HL Deb 24 April 1968 vol 291 cc664-733

4.10 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps I may now return your Lordships' attention to the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, moved, in a very interesting speech. We are all very grateful to him for giving us this opportunity to debate the subject again and stimulating me to try to give some coherence and system to my own thoughts on the subject. As he pointed out, it is four years since I introduced a similar debate in your Lordships' House, and he wondered whether my own views were the same now as at that time. I think I can honestly tell him that they are very much the same. Certainly I now have the advantage, which I had not then but which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had, of experience of ministerial office and the knowledge of how the system works from within the Government. As I say, the views I then formed have not substantially changed.

Having said that, I should add that there is a certain amount of progress to report since those days; and I think it is in any case very desirable that we should look very thoroughly at a question which is of such profound importance. That is why I share the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that my noble friend Lord Aylestone is to make his maiden speech in this debate and that other distinguished noble Lords with a great deal of experience in Civil Service and Government, and elsewhere, are also to speak.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, raised a number of fascinating issues, and I felt that he concentrated his speech perhaps too much on the power of Ministers, and particularly the Prime Minister, and the power of Parliament—though it may be that I missed the balance which I know he had attempted to get into his speech. But I am quite sure—and I think this point was clearly made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition—that it is impossible to get a proper understanding of all the current discussion on the structure of our institutions if we do limit the discussion. Every time we look at this subject we have, I am afraid, to look at the totality of Government and Parliament and, indeed, to some extent the structure of society.

Discussion on the role of the Prime Minister is, of course, one of the most fascinating topics of all, but it is one that I fear it would not be appropriate for me to go into to-day. When I was in Opposition I read the admirable essays (and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to them) on the functions of the Prime Minister—a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, also alluded. I feel that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says, it is very much what the Prime Minister of the day himself makes of his office. But this is, of course, only part of the questioning of many of our institutions which has been a feature since—I was going to say particularly in the 1960s, but of course it has been going on for a much longer time than that. Indeed, I have never known in my lifetime a period when there has not been a large measure of disillusionment with the Government of the day. I fully take the point made by the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, that this disillusionment is linked to a large extent with the popularity of the Government. But, remembering the unpopularity—and the justifiable unpopularity—of pre-war Governments, the noble Lord may feel that the present Government are justifiably unpopular. However, I do not think this is the whole of the story. We have to look at the fundamentals; to consider, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, did, the Party machines and the Whips and the bureaucracy, on all of which we had hints from the noble Lord.

I hope we shall all agree that there is no subject in regard to which there is a greater degree of myth than there is about Parliament; or, indeed, more controversy as to its real nature. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the tribute he paid to Mr. Crossman, because Mr. Crossman has not only helped to interpret Parliament and expose some of the myths, but has himself made a very firm contribution, and certainly so far a not unsuccessful one, to improving Parliamentary methods. Bagehot, to whom we always turn, and to whom Dick Crossman also referred, said of Parliament: The efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and legislative powers". This is one of those splendid sentences which contains a large element of truth but which is yet not wholly true. The relationship is a much more complex one. Another phrase that has been used is that the relationship between Executive and Legislature is a symbiotic one. Again I do not believe that is wholly true; but as the nature of one changes, so does the nature of the other.

In the eighteenth century the work of Parliament was largely in the spheres of revenue and foreign policy; and so equally was the structure of government, and a high proportion of the Civil Service were revenue collectors. It was not until the early nineteenth century that the nature and content of Public Bills began to change. Indeed, if your Lordships look at the Statutes of two hundred years ago and compare them with the number of Statutes that Parliaments and Governments churn out to-day you will immediately see the difference. Parliament became more concerned with an ever-increasing number of Bills in the field of social legislation—the Poor Laws, factories, public health and so on—and Civil Service reform became an essential parallel development; and in this continuing process of parallel change and development the role of the politician was, and in my view still is, crucial

I should like at this point to enter a defence of the politician. Professional politicians to-day, and indeed those of us in your Lordships' House who do not give our full time to politics, are still the core of our democratic system; and it must remain, in my view, in the last resort, the responsibility of the man who practises politics to bring about the adaptation of our institutions, however much he may be helped by Bernard Crick or Max Beloff, or any of the other admirable sociologists. Incidentally, I sometimes think that they would be even more admirable if they had served in Parliament. As the late Hugh Gaitskell said, in his lecture, "In defence of Politics", at Birkbeck College in 1954 (and I would commend this to any of your Lordships who have not read it), the essential feature of our Party system is the loyalty which members owe to each other. There is at times a hollow ring to this phrase. None the less, this is not only fundamental to our Party system; it is also fundamental to our community. The role of the politician, therefore, does need defending, because it calls for redefinition. But loyalty to collective decisions once taken remains at the heart of our institutions, whether in Party or in Government. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, would have made me a great deal more nervous had I thought that his interesting theories, which were an admirable measure against which to judge our present position, were likely to come into effect.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for just one second, among the authorities whom I consulted I mentioned my distinguished friend and colleague Mr. Jo Grimond, who is a Member of Parliament. Yet another M.P. was mentioned. Thus there are Members of Parliament themselves who have been interested in this matter.


My Lords, certainly. I refer particularly to certain academic sociologists at that moment. There are certainly Members of Parliament who have written on this matter. My friend Mr. Crossman is one. But as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made clear, Government is not just Central Government. I agree with him, and it is unfortunate so far as I am concerned that in his speech he covered some of the ground that I was about to cover.

We now have a wide-ranging review of the structure of local government. We have already had the Report of the Mallaby Committee, on the staffing of local government and the Maud Committee on the management of local government. The Seebohm Committee on the personal social services in local government and, of course, the main Maud and Wheatley Royal Commissions on the organisation of local government for England and Wales and for Scotland have yet to appear. It seems almost certain that this series of reviews portends a major restructuring of local government in Britain. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health has initiated a review of the structure of the National Health Service. All these are really fundamental to the problems of the structure of government. Then, of course, we await the Fulton Committee Report, and the Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the question of devolution, both legislative and executive, from Westminster. This is a most fundamental question, and I think there is one thing on which there is a measure of general consensus, that devolution in some form or another is highly desirable. But, again, it would not be possible for me to refer to that because we must wait and see the proposals. I think we all have our ideas; indeed, we have studied the views of the Liberal Party, and we wait to see what other views may come about. There is, of course, again in the field of reform, the question of the reform of your Lordships' House. I shall have only one or two remarks to make about that in the course of my speech.

I think all this adds up to a more extensive questioning of the purpose, structure and organisation of our institutions than has been undertaken for a long time—probably since the Gladstonian reforms of the third quarter of the last century. And all this soul-searching has been taking place against a background of great changes in the political, economic and social position, and against the structure of our country. We are still much engaged in a painful adjustment to a new political and economic role in the world. We are facing the fact that it is no longer possible for us to behave as a World Power.

There is obviously a link between the change in our position in the world and this broad questioning of our institutions. There are other difficult political and social adjustments at work in our society. There are certain obvious ones that are in front of Parliament now, or are coming in front of Parliament. There is the question of an incomes policy, which really represents a major development in the role of Government, with its demand lot a change in attitude from trade unions, employers and individuals. Then, of course, there are the problems of race relations, which are putting a great strain not merely on our society but on Government and Parliament to think clearly through these difficulties and to face the strains and deal with them.

Even more so, there is the issue of the ever-increasing dangers in a modern civilisation to our own environment. This has been a theme on which there has been informed Parliamentary discussion ever since the 19th century. While many of the horrors of the 19th century are being mitigated or have been mitigated, such as the worst of the slums, a great many of the consequences of our own unwise interference with our environment still continue, and we are continually creating new hazards and threats of a different kind. It is perhaps unfortunate that the understanding of the environmental factors in our society and the ecological background is still too weak. Again, I do not need to go far to find examples, whether it is noise or industrial pollution or oil pollution or radioactivity or pesticides—all these are hidden threats to man, and indeed to man's freedom. It is ironic that only by increased control can we preserve our freedom from grosser and reckless interference caused by our own unconscious acts. This classically is an area of concern to Parliament. This is an area where Parliamentary vigilance and pressure on the Executive must increase rather than diminish.

Of course, there is the great impact of scientific developments on the methods of government. Indeed, what has happened so far is certainly only a beginning compared with what is to come in the next thirty years. We have already seen, both in Europe and in America, considerable resources being spent on forecasting studies, what the Americans call "the knowledge industry". This represents a vast extension of applied sciences to cope with the problems of planning public services in a society which has developed elaborate machinery for collecting and processing the information available on many of our habits, consumption and so on. This again involves the use of new techniques. Then again there are examples of operational research systems and analyses. It may interest your Lordships to know that, even in the consideration of the reform of the House of Lords, we have had to employ mathematical models on possible composition The essence of these techniques is the evaluation of alternatives and improvement of the basis of choice between them. Then again, the creation of larger Government Departments with functional groupings of responsibilities, such as those held by the Minister of Technology, has made the business of evaluating the competing claims of different projects much easier to effect.

To sumrnarise my argument so far, I would agree that the criticism of our parliamentary institutions represents an important self-questioning at a time when we, as a nation, are faced with great problems of adjustment to change. I believe that we are capable of responding to this. The politician has to define his role. But it would be a mistake to believe—I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was not going so far as to attack the Party system—that the loyalties which provide the cement of the Party system will no longer be required. Those who advocate government by coalition are really running away from the spirit of our institutions.

There may be some danger through all this self-questioning that there is a loss of self-confidence, both a loss of confidence in ourselves, as a nation and a loss of confidence among Members of Parliament and central and local government officials. We should be quite wrong to lose our nerve on this matter. Indeed, we should note with some satisfaction the extent to which some progress has been made, particularly in the field of adaptation. Lord Gladwyn's speech leaned rather heavily—although he did not go so far as actively to support them—upon models of institutions in countries overseas. I do not like the idea of a system of choosing Prime Ministers which is rather comparable to that under the Fourth Republic. I do not believe that that is a solution which would commend itself to this country or would lead to progress. Indeed, I fear that it would lead to much more instability and a loss of ability to progress.

There has been discussion of the system in the United States and mention was made of the difference in the American system as to separation of powers, and so on. But the important point to make is that under our system in contrast to the American system, the Government cannot survive unless it has the confidence of the majority in the Commons. Indeed, the House of Commons' Committees are themselves a microcosm of the whole House and reflect the Government majority, and to that extent they reflect in large measure the Government view. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, pointed to the unsatisfactory situation in which the United States Government found themselves in regard to tax increases. Therefore we should be unwise to embark too rapidly on moving into another form of government, even if it were remotely possible, until we had examined how far we were capable of adapting our own system.

The nineteenth century system of Select Committees which existed in this country was evolved to meet needs which are now largely dealt with by the Civil Service. But, broadly speaking, despite the early reforms initiated by Lord Shelburne and Pitt, which were followed up later in both Houses, the Civil Service remained an eighteenth century structure, adequate for the demands of the eighteenth century but not adequate for the demands of the nineteenth century. It was to meet those new demands that the reforms of the Civil Service, started by the East India Company and reaching full expression in the Northcote/Trevelyan Reports, became necessary and were achieved. With the achievement of Civil Service reform, Parliament had, by its own insistence on such reform, changed its own functions—indeed, it lost certain of its functions. As the Civil Service grew and became more professional, it became more capable of inquiring itself into the wide-ranging and complicated matters which had at first been handled in Parliamentary Committees. As your Lordships know, Select Committees of Parliament are now often more concerned with the performance of the functions of the Civil Service and less with originating policy or, indeed, with the matters which they have handed over to that Service.

Noble Lords have deplored the strength of Party discipline, but those who study the history of Parliament will know that it is wrong to forget that Party government is not a thing of this century or the latter part of the last century. It extends from the 17th century, and the liberty which we now enjoy in this House (which on occasion the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, may or may not regret, and in regard to which my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms also has difficulties) is a far cry from the tight Party political control exercised by the Duke of Wellington, a very under-estimated politician, when there was a system of "pairing". The letters from the Duke to his Chief Whip, Lord Redesdale, show the scrupulous attention paid to Party organisation by the Duke of Wellington, who was a very great organiser. To that extent, Party organisation, Party whipping or Party control are not particular features of to-day. I still remember, as I am sure do other noble Lords, the complaints before the war about the Conservative Chief Whip in the Commons, as to the extent to which he ruled with a rod of iron. The same complaints were being made a hundred years ago, so it is well to recognise that this is not something new.

Select Committees, which were demanded by the interest in social legislation, hit their highest peak between 1830 and 1860, which was a very fruitful period for legislation. It was also a time of unprecedented freedom for Back-Bench Members in another place. There was a political fluidity which is well illustrated in the political novels of Trollope, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has referred. That was a situation which some people hold to be the golden age in the House of Commons, but it was a situation which in some ways was comparable to the last years of the previous French Republic, when the tenure of Government was uncertain, often brief, and not necessarily dependent upon the electorate, but more upon the vagaries of individual Members of Parliament as they grouped and regrouped themselves about their political stars. It is backwards towards this freedom that I feel Lord Gladwyn's proposals are tending. For myself, I cannot say that history has shown that the instability resulting from that freedom produced particularly good results.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that we ought not to confuse dissatisfaction with our institutions with dissatisfaction which really should be aimed at our leaders. I agree that that is a very important distinction to make. What is interesting is that dissatisfaction with the structure of the Legislature, and especially of the Commons, seems to have come in recent years more from the denizens of the House of Commons, from the legislators themselves, than from the electors. Indeed, the dissatisfaction expressed by Members of the Commons is now reflected even more strongly among the electors. One of the reasons for this is that more and more of our legislators have come to devote more of their time to political work, and there has grown up a demand for greater participation in government and in the formation of policy. I also believe that standards in the House of Commons among Members of Parliament—and I hope that it is not a breach of our normal practice to say this—have been steadily rising. I believe that we have as high a quality of Members of Parliament as we have had in the past, and possibly even higher.

