HC Deb 19 July 1982 vol 28 cc117-79
10.15 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen): I beg to move,
That from the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply) shall be repealed and the following Standing Order be made:
(1) Three days, other than Fridays, before 5th August, shall be allotted in each session for the consideration of estimates.
(2) On any such day—
(a) consideration of estimates or reports of the Liaison Committee relating thereto shall stand as first business;
(b) other business may be taken before ten o'clock only if the consideration of estimates has been concluded; and
(c) questions necessary to dispose of proceedings (other than a dilatory motion) on the estimates appointed for consideration under paragraph (1A) of Standing Order No. 86E (Liaison Committee) shall be deferred until ten o'clock.
(3) On a day not later than 6th February, any of the following total amounts may be put down for consideration:
(a) votes on account for the coming financial year;
(b) supplementary estimates for the current financial year which have been presented at least seven clear days previously.
(4) On a day not later than 18th March any of the following numbers or total amounts may put down for consideration:
(a) votes relating to numbers for defence services for the coming financial year;
(b) supplementary estimates for the current financial year which have been presented at least seven clear days previously;
(c) excess votes, provided that the Committee of Public Accounts have reported that they see no objection to the sums necessary being provided by excess vote.
(5) On a day not later than 5th August, the total amount of estimates which are still outstanding may be put down for consideration.
(6) At least two days' notice shall be given of the votes which are to be put down for consideration under paragraphs (3), (4) or (5) of this order.
(7) On any day to which the provisions of paragraphs (3), (4) or (5) of this order apply Mr. Speaker shall at ten o'clock put the following questions:
(a) on any outstanding vote relating to numbers for defence services for the corning financial year, that that number be maintained for that service;
(b) that the total amount outstanding in respect of each financial year be granted out of the Consolidated Fund for the purposes defined in the related votes.
(8) On any day on which Mr. Speaker is directed under paragraph (7) of this order to put any question, no dilatory motion shall be made and the proceedings shall not be interrupted under any standing order.
(9) The provisions of this order shall not apply to any vote of credit or votes for supplementary or additional estimates for war expenditure.—[Mr. Biffen.]
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the following amendments thereto:

  1. (a), in line 3, leave out 'Three' and insert 'Five'.
  2. (b), in line 9, leave out from 'concluded' to end of line 12.
  3. (c), in line 12, at end insert—
'(2A) There shall be a committee, to be called the Estimates Business Committee, consisting of eight Members nominated by the Committee of Selection in accordance with Standing Order No. 86D (Motions for nominations). The quorum of the committee shall be four. The committee shall report their recommendations as to the allocation of time for consideration by the House of the estimates on any day allotted for that purpose; and upon a motion being made for the consideration of such report the question shall be put forthwith "That this House agrees with the Report of the Committee" and if that question is agreed to, the recommendations shall have effect as if they were orders of the House. Proceedings in pursuance of this paragraph, though opposed, may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business.'. We are also debating the following motions:

That relating to Supply and Ways and Means— From the beginning of the next Session, Standing Order No. 17 (Appointment of supply and ways and means) shall be repealed and Standing Order No. 94 (Ways and Means motions) be amended by inserting, in line 1, at the beginning— '(1) A ways and means motion may be made in the House without notice on any day as soon as an address has been agreed to in answer to Her Majesty's speech'. That relating to the Liaison Committee— From the beginning of the next Session, Standing Order No. 86E (Liaison Committee) shall be amended by inserting, at the end of line 8— '(1A) The Committee shall report their recommendations as to the allocation of time for consideration by the House of the estimates on any day allotted for that purpose; and upon a motion being made that the House do agree with any such report the question shall be put forthwith and, if that question is agreed to, the recommendations shall have effect as if they were orders of the House. Proceedings in pursance of this paragraph, though opposed, may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business.'

That relating to Periodic Adjournments—
From the beginning of next Session, whenever a motion shall have been made by a Minister of the Crown for the adjournment of the House for a specified period or periods, any questions necessary to dispose of proceedings shall be put not later than one and a half hours after being proposed from the Chair.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.
The following amendments thereto:

(d), in line 3, leave out from 'shall' to end of line 4 and insert 'not be put until Members who wish to speak have been called by the Chair'. (e), in line 3, leave out fom 'put' to end of line 4 and insert 'three hours after they have been entered upon, if not previously concluded'. (f), in line 3, leave out 'one and a half' and insert 'three'.

That relating to Consolidated Fund Bills—

From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 93 (Consolidated Fund Bills) shall be repealed and the following Standing Order be made:

That relating to Opposition Days—
From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of government business), shall be amended by adding at the end of line 3—
'(2) Matters selected by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition shall have precedence over government business on nineteen allotted days in each session provided that—
(a) two Friday sittings shall be deemed equivalent to a single sitting on any other day, and
(b) not more than two days so allotted may be taken in the form of four half days on any day other than a Friday'.
The following amendments thereto:

(g), in line 3, leave out from '(2)' to 'provided' in line 4 and insert 'Nineteen allotted days in each session shall be at the disposal of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and matters selected on these days shall have precedence over government business.'. (h), in line 3, leave out 'Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition' and insert 'Opposition Parties'.

(i), in line 8, at end add— '(3) The allocation of days and half days between the various Opposition parties shall be made by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in consultation with the other Opposition parties in the House and having regard to the number of seats each party holds in the House.'. If amendment (g) were to be carried, I would still allow a Division on amendment (i).

That relating to Questions on Amendments— From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on Amendments) shall be amended, in line 9, by leaving out from 'allotted' to the end of line 11 and inserting 'for consideration of matters selected by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition under Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of government business)'. Amendment (j) thereto, in line 5, leave out 'Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition' and insert 'Opposition Parties'.

That relating to Private Business— From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 7 (Private Business) shall be amended, in line 43, by leaving out from 'between' to end of line 45 and inserting 'the sittings on which Government business has precedence and other sittings'. That relating to Selection of Amendments— From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 33 (Selection of Amendments) shall be amended, in line 27, by leaving out 'business of supply' and inserting 'estimates'. That relating to Exempted Business—

  1. (1) On any day on which the second reading of a Consolidated Fund or an Appro-priation Bill stands as the first order of the day, the question thereon shall be put forthwith upon the reading of that order, no order shall be made for the committal of the Bill and the question for third reading shall be put forthwith.
  2. (2) At the conclusion of proceedings on a Consolidated Fund or an Appropriation Bill, a member of the Government may move 'That this House do now adjourn', the motion shall not lapse at ten o'clock, and if proceedings have not been concluded by nine o'clock in the morning at that sitting, the motion shall lapse at that hour.
From the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business) shall be amended by inserting at the end of line 74 'provided that on any day on which Mr. Speaker is directed to put questions at ten o'clock pursuant to paragraph (7) of Standing Order (Consideration of Estimates), any such motion shall stand over until those questions have been decided'.

Mr. Biffen

The motions that we are debating are a follow-up to the take-note debate on the recommendations of the first report from the Select Committee on Supply Procedure that took place on 15 February.

Hon. Members will recall that the principal recommendations in that report were that there should in future be eight annual "Estimates days" on the Floor of the House devoted to the consideration of Main and Supplementary Estimates; that the present Second Reading debates on Consolidated Fund Bills should be replaced by an appropriate allocation of additional time to private Members; and that the present 29 so-called "Supply" days should be replaced by 19 "Opposition" days, and various regular items of House business traditionally taken in Supply time transferred to Government time.

During that debate my predecessor as Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), indicated the Government's general support for the principles of the Committee's recommendations but put forward for consideration various alternative suggestions on matters of detail. In particular, he indicated the Government's provisional view that, at least from the outset, it would not be prudent to allocate as many as eight days to the proposed new Estimates days.

My right hon. Friend also put forward the proposal that the recommendations to the House on the use of these chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), than by a new Estimates business committee, as recommended in the Supply Procedure Committee's report.

In the course of the take note debate in February there seems to have emerged a clear general view that the House broadly accepted in principle the desirability of the changes proposed in this report, at least as a first stage in the Committee's review of our financial procedures as a whole. Widely differing views were, however, expressed about the most appropriate number of the proposed Estimates days, and a number of hon. Members criticised the Government's proposal of three such days as an inadequate response to the Committee's recommendations. My predecessor undertook to reconsider the Government's provisional views in the light of the debate and to table amendable motions on which the House would be able to reach substantive conclusions. That we have now done.

In particular, we have given considerable further thought as to whether we should propose to the House more than the three Estimates days that we originally recommended. The Government regard the proposals on Estimates days as very important. The concept of such days is fully accepted. In no sense do I regard the proposed arrangements as provisional and linked to changes of an experimental nature. The question is—how much time should be made over to Estimates days whilst we gain experience of this innovation?

The Government's motion proposes that there should be three such days, whereas the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and other right hon. and hon. Members would have the effect of increasing this to five. I suggest, however, that this is basically something which can be proved only by experience of the new procedure.

It is moreover, bound to be a question of conflicting priorities, and of the relative importance which individual hon. Members personally attach to specific aspects of their work here.

There is no doubt, however, that whatever time we decide to devote to these new procedures it can only be at the expense of other parliamentary business. There is no hidden reserve of available parliamentary time, and I do not believe that the House would generally welcome an increase either in our sitting hours or in the length of our sessions.

On balance, therefore, our further consideration has confirmed our earlier view that, at least as a beginning, it would be in the best interests of the House for this new procedure to start on the basis of three days, and the motions now before the House provide accordingly.

The motions effect changes to Standing Orders, but I emphasise to the House that if experience shows that the three Estimate days are inadequate the House would no doubt quickly find ways of altering the position. I suggest that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire said, before making any still greater demands on parliamentary time we should first establish with the certainties of experience that the new days meet a real need and can be organised in a way that commands the general support of the House.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Has the Leader of the House made a calculation of the amount of time that the Government gained on the Finance Bill, the Committee stage of which took place mainly upstairs?

Mr. Biffen

No, I have not. I have no doubt that such an analysis can be made. My impression is that the time thus made available was not taken up wholly by the Government.

For the avoidance of doubt I should perhaps also point out that it will still be essential for the Government to receive the necessary Supply by the traditional dates in the parliamentary year. There will still accordingly need to be three "guillotine Supply days". On such days it is intended that there will if necessary be an appropriate business motion to ensure that the necessary questions on outstanding Votes and Estimates be put forthwith. But such days will not be "Estimate days" in the proposed new sense of the term.

We have also reconsidered the question of which body of the House would be the appropriate Committee to advise the House on the way in which the new Estimates days should be used—which departmental Estimates should be debated and how the time should be allocated. The Government's view remains that the task would be nost appropriately undertaken by the Liaison Committee, rather than by a new Business Committee, as proposed in the Procedure Committee report and also in the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and other right hon. and hon. Members.

I fully recognise that it is for departmental Select Committees to decide what priority they accord in their work to the consideration of departmental Estimates. It would seem likely, however, that the introduction of the proposed new Estimates days—and the greater opportunities for the debating of departmental Estimates on the Floor of the House that they will provide—will encourage Seclect Committees to increase scrutiny in this field.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

My right hon. Friend merely says ex cathedra that the Government take the view that the Liaison Committee is preferable to what the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance) recommended. But he has not shared with the House his reasons for so judging.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is always very fair in these matters. I hope that he will allow me to proceed because to some extent he has anticipated the general thread of the argument.

It would, therefore, seem appropriate that the House should be advised on the allocation of time on these estimates days by the body which is in the best position to assess the relative importance attached by the departmental Select Committees to the need for the House to debate particular Estimates. If the House adopts this proposal I believe that we should take a further valuable step towards the closer integration of the work of the departmental Select Committees with the general procedures of the House as a whole.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Has the right hon. Gentleman taken the view of the Liaison Committee itself? Does that Committee believe that it is the best body to do this work?

Mr. Biffen

I have not been in formal discussions with the Liaison Committee, but I have no doubt that there are members of the Committee present who can take part in the debate and who will give their own judgments.

The proposed amendments to Standing Orders required to effect the various procedural changes now proposed strike me, and no doubt many other hon. Members, as somewhat daunting, at least in their length. Much of their effect is, however, to get rid of procedural dead wood—changes of form rather than substance. Nevertheless, it would perhaps be of help to the House if I were, very briefly, to comment seriatim on their procedural effect. The intention is that they should, if the House approves them, come into force at the beginning of next Session.

The first motion—Consideration of Estimates—contains the provision for the proposed three new Estimates days. Hon. Members will note that it is proposed that all questions arising from the various debates during each of these days would be put together at 10 o'clock. I note that the amendment on this point, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and other right hon. and hon. Members, amendment (b), would have the effect of eliminating this proposal. But, whilst contrary to existing practice, I believe that this arrangement would be for the general convenience of the House on these days.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the only real precedent for this is the marvellous idea of the late Dick Crossman, when he was Leader of the House, that we should all meet in the mornings and vote in the afternoons?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. That was in the context of morning sittings. Whilst I am always happy to accept compliments, however oblique, I do not immediately aspire to comparison with that great reforming Leader of the House. Although he had many formidable parliamentary qualities, I do not believe that the present proposal to vote in the evening after a day's debate on the Estimates bears comparison with the gap in time between the discussion and the vote which arose from the experiment with morning sittings.

It will still remain necessary to ensure that essential Supply is regularly granted to the Government of the day, provided that it has the support of the House. This requires regular financial and practical deadlines. This motion accordingly also provides for the continuance of the necessary Supply guillotine dates.

The second motion, entitled "Supply and Ways and Means", is effectively designed to effect a drafting change. Since the historic concept of Supply days would be effectively superseded by the other changes now proposed, it would no longer be necessary for the business of Supply to be regularly appointed as an Order of the Day, and the existing reference to Ways and Means resolutions in Standing Order No. 17 would seem to find a more appropriate home in Standing Order No. 94 dealing with Ways and Means motions generally.

The motion dealing with the role of the Liaison Committee concerns the way in which that Committee should advise the House as to the allocation of time on the proposed new Estimates days.

The next motion concerns the proposal made by the Committee that, in future, debates providing for the date of recesses should be limited to one and a half hours. It has been objected that that is too restrictive. This matter is, of course, entirely a matter for the House, and the Government would certainly not wish to stand against the general wishes. Amendment (e) to the motion on periodic Adjournments, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, provides for three hours, and offers, in my view, an entirely acceptable way of proceeding, and I believe that it meets the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) expressed in his amendment.

The next motion relates to the Committee's proposal that the present form of Second Reading debates on Consolidated Fund Bills, which are, of course, no longer primarily concerned with financial control, should be dispensed with, and compensated for by a corresponding addition to Private Members' time.

The effect of this motion would accordingly be that proceedings on the Second Reading and later stages of Consolidated Fund Bills or an Appropriation Bill would be formal, and that the remaining time on each of these three days should be available to Private Members on the basis of an Adjournment motion until 9 o'clock the following morning. It would, in addition, be the Government's intention for a further Friday to be made available in future for Private Members' business.

These proposals are clearly a matter for the convenience of the House, but I hope that hon. Members will agree that, if adopted, they would be reasonably generous compensation for the loss of opportunities to Private Members arising from the formalisation of proceedings on Consolidated Fund Bill. How debates on these occasions could be timetabled would be a matter for the House, but it might be for the convenience of the House if the practice adopted followed that at present successfully used in the case of Recess Adjournment debates.

The final four motions on the Order Paper—those relating to questions on amendments, private business, selection of amendments and exempted business—in my name are consequential minor procedural and drafting amendments. The final remaining motion of substance—and perhaps in some ways potentially the most controversial—is that dealing with the arrangements for Opposition Days.

In principle what is proposed here, in accordance with the Procedure Committee's recommendation, is that the present misleading nomenclature of "Supply Days" should be done away with, and that a new concept of 19 "Opposition Days" should be introduced in its place.

The general aim of the change, however, is to leave the present broad balance between Government and Opposition time effectively as at present.

It was accordingly proposed by the Procedure Committee, and accepted by the Government, that a number of regular debates traditionally taken in Opposition Supply time—such as debates on the Armed Forces, European Community matters and Select Committees and occupying, in total, about nine days each session—should in future be taken in Government time.

Doubts have, I understand, been expressed, however, about whether, notwithstanding this assurance, the Opposition would not be the losers in this change in so far as they would lose their influence over the timing of these annual debates at present taken in Supply time.

As I have previously indicated, the general aim of this motion is to get rid of obsolete terms but, as far as possible, to retain the effective status quo.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed

If the right hon. Gentleman's intention is to retain the status quo, why has he tabled a motion so phrased as to exclude any party other than the Labour Party choosing a subject for a Supply Day even when that party deigns to give a Supply Day to one of the minority parties? If his intention is to be purely neutral and neither to strengthen nor to weaken the present position of the minority parties, why has the right hon. Gentleman so worded his motion as to exclude their choosing a subject on such a day?

Mr. Biffen

That is not the position. The hon. Gentleman should listen to the remarks that I make subsequently. I make no objection to the intervention, but I assure him that I shall touch upon, at least by implication, the point that exercises him.

I accordingly undertake—and I understand that this would be acceptable to the Opposition—that, as far as possible, the Opposition's "say" in the timing of business traditionally taken on ex-Supply Days should remain as at present. Thus, the Opposition would have a veto on any Government proposal to use a particular day for such business, and both Government and Opposition would thus retain their present power of veto over the use of particular days for all the former purposes of Supply Days.

