STANDING ORDER No. 18 (BUSINESS OF SUPPLY)
Line 69, at end insert'; and, in respect of any vote on account for civil departments for the coming financial year as shall have been put down on at least one previous day for consideration on an allotted day, he shall then in like manner put the question, that the total amount of such vote outstanding be granted for those services'.
We are now to debate two important reports. Although the time at our disposal today is limited because of the other important business on the Order Paper, it is my intention, as I said last week, to provide for a further major debate on the whole matter at an appropriate time next Session. I give that promise, for I regard the matter as of great importance.
I promise to be brief in my opening speech, but I must not fail at the outset to say how indebted the whole House is to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and his colleagues for their valuable work. They have worked hard and they have produced an excellent report. In the first place, they have made several useful proposals on the information which the Government should provide on public expenditure, and for the consideration which the House should give it. Secondly, they have proposed a thoughtful and radical scheme for the scrutiny of public policy and administration, centred upon a Select Committee on Expenditure and a series of sub-committees.
My right hon. Friends and I regard the proposals as a natural development of all the work that has been done in recent years to improve the arrangements for the forecasting and control of public expenditure. Annual surveys looking five years ahead are now a firmly established part of the operations conducted within the Government. They provide the essential basis both for planning public expenditure programmes and for managing public expenditure as a major factor in the management of the economy as a whole. We therefore considered that we should publish the results of these surveys regularly every year, and I am glad that the Select Committee has endorsed this view.
The details of the proposals were set out at some length in the Green Paper. The main features can be briefly stated. The proposed White Papers will show regularly each year information on public expenditure plans for that finacial year and for the following four years. In the White Papers the expenditure will be analysed by function; that is to say, by closely related groups of objectives, such as defence, health, education, social security and assistance to industry.
Moreover, the information for the first three of the five years will also be shown in a new form. Public sector receipts will be shown as well as expenditure, and the figures will be broadly classified according to their impact on the use of resources. This presentation is intended to bring out more clearly the implications for the use of resources over the period for which the Government have taken decisions.
The status of the figures for the fourth and fifth years will be somewhat different, because the Government will not have taken decisions beyond the third year. The figures for the later years will represent an assessment of the cost of present policies. They will thus provide a clear indication of the prospective level of public expenditure if present plans are not modified. We also intend to include sufficient explanatory material to enable hon. Members to understand and to debate usefully the essential development of events as shown by the figures.
The Select Committee recommends that the annual expenditure White Paper should be debated by the House for two days. The Select Committee states that this debate
could and should come to occupy as important a place in Parliamentary and public discussion of economic affairs as that now occupied by the annual Budget debate.
May I say to my hon. Friends and other colleagues who are on the Committee that the Government accept the recommendation of an annual debate. We, too, hope
that this will become an occasion of considerable importance.
I should like to make it quite clear that the publication of this annual White Paper will be additional to the annual Supply Estimates. These Estimates will continue to provide full details, for the forthcoming financial year, of all the central Government's cash disbursements which require to be voted annually by Parliament. The Select Committee has recommended that the basis on which these Estimates are presented to the House should be reviewed to see if they can be presented as far as possible in functional form. Although at first sight we would not expect this to lead to any sweeping changes, we agree that the review should be conducted; but we are not envisaging any immediate changes in the Civil Estimates.
A change which the Select Committee has, however, proposed is that the Civil Vote on Account should be published in November at about the same time as the expenditure White Paper; that it should be based on the Vote for the current year adjusted for later information; and that an appropriate Motion should be put to the House during the debate on that White Paper. These proposals are entirely acceptable to the Government. We intend, therefore, to publish a Vote on Account for 1970–71 at the same time as we publish the first of the new White Papers in a few weeks' time.
In its Second Report the Select Committee has approved the reorganisation of the form of the Defence Estimates to reflect the reorganisation of financial responsibilities in the Ministry of Defence, but recommends that Vote 1, which covers pay and allowances of the Armed Forces, should be divided by Services and presented as three separate Votes. The Government accept this recommendation.
The Select Committee also recommends that a Vote on Account of Defence expenditure should be presented in February with the Defence Estimates, and that the present arrangements for the "fourth day" debate should be applied as far as possible to a debate on the Vote on Account. These recommendations are in line with the Government's own proposals. Both this change and the changes relating to the Civil Vote require changes to Standing Order No. 18, and one of the Motions now before the House contains the necessary amendments.
I turn now to the second part of the recommendations made in the First Report, those concerned with the structure of our Select Committees system. Hon. Members will recognise that in many respects these are akin to ideas first put forward by the Committee in its Fourth Report in the Session 1964–65. The Select Committee system, and the influence of this House on the Executive, has come a long way since then. Indeed, I appeared before a new Select Committee when I was the Minister responsible for agriculture. Nevertheless, the proposals arising out of the report represent a coherent and radical approach to one of the most fundamental problems at present facing us, namely, the balance of power and influence between this House and the Executive.
The Select Committee proposes the transformation of the Estimates Committee into a Select Committee for Expenditure, which would work largely through a series of functional sub-committees and a general sub-committee. Apart from this last, the Committee envisages eight subcommittees, each comprising nine members and each responsible for considering the activities of Departments within a particular functional field of administration. The sub-committees would examine the estimates of their expenditure and the efficiency with which the Departments are administered. The sub-committees would thus be neither "subject" nor "departmental", but functional.
These proposals are, of course, both comprehensive and constructive. As I have said, they pose fundamental questions of the relations between Parliament and the Executive. They have wide-ranging implications for the work of hon. Members and Ministers and for the Civil Service, and they constitute a considerable development in our constitutional arrangements. As such, they demand the most thorough—though not dilatory—examination, both by individual hon. Members and by the Government.
As I have already informed the House, the Government are at present undertaking a full-scale review of the work of the present Specialist Committee experiment with a view to considering what more permanent arrangements they should recommend to the House. After all, in the end it is the House which will have to approve or disapprove. Naturally, the Select Committee's proposals for a comprehensive system will form a most important element in everybody's thinking.
Mr John Mendelson (Penistone)
Will my right hon. Friend, when considering the recommendations of the Select Committee, also bear in mind, on the matter of scrutiny, that many hon. Members are opposed to Select Committees on defence and foreign policy and would prefer to see the Floor of the House as the main forum for such debates?
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
I accept that my hon. Friend has views on this matter, but I will not debate which is the better system. Many hon. Members believe that the main debate should take place on the Floor of the House; other hon. Members take a contrary view. Yet other hon. Members argue that the idea of Select Committees should be developed even further. I accept that there are varying views on the matter.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
When the right hon. Gentleman reviews the existing Select Committee set-up, will he take advice from the chairman of the Select Committees to make sure that their views have every opportunity to be presented to Ministers?
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
Yes, Sir, I am doing this. I hope to see the chairman of every Committee in the House. We are undertaking a major survey on this matter, as I believe I said this in answer to a Question some time ago, or on a more informal occasion. I feel that we should examine the matter carefully.
The Select Committee's Report is important since it injects some new thinking into our discussion. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who sat on the Committee. Both in this debate and on subsequent occasions I should like to hear the views of others—
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Will the review which my right hon. Friend has in mind be completed in time for him to announce the Government's views in the debate which he has promised at the beginning of next Session?
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
I cannot be specific, but I will try to hasten the review. I will also try to get early decisions. It will be of great importance to the House. The Government must make up their mind and will make recommendations on which the House can come to a decision. In the end it will be for the House to decide. This will affect work on both sides of the House. It is not just a matter of party or Government considerations. That is why I stress the fact that I should like to hear hon. Members express their views in this debate.
I hope that the House will forgive me, for soon I have to leave the debate to chair a very important Committee on a matter of privilege. I hope that the House will not feel that I am being discourteous. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who will be winding up the debate, will convey to me any points in the debate which I may miss.
Mr John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)
Could the right hon. Gentleman clear up one matter which is of considerable importance? Pending the considerable changes which are to be made, will he hold up the reappointment of the existing Select Committees which in the ordinary way he ought to be setting up next week?
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
The right hon. Member has anticipated what I was going to say. There are two particular points which are worthy of attention. The first is whether a comprehensive system of scrutiny Committees is likely to add to or detract from debates on the Floor of the House. The second is whether, if there is to be such a system, whether one concentrating on public expenditure would form the best framework.
We must remember that there are in existence a number of specialist Committees which are currently engaged in valuable work. I am not clear how the proposed system would fit in with the present Specialist Committees. My personal view is that it is unlikely that the comprehensive system could run in parallel with a number of Specialist Committees, not least because of the difficulties of manning both systems. It would be unfortunate if the existing Specialist Committees were unable to complete the important inquiries they are undertaking. I intend, at the beginning of the next Session, to propose that the present Specialist Committees should be reappointed to complete their work. Similarly, I shall propose that the Estimates Committee be reappointed for the time being on its present basis.
In the meantime, the Government will continue their review of the whole matter in the light of the Procedure Committee's report. I hope later next Session to make proposals for the longer term and that there will then be a full debate on those proposals.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Since there are a number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate, I would remind the House that an early Select Committee on Procedure expressed views on the need for short speeches. Some of the members of the Committee on Procedure may remember those words when they come to make their remarks.
Mr Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I should like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding me of the recommendation of a Select Committee of which I was a member. I will try to conform.
As a member of the Select Committee whose report we are now discussing, I should like to thank the right hon. Member the Leader of the House for his kind remarks about the work of the Committee. It held 22 meetings and heard a great many witnesses. It was a severe test of the mental capacities of members of the Committee. Personally, I have never worked so hard on any Select Committee. I have never before had to tie a wet towel round my head so often in order to understand the evidence of so many witnesses and the memoranda which were put before us.
I wish to pay tribute to the chairman of the Committee and my fellow members and also to the witnesses who appeared before us and who took such great care in presenting their evidence to us.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has made the decision to debate the report so soon. Too often reports are allowed to lie in pigeon-holes. The report is an attempt to work out a system under which the House more effectively can scrutinise public expenditure than in the past. I deliberately use the word "scrutinise" since it is contained in one of the headings to the report. "Control" is the wrong word to use in this context. In the old days, by the withholding of Supply, there was a measure of control as to how money voted was actually spent. In these days, scrutiny is a much more realistic term. It is now "scrutiny", brought to bear in the hope that it will influence future policies and methods of administration.
The changes proposed flow from the Report of the Plowden Committee. My own belief has always been that Departments should forecast their expenditure ahead for a period of years. I spent a good deal of time in the summer of 1955 in trying to achieve this at the Ministry of Defence and when later on, in 1960, I went to the Treasury, I was determined to see that this should be done.
Therefore, I was delighted when the Plowden Report suggested a five year forward look and I accepted it at once. At the time I shared some of the doubts of the Plowden Committee; in page vi of this Report of the Select Committee on Procedure we see that the Plowden Committee expressed doubt.
whether any Government will feel able to place these surveys before Parliament and the public. To do this would involve disclosing the Government's long-term intentions for a wide range of public expenditure; and also explaining the survey's assumptions about employment, wages, prices and all the other main elements in the national economy.
But my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) published a forward look in December, 1963 in Cmd. 2235.
There have been subsequent endeavours to do the same by this Government. There are differences of opinion as to the value of exercise. Paragraph 17 of the report puts the argument clearly and it is worth repeating:
The advantages of publishing such forecasts would be that Parliament and the public, having been informed of the dangers to the economy if the forecasts were exceeded, would be more likely to heed such dangers in considering their actions in relation to the level of prices and earnings. The disadvantages of publishing such forecasts would be that the forecast figures would be accepted as a minimum in bargaining on earnings and in determining prices and that this would cause serious economic difficulties.
Then we say that, on balance, the Committee thinks that we should proceed with the practice of publishing these reports.
I think, therefore, that we are all committed to continuing to try this method of parliamentary scrutiny and to try to make a success of it. It is a difficult exercise, and I do not think that anyone has any illusions about it. But I believe that we should continue. Putting it at its lowest, we shall learn a great deal, perhaps as much about what should not be done as what should be done in this forecasting.
It may improve the language of the political dialogue. We had an instance of it at Question Time today. A Minister is accused of cutting expenditure if he decreases the rate of increase. I seem to remember that when £43 million was given to the teachers instead of £48 million, a Chancellor was accused of cutting teachers' salaries and when the figure spent went up by £140 million in one year he was accused of making a savage attack upon education. The practice continues.
If this projection is to be attempted, it should be published at the right time of the year and debated then. We agreed that November is the right time for publication and debate, and I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman indicated that it would be a two-day debate however that may be arranged.
The reason it is important to debate it in November is that estimates of expenditure for the following year are fairly firm by then, but not absolutely so, and those for the year after next can be influenced. The Budget, also, is not absolutely firm, and such a debate will have an effect as the years roll on and we have comparisons with previous debates and previous projections.
If the new process is to amount merely to an annual White Paper and a two-day waffle about it, no one will be satisfied. We want to see an effective course of action throughout the following months which is likely to lead to results. Sometimes the Budget debate is criticised as a waste of time, but I do not agree with those criticisms. It is true that parties and individuals strike individual attitudes, but there are occasions when the Budget debate shows a violent reaction to one or more of the Chancellor's proposals. It may provoke thought and valuable suggestions, and the debate is followed by action in the form of the Finance Bill, the examination of which sometimes leads to action being taken on some of the ideas thrown out in the Budget debate.
This new procedure must also have the chance of resulting in something. This would happen if there was a Select Committee, whether called Expenditure or Estimates, starting work thereafter with sub-committees tackling various Departments, their reports being published before the end of July, with plenty of time to consider and perhaps debate them before the next five-year projection and the next two-day debate.
We do not propose any change in the Public Accounts Committee. It does an excellent job of work. There is great confidence in it. It has an experienced staff of auditors headed by the Comptroller and Auditor General. We cannot see any change being necessary in the status and work of that Committee.
Next, we have the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which spend a lot of money. Again, we suggest no change and think that the Committee should continue. At one time, we considered whether the staff of the Comptroller and Auditor General might help that Select Committee, but we came to the conclusion that the methods of audit are so different that probably it was not a very good idea. However, I think that we should still consider whether that Select Committee should not be equipped with more resources to do its job.
We are suggesting a change in the name, organisation and scope of the Estimates Committee, but not in the substance of its work. This is on the lines of the suggestion put forward by the present chairman, previous holders of the office of chairman of the Estimates Committee and more particularly in the Four Report of the Select Committee on Procedure. 1964–65, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
The structure suggested is set out clearly in the report, with the Select Committee forming itself into a number of sub-committees to deal with expenditure and administration in various Departments. A list is set out in paragraph 33. No one pretends that it is necessarily the perfect list. With regard to external affairs, for example, I do not think that there is any intention of having general debates on external affairs. We are thinking more of a scrutiny on a matter of expenditure like overseas aid. It is not desirable for the broad issues of defence or foreign affairs to be put to a sub-committee. I would not give the highest priority to the setting up of subcommittees on those two subjects. So it is not the perfect list. It is merely the outline of a possible plan.
Those sub-committees should try to develop a systematic check on the expenditures of the Departments allotted to them. What is more, as new methods of management are introduced in Government Departments, these sub-committees should be better able to assess the performance of those Departments.
I hope that hon. Members will read paragraphs 21, 22 and 23 of the report. I will not read them now. Instead, I want to make a reference to the Fulton Committee. That Committee dealt with the structure of Government Departments and the promotion of efficiency. In paragraph 150, under the heading "Accountable and Efficient Management", it defined "Accountable Management":
Accountable management means holding individuals and units responsible for performance measured as objectively as possible. Its achievement depends upon identifying OT establishing accountable units within government departments—units where output can be measured against costs or other criteria, and where individuals can be held personally responsible for their performance.
If that can be done, it is a very important new development in the whole of our approach to Government expenditure.
It is not entirely new ground. To some extent, it has been adopted already in the Ministry of Defence, and the evidence which we received from those in authority in Whitehall led us to believe that the climate of opinion there is favourable to this new approach.
If we can get this attitude to Government expenditure, with some identification of units and of persons responsible for given projects, and get the results costed according to various criteria, that will represent a revolution in this House's methods of scrutinising public expenditure and public administration.
There is one important innovation in the scheme that we set up in the Report. It is that there should be a General Sub-Committee of the new Committee of Expenditure or Estimates. We think that the duties of the general sub-committee should be the scrutiny of the projections as a whole. That scrutiny will become more valuable as the process continues and we get the comparisons to make.
The second duty of that General Sub-Committee would be to see that the reports of individual sub-committees are debated or considered when necessary or advisable. We feel also that the General Sub-Committee should look at the work of the Committee as a whole, guiding the sub-committees and, if necessary, drawing together the general principles which may emerge from the considerations of the individual sub-committees. I see it as one of the most important bodies in the House, revolutionising our scrutiny of public expenditure.
I will not go into further details. I quite agree that change is not necessarily reform. On the other hand, objections will always be raised to anything new. We will be told that there would not be enough hon. Members, there would not be a sufficient number of Committee rooms, there would not be sufficient Clerks, or, indeed, the time for these Committees to do their work. But if there is the will there is a solution to all these problems. They are not insoluble.
As to the other Select Committees, again, with experience of this new system, their role will fall into place. We want the new set-up to be scrutinising expenditure and administration, and if there are other issues of policy, quite away from expenditure or administration, there may be a case for other particular Select Committees. I do not think that the two concepts are at all inconsistent, but we want this to be a framework for the House more efficiently to scrutinise public expenditure.
Therefore, I recommend these proposals. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that they will be debated again soon. I note that he intends to have all the existing Select Committees set up again to continue their duties, which is all right—as long as that is not a means of completely frustrating this report. I hope that he will get this system started next Session, even if not with the full set-up suggested in paragraph 33. I support this proposition.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I wish to deal with a most important issue, that of the Committee system, which is worrying a number of my hon. Friends. Before I do so, I should like, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, to thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the kind words which he has said about our report and for bringing it so quickly before the House—after all, this has been published for only four weeks—and for promising us another debate on it in a matter of weeks. This is a considerable debt.
I would also thank the members of the Committee, and particularly the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). We have what I call "Ancient and Modern" on the Select Committee. We have some of the very newest hon. Members and some of us who have been here rather too long. This ancient and modern approach brings out rather good hymns, provided that we blend the hymn as we go along. There is a great team spirit on the Committee and it is a great pleasure to work on it, even though I, like the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral, sometimes need the help of wet towels.
