§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This year sees the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of a Resolution by this House, which read:Never any Attorney-General to serve in the lower House in the future.No doubt there have been many occasions, although it might be invidious for me to specify them, when both parties involved in the Resolution, the House itself and the Attorney-General, have had cause to wish that this Resolution had been more rigorously enforced, but I hope that that will not prove to be the case today.
This Resolution, as a matter of historical fact, has never been rescinded, but since 1661 it has never been enforced. I am encouraged by the history of this Resolution in asking the House to approve today of a Bill which, I submit, substitutes practical and realistic provisions for provisions which, although they have venerable roots in antiquity, are, in principle, little more than arbitrary rules.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already explained to the House, during the course of the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, the need for and the scope of the Bill. Very briefly, it performs two main functions. The first is to provide the usual structure for the three new Departments of State which are being set up—the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Overseas Development and the Ministry of Technology.
The second main function of the Bill is to amend the statutory restrictions on the number of Ministers who may sit in this House. We have taken the opportunity at the same time to rationalise some of the provisions of the existing law, in particular those relating to the payment of Ministers of State. This is a purely technical Bill involving, 643 as I shall submit to the House, no questions of constitutional principle, and I must apologise in advance to the House for the somewhat arid and technical details with which I shall shortly have to burden it.
But, first, I think that the House may like to be reminded of the legislative background of the provisions of the existing law which we propose to amend. As the House knows, they have their origin in enactments during the reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne, although none of the provisions which we propose to amend is, in fact, of any greater antiquity than 1937. The enactment in the reign of Queen Anne is, of course, the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707. That Act drew a distinction between new offices of profit under the Crown which disqualified from membership for the House of Commons and old offices which could be held by Members of this House subject to the necessity of submitting themselves for reelection, and an office was new or old according to whether it was created after or before 1705.
The basis of this provision was the wish of Parliament to restrict the Executive's power to control the Legislature. But it was soon found that in achieving this object the power of the Legislature to control the Executive was very greatly diminished if Ministers were not there in the House to answer for their misdeeds, and, as a result, the provisions of the 1707 Act were gradually eroded.
The necessity for the holder of an old office to submit himself for re-election was first whittled down and finally abolished by a series of Acts of Parliament which culminated in the Re-election of Ministers Act (1919) Amendment Act, 1926, and the provision disqualifying the holders of new offices was got round by the device of classifying all new offices as old offices, thus demonstrating our talent for compromise and the many-sidedness of legislative truth. But that is what was done.
The next important stage in this long legislative story is the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, which further rationalized—if that is a word which can properly be used in this context—the law relating to the number of Ministers who may sit in the House of Commons. This Act was followed very quickly by the 644 appointment of a Select Committee on Offices or Places of Profit under the Crown, under the chairmanship of Sir Dennis Herbert, and it reported in 1941.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I do not want to be tiresome, but may I ask the right hon. and learn Gentleman a question, for the sake of clarity?
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, "was followed by". I take it that he did not mean to imply that there was any cause and effect relationship.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think so. It was merely an historical sequence that I was endeavouring to cover in this part of my observations. I naturally listen with unusual attention to one at whose feet I sat when I come to any reflection on historical matters.
The Herbert Committee examined the three principles which, in the last two and a half centuries, have been applied in the formulation of legislation governing the eligibility of office-holders for membership of this House. The first principle was the incompatibility of certain non-ministerial offices with membership of the House. That does not concern us now and does not arise within the ambit of the Bill. The other two principles are, however, important in relation to the Bill and I have little doubt that we shall hear a great deal of discussion of them in the debate.
The first of these two latter principles was the need to limit the control or influence of the Executive over the House by preventing an undue proportion of office-holders from being members here. The second principle was the provision for a certain number of Ministers to be members of this House so as to ensure control of the Executive by Parliament.
The Committee endeavoured to reconcile these two principles by recommending in 1941 that the maximum number of ministerial appointments in the House of Commons should be 60. The Committee made no recommendation of a limit on the number of senior ministerial appointments which could be held here. In 1955, the House of Commons Disqualification Bill was presented, based on recommendations of the Herbert Committee. That Measure differed from the 645 recommendations of the Committee in that, instead of the maximum of 60, it proposed a maximum of 70. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who then held the office of Attorney-General explained that the number 70 had been selected as a round figure approximating to the aggregate number of Ministers who, under various enactments, might at that time sit in the House of Commons.
However, the 1955 Bill ran into difficulties over provisions which it included for another purpose—namely, to rationalise the existing law concerning disqualifications from this House on account of tenure of non-ministerial offices of profit under the Crown. The Bill was, therefore, referred to the Select Committee which sat in 1956 and became known as the Spens Committee. The Committee made no recommendations about the matters with which this Bill is concerned.
The House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, which the Bill seeks to amend substantially and which was founded on the recommendations of the Spens Committee, merely incorporated the provisions of the earlier Measure relating to the total number of Ministers who can sit and vote in this House at any one time. Since that Act was passed, new ministerial offices have been created and added to those specified in it.
There has been a certain amount of public comment about this Bill, some of it based on the happy assumption that the present law is clear and consistent. That, alas, is not true of this branch of the law, nor, I regret to say, of many other branches of the law. It may be that, in this Parliament, we shall be taking active steps to deal with that situation. It has been alleged against the Bill that what has been done by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been unconstitutional, on the ground that Parliament has by Statute prescribed a limit of 70 as the number of Ministers who can sit in this House. The claim is that the Prime Minister has been guilty of acting unconstitutionally in extending the number of 70 without parliamentary authority. That line of criticism is wrong in both respects in which it is made. What the 1957 Act does is to limit to 70 the number of persons holding offices specified in the Second Schedule to the 1957 Act and who may sit in this House.
646 One consequence is that, if a new office is created, the Minister may sit in this House and his appointment does not count against the limit of 70 prescribed in the 1957 Act. The Prime Minister has not made appointments in excess of the limit prescribed in the Act, which does not say quite simply that the total number of Ministers in this House shall not exceed 70. If it did we would be in some trouble. It says that the number of persons appointed to offices listed in the Schedule shall not exceed 70.
Some of these offices are of individual Ministries, but some, like Ministers of State, are generic offices and appointment to these falls within the Schedule only if the appointment is at a salary. Therefore, the Prime Minister can appoint any number of Ministers of State without salary.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by the word "generic"?
§ The Attorney-General
The words "Minister of State" appear in the Second Schedule of the 1957 Act as distinct from a specific reference to a particular Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, if he studies that Schedule, will see that it begins with named offices—the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, etc. Then we come to the generic class of Secretary of State. At the end of the list of ministerial offices in Part I of the Schedule, the term "Minister of State" covers a group, namely, a group of Ministers of State.
The position in law, therefore, is that there is no infringement of the 1957 Act if a Minister is appointed to a Ministry which is not listed in the Second Schedule of the Act—and this applies to the three new Ministries for which provision is made in Clause 1 of the Bill. As the House will appreciate, the new Ministries are, naturally, not listed in Part I of the Second Schedule of the 1957 Act because they are new Ministries. There is no infringement of the Act if Ministers are appointed without salary to the office of Minister of State.
This applies to 14–20, including Whips—of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have been appointed to offices which, if they were paid would constitute them as Ministers of State 647 under the 1957 Act. I am sorry that I cannot make this simpler, but that is the position. I shall shortly be explaining to the House that the term "Minister of State" comprises a number of Ministers who are not designated Minister of State.
§ The Attorney-General
The Chief Secretary comes within that category. Special provision is made for him because previously, although his office existed, it was related to another paid office and we therefore have to take account of the Chief Secretary in the arithmetical figure of 91 which is included in the Bill.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Am I right in saying that by Section 13 of the 1957 Act the definition of a Minister of State is someone who is paid? If so, if these men are not paid, how can they be Ministers of State?
§ The Attorney-General
Section 13(1) gives the definition as:'Minister of State" means a member of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom appointed at a salary, who neither has charge of any public department nor holds any other of the offices specified in the Second Schedule to this Act.The essential part of the definition is that it is a Minister appointed at a salary, and what I am saying is that if the Ministers of State who are so called under the present Administration had up to now been appointed at a salary, they would have been Ministers of State within the meaning of the 1957 Act and would have been "bitten", if that is the right word, by the Schedule to the Act and would consequently have been disqualified. For that reason, with great public generosity and instinct for public service, they have acted up to now without salary or payment, which is a notable illustration of devotion to public duty.
At present, there are 87 Members of this House holding office in the Government, but I shall endeavour to explain why it is not an infringement of the limit of the 70 prescribed by the Act. It is because 22 of them hold offices which are not specified in the Schedule and 18, 648 including the Assistant Whips, have agreed to serve without remuneration.
The Bill provides for a limit of 91 and not the 87 Ministers who presently sit in the House to allow for the election of four Ministers now without seats in the House, namely, my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Technology and the Scottish Law Officers, for whom in due course, no doubt, seats will be found. Forty Members of the House hold senior offices which would normally fall within Part 1 of the Schedule of the 1957 Act, but there is no infringement of the limit of 27 prescribed by the 1957 Act in respect of these offices, because 14 of the 40 hold offices not specified in the Schedule and 12 of them have agreed to serve without remuneration.
Therefore, there is no question of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister having taken any unconstitutional action in what has been done about the appointment of Ministers. Equally, as I said at the beginning of my speech, no fundamental question of principle is involved, for we are not suggesting the abolition of the limit of 70. All we are doing is asking for an alteration of it.
I am aware that the 1957 Act also contains a limitation in respect of the class of offices falling within Part 1 of the Schedule. That restricts to the number of 27 what might loosely be called the number of senior Ministers who may sit in this House. That limit we propose to get rid of altogether. I shall be dealing with this a little later in my speech—which, the House will be happy to know, will not be very long—when I come to Clause 3(2) of the Bill. For the moment, I will say only that if the object of the limit of 27 for senior Ministers is to provide a certain number of senior posts in another place, it is singularly ill adapted and ill equipped for that purpose, for a Prime Minister would be wholly within the Act if he appointed Members of the House of Commons to all the offices named in Part 1 of the Schedule so long as he did not appoint more than one Minister of State in this House. So all these senior officers could in law be seated here.
My predecessor in office described the overall limit of 70 Ministers sitting in this House as a round figure. The figure of 91 proposed in the Bill is not round. 649 but the House may think that the roundness of that or any other figure is not a satisfactory way in which to decide the limit on the number of Ministers who may sit in this House—and by roundness of figure I refer to the mathematical proposition and not to any of the physical contours of any hon. or right hon. Gentleman.
I do not believe that the figure of 70 propounded by my predecessor is any rounder or more sacred than that of 60 which was propounded by the Herbert Committee. My studies have indicated that they were both merely arbitrary figures. The figure of 91 which we propose is quite simply the number of Ministers whom the Prime Minister wishes to sit in the House of Commons today. That is the beginning and end of the matter. This Administration has been formed to provide the kind of modern Government which the country urgently needs. The increased attention which must be paid to so many aspects of our national life, and in particular to the neglected priorities, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described them, with which we have to deal in this Parliament has made it necessary for more Ministers to be appointed to carry out the Government's responsibilities.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman assures us that the legal position is perfectly all right at the present time and says that his right hon. and hon. Friends have agreed in this public-spirited way to serve without pay, what is the need for the Bill, and why cannot we leave things as they are?
§ The Attorney-General
The case for the Bill is that my hon. Friends as a whole are not as enriched as some hon. Members opposite may be, who might be in a position to serve the country without remuneration quite happily. But that would be an admirable way of packing the House with "place men". I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should think that that is an attractive or tolerable political position. The present Government certainly do not propose to tolerate it, but intend to deal with the matter practically, responsibly and fairly.
Therefore, the Government have the choice between limiting themselves to a 650 representation of Ministers who could be accommodated within a limit which happens to exist from times past, or constructing an Administration which would meet the needs of the nation now and in years to come. It is the latter alternative which the Government have chosen and the consequences of which are embodied in the Bill.
I now turn to the detailed provision of the Bill. Clause 1 deals with the establishment of the new Ministries. It is not concerned with the appointment of the Minister, naturally. That is made by virtue of the Royal Prerogative. Nor is it concerned with providing for the statutory functions of the New Ministers. That will be dealt with by other Measures which will be brought before the House in due course. Its concern is simply to establish the framework of the new Departments, and the provisions of the First Schedule of the Bill, which Clause 1 applies, are in common form. They are largely formal, and I do not think that I need take up the time of the House on them on the Second Reading.
Clause 2 deals with the salaries of certain Ministers and the number of the holders of certain Ministerial offices to whom salaries may be paid. Salaries are provided for by subsection (1) of the Clause and I will take them briefly in the order in which they appear in the subsection. Paragraph (a) provides for the payment of a salary of £5,000 a year—which is the current salary payable to Ministers of Cabinet rank in charge of Departments—to Ministers in charge of the new Ministries for which provision is made in Clause 1. Naturally, that figure, like all the other figures in the Bill relating to salary, will be affected by the legislation dealing with all Ministerial salaries to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in his statement to the House last Monday.
There is already in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, statutory provision for the payment of salaries to Ministers of State to which subsection (1,b) of Clause 2 relates. But in the 1957 Act there is no limit to the power to pay Ministers of State, nor to the salary, but this Bill provides a limit of £5,000. Some of those Ministers will be carrying out the duties of Ministers 651 of Cabinet rank. The Bill leaves the determination of the precise salary to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and it is right that the power of determination should rest in the hands of my right hon. Friend in the way proposed in the Bill.
Clause 2(1,c) deals with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about whom I have been asked some questions. That office was created by our predecessors in 1961 under the Prerogative. It is not a statutory office. Hitherto it has been held by the holder of another office who was paid as such. That office is now held for the first time by a Minister holding no other office and therefore it becomes necessary to seek authority from Parliament for a salary to attach to it. The status of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in this Administration is comparable with that of a senior Minister of State, and the salary of £4,500 proposed for him is appropriate to that level.
I come now to the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State and Parliamentary Secretaries who are dealt with in Clause 2(1,d). As with the Ministers themselves, the existing law makes provision for the payment of salary to each office by name, and they are so named in the Bill. Thus, authority to pay the Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State of new Departments must be made in relation to each of them specifically as is done under the Bill. The salary provided of £2,500 is the same as that already payable under the Ministerial Salaries Act, 1957, to other Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State and Parliamentary Secretaries.
Finally, Clause 2(1,e) provides for the payment of salary of £2,000 to Assistant Government Whips. As it is proposed to pay my hon. Friends who discharge this onerous, if not universally acclaimed, duty, the authority for payment is needed. It is thought appropriate for that to be done at the same time as authority is sought for payment of Ministers appointed, like them, to serve Parliament in this Administration. The amount for which the Bill provides, £2,000, is the same as that already payable to the five junior Lords of the Treasury and the members of Her Majesty's Household whose duties in the House are shared by the Assistant Gov- 652 ernment Whips. The amount of £2,000 was determined by the Ministerial Salaries Act, 1957.
Clause 2(3) deals with the limits on the number of Ministers who may be paid. Again I regret to say that the circumstances are different in each case. It will be necessary to take the provisions in turn, and it may be convenient to do so as they are set out in the Bill.
May I first make one general point. As hon. Members will see from Clause 2(3), in each paragraph the limit is the same as the number of Ministers holding offices in this Administration—nine Secretaries of State, 18 Ministers of State, two Treasury Secretaries, 36 Parliamentary Secretaries other than Treasury Secretaries and six Assistant Government Whips. Therefore, the Bill does not provide margin for the appointment of additional Ministers.
The first limit concerns the Secretaries of State. There is power under the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, to pay eight Secretaries of State. In this Administration, with the long-awaited appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales, in the enthusiastic reception of which the House will perhaps allow another Jones to join, there are nine Secretaries of State, and accordingly the Bill provides for the payment of up to nine Secretaries of State. At the moment the statutory limit is eight.
The next group dealt with in the Bill concerns Ministers of State. At present there is no limit on the number of Ministers of State who may be paid. The Bill proposes to introduce a limit, whether they sit in this House or in another place. The limit has been put at the number of Ministers of State now included in this Administration, and here again no margin for expansion has been allowed. The number which is specified in the Bill is 18, but I must now put on a white sheet and tell the House that this figure will need to be corrected by an Amendment which we shall move to provide for the inclusion of one Minister of State who at present is not technically a Minister of State but who on the passage of the Bill will become one.
That Minister is the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). The House will see from Clause 2(2) of the Bill that this office is not to be continued. 653 The consequential reduction in the number of Treasury Secretaries from three to two is effected by subsection (3,c) of Clause 2.
The next category is that of Parliamentary Secretaries. The limit on the number of Parliamentary Secretaries who may be appointed now stands at 33, by virtue of the Ministers of the Crown (Parliamentary Secretaries) Act, 1960. The number of appointments of Parliamentary Secretaries in the present Administration stands at 36, including those in the new Departments, so the Bill provides for 36 to be substituted for the 33 as the total number who may be paid.
To complete the provision about limits on the numbers of salaried officers, the Bill introduces in Clause 2(3,e) a new provision specifying a limit of 6 on the number of Assistant Government Whips who may be paid. Six has been the customary number of Assistant Government Whips for some years, but, as I have indicated to the House, they have not hitherto been paid. Having thus provided for the setting up of the new Departments and for paying certain Ministers who could not otherwise be paid and for revising or introducing limits on the number of Ministers of various classes who may be paid, the Bill, in Clause 3, goes on to make provision to ensure that all the appointments to Ministerial offices of Members of this House—
§ The Attorney-General
Just one moment. That provision ensures that all the appointments to Ministerial offices of Members of this House will count against the limit on the number of Ministers who may sit and vote here at any one time which is laid down in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, and it is to that consideration that Clause 3 is directed.
§ Mr. Percival
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman finishes with Clause 2 altogether, would he say why in Clause 4 the definition of Minister of State in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, retained in this Bill? The reason would appear to be so that the Prime Minister may, if he chooses, appoint any number of further Ministers of State who may sit in this House, providing he does 654 not pay them, and therefore to retain, by means of that definition, a way round the limitation of Ministers in the House. If that is not the reason, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what it is?
§ The Attorney-General
That is not the reason. When the Bill, as I have indicated, specifies the total number of Ministers of State who can be paid, they will be limited to the total of 19. There is no intention whatsoever of having Ministers of State who may not, or cannot, be paid. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made that intention perfectly clear, and therefore the problem does not arise in regard to the intention of this Administration.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
As I understood it, my hon. and learned Friend's question did not refer to the immediate intentions of this Government but to what would be the position under this Bill when it becomes law. If there is no such intention, why is it necessary to leave the definition which is now in Section 13 of the 1957 Act, which, on this occasion, permitted this very thing to be done?
§ The Attorney-General
It permitted it to be done for a very short time, and the effect of the situation now requires, for the purposes of effective administration, that this amendment should be made to correct the unsatisfactory nature of the provisions of the 1957 Act. Theoretically, what has been suggested is, I think, accurate. I should like to consider the point again and give it further consideration at another stage.
§ The Attorney-General
Just one moment. Even in court one is allowed to end a sentence. The position is that unless these amendments are made the kind of Administration that is presently required cannot be carried out. A thoroughly unsatisfactory situation has been arrived at, where the Prime Minister has been able to create his Administration only on the basis of Ministers' willingness to serve without salary, at any rate until this Bill goes through Parliament.
Coming to the steps which are being taken in regard to the limit of Members—
§ The Attorney-General
I think I have given way sufficiently for the moment. The first step which the Bill takes in relation to the limit on Ministers who may sit and vote in this House at any one time is to set out a full and up-to-date list of the offices to the holders of which the limits are to apply. That list appears at the end of Schedule 2 to the Bill and it contains all the offices which now exist and which were not included in the previous list. Among these are the offices of the Ministers of Land and Natural Resources, Overseas Development and Technology and the corresponding offices of Parliamentary Secretary.
The office of Chief Secretary to the Treasury is also added, and, as I have said, that was already held in the previous Administration in conjunction with another office which was already included in the list. Now that the office is a separate office held as such, it is right that it should be included in the list along with the rest. It has become necessary to add the office of Assistant Government Whip. So long as the Assistant Government Whips were unpaid it was not necessary that they should count against the list, but as I have said, now they are to be paid it is right that they should count against the list. The result of this is that the Bill seeks authority for a revised limit which will accommodate the appointments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the figure required for that purpose is 91, which is the figure that the House sees is included in Clause 3(2) of the Bill. I do not propose at this stage to trouble the House with the arithmetic whereby that figure of 91 is arrived at.
Finally, the Bill makes one other change in the limits, on the number of Ministers who may sit and vote here. That change is the abolition of the limit of 27 on the number of Ministers who may sit and vote here, who hold what could be described broadly as senior Ministerial offices. These offices, as the House sees from the Schedule, have been offices separately distinguished in the list of the 1957 Act by the division of that list into two parts. It is a limit which has attracted very little attention in the deliberations of the House about this matter over the last two-and-a-half decades.
656 It has been suggested that the object of the retention of the limit of 27 was to assure a minimum representation of senior members of Her Majesty's Government in another place, but as I have endeavoured to point out, if that were the object it was very poorly adapted to achieve that purpose, for all the offices listed in Part Ito the Schedule could without infringement of the 1957 Act have been filled by Members of this House. The only relevant consideration, in my submission, to the whole problem of the machinery of Government is the adequate representation of the Government in both Houses, and I venture to submit that this is not a matter which should be governed simply by arithmetical calculation.
