§ Report from the Select Committee on Procedure to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Considered accordingly.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Procedure.I should like, first, to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) and his colleagues on the Select Committee for their Report. The Committee states that it approached its task. "in no partisan spirit", and adds:…we are of one mind in our determination to make our recommendations such as will uphold the dignity and prestige of the House of Commons.I hope that that same spirit will inform our debate today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn is an old and trusted Member of this House. I think that his colleagues were valuable, vociferous and well-informed and that we are grateful to them for the Report which has been submitted to us.
I do not wish to take up too much time of the House, as the debate will provide an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides to make their views known. I have taken note of the hope expressed by the Select Committee that… the House will continue to show their approval of a front-bencher who can compress his points well within the compass of half an hour".I hope that this will also apply to Privy Councillors. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I am anxiously watching the clock.
The House will recall that the occasion for setting up the Select Committee was the very useful debate that we had on 31st January, 1958. The debate was opened by the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram), to whom we are indebted. If all hon. Members used the opportunities provided by success in the Ballot for private Members' Motions to such good advantage we should improve the procedure of the House. I think that what 37 emerged from that debate was the realisation that it is quite easy to criticise Parliamentary procedure, but rather difficult to alter it fundamentally if one wishes to be certain that the liberty of expression is preserved.
Dictatorships and democracies have their disciplines, the former—that is, dictatorship—to curtail speech, and the latter to preserve it. If we are to maintain Burke's ideal of ordered liberty in a domocracy, there must be discipline. In fact—and this is important for people outside to realise—discipline in our democracy comes from the strictness of procedure.
This is sometimes misunderstood by democratic people outside this House. They frequently ask me—I met a young man of that type this week-end—how men of genius can contemplate coming into the House of Commons, with its antiquated procedure. The answer may well lie in the mouth of the younger Pitt, who said that he could not have run the House of Commons at all had not all his supporters, the country squires, been extremely stupid. Some degree of stupidity and docility is vital to our affairs, as I am sure the Patronage Secretary would agree.
At the same time, I would quote the Latin tag from the epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren. in St. Paul's Cathedral:Si monumentum requiris, circumspice";which I might render as, "Look around and you will see the effect of all this." If we are anxious for men of genius to come into the House, the first advice I would give to them is that they should maintain the elements of our Parliamentary procedure, because it would be impossible for a minority, or a man of genius, to express an opinion here without the protection of our rules of order.
In a spirited article heralding this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) refers in the Daily Telegraph today to one danger in our Parliamentary procedure, namely, that "morticians" upstairs prepare all our material and send it to the Floor, where we endorse it or lay it out. That is quite a serious criticism. Another criticism is that our procedure is canned and there are very few opportunities for the 38 cut-and-thrust of debate which Mr. Speaker FitzRoy, one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, used to impress upon the House as being important for the vitality of this Chamber. With those sentiments I would normally agree, but I would still argue that, morticians or otherwise, there is plenty of opportunity for debate on the Floor of the House, and that it is up to hon. Members to take it under the procedure as we know it.
If there are no rules, there is no liberty. How can we assure freedom of speech? How can we meet the other criticism which is made of our present procedure that there is too much tedium in the lives of hon. Members, too much hard work and too little certainty and ease? Let us face this problem. Our procedure has come down from the centuries. In the debate in January, 1958, to which I have already referred, I said that in my opinion no alteration in our procedure must obscure the vital feature of our democratic Parliament that the work of a Legislative Assembly such as this—the oldest in the world—cannot be so ordered or so loosened that hon. Members can be saved from the gusts of opposition or from the struggle to gain power and to use it well.
Politics has always been, and always will be, the ground upon which this struggle will take place. There must, and will always be, in a properly free assembly, surprises, ambushes and jostling together—
§ Mr. Butler
—with tedious waiting, as there are in war and in love. I do not think we can remove them from the field of politics; and if we did remove them the House of Commons would be a weaker and poorer place. Happiness, justice and wisdom will prevail only if the procedure is not too lax and yet not too strict.
Then, we are asked: why cannot we find time to consider the great issues of the day in debates on important topics? Some people think that this is a happy feature of another place at the present time. Certainly, Members of that place happen to have debates on the most inconvenient subjects at the most extraordinary moments. This, according to 39 the critics, would remove all the tedium from the House of Commons and would assure interest, so that hon. Members would be perpetually in their places and on their toes.
If I pose, as one of our objectives, a better use of our time, both individually and collectively, I do not imply that we can assure to hon. Members personal comfort and absolute convenience. It would be a good thing if the outside world realised that, especially in the House of Commons, politics must always mean a hard life. I am not sure that outside opinion realises what long hours we have to sit, and shall have to sit however much we reform our procedure. Politics is a profession in which the reward is precisely that life, and not the honours that sometimes come from promotion to Ministerial rank or anything else. I do not think that one of us here who has ever seen a man retired from his position will disagree when I say that it is one of the most dignified spectacles to see him take up his normal part in the House of Commons.
We believe that the most important thing here is the life of the House of Commons itself, and that life cannot be regulated if we are to do it on the basis of providing absolute ease and certainty for our Members, either in the Smoke Room, or in the Library, or anywhere else. If we had mechanical voting it would not necessarily be a great improvement. I believe that some of the few chances of rubbing shoulders with, or even taking the arm of, the Prime Minister, occurs in the Division Lobby.
The Select Committee recognised that some delegation of our affairs is needed and many of its recommendations will help towards the better use of our time. The Government have not yet formulated their final views on the recommendations and, therefore, we shall value the view of the House and the expressions of opinion in this debate, as a basis upon which proposals can be put before the House at a later date.
The Report is not revolutionary. It does not go as far as the Report of the learned Clerk of the House. It does not delegate to the extent that the Clerk recommends. There is no harm in looking ahead. It may well be that, in the future, the need for further delegation 40 will arise and that the House, in respect of its functions as a legislative and discussing chamber, will tend to delegate a little more of the technical aspects of its legislative work. I am sure that we are indebted to the learned Clerk for the submissions he made to the Committee. That well may come, but let us, on the present occasion, concentrate on the present proposals for delegation.
More time can be found for general debates only by taking from the Floor of the House all the business which can be satisfactorily handled elsewhere. The first proposal made was in respect of the Finance Bill, to which I come now. The Committee itself says:The greatest single economy … would be to commit the Finance Bill at least in part to a standing committee.It draws attention to the increasing time spent on the Finance Bill since the war. In passing, I might mention that this year, by general good will and cooperation, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill was obtained in six days, as compared with eight days last year I acknowledged in my evidence to the Committee that there is a tradition which must not be lightly set aside, that matters of taxation should be dealt with on the Floor of the House. As a general proposition, that is a principle that we should try to adhere to.
While the Finance Bill will always be an important feature of this House, our business has in this century become infinitely greater and more complex, in the variety of matters with which Parliament now has to deal. If we are to deal fairly with this whole volume of particular matters as well as of general matters, there must be some sacrifice of time on the Floor of the House and in some other respects.
A memorandum was submitted to the Committee by myself on the subject of the splitting of the Finance Bill, and the possibilities have been discussed for putting the provisions of the Finance Bill into more than one Bill on the basis of different taxes; or putting those odious little Clauses, of which I was well aware when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealing with tax avoidance, into a separate Bill; or putting the administrative side of national finance into a separate Bill. There are various views on these matters. We could refer 41 one or more parts of the Finance Bill to Standing Committees and keep the remainder of the proceedings on the Floor of the House.
In my evidence to the Committee, to which I now adhere in this respect, I stressed the importance of approaching this as a question of experience based on experiment. That view the Committee supported. In my view that is the best approach, and if we were to decide to do that in any future year this experimental approach to the Finance Bill would be the best. I do not wish to go farther than that today.
The second form of delegation to which the Committee referred was that all Bills save Consolidated Fund Bills, Bills of major constitutional importance and Bills where the Committee stage is a formality, should be sent upstairs This suggestion is, I think, a good one and I should very much value the views of the House and hon. Members upon it, but it raises acutely the question of limited accommodation upstairs.
This is not a debate in which I can raise the question of accommodation for the comfort of hon. Members. That would be out of order and we must take that on another occasion, but I should say that in pushing further this proposal of the Select Committee it would be imperative for Ministers or the Leader of the House to indicate at such time as any future Motions are laid exactly how we propose to deal with the future accommodation if we are to indulge in delegation to Committees upstairs.
I come next to the question of the Report stage. There has been a temptation to say that the Report stage of certain Bills should also be taken upstairs, but the House will note that the Committee itself rejected the proposal that the Report stage of less important or controversial Bills might be taken in Standing Committee. I am bound to say that as at present advised, and subject to anything that might be said in the debate, I agree with that conclusion.
One of the problems, as brought out by the Select Committee, is that we should have to appoint actually a different committee upstairs to take the Report than that which dealt with the Bill in Committee. I think that with the present stage of conglomeration of Bills 42 for the scrutiny of Standing Committees it would be extraordinarily difficult to take up that procedure. Moreover, I think that the House should be responsible for the final stages of Bills on Report and, therefore, I agree with the Report of the Select Committee that a Report stage should normally be taken on the Floor of the House at whatever inconvenience to hon. Members.
I come to the fourth aspect of delegation, the suggestion that there should be specialist Committees. The Report refers to the experiment of appointing a Colonial Committee. This is something which I believe to be far less simple than it sounds. If we look at it it seems to raise constitutional difficulties of a very high order. The Report of the Select Committee says, on page xxv, that it would "constitute a radical constitutional innovation," and it smacks to me far more of Capitol Hill and the Palais Bourbon than of the Parliament in Westminster.
Let us look at this problem and see what the Select Committee recommended. A specialist Committee on colonial affairs—what kind of a Committee would it be? If we look at its constitution and functions, what would it do? To begin with, it could hardly deal with major colonial policy for that is and, surely must be, a matter for the House itself. Nor do I think it could deal with Estimates. Those are for the Select Committee on Estimates. They involve the examination of papers and officials rather than debate in the ordinary sense.
What, then, is left? If the Committee were to devote its attention to day-today colonial administration, surely there would be a real danger of usurping the functions, not only of colonial Governments themselves, who are enjoying a steadily increasing approach to the idea of self-government, but also of United Kingdom Ministers, who have a responsibility both to and in Parliament itself.
Therefore, I do not think that this would work. I notice that the Select Committee on page xxv, refers to the case of the Joint Committee on Indian Affairs, with which I had something to do in an earlier and far distant incarnation. That was quite a different problem. There was a special Committee set up, a joint Committee of both Houses, to deal with Indian affairs, but that was 43 only to deal with the new constitution. I do not see that an ad hoc Committee, set up according to our normal Parliamentary procedure to obtain the views not only of this country, but also of numerous races and creeds in India, bears any analogy to this permanent colonial committee or a foreign affairs Committee sitting upstairs.
I admire the powers of the senators of the United States, their comfort, their secretaries, their publicity and everything else, but I do not believe that hon. Members can vie with those mighty men. I believe that hon. Members of this House are members of this House and take part in debates upstairs in Committee or downstairs on the Floor of the House or in our own party committees, which are so much bruited and exploited in the public Press. I believe that that method of procedure is far better than trying to vie with the system in which on Capitol Hill Ministers are not in Parliament and not responsible to Parliament.
In this country a Minister is here and can be shot at and, with some difficulty, can be got rid of. He can be seen in the Lobbies, voting. He can be coerced on important occasions to support his own Government and, if he does not, his Government fails. I believe that homely method of contact between Ministers and Parliament is the right way of conducting British democracy.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Is it not somewhat of a red herring to talk about America and a colonial Committee when the Americans have not got colonies, or, at least, claim not to have them? Is not what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the Indian Committee proposal what we want a colonial Committee for, because from now onwards our whole colonial administration is a continual process of constitution-making? Is not that just what the Committee should be here for?
§ Mr. Butler
No, Sir. I do not think that the first part of the question by the hon. and learned Member is relevant and, in reply to the second part, the Indian Joint Committee was essentially an ad hoc Committee. I do not think that a running Committee of the type to which he referred would fit in with our Constitution at all. I take it that the 44 Select Committee—any member of it can deny it if I am wrong—was taking the suggestion of a colonial Committee as an example, and that it would be followed by Committees for defence, foreign affairs. and so on.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say why he refers to the Senate of the United States in this respect? It is quite right that Ministers do not sit in the House there, but a better analogy would be with the continental Governments of Germany and France, where they do sit in the House and where they have specialist committees.
§ Mr. Butler
I am a great student of France. In fact, I owe my early history to a study of French history and constitution. That is why I do not wish necessarily to follow it. It is for these main reasons that, although my colleagues and I would like to hear the views of the House on this experiment, I must make it clear that we do not agree with the views of the Select Committee that specialist Committees of this sort would represent a constitutional departure on which we should be wise to embark.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes, I apologise; I agree that it did not accept it.
There is a reference on page xxv to a Welsh Grand Committee. The Report says:Proposals were also made for the establishment of a Welsh Grand Committee.We do not at the moment feel that a case has been made for a Welsh Grand Committee, but, if hon. Members care to express their opinions in the course of the debate, we should be glad to hear what they have to say. I hope that some hon. Members from Wales may catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and give their opinion on this point.
I have so far dealt in general terms with suggestions for relieving business on the Floor of the House. I want to turn now to some of the more detailed points of the Report, and I do not wish to keep the House too long. I do not propose to comment on all the Committee's recommendations, but if hon. Members will turn to page xxviii of the Report I 45 should like to comment on some of the more important points.
The first is the proposal for a formal timetable for public Bills and the general reference to timetables in the Report. The Committee thought that there was something to be said for amending our procedure to enable a timetable to be drawn up for important Bills, although it was not unanimous in its recommendations. It stressed the value of the voluntary timetable. In my evidence to the Committee I suggested that a date should be named by Order of the House for the return of a Bill from Standing Committee, and there is a reference to this on page v, paragraph 7, of the Report.
The Committee points out the difficulties in such a proposal, which it says would be debatable—and I agree with that—but it goes on to say that one of the difficulties of this proposal,is that the fixing of a date does not in itself take account of the number of sittings of the standing committee which will be required…We therefore recommend…I think that this is the one obscurity which I have found in the Report. The Committee does not follow absolutely the recommendation which I was bold enough to put forward, and the word "therefore" is, I think, out of place, because the Committee recommends something else—that a business committee representative of the House should be appointed to consider all bills committed to a standing committee after second reading;Later, the Committee says:The business committee should report to the House the date by which each bill so considered should be reported back from standing committee, and, if they thought appropriate, the number of sittings which should be required;That is the Committee's proposal. I fully realise the difficulties in my proposal to set a date by which a Bill should be returned and I accept that there is some improvement in the Select Committee's proposal that the Business Committee should name the date. Later in the same paragraph, however, the Select Committee reports:On the assumption that the motion was debatable, there should be no obligation on the Government to move, except where they thought fit in individual cases; for no Government could be expected to use their time on the floor for debate on a business motion which could take up an entire day in exceptional 46 cases, when they considered that the most expeditious handling of the bill could best be achieved by other means.If that is the Select Committee's view, and if the Committee rejects the proposal which I made for a date being fixed for the Bill being returned from upstairs, I am in some doubt whether we could do better than our present system—namely, that we have a voluntary timetable where it can be achieved and where it cannot be achieved we have a timetable imposed with a debate on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that there was an Amendment, which was rejected, which put teeth into that recommendation by the Committee. Unfortunately, it was rejected.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. I hoped that some hon. Member would take up the point. That is why I have stressed it by mentioning it now. I read the Amendments and I noted that the recommendation was not unanimous.
This is one of the most uncertain features of the Report and I should very much value hon. Members' views about it, because if we are to have a Business Committee for all Bills and if the Government are not necessarily obliged to accept it when they considerthat the most expeditious handling of the Bill could best be achieved by other means",which means voluntary means, it might be better to stick to our present procedure and have a voluntary timetable on Bills upstairs, and, when a voluntary timetable appears impossible, to resort to the normal procedure which we have of imposing a timetable, although in the teeth of opposition, and then appointing a Business Committee to run it.
That is my opinion. If hon. Members would criticise it, I shall be glad to withdraw my original suggestion that a date should be fixed to bring a Bill back to the House, because by fixing a date we make the Motion debatable and that would itself begin the process of compulsory timetables without giving a proper opportunity for voluntary timetables to work. I have had second thoughts, and I hope that perhaps some members of the Committee may also have second thoughts on the point.
I turn to paragraph 59 (v) of page xxviii of the Report. This deals with 47 the announcement of the selection of Amendments by the Chair on Committee and Report stages. I am sure that it would be convenient to hon. Members generally if they knew in advance the Amendments which the Chair propose to call on the Committee and Report stage of Bills. The Committee thoughtthat it would be a convenience if occupants of the Chair could announce their selectionof Amendmentsat the beginning of each sitting on the committee and report stages of bills.The Committee proposed thatthe final marshalled list of amendments and new clausesto Bills might be numbered. Mr. Speaker, you and your colleagues might wish to consider this suggestion. I believe that hon. Members welcomed the arrangement which was made this Session by the Chairman of Ways and Means in indicating his provisional selection of Amendments for the Committee stage. The authorities of the House numbered Amendments and new Clauses in the marshalled list to the Finance Bill, for both the Committee and the Report stage. The question of adopting this as a regular practice might be referred to the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports.
I turn to paragraphs (viii) and (ix) of page xxviii. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we accepted that Ten Minutes Rule Bills should be limited to only one on any one day. The Ten Minutes Rule is a most useful privilege, sometimes abused, although I do not wish to bring any controversy into my speech, but it can encroach very much on the rest of the Business of the House. I also agree with the suggestion in paragraph (ix) that a week's notice should be given on Ten Minutes Rule Bills.
Turning to Recommendation No. (xiv), I am glad to see that the Committee has adopted the suggestion that an hour should be set aside, at the discretion of the Chair, for brief speeches on the occasion of major debates. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that this is a good idea.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Member says that this would be Parliamentary "Children's Hour," but he is a great exponent of the Parliamentary monopoly hour. It would be a great pity if some hon. Members had not the chance of expressing their views. In any case, it might be valuable if we tried that experiment between seven o'clock and eight o'clock tonight.
The Select Committee added that during this time a Count should not be permissible and that by convention during this period Members should not intervene during speeches. This is another useful suggestion. All these suggestions, whether they come about or not, are valuable, because it is important that more Members should be able to speak in debates. I think that this is a great improvement on allowing Members to publish their speeches without their being delivered, which, I think, is quite intolerable. We are very glad to see that the Select Committee did not approve of that. I hope that we may move slowly, despite the honourable and very eloquent Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), towards this desirable end. I hope that the hon. Member will be called at six p.m., thereby giving an opportunity to others at seven p.m.
I turn to recommendation (xvi), concerning the practice relating to Privy Councillors' rights in speaking. I must be careful about this. While one is in Government and one has an absolute right to speak, one must look ahead—I hasten to add, to the long distant future. Nevertheless, I am sure that this is a suggestion which may relieve many hon. Members, and I hope that the compromise suggested by the Committee will interest back benchers and be accepted by them.
We come to a very humane proposal in paragraph (xxi) that Divisions, if possible, should be avoided at 3.30 p.m. This all turns on certain rather technical points, but I think that it is based on common sense. While we cannot accept that the House should be denuded of Members in the afternoon, nor do we expect it, it would be a very convenient help to certain hon. Members who are barristers, and others, who do not want to come to the House exactly at 3 p.m. 49 or 3.30 p.m. It all turns on these technical points. Quite often the rule is suspended for the Committee stage of the Money Resolution to be taken at he conclusion of a Second Reading debate.
The Committee recommends that if Money Resolutions were automatically exempted for three-quarters of an hour, and the Question put at the end of this period, a large number of suspension Motions would be avoided. This, I think, is a good and interesting suggestion. The Committee also recommends that other suspension Motions should be moved at 10 p.m. or at the interruption of business, at which time the Motion would need to be moved only if it proved necessary.
These suggestions, in my view, are very much worth while. Paragraph (xxiii)—House to support Mr. Speaker in checking number and length of supplementary questions. This is, I think, a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and concerns the conventions and practice of the House and, to some extent, the self-denial of hon. Members.
Paragraph (xxiv)—Number of oral questions. I myself suggested in my evidence that the number of Oral Questions should be limited to two per day instead of three, and I am glad that the Committee supported this change. I hope that this will commend itself to hon. Members.
I have discussed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the suggestion that his Questions should be answered at 3.15 p.m. and should be limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I have his authority for saying that he will be content, so far as he can, to meet the wishes of the House in this matter. If the House so desires my right hon. Friend would be prepared to give the proposed new arrangements a trial. This, I think, would be for the general convenience of all concerned.
Paragraph (xxxvii). The Clerk of the House has already acted on the suggestion that the Public Business Standing Orders should be printed separately from Private Business Standing Orders. I can speak from experience, because on one occasion I was rather caught out, as Leader of the House, by reading the wrong section of the "Bible", that is to say, the "New" as opposed to the "Old Testament", by mistake at a critical moment. If these two books were 50 printed separately future Leaders of the House would be saved the ignominy which I then suffered.
Having perhaps occupied as long as I said I would, I propose to resume my seat, which, I am sure, will be a source of great satisfaction to the House and fit in with the general tenor of the Select Committee's Report.
If the House will refer to Paragraph xxx it will see the other matters, to which I have not had time to refer, which the Committee has rejected besides that of the Report stage in Standing Committee. I agree with the Committee in rejecting morning sittings and rejecting mechanical voting. I reject morning sittings because I believe that we are too full up with Committees and would not be able to add these, and I do not believe that there is a day except Wednesday in which morning sittings could be conveniently fitted in.
I reject mechanical voting, because I do not think that it will work. It would clutter up the Lobbies and deprive us of the opportunity of meeting each other which, even on a warm summer night, is salubrious and profitable to all concerned. I reject proxy voting.
I reject, as the Committee does, the printing of undelivered speeches, to which I have already made reference. I feel that if we look at the Report of the Committee as a whole we have some gradual steps towards the reform of our procedure.
I should like to say, in conclusion, to those outside who do not understand our procedure that we cannot streamline it in the way they desire, because we should deprive ourselves of the chance of giving the minority a right to speak. We cannot make it more popular, because I think that it would then make it impossible to transact our business efficiently and well, and we cannot meet their desires for depriving ourselves of the horrible necessity of sitting late, because sometimes we have the nation's business to transact.
We are the representatives of the nation. The work of M.P.S is bound to be hard and the procedure is bound to be strict. Although it is not fully understood by our brothers in the Press and some others, those who live here longest come to worship it the most. Those who are most 51 rebellious, such as I remember James Maxton was when he was here, worship it most and those who go through it recognise that it can be amended only gradually, wave by wave and tide by tide, by a natural process rather than a revolutionary process or by some sort of Cataclysm which would alter our character and our nature.
I would say, finally, that the life of the House turns on our procedure. When we alter our procedure we alter the life of the House, and when we alter the life of the House we take away our own life-blood and our own affection. Therefore, as Members of the House of Commons I hope that we shall bow to our procedure and amend it by degrees.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Just at this moment I can appreciate the feelings of a watchdog which finds itself dragged on to the parlour hearthrug. I must explain my position at the Opposition Dispatch Box. Some of my hon. Friends were a trifle nervous that if I Spoke from the back benches when the right hon. Gentleman sat down. there would be such an uprush of right hon. Gentlemen that it would place you, Mr. Speaker, in some embarrassment, so they asked me to speak from this Box to put our case.
I must first of all join with the Leader of the House and thank the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) as the Chairman of this Committee. I did not know him very well personally, apart from being a Parliamentarian, when we started, but I think that I can speak for both sides of the House when I say that we not only appreciated what he did for us but we gained tremendous respect for him as a person. I should also like to say a word of praise for the Clerk of the Committee who was most painstaking and who made the Chairman's and our task much easier, as I am sure the Chairman would agree.
In approaching this matter of procedure, the experience of all my colleagues on the Committee would be that it is difficult to change anything in our procedure unless we consider everything. While certain notions seem attractive when advanced on their own, they become singularly unattractive when considered against the whole canvas of 52 the procedure of this House. One can think of such things as one Memorandum which we had put forward proposing to give a sort of perennial proxy vote for Parliamentary Private Secretaries. That sounded all right. These busy men thought that they should have a permanent vote, but that does not stand up when we consider the amount of abuse which sets in directly we even start considering proxies for Ministers.
I should like to call attention to one small matter. We think that the usual channels should avoid something which has become an indignity to this House. That is that the sick and maimed should literally be dragged through the Lobbies on party occasions on three-line Whips. I can speak at least for three colleagues, well-remembered on this side of the House—Fred Cobb, Adam McKinlay and George Woods, who literally died from going through the Lobbies too often during the period of the 1950–51 Labour Government. I do not think that is a good thing in itself. Nor do I think that any party advantage justifies it. We say particularly that it does something which for the dignity of the House should be avoided.