How, then, do we strike the balance between enabling the great ability which rests in Parliament to be properly used, and at the same time enabling Government both to continue and at the same time to be brought under criticism? I think that our main role must be to strengthen the critical role of Parliament and to enable it to exercise its role under modern conditions. If I may use this rather horrid modern jargon, which often helps to make one's meaning clear, we have to look at Parliament both at its macro and at its micro level, in its broad sweep of responsibilities and in its detailed activities. It is a place for a broad discussion of the major issues of the day—such a discussion as we are now having, or such issues as our presence East of Suez, our economic strategy, incomes policy, race relations, and so on. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that in certain matters, particularly Defence, our practice of secrecy—from which he was well aware his Government suffered, and from which I am well aware my Government have suffered in regard to defence matters—make it exceedingly difficult to have really well-informed discussions on issues of defence and foreign policy.

It is not for me to-day to say what the solution would be. I think that both Lord Carrington and myself, who have wrestled with this in our time in the Ministry of Defence, made some progress. I remember that we succeeded in giving some information on the number of American aircraft which we had ordered, even if some of them were subsequently cancelled. But those instances were really very small in comparison to the need for greater information. This is part of the great debates which we have and which the Commons have on Supply Days.

At the other end of the scale, Parliament is also engaged in detailed matters. This is, so to speak, the Ombudsman role, recently strengthened by the establishment of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I remember that in our debate four years ago I expressed regret that the previous Government had decided not to proceed further with the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner. But the Parliamentary Commissioner is now part of our national scene, and that enables the individual Members to bring home to Ministers the effects on the individual of their policies. This I believe any ex-Minister or Minister will regard as one of the most important roles of Parliament. Every one of us who has sat in office, and has been confronted by individual cases, will realise just how important the channel of the Member of Parliament has been in regard to the righting of individual wrongs, and we ought not to forget that this is one of the most valuable parts of our system.

Having said all that, I think Parliament must be wary of trying too hard to participate in the day-to-day detail of policy formation in Government—although there are, of course, exceptions. If Parliament seeks to get back its old role, the role that was exercised by Select Committees before the creation of the Civil Service, there is a real danger that it may slow up the processes of government and divert energy and attention from its own proper critical role. This is not an easy line to draw, but I believe that, if we do not try to draw it, both Parliament and Government will suffer in the long run, and possibly it will be Parliament that will suffer the more.

In tackling the definition of a politician's role in the new situation, we should also remember that Parliament in the past has itself been an oppressor just as much as a defender of the liberty of the subject. Therefore a great deal depends on the good sense and wisdom of the professional—the man or woman in Parliament—who knows what he is actually doing. We operate here under Parliamentary privilege; and, while that is invaluable for giving a great deal of information, it can also be used to damage—perhaps not deliberately, but none the less effectively—the reputations of defenceless people.

I believe that since our last debate a few years ago we have made some real progress, both in terms of procedural reform inside Parliament and in improved management techniques in the Civil Service. Mr. Crossman has shown us both the principles and the application of those principles in a way which I think we should follow. In his speech in December, 1966 (and I commend this to any of your Lordships who have not read it), in which he outlined the procedural reforms, he advocated a systematic beginning to the business of bringing huge tracts of the public sector into the system of scrutiny provided by specialist committees. These reforms represented real advances.

If I may at this point say one word about the reform of the House of Lords, in my personal opinion to-day the case for the reform of the House of Lords rests not solely on ancient political arguments, the question of the in-built Conservative majority, but on the need to strengthen Parliament in its role as a "watchdog" on the Executive. I have mentioned some of the reforms which have come about in the House of Commons, but a strengthened and more effective House of Lords, though preserving all its best qualities, could, I believe, provide a powerful aid to the House of Commons, particularly in the scrutinising and "watchdog" Committees. It is not for me to say whether agreement will come about, but in my view it is not possible to discuss the role of Parliament without mentioning the role that your Lordships' House can play with, I believe, even greater effect in the future.

In the other reforms in another place, we have seen the value of taking the Finance Bill upstairs and of providing for Second Readings in Committee. Outside Parliament, the Civil Service is under scrutiny and it has shown itself very competent to deal with many things. But we shall begin to see the benefits of the increased training not only for the new entrant, but also for the experienced administrator. Some people have advocated that we should replace our system of staffing the offices of Ministers with one like the French ministerial "Cabinet" system. Indeed, I mentioned this in the last debate, before the days when I knew the value of the "private office" network, which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will know about. It is a fact that the "private office" network is one of the most valuable institutions in Whitehall. It smoothes the process of administration and produces the type of smooth-running communication at a horizontal level in Whitehall which would not be possible were there not a unified Civil Service. Although there may be further improvements which could be made, it would be foolish not to acknowledge the enormous advantages of this aspect of the system.

There are many other questions which we could talk about. There is the problem of mobility of personnel between Government, industry and the universities. There are the relations between Government and industry. But I would conclude by saying that, while I am personally very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate. I do not believe we should be right to undertake the particular changes in the relationship between Parliament and Government which he has suggested—changes which in my view appear to be more radical in theory than they would in fact prove in practice. They would to some extent be a return to the less satisfactory system of the past, and would add to the confusion and uncertainty which none of us wishes to extend. There is plenty of room for reform of our institutions, and I believe that the present Government—and again I say this in no Party way, because I think it is very much the personal achievement of the Lord President of the Council—have been second to none in tackling this task. I suggest that we follow his line; that we move systematically in the redefinition of the role of the politician.

We should remember, my Lords, that the spirit of our institutions rests on the need for Government and Parliament to work together. We cannot ask Parliament to run the Government. As the Lord President has reminded us, the making and unmaking of Ministries to-day lies largely in the hands of the electorate. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, whether he thinks that is wrong, or whether he would prefer to strengthen the position of Members of Parliament, but at the expense of those who elect them.


My Lords, I should prefer the latter proposal, that we should in principle strengthen the hands of Parliament rather than the electorate.


My Lords, that would perhaps produce a rather more indirect form of democracy. If we went back and looked at how it worked in the 1860s, we should find a less responsible form of Government and one less responsive to the electorate, and I ask the noble Lord to consider this very carefully. I shall not go more fully into the arguments about what is the role of the electorate; I would only say that if we adopted the system which the noble Lord has proposed it would in fact be less responsive to the electorate. I would also ask him to read Hugh Gaitskell's In Defence of Politics, where he will find a powerful argument for our present system. Indeed, I would say that a Prime Minister would be at enormous risk under the system the noble Lord has advocated. The idea that if his principal political colleagues are not in the Government means that there would be no jealousy between them and that there would be less threat to his survival, seems to me to represent such a degree of optimism as would certainly prevent me from believing it.

It is an essential feature of our system that Government depends on Parliament. In particular, it depends on the Commons, as it has for centuries, for money; and its need to control Parliament still flows from this. Governments have to pass a Finance Bill and a Vote on Account. It is the organisation necessary to secure this which forms the basis of our Party system. This great period of self-questioning through which we are passing should not lead us to forget the heart of the matter. We need politicians, and we ought not to be ashamed of calling ourselves politicians. We should be prepared, with others, to extend professional skills to scrutinise the Executive. This is Parliament's most vital role; and the challenge of our time is that this scrutiny must now cover wider and wider areas of policy, and be more effective than it is. If we can equip ourselves for this task with sufficient good sense to recognise the boundaries between the role of Parliament and the role of the Executive, I believe that we shall overcome the present mood of doubt which I have described.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debase. He has introduced a vast subject— a subject which would not be exhausted if we all made speeches of an hour's duration for the remainder of the week. As the noble Lord has rightly said, it is a subject which is perhaps not discussed frequently enough in this House or in another place; and it is a subject in which I have been interested for a very long time. I am particularly grateful to him on this occasion, because it enables me to make a maiden speech on a non-Party political subject, for which I now crave the indulgence of the House.

My Lords, I am grateful to and should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Shackleton, for the kind remarks they made about me. In the television world, these remarks would be known as a "trailer". It is the sort of comment that is often made before the main programme with a view to "selling" that programme. It often fails to succeed. I hope that on this occasion that may not be the experience. To find oneself translated, as I have done, from a seat in the Cabinet to the chairmanship of a public authority and on to the Cross-Benches takes a little time to get used to. Your Lordships will appreciate that to move from an active life in Party politics to a non-Party approach and absolute impartiality also takes a little getting used to; but, of course, I accept it as right and proper. There could be no other way. The chairman of a public authority controlling a medium of information such as Independent Television must not only be impartial but must be seen to be impartial. This is how things have grown up since the days when "steam radio" first started in this country.

In this debate perhaps I may remind noble Lords of something about which I am sure they hardly need reminding, that is, that despite the mass of literature which has been written through the ages about our procedures and our Constitution, there is in fact no written Constitution. In thinking of this, I always remember that although there is no written Constitution, and although perhaps, like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin "it just growed", ours is the system on which most other democratic countries have based their own Constitutions. That is proof to us, at least, that it works. I do not think one should assume that because we have proceeded in that way through the ages—by, as it were, bits and pieces—there is anything wrong with it. However, I have felt for a very long lime that there is a case to be made out for an inquiry into the structure of government and its relation to Parliament. But it requires something more than the periodic "Mr. Speaker's Conference". Members of Parliament, as members of such Conferences, do a very good job in looking at electoral reform and Parliamentary procedure, but if we are going to look at the wider problem, the problem which we are debating today, then in my view it needs something rather like a high-powered Royal Commission composed not only of politicians, civil servants and legal gentlemen learned in the work of legislation and its procedures, but also some private individuals and, may be, constitutional experts. Such a Royal Commission would be sitting for a very long time, and I would hope that it would not get bogged down with minute items of detail, but would look at the main problem.

However, there are certain things which we can do which I feel would not need the work of such a Royal Commission beforehand to make worth while, which could be implemented fairly quickly and which would not require consideration by a body of the sort I have envisaged—and I am going to make one or two suggestions. First of all the size of Cabinets has been mentioned once or twice already in our debate this afternoon. In my view, for a very long time Cabinets have been too large, under different Governments and under Governments of different political persuasions, and if the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he might be, so wished, changes could be made overnight. I do not think for one minute that Prime Ministers are helped in their very heavy, burdensome tasks by having to preside over a large Cabinet—a large Cabinet which is not necessarily always constructive in its deliberations and its final decisions.

As for individual Cabinet Ministers, I would ask your Lordships to consider their position. With the exception of one or two, such as the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal, most of them have large Government Departments to run, and in addition to this they are expected to have a fair and reasonable knowledge of the work of the other Departments of Government. They are expected to have this knowledge so that when they reach the Cabinet table they are well equipped to take decisions around that table on behalf of the Government.

My Lords, what happens in practice? Noble Lords who have served in Governments of different political complexions will, I hope, agree that in practice Ministers in charge of Departments often take weeks, maybe months, of careful study and deliberation through their departmental machinery, through their Civil Service advisers, to reach the conclusion which they eventually put to the Cabinet. How can their Cabinet colleagues, having had the relevant documents about a particular problem in their hands for something like 24 to 48 hours, take an objective view and reach a decision which has involved weeks of detailed study within a particular Department? Additionally, the civil servants of a particular Government Department are concerned primarily with the effect of any Government decision, not necessarily in that Department but upon the work of that Department. Therefore their advice to their Minister is concerned very largely with the work of their own Department. So Cabinet Ministers, while they may spend as much time as is available to them, and may burn the midnight oil in studying Cabinet documents, cannot be expected to have the sort of detailed knowledge of their colleagues who are introducing a particular subject before the Cabinet. Is there not a possibility —I put it no higher—that Cabinet Ministers may reject their colleagues' submissions, especially where expenditure is concerned, because of the possible adverse effect on their own Departments?

Let us consider a hypothetical case. If one had to discuss at a particular Cabinet meeting the possible expenditure of half a million pounds by a particular Department, is it not likely—and again I put it no higher—that at least one Cabinet Minister may feel that while there is something in the submission, that this money should be spent in that direction, if he casts his vote (although votes are seldom cast; one collects a consensus of opinion): if the weight of his opinion is thrown on the expenditure of that money in that particular Department he may fail to get the half-million pounds that he wants for some particular use by his own Department.

My Lords, I have a suggestion that is, hardly likely, I think, to be popular anywhere: it is purely my own suggestion, and on one else can be blamed for it. It is in favour of a very small Cabinet indeed; a Cabinet of, say, five or six—a Prime Minister and four or five others. And all of them would be Ministers without Portfolio, having no specific Governmental or Departmental responsibility and no overlordship over a section of the Governmental functions or responsibilities. The Question I would put is this. Would not these Cabinet Ministers without Portfolio have much more time to study departmental papers brought before them, much more time to investigate and, if necessary, question Departmental Ministers? From my own experience, I may say that as Lord President of the Council (although at the time I was also Leader of the House) I found, because the work of the Privy Council Office is not onerous, that I had much more time to consider Governmental papers coming before Parliament than was the case when I became Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.

