Orders of the Day — Procedure Rules. – in the House of Commons on 19th February 1919.
47.—(Constitution of Standing Committees.)
- (1) Four Standing Committees shall be appointed for the consideration of all Bills committed to them; and the procedure in such Committees shall be the same as in a Select Committee, unless the House shall otherwise order; provided that strangers shall be admitted, except when the Committee shall order them to withdraw; and the said Committee shall not sit, whilst the House is sitting, except in pursuance of a resolution of the Committee, moved by the Member in charge of the Bill before the Committee, and decided without Amendment or Debate, and shall not sit after 4 p.m. without the order of the House; provided also, that any notice of Amendment to any Clause in a Bill which may be committed to a Standing Committee, given by any hon. Member in the House, shall stand referred to such Committee; provided also, that Twenty be the Quorum of such Standing Committees.
- (2) One of the Standing Committees shall be appointed for the consideration of all public Bills relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a Standing Committee, and shall consist of all the Members representing Scottish constituencies, together with not more than fifteen other Members to be nominated in respect of any Bill by the Committee of Selection, who shall have regard in such nomination to the approximation of the balance of parties in the Committee to that in the Whole House, and shall have power from time to time to discharge, for non-attendance or at their own request, the Members so nominated by them and to appoint others in substitution for those discharged.
Amendment proposed: Leave out paragraph (1), and insert instead thereof the words,
Six Standing Committees shall be appointed for the consideration of Bills or other business referred to a Standing Committee, and the procedure in those Committees shall be the same as in a Select Committee unless the House otherwise order.
Standing Committees may sit during the Sitting, and notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House, but they shall not sit on any day over which the House is adjourned.
On a Division being called in the House, the Chairman of a Standing Committee shall suspend the proceedings in the Committee for such time as will, in his opinion, enable Members to vote in the Division.
Any Notice of Amendment to a Bill which has been committed to a Standing Committee shall stand referred to the Standing Committee.
The Quorum of a Standing Committee shall be Twenty.
Strangers shall be admitted to the Standing Committee except when the Committee shall order them to withdraw."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
I bog to propose, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the beginning to insert the words,
Business of the House,—That, in the present Session, the following provisions shall apply with respect to the Business of the House notwithstanding any Standing Order or Custom of the House.
I understand from you, Mr. Speaker, that this is the proper moment for me to raise the point that is in my Amendment. My object is to make the proposal of the Government valid, I hope, with subsequent Amendments. That is, for this Session to make it a Sessional Order instead of a permanent Standing Order. I venture very strongly to hope that my hon. Friend will be able to see his way to accept this provision. I think I am saying what is true when I say that if he does so he will certainly make it a great deal easier for a great many Members of this House to be guided by the Government in the somewhat drastic proposals which they have put forward. The arguments for making these proposals temporary instead of permanent, at any rate at first, are very strong ones. In the first place, this is a new House of Commons. The Debate last evening showed that among those hon. Members who have sat in previous Parliaments there is a very grave difference of opinion as to the advisability of certain portions of the Government's proposal. Therefore, if any of these disputed points should come to a Division, as they probably will, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not like to carry to a Division against hon. Members who have sat in previous Parliaments on a point of procedure, supported mainly by the votes of hon. Members who cannot have any personal experience in regard to the working out of procedure.
Secondly, nobody can really say what is going to be the actual effect of these proposals. I am not an old Parliamentary hand, but I have been told by those who are that the effect of procedure alterations very frequently has been exactly the contrary to what was originally anticipated. Therefore, in such a drastic scheme as this, we are bound in any case to be very much in the dark, particularly as so many Members of the House are entirely new to procedure questions. These reasons are by them selves sufficient to substantiate the proposal that I am now making. I think, however, there is a much stronger one—that is, the very important point which has also pertinently been put forward in regard to the Re-election of Ministers Bill which is before the House, and in regard to any constitutional change that we may at the present time be considering. Our Constitution is in a quite unparalleled and unprecedented position. The Government have announced that they are going in this Parliament, they hope, to propose some scheme for the creation of a new Second Chamber, and so endeavour to define the relationship that is going to exist between the two Houses. I venture to urge that our questions of procedure cannot be considered apart from the question of what our relationship with the Second Chamber is going to be. I, for one, strongly hope that the Government will lose, no time in bringing forward, presumably in another place, their proposals in regard to the Second Chamber. I regard the present state of our Constitution as entirely anomalous and very dangerous indeed. So long as we have no Second Chamber, and so long as the Parliament Act—
The Noble Lord is not now entitled to discuss that matter.
I will not discuss it any more, Mr. Speaker; I only say that in view of the circumstances which I have mentioned, I do not think it is possible, or right, for us to settle the procedure of this House permanently. So long as this state of flux continues our procedure arrangements must necessarily be provisional. I would say to the Government that until they have cleared up that question they will find a great many Members of the House of Commons who are unwilling to commit themselves to permanent alterations of our procedure. Safeguards which we now possess we can ill afford to part with if there are going to be no safeguards in regard to another Chamber. Therefore I propose that the arrangements we are now making should only have effect for this Session, and at the beginning of next Session, when this House will have had experience of their working, and when hon. Members will have been able to see what really their direct effect is, and when the relations between us will have been more clearly defined, we shall then be in a position to make these proposals permanent, if necessary. If my right hon. Friend insists upon asking us to make permanent these alterations in our procedure now, it would be necessary for a great many hon. Members to insist upon safeguards which would not perhaps be necessary if these proposals were merely, of a temporary nature. For that reason I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to agree to these proposals being inserted as a Sessional Order and not as Standing Orders, and, if he does so, I think our proceedings on this question will be enormously expedited.
I rise to support as strongly as I can the proposal made by my Noble Friend, and I hope the Leader of the House may see his way to accept his proposal. I am sure in every quarter of the House there is a most sincere desire to help the Government to get on with the vital business that lies before us. Listening to the Debate yesterday I am sure that is a very sincere desire, and the Government have no reason to complain of criticism in regard to these proposals. It is clear that these proposals are in many respects very revolutionary, and to a largo extent experimental, and it is certainly right that the new Members of this. House should not, even if they vote for these proposals, commit themselves to any finality of view in regard to them, and they should have another opportunity at the beginning of next Session to reconsider, if they so desire, the action they have taken on this occasion. Apart from new Members, I think the whole House should have an opportunity of reconsidering these proposals at the beginning of next Session in the light of the experience we may gain of their working during the present Session.
We all agree that every alteration of Standing Orders must of necessity limit the privileges of Members, and at the same time it must be conceded, I think, as a principle, that the great value that the country derives from an examination of Bills is that when they leave this House they should, as far as possible, represent the collective experience and intelligence of hon. Members of this House. We have to see to what extent that can be assured while at the same time endeavouring to expedite the manner in which Bills can proceed through the House. In a sense, not only will the House itself but also the Government be on trial, because it largely depends upon the attitude of the Government in working these Standing Orders whether really a serious attempt will be made on every possible occasion to ascertain the collective opinion of the House. If hon. Members are precluded from suggesting and discussing Amendments, then, to a certain extent, the Bills are likely to be the poorer from that lack of attention. We all know that Governments are very apt to be over-fond of their own children, but it is not only the Government we have to consider. New Members may not know that the Ministers on the Front Bench who make such a brave show at Question Time, and appear such very formidable persons, are not always really so formidable as they appear, and some of us who have watched the proceedings of this House in the past have wondered to what extent their conduct is influenced by the power behind the Throne. New Members have joined the family, and they are entitled to be let into the family secrets. I propose to let them know. What is the power behind the Throne? I propose to tell them who the power behind the Throne is, and in my judgment it is that very formidable body of experienced and highly trained Civil servants who constitute the bureaucracy which, to a large extent, influences the conduct of public affairs in this country. The House must remember that the permanent Civil Service works in secret, and they really wield an immense power.