I also give an assurance on behalf of the Government that the practice with regard to the use of Government and Opposition time for opposed private business should effectively remain as at present. Contrariwise, I would hope that the tradition would continue that, if necessary, Opposition days could continue to be made available for general House business, for example in the case of exceptional major debates extending over several days.

I am sure that it will have been carefully noted that this motion would leave unchanged the present position whereby any allocation of Opposition days to other parties is left at the discretion of the Opposition.

I fully recognise, as did my predecessor, my personal responsibilities to the House as a whole as Leader of the House in this contentious matter. I believe I can best discharge that responsibility in accordance with the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend, by tabling this amendable motion, on the basis proposed by the Procedure Committee, and leaving it to the House to come to a decision. I have no doubt that a number of right hon. and hon. Members will wish to speak to their amendments on the Order Paper which deal with this point. I should say straightaway that the Government would be entirely content to accept amendment (g) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and I would only add that I have received an assurance from the Opposition that, if the House approved this motion, they would continue to abide by the present conventions on this matter.

For some years the allocation of Opposition time has worked through the Opposition. Clearly it is a matter that will be considered in the light of the popular and parliamentary strength of the smaller parties. Decisions taken this evening will not bind a successor Parliament. The House, none the less, may wish to reflect on whether the declining phase of the present Parliament should be used for a major innovation. Furthermore, the House may wish to reflect on whether it is appropriate to implement such an innovation in a situation where one of the smaller parties has been created almost entirely by secession rather than by popular election. This, however, is for the House to decide without prejudice for the future.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, it only remains for me to thank once more on behalf of the House my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and his Committee for their work on this major report on which tonight's debate is founded. This First Report is part of a far more wide-ranging review of our financial procedures on which the Committee is currently at work, and which the House has recognised by establishing the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament. The proposals now before the House will, however, I believe, in themselves provide the basis for a helpful improvement in our procedure for the control of expenditure, and I commend them to the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we are discussing motions Nos. 3 to 12. We shall deal with the first series of amendments. The other amendments will be moved formally at the end of the debate for those who wish to divide the House.

10.40 pm
Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

As the House will recognise and as the speech made by the Leader of the House recognised, this debate focuses on an issue which is central to the whole concept of parliamentary democracy—the allocation of that precious but limited resource, parliamentary time.

I listened to the contributions to the debate made in this Chamber on the Supply procedure debate on 15 February. On that occasion. I shared what I can perhaps describe as the rhetorical wringing of hands at a situation in which at present 29 parliamentary days each Session are allocated for consideration of Government Estimates, but in reality few, if any, of those allocated days are used for that purpose. I believe that no hon. Member can defend a situation in which public money is virtually—this has been the case—nodded through, voted on the nod. Nor can we justify the erosion of parliamentary time used for the scrutiny of Estimates which has taken place over recent years. But embarked as we are in changing procedures that go back as far as the Plantagenet kings, I believe that we must seek to ensure that we get right any restructuring of our procedures.

At this juncture I wish to acknowledge the assurances that the Leader of the House gave during the course of his speech and which I sought during the Supply procedure debate on 15 February. I was pleased to note the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that the allocation of specific days as Opposition days will not rule out the possibility of the exchange of Estimates days for Opposition time. Secondly, his other assurance was equally welcome, where he indicated that opposed private business time should not come out of the parliamentary time envisaged to be allocated as Opposition time.

Having made that point, I want to come to some of the issues which will no doubt be the subject of somewhat longer debate as we proceed in our consideration of the individual motions that are before us.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I did not understand the Leader of the House to say what my tight hon. Friend has said about opposed private business. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman said that opposed private business would continue to be taken roughly equally out of Government time and Supply time or Opposition time. That means that out of Opposition days will be taken a chunk for opposed private business. That is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say.

Mr. Morris

I am prepared to give way to the Leader of the House if I have misinterpreted the assurances that he gave, but I believe that my interpretation is the correct one. If I may continue, I would wish to comment on the amendment seeking to increase the number of days allocated for the consideration of Estimates from three days to five. I am mindful of the opening words of paragraph 55 of the Procedure Committee's report, where it says: It is difficult to assess in advance the right number of days to spend on the estimates". I noted that the Leader of the House shared this view. I am mindful equally that there are many who believe that three days for considering Estimates is an inadequate response to the Procedure Committee's recommendation. But I believe that it is not unreasonable for individual Members to be seeking to increase the number of days allocated for the consideration of these Estimates. However, each additional day conceded has to come from somewhere, as the Leader of the House indicated.

While we are united in believing that parliamentary time should be allocated for Estimates, all the evidence before us is that, given a free choice between debating currently controversial political issues and spending parliamentary time on what many might regard as the and world of Government financial statistics, parliamentarians in the past have behaved like politicians and opted for the politically contentious, and by implication demonstrated a seeming reluctance to take on the role of parliamentary auditor. Evidence of attendance and contributions in past debates will bear out that view.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend dismissing as and financial Government business the matter of spending billions of pounds out of the pockets of our constituents? That is what the debate is about. Is he suggesting that we should not spend considerable time on the Floor of the House controlling the money that comes out of the pockets of his friends and mine, whom we represent on our constituencies?

Mr. Morris

With respect, my hon. Friend has completely misrepresented the point that I was making. I was not suggesting any such fact. I was suggesting that the behaviour pattern of parliamentarians during the debates on financial Estimates demonstrates the construction and interpretation that I place on such behaviour patterns.

I believe that it is not unreasonable, initially at least, to allocate three parliamentary days to the consideration of the financial departmental estimates. I take that view solely in the belief, and because of the assurance given by the Leader of the House, that the three days will be on what I would describe as a "subject to review" basis.

There is an argument as to whether we should establish an Estimates business committee in line with the Procedure Committee's recommendation. I am inclined to the view that, given the functions envisaged in paragraph 65 of the report, the liaison committee could be as effective as the proposed Estimates business committee. My thoughts in that regard are influenced by the fact that the liaison committee represents a wealth of parliamentary experience. It contains individual chairmen of Select Committees, who have certain responsibilities in regard to the scrutiny of departmental financial Estimates.

Mr. Golding

Has my right hon. Friend considered the point of view that those on the Liaison Committee will have a vested interest in their Committees having their reports debated? It will be a great responsibility for those of us on the Liaison Committee to be making impartial judgments and having to report back to our Committee why its report is not to be debated.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. I do not envisage that to be a major difficulty, bearing in mind the composition of the Liaison Committee. We have some parliamentarians with great parliamentary experience. While it might be embarrassing in terms of their individual membership of particular Select Committees, that is not an insuperable barrier to the Liaison Committee taking on the additional responsibility.

I shall now deal with the two amendments standing in the names of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I was pleased to listen to the response of the Leader of the House when he said that the Government were prepared to accept the two amendments. In relation to the motion seeking to restrict the recess Adjournment debates, I believe that it is the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that while there are abuses of the recess Adjournment debates, one-and-a-half-hours' restriction is inadequate and three hours represents a more reasonable allocation of time.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to join in his congratulations to the Government on accepting three hours rather than one-and-a-half hours, along the lines of amendment (f) standing in my name and the names of several of my hon. Friends?

Mr. Morris

With characteristic generosity, the hon. Gentleman is, of course, entitled to add his congratulations to the Government.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there seems to be no good reason for any restriction on such debates? It is not as though there is an enormous problem. I have been a Member of the House since 1974, and I know of no occasion on which there has been great controversy about periodic Adjournment debates lasting too long. A three-hour debate will mean that some hon. Members may well be denied an opportunity to participate. It will also give greater power to the Government, who might get an hon. Member to talk the three hours out if they know that a certain subject is to be raised.

Mr. Morris

I accept some of my hon. Friend's points, but there has been abuse of the recess motion debate, particularly when that debate has been followed by the Consolidated Fund Bill debate—

Mr. English

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Morris

Yes, when I finish this point. There have been occasions when hon. Members, who have submitted items for the Consilidated Fund Bill debate and have come low in the Ballot, have used time in the recess motion debate.

If the Government deliberately put forward a motion to deny Back Benchers, especially Opposition Back Benchers, time to debate the recess motion, I am sure that the Opposition generally would react to any such proposal.

Mr. English

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He must give the causes of these things. He knows that as they are both Government business, the Adjournment motions are set down before the Consolidated Fund Bill to save Government time. He must also know that a former Mr. Speaker, now Lord Maybray-King, chose to invent the ballot, with the result that Members of the House of Commons, faced with a Government and Mr. Speaker combining against them, exercised their own wits and proceeded to use unballoted time—the recess motion—to do what hitherto they had been able to do on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that additional information, of which I was not aware. However, I do not believe that it alters the fact that certain abuses have been evident in recent recess motion debates.

A more major question is perhaps the allocation of parliamentary time to minority Opposition parties. I draw the attention of the House to amendment (g), which acknowledges that the phrase Matters selected by the Leader Her Majesty's Opposition might be offensive to the small but proud parliamentary party. Amendment (g) acknowledges the sensitivities of that proud but small parliamentary party.

The present arrangements for the allocation of parliamentary time to the minority Opposition parties have worked reasonably well. Amendment (i) is designed to allocate Parliamentary time to Opposition parties having regard to the number of seats each party holds in the House". That has attracted support from four of the minority parties. I question for how long the unanimity of the minority parties that have signed the amendment would hold fast if numerical representation in the House were the determining factor in the allocation of Parliamentary time. The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru would be lucky to receive any time on the basis of numerical representation. Even the Social Democratic Party has only two elected Members. Surely no one is suggesting that we shall allocate Parliamentary time on the basis of Members who are not even elected under the Party designation that they have given themselves. Even if I were inclined to support the amendments—I have no such inclination—I cannot envisage an individual who has any regard for constitutional properties considering for a moment the allocation of Parliamentary time to other than elected Members of the House. The Mitcham and Morden byelection shattered the myth—

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)


Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)


Mr. Speaker

To whom does the right hon. Gentleman wish to give way?

Mr. Morris

I give way to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I was flushed to my feet by the reference to constitutional propriety. It is surely unconstitutional of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) to suggest that people are elected to the House primarily as members of parties. They are elected as individuals. If, therefore, they subsequently choose to regroup themselves into another party, they are perfectly entitled to do so. They remain elected Members and if the reform is to reflect the division of opinion in the House, the other Opposition parties should have a fair share of Parliamentary time.

Mr. Morris

Historical precedence gives some support and substance to the right hon. Gentleman's point, but that support was weakened when ballot papers at general elections showed the party designation of each candidate.

Mr. George Cunningham

We are all more grown up than to conduct this dispute on that basis. What legitimacy does the right hon. Gentleman believe that he has compared with the position that he has described, standing at the Dispatch Box as the official representative of a party whose policies have changed massively since the election at which he and his colleagues were elected? Who needs a new mandate—the people who have not changed their policies or the party that has?

Mr. Morris

One is staggered by an individual castigating the Labour Party for changing its policies, especially when he has changed his party.

Mr. English

My right hon. Friend knows that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) only said what he did because he comes from a borough where a lot of renegades were flung out at the last election.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. Everyone will put his own construction on the allocation of time to the minority parties. If one examines the composition of the House, one cannot ignore the fact that Members were elected on party political labels. Plaid Cymru, two; Scottish Nationalists, two; Social Democrats, two; Liberals, 12. Those are the parties that, out of a total of 635 seats, are demanding a greater share of parliamentary time.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)


Mr. Morris

The present arrangements have worked reasonably well. I give the minority parties the official assurance of the Labour Party that the present conventions on consultation will continue.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)


Mr. Morris

The motions cover important issues which I hope the Leader of the House will take into account.

11.2 pm

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I beg to move amendment (a) to the motion, in line 3, leave out 'Three' and insert 'Five'.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned the re-appointment of the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance). That is to be welcomed, as it is no longer a Sessional Committee. It will deal with many important aspects of procedure—not least the recommendations of the Armstrong committee whose report has been commented on by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service—and several other aspects of financial matters, especially whether the House should control borrowing. We have never done that before.

The motion proposes a major constitutional change. I thank the Leader of the House for the sympathetic way in which he has considered the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply). We debated these matters in February, and I do not wish to go over them again. Nevertheless, what we have proposed will be a major reassertion of parliamentary power in relation to the Executive. For the first time the House will have the opportunity to debate and vote on the details of public expenditure as well as on the whole of public expenditure. That represents a considerable change.

I also welcome the change in the Government's attitude since we debated these matters in February, which is reflected in my right hon. Friend's categoric statement that the changes under discussion are not to be regarded as experimental in any sense. That is important, as so often experiments are dropped if they turn out to be unpopular with the Government of the day. That statement by my right hon. Friend, in contrast with what was said before, is very significant and I greatly welcome it.

It is also important that these matters should be settled before the Summer Recess so that we can operate the new system from the beginning of the new Session and see how it works. I believe that this Parliament will be seen historically as the one in which radical procedural changes and improvements were made for the House of Commons. In this context, tribute should be paid to the three successive Leaders of the House—My right hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John Stevas) and for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House for the contribution that they have made. There has been a rather rapid turnover in holders of the office, but considerable progress has been made.

I wish to deal briefly with the three amendments in my name and those of hon. Members of all parties. I deal first with amendment (a). The Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) considered very carefully the number of Estimates days to be made available for Select Committee reports and individual Members' comments to be discussed on the Floor of the House. We took the view that the right number was eight. That was not proposed as an opening bid but was what we regarded as the right number, having considered the matter in considerable depth.

It may be argued that we should have suggested that figure today, but in the light of the earlier debate and my right hon. Friend's observation that we need to see how things work out, five days seem right in the present circumstances. I hope that the House will support that. We certainly do not want the new procedure to be a flop, which would clearly be a danger if too many Estimates days were allocated. We must bear in mind, however, that there are no fewer than three sets of Supplementary Estimates and about 18 different classes of main Estimates. In those circumstances, an allocation of five days does not seem excessive.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we should not lay down a specific timetable. As we all know, the last set of Supplementary Estimates was very dull indeed, whereas the previous set was quite controversial and some of the Estimates were discussed on the Floor of the House. Therefore, it is right that we should not be tied down to specific dates. At the same time, however, the Government clearly need to preserve something of the old guillotine procedure so that they get their money at set and appropriate times. I think that my right hon. Friend's suggestion on that is perfectly satisfactory and it is right that the Estimates days should be divorced from the actual fall of the guillotine in relation to the provision of Supply. It was not entirely clear, however, whether my right hon. Friend believed that the guillotine should still be related in some sense to what will now become Opposition days. Perhaps he will clarify that.

At all events, after due consideration, it seems right to start with five days rather than three for debating the Estimates, and I hope that the House will so decide.

Amendment (b) relates to whether the vote should be taken at the end of the day. I doubt whether this will prove to be a problem in practice, as I suspect that it will be possible to arrange for the particular Estimates on which voting is to take place to be taken towards the end of the day in any case. In any event, the principle of divorcing the debate from the taking of the vote is unsatisfactory inasmuch as those voting ought to be persuaded, and perhaps in this instance more than usually will be persuaded, by the arguments adduced as to whether an Estimate should be reduced.

Amendment (c) deals with the method of selecting the debate. It was not the Committee's view that there should be yet another Select Committee. The impression is given that another parliamentry quango is to be established. We envisaged a much simpler ad hoc group. Our suggestion seems to me even now preferable to the idea that the matter should be handled by the Liaison Committee. Members of the Liaison Committee may feel that it is time to give someone else a turn when the Estimates to be debated are those of a single Department. Alternatively, the Liaison Committee might feel obliged to set up a Sub-Committee. This would create a similar structure to that suggested in the amendment, but without the advantages.

The report of the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) spells out what we have in mind. It states: Select Committees would be represented by perhaps two or three members of the Liaison Committee nominated by that Committee. There should also be other back bench Members. The two front benches would also need to be represented, perhaps by a Treasury Minister and by an official Opposition spokesman on Treasury matters.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

This is an important matter. If the right hon. Gentleman is talking in terms of two or possibly three members of the Liaison Committee serving on the Estimates Committee, why is that so different in terms of quality from a situation in which the Liaison Committee decides?

Mr. Higgins

We have suggested that two Members should be nominated from the Liaison Committee. That would overcome the argument about taking matters in turn. We recommended, for example, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, together with some other Back-Bench Members. The right hon. Gentleman will see from the Select Committee report that we spell out in some detail what we have in mind. It would also be helpful to have a Treasury Minister and an Opposition Front Bench spokesman on Treasury affairs represented, who will clearly have views to express.

We also put forward a specific recommendation on the Chairmanship. On all these grounds, it seems to me that the basis that we have suggested should commend itself to the Government and also to hon. Members. I cannot see the substance of the counter-arguments. They remain a mystery. The points put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House do not seem wholly convincing. I hope therefore that the House will support the amendment.

The motions tabled by my right hon. Friend are important. They have generated some controversy, not least in relation to the point about the third party insurance, if I may so term it, and the issue of Private Members' time. It was the intention of the Select Committee on Procedure that Private Members' time should not be jeopardised. Those who have studied the evidence taken by the Select Committee and the findings contained in our report will realise there is a strong argument against the system which has been described as an abuse of the Adjournment debates procedure. I should have thought that the amendment relating to three hours, accepted by my right hon. Friend, was a reasonable compromise.

