§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before we proceed to the debate I should perhaps suggest the order in which it will take place.
The first Motion is formal. I think that it would be the desire of the House that the debate on the contingent Motion printed in italics about the proposals contained in the four Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure shall be taken together with all the other Motions on procedural matters, Nos. 2 to 8 inclusive which hon. Members will find on their Order Paper. Amendments to Motion No. 5, Members' speeches, may also be discussed but I have not selected any of them.
I add another note. I shall not be able to call everyone to join in today's debate. The shorter the speeches, the more Members I shall be able to call. I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will respond to the appeal I am making.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
On a point of order. On the matter you have just explained to the House, as there is no Motion on the Order Paper suspending the rule, if the debate on the first Motion runs up to 9.30 p.m. I assume that it will be possible to put the other Orders, which are separate Orders, and that the House may agree them provided that there is no difference of opinion, but if there is a difference of opinion, even though you have not selected the Amendments, I take it that these Orders cannot be put?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Member has stated the position quite clearly. When we reach half-past nine we can take at half-past nine any of the Orders which are agreed unanimously by the House, but if objection is taken to any of them after half-past nine then they cannot be put today.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Further to that point of order. The eighth Order in the name of two of my hon. Friends and myself is not in the name of a member of the Government. I wonder whether, if the Government objected to the taking of that Order, it might not be possible even to move it.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Motions on the Order Paper can be moved at the breaking hour of half-past nine. If they are carried, if no objection is taken, they will be passed in the ordinary way. If objection is taken after half-past nine, they cannot be voted on.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
For the benefit of the House, and because you may not be in the Chair all the time, Mr. Speaker, I presume that this will be a wide-ranging debate over the whole field of procedure and that the Chair will not rule too stringently about these Orders. What we are discussing is necessarily better than what we have already or could be done in another way.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is quite clear that anything on the Order Paper and the whole question of procedure is the basis of the debate today.
§ Dame Irene Ward
My point of order is this, Mr. Speaker. On the main Motion which is to be put to the House by the Leader of the House, may we be told whether there has been any consultation between yourself and the right hon. Gentleman, as it does involve yourself considerably?
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I beg to move,That the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure be now considered.At the end of the debate, I shall move separately the more detailed Motions which the Government are commending to the House so that we shall not have a restricted debate.
Since 14th December, when we last debated procedure, we have had no fewer than four further Reports from the Select Committee, of which the House is invited to consider three today—No. 2 on Standing Order No. 9, No. 3 on Methods of Voting, and No. 4 on the Finance Bill. The fifth, on Question Time, has been 592 presented but so recently that I do not think that the House can be asked to consider it today.
I know that the whole House will wish me once again to thank the members of the Committee for the energy which they have applied. Once again, I shall be able to show the Government's gratitude in the only way which the Committee appreciates, that is, by moving a string of Motions designed to implement a substantial amount of what it has proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I had thought—perhaps the House will correct me if it wishes—that we might get out of the way the first Motion, that the four Reports be now considered, taking that formally at once. The right hon. Gentleman would then move the italicised Motion.
§ Mr. Crossman
I thought that I had followed that, Mr. Speaker, but may I now move the italicised Motion in my name—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry. I have not made myself clear. Perhaps I may now put to the House the first Motion in the right hon. Gentleman's name.
§ Question, That the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure be now considered, put and agreed to.
§ Reports considered accordingly.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry that I am so clumsy. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now move the italicised Motion.
§ Mr. Crossman
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure.I apologise to the House for the delay. I had said that the House would not be asked to consider the Fifth Report because it had been presented so recently, and I had gone on to express the thanks of the whole House to the Committee for its energetic application. During the course of my speech, I shall, in speaking of the Reports from the Select Committee, link with each of them the relevant Motion which I shall later move.
When these Motions are approved tonight, as I hope they will be, we shall have made another significant step forward, and there is more to come. I remind the House that we shall, as promised, be providing in this year's 593 Finance Bill the legislative proposals for abolishing the Committee of Ways and Means, as the Select Committee wanted us to do. To complete the record, it was only last Monday morning that we began the fulfilment of another of our commitments by moving the Second Reading of the Bill to prevent the interruption of our debates by Black Rod on more than one occasion in each Session.
Now for this batch. In opening the debate, I shall content myself with going through the Reports and the Motions one by one, explaining them to the House. The first change I recommend, which is Motion No. 2, is a minor, but quite useful, proposal which the Select Committee recommended in its Third Report on Methods of Voting. Undoubtedly, the Committee was right to consider how to save time on voting procedure. In a standard Second Reading debate, with a vote coming at the end, the taking of eight to 11 minutes to do what could be done in seven or eight may not matter too much. But during a Report stage the accumulated loss of time—not to mention the disruptive effect on the general run of debate—becomes serious.
Personally, I am glad that the Committee exposed itself, in imagination at least, to the full horrors of the electro-mechanical voting system propounded in the memorandum from the Ministry of Works, before totally rejecting it. Mechanical voting could save substantial time only if Members were permitted to press a button in a distant part of the Palace of Westminster and so save the six minutes which must be allowed in order to get back to the Chamber.
The Committee was surely right to reject this, if only because it violates the principle that the Chamber is the central and focal point of our activities. But, thank heaven, it was possible for the Committee, without this contraption, to devise a cheap and simple way of cutting down the time it takes to go through the Lobbies.
At present, we have a lapse of two minutes between the calling of a Division and the appointment of Tellers. When the Tellers are appointed, the Question is put a second time and only then does the actual voting begin. The Committee points out that up to two minutes can be saved if the Tellers are appointed when the Division is first called and begin 594 counting straight away. This is not only a practical, but an economical suggestion. As the Committee points out, the saving in time it produces will be roughly the same as that offered by the enormously expensive push-button consoles—I think that that is what they are called—which would have to be installed in the Lobbies. So we are getting the same result and not spending £45,000.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
Am I right in assuming that there is no interference with the six minutes between the time when the Division is originally called and the locking of the doors?
§ Mr. Crossman
That is the whole point. We are preserving the six minutes. There is merely the extra two minutes, because there are at present two starts, or one false start and then a real start.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
Is it intended that the Question should be put a second time? This is an important matter.
§ Mr. Crossman
The Report proposes that, immediately the Question is put, the Tellers proceed and voting starts at once. This is the difference from the present system.
I come now to the main matter which I wish to discuss, that is, procedure on the Finance Bill, considering with it Motion No. 3. This is the second time that the problem has been tackled since 1964, and I want to thank the Committee for refusing to take "No" for an answer following the Government's refusal to adopt the 1965 Report. The House will recall that that Report, which was the first Report of the Select Committee, proposed to resolve the problem by dividing the Bill into two parts, one part to be taken on the Floor, the other to be remitted to a special Standing Committee. I know that this solution has its advocates in the House, but I am sure that the Government were right to reject it.
In view of this rebuff, the Select Committee was quite right to challenge us to say how the Government themselves would deal with the problem of the Finance Bill, and the response was given quite recently by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary in his evidence to the Committee. In this evidence he made no secret of the Treasury's preference—to 595 commit the whole Bill to a Standing Committee, with a timetable. But he recognised that this was an extremely radical step to take in relation to what he rightly described as "major tax proposals fundamental to Parliament's control of the Government's management of public finance."
The Select Committee was divided on the merits of the Chief Secretary's proposal. Some Members, particularly on this side of the House, were strongly in favour, some wished to revive the proposal for splitting the Bill, and some were reluctant to see any change at all. Now, the Select Committee has come forward with a most ingenious compromise which keeps the Committee stage on the Floor of the House and creates the conditions for a voluntary timetable backed by reserve powers—[Interruption.] There are no distant allusions to outside controls in that reference to backing by reserve powers.
In Standing Order 43(b) we have for long had a means whereby, if an overall allocation of time for a Committee stage can be agreed, a Business Committee may allocate it between the various parts of the Bill. To the best of my knowledge, however, this has never been used in modern times.
The Select Committee's unanimous recommendation is an adaptation of this procedure. If we adopt it tonight, proceedings on the Finance Bill this year should be roughly as follows. When the Bill has been published and studied, discussions will take place through the usual channels and a date will be fixed for reporting back to the House, thus allocating a fixed number of days to the Finance Bill, each of them assumed to end at an agreed time each night.
This purely voluntary arrangement will be backed, as I said, by reserve powers. Under these reserve powers, if a timetable agreement cannot be arrived at, or if, having been arrived at, it is not working properly, the Government will be able to propose to the House that the Business Committee shall consider and recommend a timetable.
In the Sessional Order I shall propose that two hours be allowed for that debate. I emphasise that the whole purpose of the scheme is to achieve an effective voluntary arrangement. If the 596 reserve powers contained in the Motion of which I have given notice ever have to be used, they will have largely failed in their purpose.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I hope that the Leader of the House will bear in mind that in entering into those voluntary arrangements there are three parties —the Government party, the official Opposition and the Liberals. We would wish to be consulted about the voluntary timetable.
§ Mr. Crossman
I shall certainly bear that point in mind. It is a matter that is borne in mind.
Having looked at the policy which the Select Committee proposes, and which I ask the House to accept as a Sessional experiment, I turn my attention to the Report and the major reform outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. I am aware that this is an issue where unanimity is difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, it is my impression that a very large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have come to the conclusion that the biggest single method of relieving the House from the boredom that afflicts it each summer, the one reform which would certainly revive our vitality and improve the standard of our debates, would be to lift the dead financial weight which cumbers the Floor of the House for so many weeks of the summer and move it bodily upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I did say, "a large number of hon. Members", but unanimity is hard to achieve.
I must add that in the Government's view this radical suggestion for moving the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs should not be considered in isolation, but as part of the overall reform of our whole Public Bill procedure. I remind the House that in the major report which the Select Committee has promised us this summer we are due to receive its considered conclusions on this whole issue, including the time-tabling of Public Bills in Committee. However anxious one is to relieve the pressure on our time which the Committee stage of the Finance Bill now imposes after the Whitsun Recess, I personally find it hard to deny the argument that, in view of its key importance, the Finance Bill should not be the first but one of the last measures to be submitted to any 597 experiment in upstairs timetabling which the House may adopt.
I now turn to the Second Report, which deals with Standing Order No. 9, Urgent and Topical Debates, and to the fourth notice of Motion in my name. Out of all the Select Committee's proposals I can only recommend that one—a very minor one—should be adopted today. The Motion standing in my name gives effect to the proposal that the present average time of 16 days between the selection of the topic for a Private Member's Motion and the debate on it should be reduced to nine days.
Although, under my Motion, the arrangement for balloting for these Motions is unchanged—that is, the ballot will take place in the House about 16 days before the day of debate—the successful Member will now be able to wait until nine days before the day of the debate before notifying his subject. I am sure that the House will welcome this minor improvement.
But what about the Select Committee's main proposals for topical and urgent debates? They may be summarised as follows: (i) the very considerable changes it suggests in the operation of Standing Order 9; (ii) the four half-days out of the 29 Supply days for short notice debates selected by the Opposition; (iii) the extension of Friday sittings to allow two debates of three hours; and (iv) the selection by Mr. Speaker each week of an evening Adjournment subject to be debated for two hours.
Anyone who bothered to read the evidence which the Government Chief Whip and I gave to the Select Committee will know that we are in no way opposed in principle to any of the suggestions. There is no question, as The Guardian suggested last Saturday, of our asking the House to reject any or all of them tonight. What I am urging is that, having discussed them and considered their merits, we should postpone final decision about them until we can see them alongside the Select Committee's overall proposals for the reform of Public Bill procedure. That is my short reply to those who have put down Motion No. 8 on the Order Paper.
I know that some of my hon. Friends behind me will find this approach much too cautious. The other day, for example, I read a column by my hon. Friend the Member. for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand)— 598 I think that I used to write that column myself—in which he wrote that reforms of the timetable are of value only if the time they save is made available to backbenchers. He added:If this time is stolen by the Government the reforms are of no value at all".I wonder whether my hon. Friend will agree, on reflection, that that is a somewhat one-sided comment. I am the last person to deny the rôle either of the Opposition or of the private Member in the House, but the Government also have their rights to a fair share of time. Moreover, during this century, although central government has grown much more powerful, the proportion of Parliamentary time allocated to Government legislation has not increased. In 1906, the proportion was 57 per cent.; in 1938, it was 40 per cent.; and in 1964–65, it was 44 per cent. The year 1906 was one of great change and a big legislative programme and so was 1964–65. The striking fact is that more of the time was given to Government legislation then than now, so that although there is an enormous increase in the power of Government the allocation of time to them has not increased proportionately.
That is seen to be even more striking when one looks at the volume of legislation, which grew from 355 pages in 1906 to 995 pages in 1938 and 2,961 in 1964–65. Even if the amount of Government legislation has increased, the time we spend on it has not increased proportionately. That is why I want to emphasise that it is not my aim to cut down the amount of time we spend discussing legislation. My main concern is to see that we use it more profitably, and that any time we can gain by the reform of Public Bill procedure is fairly shared between the Government, the Opposition and the private Member.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
How long did the House of Commons sit in 1906? We should know that in order to get the comparison right.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have not the figures, but we know that at that time being a Member of Parliament was wholly a part-time occupation, which it is not now. What we are considering is not the absolute number of days, but the proportion of the time we allocate between the three factors—Government, Opposition and 599 private Members. My contention is that in our procedures we must get the balance right between those three.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
In the percentages the right hon. Gentleman has given us, he is presumably referring only to time spent in the Chamber and not the laborious days and nights spent on Committee stages of Government legislation upstairs.
§ Mr. Crossman
I should be surprised if the hon. Gentleman found that Committee stages were any less prolonged then than they are now.
Because of the desire to get the balance right, I urge that we should consider together the two Reports—the one on Standing Order No. 9 and the new one that we are promised on Public Bills. In almost all these procedural matters the problem is one of timing and balance —how to find enough time for all the topics we want to debate and all the legislation we want to pass, and how to balance the allocation of our limited time between the Government, who—to be honest—will always want more time for legislation; the Opposition, who—if we are to be equally honest—will always want more time to criticise the Government in debate; and the private Members, who want more time for their Motions and Bills.
I am convinced that further development of the Second Reading Committee procedure—one of our strikingly successful innovations—with radical reform of the whole procedure on Public Bills, including the Finance Bill, could relieve the pressure on the Floor of the House, enabling us to have more debates of the kind we want and fewer all-night sittings.
That concludes my comments on Standing Order No. 9—
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves Standing Order No. 9, I wish to tell him that there is a great deal of support on this side of the House for its rapid abolition. Can he give an assurance that we shall be able to discuss it before the Summer Recess and, I hope, amend it?
§ Mr. Crossman
I wish I could, but it depends on the Select Committee. I 600 assure my hon. Friend that the moment it presents its report we will consider it urgently. I shall give it high priority as soon as it is presented. But I cannot give the exact time, whether before or after the Summer Recess.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members would rather have more time to take part in the activities of Specialist Committees than have more time made available for debates?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am coming to that, but I want now to refer to the Motion on the First Report, dealing with the times of sittings. This Motion is No. 5 on the Order Paper and puts forward an alternative to the proposal for shorter speeches in paragraph 8 of the Report.
I am certainly not going to prolong this speech by dilating on the case for shorter speeches. We all know that appeals made by you, Mr. Speaker, for voluntary self-discipline are rarely heard by those to whom they most glaringly apply. If our debates are to be vigorous, and if hon. Members are to feel that they have a reasonable chance of getting a hearing, something more is needed than exhortation. It was this thought, I am sure, which drove the Select Committee to recommend that, with certain exceptions, back bench speeches should be limited to 15 minutes and that Front Bench speakers should be invited to limit themselves to half an hour.
I sympathise with the Committee's intentions, but I find it hard to persuade myself that this device could be right. It seems to me to divide the House into two classes of citizens, coinciding with the division between the Front Benches and the back benches and to have a dangerous rigidity. It could be hard on a back bencher leading for the Opposition, for example, on a particularly contentious Private Bill, or concerning himself with an Order in Council.
After considerable thought, I believe that my proposal will be more flexible. In effect, it relies on the Chair rather than on any arithmetical formula to protect us against our competitive prolixity. I realise that my Motion is drafted in very general terms and that it would lay a heavy burden on the Chair unless we were prepared to limit 601 that burden as far as possible. I think, Mr. Speaker, that it would be helpful to the House if, with your permission, I were to convey to hon. Members the indication you have kindly given me of the way in which you would exercise this discretionary power if it were vested in you.
As I understand, you would think it appropriate to use it only in major debates and then only if it were apparent to the Chair that many more Members wished to speak than could normally be fitted in. On such an occasion, you might indicate at the start of the day that, for a given period—one, two or even three hours—speeches should be limited to, say 15 minutes, or to a given period.
Finally, I emphasise that this arrangement should be regarded by yourself and by the House solely as an experiment designed exclusively to enable more back benchers to take part in important debates. If it is approved tonight, it will apply only for the remainder of this Session and we can review it along with our other Sessional experiments, including morning sittings, before making any permanent decision about our procedures.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is not a distinction between the Front Benches and the back benches, which the right hon. Gentleman says is invidious, implied in the indication that Mr. Speaker has given of how he would operate these powers? If the period were to cover, say, two or three hours, it would be between five o'clock and eight o'clock, which is wholly time at the disposal of back benchers, with the result that Front Benchers and Privy Councillors would be excluded and could thereby speak for as long as they liked.
§ Mr. Crossman
I would not have thought that it would necessarily work out like that. What I tried to convey was the way in which you, Mr. Speaker, thought you would use your discretion. I would not have thought that this would have the disadvantage that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) suggests.
I want to turn now to the other main topic—morning sittings. I have no doubt that on his topic I shall be at the receiving end of a great deal of comment. So much the better. But, since morning sittings are an experiment, I believe that 602 they should be judged at the end and not in the middle of the experiment. I shall not myself attempt to evaluate their success now, but I think that one of two interim comments might be to the convenience of the House.
In the first place, it seems to me that we are all learning a great deal from the experiment. Even those who opposed it will, I think, agree that a great deal of business which might otherwise have taken a lot of time late at night has been dispatched quite expeditiously during the course of morning sittings. We who supported them, on the other hand, should admit that experience has shown deficiencies which should be removed. For example, I am already prepared to give to the critics of Monday morning sittings a substantial part of their case.
I also feel bound to say a special word about the strain morning sittings have imposed and are imposing not only on you and your Department, Mr. Speaker, not only, I may add, on the Press Gallery, but virtually on the whole staff of the House of Commons. It is now clear that, whatever the future of morning sittings, the pressure on the House of Commons staff can only be relieved by a policy of vigorous recruitment, to which the Services Committee is addressing itself with every kind of urgency.
The only other point I wish to refer to is Ministerial statements in the morning. In all good faith, when I was moving the Motion on procedure last December, I gave the assurance that morning statements would be of only "secondary importance". Precisely because that assurance was given in good faith, I have been deeply distressed by the fact that, on at least two occasions, hon. Members have expressed violent indignation because they were convinced that I had transgressed this assurance.
I have considered the matter very carefully and have now come to the conclusion that the warning given to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), as soon as I had given the assurance, was fully justified. The attempt to divide Ministerial statements into two classes—important and controversial statements worthy of 3.30 and statements of secondary importance relegated to the morning—is untenable. For the rest of the Session, I propose to substitute a new 603 and, I hope, more satisfactory definition of what we had in mind when we introduced the Ministerial statements in the morning.
The aim was twofold. First, to reduce the delay at 3.30 before we reached the main business caused by Ministerial statements. Secondly, to reduce the number of occasions on which a substantial development of Government policy is announced by Written Answer not susceptible to questioning in the House. I believe that the House will agree with me that, in most cases, our morning statements have served both these two useful purposes. They have reduced both the log jam of statements at 3.30 and the number of important pronouncements which would otherwise have been buried in Written Answers.
I am hopeful that, in the light of our experience, the House will now agree to the following definition. Provided that due notice is given—by tabling 48 hours before—Ministerial statements should be permitted to be made in the morning unless they are of special importance and urgency. And since it is our aim to ensure that a Ministerial change of policy is open to question and answer, I shall make every effort, in the timing of these statements, to ensure that interested Members are aware of them.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Could my right hon. Friend extend this generosity a stage further to exclude from these blanket provisions Monday mornings? Even if one has 48 hours' notice of an important statement, about 90 per cent. of hon. Members do not live in London.
§ Mr. Crossman
If my hon. Friend will read what I have said, he will see that I am aware of the fact that a number of statements are not suitable for Monday morning sittings, for the reason he himself has given. I shall be careful, in timing the statements, to make sure that the relevant hon. Members not only know of them, but have a reasonable chance of attending when they are made.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)
I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman thinks this new definition of statements of special urgency and importance will be any more tenable than the previous definition.
§ Mr. Crossman
I hope that the House will accept that I am trying in good faith to make this new procedure work. I hope that I shall not have cases in which Members will feel that the procedure is being abused. I shall try to ensure that it is not abused. I think that the value of this procedure will be increasingly felt.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the strain on the servants of the House. It strikes me that leaving this for extra recruitment through the Services Committee is not facing up to the urgency of the matter. The promise given to the servants of the House was that morning sittings would mean that we would finish earlier, and it has not been kept. The strain really is serious. There is no certainty that the right hon. Gentleman can get recruits.
§ Mr. Crossman
I will certainly consult with the Services Committee on this, but my impression is that recruitment is the urgent factor now. We are under-staffed here and with more staff relaxations can be made.
I now turn to the last two Motions standing in my name, Nos. 6 and 7, both of which deal with Specialist and Select Committees. I hope that No. 6 need not detain us long. It fulfils a pledge which I made to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), during the proceedings on the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, when he urged the desirability of a Select Committee. I have no doubt that this Committee will become one of the really important Committees of the House.
Motion No. 7, which gives the Science and Technology Select Committee power to appoint sub-committees, arises directly from the debate that we held recently on the "Torrey Canyon" and the Government Motion that we passed referring the problems of coastal pollution to this new Specialist Committee. Since the Committee is already deeply engaged in the study of nuclear reactors, it became clear that it could not carry out this new inquiry without a strengthening of its membership, and recourse to subcommittees.
Though I fancy that no one will oppose Motion No. 7, it is possible that doubts will be voiced this afternoon about the 605 practicability of extending the number of our specialist and their sub-committees much further unless we can be sure of recruiting the Clerks necessary to staff them. This is a highly relevant warning. Already, before we created the Departmental Committee on Agriculture and the Specialist Committee on Science and Technology, we had not got the full complement of Clerks that we are permitted and there were insufficient to carry all the burdens imposed upon them. Since then we have created three new Committees.
In order to man our new Committees, we were forced to cut back the manpower that we had allocated to the Estimates Sub-Committee, with consequent detriment to its work. I shall have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that if he catches your eye, we shall hear more about this from the Chairman of Estimates. But I feel that it is my responsibility, as Leader of the House, to warn Members tonight that the function of a Clerk to a Select Committee is both highly responsible and highly specialised, and that staff shortages cannot be plugged by bringing in civil servants from Whitehall. If we want to expand our Specialist Committees next Session—and I very much hope this is the will of the House—then we must take urgent steps to ensure the recruitment of senior Clerks to man them.
There is another suggestion I should like to put to the House. Our two new Committees have each made a vigorous start, and encouraged no doubt by the precedent that they are setting, the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries is also launching an important new initiative.
The spirit of inquiry, without which a revival of Parliamentary control of the Executive cannot be achieved, is making itself felt in Whitehall. But how is all this inquiry to be channelled constructively? How, for example, can unneccessary overlaps be avoided between the two new Specialist Committees and the Estimates Committees which are roughly their opposite numbers? In the case of the Estimates Committee, a Steering Committee exists to plan the division of work.
Surely the time has come when we should have a steering committee composed of the Chairmen of Public Accounts, of Estimates and of the new 606 Specialist Committees. In addition to surveying the ground to be covered, and preventing overlaps, this Steering Committee could fulfil a very useful task in co-ordinating practice with regard to two new powers which have recently been given by Parliament, the power to employ outside experts and to travel abroad. Until now there has been virtually no pooling of views or experience between the various Committees on the use to be made of these two important powers.
I have dealt with my seven Motions, and in so doing it seems that I have given what amounts to a mid-term progress report on the reforms that we are seeking to carry through. They all seem to be thoroughly useful and to justify the claim that I made in our last debate on procedure, that if they are taken together, worked on and used to the full they can give us the biggest advance that we have made in Parliamentary reform since 1945. I would record that they have two weaknesses. First of all, they are piecemeal, and, secondly, a number of them—morning sittings, short speeches, our two Specialist Committees—are sessional experiments, which will lapse in the autumn.