It seems to me that four or five such Cabinet Ministers would be able to arrive well briefed and with no Departmental axe to grind at the Cabinet meeting to which the Departmental Minister who is to put his case would be summoned. They would be able to reach their decisions, I believe, on the basis of a deeper knowledge of the problem before them. I am well aware of the criticism that would be levelled at such a Cabinet. It would be called a junta, a cabal, a dictatorship. We should be told that it was not demo- cratic and so on. There may be something in these criticisms. There is something in such a system that could go wrong; but I feel that this is a risk worth taking in the interests of wise and good Government and Cabinet decisions. I believe, too, that a Prime Minister would find that those decisions would come more easily and that it would be possible to approach much more objectively the many and varied problems facing his Government. I am sure that a Prime Minister's burdens would be shared and thereby lightened.

My Lords, I turn now to another point which has been raised. I believe that it is a Government's job to govern. I do not think that any Government car delegate its responsibility to govern. There have been suggestions of government by the C.B.I., or the T.U.C.; and perhaps by the National Farmers' Union, or even the Middlesex Cricket Club. I do not think one can do that. It is the Government's job to govern. Nor can the Government delegate its Executive function to 630 Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament can debate; they can approve; they can reject; they can defeat, the Government. But the Government must govern.

I should like next to consider briefly the composition and powers of both Houses of Parliament. I am aware that there may be a Bill before Parliament during the current Session dealing with the composition and powers of your Lordships' House; and I am aware that we shall be having a Report. Even so, I do not think we can properly debate this subject to-day without mentioning perhaps briefly and casually, one or two points. Although I have been a Member of this House for only a few months I should like to offer one or two personal suggestions. They arise on views which I held before I came to this House and which I would not have changed since. On the matter of the composition of this honourable Chamber, with its great history, I am completely unconcerned (and here I speak for myself) with whether its Members are hereditary Peers or Life Peers. I do not think this makes any difference whatever, so long as the power of Parliament resides where it must; that is, in the elected Chamber. I should feel it to be wrong if, at any time, by the process of whipping-in—about which I know something—Peers were persuaded to attend here either in support of or to defeat a particular Government. Because of the large number of Peers who do not normally attend, this is a possibility; but I would doubt very much, from the way we have progressed over the last few years, whether this would be likely ever to happen.

On the matter of powers, may I say at once that the House of Lords is not elected by public vote and should never be in a position to defeat an elected Government. But I doubt whether this, too, could ever happen again. This House has not for many years taken their opposition to a Commons' decision, whether a Government decision or otherwise, to the ultimate point. Nor has it been necessary for many years to use the sanctions of the Parliament Act.

To make my position a little clearer, may I try to speak of those things that I feel we can and must do well in this Chamber? I regard it as valuable that we should here express our views: Party views by those who are representatives of Parties, independent views by Cross-Benchers like myself—although I must say that one of the greatest surprises I had was to find that the Independents have a Whip. I believe that we should here express our views, debate them and vote on them; but that when we have done that the matter should rest. The Government of the day, whoever they might be, would be well aware of a decision of this House, whichever way it went. I believe it is right that this House, as it now does, should initiate legislation and should act generally as a revisionary Chamber; but that, once the decisions of the elected Chamber are known, when we reach the final stage of Lords' Amendments—so be it! The position rests.

I should like to mention one small point that has worried me for some time. As noble Lords will be aware, the procedure for Private Bills, local authority Bills, is pretty ponderous. There is a great deal of duplication. Local authorities and petitioners against promoters are involved equally in a great deal of expense. I should have thought it not beyond the wit of both Houses of Parliament, to devise a system which could mean an end to some of this duplication where legislation is concerned for Private Bills.

My Lords, may I now turn from this House to offer one or two thoughts on the composition and powers of the House of Commons? I do this with a great deal of fear and trepidation, but I think that it has to be done. I have, I think, said enough already to indicate my view that under a Constitutional Monarchy, in which I fervently believe, power should reside in the elected Chamber; that is, in the Commons. But I have never been quite so sure about the composition of the other place. The Representation of the People Acts 1948 and 1949 did a great deal to improve our electoral system. They did a great deal to end anomalies and, if you wish, to democratise our electoral system. Plural voting was ended, the principle of "one man, one vote" was introduced. But the idea expressed at that time, of "one vote one value" has never been anything like reached.

It may have been that there was a flaw within the legislation of those two years. It may have been something to which the Speaker's Conference, prior to 1945, had not given sufficient thought. But to-day there are 630 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons representing constituencies varying in size from 24,000 to over 100,000. Unless we are prepared—and by "we" I mean we the legislators—to get away from neat geographical divisions; to get away from the idea of Parliamentary constituency boundaries always being coterminous with local authority boundaries, we shall never reach anything like parity in the numbers of constituents.

I understand that there are at present proposals before the Home Secretary from the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioners which once more seek to end some of these anomalies in the size of constituencies. Whether or not Parliament will implement these proposals I have no idea; but I am sure of one thing: that if this is done within the next few months, when the Local Government Commission report—and if their report is ever implemented—the whole jigsaw of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission will be upset all over again. And so it will go on. These upheavals, which we have seen from time to time, upset Members of Parliament, local authorities, political Parties, returning officers and so many other people—and, perhaps more important, the electors, too.

I am going to offer a revolutionary thought. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said that he had a revolutionary idea; and here is another one. I suggest that we might divide up the British Isles into constituencies comprising 72,000 constituents, with perhaps a small percentage adjustment up and down. Taking the figure of 72,000, there are over 70 constituencies in the country now which are larger than that. If we think in terms of a norm of 72,000 it would give us something like 500 Members of Parliament. At the moment there are 630, but there is nothing sacrosanct about that figure.

I am aware that some Members of Parliament would have larger areas to cover geographically, but nothing in comparison with what Members of Parliament in other countries have to cover. In these days Members of Parliament seldom cross their constituencies from one end to the other on horseback. Most of them use cars or trains, or even aircraft, and do not think there is any real difficulty about getting from one village to another. In fact, I should imagine that there is something rather pleasant about doing that. When I was a Member of Parliament I thought how nice it would be to represent a county constituency in which there were a great many villages. My constituency was rather closely knit, which was a great advantage at election times; but at other times I thought it would be a wonderful pleasure to move around a constituency with villages.

Let us look at the figures which would result from my revolutionary proposal for constituencies averaging 72,000 constituents and 500 Members of Parliament. England would have 416 M.P.s, and not 511. Scotland would have 47, and not 71. Wales would have 25, and not 36. Strangely enough, Northern Ireland would come out exactly the same, with 12. We can expect (this has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others) some devolution of governmental responsibility. I am sure that this is going to happen, and the devolution of some powers, considerable, but perhaps limited, as in the case of Northern Ireland, to Scotland and Wales would be some compensation for the loss of a few Members of Parliament.

My Lords, I am aware that this idea of mine is not going to be very popular and that I should find great difficulty in finding a seconder for it. But I think it is something well worth considering. If we go on with the idea of a continual jig-saw we shall get finally to a position which is quite unmanageable. I know that in a maiden speech one should not be controversial, and I have tried not to be; but I am afraid that I have, made many controversial points. But at least may I express the hope, before I sit down, that the House will absolve me of being Party-politically controversial.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to four impressive speeches, none of them, if I may say so, more impressive than that which has just been uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. He comes to us with a great reputation for integrity and wisdom and for being able to impose discipline without causing offence. He has introduced a number of ideas which may startle some of the older Members such as myself, but without causing any pain. May we often hear him again in the same happy vein! Indeed, when the noble Lord described himself as a revolutionary I began to wonder whether in every Chief Whip there is a revolutionary struggling to get out, and that may apply to the other very distinguished Chief Whip who is to follow me in a few moments.

In the time available I wish to concentrate on one issue alone, as befits a Back Bencher, and I am choosing the subject of the Prime Minister and his relationship with the Cabinet. This is not the only aspect of Cabinet Government, and we have heard some very interesting aspects raised by other speakers. It is one in which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who has departed from the Chamber temporarily so far as I can see, has clearly taken a great interest, and it is a matter with regard to which I would say a false impression is developing. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the House, who spoke in so thoughtful a fashion, not unnaturally decided not to deal with that particular topic, but, speaking as one who, to quote the poet Swinburne, is now: From hope and fear set free". I am uninhibited and shall proceed accordingly.

I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has been much influenced by Mr. Humphry Berkeley, or what might be called that school of thought. I have a great respect of Mr. Humphry Berkeley for all sorts of reasons, which have been added to in recent times, but I am sure that the main conclusion in his book is wrong. I will not take your Lordships through the book again, but he says in terms that the basic defect he sees in the British Constitution is the supra-presidential powers of the Prime Minister; and he feels that these powers, which have much increased, have now begun to exert a very unhealthy control over our political system. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that it is very difficult to demonstrate that the powers of the Prime Minister have increased greatly in recent years. Indeed, in Mr. Berkeley's book we find what Gladstone said about Peel's Administration of the 1840s, and it is clear that no Prime Minister has had a greater power than Sir Robert Peel over a hundred years ago. I will not take the House through our Parliamentary history. It has already been dealt with most conclusively.

I venture to assert dogmatically that the Cabinet system operating under Mr. Wilson—unless it has changed very much in the last three months—is in essentials the same Cabinet system which some of us taught and studied in the 'twenties and 'thirties, and about which, may I say, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has written a very interesting book. There has been no terrifying increase in the hands of Mr. Wilson or of any other recent Prime Minister. In fact, it is perhaps because he is the youngest Prime Minister for many years, in his personal style Mr. Wilson has been much less autocratic than a number of eminent Prime Ministers who could easily come to mind. I do not suppose that within the whole history of Cabinet Government, Cabinet decisions were ever reached more democratically than those which led, for example, to the cuts of January. As the House knows, I objected to one of those cuts as strenuously as anyone can in public life, but I did not object to the procedure. There was nothing wrong with the procedure, but I objected to that particular decision.

I think it is right for me to say this from my knowledge. It is untrue to say that after devaluation there was some change in this respect. It has been implied that up to devaluation there was something like a dictatorship inside the Cabinet and that afterwards there was a great change. That, I would say, is quite false for the period between September and January. Decisions reached long before devaluation, one of them quite early in the Labour Government, on the TSR. 2, about entry into Europe and the arguments on incomes policy in 1967—all these were just as democratic as the prolonged arguments about the cuts.

In my opinion, it would be rather more easy, if I wanted to be pernickety, to criticise the present Cabinet for having been too democratic in their procedure, and for not always exhibiting the necessary degree of hierarchy, than it would be to proclaim that they are not democratic enough. In his impressive work on the Cabinet published in 1962, Mr. Mackintosh, now a Member of Parliament, laid down that what he calls the "junior members" of the Cabinet—a rather odd expression—are usually absorbed in their departmental work "and seldom contribute unless the subject concerns them." I see the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, close to me, and other noble Lords who have served in Cabinets, and I do not think anyone from recent experience would confirm what Mr. Mackintosh said. Certainly it is untrue of my own experience when I was a member of the Cabinet. If anybody supposes, to take an example, that the right honourable lady Mrs. Castle was restricted in this way, he does not know the right honourable lady very well.

That does not mean that in my eyes all was perfect. How could it be with any human institution? I am certain, for example, that too much psychological insecurity has been imported into this Cabinet by the endless talk of reshuffles. There has always been too much of an atmosphere of musical chairs, with the music always liable to stop. Again, all this emphasis on the precise order of seniority within the Cabinet—the so-called pecking order—is surely somewhat new and unwelcome. The Press and television and radio commentators have done a good deal to create this atmosphere. Whether the source has been in Westminster or in Whitehall or farther afield, it is a bad thing. Our Conservative friends are hardly in a position to cast many stones in this kind of discussion when one recalls the last days of the Macmillan Government, the struggle for leadership at that time and the events which led to the supersession of Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

The Cabinet to-day is clearly too large. I agree with more than one speaker who spoke on this subject, and up to a point with the noble Lord who spoke last. I am not going to agree with him all the way, but I agree with his starting point that the Cabinet is too large. What he said about the difficulty of Cabinet Ministers making an adequate contribution certainly came home to me because, as a non-Departmental Minister, all through those years I found great difficulty through lack of officials. If we are going into that point seriously, without going so far as the noble Lord I feel that we have to consider the whole question of equipping the average Cabinet Minister to make a contribution outside his Department. I feel that this is important, whether or not the size of the Cabinet is brought down.

However, there is a more complex issue with which I should like to deal before I sit down. No one who served in the Attlee Government and in the Wilson Cabinet—I was in the earlier Government but not in the Cabinet—can fail to have noticed one large difference between the two. In the first case there was, and in the second case there is not, an Inner Cabinet. In the heyday of the Attlee Government, Lord Attlee was very much the boss, but he was ringed round by a group of Ministers—Mr. Bevin, Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr. Morrison and, until his resignation, Mr. Dalton, who occupied a kind of mezzanine position between the Prime Minister and the other members of the Cabinet and were even referred to in quasi-official documents as senior Ministers. Rightly or wrongly, there has been nothing of the kind on this occasion—and it is worth pausing for a moment to ask whether there should or should not be anything that could be called an Inner Cabinet.