The success of the arrangement will depend on the wishes of the House. There will still be the chance for hon. Members to debate political matters on Opposition days. One problem of the new Select Committees is that, all too often, there is no opportunity to debate their reports. Not infrequently, the reports are closely related to the financing of projects. The time proposed for discussing Estimates will provide an opportunity for such debates. I believe that we are taking an important step towards improving our procedures. I welcome my right hon. Friend's motions, although I believe that they can be somewhat improved. I hope to do that during the course of the evening.

11.14 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The Leader of the House, in a surprising and perhaps significant phrase, referred to this Parliament being in its declining days. A time that he suggested was inappropriate for major reforms.

Mr. Biffen

The words I used were "declining phase". That is somewhat different to "days".

Mr. Beith

That is a distinction with little difference. They led me to be surprised at the possibility that he should pour cold water on the idea of Parliament achieving major reforms. Not least because we are discussing this evening a major reform of our procedures designed to give greater effectiveness to the work of our Select Committees. Something new to our Standing Orders has been caught up, and that is an attempt to define what we used to call Supply time, part of which would now be called Opposition time. The use of such time has never been defined in our Standing Orders. It has been a matter of convention.

Now that it is defined, all those who make use of the time—in which I include third and fourth parties—have a legitimate claim to have their interests considered. The Committee, of which the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) is Chairman, considered the position of minority parties at some length. That is of interest to us. The Committee suggested in paragraph 98: It would be possible to devise a mathematical formula for the allocation of Opposition time rather on the lines of that used by the Committee of Selection in appointing Members to Committees. I was surprised to hear that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) was not proposing to overturn the longstanding arrangements under which the Committee of Selection operates, because he seemed so ready to condemn the lack of representation of minority parties. The Committee argued this proposal in some detail and then did not support it, without any following argument. One does not have to look far to find the reason for that. It emerged in a vote, the result of which can be seen in the appropriate volume. Even in that vote two hon. Members on the Government Benches were distinguished by their support for the principle that minority parties should have proportional representation in the time that is given to them. The hon. Members for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) and Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) voted with us on that issue.

The Committee, having rejected a mathematical formula, said that the decision on the Opposition days: Should remain with the official Opposition, subject to any arrangements it chooses to make with the smaller parties. Even in its rejection of that proposal the Committee recognised that we had some involvement in the process and had traditionally been given a part in it.

It amazed me that after we had debated the Committee's report and the Government had said that they wanted to listen to our views, so little notice was taken. The Government went on to table a motion that excludes outright the possibility that any party, other than the Labour Party, shall ever choose a subject to debate in Opposition time. Those are the terms of the motion that the Government have tabled. The basis on which they have done that is a take-note debate in which almost every Member who spoke expressed the view that further consideration should be given to the time allocated to minority parties.

The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said that the matter should be reconsidered. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who has already intervened, said that he disagreed with the Committee's decision and felt that there should be a proportional basis for allocating minority time. He pointed out that he had no vested interest, because the Alliance parties were pursuing him in Chelmsford, and he was speaking entirely objectively. We pay tribute to his objectivity.

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) referred to another possible formula by which fair treatment could be given. Even the right hon. Member for Openshaw in that debate said that we should have to reexamine the allocation of parliamentary time. Despite all that, the Government came to a decision which is more restrictive than that which the Committee recommended. They put forward a motion that the subjects for debate on Opposition days shall be: Matters selected by … Her Majesty's Opposition and only those matters: shall have precedence over government business on such a day.

Let us suppose that past practice was honourably repeated and the present official Opposition allocated time to the Liberal Party to choose a subject for a Supply Day and we chose the urgent need for electoral reform. If the motion were passed, that subject would have to be chosen by the Leader of the Opposition, who has still not been converted on that essential issue.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

In this Parliament is there not a record of the official Opposition refusing us the right to a debate on Trident and defence because it would have embarrassed them to debate the issues at the time?

Mr. Beith

I put it no stronger than this. There always seems to be an incentive for the Leader of the Opposition and those who act on his behalf in such matters to find days which for a variety of reasons are largely useless to them to allocate at the latest possible moment in discharge of their obligations to minority parties. There is an extraordinary tendency for World Cups, by-elections and so on to take place on the rare days allocated to the Liberal Party by the present arrangements. But even those arrangements are called into question by the Government's motion.

When I drew the matter to the attention of both Front Benches the Labour Party at least rushed to protect its own interests in the fear that it might be accused of having chosen some Liberal Supply day subject by tabling an amendment designed to change the unsatisfactory wording of the Government motion. The Government are willing to accept amendment (g). But from the way that the original motion was tabled it is clear that the Government's intention was not to be neutral about the present arrangements but to ensure the new Standing Order in no way reflected even the existing practice of occasional concessions to minority parties on Supply days. I cannot understand how the Government reached that position from a debate in which, as I said, almost every hon. Member who took part said that we had a point which to some degree should be met.

If amendment (g) were carried we would still be in a hopelessly unsatisfactory position. It is significant that, as the right hon. Member for Openshaw began to give an assurance in the declining phase of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) sought to intervene, but the right hon. Member for Openshaw was unwilling to give way and have the details of his assurance tested. His assurance was that existing arrangements for consultation with the Liberal Party would be continued. There was no reference to whether the existing practice of giving Supply days would be continued, and still less an indication that the Labour Party would be prepared to accept the broad principle that parties should have access to the time of the House in a reasonable proportion to the degree in which they are represented in the House and supported in the country.

It is a strange argument to use against my right hon. and hon. Friends in the SDP for the Labour Party Front Bench to say that because a number of people have left the Labour Party its obligation to make time available to other parties should be reduced. I do not see the logic. Indeed, on that basis the Labour Party should invite more people to leave in the hope that even more of its obligations will be cast aside and it will have even less reason to give time to Opposition parties. It is not a tenable proposition that as the Labour Party ebbs away, its command of Opposition time in the House should become absolutely total.

No one outside the House would regard it as reasonable that minority parties that are significantly represented in the House should not, have a share of Opposition time. When one adds together all the Members of minority parties, there is a reasonable claim to as much as four out of 19 days. In previous Parliaments, minority parties, given a reasonable amount of time, have shared it on a mutually satisfactory basis, even when we have disagreed fundamentally on the subjects chosen. Agreements have been reached among ourselves, the Ulster Unionists and the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties in previous Parliaments; a total allocation of time was subdivided on a mutually agreed basis without complaint from any quarter.

The issue is one of basic fairness and justice. Unless hon. Members are prepared to say to people outside the House that they are willing to ensure that the views of electors can be fairly represented they play into the hands of parties such as mine which will rightly say that the House is run by people who do not give fair consideration. Hon. Members on both sides care about procedures. I ask them to support amendment (i) to ensure that minorities can be heard on a proper basis.

11.25 pm
Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

This is an important debate, although it is taking place at a late hour. The high attendance at this hour shows the importance that hon. Members attach to our procedures.

As a subject, procedure has little sex appeal and even less media appeal, but it is important because only through procedure can the House of Commons exercise its historic role, not of governing but of checking the Executive and calling the Government to account.

One of the most undesirable developments of the past 50 years has been the atrophy of our procedures—as the power of the Executive has grown so our procedures have become inadequate. I welcome tonight's debate as a further instalment of important reform. It is not the end, but it is another important chapter. I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has tabled the motions. I stress that it is only an instalment. Equally important is the reappointment of the Committee to consider Supply procedures. I am delighted that that has been done and we look forward to its recommendations.

The path of reform is long and thorny. Reference has been made to the number of Leaders of the House in this Parliament. I should like to think that they were worn out by their efforts in procedural reform and had to be replaced, but I am afraid that that is an over-optimistic and an inadequate assessment of the reasons for the changes.

In one sense we are witnessing a relay race. As one Leader of the House has laid down the torch, another has come forward to take it up. That is evidence of the desire of the House for reform. The Leader of the House must be responsive to the opinion of the House as a whole. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) in welcoming the forthright statement by the Leader of the House tonight that we are not contemplating an experiment. That is important and I welcome it.

I turn to the question of the number of days. The Leader of the House made it clear that the principle is accepted of passing to Estimate days. If one puts forward too few days for that procedure, it ceases to be a technicality and becomes a principle. If that cannot be done adequately in the time, the principle of the control of Supply is involved.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing said that he did not in his report put forward eight days as an opening bid. He said that it was an irreducible minimum that he and his colleagues thought desirable.

Perhaps it would have been better if the Committee had been less honest and had put forward an opening bid, say, of 16 days, and then the end might have been more satisfactory. But I think that three days is too few. In the debate on 15 February, I said that I hoped that this was not the final word. There has been reconsideration, and the number remains unchanged. I believe that five days would have been much more reasonable and, like my right hon. Friend, I should be prepared to settle for that.

As for the argument of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if these days were allotted the time would have to come out of the time allotted for legislation, so be it. We have too much legislation in the House and, if these procedures resulted in less time for legislation, it would be a beneficial side-effect of these reforms.

Next, I address myself to the subject of the new Business Committee. I do not regard it as a matter of great principle whether this advisory role is exercised by the Liaison Committee or the new Business Committee. I found that the Liaison Committee did its job extremely well in the tasks which were allotted to it. It is a Committee which is capable of growth and extension, and I should be quite happy to see it exercising this role. I have every confidence that it would do it with fairness.

The motion relating to periodic adjournments refers to the recess debate. It seems to be a continual ambition of Governments either to abolish the recess debate or to curtail it in such a way that it is not effective. The House has made its view plain. When I was Leader of the House, I tabled a motion to abolish this proceeding altogether, because that was one of the recommendations put forward by the previous Procedure Committee. The House rejected it decisively.

To reduce the length of the recess debate to one and a half hours would be quite wrong. It would be inadequate for hon. Members to raise the matters that they wished to air and, just as important, for the Leader of the House to give the replies to which hon. Members are entitled. The tradition was established by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), and I attempted to follow it, of giving full replies to the points raised by hon. Members and not treating the debate as a formality. Therefore, I think that the concession made already by the Leader of the House accepting three hours is a step in the right direction, but I am not even happy about that.

As for the argument that some hon. Members take advantage of the recess debate to raise matters which they would otherwise raise on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill because it enables them to get in earlier in the debate than otherwise, that is a form of parliamentary cheating. But it is not necessary to abolish or curtail the debate on the recess motion to avoid that. All that is required is to have the recess debate and the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill on different days.

Finally, I come to the Opposition parties. A lot of my time as Leader of the House was spent struggling with this problem. I do not think it is satisfactory to pretend that there is only an official Opposition in the House. It is not so. There are other parties. One may debate whether it is desirable to have such parties. One may discuss the wisdom of their decisions or the validity of their motives. But one cannot deny their existence, and it is not good enough that these parties should be dependent on the good will or the charity or the personal benevolence of the Leader of the Opposition for their rights. The principle is not how these parties arose—whether by secession or election is not the basic principle. The basic principle is that parties that are formed in the House of Commons have a right to have their views represented and to represent their views because the House of Commons must represent the views of all formations within it if it is to be effective.

I do not think that the motion tabled by the Liberal Party is necessarily ideal, but it is better than the Government's proposal. Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to this matter? It is a question, not of concessions but of equity and fairness. That is the basic issue.

11.35 pm
Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

There is no doubt that one must accept the fact that the Leader of the House has been forthcoming in an even more modest way than is his usual style. He has been forthcoming, but I am afraid that, in the typical style of all Leaders of the House and all Front Benchers on both sides of the House, he has been forthcoming by giving us the most modest steps that he felt were possible.

I say this as one who did not wholly support the original view of the Procedure Committee. The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), whom I think we would all wish to congratulate on his chairmanship of the Committee, said that it was not an opening bid when he asked for eight days. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I thought that it was, because I supported a lower figure than that in Committee, as I thought eight was too large a number.

As has been pointed out already, there is the technical difficulty that there are rather more than one set of Estimates. It is not just a question of many Main Estimates, but there are supplementaries, and things that are technically called excess votes. No Committee, whether it is the Liaison Committee or a Business Committee, will allocate a whole day to the first set of Supplementary Estimates that appears. It does not happen now, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the Leader of the House will agree. Whoever has the job of allocating Supply days at the moment is always reluctant to allocate the last ones, as he always wishes to keep some in hand so that the Government of the day owe the Opposition some days in case something crops up.

What will happen is that the Committee that has to dispose of these days will say that on supplementaries they will just have half a day, which leaves two and a half in hand, and then have another half day. That is why I am surprised by the Leader of the House turning down amendment (b). The precedent for amendment (b) is the late Dick Crossinan's splendid idea for defeating the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). My right hon. Friend was very keen on morning sittings, so Dick Crossman agreed, but he nullified them by the simple process of having votes on them in the afternoon. This worked splendidly and was the best way that a Leader of the House has ever defeated a Prime Minister and his Cabinet, but it is not a desirable precedent for current events.

The Committee that has to dispose of these things will say that it wants a half day on, for example, an aircraft carrier. The half day cannot end at 7 o'clock because the vote will have to be at 10 o'clock if it does. We will discuss agricultural subsidies after an aircraft carrier and then have the vote on the aircraft carrier—presumbly before, although there is no clarity in the resolution—then at 10 o'clock, you, Mr. Speaker, will have the appalling job, immediately after a debate on agricultural subsidies, of putting a vote on an aircraft carrier, followed, no doubt, by a vote on agricultural subsidies. It is simply nonsense.

That will never happen. However these days are to be split, they will have to be split in that way because the motion does not say "at the end of the debate", be it 7 o' clock or ten o'clock; it says "at 10 o'clock". So a half Estimates day will have to be from 7 until 10 o'clock, otherwise the second half-day will have to be voted on after the first half-day at 10 o'clock. That cannot survive, and I am frankly surprised at both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman. Assuming that there is a reasonable understanding among all hon. Members to have votes at the normal times of the House of Commons, and not at stupid times, I cannot see why this suggestion of the Procedure Committee cannot be accepted.

The Procedure Committee report was not unanimous, as I said. There were many compromises in it. I personally deeply regret that, when it was revising the archaic term "Supply Day" and creating "Opposition Day"—which at least means that the public now know what the days are about and that they are determined by the Opposition, to which Opposition, I shall come in a moment, and not by the Government—the Committee, by a majority, would not accept a suggestion to revise the archaic term "Estimates". Most people outside this place think that they are estimates, and of course that is ludicrous. They are actually control limits.

If there is an estimate in a company's budget and there is a deviation downwards or upwards, the managing director might complain in either case, and he might well be right, because there might not be enough profit or there might be an increase in the firm's loss. In this case, the Estimates are rarely exceeded in total. I know of no recent occasion when that has happened. Individual Estimates may be exceeded, because the control limit has been exceeded. Cash limits have caused enormous underspendings on Estimates because people realise that the Government of the day are keen on controlling expenditure and have not spent their so-called Estimates. They are not real Estimates; they are control limits.

That means that Parliament, even under this new procedure, will consider only the most gross errors. The actual variances—as, I think, accountants call them—between what is really estimated in Departments, whether they be up or down, will never be considered by us. Only the most gross errors between a nominal Estimate, which is a control limit set by a Department in such a way as to be higher than the amount it expects to spend, will come before us as a supplementary so-called Estimate. I am sorry that that term was not changed, but it is a good thing that Opposition days are to replace Supply days.

I cannot say that any hon. Member will go to the stake on the difference between the Liaison Committee of some 23 people and a Business Committee, but I suspect that allocating the time of the House which at present is done by two or four people—the usual channels, the two Chief Whips, the Leader of the House and the Shadow Leader of the House—is probably not as easy to do when there are 23 people. I suspect that it will be left to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, who is well trusted by Back Benchers on his side, because he is elected by them. This side of the House, of course, has no elected representative of our Back Benchers—in Government or in Opposition—because of the construction of the two parties. The chairman of the Labour Party is elected by all Members, including Front Benchers.

I do not want to go into a constitutional argument about the composition of the Labour Party, but it differs from the Conservative Party, and I should have thought that that was fairly easy to prove. So while the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) might well be accepted by the whole House as exercising the powers of that body of about 23 people, one wonders whether one could say that of all his possible successors over the next decade, two decades, or longer.

Now I turn to the distinctly obscure question of how Opposition days shall be allocated.

Mr. David Steel

Why is it obscure?

Mr. English

It is obscure because the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party is in a much easier and plainer position than, for example, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) who spoke earlier. It is obscure because there is undoubtedly a case for an allocation of time between the elected membership of parties in Opposition. If my calculations are correct, a party with one Member would be entitled to half of one of the 19 days every 16 years. A party with two Members would be entitled to one half day every eight years. That would mean, for example, that the Social Democrats should wait for a couple of Parliaments before asking for half a day. I accept that the Liberal Party is entitled to rather more days. The Liberals and Social Democrats must solve this matter between themselves. Some of their Members will argue "We believe in proportional representation."

Mr. Cyril Smith

Give us a chance.

Mr. English

I was chairman of the finance committee of a local authority upon which the hon. Gentleman sat as chairman of another committee. I have given him many chances, but he has not always taken them.

I am aware that the answer of some hon. Members is proportional representation. If we had that, things would be different, but we are dealing with the constitutional structure as it exists. It is entirely within the right of every hon. Member to suggest changes in that structure. We are in a minor way suggesting some changes in it now, but we are currently dealing with the position as it exists and not with the type of extraordinary position that exists in Ireland, where they elect people not by proportional representation but by the single transferable vote system. Rumour has it that hon. Members among the minority parties are advocating that here instead of proportional representation. We shall see what happens later in the week, but that is not the point.