It will be appreciated that on certain matters there was a fairly sharp patty cleavage in this Committee, and that when other Committees have attempted from time to time to get a unanimous vote that has not necessarily meant that the Government have adopted the Committee's Report. The Leader of the House has referred to accommodation, and it is important to remember that we cannot really reform our procedure unless we radically alter this place. I think that it is necessary to alter this place, and the Government should at least say why they did not in some way attempt to implement the Report of the Select Committee on Accommodation, on which I served and with which the name of the late Richard Stokes is affectionately remembered.
It must be appreciated that we considered accommodation years ago. We produced a unanimous Report, and the Government of the day set up an advisory Committee with quite derisory powers. Those powers were so derisory that after a Session it was felt that it was not worth while continuing with the Committee, unless the terms of reference 53 were widened. That the Government refused to do.
We really do need more Committee Rooms. More than that, when we speak about dignity, we should remember the things with which we arm a Member. What does an hon. Member get here? He gets a locker that is somewhat smaller than the one I had three weeks ago when I was in hospital. When we consider the job a Member has to do for his constituents, it must surely be agreed that there are not enough private rooms in which he can meet them. Those hon. Members who do their own secretarial work are provided with a typing desk that we would not give to a higher clerical officer in the Civil Service, and even in such accommodation as is provided I understand that the Ministry of Works does not provide those Members with a filing cabinet for their correspondence. On the other hand, those who, like myself, are fortunate enough to have secretarial help are provided with filing cabinets. The conditions in which hon. Members are expected to work are not only derisory but undignified, and are rather less than obtain with any self-respecting local authority.
The Leader of the House did not speak in any party sense, nor do I wish to do so myself. The one reason that I am here is that I have been not only a member of the Selection Committee on Procedure but I am the only Member on this side of the Committee who was also a member of the Stokes Committee. I am worried about the whole business, because I am fairly sure that nothing much can be done until accommodation is considered, as it should be, as a most urgent matter. The terms of reference of the Select Committee on Procedure were rather too narrow, because from time to time we found that accommodation did impinge on our deliberations.
Again, we have to consider the services that are available to Members. To reject the idea of a Colonial Committee may sound rational enough in the present Parliamentary setting, but when we consider the services put at the disposal of American Congressmen by the Library of Congress and the degree of research that is available to them in their job we can understand their form of procedure, too. One of the difficulties we are up against here when considering services available 54 to Members is the place that the legislature should have in our day-to-day affairs. We have to do some radical thinking on that.
At the present time, of course, we have the Government and the Civil Service; and the Civil Service is behind the Government. We have White Papers giving the Government's point of view, but because the legislature has no research facilities placed at its disposal it cannot arm itself against the Government. The whole theory of the American practice is that the Library of Congress puts research and expertise behind the Congress itself. More and more, we shall have to think of that sort of thing. The St. Lawrence Seaway has been much in the news lately. It is a fact that the original estimates of the Administration were rejected by the Library of Congress, and the estimates of Congress were those that, I think, in the end largely prevailed, having been subject to scrutiny by the legislature. Here we have to take things very much on trust.
I think that the main cleavage between the two sides of the Committee was on the question of the functions of Members, and in this connection I want to read some words that express our position much better than do those appearing in the body of the Report. They were contributed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who cannot be here this afternoon, and we would have preferred those words. They appear in page lii, and read:Though our order of reference has confined us to questions closely connected with the machinery and facilities necessary for the better transaction of business, we have inevitably discussed the amount of time which Members ought to be prepared to devote to the House.There has been a growing tendency in recent years to divide Members into what are called 'whole-time Parliamentarians' and 'those with outside interests'. In this latter category are included those Members who maintain an active professional or business life, whose contributions to the work of Parliament are supposed thus to be of especial value, and whose convenience should accordingly be given extra consideration.We absolutely reject this classification into first and second class Membership of the House of Commons. We do so for these reasons. Such a classification ignores the fact that many occupations are, by their nature, absolutely incompatible with Parliamentary service. It also leaves out of account those Members who have acquired experience in the field of voluntary public service to which 55 they devote themselves. It tends to write down the value of those who, on election have given up their other activities so as to devote more time to Parliament. And finally, it suggests that the daily routine work—in committee and elsewhere—should be confined to perhaps 250 'whole-time' Members, while the others come only when it is convenient for them to so so.We believe"—and this is what we consider important:that any person, however distinguished he or she may be, who seeks election to the House of Commons, and is returned here as a Member, must place his obligations to Parliament above all other outside interests whether paid or unpaid. We also think that a slight re-distribution of the balance of work between Members would do a great deal to ease the load from those who already devote themselves whole-time to the service of the House.We go on to say that, of course, we are anxious to do all that we can to relieve that load, but that too much is said on behalf of those who only give this place part-time service.
I remember that some time ago I wrote to The Times a letter containing those sentiments. I pointed out that an ex-engine fitter like myself could not be expected to do a stint at the weekend, that someone like my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) could not drive his engine up to his constituency, and that a miner could not be expected to do a shift in the Recess. Yet, as I pointed out, these great trades have to be represented here if this House is to be a genuine cross-section of the nation.
I must say that the response surprised me. I had a spate of letters from all over the country, and from those seaside constituencies that are usually represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They wanted to know why engine fitters were in the House, anyway. That really is an attitude of mind, and it is very much fostered from time to time when it is rather suggested that because a lawyer may go, for instance, to some place in South Africa to represent the mining employers there, at a reasonable fee, he is necessarily doing a better job for the State than someone who probably spends morning after morning in Committee deciding whether or not wronged wives should have their arrears of maintenance paid by the wrong kind of husband. The considerations of the type of work we carry out are not properly equated.
56 The procedure of the House of Commons has always been a mystery to people outside the House. They have never understood it. Looking through the whole of literature, whether one quotes Hazlitt, Dickens or Carlyle, it is curious that everyone who has ever watched our proceedings has had a very low opinion of them. I quote this from Hazlitt, which might almost be taken from The Times before the Select Committee on Procedure was set up:It may appear at first sight that here are a number of persons got together, picked out from the whole nation who can speak at all times upon all subjects … but the fact is they only repeat the same things over and over on the same subjects. … Read over the old debates, they are mutatis mutandis as those of yesterday. … You serve an apprenticeship to a want of originality, to a suspension of thought and feeling. You are in a go-cart of prejudices, in a regularly constructed machine of pretexts and precedents … there is House of Commons jargon that must be used by everyone … you are hemmed in, stifled, pinioned, pressed to death. … Talk of mobs! Is there any body of people that has this character in a more consummate degree than the House of Commons?The same sort of things are said about the House today. I never considered it any part of my job on the Select Committee to make it easier for those people to stay away who are not attending here already.
I wish to say a word about the quality of Members, because that reflects on these considerations. Some people may remember that there was an occasion not very long ago when the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) expressed the point of view that no one worth while, no one with any national reputation, had ever entered the House of Commons since 1945. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, I went through the list of the House of Commons. By that time there had been no fewer than 335 changes. I thought it was rather odd that anyone in the legal profession should have said that, because Lord Monckton entered the House of Commons in 1950; so did the Solicitor-General and the Lord Advocate, to say nothing of three Cabinet Ministers and the Leader of the Liberal Party. I thought that it was rather unkind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that these were lesser Parliamentary or legal luminaries. At that time we found that Sir Hartley Shawcross, 57 now Lord Shawcross, agreed with that point of view. How he ever knew the 335 Members who had come here since 1950 I will leave hon. Gentlemen opposite to guess.
We often complain about the long speeches made in the House of Commons. We have all suffered under that from time to time, but at least it might be remembered that the House has been steadily improving its ways. Anyone who reads some of the old speeches will realise that there has been a marked improvement. Hon. Members can read a speech made by Joseph Chamberlain on the question of over-insurance of shipping. He rose at 5.45 p.m. At 7.45 he said, "After those few preliminary remarks I will now address myself to the Bill". He sat down at 9.45 p.m., without the aid of a glass of water.
Today we are more reasonable in our speeches and if Front Bench speakers tend, rather like Len Hutton, to take rather long to play themselves in, it is something on which they might improve. To many back benchers the Front Bench manner can be summarised in this way. They say "Lastly" and they do last. They say "In conclusion" and they seldom conclude. They express themselves in their peroration as having put the case in a nutshell.
I want to come to one or two topics on which the right hon. Gentleman did not express very much agreement, but which certainly express the point of view of hon. Members on this side of the House. I will deal with the vexed question about which the right hon. Gentleman did not say very much, namely, the merits of morning sittings. When the Select Committee got down to its job, the difficulty was to find time. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will not mind me saying this. The other day he said to me that he thought that it was a pity that no one had been appointed to the Committee from our side of the House who was not a Member before 1945. Having thought that over, I am not so sure that it would be an advantage, because the longer people stay in the House the more rational our proceedings appear. They appear more irrational in one's early life in the House.
58 In examining the merits of morning sittings, one must consider the dilemma about which I was speaking previously, namely, the claims of the executive and of the legislature. This House has steadily become too much a creature of Governments. It should have a life of its own. However much one entrenches clauses or Standing Orders to protect back benchers and the life of the House, a Government with a spate of legislation to get through will more and more encroach upon private Members' time. Therefore, we must consider whether we can give the legislature some time of its own.
Morning sittings are an answer to that problem as being time which the Government will not seek to use. It is not a new idea; it has been mooted from time to time. In considering the merits of the suggestion one should remember the number of Royal Commissions which sit, whose reports are not considered, and the question of the Estimates Committee from time to time when there are bipartisan considerations to be discussed, because one cannot attack an Estimates Committee in a political way without destroying the very nature of the Estimates Committee. Surely we can from time to time consider the report of an Estimates Committee.
I hold strong views on this issue. The more my colleagues examined the possibility of morning sittings, the more things fell naturally into this sphere. I ask hon. Members to visualise a House of Commons meeting at 2.30 p.m. on a Monday, running on normally to 9.30 or 10 p.m., and then adjourning and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday considering such matters as this. If there were morning sessions, the question of the Colonial Committee might not have to be considered.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Is the hon. Member advocating early morning sessions—ten at night until 2 o'clock in the morning?
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I am sorry that the hon. Member misheard me. I asked hon. Members to visualise adjourning the House, as now, at 9.30 or 10 p.m., as the case may be, and resuming on an Adjournment at 11 o'clock next morning. Thus, a Tuesday morning sitting would be the normal Adjournment from the 59 Monday. To put it in another way, Mr. Speaker would take the Chair on a Monday afternoon. The business of the House would run on, as it does now, until 10 o'clock, although if there were morning sittings it might with advantage be made 9.30. Then the morning sitting would be the normal Adjournment of the Monday debate. Tuesday would be considered in relation to the Monday and Wednesday in relation to the Tuesday. The next morning we could sit under a Deputy-Chairman or someone from the Chairman's Panel. The only person necessary on the Front Bench would be an Under-Secretary to make a purely Departmental case. It would also relieve Ministers of the obligation of making any damaging admissions in the morning in the freer and easier atmosphere then prevailing. A wide variety of topics could be discussed.
We should have extra time for discussing Welsh affairs, and this time could be found in the mornings. It would belong to the House of Commons and not to the Government. To those people who claim that this would merely be "a second-class show" I can only repeat that from time to time during our debates this House has a thin attendance. It often does on Adjournment debates. It is a fact that we could have this sort of debate to which I have referred during morning sittings when there would not be a great clash of opinion such as we normally have.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am following my hon. Friend's argument with great interest. Would he say on what form of Motion the morning sittings would take place?
§ Mr. Pannell
A morning sitting would merely be an Adjournment from the night before. Mr. Speaker would take normal business up till 9.30, and then we would sit in the morning for two hours.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
As the hon. Gentleman seems to have considered this thoroughly, may I ask what are his proposals for the Scottish Grand Committee which deals with Scottish Estimates and with legislation concerning Scotland?
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman has raised a question that many other people have raised. He says that the Scottish Grand Committee cannot be in two places at once. That applies equally to hon. Members who attend Standing Committees from time to time. There are other Committees which meet besides the Scottish Grand Committee.
Much of the objection to this is based on the idea that the 250 full-timers will still do the chores of this place. We are trying to give a life in this place to a great many more people, and I maintain that, provided the debates were sufficiently lively and topical, there would be a far more interesting life here for a greater number of Members. I believe it would give an impression to the country that we are far closer to realities than people think from time to time when we have to wait so long before we can debate important matters.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I think my hon. Friend began to say a few minutes ago, though he did not develop it, that the case for a specialist Colonial Committee would be less strong if the idea of morning sittings, as he has described them, were accepted. Would he explain that for me? I happen to be in favour of specialist committees, not merely for the Colonies but for a variety of other matters. I recognise the difficulties, but the reasons which make me favour specialist Committees would be, so far as I can see, by no means satisfied by having an Adjournment debate in the mornings.
§ Mr. Pannell
I would probably be prepared to concede both of those to my hon. Friend. I merely say that we should consider the various alternatives. We are not speaking of the position in which we should have either or both. All my colleagues on the Select Committee agreed with me that there could very well be a business committee which would allocate these subjects for the mornings, which would include colonial matters and considerations of smaller territories and so forth.
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes, on an Adjournment debate. I am trying to meet the argument of the Leader of the House that a Colonial Committee would be too akin to the American legislature. The answer is that a morning Committee would provide such an opportunity in the atmosphere of the House of Commons. We could have these things discussed in that way.
There is another matter which the Patronage Secretary might consider to be a good idea. I have always understood that the great difficulty of the Government Chief Whip is to decide what to do with his "Lobby fodder," the Government back benchers. There are many occasions, we are told, when they say, "For goodness sake, let us have the vote". This would be an occasion when the Government back benchers could exercise their opinions without embarrassment to the party Whips. I am sure that that point will appeal to the Chief Opposition Whip.
There are other matters in the Report which were not touched upon by the Leader of the House. We say that we consider that the Opposition should have some drafting assistance. I think that is perfectly reasonable. There is nothing more ridiculous in this House than when, on debates on complicated issues, in reply to an Amendment probably drafted from this side of the House, an Under-Secretary says, "The hon. Gentleman's Amendment as drafted would produce the very opposite result to that which he wants." Then, never having been capable of drafting an Amendment himself, he has one sent from the Box and tells the world exactly how it should be done. That is a thoroughly time-wasting and rather stupid sort of exercise. I cannot see why the Departmental notes should not be in the hands of the Opposition, or why drafting assistance should not be given to the Opposition. It always seems to me that the Government are far too jealous about giving drafting assistance.
The Select Committee on Accommodation reported on page xv that it wanted to have a Bill drafted showing the sort of control that the Commons should have over their own affairs. The Committee said:Your Committee thought it was proper to append to their report a draft of a bill which 62 would achieve this, but they regret that the assistance of a Parliamentary Counsel was not made available to them for this purpose.It seems to me that we cannot have the Government facing the House of Commons all the time in this thoroughly unreasonable manner.
There is another matter on which the Committee was unanimous and on which the Leader of the House did not say very much. That is the question of Adjournments under Standing Order No. 9 We refer to the fact that ever since the time of Mr. Speaker Peel, who took office twelve years after the Standing Order was passed, the ambit of the Standing Order has been continually narrowed. As a matter of fact, it was suggested that if a couple of Russian gunboats were to shell the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), Mr. Speaker would probably rule the matter out of order under Standing Order No. 9 on two grounds—first, that the Government were not responsible, and second, that it had already happened.
Nobody can look at the operation of the Standing Order without knowing that it is being continually restricted—though this is not Mr. Speaker's intention—to the advantage of the Government and that the House of Commons is losing a great deal by this. We therefore set out in page XIX at some length considerations for the guidance of the Chair under Standing Order No. 9.
I have looked up some of the old precedents about the time of Mr. Speaker Peel, going back to 1882, which indicate that sometimes our fathers showed us the way. For instance, I find that in 1884 a Mr. Hubbard managed to get past the Chair under the then Standing Order No. 9 a Government proposal on morning sittings, although it was negatived without a Division. There was another occasion in 1887 when a Motion on the conduct of the Corporation of the City of London for corruptly spending money to influence Divisions in the House got past the Chair.
These matters were continually being raised in those days. There was another occasion in 1887—the Home Secretary will be interested in this—when a Mr. Atherley Jones got the Adjournment of the House on the question of the arrest of a Miss Cass in Regent Street. Bearing 63 in mind our recent consideration of the Street Offences Bill, I suggest that the Home Secretary might look up this precedent because he might find that sort of case interesting.
It is a fact that, if we look through these records, we see that in 1901 Mr. Lloyd George was raising such a matter as the conditions in detention camps, and Mr. Keir Hardie even got past the Chair on one occasion to call attention to the rise in the number of suicides due to starvation. If we take a long list of these Adjournments that were considered then, we see that they were commonplace in those days. For instance, in 1893 it was done no less than twenty times, and, as a matter of fact, the only year up to 1914 when there was no Motion under Standing Order No. 9, was the year that we would expect—1910—when there was none. They had two elections instead.
It seems to me that if the life of this House is to be preserved, the sort of climate which we lay down for Mr. Speaker must be carefully considered. I believe that the first consideration of the Chair is to maintain the quality of the debates, and to see that the Government should get their way, on the theory that minorities have their rights, but the majority must govern. Lower down the list of priorities, but one of the essential priorities, is that the Opposition shall have fair play, and that the voice of the country shall be reasonably heard. Nobody can suggest that under recent judgments of the Chair that position has been met, and the Select Committee was unanimously of the opinion that Mr. Speaker should be given far more latitude than he has felt himself able to exercise up to now.
On the other matters, I can only say that it was an express remit to the Committee to consider the question of Privy Councillors. It is a fact that it is not a Standing Order, but something which has been accepted as traditional for many years. The tradition, I believe, in the old days never extended to Question Time. That has crept in recently, and I think that the idea of a lot of Privy Councillors muscling in on back benchers' Questions is something that ought to be sternly repressed. I think that both Front Benches might consider that idea on occasion.
64 What we suggest at the present time is that Mr. Speaker, in trying to assess a Member and judge how he might contribute to the debate, should bear in mind the terrific experience which individual Privy Councillors have. This is interesting, because I once had a conversation with Sir Robert Young, who was a Deputy Chairman—the first one under a Labour Government—on why he refused to call Mr. John Wheatley in debate on the ground that the debate was not upon a subject concerning a Department for which Wheatley had not previously been responsible. He was the Minister of Health in the first Labour Government.
We considered that matter, and there are certain other people, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewis-ham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who has been at many Ministries and has had much experience, who would have a right to be called on a great variety of subjects, though I do not think that a Service Minister should necessarily be able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye when the House is discussing the Wolfenden Report. We ought to appreciate that sometimes, by reason of their experience of trade or vocation or experience of other kinds, Members have probably a better right to be called to contribute to the debates than have Privy Councillors themselves. I do not necessarily think that it is a good thing that we should sometimes have Privy Councillors getting to their feet to speak on a Bill introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule when somebody else wants to do so, but all these things happen, and it is a fact that some of our major debates have been rather saturated with speeches from Privy Councillors.
I can remember that we had a major debate last year on a matter of Privilege concerning the London Electricity Board, and there were only two back bench speakers. Only two hon. Gentlemen as distinct from right hon. Gentlemen could get in. One sees that sort of thing happening time and time again. It is not always the case that right hon. Gentlemen attend these debates and exercise that discipline which lesser people like us do. Too often, they blow in, blow up and blow out. It has now reached the point of being an abuse, and I hope that this very reasonable idea 65 of leaving it to Mr. Speaker to judge will be found to be enough.
The difficulty with any debates such as this, covering such a wide field, is the question of selection, and unless I am to grossly overrun my time—[HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear."]—I can only say this to hon. Gentlemen opposite: I do not speak as often in this House as some of my interrupters, but, bearing in mind the number of right hon. Gentlemen who may want to get in today, probably the back benchers might remain articulate for a reasonable time.
The question of selection is a very difficult one. One does not want to make the sort of speech which takes up every point and gives a point of view on it. What we are concerned with here are the broad sweeps of debate, and the general tone and climate of the House of Commons. We are often judged by the sort of people we are, and the worst thing that happened about the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses was that it started a whole course of agitation in the Press as to whether we were worth the money and whether we should receive more or less. Generally, it was used as a means of attack by people who always try to discredit this place, and who try to suggest that this is a rather sordid place, full of sordid people, meanly housed, meanly esteemed and meanly paid.
I can only say that I entertained the ambition to enter this place from my very early manhood, and it took me something like 30 years to get here, and I have now been here 10 years. It is the life that matters, and I echo what the Leader of the House has said. I would rather be doing this particular job than doing any other, and I ask the House to believe and always to act in the way which I have suggested, because I think that politics is not a vulgar trade, but a noble profession. I should like to conclude with some words from T. M. Kettle's "The Day's Burden", which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) thought worth putting as the preface to the first volume of his Memoirs. Speaking about his entry into politics, he said:There is the two-edged sword that will never fail you, with enthusiasm for one of its edges and irony for the other. There will be always joy and loyalty enough left to keep you unwavering in the faith that 66 politics is not, as it seems in clouded moments, a mere gabble and squabble of selfish interests, but that it is the State in action. And that the State is the name by which we call the great human conspiracy against hunger and cold, against loneliness and ignorance; the State is the foster-mother and warden of the arts of love, of comradeship, of all that redeems from despair that strange adventure which we call human life.These are the ends we serve, and our job is to make this assembly the most efficient in its procedure, as, I believe, throughout the world it is the most humane.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I should like to say that I agree with most of the recommendations in this Report, on which I congratulate the Committee. I agree also with a great deal of the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Where I disagree with him is that I think it is very important that we should not have second-class debates in this House. If we were to have a morning sitting and keep from it all those exercising government in their Departments and, equally, I expect, some leading members of the Opposition who would have their own party duties at that time, we should tend to have rather poor representation of Members of the House and, I think, a rather poor debate.
Secondly, I believe it to be useful to have a wide cross-section of the country represented here. I appreciate that, today, it is quite impossible for, for instance, a young engine driver to attend the House daily and do his work at week-ends. It is, therefore, vital that we should have the old engine drivers here. if I may call them that. But we must try to have enough young Members of the House. This means that it must be right for certain Members to carry on other duties for part of the day.
I have been a Member of the House now for thirty years. Looking back over that time, the great change I see is that the House now devotes far more of its time to what I will call party skirmishing. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I attach great importance to the set battles in which we fight our major questions of policy, and I believe that we should not be squeamish in emphasising our differences of opinion. But, during the last thirty years, there has, I think, been a tendency for us to 67 emphasise differences over details which are sometimes imagined and—I often wonder about this—sometimes not really sincerely believed in. It is a great mistake to have a lot of rather pernickety party work in the House in the hope that we shall, by that means, gain some electoral advantage. The effect often is quite the reverse.
The House sometimes neglects the major issues which are interesting the country on which there is no party line dividing the House and on which the cleavage runs not across party lines. I listened to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, in somewhat disparaging terms, about the way in which the other place has taken our place in the debating of important issues. I agree that the other place is an unsatisfactory substitute for the House of Commons in debating these important issues. I make the further point that, in the rôle of watchdog of public expenditure, we are the only debating Chamber in the country. When the issue of public expenditure does not run along party lines, the result, at the present time, is that we do not debate such questions at all. I sometimes feel that the watchdogs of public expenditure are lying asleep in their kennels after being gorged and surfeited on the bones of party contention. This is something of which the whole House should beware.
I speak now not only personally but also as Chairman of the Select Committee on Estimates. In this connection, I wish to thank the Select Committee on Procedure for the encouragement it gave to the Select Committee on Estimates in paragraph 46 of its Report. After reading the Minutes of Evidence, I came to the conclusion that it was a pity that the Select Committee on Estimates had not itself given evidence before the Select Committee on Procedure. The learned Clerk of the House quite frankly admitted that he was not very intimate with the working of the Select Committee on Estimates, but he did say that, in his view, we were not the best body for examining the Estimates in detail, or, in other words, the system was not the best.
I notice that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), 68 in question No. 172, made the surprising statement that the Estimates Committee does not examine current Estimates. I gather from the learned Clerk's answer to Question No. 331 that, in his view, according to what he implied, we do not report very timely on the matter of Estimates.
§ Mr. Blackburn
What I meant was that the Select Committee on Estimates did not examine the Estimates when they are presented to the House. As a member of the Select Committee, I felt that we, as a House of Commons, were neglecting our duty in that we did not examine in more detail the Estimates when they are first presented.