The whole history of Inner Cabinets up to 1961 has been dealt with by Mr. Mackintosh in his book. He takes us back to the original Cabal, who signed the Treaty of Dover in 1670. In the 300 years that have passed since then, the idea of an Inner Cabinet has waxed and waned and taken various forms. I would offer myself the opinion that the more complex and multifarious become the issues and problems of Government, the more indispensable becomes effective co-ordination in planning and execution; and the more impossible it becomes for one single human being, the Prime Minister, however great a genius, to do this job on his own. Twenty individual Ministers can make their own departmental plans with some success, given proper assistance, but twenty Ministers, however we organise them and service them, cannot adequately draw up collective plans. They are too many. Nor can one man! he is too few.

I rule out the suggestion, which Mr. Wilson has certainly not given effect to, that we ought to build up some huge corps of officials round the Prime Minister and allow him to dominate the whole area. With great respect, I decline to follow the idea of the noble Lord, although it has been tried in two wars, to cut down the Cabinet to five or six "exalted Buddhas", to use the phrase that Sir Winston Churchill used when that idea was discussed in the past. This is too big a question to dispose of in an aside but, of course, if we were to carry out the noble Lord's plan, presumably it would mean that both the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be in this Inner Cabinet, and therefore they would be second-class Ministers. I make that point in passing, but I am afraid I cannot accept the general proposal.

I am left with the conclusion that this function of co-ordination in the widest sense must be shared by the Prime Minister with a handful of colleagues. Two of those, I would submit, are bound to be the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The third should be the Lord President, or some very high Minister of similar status, who should not be burdened with the leadership of the House of Commons (and I pay tribute, in passing, to the work of Mr. Crossman there), but should be used as the co-ordinator in chief over the whole field of home policy; that is apart from the economic field, which should be coordinated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Lord President would certainly need a small but high-powered staff if he was going to do that job effectively—a more high-powered staff than any Minister without a Department has possessed hitherto—otherwise he would be stranded without adequate help. If anyone says that this will add to the number of civil servants, I submit that any coordinating Minister of this kind who was worth his salt would be able to bring about a reduction in the number of officials.

May I emphasise that I am not now talking of committees? The committees of the Wilson Cabinet were in my time, at any rate, perfectly adequate. They have since been added to in a rather mysterious fashion, but that may be explained to us later on to-day or on some other occasion. I am urging that a few leading Ministers should be given, and be seen to be given, sufficient powers in virtue of their offices to enable them to provide a secondary leadership. How the Prime Minister actually consults them must be left to him.

What I am saying has a double purpose. On the one hand, the burden of work, which has now become almost intolerable, would be shared by the Prime Minister with only three, or at the most four, senior colleagues. That is what might be called the business aspect. But there is also a public relations aspect, which is hardly less important. This idea that Mr. Wilson's Cabinet was a one-man band was always a fantasy; but it is a fantasy that has gained a certain amount of credence. I should like to give one small example out of the many that are available. Last October a journalist of unsurpassed reputation, Mr. James Margagh, published a careful forecast on the front page of the Sunday Times of the Government's plans for the reform of this House. Some bright sub-editor put on top the headline: "Wilson to curb the Lords"—and put it on without any justification at all. It was simply assumed, not, I am sure, by the commentator, Mr. Margagh, but by the sub-editor, that anything that sprang from the Cabinet was Mr. Wilson's doing and was likely to be pretty militant.

Now this is fine if things are going well. Everybody, particularly those involved in public communications and propaganda, likes to personalise an issue; and few of us in my experience—and I am speaking for myself—resist it when it happens to come our way. We saw the same thing carried even further in the days of Mr. Macmillan. But I am afraid that to-day the expectations of the British public are so high that any Government after a short while is liable to become unpopular. Then the whole flood of hostility tends to descend on the Prime Minister: and Mr. Wilson has indeed been vilified shockingly in recent times in a way that does not help the nation. I believe that some of this could be avoided, quite irrespective of Party politics, if the idea became established of a partnership at the top, in which, of course, the Prime Minister must always remain very much the senior partner.

My Lords, there are many other suggestions that I could offer—and we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for giving us the opportunity. I conclude with the reflection that things seem to be moving in the direction to which I pointed. Whether we are moving towards what might be called an inner Cabinet is largely a matter of words. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems now to be in a much stronger position, if I am right in thinking that the D.E.A. is now in a much weaker one. The Foreign Office has gobbled up the Commonwealth and Colonial Offices, and this should be satisfactory. The Lord President has been given, so far as I know—I hope it is true—much wider powers of co-ordination than any of his predecessors. The Prime Minister seems to be feeling his way, slowly but surely, to better dispositions of his personnel. And he himself, if I may say this one thing about him in conclusion, commands a much wider following than would be gathered from much of the comment. That is, admittedly, a matter of opinion, but there can be, or should be, no mistake about this: that the overwhelming majority of the Labour Party are absolutely loyal to him and solidly behind him. I know that my colleagues will support that very strongly.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the usual channels, which work as beneficiently in this House as they do in another place, for arranging that I should speak first on this side after the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. He and I of course were opposite numbers in another place for a great number of years on agreeably good terms, and it is a great pleasure to me as Satan to commend sin. I recollect that, when we had both secured our freedom from the Whips Office, on one occasion we spoke on opposite sides of the House on a similar subject to this, and the newspapers inevitably commented that the poachers had turned gamekeepers. I cannot imagine what we should now be called, but I am sure that your Lordships will want to hear the noble gamekeeper Lord Aylestone on any occasion when he chooses to speak. I have scribbled down that the spiritual home of gamekeepers is on this side of the House; but when I did that I forgot that the noble Lord, very untrue to his history, is now a Cross-Bencher, and I must not pervert him. But I enjoyed his speech enormously.

My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for giving us the opportunity of this debate. He encouraged us to discuss the wood rather than the trees. I must confess that I very quickly got lost in the noble Lord's New Forest. On the whole, I preferred the view presented by my noble friend Lord Carrington, that there is not very much wrong with the system, and that what matters is that it should be intelligently used. I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend that the reputation of the system, and of Parliament and Government, is very much a matter of popular morale and turns entirely on whether or not Government and Parliament are successful in their policies. In this connection I would say one thing which refers back to something said by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. In respect of the reform of Parliament, in respect of the reputation of the Commons in the minds of Members of the Commons, one has to recollect that whenever there is a large influx of Members into the Commons there is then automatically criticism of the system. This is either due to the fact that the new Members are wiser than the old, or perhaps they do not realise the benefits of the system until they have had time to learn about, it.

I must confess that I was a little disturbed that my noble friend Lord Carrington should be so oppressed by the power of the Whips in another place. He himself has never known either bit or whip. I will not inflict on you: Lordships a splendid monologue called "Dark Secrets of the Whips Office", with which I entertain university students when asked. But I would say that I think it is not sufficiently realised—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, will agree with me—that in fact half the time of a modern Chief Whip is spent in holding a careful balance between free thought and speech and action on the Back Benches on the one hand, and on the other hand the stability of Government and what the noble Lord the Leader of the House called the preservation of collective loyalty. I think it is absolutely right to say that a great number of our institutions, whether Parliamentary, whether social, depend on that spirit of loyalty, and that it is worth preserving. At the same time, of course, one has to confess that the instinct of a Chief Whip is to conceal his liberalism from the public, to conceal the freedom he graciously allows to his members. He might in theory be much wiser to publicise it and gain credit for his Party thereby. But I may say that it would need a very changed attitude in Press and public before that was worth doing.

I have not had the privilege of being a member of Cabinet, but I have sat at the corner of a Cabinet table for a good many years. I think my record of attendance individually is probably better than that of most Ministers, and therefore I naturally have some views on how my masters conducted themselves; and, without any lack of respect, I will now reveal to your Lordships how they conducted themselves. I am perfect y certain, everybody is perfectly certain, except the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that Cabinets are far, far too large, and that there is a perfectly easy solution to that problem.


My Lords, may I interrupt? I do think they are too large.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I was not making any point about it; I just misunderstood him. All it needs is determination in the mind of the Prime Minister that there is no reason at all to include anybody in a Cabinet by virtue of the office he holds—although I agree that one must except the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary. What matters as regards the criterion for Cabinet rank is the man and his capability. In a new Government the Prime Minister would be wise to make it publicly known that he was not going to have agriculture, pensions or education, or any other Department, included simply because it was politically wise to do so. Because, of course, what happens is that if you use the argument, "We must have education represented in the Cabinet", X is then in the Cabinet, so X has the rank of Cabinet Minister. When you come to the next reshuffle he may cease to be Minister of Education, but you cannot remove him from the Cabinet because it would be bad for his reputation. So the thing grows and grows, and in fact in my time it reached as high a figure as 23, which, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, is quite unworkable by any standards in any Government.

I should like to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, about this question of the pecking order. It is not quite as new as all that. It has, I think, been a practice of the Press to speculate on the order of precedence now for some 10 or 15 years. It is a bad habit. I am told by my elders and betters that in fact in earlier days—and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, for example, would know this perfectly well—nobody worried very much about changing an appointment within a Government and the precedence of one Department over another was such that a man swung quite happily between one and another. Undoubtedly it inhibits a Prime Minister in reshuffling his Government from time to time if in fact he has to consider not only whether a man is of Cabinet rank or not, but whether he is No. 1, 4, 6, 10 or 23 in the list. It would be a very good thing if that habit was dropped. Equally, if Cabinets were smaller, it might then become of less interest.

I have seen it assumed with reference to Mr. Wilson's presumed intention to have an Inner Cabinet that he must therefore use the system of overlords. The system of overlords is an innovation which has never been very successful, and I do not believe myself that it is a necessary feature of a small Cabinet. It seems to me that when the head of a Department is called in for advice on any occasion when it is relevant, the small Cabinet should in fact have the function only of being judge and jury—the judge being the Prime Minister, the jury the other Cabinet Ministers—in respect of any departmental issue brought to them. Certainly I think that the small Cabinet is better than any conception of an Inner Cabinet. I believe that the Inner Cabinet inevitably produces frictions. Of course, a Prime Minister is more intimate with some Ministers than with others; this follows automatically. But to my mind to put the seal of officialdom on the fact that he consults some Ministers more than others is destructive of the unity of Government, and of course it creates in Government not two tiers of Ministers but three. You have the Inner Cabinet Ministers—I think the noble Lord said they were called senior Cabinet Ministers—then those in the Cabinet but not in the Inner Cabinet, and then the third tier, which exists of Minister of Cabinet rank. It seems that the more you subdivide your ranks in the Cabinet, or outside it, the more nonsense it makes of Cabinet responsibility.

It seemed to me, sitting silent for all those years, that the chief fault of modern Government—and I believe that this applies to-day as much as it did five or ten years ago—is that there is always a lack of time for long-term thinking. Ministers immersed in current problems have no time to think ahead, and to my mind, even if you have a large Cabinet, and even if you run it on the present system, some meetings of the Cabinet—once a fortnight, certainly once a month—should be designated solely for long-term thinking and should have nothing to do with the day-to-day problems at all.

I think there is another factor in the structure of Government which would help to find a solution of this problem, the problem of thinking ahead. I believe that the ranking of Ministers as it is to-day, and as it has been for a great number of years, is wholly wrong. The head of a Department is, of course, the one Minister answerable, in the last resort, for that Department. Below him there is the Parliamentary Secretary, who is lower than the angels of the Civil Service—and I think it is time that tradition was dropped. Then there is a modern innovation, the Minister of State. The Minister of State was created only to give a junior Minister status in his traffic abroad. It has no status at home at all. I think I am right in saying that Prime Minister Attlee, in his time, 1950–51, when there was such a small majority, tried to get it established that Parliamentary Secretaries were wholly capable of answering for their Departments, certainly in Committee upstairs. I think that as a matter of fact the Conservative Opposition at that time did not play, and therefore the proposition fell through. But it was undoubtedly a good move that junior Ministers should be accepted as being more answerable within their Departments.

I myself would go much further; that is, scrap the present ranks of Government and have Ministers (heads of Departments) and Deputy Ministers, one or more as the Department requires, and insist, in so far as one can insist—at least it would be a proposition which ought to be acceptable—that Parliament should get used to the idea that the Deputy Minister of a Department was in fact answerable at Question Time or in a debate, as the case may be. There should not be rather silly cries of, "Where's the Minister?" when the deputy is answering. This would take a great deal of the load off a Minister's shoulders and would, by virtue of that, free him for a more constructive job.

Another thing that I would do (I am afraid I am taking rather long) is seriously to consider going back to a seven-year term of Parliament. It is an unfortunate truism that only in the second year of a Government is anything really active and dangerous done. In the first year it is in preparation; in years three and four the Government are already under the shadow of a possible Election. Only in the second year can they really get down to the difficult things. If there is a seven-year term, precisely that same situation applies relatively to it, and the active years in seven will be the second, third and fourth years. Therefore, the electorate will get the advantage in seven years of having three active years of government, whereas now they get only one in five. And sadly, although I know this remark will be held against me, if a Government run for a long time—ten years, or perhaps even thirteen years—the number of active years in accordance with that truism are not very great. I think we should make a much better show of governing this country if we considered that change.