It is this which gives special importance to the final report on which the Select Committee is now at work. That will be the climax of its work, the report in which it treats our procedures as a whole and give us its overall picture of how the reformed House of Commons, which it envisages, will function, particularly in the realm of Public Bill procedure. When we have that report; when we put it alongside the report on S.O.9; when we can consider both in relation to the problem of morning sittings; then I believe that we shall be in a position to move from a number of variable but piecemeal and sessional experiments, to the shaping of a balanced procedural framework, adapted to the needs of the mid-20th century.
In saying this, I would leave the House with one further thought. Parliamentary reform, if it is to be thorough and pervasive, cannot be limited to a single House. I accept the need for the reform of Parliament as a whole—not reform in compartments, modernising the House of Commons in one compartment and reforming the other place in another. In the debate which took place there last 607 week, I notice that my colleague, the Earl of Longford, used a question which summed up his view and which sums up my view of this problem, too.No real progressthe author stated,can be made in clarifying or reforming the relationship between the Executive and Parliament until Parliament is looked at as a whole and not just the House of Commons".There was a reference in our last election manifesto to this problem, and as the Prime Minister made clear, in answer to a Question yesterday, the Government have nothing at present to add to that. Moreover, if I said any more on this topic I suspect, Mr. Speaker, that you would recall me quickly within the bounds of order.
Let me conclude by thanking, on behalf of the whole House, a Committee which has a splendid record of achievement behind it, but from which, I sincerely believe, the best is yet to come.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I will try to be as short as possible, but I must begin with some general points. I am very glad that this debate has taken place at last. The Select Committee on Procedure works quite hard, and with reasonable amity. We try to discharge the obligations laid upon us with celerity and diligence. I hope that the Chairman agrees with me. I sometimes feel that it would be better if our Reports could be dealt with by the House more speedily.
Today we are asked to take note of four Reports. There are Reports on Times of Sittings of the House, printed on 3rd August 1966, Standing Order No. 9, printed on 20th December 1966, Methods of Voting, printed on 20th December 1966, and The Finance Bill, printed on 9th March 1967.
I accept that there is some interlocking between these Reports and their subject matter, but I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to arrange in future shorter and more specific debates sooner. We will be in some difficulty at the end of today, because we are talking about so many different topics.
Let me now deal with the approach to these procedural matters by my col- 608 leagues and myself. We feel, first of all, that these are House of Commons affairs, not party affairs. We have a free vote in the Select Committee, and we have a free vote here on the Floor of the House. I have always accepted the proposition that if there is a major matter, a major change, it may be necessary for the Government to get it through in the usual way, but in the kind of cases that we are discussing today there ought to be a free vote.
Secondly, we are ready and willing to accept changes if they are for the better. Changes made just for the sake of changing are probably ill-founded. I do not think that it will be easy to carry out this massive reconstruction of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. I think that he will find that he will have to adopt the piecemeal approach. It will be bit by bit, and we must try to improve our procedures in this way.
I agree with him that when we are considering these alleged reforms, we have to look at the effect of them upon a whole complex of problems—the relationship between the Executive and the private Member, between Government and Opposition, and relations between Front and back benches. Are any of the balances in these delicate and very important relationships likely to be affected?
Thirdly, we have to consider the effectiveness of Parliament as a whole, and the extent to which these changes will enable us to function more efficiently. It is very easy for people to run things down and to say that we ought to bring things up to date and so on. But criticism like that is valueless unless something better is suggested. The weakness of Parliament and the dangers and pitfalls and the threats, vary from year to year and from generation to generation.
On this I state my own view, and I do not bind any of my hon. or right hon. Friends to what I say. One of the main troubles is that the machine is overloaded. It is trying to do too much, and the figures which the right hon. Gentleman disclosed for legislation show that volume rather than quality appears to be the test and the objective. Secondly, we are falling into the danger of having too many Committees being chased by too few Members. We have Standing Committees, 609 which are essential to the legislative process. Last Session, 326 Members were appointed to them.
There are Select Committees on Privileges, Public Accounts, Estimates, Nationalised Industries, Procedure. Statutory Instruments, Services of the House, Science and Technology, Agriculture, and now on the activities of the Ombudsman. A new vogue is setting in of sub-committees of these various Select Committees. In addition, there are the party committees which, I think, hon. Members on both sides will agree, are a way in which back benchers can exercise certain control, sometimes salutary control, over Front Benchers. There are the extra-Parliamentary activities like the C.P.A. and the I.P.U., which are an important part of the Parliamentary scene.
What everybody must realise—the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip, party managers, and the rank and file membership—is that it is getting exceedingly difficult to man all these Committees. It is a real Parliamentary problem. I am the humble Chairman of a modest little sub-committee of a Select Committee. Each meeting we have not the faintest idea whether we shall get a quorum. If two Members turn up, we wonder whether a third will put in an appearance. On most of the Committees on which I serve it is a real difficulty to get a reasonable attendance. It is wrong to put our heads in the sand and to pretend that this is not a problem.
In addition to the staffing points which the Leader of the House mentioned, this matter should have an important effect on the times of sitting of the House. Some hon. Members may remember that Sir Edward Fellowes, who had great experience of these matters, went so far as to suggest that, owing to the proliferation of Committees, consideration should be given to the possibility of devoting one day to Committees. Instead of going on with morning sittings, we must think much more of making the existing Committees work better. I am not against this trend.
My complaint about some of the things which the Government are doing is that the specialised Committees are not specialised enough. Their remits are much too wide. I should like to see smaller Committees with smaller topics 610 or more limited topics to deal with. I am not against the trend, as long as there is sufficient time to enable people to play an effective part.
I come now to the Motions. The first Report dealt with morning sittings. I disagreed with it. The proposal for morning sittings was carried only by eight votes to seven in the Select Committee. What the Report recommended was considerably better than what the Government did. It recommended a 10.30 start instead of 10 o'clock. It said that statements should be taken after Questions and not in the mornings. It suggested an extra quarter of an hour for Questions and rising at 9.45 p.m. when Government business permitted. All those were improvements on what the Government did. As some of us ventured to suggest would happen, morning sittings have been a rather dismal failure. The scheme was half-baked from the word "go". It was neither one thing nor the other.
I have a note of the times at which the House has risen on Mondays and Wednesdays since 1st February. The times for Mondays are as follows: 1.43 a.m.; 1.26 a.m.; 3.55 a.m.; 10.7 p.m.; 11.56 p.m.; 10.45 p.m.; 10.2 a.m. The times for Wednesdays are as follows: 3.10 a.m.; 10.0 p.m.; 10.13 p.m.; 1.32 a.m.; 11.34 p.m.; 1.3 a.m.; 12.12 a.m.; 12.5 a.m. The House has not been getting up any earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Thursdays?"] If hon. Members will allow me to make my speech, I shall deal with Thursdays; that is a perfectly fair point.
As I say, the House has not risen any earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a very great burden has been imposed on the staff. It is true that the Government have, by and large, succeeded in concluding Government business on Thursdays by 10 o'clock. But they could have done that easily. It is perfectly easy to arrange it without morning sittings. I do not think that the Leader of the House's new formula on statements is an improvement. It is damaging the efficiency and effectiveness of the House.
I am dissatisfied only to take note of the Second Report on Standing Order No. 9; Urgent and Topical Debates. I think that there is a view in all quarters 611 of the House that there should be more opportunities for topical debates. The Standing Order No. 9 procedure, or something like it, should not be used too frequently. It would be intolerable for the Government, and indeed for Members interested in other business, if we were, to have such debates too frequently, but I believe that the House misses an opportunity about once every three or four months. That is no reflection on the Chair because decisions concerning Standing Order No. 9 are governed by precedent. There is a tendency to have such debates less frequently. I expect that hon. Members have seen the figures in paragraph 3 of the Second Report. Excluding last Monday's debate, there have been only 15 debates under Standing Order No. 9 in the last 20 years compared with 102 debates in the first 20 years of the century.
The Committee suggested a new form of requirement, which is set out in the revised Standing Order suggested in paragraph 11 of the Second Report, "a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration." It is suggested that there should be relaxations of the precedents, and so on, and thatit should be possible to debate a matter which, although not of current ministerial responsibility, could be made so by legislation or administrative action, including intervention in overseas affairs. They consider that matters involving the ordinary administration of the law should be capable of being raised, though not any matter that is sub judice. They consider that in applying the rule of urgency the likelihood (as opposed to the theoretical possibility) of the matter being able to be raised in time by other means should be taken into account.I do not think that if guidance of this sort were given to the Chair the floodgates would be opened. We should envisage the possibility of having about five debates a session of this sort. This would be an improvement and would enable us to debate important and topical matters. It would be very necessary that the Standing Order should provide that the Speaker should not give his reasons. If he does start to give his reasons, we shall again be bound by precedent.
Procedural changes have been suggested. There is the suggestion about notice being given to the Speaker before noon, with a let out for anything of 612 urgency which becomes apparent between noon and the sitting of the House in the afternoon, and that the debate should take place the following day unless the urgency is such that it should take place the same day. I do not believe that the Government would lose time as a result of this change, because if the business which was pushed back was controversial and therefore it was inconvenient for either side of the House to have divisions very much later than was expected, I am sure that the usual channels could arrange for that matter to be dealt with. This was a unanimous Report by the Committee, and I am not satisfied merely that note should be taken of it. This is not a matter as between the Opposition and Government. It is a matter for Members on both sides of the House.
The recommendation about the use of Supply Days is a matter for the Government and the Opposition. It is not unreasonable for the Government to say that they want to delay a decision on it. It is a good idea that the Opposition should earmark four half-days from their ration of Supply Days for debates at short notice. There should be safeguards—not more than one a month, and at least one clear day's notice should be given. It is not unreasonable for the Leader of the House to say that he does not wish to go into that matter now. It is a matter for further discussion. The other recommendation about Standing Order No. 9 deals with the rights of hon. Members, often irrespective of party allegiance, and it should be the subject of a decision today.
With regard to private Members' time, the Government's Motion about the Ballot has the purpose of reducing the period within which people can give notice. I am not clear about whether any action is to be taken on paragraphs 16 and 17 dealing with Adjournment debates. Those are matters for further consideration.
The Third Report on Methods of Voting was dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman. The idea of voting stations away from the Chamber was ruled out by the Committee for the reasons given. Therefore, we had to consider a pushbutton system in or near the Chamber. It was decided that it would be impracticable in the Chamber for reasons of space, and we came to the conclusion that, 613 in the Lobbies, it would not improve on the present system. It would mean delay, with people crowding round, and there would be great difficulties of supervision. We came down to the modest change which will save a certain amount of the discomfort involved in being herded together on our ordinary occasions. It will net save much time when there are two-line Whips. However, with a three-tine Whip, it will save a little time.
The Fourth Report deals with the Finance Bill. This is a very difficult matter. I agree that the Bill takes up a lot of time, but I am a traditionalist about the Finance Bill because, although agree that at Budget time it is impossible to give a judgment on the whole year—and that is why I introduced the regulator, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has adopted once again—it is good to have a comprehensive examination of the tax system and the Chancellor's proposals for the year.
There may be complicated debates on some Clauses. However, on examination, these seemed to be very much fewer than I expected. Everyone is affected, directly or indirectly, by most of the Clauses in a Finance Bill. We looked at the possibilities with the idea of seeing whether we could agree among ourselves on improvements. All my hon. Friends felt strongly that the whole Bill should not go upstairs. We took that view not only for the reasons which I have already given, but because, if a Finance Bill was in Committee upstairs, it would affect a great many of the debates in the House during that time. So we rejected that, although I admit that there are strong feelings in some quarters that it is the thing to do.
The second possibility was to divide the Bill. I have always advocated that in certain cases, by agreement, what are called the machinery Clauses could be sent upstairs. However, after hearing evidence, I am not sure that it would save as much time as I thought. Nevertheless, in spite of Treasury objections, I still think that it ought to be a runner in certain circumstances. There might be a Finance Bill so complicated and so much dealing with machinery that, by agreement, part of it could be sent upstairs.
The third possibility is to go on as at present. The fourth one is the idea of 614 a voluntary arrangement with safeguards. Incidentally, I think that the right hon. Gentleman was unwise to use the expression "reserved powers" with regard to the safeguards. There may be some misunderstanding, and it must be clear what we are agreeing to. Usually, there is a voluntary agreement of a general nature. We looked at past Finance Bills and came to the conclusion that while in 1952 and 1965, there were long, protracted debates, which some people thought were too long, otherwise, usually the Finance Bill has taken almost the same amount of time—seven, eight or nine days.
If I may give the examples of 1961 and 1962, what happened was that, after Second Reading, there was a discussion between myself and, in the first case, the Prime Minister and, in the second, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer about how many days the Committee stage should take. I said that it was a short, simple little Bill which we ought to be able to get through in not more than seven days. My opposite number said that it was a long, complicated and confused Measure which woud need ten days in Committee. We agreed to see if we could do it in eight, and in fact we did it in nine. We did not say before that it "shall be" this or that, but we watched what went on, and that is what happened.
In 1962, we were more precise and, I think, got into half days. I recollect that I said again that it was a short and simple Bill and that we ought to be able to get through it in, at the most, seven and a half days. The Opposition said that it would take eight and a half days. We did it in eight. Obviously, it depended upon a certain amount of flexibility and good temper on both sides. To start with anything that resembles a specific timetable is to invite people to make the arrangement fail. Therefore, it must be what is called a general agreement in the proposed Sessional Order, and not a specific one.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
To make the matter clear, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to eight and a half days, it would be more correct to say eight and a half days and nights. That is the problem which we have been trying to solve, is it not?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I do not want to be drawn into discussing exactly how long the debates went on. I agree that we discussed this, and there was the idea put forward that a day should not go on later than 11.30. I would hope to do better than that and make it a convention to stop at 11 o'clock. However, there cannot be a system under which, if there is a sudden row, one can be absolutely certain that the debate will not go on. It depends on a great deal of give and take and on people being reasonable.
That is the arrangement which has worked. I think that it has been much less boring to most hon. Members than people think. Newer hon. Members' views are very much prejudiced by what happened in 1965, but, for an ordinary Finance Bill, I think that it would be better to continue in the way in which we have gone on before.
However, I accept that there is the danger that the general agreement could break down, and therefore my right hon. and hon. Friends and I felt that we could go so far as to agree to the safeguards. If, after two or three days, it becomes clear that the arrangement is not working and there is no chance of keeping to a timetable with reasonable hours of sitting, it should be possible to come to the House for a short procedural debate and then send the matter to the Business Committee, the definition of which is set out in the Order, for it to fix a timetable. I do not think that it will be necessary this year actually to adopt this procedure, but, on the basis of an experiment, I should be prepared to go that far.
One has to consider carefully preserving the rights of the Opposition to criticise the Bill and of other hon. Members to comment upon it, but this is a common sense arrangement, and I am fortified in that view because it was accepted unanimously by members of the Select Committee.
I come, then, to the length of speeches, which is a matter arising out of the First Report. I realise that it is a difficult problem. I know that very different views upon it are held by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. In the light of the communication which has been received from Mr. Speaker, in my own view, there should be no objection to a limited 616 scheme by way of an experiment for the rest of this Session. It does not raise any problems to do with Committee stages or private Members' time, but provides, on the occasion of major debates, when there is a superfluity of speakers, for a limited period of one or two hours for short speeches.
As regards the length of speeches in such a period, I think that five minutes would be too short. I have been prepared always to settle for ten minutes, though some of my right hon. and hon. Friends do not agree with me. However, to make a short speech requires more industry and more preparation. At our party conference, the mover of a motion gets 10 minutes, and other speakers get five minutes. People manage to cope with that and make their points within the time allowed.
It must be emphasised that this is suggested only for occasions when 50 or 60 hon. Members want to speak. On an experimental basis, it is something which would improve matters. That is my view, and has been for some time.
One very important point in this context is what should be done about giving way in the cut and thrust of debate. I think that Mr. Speaker should have some idea of "injury time" and, if an hon. Member has given way on several occasions, probably he will not count that time. If this is approached as a flexible arrangement on an experimental basis, the House should gain.
I have no comment to make on Motions 6 and 7, and I have tried to be as brief as I can on the other Motion. As to Standing Order No. 9, unless I hear something rather more satisfactory during the course of the debate, I will ask those who agree with me to divide on my Motion on that matter.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
On the question of the length of speeches, I can remember a selection conference at which I was selected from a national short list to represent Leeds, West. I was given 10 minutes in which to make a speech, and that was probably the most crucial speech of my life. I think that this is generally true all round the Chamber. I doubt whether many hon. Members were given more than 10 minutes in which to convince their parties that they 617 were the right men for their respective constituencies. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that one has to put a great deal more industry into a short speech than into a long one.
I want it to address myself to the Leader of the House, if I might have his attention for a little while. This debate started with a speech that he made to the House on the question of televising our proceedings. He attempted to contrast what happened during the last century with what happens now, and he referred to what he regarded as the decline of Parliament. I emphatically disagreed with that speech. I thought that it got too much publicity for what I thought was a mistaken hypothesis.
During the 19th century Parliament was a different place. It represented a selective electorate. The great Reform Bill gave only 4 per cent. of the adults the right to vote. Working men never came to Parliament. They did not have the vote until the 'eighties. I therefore think that we have to judge Parliament against the background of a mature electorate, of the Education Acts passed since 1870, and of the great mass parties which we have now. It is impossible to compare parliament and its effect today with what it was during the 'fifties and' sixties of the last century, at a time when half-drunks came out of clubs, came down to Parliament, and on personal issues turned out the Government. Today we are better educated and better mannered. More Members want to speak, and they speak more intelligently. Instead of there being a couple of professional gladiators who entertain here night after night after night, more Members want to take part in the debates, and it is against that background that we should judge Parliament.
Last week's Budget was a classic example of how Parliament has not come on. We had an hour and a half speech from the Chancellor, which would have been better discharged if we had had a White Paper which would have consumed at least an hour of that speech. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) quoted something that "Nye" Bevan said about annual Budgets being fit for a pastoral society. I know about the rotation of crops, spring time, harvest, and so on, but the way that Parliament is constituted 618 now on the basis of Sessional Parliaments is just as antediluvian.
We are elected for five years. Every modern nation has adopted four- and five-year plans, and we ought to do the same with legislation. We would get down to dealing with it, and nobody to whom I have spoken has disagreed with me about this. If, when we were elected, we decided that we would embark on certain legislation, if it was still in the pipeline at the end of the Session, it could be carried over to the next Session, subject of course to another Second Reading debate, which would be a debate of assent or dissent to see whether we wanted to go on with it or not.
That procedure would be a godsend to the private Member who is victimised in the present monstrous set-up. He is ground between all the pressure lobbies and the Government. What happens to social legislation introduced by a private Member? Let us consider as an example the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. This went through the House on a Friday by 223 votes to 29. Why did it not get upstairs before it did? The reason was that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) had an innocuous Bill about employment agencies on to which had been grafted about 16 Government Clauses, and while these were being considered the other Measure was held up. The Committee was considering what was almost a Government Bill. It is only by Government drafting and Government assistance that one is able to get Bills through, so this important social Measure was delayed upstairs.
All the outside lobbies cash in and start a campaign. I speak as a supporter of the Measure, and I do not see why it should get that kind of treatment. I do not want a Committee in which there are one or two vociferous proponents, and the rest are merely lobby fodder. If the Bill goes down it will do so not because of its opponents but because of its two vociferous proponents. I think that we should ask the Select Committee to consider this as a keystone to the problem, because if it did many things would follow from it.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Would not the great disadvantage be that we would lose the 619 Queen's Speech setting out the theme of legislation for each Session?
§ Mr. Pannell
My hon. Friend almost prompts me to a rude reply. I am in favour of having a decorative Queen's Speech when Her Majesty comes down and indicates the further measures to be taken, but she might as well say that the faithful Commons which gave consideration to legislation during the last Session will be reconsidering it during the next one. It is only a form of words put into her mouth by the Cabinet of the day, and sometimes I think that the Speech ought to have in it a few more adverbs and lurid adjectives. I suggest that the Queen's Speech is not really a serious argument to be put up by the Chairman of a Procedure Committee.
I propose now to move on quickly to the question of morning sittings. These sittings started off at half-cock. We started the wrong way. We should start these sittings on Monday night, adjourn the House at Ten o'clock, or half-past Ten, until half-past Ten or Eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning, and treat it as an Adjournment from the night before. By doing this we would spare Mr. Speaker the trouble of coming here in his fancy dress, and enable him to carry on with his administrative duties which we know are extremely heavy. By doing that, Prayers and the opening of the sitting would be conducted at a reasonable time of the day.
When we are considering Standing Order No. 9, I think that a debate under this Order might be ordered for the morning of the following day. This would fit in the debate quite comfortably. I would make it rather conventional, or completely conventional, for Mr. Deputy Speaker to occupy the Chair during morning sittings. We might then get a more formal procedure, and make it conventional for a Parliamentary Secretary to occupy the Government Front Bench, with the Minister coming down only when he thought it necessary.
In the long-term, I see morning sittings as private Members' time, and not party time. It is only if we build in safeguards for the rights of private Members that we will get the best debates and the evening papers, and push their Lordships out of the market and remove the 620 absurd idea which they have that better debates take place in the charnel house.
I notice that debates under Standing Order No. 9 are always concerned with foreign or colonial affairs. When hon. Members get up and speak with indignation about the Government, they seldom consider the natives of this island. I remember that on one occasion we were to discuss the Rating and Valuation Bill which concerned the rents and rates to be paid by the citizens of this country, and yet there was a monstrous row about something which had happened at the other end of the world. I submit that if one balances one against the other there is no doubt about which is the most important.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that war is a serious matter?
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) always seems to think that a reference to the other ends of the earth means that one is talking about war, but that is not always so. It is sometimes a matter of the imprisonment of someone, or something of that sort. If it were a matter of peace or war, that would be very different.
I happened to be in the Canadian Parliament where this sort of thing is handled rather better that it is here under that Parliament's Standing Order No. 23. The Speaker ruled that he would grant what we would call a Standing Order No. 9 debate—and this was the test of the rule in the Canadian Parliament—if the public interest would irrevocably suffer if the debate were not taken that day. That seems to be a good form of words, far better than ours.
I am sorry that Mr. Speaker is not present. I must be careful about what I say. Having studied every Ruling in this respect since Speaker Peel, I think that the rather libertarian view of Standing Order No. 9 started when we had a debate on Aden the other week. I was in favour of that debate, but I have heard better grounds than those given on that occasion for a Standing Order No. 9 debate which were refused. It all depends on Mr. Speaker, and we must take his decision.
From the start, it was a nonsense to talk about second-class and first-class 621 sittings in the context of morning sittings. It was rather curious that the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) should have kicked up a row about a statement concerning the salaries of members of the Steel Corporation being made at a morning sitting, but did not say anything when the Minister of Health, who occupies the Ministerial office which the right hon. Gentleman once held, announced extra facilities for those in need of invalid carriages. My priorities would have been that that statement was more important than the statement about salaries about members of the Steel Corporation. But how do we decide our priorities? There is not an hon. Member who in sincere good faith would not have different views about priorities from every other hon. Member. Consequently, we must get away from this nonsense of imagining that some time is first-class time and another time is second-class time. Mr. Speaker once said that Question Time was precious time. If morning sittings were regarded as being as important as any other time of the day, that time could then be put to the best use.
I come now to a subject on which I join forces with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), although he will not agree with all my statements. I agree with him at least that the forum of Parliamentary debate is this Chamber and not all sorts of Committees upstairs. A great deal of nonsense has been said on this subject, but the gaff was blown on it by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral this afternoon when he said that those who complained most bitterly about the lack of Committee were not those who served on the present Committees. I rather like Select Committee work, but even the Public Accounts Committee has been known to have to scurry round the building to find a quorum. Incidentally, I hope that the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner will be chosen with especial care.
Parliament has altered a great deal since 1964. There has been almost a catalytic reaction. What is it that so discontents new Members? What do they believe to be lacking? I believe that they ask from the House something which it cannot give them. They ask for participation in legislation and they want 622 a voice in legislation before it has crystallised in a Governmental view. I am not stating whether that is good or bad, but I believe that that is at the bottom of all the discontent.