The remaining provisions of the Bill are, I think, self-explanatory, with the possible exception of a reference in Clause 5(2) to Schedule 2, which should have been a reference to Schedule 3—a misprint which will be corrected in due course.
I apologise for the somewhat dreary length of these technical descriptions. I hope that I have added more light than darkness over the problem which this question of the number of Ministers in the House creates. I submit that there is no departure in constitutional principle in what is proposed and that the Bill is necessary in the interests of good government, facing the needs of the present situation. I submit that it achieves its end without impinging either upon the freedom or the independence of Parliament, and I commend it with confidence to the House.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, whom I congratulate upon his appointment, began his speech by saying that it was a very technical Bill. I am always very suspicious of a member of the Government who begins a speech in that way; he is either desiring to reduce the size of his audience or to send those who remain to sleep.
In fact, it is a very odd Bill introduced in a very odd manner and involving some very grave issues of principle—some of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman hardly dealt with at all. In our view, changes in the machinery of Government should be made after and not before discussion in Parliament, for the 657 very good reason that such matters fall for the judgment of right hon. and hon. Members not just as party men or women, but as individual Members of Parliament, custodians of its traditions and rights.
In 1956, a somewhat similar but a much milder Bill was, by agreement, referred to a Select Committee. Mr. Chuter Ede and one of the Ministers without Portfolio—I am not sure whether it was the Minister now present on the Front Bench—served on that Select Committee. A number of Amendments were made to the Bill, which was brought back to the House and then passed. In 1961, the Department of Technical Assistance was set up after discussions in the House.
By the Bill, the Government are trying to force down our throats a number of accomplished facts, and we are not prepared to stand for this kind of forcible feeding. We intend to examine the Bill closely and critically, and unless some important changes are made in it and some clear explanations are given, we shall do our best to see that it does not reach the Statute Book.
The Bill deals first with the three new Ministers and with the administrative and financial provisions designed to legitimise them. I think that consideration of those provisions involves at once the preliminary point, why were they born at all? Many people, I suspect not all on one side of the House, subscribe to the view that the proliferation of Ministers and Ministries is not the way to get good government. Far from being "progressive and modernisation", it is thoroughly reactionary.
The spectator is sometimes supposed to see most of the game, and I think that Mr. Arthur Schlesinger junior got it right when he wrote on Tuesday in a London newspaper on some of the manifestations of this Government:I am less sure about another quasi-presidential strategy …the trick of involving two or three Ministries in every major policy. This is an excellent way to strengthen the hand of the Prime Minister. But it is likely to handicap the execution of policy. On the whole, the long-distance runner does better when he is lonely than when he must run a three-legged race".A great many three-legged races are being run at present. First, we have the three-legged race of the Ministers of Land and Natural Resources and of 658 Housing and Local Government. What is to be the rôle of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources? Will it be responsible for planning and planning appeals? It does not seem to me that any Ministry of Land can make any sense at all unless it deals with such matters. But if it does, what will happen to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? That is the kind of question to which we want an answer.
Next, we have the Ministry of Overseas Development. Under the last Administration, we brought various aspects of technical assistance together under one Ministry and made it a very important branch of aid and development. This was done after discussion in the House. Some of us—my right hon. Friend the former Minister and certainly I myself—had in mind, in the light of the experience of the working of this Department, to go further and to add to its responsibilities the management of all forms of overseas aid, not just technical assistance. It would, in fact, be the agency for carrying out the policies initiated by the senior Ministers responsible for overseas affairs. Of course, because of its specialised knowledge, it would help those Ministers and the Government over policy decisions.
I understand from what the right hon. Lady the Minister said the other day that this new Ministry is to control policy. I can hardly believe that she was correctly interpreting the Government's position, because I shall be very surprised indeed if the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office—and the Treasury, too—have agreed to delegate to her the sponsoring of policy in these matters. If they have done so, I think that they have made a great mistake. In any event, we want to know.
Next, the Ministry of Technology. What is to be its function? Which of the interests at present run by D.S.I.R. are to go to it? Will it take over the Road Research Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory and the National Engineering Laboratory? Will it take over the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at Farnborough, and the Royal Radar Establishment, at Malvern? Will it he responsible for the electronics industry? On 5th November the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that the 659 Ministry will have among its duties the Atomic Energy Authority. Is that still so? What about Aldermaston?
There are a whole host of other questions which must be asked about these new Ministries before we agree to provide the money for them. That is the point of the Bill. It is under the Schedule to the Bill that the money is provided for these Ministries. We are entitled to answers to those questions and to a great many more which will be asked. However that may be—and we have as yet had no opportunity of debating these matters in detail, and assuming that these Ministries are a good idea and not just part of the Prime Minister's quasi-presidential strategy; assuming that they are not meant to be corridors without power—in the first case a rubbish heap for half-baked ideas about a Lands Commission; in the second case a shop window for the right hon. Lady the Minister of Overseas Development; and in the third case a prison without bars for Mr. Cousins; assuming that they are designed to fulfil some useful purpose, even in that case to set them up as an arbitrary act without parliamentary sanction is wrong, both constitutionally and psychologically.
It needs no imagination to conceive of the storm of indignation which would have arisen from the tribunes of the people below the Gangway had we tried to do this in our term of office. I think that it is a pointer to the arrogant way in which the Government and the Prime Minister intend to treat Parliament—lip service to its authority in theory but flagrant disrespect in practice.
Still following up these three new Ministries, I want to ask some questions about the first Schedule. Paragraph 1 says thatThe Minister shall take the oath of allegiance …Have they not already done so? Paragraph 2 states that theMinister may appoint such secretaries, officers and servants …Have they already done so? If so, by what authority? Paragraph 3 says:There shall be paid to the secretaries …such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may determine".Paragraph 4 says: 660The expenses of the Minister, including any salaries or remuneration payable under paragraph 3 …, shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.Have they been paid? Are they being paid? If so, by what authority? At what rate? Parliament has never agreed to this, and this is one of the ways in which Parliament must assert its ancient function of controlling the expenditure of the executive.
There are other matters in the Schedule about seals being used and certificates being signed. Has all this been going on and have all these moneys been spent without the authority of Parliament? On the face of it the Schedule would appear to me to be quite ridiculous in the way it is interpreted by the Government and in due course we shall want a complete explanation of this very odd procedure.
Leaving the three new Ministries, I come to more general points affecting government as a whole. Some are matters of detail and some are very important. Clause 2(1) of the Bill—the Bill was presented on the psychic date of 5th November, but by the 19th it appeared to be wholly out of date. The figures mean nothing and I took it from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that they will be amended. But I still have some questions to ask on the figures.
Is it right that the Prime Minister should decide upon the remuneration of Ministers? Ought not the remuneration to be decided have regard to the position that is filled and it should not be possible for the Prime Minister to differentiate on personal grounds between Ministers. Surely the salary should be attached to the post and not to the individual? It seems to me that under this form of words it is still possible for the Prime Minister to attach the salary to the individual and not to the post.
With regard to the Chief Secretary, to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, that appointment was made by the then Prime Minister really at my suggestion to relieve the Chancellor of the day of dealing with his colleagues over expenditure matters, or at least some expenditure matters. In order to do that effectively—and I gather that that is still to be the rôle of the Chief Secretary—he really must be in the Cabinet and a member of the defence Committee. He must be able to deal 661 with his senior colleagues from a position of equality. In this change the Minister is deliberately downgraded—I do not know whether he is here, but I sympathise with him in his de-gradation—and I think that it is a great pity because it will prevent him from carrying out his job as he should.
We have never been told at all why the Assistant Whips should be paid, particularly in view of the proposed increase in salaries for ordinary Members of Parliament. I think that it is at least arguable that it would be better to have some people in the Whips office who were not in receipt of a ministerial salary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not argue the case at all and I think that we are entitled to have reasons for these changes put before us.
I think, also, that those who reply to these matters, which we shall follow up, should remember that there are some very delicate matters of voting procedure which may be raised as to which hon. or, indeed, right hon. Members under these proposals may be disqualified from voting. That is a matter which no doubt the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have already considered. It is a matter to be borne in mind when we come to the Committee stage.
Clause 2(3), which refers to the number of the Ministers, was dealt with by the Attorney-General in a very perfunctory manner. I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales is here. I am very polite about him and I also extend my good wishes to him in his office. I doubt whether it will help Wales very much. I think that it may complicate matters for them. I do not know whether on the terms of reference we heard today he will be able to do the good job which he wants to do for the Principality. I suspect that the arrangement we adopted was more effective and efficient. Nevertheless, we have heard the case put to us today by the Prime Minister for the ninth Secretary of State.
With regard to the 36 Parliamentary Secretaries the case has not been argued at all and with regard to the 18 Ministers of State the right hon. and learned Gentleman, no doubt having regard to the inflationary period which is before us, said that it was necessary to have room for expansion. I understand that 662 there are now 13 Ministers of State and the intention is to take power to create up to 18. I think that all inflationary tendencies should be rigorously curtailed.
Then there is the Economic Secretary. He is abolished in Clause 2(2) and I am bound to say that I feel rather sad at that, because I remember the day, I think it was in 1947, when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade first ornamented the Government Front Bench in that capacity. Eton and King's, in the person of the late Mr. Dalton had made a mess of it; Winchester and New College, in the person of Sir Stafford Cripps, was brought in to help; it was clear that he, too, needed help, and so the broad-based party of the people opposite produced Winchester and New College again in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Why is he to go?
Having said that about Clause 2, and some of those matters are I think more for the Committee stage, I want to come to Clause 3, which, I think, in two respects is the most sinister Clause in the whole Bill. It is the "Placemen's Charter". Ninety-one Ministers in receipt of salaries may sit and vote in the House of Commons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this was the Prime Minister's decision—that was the beginning and the end of the matter. That is not so because it is much too high a figure in our view in relation to the size of the House as a whole and of the Government party.
I, too, have been reading the Report of the Herbert Committee which considered this and other matters in 1941. It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) were members of that Committee. In that Report, paragraph 19, three principles were laid down. I shall not read the first one, but the second one referred to the need to limit the control or influence of the executive Government over the House by means of an undue proportion of office holders being Members of the House. That is a point of principle which the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if I may say so with 663 respect, made no attempt whatever to deal with today.
Again, paragraph 23 of the Report dealt with the figures. It pointed out that the number sitting in the House of Commons immediately before the last war was 47, the number permitted was 57 and it decided to increase the number to 60. Paragraph 24 is a very interesting one about Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I am not sure that it should not be made compulsory reading for all Parliamentary Private Secretaries. It indicates the view that the Select Committee took of the possible sinister effect of these worthy and deserving people upon the constitutional development of the House. In that capacity they are attached to members of the Government.
I think that for us to agree just upon the ipse dixit of the Prime Minister that 91 salaried Ministers should be in the House of Commons is in breach of the principle laid down by that Select Committee. It was a very powerful Committee. Mr. James Maxton, for example, was a member of it, and those who remember him will know that he was very much alive to the possibilities of abuse.
It was put in another way in a leader in The Times:This is where the real objection arises to Mr. Wilson's high-handed disregard of the constitutional rule limiting the number of Government office-holders in the Commons. The present rule, which was re-enacted after deliberation only seven years ago, makes seventy the upper limit. Mr. Wilson will have eighty-three salaried members of the Government on the benches with him. Add to that the unpaid whips and the usual bevy of Parliamentary Private Secretaries and the number of M.P.s attached to the Government will be between 130 and 140, not far short of half the Parliamentary Labour Party. If this is to be the practice in the future there simply will not be enough ministerial back benchers of the capacity and independence required to man the Committees which ought to be keeping watch on policy.This is a very important constitutional point and we will return to it in Committee, but we think that the figure of 91 is too high.
There is another extremely important aspect of this Clause, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made some reference. As I understand it, subsection (1) puts into Schedule 2 of the 1957 Act all offices referred to in the Bill which are not already in the Schedule. 664 Subsection (2) removes the limit of 27 on Secretaries and Ministers of State in the Commons under the 1957 Act and it raises the figure of holders of all offices from 70 to 91. But the Bill retains, unaltered, the definition of Minister of State as set out in Clause 2(4).
Therefore, on the Government's interpretation of the law—or what I think is their interpretation of it—and having regard to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the limit of 18 on Ministers of State is confined to those in receipt of salaries. That is the escape Clause. That is the method of getting round the limits and that is the way in which the Prime Minister could, next time the lust for Ministerial procreation takes hold of him, get round the Bill.
The Prime Minister has a licence to make Ministers of State without salaries, but the proposed increased emoluments for ordinary hon. Members makes a material difference to that fact. He could make every hon. Member on the benches opposite a Minister of State without a salary, and still be within the law. I rather gathered from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he thought that that would be an abuse. If he does share that view, then it should be put right in the Bill and it should not be possible to get round the limits in that way.
As I say, we suspect that Clause 3 is part of the Prime Minister's pattern of working—two or three Ministers involved in all major policy, with his own systems of checks and balances, each Minister watched by another, with the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General watching them all—and a whole lot of awkward customers fobbed off with minor jobs. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made any attempt to give any explanation at all.
We dislike the manner of the introduction of the Bill, the retrospective legitimising of new Ministries conceived on the wrong side of the statutory blanket and we will do our utmost to see that the Bill does not reach the Statute Book unless our criticisms have been met. I have referred to them and I will sum them up as being, first, we want a much fuller explanation than we have yet had to justify our agreeing to defray the expenses of each of the new Ministries; secondly, we want a reduction in the 665 extravagant numbers proposed; and, thirdly, we want the abandonment of the practice. which the Government say is lawful, to create Ministers of State without salaries, making nonsense of all limits.
We will have other points to put in Committee and our attitude to the Bill and its future progress will depend on the way in which the Government deal in Committee with my moderate, reasonable, constructive and well-founded criticisms which will, no doubt, be amplified by my right hon. and hon. Friends during the course of this debate.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I would like to start on the same note as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), to whose excellent speech the House has listened with admiration. I was also extremely surprised, and disappointed, to hear the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, whose accession to his high office, on personal grounds, I warmly welcome.
The Attorney-General began his speech by describing the Bill as being technical, not raising questions of constitutional principle. About 10 minutes later he qualified that statement to the extent that it did not raise questions of fundamental constitutional principle. Without entering into any semantics as between what is a question of principle and what is a question of fundamental principle—because there are some, no doubt old-fashioned, people who think all questions of principle to be fundamental in their character—I submit that any Bill which touches the relations of Parliament and the Executive, as this Bill does, and any Bill which varies their pattern is obviously a Measure of constitutional principle and importance, a Bill demanding the vigilant scrutiny and close attention of the House.
It is, after all, these things which go to the very heart of the matter of the function of Parliament. The very genesis of Parliament lies in seeking to exercise control over the Executive, and that has been the primary preoccupation of the House of Commons through the generations. It is, perhaps, its primary justification right up to today.
It is true that after two and a half centuries of acceptance, or general 666 acceptance at any rate, of the principle of Ministerial responsibility to Parliament, we do not now have to consider the relations of Parliament and the Executive in any spirit of hostility or suspicion. But I think it right, in any consideration of these questions, for the House of Commons to have some regard to the background and to the fact that our ancestors had to exact the principle of Parliamentary control over the Executive in years of unrelenting struggle and to maintain it only by ceaseless vigilance.
It is right that the House of Commons should keep in mind the nature of Executive Government when we approach these questions. It is not necessary to go the whole way with Lord Acton's dictum—that all power corrupts—but it is true that appetite grows with what it feeds on and that the natural diet of Executive Government is power. Therefore, it is not a bad thing for Parliamentarians to approach these questions on the basis that it is in the nature of Executive Government to encroach where it can and that it is right that Parliament should keep its defences manned to see that there is no considerable trespass on the domain of its own basic rights and fundamental duties.
Having said that, I do not for a moment say that the machinery of Government is not capable of improvement. Indeed, I am on record on several occasions as saying the contrary, that it is so capable. There is, of course, much in the machinery of Government which is capable of improvement, but it would be wrong to adopt the false syllogism so popular in Left Wing thinking: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, let us do it".
The Bill comes as an early manifestation of the feverish and "phoney" activity of the Prime Minister's much flaunted 100 days. I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how anybody with any sense of history could wish to attach this particular label to the start of his administration. To adopt Macaulay's phrase, every schoolboy knows that the 100 days in history means Napoleon's 100 days from Elba to Waterloo, which has become synonymous with disaster and merited defeat.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Has the right hon. and learned 667 Gentleman not rather misread the history books on this point? Is he not aware that the 100 days were lived through not only by Napoleon but by all the countries of Europe at the same time? As to its ending with the Battle of Waterloo, the right hon. and learned Gentleman might, if he calls upon his memory, call to mind that, in regard to the Battle of Waterloo, we won it.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is, perhaps, a little more prophetic than usual. It was Napoleon's 100 days and it was the Duke of Wellington who won it. Anticipating the presence of the hon. Member and anticipating that, as usual, he would not be able to resist the temptation to intervene, I took the precaution of refreshing my memory last night with Philip Guedalla's excellent biography of the Duke of Wellington, and I can assure him that my facts were as right on this occasion as, I hope, they are on most.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne may be impressed with his right, hon. Friend's 100 days. The House will recall how Mr. Pickwick envied the ease with which Mr. Peter Magnus's friends were amused. I rather envy the ease with which hon. Members opposite are impressed, including the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
In fact, of course, what this Government have succeeded in doing in this initial period is to produce a great deal of bustle. They are confusing bustle with business, a considerable error of administration. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would like to be compared with his eighteenth century predecessor, the Duke of Newcastle, of whom exactly the same was true. But it is quite a close comparison beyond that, because the Duke of Newcastle was mainly concerned also with questions of preferment, patronage and power, the very things with which this Bill is also concerned.
The Bill signalises the start of this Government with a multiplication of Ministers and a proliferation of patronage. I believe it is not a fact that the business of Government is necessarily advanced or expedited by the proliferation of Ministers and 668 Government Departments. What is being done is to cause undesirable congestion in what I believe it is now topical to call the "Corridors of Power". I have not read that book myself, but I have read reviews praising the realism of this work of fiction. By a happy coincidence, its author is one of the gentlemen affected by the Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, mentioned in the Schedule.
Of course, I can well understand why the Prime Minister should want to include in his Government an eminent writer of fiction. Think how useful he will be when it comes to drafting the next election manifesto. I do not know whether the eminent author of fiction was in a position to assist with the drafting of the recent Labour Party election manifesto, but, if he was, it explains a great deal. If he was writing both simultaneously—the book and the manifesto—perhaps he got a little mixed up and injected realism into the book and fiction into the Labour Party manifesto. But I can well understand why the Prime Minister should want to include this eminent gentleman in his Government.
I find it much less easy to understand why the eminent gentleman should consent to be included. After all, he has been diverted from the corridors of power to the tunnel of technology. That might be a very happy position if he were in sole occupation of the tunnel of technology, but think with whom he is teamed up. He is teamed up with the gentleman whom we only know by repute so far on this side of the House. I do not know the reason for this teaming up, but I see that some of those well-informed gentlemen of the Press, who always know so much more about the reasons for what happens here than we who merely sit in the House, have suggested that this eminent gentleman is teamed up with Mr. Cousins in order to bring to bear on him the qualities of restraint and sagacity which they do not recognise as being predominant in Mr. Cousins' make-up.
It is rather like the old yoking up of Archbishop Anselm and King William Rufus, with, of course, the significant difference that the Archbishop had the wisdom to decline the assignment. Mr. Cousins, the new Minister, is mentioned 669 in the Bill, but we should like to know when we shall see him here. We only know of him by repute. We want to make his personal acquaintance. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are feeling quite impatient. All I would say on that is that it may be—I do not put it higher than that—that when he does come he may be able to teach the House something about technology.
It may also be that in return we shall he able to teach this gentleman, whose reputation has gone before him, something about the House and the ways and workings of Parliamentary democracy in return. But he will not learn from a very good tutor if he tries to learn too much from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. After all his function will be to expedite the conduct of Government business, whereas the main function of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—and I will say this for him—has always been over the years to exercise his function quite impartially, whichever side is in power, by obstructing in so far as his very considerable ingenuity allows.
It is not the creation of the three new Government Departments which causes me my main concern. I think that the right approach to them is the Scottish verdict of non proven. We shall have to see whether, in fact, they do ameliorate administration or not. I am particularly interested in the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will succeed. He is an old Parliamentarian, but I fear that the handicap of what has been said of land policy in the manifesto will be too big for him to carry.
Even if these Ministers had the quality of the Archangel Gabriel—and I must admit, coming from the party that they do, that that is perhaps improbable—I still say that there are too many of them. The Bill increases their numbers at every point: nine salaried Secretaries of State instead of eight in the Act of 1937; 36 Parliamentary Secretaries instead of 33 under the Act of 1960; 18 Ministers of State, and now the right hon. and learned Gentleman tells us that even in this short period that number has advanced to 19 with power to create more by the same device, by retaining the definition of Section 13 of the 1957 Act, and by retaining also power to create 670 more on the same basis and to go through exactly the same process, as has been done in this Bill.