I have read in the newspapers that Mr. Wilson's inner Cabinet—and everything one reads in the papers nowadays one knows to be true because it conics from the Press Office at No. 10—will concern itself with the "Parliamentary and broader political aspects of government". This, of course, is a tardy acknowledgment by this Government that Government exists only by courtesy, first of its Back-Bench support: second, of its Party in the country and, third, of its floating support in the country. It is true that given this three-pronged support, or as much of it as can be mustered from day to day, the Executive is all-powerful. But so soon as the Executive becomes insensitive to this pyramid of power, so soon as Ministers become a separate caste (as they do very easily); so soon as (heaven help them!) they regard themselves as ordained by God to govern, then the Government will lose their touch. If I may say so in this extremely nonpolitical debate, there is no such thing as governing by the seat of one's pants. One governs only by maintaining this pyramid of support throughout the country, and any Government of the future will be wise to learn the lessons of the past in that respect.

I find it interesting that this new setup should be considering Parliamentary and political links because I have so often listened in another place to fierce attacks, even from Mr. Wilson himself, against the Conservative Government for having the Chairman of the Party in the Cabinet and a Minister in charge of public relations. In fact, both seem to me to be sensible precautions against losing touch with the country. At that time, not much was made of the fact that when the Labour Party came into office they would have a number of Cabinet Ministers on their National Executive Committee, and a number of other Ministers as wel1. In fact, I believe, although I am subject to correction, that when Mr. Callaghan was Chancellor of the Exchequer he was Treasurer of the National Executive. He certainly is now. Also, Mr. Wilson, of course, is on it. I do not criticise that at all. I think it is absolutely vital if you are to maintain the strength of your Government, but I am just putting it on record that what is sauce for the Labour goose is also sauce for the Conservative gander.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, made some comments about the functions of the Prime Minister's private office. I absolutely agree that what that office needs is something more than the very efficient and knowledgeable services of three or more private secretaries, which it has by custom. It is not a question of buttressing the "Presidential system". I regard that as just as much nonsense as does the noble Earl. But it is necessary that the Prime Minister should have more in the way of expert advice, for two reasons. The first is so that he may be able to back his own ideas with advice which is only available to him. It is quite wrong that a Prime Minister wishing to think out some problem should have to go to a Department to get the necessary advice. But when he has formulated his own ideas they can be cross checked against the advice available in the Department. Equally, on the other side of the medal the Prime Minister, with independent advice, should be able to cross check the views put forward by Ministers. I can think of one or two instances in which, if that machinery had existed, good might have flowed.

Frankly, I agree with my noble friend Lord Carrington that there is probably nothing wrong with the structure of government. I think there is a great deal that can be done to make a more intelligent use of it. I will conclude my remarks by saying merely this: my noble friend complimented Mr. Crossman on some reforms of Parliament which he has introduced. That was taken up by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, and by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Perhaps one should not forget that my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, in his time as Leader of the House, introduced a great number of minor reforms arising out of the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure, and if one scoffs at those reforms and says they were not as drastic as the idea of the Select Specialist Committee, one has to recollect that in fact both the House of Commons and this House reform themselves, if they are wise, only by the slowest of slow degrees. I am not talking about major constitutional reforms but reforms of procedure. These always ought to be slow and well considered, and when the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred in his speech to our having seen the value of taking the Finance Bill upstairs, I had a feeling that he had not read his brief before he produced it in your Lordships' House.

Personally, I am very doubtful indeed whether a specialist committee is ever right, and in this view I have some strong and strange allies in the persons of Mr. Michael Foot and others. Mr. Macmillan, when he was Prime Minister, used to say to me, "The one thing that is wrong with the House of Commons today is that it has no life. Nobody comes into it, nobody listens—they all want to speak all the time. Why do they not listen?" In my view, one of the most worthwhile reforms which could be made in the House of Commons is for means to be found to make attendance and speaking more attractive to Back-Bench Members, and if that had to be in the form of "Redmayne's Parallel Chambers" so much the better. If noble Lords do not know what are "Redmayne's Parallel Chambers", I should be happy to send them the necessary documents.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, when this subject was put down for debate it seemed to me an intrepid act to take part, for on the one side the reform of the House of Lords itself is under consideration, and that is known even to those who sit in the limbo of the Cross-Benches. Then again, the Civil Service is being looked at by Lord Fulton, so that subject seemed sub judice and not proper for discussion. Finally, I always understood that Members of this House were extremely cautious in regard to any comment they felt able to make about the other place. But as so many of your Lordships have had the courage to lead other speakers over the jumps, perhaps you will allow me to say one or two things briefly on these topics.

I wish, first, to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate. I hope that he and those who sit on the Liberal Benches will not think it in any way a slight if I say that as they themselves can scarcely look forward at the present time to forming a Government they may have to be content if some of their ideas are adopted by one or other of the two ruling Parties. I say this the more so because we on these Benches share their impotence. Indeed, our case is far worse. We do not even set up to be running for Office, and for most of us, rather like the Castrati of the Papal Choir, we can only hope that the occasional charm of our voices may turn the minds and hearts of those who do administer the rites of the Mother of Parliaments. This, of course, does riot apply to those Members sitting on these Benches who speak with the strength of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who spoke to us this afternoon in a voice full of authority and meaning; and I am sure your Lordships would like me, from these Benches, to echo what has been said elsewhere: that we hope to hear him again on many future occasions.

Despite what I have said, I think it is fair to say that there is a measure of agreement among us all that all is not completely well with our affairs. If I may take just one point, I should centre my remarks on the questions of consent and credibility. Dr. Joseph Royden has said that the supreme contribution of democracy is that it coats the pill of servitude with the sugar of consent. But in many cases now it seems to me that the consent is more apparent than real; and this, I suggest, comes from the increasing widening in many cases of the credibility gap. Unless something is done in time, too much of our system may fall into disrepute. I would suggest stressing the words "in time". Small doses of remedial medicine to the body politic made soon enough may often avert major surgery later.

Pursuing that thought, what are the root causes of the present discontents? May I briefly take first those arising between the electorate and Parliament, and then those between Parliament and Government. To take only one case of those arising between the electorate and Parliament, I would revert again to a question which I raised in the debate on January 23; that is, whether we should not be strengthened in our institutions if there were some more clearly recognised understanding of the position of Government responsibility and personal account- ability of Ministers. If all we have by way of the power of the electorate is the right to elect a Government every five years, and that Government can stay in office even if it drastically changes its programme, I would say again that this is straining the credibility of the electors that what they do is of value.

Various schemes have been suggested whereby this particular difficulty might be averted. It has been suggested that there might be more regular elections, at more frequent intervals, at least of part of the Members—a sort of mechanical check. For myself, I should have thought that that would be unnecessary and in itself contrary to the general understanding and spirit of the Constitution as we have evolved it. I should rather have hoped that the convention could be strengthened whereby if a Government wished, through the force of outside circumstances or through their own change of conviction, to adopt a course, a policy, in contradiction to the policy that had been advocated at the General Election, they should once again consult the electors and see whether they would wish to continue to support them in those new circumstances. I should not have thought that anything more than a clarification and a strengthening of that convention would be necessary.

Equally, on the point of Minister's personal accountability, if they, through collective Cabinet responsibility, have to be responsible for the changed actions of a Government, once again does it not need some reflection between the main Parties whether, in such circumstances, a Minister should not consider that his personal role was engaged and that he personally should choose the course of resignation? This without any reflection on his standing—indeed, it might increase his stature in the country and with his Party.

In commenting on those points which I made on January 23, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who has a powerful use of adjectives, said that this was very tendentious. I accept the adjective; I think it is right. The question is: which tendency do you prefer? Do you prefer the tendency for a Government to feel some commitment, some accountability, and an individual Minister to feel this personally and act, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did in fact act, on a point of principle and policy; or are you content with the present spectacle? I would raise this question and hope that the answer would be that you do not want mechanical means to correct such a situation; you need an understanding between the main Parties on how the present Constitution, without change, should be conducted.

To turn to an aspect of the discontents between Parliament and the Government, there has been some talk this afternoon of the system of Select Committees and Commissions, and reference to America and their experience on this head. Of course I agree entirely with what many noble Lords have said: that the American experience, as such, is often totally irrelevant for us. It is irrelevant because their history is different; it is irrelevant because their size is of a totally different order. Take their history. The 13 original States did not set out to agree to a form of government in Washington which would perpetuate the kind of centralised authority they had just escaped from in Whitehall. So the history is different in origin. And, of course, again the mere question of size makes anything of the kind of Parliamentary government we have here wholly unsuitable for them, and per contra the sorts of things they have had to work out for a continent are not applicable here.

Still, I would have wondered, on this point of Select Committees, whether there is not a point from which we might benefit; and that is the power of committees to ask for the attendance—and I speak particularly of foreign affairs and defence—of experts, servants of the Crown, civil or military, to come and give evidence. In those cases, of course, it is absolutely clear that the prime responsibility of the witness is to tell the truth and give his opinion as he knows it. His duty is to his country as a citizen. His duty is not primarily to his Minister, but simply to say that this is the view of the Department. What the Commission wish to know is what he personally thinks, as Chief of Staff or Permanent Secretary, or whatever he may be, whatever position he may hold. I should have thought that this was something which might be of value here and might avert some of the things which I believe weaken the credibility of our Parliamentary system as it stands. I think this in two possible ways.

First, of course, Members (and I should hope this would apply to this House, as well as to another place) would be thereby much better informed on matters of foreign policy and matters of defence than they can be nowadays. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made the point very well, having seen it from the other side. I should have thought that this not only would be of advantage in the debates which subsequently take place in either House, but would also be, and could be, used as a matter of strengthening, not always criticising and weakening, the Government. If they had a difficult case to make, whether on prices and incomes, or on defence or foreign affairs, they might have a chance of putting their case much more effectively if there were a body in the House of all Parties who were fully informed, or very nearly fully informed, being excluded only from the most secret things, of the case at issue.

Secondly, I think that another advantage might flow. We in this country pride ourselves on the way in which Ministers can be questioned in the House of Commons and in this House—Questions and Answers. But I may say, as an ex-writer of the Answers for Ministers, it is quite plain what are the rules of the game. The rules are that the Minister must never be allowed to say anything that is not true—that is absolutely ruled out. But, equally, he is under no obligation to tell the whole truth. In fact, the clothing of words is exactly the opposite of the fancy dress in the rhyme—the petals "do not reveal what they should conceal". Quite the contrary is the process.

Therefore, I should have thought, again, that, if it is not misinformation, at least the risk of a misleading impression arising from Questions and Answers could be put in a better perspective if there were another means of questioning experts, whether they are military or civil servants of the Crown. Equally of course, people from outside should be called, because it is ridiculous to think that all wisdom resides, or should reside, with servants of the Crown or other Members of Parliament.

So I would hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, having been urged from many sides to consider this, would give some further thought to it and see some possible merit in the extension of a scheme which has already started here. But it has started much more to judge of things that have happened, perhaps in the form of the Public Accounts Committee, rather than things under debate. I should hope thereby that if the Prime Minister were to say, for instance, as has been mentioned this afternoon, that the effect of sanctions on Rhodesia will be felt in a question of weeks rather than of months, and if there were a proper Commission of this character on foreign affairs, they would summon the officials and say, "Show us the figures on which you base all this". If they had in fact misled the Prime Minister, this would be shown up at once, and everybody would be on a much more secure and sensible footing; and rash statements could be brought to book much more readily, wherever they derived from. I think it would be salutary for the officials, when they went before the Commission on oath, to produce factual evidence correctly as their duty as citizens.

As has already been said, this debate has a vast range, and I would therefore offer only these two modest suggestions on the question of obtaining for the Government, whichever Government or whatever Government, the greater and readier consent of the governed by increasing their creditability.

Before sitting down perhaps I may be allowed to say something of the setting as I see it. In many countries I have noticed it as a remarkable and common feature of human society to demand to be effectively governed. In many cases this is a fond illusion. The chances of its occurring are sadly small. In some cases this is unfortunate, but not decisive. One determining factor is the economic basis. If there are abundant resources, an acceptable standard of living can be achieved in the teeth of misgovernment, even of disaster.

Take the most obvious case in point: France, our friend and one-time ally. France can be defeated, occupied by an enemy; but, if liberated and left for a short period of stable and reasonable Government, she can obtain prosperity. She has the resources and the intelligence to put them to the use of a country of her size and her population. But our case stands in sharp contrast. With our present population and the restricted resources of these Islands, we must be sufficiently well governed to achieve an acceptable standard of living. This is the setting for us; and this, to my mind, constitutes the vital importance of the subject for us. This is why I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will continue to recognise the need for change to meet the present discontents, and will show some readiness to consider the suggestions made, not so much by myself as by others, from all parts of the House, who have been prompted by their concern with the health of the res publica to participate in this debate.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I say that I am not quite clear what particular ones he wants me to consider. In my opening speech I covered a large number of the matters which I thought should be considered.


My Lords, the only two that I thought I would urge were, first, the question of whether there should not be a clearer convention recognised by the major Parties of the circumstances in which it is thought proper that a Government elected on one programme should, if it changes that programme, have a further mandate. This, again, is not made as a Party point, but as one to be accepted generally, and widely understood. The second one is the attendance of officials, civil or military, in Committees, either of the House of Commons or of this House, where something of the American system, chosen and also designed to meet our particular circumstances, could be carried through, with advantage to the information both of Members and of the public.

6.18 p.m.


My Loris, the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, in his extremely interesting and valuable speech, suggested in the words he actually used that "all is not completely well" with our present system. I think we must all agree with that, because, clearly, if we got up and said that everything was completely well we should be guilty of the grossest form of complacency. But I think we must keep this matter in perspective. When on an occasion such as this, any of us get up and voice criticisms or make suggestions for improvement, it does not in any way mean that we think that all is completely ill: we are simply dealing with those aspects of what, to my mind, is an admirable and extremely well working system of democratic Government, in order to suggest ways in which that can be improved.


