different set of Committees from those that the Procedure Committee proposes should be set up and they operated in very different circumstances. It is proposed that the 12 new Committees should cover the whole range of Departments for the purpose, as the Procedure Committee says, of altering the relationship between the Executive and the legislature to a major degree.

For those reasons, and for others that were put to the Procedure Committee, it is my view—other hon. Members are entitled to take a different view—that it would be a great error for the House to proceed along those lines. It is possible for the House to take innovations and adapt them to suit our methods, experience and system of working, but it would be a great error to proceed along the recommended path. If we do so, we shall encourage the dangers that I have described and distract ourselves from the real solutions to some of the problems to which I have referred.

Mr. John Garrett

Will my right hon. Friend explain how the great bureaucrats—the heads of quangos and the directors of private companies that receive great amounts of public funds—can be called to account for their actions through debates and Question Time on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Foot

The question of quangos is a different matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will not join the rather vulgar outcry against them. I think that his remarks in that connection must have been a slip of the tongue. If he is talking about calling the great bureaucrats to account, it is my view that the great bureaucrats ought to be called to account by Ministers. The great bogy built up in the minds of some of my hon. Friends is that the Civil Service dominates any Ministry. The fact is that any Ministry that is dominated by the Civil Service would deserve to be pitched out right away.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

That would be nine or 10 Ministries.

Mr. Foot

The Minister should dominate the bureaucracy. I have to warn my hon. Friends who are so eager in this matter that it is my guess that several top civil servants favour the proposal for the opposite reasons to those of the supporters of the proposal. I ought also to tell my hon. Friends that I have more knowledge of this matter than they have.

Mr. English

We know that my right hon. Friend is sincere in his views. Many of us disagree with him, and he considers that we are in error. The real question at issue is not whether he is right or we are right, but whether he is a believer in free will and whether he will allow the House to decide who is in error.

Mr. Foot

I am coming to that crucial question, which was put by the hon. Member for Chelmsford before it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). Before we had the debate, we considered the form in which we should take it. The Procedure Committee made 76 recommendations for changing the general way in which we conduct our affairs. There are about 30 recommendations that the House could easily approve and that would not cause any difficulties in any quarter but would contribute to the better functioning of the House.

We could have asked the House to approve those recommendations. The Leader of the Opposition was among those who almost invited me to proceed in that way. One of the reasons why I did not think that that was the right way to proceed was that I do not believe that it would have been right for the Government to select from the 76 recommendations those on which the House should make a decision. I am supported in that view by what the Procedure Committee said. Following the references that I quoted earlier, the Committee said: We have nonetheless sought to present an integrated and coherent set of proposals capable of being implemented as they stand. I am not saying that there are not a few recommendations that could be dealt with separately, but, in the main, the proposals hang together and they have been presented by the Committee in that sense. It presented its document as an integrated and coherent set of proposals ". I do not say that we have to implement every one in exactly the form in which it is presented to the House. Some would have to be open to amendment, and the debate has brought forward a variety of proposals and amendments from many quarters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has just left the Chamber. He did not leave in the rage that he promised. However, as he is now returning, I am glad to welcome him and say that these proposals will come before the House. The House will want to take into account the amendment that he and other hon. Members will be making about the form, nature and number of the Select Committees. His amendment would lead to many consequential changes in the way in which the proposals would be made. They would cease to be integrated and coherent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) intends to make a series of amendments to the proposals. Other hon. Members from all parts of the House will suggest considerable alterations to the proposals made by the Committee.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he is creating a difficulty which does not exist? There are 76 recommendations. The most important point is to get the decision of the House on the principles underlying the groups. That is why the resolution, which was tabled as an early-day motion and drafted by members of the Select Committee, reads: to table all the recommendations of the Committee, grouped as appropriate, for consideration by this House. If that were done the House would be able to take a decision on each of the broad principles arising from my recommendations. It would not be immediately binding on the House. If the proposals were carried as resolutions, it would then be for the Government to table further amendments to Standing Orders as a matter of course.

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal as incorporated in the early-day motion. His mere statement of the proposition to the House indicates that it is a more elaborate process than he seems to think. It is not just a simple "Yes" or "No" vote. It is a question whether the House will approve the whole integrated and coherent set of proposals, as they were described by the Committee. It is a kind of Second Reading proposition. Then there would be a kind of Committee procedure, in which there would be elaborate possibilities of amendment. I do not say that there is anything wrong in such a method. To transform the procedures of the House on the lines that this Committee suggested is a much more elaborate process than the members of the Committee, or those who signed the motion, realise.

I shall consider the matter. I acknowledge that there is no difference between us on this matter. The House of Commons must decide. There are many hon. Members who take different views. The expression of views is the purpose of holding this two-day debate. The Government arranged for an extension of time yesterday so that the House might review its opinion.

I state my view. The elaborate change in the procedures of the House, with all the consequences involved, I believe, would be done better at the beginning of a new Parliament. If the House takes a different view, we must consider that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There are many reasons why. The new Parliament must live with the changes.

Mr. English

The new Parliament can change it.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend says that we may change it back. That is not a good way of working. I ask the House to consider the matter.

Mr. English

The new Parliament can change it—not change it back.

Mr. Foot

I ask the House to consider the matter seriously. The report was hailed by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire, who introduced it, as radical. The word "radical" means tearing up something by its roots. That is different from the mild words that have since passed the lips of hon. Gentlemen. It is a radical procedure. It is the most far-reaching series of proposals for dealing with parliamentary procedure that has been presented for 30 years. In dealing with that fundamental change, the House of Commons should apply the same methods as it rightly applies when passing a Bill. As hon. Members who have had experience of these matters know, there is not only the passage of the Second Reading. There is also the Committee stage, in which the shaping of a measure takes place. If the House of Commons wishes to make this change, it should do so in that way and accept the consequences that flow from that.

If the House of Commons wants to give an example to the country and future Parliaments of how legislation may be successfully carried, what I propose is a better way than that suggested by other hon. Members. Some have suggested that the change in procedure should encompass all the matters embraced in the report and European legislation. Some have suggested that it could be done by one fall of the guillotine. It cannot be done successfully in that way if we are to preserve the best traditions of the House and to prepare it for what lies ahead.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

Does the Lord President recognise that those who want to see these changes recognise that they will not pass through this House easily? Those of us who would like to see change agree that this Parliament rather than the next should decide on these matters. There are some hon. Members in this Parliament who know about its procedures and the differences between Select Committees and Standing Committees. In the next Parliament many new Members of Parliament will not be versed in the ways of the House. It would be sensible to call upon the collective wisdom of Members in this Parliament to decide upon these matters, however cumbersome the procedures of change may be. It should be this Parliament that decides. Why does the Lord President shirk that issue?

Mr. Foot

Nobody can say that in this debate I have shirked any issue. I have given straight answers to points raised by hon. Members from all parts of the House. I hold a different view from those, including many of my hon. Friends, who think that a change of this nature should be considered by this House. I shall take account of what has been said, as I indicated at the beginning of my speech.

As to the purpose of this debate, I shall take account of what has been said by hon. Members from all parts of the House. I hold the view that the best time to decide would be at the beginning of a new Session of Parliament. I said that the hon. Members who make that decision will have to live with it immediately. By that time they will also have had the chance to take into consideration some of the factors that others and I have stressed in the debate.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Will the Lord President put his point of view to the test by putting forward a motion that the House shall decide to do nothing about the report until the next Parliament? If that negative resolution fails, will he then commit the Government to bring the motion forward?

Mr. Foot

I have stated very clearly what I believe the position to be. I ask the House to consider what I have said on these matters and to consider some of the consequences. As I said a few minutes ago, the decision must, of course, be made by this House. The House of Commons, pre-eminently, is the place in which the decision must be made. I ask the House of Commons to make it in a manner that recognises the importance of the decision and not in a manner that is derisive of the way in which this Parliament ought to work.

5.40 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

It is indeed a privilege and a pleasure to follow in this important debate, however inadequately and unworthily, so acknowledged a master of the parliamentary arts as the Leader of the House. I must, on a small point, put in issue, on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and myself, his claim to have sat longer on the Back Benches than anybody else in the Chamber. But that is a small point in a very interesting speech. We always listen with great pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Raison

Not today.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I did not say that we listen with total agreement; I said that we listen with great pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman. He has said much to interest us, much to stimulate us, a certain amount to provoke us, and a certain amount from which we would dissent. The right hon. Gentleman is always good in his parliamentary speeches. Like any other great actor—to follow the metaphor of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—he has some performances which are better than others, but they are all good.

I join with the right hon. Gentleman and with other hon. Members who have spoken in recording my appreciation of the long, devoted and conscientious labour of the Committee, and in particular of my right hon. and learned Friend, who introduced the debate so ably yesterday, and of the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams).

In this House we are, in theory at any rate, masters of our own procedure. I say "in theory" because in practice, as the House knows all too well, we are subject to certain logistical constraints. Constitutionally, however, we have the advantage of being able to adapt, amend and improve our procedures of our own motion, unimpeded by the constraints of a written constitution. We can proceed by a process of reappraisal and adjustment so as to ensure that our basic functions are carried out to the best of our ability.

The basic functions of this Parliament are described in Bagehot's classic definition, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, the learned editor of Bagehot, has been good enough to make a self-denying ordinance not to quote him, the least I can do is to follow that example. But in fact the classic catalogue is reflected in paragraph 1.7 of the report. There four main categories are specified— legislation, the scrutiny of the activities of the Executive, the control of finance, and the redress of grievance. These, taken together, impose a heavy burden, but circumstances are adding to that burden. For example, membership of the European Community has brought a new dimension and new problems, to which the right hon. Gentleman very properly referred.

We have to consider procedural adaptations to enable Parliament here to exercise a proper degree of scrutiny, guidance, influence and control in respect of the legislative and executive activities of an institutionalised Community operating under a written constitution. This aspect, dealt with in chapter 4 of the report, is one of the two principal matters on which I wish to say a word.

It is, of course, necessary to be highly selective in one's observations on so far-reaching a report. In addition to referring to the EEC aspect, I wish to say a word in regard to the pattern and structure of Committees, in the context of public business, which forms an important part of the subject matter of the earlier chapters of the report. If time permits, I should like to conclude with a few thoughts on chapter 9, which is concerned with the mechanics and logistics of our parliamentary work.

The need to be selective in comment does not mean that I have not found the content of the report as a whole to be of great interest. It is a most constructive, thoughtful and stimulating document and has, I think, exceeded the expectations of those of us who spoke in the debate in 1976 and looked forward to such a report.

Paragraph 2.4 of the report refers to the opportunity to comment on the content and form of intended Government legislation before Bills are formally introduced. In my view, this lies very close to the heart of the matter. I said in the 1976 debate that If opportunity for consultation existed at an earlier stage…the pattern and content of legislation could be affected before the mould has hardened. I referred then to my experience in a functional committee in the European Parliament, and said that although the European Parliament is not a law-making body, having only a consultative and advisory function, nevertheless it is able to exercise an influence on legislation, because legislation is brought to it in draft and is considered and debated with the representatives of the Commission sitting there, submitting themselves to interrogation, answering questions and so on.

That is a pre-legislative function which, in our case here in the House of Commons, can be dealt with by the sort of methods, such as the Public Bill Committees, described in paragraphs 2.19 and 2.20 of the report. I think that what is there proposed is a step in the right direction, but I doubt whether it is a full, final and definitive solution, at any rate in the recommended form, to this increasingly important problem, for what is there set out is a somewhat hybrid and complex arrangement.

While I would not go quite as far as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in suggesting that the inquisitorial and adversarial procedures, as he called them, cannot be combined in the same Committee, I think that nevertheless the particular proposals may give rise to difficulty in practice. I hope that they will serve as a start and a base but I hope that further thinking can be given to the mechanics of it.

Whatever precise form it takes, it will almost certainly have to be by some acceptable form of Committee, as described, because it is difficult to see that this sort of task can be successfully performed by any other mechanism. I want to see a step forward in this direction, but not because I in any way want to substitute a Continental model for our time-honoured procedures. In fact, I said in the 1976 debate: My point is not that we should follow the procedure of the European Parliament or take it as a model. It is more general. If the influence of an assembly which is not law-making in function can be brought to bear in the formative stages of legislation, surely we, as the mother of Parliaments with centuries of law-making experience, can do the same."—[Official Report, 2 February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 1086–7.] It is suggested—and the right hon. Gentleman clearly thinks this—that this would prejudice the efficacy of proceedings on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford drew a theatrical analogy—the difference between the West End and repertory. I think that it was an eminent Victorian who described the House of Commons as the Palladium of our civic liberties. It was a description which has, perhaps, varied with time.

But of course we should maintain the position of Parliament as a whole, the Floor of the House, as the great forum of the nation—the vitality of its Question Time, the drama of its great debates, the value of its interrogatory and analytical procedures. All these taken together constitute a democratic assembly of unique stature and maintained distinction, besides which the proceedings of most other Parliaments are but a pale reflection.

But there is much that should be done which cannot be done on the Floor of the House. Our task is to see that it is done with the maximum efficiency and an improved Committee system. But there need be no conflict. After all, the best efforts of the touring companies generally reach the West End in due course. There is no reason for there to be a conflict or even a dichotomy.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that even the best touring companies find it difficult to deal with both the provinces and the West End at the same time? We have had this problem before. Under the late Leader of the House, Richard Crossman, we set up many of these Committees, and then he cut down the numbers because the House of Commons ran out of manpower. This is a serious point. We could not supply the Members for both the Standing Committees downstairs and the Select Committees upstairs.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. We all recall the rather special procedures which the late Richard Crossman introduced. We do not have to wait for history. It is all set out in the five volumes of the excellent Cross-man diaries.

However, the short point is that the suggested procedure will occupy 150 Members out of 600-plus Members of the House. I give a qualified welcome to the proposed Public Bill Committees and a warm welcome to the high purpose that they seek to serve, tempered by some doubts as to the enduring efficacy of the particular means at present proposed.

I come to the other aspect with which I want to deal shortly—the Community aspect. Under the provisions of article 189 of the Treaty of Rome, Community legislation governs a wide range of our economic and social life. Article 100 provides for the approximation of our laws to fit the pattern of Community law—the so-called harmonisation. It is obviously of vital importance to the continuance of parliamentary democracy that effective methods be devised to bring to bear on such Community legislation parliamentary opinion, scrutiny and guidance. The question is: how best can this be done?

The report identifies two objectives in this context, at paragraph 4.12—that is to say: First, the House, or…a committee, should be able to debate all legislative proposals of legal or political importance before final decisions are made in the Community; second…such debates should normally be held on motions which allow the House to express an opinion on the merits of the proposal. I would think that there could be no doubt at all as to the desirability of these objectives.

There follow the report's two recommendations for giving effect to those objectives, as set out in paragraphs 4.13 and 4.14. Again, these are welcome proposals, but I doubt whether the recommendations of the Committee provide the complete answer. At present we have the advantage of a European Scrutiny Committee. That Committee does excellent work within the limits of its terms of reference, and both work and limits are clearly described in the admirable memorandum submitted by its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), at pages 190 and following pages of volume II of the report. The limitation imposed on the work of that Committee is that the competence of the Scrutiny Committee does not extend to the merits of the proposals. Indeed, by a curious constitutional paradox, the corresponding Committee of the unelected House has more concern with the merits of Community legislation than its Commons counterpart—and excellent reports it produces in consequence.

The report recommends, at paragraph 4.3, that the Scrutiny Committee's function should not be extended to consider the merits of Community legislation. But—and this to me is a surprising thing—that negative recommendation is not coupled with a positive recommendation to constitute a fully-fledged functional Committee on European affairs whose prime function would be the consideration in depth of the politico-legal content and implications of Community legislation. Such a Committee does not figure amongst the catalogue of the recommended new-style Select Committees, as given at paragraph 5.24.

In effect, the report chooses the possibility which my right hon. Friend's close analysis in his memorandum shows to be the less desirable of the two. It is to follow the practice of those member States whose scrutiny and control have been less effective, rather than the practice of those such as Italy and Denmark, which have active specialist committees.

Mr. Spearing

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that his description has so far been incomplete? In addition to the Scrutiny Committee acting as a switching mechanism, the report specifically recommends that such documents be discussed, perhaps at two sessions of two and a half hours each, on their merits, by a Committee upstairs to which Members who are interested in the particular subject can go, and which will therefore give perhaps a better scrutiny of the merits than could be obtained by a Standing Committee of whatever size.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

That is a very interesting and constructive proposal, but I do not think that it would fully take the place of the sort of full-scale specialist Committee which my right hon. Friend commends in his memorandum. I am bound to say that the balance of the argument—nothing is certain in these matters—lies with the specialist Committee as recommended by my right hon. Friend. Nevertheless this centralisation can and should be tempered by reference to other Committees, to the departmentally related committees as well, for their specialist consideration of the technical matters coming within their own expertise—matters of the common agricultural policy going to the agriculture Committee, and so on.