There are six paid Assistant Whips, paid, as The Times has said, to see that other Members toe the line. Then there are 91 Ministers in the House of Commons against 70 only seven years ago under the 1957 Act and against 60 as recommended by the Herbert Committee. I find these additions the more startling because this matter was thoroughly canvassed as recently as 1957. Of course, it is constitutionally right that what one Parliament does cannot bind its successor. But this was not a controversial Bill. It was not opposed on Second Reading. The then Opposition, the present Government, did not amend, or even seek to amend, what is now Section 2 of the Act with which we are concerned.
One would have thought that this non-controversial Measure, passed with the assent of the whole House only seven years ago, would have been entitled to particular respect because it came with the unusual authority of close scrutiny by a Select Committee. Now all this is to go for almost nothing. The limits are swept away and the control of Parliament is weakened. Why? Not for any reason foreseen or proclaimed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite before they came to office. Just the contrary. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was a great advocate of streamlining the Administration. He was like the man waiting his turn in the restaurant who preaches the virtue of a slimming diet, but who, as soon as his own feet are tucked under the table, gives way to the most riotous and unbridled indulgence.
It is a sad contrast, and the House is left to puzzle out the reason. Two reasons have been canvassed by the ingenious gentlemen of the Press, to whom I paid tribute a moment ago. The first is that there is no particular pattern in what has been done. It is simply the ad hoc consequence of the practical exigencies of Government-making.
The House may recall the conversation in the "Forsyte Saga" between Sir Lawrence Mont and Soames Forsyte, when Mont observed that there were two methods of getting on the board—the method of oil and the method of 671 vinegar. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have recognised the efficacy of both—he has rewarded his friends and placated the potential critics. Far be it from me to say which of the two elements is in the ascendant; certainly, taken together, the sum is large.
That has led to a Government of odd and diverse character. It was described, 200 years ago in advance, in classic words by Edmund Burke. He was referring to an unfortunate Administration—of a gentleman much greater than this Prime Minister will ever be, or anyone else now in this House; but it was an unfortunate Administration. Burke described it thus:He made an administration, so checkered and speckled; he put together a piece of joinery so crossly indented and whimsically dove-tailed; a cabinet so variously inlaid; such a piece of diversified Mosaic; such a tesselated pavement without cement; it was indeed a very curious show; but utterly unsafe to touch and unsure to stand on.Later, Mr. Burke went on:I venture to say, it did so happen, that persons had a single office divided between them, who have never spoke to each other in their lives, until they found themselves, they knew not how, pigging together, heads and points, in the same truckle-bed.That is the first possible reason—what I might call the explanation of the truckle-bed, or oil and vinegar.
That is not praiseworthy but it is, perhaps, better than the second possible reason; that is to say, a deliberate exercise in increasing the power of the Executive over Parliament, thereby diminishing Parliamentary control and derogating, in fact if not in form, from the great concept of the sovereignty of Parliament. The effect of the Bill, what it makes possible, is that the Labour Party in this House, with one of the smallest majorities on record and one of the smallest Parliamentary parties in support of a Government, is to have a record number of Ministers and placemen. It follows that it has the largest ratio of Ministers to Members ever known in the House of Commons. We know it on the high authority of The Times newspaper that a potential approaching something like half of the Labour Party may become attached or beholden to the Government in this way.
It is not necessary to speculate on motive when the consequences are so 672 clear. It is a maxim of our law that people are presumed to intend the natural consequences of their acts, and the consequence of this Bill is the increase of patronage and the consequent erosion of the independence and sovereignty of Parliament. As such, I believe it to be constitutionally bad, as well as administratively cumbrous. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral has said, some of the provisions of this Measure call for drastic amendment at a later stage. If that is not done, it will remain a bad Bill, and a bad start to what promises to be a bad Government.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I came here to enjoy myself—I was sure that the Opposition had today an opportunity for a great deal of knockabout stuff—but to my horror, as I listened to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), I began to feel that he might mean what he was saying. If he did, it merely shows how far the party opposite is behind the times.
These strictures may have been very effective in the eighteenth century, but I should not have thought it to lie in the mouth of the party opposite to make too many criticisms of the possibilities of patronage, especially knowing, as we do, the combination of carrot and stick that right hon. Gentlemen opposite were able to exercise over their own back benchers. Sometimes it was done indirectly, sometimes there was the mention of chairmen of constituency associations in Honours Lists, sometimes there was the suggestion that chairmen of constituency associations would not appear in Honours Lists unless the hon. Members for those constituencies attended more dutifully to the instructions of the Conservative Party Whips. Much could be said on that score, but I am not so much worried about that—it is something that is slowly dying out.
One reproach I have to make against the Government is that they missed a trick is not recognising as fully as they should the significance of this particularly remarkable document, the Lawrence Report, in which, for the first time, the status of an ordinary Member of Parliament is recognised as something that cannot be linked with any other form of 673 public service. The authors of the Report refused to attach the remuneration to any other scale of remuneration for any other kind of activity.
It would have been good had the Government said, "From this day on, everyone who is a Member of Parliament draws a Member of Parliament's salary and does Member of Parliament's duties." Then the question of how much extra Ministers of the Crown should get would have been considerably reduced.
We might have had less humour about Whips. We can all join in that kind of fun—the lowest form of political life, these people whom we despise, etc., are now to be paid; but when we work it out, it does not seem that they will get very fat on what they get out of this if one takes into consideration what they lose from their Parliamentary salary, and what they lose in time in the mornings and other parts of the day when they are dealing with Members of Parliament who are asking for permission to be away earning money elsewhere. Left as it is, nobody could miss the chance in such a meeting as this to have a side crack at Whips.
I do not think that the power of patronage is increasing. Indeed, as one who begins to feel that he has been around for a long time, I have felt very much happier in the last few years about the way in which the work of an ordinary back bench Member of Parliament has become more recognised and more rewarding. Conversely, Ministers of the Crown—and the Tory Party should know this—have great difficulties in being at one and the same time constituency Members and Ministers. If studied carefully, election results show how difficult it is for a man who is preoccupied with the higher affairs of State to pay attention to the affairs of his constituency—to get right in amongst his constituents and get that up-to-date information that is so important if he is either to retain their confidence or to exercise an accurate judgment in the political issues of the day.
This is a very great problem, and if it is to be faced I should have thought that there should be more Ministers of the Crown, not fewer; that the job should be shared round more, and that there should be more time for Ministers to pay attention to their constituencies. Otherwise, we shall only get Ministers of 674 the Crown coming from safe seats, and they will, progressively, because those seats are safe, do less work among their constituents and so be less in touch with the rank and file and with the day-to-day affairs of the country. It is so important that we should have in the House people who have that direct contact.
In the days when I was a furniture manufacturer, I knew the day after—not a week after, or three months after, as the President of the Board of Trade and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer take to find out from the sources open to them—what was the effect of any alteration in Purchase Tax, or of the Budget—or of any change in the weather, for that matter. Lawyers who work in the courts and specialise in a certain field must, of course, have more feel for the way in which things are going, certain difficulties in the State, whether criminal or civil, than those who are exalted to high offices of State. Representatives of all kinds should be available to this House.
This is being achieved. I should have thought that even over elections something has happened similar to that which happened many years ago when, once people started playing gramophone records on the radio, mournful people said, "This is the end. No longer will people make music themselves." On the contrary, there was an enormous demand for the actual personal involvement of individuals in cultural activities which they had never heard of before. I believe the reaction to methods of propaganda at election time has been exactly similar. Candidates have to play their own tunes. They are expected to be visible and available. This has been shown in the recent General Election.
If hon. Members opposite want to be constructive, apart from having a field day of knockabout humour and abusive quotations from ancient history, they would be wise to study this development. The status of individual Members of Parliament is something which has been recognised for the first time in recent years, recognised by the Lawrence Report. This takes us back to the reasons why Ministers did not draw Parliamentary salaries in the first place. The happy days to which the Tory Party looks back with such relish were the days when Secretaries of State had such 675 immense rewards—fantastic in modern terms—plus fees, and did not have to go to their own constituencies to take an advice bureau or to know whether someone was entitled to a pension. There were practically no local government services then. They merely made speeches and had very little work to do outside.
When the time came that the machinery of government became so complicated and the interests of the individual citizen in his own grievances became so pressing that he sought the aid of his Member of Parliament, we had Members of Parliament endeavouring to do, in very difficult circumstances, the work which we do now. It was decided to give them a living allowance, but it never occurred to anyone that holders of offices of State should also draw a salary as Members of Parliament.
The public show at elections that they expect Ministers of the Crown and backbenchers alike to be good constituency Members. That should be recognised in discussing a Bill of this kind. That is one criticism I make of the Government in the framing of legislation. It should be recognised that there is, first, an inalienable allowance which every Member of Parliament should draw. After that we should make some allowance for the time worked, or the time lost, or the distraction from other kinds of work. I should have thought that when deciding how much trouble they should make in Committee the party opposite should seriously reflect on this.
The case about this expanding web of patronage sounds all very well in debate, but there are many other people who are committed to the work of this House and government, to the detriment of their personal interests and who get no reward. What about Chairmen, not only the occupants of the Chair in Committee of Ways and Means but in Committees upstairs and Select Committees? They are tied and unable to speak very often on the subjects of which they know most and unable to get the sort of satisfactory speech put over to their constituents on a problem, whatever it may be, because they are involved in Committee work on that subject here. They are obliged to be impartial in what they say. These are very serious 676 matters which also should be taken into account.
The sooner that that great yawning gap between the conception of a paid Government, on the one hand, and the totally independent back benchers on a different level on the other is closed, the better. I think it is being closed. It would appear to be closed a little more if the salaries of Ministers introduced in a Bill like this were reduced by as much as their Parliamentary salary were increased. That would make more clear that it is happening. It is very reasonable that the burden should be shared more widely among more Ministers rather than that a few should have an intolerable task put upon them. It is a good thing that they should change round and specialise in a certain field and then move to another, but they are not alone in the involvement. Not even the Opposition can escape that. They also provide Chairmen of Committees and people who are committed to the work of this House and the Government of the day in the way in which they are tied up.
This is not a clear case where Members ought to indulge the opportunity for humorous and clever abuse of the kind we had in the speech of the right lion. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), which we have very much enjoyed. It was extremely well put together and well delivered, but I do not think that it had any relevance to the Bill before us. If that attitude were pursued I do not think it would have much effect, but if persisted in with a great deal of propaganda throughout the country, hon. Members opposite would be doing harm to a process which is working very well indeed.
I think democracy is beginning to work better and ordinary electors are more interested in the day-to-day activities of their Members of Parliament, whether they be Ministers or not. The general public is more able to contribute by the means of mass-communication whether they like serious newspaper stuff, television or sound radio material, which brings a close link between the ordinary home and the working of the Government. That was never dreamed of as possible as recently as 50 years ago when elections were managed by very different, and much less respectable, methods than 677 are employed today. As a democracy we are doing all right. We have made some progress. I do not think the party opposite, just for the sake of a joke, should say anything which would indicate the contrary.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I should like to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the Attorney-General on his appointment. I must say that the speech which he made when introducing the Bill should have made every hon. Member, no matter on which side of the House he sits, look very closely indeed at the Bill. He told us that there was no question of constitutional principle. We know all too well what to expect when Ministers say, "This is a matter of no great moment; you can all sit back and sleep while I explain the Third Schedule". Constitutional principle in this country is a term of infinitely different meanings.
We have no written constitution and our practice of government is determined by a series of decisions each of which may seem comparatively innocuous, but which, together, may entirely change the form of our government. I am not saying by any means that a change in the machinery of government is not needed; indeed, I think it is. Nor am I saying at this stage that it may not be necessary to increase the size of the Government, but I am saying that the House of Commons is entitled to have some reasons.
The House is entitled to be told why this is being done. This is exactly what the learned Attorney-General failed to tell us. He gave no justification for the setting up of the new Ministeries, nor for the increase in the number of Ministers. He certainly gave no justification for the addition of £2,800,000 for administrative expenses on the public purse.
The House has far too few opportunities for discussing the machinery of government. It should take the opportunities which it has. I believe that it is time that we looked over the piecemeal changes which have been going on for some time, and not only under the present Government. The last Government completely recast the Ministry of Defence. By agreement between all parties, we are to have a change in the rewards for Members of Parliament, not only their salaries, but their pensions, 678 which again reflects a profound change in the duties of a Member of Parliament and his position under our Constitution.
We are to have, I understand, not only payment to the Leader of the Opposition, but payment to the Opposition Chief Whip. This may have the result, for instance, that a Motion could be tabled criticising the conduct of the Opposition. We may be able to have a Parliamentary day for questioning the Opposition and examining whether they have earned the salaries which they are now to be paid at public expense. I give these examples only as illustrations of what may appear to be trivial matters, but matters which may have a profound effect on the practice of Parliament.
Historically, the English governmental system is based on an Executive, a Legislature and a Judiciary. It has long been accepted that changes to one part of our Constitution inevitably have repercussions on the other parts and that the whole must be considered together. For instance, the Haldane Committee—paragraph 48—found thatany improvement in the organisation of the Departments of State which was so marked as substantially to increase their efficiency should have as its correlative and increase in the power of the Legislature as the check upon the acts and proposals of the Executive.These additional Ministries and additional payments to the Government—good, bad or indifferent—are bound to have an effect upon our whole system of Government.
Since legislation became so complicated the so-called Legislature, that is, the individual Members of Parliament, have largely ceased to initiate legislation, except upon very minor topics. Our main functions, which go right back into history, are criticism of the Executive, the raising of the grievances of our constituents, and the airing of issues so that the public may be informed. So long as those remain our principal activities, it can be argued that we do not need great application to business. Perhaps we do not even need to attend assiduously in this Palace.
But, more and more, a change is coming over the duties of the Member of Parliament. Not only is he expected to criticise. Not only is he expected to air grievances. Not only is he expected to raise debates so that great issues can be discussed. He is supposed to exercise 679 some supervision over a multiplicity of Government activities, many of them managerial, and some of them matters upon which there is no great party dissension, no great ideological difference, but upon which the public expects Members of Parliament to exercise supervision in its name. It is for this sort of purpose that it appears to me justifiable to increase salaries and pensions.
Unless we accept that new role, our rôle will go on diminishing. Unless we find a method of being better informed about how decisions are made in government, we shall go on to an increasing degree groaning under the disillusion and frustration which many Members already feel. The first thing which should be done in the debate is to try to extract from the Government as much information as possible about the new Ministries, about why they are necessary, and about the reason for the increase in the number of Ministers. I do not think that it can be simply brushed aside as a natural sort of Parkinson development which no one questions today. We should have a far more detailed account from the Attorney-General as to why all this is necessary.
Most hon. Members would agree that one of the faults of our present governmental system is that, where a matter involves, say, local authorities and the central Government, or two Departments of the central Government, undue delay often arises before a decision can be reached. Therefore, we should examine these changes to see whether they are likely to contribute to a better system of decision-taking or whether, indeed, they are likely to increase delays. The delay arises because responsibility is blurred and matters can be sent from one Department to another or from one authority to another and back again and both or all authorities or Departments can disclaim responsibility for ultimately reaching a conclusion.
I should have thought that under the previous Government, so far as any tendency could be discerned, it was a tendency to bring Departments or Ministries together—for instance, in the Ministry of Defence—and to form within the Government a series of apexes, presumably in the hopes that it would be easier to take 680 decisions when one reached the top of the appropriate peak.
This move by the present Government seems to be in the opposite direction. There is some proliferation of Ministries. This may be justified for some other reason, but will it assist decision-taking to have the new Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, the new Ministry of Overseas Development, and so forth? This is a matter upon which the House should be informed.
The Prime Minister himself has said that a Cabinet of 23 is too big, but he has just formed one. Is there, again, some special reason why in the circumstances of today, apart from the reasons which have been hinted at—the need to placate various sections of his party—he should go back on his expressed view of last summer?
Most important of all is the need for the House to be informed of changes in the economic field. The new Ministry of Economic Affairs is, in theory, concerned with long-term planning, including the planning of natural resources. We know full well that long-term planning is very often frustrated by short-term decisions. Indeed, we have already had an example of how what we are told the Government would like to do in the long term is quite contrary to what they are, in fact, doing in the short term by imposing the 15 per cent. surcharge.
As to the functions which have now been distributed between the Treasury and the new Department, it seems that the Treasury retains several of the most important functions and the machinery to carry them out—for instance, the machinery dealing with Government expenditure. I think that it retains half the national economic group, which exerts strong pressure on economic policies. It seems logical that, if there is to be a breakdown of functions, NE.1 and, indeed, the Finance Division of the Treasury, should either be within the Ministry of Economic Affairs or be highly accessible to it.
It has been suggested that the reason for this change of direction in the reform of Government is that the Prime Minister himself will dictate more policy, particularly economic policy. This will be a tendency which I would regret. It would be a tendency again which the Prime Minister himself repudiated in some talks 681 he gave on the Third Programme in the spring of this year. If this is to be the tendency, the House should take some interest in it and should try to extract from the Government what their real thinking is about where economic power lies and how the functions are to be divided.
There has been a lack of liaison between the different Departments concerned with development. I believe that the right way to have tackled this would have been to have had a high level coordinating unit in the Government. Is this the function of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources? I suspect that it is not. What is needed is a high-level unit which looks over the shoulder of the different Ministries—the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and so on—which are concerned with planning and ensures that they are not planning in ignorance of each other's intentions. But we are left in the dark about whether that is indeed the function of the new Ministry.
I do not intend to discuss the Ministry of Technology, because that has already been debated. Certainly, there should be no complaint about a high priority being given by the Government to overseas development, but the Government have been too prone to think that because they give a high priority to some aspects of our affairs they must, therefore, put them into a separate Ministry. This does not follow. It is difficult to see how we can do much overseas development in the way of investment while we are running a deficit. But in so far as the Ministry is concerned with other types of development—for instance, education—its creation may run somewhat counter to what has been a sound principle of British administration which is that it should be done by subjects and not by bodies of people. There is, to my mind, much to be said for maintaining the strong interest of the Ministry of Education in the education of students who may come from overseas.
There is then the question of the absolute increase of Ministers who are paid and who can sit and vote in the House of Commons. I would be grateful if those more learned in constitutional law than I am could clear up the matter of the Minister of State. We 682 have been told by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that the effect of the Bill before us would be to enable the Government to create an unlimited number of Ministers of State so long as they were not paid. But I return to the point which I made to the learned Attorney-General, that the only definition I can find of a Minister of State is in the 1957 Act at Section 13(1). There, a Minister of State means:a member of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom appointed at a salary …If he has not got a salary can he be a Minister of State? He may be a "so-called" Minister of State, or he may be something else. This provision in the 1957 Act appears to be part of the definition of a Minister of State, and yet there are already many people who are listed in HANSARD, and so on, who are designated as Ministers of State, but who are not paid a salary.
The objection to the appointment of an unlimited number of people in the Government and who, like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, are not paid a salary, is not the eighteenth century objection that they are likely to be venal, but the twentieth century objection that it deprives the House of Commons and the Government side of its talent. There is a job for Government back benchers not only in the House of Commons, but in delegations, and so on. This is a serious matter. I do not in the least disagree with the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) that there is probably a need for more personnel in government. I fully see the argument that it is better to have these people in the House of Commons and responsible to the House of Commons than to have them appointed from outside. Nevertheless, this tendency could be carried too far and there is an obligation on any Government to keep down its personnel to a reasonable minimum. I reject the theory that in doing that one in any way derogates from one's responsibility to the House of Commons. It is surely on the quality of the Ministers and the nature of their responsibility that this will depend.
We have not been told why the Government think it is preferable to have almost half of their supporters in or under the influence of the Government as against the previous figure which was accepted 683 in 1957. We are now to pay Assistant Whips and, as I have said, there is a suggestion that we should also pay the Opposition Chief Whip. There is certainly an argument for paying people who have a job to do, but there is a counter-argument for putting some sort of limit on the number of people who are paid to keep their own supporters in order.
The reason why the House of Commons is far too tame and subservient is not that it is in the pay of the Government. It is that it has allowed its procedures to be altered without paying sufficient attention to what is happening. It has never paid sufficient attention to the machinery of government. It has never paid attention to the gradual change in the constitution in all sorts of ways—not only through the alteration in the number of offices but through the growth of the party system. It has never directed its mind sufficiently to what is happening. This afternoon we have had a chance of doing this, and I greatly regret that we have not had a much fuller account of the reason behind the changes proposed in this Pill.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
The right hon. Gentleman has given us his reason why the House of Commons is submissive. He will realise that this is not at all a generally accepted view and that there are many hon. Members and people outside the House who know a lot about this subject and who do not accept this assertion at all.
§ Mr. Grimond
That may be so. I also think that we shall see that in the process of changing our methods of government we will have rejected some experiments which have failed not because they were inherently bad but because of the form in which they were tried. I am not convinced that the overlord system is nearly as bad as is was believed to be. We have not had a proper consideration of the machinery of government since the Haldane Report.
In paragraphs 53 and 54 of that Report there were foreshadowed many suggestions which are now being widely canvassed. For instance, in those paragraphs there are suggestions that we should have Standing Committees and that Members of Parliament should be 684 equipped with expert assistance to enable them to do their work better. This would seem to be an obvious corollary to higher pay. There was an agreement in the oil industry, called the Fawley Agreement, relating to higher pay for higher work. That is what the public ought to get out of Parliament. But we cannot have more efficient work until we have not only higher pay but expert advice and efficient assistance to enable us to do it, as well as far more information about how the Departments of Government work.