I believe that elected Members of the House, whoever they are, have a right to be represented. I would defend the rights of all elected minorities in the House to have their due proportion of time. I should not support those like the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, who stand up to say, knowing that there has been a local election in their constituency which has defeated their party, that they have a right to an allocation of time for a party for which they never stood.

It is more important that we should deal with this issue as a whole. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and the Opposition Front Bench to reconsider some aspects of the Procedure Committee's motion. It is all very well for the Leader of the House to say "The Opposition Front Bench has put forward an amendment; what a splendid thing; I am willing to accept it." Alas, that is what usually happens in the House.

We are trying in a small way, as the right hon. Member for Worthing said, to restore a measure of power to the Back Benches. We should say that it is wrong that the Government should automatically reject every resolution put forward by a Procedure Committee of Back Benchers in order merely to accept one put forward by the Opposition Front Bench.

11.48 pm
Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

Because of the longstanding experience of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in these matters, the points he made will obviously repay study as the matters develop. In general, it appears that everyone who has so far spoken has agreed that we are embarking on a very significant reform that should be strongly supported. Accordingly, thanks are most certainly due not only to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and those who served on his Committee, as did the hon. Member for Nottingham. West, but also to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for carrying on the tradition of reform that has so far been established in this Parliament.

This is a reforming Parliament. There is a strong momentum in favour of reform and the need is to maintain it and to ensure that the work is finished. When the Committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing comes to make its report on the Sixth Report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee and on the Armstrong report I hope that it will not be long delayed. I hope also that the House will give early attention to it. The objective that we all have and for which some of us have argued over a number of years, canvassed and worked for inside and outside the House, was well defined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who has played a notable part in these matters.

There is no doubt that the power of the Executive has grown enormously in recent years. We have failed to modernise and adapt our institutions to bring the work of the Executive under better, more detailed and continuous surveillance. We now have the second instalment of proposals, which is an attempt to redress the balance between the people's representatives, the elected Members of Parliament, and the Executive. It is a balance which has swung vastly too far in favour of the latter.

The first instalment of proposals came with the establishment of the new departmentally related Select Committees. There is no doubt that the lack of opportunity for proper scrutiny of the Estimates in past years has been a disgrace to our democracy. There is a need to debate the Estimates and to vote upon them, and that is what is being proposed. It was said in the debate on 15 February, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing has referred, that the Estimates must be negotiable. I believe that they must be negotiable within the Select Committees. Important as the Committees are, the scrutiny of policy is of vastly greater practical significance if it is authoritative. Back-Bench Members of Parliament seek to exercise their right and duty to examine the way in which money is spent and to propose changes.

The proposals that are before us are a first step. They are practical and it is immensely good that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has agreed that they should be introduced in the 1982–83 Session. We shall look forward to their introduction.

There are two points of controversy in the amendments to the motion on the consideration of Estimates. The first involves the number of days that should be devoted to the new examination, of the Estimates. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and those members of the Procedure Committee who have appended their names to amendment (a), and I shall vote for it. It is better that there should be five days' examination rather than three. I was surprised when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) that it was not possible to find the additional time. What has happened to the time that we used to spend debating the Finance Bill? It is odd that time seems to disappear invariably into the maw of the Government. However, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, who is in his place, has set a remarkable example of introducing less legislation in this Session, and I hope that he will do the same in the next. He has placed before us much less legislation than many of his predecessors.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said, it is up to Parliament and to Members of Parliament to decide how best we spend our time. I think that we spend our time much better scrutinising the Executive's action, especially on financial matters, than we ever do passing new legislation. Therefore, I support the proposal for five days.

Amendment (c) also stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing. Five members of the Liaison Committee are present, and they will be able to confirm what I say. The Liaison Committee had the pleasure of hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing describe exactly what the Government's proposals were, his views and his Committee's views on them. Opinion was divided as to whether the Liaison Committee should take on that responsibility of choice or whether there should be a new Business Committee of sorts. Therefore, our discussion was not conclusive in that regard.

However, there was strong approval for the role of Select Committees in that regard. Therefore, perhaps I can offer a personal opinion. If it should be the decision of the House that the Liaison Committee should be asked to do this work, it would do it adequately and well. I have no doubt from my experience of the Committee that it could be well trusted to make dispassionate assessments.

On behalf of my colleagues who give up time to serve on that Committee, I resent the suggestion that they could only be prejudiced in favour of their own causes. That is not the way in which that Committee works. It has never been the way in which senior parliamentarians in the House have worked in time gone by.

As to the motion relating to periodic adjournments, or time for debates about recesses, I am against any form of curtailment of the rights of Back Benchers. I was surprised and disappointed that the limitation was proposed in the way in which it was. I approve of the suggestion that two amendments—one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) and the other in the name of the Leader of the Opposition—should be accepted. I should prefer it if the time for those debates were open ended.

As to the motion about Opposition days, I note that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House proposes to accept amendment (g). The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) spent the whole of his speech talking about the rights of Opposition parties. The Leader of the Liberal Party was kind enough to give me a view on that subject some days ago. I say to his face that I have complete sympathy with his point. It is obvious that, with the best will in the world, the existing arrangement does not work well or fairly from the point of the view of the Liberals. There is no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford was right that at all times we must be sympathetic to the rights of minority groupings in the House, whatever forms the groupings take. If we vote on amendment (h), I shall vote in favour of it.

On the other hand, I heard with astonishment some of the statements that were made about parties, the rights of parties and those who change parties. I dare say that we should all like to pretend that we are elected on the basis of a purely personal vote and that, out of the 20,000 votes one receives, 19,999 are personal votes. The reverse is the truth. We are all elected as party men. That is the reality. There is no doubt that when people change parties or assimilate themselves with other groups, that cannot entitle them to the same rights that they had when they were elected under their original colours.

Mr. David Steel

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's last point. Does he recognise that the amendment that we proposed allows for some permanency? The Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) have talked about this matter not being an experiment. It is important that we find a form of words that will last from Parliament to Parliament. In our amendment there is no precise formula that allots the time among parties. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that one-fifth of Opposition Members are not members of the Labour Party. To suggest that one-fifth should have no rights is outrageous.

Mr. du Cann

I understand the right hon. Gentlenan's point very well. I am sure that with good will we can work these matters out satisfactorily. Those of us who take that view ought to apply such influence as we may have in that favour.

As I suggested earlier, this is instalment No. 2. It is right for the House to remind itself that we have much work to do on the reform of procedure—our only constitutional safeguard when we have no written constitution. We must ensure that we get further reform of procedure. We must reassert the historic role of the House to scrutinise expenditure. We must consider taxation and expenditure together. We must look at the form of the Estimates, which is so unsatisfactory. We must look at such matters as the timing of the Budget, the opportunity to involve more people in its drafting and so on.

I hope that we shall pass the motions not only in a spirit of self-congratulation—which would not be unreasonable—but also in the expectancy that they are still an hors d'oeuvre for more good red meat of reform to come.

12.1 am

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

As a member of the Procedure Committee, I join those hon. Members who have expressed the gratitude of the House to the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for guiding the Committee to the conclusions that we are now considering. Without his guidance then and, indeed, this year, we would not have made such progress.

There is considerable importance in the reforms that we are considering. This review of Supply procedure is long overdue. Our existing procedure, under which we consider substantial sums of public expenditure, is one of the most unsatisfactory of any democratically elected Parliament in the world. We have no satisfactory procedure for controlling, scrutinising and voting upon the enormous sums that are spent by the Executive each year. The procedure that we are moving towards in the motions is an important step on the road to getting an appropriate mechanism whereby the House of Commons can express its views on the substantial sums that are voted each year.

I believe that we should accept amendment (a) in the name of the right hon. Member for Worthing to increase the number of days for consideration of Estimates from three to five. I am sorry that we are not able to go as far as the Select Committee suggested, but, if we can now establish five days, I hope that in the next Parliament it will be possible to increase the number of days to that suggested by the Select Committee.

The voting procedure proposed by the Government in their motion on the consideration of Estimates is extraordinary and is, I believe, alien to the House. They propose that we should have a series of debates and roll up the votes at the end of the day. Such a procedure is adopted in the European Parliament, but, although that institution does much good, I do not believe that our adoption of its procedure would have any merit at this stage.

I hope that the House will consider the matter carefully before it rejects amendment (b) and moves to the rather strange procedure which, for many reasons, including those outlined by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), would be most unsatisfactory.

The House should follow the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Worthing about whether the Liaison Committee—a rather large and unwieldy Committee—should consider the motions to be debated on Estimates or whether it should be the rather more limited Estimates Business Committee put forward in amendment (c). The Committee considered that matter carefully and felt that the smaller committee, which would include representatives of the official Opposition, Front Bench spokesmen and someone from the Treasury, together with four Back-Bench Members, would be much more likely to be efficient and effective.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) outlined the arguments for amendments (g) and (i). However, no one has yet mentioned amendment (j). Motion 9 as it is drafted suffers from the same technical defect as motion 8. Therefore, the amendment that the official Opposition tabled to motion 8 will also be needed for motion 9. I hope that the official Opposition and the Government will support amendment (j).

Amendment (i) is perhaps the most controversial amendment, about which we have had some conflict this evening. If the House is to have a fair allocation of Opposition time, it is important that the relative strength of Opposition parties should be taken into account when considering the allocation of the 19 days.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that the House operates de jure on Standing Orders but that underneath there is an area of custom and practice about which hon. Members agree? If such a proposal as his were incorporated into Standing Orders, would it not be an innovation because it would bring the concept of parties into Standing Orders, however important they may be in other respects in the House? Would it not be better to leave the matter as custom and practice?

Mr. Roper

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. Tonight we are innovating in various ways. There has never been a reference to the official Opposition and its Leader in the Standing Orders, so we are innovating there. As we are taking into account for the first time the existence of a Leader of the official Opposition, it is appropriate also to incorporate the fact that there are other Opposition parties.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does my hon. Friend recollect that in so far as we take official account of the "Opposition" or the "Oppositions", it is more the "Oppositions", because, with regard to Opposition party money, we explicitly take account of the fact that there are several Opposition parties?

Mr. Roper

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That motion of the House ranks similarly to the Standing Orders that we are now considering.

Mr. Rooker

Herein lies the red herring that we have seen during the entire debate on this matter. The allocation of Opposition money depends not only upon representation in the House but upon votes cast at a general election. There is no similarity between the two, and one cannot argue that just because we are doing it tonight it is similar to the existing Standing Orders. It is nowhere near the same thing. If the hon. Member is seriously making that point, his party's and the Liberal Party's argument goes out of the window because they obtained no more than two seats at election time.

Mr. Roper

The strength in the country and the strength in the House can be measured in many ways. The House has always recognised hon. Members' rights to follow their conscience if they believe that it is in the national interest to do so. My right hon. and hon. Friends who have changed party allegiance during the present Parliament are not ashamed of having done so. We believe that we are right to do so and are right to form a party in the House.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Does my hon. Friend recollect that at the last general election the Labour Party did not poll more than one-quarter of the 56 per cent. of the vote that the Opposition parties polled?

Mr. Roper

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. The Committee of Selection is enjoined under the Standing Orders to take the composition of the House into account. When it considers the official Opposition, it takes into account the number of hon. Members who now take the Labour Party Whip. It does not take account of the number who did so at the beginning of the Parliament. If that works for the Committee of Selection, it is perfectly appropriate that the same should apply in the House and that opposition time should be allocated among all the opposition parties.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I apologise for interrupting. The hon. Gentleman said that he was coining to a conclusion and I wished to take advantage of his being a member of the Procedure Committee. I genuinely seek information about how the Estimates days will work. The more I study the amendments the harder I find it to grasp what form they will take. If the Estimates Business Committee is established, it will be the determinant and will make suggestions to the House that will have to be taken without debate and are unamendable. If that is the case, Back Benchers would be deprived of the rights that they would like to amend or discuss the Estimates. Does the hon. Gentleman also understand that the Estimates Business Committee will determine what is debated, that its proposals will be unamendable and that the Committee will decide what procedure to follow on the debate on the estimate relating to a Department or a specific issue? Is it satisfactory that the Committee should work in that way?

Mr. Roper

The hon. Gentleman has taken me some way from the point at which I was concluding. Perhaps the Leader of the House will feel that it is more appropriate for him to reply to the hon. Gentleman's more general comment. As I understand it, it will be possible to debate a subject that has been proposed. I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph (2) of the motion relating to consideration of estimates where it says that consideration of estimates or reports of the Liaison Committee relating thereto shall stand as first business". "Consideration" means debate so there will be opportunities to debate the matters that are proposed.

For the better regulation of our debates and to ensure that they are orderly, it is felt appropriate that there should be a committee, whether a Liaison or Estimates Business Committee, to prepare for that. That should be done, neither by the Government nor by the Opposition, but by a committee that represents the whole House. That is why the proposal has been made.

In conclusion, there are major matters of parliamentary imortance before us tonight—not only the question upon which I have just dealt but the far more important question of the way in which we consider important matters of public finance. I hope that the House will take note of what has been said by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and others and Will therefore be able to support amendments (a), (b), (c), (h), (i), and (j).

12.15 am
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I join the SDP Whip in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) on his chairmanship of the Select Committee in which a long and somewhat tedious consideration was carried out in great detail. One praises his considerable ability in chairing with great charm a Committee which included a number of prima donnas and people with very strong views, and on obtaining such success in the recommendations that were made.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing suggested that the recommendations represented a considerable "constitutional change". I think that that is a slight overestimate of the Committee's work, bit they certainly represent a major procedural improvement, which will allow scrutiny of Government expenditure of Supply in a way that the House has not enjoyed for many years.

An important point that has not been brought out so far is that the recommendations will bring about scrutiny of individual Votes on the Floor of the House. The Committee did not consider it good enough that the Estimates or the Supplementary Estimates should be considered just by the new departmental Select Committees, but believed that recommendations of those Select Committees concerned with Estimates should be able to be debated on the Floor of the House.

It is therefore important that the recommendations in this report, which was brought before the House in July last year, should be dealt with before the autumn of this year. In this context, it should be noted that the Committee originally recommended a debate in the early part of the new Session, which would have been last autumn, with the necessary Standing Orders being made before Christmas if possible. We are therefore not moving with any great speed. What is important, however, is that we are moving with the full will of the whole House towards the improvements that have been proposed.

I wish to deal with three specific matters. With regard to the number of days on which the Estimates would be considered, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is under a misapprehension if he believes that the Estimates would not be debated. The whole concept is that recommendations made by the specific Departmental Select Committees should be considered by a body, whether it be the Liaison Committee or the new Committee suggested by the Select Committee. That body would select a number of the recommendations on the Estimates from the Select Committees which would then come before the House for debate.

The matters selected might be matters of policy and estimates. For instance, the Select Committee on Industry and Trade report on Concorde considered estimates and policies. That report issue might well have been selected. The recommendations of the Committee would then be a matter for debate. It would be left to the Liaison Committee to decide whether there should be a time limit on the debates. If debates ran for two or three hours, it would be possible to cover more than one subject in a day.

Mr. Moate

My hon. Friend has been most helpful. I was endeavouring to understand what the motions mean. What my hon. Friend says may have been in the minds of the Procedure Committee, but it does not appear in the motions. It is not stated that the Estimates business committee should take any account of the recommendations of the Select Committees. I would have thought that the motions should lay down guidelines of that sort.

Sir Peter Emery

That question should perhaps be directed at the Leader of the House. I understood from my right hon. Friend's remarks that this was the manner in which he intended matters to proceed. It is my belief that this is how the motions would be carried out.

I turn to the issue of whether there should be three, five, eight or 14 days for debate. The original suggestion, put forward in a forcefully argued paper by the Clerk Assistant, which proved extremely useful and formed part of the framework of much of the Committee's deliberations, was six days. The suggestions of former Leaders of the House varied from 14 days proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) to three or four days proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). Three days was the minimum number considered.

I urge my right hon. Friend to accept the Committee's proposal of five days. It would be unfortunate if the matter had to be taken to a vote. It is probably true that five days will not be sufficient. While accepting the introduction of a permanent procedure, it is right to experiment to establish the right number. To decide upon three days would not permit a proper experiment.

It remains to be decided whether the Estimates business committee or the Liaison Committee should consider the matter. This is not an issue of great importance. I cross swords to some extent with my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). It could be invidious for the Liaison Committee to have to decide which of three or four issues should come forward on a specific day and for the Chairmen of Committees to have to take part in that process. Hon. Members try to be well rounded individuals who take wise and sensible decisions. But a Chairman has a vested interest in a Committee over which he presides. It seems to me that the proposal for an Estimates business committee is slightly to be favoured.

I did not support the views of the minority parties, in Committee but it is clear that considerable feeling is attached to the proposal contained in amendment (i). If we are deciding on a new procedure in which we spell out specifically the role of Her Majesty's Opposition, there is some sense in having that delineated so that account shall be taken of those parties who make up the Opposition. If it comes to a vote I shall be willing to support amendment (i).

12.25 pm
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was right about the importance of the motions before us in changing the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive. It is important to debate the priorities of public expenditure. We must not assume, as has been assumed in most of the speeches, that the House has always been anxious to discuss the details of the Estimates.

As Chairman of the general Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, and as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I took part in those debates year after year, and I did so more recently as Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee. I used to taunt or even goad the Chairmen of the various Estimates Committees or Expenditure Committees, or even the departmentally related Committees, to look at the Estimates, because most of the Committees did not look at the Estimates or even produce a nil return. It was within their power to do that every year, but they failed to do so.