§ Mr. Turton
That is what I thought. The statement was made that we did not examine current Estimates, and that is why I wish that we had had the opportunity to give evidence to clear up some of the misapprehensions. The Estimates Committee does examine current Estimates and it reports on current Estimates, in nearly all cases, within five months of the start of the financial year. This year, we have reported twice to the House. The Reports have not yet been published, but, in those cases, they have been produced within eleven weeks of the start of the financial year.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Is there not, perhaps, a misunderstanding here? I remember that, in an earlier Committee on Procedure, this question was discussed in slightly different terms. I am wondering whether the real point is that we have, at present, no Committee charged with the task of supervising current expenditure, not Estimates. The Public Accounts Committee examines past expenditure. The Select Committee on Estimates examines Estimates of future expenditure. There is no Committee which exercises current control over current expenditure. Is that the point?
§ Mr. Turton
The point I make is that current Estimates are, at the moment, being examined by the Estimates Committee. I shall pay close attention to the whole of this debate because I want guidance on the work of the Estimates Committee from right hon. and hon. Members of the House. At the moment, we are attempting to discharge our duty 69 by examining current Estimates and giving a Report on current Estimates in a reasonably short time.
In his evidence, the learned Clerk made a perfectly valid point in saying that we are not having the Reports of the Estimates Committee debated in the House. He concluded that this was because the House had no interest in the Reports. This may be so, inasmuch as, in this present Session, the only occasion on which a Report has been debated was on 20th February this year, when one of our Reports was debated for eighty minutes at the end of a Friday. As the House knows, Friday is not a very thronged sitting of the House of Commons, especially the later part of Friday. It may be that the House is not interested in our Reports. If that is so, I feel strongly that it would be far better if the Select Committee on Estimates were not appointed at all.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The right hon. Gentleman can take it from me that the House very much appreciates the Reports.
§ Mr. Turton
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have worked it out and I find that hon. Members are spending about sixty hours a Session, on average, attending these Committees, and it is a tremendous sacrifice of their time. Therefore, I feel that it would be a good thing if the Reports of the Estimates Committee were debated. To take one instance, the Sixth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates last Session. There were, to name two papers only, three leading articles about it in the Economist and two in The Times. I understand that the Government are setting up an inquiry into some of the problems we raised. Yet nine months have passed and there has been no debate in the House on that particular Report of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Dealing purely with the Reports of the Estimates Committee, I can remember what was done by a colleague of mine who was chairman of a sub-committee which produced a report. It was obviously in the public interest that it should be discussed, but, when the question arose within the party as to whether it should be discussed, we were rather timid about making the work of 70 the Estimates Committee a political issue. Members of the Estimates Committee meet in a quasi-judicial capacity, and they might feel somewhat inhibited, perhaps, in making a party point one way or another. It seemed to me that that is the sort of consideration which might fall into place here.
§ Mr. Turton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That was the very point that I was about to make. After all, the Estimates Committee tries to avoid party controversy. It is a very reasonable point that no Government would choose that the time of the House should be used on Reports of the Estimates Committee, because we are not out to pat Governments on the back. Equally, the Opposition would not do that because we are not out to be unduly critical on party lines of a Government Department.
It therefore seems to me—and this is why I tried to speak in the debate—that the House should consider whether there is a way in which, by procedure, time can be allocated for the discussion of the Reports of Select Committees. I am not merely talking about the Select Committee on Estimates. None of the Select Committees is run on party lines. Our present method of selecting them means that their Reports tend not to be debated. I realise that the learned Clerk, in answer to Question No. 286, said that, whatever rule we made on such a subject, any Government would get round it, but I do not believe that that is true on a matter such as this.
I suggest that either Mr. Speaker or you, Sir, as Chairman of Ways and Means, should have the power to select two days from Supply Days for the discussion of the Reports of Select Committees, and that you, Sir, or Mr. Speaker should be aided by a small panel which would advise you on the importance of the subject. I believe that that would be a way to secure that the more interesting or more important Reports of Select Committees were discussed without the point put so well by the hon. Member for Leeds, West in his intervention being brought in.
I should also like to say a word on the Supplementary Estimates. The learned Clerk, in a note on Question No. 203, suggested that Supplementary Estimates should be referred to the Estimates Committee. I should like to put the House 71 in the picture on this matter. At present, we have two crops of Supplementary Estimates a year. The first comes just before the end of the financial year and the other comes in July, just before harvest and the Appropriation Bill. With regard to the first crop, it would be quite impossible for the Estimates Committee to get the information on those Supplementary Estimates and to make a Report before the end of the financial year. Therefore, we could not perform our function of reporting on a current Estimate.
With regard to the second crop, if there was no carry-over of the Session to the autumn, clearly we could not report on those Supplementary Estimates in that Session. Apart from that, it would mean that with the normal system of the appointment of a Committee—which always means a delay of three weeks at the beginning of a Session—we could probably not report until as late as January the following year. On the appointment of a Select Committee on Estimates, I would throw out the suggestion that if we were made a Standing Order Committee we would be able to avoid the delay of three weeks before being appointed and we should be able to get to work very much quicker.
One of the difficulties in connection with the Estimates is that we are held up at the beginning of a Session before we get down to work. I should like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to consider that point when looking at the points raised in this debate.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
On the point about avoiding delay, would it not also mean that if the Estimates Committee became a Standing Order Committee evidence of a previous Session would be available to the succeeding Committee, which would be a great advantage?
§ Mr. Turton
Yes; it would generally enhance our status. I should have stressed that point.
This is one recommendation on which I am not in full agreement with the Select Committee on Procedure. Clearly you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I are not in agreement. If we are not to have time to examine the Supplementary Estimates and if we allow policy to be 72 discussed in Committee of Supply, we will get away from the need for a Minister to justify extra expenditure. We should, therefore, be encouraging to a certain extent public extravagance. It is a very good thing for a Minister to have to come to the House and justify a Supplementary Estimate. Last year, we in the Estimates Committee noticed with dismay the growth of Supplementary Estimates.
I should like to say one or two words about Question Time. I have noticed that in the thirty years since 1929 there has been a great change. I remember that when I first came to the House 70 or 80 Questions were dealt with every day. At times, 110 Questions were dealt with. I remember Mr. Ernest Brown answering 100 Questions in machine-gun fashion in one afternoon and getting an ovation at the end of it. I remember that on 19th November, 1929, the House reached only Question No. 52, and hon. Members throughout the House rose to protest to Mr. Speaker Fitzroy on the fact that so few Questions had been answered. In reply, he said:… I would remind hon. Members, who have complained that we are only a short way down the list of questions, that the circumstances today have been rather unusual. Today, the floodgates of Scottish inquiries have been unloosed, but no doubt the tide will recede on future occasions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th November, 1929; Vol. 232, c. 275.]The problem now is that the tide never recedes.
I have given a great deal of thought to the recommendation that the number of Questions allowed to an hon. Member should be cut from three to two. I never like to see the rights of private Members reduced, and I should like to suggest to the House a slight alternative. I suggest that priority should be given to two Questions only each day and that the third Question should drop to the bottom of the list. That would mean that if we restored the discipline at Question Time that we had under Mr. Speaker Fitzroy but which was relaxed under Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown we should be able to get through 70 or 80 Questions a day. I appreciate how difficult it is to restore discipline that has been relaxed, but I think that most right hon. and hon. Members would be in favour of restoring that discipline. No doubt, some hon. Members would be against it. I realise why they want the tide never to recede, but 73 generally I think that it would be welcome.
I also welcome the suggestion that the Prime Minister's Questions should be answered at 3.15. It seems to me wrong that matters of great importance to the nation, which are usually dealt with by successive holders of the office of Prime Minister with great wit and sparkle, should not be dealt with because of some lather dreary Questions that have preceded them. There is one thing that I have learned in thirty years in the House, and that is that a great deal of time is wasted by perorations. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have ever added up the time wasted. Many hon. Members cannot begin their speeches because other hon. and right hon. Members do not know how to end their own. Therefore, on this occasion I intend to deny myself that pleasure.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
I wish, first, to comment on the distinction between Privy Councillors and non-Privy Councillors. I would ask the House to bear in mind the simple fact that the majority of Privy Councillors have either been dismissed from their office by the electorate, or by their leaders. Therefore, I do not think that it is really very much good paying too much attention to the priority which, up to now, they have received in our debates.
What has amazed me in the last three months is that three political correspondents, Mr. William Barkley of the Daily Express, Mr. Deryck Winterton, of the Daily Herald, and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) all asked their readers, in a pathetic kind of way, when Parliament was about to resume, either after the Easter or the Whitsun Recess, to pity them for having to be in the Reporters' Gallery to report the House of Commons. That seems to me a matter to be analysed.
There may be three reasons. First, it may be that this House of Commons is very stale or dead. Secondly, it may be that the real debates that now take place do so in the party meetings upstairs and not on the Floor of the House. Thirdly, it may be something to do with our actual mechanism here.
I wish, first, to talk about the question whether the House of Commons is stale. 74 I saw in an article written recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that he said that this House of Commons was born dead. What is important is that future Parliaments should not be. I will come back to that in a few minutes, because I want to deal with the three points in their order.
The next question referred to by the Select Committee when Mr. Speaker was giving evidence before it was that of hon. Members writing to or seeing Mr. Speaker—which I confess that I did on Thursday last week—and asking, as it were, to be called if Mr. Speaker or his deputy thought that right. I told Mr. Speaker that I was going to refer to the matter and, therefore, I am not saying anything behind his back.
Mr. Speaker said before the Select Committee that his list of speakers was by no means final and that he was prepared to depart from it if necessary. My feeling about the matter is that if it is really forbidden for hon. Members to communicate with the Chair when they want to be called and if they really went through the action which they should do, of rising in their place in an attempt to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, certain things would happen.
I feel that the speeches would be more likely to be debating speeches and not just like those which take place in another place, where there is a list of speakers. There is a prearranged list of speakers and anyone can see which noble Lord will follow which other noble Lord. There is all the difference in the world between a series of speeches in which one hon. Member gives a different point of view from that of another hon. Member and a debating speech. There is all the difference in the world between a noble Lord making a speech along one line and another noble Lord making a speech contradicting him. That is not debate at all.
My point is that if hon. Members did not know that they were to be called they would be more likely to make a debating speech. The occupant of the Chair would select an hon. Member to speak and he would hear that hon. Member talking about, perhaps, the activities of the London County Council's Housing Committee. The Chair would see, perhaps, the chairman or the ex-chairman 75 of the Housing Committee of the London County Council in his place and would, I think, be rather hopeful that he might rise in his place in order to be called and carry on the debate. In other words, we should begin to establish something more than a series of prearranged speeches and would get back to the cut and thrust of debate which has been referred to before and, most often, by Mr. Speaker Fitzroy. That is something which we have not had for some time. I modestly suggest that that might be very much better than hon. Members knowing when they were to be called.
I remember, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when I had the honour of occupying your position some hon. Members used to ask me if I could call them to speak fairly early in the debate because they had a dinner appointment about 7 or 7.30 p.m. I thought that was the very worst reason for selecting anyone to speak.
If there were no prearranged list of speakers we should avoid something which annoys every hon. Member, that is, of one hon. Member saying of the previous speaker that he knows that he will forgive him if he does not follow his line of argument. That is a shattering phrase, and I hope that it may be eliminated. The Chair clearly knows the experience of hon. Members and what hon. Member is likely to be the best to select to follow the hon. Member sitting down.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is very interesting, but would he explain to the more ignorant hon. Member, such as myself, how he exercises this influence, because on many occasions I have given my name to Mr. Speaker when I wished to speak, but I have never been told that I was to be called, and, generally, have not been called?
§ Mr. Bowles
I am quite certain that after that interruption, the Chair will have more pity for the hon. Gentleman.
What I have suggested would also, I believe, bring about shorter speeches, because hon. Members would not be ready with prepared speeches if they were suddenly called upon to speak and their speeches would be shorter and more of a debating character. One result 76 which we would all like to achieve is that more speakers would have a chance of taking part in an ordinary debate.
Whilst on the subject of shorter speeches, I wish to say that I deplore the suggestion made by the Select Committee that at the beginning of the day Mr. Speaker should indicate that between, say, 6 and 7 in the evening, or at some other hour, speeches should be limited to five minutes. If that suggestion were adopted it would divide the House into two classes, or gradings—one consisting of those hon. Members who, perhaps, the Chair thought should take part in the full-dress debate, and the other consisting of those who would be limited to five minutes.
§ Mr. Bowles
I do not know whether the members of the Select Committee were unanimous, but the witnesses which came before them were. I am quite certain that Mr. Speaker and hon. Members would all be equally pleased to hear a five-minutes speech whether it took place at 6, 7 or 9 o'clock, or even at a quarter to four.
I was one of those hon. Members who last year wondered whether the Committee stage of the Finance Bill could be taken upstairs. I felt very strongly about the matter, because I am to some extent in touch with hon. Members who are not necessarily very skilled or expert in the law of taxation and other matters usually dealt with in the Finance Bill. Roughly, 600 hon. Members on both sides are tied to the House so as to vote when Divisions are called on this important Bill. I am not debating its importance, or the devotion of hon. Members on both sides who take part.
But I do think—and I would warn the House—that this procedure is boring a large number of hon. Members who are tied to this place because of the Finance Bill and for the length of time it is before the Committee of the whole House and the House itself. I looked up some figures, and I found that this year, from the opening of the Budget until the Third Reading of the Finance Bill on Friday last, we spent no fewer than 90 hours, 38 minutes on it; 44 hours, 51 minutes were devoted to the Bill in Committee and 8 hours, 39 minutes to 77 the Bill on Report. That is quite a lot of time.
As I said when I first raised this matter with the Leader of the House, all the time that the House is occupied with the Finance Bill hon. Members in all parts of the House are denied opportunity of debating a great number of other subjects which they want to debate, simply because there is not time available for them. Therefore, I hope some further thought will be given to the idea that the Finance Bill should be considered in Committee upstairs.
Very often in debates in Committee on the Finance Bill there are not more Members present than there are in a Standing Committee dealing with a Bill. It is only when a Division is called that they all troop in. They all know which way they will vote, because the Whips tell them. That is the long and short of the matter. So I hope that the Leader of the House and his advisers will give that matter a great deal more thought.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman make a distinction between the Clauses in the Bill and new Clauses? I mention that because one of the opportunities when hon. Members are able to raise subjects of a financial nature not chosen by the Government or the official Opposition is provided by the bringing forward of new Clauses. Does the hon. Gentleman think that a distinction should be made between the Clauses in a Bill and new Clauses?
§ Mr. Bowles
No. I do not really see why there should be. Nor do I see any reason why new Clauses should not be moved on Report. However, that is a technical matter. I am anxious to keep the Floor of the House of Commons free for more things than finance for 90 hours a year. That, simply, is my point.
I come back to what I started with, why it is that these political journalists and other people are bored by what is going on in the House. I am very anxious that the party system should be properly established and should be properly working. I have seen, as others have seen, the suggestions made that certain matters should be above party politics; for instance, foreign affairs, defence, education, and housing. My view is that if this were done the House of Commons would suffer seriously—
§ Mr. Bowles
—from the blunting of the edges between the two parties.
I should like to quote an extract from one of three of what I thought were magnificent articles published by the Observer and written by Mr. Michael Foot. These three articles have been published as a little book entitled Parliament in Danger! I think that it would be worth while for hon. Members to read this book. On the question of the "fight" in the House, he quotes Disraeli as saying:Above all, above all, maintain the line of demarcation between parties, for it is only by maintaining the independence of party that you can maintain the integrity of public men. and the power and influence of Parliament itself.
§ Mr. Bowles
Most of the real debate at present takes place inside the parties in private, and not between the parties publicly in Parliament. The debates take place on the Conservative side and on the Labour side in private meetings upstairs. Both parties, of course, at the moment enforce very severe discipline on Members of Parliament. I should like again to quote Mr. Foot on this aspect, because he puts it better than I could. He says:What happens—to the House of Commons -once the private party meeting elevates itself to the place of effective decision? Clearly, the higher the party meeting rises on the see-saw the lower sinks the Commons. There, two well-whipped forces confront one another in formal, prearranged combat. Speeches of Gladstonian power or Diesraeli-ite wit are unlikely to shift a single vote. We need look no further for the pall of unreality and tedium which descends on so many Parliamentary debates.That is an analysis which strikes me as being very sound and very subtle, and one which does call for some kind of remedy.
Among ourselves we know and we say that the best debates take place when there are no Whips and there are free votes. That was said years before I came here. For example, I would mention the debates on the Prayer Book. It is at times like that that the House is at its best. Then we had a very interesting debate on the case of Privilege raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for 79 Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), and the debates on capital punishment.
Of course, there have been others, and, as hon. Members well know, this House is at its best on occasions like that when the Whips are off. Many Members come in to listen to the argument and the House is well attended and everybody, from the Chair downwards, has a very much more interesting afternoon and evening than when a matter is all cut and dried upstairs and down here ordinary speeches are made of no real value. I should like consideration to be given, therefore, to our having more days when the Whips are off and there are free votes.
The last time we had a debate like that—I think it was on the question of privilege raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall—my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said this:… this is a day when we can all say what we like without let or hindrance, so that it is, indeed, a day of exceptional privilege. We must use it to the full."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1958; Vol 591, c. 223.]The Leader of the House said:… hon. Members will be entitled to vote as they think best. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1958; Vol. 591, c. 208.]What a commentary on the present Parliamentary situation that such a thing could be said, implying that none of us is entitled or courageous enough to vote as he thinks best in the ordinary way! I think that that is a matter which should be considered, and if it is, some good will have come out of having had this debate today.
Of course, we all know that any hon. Member who is critical of his party does not remain very popular very long. I have not been a Member for so very many years, but I know perfectly well—it is well known—that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was criticising his leaders and his party's policy from 1933 onwards he was ostracised in the Smoking Room of the House; and it is well known that the then Patronage Secretary used to call Tory Members out of the Chamber when the right hon. Gentleman got up to speak. I understand—whether this is so or not I do not know—that there were moves to get him 80 unseated in Epping, which was then his constituency.
Fortunately, those moves were not successful, or he would not have been in his place here and not have been Prime Minister and not have been able to make the magnificent contribution he did towards winning the war. Fortunately, his party stopped applying these sanctions just in time to save a national tragedy which could have been caused through the enforcement of that party's discipline. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind that this kind of thing is always liable to happen and can happen to any of us. [An HON MEMBER: "What is the matter?"] Well, I am not reading my speech, hon. Members may be surprised to hear, as some hon. Members do, but I have lost some of the best pages.
If the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) does not like perorations I must tell him that I have no peroration, but I have a little more meat yet. Mr. Foot writes:'During the Egyptian crisis'—we owe the description to Sir Beverley Baxter—'the Tory back-benchers met frequently. On one occasion Mr. R. A. Butler and Mr. Harold Macmillan gave a frank and vivid account of what was going on behind the scenes. No reporters are allowed to be present at the 1922 Committee. But what a story they would have had to tell if they had been present at the crowded meeting when Mr. Butler and Mr. Macmillan really let down their hair over Suez!'What a scene indeed, and, for all we know, perhaps these feasts of frankness are staged quite often. What a great occasion in the history of Parliament was forgone when Mr. Butler and Mr. Macmillan chose to defend the entry into Suez—or was it the exit from Suez—behind closed doors! And, by the way, how did the lions who voted to go in so quickly become the lambs who voted to come out? We shall never know until the memoirs are written.The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland)suggested that 'underhand' methods of pressure had been employed by the 'Westminster machine' to secure support for the Government from Tory M.P.s in the voting lobbies on the Suez issue. Another M.P. tentatively inquired whether some point of privilege might not be involved.But it is well known by hon. Members who have been here a number of years that one does not raise delicate questions of privilege touching the Whips' Office. That was quietly brushed aside and we heard no more about it.
81 We must reform this great House of Commons. It is well known that years ago Gladstone and Disraeli were able to maintain their majorities during two Parliaments without this serious and effective whipping machine which we have at present. What is more, they were able to get through such voluminous legislation as would compare favourably with that of the present century.
§ Mr. Bowles
I said "comparable". Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us exactly how many Bills were passed in those years.
§ Mr. Bowles
In due course, not now.
All this has gone a little too far. Obviously, we do not want to try to deny opportunities for leaders and their followers to consult together, but those of us who have been here some time know that the best debates are the debates which end in a free vote, and we would wish to raise the standard of the House of Commons as the best debating Chamber in the world. It is because I believe so strongly in maintaining the House as the greatest debating Chamber in the world that I have made my speech, and I look forward to hearing the views of other hon. Members on the kind of subjects which I have been able to mention.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)
So many hon. Members are waiting to speak and there is such scope for oratory in the Motion before the House that I would confine my remarks to one or two points in the Report from the Select Committee on Procedure which have a bearing on the Committee of Selection, of which I have had the honour to be Chairman for some time past.
May I preface my remarks by saying that I wholeheartedly favour the idea that Parliament should arrange its business in such a way as to make it possible for hon. Members, if they so wish, to indulge in outside activities. I recognise, of course, that the work of Parliament requires that a large number of hon. Members should be good enough to give their whole time to its service. I am confident that Parliament would be less 82 respected if we all made ourselves into professionals. As for accommodation, in which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) was so interested, that problem would be worse than it is today if we all had to spend a great deal more of our time in the precincts.
I want to refer to the recommendations of the Select Committee in relation to the composition and procedure of Standing Committees. I agree with the Committee's recommendations, and I agree in theory with the proposal that Standing Committees should be further reduced in size. Every Standing Committee contains some hon. Members who feel that they would be doing better work elsewhere, perhaps on some other Committee or on a Private Bill Committee, and every Standing Committee contains hon. Members who pair with one another. If that is true, it is obvious that a Standing Committee can be smaller in size and still represent adequately the views of the House as a whole.
During this Session there have been seven Standing Committees sitting at the same time and, as far as I know, they have all done their work efficiently. Nevertheless, several were concerned only with Bills which were not at all controversial. It is difficult to see how, in practice, the size of Standing Committees can be reduced unless the view is taken that a Government defeat does not matter because it can be put right from the Government's point of view on Report.
I do not take that view, not so much from the point of view of prestige, for what that is worth, but because I think that more time would be wasted in putting matters right on Report which had gone wrong in Committee than would be saved by having smaller Committees if that resulted in a large number of Government defeats. The Government have a majority of three or four in Standing Committees at the moment. There have been occasions in the past, and there may be in the future, when the Government's majority on the Floor of the House has been smaller than it is now and their majority in Standing Committee therefore quite negligible. In such cases, presumably, very few Bills would be sent to Standing Committee.
The difficulty arises from epidemics of illness which unhappily do not treat the 83 parties justly and equally. Illness is more evenly divided over the House as a whole and if a Standing Committee is very small, a 'flu epidemic will hit one side more than another. Therefore, it is impossible for the Government to have a working majority on small Standing Committees unless we are prepared to adopt unusual methods.
I entirely agree with the Select Committee in its opposition to proxy voting I agree that the vote is a matter personal to an hon. Member, but I think that there is a case for proxy voting on Standing Committee on production of a medical certificate. Whether that method should be incorporated in Standing Orders or be a matter for arrangement through the usual channels I cannot say, but I cannot see any other way in which the size of Standing Committees can be reduced appreciably unless we are prepared to face continual Government defeats.
One other point in that connection concerns the position of minority parties. In the present state of the parties the Liberal Party is entitled to representation only on the two larger Committees, that is to say, the one composed of 50 Members, or the other of 45 which is more usually appointed. In all the smaller Committees consisting of 40, 35, or 30 Members, the Liberal Party is not entitled to representation since its claim represents less than 0.5 per cent. of a Member. If we reduce Standing Committees still further in size, the minority parties will not be represented, so I put forward the suggestion that, at the discretion of the Committee of Selection, those parties might be allowed representation on a Standing Committee without the power to vote. This would happen when there are Bills, even controversial ones, in which they have a special interest.
Finally, I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Select Committee on an excellent and valuable Report, and express my thanks to the Chairman and its members.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I feel somewhat embarrassed in rising to make a few remarks on this issue, but am encouraged to do so by seeing so few hon. Members on the back benches on 84 my side of the House who seem to be trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope that in speaking this evening as a Privy Councillor, and also as a Member of Parliament, I am not keeping anybody out of the debate. At any rate, I do not propose to speak too long. Certainly, I will not follow the example set by the Front Bench this afternoon. Mostly the criticism of Front Bench speakers comes from back benchers, until those back benchers get to the Box and address the House.
My remarks will be concentrated on two or three issues because the members of the Select Committee have covered a wide area and have done an excellent job. They have made considerable research and have discussed various points affecting the House. I agree with the Leader of the House, however, that very few revolutionary suggestions have come out of their Report, except the one of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), but one expects a revolutionary idea from that quarter in view of the nature of the constituency in the past.
On the question of the more expeditious working of Parliament, I see no reason why the whole of the Finance Bill, after its Second Reading, should not go to a Standing Committee. I suppose that the Finance Bill is considered important, because it deals with taxation and the raising of large sums of money and we all know that there is no taxation without proper representation. I often wonder, when I listened to the Committee stage of a Finance Bill, and looked around the Chamber at the small number of Members present; and they are mostly specialists. I cannot see why that discussion by specialists should not take place upstairs, in the same way as the Committee stage of other important Bills.