The combination of the tradition of the British Civil Service and the laxity of this House in probing into government has meant that most people have no knowledge of how it works. There are no job specifications. A stranger who came to this country and asked what a Ministry had to do would have to read through innumerable reports, reports of debates, and so forth. Therefore, I suggest that whatever happens to this Bill, we should at least consider the setting up of another inquiry on the lines of the Haldane Committee which, if it did nothing else, would at least inform us what is happening in our Government, what are the significant changes between the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive, and could also set down as the Haldane Committee did, but in up-to-date terms, the roles and responsibilities of the different Ministries and the justification or otherwise for such increases as we are asked to pass today.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
This has been so far a most curious debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, upon whose appointment I personally would like to offer my own congratulations, presented in a factual, lucid fashion such as one would expect from him what he described as, and what I should have thought but for the rest of the debate was, a purely technical Measure.
The things to be carried out, the technical matters to be carried out by the Measure, are listed very lucidly in the Explanatory Memorandum which appears on the first two pages, and, from what I can gather of the debate, no one is against any of them. But that is not 685 what the debate so far has been about, except for the introductory speech. We had the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who could not make up his mind whether he wanted to talk about the Government, whether he wanted to make a belated electioneering speech, having apparently forgotten that polling day took place a month ago, or whether he wanted to object to the Bill because he thought that it was a grave constitutional abuse.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking for his right hon. and hon. Friends, thought that this was a grave constitutional Measure, his duty would be to oppose it and to divide the House against it. Or is he inviting us to say that this is a grave constitutional abuse in which the Opposition are prepared to acquiesce provided that they get certain explanations at later stages? If anything was a constitutional abuse, surely that is the gravest constitutional abuse imaginable.
I do not, however, accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of being guilty of any such constitutional abuse. I accuse him only of a considerable degree of eloquent humbug. He does not for one believe that there is any constitutional abuse. He said it because he thought that it lent weight to his speech, because otherwise the opposition to which he was giving voice might appear purely fractious. I pay tribute to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) as a piece of eloquence and wit, but what in the world it had to do with the Bill which is before the House I am still wondering.
I should like to deal first, with one or two of the sillier debating points that have been made. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral said that it was very wrong to raise the number of Ministers in the House of Commons from 70 to 91. He was good enough, and so was his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East, to pay some recognition to what he called my independence on whichever side of the House I sit. Without making any admissions about that one way or the other, I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he thinks that my independence will be compromised by having 36 Parliamentary Secretaries instead of 33, he is greatly 686 mistaken and that he may go to sleep quite easily and comfortably without having any nightmares of that kind.
Then, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said something more. He apparently felt that it was a little ineffective to put so much weighty indignation on mere numbers of Ministers concerned. He tried to cure that by speaking in terms of a proportion of the party supporting the Prime Minister and his Government. He said that what had been done meant that nearly half of the Parliamentary Labour Party was in the pay of the Government. This sounds really very had. If there were one more, I suppose that it would not make it any better.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman really has any anxiety about that point, let me assure him at once that it need be only a temporary attack. I assure him that after the next General Election, whenever it may take place, the 91 will still be 91 or the 130 or whatever it is will still be 130, but that it will be very much less than 50 per cent. of the Labour Party in the next Parliament. Therefore, any trouble that the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels on that ground will shortly—I do not know how shortly, but whenever the next General Election takes place—have disappeared.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East was then at great pains to think up some kind of argument. He did not know historically whether to base himself upon Napoleon, upon King William II, or upon Edmund Burke.
§ Mr. Silverman
Or the Duke of Newcastle. Among his arguments, the right hon. and learned Gentleman poured scorn or poked fun—I dare say it was not intended to be malicious—at the Government Front Bench on the ground that some of its members—it may be all of them; I did not quite gather from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech which it was—had never spoken to each other until they met on the Front Bench. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that that is a good or a bad thing. Presumably, he regards is as a bad thing. It seems to me, however, to be a much better thing than in the case of the Opposition Front Bench, some of whose members 687 do not speak to one another at all even yet. These seemed to be very pettifogging things to introduce into an argument which purports to be a grave constitutional argument about grave constitutional matters. It is all nonsense, and both right hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that it was nonsense.
I am very far indeed from saying that the speech of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) was nonsense. It was not. It was a lucid and intelligent exposition of an argument, but it was a lucid and intelligent exposition of an argument about something else. If there is one thing wrong with the Bill, it is its Title. It is, perhaps, a fair criticism to say that it is not a Bill about the machinery of government and that if we were really having a discussion about the machinery of government we would have to discuss a great many other things. It seems to me that time ought to be found for such a discussion.
All of us have been saying recently, and are still saying, that we want to attract into the House of Commons young, vigorous, active-minded people who are prepared to make a full-time occupation of their membership of the House of Commons. All of us are saying—and the Government have now done something about it—that it should be made financially possible for them to do so.
I share, however, the opinion—I think that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had it, too—that we need something more than that. Young, active, vigorous-minded people prepared to devote their full-time activities to the House of Commons will not be satisfied merely with getting an adequate salary. They will want to be given something to do. Otherwise, they will not come and they will not do it. I have the utmost sympathy with what the right hon. Member said in that regard, but he would, I am sure, on reflection, agree that it has nothing to do with the Bill.
Let us now come to the Bill and see what it does and whether there is really any ground for all the tremendous fuss that has been kicked up against it. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirrall asked what right my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had to appoint Ministers first and then come to the House of Commons afterwards. Where 688 did the right hon. and learned Gentleman learn his constitutional history? When has the House of Commons ever appointed a Minister? When has it ever created a Ministry? A Minister is a servant of the Crown, appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. No doubt, the Prime Minister is responsible to the House for the advice he gives, but he does not come and ask the House first what advice he should give.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Member will remember that at one time when Ministers were appointed, they had to resign their seats and seek reelection. I know that that was 50 years ago, but that is, perhaps, what the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was thinking of.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Member is perfectly right. We have had a series of Acts of Parliament, first to limit that proposition and then to abolish it. Even in those days, though, the House of Commons had nothing to do with the appointment, and, indeed, the sanction of the appointment, in the days to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, was not a sanction by the House of Commons at all; it was a sanction by the electorate. That was why a Minister had to go back to seek re-election at a by-election. What we have substituted for that is the right of the House of Commons to hear an explanation from the Prime Minister why he has done what he has done. But he has to do it first.
To suggest that the Prime Minister is acting unconstitutionally in advising the Queen to appoint Ministers and then coming to the House of Commons with a Bill and giving the House of Commons its traditional right to control the finance involved—to call that unconstitutional—is to put the constitution of this country upside down. It is complete and utter nonsense. If we are now say, having got a Bill in front of us, that the House of Commons is within its rights in rejecting it, in order to express its disapproval of what the Prime Minister has done, there is nothing wrong with that; but the House of Commons has that opportunity, and I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirrall is not going to take that opportunity, or advise his hon. and right hon. Friends to do so, either.
689 What was the situation in which the Prime Minister was placed? I think that from this point of view even hon. and right hon. Members opposite must put themselves in his shoes and not in their own. If we are considering whether my right hon. Friend was right or wrong we have to consider how he saw the situation. Granted, not everybody sees it in the same way; granted, not everybody on the other side of the House sees it in the same way; but the criterion we must apply in considering the Prime Minister exercising his functions as Prime Minister is, what he thought he was faced with and what he was trying to do with it.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East is back in his place. I never thought that he was one of the Members, of whom I have seen so many in my time in the House of Commons, who think that contribution to debate is blowing in, blowing off and blowing out. He talked about the 100 days, and I ventured to interrupt him about that. There is this analogy between the former 100 days and my right hon. Friend's 100 days: both were periods of emergency for this country. In 1815 this country was faced by 100 days of emergency. That period did not become known as the 100 days at the beginning; it became known as the 100 days when it was over, because it only lasted 100 days. In the 100 days Napoleon fought his battle at Waterloo and he lost it. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he applies the analogy of the 100 days as parallel to Napoleon's, that we were considering ourselves as parallel with Wellington—and that is perhaps a better parallel than that with that Duke of Newcastle the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind.
The 100 days which we had in mind were, granted, of a very different kind of emergency, but, still, of emergency. Whether hon. and right hon. Members opposite are prepared to admit it or not, there was a crisis. There was a continuing and developing crisis. The prosperity of which hon. and right hon. Members opposite boasted had been shown to be based upon a total inability to pay our way, which is not a definition of prosperity which has ever been accepted on this side of the House. This was a con- 690 tinuing and developing thing, and the Prime Minister had the responsibility of dealing with it. He had the right to decide how best to deal with it, and he decided that the way in which it could best be dealt with was by appointing certain Ministers, certain junior Ministers or not quite so senior Ministers, and apportioning their functions, as he decided. I defy any Member of this House, any hon. or right hon. Member, to say he had no right or that he had no duty to do exactly that.
This is what he has done, and, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we are satisfied with what he has done. We shall support him in what he has done and we shall have the greatest confidence even if it should turn out as it might turn out. For one has to take one's chance when dealing with an emergency. One has to take a chance that what one does may turn out to be wrong, but that does not justify one in not doing it. One does one's best in arriving at an honest judgment, hoping it will turn out to be right, while recognising that it may turn out, in the event, to be wrong, and determined, with equal responsibility, if it should turn out not to be right, to change it. It would not be a reason for holding back, for letting a crisis go on developing, leaving the country to complete bankruptcy, leaving us with no future at all, that at the very beginning one had some doubt at the back of one's mind that what one proposed was right and might turn out to be wrong—that the appointments of Ministers or the apportioning of functions was wrong.
If hon. Members want to raise detailed questions, certainly let them do it in Committee, but it is certainly not a reason to invite the House—and nobody has invited the House—to reject the Second Reading of the Bill. I remember what was said by both right hon. and learned Gentlemen the Members for Wirral and Hertfordshire, East about myself. I am too old a dog to learn new tricks. Whatever I have done, whether good or bad or indifferent, throughout the years I have been here, I suppose I am likely to go on doing. One of them has been the exercise of a claim to independent judgment and independent action.
I am not proposing to abdicate from that. I am not proposing to act in any 691 way differently, but I regard myself, as I think all hon. Members on this side regard themselves, as, in the first place, pledged to support the Government on whose behalf we were elected, and secondly, as owing an obligation to them to exercise honest, original and independent judgment from day to day as their policy develops and its results show themselves. For the moment I am quite satisfied, and I am sure there is no hon. Member on either side who is not satisfied, that the Bill ought to be given the Second Reading which my right hon. and learned Friend has moved.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) on two of his statements. I think it very dangerous to base argument in this House upon history, and I think it also very dangerous to be over-ready to be aware of great constitutional principles.
My experience and my judgment of other people is that those who are unduly preoccupied with their idealisms and superiorities to mere politics often end by being the nastiest, and those who continually spot great constitutional principles in what are mere matters of convenience are frequently the worst bores. But this Second Reading debate takes one in that direction, and I shall come back to that in a moment.
First, I propose to say a few words about the Attorney-General's speech. Like others, however, I should begin by offering my congratulations to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, though I cannot do so at all fulsomely without running the risk of self-congratulation. It is always an amazement to me that those who owe their intellectual eminence to my teaching should also continue to be so invincibly ignorant.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's exposition of the Bill, and still more his exposition of the Statute, which is so much more important, was praised by the hon. Member for—I was going to say Wellington and Waterloo—Nelson and Colne for its lucidity. I dare say it was lucid to an accomplished lawyer. I have been a student at the Temple for nearly 50 years, but have not yet passed the finals, so I have not that qualification.
692 I think that one of the proper criticisms of the Bill and of the way in which it has been introduced is that we have had very little time in which to study it. Given two or three days, especially if I had the assistance of one or two competent lawyers, I should have backed myself to have understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whether I agreed with him or not. But a Bill of this complication, the background of which is so extensive and so deep, requires a great deal more study than any of us here, I make bold to say, except no doubt the Attorney-General, has given it.
It is a very long story. It goes back far further than the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. It did not begin with Queen Anne. On the advice of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne I am not going back even that far, but only to Mr. Malcolm McDonald who was sent to Canada by Mr. Churchill in, I think it was, 1941, and he refused to give up his seat, and so it became necessary for the Prime Minister to pass a special Statute to make that possible. That is really the beginning of the modern history of this matter.
I take some interest in it, because, with excessive boldness and habitual and complete ineffectiveness, I opposed Mr. Churchill and his Bill, but I had a little effect in that I received the promise of a Select Committee to consider the matter. That was the Herbert Committee, and there was a Report, and a draft bill, and then the Spens Committee, and so on and finally we had the Statute of 1957.
I recite so much history to remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman how much trouble many people took. Both those Select Committees sat for a long time, and took an immense amount of trouble, and gave an immense amount of trouble to witnesses, so called. That was done to try to make the thing understandable and fair, and we thought we had succeeded in doing that. We were complimented on having done so by no less an expert that the present Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary—unlike the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and some others—thought that the Bill which has now become the 1957 Act—was extremely important. Indeed, he thought it was revolutionary. If that Bill was 693 important and revolutionary, any great and sudden change in the understanding of that Statute must be a considerable constitutional question.
The reason why it is considerable is plain. It has been generally assumed, and once or twice expressed in this debate. There is no English constitution. If anyone likes, there never was. It is written, in spite of the fact that people are always saying that it is not, on heaven knows how many thousands of bits of paper, and nobody agrees even about which classes of documents they are, and so on. And British law—and here I will accept correction from anybody who knows better—is very unusual, if not unique, in making no distinction between constutional matters and matters of relation between subjects, or between subjects and the Government, civil or criminal.
What is left to us after a constitution are the rules of procedure of this House and, with respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to try to bluff the House out of activity by beginning with asserting that the Bill is not a constitutional matter, but a technical one, shows a complete misunderstanding of the situation which he has to face. It is precisely because it is so technical that it has the constitutional importance that it has.
I do not propose to take the right hon. and learned Gentleman on on the technique. I should be delighted to do so at any time. I do not think that before the House it is possible to dispute with a lawyer, and in this place a uniquely authoritative lawyer, a Bill of this sort. To prepare oneself for it would mean reading all the Select Committee Reports and the debates on that Statute and many, others. There is something which no private Member, in the time since this Bill was published, could possibly have done, unless he was going to give up doing all the other things which he ought to have done.
What I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is what seems to me to be the gist of what has happened. Whatever the difficulties in spite of all the arithmetic and all the legalisms parodying themselves into chicane, when it boils down, before this Bill was published, was there anyone who thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's exposition 694 of the Statute this afternoon was anything like right? Had any Minister acted in advance of the speech on that exposition? Had anybody ever thought that the Statute meant what we were told this afternoon it meant, until after this had been drafted, and presumably the Law Officers had been consulted and had said, "We have a majority of two and we can get away with it. Everybody will be bored with it. These constitutional matters do not very much excite, and anyone who is not frightfully dull will be scolded out of the House by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne for levity, and anybody who is frightfully dull will drive everybody else out, and it will be fairly safe."
I am sorry that I do not have a Liberal audience. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is one in front of you."] I am sorry; his kilt deceived me. I want to return to what was said by the Leader of the Liberal Party about the difficulty over the office of Minister of State. Procedure, decency, and the relations between this House and Ministers is all that remains of the constitution. In his remarks about Ministers of State the right hon. and learned Gentleman was mistaken in at least one respect. Here I speak boldly. He was wrong when he put them into the same category as Secretaries of State. There is a great difference between the two. Every Secretary of State is every other Secretary of State. It is one office. Half the point about it is that every Secretary of State can do what any other Secretary of State could do. It is the oldest traditional office in this country which in the main, and on the whole, is still the office it was when it began. We can have as many Secretaries of State as we like.
But the Minister of State is a different creature. He was brought into existence in order to enable Lord Beaverbrook to enter the Government without sinking to the level of Under-Secretary. We have to face the difficulty of the "unpaid Minister of State". The whole of the case of the Government hangs on this point. Here I speak modestly, I may be quite wrong, the words may not mean what they say, but in the ordinary use of language there is a dilemma about the Minister of State. I will not bother the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the House again with finding the place in the 695 Act, but the exact words defining a Minister of State, near enough, contain only one positive qualification. He must not be a senior Minister, and he must not be a Parliamentary Secretary. He must be appointed at a salary.
§ The Attorney-General
Within the definition of Section 13 of the 1957 Act a Parliamentary Secretary could, for the purpose of that Act, be a Minister of State, in that he has no charge of a public department. A Minister of State meansa member of Her Majesty's Government …appointed at a salary, who neither has charge of any public department nor holds any other of the offices specified in the Second Schedule to this Act.So he could be a Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I was saying, there are two negatives: he must not be one of two sorts of Minister, and he must be appointed at a salary. I need hardly instruct the House that an office of profit does not necessarily bring any actual salary. An office of profit may be something which will necessarily land its holder in a loss, although it may still be an office of profit.
There is a further complication, and an odd one. When Lord Hugh Cecil wanted to leave the House he applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, or the stewardship of something or other, but in his case it was held, for some odd reason, that that was an office of profit, and that he had to apply for the other one as well. An office of profit is not an expression that is easily played with. But if a person is appointed at a salary. must not he be appointed to an office of profit? Is there any way round that? On the other hand, if he is appointed "at a salary", does not that mean that he will get a salary? These Ministers of State—I do not know who they are; for argument I will call them Tom, Dick and Harry, and regard them as, so to speak, the illegitimate ones—do not have a salary. They are patriotically waiving a salary. We know the difficulty that the Attorney-General is in—that he must be very well paid if he is to come here at all. But these Ministers of State have contracted out of that.
Are they Ministers of State? They have not got the only positive qualifica- 696 tion which the Statute lays down for them. If they are not Ministers of State, what becomes of anything and everything that they have done since they have purported so to be? Why is the Bill drafted in the language in which it is drafted? Why are they there? Why are they in the lists of HANSARD? It may be that there is a complete fallacy in my argument. All I am saying is that if the Bill had been as clearly and completely expounded to us as we were assured it was from below the Gangway, I should not have asked these questions, or, if I had asked them, I should have been laughed out of the place long ago. So there must be something in it.
That is the main thing that I wanted to say. I have listened with attention and treated with consideration the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, but he will forgive me if I instruct him on one point. It is a thing of which we can properly boast. It is unique in history, so far as I know. The Serbs use the day of their great defeat as their annual anniversary—as their glory day. The English, by mere universal habit, use the day on which they conquered the world as a synonym of defeat, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne ought to get that clearly into his consciousness.
A small thing. I agree with the one or two people who are against paying the Opposition Chief Whip. I was against paying the Leader of the Opposition, and I am certainly against paying the Opposition Chief Whip. It is an absurdity, and although a little absurdity in the conduct of life, and particularly political life, is a great thing, there is a critical point, just as there is a critical point beyond which one ought not to go with the number of Ministers in the House of Commons. That critical point was passed long ago, and is now almost infinitely surpassed by what is being done, in both respects.
There is another point which should be considered—and here I would like to have the Attorney-General's attention. I am not complaining, but I want to say something special to him. If we agree that we do not distinguish between a constitutional reform and any little reform, ought not we to be specially careful about the way we do anything to those things which, in common parlance, are constitutional? Ought not we to be careful to avoid retrospection?—a horrible thing 697 at best. We have all got into the habit of it, because we have been persuaded now and again that it is necessary in order to catch tax dodgers. But ought not we to be careful to avoid anything that looks in the least like retrospection in these matters?
Ought not we to be careful to see that there are ample opportunities, for all those who will be asked to vote for or against such a thing, to obtain a thorough knowledge of it? Ought not we to be careful about votes? The hon. Member for Islington, East (Sir Eric Fletcher) will remember that the Clerk—not the present one, but his predecessor—distinguished between what he called "the custom of the House" and "a rule of custom of the House". He thought that the first was what a gentleman followed, and that if a person was found not to have followed it it was like being convicted of not being an officer and a gentleman and at a brigade court-martial.
Who is quite sure that everybody now sitting in this House is qualified so to sit and vote? Who is quite sure of that? We abolished the common informer. I was "agin" that at the time. I always regarded him as probably an unpleasant chap but as a relic of democracy, the real old democracy—names out of hats and so on. We abolished him, and chaps like me who did not want to were paid off by being given—Clause 7, is it? about the Privy Council. I do not suppose that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has consulted the Privy Council. I am not quite clear how he could. The procedure is rather odd, you have to consult the Privy Council (a) by objecting and (b) by putting down £200 and chaps on that side, it has been intimated, cannot be expected to put down £200.
So I do not know how he could have done. Ought not something of the sort to be done? Ought we not to consider something of the sort being done? Perhaps, above all, when the matter which is coming up for decision is coming up for decision in a House when the parties are almost exactly equally divided and where there are some hon. Members of this House—if they are Members of this House—of whom it is not wholly unreasonable to question whether they are Members or not.