If that is so, all I can say, with great regret, is that the answer to that is further Committees, that the view of Sir Edward Fellowes, a view which I rejected in 1959, will have to prevail and we will have to leave the Chamber for a day to accommodate Committees. If day after day there are to be a few of the faithful in the House addressing each other in a sort of rather dilettante exercise, and if that is a waste of time and all sorts of earnest people must be poring over Blue Books or acting as the authors of Blue Books upstairs, going into all sorts of matters, then we shall have to close up this place for a day. If we do that, the country will say that Parliament, which they think is already not working long enough, is taking another day off. That is what will be the view, because Members will then not be observed. It would be a bad thing if we had to cut a day from our weekly work in this Chamber.
I now come full circle and agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. I do not think that the spread of the Committee system is the answer to our ills. I believe that the other solutions which I have indicated are more germane to the problem—a continuous Session running for the life of a Parliament, topical debates and greater use of morning sittings to discuss what is urgent, to respond to indignation from either side of the House—not the frontal clashes between the two parties—so that the views of private Members can be properly aired and so that people can see this Parliament as we know it to be, as a vital living thing and not a creature in decline.
It need not be. We need not look back to the 19th century and to days long dead, with an electorate completely different and with much less awareness and much more ignorance than that of today. We have to bring ourselves up to date, to have the clash in the Chamber which is what registers most in the country and which is what gives force to the aspirations of the people whom we represent.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Most hon. Members will 623 fully agree with the closing words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), but many hon. Members will also agree that the form and shape of the debate is somewhat unfortunate. The scope is so wide, covering four Reports, produced after great labour by the Select Committee, covering eight Motions, several of them of very great practical importance to the House, that it is extraordinarily difficult for anyone—and this applies as much to the Lord President of the Council and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) as to the rest of us —to cover even a reasonable number of the important matters which are raised. I would have been happier if we had had a day's debate to take note of the Reports of the Select Committee and then, in the light of that debate, the Government could have come forward with such proposals as they thought fit. As it is, we are in this difficulty. I shall, therefore, do what, no doubt, many of my hon. Friends would do, and that is simply to take up one or two points on which I feel that I have something to contribute.
The Lord President of the Council rather trailed his coat when he began by saying that morning sittings had been a success. As the late Dr. Joad would have said, it depends what you mean by "success". They have been very modestly attended and the impression has been given that they have been second-class sittings. I am very much fortified in that view by the fact that the Lord President of the Council and the Services Committee have not yet managed to make provision for filling the Galleries on these occasions. That gives an indication, perhaps excessive, of the lack of status of these sittings.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think that I am right in saying that all the members of the public who wish to attend morning sittings can do so. I made some inquiries for this debate and, as I understand it from the Serjeant at Arms, the maximum period of waiting has been 20 minutes and normally there is virtually none. There has been very little demand by the public and rather less by hon. Members. I am very glad of the chance to say that there is room for the public and that there has never been a time when there 624 has not been sufficient room. That is up to now, but it may, of course, change during the summer period.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is right on this. I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) that the week before last, during the morning sittings, 60 people were waiting. Anyway, the right hon. Gentleman is not making a fair point, because if the Galleries were normally served, we would all receive normal allocations of tickets for them, as we do for afternoon sittings. It is the fact that Members have to apply and otherwise people have to queue to get into the Galleries in the morning which is the great distinction.
I do not want to stress this point—I am perhaps out of order in referring to the Galleries—but when one sees only one row or a row and a half occupied, one gets the impression that this is not the House of Commons, the centre and focus of national interest.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, on morning sittings, that Monday morning sittings were on the way out. However, there is no Motion to that effect before us, though I thought that he showed some lack of enthusiasm for them. Secondly, he did not refer to a point which I put to him a little time ago and which is of practical importance. The rather illogical corollary of the morning sittings is that the main business should terminate at 9.30 p.m. on those days, as it will tonight. That deprives back benchers—Front Bench speakers continue as before—of half an hour, with no ascertainable benefit to anybody. Whatever we do about morning sittings—these are matters of inter-party controversy to some extent—what there is no controversy about is that it would be better to revert to 10 p.m. Not only would that almost certainly enable two hon. Members to get in who otherwise would not, but it would also make it easier for hon. Members wih public engagements outside to return for a Division.
I speak as a London Member. Under the 10 o'clock provision, I can attend an evening function in my constituency and return, having had reasonable time for my constituency duties, but 9.30 makes all the difference. To touch on a sore 625 point, there are many London Members, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will indicate some change on this point—
§ Mr. Woodburn
But is not there the danger that hon. Members who come in al 10 o'clock come in fresh to start a debate which might last all night? Hon. Member; tied to this House by Committee work have done a day's work by 10 o'clock and object to other hon. Members starting all over again at that time.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman means by "fresh". I should have thought that they would be even fresher at 9.30 p.m. —[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman must be his own judge in these matters.
The right hon. Gentleman's warning about specialist Committees had much force. As the House knows I am the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and I thought that it was fair to point out that these Select Committees cannot operate efficiently unless they have considerable staff to support them. Such success as the P.A.C. has obtained is largely due—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) will agree—to the fact that we are served by the Exchequer and Audit Department, which 112 s a staff of 400 or 500.
Hon. Members have so much to do here that they find it much more difficult to get to the bottom of administrative problems unless they have really adequate staff. The right hon. Gentleman was right to warn the House that the mere setting up of a Select Committee without adequate official support may be a disillusion and discouragement to those hon. Members who enthusiastically seek to serve on it.
I agree, too, with his warning that, if we multiply the number of Select Committees, as hon. Members also have obligations on the Floor of the House, there may be difficulties in getting the quorums—or "quora", if that is the plural—without which the Committee is unable to proceed. This point needs to be watched.
I turn now, much more controversially, to the Finance Bill. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for 626 Wirral, I have been associated with some. Although in a less exalted capacity, I have actually been associated with rather more than my right hon. and learned Friend, because I was at the Treasury for over five and a half years, and—I say this again at the risk of seeming controversial —in those days there was only one Finance Bill a year. The present system has much to commend it, and I am nervous about the so-called "reserve powers".
All Parliamentary procedure is, in a way, a balance between the Executive and the House, and one of the ways in which the House can prevail against the Executive on the Finance Bill is by talking. Once the reserve powers are invoked, Governments have little motive to make concessions, at any rate to the Opposition. They have perhaps reasons to make concessions to their hon. Friends, who otherwise might not support them in the Lobby.
As a Treasury Minister—this is probably common experience—I have made concessions, which I probably would not on balance otherwise have made, because they helped to lubricate the machine and to achieve progress. Once that incentive is removed from the Government, they are given further reason to be rigid and uncompromising. At a time when the concern of most of us who are interested in these matters is to increase the power of this House as against that of the Executive, the invoking of these reserve powers will be a thoroughly retrograde step.
I know that it is only to be an experiment, but experiments have a curious habit of becoming permanent. If it does, it would apply to a Finance Bill, however controversial it was. One of the penalties for a Government who introduce a highly controversial Finance Bill is to use up a good deal of time which they might otherwise use for other legislation.
I am very suspicious of this, and was alarmed when my right hon. and learned Friend said that if, after two or three days, it seemed that inadequate progress had been made, these reserve powers could reasonably be invoked. It is the experience of most of us who have taken controversial business—the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President will recall the National Insurance Bill of 1959—that an enormous amount of time is generally 627 taken on the first day or two on the earlier Clauses, but, as happened with that Measure, there is later an indication that, in the long run, good sense will not prevail—
§ Mr. Crossman
As the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of that Bill, would he not agree that it could be said that if we had an agreement at the beginning, he and I could have had a more sensible balance of discussion in those first two days? These are the lines along which most of us are thinking about the disposition of time upstairs.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I say nothing against voluntary agreement. Every Finance Bill I knew has operated under one. In the context of the National Insurance Bill, I might say, on the right hon. Gentleman's behalf, that we were approaching a General Election and that he hoped to be able to stop the Bill altogether. There is generally an informal understanding on a Finance Bill, and I am all for that, because it is flexible. If a Minister mishandles an Amendment, he may waste some hours.
There must be some flexibility, as otherwise we will not get a balance—[An HON. MEMBER: "We get it."] The hon. Member says that we get it. We do under the present system, but once we make it certain that a Bill will be secured by a certain time, come hell or high water, one takes away from the Minister in charge one of the most powerful arguments for making concessions. Therefore, on the whole, I would prefer to see no reserve powers, but to go on as we are, with perhaps some formalisation of the negotiations for a voluntary arrangement.
I come to the question of so-called short speeches and the limitation on speeches. I speak on this matter particularly to my hon. Friends because this is of special interest to the Opposition, although it is of interest to the House as a whole. There is a real problem involved in taking powers to put fixed limits on the speeches of hon. Members of this sovereign assembly who have caught Mr. Speaker's eye. This is a serious step to embark upon and that is why I am unhappy about our plunging into it on a Motion now, at the same time as discussing the Report of the Select Committee, which recom- 628 mended something quite different. I hope that the House will give considerable thought to this matter before accepting what I suggest would be a serious constitutional innovation.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral rather brushed aside, I thought, the question of the effect of this limitation on the good Parliamentary practice of giving way. Even if we had what he amusingly called "injury time", that would not solve the problem. Mr. Speaker would constantly be looking at his watch and be calculating that, say, because an hon. Member had given way for 57 seconds, that time must be added to his credit. It would be a difficult operation for Mr. Speaker, although that is not the whole of the problem.
When one gives way the House expects one to divert from one's main argument to reply to the point that has been put. If that were not done there would be no point in giving way. Once a limit is fixed on the time a speech may take—whether an absolute figure or a figure to be amended at the discretion of Mr. Speaker—most hon. Members would not give way.
In spite of "injury time"—which, I take it, would apply when an hon. Member had given way—one must also consider the question of time lost when sheer noise prevents one from being heard. It has happened to me, it has happened to the Leader of the House and, in time, sooner or later, it happens to most of us. Would that be covered by "injury time"?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
At what point would it apply? Would one have the time added if the degree of audibility went below a certain number of decibels?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That still does not meet my point about diverting from one's main argument, not only to give way but to answer an intervention.
It is for the House to judge whether the system would work. In making this judgment, it might care to bear in mind, this experience of mine. Leasehold reform is a subject on which I hold strong views. They are not, to say the 629 least, wholly the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I made a speech on what, in cold blood, might be described as of excessive length on Second Reading of the Leasehold Bill. The OFFICIAL REPORT shows that it lasted for 33 minutes, which is a considerable time for any back-bencher. On the other hand, I have reread the report of my remarks and hale noted that I gave way during that speech on 11 occasions, eight of them to the Minister in charge of the Bill. I did not give way, according to HANSARD, on two other occasions, although there were seven sedentary interruptions, to which I also endeavoured to reply.
It is for the House to judge whether it is better for an hon. Member to conduct his speech on such a subject in that way—giving way when appropriate and answering the points raised in those interventions—or whether he should plough ahead without giving way and sticking to his main line of argument. I dare say that I could have got through my speech on that occasion in 18 or 20 minutes had I disregarded interventions.
Not only is that one of the risks inherent in adopting a system of fixing limits, but I believe that we would detract a great deal from Parliamentary debates if the practice of giving way frequently — and accepting the consequences of one's speech having to be a little longer—were abolished.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Having made these remarks, I could not possibly refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is certainly permissive, but it must be anticipated—if this is carried—that Mr. Speaker, as the loyal servant of this House, would accept the responsibility of working it. So one must consider what would be the result of Mr. Speaker performing this task.
There are other points of objection. There is the great vulnerability of all representatives of minority views or of views which are objectionable to the 630 House. The Leader of the House said that if one was made inaudible by noise, that time would be added to one's speaking time. But consider the position of an hon. Member putting an unpopular case to an angry House and having to watch the minutes ticking by. He might get a word in edgeways, but would that time count against him? On the other hand, if one can face the House—as some of us have had to do when putting a minority view—one knows that eventually one will be able to put forward one's case, however much the noise. One at least knows that the case will be put; that is, unless one is winding-up a debate at ten o'clock.
The Leader of the House is right, and the Select Committee is wrong, in proposing that there should be no direct discrimination between front and back bench speakers. As the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) pointed out, the timing of the proposal in the Motion might result in there being discrimination between the front and back benches. But whether it happened indirectly, as a result of that, or directly, as it would if we adopted the Select Committee's recommendation, it would be wrong.
I can speak objectively on this matter because, on one Front Bench or another, I occupied that position in the past for about 15 years. At a time when most of us feel that the authority of the front benches is at least adequate, there should not be a distinction of this sort introduced merely based on where one sits—which is based not on what one's constituents have said but on the arrangements of the leaders of one's party. This would be a wholly derogatory provision and unfair to hon. Members and the House.
I have the greatest admiration for the oratorical powers of the present occupants of both Front Benches. However, I think that most of my hon. Friends would agree that we would rather hear a speech made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) than one made by any of the Ministers on the Treasury Bench. On my side, I would hate a speech being made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) to be cut short because other of my right hon. Friends wanted to speak. I therefore register strong objection in principle to what the Select Committee has recommended and to 631 what, I believe, would be the indirect effect of the proposal of the Leader of the House.
It would also be unfair to smaller groups. I agree that the hon. Member for Orpington never seems to need sympathy or help in this matter. However, it would be unfair to smaller groups in the House if their spokesman was given, as one proposal on the Order Paper suggests, one-third, or, as the Select Committee suggests, one-half, of the time given to the spokesman from either Front Bench. If there is to be a limitation on speeches—and I have argued that there should not be one—it should be equal for all.
Having spoken about short speeches, it would be inconsistent, even though I was arguing against them, for me, by going on too long, to give a warning to the House of the need for such a Motion. I hope that the House will hesitate a long time before, even in the most modest form, making use of the great confidence which we have personally in Mr. Speaker, deciding to introduce a system for the rationing of time for speeches.
If there is any proposal needed to deal with the problem of hon. Members not getting into debates, there is an Amendment which Mr. Speaker has directed shall not be called but which should be borne in mind. Standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and myself, it modestly suggests that Mr. Speaker should be asked to ration the time in big debates between the two sides of the House so that, if an hon. Member took an excessive time, that time would count against his side and two hon. Members would be called in succession by Mr. Speaker from the opposite side. That would be a much less drastic reform. It would involve no rigid limitation. If the hon. Member who takes 40 minutes does it really well, his own side would willingly accept that. If he wastes the time of the House and keeps them out with a bad and boring speech, they will not. Anyone who has been in this House for any length of time knows that in all parties there are means of making one's displeasure and criticism known to a colleague whose apparent selfishness has led to one's being squeezed out of a debate.
632 If we do not come to a decision tonight I ask the House to consider the proposal contained in our Amendment. I think that it avoids the difficulties of rigid limitation, but does exercise some indirect sanction against the abuse of our time.
I hope that we may hesitate, that we may not decide in favour of the proposition now before us, but will give further thought to other ideas, including the idea my hon. Friend and I have ventured to put forward in our Amendment.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I have listened with interest to what the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said, and I shall seek to deal with it in a moment. First, I want to refer to the way in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House very kindly congratulated the Committee. We on the Committee, in turn—and I was rather sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) did not say this—really ought to be pleased that in a period of four months we have had two debates on procedure, each taking a complete day, provided by the Government, with another debate looming up. It shone clearly from my right hon. Friend's remarks that before long there would be another debate, and yet another, perhaps, in October or November. Four debates in a period of a year is a very good ration from the Government, and I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman was, perhaps, a little churlish in not expressing his thanks—
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I was not complaining about the quantum of time, but saying that with shorter debates sooner we might have dealt more quickly with the subjects.
§ Mr. Chapman
Lest I offend the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I want at once to pay tribute to him for his work on the Committee. On that Committee we work as a team. When there is a necessity to say that we cannot agree, we do so, but we go to extreme lengths to reach agreement. The Second, Third and Fouth Reports we now have before us are prime examples of the way in which agreement can be sought and thanks are partly due to the right hon. and learned 633 Gentleman who, on behalf of his colleagues on the other side of the House, has made every possible attempt to reach it. To Aim and to his right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Walton (Mr. Turton), two senior members of the Committee, the House owes a very great debt for the unanimity that has emerged in the three main Reports which we are now discussing.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the whole work of our Committee—as is the case with every other Committee—would be impossible without the excellent help that we get from the Clerks to the House. A s Chairman of this Committee, I could not manage without the Clerk, who is in every sense my righthand man, who knows almost more than any of us, anyway, who spares no effort at all to service us, who does devilling for us, and who guides t s along. My right hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the whole position of the Clerks must be tackled without any further delay whatsoever. I do not know whether it is generally known, but at present we have Clerks in our service who have been here for 14, for 18 and for 20 years, and who still cannot be given the same status as an Assistant Secretary in a Government Department. The Clerks are people upon whom we completely depend, and they give us absolutely devoted service.
The net result of the present position is that they are leaving. One has gone off to Sussex University, and another has gone off to the Civil Service. We must, as a united body, within the next few months tell the Treasury that this position cannot continue any longer. We are at the moment trading on the good will and devotion of a number of Clerks who are not leaving because they have got attached to working in the House of Commons. It is disgraceful to continue to trade on loyalty in this way, and I hope that, through the Services Committee, my right hon. Friend will convey to the Treasury our strong feeling that this problem must be solved without any further delay. Not only are our Clerks leaving but, because of the terrible salary status we offer, we cannot recruit.
I believe that we should try the experiment of short speeches, because the penalty of not trying is not just a matter of inconvenience, and all the rest, but of heartbreak for many hon. Members who never get a chance at all. The price of 634 the 33-minute speech mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman was that at least one hon. Member, and perhaps two, did not get a chance to speak. The right hon. Gentleman should reflect that, as a Privy Councillor, he gets extra chances, but for many new hon. Members it is a case of heartbreak after heartbreak, waiting week after week, month after month, without getting even the smallest chance to take part in debate.
I believe that we should leave it to Mr. Speaker. Knowing our Speaker, and knowing how strongly he feels about the traditions of this place, I am sure that there is no danger of abuse and undue regimentation. I made this proposal in our last debate on procedure, and the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton chided me for not following the recommendations of the Select Committee, which was for a Guillotine after 15 minutes. I have always said, and I said then, that a Guillotine would not work. The House would never tolerate that, but it would tolerate giving discretion to Mr. Speaker on the days when he is heavily pressed with a long list of hon. Members wanting to speak. I am glad that the Government accept that the idea should be given a run, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not oppose it now—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps the hon. Member will answer two questions. On length of speeches, what length of time does he himself, in supporting this proposal, suggest that Mr. Speaker would find it possible during the period of operation to allow back benchers to speak? Secondly, does he accept, and regard as of less importance—I agree that it is a matter of balance—the fact that there would be virtually no giving way during that period?
§ Mr. Chapman
The amount of time that I hope Mr. Speaker would accept would be 15 minutes. It is possible to give way during a 15-minute speech and yet say all one wants to say. That should be possible. It is a fair balance, and a period of 15 minutes would take care of interruptions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), referred to carrying over Bills from one Session to another. I hope that this suggestion will be considered, although I interrupted my right hon. Friend because I am not sure 635 that it should be done in terms of all major Government Bills. There is something to be said for a theme running through a Session, following the Queen's Speech, setting out the direction in which we are to go for a twelvemonth, after which the House should be refreshed by a new Queen's Speech.
I think that we should make a modest start by saying that any Bill that goes to Second Reading Committee—which is a Committee that does the workaday business of the House of Commons and deals with the ordinary run-of-the-mill stuff—should, by definition, be carried over from one Session to the next if not completed in the summer. This would solve another Government problem. The Government cannot now send any more Bills to Second Reading Committee because there is little chance of their completing their remaining stages before the Summer Recess. If, at this time of year, we could send to Second Reading Committee a lot of Bills on which there was no controversy, they could complete their Report and Committee stages in, say, the November, when there are no other Measures ready for those stages.
Reference was made to the voting reform appearing on the Order Paper. With respect, what my right hon. Friend did not make clear is that the Question will continue to be put from the Chair a second time after the two-minute interval. If the Division is "off" by that time, nothing is lost. The Tellers are told at the door that the Division is "off" and it has been a waste of time, but this happens so rarely that it does not matter. What the reform means is that even though the Question will be put a second time and the Division could be "off" on that second time, counting can begin within a few seconds of the Division being called in the first place. This would prevent all the bunching of hon. Members at the doors and hon. Members who are crowded there asking why the Whips are taking so long. I do not see any possible objection to this simple reform.
I said that I wanted to come to two main points and to keep my speech within about 15 minutes. Those points are Standing Order No. 9 and the Finance Bill. The Motion on the Order Paper about Standing Order No. 9 is not satis- 636 factory. It is not in the terms recommended by the Procedure Committee. The Committee said quite deliberately that when it drafted a new Standing Order—and it has been reproduced on the Order Paper in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral—that in itself would not be enough. There must be with it a Resolution, which I hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have tabled, asking Mr. Speaker to interpret the new Standing Order in the light of the recommendations of the Procedure Committee.
The Committee said that if we started with a new Standing Order No. 9, how many occasions would arise during the year when it would be needed? Would there be two, five or 50? How is Mr. Speaker to know? He is being asked to judge urgency without being given any guidelines. The Select Committee recommended in absolute and definite terms that any new Standing Order should be accompanied by a Resolution of the House asking Mr. Speaker to interpret it in a way such as was operated in the first years of the existing Standing Order which works out at five or six times a year.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
May I remind the hon. Member of his own recommendation? It was that the House should move to revise the Standing Order at the same time and on the same day to approve the Report. What we are being asked to do is to take notice of the Report. No doubt, Mr. Speaker in noticing the Report will notice the recommendations contained therein.
§ Mr. Chapman
To take notice of it is not to approve it. It needed a special Motion to say that it was not only taken notice of but approved. It should have had an added Resolution, as the Committee envisaged, saying that it should be interpreted as it was interpreted in the early days of the century. Otherwise Mr. Speaker has no guidance.
§ Mr. Chapman
I must not give way or I shall be exceeding the time I have allotted myself.
I come to the crucial matter, the Finance Bill. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames had some fears 637 about this proposal. The Select Committee said that, when all the song and dance is over and there has been all the pushing and pulling and talking into the night, that is a means of consuming a lot of time in order to get a day or two days more than the Government are prepared to give; it is still the case that almost always the debates end in eight or nine days in Committee. If this is so self-evident, why do we not cut out all the pushing and pulling in the first few days and say that the Committee debate is to end in eight or nine days? Why do we not exercise a little brevity and agree on eight or nine days at the beginning and get on with it on that basis? This is a point which I know influenced the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral in the Committee. He took the point and suggested that we should get over this difficulty before the whole debate starts instead of waiting to have the first days' debates late into the night and until 3 o'clock in the morning.
§ Mr. Chapman
I shall deal with the point about why we should need a sanction. I believe that is why the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wants to interrupt. The simple fact about the situation is that if the Select Committee had simply produced a report saying, "Let us all be good boys and have a voluntary timetable and go on roughly as we are, but be a little more sensible", it is probable that there would be little chance of making significant progress. Instead, what we did was to present a challenge to the House and say that in Committee on the Finance Bill this can work only if there is real toleration on one side and the other and a real willingness on behalf of the Government as well as the Opposition to agree to a proper number of days.
I would agree with the right hon. Member if the effect were in some way to allow the Government to say, "We can squeeze out every year one day or two days lost on the Finance Bill." I would join with him in condemning that. There has to be good will on the part of the Government in reaching a fair number of days, as well as good will on the part of the 638 Opposition, but the whole process will work only if at the end of the day the Government are able to say, "We have worked sensibly and tried very hard. We have reported to Mr. Speaker and it is impossible to get agreement despite all the good will and toleration and effort on all sides. We cannot do It, and that is why we shall have to have a sanction." If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it would work without some sanction he should have done this within the last 15 years. He could have made progress and gone further on the voluntary road if he had wanted to do so.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. Member is addressing his remarks to me, perhaps he will give way. I think he has accepted my case that in practice the system takes about as much time as he thinks is right. Does he not appreciate that all the pushing and pulling he spoke about is, in fact, the way in which the Opposition can exercise its rights to get a fair compromise? What the Motion proposes is to give to the Government a big stick.
§ Mr. Chapman
That is not so. The right hon. Member is failing to understand the basic point put forward by the Committee, that when we talk about all this pushing and pulling we know that the time is going to be eight or nine days and there is no need for pushing and pulling to establish that fact. The way in which to take the whole matter a step forward is to say that not only will there be eight or nine days but that within those days we should try to sit for reasonable hours. That is the reform for which we should try, to get the debate in reasonable hours by agreement and a real willingness to trade and bargain in order to reach agreement. If the right hon. Member could allege that there is unfairness and a big stick is being used, I would join him or anyone else in saying that the system does not work in the spirit envisaged by the procedure Committee.