I can well understand that hon. Members may have to represent constituency points of view, but that could be done either on the Second Reading or on the Report stage, when the Bill comes back to the House. Incidentally, I am in favour of keeping the Report stage of all Bills on the Floor of the House, and the Third Reading, but I am in favour of the whole of the Finance Bill being taken upstairs in Committee.
85 In considering the range of subjects coming before the House, we must always bear in mind the fact that, with the exception of Supply Days, which are within the province of the Opposition, all the business coming before us is on Government initiative. I am excluding, of course, Private Members' Bills. Therefore, we are all conditioned and governed by what the Executive chooses to bring before us. I cannot see any necessity for having morning sessions, because they would only develop, as do so many of our debates, into a handful of hon. Members turning up because they want to hear themselves speak.
I believe in the exhortation of Mr. Speaker FitzRoy, when I was a young Member, urging the House to debate and to use the cut-and-thrust of debate. How often does that happen today? Some of us remember the days before the war, when we really had the cut-and-thrust of debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) reminded us of the days when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who did not by any means limit himself to one or two subjects, attacked his Government particularly on the issue of defence.
It made a good debate because the right hon. Gentleman, then a private Member of the House but with certain privileges as a Privy Councillor, could catch Mr. Speaker's eye and, what was much more important to him, could get the evening Press and the next morning's Press to report what he said. No hon. Member who listened to those debates then would doubt the effectiveness of the right hon. Gentleman as a private Member.
I have no objection, if the House thinks fit, to abolishing the Privy Councillor's privilege of being called earlier than some other hon. Members, but I would remind the House that they did not become Privy Councillors without learning their business the hard way through many years' previous service to the House. I suspect that it would not be beyond the ingenuity of Privy Councillors, even if they lost this privilege, to be called as often as, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and other back benchers who seem to catch the eye of the Chair all too frequently and, if I may say so 86 with due modesty, Sir, more often than some Privy Councillors, of whom I happen to be one.
I have never understood that Privy Councillors should have the right to be called on supplementary questions. I hope that I am not being too revolutionary in saying that I would go further and limit supplementary questions to the original questioner with perhaps the Front Bench, who themselves do not originate Questions as a rule, intervening to put a supplementary question.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I would limit the number of Front Bench questioners or supplementary questioners, and then we would avoid the spectacle, seen too often, of several hon. or right hon. Members rising in their places and even competing with each other to put a supplementary question. I am all in favour of limiting the number of Questions per Member per day to two instead of three. I wonder, however, how many hon. Members here remember the late Sir Kingsley Wood, who achieved his reputation by persistently putting down Questions on the subject that he was studying, and who eventually became a Minister, largely, I think, because of his persistence and consistency?
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
My right hon. Friend was here with me at the time. Does he not remember that Sir Kingsley Wood put them from the Opposition Front Bench?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, but I rather think that he originated Questions and not merely came in on supplementary questions only.
What I have to say about Parliament is that, whatever the House decides in the way of procedure, hon. Members can make up their minds that television is destroying a lot of our debates today. We hear nothing about some of our hon. Friends who are now television stars and are debating on television the subjects which should be debated in this House—and being paid very handsome fees for doing it. Therefore, if we are to get these up-and-coming young men into more debates, I should have thought that Parliament might have considered some limitation of the television debates in which they take part. In saying that, I 87 have no wish myself to appear on television.
I believe that political debates on television are now ceasing to be serious, as I would hope they would be in this House, and are becoming a form of entertainment, and he who can be the most sensational—sometimes this does not apply only in the case of television—gets the most publicity. If it is only publicity and merely an opportunity for hearing ourselves speak that we want, then I do not think that this place is the proper forum. Here we should rise only because we have something to say, because we want to say it and because it will provoke an hon. Member on the other side of the House, or perhaps on our own side, to say something in return.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said in his opening remarks that he would be against Privy Councillors having any privileges at all, because they had either suffered at the hands of the electorate or had been sacked by their leaders. That is not always a correct assessment of the reasons for Privy Councillors resigning their posts.
§ Mr. Bowles
I did not say "all of them". I said that many of them were either dismissed by the electorate or by their own leaders. That does not mean everybody. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) is a good example. However, I do not see that we need take many of them as seriously as they take themselves.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I thought that my hon. Friend was generalising a little too much and perhaps being a little offensive in the process. However, I would say, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that the right hon. Member for Woodford, Sir Anthony Eden, Mr. Duff Cooper, Lord Cranborne and innumerable Ministers in the House have resigned their position not because they were told to go by their leaders, but because they felt that their conscience or belief would not allow them to continue carrying out the policy that their colleagues in the Government were pursuing. Would that we had had a few resignations at the time of Suez, and then it would not have been left to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton to quote a non-eye-witness 88 account of what happened behind the scenes.
I did not agree with the point put by the Lord Privy Seal for denying the necessity for specialist Committees. Ha took an example which the Select Committee considered, namely, a colonial specialist Committee. I agree with him to the extent that I think that would be the worst sort of specialist Committee to have, but for some considerable time I have advocated having a specialist Committee on defence. Whether it is right or wrong to have bipartisanship or partisanship on that, I would not know, but I advocate—
§ Mr. Bellenger
My interest is that I happen to know something about defence, but I am bound to say that it is a long time since I was at the seat of power and had access to information which would enable me to come to the House and speak with some authority and knowledge of the facts. No hon. Member today, unless he is closely connected with the defence Ministries can come to the House and speak with knowledge and authority about policy which is now being discussed up and down the country, on television and by trade unions. Today, the membership of the House of Commons, with very few exceptions—this has been said previously by certain hon. Members who have been abroad and have mixed with members of continental Parliaments—knows less about defence matters in this country than is known by our opposite numbers abroad who are members of specialist defence committees.
Therefore, I advocate some of the experimentation which the Lord Privy Seal advocated this afternoon. Let us try out one of these specialist Committees. it may be that we shall have to alter Standing Orders or modify or rearrange our Constitution, but the whole process of British Parliamentary history throughout the ages has been modifying and rearranging our Constitution. I am sure that there would be less irresponsible speaking both in the House and outside if, in defence debates, Members of the House of Commons were much more properly and 89 adequately informed than they are at present.
Questions are put to the Defence Ministers, and they are dismissed because of security considerations. What happens abroad? If we take the West German Parliament or the French Parliament—for all I know, this may apply to other Parliaments—we find that on defence matters their members are able to listen to the highest authorities and experts on defence. That may be the reason why, in debates in their Parliaments, there are fewer ill-informed and bitter attacks on the rights and wrongs of a certain defence policy.
§ Mr. John Hall
Would the right hon. Gentleman also agree that members of Parliaments in other countries, in addition to knowing far more about their own defence organisation than we do, also know a great deal more about our defence organisation?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. It is a most undignified position for us, and I hope that other hon. Members will support and endorse the point of view that I am putting. I know that on both sides of the House, at any rate among the back benchers—I am proud to be a back bencher—there is the feeling that there ought to be some kind of specialist Committee for defence matters. Having said that, I have no doubt that a case could be made for other subjects as well.
I would say that if any hon. Member, certainly if any right hon. Member, abuses the position that he has in the House, that is quite wrong. Therefore, if the feeling of the House is that Privy Councillors are abusing their position, then the House is entitled to say so. However, I have noticed that the criticism comes mainly from the younger and less experienced Members, who themselves are very adept at getting into debates and getting on Select Committees. One has only to look at the membership of the Select Committee on Procedure to see how many entered apprentices, as I would call them, there are—
§ Mr. Bellenger
—who ignore the ripe wisdom of those who have served for 90 a long time in the House and, perhaps by virtue of their ability, have been members of Governments.
The other day I was looking at the index to the OFFICIAL REPORT for last Session, and I was surprised to find how few Privy Councillors—perhaps with one exception, and I will not mention any names—had taken part in the proceedings on the Floor of this Chamber by way of Questions, supplementary questions or otherwise. I can show the House columns of names of back benchers on my own side and on the other side of the House who have put down long lists of Questions. Therefore, it is all a matter of proportion.
If we leave it to Mr. Speaker to decide who is to be called—and I have every confidence in the Chair—then all I ask is on what set of principles Members are to be called. It would be an advantage if at some time the Chair could favour us with an indication of the procedure for calling hon. Members, so that we can be better informed about it and, possibly, more tolerant.
I want, finally, to refer to the Opposition Front Bench. I have noticed something which never used to happen before the war, the practice of back benchers flitting from the back benches down to the Front Bench so that they have the best of both worlds—they go on to the Front Bench for Question Time, where, presumably, they get priority in putting their Questions, since they are then occupants of the Front Bench, and, having finished with that subject, they go to the back benches and claim to catch Mr. Speaker's eye since they are then merely back benchers.
Speaking as one with a vested interest, I have no objection if the House alters its system, but we have to clear up the matter of the Opposition Front Bench. I have an idea that ex-Ministers are entitled to sit on the Opposition Front Bench if they want to do so. I have never exercised that right, if such a right exists, and I do not want to, but I am bound to say that if some of my hon. Friends who have not been Ministers claim the right to speak from the Front Bench pro tern, then that is a little unfair to the remainder of back benchers.
I hope that I have kept well within the bounds of the half-hour or less which was laid down by the Select Committee. 91 As one who has been an hon. Member of this House for many years, since before the war, I think that I am entitled to put my point of view and to hope that I shall provoke that cut and thrust of debate which we were told, when we were young Members, was what hon. Members should try to do.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
It is a little surprising that a debate on the Report of a Select Committee which laid considerable emphasis on short speeches should have substantially consisted of rather long ones. As a member of that Select Committee, I hope that I shall be more successful in trying to compress my remarks than was one of my colleagues who addressed the House from the other side.
A debate of this kind should be taken up not by Members of the Select Committee concerned but by other hon. Members who want to speak about the matters which were before the Committee. I should not have sought to intervene had I not noticed that there was no question of members of that Committee taking a disproportionate time of the debate, but I shall confine my remarks to a very short speech. I want to put before the House one or two matters arising out of the Committee's Report and one or two other matters on which I did not succeed in attracting enough support to my point of view to justify my putting forward Amendments.
The Committee was set up to consider what changes, if any, there should be to procure the more efficient despatch of business. I understood that primarily to mean more efficient in point of time: we should get through our business more quickly so as to lessen the load upon hon. Members, and possibly also to make more time available to discuss matters which are not now discussed.
I was not happy about the recommendation that the Finance Bill should go to a Standing Committee upstairs. I see many objections to that. Many hon. Members take part in Committee debates on the Finance Bill and many put down Amendments. Until the Finance Bill is published, certainly until the Budget statement is made, one does not know whether it raises a constituency or some other interest of which one has knowledge, or 92 in which one is especially concerned. If the Finance Bill goes to a Standing Committee, hon. Members who are not members of that Committee will feel rather cut off, which will result in a substantially longer Report stage.
It is extremely difficult to find some other way of saving four or five days in a Parliamentary year. I think that it is a regrettable necessity, but it is very difficult when one examines the business of the year to see how one can get the days unless one cuts down the number of Supply Days, which most hon. Members would find open to greater objections.
I do not know whether this came within the Committee's terms of reference—there was some difference of opinion about it and I did not press the matter—but it is my view that many of our difficulties stem from the size of the House. If we are to have a House of about 640 Members, we shall always be rather short of time. The larger the assembly the larger the number of people who want to speak and the more difficult it is to get through business quickly and efficiently. I do not suppose it is a very popular suggestion, but in my view at some time we shall have to revise the electoral quota. If it stays as it is, with the population growing, before long we shall find ourselves with a House of Commons of about 700 Members. I think that is getting too unwieldy. A reasonable size for the House would be about 500 Members. I leave it at that, because I want to make a short speech.
I take the view that a great alleviation of the burden of hon. Members would be brought about if we changed the country's financial year. I also advocated that in Committee, but possibly it was outside the Committee's ambit. I do not think it is possible to equate the financial year with a calendar year, because one wants to know the result of the calendar year before starting one's financial year. I suggest that the financial year should end on 28th February. That is a change of only one month, but my inquiries have told me that it could be brought about with no dislocation, except in the year in which it was introduced.
That change would allow the Budget and the Finance Bill to be introduced and the Bill passed into law so that the 93 House could rise for the summer comfortably by the middle of July. It is desirable that we should do so. It is absurd that every year Parliament should sit to the last days of July or the first days of August, usually until the Friday before Bank Holiday, and then expect hon. Members to go for their family holidays and so forth at the most congested and inconvenient moment of the year. What is more, the last three weeks of July are not the most suitable time of the year to sit in London and consider public business.
To those hon. Members who say that we should sit for as long as possible, I reply that I would not object to coming back a week or two earlier in the autumn, although I am not sure that the public advantage is as much promoted as some hon. Members think by having Parliament sitting for the maximum length of time.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
There is something which I cannot follow in the argument of my hon. Friend. He said that he wants to save time for the more efficient despatch of business. If the House got up a whole month earlier, how would any time be saved from the point of view of getting through the business of the House?
§ Mr. Bell
I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood me. Perhaps it was with that thought in mind that some hon. Members who served on the Committee considered that this suggestion fell outside the terms of reference of the Committee. But its terms of reference were the more efficient despatch of public business and I suggest that public business would be more efficiently dispatched—
§ Mr. Bell
I do not know how the hon. Member thinks I was suggesting that.
I was suggesting that the financial year should end a month earlier, which would allow the Budget and the Finance Bill to be introduced a month earlier. Then business would proceed on its statutory course under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, and it would be possible for the House, if it wished, to rise by the middle of July. Whether that would involve any shortening of the Parliamentary year would 94 depend on whether the House reassembled earlier in the autumn. That is a separate matter which the House could decide on its merits. There is difficulty, I think, about closing the financial year on 31st December, because every financial year would be ending then, the ordinary financial years as well as the national financial year, and perhaps the concentration of the burden of work on staffs would prove excessive.
The Select Committee made a recommendation regarding Standing Order No. 9, about which I do not feel very happy. The purport of the recommendation is that there should be more special Adjournments. I appreciate that there must be a safety valve of that kind, but I have never felt that a special Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9 was a very good safety valve. I can see no way to make tolerable the task of Mr. Speaker in respect of that Standing Order. If he is to decide on the importance of a matter, he is in a very difficult position. If he says that a matter is not sufficiently important, there will, of course, be cries of indignation from hon. Members opposite at the outrageous suggestion that a matter is not sufficiently important. There would be difficulty for Mr. Speaker in saying that a matter is not urgent. If we leave it to the House to decide whether a matter is sufficiently important, there will always be 50 hon. Members opposite who will rise—[HON. MEMBERS: "Forty."] Very well, 40, although one could get 50 if they were needed—there is no doubt about that.
Because I could not recommend a better and more workable alternative I did not dissent from the recommendation, but I really think, were it practicable, that we should leave it to Mr. Speaker to say in general terms whether he would grant an Adjournment and not force him to specify whether he refused such an Adjournment on the grounds of urgency or importance, and that we should never question his Ruling. We should not have these half-hours of argument on points of order. If we did that there would be no need for the recommendation which is contained in the Report.
Lastly, there is the question of "clearing the deck" in this Chamber by sending business to Standing Committees 95 so that we may have more general debates. If we send business to Standing Committees we must make sure that we do not double the burden upon ourselves. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir Roger Conant) said that the size of a Standing Committee could not be reduced any further without endangering the Government's majority—unless it were decided that a defeat of the Government in Committee did not matter—and so I understood that we could not do it. I reach an opposite conclusion. I should like to see smaller minimum figures for Standing Committees in the Report. I hope the House will make that suggestion to the Government. To send more Bills for discussion by Standing Committees of 40, 45 and 50 hon. Members is to make the system almost unworkable. For the life of me, I cannot see why a Government defeat in a Standing Committee should matter. If it does, what freedom of action is left to hon. Members? I never hesitate to vote against the Government in Standing Committee. I have served on Standing Committees where I have voted against the Government as often as I have voted for them. I never have considered that an hon. Member should hesitate to do that.
On general questions of principle and so on, we must operate the party system and keep to it. We could not send the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee and allow the Government to be defeated on an important Clause. Nobody would suggest that. But in the general work of phrasing and drafting which goes on in a Standing Committee it is nonsense that there should be directives from the Government Department concerned about any Amendment to a Bill, or that a Government defeat on an Amendment of that kind should be regarded as a serious matter. I say, therefore, let us reduce the size of Standing Committees. If a Government have a small majority after a General Election let us be sensible and give to the Government one "bonus member", one extra in the majority, to make the system work. In that way we should incorporate a little sense into the operation.
If in that way we create more time for debates on the Floor of the House, I hope that our debates will be useful 96 and that we shall debate the Reports of Select Committees, like the Select Committee on Estimates. But I think it would be dangerous were the House to try to shift too much of the emphasis of its work away from legislation and towards general debates. Nothing diminishes the authority of an assembly more than talking at large and taking decisions which have no operative effect. We have all seen this sort of thing happening in certain consultative assemblies abroad which I will not particularly specify. But it would be a dangerous development to allow this place to become a mere "talking shop"
The strength of the House of Commons lies in the fact that we are almost always taking operative decisions, even though sometimes they appear to be on tedious matters of detail. That has the effect of holding people to realities and compelling them to take a commonsense and down-to-earth point of view. Therefore, while I agree with the general sense of what appears in the Report, I wanted to say that word of reservation about the way in which we should use our time. I speak for myself when I say that I should not be unhappy if we used a little of any time so saved in not being at Westminster quite so much as we are at present.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
The House is indebted to the Leader of the House for the clear, if necessarily provisional, cautious and restrained observations which he made on the Report of the Select Committee. We have some idea about how the Government mind is working, though the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly reserved the position of the Government until he had heard this debate.
We must remember that this institution is a Parliament, and let us not underestimate the importance of it being a Parliament. It is not an aggregation of committees which meets from time to time and merely considers reports from a committee upstairs. It is a Parliament with its own rights. The authority of Parliament is on the Floor of the House of Commons and not in Committees. Whatever we may do about the delegation of certain legislative and other functions, do not let us lose sight of the principle that the authority of Parliament resides on the Floor of the 97 House. If we do lose sight of that principle, we shall be in danger of going the way of some other Parliaments where the Parliamentary institution is something in the nature of a farce.
We are all in a dilemma about this matter. We wish to save Parliamentary time, partly because in some ways it is used excessively, and partly because we wish to use any time saved for other purposes.
We must be a little careful. We do not want to run this place upon the doctrine that the hours ought to be over-long, or longer than they are. They are long enough. It is not good that the House should be served by hon. Members who are physically and mentally tired out because of the number of hours they are required to be in attendance here. It is common ground that there is a problem and that hon. Members are in many respects somewhat overworked. We want to give them a lighter time. Some hon. Members who say that, however, then proceed to invent new devices whereby hon. Members will have to spend more time in the service of Parliament and Parliamentary institutions.
For example, there is the question of Committees, to which I will come a little later on. Whatever point of view we take, we are liable to get into a state of contradiction about Committees. I would join the Leader of the House in paying a tribute to the service rendered by the Clerk of the House and his predecessors to the work of the Committee. They have been given impossible tasks. The Committee was appointed partly to find out how to save Parliamentary time and to use it for other purposes, so the Clerk was asked if he would kindly prepare a memorandum saying how this could be done. The true answer is that it cannot be done. Nevertheless the Clerk was instructed to tell the Committee how it might be done, so he prepared a memorandum. He submitted the memorandum, which he knew and the Committee knew would be unacceptable to the Committee; so the poor man has been wasting his time. Nevertheless, the House of Commons is grateful to him. Someone has to do this work of producing ideas which may be unacceptable. They mean well by it, and they do it in order that a committee may examine the ideas and find that they are wrong. The 98 same thing happened to Lord Campion, when he was Clerk to the House under another name. He produced most elaborate reports about financial control, but they were no good. They were turned down.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
They were no good to the right hon. Gentleman at the time, but to the Committee they were.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not agree with the noble Lord. I was a great friend of Lord Campion, but I did not agree with him on this particular matter.
Another thing is that the House is not called upon to make up its mind whether hon. Members should be full-time or part-time. There are, thank goodness, quite a number of hon. Members who give substantial full-time service to the House, including service on Standing Committees, committees like the one whose Report we are now examining, and Select Committees on Public Accounts and Estimates. This is a heavy and laborious job, but fortunately there are some who can do it.
Nevertheless, I still take the view—if we have to go into this matter it cannot be helped—I do not want a House of Commons which is 100 per cent. composed of people with no other interests. Some of my hon. Friends are doing a full-time job on the trade union principle of "one-man-one-job", which arose partly during the days of unemployment. I understand their feeling that if they are doing a full-time job everybody else should do the same, but the health of our Parliamentary institutions should and can only derive from the fact that a noticeable proportion of its Members are doing other things and have contacts with the world outside, so that this House does not become a closed house, a sort of monastery—
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Does my right hon. Friend mean us to infer from his remarks that because an hon. Member does a full-time job in the House of Commons he has no contacts with the world outside?
§ Mr. Morrison
Some hon. Members do not make it a full-time job. While not attacking those, the last thing I want to do is to attack those who do make it a full-time job. I have quite enough 99 trouble on my plate at the moment without doing that. I listened with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who made an interesting speech this afternoon, but I regret to say that he did not convert me to the view that I know he sincerely holds.
Standing Committees could conveniently be reduced in size, but if they are then for heaven's sake let them behave themselves like committees and not like Parliaments. I had one or two painful experiences when I was Minister of Transport years and years ago. proving that hon. Members can make speeches as long in Standing Committees as they can on the Floor of the House of Commons itself. I should like to see Standing Committees follow more the example of committees of local authorities, where the discussion is brief and business like and where members, when they have said what they have to say and made their material points, finish. That would save a lot of time in the Standing Committees. It is important that we should save time not only on the Floor of the House but in committees, especially if the Finance Bill goes to a Standing Committee.
I do not mind Bills going to commitee. Why should I? I sent a lot of Bills upstairs when I was Leader of the House and present Government supporters were sitting over here. What a pity that they are not sitting over here now. I am therefore in favour of the principle of a Bill going upstairs; but Bills of essentially constitutional character, and the Consolidated Fund Bill, should stay here.
I have been somewhat mystified over the view that the Finance Bill should not go upstairs for its Committee consideration. I am not really mystified, because I understand the traditional background. I quite see the doctrine that matters of taxation belong to all the people's representatives—I do not think it is practicable to divide the Finance Bill up into two or more Measures because we should be faced with Second and Third Readings for each Bill. It would not make for tidy legislation to carve a Bill up so that part of it was considered here and part of it upstairs. I would send the whole Bill upstairs, but I would not let the Report 100 stage of the Finance Bill or any other Bill remain upstairs. There must be a stage in the House of Commons, when the House as a whole can determine what is going into the Clauses.
If the Finance Bill goes upstairs there will be the little stratagems and tactics, such as have been going on not only while my party is in Opposition but when the Conservatives were in Opposition. There has been obstruction at some stages of Finance Bills, although I do not see the point of it. When I first came here there was a lot of obstruction. There used to be endless discussion of Supplementary Estimates, discussion which was a disgrace to the House of Commons, a waste of time and a lowering of our temper and dignity. I took the view that that kind of obstruction was bad. Fortunately, it has largely gone as a result of better conduct on the part of the main parties in the House of Commons. I am glad that that is so. Obstruction is legitimate when one is fighting a terrible Bill—like that on commercial television. The Government retaliated with the Guillotine, as it was capable of doing, although that was an abominable thing because the electorate had given them no authority for the Bill, let alone for the Guillotine.
I say that obstruction is bad except on matters of real principle. If there are to be time-tables they should be voluntary. I offered a voluntary timetable, if the Government Front Bench will forgive me saying so, to the Opposition on the Iron and Steel Bill of the Labour Government. I said we would be generous if the Oppo sion would respect a voluntary timetable, but quite legitimately the Opposition said that the Bill was so objectionable and would be disastrous to the country—it would be almost a betrayal of John Bull—that they could not enter on a voluntary timetable. I said, "I have to put it through, and if we do so with a compulsory timetable I hope you will forgive me," but they did not do that either. On matters of that kind the Opposition of the day has a right to try to obstruct, and I must confess the Government of the day have the right to see that they are not obstructed if they can do so.
The Leader of the House said that the timetable could be voluntary or by a Guillotine, but I would ask him to preserve another course, that there should be no timetable at all on certain matters. 101 I think he has a duty as Leader of the House sometimes to say to himself, "I know the Opposition has been rather naughty about this, that and the other. I have tried to get it to agree to a voluntary timetable and it will not, but I do not want to impose a compulsory Guillotine on Parliament if I can help it" I hope he and the rest of the House will leave open the possibility of Parliament having a free fling upon these matters.