698 So far as I can understand it, the only procedure open to anyone who has not gone to the Privy Council is to go "chi-iking" after a Division, saying, "I don't think that Tom is a Member at all, I think that Tom holds one office too many", and so far as I can understand such things, Mr. Speaker would rule. I suppose it could be done. I suppose it might be worth trying; I will think it out. But I think we ought to be told at some stage in the debate who are the Ministers either of State or other—three of them we know—who are not being paid. I think we ought to know which offices, or which non-offices so to speak, are held, and presumably enjoyed, by which hon. Members—
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
If hon. Members cheer, I shall go on. There is a great deal more that I might say than I have said already, and some of it more amusing, but having sat here since three o'clock, and being ready for a drink, despite the hon. Gentleman opposite. I will now sit down; and the hon—oh he has gone from the Chamber. I beg hon. Members to tell the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that he is not to say that I was not serious, because I was obviously being funny. Serious men are always funny. It is solemn men who have to be dull.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
Like hon. and right hon. Friends before me, I wish to begin by offering personal congratulations to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. I am afraid that I also, like them, have to follow that by expressing regret that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have described this Bill as being a purely technical Bill and gone on to deal with it in terms which were purely technical. There is a highly technical aspect of the Bill and I do not challenge that. The highly technical aspect is the means by which the Prime Minister has managed to appoint 81—I notice that it is 81 and not 87—hon. Members of 699 this House to Ministerial office, yet, at the same time, avoid the consequences—if he has done so, which I doubt of—Section 2 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957. It is a highly technical and important matter, but I venture to suggest that it is wrong to allow these technicalities—even more wrong to use them—to obscure the questions of principle which I hope to satisfy the House certainly do arise here.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) started his contribution by saying that this had been a curious debate. I am bound to say I do not think that it became any less curious as the result of his contribution. It was curious, indeed, to find a self-appointed defender of the rights of the House of Commons seeking to obscure the points of principle which certainly arise in this Bill by ridiculing the contributions of previous speakers. I wish to start by suggesting, as I have already said, that it is wrong to allow either technicality or ridicule—much less to use them—to obscure the questions of principle which undoubtedly arise here.
I wish to put this in as unlawyer-like language as I can, because there is a danger that this debate may come to be regarded as a lawyer's argument, and it is no such thing. It is an argument of great interest to all the people of this country. Unfortunately. it raises points which, on the whole, only lawyers can understand—if they can understand them—and it is the duty of hon. Members of this House who are lawyers to try to put the matter as simply as possible so that there is some chance that others may be assisted in seeing what are the points of principle.
I suggest that the points of principle are these. The first principle involved is that of maintaining a balance between the Executive, on the one hand, and the House of Commons on the other. The second principle is as to the propriety of any Government using technical means, such as have been used here, to avoid or to circumvent a situation which is inconvenient to them. The answer on both of those involves questions of judgment, but that does not alter the fact that they are principles on which we should bring our judgment to bear. The one thing we should not 700 allow in this debate is for those principles just to be pushed on one side. Because I think those principles are important, and because I think it is important that not only hon. Members of this House—and most especially not only lawyers—should understand them, that I propose to try to put them in the simplest possible language and to put my propositions on them in the simplest unlawyer-like terms.
I think that the starting point must be this. It appears to be generally recognised that there must be—there should be and there must be—a limit on the number of Ministers who sit in this House. Certainly during the debate on the Address in another place the Lord Chancellor indicated that that was his view, when he said that we are not quarrelling about whether or not there should be a limit but about what the limit should be. Indeed this Bill pays lip service—I hope that I shall go some way to pointing out that it is just paying lip service—to that principle in its terms, because it preserves a limit.
The right hon. and learned Attorney-General has also accepted that there should be a limit, but he stopped there. Surely, when this House is considering whether that limit should be raised or not, which is what this Bill does—if if goes through in its present form it raises that limit very significantly—it is necessary for this House and the people in the country to apply their minds to the Question whether that increase in the number is both acceptable and justifiable. Before one can even consider either, one must go right back to first principles and really ask these two simple questions. Why do we have Ministers in the House at all? Accepting that we are to have them, why do we have a limit on the number? These two questions and the answers to them go to the root of the matter. I suggest that we cannot begin to consider what is the appropriate limit without first asking ourselves those questions and then answering them.
The answer to the first question is quite simple. It is that some Ministers should be in the House of Commons in order that the House of Commons can exercise control over the Executive. This is the way our Constitution works. Why then have a limit on them? It is because if we 701 do not have a limit on the number, we may slip into the paradoxical situation where the Executive may get such strength in the House of Commons that it will itself exercise undue control over the very people who are supposed to be there to control it.
Our whole system depends upon preserving this balance. Indeed, that is our system, that there should be a balance between these two essential requirements. That is why I suggest to the House that, in seeking to alter the balance by increasing the number from 70 to 91, the Bill is going far beyond its Short Title, which would lead one to believe that it was just dealing with machinery when it is, in fact, raising and encroaching upon an important question of principle. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will face up to that.
In the Bill we are dealing first with the number of Ministers who can be justified as part of the Administration. That is one question. The second is the question of how many of them can sit and vote in the House. This leads to the important question, in my view, and the one which must be answered before we can let the Bill through on to the Statute Book—how can the Government justify increasing from 70 to 91 the number of Ministers in the House, when one has only to look quite superficially at the position to see what an immense increase in the power of the House this would give to the Executive?
I think it was the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne who said that there might be another occasion when there was a bigger majority. I think that that is quite likely—though not in the sense he intended—and quite soon, too. We must take the position as we find it, and even if 91 might be conceivably acceptable, which I do not admit, in a House with a far bigger majority for the Government, how can it be in the present situation? One has only to look at how it works out. At the moment with 70 Ministers and, say, 50 P.P.Ss., that would be a total of 120 under the influence of the Executive, leaving 197 who are not. Increasing the number of Ministers to 91, and say 31 of them do not have P.P.Ss., one has to add another 60. One has not The Times figure of 130 but a figure of 151, leaving only 166 not in some way directly connected with the Government. 702 If one takes out the Chairmen of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means, and so on, one very soon finds that there may be more Members on the Government benches who are in the Executive or are directly connected with it than who are not.
I suggest that this is not something which is to be fobbed off; this is a serious change in the balance. It might conceivably be justified in certain circumstances, but in this debate we have had no attempt to justify it at all.
One hon. Member tried to push the question of patronage into the background. Most of us, even those of us who have not been here very long, have been here long enough to be surprised that any Member on the benches opposite should put forward such a proposition. It is no good trying to push it to one side. Whether intentionally or not this must of necessity increase the patronage at the disposal of the Prime Minister. In view of the new rates which it is proposed to pay and the increase in the number of jobs, it is a very significant increase indeed in the patronage directly at his disposal. All this must tend, whether it is intended or not, to give more control to the Executive over the House of Commons. That is an inescapable conclusion. It is a conclusion which requires a lot of justification, even taking the broad terms in which I have referred to it already.
But, further, I would like to refer to one question of detail for a moment. Included in this increase of 21 are six Assistant Whips, who will presumably be paid £4,250 a year, which is the £2,000 paid for their grade now, plus half the recommended increase, plus the £1,250 of their Parliamentary salary. Are these gentleman necessary for the Administration? Are they part of the Administration? I nearly used an American expression which I am sure would be out of order. Of course they are not. They are expressly and solely to assist the Executive in controlling its supporters in the House of Commons, that being the way in which the Executive exercises or tries to exercise that direct control. So this is a flagrant breach of the principle which requires the imposition of some limit on the number of Ministers in the House so as to limit the influence of the Executive over the House.
703 I suggest that it is plainly beyond doubt that there will certainly be two consequences of the new Clause 3, if passed in its present form. Those consequences would be to increase the control of the Executive, and increase it significantly, and to increase the patronage to a very grave degree. Therefore, I say again that it is something which should obviously not be done unless there is demonstrated a very good reason for it.
Why then is it being done in this case? We are left to guess this for ourselves, because no one has condescended to give particulars of why it is said to be justified. Can it then be justified on the grounds that it is necessary? One has only to postulate the question to see that it cannot. In the first place, to support that argument it is necessary to show that the appointment of these extra Ministers is necessary, and we have had no attempt to do that. Even if there were that attempt, it would still have to be shown that it is necessary that they should sit and vote in the House of Commons, and of course it is not. There are other alternatives.
There is another place where some of them can do their functions. But if the Government are too bigoted to use that alternative then it is open to them to have persons appointed who are Members of neither House, and that is but a small extension of the way in which the services of two notable ex-Europeans are already being used. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] This is not meant to be a clever comment. I thought that was the most neutral form in which to refer to them. I am not complaining here of their services being used. I refer to them on this occasion as an instance of how the services of people who are not Members of either House of Parliament may be used in the Administration.
If it is not for these reasons, what else is it? Is it to increase the control over Parliament? It is very difficult to resist the temptation to conclude that this is in fact the reason for it. The circumstances of a very narrow majority such as this make it all the more important that the Executive should have control over their own side, and in the absence of any other explanation—and we have not had one yet—it is very difficult to resist the conclusion that this is one of the reasons for it. Or is it patronage? Is it jobs for the boys, jobs for the boys on 704 whose hard work the Government rely for maintaining their slender majority? In the absence of any other explanation or justification for the increase, it is difficult to resist the temptation to conclude that there is an element of one or other, or both, of those reasons behind the Bill. I for one would need some much more convincing reason—indeed, some reason at all—to justify it before I could possibly accept this very significant increase.
That is the first question of principle and I hope that I have made my views clear about it. My second question of principle is the propriety of any Government using the highly technical means which have been used here to circumvent a situation which was not convenient to them. As recently as 20th April this year the Prime Minister, speaking to the Society of Labour Lawyers, said that the Labour movement stands for the rule of law in both the domestic and the international spheres. We have already seen what that means in international spheres. One fears that we shall rapidly see what it means in domestic spheres. It is an unpleasant state of mind which seems to lie behind all this. They find the situation inconvenient. Never mind about the law—they will find a way around the law; and if they cannot do so they will soon whitewash what they have done; they will do what they want and then get Parliament to ratify it all.
I want to say a word about the means by which that has been attempted in this case. I shall put a question to which I do not expect a spot answer even from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with great respect to him, or from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who is to wind up the debate. If this question is answered we may have a little more light on one particular aspect of this technical side of the matter.
Even if—which I do not accept—the means used are strictly within the law, I suggest that they reflect little credit on those who have used them in this case. Looking through the list of Her Majesty's Government in HANSARD I find 81 persons who are Members of Parliament and who, one would suppose at first sight, came within the terms of Section 2 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957. I think, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman in using the figure of 87 must have 705 included the six Assistant Whips, but I do not think that by any interpretation they can be called Ministers of any class until this Bill has been passed—hence my figure of 81.
It is a most complicated exercise to endeavour to work out how, and whether, the Government have managed to have 81 persons, Members of this House, who appear to come within the terms of Section 2 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, and yet, by some technical argument, do not. I hope that at some time we shall be told exactly which of the 81 are those who are said not to come within the Schedule to the Act of 1957 and why it is said that they do not then come within it by office on this occasion, not just by numbers, because it is impossible to follow this without knowing the offices and individuals concerned. Which of the 81 are said not to come within the Schedule at all, and why is it said that they do not?
That still leaves them with 61, I think. I should like to know, in respect of the remainder, of whom it is conceded that they do come within the Schedule, which are the persons who are said not to come within Part I of the Schedule and therefore not to count towards the 27. It is only if and when these questions are answered that the House can be sure that there are not people sitting and voting in the House who are not precluded from doing so under one or other parts of Section 2 of the Act of 1957.
That is the question on which I ask for information, and I wish next to comment on the means which have been used here. It appears—I hope that I correctly understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that it is the definition in Section 13(1) of the Act of 1957, which is said to save the situation, so to speak, by making honest men of those who would otherwise be in excess of the permitted numbers. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to other right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that the purpose of that definition was quite clear. It was to sweep up all Ministers of the Government who were not mentioned by name there, so as to ensure that, in fact, there never were more than 70 and that there was not an excess over 70 simply because someone was not named there.
706 If we take the wording of that definition, leaving out the salary for the moment, that must obviously have been the intention, and it seems reasonable to assume that the words "paid a salary" were put in because nobody ever envisaged that there would ever be one who was not paid a salary. That situation has been reversed, and instead of it being regarded and treated as a definition which was there to see that we do not get an excess of numbers simply because someone had not been specified, it has been used for precisely the opposite purpose. That may be clever, but it involves the Government using the kind of point which if a lawyer were to take in court would quickly be used to discredit him as a most technical point and the most unmeritorious type of point that one could take.
I return to the point at which the right hon. and learned Gentleman kindly allowed me to intervene. I refer to the question of perpetuating the definition and the situation by repeating the definition—not just saying nothing about it but expressly repeating it and bringing it into the Bill in Clause 2(4). Why is this being done? Listening to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I suspected that he would say that it would be wrong for there to be a loophole perpetually—that if the Prime Minister were to appoint another 20 Ministers in six months' time and then say, "We are dealing with this under the same loophole and then we will have another Bill to whitewash them", this would not be thought a very creditable use of it. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, in answer to my intervention, to this as a theoretical possibility and I was about to pursue this if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had permitted me to intervene again. In fact, the point which I made is not a theoretical possibility only. It is because it is such a practical possibility that we have to have Clause 3 of the Bill. It is because it is a possibility which has, in fact, been used in the last four weeks by the Prime Minister that Clause 3 has been necessary at all.
I ask again—and I hope that I shall receive a fuller answer—why it is that this definition is left in. Is it because it is desired to maintain this loophole for use on further occasions, or is it because those who have used it are to their credit ashamed of having used it 707 and therefore do not want to close up something which will then be seen as a loophole which ought not to have been used.
§ The Attorney-General
Perhaps I may answer the question. The reason why it is has been retained in the Bill is that, curiously enough, the definition Section in the 1957 Act, Section 13, referring to a Minister of State as a member of the Government "appointed at a salary" is the only statutory basis for paying a salary to the Minister of State. That is the only reason why we have retained it. All I can say is that we promise to look at it again to see whether we can retain the statutory provision for the payment of salaries to Ministers of State while we remove the mischief, which we agree is a mischief, of giving power to the Prime Minister to appoint any number of Ministers of State as long as he does not pay them.
§ Mr. Percival
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think that he has come very near to accepting what I was about to say—that the whole definition of a Minister of State is thoroughly unsatisfactory. It starts by referring toa Member of Her Majesty's Government".I have spent a good deal of two days trying to find what is the definition ofa Member of Her Majesty's Governmentand the nearest I got to it was from Sir Ivor Jennings who describes the administration asa heterogeneous collection of ministers, officers and authorities exercising a mass of apparently unrelated miscellaneous functions".While I do not quarrel with that as a description of the present Administration, I do not think that it is useful as a definition. The point I am making could easily be cured by substituting another definition of a Minister of State.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that a homogeneous mass would be an improper definition to apply to the present Administration?
§ Mr. Percival
It is not difficult to think of many descriptions which would be wholly apt, but I will not follow the point. These are just two of the reasons why I say that the Bill in its present 708 form is quite unacceptable to me and to so many of my hon. and right hon. Friends.
At a Press luncheon yesterday I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the First Secretary of State stated the obvious when he said, in effect, that it was almost inevitable that a Government doing so much in such a hurry must make some mistakes. I hope that following this debate this Bill will be accepted as being, at least in very substantial respects, one of those mistakes and that, if the Bill gets a Second Reading there will be very substantial Amendments to deal with the two questions of principle which I have raised.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), I look very critically at the Bill. I want, first, to raise a point which has not so far been touched upon and which bears upon the conduct of the Government in dealing with the Bill. For some considerable time this afternoon I had assumed that the Attorney-General would be the Minister who was winding up, in spite of the fact that he assisted us considerably at the start of the debate, and I assumed that he would ask your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak again. But I am assuming, and I should be grateful if I could have an indication in some way, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is, in fact, the Minister who is to reply. I see that the Attorney-General assents.
I must say to him in all friendliness across the Floor of the House that there are very few Ministers who are more personally liked here. But, as I recorded it, he left the House—I hope that I am being accurate—during the speech of the Attorney-General. He actually returned to it at 6.32 p.m., because I kept a careful note of the time, and he was not even here when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) made his speech. He was not here for a very substantial number of contributions from both sides of the House, and frankly—I have been watching—he has bean busily doing his homework for the last hour and he must be thankful that there are still hon. Members speaking.
709 I say quite frankly—I trust that the Leader of the House will listen to this as well—that that is not the way to treat the House, and that when Ministers are to wind up on matters of this sort they are expected to listen to the greater part—they cannot possibly listen to all—of the arguments which are being deployed. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman has been doing. I know that there are Cabinet Committees and other matters, and that there are problems in the sphere of his influence and that he is coping with back bench revolts, and so on, on his side and that there are troubles for him, but I say that it is not dealing with an important matter with the respect which it deserves for a Minister to leave for so substantial a part of the debate. I wish to make my complaint.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Houghton)
The hon. Gentleman is making very heavy weather of this. Perhaps he will permit me to say that I was called away to a Cabinet Committee meeting at five o'clock. I gave notice to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), apologising to him for my absence of somewhat over an hour on important business. I can only say that in these exciting 100 days we still have not solved the problem of how to be in two places at once, but I hope to reply to the debate adequately in due time.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that is an adequate excuse he must be told bluntly that it is nothing of the sort. I recall the days when I myself was the lowest of all worms —a Parliamentary Private Secretary—and I well remember my then master having the greatest possible difficulty in being in two places at once conducting business. But Conservative Ministers managed it and Labour ones must learn how to do it. The first requirement in this House is that Ministers are responsible to this House. That is the point and it is particularly important when we are discussing a Bill dealing with the machinery of government. I can quite understand that some hon. Members opposite do not care for that point being raised.
The first of three brief points that I want to make is on the question which, inevitably, has already been touched upon—the back-dating of the measures 710 contained in at least part of the Bill. The combined effect of Clause 1 and of the First Schedule, as has been said, legitimises three Ministers. We had one of them with us a moment ago, but I shall not refer to him now. That is the combined effect. I thought that the Attorney-General treated a shade too lightly the very solid points raised on this side of the House about the farce which it makes of the creation of a Ministry when it is already in operation, when its Minister has, I understand. already taken the oath and when its Secretary, and so on, have already been appointed.
As I understand it—I hope that this is right—there is no precedent for this and this is treating the House in a very cavalier fashion. It is not met by the ingenious argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)—in his unaccustomed role of supporting the Government; and as yet he does not seem to do that with any great assurance—that this argument was in some way the House trying to impinge upon the right of a Prime Minister to recommend to the Sovereign the name of a Minister for appointment.
Of course, we all understand that that is the right of a Prime Minister for the time being. What the Bill is doing, and what the Act will do if the Bill is given a Third Reading, is to set up two new Ministries and as set out in the First Schedule what effects should follow. I should like to ask from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply upon what date will the Bill come into operation, assuming that it is given a Third Reading in this House? I am not asking for an exact physical date, because that as I realise he cannot give me. There is no date stated. Am I, therefore, right in assuming—and I think that there is precedent for this—that where a Statute contains no express provision as to the date of coming into operation then its commencement date is the date endorsed on it as the date upon which it receives the Royal Assent? If that view is right—and I believe that a precedent can be produced for it—the Bill comes into effect on the date that it receives the Royal Assent.
Despite this, for some weeks, possibly months, before that happens the Minister 711 of Land and all the rest of his title, for example, will have been issuing certificates. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 expressly states:A certificate signed by the Minister that any instrument purporting to be made or issued by him was so made or issued shall be conclusive evidence of that fact".He will have been issuing these certificates and persons will have been acting upon them, no doubt in good faith—yet the whole of that time the Minister will, to use the jargon of this debate, have been, in the Ministerial sense, illegitimate. For all anybody knows this House, in its wisdom, may decide radically to alter the First Schedule when we come to examine the matter in detail. This is not a light matter to be cast aside as of absolutely no importance.
I can genuinely say that even if I found myself on the Government side of the House, with a majority overall of four—and I am sure that the House knows that it needs only a transfer of 500 votes or even less in all those cast to produce that result—I should, at least in private, and, I hope, in public as well, kick sharply at my own Front Bench if it were instituting new Ministries in this cavalier fashion.
The second point is this. Why this special provision for the salaries of Ministers of State? Why…an annual salary of such amount as the First Lord of the Treasury may determine …subject to a maximum? Why this special procedure in their case? Is it really desirable that their salaries should be dependent on the will, the decision, of the Prime Minister of the day? Is it considered that under Clause 2(1,b) the salaries so fixed by the Prime Minister could subsequently be varied? I imagine that that could be so and I can imagine a Prime Minister with a strong sense of his own importance and mission finding a Minister of State thwarting some of his ambitions and that Prime Minister exercising his right to vary that Minister's salary. I do not regard this as a particularly palatable thought, whatever the politics of the Prime Minister of the day.
I regard it as a most unhealthy situation for the Prime Minister of the day to have this right and, frankly, unless we believe in presidential government— 712 which, mercifully, most people in this country do not—just as it is important to have independently minded hon. Members of the House, so equally is it important to have a team of Ministers and junior Ministers with minds of their own within the broad ambit of the team they serve. Examples can be drawn from all parties of men who became almost obsessed with the idea of their own capabilities, men who were pulled up sharply by the team which they have led. I regard it as particularly undesirable that these Ministers should be subject to the whims of the Prime Minister of the day from the point of view of their salaries.