I believe that the control of expenditure, not only by the House but by the Government, is unsatisfactory. It is interesting to note that even today, with the level of sophistication available, the best method that the Prime Minister has to reduce the expenditure of a Department is to appoint a weak Minister. The House has not interested itself in the Estimates adequately. It has taken steps in a general forward direction, but they have been hesitant and unsure.

We had the old Estimates Committee, which interested itself with big reports rather than with the examination of the Estimates. Thanks to John Mackintosh we had the Procedure Committee, which made its splendid report, and the Expenditure Committee, on whose general Sub-Committee I was privileged to serve as Chairman, did a useful piece of work, but the other Sub-Committees produced reports on the big subjects that interested them most. They did not look at the details of the Estimates in the way in which they needed to be looked at.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

The old Estimates Committee, on which I had the privilege to serve in a previous capacity, not only set up the London Airports Authority but made a report on Concorde that was ignored by the Government of the day and has proved to be true. That Committee, which was chaired by the now Lord Carr, did the most remarkable work, although it was ignored by the House. Will the hon. Gentleman look back at the record of that Committee and recognise that it was a very important and distinguished Committee? It was a tragedy that its importance was not recognised and that it was subsequently abandoned.

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. Gentleman is making my point. They were big reports, some of which were very valuable. Those on the Civil Service and Concorde were excellent reports, but they did not consider the details of the Estimates. That is the point that I make. They did not study the details and decide in which way the balance of resources should be spent.

As I said, year after year I goaded Chairmen to get the Sub-Committees that looked after departmental expenditure to reach a view on the way in which the money was being spent. But the outside pressure groups, which were expanding and becoming more vocal, did not make use of the Sub-Committees. I was always surprised that they did not give them attention. They did not do the work which I expected and which would have shown results in the Sub-Committees.

Mr. Hooley

They had no means of forcing a vote on the Floor of the House on a specific expenditure item. All that the House could do was to nod through £50 billion for Civil Estimates. That was it. The proposal is to remedy that.

Mr. Sheldon

So inadequate were the arrangements that they did not have the hoped-for effect. It was incomprehensible to me that people did not bring pressure to bear.

My hon. Friend rightly suggests that the proposal will more closely define the relationship between examination and decision. I hope that that will produce the right result.

The right hon. Member for Worthing said that the proposal was not experimental. But we cannot be sure that we have it completely right. We are homing in on the type of decision that we want the House to take.

I am wholly in agreement with amendment (a), for the simple reason that, if five days proves wrong, we shall revert to three, but it is unlikely that the length would be increased from three to five days. If there is lack of interest, the Government will automatically reduce the period to three days.

Amendment (b) involves the relationship between voting and debate. My objection is not only constitutional. We know what will happen. We saw it under the Dick Crossman arrangements. People will vote without having heard the debate. At least a body of people voice their annoyance or even anger in the debates about people voting contrary to the debate. But if the vote is separated from the debate people may vote according to preconceived ideas and not as a result of the arguments.

Mr. Rooker

The need to keep the vote and the debate together is greater if there is trouble on the Government Back Benches. Once an hon. Member has made his speech and intends to vote against his Government it is best to get it over with. If there is a time gap, enormous and unfair pressure will be brought to bear. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will realise that that point is valid.

Mr. Sheldon

My hon. Friend is fully aware of the wicked ways of the world. I wholly agree with him. We had an example of what he says in a vote last week.

Amendment (c) deals with whether we have a Business or Liaison Committee. I agree with the right hon. Member for Worthing that the Liaison Committee is so likely to be a logrolling Committee that it would take turns and spread the business out. I have a great respect for the Chairman of the Liaison Committee. I do not deny the important role that he plays or the way in which he comes to decisions. Nevertheless, when there are a number of people with particular subjects for debate, there will be a strong tendency to say "I chose last year; this year it should be you", instead of examining the merits of the topics and deciding which should be brought out because of their importance.

As to the motion dealing with periodic adjournments, I do not see the reed to limit time, whether it is to three hours or one and a half hours. The problem has not arisen. Sometimes, if the Government believe that a debate is continuing for too long, they move the Closure. The Speaker or his Deputy decides whether to accept it, according to the importance or vigour of the debate. A safeguard for the Government is the limited time for debate, with participants from both sides, irrespective of anger or inclination to speak. The motion is unnecessary.

The motions are important. They take control further to the House of Commons itself. They are not the last word, but they represent an important development.

12.36 am
Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) who chaired our Committee. Those who served on it appreciated the way in which he led our deliberations so that we achieved a result. At one time he was a little worried about the number of Leaders of the House involved. They changed so rapidly that we could have had a Committee comprising ex-Leaders of the House. The Liaison Committee should be able to handle the situation.

I go along with what the Committee suggested, but I believe that we are in danger of having too many Committees. The Liaison Committee does not have that much to do. It is useful at some meetings to have the cut and thrust of debate about which subjects should be debated on Estimate days. That sharpens the Committee Chairmen so that they think about their own Committees discussing Estimates.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was correct to say that we had failed to take past opportunities. The fact that the report will lay responsibilities on the Committees will lead them to concern themselves with Estimates within their Departments—something that they have not yet done. We shall have to wait and see, but I believe that that is likely to happen.

I think that the Leader of the House should concede five days. It is easier to go back than to go forward. If there are insufficient subjects to provide debates to fill the five days, the House will not wish to take up the whole of the time.

This report is a step towards letting the electorate see that in this Chamber we can get at the Executive on its expenditure. I hope that the House will take that opportunity when it gets it next Session.

In view of the fact that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it is important that the House should know that we care about the House discussing expenditure, I am surprised that we should be having this debate at this late hour. We should have had the debate earlier in the evening. We know that all the newspapers have long since been on the road to delivery. The BBC and the other radio media are not interested in what is going on at this hour of the morning. If we wanted to convince the electorate that we meant business, we should have kicked off by letting people have full coverage of the debate. Be that as it may, I shall not prolong the proceedings and add to the time during which the House will debate this matter.

There are several amendments affecting the position of the Opposition parties. I could not support amendment (i) because its last sentence reads: and having regard to the number of seats each party holds in the House. I honestly do not believe that a party which is created in the middle of a Parliament can pray in aid that it has support in the country and therefore can justify being considered an Opposition party when the majority of its members have split away from the main Opposition party. At the moment, the SDP has two right hon. Members who were actually elected. I do not want to rub that in, but this reform is not a temporary measure. It will be in Standing Orders. It is not limited to this Parliament. Therefore, I hope that the House as a whole will recognise the fact that either amendment (h) or amendment (j) is reasonable. There should be consultation with all those parties which are in the House as Opposition parties. A number of hon. Members are sent here as Opposition Members, and it is right that we include a provision in our Standing Orders for them to be consulted.

Mr. Beith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, especially in view of his experience on the Committee of Selection in dealing with the arrangements for minority parties. I remind him that amendment (i) only requires the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition to have regard to the sizes of the Opposition parties and not to accept a specific formula. The amendment which the hon. Gentleman supported in the Committee was very similar in its phrasing and said that the allocation should be made after discussion between the official Opposition and other Opposition parties, which should take account of the relative sizes of the parties. On any assessment, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the two are almost identical.

Mr. Lewis

I believe that there should be discussions. Both amendments (h) and (i) presuppose that there must be discussions between the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the other parties. It is reasonable that that should be so, and, as we know that it is so in practice, there is no reason why we should not put it into our Standing Orders. The report is a step in the right direction and I hope that, with slight variation, the House will support it.

12.45 am
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

I hope that my hon. Friends realise that we are tonight considering increasing the opportunities for the House to reduce the Estimates for expenditure proposed by the Government. It is not a two-way option that the House is being offered. It is the opportunity to cut what some of us feel are inadequate proposals for public expenditure being made by the Government.

The underlying assumption in the financial procedures of the House is that we have an extravagent, rash and warlike Monarch, wishing to pursue her military exploits and being restrained by her peaceable, monied and tax-paying subjects. There may still be an element of truth in that, but there is at least as much truth in the concept of Governments as being establishment minded, seeking to deny the people represented by Back Bench Members of Parliament their basic social rights.

Therefore, I should wish the Procedure Committee to go on to consider amendments to increase Estimates and defer a final decision on that, with present practice merely a transitory phase. I hope that it and its successors will be encouraged in this view by its observation that the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and Japan allow their legislatures to increase Estimates, and none of those countries has an unsuccessful economy.

The availability of the Estimates days, I hope, will encourage Select Committees positively to examine their Estimates and table amendments, even if, as at present, those amendments do not automatically command priority in selection. It is inconceiveable that if a Select Committee were to propose an amendment to an Estimate that amendment would not be selected.

To be effective, the votes in the House will have to be matched by changes in the structure of the Votes. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) was in a sense right to say that the old Estimate Committees did important work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), though, was right to say that they did not stick to the Estimates, because there was no single Vote that covered Concorde expenditure. There were constant scandals about the odd £100 million that was tucked away here and there in Votes, which were being put towards Concorde on the sly by Ministry of Aviation officials who were trying to under-represent the resources committed to Concorde.

This question arose in the Treasury Select Committee this year. In our consideration of the Armstrong report, I asked the deputy secretary in the Ministry of Defence for budget and finance, Mr. Bryars, about coverage of the Trident programme in the Defence Estimates, to allow Members to vote for increased expenditure on the surface fleet but the elimination of Trident. Mr. Bryars told us that within the Department, decisions on resources allocation were taken on a different basis, which takes account of expenditure relevant to a particular project on whichever vote it will eventually fall. In other words, the Votes do not do a thing in regard to the way that particular programmes go and the way that particular decisions are taken in Departments.

Procedures will have to be further considered not only in respect of the subject coverage of the Vote but in relation to the time phasing of decisions in Government and in the House. Mention has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that Estimates are not a proper description of what we do in the House when we approve expenditure on particular Votes. The idea that they are a controlled total is not right—they are more in the nature of an appropriation.

The real Estimates come in the public expenditure White Paper, which is now published at the time of the Budget, but which, if the Treasury Committee's report is adopted, will be published in outline in November and in detail early in the new year. Those should really be described as the Estimates, and the Votes on the public expenditure White Paper should have mandatory effect in the detailed drafting of what we now call the Estimates put before the House later in the financial year, but which should perhaps be more properly described as appropriations.

The Select Committee on Procedure considered whether we should do away with the two-tier procedure of having not only the Estimates but the Consolidated Fund and Appropriations Account. It decided to leave the matter for another day. When it returns to the matter, I hope that it will retain the two-stage procedure, but make them both effective, as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr St. John-Stevas) proposed, although the way that he proposed was perhaps not appropriate.

Finally, I want to comment on a point of detail in connection with the three or five days. The proposal put forward by the Leader of the House for three days would impose a gross disproportion between the consideration of the Estimates and the consideration of the Supplementary Estimates. I see why the Chief Secretary, in his evidence to the Procedure Committee, was enthusiastic about the consideration of Supplementary Estimates, because they are the means by which the Treasury exerts control and dicipline in the enforcement of decisions to which it is a party. However, the Estimates are the decisions which set the broad policy and framework of the commitment of resources, and they are far and away the more important decisions for the House to consider. The way that this House at present gives a disproportionate amount of time to Supplementary Estimates is like Professor Parkinson's committee, which passed the decision to approve a nuclear reactor on the nod and then spent the afternoon happily discussing the bicycle shed.

This is a step on the way. I am uncertain about whether a succession of steps like this will be adequate to reform properly the financial procedures of the House, and I hope—if not in this Parliament, at any rate in the next—that the reform of our financial procedures will be looked at sufficiently thoroughly to produce a coherent and sensible fully worked out structure which is matched properly with the role of a modern Parliament.

12.52 am
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I hesitate to introduce a dissenting voice into the debate. It appears that every other hon. Member has welcomed the proposals in the belief that somehow they will change the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. If people believe that, they are under a considerable illusion. I do not say that I do not admire the work that is done by the Committee, but I have to say that it was chasing illusions if it believed that procedural changes would result in greater power or influence being exerted over the Executive. I do not believe that that will happen, given the nature of our Parliament. Indeed, if it were to happen, I doubt very much whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be introducing the motions this evening.

Our prime duty as members of parties—and there has been much talk about party—is to ensure that the policy of one's party is carried out, and procedural changes, whether through Select Committees or debates on Estimates, will not be allowed to undermine the strategy of the Government or of the party in government at the time. That is why I am sceptical about the whole structure of Select Committees. If they start to exercise the influence that we are discussing tonight, even through this Liaison Committee, the force of party would soon exert itself through those Select Committees to ensure that the Government's policy was not endangered. That general philosophy would be supported by virtually all hon. Members in the Chamber no matter how much on occasions such as this they might express themselves philosophically in favour of the independence of the individual Back Bencher and of the Back Benchers' control over Parliament.

I had hoped to ask by means of interventions some of the genuine questions to which I wanted answers but that was not to be so. The more I have listened to the debate and the more I have read the motions, the more puzzled I have become about the way in which this system is supposed to work. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) would explain for my benefit and perhaps for the benefit of those who have not served on the Procedure Committee exactly how the system will operate.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

If my hon. Friend believes that the system will not work anyway, why does it matter if he does not find out how it works? How has he made up his mind that it will not work if he does not know how it will work?

Mr. Moate

Even at this late hour my hon. Friend is still sharp. While I am allowed to express a general scepticism I would still be genuinely interested to know how we are to spend three, five or even more days of our parliamentary time. If we are to have debates of some form or another on the Estimates, I should like to know what are to be my rights as a Back Bencher on those occasions.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who was also a Member of the Committee, how he saw the debates taking shape. He gave the answer—other hon. Members have expressed the same view—that this would be an opportunity for debating reports of the Select Committees. It was not my understanding that that was to be the purpose of the Estimates days. I thought the idea was that the House of Commons as a whole would exercise control, or try to, over money voted for the Government to spend. Yet it seems that several members of the Committee have the idea that these three days or five days will be used to debate a number of Select Committee reports that otherwise would not be debated.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What the Procedure Committee had in mind was that these reports, out of the morass of Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, should, for the benefit of the House, focus a searchlight on certain aspects—for instance, some innocent looking expenditure such as the Concorde project, which will generate annual expenditure for many years to come—and that it would be of assistance to the House to have that homework done for it so that it could then debate a fairly tight focus which had been drawn to its attention before it was too late for effective action to be taken.

Mr. Moate

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have examined the Select Committee report and I can see expressed there many of the general wishes and intentions of the Committee. I find it difficult to try to relate that report and those general intentions to the motions on the Order Paper. Nowhere on the Order Paper are Select Committees referred to. There is a reference to the Liaison Committee or some other Committee that could be formed, but nowhere is there a reference to the Select Committees, and nowhere is it being laid down in Standing Orders—we are laying down Standing Orders that could apply for many years to come—that that Committee must restrict itself to Select Committee reports or even take account of Select Committee reports. It can refer to a general departmental Estimate, and we might have a motion on that. It is most unsatisfactory that we should have the motions presented in this form. The members of the Committee should consider it unsatisfactory because, while they might have had clear intentions, those intentions might not be reflected by the Leader of the House at the time. The more that we have such loose phraseology the more we play into the hands of the Government of the day to express and frame imprecise motions in whatever form they so wish.

What hon. Members have been saying is not necessarily reflected in the motions. I might have it wrong and I should be glad to have that clarified. For example, there is the question of whether the proposals that come forward from the Liaison Committee are amendable or debatable. I am not a member of such a Committee. Are Back Benchers to accept that the Liaison Committee will make a recommendation to the House and that it will have to be voted on immediately? It is my understanding that the motion will have to be put forthwith and will be unamendable. If we are to have three days of debate on a variety of subjects, I should much rather be able to blame the Government because they have not chosen something that I wanted to be debated than blame my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I read the report of the Select Committee with care and I noted that it referred to the selection of amendments being left to the Chairman of Ways and Means. Clearly the Committee thought that motions would be amendable. It is important that they should be. If the debates are to have any value or meaning, we should sometimes be able to put what might appear to be minor but specific matters to the Government and to have the House vote upon them. That is important because on those matters we might be able to influence policy. The motion that is before us is to be put forthwith and the recommendations will have effect as if they are orders of the House. That seems to be contrary to the Select Committee's report and I shall welcome comment from my right hon. Friend on that issue.

I should like to know the form that the motions will take. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) said that there will be an opportunity only to effect reductions in the Estimates. Several other hon. Members have said that generally they would expect that type of recommendation to come forward—for example, that there should be a reduction in a certain Estimate. Will that be a specific Estimate or a specific item in a Department's Estimate, or will it be an across-the-board reduction, a motion that states, for example, that a DHSS or Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Estimate should be reduced?

It is important that we should have some idea of how the system will work. It is dependent upon the nature of the motions whether these Estimate days will have any value. For example, we may think that we are to exercise control over the DHSS. Is it likely that a motion that is put before the House seeking to reduce the budget of the DHSS will receive the support of Government Members? If it were expressed in such sweeping terms it would be seen as a vote of censure on the Department and would probably involve the resignation of the Minister. That would not be a very meaningful debate. If, on the other hand, we have a specific item put before us which is small enough to be of interest and significance and is not likely to embarrass the Government over much, individual hon. Members might be prepared to exercise their independence and to vote on it.

I do not like the idea that this important question of procedure is to be determined as we go along by whoever sits upon the Liaison Committee. The House should determine the shape and character that the debates will have. I hope that my right hon. Friend will respond to the specific questions that I have asked and will say how he thinks the Estimate days will work.