My Lords, may I with permission say how much I entirely agree with that? I would not wish in any way to suggest otherwise.


My Lords, I am quite sure the noble Lord did not, and I was not suggesting that he did; but I wanted to make my own position particularly clear in this matter.

To-day, I will concentrate solely on one subject, which, somewhat to my surprise, has received but little attention in this extremely interesting debate. I refer to the problem of actual policy-making. When a political Party is fighting an Election it puts forward its policy to the best of its ability, and with the greatest amount of honesty which it is capable of commanding. When it becomes the Government, should it be successful at the polls, it then, in the first place, has the problem of making that policy realistic. Clearly, that needs a great deal of doing, and must entail a quite considerable amount of modification. This is because many of the things which to a Party in Opposition appear desirable, and indeed possible, become, when that Party forms the Government of the country, although still desirable, for the moment at least impossible. So there must be a great deal of time spent in the actual practical policy-making, and, following upon that, the implementation of the policy.

Those who are specifically concerned with the making of policy are not the Members of Parliament of either House but, in realistic terms, they are the members of the Government, the Ministers themselves, and their officials. I am afraid it is a fact that both the members of the Government and the officials, particularly the senior officials, are—I say this without being cynical—so busy doing their best to rectify the mistakes of previous Administrations of some 10, 15, or even 20 years ago, that they have precious little time left over to avoid similar mistakes which their successors in 10 or 15 years' time will have to put right. So one gets into a vicious circle or slide in which there is no time available to those whose job it is to think out seriously the policies which are essential if the country is to prosper in the years ahead and not simply to get out of its immediate difficulties.

In order to overcome this situation, I believe that the Ministry should have a small but high-powered group of officials whose job it is solely to look forward, to foresee problems before they arise and to suggest means of coping with them. I know that there is just such a group in the Foreign Office, which fulfils a very valuable function. I hope that in the Board of Trade there is now such a group, and it may be that in other Ministries there are or will be such groups. I certainly believe that it is an essential part of any Government Department to have such a small, forward-looking group and that there should also be not the head of the Department himself but one of his junior Ministers who should be specially charged with overseeing or co-operating with the small planning group.


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes from that very interesting point, may I say that what puzzles me is how such a system would operate. Would this group plan in a void? From where would they get their information, data and statistics to form their planning? The weakness of such a suggestion lies not in the absence of planning machinery, which can always be evolved, but in the fact that under our system of Parliamentary control difficulty arises in getting sufficiently accurate data on which any such group could ever arrive at conclusions which would have any validity over a long period.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for his intervention. There is always difficulty in planning accurately ahead, but it still must be done. I have some personal experience of this system at work in the Foreign Office. What is going to happen in certain Darts of the world in five or ten years' time is foreseen; one knows what the problem will be and what will happen as a result of certain circumstances. The information is gathered in the Department itself, from other Government Departments, from the universities, from such bodies as the Institute of International Affairs, and so on. The information can be obtained, but it needs people with the time, ability and training to study these problems.


My Lords, does my noble friend envisage that there would be such a group in the Treasury? I can see difficulties in that suggestion.


My Lords, undoubtedly there should be such a group in the Ministry which is responsible for the economic life of this country. Whether it should be in the Treasury, in the D.E.A., in the Board of Trade, or where it should be, I will not say, but I feel that there must be such a group, which will be a most important group, to undertake this forward thinking. This system exists already, but I think it should be considerably strengthened.

I believe that the whole mechanism of policy-making to-day and the form in which it is supposed officially to be made is at fault. It is based on the far more leisurely days of Queen Victoria. It was then possible for Ministers—because they were not overcome by events and because they did not have to run just to keep in the same place—to relax to some extent and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, even to write novels. It was possible for them also, in between writing novels, possibly even while shooting their grouse or catching their salmon, to think. It is a very important thing to be able to think, away from the turmoil of the actual Government office, whether it be in Whitehall, Downing Street, or Westminster. Those thoughts were brought back by the Ministers to their Departments, were discussed, again with a certain amount of leisure, with their senior officials, and in that way were translated into policy. That was effective and good.

But in the circumstances of to-day very few Ministers have time—and, one must admit, fewer have sufficient background—in which to formulate policy as it should be formulated. Therefore, we have the situation where to a large extent the formulation of policy is left to officials. We all know that officials are admirable people who have many high qualities, but they have not been selected on the basis that they are to be the people who will be the policy-makers. Broadly speaking, they are still selected as they were in the mid-19th century, when their job principally was to point out tie difficulties of any new policies which Ministers might put forward, and, when the policies were finally formulated and adopted, to implement them—but it was not for them to provide new ideas. They were then selected, and they still are, for the job, engagingly described by the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, of preventing their Ministers from saying anything at any time which might prove embarrassing.

Even in those far-off Victorian days officials still had great powers of obstruction. It is wrong to think that it is only to-day that we have the dead hand of bureaucracy upon us and that in the freer days of Queen Victoria all was well. Some of your Lordships may remember that Florence Nightingale wrote to Sir John McNeil about her failure with the then Minister of War, Sidney Herbert, to bring about reforms in the Army. She wrote: What strikes me in this great defeat, even more painfully than the loss to the Army, is the triumph of the bureaucracy over the leaders. Therefore this is no new phenomenon. To-day, when policy is discussed by Ministers, unfortunately the Minister is far too often little more than a spokesman to a Departmental brief, and frequently lie has played little original part in the formulation of the policy to which he is speaking. I have always mistrusted those Ministers who are well spoken of by their officials. I feel far greater instinctive regard for the Minister who is something of a rebel or who is regarded as a difficult man by his officials.

Perhaps the most useful thing to do in this debate would be to present some concrete examples, instead of taking in vague and abstract terms, but that course clearly presents difficulties. If I were to give examples, which I dearly should like to give and of which I have personal knowledge, it might not be considered quite the correct thing to do and might cause a certain amount of embarrassment to people whom I should not wish to embarrass. On the other hand, to talk about something of which one has no knowledge clearly has no value, so I shall try to effect a compromise and give a concrete example from a situation of which I have partial personal knowledge and where the rest is pure surmise. I shall leave it to your Lordships to guess which parts are surmise and which parts are personal knowledge.

During the past few months there has taken place in New Delhi the second United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. That, in my view, was one of the most far-reaching conferences, or should have been, on the international plane that has been held for a long time. It is a matter to which Her Majesty's Government should have given a very great deal of thought, because our action at the second UNCTAD could, I believe, have more effect on the development of the rest of the world over the years ahead than almost any other single action that we could take.

That being so, the Government Department with the primary responsibility here must be the Foreign Office; and in my view, therefore, the initiative for evolving our policy to be presented in New Delhi should have rested primarily with the Foreign Office, in close co-operation with the Commonwealth Office. Clearly, closely allied to those two Departments should be the Ministry of Overseas Development, for very obvious reasons; the Board of Trade, also for obvious reasons; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because it has a considerable connection with food imports from the developing countries; and, clearly, the Treasury.

I suggest that the way the policy for the Conference could have been worked out was that in the initial stages Ministers from those Departments, with their officials, should have met together round the table for preliminary talks, and there the general policy outline should have been laid down. Following upon that, each Department should have gone back and examined the implications of the outline policy from its own departmental point of view, always with joint consultations taking place between the Minister in charge of the particular operation and the officials who were dealing with it and who had the expert knowledge. That would ensure a realistic blending of the political ideas of the Government in power—what they wished to do, what they stood for—with the practical possibilities, looked at in the light of the background knowledge which could only be provided by the officials, and a merging of the conflicting interests of trade, agriculture, aid, Treasury and all the rest of it.

Following upon that, there clearly should have been a series of interdepartmental meetings, always, I repeat, with Ministers and officials present, and in that way an agreed policy could have been threshed out which could then have been put before the entire Cabinet. I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Aylestone when he says that it is manifestly impossible for a busy Cabinet Minister, or even for an un-busy Cabinet Minister, if there is such a person, to be able to form a worthwhile view on a subject of this type when he has only 24 or 48 hours in which to read the papers that are put before him.

But, unfortunately, that is not how this worked out, because there is a "T" in UNCTAD, and the "T" stands for Trade. The Board of Trade had been considered the Department primarily responsible for preparing a policy for UNCTAD and the policy was originally worked out at Government level with, undoubtedly, consultation with other Government Departments. But the initiative rested with the Board of Trade, and only at a relatively late stage did the recommendations from the official series of meetings reach Ministers. By then there was not very much time left before the Conference actually took place, and without going back to the beginning and re-hashing the whole affair there was very little that Ministers could do, should they wish to change the policy or to influence it in any way.

I certainly would not for a moment describe civil servants in Shakespeare's words in Measure for Measure, … man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he's most assured", because I repeat that officials are extremely intelligent people. But, again I repeat, they are not selected for this particular form of policy-making job, and force of circumstance often makes them ignorant of those matters where they have to show themselves assured, because they have pushed upon them jobs for which they are not trained, qualified or selected. I do not believe that policy can be left to people, no matter how eminent or how intelligent, who are not responsible to the electors and who are selected for a job which is fundamentally different from that of policy-making.

The job of the officials—and I hope I am not being felt here to be making an attack upon the officials, because I am far from doing that—which by force of circumstance they are having to do, is primarily one for politicians to do. The dichotomy between politicians and civil servants which has grown up and which exists to-day must cease, and both must work together at all levels and at all stages in the formulation of policy to make sure that the practical implications, the political implications, the conformity to the ideals of the Party in power, and the conformity to the realities of the situation are all properly considered.

I repeat that the fault here, in so far as there is a fault—and I believe that it is a fault of structure and not of personalities—primarily lies with the politicians, with the Ministers, themselves. They have the power to make this present system work, provided that they have the will and the ability to do it. I hope that when my noble friend replies he will be able to assure me that there will be an ever-increasing effort to bring the two sides of the policy-making body—the official side and the political side—together so closely that, from the lowest levels of the beginnings of the embryo of policy formation up until the final birth of the child, there will be consultation between those two essential bodies.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend the Leader of the House will forgive me if I use two of the words which he dislikes so much and say that with some trepidation I enter this macro-debate which is filled with a galaxy of experienced talent, but I promise I will try to keep my contribution as micro as possible. I think it is true to-day, as several noble Lords have mentioned, that there is a feeling of disillusionment with politics and with politicians. I think, however, that there is a positive side to this, because people to-day expect more. They are educated more highly, there is a rising standard of living, and I think they take less from the politicians than they did in the past. They do not see them as rather remote, grand creatures and, with television coming into everyone's home, everyone becomes his own politician.

But, unfortunately, few people are activist enough to participate and I think this is where the great frustration comes. We have seen this recently in the demonstrations of protest by young people who, I think, express this feeling of frustration, this feeling of being part of far larger units than young people were many years ago. They have been educated in large classes. If they go to university, the universities are much larger, and they go out to work probably in far larger units. This, I think, creates a barrier between them and what they feel is happening and is being done in their name.

On this point I should like to make one suggestion, and that is that the Government now, having accepted the recommendations of the Latey Committee, turn down the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference and give young people, the vote at 18, which would be in line with the age of majority recommended for other things by the Latey Committee. If one wants people to participate and to show responsibility then I think one must give them the opportunity to be responsible. One must not say, "Just wait", but must let them use their vote and be more articulate by means of the ballot box, even at the age of 18.

Again, I think that much more needs to be done in the way of communication; and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he talks of both Houses of Parliament having their proceedings televised. Of course, the speeches of all of us would have to be edited down a lot if we were to retain the attention of the viewers, but it still, I think, would be immensely worth while. If I may say so—and, as a comparative newcomer, I feel sensitive about this, although I have stood as a candidate three times and have been firmly but to varying degrees resisted by the electorate—I think that one of the occupational diseases of Governments and politicians is always to have to prove themselves to be right on every occasion. Since the electorate is not so stupid, and everyone knows that no one is perfect, nobody quite believes this, and would much rather occasionally hear, "I was wrong".

If I may say so, I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, when he said that the House of Commons has no effect upon Government and that the Executive is controlled by the electorate and not by Parliament. I think Question Time, which we have in both Houses, is an extremely valuable safeguard, and also a great "nudger" of the Government. I think the Adjournment Debates, Private Members' Bills and many other mechanisms in our system, act as pinpricks, which can become very large dagger wounds, on things that the Government are doing to which Parliament objects and to which the electorate, through Parliament, may also object.

Whatever one thinks about the various suggestions that have been put forward to-day and the various kites that have been flown, I think we are faced with more and more legislative work and governmental work, and a tremendous pressure on everybody's time, particularly the time of Members of Parliament. It is perfectly true that as one set of injustices is righted by legislation it highlights more injustices. This is a natural evolution of government and also of our social system. We are faced with the question: what is the best way to allocate the time so that Members of Parliament and the Government can use that time to the best of their ability and to the best purpose? Here I would say that, although I am aware that the M.P. is naturally jealous of his contact with his constituents in the work he does in his constituency, it may well be that we need regional or local Ombudsmen in order to take some of the work off the M.P.; because even if he works 24 hours a day there is a limit to the amount of time that he can give.