This should also be an occasion to thank the Clerk of the Committee and Mr. Robertson, our adviser. The amount of work which they do, not only just before the Committee meets but also in private consultations with me, in preparing papers and the scheme of work of the Committee, is considerable. I do not know how many times papers were drafted and redrafted. This is continual work and we owe an immense debt to the staff and our advisers.
I should also, curiously enough, like to thank the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). During last Session, a very important subject which he wanted us to discuss—namely, Question Time—was squeezed out by the sheer size of the job which we had undertaken. I hope that he understood the position and that he would agree that we might exert pressure through the usual channels to discuss his subject during the coming Session, through a new procedure sub-committee.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
Coming to the burden of the report, I do not want to deal with the broad suggestions—I agree with what the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral has said—relating to the new form of the Vote on Account in the Chamber, the new form of the annual Vote, the whole necessity of discussing these matters in a rolling programme and adjusting our approach to the matters of scrutiny of public expenditure, to the fact that the figures for one year are meaningless unless taken in the context of the total programme and its development as the years roll on.
The scheme which we have set out meets the requirements of the Chief Secretary in his Green Paper. I should like to say how much we appreciated that Paper. I suspect that he might have had trouble getting it through Whitehall, so innovating was it. To persuade Whitehall to "let its back hair down", particularly in front of the House of Commons, was a considerable achievement by my right hon. Friend. His Green Paper became the cornerstone of our subsequent recommendations in this field.
I now come to the more disputed part of the report, that on the Committee system. I know that there are some misgivings about this, and I want to try to set them at rest. This is not a new, vastly novel system. It is rebuilding the Estimates Committee into a form suitable for the new procedure of examining the Government's expenditure. This is the first point to understand. My right hon. Friend said that this is very similar, in many respects, to a report four years ago recommending the revamping of the Estimates Committee. We are building on what we have here—a great fund of experience in this field—and simply seeking to bring it up to date in terms of the realities on which these matters are decided in Whitehall.
I would say to my hon. Friends who are worried about this that the present system is very silly anyway. We are allowing the Government to "get away with murder". We have before us cash Estimates, which we examine. We know when we receive them that there is a possibility of changing perhaps 2½ per cent. That may be an exaggeration, but the figure is very small. All the rest of our annual expenditure has been pre-committed in the five-year programmes as adjusted year by year, and we have never ever, either in the House or in a Committee system, adjusted ourselves to take part in the decisions in that major new process.
It is ridiculous, in the modern context, to end up with Parliament handing out the annual cash flow without ever having taken part in the policy decisions for which that cash flow is intended. This is a major remedy which we seek and we wish to use the old system of the Estimates Committee, brought up to date, to do it.
My hon. Friends will say that this is all very well, but that we might end up with a Committee system which became so powerful that it began to take on some of the bad features of the American system and detract from the debates in the House. Let me try to deal with that as squarely as I can. First, what will these Committees do? I must set that out first so as to explain why I think that this argument of my hon. Friend's is mistaken.
The first thing which these Committees would have to do—this is a personal view, with which the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral may disagree—at the beginning of every Session —they would be functional Committees, tying in with the new, functionally-presented White Paper of the Chief Secretary —is call before them the chief accounting officer of the Department in their field and say to him, "We have your annual Estimates and we will increasingly have, if the recommendations of the Committee are carried out, attached to the annual Estimates but not replacing them, a functional statement of the cash spending, an attempt to show the output aims of the Departments and the direction of the cash flows in achieving those objectives. Would you go over the detailed figures of your Department with us? We want to know what new objectives you have set in this current year and what changes you are making, what is the new emphasis in your Department, what policy changes in respect of aims and outputs in cash spending your figures indicate. We want to go over with you, so to speak, a 'State of the Union Message' about the spending of your Department."
Then, they will ask, as the Committee recommends in its report, for a number of the cost-benefit studies behind policy decisions. An example is the decision to build a new London airport. We suggest —this was given in evidence to us on more than one occasion—that someone should begin to say, as Whitehall should say in making these decisions, "We should like to see the cost-benefit studies of siting the new London airport at Foulness, in the Midlands, or somewhere else". All these decisions are made behind closed doors and we are the last to get the information.
I have shown that the Committee will say, "This is an interesting figure which emerges from your 'State of the Union Message' to us, Mr. Chief Accounting Officer. Let us have the cost benefit studies of, for example, the siting of the new London airport, or of your decision to spend, say, £1,000 million more in the next year on preserving the lives of old people instead of spending it on nursery schools". This point was made by a witness. I am choosing examples which may not be realistic, though they show the sort of detail which this type of committee would be examining.
I do not believe that a system of this kind would detract from the great policy debates that take place on the Floor of the House. Indeed, matters of this kind are never likely to conflict with the work that goes on on the Floor. They are the detail and minutiae of decisions that are made inside every Government Department.
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
While I am following my hon. Friend's speech with the greatest care, and as I have some responsibility in these matters, I wish to be sure just what his proposals mean. I have read the proposals in the report with great care and have listened to his remarks so far with equal care. Is he distinguishing between great policy matters which are discussed on the Floor of the House and small policy matters which are discussed in Committee, or is he distinguishing between policy matters on the Floor of the House and matters other than policy in Committee, remembering the wording of the report?
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I know at what my right hon. Friend is hinting, but he will appreciate that the sort of Committees about which I am speaking would be considering expenditure and applying a systematic eye to the expenditure of each Department, saying, "We want to examine the purposes of the expenditure". If some policy probing becomes necessary in that process, then that must happen. That cannot be avoided. However, the prime duty of these Committees will be to examine the expenditure being undertaken, the output at which it is being aimed and then, after that examination, to examine in far-ranging inquiries the effectiveness of the Department concerned in achieving those aims.
I am, therefore, distinguishing between the great policy objectives in party politics which are concerned with great totals of public expenditure—matters which will continue to be discussed on the Floor of the House—and the minutiae of individual groupings of expenditure undertaken by Government Departments. These Committees will be looking—not immediately, because the output budgeting figures will not be available in every Department for perhaps five or 10 years; this process of looking will gather momentum as time goes by—at all the matters I have described and be conducting, to use a phrase used by the Economist, the beginnings of a management audit of Government Departments. This is a useful phrase which summarises the work which these Committees, as I envisage them, will be doing.
I hope that these remarks go some way towards reassuring my hon. Friends that there is no attempt here to bring Ministers before Committees to examine them on the great issues concerning the running of their Departments, matters which would normally be discussed on the Floor of the House.
If my hon. Friends do not accept this system, they are really saying that as we have accepted in recent years that we can never, on the Floor of the House, examine public expenditure effectively—expenditure has grown so large and is so detailed that it is impossible to scruti- nise it in debate on the Floor of the House; we now use Supply days to examine Government policy rather than Government expenditure—we should abandon the idea of scrutinising Government expenditure.
Having accepted that we can no longer effectively conduct this examination of Government expenditure on the Floor of the House, we cannot just leave matters there and not bother to do it. Another way must be found and I believe that the Committees of which I have been speaking could effectively scrutinise Government expenditure in a form which the House pretended to do before, that it has ceased to do for many years and that it should begin to do again before it is too late, for if that time comes our chances of exerting influence on Whitehall will disappear for ever.
The Select Committee on Procedure makes it clear in paragraph 35 of its report just what these committees will do. That paragraph points out that each subcommittee will
…first, study the expenditure projections for the Department or Departments in its field, compare them with those of previous years, and report on any major variations or important changes of policy and on the progress made by the Departments towards clarifying their general objectives and priorities".
The paragraph goes on to say that each sub-committee
…should examine in as much detail as possible the implications in terms of public expenditure of the policy objectives chosen by Ministers and assess the success of the Departments in attaining them".
It also sets the task of each sub-committee as inquiring
…on the lines of the present Estimates Sub-Committees, into Departmental administration, including effectiveness of management".
What will happen after these Committees have done this study in the round at the beginning of every year into the way in which Departments are being run in terms of their expenditure objectives? The Committees will then move on to selecting topics in Departments from the functional point of view and study each topic in depth on the lines of the present Estimates Committee, perhaps presenting a thorough report on, for example, the siting of a new London airport or any other matter which seems to be of particular interest.
This would have considerable advantage because, in such a functional set-up, Government Departments with two or three departments in each functional sphere could expect one Estimates Committee type of investigation once every two or three years. This is a reasonable objective which should not put panic into the hearts of those in Whitehall or make hon. Members feel that we would be undertaking too much. It is time that a body of some sort began to do this work, and I am sure that bodies of the type I have described would not detract from matters being debated on the Floor of the House.
Mr James Dickens (Lewisham West)
While I agree that it is important that sub-committees of this type should consider matters like, for example, the siting of a third London airport, I take it that it will also be possible to raise important policy questions—I refer to matters going beyond the aspects mentioned by my hon. Friend—including the whole question whether a third London airport is necessary.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I would think that my hon. Friend is right. These Committees would learn as they went along how far they should go.
However, we must recognise, even though I am doing my best to allay it, the fear which some hon. Members may have about the danger inherent in the point my hon. Friend has made. These Committees must be run with common sense to avoid them going too far and ventilating to too great an extent any subject which should be left to be debated on the Floor of the House. We must, therefore, use good sense and avert any danger that might occur. I would, therefore, prefer not to start discussing objectives at this stage. The Committees must learn as they go along.
Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. Gentleman has not completely removed from my mind a concern about these Committees going into policy matters. For example, a Committee might ask, "Why are you spending £250 million more on old people's homes rather than on nursery schools?". The accounting officer might simply reply, "This is a policy decision of the Government".
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
That will happen in some cases, but in others the accounting officer will say, "This is a matter on which we have done some cost benefit studies which we are willing to let you see". In other words, some of these matters will not be major policy decisions which Cabinets must keep to themselves, but matters of public concern about which dispassionate decisions must be taken and which can be discussed openly. In other cases we might wish to summon a Minister and ask, "Do you want to talk about this with us, or is it a policy decision?". As I explained, we will have to learn as we go along and not be too ambitious to begin with.
Another objection to this form of Committee system is a fear about the size of the general Committee. It is said that it will be composed—this is our proposal—of representatives of the eight sub-committees, plus eight other members, and that it will have power to direct the general work of the whole group of sub-committees. Some hon. Members have questioned how it will be possible to have eight additional people; eight in addition to the eight representatives of the sub-committees. After all, some have suggested, they will have authority, or even cheek, to tell the subcommittees how to run their business.
This fear is based on a misapprehension. I do not believe that the general Committee will wish to adopt an iron hand of discipline over the subcommittees, not just about their work but about their reports. The additional eight members must be on the general Committee because of the work that that Committee will do. It will have to conduct thorough-going inquiries into the total of Government expenditure and into the White Paper which my right hon. Friend is offering to provide. That could not be done by eight busy people who are concerned with the work of their own sub-committee. That would be asking too much of them.
The report indicates what the general Committee will have to do. It is clear that its work could not be left to eight busy representatives of eight busy subcommittees. Indeed, the general Committee's whole operation would fail if it were left in that way. We therefore believe that it should comprise eight additional experienced people to ensure that it works effectively.
What is the future of such a system? We are, if one likes, trying to introduce a systematic approach to our Select Committees, remembering that we have allowed them to grow in recent years, with Estimates Committees and Specialist Committees. I see no point in beating about the bush over this. Steadily, we will have to absorb the existing specialist Committees into the new system. In any event, we need the discipline of applying the work of each functional Committee to, for example, spending and estimates and so place it within the framework of the general system so that it can conduct its annual work.
It is wrong to set up specialist Committees that can chase over the whole sphere of departmental activities. They should do their work, but within the framework of examining expenditure on behalf of the House. This would be a useful discipline to apply to the process of investigating Government Departments.
Mr Brian Parkyn (Bedford)
My hon. Friend must not overlook a matter which is at the heart of the report and which must be considered when the crunch comes. Is not my hon. Friend saying that the report is concerned solely with assessing Government expenditure; that everything is seen in financial terms? My hon. Friend has talked about the specialist Committees looking at the policy of Government expenditure. Is he aware that many things other than money come into this; that we must consider manpower and resources in terms of qualified scientists, and so on?
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I hope that my hon. Friend will reread the report, because we say in it that one can do all these things, but only within a proper systematic framework. These matters are tackled more effectively if one has the discipline of asking, "What is the expenditure objective of your Department?" so that one can go on to relate it to the policy objective. The effectiveness of that spending can be examined on behalf of the House.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be assured, therefore, that nothing will be excluded. None of the present work will be discontinued. It will be done within a different framework and it will be done more effectively. That is why I say that, steadily, we will absorb the various Committees into this framework.
I was grateful for the remarks of my right hon. Friend about the report. I do not believe that we should under-rate its effect because it is impossible for us to continue without this type of systematising of our Committee system in the near future. We cannot go on with what is a less than effective Estimates Committee—the chairman of the Estimates Committee said this to the Procedure Committee—and we cannot go on with odd Specialist Committees operating in various parts of the field. We need a systematic approach to the whole field of Whitehall. Even if the precise details of our scheme are wrong, nevertheless I think that the basic idea is right and I hope that the Government will not be long before they bring forward proposals.
I have been immensely heartened by the welcome given to the report in the Press. All the leading newspapers have published editorials saying, in effect, as did the Scotsman—I quote only one, although I could quote many:
These proposals are a decided step in the right direction and the Report could mark a watershed in the history of Parliament.
Those are heavy words, but I believe that the work which my Committee has done during the last 12 months has laid the foundation for a Committee system which, once it is going, may well endure for several decades. If we have done that, we shall feel well rewarded.
Mr David Howell (Guildford)
As one of those whom the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) might describe as the moderns as opposed to the ancients on the Procedure Committee, I should like to begin by saying what an honour and privilege it was to serve under his chairmanship on that Committee and to congratulate him on the lucid and powerful presentation which he has just given of the main core of the case put forward in the Procedure Committee's Report.
I do not want to dwell very much exclusively on the parliamentary side, although that may seem odd because, obviously, this is primarily a Report about the reform of Parliament as of the structure of Parliamentary Committees. I want to talk more about the administrative side. Before doing so, however, I should like to underline, reinforce and add my support to the main argument put forward by the hon. Member for Northfield.
The core of that argument, as the hon. Member rightly said, is an insistence on a systematic approach. It is the attempt to bring to bear some new degree of systematic public scrutiny. Obviously, it will not be totally thorough and it will not penetrate every corner of the vast range of Government activities. But the need is for questioning, and questioning primarily through the only way we have to question, which is through the costs generated of Government activities, the range of departmental and quasi-departmental activities which are carried on at public expense in the name of the public and in which this House, and an increasing number of people outside the House, believes that we should have a capacity for questioning regularly and in a way which brings to bear some degree of public scrutiny.
It seems to me, therefore, that the insistence which the Chairman of the Procedure Committee has rightly placed in what he has said on a systematic approach to the activities of government is right at the centre of our Report and ought to be quite near to the centre of the considerations of all those who are worried about the relationship between big and growing government and the individual citizen. It should be at the centre of our concern over the widespread feelings which people have that they are denied access to and denied discussion of the reasoning and arguments that go on behind the taking of major public policy decisions, and, indeed, minor public policy decisions and the thousand and one policy decisions or decisions of expenditure which seem to come bubbling out of the machine without any discussion.
Therefore, the insistence of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee on a systematic approach is central. The hon. Member is absolutely right in saying that this is the issue of major importance for our times. It is raised by the bigness and the disparate nature of modern administration. The thing is literally too big for hon. Members to exert any proper degree of systematic control by general debate. It is too big also for it to be seriously maintained that, whatever may be said in theory, those hon. Members who sit on the Government Front Bench, as elected politicians and as people appointed with Ministerial responsibilities, can exert a systematic, detailed and continuous control over all the activities nominally within their responsibility.
There is, perhaps, a third reason why the word "systematic" lies at the centre of the argument. If one looks at the nature and structure of Whitehall Government today, there is taking place a change which is hardly ever discussed in this House and a change of significance when it comes to accountability and control. There are growing up—this trend has gone on for many years and is not confined to one Government or another—a great many new bodies, agencies, commissions, councils, grant aided bodies and quasi-Government bodies of indeterminate constitutional status. They are to be found not only in our Government. The Federal Government in Washington has sprouted them in even greater profusion.
Since those bodies dispense public money, sometimes in very large amounts, the question arises to whom those agencies—and I have no doubt that there will be more of them in the future—are accountable and how best they can explain and bring before Parliament and the public their views and the reasons why they should spend money.
Just as the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries was insisted upon and proposed by this House to meet the constitutional development, which at first people did not perhaps fully recognise, of the major nationalised industries, so also, if we are to meet the even more pressing need of this vast range of quasi-Government bodies, we will have to accept that it is only through a systematic committee system that the public and Parliament can discuss their activities, and, indeed, in some cases, know about them. It never ceases to amaze me, and, I suspect, other hon. Members, to find how many agencies and committees are attached as appendages to Departments and about which there is hardly any public discussion and about which very few people know.
For those major reasons, however much one may regret any suggestion that policy discussion is carried on not on the Floor of the House, the fact remains that unless we develop a systematic committee process, existing activities on a very large scale go undiscussed and unscrutinised. Furthermore, the scale will grow. The exercise of public power of a kind which is never held to account in any systematic way—it may be, possibly, by chance, but never systematically—on the Floor of the House will grow. That alone seems to me to be a devastating argument in favour of taking a positive approach to the proposals of the Committee and of building on them even though, as the Chairman of the Procedure Committee has rightly said, the Committee may not have every detail right.
I said that I wanted to make some comments briefly on the administrative side, and that is what I propose to do. I do not wish to speak further on the Parliamentary side because I am one of the moderns, as the Chairman of the Procedure Committee calls them, and there are many present in the Chamber with experience far vaster than any of us who have newly arrived can have on the Parliamentary side.
There are two comments on the administrative side that are worth making. The first concerns the question of how the functional Committees will work and what kind of information and consideration they will demand. There is no use in beating about the bush on this matter either. Here we have to face the fact that if these Committees are to work effectively, if they are to be given information and arguments and are to create a forum of opinion and discussion which will be of value to the House and to the public, we are posing a change in the relationship between civil servants and Ministers and between civil servants, politicians and Members of this House generally.