I do not like the idea of morning sittings. Hon. Members have a lot of other things to do in the mornings. They have their letters to deal with. Many of them have Committees of one sort and another upstairs. What sort of morning sittings would these be? So far as I can tell by definition they would be sittings of no importance, where a limited number of Members could have a go as they do on the Adjournment, but there might also be sundry Orders and Prayers dealt with on those occasions. The more I look at the suggestion the more it seems to me that of all the dull periods of Parliamentary sittings this would be the dullest in this or any Parliament, and that is saying something, or on matters on the Adjournment I say: do not pursue this matter.
The Committee started off on the basis of finding how Parliamentary time could be saved. Then a number of hon. Members came up with the proposition of how Parliamentary time can be added, which seems somewhat illogical. Moreover, Ministers have duties in Whitehall. It is said that Parliamentary Secretaries can come to answer these debates. That is said in the tone of voice which suggests that they are poor little things who do not matter, that they have nothing to do and might as well come here and speak from a prepared brief, which in all probability will have to receive the O.K. of the Ministers before they read it. That is not respecting Parliamentary Secretaries. I want them to have responsible duties in their Departments. I do not believe in this kind of thing. I do not believe that the morning sitting should be a sort of pantomime. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West referred to first-class and second-class Members of Parliament, but if we had morning sittings that would be a third-class Parliament. I say, forget it.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I was referring to first-class and second-class Members of Parliament, not in the sense in which we might use those terms, but in the sense in which the appellation is sometimes used in the Press by drawing a demarcation between those who have to put in full time here and those who do not. In dealing with this matter, will my right hon. Friend deal with the question of consideration of the Report of a Royal Commission. Would he regard that as a debate of no importance?
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot see that it is essential that the House should debate every Royal Commission Report. It really is not essential. Some of them are worth debating, and when they are they get debated, as was the famous one a few months ago, but a number of Royal Commission Reports do not require to be debated in this House, and it would not be any better if they were.
Now I come to the Privy Councillors. I apologise for the fact that I am following a Privy Councillor from this side of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I only say that I tried hard to stop him speaking at all. I warned him. I said, "You are going to do the very thing these back benchers object to." I feel that I must speak because I am a former Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
Who asked my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to butt in? Why should one ex-Leader of the House turn round on another? They should stick together in their troubles. It is important that Privy Councillors should exercise a wise restraint about how often they speak. If I may say so with all humility, I think I do so. I have often intended to speak and not done so because someone else was going to make a speech and I thought it better that I should not enter into the competition because it might upset some of our back benchers, for whom I have a very great respect. There is another problem, and that is the number of supplementary questions which are put from the Opposition Front Bench. Whether they are Privy Councillors, ex-Ministers or even not ex-Ministers, they sometimes overdo 103 it at the expense of hon. Members on the back benches.
I do not like the idea of five-minute speeches. Even the London County Council, which is the next greatest authority in the country, allows fifteen-minute speeches. These five-minute speeches would be something like a speakers' class in a junior Conservative association. I am disposed not to interfere with Standing Order No. 9 too much. Of course, in Opposition, one sometimes feels that the Speaker has been a little severe or restrictive in his Ruling. If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, I have never felt that way because I have great understanding for your problems. When I was Leader of the House and the Conservative Opposition was up to the same lark, I can remember saying to myself, "I hope to goodness Mr. Speaker does not allow this; it will upset my timetable tonight."
It is a severe Standing Order, but I think it ought to be, because it involves changing the business of the House for that evening. Let us be careful about the provision by which 40 Members can stand to determine whether a matter is a matter of public importance or not, because I assure hon. Members 40 Members will stand whatever the merits. I have stood up myself quite often as one of 40 Members when I did not believe in it but because I wanted to stand loyally with my friends and help them out of an awkward situation. I do not know that there is anything wrong with the present situation.
I turn, next, to Standing Order No. I and the suspension of the rule at 10 o'clock. As one who has had a lot to do with the Whips in my time, I like the possibility of one Division at 3.30 p.m. It lets the Whips on both sides know how many Members they have here, and it may shake up the back benchers to be here when otherwise they might not. Whether the Whips would hold them here until 10 o'clock for a possible Division I do not know. If the Division is to be at the interruption of the Orders of the Day, the Whips will not know, nor will hon. Members, when the Division will take place. I am not sure whether it would be wise to make this change, but there is nothing very serious about it. I declare my impartiality on 104 these matters, because unhappily by the time these changes are in operation I shall not be here. I am sorry that that is so.
I agree with the Committee that mechanical voting is not good for this House. I have seen it worked at Middlesex County Council. It works very well for members there; they each have a desk, and it can be worked. I think that Divisions in the House of Commons, however, are among the most human institutions that we have. We are all mixed up in the Division—I nearly said irrespective of who we are, but of course, there are parties. Party leaders and back benchers are all mixed up together, and it is even possible for humble Members on the back benches to meet now and again the really great men in the party. If they sit on the Government side of the House, they may even meet Ministers. I think that is a good thing.
Moreover, I believe that the public likes to see the House of Commons marching out to vote. I do not think that the public understands what it is all about, and that is accompanied by the fact that we do not always understand, either. I am against mechanical voting, and I think that proxy voting would be disgraceful. The Committee is very wise to say, "Let there be no more slaughter of people called to vote in a House with a close majority when they are sick." I agree that there should be no more slaughter of such Members by refusal to provide them with a pair. If there is genuine sickness which makes it undesirable that a Member should come from his home to Westminster to vote, especially if he has to come in an ambulance—which I am afraid has been done—it is a bad and inhuman thing to make him come here. If he comes here and later dies, then in a mild way somebody is nearly guilty of murder. It should never happen again. Let there be the humanity which says, "If there is a genuine medical reason, we will give a pair". That can easily be arranged.
I agree that supplementary questions ought to be somewhat shorter, but if hon. Members want to see the record supplementary question for length, they should look up a question asked by our respected colleague, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), when the Labour Government were in 105 power. I forget whether his supplementary question went to one, two or three columns of HANSARD. It was one supplementary question. He was interrupted by some hon. Member saying, "Speech". He replied, "No. I am putting this in an interrogatory form". He was. Nevertheless, supplementary questions could be put with greater brevity, and some Ministers could answer with greater brevity. Some of them would be wiser if they did not answer at all.
I do not like the idea of specialised committees upstairs and I do not believe in it.
§ Mr. Morrison
It detracts from the authority of the Floor of the House. The point which distinguishes this Parliament is that authority is on the Floor of the House, and the point which distinguishes the Parliament of France, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said, is that there is little authority on the Floor and little authority on the part of Ministers. I agree with him that the United States is not exactly analogous because Ministers there do not sit in Congress, but France and West Germany are analogous, and there, instead of the battle of Ministers being on the Floor, the battle of Ministers is in Committee upstairs. What does this mean? What would it mean if we adopted this procedure? It would mean that the voice of authority would tend to pass from this assembly as a corporate institution and go upstairs to limited committees. It would mean that Ministers would have to go there. It is no use saying that they could send Parliamentary Secretaries and feel that all was safe.
In any case, why pick on the Colonial Secretary, poor man? He is a very heavily worked Minister, one of the most heavily worked. I well remember when my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was Colonial Secretary. It is a very heavy job. This farming out of Parliamentary responsibilities to Committees upstairs will not do. Why the Colonial Office? Why not the Foreign Office? Why not the Ministry of Defence, as my right hon. Friend asked? Why not the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? There are plenty of matters on which that 106 Minister could be cross-examined. I believe that the suggestion is not fair to the House of Commons and not fair to busy Ministers and that it means more work for Members of Parliament.
I have possibly overdone the length of my speech and I am obliged to the House for having let me express my views about this matter. Even though I may disagree with some of the views of the Select Committee, I join with others in expressing our warm thanks to the Chairman of the Select Committee, whose eloquence when he was Secretary of State for Scotland we well remember. I know from my own appearance before the Committee that he was an excellent Chairman. We thank him for his labours and we thank his Committee, which was a very well assorted body of hon. Members, for the work which they have done and the conscientious way in which they have made their recommendations to the House.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)
It is a considerable privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who, I think everyone will agree, has made some of the most constructive and interesting comments on the Report of the Select Committee. Like the right hon. Member, I do not agree with everything in the Report, but unlike him, I should have liked to see some of its recommendations go rather further.
It is common knowledge that in the country and in the House there has been a great deal of unease for some time about our procedure and about the time which is being spent—and, in the view of many hon. Members and of the public, wasted—in the House. As a result of that, two Select Committees on Procedure have been set up in recent years and a Committee of Privy Councillors was formed to inquire into the question of the overstrain of senior Ministers, which to my mind is part and parcel of the subject that we are debating this afternoon.
These Select Committees and that Committee of Privy Councillors had the object of finding means of enabling the House to conduct its business more efficiently, which is generally interpreted as more quickly. I should like at this stage to declare a personal interest, because I am one of those hon. Members whom the 107 hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) feels possibly have no place in the House. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South say that we have a place. I am one of those hon. Members who have tried over nearly ten years to serve as a Member of Parliament and to do a job outside.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I said no such thing. I merely pointed out that we should not have first and second-class Members of the House. I am quite prepared to accord to anyone who has an avocation outside his correct place, but I refuse to believe what has been suggested in some quarters of the Press, that they are rather superior because they earn a living outside, compared with myself, as one who does voluntary service outside the House.
§ Mr. Baldock
I understood the hon. Gentleman quite differently. I understood him to say first and second-class Members, but I thought that he did so rather in the sense that those who were not able to put in full time in this House were second-class Members. I disagree with him about that because, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South and, I am sure, from the way in which the House listened to his remarks, like the majority of hon. Members in the House, I think that there is. a place for those who have some other contact with what I might call real life outside the House as well as those who devote—and it is most essential that there should be a proportion of them—the whole of their time to the work of this House.
I have found that it is not possible to combine both those things as a Member of Parliament under the exacting conditions of the House of Commons today. With great regret, I shall not be standing again at the next General Election. I declare that interest partly because, if I did not, I might be accused of trying to grind my own axe, which I am not doing. I am merely trying to explain to the House that I have a personal knowledge of the problems which the present amount of time which the House takes up imposes upon a Member who has also a job to do outside the House.
This problem has been growing up for some time, but it has become much greater as the result of the appearance of the Welfare State and the nationalised 108 industries. With the general growth of the power of the State and centralisation of control it must follow that the work of Parliament is very much heavier than it was formerly.
I cannot agree with an hon. Member opposite who said that the House is not passing any more legislation or doing any more work now than it did a hundred years ago. I think that anyone who has studied the matter seriously realises that this is false. We are expected to contend with infinitely more legislation and much more work and a far wider scope and range of subjects than any previous generation had to undertake. There are the additional burdens of our closer integration with the Continent of Europe, which is taking up a large amount of time of a considerable number of hon. Members, and this is something which is likely to grow.
As the result of this increasing pressure on hon. Members, a situation arises where it is inevitable that one of two things must take place. That, I think, is what the House has to decide. Either the procedure of the House must be changed, not too rapidly, not too drastically, but, nevertheless, in the end considerably changed, or the composition of the House must be considerably changed. The composition of the old procedure and the old type of Member cannot continue in the future. Many of those who speak about the ideal composition of the House regard it as a microcosm of the nation, or as a cross-section of the people, as, I think, was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West. Of course, the House of Commons has never been that, but perhaps it is nearer that today than it ever has been.
In the past, Members of Parliament from both sides of the House were largely drawn from the class of people who had an unearned income. They were not under any pressure, or under any inclination or necessity to do any other job than this if they desired not to do so. They were able to give their whole time here, regardless of financial considerations, and they had a great deal of independence, particularly financially, which many hon. Members today cannot have. But those days are past.
Today, the number of people who have sufficiently large unearned incomes 109 to be able to come here and be independent of party or their Parliamentary salaries is becoming very small and is likely to become smaller. If people who come here are to be independent, it is likely that they will have some job outside. The new and more onerous conditions of service in this House make it necessary for a change to take place. Either these independent or amateur Members, as they have been called, will have to go, if they can no longer combine a job of work outside or their their interests outside with their service in this House, or the procedure will have to be changed so that it is possible for them still to do both things.
It has not, perhaps, reached that stage yet, but I would suggest that if centralisation of control and co-ordination with the Continent of Europe, with N.A.T.O. and with all the other international bodies, continues, and if civilisation continues to get more complex, it is inevitable that the work of the House will continue to increase and it will become steadily more impossible for one person to play his full part in the House conscientiously and properly, and as his constituents would desire, while, at the same time, doing a job outside the House.
I suggest, therefore, that the decision which the House and the Government have to make is whether the proposals for improving the efficiency of our procedure, and other more sweeping ones, I believe, as well, should be adopted, or whether we should reconcile ourselves to having a House predominently consisting of full-time professional politicians who would become, in my view, more and more a louder species of civil servant because they would be divorced from the life outside.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, they will be living a sort of monastic existence, considering our problems somewhat in a vacuum with little time to have outside contacts and certainly no time for doing the difficult job of earning the money or making the profits which the House is spending, but becoming more and more like full-time paid officials, more and more afraid of quarrelling with their party organisations for fear of losing their livelihood and pensions and entirely different persons from those who served this House in the past.
110 That, I believe, is the choice. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will very seriously consider the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure and also some of the wider and more drastic proposals that have been made so that, in future, these problems—as well as the enormous pressure on Ministers, which I think is now reaching almost intolerable degrees in certain Departments—may be alleviated.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
This may prove to be an historic debate. Within the limited time at my disposal I am unable to make out a reasoned case, based on my experience, for those fundamental changes that I should like to see, based on a close analysis of the Select Committee's Report and on the privilege I have enjoyed of the friendship of servants of the House.
Within ten months those of us who are re-elected will meet in a new Parliament, and if it is a dynamic House, as it has been occasionally in the past, with a number of young Members—especially representing the class to which I belong—I hope that it will take a special interest in the importance of Parliamentary procedure and practice, and that those young Members will use their youthful exuberance in a desire to equip the House adequately to fulfil its future tasks.
I should have liked to have moved a reasoned Amendment—subject to its acceptance by Mr. Speaker—to the Motion that we are now considering, but to have done so would have been idle in view of the limited life of this present Parliament.
Before making my few observations, I should like to join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in paying tribute to the Clerk of the House for the excellent memorandum that he submitted to the Select Committee. I differ from my right hon. Friend in my view of that memorandum. Like all pioneering work, it is not accepted today, but it is as certain as I stand here that the younger Members here will live to see the day when this House accepts many of the proposals contained therein.
I should also like to pay a tribute to the conscientious staff who serve the 111 Clerks at the Table. Those of us who have had long experience in many directions have not known men and women who have served their institutions better than, and very few as well as, the Clerk of the House and his staff.
We should also remind ourselves that Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means will no longer be Members of the House after this present Parliament finishes. I hope that they, too, will study what is said today, as well as the Select Committee's Report and, drawing on their own experience, will place their views on record so that they may be available for any future Select Committee that considers this subject.
A few of us have been pressing for many years, and on good grounds, constructive proposals for the more efficient conduct and despatch of Parliamentary business. One of my late right hon. Friends wrote a book on the subject, which he discussed with some of us for many hours. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South has also made an historic contribution to the functioning of Parliament and the solution of its problems.
The book to which I refer was produced by a man who, in my view, was the greatest aristocratic intellectual of our time. Sir Stafford Cripps was a Parliamentary giant, but even he was unable to make any progress on this business in his time. Nevertheless, if Parliament is to manage the nation's affairs and meet modern needs, fundamental reforms will be required.
We should also place on record our appreciation of the excellent contribution made this year by the HANSARD Society. As I have already said, my time is limited so I cannot do justice to it, but it would be wrong not to mention that monumental work, which represents immense toil done behind the scenes by many men and women who are interested in Parliamentary practice.
I have also studied a recent book entitled "The Control of the Purse". It is well worth reading. It is an historic and informative work, and one that I am sure will receive the attention of hon. Members for many years. I do not accept it all, but I believe that page 9 sums up the book's constructive proposals. It rightly emphasises that the Public 112 Accounts Committee works post mortem—and I think that that is the difference between the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and some of my hon. Friends.
Those of us who know the work done by that Committee greatly appreciate it and have said so on several occasions. I agree that those Reports should receive more consideration and general discussion, but I think that it is a matter for specialist Committees. I would not go with many hon. Members so far as to suggest wholesale specialist Committees, but for a concrete purpose such as that referred to by the right hon. Gentleman in opening the debate, and for other purposes to while I shall refer later, I think that in this modern age, with the tempo of life as it is, there is a case for specialist Committees that would keep the larger House well informed on problems to which it cannot give adequate consideration.
At the same time, the author of the recently published book, and anyone else who agrees with him, should be told in no uncertain terms—and this is a constitutional point that needs to be emphasised—that the elected members of the House of Commons should be supreme in determining how the national income is spent, how the finance raised by the Inland Revenue is dealt with; and should also be told that the elected representatives in this House need no advice from another place on that subject. The "battle of the purse" was fought out here many years ago, and we should be on our guard against accepting the advice of another place, or from other places.
It is now twenty-four years since I became a Member. In those days, more time and interest was devoted to Votes of Supply, and to the detailed analysis and examination of expenditure. In some way or another we have to get back to that, and if that assertion is accepted the only question that remains is how best to get back to it.
I agree that it was the 1939–45 war that changed things. We then voted millions of pounds almost in seconds, and have never got back to the pre-war policy of close analysis and examination of expenditure. Before the war, we voted thousands; since the war, we have voted millions of pounds in minutes— 113 sometimes, in seconds. In addition, since the end of the war we have all acquiesced in a most dangerous course. Votes of Supply have become automatic. They have been read out by the Clerk, and we have then proceeded to consider other questions having nothing to do with the millions of pounds which we have voted in a few seconds.
Therefore, I plead with those taking an interest in this problem, including the authorities that serve us behind the scenes, to consider constructive proposals in order that any future Select Committee or, if possible, the Government, can recommend and take action so that we can return to the pre-war procedure. This is a very serious matter. A trade union in this country is subject to the Public Auditor. It has to account for every farthing. Yet we vote millions of pounds in seconds.
In addition to that, we have this humiliating position. That is how I look upon it. I am not asking any other right hon. or hon. Gentleman to look upon it in this way, but I do. It is our own conscience. Every year when we have the report, printed on the Order Paper, we are taking advantage of the application of virement. That is a most humiliating position for an elected Member of Parliament to be placed in.
I say that because I have friends who are counted among the most competent accountants in the country. Some of them have worked their way through to their professions by scholarships and, as a result of having done so, are now employed to conduct very severe auditing and have become the best accountants in the country. As a result of their friendship, I know how carefully balance sheets must be prepared and how careful they must be in publishing all expenditure and income. Yet every year the House of Commons is prepared to allow the hundreds years out of date method of dealing with virement.
Those of us who have served in the Armed Forces are in a strong position to know how that is done. Anyone who served in France, Belgium, Germany and other places and saw what went on in wartime made allowances for it because of the difficulties of wartime. But knowing what goes on in peacetime in these large camps in different parts, the time has arrived when the House 114 should consider the question of virement. This is one respect in which I differ from the Clerk of the House of Commons. In his memorandum he contents himself with making proposals to submit a certain formula, which I accept, but that is not going anywhere near far enough and the Select Committee should have given greater consideration to it.
I readily accept the proposals contained in paragraphs 4, 5 and 6, but I am very concerned about the Committee's proposals for the appointment of Standing Committees and the timetable. I feel very uneasy about the proposal for a timetable. For example, I remember that just before the last war some of us seized an opportunity to raise the question of National Service and we kept the House sitting all night. The next morning the Government gave way, because they saw that there was something in our point. If this proposal is accepted, it will mean that we shall not be able to do a large amount of that kind of good work. I could give further examples of the pre-war action over the means test, the Assistance Board Regulations, Mining Subsidence Bills and the Factories Bill. I hope that the House will be on its guard when considering the question of a timetable and the personnel to serve on Committees.
There is one thing about which I am more indignant than anything else when it comes to the assembly of men and women, wherever they assemble. That is the amount of patronage, the amount of servility, and the creeping and crawling which goes on. If there is very much of that kind of thing, the timetables will be readily agreed to, and people who have a grievance to put forward on behalf of the people, or who wish to make constructive suggestions, will be ridden over rough-shod. Some of the personnel selected to serve on Committees will ride rough-shod over people who have still retained their manhood and a certain amount of independence.
I accept, and with certain reservations welcome, the proposal with regard to the Finance Bill. First, what interpretation do the members of the Select Committee place upon "brevity." The Report says:We hope, therefore, that the House will support brevity in all speeches during the Committee stage.115 I should like someone to interpret that word, because I have not yet heard it interpreted. Some say five minutes, especially ex-officers, and I will deal with that later. Others say 10 minutes, others say 15 minutes, and others say 20 minutes. The time has arrived when someone should commit himself and have enough confidence in hon. Members to believe that they will try to work to it as near as they can as soon as someone has given them a lead as to what it means.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I will commit myself and say 10 minutes, if the hon. Member will agree to that.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The hon. Member does not want to be so insulting, because I was not attempting to insult anyone. I treat the House in a very different way. Therefore, I hope that we shall not have a repetition of that. I do not mind if there is a repetition, because we shall know where we are and we can start a little cut and thrust.
This is an important constitutional point, of which I hope the House will not lose sight. We in the House are all elected on the same basis, although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South that one would not think so at times. One of the most important elements in that basis is that the elected people's representatives control finance. Before the House parts with finances, the people's grievances or ideas should be put forward. Therefore, that right should be safeguarded on these Committees if they are set up. I hope that that will be considered by whoever will determine the policy.
On Private Bills, I think that the Select Committee's recommendation is a big step in the right direction, but I hope that evidence will be taken from the town clerks. After the terrible experience of Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester prewar with regard to Private Bills, which I have not time to go into, I hope that we shall be on our guard about that.
The suggestion for five-minute speeches is the most insulting undemocratic proposal ever made in Parliamentary literature. [Laughter.] I do not blame hon. Members opposite for laughing, because some of us know where it 116 came from. The logic of the proposal is that first and second-class officers should be introduced—in other words, an officer class and other ranks in the House of Commons. Hon. Members opposite may deny it, but that is the logic of it. That is the logic of the mentality of its source.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I thank my hon. Friend for his candid support. All hon. Members are selected on the same basis, and up to now our Parliamentary rights have been the same. For twenty-four years I have, if anything, been more than reasonable. But I can see myself getting into difficulties with Mr. Speaker in future if anyone tries to limit me to five minutes—and that is not a threat. What I am saying is that if one is elected to this House one is entitled, in association with other hon. Members, to play the game, but no one can do that within five minutes. Therefore, I hope that we have heard the last of that suggestion.
I agree that proxy voting is an absurd suggestion and I hope that it will not receive another moment's consideration. I believe that we all ought to play our part in this House. Whoever suggested that speeches which have not been delivered should be published cannot have given much consideration to what has gone before in this House. I agree with the Select Committee's Report. I am resolutely opposed to the proposal. It would mean that well-placed Members, many of whom would not have the capacity to make a speech in the House, could dictate their speeches in their offices, could get the Clerk to go over them and then have them published in HANSARD.
I welcome this opportunity of making those few brief observations. I agree that one cannot do justice to the subject, cannot make an analysis of the Committee's Report, within the limited time available. But within the time that we have had, we have been able to put forward some constructive suggestions and ask the House to be on its guard against a number of proposals. I hope that the next Parliament will consider this debate, and will bear in mind the experience of Mr. Speaker, of the Chairman of Ways and Means and of the 117 Clerks who have served the House so well, so that this House, having adapted itself to the needs of a changing world, can continue to do so and serve a country that is modernising itself in many other ways.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The projected time for five-minute speeches has, I think, arrived. I have endured this Palace of Westminster for three summers, a place that could be the finest public building in the country. The small imperfections in our present procedure have given me ample time for architectural contemplation. Much has been done to improve this Palace of ours since the war, and many of us will agree that the bombing of the House of Commons was a blessing in disguise, although much more still could be done. In fact, I think it would not be unfair to say that some parts of the Houses of Parliament are today dirty, dingy, ill-ventilated and downright depressing.
Paragraph 6 of the Report draws attention to the acute needs for more space for Standing Committees. In my submission, it is no use tinkering with this problem. I advocate as a solution the immediate consideration of Sir Charles Barry's scheme for completing the Palace of Westminster by a building round New Palace Yard stretching from St. Stephen's entrance round to the base of the Clock Tower. This would provide 200 extra rooms at the estimation of Sir Charles Barry and would help to provide the extra Committee rooms which we need so much. I throw that out briefly as my suggestion for solving this problem of accommodation. I realise that it does not arise from this Report, but for the sake of accuracy I will give the reference for the scheme—Volume 53 of Accounts and Papers, 1854. I would add that there have been subsequent discussions of the proposal and that the then estimated cost was £263,000.