There is nothing impracticable or difficult about this. It is, in fact, exactly the system that has operated in the Folketing virtually ever since Denmark joined the Community. Basically, I think that we should consider the market relations committee of the Folketing as a guide, but as a model on which we should seek to improve.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

In connection with the Folketing, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we should not go as far as the Danes have gone in seeking to have the equivalent Committee in this House mandating Ministers on how they should take part in negotiations in the Council?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

My right hon. Friend with his characteristic percipience anticipated the point that I was about to make. In principle, the Minister is mandated in the market relations committee of the Folketing, and there is nothing inherently inappropriate in that in principle in a country where Ministers are responsible to Parliament. The operation in the Folketing, and it is this which we must consider, is designed to avoid the disadvantages of rigidity.

There is an understanding that cooperation between the market relations committee and the Government must be managed in such a way as to respect both the influence of the Folketing and proper flexibility in negotiation. The Folketing accepts the principle that Danish Ministers should not be bound to negotiate mandates that are so narrow as to make it impossible for them to take their proper part in the activities of the Council of Ministers. On that basis and on that understanding there is no reason why such a committee should not work effectively and responsibly.

The market relations committee, which is a high-powered body attended regularly by the Foreign Minister as well as by any other Ministers whose work is under discussion, has on the whole worked well. I say "on the whole" because I deliberately referred to it as a model on which we should seek to improve.

We can readily improve on the market relations committee in the main respect in which it operates less well than it might. I refer to the logistical aspect. The main criticism of the committee of the Folketing is that its heavy work load prevents examination of Community proposals in sufficient depth. No doubt that is due to an inadequate infrastructure. The committee has no independent secretariat and the individual members have no personal secretarial help.

There is no reason why we should reproduce those logistical disadvantages in our committee if we decide to set one up. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that, if such a committee were supported by officials of the quality of those who have served the Scrutiny Committee so well, it would have an infrastructure that would enable it to avoid the problems and criticisms attaching to the market relations committee. In my view, that is the most promising approach, and it deserves further consideration. The concept is there to stay in Denmark, and it is gathering strength elsewhere in the Community. An improved model would be both viable and attractive for Great Britain.

It has been said by my respected friend Mr Stetter, who is a member of the market relations committee, that there has been, and still is, considerable scepticism in Denmark about the European Parliament's role as a parliamentary safeguard for developments in the European Community. Even supporters of membership see the European Parliament's function as complementing the supervision exercised by the Folketing. He says: In my opinion this will not change with the direct elections to the European Parliament. I cannot imagine that the Folketing will renounce any of its existing supervisory powers in the foreseeable future. What is good for Denmark should prima facie be good for Britain. However, there are two special considerations affecting Britain that make ours an a fortiori case. First, unlike most member States, we have no written constitution entrenching certain rights such as the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. We have no constitutional court such as the Court of Karlsruhe which gave a famous judgment on the inconsistencies of Community legislation with the Basic Law.

Secondly, there is our position in respect of the directly elected European Parliament. I have quoted Mr. Stetter on the certainty of the Folketing retaining its existing supervisory powers—the strongest in the Community—in the foreseeable future. Again, Britain is an a fortiori case. Denmark will continue to operate the dual mandate and Britain virtually will not. There may be a few Members doing so with parliamentary experience, but that will be a light leavening of a solid mass of British Euro-Members with no elective parliamentary experience. That must necessarily mean a diminution in parliamentary supervision to that extent, which reinforces the case for strengthening the control of the House.

I hope that I shall be forgiven a personal illustration. During my six years of membership of the legal committee of the European Assembly—including the last four years as its chairman—I have paid close attention to certain constitutional aspects. First, there has been an insistence that the legislation of the Community stays within its Treaty powers and that they be not extended without formal amendment under article 236 of the Treaty requiring ratification by the national Parliaments.

Secondly, I have urged that article 189 be respected in that the form and method of directives must be left to national Parliaments and not imposed in minute detail by the Commission.

Thirdly, I have sought to ensure that article 100 be strictly construed on the principle of no harmonisation for harmonisation's sake and that no extension of the approximation of laws be made beyond the scope sanctioned by the treaties.

Fourthly, I have tried to ensure that article 235 be not used for pushing the frontiers of Community legislation beyond the proper and prescribed area of Community activities.

These are not matters exclusively of British concern. However, some British Members of the European Parliament have been especially associated with them. We must ask what guarantee there is that we will have a continuance of that work in a directly elected Parliament by British representatives who in the main will be parliamentarily and politically inexperienced.

What prospect or likelihood is there? If the answer is what I fear the probabilities suggest, is it not clear that the House of Commons has added cause to consider investing itself with the protection that the Danes, for example, find necessary and desirable, even without this additional stimulus?

The final power, as we know, rests with the Council of Ministers. What is required is an appropriate degree of supervision and control by the House of its ministerial representatives so that we may answer the old query Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? with the answer that the House of Commons will play that part.

Had time permitted, I should have made some comments on chapter 9. That I am not able to do. I regret that the less as we had an excellent speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) on that topic. I do not go along with the proposition that membership of the House should be a full-time function—at any rate, until we see the shape of things to come—but it is true that an improved and extended Committee system, combined with a continuance of our traditional procedures on the Floor of the House and the steady increment of constituency preoccupation, will result in further imperative calls on the time and energies of hon. Members. That in turn will require and should receive early review and revision of the facilities and remuneration accorded to Members.

When I was first a Member in this place, I was paid, if I remember aright, £600 a year. I had no secretarial, research, stationery or postage allowances. There was no individual accommodation, with the result that Members were dotted about the place in the corridors dictating to their part-time secretaries.

Mr. Powell

We did very well.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

My right hon. Friend was not here when our salaries were £600 a year. He waited. He is always a great realist. He waited until there was a substantial increment before condescending to add his undoubted talents to our deliberations.

Mr. Powell

May I say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did very well?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I always try to do my best. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does the same. It was not satisfactory or dignified: the spectacle of hon. Members dotted around the Corridors dictating to their part-time secretaries was not a satisfactory or dignified spectacle. We were working under the curious gaze of the puzzled tourists passing by. We have made some progress.

Mr. Baker

What is my right hon. and learned Friend worth?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

It is not what I think I am worth. What matters is what the market thinks that I am worth. When I joined the Government in 1955, I was paid £1,500 a year. One year after I left the Government, the newspapers were telling me that I earned 20 times as much. It is not a question for me. It is the market. This is not a debate about Members' remuneration. I have always taken the view from the beginning of this controversy that I am in a fortunate position because I have been able to practise a profession which has given me a living outside the House. I know that there are many occupations to which that does not apply. We should think of that when we consider what is the appropriate level of remuneration for Members.

I entirely go along with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said yesterday. We have made progress since those early days due partly to the excellent work of the Services Committee and the Library, for which we are grateful. But many problems remain. New and increased difficulties will aggravate those problems. Steps should be taken to ensure that so far as possible the conditions and facilities of our work accord with the high purposes of Parliament and facilitate the discharge of its vital and varied duties.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) with great interest. I shall not follow his speech closely. I was interested to hear his remarks on the relationships between this House and the EEC. He gave us some ideas that we might think about. I was encouraged to hear him talk about the mandating of Ministers which we have been told by certain people would be neither desirable nor possible. He has opened a new avenue of approach towards our relationships with the EEC which will exercise the minds of some hon. Members over a long period.

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the report. The House should be appreciative of the depth of analysis and the quality of the recommendations. Most of the recommendations are, and should be, acceptable to the House. I hope that, in due course, we shall have an opportunity to consider and vote upon those recommendations. In defence of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I do not think we should make the mistake, to which the Select Committee draws attention, of hastily considering legislation or recommendations. Members of the House are entitled to consider not only the report itself but also what has been said in this debate about the report. My right hon. Friend was right to resist the calls which came from the Opposition Front Bench last Thursday that he should have tabled motions today on the report.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that this report has been available since July? That is more than six months. We have had the whole of the Summer Recess and the Christmas Recess to read it and to think about it. Surely that must be enough time.

Mr. Stoddart

Of course I am aware that this report has been available since July. I am also aware that it took the Committee from June 1976 to take evidence and to consider its recommendations. The Committee took about two years on this matter. Some fundamental changes are proposed. They are sensible changes, but the House is entitled to have the benefit of a debate in the Chamber, to reflect upon that debate, to assimilate the points made in that debate and to come to conclusions. My right hon. Friend had a point in saying that we must not be too hasty. On the other hand, I appreciate that the opportunity for the House to come to a decision should not be too long delayed. Otherwise, the report will be pigeon-holed and no action will be taken on it.

There is no doubt that many, if not all, Members of this House often feel frustrated with the present procedures and the limits on action which make it difficult for them properly to discharge their role of examining legislation and keeping a check on the Executive. The Government machine is so large and complex and the facilities available to Members of Parliament so small and limited that the task of making even the smallest impression on the Government is difficult and exhausting.

All the cards at present are stacked against the Back Bencher, and the Government almost invariably hold all the aces. The Civil Service is so organised that it sees its prime duty as the defence of the status quo and also the protection of any Government who happen to be in power and the Ministers of that Government. Even if the Civil Service would like to do so, it is hardly likely to provide Back Benchers with information that would embarrass the Government and the Ministers they serve, even if it was in the public interest that Ministers and the Government should be so embarrassed. The Government are also protected by the partisan atmosphere in the Chamber. This makes concerted action from all sides of the House more difficult to achieve. The present position seems to discourage Members from working together to check and supervise the great Departments of State.

I understand and appreciate the contrary arguments. I can well understand the fears expressed by hon. Members and particularly by the Leader of the House, who made this plain to the Select Committee, that the Chamber would cease to be the focus of attention where great arguments of policy and principle are debated and decided. If my right hon. Friend looks around the Chamber, he will see that many of the people who have taken part in this debate and who are often in the Chamber are also those who man the Select Committees and the Standing Committees. He might like to take that fact into account when he considers this debate.

There is a danger that our political debate could become grey and boring and that great issues would be blurred and disreputable compromises reached if power passed from the Chamber to other bodies. I do not say that the proposals of the Select Committee would produce that result. Indeed, the reverse result could and should be obtained, since matters which might never reach the Floor of the House in normal circumstances may very well be forced there by well-informed and militant Select Committees which would not be content to tolerate ministerial concealment and stonewalling.

I am not one of those who believe that adversary politics are bad for the nation. I believe that if the great issues of the times are not fought out with vigour and conviction in the House of Commons, there is a real danger that our democratic procedures will collapse. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that the great issues are fought out with intelligence and with better knowledge of the facts. The proposed Departmental Committees would be better placed to obtain the relevant facts and information.

The influence of the Chamber has been declining for some time. Since I became a Member of the House nearly nine years ago, I have seen interest in the Chamber itself and interest in taking part in debate decline as hon. Members seek other means of putting pressure on the Executive. The influence of the Chamber and of Parliament will decline further unless it is revitalised and given a new meaning for those whom it serves.

There is a need to encourage hon. Members to be good parliamentarians as an end in itself. At present the route that ambitious hon. Members have to take if they wish to increase their influence is through Government and ministerial office. That in itself can often lead to a blunting of an hon. Member's questioning and examination of a Government's performance.

There should be another route for Members so that they can increase their influence. As far as I can see, that alternative route must be through powerful and influential Departmental Committees, as proposed by the Select Committee. As good parliamentarians, with no other ambition than to further the interest of Parliament, an opportunity should be given to hon. Members to increase their influence on behalf of their constituents and of all the people in the country.

I turn to the question of legislation, its framing and its quality. I agree with the Leader of the House that much major legislation is initiated on a party basis. It is right that that should be so. Indeed, it would be intolerable if that were not so, since such legislation is based on manifestos placed before the people at a general election. Governments, of whatever colour, have a duty to try to put that legislation into effect and should give priority to it.

Nevertheless, it does neither Parliament nor party any good at all if legislation is not properly thought out and drafted and properly digested by the House of Commons before it becomes law. We must remember that legislation which is passed today is legislation for tomorrow. Indeed, it will have to last a long time and stand the test of time. Sloppy and ill-considered legislation merely brings Parliament and the law into disrepute and ridicule. There is a better chance that legislation will be good, well drafted and in accordance with need if Departmental Committees can examine it relatively impartially before rigid positions are taken up by either Government or Opposition.

I have the honour to serve on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. That Committee recently conducted an experiment on the basis of a pre-legislative hearing of the electricity supply industry reorganisation Bill which the Secretary of State for Energy was good enough to publish as a White Paper.

That exercise, experimental though it was, was worth while. It enabled hon. Members to hear at first hand the Secretary of State's reasoning in favour of various clauses of the Bill and a wide range of opinion and criticism from outside the House of its provisions and of the consultation process which took place before the Bill was drafted. I do not know how much influence that pre-legislative hearing will have. It was a hesitant experiment which most people believe to have been worth while.

The development of this in-depth examination of proposed legislation is one way of ensuring that we enact measures which are better understood by those to whom they apply and by those who have to administer them.

I turn to the proposal to wind up the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I disagree with the Select Committee. I have already declared my interest as a member of the Select Committee. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), the Chairman of that Committee, I shall put in a plea for it.

The present Select Committee on Nationalised Industries focuses on the nationalised industries, examines in detail their reports and accounts, monitors their progress and efficiency and compares their performances, one with another and with industries outside the nationalised sector.

If that Select Committee were to be disbanded, it is clear that the examination of the nationalised industries would not take place in the same way as at present since the amount of attention that the proposed Departmental Committees will be able to give to the nationalised industries is bound to be restricted because of the wide range of other subjects with which the Committees will have to deal.

I am convinced that the surveillance of the nationalised industries will not be so detailed and expert, nor will the questioning of the industries and their chairmen be so acute. By its nature the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries attracts hon. Members who have a deep and often specialist interest in the nationalised industries and in public ownership. This contributes significantly to the depth of examination of the industries. Furthermore, the Select Committee has built up knowledge and expertise. It would be most unwise to disband it.

I believe that the Select Committee on Procedure has done a magnificent job. In spite of the defence that I made of the Leader of the House, I hope that we shall not delay too long in bringing forward at least some recommendations which the House can discuss and decide upon. I am sure that all hon. Members realise that we must have some reforms if this Parliament of ours is to continue to represent the nation with real life and vitality.

6.28 p.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

There is something rather touching about the way in which members of specialist Committees come to the defence of those Committees when their continuance is threatened. I do not wish to be patronising in any way. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I know how important that work has been and how well the Committee has served the House. I understand the anxieties about the case histories that that Committee has built up and the fear that specialised expertise will be lost as a result of the proposals.

I agree with the main stream of the conclusions reached by the Select Committee on Procedure, but I have some reservations about whether it is right to have Select Committees which are intended to mirror Government Departments. I feel that there are a large number of issues—and the hon. Gentleman's interest in nationalised industries is one of them—which cut across departmental responsibilities, and therefore the work of the proposed Chairmen's Liaison Committee in determining who shall consider what, and in controlling and vetting the examination of subjects by Committees, will take on very considerable importance.

I want as briefly as I may to return to the consideration of the proposals in so far as they affect the future of the means by which this House examines documents coming from the European Economic Community. I listened with a great deal of interest to what was said by the Leader of the House on this subject. I listened with glowing warmth to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) had to say in referring, as he did, to my own proposals which appear in the annex to the Committee's report. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation, I would like, first, to say how much I appreciate, as I am sure do all its members, the vote of confidence—if I may call it that—which the Select Committee on Procedure has given to the EEC Scrutiny Committee. It is, in effect saying, "Continue with the work that you are doing". It has made those of us who serve on that Committee today and those who have served on it in the past feel greatly comforted that we are able to carry out a job of work which is appreciated by our colleagues in the House as a whole.

In giving us a vote of confidence, however, the Select Committee on Procedure turned down my own suggestion for a Select Committee on European affairs. This was to have been, and if it is the intention of the House to bring it about it could still be, a specialist European Committee. I realised when I gave my evidence to the Procedure Committee that increased Select Committees were to be recommended, but obviously I did not know what new Committees would be suggested or what range of subject areas they would cover.

Therefore, although I accept the principle that there needs to be additional Select Committee-type work done on behalf of the House, I still believe that the suggestion that I put forward for a specialist European Affairs Committee should have further serious consideration. I proposed that this Committee should be established with wider powers, comparing in the main to the European Affairs Committee which, currently operates in another place. That Committee does extremely well and I suggest that we in this House benefit quite considerably from its reports. I envisage that the present quick-acting work of scrutiny would continue but that, in addition, the new European Affairs Committee would be able to examine particular proposals in greater depth, and, as a result, would be in a position to comment on their merits.

That Committee would then—and this is the important point—having done its consideration, report to the House, as does the Lords Committee now. Its report as well as the regular scrutiny reports would form the basis for debate in the House. Obviously, examination in depth along the lines that I suggested could take place only where there was sufficient time. It could not happen in the case of fast-moving documents. By its very nature, an examination in depth presupposes that there is time for that study to take place; but, given the wider powers that under my proposal the European Affairs Committee would have, the Committee could call witnesses before it and examine in greater depth policy intentions as well as any draft legislative proposals.