This is something which one could easily attempt to slide round. But it would be wrong for us not to recognise that in its proposals the Select Committee's Report makes a challenge to at least one interpretation of the rather recently established constitutional theory of Ministerial responsibility. When I say "one interpretation", I do not mean the view that a Minister is politically responsible as a member of the Government, and, perhaps, as a member of the Cabinet, for the policy of the Government and of the Cabinet and must be questioned in this House. I mean Ministerial responsibility when it is interpreted, as it has come to be in some cases, very narrowly to mean that no civil servant and nobody below the level of a Minister may offer anything approaching an opinion or an argument in public and that anything that he advances should be strictly confined to what can be defined as a fact or a statistic
If that very narrow theory of Ministerial responsibility is to be rigidly adhered to in the name of a constitutional theory of very recent origin, we are asking our functional Committees and sub-committees to perform an impossible task. We are asking them to beat against a brick wall. It is an endeavour upon which it would be unfair to ask both to the Members of the Committees and to the civil servants who are questioned by them to embark.
If I may emphasise the point, I should like to make a further quotation in addition to that given my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) from the Fulton Report. This puts better than I can do the point which I am trying to make. The Fulton Committee talked, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, about the development of accountable management and of separate and defined areas of responsibility for which individuals are themselves held responsible.
It went on in paragraph 283 to agree that these ideas had:
important implications for the traditional anonymity of civil servants. It is already being eroded by Parliament and to a more limited extent by the pressures of the press, radio and television the process will continue and we see no reason to seek to reverse it. Indeed we think that administration suffers from the convention, which is still alive in many fields, that only the Minister should explain issues in public and what his department is or is not doing about them. This convention has depended in the past on the assumption that the doctrine of ministerial responsibility means that a Minister has full detailed knowledge and control of all the activities of his department. This assumption is no longer tenable.
I make no apology for quoting a rather sizeable chunk of the Fulton Committee's Report, because it puts the point clearly.
The main argument which I should like to put in my brief contribution to the debate is that we must recognise that if officials, hon. Members and others are to say that there can be no reinterpretation and no adaptation of the very narrow theory of ministerial responsibility to which some adhere, one must recognise that this is another way of saying that this kind of functional sub-committee cannot work and cannot be allowed to work. Therefore, let us be clear about that and not ignore it until we find, too late, that it is a wall which has been built across the path of this kind of development.
The second and final point which I want to make flows from what I have been saying. The kind of discussion which the hon. Member for Northfield so eloquently depicted taking place in these Committees, the kind of contribution to public thinking and the development of informed opinion on this or that issue, will not work unless there is coming forward before the Committees adequate data and information about the workings of a programme. There must be data or, for example, assistance to the regions, aspects of housing subsidies or the like—of a more systematic kind and more related to objectives than anything we know in the Estimates of the Civil Departments today. The Estimates of the Ministry of Defence are a different matter. In other words, it will be unfair on both civil servants and on hon. Members who try to staff these Committees if it is imagined that we can start as from tomorrow in setting up these Committees and expect them to grope their way through the Estimates as now presented to the House; and to do so by having to question civil servants, still acting absolutely properly on considerations which have been familiar for the last 30 or 40 years, with a very rigid interpretation of Ministerial responsibility; and to expect something useful to come out of it all. That would not happen, because the basic data which would need to be offered about the objectives of Government activities, upon which one could raise arguments as to whether they were being best attained this way or that, would not be available.
Therefore, what the Select Committee's Report points to, and again this is something that one should not really try to slide round, is the need for the right machinery in the Administration; the need for a modern Executive to have the data, the machinery for gathering the data and organising flows of information channels so that the data can be brought forward. Only then will civil servants feel that they are being treated fairly when asked what a particular activity costs, or will cost, or what it has cost in the past, and what the aim and purpose of the activity is.
The question, and it is only fair to end on a question and not on an assertion is: does the machinery exist in our system of budgetary control in Whitehall for producing systematic data flows so that we can begin to move towards a really informative pattern of accounts set out on an output basis? I do not know whether that is the case now or not. I suspect that even hon. and right hon. Members opposite find that in some areas it is and that in other areas there are alarming gaps. I suspect that there are gaps in precisely in those areas over which one would hope the central budgetary authority had a hawk-like and continuous control system for checking, the objectives, costs and aims of certain divisions and departments. I suspect that the means for checking the continuing validity and the needs for which those departments and agencies were set up are too often missing.
My own prejudice, and I do not hide it, is that more is needed; a more elaborate and better-controlled machinery is needed if data flows of this kind are to exist in Whitehall. Paradoxically, one is arguing, not the rather fashionable view held amongst politicians that there should be a less powerful Treasury, but that there should be a more powerful Treasury. One is arguing that there should be within our Whitehall system methods for ascertaining data about costs and the gigantic and growing range of activities, and mechanisms for questioning those activities and challenging them systematically, so that the data can be gathered and brought before the functional committees for discussion.
It is on that question that I end. I agree with practically everything said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral and by the hon. Member for Northfield. I echo the appreciation that has been expressed of the fact that the Leader of the House should have afforded us so speedy an opportunity to discuss the Report. I hope that the apparent clash between advocates of Specialist Committees and this new and more systematic and coherent programme of committee supervision will be shown by this debate not to be a real clash. The basic interests of hon. Members in functional committees are the same and, to echo what the Leader of the House said, the desire is to maintain a better and more public balance between Parliament and the public, on the one hand, and the Executive, with all its enormous powers and departments, on the other.
This Report points the way towards an opening up to the public of modern administration in Britain, just as 100 years ago hon. Members sought to open up discussion in this House to the public. Just as that was then seen as the enlargement of public liberties, as the means for avoiding the growth of a remote elite State which all feared and few understood, so I think that the opening up of the Administration to wider discussion through this means is in the same line, and works towards the same cause.
Sir Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell), perhaps rather more than did previous speakers, indicated the really radical nature not only of the proposals made by the Select Committee, but of the changes that are taking place at present in Whitehall, and which the Committee presses the Government to proceed with further.
What has perhaps been overlooked, and this was certainly at the back of my mind during the proceedings of the Select Committee, is that the Committee's report would have the effect of making the House of Commons face up in a more realistic way to the choice that has to be made in the use of scarce resources. That is my answer to those of my hon. Friends who do not like the idea that Government policy should be considered in the form of the estimates.
The truth of the matter is that all Government policy is expressed in the form of the estimates presented by the Departments and all Government policy involves expenditure of one sort or another. If one wants to propose policies, or wants alternative policies, one has to consider them in the light of the alternative use of scarce resources, otherwise one has the situation, which we so often see, where Members on both sides are able to demand greater and greater expenditure for their own objectives while, at the same time, they are very often asking for less taxation. One of the objects of the Committee structure, and not only that but the proposals made by the Treasury for the presentation of a White Paper on forward expenditure based on functional estimates, is to enable the House better to make choices.
The present system of control of public expenditure is quite ineffective for three reasons. First, because, as everyone now agrees, policy is much more important than candle ends. Secondly, the cash basis of the estimates set out in terms of resources used and not functions performed makes judgment very difficult unless one goes through the very complicated business of trying to collect from the various estimates all the votes which contribute to a particular function.
The third reason is that for a number of years now—and it is extraordinary how out of date politicians can be because this has been going on in the Treasury for a long time and could have been discovered by anyone reading the reports of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries—Government expenditure is being planned forward for up to five years and the room for change in the estimates in any one year is very small indeed.
On the evidence given to us, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) said, the margin may be as small as 2½ per cent. If the House of Commons is to influence policy in terms of public expenditure the House must take account of these changes and also the changes that have been made by the Government's proposals for an annual forecast covering those five years. But if this annual White Paper is to mean anything at all it must be accompanied by an economic forecast over the same period. Otherwise, we do not know what resources the Government estimate will be available, so that any discussion about their use is meaningless.
The other changes have already been referred to by the hon. Member for Guildford—the Fulton proposals: management by objectives, cost-benefit analysis, the presentation of Estimates on a functional basis. These are extremely important changes. We must not assume that their application will be easy, nor must we assume that these methods can be applied in all Government Departments. They will take a long time and will be very difficult to introduce, even if those in Whitehall welcome them with open arms and some parts of Whitehall, if not all, do welcome them.
Considerable progress has been made already. However, I must give a warning to the management enthusiasts, speaking as an old management enthusiast myself but never a management fanatic. Government is not business. There are very complicated techniques, and by no means cast-iron ones, for helping the process of decision-making, but they do not avoid the necessity, particularly in politics—in government—for making social and political judgments.
Anybody who doubts this should read an extremely interesting book on the American experience. Many people have drawn attention to the decision taken by President Johnson that all the Departments in the United States should turn to the use of a system called "Planning, Programming and Budgeting". This system is still in quite an early stage. Anybody who believes that it avoids the necessity for social and political judgments should read a book entitled, "Politics and Economics of Public Spending", by Professor Charles E. Schultz, Director, Bureau of the Budget, under President Johnson. This book not only explains the extraordinary difficulties of applying these methods in a political system, but also explains what the methods are in clearer language than I have ever seen them explained anywhere else.
The question is: how can the House of Commons bring its influence to bear on Government policy as projected in expenditure forecasts? It is all very fine to say that we can have a great debate on the Floor of the House of Commons, but if we do not know what the Government's forecasts are for a particular policy it cannot be a helpful debate. Members must be able to express their views on Government proposals for the use of resources and be able to suggest alternatives.
The second question is: how can the House of Commons examine the means by which these policies are put into effect and their effectiveness? Here I come to the question of the division between policy and administration. I very much doubt if in government it is possible to draw that distinction. It may be in great issues of policy, such as defence policy and foreign policy, but a large part of Government administration at one level becomes policy at the next, and so on downwards. Policy develops in a department when there is a continuing process of applying major policy decisions in terms of annual programmes.
In education, where Government policy may be to expand the higher education system within the resources allowed by the Treasury, the question is: what is the best way of applying it? It may be by the use of cost benefit analysis as between the binary system and the unified system. Then they must work out the best use of what is left over for the primary and secondary systems. Even here Government benefit analyses can be used—although social as well as economic priorities must be considered. These methods are being developed in Whitehall. The House of Commons knows little about them, but a Committee could discover much more.
The first of the tasks for the House of Commons, that is, deciding between the alternative uses of resources—the great policy decisions—we have suggested should be a major debate in the House of Commons on the basis of the White Paper on forward expenditure. We rejected the idea that this White Paper on the forward expenditure forecasts of the Government should be examined in Committee. We turned it down because here will be found the main political issues and it should therefore be debated in the House of Commons.
The second of the tasks for the House of Commons—that is the examination of the methods by which decisions are arrived at and the control of effectiveness, and so on—is to be performed by the new Committees. I believe that this new Committee structure that we recommend is an improvement on the specialist Select Committees we now have. I believe that these Select Committees lack bite. They very often wander over a field which is not necessarily of the first importance, very of ten of doubtful Government responsibility. They often produce very worthy reports and have little influence on policy.
This is my own view. These comments do not apply to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which, operating on a basis of defined inquiry, has been a useful Committee and has been effective. If Select Committees are to have bite, they must examine the instrument by which Government policy is expressed—that is, the Estimates.
I want, finally, to make two points on Select Committees themselves and how they should operate, because I think that this is very important in this context. First, should a Select Committee meet in public? I know that it is very fashionable to say that Select Committees should meet in public and that Select Committees now do so. I have the very gravest doubts about this. The lay Press—I do not refer here to the specialist Press, to the technical Press, which sometimes has reported some of these Committees quite well—is more of a barrier than a channel of information to the public for what goes on in the House.
This applies particularly to a Select Committee. A professional witness—I I have a very good example in my mind —may give evidence lasting one or one and a half hours in the course of which he may make a rather startling remark. The Press will give that half a column and will completely mislead its readers as to what the witness has said. The system by which the evidence is published when the report is published, so that the Press and the public can see the whole thing at once, is a much better system. I am, therefore, not very enthusiastic about Select Committees meeting in public.
Secondly, I have always preferred that the staff of Select Committees should be servants of the House. I welcome the slight increase which has taken place in the Clerks' Department over the last few years. It is now quite inadequate, but an advance has been made. We have certainly come a long way since the time when the then Clerk of Committees told me that it was not the job of Clerks to draft reports for chairmen.
I prefer experts, too, to be servants of the House. For a number of reasons, this cannot always be so. When it is necessary to use outsiders, it is very important that those outside experts do not over-press their own views or carry on their own battles with the Departments. Their job is to help elucidate material of a complicated nature, not to press forward views of their own. This is important, because otherwise, as has sometimes happened to me, one finds oneself in the position of a devil's advocate and that is not necessarily the right thing for a member of a Committee to be.
I believe that a Committee composed of average Members of the House with some assistance is well able to get at the substance of a matter and very likely to bring more common sense to the task than are some academic experts. However, if good members are to serve on these Committees the Front Benches on both sides must have some more understanding of the work of Select Committees. They do not understand how they work, and this is not very surprising because very few of them have ever served on a Select Committee. I have discovered that since the end of the war only two Leaders of the House or Chief Whips have served on Select Committees. [Interruption.] The exceptions are my right hon. Friend the present Chief Whip, who served on the Estimates Committee for three months, and the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who served on it for four years. It is not surprising, therefore, that among those members of the Front Benches responsible for the appointment of these Committees there is not a great deal of sympathy. Until there is, they are not likely to be much more effective than they are at present.
Mr Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth Langstone)
I start by referring to the extremely interesting speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), who chaired the Committee. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. Perhaps I could begin by having a bit of fun. The hon. Gentleman said that we are allowing the Government to get away with murder. He is a little mixed up, because it is the economy which is alive and kicking and
the Government which is the corpse, and corpses cannot commit murder. Having had my fun, may I say that this is a very serious debate about a most serious subject.
I should like to turn to the central issue, which is the position and place of the House of Commons in relation to the Executive. The Report deals with what is possibly the most important single issue facing hon. Members. It is summarised in one phrase in paragraph 21, in which the Committee recommends that
as new methods of management are introduced in Government Departments, the cost and budget figures most necessary for Parliamentary scrutiny should be published in an appropriate form".
I should like to consider the precise meaning of the phrase "an appropriate form". I may be wrong and perhaps misinterpreting what went on in the Committee and some of the Committee's intentions in its proposals, but my reading of the document suggests to me that "an appropriate form" is what the House has, in large measure, understood to be an appropriate form for the last century; that is, hon. Members are presented in sub-committees, in major committees and ultimately in the House with written documentation of one form or another based largely on verbal evidence, large parts of which may be quantitative. My point is simply this. If we allow our thinking on this subject to be dominated by this concept of the strategy of government in the second half of the 20th century, we shall be making a very grave mistake. I should like to endeavour to substantiate that point.
As practically every hon. Member knows, there exists an instrument known as the computer. Those immediately involved with this machine, whether at the top levels of industry, in public corporations or even in government, are aware that this instrument, and its procedures in handling, analysing and presenting data, is absolutely central to what is understood by the term "executive control" today. I do not wish to introduce outside and possibly irrelevant elements at this point, because we may or may not be interested in public corporations or private corporations; but we are intrested in government.
May I give an example of where it was generally agreed recently that there has been a failure to control expenditure, very much in the terms of the Report, which refers at the beginning—and it is a remarkable statement—to the House of Commons having exercised a nominal control over part of the expenditure?
Recently, in the Council of Europe, a former Member of this House put forward an analysis of the control, within Europe as a whole, of science expenditure over a very large field. The sum involved was 350 million dollars. It was generally agreed by those immediately concerned with this proposal that the case was very largely made that control over this expenditure, part of which is generated by the British taxpayer, is virtually non-existent. As a result, the retiring Secretary-General put forward the proposal that there should be created within the machinery of the Council of Europe a central computer-oriented machine which would bring together a data bank for the whole of Europe from which, at least in this area of expenditure, an effective degree of control could be exercised. This was endorsed not long ago by the Austrian Federal Chancellor when he addressed the Assembly.
I understand that central to the forward thinking of the Council of Europe, non-legislative body that it may be—and I fully accept that—is the question, where do we bring the computer into the government of Europe, how do we use it in the government of Europe, and what will be the consequences for the members of the Council? Is this House considering, in the detail necessary, in its examination of the techniques which will be necessary, where modern equipment can be used within the House? It may well be that no part or piece of a computer will ever find its way into this Chamber. That may be right and necessary and it may be a conclusion which successive Governments of successive parties reach after having seen and examined most carefully what successive Executives are doing with this central and extraordinarily powerful machinery, which, in my opinion, is tipping the balance as between the Executive and the legislature, not only in Britain but throughout the world, in a way in which it has not been tipped against the legislatures for centuries. This is the key point in my analysis.
If we are to consider how we as Members of Parliament can discharge, not merely in sub-committees but in a far wider and more fundamental sense, the essential rôle of scrutiny which is our responsibility, can we do it if we are dependent, in a legislative sense, on ex post facto information which, in the business world, accountants are now recognising to be obsolete information about the past, about what has happened and not about what is happening and what is likely to happen? Can we therefore exercise some form of what is known as real time control, not merely or exclusively in the economic field, important though that may be, but in the social field?
I should like to refer to a proposal recently put forward by Mr. Daniel Moynihan to the United States Congress on this subject. He said:
Over the next century, techniques of accounting and budgeting developed very rapidly, and in 1921 Congress established the General Accounting Office to keep track of federal expenditures. I would like to suggest that Congress should not establish an Office of Legislative Evaluation in the G.A.O. which would have the task of systematically reviewing the program evaluations and 'PPBS' judgments made by executive departments".
I am not sure that the Committee had in mind something close to this proposal. But no such control will be effective unless Members of Parliament, members of Congress or members of the Council of Europe—whatever the legislative body may be—have personal access to what I would describe as the non-confidential data banks of the executive.
Within this building, or within some building in which Members of Parliament normally congregate, there should be data terminals having access to the official data banks of the executive which Members of Parliament may use. This may raise many complications and many problems—I am aware of that—but I do not think that, even if we had access to everything except the confidential, we would be wholly satisfied. But without it, wholly admirable though these proposals may me, and though they will bring our existing procedure much more effectively to a position in which it can control what has happened in the past and will enable us to be much more efficient legislative auditors, it will not make us more effective and more responsible legislators.
This may seem a strange concept to the House, because it is probably fair to say that the majority of men of our generation—that is to say, almost anyone over the age of 25—have not been familiar from their early education onwards with the idea of what the computer means to society. Very few of us can have a fundamental understanding of the revolutionary change in human affairs and in human government which has resulted from man's ability to process, to quantify and to analyse immediately and readily vast masses of data on a scale which has hitherto been impossible.
In reacting to this proposal, or to any other proposal for modernising the House of Commons and making it a presentable institution to the great British public, until we have a more detailed understanding and are prepared to cast proposals within this more fundamental awareness of what the computer means to us, we will not have the right to say that we have done what we should do and have produced a House of Commons able magnificently to govern Britain in the second half of the twentieth century, which is what we are being asked to do.