My time is up and I shall not detain the House longer. I believe that the package of reforms we are putting through today constitute a great step forward. I say strongly to the Committee that the House of Commons will never be reformed by blueprints. It will be reformed steadily step by step by building on the sort of experience we 639 have found to work and the sort of reform which having been tried can be modified and further improved.
I do not join the right hon. Member in condemning morning sittings. They have not done everything which I hoped they would do. I hoped that the Committee would recommend something which would get the House out of a straitjacket. In the 15 years in which I have been here the House has never tried an experiment of real change. This experiment started us breaking out of a straitjacket in terms of hours of sitting, the way in which we handle business and so on. It may not be perfect, but we can profit by the mistakes and go further and build on what we have got. One of the reasons why this reform had to go through in its present form was that we were not agreed on anything else as a solution with which the Government could make a start. To break out of this straitjacket there had to be, first, something which did not look too bad, and, secondly, something which the House would tackle.
Having tried it, we can now improve on it, as the Leader of the House said. I do not think that the experiment has been half as bad as some people pretend. I believe that it has started us out on a road of flexibility and innovation and of trying to see whether we can have different hours of sitting, do our work better, and go home at a reasonable hour at night. We shall profit from it, even though some of it has not been entirely acceptable. This is as much as we can hope for from what was a very big step forward.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee. I agree entirely with what he said about the way that the Committee has, at all events recently, been working on an entirely non-party basis and the advantage that this has. His concluding remarks about the implementation of that part of the Committee's Report which was not dealt with on a nonparty basis is, perhaps, the clearest evidence of the truth of his earlier remarks in this respect.
640 As one who has been a member of the Select Committee for a very long time, I find a greatly increasing interest, both inside the House and outside, in the way in which we conduct our affairs. This interest is extremely valuable and useful, because, although this is generally regarded as a dull and abstract subject, it is among the most important, not only for us here, but for the personal freedom of the subject. As a result of my experience on the Select Committee and from what I hear, I have come to the conclusion that many of our existing rules are now outdated. The field of Government has been changing. The nature of our economy has changed. The range of the social services has greatly increased. All these things have meant that our existing rules are not now adequate for their job.
Suggestions for the changing of the rules have come to us from all quarters of the House and from all shades of political opinion. Today we have a large batch of proposed alterations. As the Leader of the House has said, these are simply piecemeal changes—improvements or otherwise, as one may think. There is need to try to take a somewhat deeper look at this problem than merely to consider a series of particular changes put forward by various people and considered by the Select Committee, by the Government, and by others.
There are broad considerations and broad motives involved. There is, first, what has been described as the need for streamlining our procedure. We always hear a good deal about the need to streamline the procedure of the House when a new government first get in. There are always quite a lot of people who are tremendously anxious to carry through a large legislative programme, and they want to see the means of doing this made easy. Streamlining the procedure is something that the Government of the day as a Government are always keen to have done. They are supported by the views of those Members who, on the whole, want us to conduct our affairs in relative comfort; because, if Members are comfortable, our procedure works smoothly, legislation goes through, and the Government are happy.
Against that principle of need, there is to be set the need for the maintenance of the effectiveness of the House—that is, our power to discuss, to criticise, and, 641 above all, to delay, because our power to delay action by the Government is our only power here as Members: there is nothing else. If that power to delay is removed, all our power as Members of Parliament is removed. That view is supported by the wish of those Members who do not want an idle, comfortable life, but who want to be active and to have opportunities to raise matters and to make large speeches. In a curious way, the Right and the Left meet here, with the middle perhaps taking the other route.
This being the conflict, this being the fundamental question which we have to consider, there is only one possible answer —that is, a compromise. I do not think that there is any ideal way of arriving at a solution of this problem. The Leader of the House said that he was not making certain proposals which had been put forward by the Select Committee, because he wanted to see our major proposals, suggesting that he was trying to find a major way of dealing with the problem which is facing us. I do not think that that is possible. We shall never get a complete or final statement of principles on which our procedure should be based. There is always bound to be a series of empirical answers. It is right that we should have this standing permanent Select Committee on Procedure always considering these matters and that we should always be bringing forward proposed alterations. This is the right and, indeed, the only way of dealing with the matter.
I believe that all the proposals on the Order Paper are, on the whole, satisfactory. I am sorry that there are certain omissions. I am sorry that we are not discussing anything further to deal with the question of Parliamentary Questions. However, I shall not pursue this aspect, because I should be out of order if I did so. The present lull is highly deceptive. This is a permanent problem. We shall have to deal with it by much more Draconic means than have yet been attempted. I shall content myself with saying that at this juncture.
I want now to say a few words about the proposal relating to Finance Bills. It is a pity that it is necessary to deal with our procedure relating to Finance Bills exceptionally and specially and not as part of our proposals relating to legislation 642 generally, because, after all, a Finance Bill is simply a part of our legislative machinery and, although it is, in one sense, an exceptional part, it is nevertheless legislation in the ordinary sense of the word.
There is a special reason and a special difficulty here. It is one which has not been mentioned this afternoon, though it is referred to at some length in the Report of the Select Committee. The Finance Bill, if we are to have an annual Finance Bill—I think that we all agree that there has to be something of the kind—can be taken only with the Budget, and the Budget cannot be presented before about the beginning of April because that is the turn of the financial year.
Owing to the operation of what is generally known as the Bowles Act, the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, the Finance Bill must be passed and completed before we rise at the beginning of August. A little arithmetic will show that this leaves only a very few weeks during which the detailed examination of the Finance Bill can be taken. The Leader of the House failed to say anything today of his intentions regarding this period for the taking of the Finance Bill. The Select Committee suggested that the present procedure under which the Bill is always passed so as to leave a full month in another place for consideration is unnecessary now. If that suggestion were adopted, it would give a further fortnight for consideration of the Finance Bill, which would greatly relieve the pressure on the House.
There is one Whip on the Government Front Bench at the moment. I hope that he will ask whoever is to reply to the debate to give an indication of the Government's intentions in this connection. The question is of general interest to the House, and the Select Committee's suggestion would be greatly conducive to our comfort. The state of affairs regarding the Finance Bill does result in cramping. It is, I think, an inevitable state of affairs, and we are, therefore, bound to deal exceptionally with this Bill if we are to consider the problem.
For my part—here I differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—I think that what is proposed 643 could be something of a pilot scheme if it works properly. I know that a number of hon. Members, particularly some of my hon. Friends, feel that there are grave dangers here in that the Government are taking a big stick, but they already hold this stick in their hands. The difference between the size of the stick which they now propose to take and the one which they already hold is that, if they wish to introduce a Guillotine at present, they run the risk of losing a whole day, whereas, if we adopt the proposed scheme, they will run the risk of losing only two hours out of a day. But, as against that, the Government themselves give some chance to the Opposition because the matter will be decided not by the Government under a Guillotine Motion but by a Committee appointed by Mr. Speaker, which might be more generous to the Opposition.
It seems to me that we have here a sensible and reasonable compromise. No one can be certain at this moment whether it will work well. If it does not, its failure will show. It will be a Sessional Order. For my part, I believe that it can work well, and I hope that it will. I am not sure that this year is a very good occasion to try it out, but that is another matter. If it works well for one or two years, it may provide a precedent which will be useful not to this Government alone but to our procedure and to all Governments. All of us, in looking at it, must remember that we may be sitting on one or other side of the House and be able to avail ourselves of whatever we decide to do.
The legislative process under our present procedure is unsatisfactory. We are reaching a stage when practically everybody is consulted about what should or should not go into a Bill except the House of Commons. We had a Bill recently before the House, the Fugitive Offenders Bill, on which the Government simply said, "We cannot accept Amendments. We have already agreed all these points with someone outside the House and, indeed, outside the country, so it is not possible to make Amendments now". Perhaps that was an exceptional Measure, but we all know that this sort of thing is happening. The T.U.C., the C.B.I. and various bodies outside are consulted, all know about it, and the Government com- 644 mit themselves before the matter comes to the House. This is a thoroughly bad state of affairs.
The expedient of sending the Finance Bill or any other Bill to a Standing Committee would not help. We shall need some quite new and larger experiments in procedure. I believe that we should bring in some kind of small Select Committee procedure so that we can in this House summon those who are concerned with the subject matters to come and give evidence to us and submit to cross-examination. However, that is not a matter before us today. It is only an idea which appears to me to have some merit.
As regards suggestions relating to the length of Members' speeches, on the whole I prefer the Government's proposal to that in any of the Amendments on the Order Paper. Again, if we do not do something here, the position will become worse than it is now. We all know how frustrating it is not to be called. Hon. Members are frustrated. Some may be frustrated even today. We have to choose between two evils, and I regard the evil of what is proposed as very much less than the evil of what we have now or of any other procedure which has been suggested.
I am not sure what the Leader of the House meant when he said that he would not take action about the recommendation to amend Standing Order No. 9 until he had our wider report on the subject of, I think, legislation. It seemed to me that that was quite irrelevant, and it was little more than an excuse. It was a unanimous recommendation of the Committee and one which, I believe, is welcomed in all parts of the House. Its purpose is simply to relax very slightly the increasing stringency with which the present Standing Order is interpreted. My right hon. Friend mentioned that there have been only 15 debates under Standing Order No. 9 in the last 20 years, and that compares with 102 in the first 20 years of this century.
Whether the right average is something less than one a year or something more than four a year, anyone would hesitate to say, but most of us feel that two or three times a year would not be unreasonable for the House to assert its own wish to debate something urgently, against the Government. It is against the Government 645 of the day. The Government dislike changes, of course, but the purpose of the Standing Order is to give the House an opportunity to assert itself against the Government. The Government will resist, naturally.
I hope that the House will assert its will against the Government in this connection, too, and that we shall insist on having a right to discuss urgent matters —by "we", I mean the House as a whole, back benchers in particular—whatever the Government may think about it.
The Leader of the House will be familiar with the principle that "Manners makyth man". In Parliamentary terms, that might be translated as, "Procedure makyth Members of Parliament." That is the way it goes, not the other way round. In the long term, it is our procedure here which dictates the sort of people we are and the way we work. I hope that, when we amend our procedure, we shall have regard to the needs of Members of Parliament, always bearing in mind that we are people who should represent the common people of England, that we should, therefore, be enabled to lead the lives of the common people of England, and that we should be the sort of people whom they are likely to choose.
This will be dealt with by the way in which we fix our procedure. In my view, the measures proposed go a little way in that direction and, on the whole, I support them.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
We have had a most interesting debate, which shows the House at its very best, because we are trying to make our machinery work in the best possible way. There is a great deal of misunderstanding in the apprehensions hon. Members have, because the House never works unless there is tolerance between the two sides. If the usual channels come to agreement the House works smoothly. I have seen numerous occasions when agreement broke down and war was declared between the two sides. That lasts for about a week and exhausts everybody, with the result that one returns to civilised proceedings and toleration. Therefore, the fears that the House could not exert pressure on the Government are misconceived, because whatever happens to the Finance Bill, the House 646 has plenty of ways of preventing the Government getting on with their business if they are not reasonable. It can impose its will on the Government at least to the extent that they must be reasonable.
There is great apprehension about limiting speeches. But let us remember that the House has tried that, and it has worked. Hon. Members think the Scots talk till Domesday, but it is a great misapprehension. In the Scottish debates on two days a week that the Scots have had for many years, Tom Johnston and Walter Elliot and the others, who could talk for as long as anyone else, had a voluntary 15-minute restriction on speeches. That worked, and in many cases twice as many people spoke in a debate, they spoke more concisely and in a more businesslike way than normally.
Those Members who had to do a 15-minute talk on the wireless in the old days know very well the great amount of material that could be put into 15 minutes. A Member who did so knew that if he spoke for longer he would bore the whole population stiff and they would probably turn off. It is important to interest the House. Winston Churchill could interest the House probably more than anybody else during the war, but even he could hardly hold its interest for more than an hour, or an hour and a quarter, even in the middle of the war. It is an illusion to think that there are Members with such eloquence that the whole House wants to hear them for an hour and a quarter, or even for merely three quarters of an hour. Very often their audience consists of Members wishing to goodness that they would sit down so that they themselves have a chance of being called.
Members are inclined to think that even if somebody else has said something they must say it all over again. That, too, is a misconception. It would be good for the debates that speeches should be of about 15 minutes. I should be against an exact limitation; Mr. Speaker is a reasonable person and if he sees that a Member is interrupted, and his time exhausted by other people, he will use his discretion, and the House will approve of his doing so.
We tie ourselves up with imaginary strings, but I think that we can get a reasonable solution. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) made the point 647 that while an hon. Member may feel that he should speak for 33 minutes he has no idea of the valuable speech he may be shutting out, wisdom which we never have a chance to hear. Clearly, the Members who are not allowed to speak have a greater sense of grievance than one who is not allowed to speak for twice as long as he should and, perhaps, need.
There is alarm over the Finance Bill. It is not we who restrict the time on the Finance Bill; it is time that restricts us, for there are only 365 days in the year, and we spend a much smaller number here. When hon. Members talk about days they sometimes mean days and nights. While the nights may be very entertaining for those who have 'their hobby horses, they are not so entertaining for those who are not financial experts but who, because of the rules of the House, must stay here, perhaps for 20 solid hours, because somebody wants to go on repeating a speech on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, sometimes with the approval of nobody but himself.
Other hon. Members have a right to have their lives used in a proper way, as well as the right to address the House. It is an abuse to use up other people's lives to deliver a useless speech, which is often the case. In Finance Bill debates I have known five hours to be used up not in discussing the Bill but in the game of filibustering to compel the Government to give another day. To the ordinary person in the street that seems just a childish way of using our lives and conducting affairs in the House.
Nobody can tell me that the Chancellors of the Exchequer and the Finance Ministers sitting here all night and then spending all morning preparing for the next afternoon are capable of continuing to deal sensibly with the points raised. We need to have mercy on Ministers. From my own experience, I know that doing a big job during the day and sitting here all night is cruelty to animals. It should not be permitted, and the public thinks that it is stupid. We should take into consideration the House's image in the eyes of the public, who want us to organise our business in a business-like way. That may mean sacrifice.
It always improves things when we make changes. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said 648 that a great deal of changes are empirical. That is true. The Guillotine and other things were brought in because the Irish Members created the necessity, and necessity is the mother of invention where procedure is concerned. It is necessity now that is bringing about change. By the time it is brought about everybody sees the necessity for it, and therefore we can get reasonable agreement on it.
When it considered the matter, the Select Committee came to the conclusion that there was no point in introducing, even by a majority, ideas which nobody would adopt. The Government cannot adopt an idea that the Opposition do not consider to be reasonable. Therefore, we simply put forward to the Government the possibilities for them to consider. They did so bearing the Opposition in mind and came forward with these reasonable proposals, which I hope that the House will accept. Some hon. Members may have other ideas, but the Committee was sitting for weeks, if not months, and the ideas could have been sent to us to consider. But when ideas are put forward to us some are found to be impracticable on examination.
The members of the Select Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield, who is the Chairman, have examined these matters in great detail. They have done a great deal of work and gone to a lot of trouble. The wisdom of their unanimous decisions should be accepted by the House. It has the right to alter its procedure when necessity arises, but it is a mistake for us simply to proceed in the empirical way. We must have vision about the working of the House.
One of the things that is wrong about the House is that the whole Chamber very often occupies its time with a lot of fiddly matters that should not take the centre of the stage. This is the greatest public assembly and forum in the world, and we should be careful not to reduce it to discussing trivialities. We used to discuss policemen's pensions and other subjects which should not come to the Floor of the House. Many of the Orders merely dealing with details should not be considered there.
This House, if it is to be the focus of democracy in the world, should be discussing things worthy of the House itself 649 and many of these other matters should be shunted off to a committee or to some lesser assembly. We have already succeeded in getting the Second Reading of Bills of a minor character sent to a Second Reading Committee. When I succeeded in getting these reforms first of all in connection with the Second Readings of Scottish Bills, which it was agreed to send to the Scottish Grand Committee, it took a great deal of struggle and argument. But it has worked.
This procedure should be adopted for English Bills. I do not see why England should not have a little home rule in this direction as well. Why should not English Bills be discussed in an English Grand Committee? As the hon. Member for Hendon, South said, the English people have a right to be considered. Give them an English Grand Committee which can discuss English Bills which are not controversial. Let them have extra debates in the Session just as the Welsh and Scottish Grand Committees do.
In this way, we can get devolution within the House which will relieve the centre of the House of many detailed problems. There is no doubt that, this year or next year or later, this country will inevitably be part of a greater European community, and even now we have right hon. and hon. Members who spend valuable time at the Council of Europe. But no one here ever hears of what they are doing. We discuss Vietnam and all the ends of the earth, but we do not discuss what our own representatives are doing in Europe.
A number of great questions will become very important for the future of the world and this House, which should be discussing them, does not. One of the problems that the Council of Europe will face is how democracy is to control the eventual government of Europe. No one has solved it yet. They are not satisfied with the present solution in the Parliament of Europe in the Common Market.
These are fundamental questions which the House will have to devote its attention to. The Government are conducting discussions about entering the Common Market. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have apprehensions and doubts. Nobody is quite clear as to what will be 650 the eventual outcome. These are questions we should discuss in this Chamber and we should get rid of a lot of the details in order to make room for them. That is what is meant by Standing Order No. 9 and getting more public debate on major issues.
This is why the Upper Chamber is claiming the credit of being a better debating Chamber. While we deal with a lot of trivialities, the House of Lords devotes itself to great and important questions. We have to visualise what this House is eventually to be. I think that we shall see the time when the Chamber, which is the best form of Parliament in the world, is devoting itself to questions of first-class importance and not wasting time sitting up all night discussing things that do not matter.
It is quite wrong that hon. Members should not use their lives sensibly. I have been here a long time and I have sat up as many nights as anyone else. I have seen people exhaust themselves in doing so. At one time, I recall, one hon. Member suggested that this was the best way to kill off Ministers. There are more humane ways of doing that. I hope that this Mother of Parliaments is going to set an example to the world. Perhaps more countries will adopt democracy if they see the Mother of Parliaments making it work successfully.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I thank the Leader of the House for the flexible manner of his speech. I am pleased that he is to look again at the question of Monday morning sittings, and that brings me to what I hope is a positive suggestion.
I am concerned that the position the right hon. Gentleman took originally about this matter was at variance with the recommendation of the Select Committee. So is the Motion we are debating on the length of speeches. So was the daily timetable involving morning sittings. In future, I hope that on publication of a report of the Select Committee the right hon. Gentleman will seek a meeting with it and discuss with it why it has reached certain conclusions. That might prevent him being at variance with the Committee, only eventually to discover that it was right after all.
651 We on the Select Committee cannot dictate what the right hon. Gentleman's attitude should be as Leader of the House, but we did go into these matters in great detail—far more detail than appears in the published reports—and we would all find it useful to be able to understand why he has taken up the position he has done. I hope he will realise that this remark is kindly meant.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), the Chairman of the Committee, dealt adequately with the points I wanted to raise about the position of the Clerks, the need for more of them and for better conditions. But I would add that it is somewhat odd that we have no women Clerks in the House. Is there some sort of discrimination? Should we not cast the net of recruitment a little wider?
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who has great experience, posed the question of what irks the new Member. He pointed out something that has been under-estimated outside the House—that it has undergone considerable changes in the last two General Elections in the type of Member coming here. More and more Members come here expecting to work on a full-time basis. That is necessarily so because of the growth and complexity of modern Government which has developed among Governments of all parties over the years. Parliament has to deal with matters that it did not attempt to deal with 20 or 50 years ago.
As government becomes more complex, it is necessary that more Members should become full-time and that they should carry out the proper job of checking the Executive in this place. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West answered his own question with the first priority. As a new Member, what irks me more than anything else—more than anything about debates or the mumbo jumbo which concerns the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) so much—is the lack of facilities to do the job.
I know that this is not part of the terms of reference of the Select Committee, but we cannot entirely separate it from consideration of how effective is the role of the Member in checking the 652 Government. Indeed, as the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) pointed out, the more we go in the direction of appointing Specialist Committees the more we shall place a burden on the work of the M.P.
The time has come to take real stock of the methods and conditions under which we expect Members elected to do a significant job to carry it out. No secretarial facilities are provided. Our accommodation is hopelessly inadequate, with six or seven Members cramped together in one room with one telephone and a secretary in a building on the other side of the street. This must be one of the few remaining buildings where the telephone system operates on the old method of picking it up and waiting for an answer. Internal communications have not advanced basically from the primitive method of a runner with a cleft stick.
In the last few months, I have spent some time in talking to non-political bodies, like rotary clubs and so on, throughout Scotland on the general theme of the modernisation of Parliament. They are always absolutely astounded when I describe the conditions under which we work. They did not know about it and were horrified. I know that this is not strictly a mater for the Select Committee on Procedure, but we cannot improve the effectiveness of the rôle of hon. Members in this House unless we tackle drastically and urgently the problem of the equipment and facilities we have to do the job.
I have one original and drastic solution to put to the Leader of the House, which goes beyond the remit of any Select Committee, and it is that we should clear the Lords out of the Palace of Westminster. I say this in all seriousness. If we had a modernised second Chamber, there is no reason why they should not go to another building, a new building elsewhere. They could come back to the Chamber and sit in it on historic occasions. Then let us take over the whole of the Palace of Westminster and solve our accommodation problems. I hope that that will be seriously considered by the Government.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
Would the hon. Member be prepared to consider that we should have the new building and the Lord the old?
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
I was very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has been saying about accommodation. I wonder whether he had ever thought that perhaps there were too many Members of Parliament in the place?
§ Mr. Steel
I am not certain about that. I used to think that I could agree with the noble Lord, but we are having difficulty new in manning Committees. If we reduced the numbers of people we would automatically have to reduce the membership on every Committee, and we would be in real trouble.
I and my colleagues will give general support to the Motions before us, with one reservation, and that is the Motion on the length of speeches. I must tell the Leader of the House that I will vote for this. We have a free vote on this matter, but I have discussed it with my colleagues, and I am not able to carry many of them with me on this. I must explain their doubts. We are giving here a tremendous new power to the Speaker of the House of Commons. I do not think that it is quite appreciated that it is totally unprecedented and quite outside the traditions of the House. We are granting the power to the Speaker to cut short any speech without any reservation or hedging, or anything else.
Any Speaker must be a mixture of benevolence and tyranny, and I dare say that our present Speaker has an adequate and correct mixture of both. But I fear that if we try this as an experiment it may become embodied in the rules of the House, and we do not know what our future Speakers may be like. It is something that we should not dismiss as lightly as we have done. I regret very much that the Leader of the House has not followed the recommendation of the Select Committee, and I think that in earlier speeches the Select Committee's recommendations have been misunderstood.
What we were saying at page xix of the Report was that the House should pass a Resolution indicating that we expected, in the normal course of events, 654 and in normal debates, Front Bench speeches to be half an hour and back bench speeches to be 15 minutes. We go on to say that in the case of Front Bench speakers:… Your Committee recommend that the resolution of the House should invite them to limit themselves to half an hour whenever possible.It was said that the Speaker at the end of the time limit would merely indicate this. There would be no restriction on the freedom of the Member to continue, there would merely be the pressure of opinion which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn) has already indicated, does work successfully in the Scottish Grand Committee, when it is put into effect.
These voluntary time limits can become an effective method simply through pressure of opinion, and it is a very much better system than that of giving arbitrary powers beyond the normal traditions of this House into the hands of the Speaker. In any case, it is placing a very unfair burden indeed upon Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Crossman
Just to get this perfectly clear. In that case I have misunderstood the nature of the proposal. The proposal is specifically mandatory, enabling an experiment to be madeby laying down a limit of 15 minutes for any speech by a back bencher.That would be laid down by resolution as a mandatory limit, I think.
§ Mr. Steel
As a member of the Committee, I did not place that interpretation upon this. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at page 27 of the evidence he will find that in a question to Mr. Speaker I outlined in some detail what had happened in the Scottish Grand Committee which I hoped would happen in the House. If he looks at that again, he will see that the Select Committee, in my view, did not intend that there should be a rigid rule that speeches should not exceed 15 minutes and that that would enable Mr. Speaker to intervene in a Member's speech and cut him off. It does not say that Mr. Speaker should have the power to cut a Member short. That is not the interpretation that I place upon it. If there has been misinterpretation of this, it is very important that we clear it up.