Looking back on that idea, I suppose in a way I was really trying to suggest a formula which would fill a gap which had become apparent in our present practices in dealing with Community legislation. The gap is best illustrated by my referring to a very recent example in connection with the European monetary system. Normally, the EMS papers would not have come before the Scrutiny Committee, but all of us on that Committee, and therefore all of us in the House, must be extremely grateful to the Government, the Leader of the House and Treasury Ministers in particular for the steps that they took to ensure that the documents were made available which could then be the subject of scrutiny and, later, of debate in the House. Had there been a specialist European Affairs Committee with wider powers along the lines I have suggested, these matters could have been considered there first in considerably greater detail and the report of that Committee would have been available to the House and, I believe, would have benefited hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Similarly, as another illustration of the point, it has not been possible for the Scrutiny Committee to bring within its purview the present budget debates which have so enlivened the proceedings within the European Assembly. These are of critical importance. I believe we will be discussing these matters tomorrow, but these are not matters which so far have been brought before the Scrutiny Committee. They could have been considered at a much earlier stage, when they would have been more relevant, had there been a specialist European Affairs Committee in existence.

There are two differences between what I have suggested and what the Procedure Committee now recommends. There is, first, the obvious one; instead of recommending one composite Committee to deal with European affairs, it is suggested that there is to be a whole range of Departmental Committees which, if they think fit, may deal with EEC matters affecting a Department's responsibility.

There is a second difference, that whilst in my proposal the work of scrutiny would have been co-ordinated with the work of the European Affairs Committee and worked closely in cohesion with it, there is not likely to be quite such an easy link in the arrangements which are proposed by the Procedure Committee. I know, of course, that the Chairman of the Liaison Committee may be able to take some additional responsibilities in this matter, but it is not easy. In those circumstances, I envisage the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee having carefully to brief the Liaison Committee to determine where the measures which are coming before it in quite considerable quantity each week should be deposited, should there be, in the Scrutiny Committee's view, a need for further more detailed examination.

There is also the possibility of overlap and the prospect of confusion. With so many Committees in the field, and so many having a remit to consider draft EEC legislative proposals and other related or similar documents, it is quite possible that the Scrutiny Committee would be doing work at the same time as one of the Departmental Committees was doing the same work. It may be necessary for the Scrutiny Committee, in order to carry on dealing with documents as now, as seems to have been the intention of the Procedure Committee, to be completely blinkered in its operation and to remain oblivious of what is done in other Select Committees.

Questions arise here which I am sure can easily be answered, perhaps with some difficulty, in the course of a debate of this kind, though they require further study and examination. There would be no difficulty about the suggestion of making available to all other Committees of the House the briefing material that is now available to the Scrutiny Committee. That presents no problem. It is a straightforward logistical matter.

However, I wonder what would happen in, for example, the case of fast-moving documents which are of great significance to the House. Here I give as an illustration the EEC budget, a massive document sometimes running to nine volumes, which requires detailed consideration and study. Thank heaven that, for the sake of our sanity, the Scrutiny Committee has been extremely well served by assiduous Clerks who prepare a précis and enable us to be directed to the major point. But the time scale is extremely tight. It is essential that a report be brought out very quickly.

Is that to be done by the Scrutiny Committee, as it has been done in times gone by, or is it to be done in future by the proposed new Select Committee dealing with Treasury matters? I do not know. It is a matter that will have to be resolved.

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that within the tight time scale imposed upon us by the procedures adopted within the Community, where the European Assembly has direct responsibilities, the proposed Select Committee on Treasury matters is dealing with other studies that it regards as being of considerable importance. Is it to put them on one side and take that fast-moving issue of equal importance into its own purview and carry out a study rapidly, or is the matter to be left to the Scrutiny Committee, as now? Had it been a specialist European Affairs Committee of which the Scrutiny Committee formed part, that specialist Committee could have conducted the wider study while the work of scrutiny went on as part of its subcommittee operations. These are matters that should be considered further with care.

In addition, it is not clear what will be the conclusion of the new Departmental Committees' examination of EEC matters. Are they always to report to the House? Is it the case that every time one of the proposed Select Committees comes to a conclusion on a particular examination that it has been conducting it shall report to the House? Will its reports always be debated? There are to be only the eight sitting days, the eight specialist Committee days, on which the reports could be debated.

There is an important point here in relation to scrutiny and the powers of the House over Ministers. By virtue of the terms of reference under which the Scrutiny Committee currently operates, it can impose what for shorthand purposes we call a block on behalf of the House on Ministers agreeing matters in Council until the opinion of the House has been heard.

There are certain exceptions, to which I shall return shortly, but by and large it is an important safeguard and it is one of the most important functions of the work of EEC scrutiny. Is it the intention that that function shall also be made available to those Select Committees that happen to be looking, as they see fit, at EEC documents; or is it only to repose in the Scrutiny Committee? If so, by what mechanism is the Scrutiny Committee to be assured that the timetable, which sometimes is short, is to be observed and that the views of the House may be obtained before the Ministers proceed in the negotiations in the Council?

Sir David Renton

As my right hon. Friend has virtually asked a question, may I presume on behalf of the Committee to answer it? Such matters obviously will arise. That is why we have given specific power to the Chairmen's Liaison Committee, which will have a very important part to play to prevent overlapping and secure expedition when required.

Sir J. Eden

That is what I thought might be the case, and that is where one needs to consider the suggestion much more carefully, because in practice there may be little time to achieve what is suggested.

It is difficult enough to trap these proposals as they come through now. It will be even more difficult to sort them out into their respective pigeon-holes and keep a watching brief on their progress through other Select Committees. I have no doubt that if that is what the House wants, it can be made to happen. However, I am not satisfied that what is proposed is an improvement upon the basis of what already exists.

I have never proposed that the work of scrutiny should be devolved to other Committees. I have recommended a specialised European affairs Select Committee, because I suspect that after direct elections the significance of the work of scrutiny, as well as the Committee's work load, will increase rather than diminish. The work of scrutiny on behalf of the House following direct elections will, I think, take on added significance.

Mr. English

I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. I wish to ask him only one question. Would he recommend a specialised European Department of State? Our relationship is between Committees and Departments. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a co-ordinating function. It is carried out in the Cabinet Office at present. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that that function should be taken away from the Cabinet Office and put in a separate European affairs Department of State?

Sir J. Eden

No. I am not talking about governmental organisation at all. I am talking about the ways in which I believe hon. Members can best be served in scrutinising European legislation. I think that we want to develop a system that best suits us, whatever organisation is determined inside Government.

I turn briefly to the question of merits. If merits are to be considered by all the new departmental Select Committees when they look at EEC proposals, I do not see why they should not be considered by a specialist European affairs Select Committee. The possibility of Select Committees considering merits is welcomed in the Procedure Committee's proposals, but the possibility of any specialist European affairs Committee set up specifically to deal with European matters examining merits is apparently a cause of anxiety.

I was very interested in the evidence that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) gave to the Select Committee on the European Communities in another place last May. He paid a tribute to the work of scrutiny from which, for the benefit of all hon. Members, I should like briefly to read. He said in his evidence on 16 May: the House of Commons is, I think, not merely content but grateful to receive from the scrutiny committees thinly disguised comments bearing upon merit, and would be reluctant to establish—I speak personally, of course—a body formally to advise it upon merit. We thus have the double benefit of the advice from our own committee which hardly fails to overlook merit from time to time but conveys its material in a form which creates no friction and also to be able to read the valuable reports of a committee on your Lordships' House which has no similar limitations, even formal limitations, upon its competence.

Mr. Powell


Sir J. Eden

Yes, but surely the way ahead is indicated there. First, there is a specialist European Committee that is able to deal with merits, and its valuable reports are appreciated even by Members of this House. Secondly, the Scrutiny Committee in practice has shown itself to be straining a little at the leash in trying to indicate to hon. Members certain aspects of a meritorious nature. The principle in my suggestion to the Procedure Committee and in the suggestion that the Procedure Committee made are the same. Some EEC proposals should be considered in greater depth by a Select Committee so that the House may be informed on their merits.

Select Committees should be seen to serve this House. That is their primary function. They should not be seen as a mechanism to avoid or replace debates in this House. Their job is primarily to provide information to enable hon. Members more effectively to check—and, if need be, to exercise some control over—the activities of Government. There is no need for hon. Members to become so bogged down in the work of Select Committees that participation in debates in this Chamber is rendered impossible or perfunctory. What is proposed in the Procedure Committee report is not the same procedure as that which obtains in the United States. In the United States, committee work is a greater focal point. Debate in this place or in a Standing Committee set up for that purpose as a direct extension of this place will remain pre-eminent. That must be so.

The Standing Committee proposals produced by the Select Committee are admirable. They will largely remove the element of criticism that has hitherto accompanied any hint of a reference of a legislative proposal to a Standing Committee. There are many documents that are more suitable for Standing Committee debate than debate in the full Chamber of the House. There are also many documents that are technical and which affect important interests outside the House but which are not suitable material for debate, not even in Standing Committee. They none the less require further elucidation. Reports on these documents cannot be made to the House at present unless the Scrutiny Committee determines that those draft proposals are of legal or political significance.

On the declaratory resolution or the form of motion that is suggested should guide the work of scrutiny, the existing terms of reference could be widened. But it is not necessary to go too far. There could be a limited and cautious extension of the powers of scrutiny. That would enable us more effectively to discharge our duties to the House.

I was interested in the speeches yesterday of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) and the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) on the undertaking given in November 1977 by the Leader of the House. That has not been met, even to the extent of discussing these matters with the Committee. That was part of the undertaking preparatory to bringing a declaratory resolution to the House as a whole. It is a matter for regret that that has not happened.

I do not support a resolution that will be totally binding on Ministers and require them on all occasions to hear the opinions of this House where a proposal has been reported before proceeding to negotiation in Council. That is going too far. But there could be a move in that direction. A thought occurred to me only yesterday when listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Farnworth. We are not discussing Government proposals in the legislation of EEC matters. They come from the Commission. They are not United Kingdom Government documents. This House is enabled to consider these documents only when the report of the Select Committee is laid before them and recommends that there be further debate.

We should have a resolution that concludes with a reference to taking note of the Committee's report. That would immediately place the Committee's observations before hon. Members, giving an opportunity for amendment rather than tabling the EEC document on a take-note basis, as is currently done.

However, I agree with the hon. Member for Farnworth that whatever is devised in the form of a declaratory resolution should not be so restrictive as to tie the hands of Government. Despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), it is not clear whether the Procedure Committee meant it to be firmly binding or only binding in certain circumstances. Perhaps that could be clarified.

Sir David Renton

We expected that the declaratory resolution would define the terms in which it was binding and the terms in which Ministers would have freedom of action.

Sir J. Eden

That would be helpful. There are cases where Ministers come to the Scrutiny Committee, largely as a matter of courtesy, where they feel it necessary in the national interest, as they interpret it, to proceed with negotiations before hearing the opinion of the House. But these matters require further study and examination.

I support the proposition that resolutions should be brought before the House on the Procedure Committee's proposals in time for hon. Members who are here to come to a conclusion, but I hope that hon. Members will closely study the proposals. They should not conclude that, because the work of scrutiny is to continue and new Departmental Committee will be set up with the opportunity to examine EEC documents, that is the best way to proceed. It is not the best way, but it could be made to work. The essential feature of scrutiny is continuity. It is not a one-off examination of a document but the consistent build-up of case history and experience which enables that Committee most effectively to discharge its duties to the House.

Mr. Rhodes James

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have now been allegedly debating this matter for two and a half hours, yet only five speakers have been called. Can you do something to protect the rights of Back Benchers?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I was just about to make an announcement. I was going to ask hon. Members to look at page 14 of the Select Committee report. Paragraph 2.9 says: Mr. Speaker could announce that because of the number of Members wishing to take part, he would call Members between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. to speak for a maximum of 10 minutes. That applies only to Second Reading debates, but it would be very appropriate if this evening hon. Members respected the recommendation of the Committee.

7 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) has just spoken in detail from the point of view of his great interest—scrutiny of EEC legislation. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow his argument. I pick up an early remark that he made to the effect that there was in the House this afternoon a sad procession of Members and Chairmen of existing Select Committees which are likely to be no more on the parliamentary scene if these proposals are accepted by the House. I am about to join that company as Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I wish to say a few words about that Committee tonight.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology is often bracketed with the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, but in fact their histories are very different. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries was set up in 1951 in defiance of the then Leader of the House, the late Lord Morrison. He was as much against that proposal as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House appears to be against the proposal for Departmental Committees today.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology was part of the Crossman reforms of 1966–67. At the same time as it was set up there was established a Select Committee on Agriculture—this was a Departmental Committee—which came to an early end. The Select Committee on Science and Technology was made a subject Committee and it has continued to flourish with fair success since then.

I was the first Chairman. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) followed me for three years, then I resumed the appointment. I remember very well that before the Committee was set up there was much discussion with the late Mr. Crossman, the then Leader of the House, about its terms of reference. All kinds of suggestions were made, but these were abandoned in the end. The terms eventually agreed were that the Committee should consider science and technology and report thereon from time to time. It is not possible for terms of reference to be wider than that. They are as wide as physical matter itself.

The Select Committee has chosen its own subjects for investigation, and this has proved of practical value in its workings. I shall not weary the House with the matters that have been investigated, but we have produced between 30 and 40 reports in the 12 years of our existence—roughly three reports per Session on very complicated subjects, ranging from population control to nuclear reactors and from advanced ground transport to university industry relations. We have checked on the work of research councils and looked at defence research in detail. We have done half a dozen reports on topical energy questions as the political scene has changed. We have not been idle. As a result of our labours, have we influenced, guided or determined public policy?

We have succeeded to some extent through our criticisms and recommendations by bringing into the public eye evidence, a great deal of which was previously hidden. That is very much so in the case of defence matters, where the Select Committee's evidence has proved to be of enormous value.

We have had some impact on Government policy in the report that we made on reactor choice for the next generation of British nuclear reactors. That report was instrumental in avoiding a premature move towards the American style pressurised water reactors, which are not as safe as the British breed of gas-cooled reactors.

The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) referred in his speech yesterday to the initiative that our Select Committee took on population control. Our work is enshrined in present Government activity.

A more up-to-date investigation was the well-publicised one into the method and organisation of counter-measures against beach oil pollution, which livened up the Department of Trade no end. At present the Committee is studying genetic manipulation, which is a very important subject for legislation in future. We are also looking at technological innovations and their handling; we have produced a useful report on Japanese productive methods.

Opinion outside the House—in the universities, industry, and science and technology generally—has looked to the Select Committee as a counterpoise to Government Departments. Industrialists, manufacturers and trade unionists will come to the Select Committee and speak frankly. In cases where manufacturers have contractual relationships with Government, they are often glad of the opportunity to speak openly to the Select Committee, because it is not always easy for them to do so in dealing with Ministers.

If the report from the Select Committee on Procedure is adopted, the activities of the Select Committee on Science and Technology will come to an end—

Mr. English

No, those activities will go elsewhere.

Mr. Palmer

I take the point of my hon. Friend's intervention. I hope that they will go elsewhere, but the work of the Select Committee, as a subject Committee, will come to an end. Whether the matters will be looked at as well and as thoroughly by Departmental Committees is for the future to reveal. In the proposals before us, the work done so successfully by the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be transferred in bits and pieces, but never completely, to the proposed Departmental Committees.

Of course, it could be argued that there is an overall gain of parliamentary accountability which will be such as to make it worth while winding up this Select Committee. Perhaps that is so. But, all the same, a great deal will be lost.

There is a rather curious passage in the report in paragraph 5.35. It says: Moreover, many of the matters investigated by the committees are not the direct, day-to-day concern of government departments at all…. In the field of science and technology, many matters considered by the Committee are the concern of universities, research councils, or other semi-autonomous public organisations or of private individuals or companies, although the financial, admintrative or policy responsibilities of government departments are also likely to be involved. That argument is used against the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I should have thought that its terms of reference were so wide that it could look at Government scientific and technical policy in the general context of national life, and that that was rather to the credit of the Select Committee on Science and Technology than otherwise.

In the evidence that I gave to the Procedure Committee I said that the proposed Departmental Committees, whatever their other merits, could not adequately meet the need for parliamentary scrutiny of scientific and technological matters because these were often interdepartmental subjects, which, by nature, could not be combined with the work of any one Department. However important, these interdepartmental matters would be awarded a lower priority. The Procedure Committee was obviously conscious of this and attempted to cover it, I think in a rather clumsy fashion, by saying that Departmental Committees could, if they wished, trespass into other departmental fields. I think that in practice that will be a right old mess.

In my oral evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure I gave some examples of the work done by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, ranging over—as it was bound to—a wide number of Government Departments. We looked at coastal pollution and dealt with housing and local government, technology, power, agriculture, fisheries and food. In terms of the population investigation there were agriculture, fisheries and food, employment and productivity, housing and local government, social services, health and social security, transport, education and science, and local government and regional planning. There are many other examples, but I shall not weary the House with them. I think that I have said enough to make my point.

Mr. English

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) makes a good case, but it applies to Government as well as to Committees. I ask exactly the same question that I asked the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden): is my hon. Friend advocating that science and technology should be taken away from the various Departments between which it is at present split and put into one Department of State?