Mr David Marquand (Ashfield)
I hope that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the exciting paths which he trod. I want to go back to the Report and to ask one or two specific questions of my right hon. Friend before commenting on other matters which have been raised.
The Leader of the House said that he welcomed most of the recommendations about what would happen on the Floor of the House. He did not, however, mention the recommendation in paragraph 15 that consideration should be given to publishing estimates of the growth of the economy in years four and five as well as years one to three. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what view the Government take on that recommendation?
The recommendation is extremely important. We are talking about debating years four and five. It is clear from the evidence in the Report and from what we have been told by Treasury officials and by Ministers that it is only for years four and five that real choice exists. If the debate on the White Paper is to influence future decisions of Government it will have to be a debate about the prospective expenditure in years four and five. There can be no intelligent debate about the level of public expenditure five years ahead unless an authoritative estimate of the total resources available in the economy five years ahead can be made available.
My right hon. Friend will recollect that he said in the Committee that an assumption could be made that the estimate for years one to three would continue on its existing path for years four to five. If that is the case, why cannot that information be put in print? What is the inhibition? I know that when economic forecasts are published the Government are often attacked because what was really a guess has turned out to be wrong, and in retrospect it is regarded as a commitment that has not been honoured, whereas it was nothing of the kind. That difficulty exists about publishing any forecast. But if the changes we are talking about are carried out, more and more forecasts will be published in any case. If forecasts are to be published for years one to three, what is the inhibition about publishing forecasts for years to five? I appeal to the Government to think about this in a generous spirit, and I ask my right hon. Friend to say what is the Government's view.
Will he also give us a little more detail than did the Leader of the House about the recommendations on output budgeting. I am delighted that the Leader of the House welcomed the Report. I do not want to go into complicated semantics on output budgeting, but the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell) put his finger on its significance in his most important and interesting speech. This is absolutely essential if we are to have effective scrutiny of public expenditure by this House. The evidence given by an official explains this very clearly. He says at paragraph 630 of the Minutes of Evidence that the Votes which are debated by the House express expenditure in terms that are not of interest to hon. Members and not of interest to the general public:
They do not fit and they do not present themselves in terms of the problems with which they are interested. Doctors do not
talk about whatever the Vote talks about; they are interested in expenditure on geriatrics, midwifery, or whatever the particular thing is that they are arguing about. Now, it seems to me that, generally speaking, the kind of framework which is set out here in this feasibility study…
That is a study which was carried out by the Department of Education and Science on output budgeting—
would present both the House and the public at large with the kind of framework in which they could see, if one were debating, let us say, health expenditure, not just money for hospitals, money for the executive council service—hospitals costing £1,000 million a year, and the executive council service something like £300 million a year. It is not easy to do, but I think it can be done, and it would then ideally be a study in which one was talking about the amounts, not spent on doctors or on supporting services, but on dealing with the illnesses of old age, respiratory diseases or whatever it might be.
This is exactly the point. This is what the general public is interested in. These are the choices which hon. Members want to know about and which are not made clear in the existing Estimates. This is why output budgeting is so important.
One of the officials who gave evidence to us said that over five years a large part of the Whitehall machine will be able to present output budgets. Will my right hon. Friend give slightly more detail about that forecast? Will he say how far the process has gone, which Departments are carrying out feasibility studies and how far the work is progressing?
May I say a word about the controversial aspect of the Report dealing with the Committee structure. This is an absolutely fundamental and integral part of the Report. I could not agree more with what the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has said. We are putting forward a two-stage process, both stages of which are equally essential to the success of the endeavour.
The Committees which we propose would issue reports which would provide vital information for the following year's debate. As time progressed the debate on a White Paper would become more informed and effective because of the work of the Committees. A debate which took place without earlier work by Committees would be that much less valuable.
The Committee structure is an integral part of our scheme. If the Government accept the first part of the scheme, it is essential that they should also operate the second part. I am not saying that every single detail of our proposal should necessarily be adopted in the form suggested by the Committee. There are tentative suggestions as to which function should be covered by which sub-committee. But the central idea is fundamental.
There seems to be a fundamental misconception in the back of the minds of some of our critics. It is untrue that we are proposing a vast new network of Committees. We propose to rationalise the existing, messy, haphazard and incoherent structure which has grown up over many years without any proper strategy. Adoption of the Report would not mean that any new burdens would be placed upon hon. Members. The number it is at present. The burden will be more of hon. Members engaged in Select Committee service would be no greater than efficient, more interesting and worth while, but it would not be any heavier.
It is also untrue that the kind of structure which we propose would lead to a less effective scrutiny of the Executive than is provided by Specialist Committees. That is a complete misconception. The purpose of Select Committees of the House is not so that hon. Members can take part in an interesting academic seminar about problems of technology, education, and so on. Their purpose is to provide Parliament with some countervailing influence to the tremendous growth in the power of the Executive over the past half century. It is no criticism of the Specialist Committees to say that, although they have often produced interesting studies—and the report of the sub-committee which looked into student unrest is full of interesting material which will provide fascinating reading for future social historians—they have nothing whatever to do with the purpose of Committees of this House, which is that of controlling the Executive.
If one wishes to control the Executive, it is essential to have the key to the executive door. The key is that of financial control. It is felt by some that Committees which are geared to financial control would be dull, drab, specialised, technocratic Committees scrabbling away at a lot of accountancy details and unable to put questions on policy. This is the opposite of the truth. There is no policy of government which sooner or later is not translated into expenditure. If one wants to investigate policy, then control of functions over expenditure gives the best possible route to this end.
The Specialist Committees live with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. We know this from the practice of the last three years. If Specialist Committees become obstinate, difficult or obtrusive—
Mr David Marquand (Ashfield)
Yes, or even effective they get wound up, or would not be reappointed. If the structure which we propose is adopted, it will be very much harder for any future Government to say "We do not like this obtrusive and effective committee so we will wind it up". If a Committee structure were firmly established, they would not dare to adopt such an attitude—or at least it would be much more difficult for them to do so since they would incur much greater odium if they did.
It is felt by some hon. Members that to develop and strengthen the committee system would in some way weaken the authority of the Floor of the House. The proposals in our Report show that this argument is quite fallacious. Our Report proposes a two-stage scheme. We should like to see effective debate in the House, and much of the Report deals with methods of making such a debate effective.
Mr Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that such a debate should not be composed merely of members of the particular Committee whose Report is before the House, and that there is an inherent danger of such debates if one has a system of Committees?
Mr David Marquand (Ashfield)
I take the point and respect the feelings behind it. I was just about to resume my seat and to allow other hon. Members to make their contribution.
I conclude by saying that in the annual debate we do not propose a debate on the Report of the Committee, but a debate on a Government White Paper. Such a debate is ten times more effective if it has behind it the work of a system of committees such as we propose. The two things are part and parcel of the same idea.
An effective Chamber must have behind it an effective committee system. Hon. Members who took part in a debate would have the full information before them since the Committees would have been able to prise out in a detailed way secrets which the Government would like to keep hidden. Such information would make them more able to make an effective, sometimes even damaging, contribution when such a debate takes place on the Floor of the House. These matters are indissolubly linked. If hon. Members want a more effective Chamber, they should vote for the scheme suggested in the Report.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
It is no wonder that every hon. Member who has so far taken part in the debate has been in favour of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, since only one hon. Member who has spoken so far was not a member of it. It would be a great deal more valuable if hon. Members who were on the Select Committee would take the opportunity of hearing the views of some of those who were not on the Committee and who may be more critical of the Report than any of the views which we have heard so far. Personally, I consider this to be a very bad Report and I shall explain why.
First of all, I should like to endorse what many hon. Members have said about the Green Paper and the improved form of public expenditure presentation. This is admirable, and what was said by the Leader of the House was most welcome to the Liberal benches, as I am sure it was to every hon. Member who has at heart the interests of the House. What I criticise is the rôle of the Estimates Committee in its new form and what would happen to the specialist Committees which were set up in the post-1966 period as a result of the new structure.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) said that he thought the Report of the sub-committee on education and science which dealt with student unrest was of no value to the House.
I could not agree less. This is a very serious disparagement of the Report of the Select Committee on Education and Science.
Mr David Marquand (Ashfield)
The hon. Gentleman his misunderstood me slightly. I did not say that it was of no value. On the contrary, I said that it might be of great value, though not from the point of view of controlling the Executive.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Gentleman said that it might be of value to social historians in the future. But I say that it is of value to this House. One of our central political and social problems today is to know how to cope with unrest of various kinds, especially with student unrest, to know what are the causes and how we are to find remedies. If that Select Committee has thrown some light on that and has not been able to turn its attention to the detailed finances of the Department, I have no quarrel with it.
While the hon. Gentleman was speaking, I was looking through the evidence given by the Chairman of that subcommittee, who was pressed to say why he had not been looking at the Estimates and had gone off into such a bizarre subject as student unrest—[Interruption.] Everything that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) said implied that these Committees must be concerned with the expenditure of Government Departments and nothing else. He said, for example, that he wanted to see the Estimates Committee rebuilt into a form suitable for examining Government expenditure, and he suggested that one of its first acts should be to call the chief accounting officers of the Departments concerned. He spoke about the cost-benefit studies of siting the third London airport as being a suitable topic for one of the Committees to examine. He said that the Committees will be inquiring into expenditure, and that if some policy probing becomes necessary it will be done, giving the impression that that would be a secondary objective of the new-style Committee on Expenditure.
I object strongly to that. I want to see the Select Committee system developing not in financial terms but in terms which will enable the House to come to grips with policy of a completely nonfinancial nature.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
The hon. Gentleman has failed to recall the latter part of what I said. After they have gone through this discipline of applying themselves to expenditure, they will go on to the kind of inquiry which is carried on now in the Estimates Committee and the Specialist Committees, but it will be set in the framework of beginning the year's work by examining the total output, aims, objectives and expenditure of the Department concerned.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Gentleman is getting me confused. I have read the Report, and I thought that these subcommittees were meant to be functional. Now he says that their primary task should be to examine what the Government Departments are doing.
He said the task of the Select Committee would be the beginning of a management audit. I do not want management audits. There is a place for them, but they should not be the principal task of the Select Committee. If it were, I agree with the hon. Member for Ashfield that the Committee would have a very dull job. Apart from accountants, very few hon. Members would have any interest in belonging to a new Select Committee of this type.
The Report says that such a Select Committee should be concerned with discussion of the Government's expenditure strategy and policies as set out in projections of public expenditure several years ahead; examination of the means, including new methods, of management, being adopted to implement strategy and to execute policies as reflected in annual estimates of expenditure; and retrospective scrutiny of the results achieved and the value for money obtained, on the basis of annual accounts and related information from Departments on the progress of their activities. Those three components of the objectives of the new Committee have nothing to do with policy as such, and that only came in as an incidental both in the Report and in the speech of the hon. Member for Northfield.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
If the hon. Gentleman looks at paragraph 35, he will see there:
The task of each Sub-Committee would be three-fold:—
and so on. He cannot maintain that we want to keep these Committees away from policy.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Gentleman's approach is entirely different from that of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I have been a member since its inception. I dare say that it is different from the approach of the Select Committee on Education and Science as well. We have not examined the implications in terms of public expenditure of policy objectives chosen by Ministers. We have suggested a number of policy objectives ourselves. We have certain ideas of our own. That merely reinforces my argument that the hon. Gentleman wants to demote these Committees and leave them with as little to do with policy as can be fitted in with the wishes of hon. Members who serve on them and not make them too unattractive.
That is not my only objection. I have discussed the tremendous emphasis which the hon. Gentleman has given to the question of money in his Committee. He lays great stress on the Estimates of the Departments and takes them as the starting point by examining the chief accounting officers. However, the next point which is of equal importance is the size of the task which he intends to impose on a sub-committee of only nine Members.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Today's discussion is proving to be a debate in the best sense of the word, but there is one point which needs clarification. Paragraph 35 of the Report sets out the tasks of each of the sub-committees. However, in paragraph 34 one sees the proposed order of reference of each sub-committee. It says:
To consider the activities of Departments of State concerned with [naming a functional field of administration] and the Estimates of their expenditure presented to this House; and to examine the efficiency wih which they are administered.
That seems to exclude—
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
It is not intended to be. That seems to exclude what has been debated across the Floor of the House—the specific item of policy with which the hon. Gentleman is as concerned as I am.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I think that I have the hon. Gentleman's point. He is asking what is to happen if an item in which the sub-committee is interested does not appear in the Estimates. I can give the House several examples of that occurring in the context of the Committee on Science and Technology. If one refers to the Report of the Sub-Committee on Carbon Fibres, there is a good deal in it about the policy on the licensing of know-how to companies in the United States. However, one will find nothing of that in the Estimates of the Ministry of Technology. Yet it was of vital national interest.
Another example is that of the subcommittee which has been reconsidering the nuclear reactor programme of the United Kingdom. That Report recommended that the Minister of Technology should consider guaranteeing the contingent liabilities of electricity boards which brought into operation new types of reactor systems. We could look in these forward expenditure projections to the next four or five years and, unless it was already Government policy to offer these guarantees to the electricity boards, nothing would appear. This was a suggestion which the Select Committee was making for the consideration of the Minister of Technology, but now he has to consider it in his dual capacity of Minister of Power as well.
If we started from the Estimates Committee we would never consider the matter in the first place. That is what I am trying to get across and what the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) has confirmed.
I come now to the second point, which is really very difficult for the hon. Gentleman to answer, namely, how a sub-committee of nine members will cover such an enormous sphere. I can speak only from my own knowledge, but the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which consists of 15 members, has such an enormous task that it has been found necessary to divide it into sub-committees for some of its investigations and still it has not been able to cover even a fraction of the area. Yet the hon. Gentleman proposes that a committee of nine members will deal not only with technology, but also with industry, manpower and employment. I do not see how it can possibly go into the subject in the detail that he suggests. I suppose it is feasible to divide a committee of nine members into two sub-committees of four and five members respectively. But then problems of political balance arise with the even numbers on the committee of four. Therefore, I think that it would tend to work in practice as a whole committee, as the Estimates Committee does. It does not divide into numbers smaller than six or seven, although the hon. Gentleman may be able to correct me oh that.
The work of a committee of nine members covering the enormous spectrum of interests that the hon. Gentleman named will be superficial in the extreme, and as a result of its work there will be no control by this House over the activities of the Departments concerned.
Mr Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
The hon. Gentleman seems to be drawing a relationship between the size of the Committee and its effectiveness. Would he accept that there are certain-congressional committees in the United States with great power which consist of three members? It depends on the officials allocated to the Committees.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that I thought it would be difficult to have Committees consisting of three members because of the problem of political balance.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
If the hon. Gentleman says that he wants to make this as an additional recommendation, it does not appear in the Report. Theoretically, Committees of nine could be divided into three sub-committees of three members. But I presume they would need to consist of two Government and one Opposition Member, so that a lot of Government back benchers would be needed to man eight times three sub-committees with two Members on each. This would be a much larger total than those who serve on the Estimates Committee, which is to be replaced. I am in favour of small Committees. If the political balance problem can be sorted out, then all strength to the hon. Gentleman's arm.
I come now to my third criticism. Specialist Committees have built up good relations with the outside world—at any rate, those that have been allowed to continue in existence for longer than one Session. If they are to become subcommittees of an Estimates Committee under a new name, no one will take them seriously.
I do not want to make a great thing about the prestige of the chairman of a Select Committee. Taking the Select Committee on Science and Technology as an example, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) is heard with respect wherever he goes. People know that he has been doing this job since the inception of the Committee, and before that he was Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. The hon. Gentleman proposes that he should be called the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Technology, Manpower and Employment of the General Purposes Committee of the Expenditure Committee, or something of that kind. I do not think that the outside world will take such a position nearly as seriously or respectfully as the position of someone who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. The same applies to the other new specialist Committees which have been established with our full support.
I turn now to my final criticism of the hon. Gentleman's proposals. One of the most successful features of what I might call the post-Crossman Committees is their ability and determination to get stuck into policy—sometimes to the great embarrassment of Government Departments. We need only remember the first examination of the Agriculture Committee into the Common Market to appreciate that.
With shortages of manpower both in the Clerk's Department and among hon. Members willing to serve on these subcommittees, there will be a danger of creating so many new Committees if we go on with the specialist system that we embarked upon under the Crossman administration that we would not have enough people to go round and the committees would not do their jobs thoroughly. Therefore, I should like to propose a different solution. I suggest that we wind up the Estimates, Nationalised Industries and Public Accounts Committees and that we redistribute the resources to man as many non-Departmental functional Committees of the Crossman type as we can.
I agree that it is absurd to claim that the Estimates and Public Accounts Committees give this House any real control over expenditure. The Comptroller and Auditor-General could still make reports to the House on any items that he thought should be drawn to our attention. The House could then decide whether any of the allegations of the Comptroller and Auditor-General should be referred to the appropriate specialist sub-committees. For instance, advanced gas-cooled reactor royalties were considered by the Public Accounts Committee in its last report, as well as army boots and about 50 other matters. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General would, under my suggestion, be referred to the Select Committee on Science and Technology which would decide whether to consider it and to report on it to the House, or it might take note of it and leave the House to take such action as it thought fit.
It is absurd to pretend that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which is to be kept in being under these proposals, can examine a range of industries from Cook's Travel to the British Steel Corporation. A vast spectrum of industries comes under its scrutiny now which would be far better dealt with by functional Committees, not of the kind that the hon. Gentleman wishes to create, which are components of a much larger Committee, but which are independent and as powerful in their own right as we have now.
We, on the Liberal bench, have always pressed for the extension of the Select Committee system to redress the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. We agree that that should be the task of this House. That far we go with the hon. Gentleman, but we do not think that he has done it in the right way. If this Report is accepted, the Executive will have no difficulty in keeping the watch puppies absolutely docile and we will be creating a new piece of House of Commons bureaucracy which deals mainly with the Treasury—and we know how good that is at avoiding awkward questions.
Mr John Mackintosh (Berwickshire and East Lothian)
It is a tragedy that such a sincere and genuine parliamentary reformer as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) should find himself in a clash with the Select Committee on Procedure, which is proposing one of the greatest parliamentary reforms which has come before the House.
I ask the hon. Member for Orpington to look at the points which some of us got into the Report, particularly the end of paragraph 38, where we made it clear that the position of the Specialist Committees would have to be looked at, as it is being looked at now by the Government, but we did not say that they should be abolished. As a member of the former Agriculture Committee and now of the Scottish Committee, I would deplore any such move.