Having expressed that scepticism about the value of these days, I would rather waste only three days on them than five. I hope that we shall stick to three days and not five. I hope also that my right hon. Friend can clarify these matters for me.

1.5 am

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

With Whips on both sides of the House pressurising me to be brief, I shall give way to the pressure, particularly as some of it comes from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison).

I was sorry to disappoint the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) by referring to the Liaison Committee in the way in which I did. He may have 22 senior impartial members, but he has one prejudiced, partial chairman. That is me. I speak as a chairman of a Select Committee that thinks that this arrangement will not be helpful to the Select Committee system.

I appreciate the vast sums of money in the departmental Estimates for employment. They total billions of pounds. However, I also see the number of sub-headings that are set out. It will take a considerable time for the Committee to examine those Estimates in any detail, yet if it does not study them in detail, it will not be doing its job properly.

The Select Committee on Employment decided specifically that it would more usefully spend its time looking at subjects other than finance, such as race relations, trade union law and, above all, unemployment. It is more important to devote time to those subjects than to devote time to going through the sub-headings. There was a valid judgment by the Committee that we could spend our time more usefully.

We have a responsibility to look at finance. We appreciate that. However we have said that it is far more important to take the corporate plan of the Manpower Services Commission, for example, to look at the reports of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and of the Health and Safety Commission and at detailed proposals than to look at what to us are lists of often meaningless figures.

We believe that it is more important to identify problems in society, to see how Governments are tackling them and to see whether they are tackling them in a cost-effective way than to start with the financial provision. To us the problems are more important.

If we were to look at the problems, we would not look at them solely within departmental budgets but would want to compare the budget for the Department of Employment with the budget for the Ministry of Defence and the budget for the Department of Health and Social Security. That job needs doing. One of the problems of the present proposals is that increasingly we shall be looking within Departmental budgets and not at the distribution of money throughout Government.

Unfortunately, what seems to be developing is that a parliamentary time will be allocated to the Committees that conform to looking at the detailed Estimates rather than the problems. I regret that. Three days is too long. I would prefer the days to be devoted to looking at the considered reports of Select Committees that they regard as important. They might not be about the Estimates.

I have one question that I should like to ask on behalf of my Committee. I repeat that I am partial. If I vote for three or five days and my Committee persists in studying problems rather than figures and starts from the point of view of the needs of the citizen rather the need to control public expenditure, does that mean that there will be little or no parliamentary time in which to discuss its reports?

I am not convinced that Select Committees that deal with vast sums under a variety of sub-heads are competent to deal with the Estimates in the way that is suggested. That is why I am not confident that this system will work. Let those Select Committees that do not spend the bulk of their time looking at the detailed Estimates also have time to debate their reports.

The Liaison Committee consists of members who are capable of being impartial and of pushing their own interests aside. However, the reaction of hon. Members who do not serve on the Liaison Committee leads me to believe that they will suspect the judgment of that Committee. It would therefore be better if the Liaison Committee did not take responsibility for the allocation of time.

1.11 am
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I shall be as brief as I can. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) have put us in a slight difficulty, because the Procedure Committee has completed only half of its inquiry. Tonight we are debating the fruit of the first part of its work. It is my sincere hope that the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham will be dealt with effectively in its second report, which I cannot anticipate. The questions that he raised have been in the Committee's mind and the instruments that it will recommend for dealing with them are not yet forged.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme referred to two functions of Select Committees—the control of finance and the study of policies and problems. In supporting the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member, it has not been in my mind that we should thereby deprive the House of the opportunity of debating Select Committee reports that have more to do with problems than with expenditure.

For example, the Procedure Committee produced a report, which I should like to think is of some value, on Britain's import-export performance, and it followed up a previous report on means of preventing collisions and strandings between tankers and noxious cargo carriers in waters around the United Kingdom. That is also an important subject, which primarily does not have much to do with expenditure, although it has expenditure implications.

I therefore share the desire of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme to see work of that type continued and for such reports to be debated by the House. That might possibly lead the Procedure Committee to the conclusion that instead of Select Committees being loaded with an additional burden of financial scrutiny, which, because of their fairly parsimonious staff, they are unable to undertake, there should be something akin to the Congressional budgetary committee system which will focus particularly on expenditure rather than on the general problems and policy questions to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. That is one possible line that might recommend itself to the Select Committee.

It has not been my experience that the bigger the Committee the better it works. To imagine that the Liaison Committee with 22 members is the ideal instrument to undertake the new functions conceived by the Procedure Committee is wrong. That is why the Procedure Committee recommended a new Committee of eight members set up by the Selection Committee to carry out that task. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said that, in the Liaison Committee system, there tends to be a doctrine of "Buggins' turn next". It is improper to have three days in a Session allocated to examining expenditure allocations of one Department, because Buggins would be overdone and the other Bugginses would not have their fair crack of the whip. We should aim at a new Committee set up entirely for the task that is small enough to work well—eight will work well. That is why I shall support my right hon. Friend's amendment.

There was much argument in Committee about the number of days, and there is nothing magical about five. However, as with so many matters in the House, we must compromise within the spectrum of the possible. If we set our sights as low as three, there will be a temptation for whichever body is charged with allocating subjects to keep two in reserve. After all, how can one allocate all three days in the knowledge that there will be excess votes, but without knowing what the excess votes will be? Would the Committee not expose itself to criticism if it did that? Three might be a reasonable number if one could foresee for an entire Session the subjects on which the spotlight will fall, but one cannot foresee those before the Estimates are published. The proposal for three days is not to deal with the substance of the problem, but to nod the head symbolically towards doing what the House wishes.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to accept five as a reasonable compromise between what many of us would wish—which is something more—and the constraint of time, which is one of the many albatrosses on his back. It would be churlish to sit down without thanking him for his careful consideration of the Select Committee's report and for his extremely constructive approach to much of it.

1.18 am
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I want to refer to the motion on periodic Adjournments, but first I shall comment briefly on two other matters. As to Opposition time, one cannot be persuaded by the points put forward by the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party spokesmen about the SDP. If those who are now members of the SDP, having changed their party allegance, had put the matter to the electorate and if they were re-elected in their new colours, they would have a mandate from the electorate. The only hon. Member who changed his party in this Parliament and who put the matter to the electorate was not returned. The example of the former hon. Member for Mitcham and Mordern considerably weakens the SDP argument.

On the second point, I should like to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said. I am not convinced that we are debating a great proposal for reform. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) argued that the Select Committees were a great step forward. I am not so convinced. I was one of the 12 who voted against their establishment and I do not believe that I have been proven wrong. I say that even though I am a member of one. I do not deny that useful work is undertaken by them, but I see no evidence that the basic balance between the Back Bencher and the Executive has changed as a result of the setting up of the 12 subject Select Committees.

Nor do I believe that examining the Estimates in the proposed way will so change matters that Back Benchers will have more power. I am much more anxious about the difficulties in society than with the estimates as such. Of course they are important, but their detailed examination on the Floor of the House is not a pressing matter that cries out for reform in the way that has been suggested. I may be wrong, but I do not think so.

I shall now deal with the motion that relates to periodic adjournments. I oppose any limitation to the debate on the motion for the recess. I see no reason why it should be limited. The Leader of the House has accepted some advance, because he has now said that there should be three hours rather than one-and-a-half hours for that debate. Cynics may say that that was his original intention and that, having advanced by one-and-a-half hours, he considers that we should accept a compromise and that he has made a great concession.

Mr. Biffen

I make the point, half in self-defence, that it was not my idea. It was a Select Committee recommendation that I was happy to put before the House.

Mr. Winnick

I must accept that, although the Leader of the House took up the recommendation on behalf of the Government.

The right hon. Member for Chelmsford referred to an earlier debate in October 1979. It was then proposed that there should be no debate on the question as to the length and timing of the recess and that the matter should simply go through on the nod. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was then Shadow Leader of the House, said that he opposed such a proposal because We all know that in such debates we raise issues which are of national and often great regional or local concern. In the same debate, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford: My right hon. Friend said that hon. Members would have adequate opportunity of raising matters if they applied for one of the end-of-Session Adjournment debates. However, they are limited in number and one has to take one's chance in Mr. Speaker's selection. Under the present procedure, any hon. Member who wishes to make a point has the chance to do so because the Government cannot proceed to put the Question until all those wishing to speak have done so.—[Official Report, 31 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 1286.] He made the point well.

Mr. Hooley

It is not true that all hon. Members who wish to speak in an Adjournment debate get an opportunity to do so. At a given time the Government will move the closure and it will be carried.

Mr. Winnick

All hon. Members who rise at the beginning of the debate usually manage to get into it. That has been my experience in the past few years.

Paragraph 87 of the Select Committee report states: The length of debate on the motions for recess adjournments has grown steadily. I asked the Library to give me some details about the length of those debates on the past five years. From Christmas 1977–78 until now there have been about four such debates per year. On only two occasions have the debates been longer than five hours, but not over six hours, one of them being the debate on the adjournment for the Summer Recess in 1980 when there were a number of important matters to be raised. Last year, the combined debate on the Royal Wedding and the Summer Recess motion lasted 2 hours 25 minutes and the last three such debates have lasted 3 hours 12 minutes 3 hours 59 minutes and 3 hours 28 minutes, so there is not much evidence of any lengthening of the debates over successive periods.

Matters of local, national and even international importance have been raised in such debates. If an hon. Member spends some time raising such a matter, a limit of three hours would not leave much time for others who wished to speak. On one such occasion, the now Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), spent half an hour or so on what was no doubt regarded as a fairly important matter about a religious sect. No one quarrelled with that, but if the debate is to be limited to three hours and an hon. Member takes that length of time there will not be much time for the rest.

Incidentally, the average length of such debates in the past five years was 3 hours 56 minutes.

I hope, therefore, that there will be no time limit on those debates. More important than Select Committees, Liaison Committees and other Committee work is the opportunity for Back-Bench Members to speak in this Chamber, as this is the most important forum. If we are resricted in raising matters that we regard as important, power will be taken away from Back-Bench Members.

In about nine days, we shall break up for a recess lasting nearly three months.

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Winnick

We have not been told exactly how long the recess will be. If the Leader of the House wishes to tell us now, I shall rush to the Table Office to put down appropriate questions for the autumn. Certainly, we are about to break up for a fairly long time. It is not likely that we shall come back in September.

There are many matters such as unemployment that we regard as important. No doubt Conservative Members also have matters to raise that they regard as important. This will not arise in relation to next week's debate, but if in future the debate were limited to three hours—one-and-a-half hours was clearly farcical—that would be entirely inadequate. Therefore, if I have the opportunity, I shall vote tonight in favour of the proposition that there should be no restriction on the time taken to debate the motion for the Adjournment for the recess.

1.29 am
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

One motion especially relevant to the work of Select Committees is that which provides for three days or, if the amendment of members of the Procedure Committee is accepted, five days to be set aside for consideration of estimates of the Liaison Committee. I hope that five days will be agreed. I am not sure to what extent the Liaison Committee should be given the powers of a Business Committee for Estimates. There are problems attached to the selection of Select Committee reports for debate in the House. More time is needed for such debates.

It is not clear how the procedure will work. On each of the five allotted days, I assume that there could be debates on more than one Estimate and on reports specifically related to the Estimates under consideration by a Select Committee. There is no point in debating an Estimate without a report. In those circumstances, hon. Members have no guidance and are unable to identify relevant matters. That is part of the duty of the Select Committee. The Committees will have to produce reports with a debate specifically in mind and with a view to showing that the Estimate and the report is a suitable candidate for discussion. I am confident that everything recommended by the Select Committee on Social Services will be selected for debate. At least, I always live in hope. This raises the issue of the sort of reports that Select Committees will produce. The Select Committee on Social Services is one of those that has gained considerable experience of examining expenditure. I am surprised that not all Select Committees follow this procedure. The Department of Health and Social Security is responsible for more public expenditure than any other Department, including Defence.

We have the awesome task each year of considering expenditure of £45 billion. We undertake an annual inquiry into this expenditure on the basis of plans contained in the annual Public Expenditure White Paper rather than the Estimates. This year, for a change, we looked at the Estimates themselves. Our report is not yet published. I can, however, inform hon. Members that the Estimates are far less informative and therefore far less useful to the Select Committee and to the House as a whole. In my view, the Estimates are puny. On the information that they contain, it would be hard enough to write a few paragraphs, let alone a report.

Our inquiries into the White Paper have become longer and more detailed each year as special lines of inquiry have developed. Our first report identified themes that we felt were important. We have been able to pursue those items in subsequent reports, to consider the responses that we received and to follow them with more detailed analysis. Some indication of this process can be seen in what I might call volume terms. Our 1980 report contained 54 paragraphs and 14 recommendations, and our 1981 report 70 paragraphs and 20 recommendations. I must warn the Department that the report due—all being well—to appear next week, will contain about 120 paragraphs and 40 recommendations.

In 1980, we held three oral evidence sessions and published 116 pages of evidence. This year, we held five public sessions and published 230 pages of evidence. This is not simply an inflationary increase. It indicates that we have provided a better service. As the Select Committee has become more experienced in scrutinising public expenditure, it has been able to identify items, often in more than one report, that need careful consideration.

Mr. Golding

My hon. Friend is making the case for examining public expenditure. I have tried to do that in the employment context in relation to the corporate plan of the MSC. Is my hon. Friend saying that it is better to examine public expenditure by using documents other than the Estimates?

Mrs. Short

Select Committees look at the expenditure projections of the Departments. If my hon. Friend wants to chase a Department on the success or otherwise of the MSC project, it would be profitable for him to look at the resources provided by that Department to carry out the work of the MSC. He would then be in a position to recommend to the Department that more resources should be provided and used in specific ways. If the Select Committees can pursue that line of inquiry, they can present a great deal of information to the Department, the House, and those bodies outside—including the MSC—which are interested in those matters.

Mr. Golding

As a Minister, one of the problems that I had at the end of each year was that of people asking me to reduce the cash limit because the resources made available had not been spent. The problem is that the Estimates bear little relationship to the actual planning of expenditure. That is why I have found that the examination of Estimates, both in Government and on the Select Committee, is not as informative as the examination of other documents and submissions.

Mrs. Short

If my hon. Friend had called the Secretary of State before his Committee and asked him why those resources had been allocated in the way that they had and not been used, he might have had some interesting sessions. He could have called the Secretary of State and the officials of the Department to give those answers. He could have then made his report and said what should have been done.

In the reports, we have emphasised the need for the Department to keep the Committee and Parliament fully informed and the importance of developing stronger mechanisms for forecasting expenditure more accurately and monitoring it more closely. Those are important areas that Select Committees need to pursue. If that is done, there can be a continuing dialogue with the Department to show what the Select Committee expects to see done.

This year's report will be more interested in details of planned expenditure and policy, because we have been able to build on the experience of two earlier reports. The inquiries have been valuable in several ways. They have enabled the Committee to look at the whole range of the Department's expenditure and to oblige officials and Ministers to do likewise and justify their policies before the Committee and in public. That is important. It has helped us to decide which areas of policy merit further attention, and enabled us to place matters higher on the political agenda.

The Department's capacity for strategic planning as detailed in the 1980 report, and the encouragement of part-time work for the unemployed and disabled, are two areas at which we have looked in successive reports. We have been able to make available a wealth of information that would not otherwise have been available to the public, the House or the bodies outside dealing with the subject in which we were interested. We have procured and published so-called programme budget material which shows the trends in health and social services spending in detail by each service. Such information was not formerly available. This year we have procured from the Department tables with expenditure figures that got round the awkwardness of expenditure plans being expressed in cash and so clarified the real pattern of annual expenditure plans.

We are in favour of producing expenditure reports. But should we offer the House a general report on the DHSS Estimates taken with the White Paper or should we pick out an Estimate? We should consider the way in which the reports are presented, and would welcome guidance from the House. Alternatively, is it to be left entirely to the Committees how they tackle the projects?

The Estimates come out in March. A Committee could not report on them much before May if it did the job properly. By then the financial year will have begun. March is much too late. The Procedure (Finance) Committee is considering the matter and I hope that it will find a way to give Committees the possibility of looking at details of the Government's expenditure plans in the autumn of the preceding year. Committees could then do a proper job, and the Estimates days that we are being offered would be of real value. If not, Committees will be rushed and out of date and it will be too late to change anything, should the House so wish, by June or July, when the debates are likely to take place.

The Procedure (Supply) Committee recommended that each Select Committee should allot some time each Session to the examination of its departmental Estimates. The Social Services Committee has done that each year in one way or another. Now the House is offering some time on the Floor of the House, however limited, for the results of the examination. I welcome the opportunity that will at least allow Select Committees to present more of their work to the House.

1.42 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I support the idea that there should be five days to scrutinise the Estimates.

The priorities that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) talked of can be brought out in the Estimates in the allocation of expenditure. The Select Committee reports can be used to illumine those debates. If the Estimates are adequate that, too, can be a focus of attention. It is important that the focus of attention should be in the Chamber and not upstairs among a tiny group who will become expert in the subject but who have no means, except a debate on the Floor of the House, of revealing inadequacies such as those revealed tonight.

I do not much like the idea of the Liaison Committee deciding the allocation of time. I am on that Committee as I am Chairman of the obscure Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I have no particular wish to be on the Liaison Committee. It is simply a collection of Chairmen who are in the habit of arguing on a sectarian basis, for example, about travel matters, and representing the view of their Committee. A Select Committee established for the purpose of allocating time is far more satisfactory. It would have that and no other responsibility.