Mr. Palmer

No. I would take the opposite view. I do not think that science and technology is a departmental matter in itself, but it is a useful classification for the work of the Select Committee. Science and technology enters in the whole complexity of modern life. I was criticising the idea of a Department of engineering when I spoke in the House last week in another debate. Engineering is not a departmental subject. It must be used wherever engineering is needed.

Mr. English

Quite right.

Mr. Palmer

I read some eloquence into the brief interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). The difficulty with these Departmental Committees will be that it can be said "You are tied to Government Departments and, therefore, you can cover only the work of Government Departments".

There was a period, of course, when there was no Department of Energy. There was an interval when the old Ministry of Power was abandoned by the Government of the day and a new Ministry of Power had not been set up. In those circumstances, it would be rather difficult for Departmental Committees to investigate energy in the same way as we have succeeded in doing in the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

I do not go all the way with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I certainly do not agree with him if he means that this is not a matter for the House as such. In the end it is bound to be—preferably with this Parliament. However, I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a danger that while, in principle, Departmental Committees as proposed will besiege the Departments, in the end the Departments may capture the Committees.

One feature of the history of the Select Committee on Science and Technology is how little party differences or advantages have entered into its work or recommendations. That was not because we had any self-imposed ban on party controversy—far from it; it was due to the interest of members of the Committee in the subjects investigated and the need to approach the subjects objectively. When in office, Ministers of both major political parties have been rigorously examined by the Select Committee. Our records show that. But that has always been simply in relation to their policies in the area under investigation. We have not implied any generalised criticism of the Department or the Minister. We regard that as a matter for the House as a whole. But, given that Departmental Committees will perpetually watch Ministers and their staff, will not the normal party patterns of the Floor of the House be reproduced in the Committees?

Mr. English

Why not?

Mr. Palmer

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West asks "Why not?" There are weaknesses about that. In those circumstances the Minister will be faced with his permanent Opposition party critics in the Committee, who will be well armed with facts. Will he not, therefore, need his own party friends to help him through? I should have thought that he would. I suggest that in those circumstances one could easily get a reproduction of what has happened in the Standing Committees, where things are decided, sometimes rather blindly, according to party majorities, with the Whips in attendance. That, I feel, is a weakness of the proposed Departmental Committees which has not been sufficiently considered.

Mr. Raison

Surely we have some experience of this in the Expenditure Committee. That Committee is, after all, broken up on a kind of quasi-departmental basis and there is no evidence that the Sub-Committees of the Expenditure Committee perform in the way that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) is deploring.

Mr. Palmer

I am concerned with the work and investigations of the Select Committee of which I am Chairman. I am not talking about the Expenditure Committee, of which I have no experience. The strength of the present evolved system of Select Committees, such as the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, on which I served, and the Select Committee on Science and Technology is their general all-party approach. If they have strength, that has been one of the reasons for it. It does mean some limitation and lack of universality, but I think that the gain all round has been considerable.

Having said what I have about Departmental Committees and some of their disadvantages as I see them, I must say that there is a vast amount remaining in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure with which I agree. We certainly need to strengthen in every direction the powers of Select Committees—departmental or otherwise. By "otherwise" I mean present Select Committees but, if we had to make way for Departmental Committees, one would wish them to succeed. We certainly need to give much more effective control to the House of Commons over public policy and expenditure.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who opened the debate, drew a lavish, theatrical picture. He referred to the dramatic performances in the House of Commons, which we all enjoy and for which we all have a great deal of love and regard. But I suspect that the ordinary citizen of this country—the man and woman in the street, or in the kitchen—are not quite so certain that a modern country is best governed by a continuous dramatic performance. Perhaps people occasionally feel that things would be done more effectively if they were a little duller. I leave the House with that thought.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Before I conclude, I wish to touch—at any rate in passing—upon some of the anxieties voiced by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer); but I have been refreshing my memory of the Order Paper; and the Order Paper for today states that The First to Eighth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure (Sessional) in Session 1976–77 are also revelant. I believe that they are indeed relevant to the main subject of our discussion; and I want to depart from the unbroken precedent that has so far been set in this two-day debate in order to refer—I hope not in too great detail—to those eight reports.

It is a disgrace that eight reports to this House from the Sessional Committee of 1976–77 have, without exception, remained without notice or debate by the Chamber which sought the assistance of that Committee when it referred those matters to it. In several matters, I believe that we have been the evident losers thereby.

I do not say that in all cases, when a matter is referred to the Sessional Committee on Procedure—when we have one—it would be necessary for its report to be debated. Sometimes there are subjects on which, after examination, the Sessional Committee reports that it sees no reason for altering the current practice of the House, and the House might well be content to allow such reports to lie upon the Table. Of the eight, probably three—the first, seventh and eighth —could be regarded as falling within that category. But in my opinion five merit the direct and explicit consideration of the House, and we have lost by leaving it for two years before even a theoretical opportunity of debating them was presented.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is not present. Perhaps that is just as well, because I believe that the question of raising points of order during a Division, and whether the hat should stay or go or be duplicated, is one which deserves consideration upon the basis of the investigation which the Committee undertook. Perhaps even you personally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will one day—or rather one night—regret the fact that we have not resolved this matter, and that the sort of unease and confusion which I believe most hon. Members feel surround that particular part of our ceremonial or procedure have not been seriously considered, if only briefly, to see whether the House agrees with the conclusion at which its own Committee arrived.

Then there are matters which are more serious and which even in recent weeks we have been reminded how necessary it was should be considered by the Sessional Committee. I cannot be the only hon. Member—I believe that I am probably not even in a minority—who feels that our present procedure on Standing Order No. 9 is not satisfactory, because it permits opportunities for abuse, whereby an individual Member lucky enough or forward enough is enabled to put on the record in his name what many hon. Members would be glad to have the opportunity of saying, and to make statements without the chance of their being argued or rebutted from the other side of the House. Had we looked at the Sessional Committee's recommendations on that subject, we might have largely put that right before now.

I also think it is wrong that, when the Opposition put down a motion on a Supply day, they should be prevented from obtaining the views of the House upon the terms of that motion, and that by our present procedure the House should be obliged to debate—at any rate to vote upon—something else instead. I believe that to be an unfairness imposed upon all Oppositions, and something which both parties in turn will come to regret. Essentially, it is an abuse of the purposes of Supply days.

This is a matter on which the Sessional Committee put forward a recommendation which would largely, if not completely, solve the problem and enable the Opposition to debate what they want to debate. Incidentally, that report was a reminder that sometimes we are not so clever as we think when we alter old-fashioned and apparently clumsy procedures such as that of putting amendments in the form "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause".

Perhaps most palpably of all—because it happens twice a week—we have manifestly suffered from our failure to consider in good time the report of the Sessional Committee in regard to Prime Minister's Question Time. There was a moment—I think that it was about 18 months ago—when the Prime Minister himself was very much minded to attempt to assist the House, fortified by the recommendation of the Sessional Committee. I remember the actual day, when it was quite obvious that most hon. Members were unaware that that offer had been made by the Prime Minister, or that it had the backing of a recommendation of a Committee of this House.

Had that report—in fact it was the fifth report in Session 1976–77—been debated by the House, we would surely have struck upon a more respectable and useful track of exploiting Prime Minister's Question Time, and not got into this dreary, ridiculous and demeaning routine of putting to the Prime Minister meaningless questions which enable any supplementary whatever to be shot at him—quite in contravention of the general procedure of this House and in contrast to some other Chambers in the world—whereby Ministers are not required to answer substantive questions without preparation.

So we have learnt a lesson which we ought to note, because we deserve it for not doing the natural and proper thing—that is that, having asked a Committee to consider a subject, we should consider its report, debate it and come to a conclusion upon it. I say again, as the Order Paper states, that those reports, and the experience and lessons that we have learnt from them, are relevant to the big issue before the House, namely, what ought we to do about the report which this House, perhaps rather lightheartedly, in the early and youthful years of this Parliament commissioned from a long-suffering, long-sitting and, within its capabilities, hard-working Committee? That is the question to which the Lord President addressed himself, and it is the question to which the House, after all the debate upon the recommendations, ought to address itself.

Most of the speeches in the debate have taken their rise from the oft-quoted statement in paragraphs 1.5 and 1.6, the modern version of Dunning's motion of the late eighteenth century: the balance of advantage between Parliament and Government in the day to day working of the Constitution is now weighted in favour of the Government to a degree which arouses widespread anxiety…the Committee believed that a new balance must be struck ". That statement has earned the almost universal approbation of both sides of the House and was the proposition upon which the Leader of the House erected the skilful structure of his speech.

Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)

It was not so skilful.

Mr. Powell

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a very cunning piece of architecture raised upon that foundation.

I should like to challenge that foundation, both factually and also as a basis for our consideration of the report. I believe it is not factually correct that the balance of power and advantage as between the House and the Government has tilted decisively—certainly not in the past decade or two. The historical truth is that there is a sort of see-saw movement. There are periods in which the influence of Government over the House is stronger and others in which it is weaker. I do not believe there is a historical, continuing and increasing trend towards the increased influence of the Government over the House. I do not imagine, either, that such advantage as is possessed by the Government will be lessened by any procedural Committee or other arrangements that we care to construct. That influence derives from causes which are inaccessible to even the most profound alterations in procedure.

There was an amusing passage in yesterday's debate when the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) addressed himself to the Lord President of the Council. The hon. Gentleman was reflecting ruefully upon the greater power possessed by the Lord President as compared with that possessed by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. The hon. Gentleman asked himself why that was so. He thought of various possibilities, only to dismiss them, and then he settled for the wrong answer—namely, that the Leader of the House was better informed and had more information and knowledge on the various subjects than was available to a mere Back Bencher, even to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow.

That is a complete misconception of the basis of the influence and power of Government in the House. In the life of this Parliament there have been at least two instances when the Government have overborne the majority in the House. There was a majority against the devolution Bills, but they were passed. There was a majority against the Bill for direct elections, but it was passed. Why were the Government able in those cases to overbear the House? We all know the reason very well. If we use the one word "patronage" in answer the question, we should be conscious that we are using an old-fashioned term for something which is not so old-fashioned. Of course, Governments have patronage, ways and means—we all understand them very well—of moulding the opinions and parliamentary behaviour of their supporters. But, in the end, it is not upon those individual rewards and punishments, directly in the hands of Governments, that their power over the House depends. That power depends on party.

In the last resort, it is allegiance to party as a condition of continuing and remaining effective in the House which is the lever by which Governments overpower the House at their will from time to time. When we have perceived that, we notice that we are using the word "House" with a certain ambiguity. There are respects in which the House is a corporation: it is one of its attributes that it has a corporate character, and no one knows from one moment to the next when it will assume that corporate character. It came perilously near to assuming it towards the end of the speech of the Lord President.

However, that is not the whole truth about the House. The House is not just a corporation, and simply to talk about the House vis-á-vis the Government is a totally inadequate description. The House comprises parties and, for most of the purposes of the House, its partisan character overrides its corporate character. If it did not, we could not be the continual, living and flexible expression of the will of those whom we represent.

It is therefore courting disappointment to take the report and say "Here are proposals which, if we enact them, will redress the balance of power between Government and House of Commons and will put us, the Back Benchers, in the envied positions of power and influence now occupied by those upon the Treasury Bench." If that is the notion on which we approach the proposals, we are in for a disappointment, but that does not justify our not addressing ourselves on a lower plane of expectation to the major recommendations of the Committee.

There is only one group of recommendations on which the Committee was unanimous. Hon. Members who are acquainted with Select Committee work—Select-Committee-goers, perhaps I might call them—learn early the rule "When in doubt, divide. Never fail to divide if you do not agree". I am glad to say that the Select Committee on Procedure fully implemented that first rule of Select Committee membership.

The report should be read with one's finger inserted in the concluding section, referring backwards and forwards, paragraph by paragraph, to see who said that and who did not say that, who agreed with that and who did not agree with that. If hon. Members, as most will have done, read the report in that way, which is the way it is intended to be read—for, after all, the Select Committee was set up as a microcosm of the House with its great spectrum of different prejudices, views, aspirations, and so on—the recommendation on Select Committees stands out from the rest of the report as the one section in which all elements of that Committee found themselves in almost total agreement. An hon. Member: They were wrong. Whether the Commit tee was right or not, it is important to distinguish the fact that on that subject, in contrast with most of the others, the Select Committee found itself brought together into a sort of unity.

Sir David Renton

The right hon. Gentleman should not give the House the impression that there was any division on the main recommendations. We were unanimous in wanting the Public Bill procedure and the new Select Committee structure. On chapter five, in which that is dealt with, there were only two Divisions—one on the Nationalised Industries Select Committee, on which we were united except for one hon. Member, and the other on the rather less important issue of whether the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Committee should be included with the departmentally related Committees. We were united on the main proposals.

Mr. Powell

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for confirming both parts of what I was saying. He confirmed that the whole plan for reorganisation of the Select Committees was a matter on which the Procedure Committee was united after the most exhaustive debate and examination.

But the right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned the Public Bill Committees. I dissented—[Interruption.]—I am reminded that I was not the only Member to do so—and I put on record—it will be found at the back of the report—my dissent from the notion that one can combine in the work of a Committee dealing with the Committee stage of a Bill both the inquisitorial and the adversarial procedures. The proposals on the Public Bill procedure are unworkable, and would be found to be unworkable. If they were put before the House separately so that hon. Members had the opportunity of debating them, the House would probably not accept a Standing Order embodying such proposals.

The central part of the report, however, concerns the reorganisation of Select Committees. We all set out from what was well stated by the Clerk of Committees, who said, in paragraph 5.15, that there were reasons for arguing that the main weight of select committee investigation should be more evenly borne throughout the public service ". We found ourselves looking at evolution which pointed clearly in a certain direction. The story is that the House began with the Public Accounts Committee. Long afterwards, it said to itself that the Public Accounts Committee was only retrospective, it was the Estimates which were concerned with the future, and therefore the House should set up a Committee to look at the Estimates.

However, the Committee set up to look at the Estimates did not do so. It discovered that no Committee can usefully just look at Estimates. So it split into Sub-Committees and started to look at subjects. I remember that 25 years ago I was a member of the Sub-Committee that looked at the National Health Service—the first thorough consideration of the Service since the Act establishing it passed through the House.

The House then said to itself that it was unnatural to pretend that a set of Committees looking at subjects, Departments of Government and Departments of State were examining the Estimates. The House said to itself that those Committees were looking at expenditure. After all, it is by expenditure that the House attempts to mould society and certainly mould the doings of Government.

So the House converted the Estimates Committee into an Expenditure Committee—rightly or wrongly—whereupon, forthwith, the Expenditure Committee started to investigate subjects. Although there was a general Committee which looked at finance as finance, the Expenditure Committee resolved itself into subject Committees. There had also been a parallel movement at that stage, and this is where the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East comes back into the picture. The House said that there were certain aspects of administration that were not getting picked up, there were causes of public anxiety, Government decisions that would have big repercussions were being taken on them; but they were not falling within the remit of any Committee of the House.

So the House decided that those aspects needed the investigation that a Select Committee could give, and, more or less simultaneously with setting up the Expenditure Committee structure, the House set up a scattered number of specific interdepartmental Select Committees.

However, we cannot stop there. All members of the Procedure Committee were convinced that this was an evolution which had to be allowed to go on to the next stage. In order to see that the survey was carried on more continuously and pervasively, we had to rationalise the departmentalisation of the Committee that had once been the Estimates Committee and is now the Expenditure Committee.

It is just here that the anxiety of the Lord President arises. There are expressions in the report and opinions among some of the members of the Select Committee which would suggest that those departmentally related Committees will maintain a sort of watchdog role, from month to month, over every branch of the administration of every Department designated opposite numbers one to 12 in the relevant paragraph of the report—as though they will be like the political branch of the Red Army in which every military commander has a politician assigned to him. The Committees would be paralleling, as it were, the structure of Government and breathing down the necks of every activity of the Departments of Government. That fear is groundless.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was right when he referred yesterday to the evolution—I have dignified the process with that term—of our Committee structure. He warned the House not to suppose that there would be a new Heaven and a new earth because we were proposing, instead of the present structure, 12 departmentally related Committees.

Whatever we say, however we arrange the Committees and the Departments in parallel columns, and whatever resources—they will be quite limited—are attached to those Committees, the facts of political and parliamentary life will ensure that the Committees will pick and choose and decide from time to time what they think is most important to investigate and will use the investigatory procedure in those areas only.

There will be a big difference and a big improvement, because the Committees will be invited, in making their choice of subject, to see themselves as covering the whole scope of Government. There will be instances, for example, where they will find themselves deciding that EEC policy, as embodied in Community documents, is the most interesting and urgent matter to be investigated within the area of one or more Departments of Government. But they will not resolve themselves into committees of Congress and they will not become full-time duplicators of the Executive, living in the pockets of the civil servants of the Departments of Government. They will simply be doing more thoroughly, more consistently, but in much the same way, the work which the Select Committees of the House have hitherto found themselves led into doing. The rightness of this central recommendation of the report is vouched for because it is an evolution and because all of us on the Committee found ourselves obliged to recognise it as the next development and the right development.