I think that there is room for both systems. I ask the hon. Member for Orpington to think about the whole question of the control of finance and to realise how completely this has slipped out of the purview of the House. The whole approach of the 19th century as devised by Mr. Gladstone in his "circle of control" was that the House debated Estimates—they could be cut or changed in the House. Then the money went to the Treasury, and the Treasury watched over expenditure during the year. When the money had been spent under the detailed scrutiny of the Treasury, the Public Accounts Committee completed the circle by asking, "Was it all spent exactly as the Appropriations Act set out?"
That system is dead, for a whole series of reasons. First, it is wrong to look at this House as an anti-Government, anti-Crown organisation of the 19th century type simply interested in saving money. We are now interested in a much more positive idea, namely, whether public money is spent in the best interests of the public, whether we are getting the best value, whether it is being properly managed, whether it is being shared in the right way between private and public consumption, whether in public consumption the money is properly divided between health and housing, the subdivisions of health, and so on, as we would want it to be.
During the battles that take place in the Executive this House can beat at the outsides of the doors of the Government but never get near to the decisions. We can never get near the operative point at which the decision is made whether more money should be provided for this, or less for that, and so on. We cannot do this because of the quite proper modern system of a rolling programme of public finance which has been adopted since the Plowden Committee's Report. By this we have a rolling programme for five years ahead with the hard decisions being taken, as the Green Paper said, for the focus year, year three.
Before we turn to the question of what kind of Committee system is best, what we as a House have to do is to devise a new circle of control which will bring the House, and through us the public, to the key decisions as they are being taken. The Committee proposes that in the first instance there must be a debate in the House on the White Paper on the options put before us for this five-year programme. If—and this is critical and I ask the hon. Member for Orpington to think about how this can be done—scrutiny is to be informed and effective, we must sub-divide the Estimates into chunks, departmental or otherwise and a tremendous amount of work will then be required each year to put before the House the crucial changes that have taken place since last year, and to put before the Houes developments in expenditure which will have major policy repercussions, but which would slip past without Members noticing if this detailed work was not done.
It is a reasonable task for Committees of nine members specialising in a certain sphere to look every year at sections of the Estimates—as the Appropriations Committee of the United States Congress does—and say what is different this year from last year, what has changed, what is creeping in now that will mean that we cannot raise the school-leaving age in X years, what is coming along that will prevent the National Health Service from being changed if the number of pensioners increases, and so on. There was a row earlier in the Session when the Secretary of State for Social Services announced that he had introduced a charge for teeth and spectacles to enable him to rescue a number of comprehensive school projects. That decision was water under the bridge when we got to know about it.
Things like that go past us, and we need this detailed scrutiny of sections of the Estimates so as to make the annual debate in the House of Commons a meaningful and active operation. Our circle of control will be complete if at the end of the year the Public Accounts Committee looks at public expenditure more from the point of view of value for money than from the point of view of any detailed question of candle-ends, as it used to do under the old system.
Mr Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
How does my hon. Friend think the establishment of the Committees being proposed will make any difference to the kind of decision that was taken about teeth and spectacles and the two comprehensive schools? We would still be faced with a fait accompli. We would have to discuss the decision after the event.
Mr John Mackintosh (Berwickshire and East Lothian)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but the point is that these decisions will be opened up for a certain time ahead, namely, the operative period for which the ceilings are being set.
A ceiling is set every summer for the total amount of public expenditure on health, welfare and education two or three years ahead. We would be in a position to discuss whether the ceiling was correct, or whether less should be spent on defence and more on some other matter. It is hopeless to come to the matter when everything has been settled and then have to beat our heads against a brick wall of Ministerial resistance in our efforts to get the thing altered even in one slight degree.
There is one matter in the report about which I feel unhappy and it touches on what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was saying. It is a pity that the decision was taken to publish the White Paper in November. I questioned the Chief Secretary on this matter in the Committee. Deciding to have it in November means that the decisions for one year have been taken, and it is only years four and five ahead that are open to this kind of control or discussion. Perhaps I should not say "control", but rather influence by the House.
Decisions are taken in June and July every year on the Report of the Public Expenditure Survey Committee. We as a House play no part in this. We do not know the issues involved. We do not know what is happening. I recall the tremendously embarrassed feeling that I had as a back bencher in the summer of 1966 after the intention to cut public expenditure had been announced on the Floor of the House. It meant that the public expenditure survey, particularly as from year three ahead, was profoundly altered. We could sense that this was going on, that these critical decisions were being taken, but we knew nothing about them. We heard rumours, and as one passed the Ministries in Whitehall one could hear thumps and bangs and perhaps find a Permanent Under-Secretary lying bleeding in the gutter, but one could not find out what was going on.
Under the present proposals, the White Paper would come out in November, and if it was then compared with what happened the previous November, we could see what had happened. I wish that the Government had decided to publish the White Paper in April or May, when the options for year three were still open. We would not be deciding for years four and five, but for year three as the closest area open to choice and where influence could still be exercised.
With that reservation, I welcome the report. It would be a tragedy if the loyalty which the hon. Member for Orpington and I have for the present Select Committees and the value of their work should be thought to mean that one does not need this detailed financial scrutiny of the White Paper with the work of the Committee on Expenditure so that we can make these various tables comprehensible to the House.
This report goes to the heart of most of our problems in this House, because, if we are to proceed with Select Committees as well as this Committee on Expenditure, we shall have to do something about providing facilities for Members. We must make it possible for Members to work in a proper way, with proper information. We must make it possible for them to work with their secretaries. I have found that being on two Select Committees at one time is a fantastic burden. I do not think that anyone can do this work and handle the necessary documentation on the old amateur basis.
The staff of the Committees must be improved beyond all measure. I agree that the staff and the specialists should be servants of the House, but it is not sufficient to expect a clerk of the House, however brilliant, hardworking and assiduous, to cope with two Specialist Committees as well as spend time on other business and the Council of Europe as we have had in the past. We need a larger staff. They need to be adequately equipped. We need a whole new approach to the functions of Members and this Chamber.
This is not a purely anti-Government pressure. It affects the balance between the Executive and the Legislature, but in many ways this helps the Executive, because the Treasury realises that if the House is properly to debate public expenditure we must not be left outside declaiming and banging against decisions taken two years ago. If we know the options, as reasonable people, we can help to maintain a balance between expenditure and private consumption. If we claim more expenditure on one topic, it must mean less for another.
Even further, in respect of the whole set of reforms in the Civil Service listed under "accountable management", of the idea of giving the Civil Service and Government Departments more budgetary power and more independence and of trying to produce modern methods of management in the Civil Service, all this will develop only when we rethink the question of parliamentary control. As long as our control comes from one Minister down the chain of command from Permanent Secretary through a hierarchy of officials, we shall never get a willingness to delegate authority in the Civil Service, and to create separate centres of authority unless we can devise a new method of parliamentary control through the Committee system and recognise that a Minister does not take all the decisions, that many of these decisions which are taken totally non-politically by officials, the House might want to review from time to time.
The report gives the House a chance to get back into public expenditure con- trol, a field which we have been out of for 30 or 40 years. It gives the public a chance to understand what are the issues in domestic financial policy facing this country. It gives the House a chance to reform its Committee system and it allows Members to see that the reforms in public administration proposed by the Fulton and other committees can be implemented with a proper measure of parliamentary control.
It would be a disaster if we lost all this simply because we disagreed about what is to happen to certain Specialist Committees.
Mr James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I am not seeking to wind up this debate from this side of the House; indeed, we shall not have a formal winding-up speech. I intervene because I want to say something about the Second Report on the Form of the Defence Estimates. I need not take long about it. I apologise to the House for interrupting the thread of the main debate which is devoted to the First Report, but this will give hon. Members time to get their breath. I wish to put one or two specific questions to the Chief Secretary, and he may like a moment or two to prepare his answers.
The Second Report deals with a new form of presentation of the Defence Estimates. I understand that the Amendments which the Leader of the House moved are necessary so that effect can be given to the Government's proposals. The proposals are brought forward at the wish of the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury and the Government and have now, after certain vicissitudes, the approval of the Select Committee on Procedure. The only concern of hon. Members on this side of the House is that by putting into effect the proposals for a new form of Estimate there should be no curtailment of the opportunities of hon. Members on either side of the House for full and proper debate of the Defence Estimates.
I have in mind not only the convenience of the Front Benches, but perhaps more particularly the individual points of view on defence which are often found on the back benches, and in connection with which one cannot but mention, with regret, the late Mr. Emrys Hughes. There is very much of a backbench interest in this question which must be preserved.
At the moment, we have the two main days of general defence debate. I take it that that will continue. We then have three Service days, which at the moment arise upon the Estimates of each Service, and which I take it will also continue but will arise either on Vote A or on the split Vote 1 to which the Leader of the House has referred. The only point about this is that it would be the wish of my hon. Friends and myself that there should continue to be three individual Service days, that is, a day for each Service.
In theory, with the increasing functionalisation of the Ministry of Defence it might be more logical and tidy to have Service Estimates debates by functions—personnel on one day, equipment on another and something else on the third day. That would be difficult for the House as a whole, and we should prefer to continue to debate these matters Service by Service, as hitherto.
I come now to the question of the fourth day. At the moment, the procedure is that the Government need money for the Services for the beginning of the financial year and, therefore, they put down certain votes—usually the big ones, which will produce for them enough money. Accidentally, they are usually useful to the House, because they are generally the ones with a live political content.
The order in which the Votes are taken is customarily for the Opposition to choose, but the effect of this procedure has been that hon. Members anywhere in the House, with or without the collaboration of the usual channels, can raise detailed points on Service administration on these Votes without having had to give notice. It has been open to those Members who have raised them to obtain answers, because the Ministers have had to be in the House to be responsible for their Votes.
This has been an important opportunity for back-bench Members, and it has been used. What we really want is an assurance that with the new form of fourth day arising out of the Defence Vote on Account things will be so arranged that these opportunities will not be lost—that it will not be necessary, in order to discuss a detail of Service administration, to have given prior notice; that the Ministers responsible will be in the House and, from the point of view of the House of Commons and hon. Members on both sides, that opportunities for debate will in no way be restricted through the changed form of presentation of the Estimates. I expect that the Chief Secretary will be able to give us that assurance, which clearly was the burden of the Committee's report.
On the recommendation of Sub-Committee A the Leader of the House said that he was accepting one—the splitting of Vote 1, on pay. Are the Government also accepting the other two, that is to say, the recommendation that tables giving information about the Estimates on a single Service basis should be published, and the recommendation about setting out—as is now done—as an appendix to the Defence Estimates the composition and responsibilities of the various Service boards, including the Defence Board?
We put that in because it is difficult to find out what goes on in the Ministry of Defence. It is interesting to have this information. Votes still have to be built up from the bottom to some extent on a Service basis. The public should know those who sponsor them and are responsible for them. That is all that I want to say. I hope that the Chief Secretary can give us those assurances without any difficulty.
Mr John Mendelson (Penistone)
I wish to refer straight away to the point raised by the Chairman of the Committee when he addressed the House, concerning the functional subcommittees proposed in the Report of the Committee on Procedure and the references that he made to the existing Select Committees and the future burden on them. The crucial point was touched upon by him when he talked about policy and administration, including expenditure. When my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary interrupted him at one point, asking whether he was making a distinction between small matters of policy, or matters of small policy on the one hand and matters of large policy on the other, or between administration,
on the one hand, and policy making on the other, he gave a reply—probably the best that he could give—which admitted that certain matters of policy would be within the circumference of the work of these functional sub-committees.
When, later, on, he turned in my direction and tried to reassure me that they would not usurp the sort of debates which I want on the Floor of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens), who was then sitting beside me, intervened. The Chairman of the Committee tried to reassure him equally, but I think that he failed to reassure either of us. That is only natural and I think that his argument broke at that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West suggested, using the example which the Chairman had himself introduced, that these functional subcommittees should not only have the power to debate where a new airport should be put, but also whether there should be a fourth or fifth airport, and that is a decision on major policy. The answer which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West wanted, obviously, was that they should have full power in that respect.
I am very apprehensive about these proposals, because I believe that they are moving in the wrong direction. However much the Chairman of the Committee might counsel my hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Committee that they must be very careful in the beginning and not run too fast and thus arouse the suspicions of those of us, I take it, who object to these proposals, when the work actually starts, there will be a logic of events in the work of these functional sub-committees which will propel them inevitably in the direction of becoming policy-making committees or attempting to be policy-making committees.
The Chairman also used a phrase which only tended to confirm my suspicions. He talked about a "State of the Union message". Although, a couple of sentences earlier, he had said that we had no reason to be worried that he wanted to move us in the direction of the American experience, a little later he used the term "Appropriations Committee"—
Mr John Mendelson (Penistone)
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon, but the term was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh): he talked about an Appropriations Committee.
The use of those two terms of course means that we are asked to move in the direction which I and others who agree with me do not wish us to move. It is, therefore, important to examine briefly the American experience. I do not not want to quote the authorities, although in future perhaps they should be quoted, probably when we have a two-day debate on some of these matters, but the American authorities are of one mind on this—both academics and people who have served in the Houses of Congress. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know this. They believe that the development of powerful subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee has killed debate on the Floor of the House of Representatives. There is no dispute about that. I can easily carry all hon. Members with me on this proposition.
Moreover, it has led to the creation of first and second class Members of Parliament. The experience has been along these lines. There is a sub-committee of the Appropriations Committee which becomes very powerful and, as a result, the head of the executive department goes to great lengths to have close and chummy relations with as many as possible, preferably a majority, of the members of that sub-committee. He will address them, either in executive session or in open session, and will present to them three types of information. The first is ordinary information, which may be published in newspapers, so there is no obligation there on them to secrecy. Second is the "grey" area information. He says to them, en passant."I would rather you did not talk about this, but it is not actually secret".
Then there is the secret, or classified, information. He asks that they must, under no circumstances, talk to anyone else about that information, including their own parliamentary colleagues. Then, on those rare occasions when there is a debate on this matter in the full House of Representatives, these members of the Appropriations Committee say, "We know much more about it than the rest of you, but of course we cannot reveal it."
I have very great forebodings that, of course not tomorrow afternoon or even in one Session of Parliament, but if we allow this system to be introduced, as the years go by, we will find ourselves in the same position, which will be very dangerous to the democratic process of the House of Commons.
I will come in a moment to controlling expenditure and the link between expenditure and policy, but the essential sanction in this House is, today, in spite of some of the academics who have recently written books to the contrary, the same as it has always been. That is, the threat from the members of the House of Commons to overturn the Government's policy.
A simple example happened last night, on what was regarded as a moral issue by many hon. Members, and in which the Chairman of the Select Committee himself was prominently engaged. All honour to him. I was on his side and I am glad that he had some success, but he did not achieve this success tucked away in some Committee. Nothing happened at all, so far as the Minister of Agriculture was concerned, until last night. He had not given way anywhere along the line. He had had meetings of a private character and of a semi-private character and he had stood like a rock defending the decisions which he had already made as the head of a great executive Department. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows that this is true. The Minister only shifted at the end of the debate, when defeat was staring the Government in the face, because everyone knew that, if he had not done, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) would have been carried with a good majority. Everyone knew that they were ready to vote for it and that is the only thing that made my right hon. Friend shift.
So there is no alternative. The only sanction which our democratic Parliament has is the threat of a hostile majority overturning the Executive's policies on the Floor of the House. There would be no conflict between me and my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee and his colleagues on this score, because I know that they do not want, deliberately and intentionally, to remove this power from the Floor of the House. Of course not. But I am being fair to them, and they must not erect an Aunt Sally and charge me and my hon. Friends who agree with me with the assumption that they do intend to do that.
We do not charge them with that. Let us cut that right out of the debate. What I charge them with is, perhaps, more sophisticated. I am saying that, without any intention on their part, if this procedure were adopted, we should inevitably move in that direction.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
The things which my hon. Friend is worrying about, that these Committees would do, could now be done by the Estimates Committee—every one of these inquiries, about whether we have a third London Airport and so on. But we still have an Estimates Committee and a live Floor of the House, because we have a parliamentary tradition which works that way. I think that my hon. Friend is making his own Aunt Sally and knocking it down.
Mr John Mendelson (Penistone)
Well, we disagree on this, obviously. I say that it cannot do these things, because these are major policy decisions and policy as such is not within the realm of the sub-committees of the Estimates Committee. Of course, the frontier is blurred and we are not talking about a one-sided view. What these proposals mean is moving in the wrong direction.
My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee and other hon. Members who have been prominent in this debate have asked us, "Are you then saying that we must not do anything to get more control again for the House of Commons over the financial and administrative policy of the Executive?" Of course nobody says that, and hon. Members know that it is not my view or that of my hon. Friends who agree with me.
I am saying that hon. Members are chasing an illusion if they believe that they can strictly confine themselves to matters of expenditure and administration without at the same time dealing with major policy issues and without in any way raising the matter of the control of the House of Commons over these affairs. I am anxious that control by the House of Commons over policy making and policy decisions by the Executive should be advanced. I am dissatisfied with the present situation, perhaps even more dissatisfied than was my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, who gave the example of the decision to reintroduce prescription charges and to increase the charges for spectacles. I do not know how my hon. Friend voted on that occasion, but I voted against that proposal and I am at least as concerned about the matter as he is.
But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) pointed out in an interjection, the setting up of these functional sub-committees will not change that situation one little bit. How did that decision come about? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has one great merit—he is quite communicative and he likes his colleagues to know a little of what goes on in his mind. He is not as silent as are some other members of the Cabinet, and that is a great democratic merit in my right hon. Friend. On various occasions he has let it be known that this was a secret Cabinet decision which had been taken long before he announced it in the House of Commons. He said that the decision was knocking about the Cabinet for months but that no decision was taken at first about announcing it in the House of Commons. It was top secret, and it was not the sort of decision which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) would have prised out of the Secretary of the Cabinet months before it was announced in the House of Commons.
I will tell my hon. Friend why. If at any time before my right hon. Friend made that announcement at the Box it had been revealed to the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party that this was the intention, there would have been such an outcry and revulsion that it could never have been done. The price of doing it was secrecy. That often happens, and it is one of the reasons why there was a secret decision. The Government needed to be able to tell hon. Members, "We have already announced it. The Secretary of State has announced it and therefore nothing can be done about it". If my hon. Friend thinks that they will give up this great power of secrecy which they have because functional sub-committees will wish to pry into their secrets, I can assure him that the whole idea is absurd. That suggestion will make no difference at all.