This does not appear to me to have anything to do with the Motion now before the House.
I will illustrate what I mean. On the Committee stage of Bills we are all aware that the members of the Government—
We are not discussing that matter at all. What we are discuss- ing is the question whether the proposed changes, if accepted by the House, are to be of a permanent or of a Sessional character.
I am sorry if I was too long in developing my point, but I was trying to confine myself to that issue. If Ministers are not prepared to work in touch with the House, and are inclined to act on very strong suggestions from elsewhere, the House has less means of bringing pressure to bear upon them, and until the Government has been on trial and we know to what extent they will endeavour to raise the self-esteem of hon. Members of this House, I submit it would be dangerous to make any permanent alteration in the Standing Order, and these changes should be left as Sessional Orders only, so that at the beginning of each Session the Government may be judged by its conduct in the preceding Session, and the necessary extra facilities may be given to them or not upon their record. For that reason I suggest that it should be the view of the House that there should be merely a trial, and that these changes should run as Sessional Orders in future. It was said yesterday that these changes would facilitate the dispatch of business. We all want to facilitate the dispatch of business, or, rather, of good business, and we want to see Bills leave this House as perfect as possible, and until we see the effect of these Rules the general privileges of hon. Members ought not to be curtailed. All points of view should be presented, and if upstairs in Grand Committee there is a chance that points of view, which very often appear unimportant but really are important, are not in fact presented, then it may be better, if a Bill takes longer, to revert to the old practice. The success of these Rules must largely depend on the spirit in which they are administered. I was very much struck during the last two Sessions of Parliament at the very great advantage it was to the House, and, I think, to Ministers, that they should have frequent consultations with bodies of Members outside this House itself. It was a policy followed with very great benefit by the Minister for Education, and I hope that the Government will consider extending that practice with a view—
I do not see that that has anything to do with the question we are discussing. There will be nothing to prevent the Government carrying out the suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member, but it is quite irrelevant to the question now before the House.
I was trying to show that it would not facilitate business if the new Rules worked to the detriment of hon. Members. It was with a view to helping the Government that I made that suggestion, but I will not press that point further, and I ask the Government to accede to the request of the Noble Lord, and also to consider at the same time how they can by their own action help hon. Members of this House collectively to express their opinion.
I rise to support the Amendment of the Noble Lord, but I give it my support upon somewhat more general grounds. In yesterday's I Debate the Leader of the House rested his case for these proposed changes on the argument that the circumstances of the time are not only unusual but unprecedented. I agree with that view. This, however, is not the whole of the matter which the House ought to consider. Is the Government quite sure that under the changed mode of procedure the work that ought to be done can actually be accomplished? I think he would be a bold man who would say that it could. I believe the thing is absolutely impossible. I may be wrong, but, on the assumption that I am right, what then? Are we to go blindly forward and take all the risks of failure? If we do, I, at any rate, express my own opinion that we should be woefully negligent in the performance of our duty, and we may find ourselves before the end of the Session face to face with a revolutionary movement in this country. It is true that the legislative requirements of the country are at the moment altogether exceptional, both in their importance and their complexity, but it is not true that the power of the House to deal with this work is raised for the first time by this exceptional condition of things. Ever since the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, certainly since the passage of the Reform Bill of 1867, this House has, Session after Session, had far more work to do than it could possibly undertake. In the course of these years, reforms of procedure have been repeatedly made with a view to expediting the transaction of business, but they have one and all failed to accomplish their purpose How, then, can we have any assurance that the present reform is going to succeed where the others have failed?
The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) yesterday raised a very interesting question as to why, while the moral reputation of the individual Members in the eighteenth century was not so good as the moral reputation of Members of Parliament in our time, the Parliament of the eighteenth century did exercise a moral authority over the people of the country as a whole which the Parliament of our time fails to exercise. He did not tell the House what was his own reply to that interesting question, but I have a quite brief reply. The Parliament of the eighteenth century, whatever else may be said of it, did succeed in doing the work that fell to it to do. The work at that time, I need hardly say, was of a very simple kind. It was practically confined to questions of administration. The Parliament of the eighteenth century hardly ever dealt with matters of legislation in the ordinary sense of the word. Certainly no great measure of social legislation dates from that century. I repeat: the Parliament of the eighteenth century held its authority and the respect of the country because it did do the work that fell to it to do. We have lost that respect because, we do not do the work that falls to us to do, and what we do is badly done, and we shall not recover that respect until we have adopted some method by which we can more certainly accomplish the task that is imposed upon us. In considering this question, I think we are a little apt to forget that no legislative body in the whole history of the world has ever had imposed upon it a task equal to the task that is imposed upon the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We legislate for the separate interests of the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, we legislate for the interests common to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, we are the responsible authority for the legislation affecting all the Crown Colonies and the Protectorates, and we are the final responsible authority also for the administration of all those outlying portions of the Empire. No single body can possibly perform or adequately discharge such a task. If in our effort to cope with it we have no choice but to consider changes of procedure, we should, of course, be compelled to accept the situation and make the best of it, but that is not the case. In yeserday's Debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) indicated that it was not a reform of procedure that was really required in order to enable us to overtake the task before us, but a scheme of devolution.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are not now discussing the proposals as a whole. The only issue before the House is whether Standing Order No. 47 is to be a Standing Order of the House or whether, as amended, it is to be a Sessional Order.
I am quite ready to accept the proposals as a whole for this Session, but in case this scheme of procedure fails to enable us to accomplish our work we ought in the meantime to be considering some other proposals that will be effective. Of course, I am not going to refer in detail to the proposal that we should seek a solution of our difficulties by way of devolution, but I do want to indicate to the House that this ought to be a Sessional Order, with the understanding that in the meantime we shall proceed to consider a permanent solution of the difficulties such as would be afforded by the adoption of a scheme of devolution worked from this House. That is my whole purpose, and that is why I adopted this line of argument. Obviously, if these changes in procedure do not enable us to overtake the overwhelming mass of work that will fall upon the House this Session the situation at the end of the Session or before the end of the Session will be a very serious one. I contend, and I do not think that any old Member of the House will dispute the contention, that no amendment of procedure can ever enable this House to accomplish the work that falls to it, and, if that is accepted, then it is very difficult to dispute the view that while we are ready to accept the Government proposals for this Session we ought in the meantime to consider the alternative proposal with a view to bringing it into operation at the earliest possible moment. I will not go further than that. I have risen for the purpose of supporting the proposal that we should limit these changes in procedure to the present Session and to urge the Government and the House to consider what in my view is the only final and permanently satisfactory remedy for the congestion of business from which the House has so long suffered, namely, the remedy of a devolution of powers and functions to subordinate legislatures of the United Kingdom.