When we are discussing this question of trying to stretch time and arrange the work to go round, the reform of the House of Lords is so relevant that really one cannot opt out of it for the purpose of this debate and consider it sub judice. Because, after all, what we are discussing is the effectiveness of Parliament, and we cannot discuss that without discussing both Houses. Whatever is done in terms of composition of your Lordships' House, the two Houses surely must be made complementary in their work, with the Commons as the senior partner because it is the elected body, and with the Lords bringing to their work stability, continuity, security of tenure and independence—which determines the limit of how far they can be "Whipped"—as well as a great deal of expertise.

It seems to me that Joint Committees consisting of Members of both Houses could help both to relieve the strain and the quantity of work and improve the quality. If they operated in consensus areas such as education, science and technology, agriculture and social services—and there would probably be other fields in the future—then these Joint Committees would be carrying on work which would be supervisory and inquisitorial at times, and which would cover many of the points raised this afternoon and also raised in other discussions about our legislative process. A Joint Committee of both Houses could also put cases to the Ombudsman. I feel there is no need at this moment, my Lords—and I hope there never will be—to panic into fear of dictatorship or fear of excesses either on the Right or on the Left. We fortunately do not have the sort of Government that we see in other countries. We have a Government and an Opposition—and here I agree with those noble Lords who answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, about a Coalition. We do not need to change the concept of our democracy, or alter its foundations, but what we have to do is to find ways to improve it so that it functions in a more efficient way in our modern, rapidly-changing world.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, inevitably a great deal of ground has been covered in the debate on this Motion this afternoon, but there have been two central strands which have run through the discussion. The first is the structure or the machinery of government, and the second is Parliamentary control over the Executive. In order to try to draw the debate into rather a narrower focus at this stage I shall concentrate on a brief discussion of economic policy under these two headings. There are two justifications for this: first of all, because the intractable problems of economic policy overshadow everything else in contemporary British national politics; and secondly, because, as Morley remarked when writing about the spirit of Gladstonian finance, it is in this department of affairs that words out of relation to fact are most surelexposed". Incidentally, my Lords, the name of Gladstone has been mentioned several times in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others. So also has Mr. Humphry Berkeley's book, The Power of the Prime Minister. Mr. Gladstone himself, Mr. Berkeley reports, does not seem to have been so sure about his powers. In 1880 when Gladstone asked Lord Carrington to resign the latter refused, and Gladstone, unsure of his powers, dropped his action for a year. I am sure that even with the diminishing size of the Shadow Cabinet my noble friend will not need to have recourse to historical precedent.

It has been said in this debate and outside—by Mr. George Brown in the Sunday Times, for example—that the Cabinet suffers from a lack of adequate machinery to keep its overall policy under continuous review. It is said that the full Cabinet is too weighted down with departmental Ministers who are preoccupied with affairs of the moment. This is not just a question of mechanics, the argument goes on, but is a feature which directly affects the quality of Government itself. The absence of strategic thinking". a commentator in The Times wrote recently, is one of the main reasons why public spending periodically gets out of control. This was one of the themes of the very notable and authoritative maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and also the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I hope it is not therefore impertinent for me to question this proposition. It seems to me the sort of short-term diagnosis which is quickly taken up and passed around in our rather inbred political system, and is sometimes accepted too easily.

The problem, surely, is the age-old one, familiar in politics, in business, in social work, in education, or in any other form of organisation where day-to-day work makes heavy demands. What has to be reconciled is the need to run the organisation effectively, while at the same time retaining a perspective, a vision of the future, and how to get there. No one put it more succinctly than Oliver Wendell Holmes when he wrote: The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are going. The desire for a release, for an easy way out of the conflict, discussed this after- noon as on many occasions in the past, is to try to divide responsibility for future planning from the daily despatch of business.

My Lords, let us consider an example which repays careful study, the Department of Economic Affairs. The D.E.A. was set up in 1964. The decision to do so, we are told, was taken by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Brown in the back of a taxi. Since the trip only extended the few hundred yards from the St Ermin's Hotel to the House of Commons it could not have taken them very long. It was argued that a Department of Economic Affairs parallel with the Treasury would be able to concern itself with planning the future expansion of the economy. This would leave the Treasury, suspected of deflationary tendencies and caricatured by the concept of "Stop Go", to occupy itself mainly with financial matters—the control over public spending and control over establishments.

What happened? The first phase, the preparation of a prices and incomes policy, culminating in the Declaration of Intent at the end of 1964, failed. Compulsory methods were thought at the time to be unacceptable; voluntary ones clearly did not work. Moreover the D.E.A., encouraged by the newly recruited Industrial Advisers, had begun to show signs of failing to appreciate the difference between a planning and a coordinating Department, and one that directly coincides with the work of other sponsoring Departments. Later the National Plan also vanished when the economic climate worsened.

Mr. Douglas Jay who has had long experience, almost unparalleled experience perhaps, in the management of economic policy, first as a civil servant and then as a Minister in two Governments, has recently gone on record with a carefully reasoned analysis of why the D.E.A. failed. The main analysis was published in the current issue of the Political Quarterly, and a shorter version of it, also by Mr. Jay, appeared in the Financial Times on April 4. In both articles Mr. Jay reiterated the basic principle of good organisation in government, in business or elsewhere; that is, that responsibility and authority should be clearly established. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, he argued, must also act as Minister of Economic Affairs, as Sir Stafford Cripps did in 1947. That followed a period between 1945–47 when responsibility was divided between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Lord President of the Council who acted as Economic Co-ordinator. According to Mr. Jay: In 1947 we at least learnt wisdom after the event. In 1967 we failed to learn it after two. Such has been post-war progress. I do not make this point in a Party political context—that would be out of place in this particular debate—but rather to show that in this instance dual control of economic policies has not worked. If the rational management of economic policy is to be achieved, D.E.A. functions must be transferred to the Chancellor. Shorn of the Industrial Advisers, the very able permanent officials in the D.E.A. need not necessarily be incorporated in the Treasury. They could form a separate Planning Unit which would report to the Chancellor direct. I do not believe it is either wise or necessary for the D.E.A. to have direct contacts with industry. These tend to duplicate the machinery already there, and confuse what should be the clearly established responsibilities of the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Labour. As my noble friend, Lord Carrington, has said, more government in this field does not necessarily mean better government. Less government can result in clearer lines of communication.

The second point that I can deal with rather briefly—still in an economic context—is Parliamentary control of the Executive, about which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, spoke in his speech. Like other noble Lords I will refer to the House of Commons. It is impossible to talk about relations between Parliament and the Executive without doing so. But I do so in the same way as did the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in a spirit of inquiry and rational discussion, not intending in any way to aggravate relations between the two Houses of Parliament. To say that the power and influence of the House of Commons is founded upon the control of the purse is a constitutional platitude and to add that no representative Chamber in the Western World has at the moment less control over finance than the Commons is almost as platitudinous. That was the comment, not of a critic of Parliament but of a former Clerk of the House of Commons, after a lifetime spent in the service of Parliament. Sir Edward Fellowes, in his article in the Winter 1967–68 edition of Parliamentary Affairs, points out that over the years Parliament, in its efforts to secure control over appropriation, has become too concerned with counting the trees and in doing so has lost control of the size and shape of the wood.

In a Parliamentary sense the word "control" has a special meaning. It is possible to criticise the lack of Parliamentary control by interpreting the word "control" too literally. As I understand it, Parliamentary control has come to mean the opportunity to debate issues of the day, to amend legislation, and to bring opinion to bear on the Government. All of this is influential, and if the Party system has meant that the classic sanctions of constitutional theory no longer apply, I believe few noble Lords would deny that on occasion Parliament has had, and continues to have, its own form of influence. But in economic policy the occasion for this influence to be applied comes too late.

If the approach to Budget framing is for the Cabinet to take decisions on the overall amount of Government expenditure, and the priorities to be followed, leaving the Treasury to hammer out the details with the Departments, the question that arises is: Should not Parliament have an opportunity to debate the first of these stages and not merely the last of them? Would it not be desirable if, early in the year—say in February—the House of Commons had an opportunity to debate an Affirmative Resolution to the effect that a sum not exceeding the sum of the total requirements estimated by the Government as necessary for the next financial year be granted? This debate, which would be concerned with the overall scale of Government expenditure, could then be followed by a second debate—in March, perhaps—on the Government's proposals to allocate maximum amounts for different categories of expenditure: defence, the social services and so on. The relative priorities lying behind these proposals could also be questioned and discussed. Both these stages would precede the production of departmental estimates and scrutiny by the Estimates Committee. In this way Parliament could make its influence felt at the crucial stage when policy was still relatively flexible, rather than just being presented with the end result of the process and asked to support it as a matter of confidence in the Government.

Finally, my Lords, although inevitably there are differences between the Government and the Opposition Parties on policies, it seems that one area where we can agree is that policies are not being as effectively carried out as they should be. First of all, the Government, which means the Cabinet in this context, or Departmental Ministers in the Cabinet, have to decide what they want to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, the Government must govern. It is not good enough to say that there is insufficient time to do this. The ability to do so is the basic distinction between a wise man (perhaps we should avoid the word "statesman") and a man who limits himself to less than his own potential. But decisions on policy—preferably born out of debate, informed, critical, passionate—must lead to action. Because unless the policies of Ministers can be carried out, the whole process of government will be frustrated.

The facile solution is to say that the Departments must be ready to carry out the policies of the Government once the Government have decided what their policy is. If they do not have enough staff, according to this argument, they should take on some more. The increase in the number of non-industrial civil servants, an extra 59,000 between October, 1964, and March, 1968, suggests that this is sometimes the attitude. But surely in politics, my Lords, as elsewhere, that is not the way to go about it. To ensure that an effective system is built up for the evolution and efficient execution of the whole continuing flow of policy, Ministers and permanent officials must work closely together, so that what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has called a common mind within a Department can be developed. Situations in which taxes like the selective employment tax are introduced very much at the last moment, virtually overwhelming the Departments, are an indication of an insensitive and, in the end, self-defeating approach towards public administration. What is needed is a more purposeful system of government, with politicians and permanent officials each knowing where they stand in a relationship of mutual confidence.

My Lords, I suggest that it is only in this way that the pressure of events can be kept in proportion, and a genuinely far-seeing set of policies worked out which are capable of being realised. When things go wrong and Governments and political institutions are criticised, as they are to-day, it is very easy and understandable for politicians to blame events. But in seeking to adapt and improve our institutions we shall do well to remember, as the poet said: Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate. It has given us a chance to hear a number of notable speeches, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, whose fascinating; but discreet glimpses of life in the Government, followed by one or two other noble Lords, will I think repay careful study in the pages of Hansard, as much as they have repaid us in your Lordships' House to-day.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was very brave to set up, as something on which to hang this debate, the model reform of government. I think that we are all agreed, at least all the speakers in the debate have been agreed, that reform must go carefully in these matters, and slowly; but I do not think we realise quite so much that it is very important to have some kind of vision of where you are going, and to have a working model by which you can proceed. During the course of time the working model will have to be changed as progress is made, but I think that this has been a valuable contribution.

I have been slightly worried by an attitude produced by most speakers, possibly largely because they were following the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in the scope of this debate, as to the degree of difficulty there is, the degree of unease there is in the country, the degree of alienation there is from the Government. I do not think that this should be blamed merely on bad government, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, at one moment seemed to suggest, or on anything specifically that may pass over. In fact, I think that if one looks at the whole of Western Europe, one will see that there is this alienation from Government. I think it is something which we have to bear in mind, and that is why I was so grateful to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who brought the debate round to this point again.

I think it is possibly no accident that it was the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who spoke deeply about the question of the feeling in the regions that they are divorced from London, because he, like myself, is an honorary official of the organisation of his Party. He travels round the country and knows what the workers in the field and the ordinary voters over a very wide area feel in these matters. The last five years which I have spent going round with Party workers and meeting members of all kinds of organisations in the country leave me under no illusion that there is a very real sense of alienation. Surely this follows the logic of what one would expect. The more complex and concentrated the issues of government get, the more people will get worried that it is being taken away from them and, therefore, the more need there is to devolve as many decisions as possible. The larger the unit of government the more we want to get into the Common Market; and the more we take part in the United Nations the more need there is to devolve back power in smaller matters to people. The more educated the electorate gets the more say people will want. It is not so much a question that the Government are getting more remote from the people—although they are—but that people, quite rightly in this democracy, want more say in the Government than they have ever had before.

My Lords, there are many ways of doing this. One of them is regional and national devolution to bring the electorate nearer to many decisions affecting their ordinary life. But I should like, even in these last few moments of the debate, before we get, so to speak, to the encores, to narrow it down to a subject which I hope your Lordships will not think too divorced from what we have been considering; that is, the system of election, because I think that this is something which can have a real effect on the relationship between the Government and the governed. We all know the main general arguments, and I do not intend to dwell on them—matters like proportional representation in our present electoral system. We all know the non-senses that there are. For instance, in 1945 the Labour Party had 48 per cent. of the votes and a two-to-one majority in the House of Commons. In 1951 it had 49 per cent. and was out of office; and in 1964 it had 44 per cent. and it was back in office again. This is a ridiculous situation. We also know the arguments against proportional representation. Some of them are superstitions. There is, for instance, no evidence that it leads to an increase in the number of Parties. It certainly leads to government by the consent of more of the democracy.