Thirdly, I find it surprising that more back-bench hon. Members have not kicked like mules at the monstrous proposal that Assistant Whips should be paid. It seems to have been forgotten that we already have a number of paid Government Whips. I do not complain about that. We already provide a salary for the Government Chief Whip, for five Lords Commissioners and three Members of Her Majesty's Household, a total of nine. In other words, we have nine paid Government Whips of whatever party the Government may consist.
There is now a proposal that we should extend that number by six more who, for their work as Whips alone, are to be paid 38 "quid" a week. Whips are a necessary but evil part of the organisation of politics, but they should be kept to the barest possible minimum. I feel that to load the weight in their favour by having 15 of them, all paid a salary in addition to the salary they receive for being ordinary hon. Members of the House, is giving them a preponderance and weight which is wholly out of proportion with the kind of independent back-bench Member I would like to see.
I appreciate that this is not an easy matter. Whips are not merely disciplinary prefects. They are spies, although I do not complain about that, either. They snoop about the House to get information. They are designed to pick up information and keep their ears to the ground. They are the best informed set of men—and now, horror upon horrors, women, too—that a man could find anywhere. I do not say that with any disrespect to the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Harriet Slater), but absent women qua women. 713 To be a good Whip one must be a bit bossy. Women are naturally bossy and the idea of women in large numbers in the Whip's Office fills me with absolute horror.
Now we are to strengthen that information technique, a technique of which I do not complain because this group of people need to know what is going on. Their job is to know where the rebellion is beginning and whether there are early rumblings in the background, of the Opposition or the Government alike. They must find out who are the trouble makers, from where the trouble is coming and where a certain hon. Member might be at a certain time.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
If the hon. Gentleman does not think that his Chief Whip knows where he is at any time then he is underestimating his intelligence, particularly when one considers the intelligence of the Opposition Chief Whip and the fact that he was doing his job many years before most of us arrived in the House. This is a necessary function of managing a political party in the present state of affairs. I understand this, but are we wise to extend it by this number, to have 15 of them? Are we wise to have this bigger, highly paid, highly organised full-time corps?
I have frequently made the plea to have the amateur in the House. I disagree fundamentally with the view expressed earlier that we need a group of men and women whole-time back benchers. I steadfastly maintain my own professional links and I want sufficient independence to be able to tell my Whips precisely what they may do and, if necessary, to quarrel—which I hope will never happen—with those who support me and who are largely responsible for my being here.
The general public is concerned over the greater hold on the average back bencher by the party machine. I look with criticism and hostility to the further extension of this paid group of professional Whips by £2,000 a year being given to another six of them. Although I know that it has been shrugged off—when on the Government side one is, I suppose, bound to shrug this sort of thing off—this is, nevertheless, a House of Commons matter. There should be the largest 714 possible number, consistent with efficient government, of back-bench hon. Members on both sides who are reasonably independent, certainly as independent as the workings of the party system can allow.
It is not a myth that one must add to the numbers of Ministers the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, who represent a substantial proportion of the present Government and who are directly or very closely connected with the Government machine. It is, after all, a tradition of government that Parliamentary Private Secretaries shall not speak against, and certainly shall not vote against, the Government which they are, in however junior a capacity, serving. If we add the number of these very necessary and important people, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, to the numbers of Ministers and those connected with the Bill, we have a very substantial proportion which, I believe, causes concern to thinking Members on the other side of the House just as much as it does to us.
I do not believe that the fact that we have certain numbers of these Members raises a great point of principle, and that is why, unless other views are expressed, I shall not actively vote against the principle on Second Reading. What I think is desperately important is to retain within reasonable limits the numbers operating under the Bill, and I have already illustrated some of the directions in which I hope stringent Amendments will be pressed, and carried through.
If it is the Government's intention to push the Bill through in precisely and exactly its present form, they will have a battle on their hands, but if there can be a reasonable approach to this matter—and, if I may say so, one such approach has already been partially indicated by the attempted removal of the present loophole, which I cannot think satisfies those outside the House—I have no doubt that, between us in the House of Commons, we can make this a better Bill than the little rag it is at present.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
Most of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have so far spoken have tried to defend the independence of the back benchers 715 on the Government side but, while appreciating the importance of seeing that the number of Members on the Government benches who are involved with the Executive—either as Ministers, junior Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries—should be limited, I should like to say something about the effect of this Bill on back bench Members on this side of the House, with particular regard to opportunities for putting Questions to Ministers.
One of the results of the creation of the new Administration is that there are some new Ministries designed for a new sphere of Government activity. For instance, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources will obviously perform certain duties and tasks not previously performed by previous Ministers or Departments, and, presumably, the Secretary of State for Wales will be embarking on certain activities in the Principality which will result in certain Welsh Members wanting to ask Questions about the work of his Department. We have therefore seen, as part of the creation of the new Administration, an extension of Government activities, and an extension of the number of Ministries taking part in those activities.
I should have thought it essential that when the Government decided to introduce this Bill the Leader of the House should have considered its effect on the opportunities of Members to question Ministers. We all know that in the time of the previous Government there was difficulty in getting a Question answered—many Questions were not reached—but under this Bill that position will deteriorate considerably. I would bring to the attention of the House—
§ Mr. Mendelson
Before he talks about future deterioration, would the hon. Member take note of one great improvement that has already occurred? With the previous Government we found it extremely difficult to get a Question to the Prime Minister actually answered by the Prime Minister—Questions were so often passed to other Ministers—but we have now had my right hon. Friend answering practically all the Questions put to him.
§ Mr. Walker
There are two answers to that intervention. First, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when answering Questions, answered them much better than does the present Prime Minister. Secondly, I cannot remember—nor, I am sure, can any other hon. Member remember—a day when the Prime Minister's time for answering Questions was not fully taken up—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point that if we have more Ministers the opportunities for questioning existing Ministers are to that extent diminished—I follow that to be his point—but is it not answered by the fact that we have more Ministers to question? That is to say, back benchers are not limited in their right to question the Government, but assisted in questioning the Government by having better defined Ministries.
§ Mr. Walker
I realise the anxiety the hon. Gentleman always has to come in on an argument, but if he will allow me to develop my argument he will appreciate that the problem I see as facing the House is that there are now seven Ministers down for Questions each day, and there will be a diversity of new Questions put to the Administration on spheres of Government activity that have not previously existed. We can take last week as an example. In the last Parliamentary week, only six Ministers, apart from the Prime Minister, answered Questions—only six were reached. On two days, two Ministers were reached, and on two other days only one Minister answered Questions.
Let us take one of the most important Ministries—the Foreign Office. It is unlikely that any hon. Member will be able to put a Question to the Minister from the Foreign Office until Monday, 14th December—almost exactly three months after the election of this Government—
§ Mr. Walker
I am sorry—two months. I suggest that that will be the first opportunity for back benchers to question any Minister from that Department—
§ Mr. Walker
It has not always been the case that seven Ministers have been down to answer each day. There is an increase in the number of Ministers and Ministries. In any case, I would argue that the situation under the previous Government was such that there was a very strong argument for increasing the opportunities of Members to ask Questions. I do not argue that the position before the election was a good one in that respect—the position in regard to Questions was a bad one—but I consider that it will further deteriorate as a result of this Bill—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that a great deal depends on exactly what opportunity back benchers want? They have to choose between two things: they can exercise their liberty to go on asking supplementary questions of particular Ministers, or they can limit their supplementary questions in order to allow main Questions to be asked of other Ministers. In no possible system of Parliamentary procedure can they have both.
§ Mr. Walker
I am really surprised at the hon. Gentleman being obviously so nervous of opportunities for asking more Questions. I should have thought that he would welcome that argument, because I am quite certain that in a very short space of time he will be as eager as I am to question his own side. He has always done that in the past—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not rise unless the other hon. Member gives way.
§ Mr. Walker
The first occasion that hon. Members are likely to have of putting questions to the Ministers of the new Departments—the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, the Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State for Wales—is in the week commencing 21st December. It is quite likely that the House will rise either during that week or before that week, so that none of those new Ministers will have been questioned by hon. Members during the period up to the Christmas Recess.
I suggest that this is a matter on which the Leader of the House could 718 easily have taken action. It would not be difficult to extend Question Time by another half-hour. It would not be difficult for the House to meet at 2 o'clock instead of 2.30, or even for Question Time to go on till 4 o'clock. It would be reasonable to have some Questions on a Friday, which is not our normal practice at present. It would be possible to transfer certain Scottish and Welsh Questions to the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee. There are many ways in which this matter could be tackled to give hon. Members an opportunity of putting Questions.
It is quite a common thing when a Minister wants to avoid giving a direct answer to a Question for him to say, "This matter is under consideration", and thus to avoid it for that day. If there were greater frequency in the putting of Questions one could follow that up and see whether consideration had actually been given to the matter in a short time. Under the present position, the average opportunity for putting a Question to Ministers will arise every five or six weeks when the House is sitting. The average time which a Minister will give to Questions will be eight minutes per week.
As the Government have come to this House asking for a Second Reading of this Bill which will increase the number of Ministers and Ministries, the least they should have done was to have taken into account the interest of back-bench Members and to see that those Ministers are subject to a reasonable amount of questioning by hon. Members.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
This is the first occasion on which I have to begin a brief intervention with the statement that I had no intention whatever of taking part in this debate. But this is absolutely true. It is only because of the misleading picture given by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) that I want to correct some of the things that he has said.
The hon. Member was extremely selective in the choice of dates when he told us that from the date of the election it may be two months until Foreign Office Ministers can be questioned for the first time in this Parliament. He knows full well, because he was a 719 member of the last Parliament, that the House of Commons does not meet on the day when the results of the election are declared. Therefore, it is quite irregular to start the period from 15th October.
Secondly, after the first summons there is a further delay, this time until 3rd November, for the Queen's Speech to be introduced. Beyond that it is the tradition of the House to have five days' debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, during which no Questions are taken. The hon. Member was completely wrong. First, he made a mistake by saying that it was three months and then he corrected it to two months. I have known occasions when, over a period of four or five weeks, we did not have a chance of putting Questions to Foreign Office Ministers.
§ Mr. Anthony Buck (Colchester)
Can the hon. Member explain why it has apparently not been possible for the Government to squeeze in some Ministers? Why, for instance, was it totally impossible to ask Questions of the Minister without Portfolio, who is responsible for law reform matters? Will he bear in mind that there are several Ministers who have not appeared in a position to answer Questions?
§ Mr. Mendelson
When I have finished with the hon. Member for Worcester, I shall answer the points made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). I shall answer one at a time.
What has happened was not at all dissimilar to what happened on many occasions in the last Parliament about putting Questions to the Foreign Ministry. The hon. Member for Worcester was highly selective in the choice of dates. It should not go out from the House that there has been a deterioration in this matter. He ought to have listened to the many attempts made by his own Front Bench when the Questions were put to the former Prime Minister making the point, which he has repeated, about certain Ministers not being present.
I can only repeat what was said in reply many times, that throughout the last Parliament we waited on many occasions for very important occupants of the then Government Front Bench. We 720 waited for the then Minister for Education and Science. We waited for a considerable period for the former Prime Minister himself, as he was not a Member of this House when he was first chosen by the magic circle procedure of the party opposite. That point has been answered so many times that now hon. Members opposite ought to drop it.
There have been a number of occasions in the last Parliament and others when it was not possible on certain days to reach Questions to certain Ministers. Although the hon. Member for Worcester has complained that on certain days Questions do not go beyond one or two Ministers, that has been a common experience in the last Parliament and in others.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The hon. Member nods agreement. If he agrees, the burden of his argument ought not to be that during the last three weeks, because in the Labour Government we have additional Ministers, these conditions have prevailed. He should be putting the argument that there is a general case, present at all times in recent years under whatever Government, for more time to be given for back benchers to put Questions. It would have been better if he had done that instead of making misleading remarks.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I agree that the practice in the previous Parliament was a bad one in respect of Questions. I stated that clearly. On the point of there being no deterioration, the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has quoted the example of the Foreign Office, but there is a deterioration. The deterioration is caused because the Minister of Land and Natural Resources is now to answer Questions on a Monday as well as five other Ministries whose Questions have been taken on Mondays.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The hon. Member has now admitted that the correct way of putting the case would have been by saying from the beginning, as he did not do, that there is a general case, and has been over a number of years—as the Leader of the Liberal Party pointed out in a very interesting speech—for increasing and improving the opportunities of 721 back benchers to play their part in the House. That would have been a respectable way of putting the case.
Now that we have removed a misleading impression, I wish to make some further observations. I make them in the knowledge that they have to be made by a back bencher from the Government side because they cannot be made by a member of the Government Front Bench in winding up. First, there is the peculiar tenderness which hon. Members opposite are now showing for the independence of hon. Members who support Her Majesty's Government. I cannot remember that they showed similar tenderness for the independence of hon. Members when they were sitting on this side of the House. It strikes me as rather ironical that they should now want to become the keepers of our souls. Why not leave Parliament to run for a while. leave it to hon. Members on this side of the House to show how they will tackle their responsibilities?
Why be so hasty with this immediate assumption that because some of my right hon. Friends are to be supplied with efficient Parliamentary Secretaries that will remove independence from the Government benches? The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who was Foreign Secretary in the last Government, knows much better than some hon. Members who have spoken so far that it takes more than what has happened so far to remove the spirit of independence from the benches of the Labour Party. Some hon. Members who have spoken know that very well. Let us remove that canard straightaway as No. 2 from the record as it has been attempted to make it.
I come to the relationship between the powers of the Executive and those of the House of Commons. I interrupted the Leader of the Liberal Party and said that I dissented from the view that over the years the House had progressively been made, or had become, or had allowed itself to be made, more submissive. I do not accept that view. I believe that it is a profound misunderstanding of our constitutional history and our constitutional system to assume that for many years there has not been a particularly strong position for the Executive under the British constitution.
722 The hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) is not here at the moment, but I would have referred to what he said about the written and unwritten parts of the Constitution. It has been a process which was recognised by historians many years ago that under our political system the Executive is particularly strong. It is particularly strong because of the presence of the members of the Government in Parliament. That is common ground. There has been no deterioration in the powers of Parliament in the last 50 years.
This is not often easily seen, because, naturally, government must be carried on and the supporters of the Government will not lightly undertake any action which might endanger the life of the Government. But Members of the House of Commons have many methods of making their will heard and understood by the Executive. This is a serious argument, in contrast to the two frivolous ones with which I have dealt so far. As hon. Members on both sides know, there are in every period of our political life, no matter which party is in office, many ways in which Members of Parliament make their voices heard and their wishes understood.
The Government, naturally, wish to remain in office and continue the work for which they have been elected. They find ways of conciliating the opinion of those who support them. This is natural and understandable. They have all been elected on the same ticket, as the Americans say. They have been elected on the same political programme. Naturally, they have a desire to co-operate to do the job for which they have been elected to do.
I detect a certain determination on the part of some hon. Members opposite, and, indeed, of some newspapers to begin to say, before there is any evidence whatsoever, that now that there is a Labour Government with more Ministries and lots of Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Private Secretaries, with a great number of submissive Labour Members on the Government side, we shall be ruled by a rubber stamp House of Commons and everything will be quite different from what it was in the past. This is the beginning of a hostile mythology which hon. Members opposite hope to develop and bring to fruition one day 723 by saying that under the present Prime Minister it is a one-man band Government, that it is a group led by one man dictating to all the other members of the Government who, in turn, have a submissive majority at their disposal. The conclusion of some hon. Members opposite will be not only that the Government are deteriorating, but that Parliament is deteriorating.
Hon. Members know full well that this is a lot of moonshine. The constitutional position is in no way different from what it has been for many years. What has happened so far—this is the serious purpose of the debate—is that the Government have decided to do a number of jobs. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister demanded again and again when we were in opposition that these jobs should be done. I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite are sensitive about the appointment of a Minister to deal with the land problem. I am not surprised that they are highly sensitive about the intention of the Government to do something about the racket which has developed in land speculation and in the buying and selling of land. During all the years we were in opposition we said that these jobs needed doing. It would have been irresponsible of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not to have followed words by deeds, because he put these plans and ideas to the electorate time and again, not only during the election campaign, not only when he was Leader of the Opposition, but even before that when he was the Opposition spokesman on economic and financial affairs.
An honest examination of the record over recent years shows that there is not a single appointment which is not designed to meet a particular need. We can all have a lot of fun talking about particular Ministers who happen to share a Ministry. This is legitimate and I do not mind it, as long as it is not elevated into a serious discussion. In the last few weeks my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made a great impression in the country by virtue of the fact that he was prepared to put his plans and ideas into effect and was ready within the first seven days to appoint the Ministers to do these jobs. Many independent newspapers have commented that there was no delay between the election campaign and 724 the start of work There was no delay between pointing out to the country what was necessary and doing it.
This is what hon. Members opposite do not like. They would have preferred a Government who did not know what they were doing and who showed that they did not know what they were doing. Hon. Members opposite do not like the excellence and efficiency with which my right hon. Friend from the start has undertaken the job of Prime Minister. There are many people today who are even more convinced than they were during the election campaign that they have chosen the right party, that the right party is led by the right man, and that they will do the job in the right way.
This is all that the debate is about. Additional evidence, if any were needed, is the decision of the Opposition on the Bill. If the former Foreign Secretary and his colleagues were seriously convinced that the Bill would do harm to the Constitution, they would not have allowed so many of their colleagues to go home this afternoon. They would have kept them here and done something about it. They did no such thing, because the leadership of the Opposition has no intention to go out on a limb and talk the nonsense that some of its back-bench supporters have talked this afternoon.
I have made these three limited observations because I thought that the record should not be allowed to remain as misleading as it was after the interventions of some back-benchers opposite. The power of Parliament and of ordinary Members of Parliament is the guarantee of our political freedom. About that there is common ground on both sides. We do not help to strengthen and maintain the power of ordinary Members of Parliament by advancing freak arguments merely for partisan purposes.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
We welcome the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), because it was an eloquent, if rare, example of someone on the Government Benches supporting this increase in the number of Ministers and their remuneration. I would have preferred to have seen no proliferation of Ministries. If certain subjects require urgent and special attention, I should prefer to see it done within existing Departments by the employment 725 of Ministers of State or Parliamentary Secretaries with specialised duties. This would have avoided the danger of departmental friction and delay which are bound to be increased by having extra Departments.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) drew attention to the awkwardness of a three-legged race if two Departments were concerned with a topic. He instanced the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the new Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Reflecting on his remarks, I was put in mind of the far greater horror of the four-legged race. I do not know whether any hon. Members have had to take part in such an exercise, but for anyone who happens to be the centre of the three characters it is absolute misery. In any subject dealing with land I would hope that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be very closely concerned and consulted. In the example that my right hon. and learned Friend cited, if it was a matter to do with land the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources would all be engaged on some particular problem. That does not seem to me to make for the rapid formulation and execution of policy and the obtaining of quick and satisfactory decisions.
The main point that I was interested in—it may be a minor point, although curiously a great many Members have referred to it this afternoon—is the proposal in the Bill to pay Assistant Whips up to the number of six. Incidentally, I believe that this is the first time that there has been any proposal to pay a Whip as a Whip. He has nearly always been paid, and today is paid, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, as an officer of the Royal Household or as a junior Lord of the Treasury and the salary is, strictly speaking, attached to one's duties which, although not onerous, are nevertheless very real. I am left wondering whether it is desirable to have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) pointed out, a list of 15 paid Whips—a Chief Whip, three Household Whips, five junior Lords of the Treasury and now another six.
726 I know that it is customary to describe Whips in rather pejorative terms. Even the Attorney-General could say no more than that their duties were onerous, if not universally acclaimed. That was high praise, and I must say that I joined issue a little with my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham when he described us as, at best, a necessary evil. I am afraid I speak to the House as an ex-necessary evil at this moment. In hearing me the House may reflect on one of the good reasons which animate Prime Ministers in appointing Members as Whips. It is a good way of getting rid of some of the bores. I think my hon. Friend went too far when he concentrated on calling us Whips, spies and snoopers and said that it was necessary to be bossy. I would prefer to describe that rôle essentially as being a liaison officer with a two-way traffic in information and in ideas.
My hon. Friend was less than fair to himself and to his colleagues if he supposed that all the suggestions—I put it no higher than that—went downwards to them. I think I can persuade him that a good deal of what he and his fellow back benchers—I am sure it happens on the other side of the House —think and say is transmitted by liaison officers to the Executive.
It is impossible to run this House of Commons without having a large number of people—I do not query the numbers—as Whips, because a great many duties have to be performed, and one of the problems is to assist Members to get out of the very difficulty to which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster himself referred, of deciding how best not to be in two places at once and deciding where the priority lies.
It is, however, quite a different thing to suggest that all Whips must be paid. I think it must remain a matter of judgment for the Prime Minister in this case to decide whether or not he can get the number of Whips that he requires with or without payment. But I hope that it would be possible for a back bencher, if he wishes, to continue to act as an unpaid junior Whip. I think there are reasons for this which certainly are not general but they will affect a limited number of Members who might be minded to take on that job.