I certainly have no reason to complain of the nature of the criticisms which these proposals have so far received. I have tried, as I think I have already shown, to do what I can to meet the wishes of the House, or to justify the course of action which we are pursuing. Yesterday we allowed a very long general discussion which dealt with many interesting points, and it is my hope—I think it is not an unreasonable hope—that hon. Members will keep that fact in mind when we come to consider particular proposals. We have listened to three speeches in support of this Amendment. There is a great deal on the face of it which makes it attractive, but I am sorry to say that the Government cannot accept it, and as well as I can I shall give my reason. I listened with interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. J. M. Macdonald). It was one of the most pleasing speeches to which I have listened in connection with the whole Debate. He said that the circumstances of the time made him ready to accept our proposals exactly as they stood, and his whole reason for supporting the Amendment was because he believed that any alteration in our procedure would not be sufficient to meet the evil, and he therefore wished to make this a Sessional Order, so that the House would be compelled at the beginning of next Session to consider the whole question of devolution.
No; the right hon. Gentleman has not quite followed me. I want the Government in the meantime seriously to consider what is the only permanently satisfactory solution, and to be prepared to put it into operation.
I have really described my right hon. Friend's view quite correctly. His whole reason for not wishing this system to become permanent is that we may be compelled at the time it comes up again, if not sooner, to consider the larger question of devolution. I said this was attractive. It would be especially attractive to me for the reason given by my Noble Friend, namely, that it would greatly facilitate the passage of these proposals. Any Minister in charge of a Bill or a proposal of this kind is always inclined to think too much of getting rid of the immediate difficulty, and I confess that I have been greatly attracted by the suggestion. These proposals, however, are not to be taken entirely by themselves. It is not the right way of dealing with a subject of this kind to have particular parts of our procedure coming up for revision while others do not. Let me point out that the particular Amendment we are now considering does not go very far. The Rule of the House at present is that unless someone moves a Resolution to the contrary every Bill goes automatically to a Standing Committee. We are asking that there should be six of these Standing Committees instead of four. That really is all that we ask for in this Amendment. It would be entirely against the interests of the House to have a Sessional Order raising the question of procedure in a mutilated form. The House knows very well that there is no subject on which it is more difficult to get a decision without a great deal of discussion than any question which affects the rights of Members of this House, and it seems to me, if these new proposals were put down as a Sessional Order, that there would be an attempt—it is quite possible that the pressure on the time of the House might be as great then as now, and it is also possible that party feeling might be much stronger—to use them to delay business. I do not think therefore that this is really a proposal that can be adopted, but I wish to say to my Noble Friend and these who support him that in this matter there is not a conflict of interest between the Government and the House of Commons. We are trying to get an arrangement which with the least disturbance will enable the necessary work to be done. That does not man that unless this Amendment is carried the subject will not be reconsidered. The House will always be able to consider its Rules of Procedure, and it I were in my present position—there may be alterations in the Government which may make my promises of no worth—I would strongly urge, if there were any desire to reconsider the subject, that the Government should give time for its reconsideration. We cannot make these proposals a Sessional Order, but if you take a par- ticular one—for instance, the one regarded as the biggest departure—whenit comes up I am quite ready to consider whether it ought to be made a Sessional Order instead of a permanent alteration. I think I have given the House sufficient reasons to justify them in refusing this Amendment.
I had no desire or intention to claim the indulgence of the House at so early a stage in its proceedings, but I should like to ask the Leader of the House to consider this question from the point of view of the new Members. As I understand, the House is now composed of a membership of which nearly half is new, and the fact is that we do not understand what was the procedure in the last Parliament. We therefore cannot understand how the proposed alterations of the Government will affect the previous procedure, In other words, if I may say so, new Members are being asked to support the Government in proposals of the real meaning and purpose of which they are necessarily in ignorance. I do not like to find myself supporting this Amendment in opposition to the expressed wish of the Leader of the House. But I listened to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) yesterday and he made one remark which was in the nature of a shock to new Members. He described how in previous Parliaments—I am not sure whether he included such business as we have so far transacted—Members going through the Lobby would turn to each other and say, "What are we voting for, and in which Division Lobby are we to go?" The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) used the phrase yesterday that we were "selling our birthright for a mess of pottage." I do not know that the phraseis very illuminating for us, because we are not aware of what the birthright is or the mess of pottage, and when we fire asked to give an opinion on these proposals we find ourselves in the greatest difficulty. The Leader of the House would be showing his sympathy to the new Members if he would limit these proposals to a Sessional Order and not make them part of the permanent Rules of the House. I perfectly well appreciate the object on of the Leader of the House to having this matter come up again for discussion, but I would point out to him that this is a reasonable House. It has been elected to do business under pressure such as, perhaps, no other House has had. If these proposals prove to be helpful from the point of view of getting through with the business, there will be a very short Debate next Session, and the Government will have a unanimous House behind it in making the proposals permanent Standing Orders. I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has said, I do not wish to press my Amendment. I am very glad my hon. Friend (Mr. Lyle-Samuel) has addressed the House, because, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about affording us time—
The Noble Lord is not entitled to make a speech in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I think we should be quite certain as to what it is the Leader of the House has promised. I am not quite certain. This is a very important matter, and there should be no misunderstanding about it. My Noble Friend (Viscount Wolmer) has said that, in view of the pledge and undertaking given by the Leader of the House that this matter will be discussed again next Session, he proposes to ask leave to withdraw his Amendment. I am not at all sure that the Leader of the House did give that undertaking. As far as I could gather, the Leader of the House would not give a pledge, but said he would consider whether or not one of these Amendments should be discussed at the beginning of next Session. I think that is what he said.
I said I was quite ready, so far as it was within my power, to give a pledge that if there was a general desire for a reconsideration of the whole subject next Session I would find time to have it discussed.
That, of course, goes very much further. If my right hon. Friend is prepared to do that, I do not quite see why he does not accept the Amendment, which I understand would apply to the whole of the proposed Amendments. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts this Amendment, there will be no difficulty about it next Session, and I think it would be very much better for him to do so.
Captain STANLEY WILSON:
I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider for a moment the question that has been gone into, because I think it is a most reasonable one. Just now the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech that the House could always consider the Rules of Procedure if it desired, but I do not know what method he proposes, because it can only be done now with the consent of the Government. In his speech yesterday he told us that he had brought forward his proposals to deal with an emergency and that the circumstances at the present moment were unprecedented. I cannot help thinking, in view of that statement, that he ought not to make these permanently the Rules of Procedure, but adopt them as a Sessional Order, and if he does so I can assure him that he will remove a very great deal of the opposition of many old Members of the House. I am quite sure the whole House would agree that the Rules have been drafted rather in a hurry and to meet an emergency. I asked yesterday whether these Rules had been submitted to the Foreign Secretary, because there is no man in this House who has a greater knowledge of Parliamentary procedure. There was no reply to that, and it would have considerable influence with me with regard to these proposals if I knew that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in accord with them. Just think for a moment what the proposals mean. They are going to affect the whole of the future of our Parliamentary life. We do not know whether in practice these Rules are going to work satisfactorily. I do most earnestly beg of the Government not to finally now put these proposals down, but as there is such strong feeling among older Members of the House on the subject, to make them Sessional Orders.