§ Mr. Crossman
I was quoting from paragraph 15 which one takes as being the recommendation of the Committee. It says:Your Committee recommend that an experiment be made by laying down a limit of fifteen minutes …That is absolutely explicit. It goes on to say:It is suggested that the occupant of the Chair should be able to allow any speaker some suitable extension of time …I would have thought that by common English language that meant that there was a limit of 15 minutes and the Speaker would permit someone to exceed it. If that is not so, I agree that it would make a considerable difference to one's view.
§ Mr. Steel
We must look at this again. I was quoting from paragraph 7 on page 19. I may have got it wrong, but I was not at the final meeting of the Committee. I certainly understood from our deliberations that that was the recommendation that we had made.
There is one other objection which my colleagues have, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House, in order to secure their agreement to this Motion, would address himself to it in his summing-up. It is that the proposal that he has made may have a severe effect on the position of the Liberal Party in the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned this point, very fairly, I thought. The position of the Liberal Member as part of a minority group is a peculiarly difficult one.
I know that some Members envy us the position, in that the happy custom has grown up that always one Liberal will be called. But this has disadvantages too. The disadvantage is that it means that no other Liberal will be called, whereas someone else may have a sporting chance of getting in on a debate. We know that we have no opportunity of getting in if we are not the Member selected by the party to speak. This carries an obligation on the Members speaking to put forward the general view of the Liberal Party on any particular issue.
Supposing that a major debate was to take place, where the Liberal Party had a particularly different approach to some 656 major problem. The Leader of our party may wish to make a major policy speech, but he might be restricted by being regarded, as he is, as an ordinary back bencher of the House, and only able to speak on equal standing with any back bencher of one of the other parties. This is a fear of my colleagues, and one which they are right to have. I am prepared to vote for the Motion, because I think that the advantages outweigh the dangers. But the right hon. Gentleman will have some convincing to do if he wishes to have the support of my colleagues. I am sorry that the Select Committee on Procedure has not yet got down to an examination of Scottish procedure. I followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire with interest, and I agreed with his remarks about pressing for an English Grand Committee.
Time and again when we are sitting on the Committee a point of Scottish interest is raised, but obviously the Committee cannot spend a great deal of time upon it. I cannot see the Select Committee on Procedure setting up a sub-committee to deal with Scottish procedure. The Scottish Office is the Department of State least subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, and yet it is a most powerful body for our constituents. Members who are not Scottish Members can come here day after day and put questions to the Minister of Transport on Monday, Agriculture, Tuesday, Home Office, Wednesday and so on, but all of these matters are covered by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman is aware that people have been complaining that the Chancellor only comes on once in eight weeks? With regard to his main point, is he aware that Scottish Members, because of the reforms carried through, have eight days to discuss Scottish business? This is not available to other Members, and even now that time is not fully used.
§ Mr. Steel
I agree. What I am saying is that scrutiny of the Scottish Office and 657 maintaining the interest of our constituents is not adequately covered by eight days' debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. I should like to see questions sessions introduced in the Scottish Grand Committee when matters of Scottish interest could be raised.
The position of Scottish Members has been worsened by the appointment of the Select Committee on Agriculture. The Leader of the House said originally that the writ of this Select Committee would run only as far as the Ministry of Agriculture in England and Wales and that it would not be concerned with the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. One or two Members kicked up a bit of a row, and two Scottish Members have been appointed to the Select Committee. But they are still in the ridiculous position that they cannot call before them any official of the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. Scots are already at a disadvantage in protecting the interests of their constituents, and yet this is a Select Committee which cannot probe affairs of the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. I hope that the Leader of the House will put this matter right as soon as possible.
My final plea to the Leader of the House, and indeed to the Select Committee, is: for heaven's sake let us get a sub-committee working on Scottish procedure a t the earliest opportunity.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I wish to say a word about short speeches in general in view of what has happened in this debate. Up to now, no speech has lasted less than fifteen minutes, and five Privy Councillors have spoken. I hope that the proposal will apply equally forcibly to Privy Councillors as to back bench members and to their privileged position in being called.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I wish to try to set an example.
I want to relate my remarks almost exclusively to Motion No. 6, which proposes to set up another Select Committee to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner. That Committee will need to be staffed, even though it might be admitted that it will not be as hard pressed as the other Select Committees. 658 Presumably it will meet much less frequently than once a week. The staffing problem in the Clerk's Department is assuming, and indeed already has assumed, very serious proportions. It has been referred to in several speeches almost in passing, and I think that it deserves something more than a passing reference.
The Clerk's Department is under very great pressure, more pressure than ever before. It is not too well known in the House what its members are trying to do. They are attempting to serve no fewer than 34 Select Committees and their subcommittees, plus nine Standing Committees, plus the Second Reading Committee, plus the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees, plus the Committee on Opposed Private Bills, plus several committees on opposed Bills. Let us say that 50 Committees are being served by the clerks in the Clerk's Department.
There is an enormous complexity of Committees. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) vigorously scribbling. I can guess what he is scribbling. But the fact is that there has been an enormous increase in the scale and complexity of the work which clerks are doing. May I give one or two simple examples?
The Table Office received 12,200 Questions in the Session 1961–62. This Session it has received over 24,000 to date. This seems to me to betray a crass ignorance on the part of Members or an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I fear an interjection which might be made at this point. The fact is that the clerks who are dealing with Questions are very much overworked.
In the Session 1956–57, 27 Bills were considered in Standing Committees, which have to be staffed by the clerks. This Session, the number which have been or will be considered is 81. In 1960–61 the clerks serviced 21 Select Committees. As I have said, this Session there are 34, with more to come.
The clerks are doing more and more international work, with British delegations to W.E.U. and the Council of Europe. Yet, despite the increased pressure of work that they are doing, their number has remained stationary for very many years. In fact, only last year was the establishment authorised by the Treasury increased from 36 to 38.
659 I wish to refer to the position as it affects the Estimates Committee, to which I belong. We have six investigating sub-committees to investigate the whole of Government activity. Prior to the establishment of the two new specialist Committees of Science and Technology and Agriculture, the Estimates Committee had one clerk per sub-committee, plus another senior clerk supervising the whole. Even then, the clerks who were servicing the Estimates Committee were not wholly and exclusively attached to the Estimates Committee, although, to be fair, it was always assumed that, as in fact happened, they would give their service primarily to the Estimates Committee. Nevertheless, they were expected to serve, and did serve, Standing Committees and other Committees.
When the Select Committee on Procedure went into this matter in 1964–65, it recommended in its Fourth Report that there should be two senior supervisory clerks for the Estimates Committee and one full-time clerk per sub-committee exclusively and entirely devoting his service to the committee. In my view, that was not then, and certainly is not now, an extravagant, irresponsible proposal.
Yet, what has happened? The Estimates Committee has had two clerks taken away from it altogether following the establishment of the two new Specialist Committees. Therefore, we still have the one senior clerk at the head in his supervisory capacity and the four clerks for the six investigating subcommittees. One of those clerks is servicing two sub-committees—one on the British space research and development programme, and the other on the working of the Industrial Training Act, two completely different subjects. He is also clerk to the Joint Committee on the Censorship of the Theatre, also a vitally important subject. One clerk is presuming to give service, and doing it very well, I gather, to three Committees dealing with vastly different subjects. Another clerk is servicing two subcommittees.
This is happening for the first time in the history of the Estimates Committee. Two of its clerks are having to serve two sub-committees. About a week 660 ago we had the ridiculous situation in which, because one of the sub-committees was exercising its right, hardly fought for in the House, to examine expenditure overseas, it went overseas and took with it a clerk who was servicing another committee, which had to abandon or postpone its proceedings until he returned.
One of the reasons for our problems on the Estimates Committee is that the new Specialist Committees have refused to accept the idea of being served by seconded civil servants. I support that view entirely. The Clerk's Department of this House must remain separate from the Civil Service. That is of crucial importance. Our clerks serve the Legislature, whereas the Civil Service serves the Executive. If there is any suspicion, either in this House or outside, that there is a clash or conflict of loyalty, it would result in a great loss, in my view. However, the quality and promotional prospects of our clerks must not be inferior to those of the civil servant.
The present wastage of clerks, which is quite a serious problem, is due almost entirely to the lack of promotional prospects compared with their counterparts in the Civil Service. Already, we are two short of the agreed establishment of 38, and I believe that at the moment another four contemplate leaving us. Even if we get the additional two which we hope for in October, the number will still be inadequate for the solution of all our problems.
A fortnight or so ago, the Third Programme broadcast some talks which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had with Dr. Norman Hunt. In the course of them, my right hon. Friend hinted very strongly at the creation of further Specialist Committees. I, for one, hope that we get them. However, they are completely useless if we do not get staff in sufficient numbers and quality to man them. We are being offered the shadow for the substance if that happens.
That leads me to the two main propositions which I wish to make. First, immediate steps should be taken to increase the establishment of the Clerk's Department by not less than eight, from 38 to 46. That is a very modest proposition, and I say that it should be done immediately, because action must be 661 taken within the next two months if we are to get recruits from the universities Sin time for October.
My second proposition is that the increased numbers will of themselves add greatly to the log-jam of promotion. Assuming that my first proposition is accepted, a system must be devised to ensure that our clerks are no worse off in their promotion prospects than their counterparts in the Civil Service. The position at the moment is that a House of Commons clerk with the status of a principal in the Civil Service will be 48 before he can expect promotion to the status of assistant secretary. In the Civil Service, the same man with the same qualifications—and he might have even less—would get the same promotion at 39. In other words, he would be nearly 10 years better off.
That is why our clerks are leaving us. A time lag of 10 years in promotional prospects is a great disincentive to clerks coming here to serve us. Our clerks are as good as their counterparts in the Civil Service, and, judging from some of the evidence which the Estimates Committee has heard, in many cases they are better, with all due respect to the Civil Service. It is an interesting and indefensible point, too, that the promotion of clerks in the House of Lords is faster than that of clerks in this House. I am not sure what the moral of that is, but I will not pursue that point any further.
It is not surprising that we are having difficulty in getting recruits. Even when we do, resignation becomes a real possibility in a few years. I urge my right hon. Friend to press the Services Committee to give immediate attention to the necessity of increasing substantially the establishment of the Clerk's Department and devising a ladder of promotion to give our clerks the prospect of a better standard of living and more promotion prospects than they have now.
I take immediately the point which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) took from The Times today about recruiting lady clerks. I am all in favour of that. We have them in the Library, and they are a pleasant adornment there. There is no reason why we should not have them servicing us as well, if that is not misconstrued.
662 All this will cost money, of course. The propositions which I have in mind, however, will amount to something less than £50,000 a year. In that connection, I want to say only two things. During the broadcast discussions to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised and defended the growth of new Ministries and the bringing into the governmental machine of more and more able and experienced people "with earthy experience". No doubt my right hon. Friend believes it to be a sound investment to bring these people in from outside, and so do I. However, I disagree profoundly with him when he asserts that we, as back bench hon. Membershave got more power than ever in influencing policy measures, in investigating Government activities, in questioning Ministers, and the rest.The opposite is nearer the truth. A large part of the malaise affecting the House and a great deal of the frustration of hon. Members on the back benches is caused by the feeling that we are pitiful political pygmies—
§ Mr. Hamilton
—battling feebly with a Government juggernaut, or, at best, house-trained puppies hoping for the renewal of our licences.
Let me give two more statistics before I close, having expressed myself as being in favour of short speeches after this one. The number of civil servants in the administrative class in 1966–67 was 3,702, servicing the Executive, at a salary cost of nearly £13½ million. In 1967–68 the figure will be 4,013, and the salary bill will be nearly £14½ million, which represents an increase of roughly 8 per cent. both in numbers and in salaries. Those are to serve the Government, and that figure does not take into account the figure of nearly 90,000 professional, scientific and technical civil servants.
The total number of clerks serving us, the Legislature, and our Committees investigating the Government's activities —the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee, the Nationalised Industries Committee, the two Specialist Committees and so on—is 11. The total salary bill is not £14 million, but £40,000 at most. We are not asking for very much.
663 I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who made a 35-minute speech today. will go to the Treasury and make another 35-minute speech. Let us have a sufficient number of tools of sufficiently high quality to do the job which we are meant to do in this House; otherwise, please do not try to placate us with fine talk and a further proliferation of Committees. Either the Government and the Treasury foot the bill and provide the personnel, or cut the cackle.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I welcome this opportunity of expressing my strong agreement with the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). I believe it is important to make it clear today that there is widespread, indeed I hope unanimous, agreement on both sides of the House on the question of staffing the Committees. This is essential if Parliament is to do its work more efficiently, which is, after all, the most important consideration that we are talking about today.
I shall not spend any more time on that, because I want to adopt a perhaps consistent course of speaking briefly, and I shall therefore confine myself to Motion No. 5. I was not a Member of the Committee, and I therefore wondered whether one ought to take part in this debate because there are few Members who have spoken today who were not on the Committee. However, I understand that it is not regarded as a private fight—in fact it is not a fight at all—and that anyone is entitled to join in.
I venture to wonder whether it would be right for the House to pass Motion No. 5, because it has not received the consideration of the House as a whole. It is unfortunate that there are not present many hon. Members who were not Members of the Committee. It is unfortunate, too, that the only reference that one finds to this very important point about the limitation of speeches in the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure is in the First Report, and there is no indication in the title that it is there at all. The Report is headed "The Times of Sittings of the House", and one can find references to this topic only by digging them out on two or three pages of the 664 document. I think that there are many hon. Members who have not appreciated what was said or done about it.
The Government are not proposing that the suggestion put forward by the Committee should be adopted. I think that they should have hesitated before making any positive proposal if they were not going to adopt the Committee's proposal, because there has not been discussion in the House, and when one finds on the Order Paper three other proposals—it is true that we are not discussing them—made by responsible and experienced right hon. Gentlemen opposite, one would think that this was a matter which required further discussion.
When relevance is placed on the Committee's Report, I think we should notice that the new power proposed to be exercised by the Speaker is only a dispensing power. All that paragraph 8 suggests is that the occupant of the Chair should be able to allow any speaker an extension of time. In other words, it is a dispensing power, the implication being that the House is to impose a limitation either by persuasion or possibly some sanction, but the Speaker is only asked to act in this dispensing way.
When one looks at what Mr. Speaker said, one finds only a brief reference to it. He certainly was not asked whether he wished, or desired, to have this new, and I think very serious, responsibility of, in effect, telling an hon. Member to sit down when he was not out of order. I think that before we give Mr. Speaker this responsibility we ought to consider it a little more carefully.
I hope I am right in saying that there are only two references to this in the evidence, and certainly the proposal which we are now being asked to adopt was not considered by the Committee. I think, therefore, that we ought to realise what we are doing. I entirely agree with the principle. The difficulty is to find the machinery by which it should be adopted. My hon. Friend reminds me that when this matter was discussed briefly on another occasion it was indicated that the Committee was considering, or it was thought it would consider, some extension of the voluntary principle, and I think that there are a large number of members of the Committee who, as far as I have been able to gather, if they had had the chance of doing so, and had been 665 consulted about it, would have expressed themselves not in favour of the Government taking the Committee's proposal and altering it in this way.
I know that this is a difficult subject, and that it is always easy to criticise. I feel that if we are going to do anything, we shod give the House the responsibility in certain circumstances of expressing its view and then let Mr. Speaker act as he always does in accordance with the desire of the House. The Motion as it stands does not require Mr. Speaker to apply the same principle to different Members. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has appreciated that. Mr. Speaker can say, I will allow X ten minutes, but allow somebody else 20 minutes". I am sure that that is not the intention, but that is the implication of it.
§ Mr. Crossman
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman heard that part of my speech in which I explained that I drafted the Motion in general terms after consultation with Mr. Speaker, and that after drafting it I discussed it with him. I therefore read Mr. Speaker's definition of the way in which he wanted to apply the rules. I thought that that was the proper way. If we are to allow Mr. Speaker a discretion, we ought first to say that we will rely on it, and then ask him for his view of how the discretion should be applied. I thought that if we were to do this at all that was the right way to do it.
§ Sir L. Heald
What concerns me is that when one is dealing with Statutes, what is said by Ministers about what they intend, or what the courts might think they meant, is not evidence. The same sort of thing applies here. If the House passes a Resolution, it is the Resolution of the House which will apply.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order. We are allowed to speak in this place only through the occupant of the Chair. When he rises we sit down. No Member has any place in here in his own right except in so far as the Chair gives it to him. It is not a statutory right. It is not a Standing Order. It is an unfettered discretion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
That is not a point of order for 666 the Chair. I think that the right hon. Member is entering into the debate.
§ Sir L. Heald
I was talking about the terms of the Motion. The wording of the Motion which the House is being asked to approve apparently purports to do something which no one would want to do.
§ Mr. Crossman
We are discussing a matter of considerable importance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is implying that the Motion, or what Mr. Speaker allowed me to say on his behalf this afternoon, is somewhat less binding. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that, because of the way in which we conduct our business, when Mr. Speaker says that he intends to act in a certain way, that statement has a certain binding character which I would have thought was at least as great as a Resolution of the House in terms of the proceedings of the House.
§ Sir L. Heald
I would not dispute that, but, having pointed out that there is a discrepancy, I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would want to alter the terms of the Motion. I could suggest how he should do it, but that is not my job.
I shall not offend against what I am speaking in favour of, namely, that the time of the House should not be occupied unnecessarily by hon. Members. I earnestly suggest that this very important departure from our fundamental principles should not be agreed to without more careful consideration than we are able to give it today with the number of right hon. and hon. Members present. Not only that, but only one Minister has been present. There has never been more than one Minister and possibly only one Whip present at any time. This is a serious matter, and we ought to consider it more seriously.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I hope to follow not the example but the advice given earlier and make a short speech. Like some, but not all, hon. Members, I believe in the development of the Specialist Committee principle. It is perhaps the one practical way in which the power of hon. Members against the Executive can be developed in the modern context.
667 I can speak from some experience of Specialist Committees, because for a number of years I served on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and I now have the privilege of being Chairman of the new Select Committee on Science and Technology. The virtue of this new Committee is that its terms of reference are extremely wide. We are charged with the duty of investigating science and technology and reporting. Having terms of reference that wide has been most valuable to the Committee. We have been enabled to select our own subject for inquiry and to hold, not inquests into what has happened, but inquiries into broad public policy, to try to look at the best shape of public policy for the future.
We have taken advantage of our wide terms of reference and, as the House knows, we are already looking into the nuclear reactor programme, which is bound to be, and is, a wide-ranging inquiry. This means that those hon. Members on that Select Committee have to do a great deal of work, not only in the sense of attending the meetings of the Committee, but in reading and, for that matter, visiting nuclear installations. This is a most important point about the new and, for that matter, some of the old style Select Committees. Service is not just a matter of attending a Committee. There is a great deal of work in addition to that for the member following closely the subject under investigation.
It is no secret, because it can be seen on Thursday mornings in Room 16 upstairs, that the Select Committee on Science and Technology meets in public and takes evidence in public. Nor is it a secret that it is our intention in due course to call Ministers before us. The inquiry, in fact, involves an intensive programme of activity and those of us who are taking part in it are enjoying it.
However, in its wisdom the House has now given us an additional subject, which is that of the dangers of the oil pollution of the Country's beaches in the light of the "Torrey Canyon" wreck experience. That is why we are now to have power to appoint a sub-committee, because, unless we are to finish our present inquiry before starting the new, the only thing we can do is to take the two inquiries in parallel.
668 The point which I want to make to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is that we have cheerfully accepted that reference to us—presumably we had no alternative but to accept it—and we shall do our utmost to carry out two sound investigations into big subjects. I agree also, however, with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that it is most important that the Specialist Committees should do work of quality rather than simply of quantity. We shall, as I say, do our utmost to bring to the House a satisfactory report on this oil pollution reference, but I hope that there will not be too many outside references of this kind to this or other Specialist Committees. If that happens too often, it will mean that the Executive, with the power which it commands in the House, will be determining the work and scope of the Specialist Committees.
Much of the interest and fascination of working on these Select Committees is that they can range about and find their own place for inquiry and in that way be valuable new instruments of the House. If a Specialist Committee is given power in the first place to look where it thinks it right to look, and then afterwards is to be told that it should do this or that, much of the Committee's critical value will be lost. I have risen to make this short point because I think it important for the successful future of the specialist committee system.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Provided that I do not need too much injury time, in the literal sense of the term, I propose to speak for ten minutes and no more, and to add some thought and, I hope, some lustre to the Amendment which appears in my name and in the names of many of my hon. Friends. I have reason to know that that Amendment commands the support of about 200 Members. Because of the short notice, I did not have time to have it fully canvassed on both sides of the House, but I personally know that it represents the view of a very large number of hon. Members.
In passing, I want to make one comment. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Clackmannon, East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn) that this assembly 669 should be the predominant assembly for major debate. I also believe that it is vitally necessary that we should recognise that the formation of legislation in advance is a new role to which the Government should look in future and that legislation on many home affairs and matters of that kind could well be undertaken by laying down general guidelines in advance, through Select Committees, which could usefully be employed by the Government thereafter.
I profoundly believe that generally speaking—I do not refer to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), which I would have hoped to have heard already, and other illustrious speakers—the House is not listened to outside. It obtains no Press, no publicity and, frankly, in the main is a bore. I want to get rid of the whole of our method of speaking in recent years. One of our great objectives should be that speeches in the main should not exceed 15 minutes.
In particular, over the years I have personally felt deeply aggrieved and have seen many other hon. Members suffer very deeply from the system by which Privy Councillors and others almost invariably speak for 20 minutes and longer. In this debate, while the speeches have been of a high order and very interesting, the first four averaged 20 minutes and the next three 15 minutes. I know that those speakers of importance and ability could say a great deal very effectively in ten minutes. The truth of the matter is that we must give up the idea that every speech of ours must contain in it everything on every subject. It is impossible to debate four Select Committee Reports in one debate. Let us take out one issue and leave to others some of the meat so that they can follow up, and we shall get a true sense of debating which the Press may pursue, and we shall then regain interest.
In specially selected debates, major economic and major home affairs debates, and even important Adjournment debates, it is most important that many hon. Members should speak for ten minutes, and not more, each making a contribution, so that the benches on both sides are filled with those eager to get in. As an illustration of that, in this debate we would have had twice as many speakers, although I would not regard this as being a debate which would be specially 670 selected. I remember very well the debates on the Rent Acts when Mr. Speaker had 60 or 70 Members in the House wishing to speak. On one occasion, on this side, only five were called, three of whom were Privy Councillors. That is the negation of debate. It is no good saying that someone made a very good speech of 30 to 40 minutes. They were good speeches. The then Member for Hampstead, who is now in another place, made three admirable speeches, but each lasted 30 to 35 minutes and he thus denied other able speakers the opportunity to speak.
I therefore believe that it is essential in the modern age to relearn the whole basis, method and technique here. I agree with the observation in an aside of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), that speeches and procedure in this House affect our character. It will change our character if we make speeches of 10 minutes and, in general, of 15 minutes.
I enter one caveat, that although I believe that the Speaker should have the power in exceptional cases to have specially selected debates in which we should not speak for more than 10 minutes, and although I think that in any important debate no one should speak for more than 15, with a limit of half an hour for the Front Bench speakers, I would not wish a time limit imposed on every debate, as that would prevent the delay which is sometimes an integral part of the tactics on certain debates and in ordinary Committees. Those who have heard one or two admirable long-term speakers recognise how good they can be.
I suggest that, between the hours of 7 and 8 in the evening, those who indicate a firm intention not to exceed five minutes should have priority over anyone else in that one hour. I would invite the right hon. Gentleman to consider at some stage whether it would not be better, in conjunction with Mr. Speaker, if, in most debates, though not those which are specially selected, a list should be issued beforehand at 2.30 p.m. of the order in which speakers will be called. I think that this is right.
I do not ask for it in the specially selected debates, when speeches would be limited to 10 minutes and would thus ensure that 20 or 30 could speak. However, in the ordinary run of hack debate, 671 is it so much fun leaping up and down to catch Mr. Speaker's eye? Is it not better to know in advance, as they do in another place, the order of speakers?