To get back to the Report that we are considering, Questions have been mentioned. I would welcome a reduction to two Questions per Member per day. Indeed, I have collected some statistics on today's Questions. There were 59 Oral Questions in all; 46 of these were put down by the Opposition and 13 by the Government side. There 118 were 12 Opposition Members accounting for 28 Questions; four put down three each and eight had two each. I am not attacking the Opposition in saying this. Obviously the Opposition is more likely to want to put down Questions, but if the Government side also made an effort to get their share of the time we should find the Order Paper cluttered with about 100 Questions per day; so some reduction under the present rules would be desirable.
Perhaps also a better balance in the Prime Minister's Questions might be achieved if a private Member were able to put down only one Question to the Prime Minister on any day. That would avoid some of these campaigns which go on from time to time to harass the Prime Minister unduly. After all, if it is the Opposition's desire to harass the Prime Minister, they can do it by getting a number of Members to put Questions to him instead of leaving it to only one or two.
§ Mr. Cooke
The Report also mentions the provision of drafting assistance to private Members. We have already seen how valuable the Table Office is to us in that respect and how the intention of a Member asking a Question can be put into plain English, or Parliamentary English at any rate, by the Table Office. Certainly some assistance of that sort to Members wishing to bring in Private Bills would be a great help.
There is also reference to the use of private Members' time, and I should like to say a word or two about Private Members' Motions. When private Members' Fridays occur I feel that sometimes we private Members are not as clever as we might be in using the available time. Too many of us sign the book in the Lobby, collect the printed list from the Whips and read out the first topic if by any chance our names come out first. Surely, if we really wanted to use that time properly we could find plenty of subjects of our own. It is up to private Members to make more use of that time.
On the subject of Adjournment debates, I feel, having listened to a good many, that an Adjournment debate consists of half-an-hour in which there is a 119 public exchange of letters from the Member concerned and from the Minister who replies to the debate. Obviously it is difficult to get away from that, but perhaps once a week we might have an extra half-hour, making an hour's Adjournment debate at the end of the day, in which the Member and the Minster can have ten minutes each, leaving more time for five-minute speeches by other Members. Of course, this would not work in debates about constituency matters, but it might work in a debate on a topic of general interest.
The proposal to which I am trying to adhere, but in which I am afraid I have already exceeded my limit, is that of five-minute speeches. It is not all that difficult to stick to somewhere near five minutes. Perhaps it might also be thought advisable to try a debate for an hour in which we were limited to ten minutes each; that would avoid the situation which occurred today when only two speeches in the debate have been for less than twenty minutes. I have never heard a speech of half-an-hour by a private Member which could not have been compressed into twenty minutes, and some hon. Members on the Front Bench who sometimes speak for an hour could well get their remarks into forty-five minutes.
I share the hope expressed by many Members that some immediate benefit, perhaps some small improvements in our procedure, will arise from this debate, and also that possibly one certain result will be the better use of our existing procedure, having examined it in public today. I should like to end as I began, by making a plea that perhaps the Palace of Westminster might also be considered on another occasion.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I wish to respond briefly to the invitation of the Lord Privy Seal and to say a word on the recommendation of the Select Committee as to the establishment of a Welsh Grand Committee. I am sorry that the Lord Privy Seal does not appear to sympathise with the idea of a Welsh Standing Committee, but I know of his interest in Welsh affairs generally, and I also know that he is open to argument. I hope I shall be able to convert him to a different view in this debate.
120 We are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), who made submissions on this subject to the Select Committee, and for making the recommendation possible. My main complaint about the recommendation is that it is a rather tepid one. For instance, the last sentence in paragraph 48 reads as follows:If a need arose for more discussion of Welsh affairs in addition to the present Welsh day on the Floor of the House, this is a method which might be tried out to avoid further encroachment upon the time of the House.That is a rather negative approach to the problem. The fact is that Welsh affairs are not given sufficient time on the Floor of the House. Everyone who knows the Principality and who reads the annual debate on Welsh affairs realises that there are no adequate facilities for the proper discussion of Welsh affairs in this House.
Since I became a Member of this House some eight years ago, this has been one of my most frustrating experiences—and that is saying something. This is the situation. Every year, the Government publish a Report dealing with their activities in the Principality. This document deals with a wide range of subjects, over 20 in all, and including such important matters as agriculture, the whole range of industry, social services, transport, roads, education and so on.
There is also an accompanying document called the Welsh Digest of Statistics, and these two documents are the subject of our annual debate on Welsh affairs. The House will readily recognise how difficult it is to arrange an effective debate on a document which deals with official activity in over 20 spheres. There are 36 hon. Members from Wales, and half their number are fortunate to be called to speak in these debates on Welsh affairs, so that many Welsh Members must rest content to take part in a debate on Welsh affairs once in two years, or twice in the life of the average Parliament.
Furthermore, in order to make the debate more effective, the Welsh Members, by consent, seek to confine the debate to two or three main subjects out of the 20 or more which are dealt with in the Report. Even this means that the 17 or 18 remaining subjects in the Report are neglected year by year. There are 121 certain important subjects in the Welsh sector which have never been adequately debated in this House since the Government's annual White Paper was first published. Of course, I know that hon. Members are enabled to raise subjects on the Motion for the Adjournment or in general debates, but this does not meet the need, for obvious reasons. An Adjournment debate has its limitations, and not more than one, or at the most two, hon. Members from Wales can expect to participate in a general debate, for example, on agriculture, housing or education.
One is tempted to compare Welsh arrangements with the Scottish position. Even allowing for the fact that a fair proportion of Scottish business stems from Scotland's distinct legal system, nevertheless Scotland enjoys a distinct advantage as compared with Wales. Scottish hon. Members have their Standing Committee, and they have far more debates in the House itself. In addition, they have special facilities at Question Time. Wales has no separate legal system, and, therefore, the requirements of Wales are not as extensive as those of Scotland, but the case for providing more time for the discussion of Welsh affairs in greater detail is, I think, unanswerable. The recommendation of the Committee may go far towards providing a solution to the problem.
This is the considered view of the Welsh Parliamentary Party, which contains Members from all three parties in the House. I think I should make the point that the Welsh Party cannot accept that a Welsh Standing Committee should replace or be a substitute for debates on the Floor of the House itself. The present Standing Order which enables a Welsh Grand Committee to be set up—Standing Order No. 58—would have to be amended or a new Standing Order passed. As at present constituted, the Committee may deal only with Bills which relate exclusively to Wales and Monmouthshire, and such Bills are very few and far between. I think it is right to say that in the last 30 years only one Bill has related specifically to Wales and Monmouthshire. In the Standing Committee, we should wish to deal with the more important and pressing of the subjects covered in the Government's annual White Paper on Welsh affairs.
122 There are also the very important Reports which come from the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. In 1956, they published a very important memorandum dealing with administrative devolution in Wales which has never been fully debated, and, as far as the Principality is concerned was a report of first-class importance. There are other reports as well, and one on the Welsh ports has never been discussed in the House. At present, the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire is inevstigating the entire field of tourism in Wales. Under present arrangements, when that Report comes to us, we shall have no opportunity of debating it at all, because we shall be told when we raise the matter on Business Questions on Thursdays that it is impossible to find time in which to discuss it. Many of these frustrations could be avoided by having a Welsh Standing Committee.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Select Committee, in bringing forward a proposal for a Welsh Committee, did not mean to take any existing rights away from Wales. It was to supplement existing rights and to meet that very point. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to consider whether, even if we have a Welsh Committee, it would not be better to take these particular subjects at the morning sittings of the House.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I listened carefully to what he had to say about morning sittings, but I feel that these Reports could well be dealt with in the debates in a Standing Committee. I am much obliged to him, and I appreciate that he has great sympathy with the Welsh position. The hon. Members from the Principality gave this very careful consideration, and concluded that these matters could be dealt with in the Standing Committee, but that that should not be a substitute for a debate on the Floor of the House itself.
Although there are no Welsh Estimates, as there are Scottish Estimates, it is nevertheless possible to extract figures of Welsh expenditure from certain Departments, and these would give the debates on certain subjects added effectiveness and importance. For example, in the Standing Committee, it would be possible to have rewarding debates on 123 health, housing, local government, agriculture and education.
As to the composition of the Welsh Standing Committee, this is something that will have to be considered very carefully—whether it should be composed exclusively of hon. Members from Wales, or whether other hon. Members should be added, as in the case of the Scottish Grand Committee, so that it might reflect the state of the parties on the Floor of the House. This will depend on the functions that would be allotted to a Welsh Standing Committee. I personally tend to the opinion that we should conform to the Scottish model on the ground that to be fully effective we should be able to vote on Estimates. However, these are matters which hon. Members from Wales are now considering. I hope the HOUSE recognises the need for something to be done to make discussion and debate on Welsh affairs more effective. The recommendation for a Standing Committee is, I think, a modest and practical one, and I hope that it will be accepted by the Government and by hon. Members of all parties.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) threw his great weight against the suggestion put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that there should be a period set aside in important debates for five-minute speeches. I believe that that was, perhaps, the most imaginative proposal made to the Select Committee during its sittings.
During the past week, I have been carrying our some small experiments. I have been reading aloud the first leading articles in The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Guardian. It has been suggested that short speeches would necessarily be speeches of little weight. I find that these first leading articles can be read aloud, without haste, in three or four minutes each.
On Friday, there was in The Times a first leading article of exceptional length on the "fission" troubles among right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I read this article to my secretary. When she had recovered, she told me that I had taken five and a half minutes. Every time 124 The Times put "T. & G.W.U.", I read "Transport and General Workers' Union". Perhaps, if I had used the shortened form, I could have been within the five minutes. I certainly hope that the House will give sympathetic consideration to the proposal which has been advanced.
I myself am a prentice Member, and I do not object to the procedure which I find exists here. Such malaise as I have as a back bencher comes from the extreme power which the Executive wields within the House. I think, that many people outside believe that the Executive wields too much power within the House. Therefore, it seems a little odd that the Select Committee should seek ways to facilitate the business of the Executive because this, surely, would increase the power of the Executive as opposed to the ordinary bencher.
I myself would favour making legislation yet more difficult rather than making it easier for the Executive to pass such Bills as it wants. How will the Executive use the spare time which is made available to it? In paragraph 25, the Select Committee expresses the hope that the time will not be usurped, but this is surely a pious hope. What has happened this year? We have had a very short Finance Bill. We could not hope for a shorter one on the Floor of the House if the full recommendations of the Select Committee were taken up. Have we had more general debates on, for instance, the Report of the Royal Commission on Inland Waterways, or on Welsh affairs? Certainly not. We shall go home a week earlier than usual; the Whips will want to get us away, and quite rightly so.
If we are to curb the Executive and increase the power of the back bencher, we should look to the ordinary Adjournment debate. From the short experience I have had, it seems to me that a regular Adjournment debate concentrates the mind of junior Ministers just as the prospect of hanging is supposed to concentrate the mind of the criminal. I should like to see an increase in the number of regular Adjournment debates we have in the House. I see no reason why we should go home at 4 o'clock on a Friday. Let us have some Adjournment debates after 4 o'clock on Fridays, until, 125 say 6, 7, or 8 o'clock. The inconvenience of the time would, I think, ensure that we should not be likely to have irrelevant Motions discussed.
Again, on the days set aside for Private Members' Motions, we have at the moment a rather diffuse debate. I should like to see at least part of the time given over to the sort of Adjournment procedure which we have on the days immediately preceding our rising for Recess. This would lead to a much sharper and tighter debate. Perhaps what I suggest would increase the burden on junior Ministers. That might well be so. We could use the occasion as an excuse for paying them more, because I believe that they certainly deserve an increase.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I was surprised at the suggestion which the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) made about extending our hours of work, so to speak, on Fridays. He should have explained to us very carefully where his constituency and his home are located before making a proposal of that kind. Such an arrangement, of course, would press very heavily on Members who live in the North of England, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and other distant parts.
If I may say so, instead of making a comparison between a five-minute speech here and a leading article in The Times, since the words have to be spoken, the hon. Gentleman should have directed his comparison to a radio or television news bulletin. It is worth while pointing out that the B.B.C. 9 o'clock news bulletin, on which I used to work at one time, covers the whole of the news of the world in 13½ minutes. I regard that as a salutary thought to bear in mind as we discuss the length of our speeches here.
One proposal about the length of speeches which might well be borne in mind is this. If we could become accustomed to announce, as soon as we rise to speak, how long we intend to take or at what time we propose to sit down, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would be in a position to say to any hon. Member who overstepped his time that he was, in fact, overstepping it. Any hon. Member—I mean, of course, a back bencher—who rose and announced that he intended to speak for half an hour would receive at 126 least some murmurs of disapproval which might deter him from making the suggestion again. I propose to follow my own precept. I shall certainly sit down before a quarter past eight.
I wish to follow the point about proxy voting and pairing to which several hon. Members have referred. It is now generally agreed that any right hon. or hon. Member who is sick should automatically be paired without any trouble whatever. All talk about doctors' notes and things of that kind is completely undignified. If a person is sick, then, obviously, he should be paired. Also. Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers, and any hon. Members who are on delegations or engaged in work away from the House which is obviously important, should automatically be paired. They ought not to be dragged here to vote when they are probably doing work which is far more important than voting in the Lobbies here. I should certainly apply that to Ministers and to Parliamentary Secretaries when they are engaged on Government business. They should automatically be paired and should not have to go through the undignified business of going round the House begging hon. Members to pair them so that they can be away on Government business. I think that that is altogether wrong.
The Leader of the House suggested that hon. Members could make their contributions here without a great deal of alteration to our present methods and procedure. I think that he suggested that there are plenty of opportunities for Members to make speeches and to take part in the work of the House. That was more or less echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), another member of the "Leaders of the House Trade Union". The point that they are making is that there are plenty of opportunities for us to take part in the business which they, as Leaders of the House, bring forward, but there are many other things which hon. Members on both sides want to bring forward which are not within their terms of reference, so to speak.
Let me give a current example. We know that the British Transport Commission has presented a Report to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation 127 about the reappraisal of the modernisation plan for the railways. That Report should be discussed. It is absolutely essential, in my view, that it should be discussed before the Summer Recess, but I am confident that if the Government can avoid a discussion of that Report they will do everything that they can to do so. I do not think that it is in the public interest that that Report should be avoided and I think, therefore, that we must have some kind of procedure by which matters which are not very favourable to the Government, and which may not have the approval of the Government, can be discussed.
When considering how we can extend the range of our business without extending the hours of work one comes up against an arithmetical problem. I have some figures which rather startled me when I worked them out. If Standing Committees are excluded, the Parliamentary time that we spend in this House from 2.30 until whatever time we have the Adjournment on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 11 o'clock to 4.30 on Fridays amounts to 1,200 hours a year. If we assume that Ministers and members of the Opposition Front Bench take up one-third of that time, we find that if the rest is divided among 500 back bench Members on both sides, we each get one and a half hours per year to make a contribution to the affairs of the nation, either in speeches or at Question Time. Obviously, many of us speak for more than one and a half hours a year, which means that other Members do not speak at all. It may be that there are reasons which inhibit them from speaking, but it is, at any rate, a startling fact.
If we are to take greater opportunities to raise issues which are not raised now—I think that there is a general desire among hon. Members on both sides that that should happen—we must extend the opportunities within the present 1,200 hours. In other words, some work must be done simultaneously. There is no other arithmetical way of doing it. It is not possible to put more than a quart into a quart pot.
We must, therefore, look more carefully at the general proposal for setting up Committees for discussion and not for taking decisions. The Select Committee 128 has put forward a proposal for a specialist or special Committee on colonial affairs.
§ Mr. Darling
I am sorry. The proposition that was put to the Select Committee was for a special Committee on colonial affairs. I agree with some hon. Members who suggest that that is probably the last Committee that should be set up. Colonial affairs are so important at present that they ought to remain on the Floor of the House if possible. There is, however, a wide range of subjects which, because of our present procedure, are not discussed but which should be discussed. Some others are discussed at a rather late hour when discussion is possible—for instance, the reports of the nationalised industries.
I am sure that every hon. Member interested in fuel and power and transport problems would agree that the reports and accounts of the nationalised industries are never adequately discussed. Obviously, the coal, gas, electricity and nuclear power industries should be discussed together. They should not be discussed in watertight compartments. If time were provided for adequate discussion of these matters, the specialists in them would turn up. There would be only about 20 Members on each side to discuss these matters. I see no reason why those 40 Members, instead of being here, should not be moved into a Committee room for their discussion, which could go on for a long time, for days if they wished.
The Committee work must be fitted into the general procedure of the House. My suggestion is that if discussion Committees are set up they should meet on Mondays. As they would be Committees for discussion and not for the purpose of making decisions their membership should not be restricted and hon. Members should be able to take part in more than one of the Committees to make their contributions. They must indicate the Committee in which they want to speak for the purpose of each day's discussion, but the number of Committees in which Members would be interested would be limited. For instance, I am not greatly interested in foreign affairs. I should not want to be 129 a member of a Committee dealing with foreign affairs, or of a Committee dealing with education or local government. I am interested in trade and industry and labour questions. I would be perfectly happy to specialise in two or three subjects or even in one if there were only one Committee covering the whole of them.
If every Monday during the period of the sittings of the House were devoted to this kind of Committee work, and the House did not meet on Mondays but used Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for discussion of public affairs, for main debates and for the Second Reading and Report stages of Bills, we would have far better debates and we would be able to pursue our specialist interests in the various Committees set up which, as I have said, would meet simultaneously on Mondays.
I am opposed to the idea of morning sittings. I would willingly agree to an alteration of the hours of the House so that I came here at 11 o'clock in the morning and went home at 7 o'clock in the evening—that would be a more civilised way of carrying out our business—but so long as we meet at 2.30 in the afternoon and continue until 10.30 I do not think that morning sittings, for reasons which have been given and which I will not repeat, would be satisfactory. Whatever we do about the idea of having more Committees—the idea will certainly grow—the pressure is becoming more powerful, and I think that, whether it is to be in a short or long time, we shall have some kind of Committee system for discussing matters with which Parliament should deal.
But we must first tackle the accommodation problem. This was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). We have only three Committee rooms in this building in which that kind of Committee work can be conducted, and if the Scottish Grand Committee, the Welsh Committee and the colonial Committee met at the same time, and we wanted Committee rooms for Standing Committees or any other purpose, they are not there. The public should be aware of the physical difficulties under which hon. Members have to work. It is shocking and disgraceful that this Parliament of ours is so ill-equipped for the work that we have to do.
130 Not only do we need more Committee rooms, but we need far better accommodation for Members of Parliament. There should be at least a separate desk and filing system for each hon. Member. Also, the services to Members of Parliament are not good enough. It is disgraceful that when we set up a Standing Committee to deal with an important piece of legislation we ask each Member of that Committee to do his own ferreting for documents, for background information, for everything relevant to the job that he has to do. It is really contemptible that in the middle of the twentieth century, in this great country, Members of Parliament are not even provided with a service giving them documents for their work. I hope, therefore, that as we deal with the question of procedure, we shall deal with these questions, also.
Members of Standing Committees should be presented with all the relevant documents before they go into the Committee room. Not only that, but if we are to have specialist Committees for the discussion of important matters with which we must deal, and which to some extent we ignore these days, hon. Members should have a greatly improved Library service, with all the background information needed. There is no other Parliamentary system in the Western world that treats its members of Parliament so shabbily and so meanly as we are treated. We ought to protest about it, and I am doing my best to protest now. So, in our discussions on procedure, whatever emerges, we should get the better services for which I am asking.
You will see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that having promised to sit down before 8.15, I now proceed to carry out my promise.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I am so surprised at being called, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I have risen without my notes.
The debate today is a first-class example of some of the things which perplex and worry back benchers. I have been keeping a running score as the debate has continued. I am the fifteenth speaker to rise today. We have had the two opening speakers, we have had three Privy Councillors, we have had one 131 Chairman of a Select Committee and one member of a Select Committee, and we have had eight back benchers without influence, including myself. Perhaps I ought to say seven, because I gathered from the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that he knew whether he would be called or not, and presumably he has an influence denied to others. That brings me to the question of difficulty in getting into a debate, which was brought out so well by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling). It is a difficult and frustrating experience for hon. Members to sit for debate after debate, as they so often do, having composed in the small hours of the morning a masterpiece of a speech, and then having to leave the Chamber with it undelivered.
That is one of the reasons why so many hon. Members do not speak today, because they know it is a sheer waste of time to come here and try to do so. It is possibly the fault of the back benchers themselves, including myself. Perhaps we have not got the right personality and so are not called as often as other back benchers whose names I should not mention. Perhaps our approach is wrong. Perhaps we speak badly and bore the House, and the Speaker is well aware of it—though I cannot think that is the reason when I reflect on some of the debates we have had. There may be reasons of that kind, but the fact remains that there is not as much opportunity to speak in the House as our constituents think there is, and so they wonder, therefore, why we are so silent.
As the Leader of the House said, the Report we are discussing is hardly revolutionary in character. It made 37 recommendations, and we shall be lucky if we get 7 accepted and acted on. I confess that the Committee faced a difficult task. The members of the Committee faced it with a certain amount of skill and ingenuity, but they were attempting almost the impossible. We must start with the accepted conclusion—at any rate accepted by people outside the House—that all Members of Parliament are insane. If one comes into the House knowing the conditions that will be found when one gets here, one must be insane to start with. If, having got 132 here and discovered the conditions, one remains, one is certainly insane. To set up a Committee to inquire into the conditions, therefore, is like asking the insane to make a report on insanity.
There are many people who find this procedure acceptable. Some hon. and right hon. Members have been here a long time and, as The Times said in an article on this problem a little while ago, if one stays here too long the siren of the House gets you and you are lost. I think that is true. After a time one begins to adapt oneself, certain parts of the brain die, and one does not notice the problems that perplexed one earlier.
The procedure satisfies the full-time Members of Parliament, of course. At this stage I want to say that I do not divide Members of Parliament into what have been described as first and second-class Members. It seems to me that those who serve full-time do so because, for one reason or another, they are free to do so, and those who can only come part-time complement the others, as they must and should.
I have often thought that the full-time Member had a great advantage over the part-time Member, and I envy his ability to be here all the time. In return, I give him credit for perhaps having given up so much time and having in all probability sacrificed other things in order to give that full-time service to the House. As I say, the procedure obviously satisfies the full-time Member and is not altogether unacceptable to the leaders of the parties. Whatever may be said in debates, it gives a magnificent opportunity for delaying legislation which a party may not like and the machinery of the House enables it to check and to counter-check. Any Government in power remembers that one day it may be in Opposition and may wish to have the same opportunity for checking and delaying. There are many people in the House who find that the increasing demands made by the growing legislation with which we have to deal, the increasing demands made on them by their constituencies—especially marginal constituencies—which takes all their spare time, such as it is, and also the demand on their pockets, if they are people who have to earn a livelihood, is proving too much for them.
133 Having said all that, there are still many hon. Members who would be prepared to accept the sacrifices which everybody knows life in the House of Commons imposes on us if they felt they were making a really constructive contribution to the work of the House. We have already heard from many speakers that the opportunity to take part in debates on the Floor of the House is limited, particularly in the great debates. There is more opportunity in the Committee stages. Therefore we must look round for other opportunities to serve, and we must ask ourselves what is really the purpose of Parliament.
In February this year there was a debate on the Third Programme of the B.B.C. in which several people took part, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I was interested to hear him say that the purpose of Parliament was to criticise, criticise, criticise. If that were true it would mean that Government back benchers would spend the whole of a Parliament absolutely silent, but I do not believe that to be true. I believe that hon. Members should be able to exercise influence in shaping and directing legislation both before it reaches the Floor of the House and during its progress, and should be given an opportunity for so doing.
What is happening too much today is that controversial matters are being taken off the Floor of the House altogether and debated outside in the party Committee Rooms, so that on the Floor of the House, especially these days when the majorities are fairly narrow, one can stage the set-piece debates and maintain a fairly united front. I think that this will weaken the House in the end.
This arises largely from the tradition, which has sprung up only in comparatively recent years, that it is fatal for a Government to be defeated. I believe that to be wrong. It is only in the last seventy years probably that that tradition has developed. In past centuries Governments could be defeated and did not mind two hoots. As long as they kept the main confidence of their supporters in the things that really mattered they went on. But now we cannot defeat the Government even on apparently small issues on Amendments. That 134 applies particularly to the Finance Bill, when hon. Members on the Government side table Amendments and may wish to take them to a vote against their own side. But the Whips say "You cannot do that. Think of the effect that it will have on the prestige of the Government if you carry the Amendment to a Division and the Government are defeated." We must get away from this. If we do, we can restore to our debates some of the vitality and vigour which has been lacking for a long time.
