HC Deb 08 July 1964 vol 698 cc407-9

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Lord Privy Seal what proposals Her Majesty's Government have for the reform of parliamentary procedure, including voting in divisions, the reference to standing committees of legislation, including finance, and the relations between the Executive and hon. Members.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 45.

In each of the last three Sessions the House has set up a Select Committee on Procedure to deal with the various suggestions for improvement as they are made. I believe that this is the right way to deal with specific topical suggestions, and that this practice should continue.

On the other hand, it is nearly six years since the House last called for a wider review. The Government therefore believe that in the new Parliament a Committee, with wide terms of reference, similar to the one set up in 1958, should be empowered to examine the more fundamental questions, such as those referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, together with other suggestions for change that have recently been canvassed.

Mr. Shinwell

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for displaying an interest in this very important matter, but does he realise that in these days, when there is so much talk about modernisation in industry, it is time that we began to modernise this assembly? [Interruption.] That might include parting with some hon. Members opposite. They will lose their seats at the General Election, anyhow.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that we are much too slow in coming to a definite and rational conclusion about the modernisation of Parliamentary procedure, especially in respect of the method of voting, the dilatory method of taking Divisions, and the time-wasting that is experienced by hon. Members because they have not sufficient work to do owing to our cumbrous procedure? Does he realise these facts, because they are inescapable—and, if so, will he make it quite clear beyond a peradventure—

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

This is a Second Reading speech.

Mr. Shinwell

It is about time there was a speech in Parliament on this matter.

Sir H. Linstead

It is Question Time now.

Mr. Shinwell

Anyhow, this will do for the time being.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me an assurance that in Government circles research is already going on into this very important subject?

Mr. Lloyd

It is commonly felt that there are ways in which our procedure can be improved. The Select Committee on Procedure, which is at present sitting, has been considering one or two small matters relating to the improvement of our procedure. These are matters for the House as a whole. Evidence should be given before a Select Committee, and I hope that it will take place rapidly. I agree that if changes can be made for the better they should be made.

Mr. Bellenger

The House will no doubt welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement, but much depends on the terms of reference which will be given to that Committee. Will the Minister make them as wide as possible, because it is not a limited matter (hat we want to discuss but a wholesale reform which may be necessary?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, I agree that the terms of reference should be as wide as possible.

Mr. J. B. Hynd

The Lord Privy Seal says that he hopes and expects that something will be done after the election. Will he consider trying to persuade his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues to expedite the General Election, because this is one of many things which has not been done over the past year, but which the country, like the Minister himself, would like to see done?

Mr. Speaker

That point does not arise out of the Question.