The only way in which the House could have prevented the Cabinet from introducing those increases was if those of us on this side of the House, as we did last night about animal welfare, who were determined to oppose these increases had found a response on the other side of the House. Alas, we did not. Many of the excellent hon. Members who were here last night to protect the welfare of animals, together with some of us, were not there on the previous occasion to protect the low-income earners who cannot afford these increased charges. Had there been a majority threatening my right hon. Friend on that occasion, I am sure that neither my right hon. Friend nor the Prime Minister would have considered for one moment risking the life of the Government before the Prime Minister decided to go to the country in a General Election. My right hon. Friends would have surrended the increases, which would never have been imposed.
Mr Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
My hon. Friend should not be allowed to get away with that red herring. The second increase in charges was a political decision. Much more relevant was the decision taken in January, 1968, about the education charges, when the limitations of choice were so constrained that the Government tried to save £30 million—and then, in the same year, introduced Supplementary Estimates amounting to £500 million. That was the limitation of choice. The other decision was political.
Mr John Mendelson (Penistone)
Without going into too much detail, I would argue that they were both political decisions. I will attempt to prove to my hon. Friend that many of the earlier decisions on public expenditure in general were equally political decisions, often under the pressure of the Opposition, because on political grounds the Government wanted to appear to the country to be tough towards those who did not have the ability to buy these things for themselves—as tough as the Opposition had
said they would be in similar circumstances. That has always been my view about the political strategy and that is one of the reasons I have always opposed it. I remind hon. Members of the early decisions in 1968 and of the fact that it sometimes takes two years to two-and-a-half years before these decisions are applied. But they are decisions of general political strategy and functional subcommittees would be able to do nothing about them. Only the House of Commons could do something about them.
I warn the House that we must not fall into the error of thinking that these are in any way technical matters. I should like to see control of expenditure and control of administration left in the hands of the Estimates Committee. Let them improve their efficiency. I agree most strongly that the staff ought to be improved. Many of them are very good, but there ought to be more members of the staff. I agree with everything which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said about the research facilities which ought to be available to every hon. Member, because that must be right, whichever way the job is done.
But let us not embark on any kind of procedural change, as would be done by the introduction of these functional subcommittees, particularly in defence and foreign affairs, which would give the impression that there is a group of nine experts controlled by a larger Committee and that those nine experts receive a great deal of information from the Executive which other hon. Members may not receive, that they become specialists and that they therefore have superior wisdom in these matters when they report to the House. In that way we should be creating an illusion in the minds of the electorate that real control of foreign affairs or defence was possible in this way.
Let there be more efficiency but let everybody realise that the only effective control of the Executive lies in an increase in the number of independent-minded hon. Members who are devoted to the principles and philosophy of their party and who are not prepared to hand over judgment on every issue which the Executive propose to the House of Commons. There is no other way. It is the traditional way. It is the only way that can be effective in the future.
Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
This is one of those tiresome days when one has to be in three different places at the same time. I therefore start by apologising to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for having missed his opening speech. I have heard all that it has been humanly possible to hear in the debate, but inevitably I have had to miss quite a lot.
I dissent fundamentally from the criticisms made of the Report by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). While I go along with the hon. Member in saying that final power over the Executive must rest in the House of Commons, I should much prefer the exercise of that power to be based on well-informed knowledge gathered by others who have the time to gather it before that power is exercised, rather than see the use of the power threatened without a great deal of the information which such Committees as are here proposed will produce.
I support the Report, therefore, taking the view that the main thinking behind it is sound and, indeed, overdue. The creation of Specialist Committees alongside the excellent functioning of the Public Accounts Committee, which will continue, and alongside the somewhat changed features of the Estimates Committee, arose from a variety of motives and a variety of objectives which differ in different parts of the House. It is high time that there was some clarification of the situation, and I therefore very much welcome the general plan produced by the Report.
We must begin by examining a crucial feature of the Report which is the terms of reference to be given to the various Committees recommended and which it is claimed will help them to discharge their duties. Hon. Members who are familiar with the Report will appreciate the significance of the terms of reference in paragraph 35. I am somewhat puzzled because, according to sub-paragraph (a), each sub-committee will have to study expenditure projections, compare them with those of previous years, and report on any major variations and
on the progress made by the Departments towards clarifying their general objectives and priorities.
It is not clear what that means. Nor has any hon. Member attempted to make it clear. I therefore begin with some doubt as to whether it would not be desirable to rewrite the terms of reference.
Sub-paragraph (c) may be regarded as containing tasks traditionally carried out by Committees of this kind, for it says that the sub-committee
…should enquire, on the lines of the present Estimates Sub-Committees, into Departmental administration, including effectiveness of management.
I would like to see sub-paragraph (c) made the first task assigned to the subcommittees, with sub-paragraph (a) as the second, but I must enter a word of warning when considering projections and comparisons.
I have been the chairman of a subcommittee of the Estimates Committee for a number of years. A special assignment was allotted to us. We were to examine the Supplementary Estimates in the early part of the year and then we were to study the trends revealed by the Financial Secretary's report and compare them with previous years along with highlighting variations, and so on, not a very different task from that outlined in the terms of reference for the newly-proposed Committees.
When we began our assignment we had considerable enthusiasm for the task in hand. We started at a time when there was in the House a strong demand for effective control of the Executive on matters of expenditure. Every member of my Committee felt that he was performing a sensible task. However, we decided to give it up, partly because everything turned out in practice to be too vague. A trifling change in a percentage involved a great deal of money, but as it was only a trifling percentage it was difficult for us to get to grips with it; and probably the trends and projections which we examined sprang from policy decisions over which, as members of the Committee, we had no control and from such matters as the impact of inflation.
Because such matters were out of bounds for us in their origin, and because the growth factor arose as the result of inflation over which we had little if any control, we came to the conclusion that we could spend our time more usefully.
For this reason I enter a word of warning about sub-paragraph (a) in paragraph 35 of the Report. While I do not suggest that it should be scrapped we should bear in mind what has happened in the past.
Sub-paragraph (b) tells us that the task of each sub-committee will be to
…examine in as much detail as possible the implications in terms of public expenditure of the policy objectives chosen by Ministers and assess the success of the Departments in attaining them.
It is in this part of the terms of reference that many people fear that authority will be transferred from the Floor of the House to these bodies; and it is in this sphere that those who express these views -have the strongest case. I am not saying that their case is extremely strong; simply that it is a matter which must be carefully considered.
I do not believe that hon. Members fully appreciate the time it takes to do justice to the projects mentioned in subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c). Indeed, I do not believe that there will be time for these Committees properly to carry out the three tasks to be assigned to them in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c)—that is, unless they meet more frequently than it has been possible to persuade people to gather together hitherto.
Moreover, if there are to be selected specialist Committees as well, looking into this, that and the other aspects of public policy—something which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) might welcome—and if each is to be comprised of nine members, I question whether the tasks assigned to them are capable of being properly fulfilled; that is, without something or somebody suffering in the process. Nor do I consider the provision of adequate amenities—secretaries, and so on—will make all that much difference. It is the time that an hon. Member can make available to read the necessary documents and take part in discussions that is all-important. All the amenities in the world can not make all that much difference on that score. I fear that in view of the multiplicity of obligations which hon. Members have—they are greater today than they were years ago—it is a mistake to have nine members on each Committee.
We are told that a complement of five was considered, but that nine was decided as the best number. I suggest that neither five nor nine is right and that in discussing the matter the Select Committee missed the bus by not suggesting seven. I do not want more Committees, but I urge that we try to avoid back benchers being saddled with intolerable tasks as a result of the establishment of yet more and more Committees.
It is important that matters like defence and external affairs are not usurped from the point of view of the broad issues that are debated on the Floor of the House. It is in this connection that we should remember the application of our procedural rules. A rule can be worked one way so as utterly to wreck the life of Parliament. Worked another way, the same rule can make life here tolerable. If an Opposition wished to use all the opportunities which are technically available to them, they could practically bring the life of Parliament to a standstill. That is not done, because the Opposition of the day know that the reverse would happen to them when they found themselves in power. In any event, activities of that kind would not be tolerated for long by those outside the House. We can, therefore, rely on good sense to be displayed in the application of our rules and procedures.
I imagine that the Select Committee appreciated that the Estimates Committee has a general Committee comprised of all its members. I am, therefore, rather worried about the composition of the general sub-committee which it is proposed to establish to do its work. The Select Committee no doubt thought of having all nine members of each subcommittee on the general Committee, giving a total of 72 members. That would have been an intolerable size of Committee with the result that it was finally decided to have eight members from the sub-committees, one from each, plus some outsiders.
I do not believe that the system proposed will work in practice. One member of each sub-committee will have an intolerable burden of responsibility placed on him if he is to be the only representative of that sub-committee on the general sub-committee. We try to eliminate partisan aspects in these matters, but we are not always successful. It would have been safer and sounder in this case to have avoided a membership of 72, by having two representatives from each subcommittee, rather than one, on the general Committee. That would have enhanced the smooth running of the general Committee, because there could have been one representative from each side of each sub-committee with the result that the rulings and amendments which the general Committee is expected to make would have been more amicably accepted by all concerned.
It is said that these Committees are to perform vital work and that the system proposed would break down without importing some wise men from outside. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Donald Chapman) attempted to explain why, but I am not sure that the task is as formidable as he made out.
The general Committee will have to look at projections and at the general running of the sub-committees, present the necessary reports to the House and deal with Supplementary Estimates. To give the top-level Committee in this case responsibility for the Supplementary Estimates is, I believe, unsatisfactory. The study of Supplementary Estimates for which my Committee has been responsible for a number of years requires delving in considerable detail into the various aspects of the Estimates if the task is to be carried out with conviction and satisfactory reports made.
I am not sure that this counterpart of the present arrangement will prove a satisfactory body, although its numbers may be fewer. We would be wiser to suggest that when a Supplementary Estimate is produced, the routine work of the Committee concerned should be interrupted for 10 days—no longer because there will not be time; Parliament must pass the Estimate quickly—while the matter is examined and a report made. Indeed, a report may not be necessary. In many instances, it is possible to allow Supplementary Estimates to go through without a report. It is, therefore, safer to send Supplementary Estimates to the Committee which is familiar with the topic. In nine cases out of l0, nothing needs to be said about the Supplementary Estimate, although occasions arise when much needs to be said.
I have in mind a Supplementary Estimate which we received from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for £70 million resulting from the method of guaranteed prices getting out of hand. It is better for Estimates of this kind to go to a Committee which is familiar with the subject than for it to go to a Committee whose members, or certainly half of them, know nothing about it. This is why a fresh look should be taken at the work and composition of the general Committee.
There is a growing danger that too much will be placed on the proposed plan and too much will be expected to be done too soon. I feel that it is partly because too much is expected too soon that the fears that have been expressed are exaggerated. This will be a slow process and the added impact of policy on top of what the Estimates technique has hitherto been will slow it up. We will have to discover how far the party composition of the Committee can be preserved with a greater emphasis on policy, along with the ability to invite Ministers to be cross-examined, if they are willing. This will put an increasing strain on the all-party approach which we attempt to have towards these topics.
We must, therefore, be careful not to go too fast. If we accelerate too greatly a precious ingredient in the whole business of all-party affairs will be lost. My only other comment on the criticisms of the hon. Member for Penistone is that I am not in favour of back-seat driving.
Mr Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) to the extent that I should take a somewhat longer-term view than has been taken by some of my more optimistic hon. Friends. However, I strongly favour the Report, although I accept that a number of its plans will take a considerable time to develop.
I regret that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is not in his place because I intend to comment on one of his solutions to the problem of the number of Select Committees and the number of hon. Members who are required to serve on them. One of his solutions was to forgo the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee. I am sorry that that nonsense was not taken up immediately, because the hon. Member's solution was to give the scrutiny to the bodies which had an interest in the spending of money. I cannot think of a solution that is more opposed to our tradition of watching public expenditure carefully.
We all know that the reason why this question is coming before the House has been the realisation that when we talk about the power of the Executive, so much of that power lies in the control that it has of expenditure and the lack of detailed control, which even the Government do not have and which we are gravely doubtful whether they exercise. Thus, we have seen over the years a slipping away of this control out of the hands of the House of Commons and even, to a large extent, out of the hands of the Government. It is the great need to re-exercise this control of matters that is becoming increasingly important as the Government involve themselves more and more in the daily fabric of the industrial and commercial life of the nation.
If the House cannot do it, it will not be done at all. The argument should not be whether it is entirely satisfactory. The argument which we should be considering is that if we cannot do it here by means of the suggestions made by the Committee on Procedure, it will not be done at all. Therefore, if we decide that we as a House of Commons will not let slip from us the key controls of power, we must come to a decision about how we will exercise that kind of control.
There are those who, for one reason or another, do not find it entirely satisfactory. Many of us must have reservations on certain aspects. Nevertheless, it is essential that we provide closely argued alternatives if we are not to see the House of Commons wither because power is effectively removed from it. That is really what it is all about.
There was a time when one could make a long speech and, as a result, analyse the way in which the Government were carrying out their detailed policy and pinpoint every one of the major areas in which the Government were going wrong. Those days have long since passed, because no hon. Member any longer has that kind of knowledge. The real task, therefore, which a Member of Parliament has to perform is to get that knowledge.
The obtaining of that knowledge demands question and answer sessions. Question Time does not produce the opportunity. The one supplementary question which we are allowed to put is a pitiful way of discovering what the Government are doing, because every junior Minister on his second day at the Dispatch Box learns how to parry. What is needed is the question being put again and again until the answer is forced out. This is a technique which members of the Public Accounts Committee and of Select Committees of all kinds have learned, but it is not a technique which can be fitted into the working of the House.
What is essential is that if we are to get the information that is needed, if we are to control expenditure, we need to put our questions as often as is required to elicit the answers. Then, we can obtain that control and, perhaps—almost as important—make sure that Ministers also know that all too many of them do not at present know. This is one of the first things that has to be done if we are to fulfil our historic rôle as a body which controls expenditure.
The second point which I would like to make concerns the choices that the Government have to make from time to time. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) seems to have doubts about how this would increase the area of choice. At any particular time, a number of choices are available to the Government. We know that this comes very largely in the third, fourth and fifth years of a Government's life. Nevertheless, even in years one and two there are choices, because the Government are forced to take certain decisions of varying kinds as the economic situation either improves better than was expected or, perhaps, does not do as well as was expected. They thus have a choice as to whether a programme should be introduced a little earlier or delayed.
Our recent history has been of cuts rather than increases, but it is interesting to see the way in which those cuts were made. I would select as the classic example the situation in January, 1968, following devaluation, when it was decided that to save certain sums of money the raising of the school-leaving age would be postponed and the Health Service charges would be increased.
Those were two major decisions. The particular one which annoyed me even more than the Health Service charges was that on education, because for various reasons I felt that the projects in question were a cheap method of introducing something which I considered to be very important. The cost involved was £30 million.
We had enormous arguments in the party here and in the country as a whole for the sake of saving £30 million. We know that within a few months we were passing Supplementary Estimates for hundreds of millions of pounds. That was an indication of the way the whole thing had become out of control. We were straining at the crucial £30 million out of tens of thousands of millions of pounds and finally having to accept Supplementary Estimates.
This is happening all the time. As we go on, the choices between various kinds of expenditure are narrowing year by year. The task of this House and of the Select Committee which, I hope, will eventually emerge must be to widen that choice, to show us that there are other alternatives and that it is not simply a question of going round the Cabinet and saying "How much will you lop off?" The whole thing needs to be reopened so that we can at any one time say that it is not a question of lopping off, that more should be spent here and less there. There should be a way whereby all these things can be compared with each other.
I agree, of course, with the hon. Member for Aylesbury that this is not something that we can seek straightaway, but it is something towards which we should be working. Although we cannot have the whole range of choice open to us at any one time, we can widen the area of choice, which at present is narrowing dangerously. That must be one of our main tasks in this respect.
The Report mentions the circle of control of public expenditure. It starts with the need to discuss the policy—and this includes the area of choice—so that we can decide for ourselves what things we want more of and what we can do with less of; secondly, examine the means of implementing this policy; and finally, scrutinise the way in which it is carried out. As a member of the Fulton Committee I certainly endorse this by means of objective and accountable management, by making sure that there is one group of people, one person even, who is accountable for carrying a project through. This, again, is related to output budgeting so that we can ascertain how much a project costs and decide again what we can do and where we can make our decisions.
I am reminded of an aspect of this because I was very much concerned four years ago with the cost of our east of Suez rôle. One had great difficulty in trying to ascertain how much it was costing us. When I came into the House five years ago, one of the earliest Questions I put down was to try to discover the cost of our east of Suez rôle. I put down an innocent Question. It was only after months of patient endeavour that I realised the difficulty of finding out how much it cost, because the Defence Department did not work that way. It worked on the theory that if there was a British interest it had to be supported by men and arms; the cost was something that came in later when the cheques were signed for the various bills.
One of the tasks which the Ministry of Defence did successfully was to introduce attributions in showing the cost of our east of Suez presence. By means of question and answer, one was able to tot up the various bills as they came in and ascertained the enormous cost that our foreign policy was placing upon us as a burden. The old method of staff, buildings and equipment being costed out instead of discussing the kind of policy which the Government were carrying out and its cost was a major burden to us in understanding the kind of post-imperial rôle that Britain had to play.
I would like, finally, to deal with the question of getting Members to serve on these Committees and getting the staff and the rooms. I accept the point that if there is a real job to be done, there should be no difficulty in meeting those requirements. The size of Committees is still far too large. I see no reason why the number of Members on Committees should not be reduced to the number of those who will, in fact, attend —because, fotrunately, there is a factor in favour of small committees. The smaller the Committee, the more useful it is for Members serving on it, the greater the influence they have and the greater the interest they feel. Therefore, if we were to reduce the numbers from 10 to five, or even less, we would not have much difficulty in finding Members willing and anxious to serve on a Committee to which they could devote their time effectively.
As a member of a Select Committee, I know that one has frequently to wait for half an hour for one's turn to put a question. This causes frustration. There is no shortage of Members of the House of Commons. We have 630 of them to serve on these Committees. There is, therefore, no problem of numbers. Our need is to make use of them properly. It is no use trying to use them properly when we have Standing Committees with 15 loquacious Members talking to 20 silent Members. This is an utter waste of our manpower. We need to reduce the size of these Committees and increase their effectiveness.