What is the position? Let us take Ministers first. I want to deal not with the recommendations of the Select Committee, but with the recommendation that it decided not to make. What is the position of Ministers in the House today? Most people will realise that Ministers are over-burdened with work. One of the great tragedies of our system is that Ministers do not have time to think but are overwhelmed with day-to-day details. Their job should be to think forward and plan ahead, and they should have time to sit back and reflect where they are going; but they have not time to do this. Our system makes it worse for them, unless their Parliamentary Private Secretary is fortunate in getting a plentiful supply of pairs for them. I speak as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I know how difficult it is to get pairs. I cannot get pairs for myself, much less for my Minister. Unless the Parliamentary Private Secretary is able to do that, the Minister has to be here very often into the early hours of the morning merely to trudge through the Division Lobby, when no one in his senses would think that he would ever vote against the Government. That must be nonsense.
As the hon. Member for Hillsborough said, Ministers ought to be able to get away from the House unless it is absolutely essential for them to be present. I do not know whether the hon. Member was referring to pairs or proxies. If he meant that Ministers and all sick hon. Members should have pairs, that reduces the number of pairs available for other hon. Members.
That brings me to the subject of proxies. There is a great deal of prejudice against the idea of a proxy vote. When I read paragraph 37 of the Report of the Select Committee I first got the 135 impression that the whole question of proxy voting had been thoroughly discussed and thrashed out, that the arguments for and against had been examined and that the Committee had arrived at the conclusion that proxy voting was not on. But that is not so. When we read the evidence we find that there were nine oral witnesses, and of these five were against proxy voting. Of these, only one gave a real reason—that was the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison)—and four others merely made the flat-footed statement that they did not like proxy voting. When he was asked about it the Opposition Chief Whip said.Proxy voting I do not like, and I would not like to alter our division system. It is part of our tradition and something rather wonderful.When we consider what we do, are we really so sure that our Division system is so wonderful? The theory is, I suppose, that we listen to debates or, if we are not listening to debates, we are picking up our information by talking to our colleagues outside, and that we make up our minds on the argument deployed on the Floor of the House and go and vote. We know that that is complete nonsense. When I first entered the House I had an idea that something like that really happened. I have become insane since. I remember one occasion when I did not know what we were voting about, and I asked a colleague in the Division Lobby what it was. There was a moment's hushed silence, and then he said "Old boy, why are you asking? You are in the right Lobby."
What we have done in effect is this. We have said that on the main issues of party principle and party policy we agree with our party and on matters of detail, especially on a number of technical Bills or other Bills on which we could have no detailed knowledge and understanding, we have to accept guidance from those who are experts. Therefore, what we have done, especially in Committee stages on the Floor of the House, is to give our vote to the Whips—it is nothing more nor less than that—but instead of them marking it off the register for us, we go through the Division Lobby and deliver it for ourselves.
I have yet to hear a really logical reason why proxy votes cannot be used, 136 except the fact that that system used in France and, therefore, must be wrong. There is some idea that if we introduced it here the Chamber would be empty and hon. Members would never be here. Is that really true?
Let us also consider the question of the count. One of the suggestions made in the Report of the Select Committee is that we should increase the time given to hon. Members to reach the Chamber when a count is called from two minutes to four minutes, so that people like myself who are out of training do not have to puff up the stairs in a rather undignified way to get here and be counted as one of the forty. That is an excellent idea. But why do we have to have a quorum of that size? Are there forty hon. Members in the Chamber now? If any hon. Member called a count, I think there would be a little rush from somewhere. [HON. MEMBERS: "Call one."]
There are many cases when the number of Members in the Chamber is very small. There are many cases when the Bills discussed in this House have a very limited appeal to a few persons who have some technical knowledge about them. There are many occasions when from 3.30 onwards many hundreds of hon. Members are in the House with very little to do except to sit around waiting to go into the Division Lobby. It is said that hon. Members have other work to be done. That is true up to a certain hour of the evening. There are Committees and various other activities in which hon. Members indulge as part of their work in the House. There are constituents to be seen, and so on. But at a certain hour in the evening there is less and less to do and there is less and less physical energy with which to do it.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South pointed out in his evidence to the Select Committee that there is a peculiar atmosphere about the House which makes it very difficult to work and to concentrate on things which an hon. Member may bring along with him to do when he has no particular political work to do or nothing to do in the Chamber. That is true. If one is sitting here from the late evening to the early hours of the morning just waiting for the House to divide one can do very little that is useful. That seems to me to be both rotting and frustrating to most Members of Parliament.
137 I cannot understand why an hon. Member should not be able to give his proxy vote to his Whip. It could be registered as a proxy vote in HANSARD the following day so that people could see how often the hon. Member voted by proxy. I do not see why an hon. Member should not be able to go home or go and do something far more useful than just sitting in the Smoking Room where he probably drinks too much, eating the rather indigestible food in the Tea Rooms or just drinking too much tea, or just sitting about here. There are many occasions when Members would be much more profitably employed outside the House than in it.
There would be many opportunities for Members to visit industrial or Government installations, many opportunities which Members might have to travel about and gain for themselves additional information which would add to their value as Members of the House. They are not able to do so now because of this extraordinary conception that a Member can be absent only by means of a pair and that proxy voting is somehow immoral or shows that one is not doing one's duty.
With the good example set, by the last two speakers, anyhow, I shall not continue for very long, but there is one other point which I want to make before concluding. I was interested to see in paragraph 80 on page 18 of his memorandum, which has been spoken of with some praise, the Clerk of the House referred to the possibility of setting up certain types of special Committee, of which he quoted a defence Committee as being a very good example. I think that it is the experience of all hon. Members that when we come to discuss Service Estimates and Service matters the tendency is to have a discussion on policy. The general terms of the debate range over the world-wide strategy of the Government in power at the time, so that the opportunity to get down to a detailed examination of the Service Estimates is very limited, and vast sums of money are voted without proper consideration.
This type of special Committee seems to provide an opportunity to debate those Estimates in detail without taking anything from the authority of the House, because the authority of the 138 House must be paramount in the end. Reports of these Committees must come here for consideration, and the job of the Committees would be to draw the attention of the House to any special factors about which they thought that the House should know. We already have Select Committees on Public Accounts and on Estimates which do something rather similar. I see nothing wrong in that recommendation. It has the one great advantage that it is one of the ways by which some Members would be given an opportunity to do something constructive.
To sum up my feelings about our procedure; the procedure of the House should be for the Member and not the Member for the procedure. If we are to make a constructive contribution and lead the kind of life which will encourage first-class candidates to present themselves for election in future—and it is from the membership of the House that we have to draw a Government responsible for ruling a very great country—those candidates must not feel completely frustrated and become embittered when they come here through their inability to do any worthwhile public service in the House. At the moment they can do a great deal more public service by staying out of the House, because there is more opportunity for doing it. Here they will be hamstrung and restricted by one thing or another.
I hope that the recommendations advanced by the Select Committee will be accepted, although I am not very happy that many of them will be. I could go on at far greater length, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I commend to the House and to the Leader of the House all the recommendations which have been made so far, but I hope that they will not stop at that.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), but he has never given me greater pleasure than with the vigorous and effective speech which he has just made and in which he rightly called attention to so many defects and deficiencies with which the Select Committee did not deal as fully as one would have liked.
The purpose which we all have in mind is to make the procedure of the House more effective and to enable us 139 to get through our business more efficiently and more expeditiously. That has been the aim of all of us, and rightly so, because the House occupies a unique position in the democratic world. Not only does it have our deep respect, affection and admiration, but it has the respect and admiration of all democratic countries. They have mainly patterned themselves on our forms and our procedure, and our methods of election. This House has largely been their guide.
Even if we adopt every one of the Select Committee's proposals and even all those which were not adopted by the majority of the Committee, we shall be only touching the fringe of the problem. It goes far deeper than that. This is not the moment when we should enter into it in great detail, but I wish to draw the attention of the House to the matter.
This House is much the same as it was in 1832. The rules under which we are working have been in existence since the 'eighties. Yet we have passed through the greatest revolution the world has ever known, and certainly the greatest revolution which ever occurred in this country occurred during the last fifty years. But the House is expected to deal with all the matters with which it is confronted today with the same expedition and efficiency that the old House was called upon to deal with far fewer matters
The hon. Member for Wycombe rightly called attention to the position of Ministers, which has altered out of all knowledge in the last fifty years. Some Ministers whose posts which were the most important in the Cabinets of fifty years ago are no longer in the Cabinet—posts which were highly thought of and much sought after. There was the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty as well as the Lord Privy Seal, which position today is combined by the right hon. Gentleman with his duties as Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Leader of the House. On the other hand, offices which, sixty or seventy years ago, were scarcely of Cabinet rank, and considered rather inferior positions, are today regarded as some of the most vital positions in the Government.
140 For example, the President of the Board of Trade not only had the duties which are cast on the Board of Trade today, but he did the work which is now done at the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Power. Yet the President of the Board of Trade was regarded as an inferior Minister and was paid only £2,000 compared with the £5,000 paid to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Very often the President of the Local Government Board—now represented by two Ministers, one in the Cabinet and one not—was rarely in the Cabinet at all.
That change has been recognised in the Cabinet and in the Government, but this House has to go on in the same way. Therefore, the question arises: is the House, as at present constituted, capable of carrying out effectively the duties which it undertakes, and, at the same time, as responsible to the people as any democratic House has ever been? The time has come when all these matters should be given the greatest consideration.
The hon. Member for Wycombe referred to overworked Ministers. Consider the change in the position of the Foreign Secretary. In the old days the Foreign Secretary never left Downing Street. He was always the one who answered all the Questions on foreign affairs. An Under-Secretary was never allowed to answer them, because the matter was much too important. The office of Minister of State had not been created. I do not know how much time the present Foreign Secretary has spent out of this country this year, but I do know, as we were told when we were asked to sit as a small committee, that in 1957 the present Foreign Secretary spent 111 days out of the country. That is nearly half of his working time. Meanwhile, work piles up in his Department, awaiting his return.
In the old days the main work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the preparation of his Budget, beyond which he had very little to do. Now he has to pay attention to all kinds of international committees, such as G.A.T.T., and be prepared to take his part in negotiations with other countries, and so on, which necessitates his absence from the country. While that has been done with 141 regard to the Government, the House of Commons continues to be much the same.
The change came about fifty years ago, when the Liberal Government began to establish what is very often referred to as the Welfare Society or the Welfare State, in which we are expected to take an interest in almost everything that happens to almost every individual throughout life, and not only to know what the requirements of our constituencies are on matters of general policy but to have a careful and detailed interest in everything else. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) mentioned that every year we are now presented with a Report on Wales dealing with 20 different subjects. Each of us has to familiarise himself with every one of those subjects and to account for his actions and views on them. It is beyond the capacity of any human being today to do it.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) called attention, very rightly, to something I said I am sorry that I went out of the House just at that particular moment. I understand that he referred to a speech that I had made, in which I said that the House had not the advantage—I forget my actual words—of having in it the kind of men we used to have, men of the greatest distinction. I was referring particularly to the members of my own profession.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I am sorry that I had to mention that in the absence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am not familiar with his place in the Chamber, but I did glance round to see whether he was there. The charge I made was that he said that since 1945 nobody of real achievement and distinction in any outside activity had gone into the Commons. I gave instances to the contrary.
§ Mr. Davies
That is a correct interpretation of what I said, but I was calling attention to my own profession. I remember when we used to have as Members of this House Sir Edward Carson, Sir Rufus Isaacs, Sir John Simon, Sir F. E. Smith, Sir Douglas Hogg, and others. They were the busiest members of the Bar, men who were the envy of all in their profession. The busiest members of the Bar are not here now, and the House is the poorer for it. I 142 hope that it will appeal to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) when I say that I remember only one scientist in the House, and that was the former Member for Cambridge University.
The House ought to have the advice of the finest brains in the country, but it is impossible for men like that to carry on their ordinary work and also to give to the House all the attention that would be necessary. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West, that the House should take first place, but when sincere and conscientious men came here they would say, "How can I possibly come into this House? I should like to take part, but it means that I have to cut myself off from almost everything else How long will I be there?"
A young man in his early twenties or thirties would have to ask whether he had to abandon such a career as he wanted to make for his own independence. He might be here for only a short while and then be out at the next General Election. It is matters of that kind that influence men. I mentioned, at the same time, remembering two of the biggest leaders of industry in the country at the time, Sir William Hesketh Lever and Sir Alfred Mond, being Members of this House. Where are the leaders of industry, those who have been so often attacked? I should like to see them here, answering for themselves.
I should like to see leaders of the trade union movement here. I recalled that if the country had not had the benefit of the membership of the late Ernest Bevin what a loss that would have been, not only for the country but for the world. I should like to see Mr. Cousins, or Sir Thomas Williamson—who was here for only a short while—in this House, and many others. The House ought to have the finest brains, wherever they come from. I quite agree that every walk of life ought to be represented in this House. It ought to be a picture of the country itself.
What can be done? The House cannot possibly do all the work which is now thrust upon it. We have the very good example of Northern Ireland. How much time is spent on matters relating to Scotland? I agree that there is a day for Welsh affairs, but there is not day for discussion of Northern Ireland. All 143 matters with reference to roads, education and health in Northern Ireland are dealt with by the Northern Ireland Parliament and this House is relieved of them.
How many hon. Members have called attention to the fact that there are so many subjects we cannot find time to debate today? The hon. Member for Wycombe mentioned some of them and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) mentioned others. I have not yet heard a debate on one of the most serious matters which concerns not only us, but future generations, our attitude to the 600 million people in China. That is a problem with which the coming generation will be faced. There is also our attitude towards Asia and Africa generally and innumerable other questions upon which this House is lamentably silent.
Anxious as one is for democracy, we have to realise that democracy today is fighting for its very life, fighting much more than it was when I was young, fifty years ago. It is passing through a testing time. Parliaments have been created on the pattern of this Parliament—created within the period, 1945–59, the last fourteen years—and they have not proved effective for the purpose for which they were created, so an army has taken charge.
We set up a Parliament for Pakistan and an army has taken charge. We set up one for Burma, and an army has taken charge. We set up one for the Sudan, and an army has taken charge. It is time we looked more deeply into the position and tried to make this House not only effective, but also the admiration of everyone, attracting to it the finest characters and brains the country can produce, so that, once again, we can set an example to the democratic and non-democratic world. So, while I say nothing about all that is contained in this Report, supposing all of it were carried out, it would not achieve the purpose for which it is designed.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)
I should like, in the very few minutes that I intend to detain the House, to go back to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I hope that neither the right hon. Member 144 nor the House will think it impertinent if, as a back bencher with a Parliamentary life very much shorter than his, I venture to pay a tribute not only to the speech he made today—with which, with one exception which I shall mention in a moment, I found myself in almost complete agreement—but a tribute much more than that, to a great House of Commons man.
The right hon. Gentleman recently announced his intention of not contesting his seat again after the end of the present Parliament. With all the accumulated knowledge and experience which the right hon. Gentleman possesses, this House can ill afford to lose his services, and he will be greatly missed. I remember him when we were in opposition and he was Leader of the House, and I recall the very artistic way in which he used to stonewall the bowling and the engaging way in which he would always suggest that any subject which we urged for debate could obviously be debated on one of our own Supply Days. I hope that it is not out of place if I, as a back bencher, say that many of us feel that the House will be the poorer without the right hon. Gentleman's presence in it.
There are two points which have arisen in the debate which much attract me, one mentioned in the Select Committee's Report and the other not mentioned. The first is the question of a possible timetable for the Committee stage of Bills. It seems to me that there is a great deal to be said for the idea of a permanent standing Business Committee of the House, with hon. Members from both sides added in respect of particular Bills, to try to determine the timetable within which the Committee stage of a Bill could be handled.
There is the difficulty of using time to debate the timetable, but it seems to me that if the Business Committee reached agreement on a voluntary timetable, as I am sure it could in many cases, with the cachet of an official Committee of the House behind it, it would not be very often that the House wanted to debate the timetable. If the Committee were unanimous, I believe that the timetable would generally be found acceptable to the House without further debate. It is an attractive idea and I think that we should find that time would be saved by it.
145 The other idea, which is not in the Report, was adumbrated this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). It is that too infrequently are the Reports of important Select Committees of the House debated. He suggested that it might be possible for two Supply Days in the year to be given to debates on these Reports. I fully realise that this could be done only by agreement between the two Front Benches, through the usual channels, but it is desirable, and I think that it is an extremely good idea which is well worth pursuing.
I have little else to say about the Report. I will, however, mention the matter in which I find myself in disagreement with the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. It concerns the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. He himself, certainly in a different context, said that the real authority of the House rests on the Floor of the House. When we are dealing with a Bill which affects the raising of revenue, taxation and the expenditure of the nation's revenue, it seems to me that as individual Members we cannot divorce ourselves from our responsibilities. It would seem entirely wrong to me for the Finance Bill to be taken upstairs and entirely impracticable to try to break it into two or more parts.
I do not like the idea of specialist Committees, which many hon. Members have mentioned, for they smack to me far too much of the continental system. I do not suggest that it is necessarily wrong just because it is continental, but many hon. Members like myself on both sides of the House have had experience in the various Assemblies of Europe in the last ten years of the continental committee system, and I cannot believe that it is what we want here. I repeat what was said by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South: the repository of authority is the Floor of the House of Commons, and we cannot take these great subjects and hand them over to some specialist Committees upstairs.
The Select Committee made certain recommendations about the use of Standing Order No. 9, one of which was that a decision on the importance of a subject should be left to the House. It is a very onerous duty on Mr. Speaker, and very hard luck on him, but I cannot accept the recommendations of the 146 Select Committee. I believe that, however hard it may be, the responsibility for that decision must rest upon Mr. Speaker and upon no one else.
Having tried to study both the Blue Book and the Report itself with as much care as I can, I am impressed by the splendid work which my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee and all his colleagues on both sides of the House have done. I believe that they have done all of us in the House a great service. It has let a little air into some of our procedure, and I personally should like to express my warm gratitude for what they have done.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) will forgive me if I do not follow immediately what he has just said in his interesting speech, but I hope to touch on some of the points that he made in the course of my remarks.
I cannot take the pessimistic view which some hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken about the procedure of this House and the way in which it conducts its business. Looking back over 26 years, I do not feel that there is any serious deterioration in the methods by which this great House conducts its business or in the relations between Members of the House, with the possible exception of the vexed question of the rights of Privy Councillors, which, I think, has become rather more serious than when I first came into the House. I do not remember back benchers getting squeezed out quite as much then as they are now by Privy Councillors. That is the only thing in which there has been deterioration.
On the other hand, I feel the greater complexity of our industrial civilisation in this scientific age has brought it about that the business of this House is increasingly cluttered up with all sorts of business which are matters of detail—important it is true—but not matters of first principle. I have seen that happening. I think that our task is to see if we cannot do something to stop this cluttering up. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bebington who has just spoken about this because I think that the Finance Bill is 147 a case where that might possibly be dealt with in this way.
I think that there is a case for sending not all but part of the Finance Bill to Standing Committee, although I recognise that it would be to some extent a breach of tradition that all Members of this House are responsible for the taxation levied upon their electors. However, if the Report stage and all new Clauses were taken on the Floor of the House it would safeguard that condition to a great extent. Possibly, technical Clauses could be put in a separate Bill and sent to a Standing Committee. Even if the House could not accept the whole of the Finance Bill being treated in that way, surely technical Clauses that do not arouse deep emotions could be so treated. I know that it would be difficult, but we should try to do it—
§ Sir J. Duncan
I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that the powers of selection of the Chairman of a Standing Committee are far less than those that apply on the Floor of the House. Therefore, were the Finance Bill to be sent to a Standing Committee it would take far longer.
§ Mr. Price
I quite recognise that. I know that there are great difficulties, but I believe that it could be done. In the Finance Bill with which we have just dealt there were a number of Clauses about which only taxation experts or lawyers could speak with any degree of knowledge. While those Clauses were being discussed there were hardly any Members present. For instance, nobody but the experts understand the subject of death duties on life policies. On the other hand, a lot of Members were present during the discussion on the taxation of cinemas.
I therefore feel that certain new Clauses might be selected and sent to Standing Committee, there to be dealt with by the experts, while those new Clauses likely to arouse emotions and dealing with first principle issues might be kept for debate in the Chamber. That seems to be one way in which the House might save some time and so make it possible for other, and very important, issues to be discussed in this Chamber. They could be discussed in Adjournment debates. The present practice of 148 Adjournment debates coming on at ten o'clock at night or later is of very little use, but it does help.
Could we not get back, perhaps, to the private Members' day on Wednesdays? When I was first a Member we had Private Members' Motions on a Wednesday, and Bills, if I remember aright, on a Friday. So there does seem to be a way, if only we could get rid of much of the detail work which modern conditions are forcing on the House and making it difficult for it to discuss these other questions.
On the other hand, I am against specialist committees. That would be wrong, especially if a specialist Committee were set up on foreign affairs, colonial policy or the like. That would be particularly wrong, as it would tend to undermine the authority of the Executive, and control of the Executive is better exercised by this House than by a Standing Committee. If Members of a Standing Committee could get to know a number of things that other Members could not know, the delicate balance between the Executive and the legislature that we have developed throughout the centuries would be upset, and I could not agree with that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) spoke of other countries where such is the practice, but other countries have histories different from ours. I daresay that there was a time—at the time of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth—when this House became a sort of Executive itself—
§ Mr. Price
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we had this delicate balance that other countries had not. France's great revolution and the constitution that has followed has tended to tilt the balance in favour of the legislature against the Executive, and the result has been the dreadful situation in which France has found herself till the last twelve months. To some extent, the same is true of the United States. Here, we have this delicate balance, and I would be very chary of upsetting it.
I remember very well that I went to Persia in 1953 just after the fall of Mossadeq. I was the first Englishman to enter Persia legally. Two others 149 entered illegally. I remember applying at the Persian Consulate at Bagdad for a visa. After a few days' consultation with Teheran I was informed that they would be very pleased to see me, but they asked me not to go as a Member of the House of Commons but as a journalist or writer. When I reached Teheran I understood that the reason was that, if I went as a Member of the House, some people would think that I had some official Government mission. They were quite oblivious of the fact that an M.P. cannot have executive power. Many people thought that as an M.P. I would have a Government mission. That shows how dangerous it is to argue that, because abroad they have this method of dealing with foreign Colonial affairs and defence, we should deal with them in the same way.
The danger is that the party machine tends to dominate our proceedings. This needs checking, but it can be done only by the individual Member who has sufficient character to express his own views. It cannot be done by rules and regulations. In these days of a mass electorate there must be pary machines. As much as I dislike them, party machines are necessary evils. They must make their influence felt, and their discipline must be exercised over us. If one is of sufficient character and has views, one can express them in the House, even if they do not always agree with the party machine. I have done that myself. There have been occasions on foreign issues when unfortunately I have had to disagree with some of my hon. Friends, but I have never felt any ill effects or consequences. It depends on the way in which it is done. It is important—the House of Commons must retain this right—that a Member of Parliament should be a representative and not a delegate, referring back to the famous speech of Burke.
I believe also that the House of Commons is still a place for part-time politicians. I shall be sorry to see it filled entirely by those who are entirely full time and professionals. There must be professional, full-time men—probably more so in the future than today—because the complexity of legislation is such that Bills cannot be steered through the House without a certain number, probably an increasing number, of hon. Members specialising in their work, 150 speaking on it and giving indications to their side of what ought to be done, what should be voted on and how it should be dealt with. That cannot be helped. On the other hand, we must retain part-time Members, those who are Members of the House but are engaged also in the general affairs of the nation, with experience and knowledge of everyday life and its main problems. If we do that, we shall retain the traditions of this great House.
I expect that this will be the last time I shall have the honour of addressing the House. After twenty-six years in the House I have had the honour of watching certain changes taking place, but those changes have not been as great as some hon. Members on both sides have indicated that they desire. There are problems with which we must deal, and the main problem is to relieve the Floor of the House of much business which can be dealt with elsewhere, thereby giving the Floor of the House the opportunity to discuss vital and general principles.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
It falls to me, after the last words from the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), to express a kind of upside down congratulation upon the loss of maidenhead, to express the regret of his closer colleagues and, indeed, of all of us to hear his announcement. When he spoke of his detestation, I was not clear whether it was the party machine or of the electorate, but he detested one or other very much.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I mean to be short in my remarks; I could wish to be long, but who am I to stand between the House and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison)? I will be as short as I can, and I think I can be all the shorter because the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), I am glad to see, has retained his place, and one of the things that I wish to say and which might have had less point were he not here, is that, on the whole, I agree with everything he said except one thing to which I shall return in a moment. Like all the rest of us, I enjoyed his speech and admired it; and, I hope like most of the rest of 151 us, I agreed with all of it except one point.
My excuse for now addressing the House is that I want to say a word about that one point. Perhaps there is one other point that I might allow myself. That is that I believe, with respect to Mr. Speaker, to the Select Committee and to everybody here, that we have all said much too little today—and there is little time for me now to do it—about the growing and now flagrant, intolerable and odious abuse of supplementary questions in particular and of other conscious and deliberate breaches of order in general. We are very apt to flatter ourselves that we all understand each other very well, and that we all know ways of keeping the cads amongst us in order. The fact is that we do not. We are extremely bad at it.