I join in the appeal which has been made that these Rules should be only for the present Session. I have listened to the whole of the Debate yesterday and to-day, and I think there has not been a single argument put forward from the Front Bench, not even by the Leader of the House, in favour of these alterations except for the present Session. We are told that this is likely to be a strenuous Session, and that owing to the War and labour unrest we will probably have a large number of Bills to deal with, and that the present machinery is not sufficiently strong to do so. That I hope is for the present Session only, and I trust that after this Session we are not going to have this lightning legislation, or oven the necessity for it. I think these Rules should only apply to this Session. We were told yesterday by the Chairman of Standing Committees that with four Standing Committees it was absolutely or almost impossible to get a quorum. If that was so with four, how will it be with six? The hon. Member who spoke just now (Mr. Lyle-Samuel) made a very powerful appeal on this subject and pointed out that he did not understand what the Rules were and that many new Members were in a similar position. I think it would be fair to them just to pass these Rules as Sessional Orders and give them the opportunity to review them at the beginning of another Session. There is another reason why I want them to be only Sessional Orders. I look forward to the time when the Leader of the House may be in a minority and under those circumstances there would be, I suppose, no more strenuous opponent of those proposals than the right hon. Gentleman himself. I remember very well the time when he chafed at the curtailment of the privileges of private Members. This is going to take away the last vestige of the privileges of private Members, whose opportunities would seem now to be to rely on asking questions. I do not think that is right. I would rather have more speeches and fewer questions. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not turn a deaf ear to the appeals which have beer made to him and that he and the Government will take care that they do not pass any more stringent rules for the purpose of passing what I may call pannicky legislation. The less of such legislation we have the better. Therefore I appeal to him to consent to pass these Rules as Sessional Orders.
I should not have risen had it not been that I think it is only right as a comparatively old Member that those who support these proposals should state their views. It has been suggested on previous occasions, owing to the silence of those who were supporting the Government, that there was no feeling in support of their propositions. I think it is about time that that should cease. Those of us who sit here and have come back to the House have come back with the mandate to set business done and not to talk as to how it shall be done, or when or in what form, except in so far as it is essential to get a proper working machine. I do hope that the Government will stick to the proposition they have made. It is a perfectly fair one. They have suggested that these Rules should become permanent Standing Orders. May I as an old Member say, possibly for the benefit of younger Members, that I am perfectly certain from the experience I have had during the lost eight years, and I am confirmed in this view by the opinions of old Members who sit around me, anything is better than what we had in the past. An hon. Member opposite said he wanted to return to the old system, because he objected to lightning legislation. There may come a time when we do not want to see legislation going through at the rate that is required at present, but we all know that we have got a great deal more than we can do at present, and even if we got through the work at double the speed at which we have done it in the past, we shall not have done all we want to do for the country. I again appeal to the Government to stick to the proposal they have made.
The proposition is that this shall be a Sessional Order only, which means there is bound to be at the beginning of next Session, or at the end of this one, a re-opening of the whole question.
The proposal of the Government is a perfectly fair one. It is that if there is a general feeling in the House—and we all know that if there is a general feeling the Government get an intimation of it at once—the Leader of the House has said that the question can come up again. What fairer proposal could there be than that?
If I interpreted the Leader of the House aright, he said that when some of the other proposals came on he would be prepared to consider whether they should be only of a Sessional character, and that if he refused this Amendment it did not imply that he would refuse other Amendments I think he mentioned the case of the guillotine. If that is his position, it will weigh with me in coming to a decision on this point. I believe that some of these alterations should be of a permanent character and only come up for revision if the Souse desires it. On the other hand, there are proposals which ought to be of a Sessional character until they are tried and found possible. It would be to the advantage of the House if my right hon. Friend would make a further statement that on some of these Amendments he would be prepared to accept the suggestion contained in the Amendment now before the House.
I tried to make the position quite clear to the House. I say that as regards the most drastic of our proposals I would be quite ready to listen to debate and judge it on its merits. Might I now appeal to the House to come to a decision. Whether we are right or wrong, the issue is plain and simple, and I think it impossible for any new argument to be founded upon it.
The refusal of the Government to accept what is a most reasonable suggestion seems to indicate a great lack of confidence on their part in their own proposals. Both old and new Members are convinced that some change is necessary, and the House generally wants to get on with business quite as much as the right hon. Gentleman. The Amendment, however, asks that these proposals should be given a trial, that in changing the procedure of the House, which has operated for so long and which we admit requires changing, an experiment should be made and the trial should be made in this Session. If they are found to be good changes and the House were satisfied with them, there would be no question that the House would agree to them as part of the permanent procedure of the House. If the Government persist in refusing what is a most reasonable suggestion, it indicates they are not themselves so sure of the success of the changes as one would have them be.
Before we come to a decision, there is one argument I would wish to put before the House. It is that if this Rule is made temporary the Government will administer these Standing Orders in an entirely different spirit from that in which they must administer them if they are made permanent. If these Rules are temporary, obviously the Government will not trample upon the rights of private Members during the first year, and the whole operation of these Standing Orders may be much more generous and liberal than it might otherwise tend to be, for instance, the way in which the Government pack or do not pack Standing Committees, the way in which they operate the Closure on the Report stage, and the way in which they operate the "Kangaroo." All these things can be worked in a liberal or a bureaucratic spirit. If we want the liberal spirit, it should be possible to have them revised at the end of the year rather than fixed upon us for all time, and rather than tying the hands of the House without the Government being brought to book. I am in favour of legislation being temporary. There would be a good opportunity to put an end to some legislation if it were only temporary. In this case, which deals solely with the Rules of Procedure of the House, the fact that half the House are new Members is a strong general argument in favour of making the Rules temporary instead of permanent.
I have on the Paper an Amendment to leave out the word "Six" ["Six Standing Committees shall be appointed"] and to insert instead thereof the word "Five." I have put it down for the purpose of asking a question. I understand that we are to have six Standing Committees in order that there shall be a separate Standing Committee set up for Wales. We already have a Scottish Grand Committee which deals with Bills which only apply to Scotland. There are no Bills applying to Wales alone.
It is provided for in the Sessional Orders, and has been in them for years.
But the extra Standing Committee is for Welsh Bill alone.
In that case, I suppose that of these six Committees one is to be a Scottish Committee, one is to be a Welsh Committee, and one is to be a Finance Committee, leaving three Standing Committees to deal with Bills. If that is the arrangement, I should like to have a statement from the Government. I want to understand that there are not four but only three Committees dealing with Bills.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words,
Standing Committees may sit during the Sitting, and notwithstanding any Adjournment of this House, hat they shall not sit on any day over which the House is adjourned.