I am happy to give a great deal of support to the excellent work of the Select Committee on Procedure. In terms of the blueprint for the kinds of subcommittees that it suggests I think that this is going too far at present. However, the broad outline which the Select Committee has disclosed, is, I think, absolutely right and should be supported.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Surely the biggest problem, as every hon. Member who has spoken has underlined, is that the House of Commons has to combat the overwhelming power of government, irrespective of party. The Government Front Bench has all the cards stacked on its side. For the ordinary Member to be able to influence, or frequently to obtain information from, the Government becomes more and more difficult. Indeed, the power of the Executive is immense and is increasing. It has got to be diminished. It must be diminished if Parliament and Members of Parliament are to be able to sustain the position which Parliament has always had historically. I therefore welcome the Report and congratulate most fully the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), who was the Committee's Chairman.
The Report is probably the most concise presentation of Governmental financial procedures we have had to date, certainly in one volume. It is therefore of immense use, academically or politically, to anyone who wants to get to know how the financial workings of Government are activated. It is also one of the most concise and excellent presentations of the existing planning, programming and budgetary systems. I only hope that some people outside the House —in industry, management, the trade unions, and the like—will look at some of the papers that were presented to the Committee, because these are immensely useful documents which should have much greater publicity than they will get as appendices.
I was somewhat surprised to find the Chairman of the Committee so intent on arguing that the recommendations were not entirely new; that they were not novel procedure. He seemed intent logically to suggest that the revamping of the Estimates Committee was the Conservative evolution of the present structure. My only criticism is that the Report was, perhaps, not radical enough, and did not go far enough in examining more ways in which back benchers could attempt to get information from the Government and examine specifically the activities of Ministers and Government as a whole in the furthering of their policy decisions.
The House must realise that it will be difficult for any structure of back benchers to impress on the Government the evolution that the Committee's recommendations suggest, because it is a vested interest of Government to be able to protect themselves and their powers in relation both to information and policy. I only hope that the Report will have done something in this respect—the speech of the Leader of the House obviously indicated a willingness to accept change in this direction, although we had no specific undertaking when the Committee's structure recommendation would be accepted. I only ask the Treasury Bench to discover how soon in the next Session of Parliament we will be able to have some judgment and decision by Government. Unless we get that fairly early in the next Session, the recommendation will be lost in the working of the House for at least another year. I urge that something be done, even if only in a small way, as soon as possible.
The problem facing the Chairman of the Committee was indicated when the Chief Secretary asked him how far he saw this matter altering from functional investigation to policy investigation. These are the two phases of the Report and I want to refer to each of them.
It is essential that we should be able to obtain a Committee structure which will enable us to scrutinise in depth, in a rolling forecast, not only past and present expenditure but, particularly, future expenditure and the way in which it is being planned because of Government policy.
There is also the need for these Committees to be able to carry out more ably cost effectiveness studies of policy which is the responsibility of more than one Department. A prime example is the problem of expenditure in the development areas. We have had a number of policies. We have had sums of money granted from the Board of Trade for development. We have had taxation, with a special rebate on S.E.T. in these areas. We have had expenditure on the infrastructure, particularly roads, to make up a policy of assistance.
At no time has there been any cost effectiveness study to discover which type of expenditure gave the best return to those areas: was it purely infrastructure expenditure or purely grants for industry? Never has the historical capital or the growth capital that might exist in housing and schools been taken into consideration, but cost effectiveness analysis is necessary in order to know how these very large sums of money should be spent in order to get the highest return. It is essential that the House and the Government should have this information, and if these Committees could help in that way it would be a major step forward.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) told us not to imagine that government is the same as business, and I agree with him. No one in business has suggested that modern management techniques can make decisions. The errors crop up when people believe that that can be done. The decision must still be made by management or by individuals.
The techniques are useful aids in trying to make the right decision and in getting the proper basis of information so that one is not flying the aeroplane entirely in the dark by the seat of one's pants in the most old-fashioned way possible.
That is why it is essential that Parliament should be able to conduct much more detailed inquiry into Government expenditure than is at present possible. For instance, I have for some time been trying to find out how much public money the Government are spending on research projects in management and management techniques. I have been to the Treasury and to the Department of Education and Science. Finally, I have the answer that the Government do not know, and that it would cost £72 to find out. I have a good mind to offer the Chief Secretary a cheque for £72 now in order to get the information. Something must be very wrong when a Member of Parliament cannot find out how much the public is spending on research into management techniques. This is the sort of thing that makes this place an anomaly, and lowers its prestige in the eyes of many people outside.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
I turn from the problem of scrutiny of expenditure to that of scrutiny of policy. Here difficulty arose in an interchange between the hon. Member for Northfield and the Chief Secretary. What worried the Chief Secretary was the question of when Committees could begin inquiring into policy, why policy decisions had been made, how they had been made, and on what facts they had been made.
I understand this worry. It is an historic worry. It is a worry that Governments have always had. However, it is old fashioned and it must be overcome. The House has a right to know why and how policy decisions are made. Only when the House is able to do this will there be a chance that policy decisions which go wrong can be corrected.
There is a great deal of difference between being able to inquire into the policy structure in the domestic Departments and being able to do so in foreign Departments. On the last two recommendations in paragraph 33—defence and external affairs—questions of security and the whole matter of our relations with foreign Governments involve secrecy and may obviously have to be protected from the deepest inquiry which I submit should be open and above board in regard to domestic Departments.
Many Members know from their experience—if not in government, at any rate from fagging as P.P.S.s—that, to a certain extent, decisions on expenditure do not depend on the amount of information which may be placed at the disposal of the Cabinet when making a decision. They depend on how strong the Minister concerned is in arguing his case in Cabinet. A strong Minister will get more of his way than some less able or less extrovert Ministers. Therefore, there should be close examination by a House of Commons Committee into the background and basis upon which policy decisions have been made and this will help Governments to make better decisions and evolve better policies.
There is the problem of the political decision and the social decision. Nobody should be afraid to account why a social decision has been made. Why should a Government be afraid to tell this? Why should they be afraid of accounting why a political decision was made? Perhaps this is new thinking, but it is a question which back benchers have a right to ask. If the Government do not wish to concede this, they must advance a stronger case than I have seen reasoned in the evidence given to the Select Committee or propounded from the Government Front Bench.
My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford pointed to the alteration which the investigation would bring in allowing the Civil Service to be cress-examined on matters of policy, as opposed to the Minister. In giving evidence to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, the chairmen of nationalised industries have argued policy points against Ministers; but this has in no way detracted from the position of the Minister I admit that this is not an exact parallel, but it shows how people operating under the same Ministry can be cross-examined and come up with varying answers and reasons. This does not detract from the Minister, nor from the Civil Service, nor from the nationalised industries. The argument that if this were to happen it would undermine the structure of the Civil Service is not valid. In any case, the structure of the Civil Service is changing.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Edmonton that these Committees should sit in private. The power of these committees will be shown by the ability of the Press and of the lines of communication to show what they are doing. Obviously, they will have to go into camera on occasion, but they must be able to make public as soon as possible what they are doing and how they are doing it.
If they are to work efficiently, the staffing of these committees must be strengthened. In this I go further than the Chairman of the Committee. Unlike the hon. Member for Edmonton, I do not believe that the staff have to be servants of the House. Although it is desirable that the Committee's Clerk should be a servant of the House, I do not believe that the Clerk has to do all the research work, all the preparation, and all the work that the Clerks have to do for these Committees at the moment. In many instances they are not prepared for it. They are being dropped in at the deep end on a new subject. They have to read it up and gather whatever information they can to assist the committee.
The Committee should be able to have its own budget and go out and get experts in the subject it is dealing with and hire them as consultants, if necessary, for a short time before turning to other subjects. The Treasury will argue that this will cost money, but this is the work of Parliament. If we cannot have a little of the £7,000 million which is being spent in the public sector properly to staff a thorough investigation into the working of the Executive, we are in a very parlous state and the Executive is showing scant regard for the working of Parliament generally.
I hope that this scheme can be implemented quickly and effectively. It need not be done in one fell swoop. I do not think that it will necessarily produce massive results immediately. I believe that Members of Parliament would be willing to serve on these Committees, even with all their other duties, particularly if the Committees had proper powers and were properly staffed. Some Members would dedicate much of their Parliamentary life to working specifically on these Committees.
How can it be suggested that the only way in which we can influence Governments is by threatening to overthrow them? How many times does that happen in a year? That is the most pseudo, and one of the most conservative reactionary arguments, that I have heard, and I would not have expected to hear it from the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). The thought of tears rolling down his face and the suggestion that we could influence policy by threatening the overthrow of the Government was more than I could stomach.
This is a new method of examining and challenging the power of the Executive and provides a major new working structure for the House. No one has admitted in this debate that the regard in which Members of Parliament are held in the country has greatly decreased in the last 30 years. The reason for that is that most people do not believe that we can influence anything other than in the most minimal way. If we give hon. Members a job to do in examining and questioning the Executive, there will be a resuscitation in the reputation of Parliament and in the desire of people of ability to become Members.
Mr Brian Parkyn (Bedford)
I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in the debate, which is as fundamental a debate as we could have. We are dealing with the stuff of democracy itself. I sincerely agree with the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) about holding as many meetings and hearings in public as possible. There are times when they must be held in camera—for example, when matters of security and matters sensitive to industry are discussed—but as much public and open discussion and questioning as possible should take place.
I should like to take up the interesting and outstanding speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), which perhaps was heard with some surprise. The Committee of Procedure, in considering the control of Government expenditure, failed to get to grips with some of the more fundamental aspects of what accountability is about, particularly when it concerns science and technology.
At its simplest, the democratic process is government by the people; it is community control. Except in all but the simplest units, such as the family unit, there cannot be general participation in decision making. In an increasingly complex society, even participation in decision making by representatives is not possible and government must be delegated to professionals. If democracy, rather than an oligarchy or technocracy, is to be maintained, the Government must be accountable for their actions, through the representatives, to the people. But accountability, is a process whereby the Government, the Executive, make decisions which lead to the kind of society desired by the people.
I am not sure that the Fulton definition of accountability goes far enough. Accountability involve two factors: first, knowing or deciding what kind of society is desired by the people; and, secondly, checking that the actions of the Government are likely to lead to it. We spend too much time considering the second and not sufficient time considering the first. There is no point in trying to check the Government's actions if we are not sure what those actions are supposed to lead to.
The traditional way of controlling the Government is by Parliament controlling the money supplied to the Government and ensuring that it is wisely used. This is excellent as far as it goes, and especially if the end product resulting from the expenditure of the money can be clearly defined. I am, therefore, glad to see the proposal in paragraph 22 of the Report to encourage the use of output budgeting. While I believe sincerely that this is a bad Report, this aspect of it redeems it, because if we turn our thinking more towards output budgeting we are beginning to get on the right lines towards real accountability. From this point onwards, I have little sympathy with the proposals in the Report.
My whole argument rests in the wrong assumption, as I see it, made by the Committee that financial control and management control are the beginning and end of coping with the democratic problem of accountability. A Government has three principal tasks, all deeply interrelated with each other: the economic, the social and the technical. The same is true in business. Every board of directors should be concerned with these three tasks. Just as we can have a financial audit, so we can have a social audit and a technical audit. If a board of directors concerned itself exclusively with the economic tasks, the company would suffer and finally go bankrupt.
It may well be that we need a better form of financial control over the Executive. I am sure that a great deal can be done to improve the Estimates Committee, if this is the way in which it is to be done. Much more could be done by leaving a great deal of the control work to professionals and by perhaps increasing and strengthening the Comptroller and Auditor General's Department. Members of Parliament are amateurs and should be amateurs, and I am not sure that we are used in the right way if we become too professional in our attitude to the problem of financial control, which is highly sophisticated. Nevertheless, there must be some control which I believe could be better achieved professionally outside the House.
To suggest that the Select Committee on Science and Technology—and here I completely concur with the hon. Member for Orpington—which was the first of the truly specialist Committees, should be submerged in a polyfunctional Committee means that the Committee on Procedure has failed to understand the unique and revolutionary purpose of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) say that the recommendations in the Report did not necessarily mean that the specialist Committees should be ended but that they could still continue side by side with this new form of polyfunctional Estimates Committee. However, it is extraordinary, when a great deal is said about the future, or lack of future, of the specialist Committees that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, did not give evidence to the Committee on Procedure. It was very remiss of the Committee to arrive at such far-reaching conclusions without having taken evidence from him and, indeed, all the chairmen of Select Committees. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say that he would discuss with all chairmen of Select Committees their views on this matter.
In the inquiry of the Select Committee on Science and Technology into nuclear power, defence research or carbon fibres, we did not take random subjects, as seemed to be suggested by hon. Members today and, indeed, in the Report of the Committee on Procedure, which we thought might be interesting or would create a little publicity. We looked carefully at certain important areas of technology involving the use of a large number of qualified scientists and engineers and a vast amount of the nation's resources provided by the Government or by industry to see whether those resources were being used in the interests of the nation. That is what we were trying to do, and it is what we have done. If hon. Members look at the reports of the Committee, of which there have been many, they will understand what we are trying to do.
In each case we made certain positive recommendations concerning over-all technical policy. We tried to do a technical audit. This has never before been done in this country, and informed scientific opinion in Government and industry was delighted that at last science and technology would be taken seriously by the House. But, from reading this Report, it seems that science and technology are no better understood now than they were five or 10 years ago.
There is a desperately urgent need to study the hitherto unappreciated aspect of the science and technology impact in its general sociological and psychological effect upon the community. This cannot be and never will be, capable of financial or quantitative analysis.
There is the need to probe into matters which are not yet the subject of Government policy, such as developments in the biological sciences. There is growing awareness of the importance of the quality of life rather than efficiency and overabundance of material things. If Parliamentarians do not think about these problems, who will? What is the purpose of the form of community control which we call democracy?
The whole emphasis of this Report is on financial control. Of course, there must be financial control, there is no argument about that. I am sure that we can have better control, but this must never be the only control which exists, otherwise we shall no longer be here as representatives of the people, helping to formulate over-all policy, making decisions and getting our priorities right.
It is for this reason that I believe we must continue some of the specialist Committees, particularly those which are not restricted to a Department but to a subject, and particularly the Select Committee on Science and Technology, not because I am a member of it or because the hon. Member for Orpington or my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central are members, but because this is essential. We are living in a technological age, at a time when we cannot look at any decision made by a Government Department without seeing it in relation to science and technology.
Science and technology is not a department; it is like finance. It permeates all Departments and it is what we must see in this House if we are to bring ourselves up to date. I believe that the House and the nation will come to realise that this type of specialist Committee can make a unique contribution in an area just as important as control over quantifiable financial budgets and deviations from those budgets.
Mr Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
May I thank the two Front Benchers for remaining in their seats; at least there will be someone to listen to my brief contribution. This debate has been one of the most fascinating that I have heard for a long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn) said, we are dealing with the fundamental question of government. We have perhaps strayed a little from the reports from time to time, but the whole essence of the argument has been control over the Executive, and I wonder whether this is being dealt with in the right way.
When I first came to the House I was, rather rashly, put on the Select Committee on Procedure, although I did not know very much about the procedure of the House of Commons. I came with preconceived ideas. All who enter the House are determined about how the House of Commons should be changed before they even get here. I was much influenced by a book written by Fred Jowitt who, during his years in the House, thought that the way in which to improve control over the Executive was to adopt what was in essence the local government system; that is to say, that the House should be divided into Committees, policy should be decided by those Committees and, from time to time, the whole House should meet together in caucus to agree or disagree the decisions taken in the Committees. This would be the end of Cabinet Government.
I was much influenced by this thinking. In my first rush of enthusiasm, I thought that the extension of specialist Committees might lead eventually to such a system. I was sadly wrong and, looking back, I am not sure that this is the way in which to control the Executive. I do not know whether, in these modern times, the Executive can be controlled, or whether it is desirable to think of controlling the Executive in the way which has been suggested.
We must seek to exercise a measure of control over the Executive, but we must have a strong central Government to carry through the necessary decisions. We must concern ourselves with democracy and there must be a measure of control over the powers of the Executive, but we recognise that the Executive must have real power in its hands.
How do we, as Members of the House of Commons, exercise control over the Executive? The Report of the Select Committee on Procedure has called for the establishment of sub-committees in a new Committee on Expenditure—which is the Estimates Committee in disguise under another name—and it is suggested that in this way control can be exercised over the Executive. It is right that Members of Parliament should have in their hands as much information as possible. It is also right that they should have the opportunity to probe Ministers and civil servants and to examine in committee specialists and experts. In this way hon. Members become better informed in debate and more competent in their relationship with the Executive.
I am in favour of the establishment of some sub-committees within limits, provided that the power of this House is not diminished. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) spoke about experience in the United States, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) said that Congressional committees of three members possessed immense power. I do not want to see Committees of this House with three, nine or 20 members having immense power since it would have a serious effect on democratic control within the country. I do not go as far as some of my hon. Friends as to their powers. On the other hand, we should not reject altogether the concept of Committees.
I have a suggestion to make about how we should exercise control over the Executive. In fact, it is not my suggestion, but was contained in a book written by one of my right hon. Friends, called "Party Games". Although I did not agree with a great deal of what was said in that book, I agree with the suggestion that there should be fixed elections. If such a system were instituted, the power of back benchers in this House immediately would increase fivehundredfold. Every piece of legislation brought before the House would pass only if it were backed with the conviction of the majority of hon. Members that it was essential, and would not be subject to the will of the party Whips.
It might be suggested that if a piece of legislation were thrown out, it would mean an automatic election. I do not know whether my right hon. Friends would have resigned had they been defeated on the Motion on animal welfare which was before the House yesterday evening. Constitutionally probably a good argument could be put that if the Government had been defeated they should have resigned, which would be ludicrous. Much legislation in the history of the House would not have gone through except under a system of whipping. Perhaps we ought to look at the exercise of control in a different way.
Sir Eric Fletcher (Islington East)
I am interested in the suggestion that there should be fixed elections. Is my hon.
Friend suggesting as a corollary that if a Government were defeated they should not resign but should go on for the full period of the fixed term of Parliament?
Mr Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
That is what I am suggesting. I am sure that one can remember legislation in which the Government could have been defeated because that particular legislation was unpopular but where back benchers did not exercise their real feelings only because of the party machine. I am not saying that there should be no party discipline. What I am saying is that there are other ways of considering the exercise of control over the Executive.