I have referred only to that, in its unanimity, unique and, in its importance, principal recommendation of the report. But now I conclude with the most important question—that is, what should the House do about it?

I added my name to an early-day motion, which said that a motion should be laid before this House embodying all the recommendations of the Select Committee report. I felt it was only a proper mark of solidarity to append my name to that early-day motion. Yet there is no procedure by which the House can take some 70 propositions, related to one another though they are—the right hon. Gentleman put too much emphasis on the fact that there is an inner consistency between our recommendations—and consider them somehow all of a heap. The recommendations must be taken apart. The House must look at one group of recommendations at a time, and it should look at them, I suggest, in the form of the Standing Orders which would be required to implement them. There is nothing that so sharpens the minds of Members of the House as to be presented not with the proposition that we should not adjourn at 10 o'clock but with the actual wording of an order by which it proposes that it should in future be bound.

So what we ought next to do is to have before us draft Standing Orders embodying the central recommendation of the report in relation to Select Committees, and we should follow the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that, so large is the matter, we should give ourselves a Second Reading debate and a Committee stage. We shall certainly need those. But we shall bitterly regret it—as on a much smaller scale we have reason to regret ignoring the advice of the Sessional Select Committees on Procedure—if we simply leave this matter now after this general debate and say that a different lot of people, who will come here within a year, may think about it. The House now has this matter in hand. It is seized of it. All the members of the Select Committee who lived through those two years, and who were driven together to that conclusion, are still Members of the House. This is the time for the House of Commons in the proper way, in due form and fashion, to take its decision—at any rate, upon the central and unanimous recommendation tendered to it by its Select Committee.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has a tendency to concentrate the minds of his auditors wonderfully. I think that he did so on this occasion.

I suspect that the debate was straying earlier today. At its beginning the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said that there were many false issues, which he did not propose to mention in detail and he did not do so. After that, however, I would describe some of the points that have been raised in this debate as minor. With the greatest respect to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), the details of the way in which to deal with European legislation in this context constitute a minor point.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South on what is the central issue. Nobody on the Procedure Committee would suggest for a moment that every single detail of our structure of Select Committees was absolutely perfect. All we suggest is that there should be a structure of departmentally related Select Committees. The House may well wish to alter them in some way.

I suggest to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West and others who have spoken, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), that the issue they raise was entered into some years ago in a speech to the annual meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson).

The simple issue is that there is no perfect place within the machinery of government to put anything. The right hon. Gentleman referred to shipbuilding. We may consider that as transport and put it in a Department of Transport. We may—we need not—put transport with roads. At one moment roads may be placed in a Department of the Environment and transport in another Department. We may say that shipbuilding, like aircraft, is transport, or that it is a matter of international policy, and put it in a Department of Trade.

The right hon. Gentleman touched on many issues. He mentioned another matter of great importance—namely, that these circumstances may change. The Government and the House determine what subjects are related to given Departments. I refer to the funtions orders, as they are called, under the machinery of government legislation. The most important of them, which create or unite Departments, must be placed before the House and approved by it. Lesser orders must be placed before the House and may be disapproved by it. Either way they come before us.

We have a participatory role in determining what the Departments of State deal with. The Procedure Committee suggested that, whatever faults there may be in functions falling within Departments, it was better that the departmentally related Committees should relate to something that was clear and known. Otherwise, the danger is that something falls through the net and is not dealt with by anybody.

If I may give a good example to my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), it would be the Bank of England. I should think that the monetary policy of the central bank of the country is of some importance as an issue. It cannot be discussed by the Nationalised Industries Committee under its terms of reference. If hon. Members wish to go into the history of this matter, they will find that the Bank of England did not originally come under the terms of the Nationalised Industries Committee at all. Indeed, there are still several nationalised industries that are totally left out of the terms of reference of the Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo)—I hope that someone will send a memo to the Boundary Commission saying that such lengthy titles should be abolished—had the Bank of England included in the terms of reference of the Nationalised Industries Committee when he was its Chairman, but only with certain limitations which Sir Gorden Richardson pointed out to members of the Sub-Committee I chair when we happened to go round the Bank of England.

The point at issue is that the Committee may consider legally within its terms of reference such matters as whether the Bank of England gives cheap mortgages to its staff. However, theoretically, it is not supposed to discuss whether its monetary policy is influenced by the Treasury.

The situation may be repeated many times over. There are gaps in our structure. There always will be gaps unless we say that a total set of Committees has the same jurisdiction as the Executive has over all its nationalised industries and quangos.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston exaggerated when he quoted the Agincourt speech from Shakespeare. The issues at Agincourt were a little greater than the difference between a full Select Committee and a Sub-Committee. But that is the sole point at issue.

We proposed a Sub-Committee to deal with all those occasions when nationalised industry policy had to be dealt with in common. Apart from the two now being undertaken by the Select Committee, there have been five since 1957. That is an average of one every four years. Its normal investigation is of an individual nationalised industry, and that could well be done by an Energy Committee, an Industry Committee, a Trade Committee or whatever it might be.

Mr. Crouch

The departmentally related Committees will still run up aginst one major difficulty—the Government and their Ministers. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, is resolutely opposed by the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Industry when it seeks to allow the Comptroller and Audi tor General's Department to see the Department's books? That is the position at the moment. It will not be altered as long as the Department takes that view, no matter what Select Committee we appoint or what we call it.

Mr. English

I am coming to the matter of audit. That is one of the important recommendations of the Procedure Committee, but it is one on which there is movement. I am still dealing with what I call the minor points. With the conspicuous exception of the right hon. Member for Down, South, there has been in the debate an inability to see the wood and a passionate desire by hon. Members to keep their hands clutched round their own favourite tree.

The argument whether the Committee dealing with nationalised industries should be a full Committee or a Sub-Committee related to the Departmental Committees of Departments which have nationalised industries under them is a relatively minor one. The same is true, I think, of the passionate defence by other Chairmen of existing Select Committees of their existing role. This does at least show one thing. Anyone who has suggested that the debate on the Floor of this House will be detracted from by the existence of Select Committees cannot have been listening to much of the debate. Indeed, if members of Select Committees had not spoken in the debate, it would have been over at a very early hour yesterday. The overwhelming majority of Members who have spoken in the debate have been either Chairmen or members of some Select Committee. Even the Leader of the House admitted to being a member of a Select Committee, and that, in his case, is rather rare.

The last minor point to which I intend to refer was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South when he spoke of the Sessional Committee's reports. The one on Prime Minister's questions was mentioned late last night by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), but the right hon. Member was the first person in the debate to refer to the other seven reports. The reason is quite extraordinary.

Mr. Speaker called second in this debate the Chairman of the Sessional Procedure Committee, in order that those reports should be introduced, and he spent his entire time, without making any firm proposals, criticising the report of the Committee of which he was not the Chairman. He did not introduce even one report. That is why I describe them as minor, because the Chairman of the Committee concerned obviously thinks of them as minor. In the end he merely made the suggestion that his own proposal would be for a set of Select Committees independent of Departments. What precisely that means I do not know, but he and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) were the only two people to support the cause of the Leader of the House.

The only two people who were totally negative in the debate were my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). Every other Member, including those who were defending their own Committee, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, supported the central issue, which is the proposal mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South on Select Committees, and this, it seems to me, is the prime recommendation. I would have said that something else—the audit—was the prime recommendation, and I said so at the time of the debate on the Civil Service. Our audit procedure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) pointed out—and a great deal of credit is due to him for raising the issue in the Expenditure Committee—

Mr. Rhodes James

Where is the hon. Gentleman today?

Mr. English

If Conservative Members want me to give a full list of their hon. Friends who were present or absent at any time during the debate—through most of which I have been sitting, like some other hon. Members—I shall, but these things merely detract from the matter under discussion.

Mr. Rhodes James

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would include the hon. Member for Cambridge, who has been sitting through most of these debates.

Mr. English

One of the most important subjects that we have to discuss is not the presence or absence of indivdual Members at a given time—which I always think is a rather cheap thing to discuss—but whether the audit of public expenditure is of any importance. In the debate on the Civil Service we were told that there would be no reform at all of the audit of public expenditure. I am glad that in the industry debate the Secretary of State for Industry announced that there would now be a study of it on the lines requested by the Expenditure Committee and the Procedure Committee. But for that, I would have said that that was an important recommendation which was, I think, almost unanimous in the Procedure Committee.

The real question at issue is that of the Select Committees. I do not think that the question at issue is the Public Bill Committees. I should support my colleagues on the Committee, but I did not agree with them any more than the right hon. Member for Down, South did.

Our Standing Committees, so-called—I suppose it is because Members stand up when they speak in Standing Committees—were an invention of 1882. They were disapproved of by the House of Commons at the time. They were invented by the Chairmen's Panel and Lord Randolph Churchill. They have never really scrutinised legislation.

Everybody in this House with any experience—this is why it is important that experienced Members should discuss this issue—knows that the way to get on to a Standing Committee, if one is a member of the party in Government, is to promise one's Whips that one will not say a word. An Opposition Member has only to prove to his Whips that he is able to give monologues, at almost any length, on almost no ground at all. The Standing Committees are a most inappropriate way of considering legislation.

There is a great deal to be said for non-specialism. There is a great deal to be said for the right of a Member to come to a Committee on Report and say his own piece, but at some stage some specialised body such as a Select Committee should—as in every other Parliament in Europe, in America and even in most of the Commonwealth countries nowadays-have the opportunity to consider legislation.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seems to have a theory that because we put a Select Committee into place and relate it to something, and give it certain powers of discussion, we thereby somehow mysteriously take away from the House a piece of machinery. This is not the case. There is a need not merely for our generalised and discursive discussions on legislation, for example, but also for a specialised discussion on legislation. However, even that is not the most important matter. It is important, but it is not the solely important thing. The most important things are the departmentally related Select Committees. We need to have proposals concerning these Select Committees put before us in the form of resolutions.

It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston will persuade the House that there should still be a Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. I should regret it if he did, for it would mean that there would be a distinct overlap. An Energy Committee would overlap with it, as would an Industry Committee and a Trade Committee. But never mind; if my hon. Friend persuades the House, so be it. We have all been long in the business of politics. We know that politics are not wholly rational. I think that on this issue the Procedure Committee has presented a rational set of Select Committees to the House, but it is the prerogative of the House to change it.

It is of interest to note that the hon. Members in support range from the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who is Chairman of the 1922 committee, to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who intervened yesterday, and he chairs the machinery of government group of the national executive committee of the Labour Party. I do not think, given those opponents, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can claim that he has the support of the House in doing nothing.

When the right hon. Member for Down, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow are on the same side, and when nearly everyone in the House is on the same side, I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have to reconsider this matter. I know that he has his difficulties. He hoped that when this report was out there would be a general election shortly afterwards. But I think that by now he has discovered that the prime Minister does not intend to fix the date of the general election by the convenience of not discussing the Procedure Committee's report on the Floor of the House. The report had to be discussed, but only after over 200 Members had signed a motion requesting that it be discussed did the Leader of the House concede that point. Then he conceded it only on a debate on the Adjournment, so that no admendment could be put down which might have caused a vote and brought a large number of Members into the House to discuss the matter.

Finally, the Leader of the House says that he does not want any discussion on any particular recommendation because there are so many of them. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) would say that the Procedure Committee would willingly meet to indicate to my right hon. Friend which matter the Committee regarded as the first priority in resolution to be put before the House. If my right hon. Friend does not like 76 suggestions, we can choose one. I think that I know which one we would all choose. I think that the House realises that after listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South.

The central issue is the existence of the departmentally related Select Committees of the House. It is no good saying "Oh, you cannot do that because they might be ill-staffed"—as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said. One does not appoint staff to something that does not exist. The central issue is to decide a Committee structure of the House, to have a comprehensive Committee structure, and then one can decide which staff one wishes to attach to it, without giving people jobs that do not exist or sacking them from posts that they have been given. That issue must come before the House as soon as possible.

I hope that the hon. Member for Chelmsford will rather strengthen his assurance and say that if this matter does not come before the House within a reasonable number of weeks, there will be pressure from the Opposition, as well as that which will come from the I abour Benches, that it should do so.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Fortunately or unfortunately, forgetfulness is a characteristic which does not extend to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which never forgets which Members are Privy Councillors. That is a compliment to the intellectual capabilities of the Chair rather than a criticism of the selection of those who have been called to speak in this debate already. Nevertheless, it is very exciting for me, at 8.12 p.m., to be called as the first Conservative non-Privy Councillor Back-Bencher in this debate today.

I know that I cannot emulate the brilliance of the interventions of my right hon. Friends, any more than I shall emulate the length of their speeches—or at least, the House will hope that that is so.

The excellence of the main report that we are discussing and of its introduction, yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) contrasted very starkly with the lack of constructive reaction from the Leader of the House. Like all other hon. Members, I was most disappointed by what he said, just as some of those who spoke in the debate yesterday were disappointed in advance of hearing his speech—and quite right they proved to be.

However, I hope that the Leader of the House will give very serious consideration to the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about how the recommendations of the report might be dealt with. It seems to me that his suggested procedure is extremely helpful and constructive.

One agrees automatically with the Leader of the House about the importance of this Chamber. But what is even more important is what an hon. Member can actually achieve here.

Mr. Rhodes James

If allowed to speak.

Mr. Morrison

If allowed to speak.

The recommendations of the Procedure Committee will enable hon. Members to achieve so much more than they achieve at present. I should like to refer the Leader of the House to the last chapter of a book entitled "The Commons in the 70s", written by Mr. S. A. Walkland, I draw this to the attention of the Leader of the House in particular because he made what I thought was a rather disparaging remark about the United States. On page 254, this is written: When one regards the reality of American democracy it is hard to prefer the drab syndicalism which passes for political democracy in Britain today. The famed independence of British MPs, lauded by many commentators, is in any case a myth. Collectively they can offer nothing to compare with Congress's fierce scrutiny of the executive ". I was going to stop that quotation at that point, but in view of a comment made by the right hon. Member for Down, South, I shall go on, because the quotation continues: not surprisingly since government backbenchers act individually as delegates not from their constituents but from the executive branch of government itself. That seems to emphasise the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South about party.

In total contrast to the speech of the Leader of the House was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I was particularly delighted with his commitment, made in advance of the arrival of the next Conservative Government. I regard this debate as highly important because at root it is concerned with the question—who governs?

Reference has been made already to paragraph 1.5 of the report. We claim that we live in a parliamentary democracy. In the theoretical and ultimate sense, that may still be so, but our parliamentary democracy, in practice and for most of the time, and in the eyes of a great number of people, has deteriorated into the elective dictatorship described with some clarity by my noble Friend Lord Hailsham.

But that has happened. It is the fault of no one but Parliament itself. It is very common for parliamentarians to grumble about bullying Ministers and overbearing civil servants. But that those in the Executive have got away with bullying and with being overbearing is merely a reflection of the collective inability—perhaps inertia, perhaps almost wetness—of those of us who have been parliamentarians in modern times and have done far too little to arrest the development of Executive power and arrogance.

Government should be the child of Parliament. Instead, Parliament has allowed itself to become the poodle of Government. This situation has developed partly because the complexity of government has grown so much while the evolution of parliamentary Committees and procedure to cope with that new complexity has not kept pace. Undoubtedly, the establishment of Select Committees, such as those we now have, has been of great benefit, but the criticism of them made in paragraphs 5.14 and 5.15, referred to yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire, is very powerful and very much to the point.

Therefore, what is to be done? My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said yesterday that he would sooner preach revolution than the evolution of this first report. He did not go on to describe what sort of revolution he wanted, but certainly I believe that the time has arrived when we need a revolution of thinking about Parliament, about how it should be constituted and about how it should work. On the last point, this first report is immensely helpful.

With one reservation, I am completely in agreement with the Committee's main proposals for a new structure of Select Committees and with its proposal for Public Bill Committees. My reservation is in respect of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. One understands the arguments for the abolition of that Committee. I understand that it would be tidier not to have it. I agree that the Ombudsman and the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration are often concerned with matters of minuscule importance in national terms, but these matters are of major importance in personal terms.

If I interpret properly the role of the new Departmental Committees, they will be concerned with major departmental strategy and policy. They will not have time to inquire in detail into minor personal matters. Without such inquiry, many injustices that have been identified by the Ombudsman may be repeated through lack of correction of maladministration. I accept that the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration may from time to time wish to refer a matter to a Sub- Committee because the matter gives rise to general policy.

Criticism has been made that the new Committees will be too specialised and will create Members of Parliament who are specialists only. The first criticism is covered by paragraph 5.19, the last sentence of which states: We therefore accept that this principle must be tempered by some element of flexibility in the boundaries between committees and by adequate provision for co-operation between them. The principle is that referred to in paragraph 5.18, which states that in future the Committees should be based primarily on the subject areas of individual Government Departments or groups of Departments.