I hope that, at the end of the year, the right hon. Gentleman will find that this experiment has been of benefit in achieving shorter, sharper and cleaner debate, which will bring back lustre to this Chamber.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I shall refer later to the question of length of speeches, but begin by congratulating the Procedure Committee on getting some recognition of its labours with some minor Amendments on the Paper. As a member of all Procedure Committees in the 1955 and 1959 Parliaments, I have some experience of the innate conservatism of this House, particularly of the two Front Benches. As a member of the 1959 Procedure Committees, I concluded that I was the only one who was not under strict instructions that there should be no changes whatever. When it became known that I intended to move that the Finance Bill should be sent upstairs, in whole or part, two additional Members who were known to be strongly opposed to that idea were added to the Committee and I lost. I therefore have some experience of how difficult it is to get changes in this House.
I was interested in what I thought were signs in my right hon. Friend's speech of the first break in his wild enthusiasm for morning sittings as they are at present run. At the moment, we are getting the worst of both worlds—morning sittings and late night sittings, which was surely never the intention of those who were most enthusistic for morning sittings. I suggest that those who are so enthusiastic should carefully read what Mr. Speaker said about the difficulties they create for his Department, the Department of Ways and Means and the Officers of the House. I am not entirely against morning sittings, but if we are to have them, I should like them to have some sensible use and not be reserved merely for second-class business.
Times of sitting of the House are dependent to some extent upon the Members of the House. It is not the mumbo-jumbo to which some hon. Members refer which takes up time, but hon. 672 Members themselves who often create the difficulties. What is the position? Most hon. Members would be satisfied to feel that we would complete our business by 10 o'clock each night. We ought to consider our procedure to achieve something like that.
What causes us to have late nights? The first cause is the overloading of the programme by Government business. All Governments are guilty of this, perhaps a Labour Government more than any. But the Opposition cannot complain about the amount of business which the Government have put down, because we had not been back more than a month before hon. Members opposite were complaining that the Government had not carried out all their election promises.
The second cause of our being kept late at night is such business as Committee and Report stages, Financial Resolutions, Prayers and Orders. I have always believed that the House of Commons, with 630 Members wandering in and out, is not the place to discuss detailed matters in Committee and on Report. All Committee stages should go upstairs, including the Finance Bill. I have little sympathy with the idea that we have a duty to our constituents and cannot let these lists of taxation go through without voicing their views. I would put more faith in that if hon. Members were just as enthusiastic for examining the Estimates, the money which pays for the Finance Bill provisions.
Financial Resolutions should be the first business of the Standing Committee after Sittings Motions—I do not see why they need be taken on the Floor of the House—with the same limitations on time as we would have in the Chamber. I would also send upstairs to special Committees all Prayers and Orders. I see no reason why this House should not be sitting in two places at the same time. It is not as though there are 630 hon. Members in the Chamber desperately anxious to take part in every item of business that comes forward. A great many things are happening in the Palace of Westminster and I see no reason why hon. Members should not sit in two places at the same time, so to speak, debating various subjects in the Chamber and debating Orders, Prayers and so on in Committee upstairs.
673 To ensure that we complete our business by 10 o'clock at night, I suggest that any business that is not completed by then should be carried over to the following morning, when hon. Members who were discussing it the previous night would be expected to turn up at 10.30 to resume the debate. There would then be a sound use for morning sittings. It might also have a salutary effect on speeches made at night. If hon. Members knew that they would have to be back here the following morning to complete the business of the night before, their speeches the night before might be somewhat shorter. I trust, however, that business taken at those morning sittings would be major business and not the sort of matters that should be discussed in Committee upstairs.
I am not enthusiastic about the Standing Order No. 9 proposal because, whatever the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) had to say on its behalf, the words "specific, important and urgent" are hardly different from the wording of the present Standing Order No. 9. After all, if a matter is specific, it is definite. If it is important, it is obviously important, and if it is urgent, it is obviously urgent. I suggest that if we adopted this suggestion we, would find ourselves with precedents being built up and with the business of the Government being upset.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of the recommendation, which is that there should be a new definition and that Mr. Speaker should not have to give his reasons. If that were done, a history of precedents would not be built up.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I agree with the idea of Mr. Speaker not having to give his reasons, but I still maintain that there is not sufficient difference between the recommendation and the present Standing Order No. 9.
I had hoped that a suggestion would be made to regularise the position regarding counts. Consider the fiasco during the Consolidated Fund Bill. Instead of having one set of rules following the precedent established on that occasion, a different set of rules in connection with counts called in Standing Committees, a different set covering counts called on Fridays and a different set for a Division 674 which might take place between 7.30 and 8.30, the position should be regularised and the same rules should apply on all occasions.
I agree with the recommendation about Divisions, but I suggest that if Mr. Speaker has any doubts about the intention of hon. Members who challenge a Division, he should be empowered to require those who are challenging to stand up so that he can be absolutely sure about their intention.
I have made it clear that, in addition to the Finance Bill, all major Bills should be committed to Committees upstairs. I speak as one who has had more experience of Standing Committees than probably any other hon. Member. I believe that unless an extension of the committee idea is made, too much time will continue to be spent on the Floor of the House, with hon. Members showing great interest in the first few Clauses of Measures and then getting tired, so that less attention is paid to the remaining Clauses. It would be a great advantage to the House if, for every major Bill, a timetable was imposed if that was thought necessary.
My only other comment about the proposed timing of hon. Members' speeches is that I regret the suggestion to put the onus on Mr. Speaker. I do not see why the odium should be his. I do not agree with the proposal, but if there must be a change, the House should take responsibility for it and not place it on Mr. Speaker.
I realise that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and, although there are many other matters on which I would like to speak, I will resume my seat.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
I shall confine my remarks to two main aspects of the matter, although I will first deal briefly with two less important ones.
I welcome the suggestion of the Chairman of the Committee on Procedure, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), that there should not automatically be an end to a Committee stage of a Bill just because there is a gap between one Session and another. It would undoubtedly greatly facilitate the procedures of the House if a Bill, having reached its Committee stage, could proceed automatically in the new Session 675 without it having to start all over again, and I hope that we will hear more of this suggestion.
I find it difficult to reach a convincing conclusion on the subject of the length of speeches because there can be no doubt that an immense amount of time is wasted by hon. Members advocating certain courses which they could advocate in a much shorter time. I fear, however, that to adopt the suggestion of giving Mr. Speaker discretion in this matter might lead to unfortunate results.
It is proposed that there should be one, two or three hours in which a prescribed limit should be laid down for hon. Members' speeches. That means that between the end of the Front Bench speeches and this period of one to three hours there would be no time limit on speeches, after which there would be a limit of, say, 15 minutes for each speech. That would lead to ill feeling being attracted to the Chair because hon. Members who were called during the limited period would be upset at not having been called during the intervening period, when the time limit would not apply.
If discretion is to be given—and I hope that it will not be given—the only way to avoid trouble arising is to begin the prescribed period from the end of the Front Bench speeches and continue it until the start of the winding-up speech, which is normally made one hour before the final vote. Any alternative would lead to difficulties.
It would be a thousand pities if before embarking on any sort of limitation of speeches, we did not give a trial to the principle outlined in one proposal; namely, that time should be rationed between the two sides of the House rather than individual hon. Members being limited. If we accepted that principle we could at' least try it out as an experiment. It would enable sanctions to be imposed by the respective sides on those who spoke too long, because in so doing Members would be depriving their friends of taking part in the debate.
It therefore seems a great pity to embark on any limiting of speeches until that method has been tried. It will put a very great premium on those who talk fast. It is very much more enjoyable to listen to speeches that are not delivered too fast, when one can appre- 676 ciate the points at issue. If we are all to gallop along trying to make point after point before our time is up, we shall not only deprive the House of an element of relaxation but make it much less attractive to others in putting points—
§ Sir S. Summers
I do not want to give way. I have my eye on the clock, and I have two other major points to deal with.
It is important not to consider morning sittings in isolation. They should be seen as part of an increase in the time demanded of Members to fulfil their Parliamentary obligations. Another increase in time results from the proliferation of committees and sub-committees. There is a rumour going round that because Monday mornings are thoroughly inconvenient, every Tuesday, every Wednesday and every Thursday morning will be allocated to private Members' business and the Government will take every Friday for their business. That would be a further extension of the time Members are expected to give to the House.
I shall not lightly forget a remark made to me on the first day I came into the House as a Member. It was during the war, when we sat in the daytime. I was introduced just before lunch, and then asked my way to the Members' Dining Room. I had some slight difficulty in finding an empty place, but when I sat down a stranger sitting next to me said: "Is your name Summers?" I said that it was, whereupon he asked: "What do you do in real life? "I thought that that was a lesson that some of us could well remember for the rest of our lives.
If the time we are expected to give through morning sittings, or through more and more, and still more, Standing Committees is to prevent us learning a little more of the real life outside this building, we shall have embarked on a course which may have grave disadvantages in the way in which the country is governed. There was a time when the argument ran that the salary of a Member of Parliament was so insufficient alone that it was necessary for him to augment it with salaries outside and that to enable that to be done there must not be too much time taken up with life in Parliament. That argument has very little relevance and merit in present circumstances, but 677 there are many other opportunities open to hon. Members besides earning a living or a part-living. They can benefit by research, travel, study and discussion, conferences, and the like, and it will become more and more difficult for hon. Members to avail themselves of those opportunities the more their time is demanded for Parliamentary duties.
Moreover, when the Government majority is about 100 it is just possible to imagine the prescribed number of Committees—and the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said that, in all, there are 50 of them—being manned just adequately, but if the minority party were to be still smaller life would become utterly intolerable for its members. If there are to be more than two great parties of any size they will be expected to be represented, and things will become more and more impossible. Let us, therefore, be very careful that we do not build up this whole business so formidably that we are denied the opportunity of learning how real life is led.
Another aspect is the growth of Committees and all that flows from it. Having served on the Estimates Committee for some 17 years, I was naturally rather suspicious of the proposal to have Specialist Committees, although I understand some of the reasons why it was made. The two initial Specialist Committees are not likely to do much harm to the work of the Estimates Committee and may render very valuable contributions, but there is talk of still more Committees. I have been wondering whether it is possible to draw a line and say that, on one side a Specialist Committee can be expected to render valuable service to Parliament because the all-party concept can be preserved—and a Specialist Committee has no merit whatever unless that concept is preserved—whilst, on the other side, the nature of the case is such that that concept will not survive because of party pressures, and the like.
In an attempt to find a dividing line between the Specialist Committee that may be expected to succeed and render service and the Committee in which that is most unlikely, I have used the arbitrary description of "executive" Departments of State and "non-executive" Departments of State. On 678 the executive side—and I use these purely for the sake of illustration—are the Treasury, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, where major Government policy is reflected immeasurably by the policies pursued in those Departments. They are what I call the executive Departments. On the other hand, such Departments as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, perhaps the Ministry of Power and, certainly, the Ministry of Labour, influence the people active in those spheres—the firms, the farms, and the like. They prescribe the frontiers within which the real work is done, but they are not executive Departments in the sense that I am trying to use the term.
I therefore hope that when the Leader of the House is considering which Committees will be likely to preserve the all-party concept, he will have regard to what I have said and will not put those Committees to too great a test. If they are put to too great a test, their reputation will suffer, the whole scheme will be rejected out of hand, and what good might have come out of it may be prevented.
I was very pleased that the Chairman of the Estimates Committee, the hon. Member for Fife, West, devoted practically the whole of his speech to the need for additional staff, of the right quality, independent of the Civil Service, to service these Committees. It so happens that it is my sub-committee of the Estimates Committee that is prevented from sitting this week because the Clerk, and a very admirable Clerk he is, is going overseas with another Committee. It just will not do to set up Committees of this kind and expect satisfactory service from someone who not only has his attention and concentration divided between two sub-committees of the Estimates Committee but who has other responsibilities as well.
These Clerks acquire greater expertise in discovering the weak spots in the Executive's administration, and that expertise takes some years to acquire. If there were ever thought to be a practical alternative in seconding people to this work from the Civil Service, I would not doubt their loyalty at all. My only fear would be that just when they were really acquiring the expertise and experience necessary to guide these Committees 679 it would be time for them to go back to the Civil Service.
I therefore hope that the Leader of the House will impress on the Treasury that from all sides of the House today he has heard a unanimous view that what is required is not only to increase the staff in numbers, but to provide an adequate career structure, with adequate prospects of promotion, so that no longer shall this House be served by a group of people suffering by ten years in the time it takes them to reach the next grade in their profession.
Lastly, there is the question of overlapping between these new committees and certainly the Estimates Committee, and possibly others, for all I know. I do not think it possible to lay down in advance what shall be the frontiers between, say, the Estimates Committee and a Specialist Committee. Nor do I think it wise to assume that there is not room for both. I welcome the Leader of the House saying that in addition to the steering committee to the Estimates Committee there should be a new steering committee to which proposals for investigation could be submitted before work was actually started so that by common consent all activity could be assigned between the different Committees. Then a great clash could be avoided and time saved.
I hope that in dealing with these matters the growth of Committees will not be taken in isolation. When deciding whether each little sphere should have a Committee or not, there are far wider considerations which are relevant. If these matters are dealt with in this way perhaps my original fears about the growth of these Committees may prove to have been misplaced.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Everyone who has listened to this debate will agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) about the urgency of improving the conditions of those who work for us in this House. It is intolerable that those conditions should continue. I am sure the Leader of the House is very glad that these statements have been made from all parts of the House. He should take it as an in- 680 struction to report to us at an early date on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say about this long before the next Report of the Committee. This is a matter which obviously must be put right.
I concur with all the tributes paid to the Select Committee on the Reports it has presented, and the Leader of the House himself deserves much credit for the reforming zeal which he has shown in dealing with these matters. I am not at all surprised about that. I have known my right hon. Friend many years and I have known that he is a born reformer. When he reaches the Elysian Fields I am sure that he will have some scheme for their improved irrigation which he will wish to put through with the assistance of such unemployed M.P.s as he might find with him at the time, thinking that he will thereby ease their frustrations and give them useful work to do.
A few weeks ago there was almost a pincer attack on my right hon. Friend from both sides of the House. I am glad that there has not been the slightest evidence of that in this debate. It might have been that he would have been removed from his position. It would be a disaster for the House of Commons if that were to happen. If it had happened I do not believe we would get another reforming Leader of the House this century Hon. Members would say: "Look what happened to poor Dick," and no one would try again. I am glad that he is carrying through this campaign and I wish him the best of success. Of course, I have differences with him on particular items to which I shall come, but that is a different matter.
On the question of length of speeches I am not sure that those who are opposed to the proposals should not declare their interest first. I should like to give reasons why I think it wrong to proceed with any plans for limiting speeches, certainly the plan put forward by the Leader of the House. This matter should be considered, but, since there have been so many objections from different parts of the House on different grounds, it is right that my right hon. Friend should say on this Motion that he would be prepared to withdraw the present proposal and later put it forward in a different form.
Many hon. Members, like the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), can 681 deliver extremely effective speeches in five or 10 minutes. That is a great faculty, but some of the best back-bench speeches which I have heard in this House have taken much more time. One of the best was made by my right hon. Friend when he came back from Palestine and almost changed the policy of the Government by one speech. If he had done so, he would have saved a sea of bloodshed. He could not have made that speech in 15 minutes because he had to deploy his facts. I remember a speech, which I did not hear but which I read, by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) on the Hola Camp. That was not made in 15 minutes. The great speeches by Winston Church in the 1930s were great Parliamentary occasions, but they could not have been made in 15 minutes. Nor could the speech by Aneurin Bevan in 1942, in a House of Commons freezing in hostility against him, have been delivered in 15 minutes.
We should be very chary about taking a step which, if it had been applied in the past, would have muzzled the greatest Parliamentarians of recent times, the people who have made the place famous. Moreover, the idea that putting a limit of 30 minutes to speeches from the Front Bench and 15 minutes—or even worse, 10 minutes—on back-bench speakers would assist back-benchers is an extraordinary notion. It would weight the scales even more in favour of the Front Benches because 30 minutes is plenty of time, but a back-bencher, who may be expressing views against the wishes of the whole House, needs time to do so. One of the great virtues of this place is that the majority, however large, has to listen to the minority, however small, and the smallest minorities of all require more time. I hope that we shall be very cautious about proceeding with this proposal. I would vote against it in order that the whole matter may be considered afresh.
The second matter concerns the most essential reform to be made in the immediate business of this place—Standing Order No. 9. It is absurd, and recognised as absurd throughout the country, that when great major matters blow up quickly we have to go through the long paraphernalia of bombarding Ministers to get debates which are urgent. We have to waste a lot of time in that way. We waste time every Thursday going through the 682 machinery of trying to represent to the Government what debates should take place. I am not saying that we should exclude that altogether—I would not dream of suggesting that—but we must have a system under which much more frequently we can have immediate debates on matters that blow up suddenly and are of urgent importance, but that must not be under the old precedents. The virtue of the recommendations of the Committee is that it murders all the precedents. That is the merit of what the Committee has proposed.
I should like the proposal about the Standing Order to go further. Five debates of this character in a Session is not sufficient. We should look at that question again. From the interests of my right hon. Friend I can see another reason why he might wish to delay a decision on this matter. This proposal about Standing Order No. 9 would assist the Opposition—all Oppositions. All of us would be grateful for having it. That may be one of the reasons why the Government would like to have a quid pro quo. I am not so innocent in these matters as I may look and I do not blame the Government altogether. I can see occasions which might occur when my right hon. Friend may wish to coax hon. Members opposite into agreeing with other reforms. I should be the last person who would wish to send my right hon. Friend naked into the usual channels. Let him take this as one of the bargaining counters he has with the Opposition, on the assurance—I absolutely accept that he is as eager as we are to get reform of this matter—that he will bring a proposition before us which, when it is examined, will go further even than the proposal made by the Select Committee on Procedure.
My fear about some of the reforms which have been proposed, despite my eagerness to get the kind of reform which I have been advocating in relation to Standing Order No. 9, is that this appalling idea of a consensus in politics should become more prevalent. My opposition to Select Committees—I do not propose now to go over the argument again—arises precisely because I think that their concept gives further colour to the idea of a consensus in politics. Anybody with any experience of Committees upstairs knows that the cosier the atmosphere the 683 less the clash between the parties. I am in favour of the clash between the parties. I am in favour of the clash between the parties and the debate inside the parties being in the open, because the public has a right to hear them. The clash at elections should be reflected in the House of Commons.
I do not like the idea that we should abandon these clashes. Indeed, if the process continues of leaders of political parties saying that the only people that matter are the floating voters, soon the only people who will be voting will be the floating voters. They will be the only ones we can capture. All the rest will be sunk—sunk because they do not see their policies and what they thought they voted for at elections properly represented in debates in the House.
The doctrine I believe in is the doctrine of Disraeli, who said: "Above all, maintain the line of demarcation between parties, for it is only by maintaining the independence of party that you can maintain the integrity of public men and the power, and the power and influence of Parliament itself".
All reforms which are made should be designed for the purpose of ensuring that the real argument between the parties is able to come out into the open on the Floor of the House of Commons. I include in this the discussions between the parties, because these are matters in which the public is entitled to join. If there are to be Select Committees, they should be thrown open to the public. Above all, we must not take measures which will drain away the political vitality from this place. If that is done, something will be destroyed which it will be very difficult to recreate.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
The first thing I ought to say is how very much I agree with what the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) said about the position of the Clerks. The Clerks are working under really tremendous pressure. The Clerk who is looking after the sub-committee of which I am a Member has, in addition to looking after that sub-committee, another Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee to 684 look after and also the joint committee with another place on the censorship of plays. That is too much work to expect a person to do in the way which these complicated matters require. I do not see any reason why, if an effort is made to fill the present gaps and if additional establishment can be agreed with the Treasury, this position could not be sorted out.
I fear that we are getting rather into a muddle in connection with the Specialist Committees. It was suggested by the Procedure Committee that a new committee should be formed to control subcommittees, which should be given descriptive names. Previously, it had always been a question of Estimates Sub-Committees being entitled A, B, C, D and E. Names have now been given. In two cases they are very similar to the names now given to Specialist Committees. I have in mind the Technological and Scientific Affairs Sub-Committee and the Building and Natural Resources Sub-Committee. There is now a Specialist Committee on Science and Technology. There is also besides the Building and Natural Reserves Sub-Committee and a Select Committee on Agriculture amongst the Specialist Committees.
Nobody seems to have come to a decision as to quite where the boundary is between the Estimates Sub-Committee and the Specialist Sub-Committee. It is suggested that there should be a steering committee which would be responsible for allocating the business of both the Estimates Sub-Committee and the Specialist Sub-Committee. I am not at all happy about that, because nobody has arrived at a distinction between the two. Both can operate. It is probably a good thing that both should operate. The basis on which they should do so is not at all clear.
The Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1964–65, approved a statement by the Clerk Assistant in this form:it is really an attempt to put these Committees "—that is, the new Committees—on, roughly speaking, the same sort of order of reference as the present Nationalised Industries Committee have, and in their case I think they can go a little further than the Estimates can. For instance, when they reported on the gas industry they were enabled to set out with all the background and details the argument 685 between the Lurgi plant and the importation of methane. They gave all the facts about that and then they expressed a few conclusions but pointed out that it was a decision that must be taken by the Minister.… I rather doubt whether the Estimates Committee would have felt that they could have gone quite as far as that, supposing they were investigating, say, the Ministry of Health, and they found there was some scheme going on for entirely reorganising the Health Service or that there were alternative schemes.The complication is that the Estimates Committee has the duty and power of going into the Estimates. The Second Special Report passed by the Select Committee on Science and Technology—this is the Specialist Committee—says this:Your Committee have come to the conclusion that their main object should be to examine national scientific and technological expenditure together with the skills and use of manpower and resources involved, in both the public and the private sectors, in order to discover whether full value for money is being obtained.That is a worthy object, but it cuts right across the Estimates investigation, should that be made. Unless a distinction is drawn, I fear that there may be double-doing and waste of time between the two bodies.
§ Mr. Palmer
The new Select Committee on Science and Technology sees its duty as looking into future policy and not just holding inquests on what has happened in the past.
§ Sir E. Errington
The Estimates Committee deals with future policy to some extent. I agree that one can envisage wider future policy being possible as a subject, but the terms of the Resolution of the Science and Technology Specialist Committee might be considered so wide as to include the Estimates Committee's problems.
Lord Butler had a phrase which is extremely helpful in this connection. He thought that the Estimates Committee was entitled to investigate, and should investigate, what he called "administrative policy", that is, the policy of the administration of the Estimates which are passed by the House. That is infinitely narrower than the purview of the Specialist Committee. I fear that, unless something is done, by some arrangement or some Committee—I do not know whether the Select Committee on Procedure ought to consider the question—it will not be satisfactory for there to be an "argy-bargy" in a 686 steering committee, even one chaired by the Leader of the House.
This matter can be helped a little by restoring to the Sub-Committees of the Estimates Committee their letters instead of their nomenclatures, which cover almost anything within a very wide circle. I regard these descriptions for the Estimates Sub-Committees as unsatisfactory. They do not mean anything and may be open to misunderstanding. I hope, therefore, that someone will be prepared to make an effort to put the two sets of Committees on parallel lines rather than on lines crossing one another. This will be for the benefit of all concerned.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) made an admirable speech, admirable also in length, being in line with a good deal that has been said today about the need for shorter speeches. He took 10 minutes. Nevertheless, I have no doubt—I agree with him here—that on other occasions when there is a passionate debate taking place in the Chamber and when really great national issues are being discussed, it would be appropriate for my hon. Friend to take 20 minutes or even half an hour.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said on the question of length of speeches. This is a difficult point to make, but it seems to me that a good many hon. Members favour short speeches but do not deliver them. I think that this illustrates the conviction of the House that we do not favour any limitation on speeches or any change of the kind which my right hon. Friend has suggested.
I do not agree, however, with what my hon. Friend said about Select Committees. He is, of all hon. Members, perhaps, the greatest traditionalist in that he conceives of the House, as Churchill did, as being the great national forum of debate where great national issues are thrashed out, perhaps in the manner of our Victorian grandfathers, with fine oratory on both sides.
The House of Commons is other things as well. It has other things to do. When my hon. Friend attacks Select Committees, he overlooks that some of our Select Committees do a job which this House, as he would like it to be. could not do. 687 The Select Committee challenges the Executive. I think, for example, of the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) is chairman. That Committee has done a great deal on defence matters to challenge the Executive and to challenge successive Governments.
As a Member of the Estimates Committee, I do not consider that there is a cosy atmosphere which kills any sense of criticism directed towards the Treasury Bench. In fact, it is the other way. Very often, by uniting Members from that side and from this, we can make even stronger attacks on the Government than might otherwise be possible. After all, there is a strong opposition to the Executive on this side of the House, and not only below the Gangway. There are two oppositions in the House, one over there and one here. If the two oppositions unite now and again, perhaps that is a good thing.