People are a little apt nowadays to laugh at the old-fashioned business of "It is not done." The truth is that men can be governed only with sticks or with assumptions that this or that is not done, for instance, if there were enough of us who thought it an intolerable crime, much worse than cheating at cards, consciously to get one's word across by saying what one knew perfectly well would be at once perceived to be out of order; we should all place much more insistence upon that than we do; and, with all respect, I think that the Chair should be quite ruthless in rebuke and should always feel able to count upon the support of the House in that matter.
However, that is not really a sufficiently urgent and immediate point for me to trouble the House by speaking in this debate. I wish to speak on one other point, about the Finance Bill and sending part of it, or, at any rate, part of the Committee stage, to Standing Committee upstairs. I do not think that I should have pushed really hard for that if I had known that my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) was going to say what he did. But, on the whole, my impression is that of those recommendations or semi-recommendations of the Committee which have been discussed today, the one that has been least criticised or opposed was that one, among the more important ones.
152 Since we are told that the object of this debate is that the Government may collect opinions, I wish to say that I, for one—I have no authority to speak for anybody else, although I believe that a good many others are of this opinion—am extremely dubious about that proposition. I will not now pause to argue my objection at length, but perhaps I may a little indicate some of it.
I remember that long ago, when the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South was giving evidence before the last Select Committee upon this topic, I examined him—if he will permit me to say so—I have not looked up the records, and I am speaking purely from memory—to get, as I thought, an admission that any Bill of any considerable constitutional content should always be taken on the Floor, and that any sufficiently generalised and widely operative economic change should be presumed in modern conditions to be constitutional, as, indeed, I think it is. I am not accusing the right hon. Gentleman, as I think he fears, of having gone back on that. All I am saying is that that was what I was trying to get him to say, what I thought I had got him to say, although he thought that I had not got him to say it.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think that he is mistaken. I think that he is right about matters of serious constitutional importance. There is no doubt about that. I take the same view. On the question of substantial economic change, for example, a series of Bills for transfers from private to public ownership, which I imagine were the ones in dispute, I was challenged across the Floor of the House to say whether it was not a constitutional change, and I said, "No, it is not. It is merely a question whether it is to be run by private capitalism, or run by the community in the interests of the people, and that is all. This is one method of conducting industry against another, and that is not a constitutional change". I stuck to that all the way through.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I was not trying to score off, or to use, the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that he has given me my case. [Laughter.] I do, indeed. It is very odd that those chaps who always say that politics is the mere shadow of economics, and that politics is not even the tail that the dog wags— 153 but only the way in which the dog wags his tail—should not see that all their ancestors would have taken it for granted, that a general rule that no one should have a horse unless the king said he might, that that was a constitutional question if ever there were one, and so it is if one man wants to have 20 horses under the bonnet of a motor-car.
However, that was not the point which I was trying to discuss tonight. The point that I was trying to get established for the moment is that in a Finance Bill it is, first, very difficult to know what is of major constitutional importance. Secondly, I can hardly conceive how a Finance Bill now cannot contain constitutional importance. Nor can I see how any except the most expert people, on reading a Finance Bill, can say where are the points on which constitutional importance will arise.
The argument that most of us cannot understand most of the debates on Finance Bills is not an argument for keeping us out of the room, but an argument for having us in the room. when I have heard a Committee stage point on a Finance Bill well argued by an intelligent person on this side, and there have been some, sometimes, perhaps, and then by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) on the other side, and no other, when I got away and cross-examined my expert friends outside, either in the City or in academe on the point, I have come back here and thought myself fit to put an argument on Report—though I have seldom or never done it, because there have been very many other people who wanted to do it—but the thing has an educative effect. It much more than doubles the safeguards against something of constitutional import getting by in a Finance Bill, far more than doubles the safeguards if we have a Committee stage and a Report stage than if we have only a Report stage.
There is a very great deal I should like to say, but I promised to be brief. That was the main point I wanted to make. I beg right hon. and hon. Members to believe that, even though I said it, it does deserve very deep consideration.
§ 9.20 p.m.154
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I should not have sat down if I had known the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) was going to speak. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Fletcher
I wish to put one point very briefly for the consideration of the Leader of the House. The affairs of the House are governed, very largely, by convention. There has been a time-honoured convention which, I thought, was seriously broken one day last week. For a very long time, it has been a recognised rule of the House that a Count is not called during the half-hour Adjournment debate at the end of the day, to which private Members, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, attach very great importance.
One day last week, it so happened that I had the half-hour Adjournment debate. It came late at night. To my surprise, and, I am quite sure, equally to the surprise of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who had been waiting for a long time to reply, a Count was called by the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) and, as a result, the Adjournment debate finished before I had an opportunity of finishing what I had to say or the Minister had an opportunity of replying. If this becomes the recognised practice, I am sure that it will constitute a very serious invasion of the rights of private Members. It could be put right only by a change in Standing Orders.
Having mentioned the matter, I hope that it will be given consideration. I bear no personal ill-will, because you have been good enough, Mr. Speaker, to give me the Adjournment for one day later this week, but this, in its turn, will rob some other hon. Member of a similar opportunity.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I should find it impossible to reply to all the many points which have been made by hon. Members in the course of a particularly interesting debate, if, indeed, I were in a position to do so; but, of course, this is not a matter upon which, on our side of the House at any rate, we have any party line. It is a matter for individual judgment, and, therefore, I can do no more than express my own individual judgment and, so far as there 155 has been a measure of agreement among us on this side, state that as a fact.
At the outset, I should like to mention two matters upon which I know I shall have the agreement of the whole House. First, I wish to join with those who have thanked the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), who served as Chairman of the Committee, for the tact, the knowledge and the complete impartiality with which he conducted our proceedings and really helped us all very much indeed.
The second matter in which I know I shall have the whole House with me is this. Today is, I believe—I may be wrong—the first occasion on which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has spoken from this Box. I should like to say how much I and, I believe, the whole House enjoyed what he said, and how I, at any rate, felt, at the end of the day, that his speech was, set down in eighteenth-century terms, a fine balance of feeling and sense. It was, as hon. Members who listened to it may have noticed, a singularly well formed and well arranged speech, even if, with the eloquence of my hon. Friend, one did not always spot that as he went along. But it proved to be so.
It is quite obvious that, in one sense, the task of the Committee was impossible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) pointed out, there are 630 Members of the House, and all of them, such is our nature, want to speak more often than the time available can allow. Whether he was right in his calculation of one-and-a-half hours a year, I am not in a position to check, but that, or something of that sort, represents the real difficulty. It is not merely a question of individual Members speaking; it seems to me to be the character of this House itself.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was wise, if I may respectfully say so, to remind us of the struggle for power that goes on in this House, and that is, in a sense, the thing that appears throughout all our work. But that struggle for power does not merely take place on Second Readings of important Bills, debates on foreign affairs or important Supply Days. It runs through all our activities.
156 I hope that the House will agree with me when I say that it is not, as one is led to think from some speeches, merely a struggle for power between Front Benches and back benches, but a struggle for power between two political parties and two different philosophies and different views of our duties and of the future. That runs through what I should describe as the three main almost technical fields in which we work.
The first is that we are a legislative assembly; the second, often separate from that, is the control which we have of finance; and the third, again, I would think, a separate function, is the redress of grievances, which takes many forms. It comes up at Question Time and in Adjournment debates when hon. Members raise constituency questions. All those aspects of our activities must be considered.
When we turn to discover what the Committee was considering, it was this. Here I quote from paragraph 4 of the Report:… that the House should be relieved of the pressure of detailed work and that more time should be afforded for general debates.I think that that sentence came from a deep feeling among the members of the Committee, which was substantially a non-Ministerial Committee, leaving out the impartial Chairman. Only one member of the Committee had actually held office. All the others were back bench Members. One felt, as one has felt in this debate, that there was something very real here, but when one seeks to put a meaning to "general debates" it is not easy.
Does it mean debates on first-class matters conducted by back bench Members? They would be very good debates. I have spent far more of my time in this House on the back benches than in the temporary appearances that I have made where I am standing now. They would certainly be very good debates, but it has been suggested that those have gone to party meetings. I very much doubt that. I do not think that it is true of my own party, and I should have thought that that was a rather unreal point. Does it mean that we should have more time for other things? I think that that is the answer, because, when one looks at the proposal, of what members of the Committee, were trying 157 to get was more time on questions of a general Adjournment character in the first place and, secondly, on matters like the Reports of Royal Commissions, of the Estimates Committees or reports of nationalised industries—matters of general interest in that sense, but not of high combative value. Those were the things which I believe many members of the Committee felt that the House as a whole should have a fair chance to deal with.
The Committee suggested—it is worth looking at this—only three ways of dealing with the matter. The first was greater use of Standing Committees; the second, the rearrangement of the Finance Bill procedure; and the third, morning sittings. As regards the Committee procedure, that would mean sending more business upstairs. When one looks at the facts which are stated in the next paragraph, and I will not repeat them, it seems that the change suggested will not make a very large amount of difference. It will dispose upstairs of certain Bills discussed in Committee of the whole House for urgent administrative reasons or for reasons of expediency.
That is really a matter for the Government, but when one looks at the Bills for which figures are given, most of the total was occupied on a very special case, the Homicide Bill, and of the remaining two large Bills which would have been affected by this proposal, one was the Rating and Valuation Bill, which was kept downstairs purely as a matter of Government policy as far as I can see, since there seemed to be no other reason for it, and a third Bill which I think could also have been covered in that way. Therefore, valuable as that suggestion is, it does not make a very large difference, and as far as it makes a difference, it depends on Government action more than on the acceptance of that recommendation.
As to proposals for the better functioning of Committees, first, on the merits, I would say that I still prefer the timetable proposal. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) on the Committee's Report rather than with the right hon. Gentleman's own suggestion of fixing a date, and that for a simple reason. This Government, in particular, have on two or three occasions changed a Bill almost 158 out of recognition after Second Reading. The Opencast Coal Bill was changed in that way, and we had another instance the other day, when a Bill came back with about one-third added in another place. As long as that kind of thing goes on—and I am making no comment on the merits of it in those two cases—we must have an elastic procedure, and something more elastic than fixing a date when the Bill leaves this House on its Second Reading.
Therefore, I think that what was suggested there came to this: the setting of a voluntary timetable; its official recognition—as it were, making an honest timetable of it, if I may put it that way—in every case; the imposition of a timetable only in lieu of a guillotine, and an arrangement for modifying this as the Bill developed in Committee. I believe it is very difficult, in the case of a complicated and contentious Bill in Committee, to know beforehand just how long it will take, and we must be prepared to change any arrangements we have made in the course of Committee.
§ Sir H. Oakshott
The hon. and learned Gentleman will admit, of course, that it would be possible, under the flexible arrangements he has in mind, for the Business Committee to meet again during the proceedings if necessary to modify the timetable?
§ Mr. Mitchison
Yes, indeed, and I think the hon. Gentleman will find that in the Report, and it is so intended. I think it would be a great advantage. Having said that on the merits, I would point out that, of course, the more rapid we make the progress through Committee the quicker we bring back Bills to the Floor of the House. We do not clear the Floor of the House, we simply enable the Government to put a little more business on to the Floor of the House because the Committee proceedings are quickened. Therefore, that by itself is no relief to the main point which the Committee was considering.
On the Finance Bill, if hon. Members care to look at the detailed proceedings of the Committee, I must admit at once that they will find I voted against sending any of it upstairs. I was the only hon. Member on my side of the House to do so, and I am bound to say that in a matter of this kind I live to learn. J know that most, at any rate, of the hon. 159 Members on this side of the House agree with the proposal of the Committee, which was not to send the whole of the Finance Bill upstairs but only part, and to separate that part on lines which the Treasury considered were practicable; that is to say, by selecting one part of the four or five parts in which the Finance Bill annually appears.
I can see the point of that, but one has to remember that that, too, will not make an enormous amount of difference. We are required by Statute to get our financial business through by a certain time in the year, and if we send some of it to Standing Committee then we leave a little more on Report on whatever we send upstairs. If we send much upstairs, as it appears in the Report, then we shall work the Committee, or Committees—because there may be more than one—very hard indeed. Without going into it in detail, one must not over-estimate the amount of saving.
It is in the light of that general conclusion that what the Select Committee recommended, valuable though I believe it to have been, would not make any enormous contribution to saving the time of the House. I feel that we ought not to neglect that
There are also two other proposals which were put forward. I wish to make it perfectly clear that in what I am about to say I speak only for myself. I am merely asking for more consideration to be given to two proposals which were turned down by the Select Committee and, for all I know, may well be turned down by the Government. However, I am not certain that either of them has been fully understood.
One was the proposal about morning sitting. It was a very limited proposal. In one form at any rate, it was Wednesdays only, and that as a trial. The suggestion was that it should be used for what I would call the "Adjournment plus" business and general matters such as the Reports of Royal Commissions and Select Committees, the things I mentioned a short time ago. The obvious difficulty is that one has to be very careful indeed about what one does with the Government of the day on a matter of this sort. The suggestion was that the Parliamentary Secretary should be present. Even so, one would be straining 160 the whole Governmental machine, including the Department in question on that day. I merely say that it was a very limited proposal.
The same goes for what have been currently described as specialist committees. It is true that there is a sentence in the course of the proceedings which suggests that the proposal might go further, but the only thing that was really considered was the case of the Colonies. I appreciate, as we all appreciated, that it is a constitutional innovation. I think I might shorten what I have to say by simply recommending hon. Members to read the Amendment dealing with this matter which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), for it was very well written and it faced up to this difficulty—and it is a difficulty.
But the purpose of the specialist committee was not to enable the Minister to be harried. It was not really a part of the struggle for power. It was another aspect of the matter. I am not expert on colonial affairs, but it has always struck me, and I am sure it must have struck other hon. Members, that there are parts of the world for which we have a real responsibility which we can never discharge. Some of the smaller Colonies, for instance, are never dealt with in debate here. At the most, they may get a Question or two. Discussion of some smaller colonial problems is never possible. The feeling of those who supported the proposal was simply that it would enable us to discharge our responsibility and let the people concerned in the smaller problems feel that it had been discharged. As to that suggestion, I say no more than that it merits consideration.
I will not go into any small matters or minor points, but I will mention one or two of them summarily. With great respect to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), I doubt if the third Question suggestion would work. I see a queue of Ministers waiting at the end of Question Time for their third Question, but be that as it may—
§ Mr. Turton
I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was in the House at the time when we had a second round. In those times it was normal at the end of Question Time to have a long 161 queue of Ministers waiting for their turn. It was a very good thing because we had them waiting all together in the House.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It was just because I was not in the House at that time that I took the precaution of getting the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who was, and he agrees with me on this point.
I speak with real deference about the suggestions about Standing Order No. 9, because I should have thought that this was a matter on which older experience of the House would be particularly weighty, but it seems that what has happened here is that you, Mr. Speaker, have been more tightly bound by precedent on precedent and that what was originally a much more liberal intention has been narrowed, since the effect of each precedent has always been narrowing and not enlarging.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Actually, there is now more use of Standing Order No. 9 than there was under Mr. Speaker Fitzroy.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I would rather not discuss it with the hon. Gentleman now. He will find a lot of evidence about it, and a good deal can be deduced from the pages of Erskine May. My impression is the opposite and that the rule was originally made—and it goes back well beyond Mr. Speaker Fitzroy—with the intention that it should not be as narrow as it has become. I am not in a position to judge the exact incidence of the narrowing effect during the two recent Speakerships, but by and large it is true to say that it has become narrower since it first came into operation. That is all I need say for that purpose. It is my personal opinion that it is now too narrow, but I shall not say any more on that point.
On other matters, the Leader of the House has indicated acceptance in some cases and non-acceptance in others. He promised us—and I hope that he will tell us again—that he would consider the debate as a whole. I believe that when we get a Report of this kind, a Report which must be a little frustrating because, as various hon. Members pointed out, including the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), in a sense the Committee was trying to do the impossible, we should 162 not just take a few small points from it and say that honour is satisfied and that we can leave it at that. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House works in that way.
I hope that he will consider not just what he has indicated, but whether anything more can be done to get towards the object which the Committee had in mind and, above all, that whatever is intended to be done shall be done, not by the end of this Parliament, but by whatever Government returns to power. I hope that it will be done wih a full sense of the struggle for power to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, since we must keep our methods and our procedure on the one hand a strict and proper discipline to ourselves, but on the other hand a piece of machinery which can meet the changing demands on Parliament and on this House, remembering always that we are 630 human beings with certain peculiarities in the calling or professions which we adopt here and that the human side of the problem is to make the best in the public good of the 630 human beings we are.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
As Leader of the House, may I have permission to give a short reply to the debate?
I think that we have had a useful debate. Certainly, more hon. Members have been able to take part than in almost any debate I can recently remember. Therefore, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) need not be too worried about absolutely insisting on the necessity for a five-minute rule between seven o'clock and eight o'clock. But we are going to reserve our opinion on that.
We were glad to see the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. We understand that recently, in hospital, he has had to go through a rather more rigorous procedure than that in this House, and has survived, We are glad to see the hon. Member looking so well. Certainly, there was no evidence of his recent affliction or procedure in his speech today. We are glad to see the Opposition Front Bench strengthened at this critical moment when hon. Members opposite are waiting for a new leader, and it was suitable that at a juncture of this sort the hon. Gentleman should have 163 come forward to make his debut. We know that he has great diplomatic qualities—he referred to it in his oration—and we wish him well in the future.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the need for some respectable accommodation. I regarded that as being somewhat out of order in this debate, but I did mention it myself. I do not propose to say any more about it today except that we should like to consider that matter separately both in the interests of the comfort of hon. Members and of accommodation for Committee rooms.
This leads me to a short reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), who said he wished that Barry's design extended the House of Commons beyond the catalpa trees and elsewhere. That would be rather sad. The Palace Yard has some of the most beautiful trees in existence, at any rate in London, and there may well be other proposals which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works may have available for accommodation in other directions, some indication of which has already been given, that may take the place of Barry's original design. We are aware of the problem of accommodation as it affects procedure and hope that with the aid of my right hon. Friend we shall be able to make some progress.
The next matter I wish to come to is the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He suggested, inter alia, that two days should be subtracted from the number of Supply Days so that we might discuss the Reports of the Committee on Estimates.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes, the Select Committees. If that be so, and if that be the correct rendering of my right hon. Friend's speech, I was not intending tonight to give him a final answer, but we shall consider his suggestion, although I must say that it falls more in the province of the Opposition than it does in ours. Therefore, it is a matter which would have to be discussed with the Opposition, because it is a feature of our constitutional procedure which is somewhat difficult for the outside world to understand that many of the subjects 164 which we discuss on Supply Days are chosen by the Opposition.
Sometimes when the Government are criticised it is the fault of the Opposition for not choosing a more interesting subject. Sometimes when our procedure is criticised it is also the fault of hon. Members opposite for not enlivening our procedure by exercising a greater discretion in their choice. So I ask my right hon. Friend to address himself to the Leader of the Opposition on his return from his journey abroad, if the right hon. Gentleman has time at the present juncture to see my right hon. Friend.
I suggest, also, that we discuss this subject through the usual channels. I consider it interesting to entertain observations put forward with such authority by my right hon. Friend, in particular, because in this debate we have had a certain amount of consideration of the real object of the House of Commons, which is to look after Supply and money. This was brought out in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), whose contributions in the House are always looked forward to, especially on the subject of money matters. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. We do not spend enough time in looking after the money of the nation. In this connection, I hope, also, that in any future discussion we may pay some attention to the contribution which he made to the debate this evening.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) I should like to say that he need not fear too much that if a contribution comes from him it would automatically be rejected. He made a contribution of great weight to the effect that the Finance Bill should not go upstairs. All that we have said is that there might be an experiment in that direction. I went no further than that today. I do not think that the Select Committee went any further. I would like to reserve that possibility, although obvious dangers and difficulties have become apparent in the course of the debate; but I would not like to close the door to any experiment of that sort in delegation. My hon. Friend's contribution will now be studiously digested over the next few months.
165 We then had speeches from the two right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and Lewisham, South. I will deal with the latter first. It was a source of great regret to the whole House, I am sure, that the right hon. Gentleman underlined, although in a tactful and quiet way, the fact that he will not be in the next House of Commons. I say, as Leader of the House to the right hon. Gentleman, who is one of my predecessors, that his absence will be a great loss to this Assembly.
With his great knowledge of procedure and his activity in the government of London, the right hon. Gentleman carried into our affairs, not only as a Member of this House but as its Leader, very great drive and considerable native wisdom, which is what the House values most. When that was interlaced with wit, as one or two "cracks" demonstrated today, we felt that the right hon. Gentleman was at the top of his form. We are glad that he took part in today's debate and we are equally sorry that he will not take part in debates in future Parliaments, whatever his future opinions may be of another place.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the subject of timetables, which I mentioned in my opening remarks. He would like to see, not that we had a fixed timetable, which was referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), or a voluntary timetable, but that there should be a timetable, on certain matters. He wanted the House to have liberty to let itself go. That is precisely what is happening now. On many matters the House just goes away, upstairs or downstairs, and the Government do not intervene. They let it rip, knowing that the House has the peculiar quality of human nature of knowing where to stop, because it gets tired in the end. It is often better to let a horse run away and to run its nose into a hedge rather than to tie it down; so it is with a timetable. If I did not make that clear in my opening remarks I make it clear now to the right hon. Gentleman.
I shall not rehearse what I said to the right hon. Member for Kettering about the timetable, but I would draw attention to the fact that I think there is ambiguity in this part of the Report in 166 relation to what will happen. It refers to the right of the Government not to adopt a timetable if they do not want to. The phrase "other means" can only mean liberty of progress for Members of Parliament. I think that it is a case of having a voluntary timetable, or no timetable when it is not necessary, or of imposing one by Resolution of this House, in which case it would be debatable and the House could decide. We would like to give further considerations to the observations raised in the debate on this matter.
On the subject of specialist Committees, the hon. and learned Gentleman—I am glad that he agrees with me, because it gives me some comfort—will recall that I made a small mistake in my opening speech. The India Committee was not the Select Committee to which the Committee whose report we are discussing was referring, but the India Committee set up to examine Indian affairs. Even though that be correct origin of the Question and Answer in the evidence, I still maintain that this would not be a good innovation in our Constitution or would improve our constitutional practice.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw made a plea for a specialist Committee on defence. I know that defence is a subject, like theology, on which many people feel they know more than the Government and even, if possible, more than the Minister of Defence, but despite that, I think it would be a mistake to extend this practice into the field of defence.
As to morning sittings, I was glad that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South also agreed with what I said. There was a slight feeling of the "morning after", I thought, in the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West, because we had some difficulty in eliciting from him exactly what the postponed Adjournment would be. It would clearly be "the morning after the night before", and I do not think that that would make a very dignified sitting. Therefore, I agree with the right hon. Member in saying that it would introduce a third-class into our sittings. We are going to keep Standing Committees very busy in the mornings. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right to say that we were rejecting it as a proposal 167 which had not been thoroughly thought out.
I must refer to the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), who made a plea for a Welsh Grand Committee. I do not close the door. I think that there would be difficulty. There would be a case for further consulation and association with Welsh hon. Members, but I could not at this time of night give any further promise at all on that matter.
My hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) made spirited speeches which, unfortunately, were not heard by the Patronage Secretary. They were heard by some of the junior Whips and also by the Leader of the House. They even suggested that voting against the Government in Committee was not a sin. That sounds very nice, very rebellious and bold, but there are limits to voting against the Government, even in Committee.
If the practice were carried on without some slight rebuke, from the Leader of the House on this occasion, it might lead to such an erosion of the dignity of the Government that the Government might be in difficulty, but there is another problem which arises. That is, if there are efforts to alter certain aspects of Clauses of a Bill and the Bill might become unworkable. It might have been worked out on the Government anvil by draftsmen and expert advice. Therefore, the Government are entitled to ask their supporters to support them in Standing Committee as well as on the Floor of the House. Subject to that slight correction, I should say that both my hon. 168 Friend's spoke with great authority and energy.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has written to say that he is sorry that he could not be here this evening. I am sure that we have lost by his absence, because he would have added a bright interlude to this debate, which has included so many attractive features.
I come, last, to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price). We are, indeed, sorry to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough is resigning his seat, partly because he finds it difficult to combine outside work with the work of the House, and also the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, after having concluded twenty-six years of service at the end of this Parliament.
Before I sit down, I should like to make this one general observation, which is linked with the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). If it be true that in the changing society of today, the changing circumstances of the younger generation and the changing difficulties of our time, we cannot adapt our procedure to get the best people into the House, it will be our fault. It will be in the spirit that we wish to get the best people in that we shall examine this Report and introduce what Motions we think right.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Procedure.