I attach very great importance to this Amendment because I believe the effect of these words on the House will be disastrous. We muse presume that these Committees, or the great majority of them, will be sitting practically every day, or, at any rate, every day on which the House site. Assuming there are forty Members present,—unless there is that number present it will tend to be a farce—if you multiply forty by six then you get 240Members who will not be able to be present in this House. The general attendance in this House, taking it over an average of years, is not more than 350. Of course, there is a larger number of Members for the present House, but against that you have the fact that a large number of Irish Members are not present. It you take the average attendance at 350, and if 240 Members are sitting on Grand Committees, that means you have about a hundred or 150 Members who can attend the House. There may be far-reaching legislation proposed. It ought not to be considered and the Second Reading passed of Bills dealing with very important subjects by such a very small number of Members as 150. Then we must remember that there is a large number of Members who occupy official positions, who are bound in any circumstances, whatever happens, to support the Government. If my contention is correct and there are 240 Members sitting upstairs, a very large number of them would desire to attend here to listen to what is going on and possibly to make a few remarks in order that they might judge from the speeches that are made how they should vote. What will happen? They will either have to leave the Committees upstairs—where important measures will be under consideration and where we are told it is very necessary that Members should be present, because they are going to discuss these matters in Standing Committees much more freely and efficiently than they do down here, for which reason they should remain upstairs—or else they must jeopardise the interests of their constituents by not being here to listen to what is going on. There is a paragraph in this proposal which says that the Chairman may adjourn a Committee in order that Members might come down here and vote when a Division is called. Consider how that is going to work. There will be 240 Members, or certainly well over 200, who on an ordinary day will be sitting upstairs. They will not have heard one single word of the discussion in the House and they might not have even read the Bill. They will certainly not have heard the Leader of the House or the Attorney-General—perhaps that will not be a bad thing, because those right hon. Gentlemen might persuade them to do wrong. They might not have heard a member of the Government introducing the Bill or those hon. Members who object to or approve of it, yet they will come down here, without having heard anything that has been going on, they will be met at the door by the Whips, who do not know what has been going on either, because the Whips are outside the door; they will ask, "What is this about?" and the Whip will say, "I do not know, but we are Ayes," or Noes, as the case may be. These Members who have been returned to this House to protect the interests of their constituents and to become an independent House, will go into the Lobby without knowing what was going on. In the old days there was somewhat of a safeguard in-so far that the Question was not put a second time until the doors were locked and all Members were in the House. That is an illustration of the folly of altering the Rules without carefully considering what you are doing. That Rule was altered because in 1906, when there was a very large number of Members on one side, the new Members found it rather uncomfortable to be in the Lobby and the doors were left open to enable them to go in and out. The result is that hon. Members do not know and are unable to ascertain what the Question is. In the old days, when the Speaker or Chairman did not put the Question until the doors were locked and all Members were here, and if they desired to know what they were voting about they could ascertain it. Under these new Rules not only will a Member be unable to ascertain what he is voting for, but he will not have heard the arguments either for or against a particular measure. I do not attach very much importance to that matter. If the Standing Committee continues to sit for eleven or twelve hours they will get through some pretty hard work, and attention will be concentrated upon matters of importance. I do not, I say, attach very much importance to the point I mention, because that is one of the evils and difficulties to which we have to submit in endeavouring to put a quart into a pint pot—which is the only reason, by the way, why these Rules are brought in. But I do very seriously object to that portion of these Rules allowing Members to come down and vote without having heard what is going on.
On a point of Order, Sir. May I ask whether, if the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend is negatived, which I hope it will not be, it would not then cut out the Amendment standing in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Wood Green and Twickenham, and other Amendments which involves quite distinct points? I ask whether this Amendment can be put partially from the Chair, or whether we are to be allowed to have a general discussion on all the various points which arise in these two lines?
I think, perhaps, there has been enough general discussion already. It is desirable to get to the Amendments. If the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to cut out lines five, six, and seven were carried, it is obvious that no Amendments on those lines could be taken.
No. Because the Motion put from the Chair will be that such lines stand part of the Question. The Question I have to put now is, "That the words 'Standing Committee' stand part of the Question."
If I may be allowed to say so, on behalf of the Government responsible for the proposals, I think there has been quite enough, general discussion, and that we should proceed to the Amend- ments. If the right hon. Baronet will pardon me for saying so, I think the form, in which he has moved his Amendment is very characteristic of him, for the object of my right hon. Friend would appear to be to prevent the Standing Committees doing any work at all. I know that is his view of these matters—that the object of our procedure should be to prevent legislation, and not to favour it. That, I am sure, is not the general point of view. His proposal will not only prevent Standing Committees sitting when the House is sitting, but would prevent them sitting in other events. In putting forward these proposals the Government have no other object one way or another except the general convenience of the House. That is our sole object. My view was that if we admit some of these Amendments which include the suggested arrangement of adjourning on particular days in the week that such arrangement will be found to break down. The success or failure of these new Rules must depend in the main on the spirit of common sense with which they are worked. The right hon. Baronet suggested that all these Committees might be sitting at one moment. That is not likely to happen. The observations as to Members coming down and voting on subjects they have never heard about must have been intended for new Members. It is indeed what very often happens. Members troop in from the Smoking Rooms and other places exactly as my right hon. Friend says. It is no greater crime, however, to come in from useful work upstairs from the Committee Rooms than to come from the Smoking Rooms, or other places in the House.
May I just point out that my right hon. Friend quite unintentionally, I am sure, misrepresents me? My Motion is to leave out certain words. If these words are left out, the Standing Committees would have exactly the same power as they have now, and therefore the rule that the Chairman may come down and ask leave from the House to sit after four would hold good. I think that is quite clear.
I have not been misrepresenting my right hon. Friend. I say that his is a proposal that would rule out the suggestion put as an alternative to our proposals. He says that his proposal would leave things as they are now—
That bears out what I say—that he does not wish any facilities for further legislation than we possess to-day. I am, however, going to make a suggestion to the House which, I hope, will be acceptable. In an Amendment later on the Paper the hon. Member for Brecon (Mr. S. Robinson) suggests the addition of the words,
On such days as the House shall determine, after Questions, on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown, without Debate, the House may resolve itself into Standing Committees, which shall sit simultaneously.
What I feel about these Rules is this: Let us see how we get on with the arrangements suggested by the Government. If we adopt that plan it is open to the Government, if they find they work well, to adopt a suggestion made yesterday by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), to move that on a particular day the House adjourn in order that the Standing Committees may sit. I hope this suggestion will be made. It seems to me a very reasonable one.
I desire to respond to one of my right hon. Friend's suggestions not to debate points that do not matter, but the Amendment on these three lines raises one point which he may think of some importance. I believe it is a matter of some importance, and I have therefore put an Amendment down which I do not wish to move, but which provides that not more than two Standing Committees shall sit when the House is sitting. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has considered that point. If he has more than three Standing Committees in Session, where is he going to put them in the House of Commons? The Government have never taken the trouble to find out whether there are rooms sufficiently large in the House of Commons to accommodate these Standing Committees. The point I desire to make is whether the Government could not agree to some such restriction as I propose that not more than two Standing Committees shall sit at the same time while the House is sitting. That would meet a considerable amount of the arguments of the right hon. Baronet and would facilitate discussion in this House. I wonder whether that suggestion is of any use to the Government?
If I may speak a moment or two on this Amendment, it will save me moving the next. I hope my right hon. Friend will consider whether the effect of accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brecon will be as suggested. I understand it will mean that after Questions on one or two particular days, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, it may be, a Minister will be able to move that the House do now adjourn and consist of Committees. Has the extraordinary inconvenience that that would mean to hon Members all over the country been considered? It would be impossible for hon Members to know whether the House was going to sit until after Questions had been disposed of.