We had a very interesting exchange about whether these Committees would be concerned in detail with expenditure projections and whether they would also be concerned with policy. Paragraph 35 (a), (b) and (c) lay down the threefold task of such a Committee, the second limb of which is:
It should examine in as much detail as possible the implications in terms of public expenditure of the policy objectives chosen by Ministers….
The preceding paragraph sets out the order of reference, which the Committee suggests should be:
To consider the activities of Departments of State….
From that, I would assume that the task of such a Committee would involve policy and that it would not be merely a question of the detailed expenditure which would be subject to scrutiny, and so on.
Are these Committees to be concerned with policy? Some doubt has been expressed. My right hon. Friend wanted to know from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) what the Committee was suggesting. Was it going as far as policy, or was it to be the scrutiny of expenditure? I want to know as well, because this is very important. If it means policy, to that extent I object to it strongly. Whether we like it or not, that would be going in the direction of the American system, and I do not want to see that happen.
Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
It is plain from paragraphs 34 and 35 that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) suggests that such a Committee should take the Government's existing policy as its data and start from that point. It would not evaluate any new policies which the Department concerned might possibly adopt in the future. That is the difference between the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and what the specialist Committees do already.
Mr Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The point is that it needs clarification. We should know precisely what we are asked to support when we discuss the matter in the House.
I want for a moment to look at how we affect the way in which political decisions are taken in matters of policy. I do not know whether Committees of this kind will affect policy decisions as such. Certainly they can scrutinise the projections which come forward. They can query the choices which are made and perhaps suggest alternatives. That might be said to be policy, but I do not think that it is.
There are four places in Parliament where policy is made. The essential place is in Cabinet. I am told that sometimes it is not the whole Cabinet but only part of it. However, essentially that is where policy is made. Another place where policy is made is in the various Departments. Obviously each Department with a Minister determines a certain measure of policy. Another important place where policy is made is the party meeting, though, in my opinion, not as often as it should be. Nevertheless, that is where policy can be influenced considerably. The fourth place, of course, is in this Chamber.
I do not believe that the setting up of a series of Committees will change the basic decision making which takes place in our present parliamentary system. It can influence it. It must be understood that it can only influence it. That is all that it can do. I have been disturbed when I have listened to a number of hon. Members. I get the impression that once we establish the subcommittees, they will determine policy. That is not true. It is a figment of the imagination to think that. That is what they would like to happen. That is called participation. Participation in what? I do not know what "participation" means. If it means participation in the sense of discussing something that has already been decided and trying to influence it slightly in another direction, that is all right. But it must be understood that that is the limit and that we cannot go further in that direction.
I have spoken longer than I intended. I conclude by referring to one matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) who I think made an extremely good speech. There have been some excellent speeches. I was getting worried earlier that if we had more speeches of that kind the House would be stampeded into accepting the Select Committee's recommendations without question. But we did not get that far.
I agree that we are being asked to do two things. First, to agree with the idea of a two-day debate on the proposed White Paper and, secondly, to consider the Service Estimates in a somewhat different way, although basically it does not seem to have changed very much. This is absolutely essential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that the test of the Government's sincerity—and I suppose that not everyone is entirely happy—would be whether they accepted completely the second part of the recommendations on the whole idea of the Committee structure. I do not think that that is necessarily so. We can have doubts. We can say that these proposals are going too far without being insincere in that view.
Certainly let us extend the number of specialist Committees where it is essential. Let us go along with part of these proposals, but let us be very careful that we are not opening the door until eventually we have an American-type system where our basic democratic way of exercising control and influence in the Executive is so diminished that we would not recognise our democratic system. I am all for change, but it does not necessarily follow that every change is good, and we should not always think that the shadow is the substance.
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has just made an interesting and penetrating speech. He has indicated, if it were necessary, which it is not, that he and all who preceded
him appreciated how valuable and essential it is on major matters of this kind to have a full and free-ranging debate in the House of Commons because the Chamber somehow produces the kind of background where speeches of this kind can be made.
Having listened to all the speeches, with minor exceptions—and I have had the substance of those conveyed to me—although the House has not been full all the time, nobody could suggest that this was not a most worth-while topic which has been discussed in a serious and helpful way. I am grateful to all who have participated in the debate. In particular, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and his Committee and to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for all the work that they have done and for the speeches that they have made.
I should like to start by referring shortly to those matters on which apparently there is complete agreement on all sides of the House. First, the essence of the proposals put forward in the Green Paper which the Committee examined and broadly endorsed. Those proposals were preceded by a foreword, stating:
This Paper deals with certain aspects of the relationship between the Executive and Parliament in the field of public expenditure.
It seemed to me that the essence of those proposals was a sharing—voluntarily suggested by the Government. I add this only because the Committee itself was good enough to pick out a suggestion that I was bold enough to make four or five years ago and which, being that kind of suggestion, naturally took some time to be digested and understood and au courant with public opinion, instead of being either in advance of it or behind it.
I am sure that nobody doubts the sincerity of the Government, or my sincerity, in bringing forward proposals which the Committee has been good enough to endorse, aimed at meeting a serious gap, namely, a sharing by Parliament and, therefore, by our people, in the decision-making process on matters affecting the shape of things to come. I cannot agree more with those who have said that our control processes—the processes by which we have controlled the expenditure of cash and reinforced the authority of Parliament to reduce Supply without question—have worked well and should continue to work.
They are needed. I need them. I, who spend not the 7 billion to which the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) referred but 17 billion of other people's money, would not sleep at night if I did not have all the protections provided by the accounting officers and civil servants, and the complete and utter integrity of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee.
These are huge sums, and they are public money, and their use needs to be most carefully vetted in all respects. Those processes have been satisfactory in the past and I am sure that nothing in the proposals which I made to the Committee, and which the Committee has put into its Report, would detract from the authority of the House or anybody to participate in these control processes.
But it seemed that there was a major gap in the process of bringing public opinion with us, in the sense of public expenditure—not cash votes—which affected our people to the extent, broadly, that one half of what everybody earned was being spent for him. Surely the people had a right, within the limits that that was being done, to say how they would like it spent. It seemed to me that for practical purposes there was very little opportunity for the House to exercise its views or for the people, through their Members of Parliament, to exercise their views, for the simple reason that as a result of our long tradition we had been producing documents showing what was to take place unalterably in the near future.
How much help to anybody is that? None at all. It is a mockery to put before Parliament a document, and to say, "Let me have your views on this document. I cannot alter it, whatever your views are."
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
With respect, 2½ per cent. for the immediate year is a gross over-statement, unless we are going to incur a lot of waste. We can stop
expenditure in mid-stream if it is said, for example, with regard to a hospital on which a roof is about to be placed, "Leave it without the roof." We can do that, but I do not suppose that anyone would recommend it as a sensible way of proceeding. So I am sure that we all share the view that this is a sensible and important development in the process of sharing the authority of decision-making. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Parkyn) said that what we are discussing is the stuff of democracy, and I am grateful to him. That is exactly what I and the Leader of the House intended to deal with and I am grateful that it is regarded in that way.
As to the scope of the proposals upon which we are all agreed, I have made it clear that it is not our intention, or that of the Committee, that there should be any reduction in financial control and the control of the cash payments as such. I only add that to make it clear to anyone who has not participated in the debate, so that, when we come to the Vote on Account procedure, he is not anxious that we are withdrawing any of the powers of the House. The Vote on Account is only a payment on account which covers a period until the money can be authorised, and the payments in respect of which a Vote on Account is authorised have to be covered in full as ordinary Supply Votes. So there is no question of withdrawing the power of the House to authorise Supply or control the payment.
Nor are the proposals directed towards—here I address myself to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand)—encouraging a second major debate on the economy on the occasion of each White Paper affecting public expenditure. The House has made its arrangements for a debate on the economy. It may have a special debate, but I am referring only to the annual debate, the four-day debate on the Budget, which is the proper occasion for considering all economic aspects.
It is not our intention that the White Paper, which will be published, if possible, in November—it looks more like December now, but that is a minor point—and which, I gather from my right hon. Friend, will receive a full debate over two days, should be the occasion of an economic debate. On the contrary, I am inviting the House to concentrate on public expenditure. Of course, public expenditure is meaningless unless set in its appropriate context, which is the Government's responsibility, but that is quite different from the matters concerned in a full debate on the economy.
I therefore say to my hon. Friend who invited me to reconsider this matter that I have refreshed my memory of my evidence to the Committee. I hope that he will not think me unduly immovable if I say that that evidence, on the whole, was what I then thought and still think. If my hon. Friend invites me to reconsider the matter, I will immediately undertake to do so, although I do not hold out much hope that I shall be able to persuade myself that I was previously wrong.
Mr David Marquand (Ashfield)
I just wanted to clear up one possible confusion. I certainly did not mean to imply that the debate on the White Paper should turn into a debate on the economy, and that is not implicit in the Report either, I think. I was trying to find out the Government's view about the suggestion in the Report that consideration should be given to giving an economic assessment for years four or five as a background for the debate on public expenditure, which will, of course, not be a debate on the economy as a whole.
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
I understand that, and that is why I refer to my evidence to the Committee, because this specific question was put to me. More than one question related to it, and I gave my answer then, and, having refreshed my memory, I can say that the words are what I then believed and still believe—namely, that one cannot produce an economic forecast which one does not have and that one should not try to pretend that one can give credible figures by putting them in black and white. People will give credibility to figures to which that credibility ought not to be attached. My hon. Friend has asked me to reconsider the matter, and I will certainly do so. I am glad that we are at one in saying that the intention of the document is not to provide the occasion of an additional deep economic debate.
There is no need for me to go over the details of what is proposed, for they have met with general approval. But I hope that nobody will be misled by the proposals of a division into the first three years and then the last two years into thinking that the power of the House is thereby to be diminished in any way. I ask the House to realise that this debate will not take place once and for all. It will take place year after year. I invite the House to consider the circumstances of the debate in five years' time when years one, two, three and four have passed. Each time that there is a discussion one will be wise to concentrate on that area in which the discussion can be effective. That is the purpose.
For example, it might be that in respect of years four and five the Government can be—I do not say will be—persuaded. It will be up to hon. Members to make their arguments. Year four in one year's debate becomes year three in the next year's debate and year two in the following year's debate. It would be wrong, therefore, to say that the House has no authority with respect to year two. That might be true when one is considering it as year two, but two years earlier one had the opportunity. One must consider it in that way because it is only by going far enough ahead that effect can be given to the views of hon. Members. I cannot underline that sufficiently. By producing a document covering five years we are giving hon. Members the fullest practicable opportunity to influence the shape of things to come, having regard to the way in which we run our affairs and to the physical facts of the situation.
It is essential that the necessary information should be given so that a meaning ful discussion may take place. May I spend a moment or two on that. It is clear that some hon. Members feel that the House would be well served if in advance of that debate there were examination and analysis of the figures by other bodies so as to assist the House. That is one way of looking at it and I do not know whether that was in the minds of all my hon. Friends in their speeches. It is possible to arrange for the figures to be given with such a wealth of detail in respect of output budgetting and everything else that it is doubtful whether anybody could seriously encompass them on his own and unaided.
My task is not to befog the issue, but to give information about the five years' figures so to enable an hon. Member, with his intelligence, common sense and normal experience, to use his judgment and contribute to a debate on the general shape of the things to come. That is the position as I see it and it would not be serving the purpose of the House if the information were over-detailed. I am not going further than that.
I recognise that many of my hon. Friends want the information to be given in its most productive form. So do I, and there is no dispute about advancing as fast as we possibly can towards new management and accountability techniques and so on. I could give the House a list of the Departments in which these matters have already been taken a stage or are being taken a stage further towards this end. We are at one on this issue. As management techniques and techniques of control and understanding grow, so it up to the Government to encourage their use and, above all, to set the pace for those outside Government, and to enable hon. Members to understand the figures that are being put before them.
I have said enough to show that I do not believe that there will be any difference between us on these matters. Anybody who knows anything about this sphere knows that we cannot achieve anything overnight. These things take time.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I do not wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman to bore the House by listing all the management techniques which are adopted in all the Departments to which he referred. Frequently, there is criticism of the Government for not applying these techniques. Would the right hon. Gentleman find a way of publishing this information, perhaps in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because that would be useful to counter the criticism which one frequently hears about the Government not applying some of the more modern concepts which, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, they are trying to apply and which, I appreciate, are often more profitably applied than they are in some sections of local government and even in industry?
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
I am grateful for those remarks. I will see if such an opportunity can be taken. My standard is not that we should merely keep up-to-date with others. We have a respon- sibility, in appropriate spheres, to lead the way. We are trying to give effect to that view, which we hold strongly. Indeed, I am grateful to all those in the various Departments for the work that they have done in this connection and I do not believe that any problem arises over management techniques or techniques of control, accountability or units of accountability. The problem lies in the committee structure of Part III of the Report to give the maximum effect to the proposals in Part II.
Mr Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
As my right hon. Friend seems to be concluding his remarks about the amount of information to be given in the White Paper, may I ask him to say if the Government are proposing to accept paragraph 15, in which we suggest the strengthening of information to be provided for the benefit of the House, in a number of important respects? My right hon. Friend has disagreed with our views in connection with years four and five. There are, however, some interesting suggestions for strengthening the information to be given, while in another paragraph it is suggested that the whole matter should have sufficient narrative that no prior consideration by a committee would be necessary.
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
It is my intention to try to meet the Committee on this point; in other words, that hon. Members should be able to obtain this one document, to read it and, using their own experience, intelligence and natural ability, to be able to form a judgment and contribute to a debate on the exercise of priorities within the sphere of public expenditure.
Having said that, however, I must point out that we will not get it right the first time. We do not intend to take the view that the first time is to be fixed for all time. We will look forward to helpful guidance from the House on various ways in which the information can be improved and the figures and statistics made more meaningful.
Some specific queries have been put to me, in particular by the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden). He asked a number of questions to which, broadly, the answer is in all cases, except one, an unconditional "Yes"—and in the last case the answer is a conditional "Yes". He asked me to confirm that there will be no curtailment of the debate on the Defence Estimates, having regard to back bench interests, and I can confirm that.
The right hon. Member asked whether it was intended—the answer in this case is, "It is"—that there should first be a main two-day debate, secondly, that there should be three separate days for the separate Services, one for each, which would be taken on Vote A in each case, so that there would be three Votes A, and whether there would be a "fourth" day—in effect, a sixth day, which is commonly known to us as the "fourth" day—and the answer in this case is also "Yes".
The right hon. Member then asked me to confirm that the opportunities of debating particular items without giving notice would, as before, be available to hon. Members. The answer is "Certainly, yes." It is the intention that there should be nine Votes, that the nine should be put down and that it should be open to all hon. Members to contribute to the debate. Thus, on all those questions I can give an unconditionally affirmative answer.
The right hon. Gentleman then questioned me about paragraph 12 of the Second Report, in which the Committee recommends
…that Vote 1… should be divided by Services and presented as three separate Votes….
The answer to that is "Yes". Paragraph 12 goes on to recommend
…that Tables giving information on the Estimates on a single-Service basis should be published in the Defence White Paper…
That will be done this coming year and, as far as it is reasonably possible and practicable, we will do it the following year. I wish to make it clear, however, having regard to the way in which the Services are organised—their co-ordination and integration—that such tables will be less and less significant and less and less meaningful, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will, in due course, recognise that and not press the matter beyond a reasonable point.
The right hon. Member for Harrogate further asked about the recommendation that
…Appendices giving information should be published with the Defence Estimates
and the answer to that query is "Yes".
I hope that I have answered all the questions put by the right hon. Member.
There have been a large number of interesting and varied speeches concerning the Committees. Although I have been pressed, not unduly, prior to this debate, in a friendly way, to say whether the Government had made up their mind on this issue, having regard to the debate it would have been most irresponsible and inconsiderate if I had attempted to persuade any of my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in making up their minds on this issue until we had heard this debate and considered its conclusions.
We have had many varied and interesting views, which one could not get in process of question and answer in Committee but could get only by a fully displayed argument by an hon. Member on his feet, when, as we all know, once he is on his feet, we can see what he is getting at no matter what words he uses.
My first conclusion on listening to the various speeches was that whereas I had previously thought that it would take time for the Government to reach a conclusion on these matters, I am driven to the answer that it will now take longer. I say that because the views which have been expressed are all valid, fully argued, logical and different. They cover the whole spectrum.
There is the view that we should have all Specialist Committees. There is the view that we should have no Specialist Committees. There is the view that we should have some Specialist Committees and the Estimates Committee reconstructed. There is a great variety of views and for all reasons. I can understand them all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) made a contribution. There are a great number of points to be taken into account. It would be wrong of any Government, after a verbal debate of this kind, not to give time—not too long, but to take the matter with reasonable dispatch, as we are doing—to enable careful thought to be given to all the different points of view which have been expressed.
Mr Arthur Palmer (Bristol Central)
Would not my right hon. Friend also agree that before the Government reach a conclusion, it would be wise to take into account the experience and views of existing Committees?
Mr Jack Diamond (Gloucester)
Of course. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council—no doubt, my hon. Friend was not able to be present—made it perfectly clear that he is in process of consulting the Chairmen of all the Committees. The views which have been expressed on behalf of the Committee on Science and Technology have been interesting and forceful. Nobody could fail to pay due regard to them. Nor could anyone fail to be impressed by the views which his Committee members have of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) and of his distinction. Therefore, there is a great deal to be discussed and it is bound to take some little time before we are able to put to the House proposals which, we hope, will meet with general support.
That is all I have to say, except to thank the Committee once more for the work it has done, to say how grateful I am that it felt able to support the first lot of proposals, to say how grateful I am that, I gather, there is no feeling in the House to oppose the proposals set out on the Order Paper and to say just one thing more.
Reference has been made to Mr. Schulze's book and his proposals. I was privileged fairly recently to attend the I.M.F., where I had an opportunity of discussing public expenditure control and management with a number of my opposite numbers, including the Americans. I hope that I will not be judged immodest when I say to the House that once we have adopted these proposals and got them fully working we will have a system of control and democratic participation in public expenditure which is second to none in the world.
That Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply) be amended as follows:
Line 69, at end insert', and, in respect of any vote on account for civil departments for the coming financial year as shall have been put down on at least one previous day for consideration on an allotted day, he shall then in like manner put the question, that the total amount of such vote outstanding be granted for those services'.
Line 74, leave out 'and all such defence votes' and insert 'for the Ministry of Defence'.
Line 101, leave out from 'put' to 'be' in line 105 and insert 'the question that the total amount of the estimates for the Ministry of Defence'.
Line 122, at end insert 'or, in the case of the estimates for the Ministry of Defence on each vote in those estimates'.