As I have said, there is the fear that Members of Parliament will become specialists only. I suspect that their constituents may be relied upon to ensure that that does not happen. Nevertheless, there may be something to be said for the development of a convention that Members of Parliament should not serve on any one Departmental Committee for more than a limited time—for example, five years. A possible exception might be made for Chairmen. I accept that objectivity may be reduced by too long and too close a connection with one Government Department. It should never be forgotten that the Select Committees would be adequately served by professional specialists.

The Public Bill Committees may be of great help in dealing with Bills that are non-controversial between parties and Bills that involve administration. The Public Bill Committees might even help to prevent some Bills, or parts of Bills, which the public probably rightly think are involved with administration from deteriorating into petty party squabbles regardless of the merits of the arguments or the changes that are proposed. I am thinking of Bills such as the one that we suffered over many months in 1971—namely, the Local Government Bill. There was an immense amount of misunderstanding, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the proposals. There are many such Bills.

On the other hand, the Public Bill Committees will not improve the process of legislation when party ideology is involved, such as in nationalisation. That problem will arise only when the Labour Party is in office. It is only that party that introduces ideological and doctrinaire legislation.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

What about the Common Market?

Mr. Morrison

The point has clearly struck home. As the Labour Party shortly will leave office and will not be back in office for a long time to come, perhaps the hon. Member need not worry too much about that.

No one should assume that procedural reform and the establishment of new Select Committees is enough. That at best can be only a part of the revolution. I quote again from Mr. S. A. Walkland in the final chapter of "The Commons in the 70s". He wrote: When all lip-service has been paid to the desirability of associating back-benchers with the work of government, the fact is that these bodies, no matter how competent, remain a sideshow of no political importance. That may be a harsh judgment, but judging by the reaction to the reports of Select Committees so far it has proved true only too often. It may well continue to remain true. Later Mr. Walkland wrote: would-be reformers…have been reluctant to take their arguments to a conclusion and see their problems as being rooted in the present political structure of the House. If we believe in the supremacy of Parliament, much more fundamental political change is needed than that which we are discussing. That it will occur ultimately I have no doubt. That it might occur because of the logical argument without prejudice or emotion is my unlikely hope. That it will occur otherwise because of the force of events is my conviction.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)

I was extremely disappointed by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President. I was disappointed with and dismayed by the strength of his opposition to the main thrust of the proposals. I was also upset by his advice that we should leave the decision on the report to the next Parliament.

The majority of those who have contributed to the debate have given support in principle to the report of the Procedure Committee, of which I was a member. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has just done that. The report has received the support of the majority except for the Chairmen of Select Committees who might find their own functions diminished if the proposals in the report were accepted. For understandable reasons, they spoke strongly against that part of the report which abolished their own Committees. I hope to return to that issue.

First, however, I want to say a few words about the background to the Procedure Committee's report. Hon. Members will remember that two years ago, when this Committee was set up, a growing disquiet was expressed in the country about the performance of Parliament. That disquiet was reflected by Back Benchers on both sides of the House, who were concerned about the way they performed their functions an their ability to perform those functions.

A number of hon. Members in this debate have examined the reasons for the decline of Parliament. There has been the great growth of Government during the twentieth century. This process has been both inevitable and necessary, but it has had a major impact on the position of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has pointed out the great power of party in this House It has been less strong in this Parliament but is nevertheless still extremely powerful. There has also occurred the rise of the great industrial interest groups, the TUC and the CBI, whose growing relationship with the Government has tended to bypass this House. These processes have been going on. We have to try and change our own procedures to take account of them.

We cannot abolish those changes, as the right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out. They have happened. As Members of Parliament, however, we can examine legislation more effectively. We can also scrutinise more effectively the activities of the Executive, exercise financial control and redress grievances. I do not intend to refer to the question of legislation, financial control or the redress of grievances. Like most hon. Members, I shall concentrate on the main proposals in the report. Those proposals relate to the rationalisation and strengthening of the Select Committee structure.

One or two hon. Members have pointed out how remarkable it was that we managed to get unanimous support for this set of proposals from an extremely heterogeneous. Committee. If anyone had told me two years ago that the right hon. Member for Down, South and I would have been in agreement about these proposals, I should have been amazed, as I believe he would. But the fact is that we did unanimously agree the proposals. The wide grouping of Members is a factor that the House should take into account.

There is nothing novel about the proposals. They have been the stock-in-trade of parliamentary reformers for 20 or 30 years. The report makes clear that what we propose is evolutionary and not radical. We propose no major break with existing procedure. We are trying to develop the experience, particularly of the Expenditure Committee, to create something more rational. We have said nothing about our domestic Committees, such as the Committee of Privileges, or about the appointment of ad hoc Select Committees. We argue that Committees are needed to cover all the main activities of Government. We need this more rational approach. Our coverage is far too patchy.

I want to examine the criticisms of our proposals which have been voiced, particularly by my right hon. Friend. I do not want to deal with the arguments about whether this or that Committee should exist. That will be a matter for the House to decide, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has pointed out. I want to look at the main criticisms.

The first criticism is that a stronger Select Committee system or departmentally related system would detract from the work in this Chamber. That is basically a red herring or, in the case of my right hon. Friend, an article of faith. I do not think that he has re-examined the proposition for many years. If anything, I believe our proposals would make debates more informed. I would like to take my own example. I do not believe that the fact that I am a member of the General Sub-Committee handicaps me when we debate public expenditure or the economy. In fact, it enables me to contribute more effectively.

The question is then asked "What about the rest of the Members who are not on the Committee?" They have the advantages of our reports, particularly the advantage of our detailed investigation, which is something they cannot get in this Chamber. They can read those reports and draw their own conclusions, as they often do. I have seen this happen with reports of the General Sub-Committee, which are quoted in economic and public expenditure debates in the House. So I do not believe that this criticism stands up.

Secondly, we are told that development of a new Committee structure or a reformed Committee structure would create an unhealthy consensus. I do not believe that would be the case. I do not believe in division for division's sake. There are many issues which cut across party lines. There are also issues of more technical importance. It is true that Select Committees develop, as we develop in this Chamber, a Back-Bench interest against the Executive. That is natural and quite healthy. But members of the General Sub-Committee and the Procedure Committee are not united about everything. As the right hon. Member for Down, South said, there are many divisions. Issues are decided by voting. The hearings and investigations are often more important than our reports. Through them we can see clearly the different views of the individual Committee members. One could not have a more disparate group of hon. Members than those that sit on the General Sub-Committee. They represent almost every view in the House. They are united as a Committee. They have different views and express them freely.

The next criticism is that, if we set up the new structure, it will not work. We have heard something about that from the hon. Member for Devizes. But, as we all know, this is an experiment which is beginning to work. The Committees are working and making an important contribution to the House. That is why we want to take a further step.

Those who claim that the Committees are not working often use a false model. They want us to develop a mirror image of the United States Congress. But in the United States there is a separation of powers. We do not have that system of government here. We cannot expect to establish the same kind of animal that operates in the United States, but we want a more effective working of the animal than we have at present. I agree, again to my surprise, with the right hon. Member for Down, South. Our proposals are relevant and realistic to our system of government.

I shall now be a little more controversial and mention briefly some proposals which were voted down by the Committee. I am speaking of the idea of a full-time Member of Parliament and changed hours for the House. The report makes clear that there has been an increased work load for hon. Members. The report includes a controversial paragraph which mentions full-time Members of Parliament and that our procedures should not be devised so that they work against having full-time Members of Parliament.

The report also draws attention to the House sitting not only more often but later than any other Western democratic legislature. But we were not able to agree on what to do about that except to suggest that there should be a tougher operation of the 10 o'clock rule. That was a compromise which I am not sure will work.

Some of us would have liked to have seen—and this would have been a logical extension of our proposals—recognition of the full-time nature of our jobs, a rearrangement of our hours so that we would not have such late sittings, and more timetabling by a Business Committee of the House. Those proposals did not receive the support of the majority. However, our main proposal was supported unanimously.

I therefore urge the Government Front Bench to accept the main thrust of the proposals. It would be sad if my Front Bench were to be less progressive on this matter than the Opposition Front Bench. They would be misunderstanding the feeling of this House if they did not understand the very considerable support behind these proposals. The view of many hon. Members is that we ought to have an opportunity of voting on at least the main principle of the proposals contained in our report.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I am on the Public Expenditure Com mittee and have been on it since it was first founded. I believe that its Sub-Committees have, by and large, done an excellent job in their reports, but the reason why, on balance, I support the recommendation of the Procedure Committee is that, though the job done by those Sub-Committees is excellent, it is not a consistent surveillance of the Department concerned. The limitation that falls upon any Committee fulfilling that function consistently is of structure, staffing and time of members. There is not much that we can do about the time of the members, but I believe that the structure is a better one and I would like to give one additional reason for saying that.

At present there is the ludicrous practice whereby a main Committee endeavours to amend the report of a Sub-Committee—and often does so—because of the fiction that that is a report of the whole Committee. So we have a majority of Members, who have not read the evidence, who have not seen the demeanour of witnesses, and may not even have read the report, voting on amendments to a report of a Sub-Committee because of the fiction that it is the report of the whole Committee. If for no other reason than that—and it is an important reason of principle—I believe that the structure recommended by the Select Committee is a good one. Incidentally, on the question whether there should be Select Committee or para-Select Committee hearings in addition to Standing Committee hearings on normal legislation, there are plenty of precedents for this, because that is the normal proceeding on a Hybrid Bill. It is worth pointing that out to the House.

I want to cover a number of points, not because they are necessarily the most important but because they have not received adequate cover to date. If quite well-informed persons outside this House were asked to describe the representative events in the passage of legislation through this House, they would describe the passage of a Bill through this House and through another place; but that does not happen to be representative legislation. Lamentably, representative legislation is that which is given effect to by statutory instrument, not one word of which can be altered by amendment by this House, and much of it is by the negative resolution procedure, which may even be denied a hearing on the Floor of the House.

That is representative legislation. It is the minority of legislation which is given effect to by Act of Parliament, which starts life as a Bill and is subject to Committee, Report and the amending processes. That is why I attach particular importance to the grouped recommendations on delegated legislation. Recommendation (15) states that A standing order should provide that no statutory instrument should be brought before the House or a standing committee until the Joint (or Select) Committee on Statutory Instruments has completed consideration of the instrument; the provision should apply to instruments subject to negative procedure as well as those subject to affirmative procedure. That is a most important recommendation; otherwise the whole protection of the Joint or Select Committee is bypassed when a statutory instrument comes on to the Floor of the House with a sign shown against it on the Order Paper indicating that it has not yet been before the Statutory Instruments Committee.

There is also the very important recommendation (17): Consideration should be given to legislation to convert instruments subject to negative procedure into instruments subject to affirmative procedure where the Joint (or Select) Committee has drawn the attention of the House to such instruments. In other words, the Government will have to make time for any instrument which is considered by the Select Committee or the Joint Committee to be an exceptional use of power ultra vires or having one of the other characteristics for which the Committee reports to the House.

I should like to add one further condition on which, automatically, a negative resolution statutory instrument is converted into an affirmative resolution statutory instrument. That is if the Government refuse to find time to entertain a prayer that it be annulled, because the whole of the negative resolution procedure is itself abolished and the hypothetical safeguards in it are totally done away with if the Government will not put above the line on the Order Paper the consideration of the prayer against it.

Therefore, there is a complete class of legislation which is by ministerial diktat without any control of Parliament, when the theoretical provision for negative resolution prayers to be heard on the Floor of the House is bypassed purely by the Leader of the House refusing time. If such an instrument became subject to the affirmative resolution procedure when treated in that way, Leaders of the House would be much more hesitant about denying time for prayers to be heard, which is the only protection that Parliament and the public have.

Again, whatever reforms we may make in Select Committees, if the Committees can simply be packed by the Whips' office, to a large extent our reforms will be a charade. That is why I believe recommendation (46), that Select Committees should in future be nominated on a motion tabled by the Committee of Selection ", to be excellent and important.

It is likely that the member who will be most consistently present at meetings of the Select Committee is the Chairman, yet under our existing procedure he is the one member of the Committee who does not have a vote in framing the report. Therefore, we have in recommendation (49) an admirable overdue reform. It is: The chairman of a select committee should have a substantive vote, like other Members, and no casting vote; questions would be decided in the negative unless supported by a majority of the votes cast ". I turn to the chapter headed: The Power to Send for Persons, Papers and Records ". Whatever we do to the structure, if Ministers simply refuse to appear before Select Committees, as in the present Parliament the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has refused to do, as in the present Parliament the Attorney-General has refused to do, again, whatever we do about structure, whatever we do about composition of the Committee, whatever we do about its staffing, becomes a charade. Therefore, recommendation (64): Select committees should be empowered to order the attendance of Ministers to give evidence to them is a necessary condition—not a sufficient condition, but a necessary condition—if the structure which we wish to set up is to function as we wish.

Another necessary condition is recommendation (65): In the event of a refusal by a Minister to produce papers and records required by a select committee the committee should be empowered to claim precedence over public business for a debate on a Motion for an Address or for an Order for the Return of Papers, unless time is provided by the Government by the sixth sitting day after the first appearance of the Motion ". That is a necessary condition without which we shall have wasted our time—not always, but on many crucial occasions—in the reforms that we are endeavouring to bring about.

Lastly, in the final group of recommendations, which I shall class as housekeeping, there is an important one about Fridays. It is important particularly for the many hon. Members whose constituencies are a long way away. When I was first elected one could see public officials on Saturday mornings, but those august gentlemen do not work on Saturday mornings nowadays. So, unless one can see them on Fridays, very often one cannot see them at all. Therefore, recommendation (74): The House should sit on Fridays at 9.30 a.m., and business should be interrupted at 2.30 p.m. is an admirable one to enable hon. Members the better to fulfil their duties outside the House.

The arguments against morning Sittings were proved by the experiment. It is ridiculous to ask Members to sit in Select Committees and Standing Committees upstairs and down on the Floor of the House at the same time. That argument does not apply to recommendation (74). Those Committees do not sit on Friday mornings.

Those are the major points that I intended to make within the voluntary 10-minute limitation recommended by the Procedure Committee's report.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), I am enjoying the rare experience of being more in agreement with the Opposition Front Bench than with my own. I understand the attachment of the Leader of the House to the Chamber, but I do not share his rarefied view of the efficacy of this place.

My right hon. Friend's point about the accessibility of the Chamber to hon. Members is important, and there are frequent examples of this. For instance, at Prime Minister's Question Time the Prime Minister can be discussing matters of international importance and an hon. Member may rise to address the Prime Minister on a constituency issue. That is important to us as Members of Parliament. The accessibility of the Chamber is also illustrated by the fact that we can raise, through the procedures of the House, matters of vital consequence to our constituencies and these matters can take procedence over major issues of State.

Last week the hon. Member for Dorset. South (Mr. King) was able to raise the problem of flooding in Portland. That took precedence over the Prime Minister's important statement on the agreement between the Government and the TUC. It is a great strength that we can bring before this principal forum of the nation issues of vital importance in our constituencies.

But the recommendations of the Procedure Committee do not threaten this place in the way that the Leader of the House believes. This Chamber has many functions. One of its principal functions is as a forum of examination, criticism and debate. The Committee considered whether the House of Commons had within itself the necessary means effectively to carry out the examination and criticism. Under our present procedures there are two principal means available. The first is Question Time and the second is debate.

Question Time has been criticised in the debate. However, it is not a total waste of time. From my limited experience of Departments, the value of Question Time is not so much what goes on here as the effect of questions upon a Department. A Department is forced to investigate its policies over a wide range on most questions that come before the House.

I am impressed by the view of Mr. Crossman, a former Leader of the House. He suggested that Ministers were not too worried about the effects of Question Time here. He claimed that he was more concerned about the effects of written answers, because these would appear in local papers. Why is that? The explanation is simple. There can be no real follow-up to the questioning procedure. There is no means whereby we can press a series of questions during Question Time.

Before I came to the House of Commons I was a barrister-at-law. Any barrister-at-law knows that one cannot get the answers one wants from the first or even the second question. A series of questions is needed. The only person who gets the opportunity to put a series of questions is the Leader of the Opposition. Occasionally the Leader of the Opposition hits the jackpot—

Mr. Grocott

Very occasionally.

Mr. Watkinson

Sometimes she is given the opportunity to ask two or three questions. But no other Members can do so. That explains why Question Time is not an effective way of holding Ministers to account.

On the question of debates, here again we all agree that the forum of the House of Commons is not a proper or adequate way in which Ministers can be held to account. They can be criticised, but there is no real method by which they can be tested and held to account.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that no measure which goes through this House emerges at the end of the debate in the same form as it entered. I disagree. Over and over again we find that at the end of the day the measure emerges in much the same form as it entered. The explanation is simple and straightforward—the operation of the whipping system. I accept that we must have a whipping system. The Government must be able to get their legislation through the House. However, I am driven to the conclusion that debates do not serve as a brake on Ministers, or as a means of criticising them or of bringing them to accountability. For this reason, I give broad support to the principal argument advanced by the Select Committee—that we should have Departmental Committees.

There are four reasons for my support. First, I entirely agree with the view that we should develop expertise among our membership. I do not support the view expressed by certain of my hon. Friends yesterday that the day of the gifted amateur is not over and should be extended.