Even then consider how it would work! It may be that two Standing Committees are sitting involving 150 members. Between five and six hundred more possibly are brought up to attend the House from their various businesses and avocations. They might not be able until afterwards to know, because these intimations are not always received in time—on the night before it may be—as to whether or not the House was going to sit and whether their attendance would, or would not, be merely formal. It might mean only their attendance at what some people consider useless questions. I wish to suggest that the Government should not accept the proposal without thinking all this over. The House should sit in open Session as long as possible and is often, because it is the governing body of the country and the country likes to realise that their governing body is in Session. My right hon Friend cannot say to me as he said to the right hon. Baronet that I am against legislation, for we have agreed to have a large increase in the number of the Standing Committees, and if these Standing Committees—three, four, or five—sit from eleven-thirty to four day by day you will get through all the legislation you can possibly need in this House. I have had the honour of sitting on Standing Committees. My right hon. Friend, perhaps, has not sat on very many of them, for it is not very often the Leader of the House has time. But I can assure him that there are few, very few, Standing Committees who do not get through the Bill which is submitted to them in the course of a fortnight, or a month at the outside. And there are very few indeed of the ordinary Bills that are not disposed of within a week. I think the right hon. Gentleman will see, without trespassing upon the work of the House, that if he sets up three or four Standing Committees, as suggested, sitting from eleven-thirty to four, he will get through the whole of the work that he wants. I make a suggestion that he should make the experiment. We want to help him. We ask him, at all events, not to put forward this new plan by which Members of the House will only know on the night before whether the House of Commons will or will not have an effective sitting.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Gordon He wart):
The proposal that the Government is willing to accept is that a Minister of the Crown may propose that the House should adjourn in order to facilitate the work of the Standing Committees. The word is "may," and not "must." The argument of my hon. Friend assumes that there would be certain occasions on which that course "must" be taken.
Pardon me; that is exactly what I said was not the case. It is the uncertainty, not "may" or "must," that I am afraid of.
The suggestion is that in a proper case that course might be taken: it does not follow that it would be.
No, no! The course "might" be taken. That is the whole gist of it.
If my hon. Friend will listen for a moment he will see what is involved. The proposal is purely permissive. It might well be that if the existing proposals work well the necessity would never arise that the House should adjourn in order to facilitate the sittings of the Standing Committees. If that Amendment were carried I am sure the House would realise that the course, which would then be rendered possible, would not be taken except after due intimation, and after notice, which is always given as long as possible before, so as to reduce to a minimum the inconvenience which might otherwise arise. There are really three points involved in this Amendment. One is that a Standing Committee should not sit at any time while the House is sitting; the second is that it should never sit after the House has adjourned; and the third is that it should not sit on any day over which the House is adjourned. The last of the three points not involved in the Government's proposal, nor do I think it is seriously contended that a Standing Committee should not sit on a day on which the House sits, though the House has adjourned. The real question is whether the Committee should sit during the period when the House is sitting. I do seriously suggest that all difficulty will be removed by the acceptance in substance of the later Amendment to which reference has already been made.
The suggestion is that there should be only a limited number of Standing Committees allowed to sit while the House itself is sitting. That would obviate one of the difficulties which is genuinely felt by many Members, that you might not have the proper conduct and proper interest in the proceedings of the House simultaneously with the proper conduct and the proper interest during the sittings of the Standing Committees. Therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend whether that is not a helpful suggestion, and also whether, if Standing Committees are to sit during the sitting of the House, it could not be announced in the way in which the business of the following week is announced in normal times on the Thursday, in order that Members might know in ample time what would be the business for the following week?
I rise as a very strong supporter of the general proposals that the Government are making. I think that the business of legislation is carried on far better in Standing Committees than in a Committee of the Whole House, and I think so because it gives far greater liberty of action to the private Member than a discussion in the whole House can possibly give. My experience of Standing Committees is that you really do obtain a decision upon arguments presented in Standing Committees; my experience of discussion in the House is that that practically never or hardly ever takes place. Holding that view, I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will see his way to go a little further, if he can, than he has gone. I quite recognise he has gone a very long way to meet the case put forward. I should like to see the thing systematised far more. What I am afraid about in the present proposals is that we shall have Bills referred to Standing Committees, and the Standing Committees will be sitting during the daytime, which I do not think is a good plan, because it means that professional Members of the House cannot attend them. Having been a professional Member of the House myself I have a high opinion of the value of professional Members. Quite apart from that, I think it is essential that we should have it brought home to the country and to the House that our business as a legislative body, so far as detail is concerned, has to be transacted in the Committees, and not in the House itself. I am sure that is right, and I am glad my right hon. Friend agrees with me. That being so, it seems to me that the House as a House ought not to sit in this Chamber when the legislative business for which the House is elected is being carried on in rooms outside this House. I hope very much that that will be the regular rule, so that the House should be entirely free for strictly legislative work, and not have a divided allegiance partly in this Chamber and partly elsewhere.
I do not wish to detain the House on the present occasion, but I should like to ascertain from my right hon. Friend whether he contemplates under the system that he is prepared to support that the Grand Committees will not be sitting during the daytime as well, and if he contemplates a Motion of this kind that at the beginning of each week the ordinary practice of the Government should be to say, "During this week Committees will sit, on such-and-such a day, from four o'clock in the afternoon until the ordinary hour of the Adjournment of this House, and the House will not sit after Questions on those days." then I think the substantial desire of many of us to make this system a real part of the legislative machinery of the House will be accomplished. But if he merely means that there is to be a Motion made when there is great pressure of time upon a Committee, that on particular occasions the Committee shall sit from eleven o'clock in the morning to eleven at night, and the House shall not sit after Questions, or after any particular time, then I do not think that will be sufficient. I think we ought to try to do something really effective by way of making this change in procedure. If we can make the Standing Committee system effective, we could do without a great many of the fetters on the action of this House which I personally deplore, such as the guillotine, Closure, and things of that kind—expedients which are really designed to limit the effectiveness of this House, and to destroy its reputation in the country. Then I think we should have done a great thing. We should have done something real to re-establish the reputation of this House in the country and to really make it what it ought to be, the great place where all the subjects which are causing anxiety in the country can be discussed, and we should not be driven to such an expedient as we have been driven, namely, that when we have a great industrial crisis we have to summon a special assembly outside this House because this House is no longer regarded as the place for the ventilation of grievances affecting all Members and classes of the community. I do hope the Government will show themselves, as they are anxious to show themselves, worthy of the opportunity they now have to produce a far better position for this House than it has ever had in our lifetime, and that they will accept in substance, if not in the exact form in which it has been moved, the desire expressed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this matter.