I suspect that the Committee's reports will be controversial. When they are considered and voted on in the House many hon. Members will criticise the priorities if they do not meet their needs. The Committee will have to spend time considering the matter carefully. The Liaison Committee has other matters on its plate and should not be expanded to cover that function.

Many hon. Members sit in the Chamber for a long time trying to raise subjects. The periodic Adjournments are important. The credit for suggesting the one and a half hours should go to the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) who wanted to cut Back Benchers' time and who made the proposition that was accepted by the Select Committee.

With the figures from the Library, we have demonstrated that Adjournment debates have not been a problem. There is no need for a curtailment. Some think that it is naughty to speak both on the Adjournment debate and on the Consolidated Fund Bill—and that happens frequently, perhaps for the convenience of the Government. They put the two matters together to try to curtail the Adjournment debate. The pressure is on hon. Members to shut up and sit down.

The Adjournment debate provides an important opportunity. Ordinary Back Benchers believe that Privy Councillors are treated differently and seem to be called in preference to other hon. Members. The Adjournment debate seems free of Privy Councillors. It is a Back-Bench occasion and a much cherished opportunity. There will be much frustration if there is a three-hour limit.

It should not be beyond the wit of a Government who seek to block a topic of embarrassment to put up one or two hon. Members to spin out a debate. At the moment the Adjournment debate is a Back-Bench occasion when matters are discussed at the discretion of the Back Bencher. By virtue of the motion there will be a shift of control towards the Government. It is only a slight and subtle shift, but it is there and must be regretted. There is no need for the motion.

Hon. Members have not yet mentioned Consolidated Fund Bills. Once during a Labour Government, and recently during a Conservative Government, Opposition Back Benchers have taken hold of the Bill, an idea has developed and produced results. This place has many vices, but it has a few virtues. One is that sometimes a group of Back Benchers, not with much foresight—because this is the best gossip place in the world and everything is spread within two hours—can hold the Government to ransom by debating the Consolidated Fund Bill because the Government are off-guard. As a result of that, old people's houses will not be sold off. Bungalows allocated to elderly people are not to be sold off. That was an important victory.

Of course, the Government will not drop their guard again. That opportunity has disappeared. When we get into government, we shall have to guard against such a move. But it is not bad for a Government to have to guard against a possibility of some occurrence in this place, because it makes Governments look to this place and, if this place is supposed to be the centre of accountability, they should be looking to this place. It may be a bit inconvenient for the Government to have to think in terms of a closure at half-past 9 in the morning and to have to get in the troops to carry it, but at least they are looking to this place as the focus of attention and accountability.

That is to be transformed. There is the electric possibility of ideas developing, of some accountability and of perhaps wresting some concession from the Government on what is, after all, one of the very few occasions on which a minority Opposition party can do it. That is to be cast out. All the stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill will be dealt with automatically and completed at nine o'clock the following morning with the occupant of the Chair calling "Order, order", and that will be the end of the debate. It will be so much better ordered, and that possibility of a surprise, which is an important element of accountability, will disappear.

I come finally to the position of the minority Opposition parties. In my view, those who stood as Labour candidates and were elected really cannot claim to have any say in this place unless they are prepared to follow the example of Bruce Douglas-Mann. He changed his view and no longer accepted ideas that he had accepted for many years. He decided to face the electorate and to ask them for their opinion about his changed position. That is entirely reasonable. However, it is entirely unreasonable to form a group by secession and to describe it as a separate political party when its members originally stood as Labour candidates and lived off the back of the Labour Party for many years. Suddenly, they discovered that the Labour Party had changed its mind and that that gave them the pretext for hiving off and forming a separate party.

Mr. Winnick

Is my hon. Friend aware that apparently Bruce Douglas-Mann was not allowed to be a member of the parliamentary party of the SDP because of his intention to fight a by-election and, therefore, he was not given the Whip?

Mr. Cryer

That is entirely commensurate with the position that 1 have outlined.

The minority Opposition parties get opportunities which are provided by the Labour Opposition. That seems to have worked reasonably satisfactorily, and in my view it should continue.

1.53 am
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The core of this argument lies in amendment (a) and the debate about the five Estimates days. We are discussing an attempt to exercise control over Government behaviour and, although there has been a great deal of discussion about scrutiny, that is not the point at issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke eloquently about the importance of debates on the Floor of the House. He is right in one respect in that it is only on the Floor of the House ultimately that effective decisions can be taken. That is as true of finance as it is of legislation.

That is not to say that I undervalue Select Committees. I have a high regard for them. A great many advances can be achieved in Select Committees that cannot possibly, for lack of time and for other reasons, be made in debates across the Floor. But, in the final analysis, if a decision is to be taken, it has to be taken by a vote on the Floor.

The proposition contained in the motion relating to the consideration of Estimates, as modified by amendment (a), is one on which the House should at last be given an opportunity to take some effective decision on expenditure, by being able to say precisely that, on such-and-such a Vote and such-and-such a subhead, it is not prepared to approve £100 million or £500 million but that it must be a figure which the House itself can vote on irrespective of whether the Government want it.

It is the issue of control that is at the heart of the motion relating to the consideration of the Estimates and which is also at the heart of the amendment for five instead of three days. It is obvious that any effective control will be undermined if the House is given a derisory period in which to take its decisions. Therefore, I should argue strongly, with the members of the Select Committee on which I serve, that three days is a derisory time in which to exercise this form of control.

We originally said eight days, which was a sensible proposition. We accepted that in present circumstances it is unlikely that the Government will concede eight days and after mature consideration, and in the light of the debate that we had in February, we agreed that five days would be a reasonable proposition.

There are two aspects to this. First, as has already been pointed out, we shall seek to exercise some control not only over the main Estimates but also over the two sets of supplementary Estimates, the spring and winter, where we may wish to have some of these days allocated. If it so worked out that there were matters on which we wished to vote on the winter supplementaries, the spring and the main Estimates, the three days offered by the Leader of the House would be ludicrously inadequate. For the main Estimates covering £50 billion or £60 billion, we should have only one day on which to vote on certain items in that enormous range of expenditure. That is a ludicrous and unfair proposition to put before the House and it is a bowdlerisation of what the Procedure Committee recommended.

Secondly, it is not a reasonable proposition to put to 14 Select Committees. It has been assumed throughout these debates that decisions on these Estimates days will be taken on the basis of recommendations by Select Committees and that may prove to be the case, but it need not be. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) became lost when looking at the proposition about the business Committee, because that is only there to allocate time. It has no power to determine motions. These will be put down either on the basis of the recommendation of the Select Committee, or by the Opposition. Under these proposals, any group of Back-Bench Members could table a motion on these days saying that such and such an Estimate should be reduced by £100 million and if that proportion were called the Government would have to defend their position and the House could vote on it.

In general, the proposition will be that the basis of the debates on these days will be the result of deliberations by the Select Committees. I put it to the Leader of the House that it is not a reasonable proposition for 14 important Select Committees that such recommendations as they come up on the main Estimate would have to be confined to a debate on one day, assuming that we allow the other tow days for the supplementaries. The proposition for five days, which would give the House one day each for supplementaries and three days for main Estimates is by no means a way out proposition for the amount of time that should be allowed to debate these Estimates and to take decisions on them.

As to whether the Liaison Committee of the specially constituted Estimates Business Committee should do the allocation of time—it will only be allocating time, not selecting the propositions—I am inclined to the view, reinforced by what has been said in the debate, that the Estimates Business Committee, the ad hoc Committee—

Mr. Moate

It seems to me that I was correct in the way that I interpreted the motions. It says: consideration of estimates or reports of the Liason Committee … shall stand as first business". Subsequently, there are the other provisions, whereby the Estimates Business Committee—or the Government motion, which is the Liason Committee—shall put its recommendations as to the allocation of time. That will then become orders. It seems clear, unless I have completely misunderstood it, that selection of the motions will be in the hands of the Liason Committee or the Estimates Business Committee.

Mr. Hooley

I have never heard that the Business Committee had power to select the motions. As I understand it, the Business Committee has always had the power to allocate the time, but surely the selection of motions is in the hands of the Chair—at least, that is my understanding of our procedures. The hon. Member for Faversham has, I think, misinterpreted what we are proposing, and it is a little late now to go into that argument.

Mr. Moate


Mr. Hooley

I am sorry, but I shall not give way again. Perhaps the Leader of the House will clear up the matter for us. My understanding is that the Business Committee will allocate the time, and the selection of motions to be debated will presumably rest, as it always has, with the Chair.

In my view, the Liaison Committee is not the appropriate body. It was not constituted for that purpose, and has never functioned in that way. I am inclined to agree with the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that the special interests of some of the members of the Liaison Committee may militate against an altogether impartial allocation of the time available. I therefore support amendment (c).

I am inclined to think that the Procedure Committee made an error of judgment in proposing one and a half hours for the length of time of the debate on the Adjournment. We did it in good faith, because we were concerned about the sleight of hand whereby an hon. Member who did not come off well in the Consolidated Fund Bill ballot could get his own back by spending 45 minutes on the Adjournment debate. All things considered, and in the light of what has been said in the debate, I believe that the Committee was mistaken and that three hours would be more sensible.

Mr. Roper

The Committee was trying to find a way in which the eight days that it wanted could come from Government time, some from Opposition time and some from Back-Bench time. As we do not have eight days, but five, surely three hours, and not 1½hours, is more appropriate.

Mr. Hooley

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper). I think that my interpretation is correct, and that the Committee was trying to avoid the sleight of hand whereby an hon. Member who failed in the Consolidated Fund ballot got his own back by taking up an hour or so on the Adjournment debate.

On the allocation of Opposition days, I do not see how any formula will satisfy about 10 Opposition minority parties, which is the present number in the House. I am more inclined to the view that the amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, is probably sound.

The core of the debate is the proposal in motion No. 3, as proposed to be amended by amendment (a). This is the important issue: to give the House some control over public expenditure. If we pass that, the rest can be tagged on as a commentary.

2.3 am

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I shall be brief, because I do not intend to go through all the motions on the Order Paper, and in the four interventions that I have made I have covered some of what I wanted to say. In fact, I want only to refer to motions Nos. 6 and 7.

Although my name appears on one of the amendments, and it would appear that I accept the three hours proposal, I do not believe that there should be a time limit on the periodic Adjournments. I note that neither of the two most senior Conservative Members, the right hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), thought that there should be a time limit on the periodic Adjournments, and I hope that Conservative Members will take that on board.

I think that there has been a misconception. Paragraph 87 of the Select Committee report says: The Leader of the House said that he did not think that recess motions were originally designed to be backbench opportunities to talk at length". Frankly, there is no evidence that Back Benchers talk at length on periodic Adjournment motions.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

They cannot get away with it.

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend says that they cannot get away with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) gave some figures that were provided by the Library about the length of time that Adjournment debates have been taking. I also asked the Library to discover how long the debates have been taking and how many hon. Members spoke during those debates. I shall give as an example five periodic Adjournment debates at the tail end of the Labour Government from Christmas 1977 to Christmas 1978. I have had to deduct a reasonable, conservative estimate of half an hour for the then Leader of the House to reply to the debates. We all know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), the Leader of the Opposition, gave full replies to some of those Adjournment debates. By subtracting half an hour from the time limit and one Member from the list I am left with the fact that in the Christmas 1977 Adjournment debate, 22 Members spoke in four hours. In the Easter 1978 adjournment debate, 19 Members spoke in four hours. In the Spring 1978 Adjournment debate 16 Members spoke in two and a half hours. In the Summer 1978 Adjournment debate 18 Members spoke in three hours. At Christmas 1978, 24 Members spoke in four and a half hours.

The average length of a Back-Bench speech was 10.8 minutes. I do not call that speaking at length. It amounts to fewer than 11 minutes for Back Benchers and included in that figure would be the Opposition Front Bench replies. I had not taken account of that and generally speaking those replies would be longer than 11 minutes. We are discussing 11 paltry minutes of the House's time.

I have details of seven recent recess motions under the present Government from Christmas 1980 to Spring 1982. Using the same calculation of deducting half an hour for the Leader of the House to reply and reducing the Members by one, the average length of speech amounts to 11.7 minutes. That is not speaking at length.

It may be that hidden in the averages there will be the exceptionally long speech, but on the other side of the coin there must be some exceptionally short speeches. There will be more than 18 Members speaking in the debates at a time which is usually more convenient to them than an extra Friday would be on Private Members' business. We cannot in all fairness simply swap recess Adjournment debates for an extra Friday on Private Members' business, whether it be motions or Bills, because Fridays are convenient to London Members. Those recess periodic Adjournment debates are not generally hogged by London Members and come at a more convenient time for hon. Members on both sides of the House.

We have been given no details of any abuse. I have not been guilty of such abuse although I have not checked the years of the Labour Government for hon. Members swapping from the Consolidated Fund to the recess debates. That suggestion has been dismissed from both sides of the House. It need not happen if the two issues are not taken on the same day. If that had happened each time there way a periodic Adjournment motion somebody would have produced figures since 10 o'clock to prove it. We have had none. We have had no details of the vast number of occasions when this abuse of procedure is supposed to have been used. It is not, of course, a problem, and, given the length of Back-Bench speeches in the examples I have mentioned, I see no justification for the time limit being imposed.

I shall give another reason why, coupled with the periodic Adjournment motion, I shall vote against the motion on Consolidated Fund Bills. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said that uncertainly in the House is the great weapon not only of the Opposition but of those who are not members of the Government. That includes Government Back Benchers. It has to be said that in this Parliament Government Back Benchers have not used opportunities to raise issues on the floor of the House. I cannot believe that they are all pleased with everything that the Government have done. They have not used the opportunities that are provided. The Government have misinterpreted the recommendations of the Select Committee and are seeking to close some of the avenues of dissent that can be used by Government Back Benchers. They are flying in the face of commitments that appeared in the Conservative election manifesto.

I quoted last week during the debate on the 5 per cent. abatement debate the following sentence: We will see that Parliament and no other body stands at the centre of the nation's life and decisions, and we will seek to make it effective in its job of controlling the Executive. The sentence that preceded that promise was as follows: Second, the traditional role of our legislature has suffered badly from the growth of government over the last quarter of a century. I do not want to inject an unfair note at the end of the debate, but the nation was promised less government from the Government. We have already heard the Government boasting about fewer Bills having been introduced this Session than in any Session in the recent past. However, there has been no corresponding increase in Back Benchers' time. If it is claimed that big Government is to become little Government, we should not have motions, especially those on periodic Adjournments and Consolidated Fund Bills closing up valuable time for Back Benchers, whether they be Privy Councillors or London-based Members.

I hope that even at this late hour the Leader of the House will do himself a favour that will be looked upon kindly by hon. Members and withdraw the periodic Adjournments motion. On the evidence of the past five years there is no justification for controlling the length of Adjournment debates. I hope that the figures that I have given and those presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) have convinced the right hon. Gentleman of the strength of our argument. No one has produced figures that conflict with it.

2.13 am
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

From time to time most of us have lost sight of the fact that very largely we are debating the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure. A committee of Back Benchers has said "This is what we want to see to enable us to assert our rights or, at any rate, to move in that direction". My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who made a very good speech, found himself quoting the Conservative manifesto and talking about the Government and the leadership of the House. The Leader of the House, has responsibility in these matters, but we are debating the decisions of a Back Bench Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, rightly said that the issue is one of parliamentary time. The Leader of the House said correctly that we are trying to arrive at the correct relationship between the time that the Government need for their legislation, the time that the Opposition need to put the party point of view across, and the time that Back Benchers need to put their own special point of view. Trying to get that balance right will lead to variation according to the Government who are in office, the amount of proposed legislation, the Opposition and even the particular Session.

If we are talking about eight Estimates days, let alone the 14 that the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had in mind, we must recognise that they must come from somewhere. They could come entirely from the Opposition, either eight days or 14, entirely from Government time or by taking time from both sources. However, I am certain that which ever party formed the Opposition, whether my right hon. and hon. Friends or Conservative Members, there would be considerable objection if an attempt were made to take time only from them. As for the Government, it is remarkable how, even when they have fewer Bills, they seem to need the legislative time. I make no implications. That is just one of those things that happens in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) asked what the Government had done with the time that they had saved by sending the Finance Bill to Committee. The answer is that they enabled Members of Parliament to go back home earlier than they would have otherwise. That is true of successive Governments. In 1965 the Finance Bill occupied 23 all-night sittings, many of them consecutive—I bear the scars. Time that has been saved in this way has been used for the benefit of Members, because it is true that debates like this, interesting as they are, are not best conducted during the night. Therefore, getting the balance correct is difficult.

Three days is worth a try. We are arguing about the difference between three and five. If we were surveyors, we would have said four and snap. That is the science of valuation. Let us see how it goes. I have a feeling that in the next Session or the one after we shall come to total agreement anyway, so there will not be much difficulty.

The next discussion was about the Liaison Committee versus the Estimates Business Committee. I do not understand what all the fuss is about. The truth is that every chairman of a Select Committee is elected. That is a curious thing called democracy. What is proposed by the Estimates Business Committee is an appointed Committee. I have heard throughout my life that appointed Committees, dictatorships, are always more efficient than democratically chosen people. I still do not believe it. I still believe that it is infinitely better to use the basis of a group of people who can be trusted. I would even trust my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) to be impartial and come to the right decision. That seems to be the best way.