727 If one becomes a junior unpaid Assistant Whip, one is not obliged forthwith to sever all one's connections or work outside. One's duties in the House are limited in scope and to some extent in time. Therefore, such a person is able, if he wishes, to continue some other activities, provided there is no political content in them, until the time—it usually happens in about 18 months or two years—when, by the natural turnover of personnel, he moves up and becomes a junior Lord of the Treasury. As soon as that happens, and he is paid, of course, he has to sever all outside connections and resign from any other work which he may be doing. He becomes a whole-time professional.
But I think that the intervening phase is a good one because it enables a Member to decide whether or not he wishes to move from the back benches and to become progressively more associated with government. Yet having no departmental duties, a junior Assistant Whip is not swallowed up in a Department and kept busy morning, noon and night. He is very busy while the House is sitting, but there are no duties in the Recess. There is nothing to do particularly at weekends and, unless he is concerned with Standing Committees or is a more senior Whip, he can probably find time in the mornings to attend to other things.
Therefore, I should like it to be possible to preserve this process of graduation from being a back bencher to being a wholly committed Minister of the Government, and I would hope that the Chanceller of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he winds up the debate, will be able to tell me—because I cannot interpret the Bill with sufficient skill—whether it would be possible for a Prime Minister, if he wished, to appoint a junior unpaid Whip, assuming that he had not already got six paid Assistant Whips. In other words, is it possible to reserve the option of an Assistant Whip remaining an amateur if he wishes to do so?
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
It had not been my intention to intervene in the debate, because I have always taken the view that it is preferable that one should have attended throughout the debate and that unless one had done so one should not intervene. I am, however, encouraged to make this intervene- 728 tion by the fact that I was present for the opening speeches from both Front Benches and I was here for the tour de force of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith); but although I was present for all that time, for the majority of the time the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, I understand, is to reply Ito the debate for the Government, has not been present. I understand that reasons for his absence have been given, but in my view this is a precedent which hon. Members, on either side of the House, should not tolerate and whatever may be his other commitments anybody who is to wind up a debate should be present. Bearing that in mind, I am encouraged to make a short intervention concerning the Measure which is now before the House.
As I see it, the Machinery of Government Bill is a bad Bill. It starts off the early days of this Parliament in a way which is very undesirable and which causes us great disappointment, especially as almost the concluding words of the Gracious Speech were a statement that in taking certain measures the Governmentwill be acting in the spirit which has always animated Parliament, whose seven hundredth anniversary will be recorded in this Session.That statement towards the end of the Gracious Speech certainly gave us on this side of the House great hope that the Government's actions would be animated throughout by that spirit of Parliament.
In my view, today's Bill and the way in which it has been brought in do not live up to the spirit which has animated Parliament. The Bill deals with basic constitutional issues and with the fundamental machinery of government. As was pointed out in the opening speech from this side of the House, these should be matters which are decided between the parties in a non-partisan atmosphere. It is gravely disturbing to back benchers—I imagine, on both sides—that this Measure, which so vastly increases the number of Ministers who can sit in this House, is being brought in in this way without consultation. It is a great disappointment especially in view of what was said in the Gracious Speech.
The Gracious Speech referred to the spirit which has activated Parliament for 729 so many years, yet within a few hours we had from the Prime Minister a speech which went against that spirit and then, within a few weeks, we have had brought in a Measure which is retrospective in action and which goes against the whole of that Parliamentary spirit. It is something that the House of Commons should not let pass without much comment from, I would have hoped, both sides of the House.
We should have had more speeches from hon. Members opposite. Even the few who remain on the back benches opposite should not have allowed the Bill to come about in this way. I should have expected to have at least one voice raised from the back benches opposite saying that the whole of those benches, or a vast proportion of them, should not be occupied by people who have a place on the Front Bench or as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I should have expected hon. Members to act in a Parliamentary spirit to raise that sort of point from the benches opposite. It shows the power that the Prime Minister has over his side of the House at this point in time that hardly a voice is raised from that side concerning this Measure.
The Bill disturbs us considerably, especially because the whole manœuvre—the almost sordid manœuvre—of increasing the number of Ministries before Parliament has given its sanction could, by the Bill as drafted, be gone through again. I am, however, reassured to have heard that there is at least a possibility that the Government will consider Amendments which may alter the definition in Clause 4(4), which provides that the definition of "Minister of State" shall be the same as the meaning applied to it in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957. This major fault in the Bill may, I understand, be put right. One hopes that it will be.
Furthermore, there are the vitally important constitutional questions that were raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) in his able opening of the debate from this side of the House. I hope that we shall be given direct answers to his questions. What has been going on? Have the Ministers taken the oath of allegiance? Have they appointed their staffs? If so, under what 730 authority? It is no light matter that just because of what the Prime Minister says, Ministries should be set up in defiance, as I see it, of existing legislation and that staffs should be employed and paid. This would seem to flaunt the whole of the Parliamentary spirit which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
This is a bad Bill. It is one which we shall seek to amend substantially and one which, unless it is amended substantially, should certainly not receive the approval of this House.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I should like to make one or two points—two, in particular—arising out of what has been said tonight. First, on the basis of what has been discussed, I think that the decision underlying the Bill is much bigger than many of us appear to appreciate. Secondly, there does not appear to have been any real attempt to put forward a positive reason why these changes should be made. The only reason which has been given is that the Government, being new, dynamic and aggressive, have a great deal of work to do. I do not accept that as being the real reason.
There are, in my view, three main reasons. The first is that the Government want to give the impression of real urgency and feel that the best way to do this is to create names, ideas, concepts and things which they want to do. Having fixed on a problem, they therefore set up a new Ministry. The point that worries me is that in attempting to do this the Government will thwart what they are trying to do. By creating new Ministries and problems of demarcation between Ministries they may hold up the solution of many of the problems which were being solved or which they are hoping to solve.
A second reason why these changes are being made is that we are just out of an election campaign, when many main problems were discussed. In the past, perhaps, the way to try to solve a problem when a major question arose was to promise to investigate it. The second stage was to promise to set up a committee of inquiry, which appeared to be a serious thing to do, but the third and most important step is to promise to set up a new Ministry. If we are 731 setting up new Ministries simply on the basis of problems which have received a great deal of attention in recent months, this is not the way to try to form an Administration which will solve the more lasting problems.
A third reason, however, and one of the more important ones—it has been referred to by some of my hon. Friends—is that in creating new Ministries and new posts, the party opposite is trying to solve the problems which have caused a great deal of trouble in the past by trying to absorb within itself many of the factions that could lead to its destruction. To me, those are the three reasons. No real reasons have been advanced and these appear to me to be obvious. In the first place, those reasons are not sufficiently adequate and do not provide justification for trying to create new Ministries.
If we accept that, what are the real dangers of the situation as we now have it? I think that there are several real dangers. One has been mentioned, the serious change in the balance within this House. It may well be that many hon. Members who have been here a long time—I have been here only a very short time—may not think there has been an enormous difference in the position, comparing the Legislature with the Executive and the position of individuals in the Legislature, but if we look back a little further, perhaps 50 years or 60 years, I think we can see that one fundamental change in the House is perhaps that decisions here nowadays are predictable.
It would be extremely unusual, very rare, if there were to be some policy put forward by the Government which we did not know was going to be put through, all things being equal. I think that that is one real difference. If there has been any deterioration in the position of hon. Members it is in that decisions of this House are predictable.
We have had one safeguard, perhaps not very real in certain circumstances, but, nevertheless, a safeguard, that of the second Chamber, and I think it is fair to say that whereas the decisions of this House are perhaps almost completely predictable the decisions of the other House are not completely predictable. This is a safeguard in our constitutional machinery, and by removing this balance, 732 or changing it, we are creating this new situation.
Apart from that, I think there is a more fundamental danger, which is that the new Ministries will lead to a serious increase in the long term in the costs of administration. It may not be considered a very serious point now, but I think that, more fundamentally, and in the long term, it is very significant. We are bringing in these new Ministries, we are told, to try to deal with the industrial problems of the new age, but one way in which we should look to solving the problems of the new age is to get taxation and Government expenditure down to reasonable levels. It may be of interest that all the countries which are forging ahead economically in many ways are those which have restricted the volume of public expenditure and those which have got taxation at a reasonable level.
We are told that the immediate costs of the Ministerial salaries is only £94,000, and that the cost of the new administration is just over £2½ million, and it may be that there may be some saving in that the new Ministries may be taking over part of the functions of the old ones, but can we honestly believe that the new Ministries will not create additional staffs to be employed by them, and not create additional functions themselves? And this is something which will continue in the long term and bring about a great deal of new expenditure, and this will in itself mean greater Government expenditure and higher taxation, and that is something I do not want to see.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is the hon. Member in favour of payment to the Opposition Chief Whip? Be careful before you answer.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has been in the House long enough to know that an hon. Member must not address an hon. Member in the second person singular.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I ask the hon. Member, who is objecting to additional expenditure: is he in favour of the proposal to give a new salary to the Opposition Chief Whip? Be careful before you answer
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The hon. Member knows perfectly well what I was referring to when I made my previous Ruling, and I would ask him to address an hon. Member as an hon. Member and not in the second person singular.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
To repeat the question, so that there shall be no escape, is the hen. Gentleman in favour of giving a new salary to the Opposition Chief Whip? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has got to be very careful before answering that question?
§ Mr. Taylor
The impression I have of this House is that Members of the Opposition, of my party, have to be far less careful about their Whips than perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite.
However, from the putting of that question it is very clear to me that I have obviously failed to put across the point I was trying to make. This small, individual item, like one particular salary, or one particular office, is in itself irrelevant, but, the cost of the new Ministries and Ministerial salaries is estimated to be £2½ million at the moment on immediate expenditure, and that may be said not to be of great significance, but what I was thinking of was the long-term effect, Parkinson's law, of Ministries being created, taking on new functions and new staffs.
This is bound to happen. It is a process which will tend to grow, and the new Ministries and functions will mean that administrative costs will rise. I think that administrative costs at present are too high, that taxation is far too high, and that a far greater contribution to the well-being of this nation and our economic growth would be to leave more money in the people's pockets, so that they could carry out the great new tasks of the new scientific age, which the Government are trying to do by the creation of new Ministries. That is why, in the long term, there is danger in the Bill. I hope, perhaps, that I may have persuaded the hon. Member of the point which I was trying to put across.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, as modern government becomes increasingly complex, we must have mare administration?
§ Mr. Taylor
I appreciate that if we are trying to do more, government must become more complex, but the point that I am trying to make is that during the 13 years when our party was in power the percentage of the national wealth taken in taxation went down from just over 30 per cent. to 25 per cent. That is a fact, and it was a move in the right direction.
In the first few glorious weeks of the new Administration we have seen a complete reversal of that policy. This small increase in taxation, if one can call it that, is not in itself a major item, but what we fear is what it will lead to, just as we fear what the Bill will lead to in organisation and administration. This is a serious matter, and that is why I think that the Bill is far more important than some hon. Members think it is.
The Government say that the intention of the Bill is to create a new age, to try to ensure that the decisions which we have to take are taken speedily. I have two comments to make on that. First, the increased rate of taxation and the additional expenditure which these proposals will create will prevent that from happening. Secondly, if we want to take decisions quickly, the way to do is not to create a number of new Ministeries which will give rise to demarcation problems when decisions have to he made.
For those reasons, I am unhappy about the objects of the Bill. In the initial stages we shall not achieve what we are trying to achieve, and in the long term it will mean more vigilance on the part of individual Members, and certainly more vigilance on the part of the Opposition. We are, therefore, worried about the long-term effects of the Bill.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
At this late hour of the debate I do not want to repeat any of the criticisms in detail which have been made of the Bill. I want to refer to something which seems to me of far greater importance than any of the criticisms in detail, namely, the effect of the Bill on the place of Parliament, and on the power of this House.
I do not speak as someone who has been here for very long, but since I came here in 1959 one impression more than any other has struck me as I have considered what it is like being a Member 735 of this House. That is that the power of decision does not appear to rest any longer in this House. So far as I can see, this House has become more and more a registry office for recording decisions taken outside it.
The Bill will accentuate that process still further. It will, I suggest, mark a further stage in the decline of the House of Commons as a place where decisions are made, as distinct from a place where decisions are registered. [Interruption.] This is not a trivial matter. It is one of substance, and I invite hon. Gentlemen to allow me to put it.
One effect of the Bill will be to enable the Government of the day to multiply the number of place holders, the number of persons financially dependent on them in the House of Commons, apparently ad infinitum. As previous speakers from this side have pointed out, the power which the Government will get under the Bill, if it goes through in its present form, will enable them substantially to control all their supporters, either by giving them jobs, or by dangling the prospect of jobs in front of them.
This decision, coupled with the decision to increase the salaries of Members, will tend to make this more and more a place to which people come as a full-time professional occupation. These two things taken together will bring about a radical transformation in the character of the House, a transformation which I, as a comparatively new Member, profoundly deplore. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate tonight—and I shall listen with great interest to what he says—he will discuss the implications which I am putting before the House, namely, the effect of these changes and of this great extension of Governmental power over Members of Parliament who support the Government upon the status and authority of the House of Commons. It seems to me that this is something which the House should be exceedingly reluctant to do.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We have had an interesting and quite lengthy debate. The right hon. and learned Attorney-General, whom I congratulate on his first speech in his new office, said that this was a purely technical Bill, and he made what sounded 736 like a technical speech in support of it, going through all the details with some precision. We are obliged to him for explaining most of, but, as I shall show, not all of, the details.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman further said that no question of constitutional principle was involved. On that we radically disagree with him and with the Government. We think that a fundamental constitutional principle is involved in the Bill, and if I do not speak for too long it will be none the less important for me to try to explain why we believe that a constitutional principle is involved, and what that principle is.
I listened to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) as I used to do when I was Leader of the House. He tried to make out that no major principle was involved, and made a speech of the utmost subservience to the Government, as did the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). I can only congratulate the Government on having got their troops into such a state of subservience and humility, which I only hope, from their point of view, will last, but which I cannot see lasting for long. It appears that hon. Members below the Gangway are quite satisfied with the Bill and are not aware of some of the major principles and interests which are involved.
The first issue is the undesirable increase in the Executive in relation to the Legislature. It is natural for whichever party is in opposition at any time in this House to be jealous of the rights of Parliament, and it is natural for me, who has had the longest individual service in this House—and I have served for many years as an ordinary Member—to speak simply and, I hope, truly about what I believe to be the needs and wishes of ordinary Members vis-à-vis the Executive.
I am supported in this claim to some extent by a recent book by Bernard Crick—a Fabian writer—in which he says:A modern Prime Minister has a patronage beyond the wildest dreams of political avarice of a Walpole or a Newcastle.When we look back in history and think of what Walpole achieved we realise that it puts the present Prime Minister in rather a lurid light.
737 Furthermore, this Fabian writer, who writes with great authority in "The Reform of Parliament", published in June of this year, says that there are some groundsfor asserting that the power of the Executive has increased in such a way as to give rise to real concern.Being a fairly old hand, I thought it wiser to quote something which would be sympathetic to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, rather than a work of classical merit, to which they might not attach so much importance.
Our claim is—and we make it with great emphasis—that the Bill does increase the power of the Executive in relation to the Legislature in an altogether undesirable way. The Prime Minister to date, according to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, appears to have appointed 87 commoners to office, and with the addition of Mr. Cousins, the Foreign Secretary and the two Scottish Law Officers it would appear that we have the total of 91 in the Bill.
The mathematics of the Bill are extremely difficult. Every time I have attempted them I have got them wrong, so I am following the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I believe that at last I am right in getting a total figure of 91. So far, 17 peers have been appointed and that makes a total of 108. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), in his brilliant speech, explained, this is the highest ratio of the Executive to Parliament ever achieved in any Parliament in the 700 years of our existence; by far the highest ratio of the Executive to ordinary Members of Parliament.
This was also brought out by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, in his able intervention in the debate. This makes even more important the statement in Erskine May that there is a need to limit the control or influence of the Executive over the House by means of an undue number of office holders being Members of the House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) drew attention to the Committee of 1941, the Report of which I have here, which was so well supported by senior and able Members of this House. It drew attention to the appointment of Parlia- 738 mentary Private Secretaries in a particular paragraph.
With Parliamentary Private Secretaries as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out from an extract from The Times—but which could have been made without quoting any extract from any newspaper—we now have the example of at least half the Parliamentary Labour Party being engaged in or attached to the Executive, leaving only half, therefore, to perform their duties to Parliament without being attached to the power of the day. This is an altogether unhealthy principle for us to adopt at the present time, and an unhealthy principle for hon. and right hon. Members opposite to have put forward.
I wish to look back at past history. In this House it is quite easy to make fun of Queen Anne, or of our history. But if they look back on the history of Stuart times, or at the Act of 1707, or at the developments since, hon. Members will find that our predecessors who lived and worked in this House were always jealous about increasing the Executive in relation to the Legislature. What is really serious about the Bill is that the increase has been so rapid in recent days. If we study the Report of the Committee of 1941, which, I think, is the most solid of the Reports on the place of power in the House of Commons, it quotes that before the war of 1914 there were 36 Executive Ministers in the Commons.
Just before the 1939 war there were 47. Then it recommended in 1941, during the passage of the war, that there should be 60. The legislation of 1957 names the figure of 70 and in our Government we were approximately at that level. Now we have had the enormous rise to 91 which, with the peers, makes a total of 108; by far the greatest relationship of the Executive to the Legislature in the history of Parliament.
This by itself is a reason for us to adopt a critical attitude to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party mentioned the Haldane Report. I agree with him that further investigation is necessary. The Leader of the House was present earlier in the debate. We all respect his position. He had mentioned already that he may be considering a Select Committee on Procedure. If he is suggesting that, I say that this issue of the relationship of the 739 Executive to the Legislature is one which ought to be considered by a Select Committee, following up the Haldane Report. It is not surprising that the Committee of 1941 said, in paragraph 19 of its Report, that there was a need to limit or control or influence the Executive and to prevent them from exerting their power over the House by means of an undue proportion of office holders being Members of the House. That is what makes us critical of the Bill.
I want to raise at this stage a legal point, and I hope that the Government can give me an answer. We regard it as open to question whether the Government's device of appointing a Minister of State and the Chief Secretary—I intervened to ask the right hon. and learned Attorney-General whether the Chief Secretary was also included—and pay them no salary, has been within the law. If we read Section 2 of the Act of 1957, which I have here, we find not only a limit of 70 Ministers, but that they must be persons mentioned in the Schedule. On the other hand, if we read Section 2(2) of the Act of 1957 we see that the words used are:If at any time the number of Members of the House of Commons who are holders of ministerial offices, or of ministerial offices of any class exceeds the greatest number …We say that those words, "ministerial offices of any class" give the impression that Clause 2(2) goes beyond the Schedule.
I cannot myself, not being a lawyer, give a final interpretation of that Clause, but I would like to be assured by right hon. Gentlemen opposite that their action hitherto has been within the law. But, whatever the reading of the law is, it is quite clearly contrary to the objects of the Act of 1957 that the Executive should be so numerous that it upsets the balance between those who criticise and those who rule, the criticism being the main duty of parliamentarians and their main duty being to criticise the Executive of the day.
What I feel has happened is that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who has been riding high since his election to office, and who has criticised this side of the House for nepotism, has himself indulged in the biggest placeman-ism of our time. It is important for us to 740 register that and to echo what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland said that the most healthy thing is, to use his own words, to pay a number of people to keep the Government in order. We would very much rather have legislation before us which dealt with that point than with increasing the placemen in the Government and thoroughly unbalancing the relationship of the Executive to the Legislature.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, in his speech, questioned the Opposition about our attitude. It is perfectly clear that we have no intention of voting against the Second Reading of the Bill, but we do intend to amend it in Committee. I would like to make it clear that the Opposition, in Committee, will seek to limit the Bill in respect of the number of Ministers who can serve. We also hope so to amend the Bill—here arises the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate—of the definition of Ministers of State in the new Bill which reproduces the definition in the Act of 1957. We shall want so to amend the Bill, unless the Government amend it themselves, as to prevent the avoidance of the limit imposed on the number of Ministers being destroyed by the appointment of Ministers without salary.
We shall seek to find a method of so amending the Bill that the Government cannot play this trick again and that they will respect the statutes.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman said that the attitude of the Opposition has been made perfectly clear, but I confess that I do not understand it. Is he saying that the Opposition believe that the Bill is, in principle, wrong? If he is saying that, will he explain why the Opposition will not vote against it? Or is he saying that the Bill is in principle right, but that it is amendable in Committee, in which case will he explain why he is making such a savage attack on my right hon. Friend for having introduced it at all?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Member has been in the House quite long enough to know that I am not making a savage attack. He has grossly distorted the position.
741 Our attitude is clear. We shall not vote against the Second Reading, but we shall seek to make a great many Amendments in Committee, of which I give the Government notice. I have already given notice of the two main Amendments which we have in mind, but we also have it in mind to amend other provisions. In particular, we wish to make Amendments in relation to the Prime Minister's alleged power in the Bill to fix the salaries of Ministers of State. We think that that is unconstitutional and a hitherto unknown practice. We also wish to deal with Ministries which we do not want to have and about which I shall shortly speak.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral referred to the new Ministries which have been set up without provision, and for the benefit of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster I will repeat the request that he should explain whether the Ministers have taken the oath of allegiance, whether they have appointed secretaries and servants, whether the payments have been made, and whether this has been done without reference to Parliament. We regard this as a thoroughly unconstitutional and wrong action.