We are in somewhat of a dilemma. The suggestion of the Government will not make for certainty and regularity in. business. As a Member of this House of considerable experience, and with a knowledge of Committee work, I am entirely in favour of increasing the number of Grand Committees, and sending more business to them. That is an absolutely necessary change, but the experience of anyone who has sat on these Committees when this House is sitting simultaneously is that the Committee does not attend to its business. It occurs to me that there is very great force in the argument of the Noble Lord, that if Grand Committees are to sit for long hours after the usual time fixed for the sitting of this House then the House ought to adjourn in order to enable the Members to do their business. I do not think we are driven to that dilemma at this particular moment. It would be sufficient if we proceed with these Grand Committees, that they should adjourn in the ordinary way when the serious business of the House of Commons commences. We have an alternative suggestion. The House of Commons is going to lose a considerable amount of time if one or two days sittings in the week are sacrificed in order to make way for the business of the Grand Committees. The Government will then find that it is in a dilemma, because it will have shortened the time of the House of Commons which they desire to use for business of first-rate importance, and the discussion of high matters of policy, and they will find their, time cramped and all the evils we have experienced in past years, the Closure, and other forms of curtailment of Debate will still exist or partially exist. I should be strongly in favour of setting up the Grand Committees as proposed, and allowing them to adjourn at the ordinary time. If that time is not found to be sufficient, the Government could bring forward proposals to make some further reform in the procedure. It is premature at the present moment to propose the Adjournment of the House for the sitting of Grand Committees. We are not driven to that alternative yet.
I did not think we were going to reach this Amendment so quickly. My right hon. Friend's interesting proposal, as I understand it, means that the Government should have the power to make a Motion, without Amendment or Debate, that on particular days the House should adjourn for the purpose of dividing itself into Standing Committees. That certainly goes a very long way to meet the point of view I put forward. My right hon. Friend put that suggestion forward as an experiment, or as the machinery for trying an experiment, and I think there is a good deal to be said for trying the experiment before the House finally commits itself. I would have preferred to see it done the other way, and that certain days should be assigned as days on which the House would adjourn unless the Government made the Motion that on those days the House should not adjourn. There is another point raised in this Amendment to which I am anxious to draw attention, and that is I see no reason whatever why Standing Committees should not sit notwithstanding the Adjournment of the House. For example, let us suppose a normal sort of Session, not precisely like this one, in which there was a great controversial Bill going on, which was closely occupying the time of a Standing Committee, and let us suppose that the other business of Parliament, as often happens, was in a good state of progress, and that the Standing Committees were easily able to deal with the other Bills. Suppose you approach a season like Whitsuntide. Nothing could be more desirable than to give the House a long holiday at Whitsuntide, and for a week or perhaps more of that period the Standing Committee which was hard pressed with its work could continue the work of dealing with the great controversial Bill. I believe that would be a very convenient arrangement. It conforms to the principle which I commended to the House yesterday. It does not matter about giving Members of Parliament work; if they feel they are doing useful work they do not mind being kept in attendance if they feel they are doing good, but they do dislike being kept hanging about, merely to give a more or less mechanical vote for or against the Government. It would be a good plan to amend the proposal and to allow the Committees to sit notwithstanding that the House had adjourned. It could be left to the Committees to decide whether they liked to avail themselves of that opportunity or not.
I am not entitled to speak again except by the courtesy of the House. As regards the general view put there really is no difference of opinion. My object is precisely that advocated by the Noble Lord below the Gangway (Lord H. Cecil). This is a question which I have discussed privately with my Noble Friend, who takes a different view from, mine. My own view is that at this moment it would give such a shock to the general idea of how the House of Commons is conducted that it would not be well to adopt it now, though obviously we might adopt it if experience shows that it is valuable. As it stands, our proposal is an experiment which is to be made. There will be no difficulty in getting Standing Committees to give their views to the Government on matters of this kind, and we will find immediately whether the new system is working well. If it is not, then the House would not be in the least shocked if it were asked to try the other experiment of arranging that on particular days of the week the House should not sit, so that the Grand Committees might go on. With regard to the views expressed by my hon. Friend below the Gangway, we are asked every Thursday what the business is going to be for the following week, and we nearly always can tell, and in the case of this kind the House would know exactly what was proposed. I think that the suggestion which I have made will meet with the general view, and that we should leave it to experience to show the result of the new proposals which we are now putting forward.
May I ask whether we are to understand that the proposal is to insist on the right of the Standing Committees to sit after four o'clock during the sitting of the House?
I wish to ensure that the House and the Standing Committees should not sit at the same time. My right hon. Friend has gone a certain way to meet us, and in the circumstances I shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
May I submit that there is a difference between the two Amendments. Many Members of the House would like to express their view as to whether the Standing Committees should sit after four o'clock or not. The actual point that the Committees should not sit after four o'clock is not covered by the Amendment which has been withdrawn.
This was part of the Standing Order. It was contained in the paragraph to which we have already referred.
It raises a specific point whether they can sit after four o'clock on which if is desirable to get the opinion of the House.
My point is that the Amendment, which was discussed at considerable length by the House, was on the question whether or not a change should be made in the practice in that respect, and Standing Order 47 says in these very words, that they will not sit after 4 p.m. without the Order of the House. Now the hon. Member wishes to discuss that again. I do not think that we can do that now.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words,
but they shall not sit on any day over which the House is adjourned.
I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment. It would not compel the Committees to sit on days on which the House is not sitting, but it would make it possible to do so. It might in many cases be exceedingly desirable, when the House is not sitting on Friday, that Grand Committees should have power to sit on that day, or, taking the case which way put by the Noble Lord just now, if the House had adjourned for a three weeks' holiday, a Grand Committee might take a few days at the beginning or end of that holiday to clear up its work. If the words which I propose to omit are left in the Standing Order, it will be impossible for Grand Committees to do the work on any day on which the House is not sitting. I may give the House an instance which I think very much in point. It is taken from the Conference which was appointed about eighteen months ago to draw up a scheme of franchise reform, which was afterwards embodied in the Reform Act. We were getting on slowly with the work, but the House adjourned, and the members of the Conference, under the guidance of Mr. Speaker, agreed to come back during the Vacation for this particular work, and we sat upstairs, morning and afternoon, when the House was not sitting and when we could concentrate our minds on the work, and we made a splendid progress in the work. I do ask the Government, therefore, to remove these words, in order that it may be legal for a Standing Committee in proper circumstances to carry on its work on days when the House is not sitting. The case is plain, and I hope that the Government will see their way to agree.
I would urge this Amendment upon the Government. It does not seem to me to be business to say, "You can sit while the House is sitting, but you must not sit while the House is not sitting." I should have thought that the very best day to get on with work in these Committees would be when they would be undisturbed by Divisions or anything else to distract them in this House. This does not compel the Committee to sit on a day on which the House is not sitting, because if the Committee themselves desire they can adjourn for those days on which the House is not sitting. But the businesslike thing is that they should have the fullest freedom to sit when they like whether the House is sitting or not, and that you should not restrict them in what seems to be the most convenient time for the Committee to get on with their business. Every Amendment ought to be made which gives more and more facilities. What we really want to do is to have the best possible scheme to get on with the business as quickly as we possibly can.
So far as the Government is concerned we rather welcome this as giving an opportunity for getting on with the work. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, and if there is no strong feeling in the House against it I would be glad to accept the Amendment; but I would like the House to understand that there might be objection. Suppose a majority of the Committee wished to sit and a pretty largo minority thought they should not sit. Minorities as we know must suffer, but they must be considered. However, unless other Members feel more strongly on the matter than I do, I am prepared to accept this Amendment.