There is a curious thing about the recess motions. The House has said that a debate of one and a half hours is too short, but some hon. Members thought that it was simple to have a time limit. Do they think that it is so simple that we end most of our debates at Ten o'clock? This is an unusual debate. We have suspended the rule. Most debates end at Ten o'clock. Standing Order No. 9 motions—there is one tomorrow—are three-hour debates. Much can be said in three hours. The Government will not attempt to put one speaker on to swamp a three-hour Standing Order No. 9 debate tomorrow. There are the half supply days. Again there is a three hour debate. We do not complain much about that.

Mr. Rooker

With respect, my right hon. Friend has missed the point, which is that these are periods of uncertainty. All the other details that he mentioned are certain and precise. Everyone understands that. It is the dollops of the uncertainty, whether it is the Consolidated Fund or the Adjournment debates, that are useful for democracy in the House. It is the preservation of uncertainty that we are arguing for, not the principle about whether we should limit the time and whether it is the same as for the other debates.

Mr. Silkin

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Exactly that would apply to Standing Order No. 9. Hon. Members are uncertain about whether they will get it. It is uncertain what it will be about and who will speak on it. That is much the same thing.

The feeling that I got from the strongest advocate, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who gave a strong and detailed mathematical account, was that the recess motions were rarely much more than three hours and a few minutes. That was the basis of what I learnt from him.

Mr. Winnick

Why limit the debate to three hours? My argument is that there has been no abuse. The difference between a Standing Order No. 9 debate and a debate on the motion for the Adjournment is that the Standing Order No. 9 debate is on one topic, whereas a number of hon. Members want to use the recess debate to deal with constituency matters. Obviously, if 12 or 13 hon. Members wish to raise such matters, it will be difficult for them all to do so if the debate is limited to three hours.

Mr. Silkin

I doubt whether such a difficulty will arise. In fact, the recess debate is continuous, just like any other. When I have wound up such debates, I have noticed that certain issues stand out. For example, on the last occasion it was nurses' pay. Incidentally, the pay for ancillary health workers will be the theme of tomorrow's Standing Order No. 9 debate, but I have no doubt that constituency aspects will be raised just the same.

I come now to the motion on Opposition days and the disposition of those days. I told the Committee in my evidence that I thought that its idea was too inflexible. The motion tabled by the Leader of the House gives the flexibility that I seek. I was afraid that under the new system, Opposition days would be decided for us. That has not happened, and I am grateful to the Leader of the House for relieving me of that fear.

As to the disposition of days, I hope that I might be able to get rid of one of the difficulties for the minority parties, especially the Liberal Party—the feeling of humiliation that under the terms of the motions relating to Opposition days and questions on amendments the Leader of the Opposition would dictate what matters they should debate. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper).

While I have coped with that difficulty in amendment (g) to the motion on Opposition days, I have not done so in regard to the motion relating to questions on amendments. Therefore, if it is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like at an appropriate stage to move a manuscript amendment to deal with that omission. It is consequential on amendment (g) and states:

"Line 2, leave out from 'from' to 'under' in line 4, and insert: '(2)' to the end of line 11 and inserting 'on the nineteen days at the disposal of the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition allotted'. That puts the two motions on the same footing, and I hope that will be satisfactory.

There is the final question of whether there should be an automatic disposition of days for minority parties.

Mr. Beith

Having regard.

Mr. Silkin

Having regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) scored strongly on that point when he told us exactly how long it would be before the Scottish National Party could be allotted a day. It could, of course, be calculated in minutes, in which case that party could be allocated about 27 minutes each Session. My hon. Friend said that it would be 15 years before it would be allowed a debate.

This is not the right way to proceed. The way we have always done it is the better way. It should be up to the Government or Opposition to allocate to the minority parties. To put it to the Government would put them in a totally false position. It is the Opposition's duty to look after the minority parties.

I notice that the name at the top of the amendment is that of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is sporting of him, because the effect of what he is asking is to give the SDP—only two of whose Members were elected as SDP Members—two and a half times as much Supply time as the Liberal Party. I cannot believe that that is what he intended, and it is not what I would intend or recommend my hon. Friends to support.

Mr. Moate

It has been said that there are, theoretically, ten Opposition parties. If the amendment were to be accepted, would not that at the very least cause some delay and mechanical difficulties in contacting each party?

Mr. Silkin

It would, but let us not confuse Supply days with speeches in the House. On Supply days or on a day such as today, on the Naval Estimates, both parts of the Alliance have front-bench speakers. That has happened even in a three-hour debate. They cannot complain about the time that they have for speeches in debates and in Questions.

2.26 am
Mr. Biffen

The debate has lasted for more than four hours and it has proceeded on two levels. There has been the feeling that this is an occasion of "major constitutional change"—I quote the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins)—yet often the debates have dealt with only modest matters. There is nothing paradoxical about that because, although the measures that are before the House are modest, if they are passed this evening nothing will be the same again. An important Rubicon will have been crossed and from now on we shall tend to build upon the decisions that will be taken in a few moments.

I hold that view notwithstanding the well-argued scepticism of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and my hon. Friend for Faversham (Mr. Moate). I shall give a sketchy outline of the questions contained in my hon. Friend's speech about Estimates days. There is no question of those days being devoted to debates on Select Committee reports. The Liaison Committee will recommend Estimates for debate in the light of views expressed by the Select Committees, and the motions selected will be debatable. My hon. Friend raised many other points, some of which I cannot comment upon for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—that they anticipate the work that lies ahead of the Committee. However, I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Perhaps the major topic in the debate has been the number of Estimates days—whether there should be three, as proposed in the motion in my name, or five, as in the motion presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing. Experience must teach us in that matter. I was grateful for such support as was given to the proposal of three days. My ears are not ringing with commendation of that point of view. It is not a starting level for the new procedure that is below an acceptable minimum.

There has been an active debate about the respective virtues of the Estimates Business Committee and the Liaison Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said that the virtues of the respective bodies were sufficiently evenly matched and that it was not a matter of great importance. The most powerful argument against the use of the Liaison Committee was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton. He feared that the sheer numbers involved would make the Committee unweildy.

Against that I quote as authority some members of the Committee, with some delicacy I trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) said—it is a good, sound, crude prejudice that I entirely share—that there are too many Committees in the House. On that basis, I am prepared to see how we go, using the services of the Liaison Committee.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) returned to his anxiety about votes being taken at Ten o'clock. I noted the anxiety, but it is not the major one under discussion. We do not have an embryonic repeat of the Crossman experiment.

Mr. English

I accept that many of those points are small and technical and that the number of days is probably more important. Nevertheless, it seems wrong that the Government should propose in successive speeches that they will put two Standing Orders before the House under both of which they will be required to advance two sets of motions at ten o'clock. When one knows that one has created a nonsense, why do it?

Mr. Biffen

I am not entirely convinced that we are creating a nonsense. If we are, we shall have the wit to learn by our mistakes, exactly as was the case in the Crossman plans.

I turn to what has been the most emotionally charged aspect of the debate—the proposal to adjust the recess Adjournment debates, initially to one-and-a-half hours, as I originally proposed, subsequently to three hours as was proposed by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin).

I have much native sympathy with the arguments that were advanced by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), especially the desire to introduce some parliamentary uncertainty into our lives—anyone with an instinct for laissez-faire likes an unplanned existence, even an unplanned existence in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, there is something unreal in supposing that there was not inherently all the disciplines that come with the closure in dealing with both the recess Adjournment debate and the debate that arises from the Consolidated Fund Bill. The proposed time that is available to Back Benchers is no less than that which is now available. I hope that that is a development which, in the light of the recommendations, the House will feel disposed to endorse.

That brings me to one of the matters that has evoked sharp controversy—the allocation of Opposition days. We have tried in the motions to reproduce as far as possible the circumstances that existed before the changes. The manuscript amendment that was moved by the right hon. Member for Deptford deals with the problem of the Leader of the Opposition having a say in the choice of topic for a Supply day that had been allocated to a smaller party.

I think that we have attained that objective, but I cannot recommend that we go beyond that and take a decision on the allocation of time as between various Opposition parties. I say that particularly in the context of the present Parliament in which the largest minor Opposition party is there by right of secession rather than by right of election, far outstripping the second largest of the minor Opposition parties. I refer, of course, to the Social Democrats relative to the Liberals.

These are matters of real importance for the House to decide. To write such a formula for the allocation of time into our Standing Orders when one smaller Opposition party is there largely by secession and one is there entirely by election—

Mr. Beith


Mr. Biffen

—would be to make a judgment when it is quite unnecessary and should be a matter for the decisions of a future Parliament.

Mr. Beith


Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 64, Noes 106.

Division No. 280] [2.35 am
Alton, David Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Beith, A. J. Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Bray, Dr Jeremy McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Maclennan, Robert
Budgen, Nick McNally, Thomas
Campbell-Savours, Dale McNamara, Kevin
Cartwright, John McWilliam, John
Cook, Robin F. Magee, Bryan
Crawshaw, Richard Ogden, Eric
Cryer, Bob Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Penhaligon, David
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Pitt, William Henry
Dobson, Frank Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Dubs, Alfred Price, C. (Lewisham W)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Eggar, Tim Rooker, J. W.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Roper, John
Emery, Sir Peter Sandelson, Neville
English, Michael Sheerman, Barry
Evans, John (Newton) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Freud, Clement Short, Mrs Renée
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Skinner, Dennis
Grant, John (Islington C) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Spearing, Nigel
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Steel, Rt Hon David
Horam, John Stoddart, David
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
(Hillhead) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Wainwright, R.(Colne V) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Wellbeloved, James
Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop and
Woolmer, Kenneth Mr. Frank Hooley.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Major, John
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Mather, Carol
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Mellor, David
Berry, Hon Anthony Moate, Roger
Best, Keith Moore, John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Blaker, Peter Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Myles, David
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Neale, Gerrard
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Nelson, Anthony
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Neubert, Michael
Brooke, Hon Peter Onslow, Cranley
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Osborn, John
Bruce-Gardyne, John Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Buck, Antony Patten, John (Oxford)
Butcher, John Pattie, Geoffrey
Cadbury, Jocelyn Pawsey, James
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Percival, Sir Ian
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Pollock, Alexander
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Chapman, Sydney Rathbone, Tim
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Rhodes James, Robert
Cope, John Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Rossi, Hugh
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Eyre, Reginald Scott, Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Forman, Nigel Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Sims, Roger
Golding, John Stanley, John
Goodlad, Alastair Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Gow, Ian Stradling Thomas, J.
Gray, Hamish Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Thompson, Donald
Hampson, Dr Keith Thornton, Malcolm
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hayhoe, Barney Trippier, David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Viggers, Peter
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Waddington, David
Hunt, David (Wirral) Wakeham, John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Waldegrave, Hon William
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Warren, Kenneth
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Wells, Bowen
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Wheeler, John
King, Rt Hon Tom Wickenden, Keith
Lamont, Norman Wiggin, Jerry
Lang, Ian Wilkinson, John
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Young, Sir George (Acton)
Lee, John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Tellers for the Noes:
Macfarlane, Neil Mr. Selwyn Glimmer and
MacGregor, John Mr. Archie Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. In accordance with the Business of the House motion passed earlier this afternoon, I shall now put the motions one by one, together with the respective amendments.

Amendment proposed, (b) in line 9, leave out from 'concluded' to end of line 12.—[Mr. Higgins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 61, Noes 109.

Division No. 281] [2.45 am
Alton, David Magee, Bryan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Moate, Roger
Beith, A. J. Myles, David
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Ogden, Eric
Bray, Dr Jeremy Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Penhaligon, David
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Pitt, William Henry
Budgen, Nick Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Cartwright, John Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Crawshaw, Richard Rooker, J. W.
Cryer, Bob Roper, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Sandelson, Neville
Dobson, Frank Sheerman, Barry
Dubs, Alfred Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Short, Mrs Renée
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Skinner, Dennis
English, Michael Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Evans, John (Newton) Spearing, Nigel
Freud, Clement Steel, Rt Hon David
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Stoddart, David
Grant, John (Islington C) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Wainwright, R. (Colne V)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Wellbeloved, James
Horam, John Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillhead)
Winnick, David
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Woolmer, Kenneth
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Wrigglesworth, Ian
McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Maclennan, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
McNally, Thomas Mr. Frank Hooley and
McNamara, Kevin Sir Peter Emery.
McWilliam, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Berry, Hon Anthony Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Best, Keith Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Biffen, Rt Hon John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Blaker, Peter Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Boscawen, Hon Robert King, Rt Hon Tom
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Lamont, Norman
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Lang, Ian
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Brooke, Hon Peter Lee, John
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Bruce-Gardyne, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Buck, Antony Macfarlane, Neil
Butcher, John MacGregor, John
Cadbury, Jocelyn Major, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Mather, Carol
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Chapman, Sydney Mellor, David
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Moore, John
Cope, John Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Neale, Gerrard
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Nelson, Anthony
Eggar, Tim Neubert, Michael
Eyre, Reginald Onslow, Cranley
Finsberg, Geoffrey Osborn, John
Forman, Nigel Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Patten, John (Oxford)
Golding, John Pattie, Geoffrey
Goodlad, Alastair Pawsey, James
Gow, Ian Percival, Sir Ian
Gray, Hamish Pollock, Alexander
Gummer, John Selwyn Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hamilton, Hon A. Rathbone, Tim
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Rhodes James, Robert
Hampson, Dr Keith Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Rossi, Hugh
Hayhoe, Barney Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Scott, Nicholas Waddington, David
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wakeham, John
Shelton, William {Streatham) Waldegrave, Hon William
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Warren, Kenneth
Sims, Roger Watson, John
Stanley, John Wells, Bowen
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Wheeler, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Wickenden, Keith
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wiggin, Jerry
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Donald Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thornton, Malcolm
Townend, John (Bridlington) Tellers for the Noes:
Trippier, David Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Mr. David Hunt.
Viggers, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: (c) in line 12, at end insert— '(2A) There shall be a committee, to be called the Estimates Business Committee, consisting of eight Members nominated by the Committee of Selection in accordance with Standing Order No. 86D (Motions for nominations). The quorum of the committee shall be four. The committee shall report their recommendations as to the allocation of time for consideration by the House of the estimates on any day allotted for that purpose; and upon a motion being made for the consideration of such report the question shall be put forthwith "That this House agrees with the Report of the Committee" and if that question is agreed to, the recommendations shall have effect as if they were orders of the House. Proceedings in pursuance of this paragraph, though opposed, may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business.'.—[Mr. Higgins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 48, Noes 110.

Division No. 282] [2.56 am
Alton, David McNamara, Kevin
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Magee, Bryan
Beith, A. J. Ogden, Eric
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Osborn, John
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Budgen, Nick Penhaligon, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Pitt, William Henry
Cartwright, John Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Crawshaw, Richard Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Cryer, Bob Roper, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Sandelson, Neville
Dobson, Frank Sheerman, Barry
Dubs, Alfred Skinner, Dennis
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Emery, Sir Peter Spearing, Nigel
English, Michael Steel, Rt Hon David
Freud, Clement Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Golding, John Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Grant, John (Islington C) Wellbeloved, James
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Cr'sby)
Horam, John Woolmer, Kenneth
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Tellers for the Ayes:
Maclennan, Robert Mr. Frank Hooley and
McNally, Thomas Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brooke, Hon Peter
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Buck, Antony
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Butcher, John
Berry, Hon Anthony Cadbury, Jocelyn
Best, Keith Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chalker, Mrs. Lynda
Blaker, Peter Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Boscawen, Hon Robert Chapman, Sydney
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Cope, John
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Nelson, Anthony
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Neubert, Michael
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Onslow, Cranley
Eggar, Tim Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Eyre, Reginald Patten, John (Oxford)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Pattie, Geoffrey
Forman, Nigel Pawsey, James
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Percival, Sir Ian
Goodlad, Alastair Pollock, Alexander
Gow, Ian Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Gray, Hamish Rathbone, Tim
Gummer, John Selwyn Rhodes James, Robert
Hamilton, Hon A. Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Rossi, Hugh
Hampson, Dr Keith Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Scott, Nicholas
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hayhoe, Barney Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Silkin, Rt Hon J, (Deptford)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Sims, Roger
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Stanley, John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Stradling Thomas, J.
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
King, Rt Hon Tom Thompson, Donald
Lamont, Norman Thornton, Malcolm
Lang, Ian Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Trippier, David
Lee, John Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Viggers, Peter
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Waddington, David
Macfarlane, Neil Wakeham, John
MacGregor, John Waldegrave, Hon William
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Warren, Kenneth
Major, John Wells, Bowen
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Wheeler, John
Mather, Carol Wickenden, Keith
Mellor, David Wiggin, Jerry
Moate, Roger Wilkinson, John
Moore, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Tellers for the Noes:
Myles, David Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Neale, Gerrard Mr. David Hunt.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That, from the beginning of next Session, Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply) shall be repealed and the following Standing Order be made:

  1. (1) Three days, other than Fridays, before 5th August shall be allotted in each session for the consideration of estimates.
  2. (2) On any such day—
    1. (a) consideration of estimates or reports of the Liaison Committee relating thereto shall stand as first business;
    2. (b) other business may be taken before 10 o'clock only if the consideration of estimates has been concluded; and
    3. (c) questions necessary to dispose of proceedings (other than dilatory motion) on the estimates appointed for consideration under paragraph (1A) of Standing Order No. 86E (Liaison Committee) shall be deferred until ten o'clock.