§ Mr. Hamling
For different reasons, of course. Certainly, the Select Committee on Procedure has shown that it is the place where the will to change is stronger than anywhere else in the House, certainly stronger than in this Chamber as just the debating chamber of the House of Commons. A great deal of the initiative for change in procedure has come from the Select Committee. One may well ask why, if it comes in this Parliament from the Select Committee on Procedure, it did not come in the Parliament before last. The reason is the presence on the Committee of so many Labour people, new people. The cosy atmosphere of which my hon. Friend speaks may exist to some extent—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I have been a member of Select Committees on Procedure over a good deal of time. Will my hon. Friend look back at the Reports produced in 1958 and 1959? He will find that a solid minority of Labour Members were advocating the changes which are now greeted as novel. What is now daylight clear to everyone was at least dimly apparent to them all those years ago.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right because he was one 688 of the minority. I was not. If the electors of West Woolwich had had a bit of sense, and if the electors of many other marginal constituencies had had a bit more sense, back in 1955, we would have had a majority on that Committee then, and we would have brought change forward. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) will vote for these changes tonight. Why did he not favour them in 1958? He was here, and so were the members of his Front Bench, but they did not do it. It seems to me that Select Committees, certainly as they are operated in this Parliament, are doing a satisfactory job.
I must say, in spite of the reference to 1958 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Mr. C. Pannell), that the changes proposed in today's Orders are rather modest. Perhaps I came here expecting far more violent changes in the constitution than I have a right to expect. I have always been ambitious. When one has been trying to get elected for so long, one does, I suppose, become rather ambitious to change things very quickly.
Not much has come. In the 17th century, Parliament cut off the head of a King, the Lord's Anointed, yet here we are, in the 20th century, so timid that we cannot even make fundamental changes in Parliament. We do not seem to have progressed very far. Parliament nowadays seems to be much more modest than the Parliament of the 17th century. Knowing the attachment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale to the cause of Cromwell—
§ Mr. Hamling
Well, that was old age. The question to ask here is whether, despite the modesty of the changes, we are happy with some of those that have already been made. Let us consider the way morning 689 sittings—second-class morning sittings—operate. I do not come to them, because I do not regard them as being significant enough as a change. They are not genuine sittings of the House. The House still sits late. I came to our first morning sitting it is the only one I have attended. We sat all night the same day. When I got home the next morning my wife said to me, "Are you trying to tell me seriously that the first day you have a morning sitting you then sit all night?"
§ Mr. Hamling
She believed me. She knows that I always tell her the truth. She asked, "Whose planning was that?" I had to say that it was not mine.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Perhaps I may mention in support of what the hon. Gentleman is saying that in February, 1966, the doorkeepers' hours were 49½ a week. This year, with a supposed curtailment, they went up to 59½. In February, 1966, the policemen did 626 hours' overtime. When we were supposed to be cutting down their hours because of the morning sittings, their overtime went up to 833 hours. Those are significant pointers to support tie hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has supplied me with information that reinforces what I am about to say concerning the servants of the House.
Morning sittings have placed a burden on some Members—not all, because there are still too many part-time Members. I am reminded of the writings of Andrew Roth. There are far too many Members with far too many business interests outside and not giving enough attention to the House. If the morning sittings become permanent and there is a proliferation of Select Committees, Specialist Committees and the rest, some Members will find the physical strain of serving the House too much. We know what has happened in the last few years. The health of some of our right hon. and hon. Friends on both sides of the House has broken down, and I believe that that is because they have tried to do too much in this place.
The way in which morning sittings operate at present is a scandal. How 690 many Members have not sat on any Committees in the past 12 months, and why not? Are some Members considered to be more full-time than others? At present one Standing Committee meets three times a week—twice on Thursdays and once on Tuesdays, and we have morning sittings as well.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Member who shouted that is a Whip. I always have a feeling for Whips, though I will not say what it is sometimes.
London Members will be expected to be here on a Monday morning. They already keep the House going on a Friday, and if it were not for the London Members—the Greater London Members, for I must remember my right hon. Friend in Bexley—
§ Mr. Hamling
The right hon. Gentleman lives in Bexley. He is just over the border from where I live. We keep the House going on a Friday, and I see him in Woolwich market on a Friday.
We must do something about late sittings and all-night sittings. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) spoke about the doorkeepers. There are 48 hours in two days, yet a short time ago some doorkeepers did 49½ hours' work on Monday and Tuesday. Miracles happen in this place. What figures has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the increase in hours worked by doorkeepers here since the morning sittings started? He may not know them.
We are entitled to demand that those who work for us have decent hours. Many trade unionists sit on this side of the House. They would have deputations and lobbies to the Prime Minister seven days a week if their members were expected to work the sort of hours worked by the servants of the House. Not only the doorkeepers are affected. There are also the people in the refreshment department, the women who work in the tearooms. They are working longer hours since the morning sittings started. It is a scandal, and I expect the Leader of the House to do something about it.
691 If we want to make idiots of ourselves and kill ourselves by overwork, that is up to us, but we have no right to expect the servants of the House to do it.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I support the plea of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Hamling) that the House should give attention to the extra burdens it is putting on its servants when it gaily entered into morning sittings and does not curtail all-night sittings. The figures I gave when I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's speech show the 10 hours a week increase that there has been in doorkeepers' hours this year compared with last. The total police overtime is up from 626 hours to 833. We have the responsibility not to enter gaily into reforms which put extra burdens on them, because if we are not properly served Parliament will not work.
Having agreed with the hon. Gentleman on that, I must part company with him on almost all his other points. Change for the sake of change is not necessarily right. It is not without significance, as he admitted, that it is when one comes here as an exuberant new Member with the desire to make one's mark that one wants to see sudden changes. The others have not suddenly become old and decrepit, but after years of experience they find merit in what seemed to be an outmoded way of running the House.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been here long enough. He is a schoolmaster and knows that some people are slow at study. Perhaps by the time he gets to the sixth form some of the ideas lie now finds so attractive will be shown by experience to have weaknesses.
I do not agree that we want the House to be filled with full-time Members. One will always have Members who give more time to it than others. It must be representative of the nation, and I have always thought that in making it representative of the nation it will have people, properly elected as very good Members, who cannot carry on with their outside jobs and professions. They are the Members who find that they can give time to running the machinery of the House, and they 692 make a great contribution. But because that suits that group, it does not follow that members of the other group, also with a great contribution to make, should not keep their outside contact with the world.
If one is to sit in this rarefied atmosphere and simply read the briefs sent from outside and form one's views and take one's action on them, one is acting on hearsay. The strength of this assembly, compared with many others, is that the people who make the final decision by their vote are to a large extent those who feel the effect of the legislation they are passing in their work. It will strengthen Parliament if we can continue that without undermining or weakening Parliament.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman is stating the position wrongly. The real position is that the House demands at least 350 Members attending full time if it is to work at all. They are the solid core. They are the P.B.I. of the place. The rest are very often Members on both sides who blow in, blow up, and blow out. It is a question of the gentlemen and the players. So long as those 350 are recognised as class A Members while the others are class B, that is all right. But if one reads the leader writer of The Times one finds that it is viewed the other way round.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The last thing I would ever have thought that one could charge the right hon. Gentleman with he now proves he possesses. He has an inferiority complex. If ever there was a right hon. or hon. Gentleman that I would have thought to possess a superiority complex, it was he. But now he admits that he has an inferiority complex.
But, even accepting his figure of 350 Members needed to keep the machinery of the House going, why should we ask the other 300 to put themselves in exactly the same position? They can be making their contribution by moving around the country and the world, doing their job, getting experience from it and giving the benefit of that experience here and adding it to the hard work done by the others, thus making this a first-class Parliament. That is how it works, and even the right hon. Gentleman has to say that we do not want 630 Members about the Palace of Westminster the whole time.
693 I do not want to over-charge this issue. I was merely disagreeing with the hon. Member for Woolwich, West about his claim that Parliament can only do good work if we have 630 full-time Members here. I say that that would not be doing a service to Parliament. This House is based on a Parliamentary system in which, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, we have to have the clash of thought, of knowledge and of experience. It is a good thing that some hon. Members should be able to go out and gain some of that experience.
I want to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. On the same grounds of argument that I have tried to raise on the question of part-time and full-time membership, I am sure that he is quite right. We cannot restrict the length of speeches. Some can make a speech in five minutes because they have the speed that goes with it. Others want time to develop their arguments. I agree with the hon. Gentleman 100 per cent.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is here. He was my opponent in a General Election many years ago. I have often disagreed with him, but I have heard him deploy arguments to which Parliament, quite rightly, has listened carefully. He has rarely taken under 10 or 15 minutes in doing so. I would not deny him, with all his knowledge and his years in the House and his skill in presenting a case, the time in which to make his case. I would not want to see some written rule that in 15 minutes, half-way through his argument, he must sit down, with the House losing the whole burden of what he wanted to say.
I do not think that we should say that we can regulate by some time clock how long a Member should speak. An hon. Member soon finds out—and I myself have been a victim of this—how long his hon. Friends want to listen to him. Pressures can be brought to bear. Reputations can be built up and knocked down. This, I believe, will have the right effect in cutting down the sort of speeches that we do not want to have at great length.
But let us not write it all down or think that the whole fountain of wisdom springs from the Front Benches, which should be given a licence to go on to any length. The back benches have a 694 very great contribution to make as well. I support the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in his attitude to this proposal. He and I recognise the trend. It is right that this resistance to it should be put on record.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
The proposal is not to increase the time given to Government speakers but to redistribute the time that back benchers share among themselves when the pressure is heavy.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I understood the Leader of the House to say that Mr. Speaker would have discretion to state that during the hours of, say, 5 o'clock till 8 o'clock, a back bencher must confine himself to 15 minutes. But the opening and closing speeches would be able to go on. I say that the pearls may be coming between 5 o'clock and 8 o'clock. I do not believe that we can put that sort of rein on if we are to allow Parliament to give of its best.
My other point concerns Standing Order No. 9. We have to find some way of allowing urgent matters of importance to be debated. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that this is the forum for national and international questions that affect the nation to be debated. Things blow up quickly. Many important issues suddenly arise where the influence of the House could be brought to bear if only its voice could be heard.
But under the precedent system of Standing Order No. 9, such a thing is never allowed to happen. I have been in the House for 18 years and in that time to my recollection on only two or three occasions has an emergency debate been allowed under the rigid precedent system which applies. So anything that can be done to give Mr. Speaker the freedom to take a broader decision on matters of importance and to rid himself of the precedents and restrictions under Standing Order No. 9 will be to the good. If we gave up the precedent reason for not allowing a debate and brought forward modern arguments for saying that it could not be done, I would accept that. But Parliament will not be able to do its job on these important occasions unless we are allowed to make our voice heard.
Having spoken of these matters which affect the nation and the House, I finish by again reminding right hon. and hon. 695 Members that whether or not we are able to do our job will depend on how well we are serviced by the servants of the House, and that we should not put a greater burden on them—the doorkeepers, the workers in the restaurants, the clerks or anyone else—than they can bear. I hope that we shall always keep that in mind when giving any advice to the Government as to the sort of procedures under which we wish to work.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) rightly drew attention to what he called the tyranny of the Session. I thought that he stated the problem perhaps better than the solution. I agree with the idea that we are elected, in the eyes of the country at large, as a Parliament and that we should, when legislating, allow legislation to run on during that Parliament. But unlike my right hon. Friend, I do not even see the need for a second Second Reading. Legislation should continue during the Parliament and should not be just chopped off in part each year.
I want to draw attention to the tyranny of the day. This is almost as effective as the tyranny of the Session. I have never been able to understand why it should be that a controversial Measure such as the Iron and Steel Act should take exactly as long on Second Reading as an almost non-controversial Measure. We have improved this situation slightly by introducing the Second Reading Committee and so forth, but when we get a Bill which is just a little more controversial, but upon which the Opposition do not intend to vote, it still has the same length of time as a controversial Bill which has a three-line Whip out on both sides. This is really ridiculous and, with respect to you, Mr. Speaker, and to your colleagues, part of this may be because of the practices that have grown up in this House with regard to the question of when the Closure may or may not be moved.
There is almost an unofficial rule that one cannot have less than a couple of hours' debate on almost any subject before a Closure is accepted by the Chair. It seems that we might well get away from the principle of dealing with the 696 day, to a substantial extent, and start thinking in terms of Parliament being a continuous affair, dealing with particular pieces of business and then going on to the next business, irrespective of whether it is the next day or the same day. This would not apply to highly controversial Measures, but it would apply to a lot that we do here.
I would also like to suggest that when we are talking of morning sittings, we should think not solely of full-time versus part-time Members. So far this issue has been discussed very much in those terms. People who have jobs outside naturally do not want to be tied to the House so that they cannot do them, while others believe that this is a good idea. I would suggest that we do not adopt any scheme that will cause Members to have less contact in the provinces with their constituencies as compared with the London-based Members. It is extremely important that we do not get into the position, merely for the sake of appearing to be good boys in the eyes of the public, of adopting a system whereby we start at 10.30 a.m. in order to finish at 5.30 p.m. or 6.0 p.m.
This would be very nice for anyone who lived in London or whose family was in London. It would have the immediate effect of causing provincial Members to bring their families to London, but it would also have the effect that provincial Members would return less frequently to their constituencies. That is not what the constituencies want. Where we might achieve results which would suit both Members and their constituents would be if we started at, say, mid-day on Monday, finished at a reasonable time such as 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m., and then on the next three days met for 12 hours from 10.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Then we should leave the Member with Friday free—the House would meet on four days and we would get in slightly more hours than we do now.
This would enable the Member to go home, or to his constituency on one day in the week, or he would be given a day when he would be free for such activities as the research mentioned by certain hon. Members. He would have this and Parliament would have more time for legislation. This is a possible solution which we ought to consider.
697 It is impossible in a debate of this character to make a reasonable speech and to speak on every topic. It has been said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that it is a piecemeal debate. It was a little strange that he should have said that, because the form of the debate is governed by him. I would like to refer to something which has not appeared in any of the Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure. Whilst the Reports have in many respects been excellent about procedure upon the Floor of the House, they have been pretty poor about procedure in Committees.
They have almost ignored this question, whilst at the same time this House is—with certain exceptions like my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot)—trying to increase the power and use of Committees. Apart from the Report that my right hon. Friend mentioned which the Committee is to produce, there ought to be a Report on the whole functioning of Committees of the House. Indeed it has become apparent from the way that the debate has almost changed from discussing the questions before us to discussing the question of Committees and their staffing how important this is.
To take one example, in the Report dealing with Methods of Voting it is quite rightly said that one could not apply electronic methods of voting, proving the point that I made previously, that it was a waste of the Committee's time considering the issue, instead of devoting its time to more important subjects. The Committee never mentioned what an immense assistance it would be to Members of Parliament if they were not tied to a Committee where they have, if they are Government back benchers, little influence as in a Standing Committee on a controversial Bill.
It would be a great assistance if a simple electronic device could be produced, enabling a Member to be anywhere on the premises doing some other work, and which would tell him when there was a Division. The Committee never mentioned, discussed or considered this, or so the Report shows, although it was quite clearly well within its terms of reference. I hope that this omission will be corrected.
With regard to the Finance Bill, on page vi of the relevant Report, the Com- 698 mittee very cavalierly dismisses the whole idea of putting this Bill upstairs in Committee, and allowing Members to come in and speak on it. The Committee dismisses in one sentence the possibility of solving the problem by allowing a Member to come in and move an Amendment, even though he is not a member of the Committee and has no vote there.
From this one-sentence dismissal, one would not dream that it has been the practice of this House for centuries, until the last century. One would not dream that it was the traditional practice of the House, but it is, and was dropped only in the last century. I should have thought that a practice which had gone on for so long deserved a little more consideration than a one-sentence dismissal.
The problem is that many hundreds of Members are kept on these premises whether they like it or not, whether they are interested in the whole of the Finance Bill or not. Even if they wished to move an Amendment to one part of the Bill, they may not be interested in the 97 or 297 other Clauses. Members would not be tied to debates in which they were not interested and more time would be given for debates under Standing Order No. 9 and other debates of that kind in which they were interested.
If it is said that this would be rather difficult because Members would be coming and going, surely this is what a Procedure Committee is for. Surely its purpose is not to state a minor problem and then dismiss the principle, but to consider the principle and then—if it decides that the principle is good—to consider how to solve the minor problems. I should have thought that this was what committees were for.
Therefore, whilst I support the Motions before us—and I think that the Leader of the House deserves congratulation for many of the points which he has put forward—I do not think that timetabling the Finance Bill is the solution to the criticism of the average back-bencher that the summer is taken up and Members are stuck on these premises unwilling to talk about what may be a highly technical subject and unable to talk about something in which they are interested, whether it be family allowances or Vietnam.
699 Finally, I wish to mention the question of the staffing of Committees. I hope that we shall not assume that everything in our garden is lovely and that we want, for examples, more Clerks of the House. We must consider what is the function of Clerks of Committees. In my view, they should merely be a committee secretary. It seems to me that with a Specialist Committee a Clerk who is unspecialised in all but procedure is not appropriate to staff it for other purposes. This is the point of giving Specialist Committees the right to select staff and to give, say, two-year contracts to university people. It does not follow that a person who is an ideal clerk of the House is an ideal person to find out about the technicalities of, say, agriculture or science and technology. Therefore, we must consider very carefully what sort of staff we want as well as the number of staff we want.
This is not as simple a problem as it seems. It is about time that we gave the House of Commons (Services) Committee control over our own staff. One of the peculiarities is that staff of similar calibre like librarians and clerks have different conditions and different hours of work for reasons which are by no means apparent. This matter would involve legislation. We need our own committee with control over the staff and establishments, subject to the Treasury, their duties and conditions of work. It is about time that the House had control of its staff in that way. Then it could appropriately decide their duties.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, I very much support the idea of the Specialist Committee. I want to see it made a success. I want Committees as a whole to be used more effectively. The Select Committee on Procedure must consider the procedure of Standing Committees when considering legislation. If we can put the technicalities of legislation and the cross-examination of Ministers, into such Committees, then we shall have freed the Floor of the House for debates of major principle and the clash of issues which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale wants. I do not see how we can have the clash of the party battle on the Floor of the Chamber which he wants unless we take the little snippings on 700 details away from that battle on the Floor into a Committee.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
This debate is really about how we can increase our productivity and how we can get the organisation of the House on to a more business-like footing. A lot of the speeches which we have heard today have been concerned with the traditions of the House, rather than with comparing our work with that of a business organisation.
I have read the Reports and listened to practically the whole debate. The first fundamental principle which has not been mentioned by any hon. Member is that it is possible to read twice as fast as one can speak. Too many people have assumed that the only way to do anything in Parliament is by talking.
No one appears to have appreciated the different functions which Parliament has to carry on. There are three fundamental functions, all of which require a different approach because, fundamentally, they are different ideas. One of the functions of Parliament is to legislate, or to manufacture new laws. I admit at once that there are too many of them. But, in manufacturing new laws, Parliament needs to adopt a manufacturing process, because is that what we are doing?
When we come to the very important matter of dealing with the problems of our constituents, a different technique and procedure is required from that which we adopt when we come to deal with national issues, where great, passionate speeches can be made which we hope will sway the House. Quite another procedure has to apply in that case.
If one compares the proceedings of this House with those of a board of directors, one remembers the occasions when one sits in this Chamber from 2.30 p.m. onwards without any idea of when, if ever, one will be called. If I were to ask any member of my board of directors to sit for six and a half hours in those circumstances, he would not stay for a moment.
It is suggested that a Front Bench spokesman should be given half an hour to introduce the Second Reading of a Bill. To me, that is utter nonsense. As the chairman of a large public company, 701 I should not expect one of my chief executives to introduce a new manufacturing process to the board and talk about it for half an hour without putting forward any prior facts. It is sheer nonsense.
To start with, when a Bill is produced it has appended to it a memorandum of explanation which says a little about the Bill. Then we come to the House in all innocence trying to understand what it does mean, and we listen to a Minister taking half an hour or three-quarters of an hour to explain it to us. Surely what he should do, instead of producing a memorandum of explanation, it to produce his Second Reading speech in much the same way as one would when introducing a new method to a board of directors. The Minister should be given not the half hour which my right hon. and hon. Friends are suggesting, but 10 minutes to explain the fundamental factors which are in his printed Second Reading speech.
Think of the advantages. Hon. Members would come to the debate with more idea of the Bill. They would be able to consult their constituents and know whether or not they had any problems. They would have the opportunity to consult any affected organisation, which quite rightly would be in close contact with them. In that way, they would be able to make a fundamental contribution.
It should be remembered also that a Second Reading is followed by a Committee stage. I suggest that it is in Committee that the speeches should be made. I see no reason why we should not get two Second Readings in a day on all but very important Bills.
Now let us consider the other end of the day, the Adjournment debate. I put this to the Select Committee, but got no response. Sometimes at Two o'clock in the morning a Member puts up a constituent's case, and, by Jove, I defend that right to the last ditch. It is one of our fundamental rights that be should be able to do so. But if someone were to say to the Chairman of I.C.I., "I have a disgruntled shareholder here. Will you see him at two o'clock in the morning?", what answer would he get? If he were to say to the Chairman, "Not only have I a disgruntled shareholder who wants to see you at two o'clock in the morning, but it will not be before then that he 702 will tell you what he wants to see you about", what would he say? Yet we expect a Minister to stay up all night to hear a speech lasting perhaps a quarter of an hour, a speech which has been written out anyway, and then he replies.
For that process we keep going the whole machinery of the Palace of Westminster—the doorkeepers, the policemen, and perhaps three Members in the Chamber, plus Mr. Speaker. This goes on for half an hour. What sense is there in that? Surely it would be very much better if the speech for the Adjournment were written out on the Order Paper as a Question every day so that other hon. Members who might have a constituency interest in the matter could decide whether they could make a contribution to the debate? That would make more sense. If that were done, the Minister would have an opportunity to get the proper data from his Department to reply to the debate.
If it is a question of catching the Minister at two o'clock in the morning, if that is the game that Parliament is going to play, all I can say is that it is a darned silly one. But if we are to get the maximum benefit out of the time, let us remember that what takes a quarter of an hour to say only takes five minutes to read, and other Members could perhaps make a real contribution to the discussion.
I think that we are beginning to get a modernised Parliament. We have to forget that a book was written that claimed that this is government by conversation. It ought to be government in the most efficient way, by adopting the best traditions of the House, and the best business approach, and this is where we are lacking.
I am full of admiration for the servants of the House. I have sat on the Estimates Committee, and on the Public Accounts Committee, and I have never met a more efficient organisation. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said that the Clerk to the Committee should not go out into the wilderness and get information, that he should be a secretary. If we want only a clerk-secretary, let us not employ the talents that we do. It is the ability of these servants of the House which provide the contribution which we require. When we sit as Members of the Estimates Committee or of 703 the Public Accounts Committee, we are both judge and jury. It is a difficult position to be in and we must have counsel's help to cross-question the witnesses who appear before us.
§ Mr. English
I did not dispute that the Clerks should be specialists in something, such as the procedure of the House. I was saying that they might not be the appropriate specialists for the subject matter of the Specialist Committees.
§ Mr. Costain
I take the hon. Gentleman's point.
Of all the Members who have been limited to time, I gather that I am the most limited. I have sat here the longest, but I have to give way for the winding-up speeches.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that great benefit is derived in the Estimates Committee and in the Public Accounts Committee because a Memorandum is produced of what is to happen. It is a Memorandum telling one what one should know about, and, by gosh, one can do one's homework because of it. In this Chamber we live with the mystery of not knowing when we are to be called, how we will be called, or why we are going to be called. In the other place the speakers know the precise order of being called.
Too many hon. Members come into the House, as I did and as other hon. Members did, to make maiden speeches and to think that they will always be called—because of the congratulations which they receive on that maiden speech. One is told by a Whip to be ready to speak again the following week. I spent a Sunday afternoon and a Sunday evening preparing a speech, then I sat in the House and missed my tea and my dinner and was not called. What happens is that on the next occasion one does only half one's homework, and when the time comes when one is called, one has forgotten to do any homework.