Secondly, in these Departmental Committees hon. Members will have the opportunity to indulge in proper and realistic cross-examination of Ministers and civil servants who come before them. That has been my experience in the Public Accounts Committee, and I am sure that many hon. Members find that it is the same in the Expenditure Committee.

Thirdly, I think that this House will be able to hold accountable bodies and persons outside who up to now could not come before us. I am thinking particularly of the two principal organisations with which the Government have to deal—the TUC and the CBI. It would be a very salutary experience both for us and for certain trade union leaders if they were brought before a Committee of the House in order to justify and explain their policies.

Fourthly, I believe that in the course of their work these Committees would produce reports of significance and enormous benefit to the generality of hon. Members. When a subject comes up one has to spend a great deal of time grubbing around to get information. The creation of Committees would mean that a corpus of information and material would be available to Members to benefit them in generalised debate.

I also support the view that the creation of these Committees will not mean the end of partisan politics. I do not see this in my own Committee. Indeed, there is every reason to suspect that, although hon. Members may wish to agree on certain matters in Committee, there will be party differences when the debate comes back to the Floor of the House. I do not see the creation of these Committees stifling partisan politics.

The number of Committee members that the Procedure Committee has proposed is probably too low. My own experience on the Public Accounts Committee is that it is necessary to have more than 10 persons in order to have a viable Committee. Secondly, it is vital that these Committees are adequately staffed. If we are fearful of the loss of the partisan element in these Committees, it could be arranged that the parties within the Committee are given staff so that, if they wish, they can draw on expert advice from a partisan point of view.

Thirdly, it is absolutely vital that reports made by Committees should be debated. It may be that the House would welcome the opportunity of debating these reports on days which are presently given over to Supply. I appreciate the importance of Supply days to the Opposition. However, it is arguable that some of those Supply days could properly be used for debates on these reports.

Fourthly, I believe that the proceedings of these Select Committees should be broadcast. Indeed, I would also welcome television. I take the view that the House has done itself no good by broadcasting our proceedings. Indeed from talking to my own constituents, I believe that we have harmed ourselves. But I would hazard a guess that the broadcasting of Committees could do a great deal to improve the image, status and standing of this Parliament.

I draw my remarks to a conclusion by saying that I strongly support the view that has been expressed again and again that in some way we should find a mechanism whereby these matters which have been debated seriously for two days can be brought before the House, voted upon and made effective.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire West (Mr. Watkinson) is an eminent member of the Public Accounts Committee to whom we always listen with great respect. As I develop my brief remarks, I hope that he will understand that, although I am opposed to him on certain points, I fully accept not only his sincerity but also the experience which he brings to these matters.

I am glad that the Lord President of the Council is back with us, because, although I have many differences with him—no doubt we shall continue to have them for the next 20 or 30 years—we agree on certain things, one of which is our great reverence for this Chamber and the House of Commons. I strongly sympathise with the Lord President on many of the points that he made. The fact that I do not agree with him on all of them is not particularly surprising.

I must declare an interest as a former Officer of this House and as a former Clerk to the Estimates Committee. It seems to me that one of the greatest mistakes that the House made in the Select Committee procedure was the abolition of the old Estimates Committee and its replacement by the Expenditure Committee. What happened was that one of the most respected, important and significant Committees of this House, which mainly dealt in subjects, was replaced by a Committee which, although it technically dealt in subjects, in fact broke itself up into Sub-Committees which concentrated on Departments. I thought that that was a mistake. My experience as a member of the Expenditure Committee has confirmed that it was a mistake.

The Select Committee on Procedure is now proposing to make that mistake worse. My fundamental objection to the Select Committee's report is that in our present situation there are no such things as departmental problems—very few matters are departmental problem. We are dealing with a considerable number of extremely intricate and important subjects which extend over a number of Departments. To propose, as the Select Committee does, that the main subject Committee should be almost totally abolished and replaced by 12 very limited Departmental Committees seems to me to suggest a major step backwards by the House.

I draw the attention of the House to appendix A of the report which deals with the Canadian experience. The report of Sub-Committee A confirmed my own experience. I should briefly like to read the major point about the Ottawa experience. It says: Although it is not proposed that Westminster ' subject ' Committees should handle legislation, something of the same problem could occur if one Committee were created for each government department. Therefore we think it would be preferable to look to subjects as well as departments in setting up committees. I am not at all opposed to having particular Departmental Committees. For example, a case can be made with regard to foreign affairs. But in dealing with this matter the Select Committee proposes to include overseas development. Without going into that matter in too much detail, it is clearly nonsensical to have a Select Committee on foreign affairs which absorbs overseas development, because overseas development is a major subject in itself and should certainly be divorced from a particular Departmental Committee.

I have cut my speech down as much as I can, because I am not a Privy Councillor and I have noticed that those Privy Councillors who have spoken have not been all that evident as the debate has developed. I have thought about this matter very considerably, and have come to the conclusion that the House would be very unwise to depart from the principle of subject Committees and go over totally to Departmental Committtes. That would be a further retrograde step from the step we took when the Estimates Committee was abolished.

Above all, I believe that we must have a mixture of Members of this House and this Chamber, and ones who are also prepared to serve wholeheartedly on Committees. The Select Committee on Procedure has not addressed itself to the argument as to whether we shall have a House of Commons of part-timers or a House of Commons of Members who are totally dedicated not only to the service of their constituents but also to the service of the House. Until those questions are resolved, the subjects dealt with by the Procedure Committee are in many ways irrelevant. It is on the calibre of hon. Members, and the calibre of people who seek to come to the House, that the success or failure of the House in its struggle against the Executive will depend.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

In a brief and excellent speech, based on long experience, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) foreshortened the timetable that most hon. Members are setting themselves. I shall try not to use the two or three minutes that he unexpectedly gave to us and will endeavour to confine my remarks to 10 minutes.

I should like to try to separate the wood from the trees and set the debate in its historical context. It seems that there has been a fairly predictable and regular pattern as a result of the influx of new Members into this House. Generally speaking, this has occurred when there has been an influx of new Labour Members. That has been followed by a widespread dissatisfaction at the way in which this place operates. Sometimes it has resulted in the setting up of Select Committees, such as the one that we are now discussing, but as the enthusiasm of the new Members adjusts itself to the time-honoured traditions of this place those Committees quickly dissipate and the new Members decide that perhaps this is the best possible way in which any country can run its affairs.

I was one of the new Members who entered the House in 1974, and in many ways this Select Committee stemmed from that period because it was set up as a result of pressure from new Members who entered in 1974. I can only say that so far I have not been seduced by the comfort of the chairs in this building or by its Smoking Room or anything else. If anything, I now find myself more impatient with the way in which we conduct our affairs than I was three or four years ago.

I hope that those of my hon. Friends who served on this Committee and did such good work will forgive me when I say that, generally speaking, I find the report disappointing. I do not believe that it gets to the heart of the matter in a number of important respects. For reasons quite apart from those put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I believe that we are likely to see the death of this report without anything very dramatic emerging from it.

Incidentally, one of the main reasons why the report will be superseded is that I believe that after the next general election there will be a major constitutional reform establishing what all democrats in this country will welcome—the single-chamber system. That will have profound implications for the working of the House and a small Committee will have to be set up to deal with some of the residual functions of the other place. That will not detain the Committee members too long.

The reason why I am particularly disappointed with the Select Committee report is that it seems not to address itself to the first problem first. The terms of reference of the Committee were: to consider the practice and procedure of the House in relation to public business and to make recommendations for the more effective performance of its functions. If the Select Committee, instead of looking into the activities of the House, had been set up to look into the operation of a chip shop, I imagine that the first question that would need to be answered is whether the people who were supposed to be working in the chip shop would turn up for work.

If hon. Members think that it is not their prime responsibility in their working life to turn up and take part in debates, that must have a profound significance in any estimate of what the institution can do. I answer that question with the suggestion that the Committee needed to state—and, as it did not, sooner or later the House will have to—that membership of the House should be a full-time job and exclusive of other interests and activities.

I respect the right of constituents to send to the House a good or bad man or woman but, within the procedure of the House, it could quickly become embarrassing for those Members who thought that their work in the House was of secondary importance if we published a list of hon. Members who were prepared to treat the job as their full-time occupation. In that way, an hon. Member who was not so prepared could state to the electorate at the time of the election "I earnestly ask you to send me to the House of Commons, but I must point out that I regard it as a relatively unimportant part of my main activity"—whether that be working at the Bar, working as a company director or something else. If his constituents send him here, that is fair enough. However, fundamentally I believe that to be a Member of Parliament should be a full-time job.

I labour that point because everything else flows from it. Only when it is a full-time job can sensible hours of work be established. The report is a bitter disappointment on the subject of hours. Why do we not work from nine o'clock to five o'clock? What a revolutionary suggestion! It is only in this place that jaws drop when that commonsense proposal is put forward. If there were a job to be done anywhere else in the United Kingdom where the hours were fom 2.30 p.m. until, probably, 2.30 the following morning, there would be delegations to put the matter right.

Many hon. Members have been on their feet late at night trying to explain a difficult point. As those hon. Members with a teaching background know only too well, the reception faculty of students after six or seven o'clock at night plummets. Getting the same point over in the same lecture to the same group of students takes twice as long after six o'clock as it does before. Unless hon. Members are fundamentally different from the rest of the population—which I hope we are not—we can work on the assumption that work done in the House late at night and early the following morning is of a low quality compared with work done at a sensible hour of the day, when most thinking people are working.

I may sound like a Stalinist from the Government's point of view, but I am bitterly disappointed that the report does not contain the assumption of guillotines on the consideration of Bills. Is it necessary that the Committee and Report stages of Bills should be open-ended debates?

We have a guillotine—a set number of hours—for Second Reading debates. Why on earth can we not have guillotines for the remaining stages? Do we think that we enhance the status of this place or the effectiveness of opposition by endless debates in Committee and in the House into the small hours of the morning? I am disappointed with the report because of the absence of proposals dealing with the hours that we work and the question of full-time membership.

The other main reason why I find the report so unsatisfactory relates to a point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who, as he does on about 60 per cent. of occasions, got to the heart of the matter. He said, in effect, that the reason why this place operates is the party system, the party structure and the organisation of the Labour and Conservative Parties. Any student reading the report would never guess that there were parties in the House. He would think that the procedures of the House and the relationship between the Executive and the House had nothing to do with the existence of parties in this place.

We are all here because of parties. The only reason why most of us were elected is that we had the support of a major party. Those who become leading members of the Government and Opposition do so because of the support of their parties. The relationship between the Front Benches and the Back Benches is a party relationship, dependent on party loyalties and the whipping system. That is the stuff of politics in this place and it is fundamental to an understanding of this place.

The report is deficient because in addressing itself to the relationship between the Executive and Parliament it ignores entirely the party system and how parties operate. It is legitimate for a Select Committee to ask itself basic questions about how the Executive comes into existence. Why do we have a Cabinet? Where does it come from? It comes not from the House but from the party system in the House.

The Prime Minister has the residual and substantial powers of the Monarch and is able to appoint his Cabinet, but he does so within the confines of the party system. Unless we appreciate that and recognise the role of parties in the procedures of the House, we shall never control effectively the relationship between the Executive and the legislature.

I should like to see the Executive elected by Parliament. I normally use that argument in party terms within my own party. We talk about the Executive being responsible to Parliament, but in every other walk of life with which I am familiar, when one talks about one body being responsible to another it involves the ability of the one body to remove or appoint the other by the normal procedure of election.

There are those who say that the interplay between Government and Parliament goes on all the time and that the Government are responsible to Parliament. However, it is a hazy responsibility, which is redefined every day. In the past four or five years, that responsibility has been redefined on numerous occasions—so much so that it seems that the Government decide when an issue is an issue of confidence.

Mr. Powell

Has the hon. Gentleman reflected that if the party elected the Executive, the party could not hold the Executive responsible?

Mr. Grocott

I believe that it would—on an annual basis. We have moved gently in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the party of which he was once a member had a spasm of democracy 14 years ago when it decided that its leader should be elected. I know that many Conservative Members regret that jump into democratic procedure, but it does provide responsibility. The present Leader of the Opposition was elected, and I am sure that responsibility exists to the extent that if she loses the next election she will not be the Leader of the Conservative Party for much longer. There is no better form of responsibility than electing someone.

I cannot see why the Labour Cabinet is not elected by Labour Members of Parliament and endorsed by the full House in much the same way as committee chairmen in local government are elected by their committees and then endorsed by the full council thereafter. There is no better system than democracy. There is no reason why the House should not establish in its rules a recognition of the parties and recommendations—I put it no stronger—of the ways in which the parties should conduct their crucial responsibilities in the formulation of policy and control of the Executive.

I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect—this is not a novel idea—that both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, or the leaders of the two major parties, should be elected by their own party groups. That should be formalised in our constitution. I can see no reason why we should not take the next logical democratic step and elect the Cabinet. That seems a normal development of our democratic procedure, similar to the way in which people argued in the Select Committee.

The great weakness of the report is, first, that it does not address itself to the question of full-time Members of Parliament and, secondly, that it does not admit the crucial importance of the party system. That is one of the many reasons why the Select Committee procedure recommended in the report is so open to criticism. In many respects I agree with the Lord President. Until we appreciate the importance of the party system and produce a document such as this acknowledging that parties exist, we cannot begin to scratch the surface of understanding the relationship between the Executive and Parliament.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) did not keep his promise as to brevity. However, I shall be as brief as I can.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that he believed that no change in our Standing Orders and procedure could affect the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. I suppose that most people will agree with him. However, I wonder whether we have sufficiently considered the question of business motions—that is, timetable motions or the guillotine—in relation to this aspect of our affairs.

The Select Committee on Procedure, at paragraph 2.31 of its report and the following paragraphs, refers to timetable motions. It makes a few suggestions of an administrative kind that will be improvements.

I suggest that timetable motions—and certainly the guillotine in the way in which it has been operated for some years—are thoroughly undesirable. When operated by a Government with a small majority, they tend to raise the temperature of affairs, cause party attitudes to harden and lower the political climate. The result is that there is far more bitterness and acerbity about public affairs than there should be. If that is true about guillotine motions generally, it applies even more in the case of Bills and subjects that involve constitutional alterations.

What I have in mind is that we should now—I wish that the Select Committee had considered this matter before making its report—adopt a qualified majority system whereby a guillotine is introduced for the purpose of passing a Bill which alters our constitution. In this Parliament we have had a Bill on devolution which was eventually carried by means of a guillotine motion. That prevented a great many clauses from being debated. Under the Conservative Government of 1970–73 there was a similar constitutional Bill—the European Communities Bill—which was carried because of a guillotine motion. That meant that a great deal of discussion was not possible. In both cases the timetable motions were carried by small majorities. I believe that it would have been far better for this country if we had observed what I thought until comparatively recently in our history was a constitutional principle, namely, that the constitution was not to be changed without the full-hearted consent of the people. One way of obtaining that result would be by saying that there should be a qualified majority in the House—it could be 400 hon. Members—in support of the motion before any guillotine could be carried on a Bill that was deemed by Mr. Speaker to be constitutional.

I think that this would be a desirable change. The consequence might have been that the Conservative Government would have lost their European Communities Bill and that the present Labour Government would have lost their devolution Bills. One of my hon. Friends suggests that they would win the next election, but they would have had to consider the position brought about by the fact that they had no sufficient majority in this House to carry a guillotine motion. They would have to go on arguing and talking about it and justifying it, in order to get that wholehearted consent, or at least to operate by way of closures, clause by clause, and get the measure through that way in due time, or they would simply have to abandon it or come to some arrangement with the Opposition in order to get sufficient Members to carry the timetable motion.

I appreciate that this is hard to contemplate, but it is a matter of acute political importance to this country. If Governments in future had to observe such a rule which was embodied in our Standing Orders, it would be eminently desirable and would rid us of this party game which, as the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth correctly said, dominates all our lives in this place. Far too many of us get involved in the party game, so that issues cannot be discussed and considered on their merits. This is one respect in which we could make an alteration for the better.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Norman Lamont (Kinston-upon-Thames)

Although it does not seem greatly to have pleased the Lord President of the Council, I think that very clearly the general tenor of the debate has been in favour of the recommendations put forward by the Select Committee. There has been running through the debate a feeling that reform is necessary, and there have been several reasons why that feeling has been so strong in the debate.

The first is that there is a strong view held by many hon. Members that there is not an effective scrutiny of the Executive at present. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) reminded us that political control ultimately depends upon parties, but although that is true it is not in itself an argument against what so many people have been arguing for in the debate—more effective scrutiny of the day-to-day business of Government Departments.

There is the feeling that, more and more, Parliament is treated as a rubber stamp by the Executive, with little consultation, little opportunity to amend legislation, and with much of the proceedings in the House a mere formality.

Another reason why the move towards reform is so strong is that thanks to the broadcasting of this House the outside world is now more aware of our procedures, and the outside world increasingly makes known its view that it regards some of the procedures in this House as being rather quaint and archaic. We have inevitably to consider some of these outside criticisms.