The Ministry of Technical Cooperation was set up in 1961 only after the Act had been passed. Then, the now Lord Vosper was appointed as Minister. It was the same with the Ministry of Defence, which was created by the late Socialist Government after a White Paper had been published and an Act had been passed. The Minister, now Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, was then appointed. In the Schedule there is a further Act which shows how the Socialist Government should behave—because this was how they acted in 1947. I refer to the Ministers of the Crown (Treasury Secretaries) Act, 1947, which was passed before the Minister, later the Economic Secretary, was appointed. He was appointed after the Bill had been passed through the House of Commons and just before the Royal Assent in the House of Lords. Those were the constitutional actions in relation to three different appointments of Ministries—Technical Co-operation, Defence and the Ministers of the Crown (Treasury Secretaries). We con- 742 sider that the Government should have acted in relation to this Bill in the same way as on the last occasion when they were in power.
May I take up a point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland who said, quite rightly, that when we were in office, only a short time ago, we were trying to bring Ministries together. We brought together the Ministries of Defence and the subordinate departments. We brought together the Commonwealth and the Colonies. If it is not out of order, I should like to ask whether the Government propose an amalgamation of the Commonwealth and Colonial Offices. We brought together and streamlined the Treasury in 1962. But now the whole tendency is the opposite—to create a variety of Ministries in a sort of presidential race which the Prime Minister is encouraging, for him then to decide between rival Ministries what may be the right policy. We regard that as a wrong policy, and we are not at all consoled by the description of a legal type in the Schedule which says that a Minister shall be a "corporation sole". That reminds me of the first course at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It sounds a very fishy and undesirable situation.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but I wish to say why we object to three main Ministries mentioned in the Bill. The first is the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I see the Minister sitting there like a Cheshire cat, licking his lips at the great achievement he has landed at becoming the head of this important Ministry. I quote The Times of 20th October when I say that it was announced in the Press that the Minister would take overeverything that would once have been called town and country planning".After a period of muffled explosions the new Ministry emerges with few functions except to prepare legislation announced in the Socialist manifesto. Its main task is evidently to try to make sense out of nonsense, and that is to produce workable legislation to implement Labour's plan for a Crown Lands Commission, which we never had thought would work, but which we thought would raise the prices of houses, raise the price of land and make everything more difficult for us in the future.
743 At a later stage this ill-fated Ministry will probably implement water nationalisation, also in Labour's election prospectus. What we want to ask, and shall ask in Committee, is whether we really need a Minister and two Parliamentary Secretaries for this evil purpose.
I now come to the Ministry of Technology, which is also in the Bill. In the manifesto of the Labour Party it is said that isto guide and stimulate major national effort to bring advanced technology and new processes into industryThis is obviously a need of Britain's economy and there is a quite respectable support for the view that the way to achieve it is to establish a Ministry charged with "selling" science and technology to industry. The question is whether this Ministry is constituted to do that.
Civil science was in the melting pot at the end of last year as a result of the Trend Report and the Robbins Report. Our solution was a federal one because we believed that academic research, basic research and pure science are inseparable from applied science and technology. Our further view was expressed, that the teaching of science and technology should not be separated from the application of science and technology in industry, because a great deal of scientific work at some universities and colleges of advanced technology consists, in fact, of industrial projects.
The solution of hon. and right hon. Members opposite is to divide D.S.I.R. We agree with that. We suggested the division: one for science; one for national environment; and one for industrial research, as announced in the statement that we made on 28th July this year. The difference between us is that under our arrangement the Minister of one single Department would have been responsible for all them. Under the new Ministry of Technology setup, two separate Departments will be involved, and two groups of Ministers will be responsible at the Dispatch Box.
We think that is a wrong set-up and we shall, therefore, criticise this Ministry in Committee. It will be an isolated Ministry. It will not only be separated from education, but, in the words of my right hon. and learned 744 Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), it will bedivorced from education, from the research giving functions of D.S.I.R., from the Royal Society, from technical education, from research in the universities, from the two Ministries of the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Aviation—divorced indeed from all the other parts of the nexus …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 376–7.]of technology which it is designed to serve. Therefore, unless we get a better explanation than we have had hitherto, which we cannot have owing partly to the absence of the Minister from the House, we shall oppose this Ministry during the course of the Committee stage of the Bill.
The third Ministry mentioned in the Bill is the Ministry of Overseas Development. We would value more information about this because, clearly, the objectives of such a Ministry are reasonable and to be supported. We created a Department of Technical Co-operation under my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr). Now we have a new Ministry with a Cabinet Minister and one Parliamentary Secretary. The late Ministry spent a good deal of money, which is brought out in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. It cost about £1½ million a year and it was doing a useful job.
I questioned the right hon. Lady the Minister of Overseas Development the other day about the position of the Foreign Office, because I do not believe that aid can be allocated overseas without the political wisdom of the policy Departments, particularly the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office. Not only do those Departments have officers with the wisdom and experience to give advice on the allocation of aid, but they also have their overseas representatives, who can give intimate advice on the allocation of aid.
When I was Foreign Secretary one of its most cherished jobs was the allocation of aid. I asked the right hon. Lady what the position of the Foreign Office would be; whether, for example, it had a special part to play in the allocating of aid on the basis of what it had done hitherto, and she replied that it would not—that the responsibility for negotiations on the straight question of aid would be transferred to her Ministry. She said that she would keep in touch 745 with the Foreign Office and the other policy Department.
We would like to know whether this Ministry is not just a facade, but that it will use the wisdom and experience of the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office in the allocation of aid overseas. It is in the light of what we are told in answer to these questions that we will frame our suggestions in Committee, because the Bill is responsible for setting up these Ministeries and will give us a chance to ask questions in Committee about them.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. If the right hon. Member does not give way the hon. Member must remain seated.
§ Mr. Butler
Having made a very able and rather long speech himself, and having interrupted most of the other speeches to which I have listened, I do not think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will object if I do not give way.
I turn to the Clause which concerns Secretaries of State. Are we clear that one Secretary of State has been appointed without a salary, or have they all been appointed without salaries? Has it been legal for them to be so appointed? In any case, we would like to know which one has been the blackleg who has gone without a salary. We would be obliged for an answer. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales is looking rather piqued and underfed. It would be interesting to know whether he is waiting anxiously for his salary. Or is it the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, known as the First Secretary—a copy of the appointment given to me as First Secretary—who has had to go without his salary for this length of time?
I will not go into great detail tonight in relation to the Secretary of State for Wales bearing on the statement made by the Prime Minister earlier today. All we can say is that we are satisfied that our arrangements for Wales, in particular the appointment of a Minister of State who could live in Wales and who did not have to be here all the time to 746 vote for the disreputable Government opposite, was a much better solution than anything that this Government have brought forward for Wales.
The right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) made it clear in an intervention at Question Time earlier that many hon. Members would like to know just what is the definite position of the Secretary of State for Wales. I would, therefore, stress the view of the Opposition that an early debate on Wales would be in the interests of the whole House, and I hope that this request will be brought to the attention of the Leader of the House. We can then get a clear idea of what the right hon. and muddled Gentleman is going to do.
Let us now consider the Economic Secretary. We were surprised to read in the Bill that he was to have no salary and that he was not to be provided for at all. We were somewhat enlightened on this issue by the Attorney-General. who said that he was to be paid as a Minister of State. That means an amendment of the Bill. Would the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirm that that means 19 and not 18 Ministers of State?
§ Mr. Butler
Then there is the question of the Prime Minister appointing the salaries of Ministers of State—Clause 2(1,b). How far does that link up with the statement on Monday? Then, it was stated that there would be two classes of Ministers of State, one getting £7,625 and the other £5,625. Why should this discretion be left to the Prime Minister? We shall be ready to put down Amendments to try to clarify the position of future Ministers of State without reference to the Prime Minister.
I come now to the position of the Assistant Whips. So far, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has said, nine Whips have normally been paid—Household Officers, Lords Commissioners and the Chief Whip. We think that that is enough, and we shall further intervene during the Committee stage on this proposal to pay the Assistant Whips—not because we do not all love Whips, but because we think it rather unnecessary that they should be paid.
747 Before I conclude, I want to refer to the cost. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General was far from clear, in his opening speech, as to how the many figures in this bill of costs are affected by the statement made on Monday. If they are all affected by Monday's statement, it means, at the outset, that the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is not correct, and that the cost will be more than the £94,000 which is put down as the cost of Ministers under the Bill.
May we be told by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether Amendments will be moved throughout the length and breadth of the Bill by the Government to correspond the financial figures with the statement made on Monday? If so, we would like a further statement about the cost of the Bill, which already appears to be very great and, when added to the cost of the proposals in Monday's statement, amounts not to £1,300,000—leaving aside the money already paid for the Department of Technical Co-operation—but to £2,375,000, in one week of extra proposals for expenses largely for the Executive and new Ministries and for the expenses of Parliament. This is a very heavy bill, and we think that, when replying, the right hon. Gentleman should relate it to the Monday's statement and say whether the Bill has to be amended throughout.
I have indicated the Opposition's general attitude to the Bill, namely, and in simple English, that we do not like it. It has constitutional significance in that it raises the relation of the Executive to the Legislature to an extent unprecedented in our history. It goes flat against the best constitutional advice we have received from the Committee of 1941, from the Select Committee which examined the Measure of 1957, and from previous bodies. The Bill was brought in without consultation with Parliament, it was brought in without any Select Committee procedure, and it was brought in in a hurry. It is ill-advised and, we believe, very unconstitutional.
We therefore believe that we must give very close attention to the Bill in Committee; and that if we do not get satisfaction there we must apply unqualified opposition to it in its later stages. The 748 right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have been far too hasty. They ought to consider more carefully the traditions of Parliament in relation to the size of the Executive vis-à-vis the rest of the Legislature. This is a matter that has exercised our forefathers and one that ought to exercise us. It is because right hon. Gentlemen have been flippant and careless about the matter that we take a critical attitude to the Bill.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Houghton)
If anyone has been flippant about this Bill it is the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who has just spoken. We take it very seriously indeed. I began to wonder in the last two hours of the debate whether this was more of a filibuster than a debate. Hon. Members opposite who have not been here, at least in my recollection, for three hours, appeared to have been press ganged into the Chamber to make critical speeches against the Bill.
I think that the fear of some hon. Members opposite is not that the Bill may do harm to the House of Commons, but that it may do good to the country. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have been bestowing patronage for the last 13½ years, and the right hon. Member has been as close to it as anyone, but he is now carping and nagging at the size of the first Labour Administration since 1951.
Let it be said that on the question of new Ministers my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his intentions very clear before the election. He was at pains on the television and the radio to discuss in a sober and constructive spirit some changes that needed to be made in the machinery of government. I think that there is no doubt that all the changes which have been made in this new Administration were forecast by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Houghton
No. The right hon. Member may wish to interrupt me later, but let me get started, please.
749 The history of this matter is very fascinating indeed, because we see that originally the House of Commons was not criticising patronage exercised by Prime Ministers, but was afraid of patronage exercised by the Crown. It was Ministers and others appointed to this House by the Crown that originally caused the fears of Parliament about corruption of this assembly by the patronage of the Crown. Few attempts were made to deal with the position constitutionally until the war when, in the exceptional circumstances of that day, it was necessary to clear up the problem of Members of Parliament who held office under the Crown and wished to be relieved of the disqualification of membership without going to their constituents for re-election because of the circumstances of the war. The Act of 1957 was caused largely by the need to clean up the whole complex situation of offices of profit under the Crown and was not mainly for the purpose of dealing with the number of Ministers who should be in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Houghton
The question of constitutional principle which was stressed by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden was certainly dealt with in the Herbert Report of 1941. Reference was made in that Report to the number of Ministers in this House at that time, to the number of Ministers in the House before the war and in 1914, but it drew attention to the difference in the total number of Members of this House at the different stages in Parliamentary history. Reference was made to the total number of Ministers in 1941 not exceeding 10 per cent. of the total membership of the House.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to interrupt now, or at the end of this paragraph?
§ Mr. Houghton
No, not at the moment.
The right hon. Member has stressed that the, ratio of the Executive to the numbers of Members in the House is the highest ratio in the history of Parliament. I do not deny that, but the ratio today is about 14½ per cent 750 of the total number of Members of the House. When the Herbert Committee considered the matter in 1941, it said that the numbers then were under one-tenthor about 10 per cent. of the total voting strength of the House, a number which could scarcely be regarded as a dangerous proportion.So the difference between the proportion at the time the Herbert Committee made that comment and the proportion today is about 4½ per cent.
§ Mr. Houghton
Whilst one must acknowledge that any rise in the ratio between the Executive and the total number of Members of the House must be carefully watched, that is not, in my view, to be a governing consideration when a Prime Minister is considering the disposition of his Ministerial forces and the machinery of government to meet the challenges of the problems of today.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
At the time of the Herbert Report, although 60 was the number permitted, the actual number was 47. The number now is 91.
§ Mr. Houghton
The Herbert Committee was referring to the numbers which were to be permitted under the Statute, and a number amounting to 10 per cent. of the total number of Members of the House was to be provided for under the Herbert Report.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to indicate that the Herbert Committee did not take this question of excessive representation of the Executive in the House seriously. Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to read a sentence from page 12, with three litle dots here and there, but I promise the House that the extract is as fair as I can make it:In modern terms …the exclusion of all executive officers, except …political, and also the restriction of the numbers of the latter within certain limits …Two pages later:…have since been, and should still be, the main considerations.There is no question about what the Herbert Committee thought were the main considerations.
§ Mr. Houghton
I do not deny what the Herbert Committee thought was the main consideration. What I said a moment ago was that I did not regard it as the main consideration, not when the difference between a percentage which was regarded as not dangerous in 1941 and the percentage today is so marginal as that which I have already described.
After all, the main issue of the Bill is the disposition of Ministerial responsibility and the reshaping of the machinery of government to meet the complexities and changing conditions of present times. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that the Tory Party's tendency was towards centralisation, towards mergers and amalgamations. They are experts at mergers and amalgamations. I question whether size will solve the problems of administration when we are so ill-equipped, I suggest, in many respects to deal with the problems of size, especially in public administration. I do not think that amalgamations necessarily lead to more efficient government; still less do I think they lead to greater efficiency within the Department itself. The late Lord Stamp said that no organisation of diverse activities can move faster than its forms will allow. There is a good deal of truth in that in relation to the mammoth size of Government Departments. The framework of the Administration which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants is in order to provide concentrations of activity and responsibility which can play a constructive part in the problems that face the country today.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), whose speech I regret I did not hear, I understand raised some wider considerations of the machinery of government and referred to the desirability of a smaller Cabinet The machinery of government is now undergoing substantial change, and it is directed to the objective of providing modern government to deal with the complexities of modern life. This is a question of judgment. As I remarked the other day, we are the Government now. The framework of Government and the reorganisation of the machinery of government, subject to the approval of this House, must meet the desires of the Government of the day. That is what right hon. and hon. Members opposite have 752 done in their time and we are doing the same.
As regards the size of the Cabinet, I think that probably one former Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, liked to have a large Cabinet so that he could sack half of it without getting rid of members of his own family. At least, that is not the reason for the size of the Cabinet in the Labour Government.
I agree that there are some aspects of the machinery of government and the functions and the structure of departmental organisation which may require consideration and will certainly get it from time to time in the lifetime of this Government. We are living in rapidly changing times, making new and imperative demands upon our resourcefulness, upon our genius for administration and our adaptability, and the quality of our government will be shown as the days go by.
The trouble with some hon. Members opopsite is that they still cannot believe that they have lost the General Election and they go on babbling like deprived children. The right hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said that there was no justification for the new Ministries—and that was echoed by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden—and, secondly, that the new Ministries should have had prior Parliamentary approval. Another point he made was that 91 was too many Ministers to have in the House of Commons, and, in addition, that we had kept open the loophole for the appointment of Ministers of State without a salary.
I suggest that the justification for the new Ministries is a matter for the Government. I keep repeating that the Government of the day must shape the mechanism of government to suit the purposes and the policies that they have in mind. They must submit all that for the approval of the House, and one stage of that process is what we are now doing. After listening to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, it is beyond my comprehension that the Opposition are not voting against the Bill. When we do not like things we vote against them. We do not say we do not like them and then give notice of half a dozen Amendments in the Committee stage which, if adopted by the House, 753 would wreck the Bill. They are wrecking Amendments and the right hon. Gentleman knows they are wrecking Amendments. Why, then, is he not opposing the Bill? Let us have a showdown now. Instead of that, we have this sham fight put up for several hours before the debate concludes.
This Bill does not deal with the functions of the new Ministries. It deals with the appointment of new Ministers. An opportunity to debate the functions of the new Ministers will come at a later stage in our proceedings when all the necessary steps for approval will come before the House.
As to the charge that the Prime Minister has submitted to the Sovereign appointments without the prior approval of the House, the fact is that previous Administrations have done the same. There is nothing unusual about this and, without blaming our predecessors in any way, steps have been taken earlier in the appointment of Ministers without the prior approval of the House. But it has all come out in the course of Parliamentary procedure.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I want to know who is entitled to vote this evening. What about the Ministers without pay?
§ Mr. Houghton
The legal aspect of the matter has been fully explained by my right hon. and learned Friend.
I now come to the point made by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who said that in his judgment my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had acted contrary to the Statute in making certain appointments without pay of Ministers in this House which went beyond the limits prescribed in the 1957 Act. Our reading of Section 2 of that Act in that regard differs from that of the right hon. Gentleman. I invite his attention to the wording of Section 2, which refers to thenumbers of persons being the holders of offices specified in the Second Schedule to this Act754 and then, in parentheses, states(in this section referred to as Ministerial offices).Subsection (2) refers to the limitation of the number of Members of the House who areholders of Ministerial offices, or of Ministerial offices of any class".In our view, that reference is to the aforementioned definition of ministerial offices and they are related to the Schedule. We may have to argue that in technical detail later, but I say at once that our view differs from that of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden and that, in our judgment, my right hon. Friend has not acted contrary to the Statute.
The right hon. Gentleman raised questions about the Ministers of State. Under the 1957 Act, the former Government placed no limit on the numbers of Ministers of State and no limit on the salary which could be paid to Ministers of State. In the Bill, we are limiting the numbers of Ministers of State and we are prescribing a limit to the salaries which may be paid to Ministers of State. We are, therefore, doing two things in the Bill which the former Administration failed to do in the 1957 Act.
We are also being criticised for not closing what is called a loophole in the 1957 Act regarding the appointment of Ministers of State without salary. If there is a loophole in the 1957 Act, right hon. and hon. Members opposite are responsible for it. It was their Administration that passed the 1957 Act. I do not know whether it was a loophole or an intentional omission from that Act. Anyhow, my right hon. and learned Friend has already said that we will look at this matter and see whether there is any fresh thought that we can bring to the House upon it.
I can, however, say categorically that there is no intention on the part of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of appointing any more Ministers of State than the Bill provides for and that he has no intention of appointing any Ministers of State without salary. That is a fairly plain assurance regarding the Bill as it stands at present.
§ Mr. Percival
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that the Bill limits the number of Ministers of State who 755 could be appointed. I accept that the Bill limits the number of Ministers of State who can be paid, but I am unable to find anything in the Bill which limits the number of Ministers of State who can be appointed. Can the right hon. Gentleman help on this?
§ Mr. Houghton
That is a technical point which can be argued later. Surely, what I am saying to the House is clear. The Bill provides for a limit on the number of Ministers of State who are truly Ministers of State who can be paid. I also said, however, that whether the loophole in the 1957 Act remains in the Bill an assurance can be given that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not appoint Ministers of State without salary. I also said that if this so-called loophole causes anxiety we will consider it at a later stage in the Bill. I hope that what I have said gives reasonable assurance to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they are going to he reasonable, that we are intending to do two things which the former Administration failed to do, and are prepared to consider a loophole which they left whorl they had finished their legislation in 1957. Surely nobody can be fairer than that. I think that there is a pretty good assurance on that point.
The main issue on this Bill really is whether the machinery of government is going to meet the requirements of this Administration, and whether in discharging our task to the country my right hon. Friend needs the numbers and the disposition of Ministers which he has already adopted and which he is seeking the authority of the House to put in statutory form. Let there be no criticism from the benches opposite that what we have done is contrary to the spirit or the letter of the Constitution, for the record will show—and we shall go into it later—what former Administrations have done in appointing Ministers under the Prerogative without statutory authority to suit their own requirements with changes in Ministries. They have done exactly what we are proposing to do. There is nothing wrong in adjusting the machinery of government to the requirements of the day.
If hon. and right hon. Members opposite are going to try to make difficulties 756 for us in Committee, all I can say is that we shall meet them and be prepared to argue the Bill as long as they like, line by line if that is to be their tactic in dealing with it. But, meantime, I think that what is really troubling hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that this Government have made a rattling good start, new Ministers are in post, of a quality which we never saw when the former Administration were in office. We are informed on all sides that many people throughout the land who had doubts about voting for us at the General Election now feel that we have shown an initiative, we have shown a vigour and a verve and an imagination and a quality which now command their deepest respect and will later command their strong support.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Whitlock.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.