If we are to use Members of Parliament with efficiency, we have to cut down the wastage of their time, and every time a Member of Parliament does his homework for a speech and is not called, that is a waste of time. We therefore need some guidance about when we shall be called and the order in which we shall be called. In deciding how much time we 704 should be allowed, while the Speaker should be given some large measure of tolerance, much should depend on the subject matter of the debate, whether it is a national, or an individual, or a legislative matter. Of those, the last on the Floor of the House is the least important. I see no reason why the Third Reading of any Bill should require more than speakers from the Front Benches winding up.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I understand that I have about minus two minutes in which to make this speech, and so I come immediately to the core of my argument.
The most urgent need of the House is a thorough-going and radical reform of its Committee structure. It is quite impossible for a Legislature of this size to carry out the effective scrutiny of the activities of the Executive, legislate and order its own business and generally conduct the affairs of the nation without an efficient system of Committees. It therefore follows that I am entirely in favour of the proposition that the Finance Bill, among others, should go to Committee and be considered upstairs. In a body of 600, 500, or 300 people, there is no virtue in trying to debate the intricacies of financial legislation. If it is argued that in fact that number of hon. Members is not present, that becomes a conclusive argument for sending the Bill to Standing Committee.
The creation of Specialist Committees is an important advance, but it means that the House will have to look at the whole system of Committees unless we are to create confusion and overlap. So far as I know, there are at least three Committees—the Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee, the Select Committee on Science and Technology itself and the Public Accounts Committee—which concern themselves with scientific and technological matters. There is bound to be some overlap and waste unless there is coordination and a more coherent system.
Nevertheless, the possibility of debating in Committee scientific and technological problems is of the highest importance. We have only to look back over the past 12 months at how often the House as a whole has had the opportunity to debate aspects of science and technology to see 705 how important it is that some Specialist Committees should have the opportunity to probe these problems in depth.
One hon. Member opposite said that the only power of the Opposition was the power to delay. I think that to that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) would add the power of public debate and discussion. However, there is a third power which in this age is of even greater importance. That is the power of investigation. But the House cannot investigate the activities of the Government and cannot investigate all the complicated subjects in which we are expected to legislate and operate unless there is proper machinery to carry out the investigation, and this proper machinery must carry with it the construction of a systematic Committee organisation, and, as several hon. Members have said, proper staffing.
I do not wish to interrupt the course of the debate further, except to say that I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on pressing on with the thankless task of the reform of our procedure. He will not get much gratitude for it. His speech fell into two parts. The first was a cautious coaxing of the House along the path of reform, but the second, towards the end, appeared to be a flash of impatience and a desire to get on with the job and do something radical and thoroughgoing. I hope that he intends to bend his tremendous intellectual energies and political talent towards a thoroughgoing political reform of the House.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
One subject on which we are all agreed is that it is wrong that we should have an insufficient career structure and insufficient rewards for those who serve us. Whatever results from the debate, I hope that the Lord President will go to the Chancellor and have that remedied at an early date.
The debate has been handicapped by the necessity to consider too many Reports in one evening. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this form of debate. We on the Select Committee have been given five different instructions in the last 12 or 18 months and told that the House wanted an urgent reply on each. We worked overtime to produce them. Yet all these Reports are 706 being discussed now, in many cases six months or more after we made our Report. The first Report now under discussion was made in August and it is now the middle of April. I hope that this will not happen again.
We made certain recommendations in our Reports. First is the subject of morning sittings. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) made some people think that there had been a measure of agreement in the Select Committee. I must point out that the Committee's recommendations, which were slightly different from those adopted by the Government, were opposed by the Conservative and Liberal Members on the Committee; that is the only Report which was not agreed. There was a Division on whether it should be made to the House.
Considering morning sittings, I am reminded of the evidence of Mr. Gaitsskell when commenting on the proposal of the 1959 Report, when he said:… there is a danger that you might get … in the mornings a very poor attendance at these debates, and I think it would be bad for the prestige of the House—much worse than it is in the evening—if between eleven and one debates take place and there are not more than half-a-dozen people in the Chamber. You will have the public coming round much more then, and the whole thing would look rather bad.In fact, this is what has been happening since these sittings were introduced.
We must ask, what the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are towards morning sittings. He made an obscure remark about Monday mornings. He admitted that they had been a failure. How much longer is this failure to be allowed to continue? May we have an alteration in the system of morning sittings in the near future?
Many speakers have dealt with the question of shorter speeches. It has been made clear that the relevant Motion is quite different from the Report of the Select Committee. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that what we recommended in paragraph 8 is not clear.
Certainly in our draft report our general idea was that the House should have a ruling that 15 minutes was the normal time for back bench speeches and 30 minutes for Front Bench speeches. 707 That was put clearly by the hon. Member for Northstead—[Laughter.]—the hon. Member for Northfield. However, the Motion is not only different from our idea but appears to be very like the recommendation made in 1959, on which Mr. Speaker commented adversely. Indeed, in evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure for the Session 1966–67, Mr. Speaker said:… there was a suggestion from a preceding committee that there should be a period each day set aside for five-minute speeches: As a parliamentarian I would dislike this classification—this being the time when the great men make their uninhibited, long speeches, and this when the little boys are allowed five minutes.The proposal has dangers, particularly when one considers the difficulty of Mr. Speaker in interpreting the amount of time to be allotted to each hon. Member. It would indeed mean dividing the day up between those who make uninhibited speeches, the great men, and the time when the little men make their comments. It would put too great a burden on Mr. Speaker and I hope that the Leader of the House will take the advice of his partner in crime in the old days, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and withdraw the Motion for further consideration. It clearly does not have the support of both sides of the House and, the matter having been aired, he should accept that instead of trying to limit hon. Members to a certain number of minutes, we should try to work it on a voluntary basis.
The most glaring omission from the Motion arises from the fact that on 13th July it was announced that the Select Committee on Procedure had been told by the Lord President's predecessor to give urgent consideration to Standing Order No. 9. The right hon. Gentleman the present Commonwealth Secretary, said:I have said previously that there was something to look at here in that we now seem to have got into the position where Standing Order No. 9, because of precedents, is never allowed to operate".We took it as a charge on us to find a quick and proper solution to this great problem. I believe that we have succeeded. We took evidence on this matter from Mr. Speaker, among others, and he stressed to us the great difficulty he was in because of the present operation of 708 Standing Order No. 9. He said, in answer to question No. 13:There were two moments in the development of the Vietnam crisis when I felt both sides of the House really would have liked to have talked about Vietnam. It was almost immediately after that that the motion went down on the Order Paper, signed by a number of Members from both sides, asking for some relaxation of S.O. No. 9".Later, in answer to Question No. 25, Mr. Speaker said:I agree with Mr. Selwyn Lloyd in all he is aiming at. I would like to see an increase in the number of debates on urgent matters.He went on to say:If the Committee tackles it by Standing Order No. 9, by asking Mr. Speaker to change the habits of the last forty years, then he must be instructed on specific lines.Answering Question 39, put to him by another hon. Member, Mr. Speaker said that the hon. Member… is right in saying that citizens outside share the view of the bulk of the House: they would like more immediate, lively debates.The Committee having been told in July to find a solution to this problem, and having brought forward a solution very much on the lines suggested by Mr. Speaker in evidence, it is tragic that today there is no Motion on this matter in the Government's name. In our Motion No. 8 we have put forward the Select Committee's recommendation.
The hon. Member for Northfield said that we had omitted the Motion for approving the Report but that was because I understood that the Lord President's Motion would have brought the recommendation in the Report to the notice of the House. Quite clearly, with this recommendation in Motion No. 8 is the suggestion that the Speaker should not give the reasons for his decision. I have heard many hon. Members talking about this suggestion, but they all seem to agree that this would be a very wise future method of avoiding precedents.
If our solution for Standing Order No. 9 is not the right one, I suggest that the Lord President should put forward another wording for that Standing Order. I believe that our change in the wording—which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) said was such a very small change—would bring us back to where we were in the middle or early part of the 20th century, when 709 there were about five urgent debates a Session. I do not think that we want the Order so relaxed that it becomes too easy for us to have urgent debates, but there are a number of matters affecting the liberty of the subject and also foreign affairs where it would be a great advantage to have the use of Standing Order No. 9.
What is the Lord President's view on this point? I notice that when he was being examined by us on Standing Order No. 9, the Chairman asked him:… do you consider because of its terms and the accumulation of precedents that it has become too restrictive in its operation particularly to minorities in the House who wish to raise an urgent issue?The Lord President replied:It is highly convenient to the executive.I am afraid that that is the attitude the right hon. Gentleman is taking to many of these suggestions for the reform of procedure.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale described the Lord President as a born reformer; I should describe him as a poacher turned gamekeeper. He has all the charm of a convert, with all the acquired skill of his nefarious past. I have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman is very apt to accept recommendations from a Select Committee on Procedure that strengthens the hand of the Executive, but is very reluctant to accept any recommendations that strengthen the hand of the private Member.
There is no question of the right hon. Gentleman going naked into the usual channels. He has a past in this connection. He wrote a brilliant introduction to Walter Bagehot's "English Constitution" that underlined some of the difficulties that face him now as Leader of the House. He wrote in page 46:But the fact remains that in the period when effective power in all spheres of life—economic, social and political—is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Parliamentary control of the Executive has been quite steadily decreasing without being replaced by other methods of democratic control.I believe that to be an accurate picture. I believe it is the duty of a Select Committee to report on ways to make Parliament a more lively place for debate.
To me there is always a worry that the House of Lords is taking the more 710 urgent debates and we are following in their wake, often two, three, even four weeks later. Because I believe that all of us in this House, of whatever party, want to make this a great forum of public debate, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said in winding up his speech, I hope the Lord President will reconsider his attitude to these Motions and see that we get an alteration of Standing Order No. 9.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossman
I first accept the implicit rebuke by the House about the complexity of this debate. It set me an objective and a problem. The problem is due to the fertility of the Select Committee in pouring out Reports at the speed it has done.
This point was made by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) when he said that we are discussing Report No. 1, but of course we are discussing it for the second time since we implemented the main recommendations some months ago, some of which he does not like. We are receiving more information, and more ideas are coming from the Select Committee, than have come at any time during my life in this House and there is the difficulty of how to handle all this.
I accept the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). I shall certainly consider next time when we have, as we may have, a massive Report from the Committee at the end of the Session, whether we should have two half days debate, one on taking note of the Report and one on the specific recommendations. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for putting that forward. This time it has come this way and we have eight Motions. It is most important to clarify our minds on these Motions before the moment comes about which I do not want confusion.
There is no Motion on the subject of morning sittings. I made clear in my first speech that while I could make interim comments on how they are going—which I did—the better way would be to wait before coming to a judgment on them. I want to see the major recommendations of the Committee about the procedure on Public Bills. So there is no recommendation on morning sittings.
711 On the recommendation about short speeches I have listened to the debate very carefully and I am very much aware that this is an important issue. It is important to our procedure and to our attitudes. I draw one conclusion, that the Select Committee's proposal for a rigid limitation of 30 minutes for Front Bench speeches and 15 minutes for back bench speeches seems overwhelmingly opposed by the House as a mandatory proposal, but I do not deny that my attempt to find a compromise has certainly received a great deal of opposition. I am perfectly prepared to allow the House to decide. If the House feels that that should be withdrawn I will leave it to the House, and, if that is objected to, that is that. I do not say that this Motion has to go through because this is a question for the discretion of the House. I agree that I was asking the Chair to take a heavy responsibility which the Committee limited, but that question I leave with the House, recognising that there is deep opposition to it and the House should decide.
That leaves another matter I wish to mention, Motion No. 2 which is a small issue about Divisions. Although no prior objection was made, I have received it since through the usual channels and certain practical difficulties have been mentioned. The authorities of the House have brought to my attention a fact which the Committee did not bring to my attention, the problem about the presence of the Clerks. I withdraw this Motion and it will not be dealt with this evening.
I come to Motion No. 8, Standing Orders, which is the other one which the right hon. Member for Thrisk and Malton asked me about. This is the Motion which the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral and the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton together support, that we should take out from the report on topical debates one item—the item on S.O.9—and disregard the rest of the Report and insert that here. I have not a long time in which to speak. I will merely say that I gave a very careful reasoning as to why I asked the House not to take this course this evening.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton prayed in aid my hon. Friend 712 the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and said that I should accept his advice. I want to take my hon. Friend's advice on this matter, for on this matter, if the right hon. Gentleman remembers, my hon. Friend advised that, in his view—and he is hardly a tame Conservative—this had better be seen in its proper context and viewed together with all the other proposals towards the end of the Session.
My hon. Friend said that he would be happy to see this Motion withdrawn, as I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral will now consider the possibility of its being withdrawn, on the clear understanding that towards the end of the Session, when we have the report, as we shall have, on the procedure for Public Bills, I will put forward the practical suggestions for implementing not only this part of the Report but the other proposals of the Report which are all left out by the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. We want to get a balanced picture and see this all together. I am grateful to my hon. Friend from below the Gangway for once again persuading the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton to see the reasonableness of this point of view.
§ Mr. Turton
The advice the Lord President of the Council received was that he should use this for trading purposes. I hope that it will be beneath his contempt to do that.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is not the part of the advice which I remember or have accepted. I can be selective in my approval of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. I thought that the most helpful part of his speech was that to which I have referred.
I want briefly to answer a whole number of points which have been raised in what I can describe as an unusually interesting debate in which a great deal of material has been presented. First, I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral about the danger of the multiplicity of Committees. It is unrealistic to go on creating Committees and sub-committees with nobody attending them. There has been a tremendous array of Chairmen. Speeches have been made by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the Chairman of the Estimates Committee, the Chairman of the Select Committe on Procedure, and the Chairman of the Select 713 Committee on Science and Technology, not to mention speeches by a whole host of distinguished members of Specialist Committees. They have all said, not only that we should not have a multiplicity of Committees, but that it is no good having a multiplicity of Committees if there is not adequate men to deal with them.
I need not speak long on this aspect, any more than the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton did. There has been absolute unanimity in all quarters on two points. First, on no account must the independence of the Clerks be undermined by dilution from Whitehall. Secondly, on no account must their quality be undermined by a career structure which means that they cannot afford to stay Clerks but must go elsewhere. I think that those were the two essential points which have been made. They were made, too, by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers).
I accept this point and I give the assurance that certainly we shall discuss this question in the Services Committee at the next opportunity, which I hope will be on Tuesday, because we must, as has been rightly said, in the next two months get this career structure right if we are to recruit sufficient Clerks and get the establishment on a sufficient level even to carry out the work they now have to do, let alone any additional work.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Aylesbury approved of my suggestion for a steering committee composed of the Chairmen of these Committees to view the problem of overlapping and the two other new problems of travel abroad and research workers. I want again to emphasise, especially to those hon. Members who have not been present for the whole of the debate, the enormous importance in our work of the Clerks' being a college of their own and not being muddled up with the Civil Service. Their essential job is to help in being an independent critique of the Civil Service, and it is no disrespect to the Civil Service to say that these are different jobs which need different specialisations and a different tradition.
The next theme to which I wish to refer in winding-up was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). He asked me—and he asked the Select Committee, too—to con- 714 sider as one possible reform that we might break the practice of dividing Parliaments into Sessions and have one tremendous single slab of Parliament. Speaking as someone interested in production, I doubt that that would really suit us. I think that there is something to be said for dividing our work into sections and completing each section in turn.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, gave part of the answer when he said that he thought there was something in the notion that all legislation should not lapse at the end of each Session and that we might have non-controversial legislation, Second Reading Committee legislation—what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale would call consensus legislation—permitted to continue its placid path while contentious legislation fell by the way in our traditional style. I suggest that the Select Committee should look at this idea of different treatment for non-contentious and contentious legislation in relation to Sessional divisions.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have very little time, and I must get on.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) made a very interesting speech and, answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, said that he felt that what new Members thought lacking in the House was not so much participation in legislation but that, if they were to be whole-time here, they wanted facilities for doing a decent job. I agree. What the hon. Gentleman said was not strictly relevant to our narrow business on procedure, but I very much agree that it is relevant to the life of this place. Well do I know that those who are equipped with all the advantages and facilities of Ministerial life sometimes take it for granted that others have them, too. They do not.
This is a serious problem for the House, but I should add that, in considering it, we must be perfectly clear what the job is for which the facilities should be available. Here we have a striking division, as we do so often in our debates 715 on procedure. There are those who genuinely seek, as I do, one of the rôles of the House, in consensus politics, as an assembly of bipartisan inquirers and controllers of the Executive. I believe that to be, not the most important, but an essential function of Parliament, which will probably grow in importance with the growth of central power in this country. This bipartisan control requires a lot of trained and expert staff if we are to do it at all. This was the plea of all the chairmen of Committees who have spoken today.
But there is the other theme, which came from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, my right hon. Friends the Members for Clackmannon, East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and for Leeds, West, and also from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), who strongly reinforced it. They all made the same plea and offered a simple solution. Take all the boring stuff off the Floor of the House, all the Orders in Council, all the petty stuff, and have great debates on more great issues.
To that, I reply that sometimes the great debate arises from a small issue. If Parliament throws away all control of Orders in Council and all control of Committee and Report stages, we may thrown away some of the essentials in the defence of freedom which we all require. The matter is not as simple as that. I agree with those who say that we could solve the problem without morning sittings if we put all matters of that kind elsewhere, shoving them off into Committess or even to the House of Lords. There are places to which we could deliver them.
But we must retain in this House control of the details. The difficulty is to retain the control without being swamped by details. I believe that the Select Committee is fully apprised of this. From what I have seen of its work, I am confident that, irrespective of party, it understands the problem and that, when it is looking at Public Bill procedure and Statutory Instruments, it will do so always from the point of view that we must retain control in Parliament and yet we must devolve some of the detail to Committees if we can. This is the great issue which the Select Committee will be considering in its big report.
716 I make this observation to my hon. Friends below the Gangway. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale who said that he wanted to follow Disraeli's example, believing in always keeping a distinction and difference between the parties. Of course, when Disraeli said that consensus was the main fact of the House of Commons, he was saying at that time, "Against the natural consensus I must create a real difference in the parties." There is not the same position now. To achieve the correct balance between consensus and controversy, it is the essence that we need both greatly to strengthen the committee work and control of the Executive through the Specialist Committees. I have no doubt that that needs to be done to revive the authority of Parliament.
I was disappointed that the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton doubted my sincerity in attempting to do that, for I have probably achieved more than any other Leader of the House in getting this done. Having got it done, it is essential to get the debate that matters on the Floor of the House, to get topical debates and see that when we debate important legislation the greatest issues are debated on the Floor and the minor issues upstairs.
Those are the things we need to do. Every time we debate the subject we move forward on that line, and I believe that we shall get that correct balance in the next two or three years, if we are moving at the pace we are.
I have just time to mention one other thing. I think that the hon Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) specially asked me about the fortnight period. My short answer is that we are not often worried by it and it would require legislation. But if he will see me behind the Chair afterwards I shall give him a longer and more considered answer. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked me about the public galleries and seemed to doubt what I said. I have the report from the Sergeant at Arms, which says:Almost every day the entire public queue has been admitted. The average waiting time has sometimes been as long as 20 minutes but it has very often been less.I think that he was quite right to add:It is most unlikely that the situation will remain as satisfactory as this during the peak 717 tourist time in the summer. It will not be possible to open the Strangers Gallery unless the number of staff is increased.That is why I was urging an increase of staff. An immediate increase is required to deal with this matter.
To sum up, I ask the House to accept the following Motions:
No. 3, Finance Bills; No. 4, Notices of Motions (Private Members); No. 6, Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration; and No. 7, Science and Technology; and to permit me to withdraw Motion No. 2, Divisions:
That, during the present Session, the following paragraphs shall have effect in place of paragraphs (1) and (2) of Standing Order No. 34 (Divisions):I leave open Motion No. 5, Members' Speeches:
- (1) If the opinion of Mr. Speaker or the Chairman as to the decision of a question is challenged he shall direct that the lobby be cleared; and he shall announce the names of tellers as soon as all those names have been submitted to him.
- (2) After the lapse of two minutes from this direction he shall put the question again.
§ That, during the present Session, Mr. Speaker shall have power, if he think fit, to determine the period of time during which any Member may address the House during any portion of any sitting, and to direct any Member who may have exceeded that time to discontinue his speech:
§ Provided that he may allow a Member to speak for a further period equal to the time during which his speech has been interrupted by any other Member.
§ and ask the sponsors to withdraw Motion No. 8, Standing Orders.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Silkin) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes 101.719
|Division No. 369.]||AYES||[9.30 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Gregory, Arnold|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, w.)||Grey, Charles (Durham)|
|Allen, Scholefield||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Anderson, Donald||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelry)|
|Archer, Peter||Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Ashley, Jack||Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Hamling, William|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Harper, Joseph|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Delargy, Hugh||Haseldine, Norman|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Dempsey, James||Hattersley, Roy|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Dewar, Donald||Hazell, Bert|
|Baxter, William||Diamond, Rt. Hn, John||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Beaney, Alan||Dickens, James||Hooley, Frank|
|Bence, Cyril||Dobson, Ray||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Bessell, Peter||Dolg, Peter||Horner, John|
|Binns, John||Dunnett, jack||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)|
|Blackburn, F.||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Eadie, Alex||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)|
|Boardman, H.||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Hoy, James|
|Booth, Albert||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Ellis, John||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)|
|Boyden, James||English, Michael||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Ensor, David||Hughes. Roy (Newport)|
|Bradley, Tom||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Hunter, Adam|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Hynd, John|
|Brooks, Edwin||Faulds, Andrew||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Fernyhough, E.||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Finch, Harold||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Buchan, Norman||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Foley, Maurice||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Cant, R. B.||Ford, Ben||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Forrester, John||Judd, Frank|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Fowler, Gerry||Kelley, Richard|
|Coleman, Donald||Freeson, Reglnald||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Concannon, J. D.||Galpern, Sir Myer||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Garrett, W, E.||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)|
|Cronin, John||Ginsburg, David||Lawson, George|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Gourlay, Harry||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Cullen, Mrs, Alice||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Lee, John (Reading)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Oram, Albert E.||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Orbach, Maurice||Small, William|
|Lipton, Marcus||Orme, Stanley||Snow, Julian|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Oswald, Thomas||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Loughlin, Charles||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Luard, Evan||Padley, Walter||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Lubbock, Eric||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Stonehouse, John|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Paget, R. T.||Swingier, Stephen|
|McBride, Neil||Palmer, Arthur||Symonds, J. B.|
|MacColl, James||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Thornton, Ernest|
|MacDermot, Niall||Park, Trevor||Tinn, James|
|McGuire, Michael||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Maclennan, Robert||Pentland, Norman||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Wallace, George|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm||Price, William (Rugby)||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Probert, Arthur||Wellbeloved, James|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Whitaker, Ben|
|Manuel, Archie||Rankin, John||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Mapp, Charles||Rees, Merlyn||Whitlock, William|
|Mason, Roy||Rhodes, Geoffrey||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Richard, Ivor||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Mellish, Robert||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Mendelson, J. J.||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Millan, Bruce||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Rose, Paul||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Moyle, Roland||Sheldon, Robert||Woof, Robert|
|Murray, Albert||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Yates, Victor|
|Neal, Harold||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Newens, Stan||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Mr. Howie and|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Phillp (Derby, S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Mr. Walter Harrison.|
|O'Malley, Brian||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Gower, Raymond||Onslow, Cranley|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Grieve, Percy||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Biffen, John||Gurden, Harold||Pearon, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Peyton, John|
|Blaker, Peter||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Braine, Bernard||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Heseltine, Michael||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Higgins, Terence L.||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hiley, Joseph||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Hill, J. E. B.||Royle, Anthony|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Campbell, Gordon||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Sharples, Richard|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Holland, Philip||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Clegg, Walter||Hornby, Richard||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Corlield, F. V.||Hunt, John||Smith, John|
|Costain, A. P.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Stodart, Anthony|
|Crawley, Aldan||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)|
|Crouch, David||Jopling, Michael||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Dalkeith, Earl Of||Kirk, Peter||Temple. John M.|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Tilney, John|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||MacArthur, Ian||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Webster, David|
|Eden, Sir John||Maude, Angus||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Mawby, Ray||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||MaxweM-Hyslop, R. J.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Fisher, Nigel||Miscampbell, Norman||Wylie, N. R.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Foster, Sir John||Monro, Hector|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||Neave, Airey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Sir Douglas Glover and|
|Goodhart, Philip||Nott, John||Sir Knox Cunningham.|
|Question put accordingly and agreed to.|
|That this House takes note of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure.|