What I want to look at now is its effect on the electorate. First of all, the bringing in of proportional representation by the single tranferable vote—not the Party lists system, may I emphasise—would do away with the apathy in minority Parties which is very harmful. I am not referring just to the Liberal Party, or to the Nationalists or whatever Party it may happen to be. When I was head of organisation of the Liberal Party I used to look at the Labour organisation in strong Conservative seats and pluck up my courage again about some of the organisations in my own Party. The same is true, as we have seen in recent by-elections, of strong Labour seats as well, where there has been not all that much organisation. This has not applied so much to the Conservatives, because they have always been able to pay for workers in these seats; but in single-Member seats with a large majority for one other of the Parties it is very bad for democracy and participation that small Parties should have little hope. Under proportional representation, they would be able to get in at least one Member.

It is often said that, because of the wider area covered, proportional representation will decrease the contact of a Member of Parliament with his constituents. I do not accept this. In fact, I think there are four ways in which it will encourage closer contact. First, every constituent will be able to find a sympathetic Member to represent him. We all know that Members of Parliament fall over backwards to represent fairly their constituents of all creeds and beliefs. But, even so, there are one or two Members to whom coloured people suffering from discrimination might not be too happy to go to; and this applies in many different ways.

Secondly, the good constituency Member would have more security. Thirdly, there would be more local Members. If you are a Labour supporter living in Suffolk, and want to get into the House of Commons you have to travel outside the area in order to stand a chance of getting a seat. Finally, there would be a real choice between candidates of the same Party on major issues. People would be able to vote not just for a Conservative or Labour Member but, for example, for a Conservative candidate who was in favour of going into the Common Market, or for a Conservative who is against it; and the same would apply on the Labour side. This would bring back more power to the people. It would be a more plebiscidal approach. It would get rid of the apathy and negative voting caused by the present "split vote" system, whether it operates against a Liberal, or in the Twin Cities against a Tory, or in Orpington against Labour. In all those cases it is a bad thing. It would do a lot to weaken the power of the Party Whips, because there would be no question of having the position, in a place like Pembroke, for example, where people have to vote either for the official Party or for the unofficial Party, knowing that they are splitting the Party vote and may allow the other Party to get in.

Lastly, and most important of all, for proportional representation we should have to educate the electorate more thoroughly. Democracy, we are told, is government by explanation. But we do not do nearly enough explaining. I think it is important because, as I know perfectly well, as does anyone who has had anything to do with Party organisation, half the Members of Parliament of this country are chosen by twenty people in a smoke-filled back room; there is no real and wide electoral choice. People in a modern, educated democracy demand either efficiency or real democracy. If they suspect that they are getting neither, they may reject democracy altogether—though I do not wish to raise bogies too high. There is a mood and a move to this all over the Western World. I think we should do well to try to put our house in order before it is too late.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, having spoken, I regret to say, rather lengthily at the beginning, I shall try to make up for this by speaking rather briefly now. I was handicapped at the beginning by the consciousness that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had already made the speech I had intended to make. This is not a sign for the Liberals, who are so inclined to propagate that Labour and Conservative are just the same; it is just that we understand politics rather better, because we both have had experience of office and know what it is about.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, can be gratified at what I believe has been a truly excellent debate, conducted in the best style and with that independence of thinking and freedom from prejudice which usually marks debates in your Lordships' House. I find it almost patronising, when someone like my noble friend Lord Aylestone comes to this House, to say what an excellent maiden speech he has made, because I have known him since he was a Flight Lieutenant in the Air Force in 1945 and I was his Squadron Leader. I think he chose an admirable subject on which to make his maiden speech, and he showed the refreshing independence which conies from ex-members of the Government. We found the same refreshing independence in the speech of my noble friend Lord Longford who, whatever else may have happened to him, certainly has not lost his wit, his capacity and charm of expression. I thought that he walked most delicately and skilfully along a dangerous path. My own experience of Cabinets is rather short, and my noble friend has been a member of Government one way or the other for nine or ten years. I would say only this on the subject of Cabinet government. There seemed to be a certain consensus in your Lordships' House as to the size of the Cabinet. But one thing is apparent to me, and that is, from the experiences that have been revealed, that each Cabinet is different from another. I am only sorry that my old friend the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who took part in our last debate and who wrote one of the best books on government, Morrison on Government (he always wanted to be known as "Morrison on Government"), is not here to add in that very characteristic jolly way of his own experience and common sense. Certainly both the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, treated us to brilliant speeches.

I must say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, as to his view of the Whips. He painted an attractive picture. One of the points on which I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is that I do not want to weaken the Whips. The Whips manage extremely well in difficult circumstances. They are more liberal people than one realises. A great deal of their time is spent in trying to carry on the Government, the collective loyalty, the loyalty which is the basis of the Party system, while at the same time making it possible for people to exercise freedom of conscience. I talked earlier at some length on the Party structure and the Party system, and I will not go further into this matter now.

I should like to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, in his speech—and I apologise to the noble Lord for having missed it. I am told that he chided me about referring to the value of taking the Finance Bill upstairs, and suggested that either I had not read my brief or that I had just read it without clearing it. As a matter of fact, I wrote that part of the brief myself, or at least I put it in. It has, of course, already revealed its value, because it has provided more time on the Floor of the House which is available to Private Members and to the Government (this is perhaps where the noble Lord might disagree) so that they can get even more legislation through. Maybe at this point he would say that although he acknowledges that the results are there, he may not regard them as wholly beneficial.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would agree that it would be wiser to wait a little longer before striking a balance.


We will wait for that. It was part of the reforms on procedure which are taking place. Those of us who have been in another place have always been very conscious of the difficulties within that structure. Here is this attempt to try to break out of the straitjacket, but not to break out in a way which bursts it asunder. I was very pleased that my noble friend Baroness Birk referred to the reform of the House of Lords as a contribution to this sort of further freedom for Parliament to exercise the role which I tried to set out perhaps in somewhat elaborate terms. I rather hope that my speech will look better when I come to read it than I felt it was at the time when I delivered it.

I am sorry that a number of noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and the noble Lord, Lord Strang—were unable to take part in the debate, but I still think that it has been a worthwhile and well-balanced debate. Again, one wants traditionally to have the contribution of what I call professional Cross-Benchers instead of purely amateur Cross-Benchers. I regard my noble friend Lord Aylestone as an amateur Cross-Bencher and the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, as a professional Cross-Bencher. I hope that I did not give an indication that, in regard to Committees and the challenging of Government Departments and officials, I was in any way other than in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Caccia. But we must recognise that the development of inquisitorial Committees (and I am in favour of them) will put heavy demands on Departments. This act alone is likely to add to the number of civil servants if they are going to spend a great deal of time answering questions. But I am sure that this is an inevitable process.

Shocked as I was by the really deplorable picture which the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, gave of Ministers not actually telling lies, but misleading the House, I can only say (and I am very sorry to say this) that he must have been speaking for the Foreign Office in this matter. It may be that anything to do with foreign affairs is always so sensitive that it is never possible to tell the whole story.

But it may well be that we shall be able to find a way for the development of the Committee system. There are difficulties, of course, in overcoming the secrecy question; and there is the problem that it is not possible for the Government ever to dictate to a Select Committee (this is no doubt true of Congress, as well) as to what is to be regarded as confidential and what is not. It is important, both for Ministers and for officials, to distinguish between what is confidential to the national interest and what is confidential merely because it is embarrassing. This is the sort of issue on which anyone with ministerial experience will realise that he will at time be advised: "It will be very embarrassing to give the full story", and at that point a Minister must recognise his responsibility.

Perhaps we have not focused enough on the role of Ministers. We get the Government we deserve, we get the Parliament we deserve, we get the official support that we deserve, very much according to the competence, imagination and integrity of Ministers. Here we have the great difficulty that a large number of Ministers are always in process of learning their jobs. I do not see how we get over this. I have changed my title, luckily without very much change in effect, three times in the last four months. In January I was Minister without Portfolio; in February I was Lord Privy Seal, and now I am Paymaster General. Luckily, the results seem to be more or less the same, provided I am allowed to remain in this country.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Aylestone that at times communication between officials and Ministers does not always work. This is sometimes the fault of officials and sometimes the fault of Ministers. Sometimes it can be formalised. I have attended (I must be careful not to go into too much detail) many meettings and observed different techniques by Ministers in dealing with their officials. But of one thing I am certain; that is, that in any really important issue, in any delicate or difficult subject, and certainly in a negotiation, it is essential that there should be the freest discussion. I cannot, therefore, comment on the tale relating to UNCTAD. I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lord Walston. I should have liked to pursue this to find out what really happened. I have my own view as to how much he was surmising and how much he was reporting. I think there was a certain element of surmise in it. I am not sure how deeply he was involved in all the aspects of this.

This question of communication between Departments and officials is an important one. It raises the whole question of Cabinet Committees, which I am not really in a position to discuss. There is no doubt that at some times the system works better than at others, and sometimes it works particularly well thanks to the fact that officials are so good at making sense out of something which has been said in a meeting but which leaves a Minister totally confused as to what has been decided. I think it was Mr. Macmillan who once accused Sir Norman Brooke of falsifying Minutes because he made Cabinet Minutes sound as if a rational discussion had taken place.

My Lords, I will not delay your Lordships much longer. I listened, of course, to what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said with characteristic competence. Perhaps when he has had ministerial experience—I should not like to forecast when that will be, but it will probably come some time, if not in my lifetime, in my son's lifetime—he will in fact take a different view of some of these points. But, none the less, I think it was characteristic, as all the speeches have been, of the very real thought which people have given to this problem, and therefore it is a further contribution to this great study.

If I may refer briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, we listened to his eloquence, the eloquent-like part of his speech, and I must say, speaking entirely personally, that I found certain merits in his arguments. But, equally, they would have all sorts of consequential disadvantages. But on this question which he raised of the disillusionment felt with Government he was absolutely right to point out that it is not confined to this country. In some ways, if one looks at the situation—I am not making a Party point—before the war, with the poverty and unemployment in this country, and indeed the appalling disillusionment with men permanently on the dole, it is somewhat ironic to talk about disillusionment to-day. I think it was my noble friend, Lady Birk, who gave examples and referred to the size of classes. I would not think that the classes to-day were any larger than before—rather the reverse. But all this is a subject to which sociologists and others will give consideration.

However, I do emphasise that responsibility rests on politicians, and if I have a message, in conclusion of a debate for which we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, it is that we ourselves must face these responsibilities. And while we must be determined to press on with the reforms, I believe that there is a lot that can be gradually done and, indeed, is going on now. But I hope that we shall still not lose our nerve and our confidence in a system which, on the whole, has stood us in pretty good stead, and I think is capable of adaptation to the future.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, before withdrawing my Motion I should like, perhaps for five minutes, to detain your Lordships while I tell you what broad conclusions I myself have drawn from this, I think, excellent debate. In the first place, I think there was very large agreement upon the idea that we ought to have a smaller Cabinet, or at any rate a smaller group in the Cabinet. I suggest that we might call it a Politbureau, consisting of not more than four or five people to assist the Prime Minister. There was a difference of view between the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, in his marvellous maiden speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, as to how this should be composed. Personally, I rather agree with Lord Redmayne as to how it should be composed. But that was detail. It would be a good thing to have a small group dealing with the central affairs of government.

I think also there was general agreement on the necessity for some kind of devolution. We did not discuss that point in detail, but I had the sense that this House was very largely in favour of it on the broad lines I gave. It may be Liberal policy, but I think it is also largely accepted by the other Parties concerned. I had that impression, and I think it is a very good thing.

I believe that there might be, quite likely there would be, general agreement for the revolutionary proposal of Lord Aylestone that there should be a smaller House of Commons. I myself am very much in favour of the principle. There is only one thing: the larger constituencies would elect Members by some form of official transferable vote, as Lord Beaumont of Whitley suggested. But I should be 100 per cent. in favour of it, and I consider it would be an excellent thing. I think there was large agreement in this House that the Crossman reforms were at any rate a good beginning. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that, and I believe most people would agree, except possibly the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, who shares the views of Mr. Michael Foot to the effect that these are not desirable at all, and that most things should be fought out by the body of the House. I think also that there would be general agreement—and I certainly would not oppose this—that reforms of our system come about in practice by the process of evolution. I would not deny that for a moment. Nevertheless, I myself would say that unless we occasionally make rather way-out proposals, the process of evolution might well be too slow.

That brings me on to my second point, which is that I thought there was much too much complacency on the part of noble Lords in this debate about the whole future of democracy in this country. I thought all noble Lords were very complacent, with the sole exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who, however, we are told, will shortly grow out of these ideas when he has had more experience. Apart from that, I believe there is a real current of unrest in this country, and something must be seen to be done; the impression must be given that something is being done about this machine. I do not know how, but people should have that impression, and unless they do I really believe the situation will be quite dangerous.

That brings me to my final remark, my own proposal, and, acceptable though it may be, it is not accepted by anybody in this House at the present time. Nevertheless, it has been largely, perhaps, misunderstood because it is new. It really reduces itself to this. It is a proposal to limit by law the number of Parliamentarians in the Government. It may be limited to one; that was my original suggestion. It could be limited to five, or to a few more, but the whole point is to limit the number of "place-men" in the House of Commons and get it down from 110—it will soon be 150 absolute place-men, whose only duty is to tramp round the corridors supporting the Government. That is what I think is fundamentally wrong, and that is what I want to change; and I think this fundamental idea may possibly take root and, indeed, spread. I hope it does. In that hope my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.