Another and, I think, very important point, which has not been touched on very much in the debate, is that this House will face competition from other assemblies. It will face competition from the Scottish Assembly and the Welsh Assembly, if they come into being, and it will face competition from the European Assembly.

The House will face a struggle for sovereignty—a struggle for authority—not just at those points where there is an overlapping power or where there is an interface between this House and other institutions; it will have to show that it deserves to retain power, and to show that it is an effective House, if it wants to retain sovereignty here and not see some of its powers slip away to other assemblies. That argument if no other is one that I should have thought might have commended itself to the Lord President of the Council.

I was a member of the Select Committee. I naturally want to speak mainly about the recommendation to create departmentally related Select Committees. A number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have criticised the division of the Committees. Perfectly understandably, some have made a case on behalf of their particular Committee. Others have argued that problems span several Departments. However, with great respect, I do not think that the arguments that have been put forward are arguments against the principle of what is proposed in the report. We can argue about the structure. We can argue that there ought to be a better division—although again, as the right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out, once one thinks about it one finds that it is very difficult to come up with any solution other than having Committees related to Departments.

Let me consider the fundamental argument for departmentally related Committees. I think that it relates to the question of specialisation. The late Aneurin Bevan, whose words we can study thanks to the Lord President's elegant and admirable biography, once remarked that the House of Commons was rather like an elephant's trunk. It could give one a great big wallop or it could pick up a needle. It seems to me that increasingly the trunk is able to give a great big wallop from time to time, but it is not so good at the picking up of needles. More and more of government today is a question of needles, of detail. Specialisation today is inevitable. Without it, Parliament cannot scrutinise effectively.

The Lord President has argued consistently that Select Committees of the kind proposed by this report will create second-class Members who do not have access to information, who do not have the right to interrogate and who are not such specialists. It seems to me that, when arguing that, the right hon. Gentleman is almost arguing that the House of Commons as a whole should consist of second-class Members, because the choice that faces us is one either of having some Members scrutinising effectively or of having no one doing that. Unless we get down to specialist Committees, there will not be a vehicle for receiving detailed information. The imbalance of information between the House and the Executive is one of the main imbalances between the two.

It seems to me that this is a two-way process. If specialist Committees are informed of the background and the detailed information in areas of public debate, that all spills over and comes back into the debates that we hold in this Chamber. For example, the debates that we have had here in the past year on the steel industry have been very well informed by the detailed work that has been done by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Therefore, it is not merely a question of information going to Committees and not coming back to this Chamber.

The other question upon which I touch is that of Question Time. A number of hon. Members have referred to the limitations of Question Time. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) encouraged us not to be too critical of it. I must say that, whatever its merits as a piece of political theatre, it is not of great use as an instrument of scrutiny of the Executive. We all know that when confronted with 100 Members, one Minister is in a much stronger position than that of a Minister facing cross-examination from five or six Members. When the whole House is braying at a Minister and Members are firing a series of unrelated questions at him, one after another, it is much easier for the Minister to fend them off and to avoid giving adequate replies.

I thought that one of the alarming things for the European Parliament was when we heard that the great British institution of Question Time was to be transported from this place to Europe. If ever there was a guarantee that there would not be effective European parliamentary scrutiny of the European Executive, it was the announcement that we would be taking our Question Time from here to the European Parliament. I agree that the limitation of Question Time is that we cannot have a series of questions, one following upon the other. I noted that that happened in the Canadian Parliament. It may be that the Committee should have considered that more seriously.

What distinguishes the procedure of this House from many other assemblies is the large amount of our time that we spend in plenary session. It was Bagehot, whose words we are able to read with the assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, who once remarked that one cannot govern a country by mass meeting. That is precisely what we appear to do for much of the time. Repeatedly in the Chamber we have grand occasions that turn out to be not so grand. We seem to be strong on theatre but weak on analysis and scrutiny.

It is in the nature of modern government that there will be some move away from the Chamber and towards Committees. Two fundamental arguments have been advanced against the proposals for specialist Committees. First, there is the argument that they will lead too much to consensus politics. Secondly, there is the other contradictory argument that the Committee structure is incompatible with the party system. It is said that there will not be agreement on anything worth while and that all the Select Committees will be like the Select Committee that considered a wealth tax.

Of those two arguments the second is the more serious. The first argument that an outbreak of consensus politics would be an alarming development is one that I do not support. Much of the business of the House is a long way from the great political dramas that take place in the Chamber. Politics is not one long-drawn-out general election, even if it has seemed rather like that in recent months.

I address myself to the second argument that the Committee system is incompatible with the party system. Surely it would not be such a tremendous threat to the party system if occasionally a Committee made a recommendation that went against a party line. For years we have listened to speeches in the House saying how good it would be if individual Members were to show more independence and if independence were not interpreted by the Whips as a fundamental challenge to the Government It is suggested that it shoud not always be regarded as a matter of confidence if a Government are defeated. The argument is similar as applied to Committees.

If a few Members make a recommendation that does not fit in with party policy, that should not be regarded as an action fundamentally threatening the party system, which, of course the politics of the House depend upon ultimately.

The most persuasive argument that has been put forward against the Committee system as proposed by the Procedure Committee is that of the work load. It is argued that we are imposing a Congressional system on top of a Westminster system, and that we cannot have both. It is said that we shall hopelessly overload the system. Perhaps we should have gone much further in our proposals. Perhaps we should have advocated one day a week when the Chamber was shut so that it was clear to the outside world that the important business was going on in Committees.

The response of the Lord President was extremely disappointing. In one of the speeches yesterday he was compared with the Duke of Wellington. When he talks about this House he seems to echo the remark of that distinguished gentleman, who said of the English constitution that "it was incapable of being improved" and "that the nature of man was incapable of creating such excellence as we now possess."

When the Lord President was before the Committee, I asked him whether he thought there was any respect in which the procedures of the House Commons could be improved. He replied by giving a long speech about the House of Lords. The consideration of the Committee has been delayed again and again. The Lord President implied today that he would use every device to delay it further. He seems the sort of man who gives conservatism a bad name. The will of the House, shown by this debate, is crystal clear. The Lord President should give the House an early opportunity to express its views on these issues.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We have had a most interesting and constructive two-day debate. Like the Lord President, I have been present for virtually all of it. We have heard a remarkably high standard of speeches. The debate has been extremely well attended, remarkably so when we think that there is to be no vote, or no official vote. There has been disagreement and dissent but also a wide measure of support, particularly for the principal recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be a new approach to the Select Committee structure and that new Committees be set up.

I hope that we have disposed of the point that there is any irreconcilable con flict between the Chamber and the Committee system. I hope that we have established that there is a partnership between them, a conspiracy, if one likes, in the original Latin sense—a conspiratio, a breathing together rather than a fighting against. The strength of this Chamber was perceived by Bagehot. I have not quoted him before. It has been a self-denying ordinance. My resolution has finally broken down in the course of two days. I would like to refer the House to a passage, which is relevant and is quite an astringent assessment of the Chamber. It shows both its power and its weakness. He says: There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament. Sir Robert Peel once suggested that a list should be taken down of the questions asked of him in a single evening; they touched more or less on fifty subjects, and there were a thousand other subjects which by parity of reason might have been added too. As soon as bore A ends, bore B begins. Some inquire from genuine love of knowledge, or from a real wish to improve what they ask about; others to see their name in the papers; others to show a watchful constituency that they are alert; others to get on and to get a place in the government; others from an accumulation of little motives they could not themselves analyse, or because it is their habit to ask things…. There is one thing which no one will permit to be treated lightly—himself. And so there is one too which a sovereign assembly will never permit to be lessened or ridiculed—its own power. Those words are very relevant today.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Does my hon. Friend think that such a disrespectful attitude towards the House of Commons contributed to the fall of Sir Robert Peel?

Mr. St John-Stevas

It is a little late in the evening to go into an analysis of the fall of Sir Robert Peel. Mr. Norman Gash took a thousand pages and did not reach any clear conclusion.

I should like to quote from another great parliamentarian, John Bright. Once again in this debate, we have had references to the mother of Parliaments. Every time I hear that phrase, an arrow goes through me. I now feel like St. Sebastian. Westminster is not the Mother of Parliaments. England is the country of Parliaments. In those days people actually collected their speeches and published them. What a decline there has been since then. In his speech Bright said: We are proud of our country; and there are many things in it which, as far as men may rightly be proud, we may be proud of. We may be proud of this, that England is the ancient country of Parliaments. We have had here, with scarcely an intermission, Parliaments meeting constantly for six hundred years; and doubtless there was something of a Parliament even before the Conquest. England is the mother of Parliaments. I hope that I shall never again hear that this House is the Mother of Parliaments—but my hope is greater than my expectations. I hope that the Lord President will shed himself of his romantic and exaggerated view about this Chamber.

Right or wrong, the views of the Lord President are not crucial. I am sure that he would make no claim to impose them on the House. It is the will of the House that must be expressed. This can be done only by debate and discusssion. It is clear from the debate that the House has the will to take a decision and that it has the will to take it in this Parliament.

There is no argument against taking that decision in this Parliament. The only argument that the Lord President was able to adduce was that the decision would take effect in the next Parliament. But that is the custom of Parliament. No Parliament can bind its successor. When the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) suggested that, he was cut down ruthlessly by the Lord President. But the hon. Member for Nottingham, West was right. Of course another Parliament can change decisions.

The arguments for taking the decision in this Parliament are overwhelming. The Committee was set up in this Parliament. The work was done in this Parliament. The arguments have been deployed, for and against, in this Parliament. The people who are most concerned are here. Those arguments will not apply in toto in the next Parliament.

I do not wish to insinuate motives, but why on earth is the Lord President so adamant that the House should not take a decision in this Parliament? That attitude contrasts with his attitude to the Public Lending Right Bill. I happen to agree with him about that. He was like Mercury with that Bill. How is it that the hare has been dramatically transformed into a tortoise? Could it be that the Lord President wishes to postpone the decision to the next Parliament because he believes that there will be no Labour Government, or that he will not be the Lord President in the next Parliament? In that case he would not have to be associated with a measure of which he passionately disapproves.

How shall we proceed? No days are set aside for Select Committees. Recommendation No. 44 is the most important of the recommendations. It suggests that eight days should be set aside for discussing Select Committee reports. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that eight Sessional reports from 1976–77 have not been debated by the House. He could have added that three are also left over from the 1975–76 Session.

It is true that the Opposition could take action on this matter. I have given a pledge on behalf of the next Conservative Government that we shall give the House the opportunity to take a decision. It has been suggested that the Opposition should use a Supply Day to debate these matters. That would be unprecedented. That does not dispose of the argument, but it would create certain difficulties. It would be difficult for the Opposition to draft the appropriate Standing Orders. We shall consider this. I could not possibly take such a decision on my own authority. It would be taken by the Shadow Cabinet. There are weighty arguments against that suggestion. It is not the duty of the Opposition to do this. It is the duty of the Government.

Ever since the change made by Mr. Gladstone in 1862, confirmed by the Balfour arrangements in 1902, the Government have had control of the business of this House; so we are back to the Government again. I have no personal axe to grind. I would much rather this was introduced under a Conservative Government. There will be a chance that the next Conservative Government will go down as a great reforming Government as regards the Constitution. I would like to see it do the referendum. I would like to see the Upper House reformed and the procedure of this House changed so that there was effective control of the Executive and—this is a purely personal view—I should like to see the proceedings of this House televised and so once again become the centre of the nation's activities.

What is important here is the will of the House. The Government should enable a decision to be taken. The Leader of the House must surely see the inconsistency of a position which exalts the Chamber, on the one hand, and refuses to abide by its manifest will, on the other. No partisan point is intended here. Thank heavens we have got away from that. This has been a House of Commons debate, a House of Commons occasion. May I suggest to the Leader of the House, if it is helpful, that we should have consultations throught the usual channels, or even through unusual channels, so that we can get agreement on resolutions that could be put before the House? I commend this to the Leader of the House; and may be recover his normal generosity of spirit and charm of disposition for which he is noted but of which he seems to have been temporarily deprived by the spectre of Select Committees.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I respond at once to what has been said by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and by Members who have spoken in all parts of the House about the way in which we should proceed from this point. From whatever point or journey hon. Members have come in their speeches, most of them have devoted their perorations to this topic, and therefore I certainly respond in that sense.

I put the case that I thought that we should proceed in a different way, and I still think there is much virtue in what I said. But, particularly to one like myself who has listened to almost every speech, though not to every speech—I apologise to those hon. Members who were speaking when I was absent—it is evident that there is a very strong feeling in the House that we should proceed to a vote and for the House to proceed on these matters, and of course the House has every right to decide them, and to proceed at a fairly rapid pace. That has been a view which has been hardly contested by anyone speaking in the debate.

I would say to the House that I am certainly prepared, of course, to respond immediately to what the hon. Gentleman has said about discussions through the usual channels, and I am also always happy to have discussions through unusual channels—although sheer delicacy of nature prevents me from saying which of those discussions I normally prefer; but I am prepared to have both of them, I can assure all sections of the House—as to how we should proceed.

I should like only to emphasise what I emphasised before, perhaps in more passionate terms, that the propositions that the House will have to discuss when these propositions are brought forward are far-reaching in many respects and will involve debates of considerable extent, particularly if we are to accommodate, as we must if we are to do the job properly, the kind of amendments that obviously must come from various sections of the House that have been indicated—and not only amendments to which I referred earlier, referred to in speeches made by some of my hon. Friends, among them the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) and Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott), who has just spoken, and by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who was a member of the Committee. He drew attention to some of the divisions that had occurred on the Committee itself. Presumably, those very matters are also matters that would have to be subject to debate and vote in the House.

I say to the House, therefore, that I believe that when this matter is reconsidered and hon. Members take into account what has been said in the debate altogether, they will see that it is quite a major operation which is proposed. None the less, I am not withdrawing in any sense at all what I said at the beginning of my remarks. I agree that we should have immediate discussions through the usual channels as to how we should proceed.

I understand that it appears to be the will of the House that we should proceed within this Parliament to judge the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am gratified, and it is good for the nation, too, that hon. Members in all parts of the House should recognise that this Parliament is likely to continue for a considerable time. I am very gratified to have the good will of the Opposition's Chief Patronage Secretary in these matters. I am glad to see that we are all in a state of realism. It is in that sense that I approach the matter.

I do not wish to awaken the earner controversies, although some of them are bound to arise when we come to these matters. I do not wish to prejudge matters, but I think that I am entitled to repudiate the flood of historical analogy that has been poured on my innocent head throughout these debates.

First, I was compared yesterday by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) with the Duke of Wellington. The only thing that I have ever agreed with the Duke of Wellington about is his statement that nobody gave a damn for the House of Lords. I have always cherished that statement, and it is on that precedent from the Duke of Wellington that I have been so determined ever since to carry his view into operation.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford compared one with some other, even more disreputable Tory leader. I hope that he was not comparing me with Sir Robert Peel in any sense.

Mr. St. John-Stevas


Mr. Foot

I am very gratified to hear it. That is a great load off my mind. I gather that the hon. Gentleman was thinking of Lord Eldon.

I say to the hon. Gentleman and the House as a whole, and especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, with whom I very much agreed, that in the whole of this controversy many hon. Members throughout the House have failed to recognise how the whole party system interweaves with our constitutional practices. That is something that I have never deplored. Indeed, I have always believed that it was essential to the maintenance of democracy in this country that we should sustain and cherish the institutions of party.

I say this quoting the greatest of all Conservative leaders, who understood it so well, who understood so well what the subsequent inheritors of his great party understand so little. He said: Above all, above all, maintain the line of demarcation between parties, for It is only by maintaining the independence of party that you can maintain the integrity of public men, and the power and influence of Parliament itself. That is what I believe. I am very sorry to see that the Conservative Party has deserted the great principles of Disraeli. It is much more in the principles of Eldon and the Duke of Wellington that the Conservatives are taking shelter.

These are matters that we shall be able to debate more fully and extensively later. It cannot be done by a single resolution. It cannot be done even by the magic of the right hon. Member for Down, South in a single speech. We shall have to have plenty of speeches on these matters. But that is what the House has asked for, and as it is what the House wants I am happy to bow to its desire in that sense.

If any hon. Members think that I have taken an obstinate view on these matters, I hope that they will look forward to those discussions as much as I shall. When we come to them, we shall all be free to speak and argue upon them. When they come to be settled, these matters will no doubt be settled by free votes of the House. I think that that is the proper way to proceed.

When we come to the translation of these matters into actual practice, it may well be that the House will want a different Leader of the House to carry into effect such proposals. It may be from the Back Benches that I shall be making any criticisms that I may further have to make.

I rest assured, and give the guarantee to the House, that I shall be defending, as I believe, the same principles. I believe that this House of Commons, in its majesty and its greatness, may even be able to cope with the deficiencies of this latest report on procedure, along with all the other triumphs that we can record in our parliamentary history.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

That was a damn' close-run thing. Thank goodness that at the end of two days' debate the Lord President has seen the wisdom of accepting the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House to see that discussions and consultations are begun imediately in order that the recommendations can be—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.