I would be very glad to join in asking that the Committee should be allowed to sit when the House is not sitting. My sole object in the Amendment which I desired to propose was that they should not sit concurrently.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words,
On a Division being called in the House, the chairman of a Standing Committee shall suspend idle proceedings in the Committee for such time as will, in his opinion, enable Members to vote in the Division.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it is perfectly preposterous that we should encourage in the manner provided by the lines which I desire to omit, the practice of deliberately making it practicable for Members to come down suddenly to vote when they have not heard the discussion, and to give their votes blindly on matters which concern the welfare of the country. We know that at present Members troop into this House and vote without knowing what they are going to vote for, simply according to the orders of the Whips, but at present this is not stated openly, and it is not recognised by the Standing Orders or by the traditions of this House that this should be allowed. But if we pass this
Standing Order it means that we deliberately inform all and sundry that Members who are doing work upstairs, who from that very fact cannot have heard a single argument advanced, are specially exempted and sent downstairs to vote they know not how. It seems to me that this is degrading Parliament. It is bad enough that Members should vote without knowing what is going on, but that we should deliberately make a Standing Order that Standing Committees upstairs are to adjourn directly the Division bells go, and that hon. Members are to troop downstairs from these Committees to vote here seems to be quite deplorable.
If these lines are left in the Division bells would be heard upstairs, and Members who desire to vote can then leave the serious work upstairs and come down and have their names added to the Division List. Their names would not carry much weight in the estimation of the people who have heard the Debate, but they will be recorded and their constituents will see that they were present on that day and voted. But deliberately to declare that discussion upstairs of a serious character is suddenly to be cut short and provision is to be made for people going down to vote on a subject which they do not understand seems to be deplorable. The reason for it, of course, is that Members want to keep up their record of Divisions. Old Members of this House know perfectly well that a Division record is of no use whatever. If we could explain to the constituencies that a divisional record does not carry the weight which is sometimes attributed to it and is not really a vitally important matter, and that men are engaged on Committees and could not take part in the Division, we should be making a change which would be useful for the work of all Members of this House. Personally I am against these words, because they are deliberately encouraging people to vote without knowing what they are voting for.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "Division," to insert the words,
On such days as the House shall determine, after Questions, on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown, without debate, the House may resolve itself into Standing Committees, which shall sit simultaneously.
I listened with great interest to the speech in favour of this Amendment by the Leader of the House, and I hope that he will accept it in the spirit in which it was put forward, which is that of a desire to improve the business working of this House. One point that has been made is that Members who have sat on Committees upstairs have found that some of the best intellects in the House have not been present, as they have been at their work in the legal profession. Some Members may say that there are too many Members of that profession in this House, but their help in Grand Committee work has been of great value. I must confess I am very jealous of the power which this House exercises over finance. A few Sessions ago we had a great contest as to the supremacy of this House in matters of Finance. At the present time it is suggested we should relax our hold as regards the number of days in Supply, reducing the number of allotted days from twenty to twelve. We are informed that this is a temporary measure, and I hope that it will prove to be temporary. It may be a wise thing to do in the special circumstances. But I would like to submit to the House that the various Estimates from the different Departments—the Army, the Navy, and the Civil Service—might, if they were sent to separate Committees, be debated in a way in which they are not debated on the floor of this House. They would be thrashed out in a manner that cannot be done here, and I think that will give us back a good deal of the control we are in danger of losing, and will be of great advantage to the House in the consideration of all matters of finance.
In connection with this Resolution the question has been asked, Where are we to find room in which the Standing Committees can sit in the event of six having to sit simultaneously? There is no reason why one should not sit in the House itself. There are certainly two rooms in Westminster Hall which would be suitable for the purpose, and there are three or four more upstairs large enough to accommodate all the Members likely to attend. Then the question arises as to due notice being given of the Motion that the House shall resolve itself into Grand Committees. That is a simple matter. Every Thursday the Leader of the House is asked what is the business for the following week and it will be in his power to announce that on Tuesday or Wednesday in that week, or on any other day it is proposed to ask the House to resolve itself into Grand Committees. Hon. Members will have an opportunity of voting against the Motion, although it is not to be debated, and then the business of the Grand Committees can be proceeded with. I think Members will get all the notice they require in that way. So many points were dealt with in the Debate which preceded the discussion on this Amendment that I think it is hardly necessary for me to go over them again. Something has been said about the difficulty of finding a quorum, but. I venture to suggest there will be no such difficulty as obtains under the present arrangement. I have been on a Committee upstairs when we have had to appeal to Members to come from another Committee sitting in an adjoining room in order that we might get a quorum. If the Members realised the responsibility thrown upon them of attending these Committees and of carrying on the work of the country we surely shall have no difficulty on that point.
As has already been indicated by the Leader of the House we are prepared in substance to accept this Amendment, but we propose that all words after the second word "House" shall be deleted and the following words substituted, "Shall adjourn in order that the sittings of the Standing Committees may be facilitated."
I have an Amendment which would come in before that of which the Attorney-General has given notice. I want to leave out the words "Minister of the Crown" and to substitute for them "a Member." I shall be much obliged if my opportunity to do that is safeguarded.
Without discussing the minute details of the Amendment, I am going to ask the House definitely to reject it altogether. It is a proposal which strikes right at the life of the House of Commons. As hon. Members have seen this afternoon, I am willing to agree to a great extension of the system of Standing Committees, because I have had much experience of them, I know what good work they do, and I know we have a lot of extra work to be accomplished. But I do suggest that if we have Committees working from half-pastel even in the morning to three or four in the afternoon they will be able to do all that is needed. I can assure new Members that it is exceedingly difficult to get Members on these Committees to sit after luncheon, but experience has shown that with a sitting between half-past eleven and two o'clock you get shorter Debates and the Bill is passed through very quickly. I think that the right hon. Gentleman who sits near me, and who has had great experience of these Committees (Sir D. Maclean), will support me in that. If we have anything like four or five Grand Committees sitting from half-past eleven in the morning till three in the afternoon they will quickly clear off all the Bills that the House can possibly send them. We are asked to cut right away from the whole duty and work of the House of Commons. We are asked to give the Government power to come down here and adjourn the House on two days a week from now until the end of all time. We may be told it is only an experiment and that the Government are not intending to do it. But we are perfectly well aware that a Government does not like sittings of the House of Commons, and if they can get their measures through without such sittings and without all those things which sittings imply, they will adopt that course. They will send their Bills upstairs to Grand Committees, and practically close the House of Commons. I think it would be most inconvenient to Members themselves. We have often heard people complaining of the week-end habit of the House of Commons, because it adjourns early on a Friday in order that Members may go down to their constituencies. But this proposal will produce a mid-week-end habit. [Laughter.] It is rather difficult to find words to express one's meaning in this respect, but it will introduce a habit of the House of Commons not sitting on these two days in the middle of the week. It may be only gradual, but remember appetite grows upon what it feeds upon, and after a few years the House of Com- mons will not sit on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. [An Hon. Member: "But Committees will."] I do not think it necessary. Probably there will be only two or three Grand Committees sitting—I do not believe there will be work for six—and while, perhaps, 160 or 170 members are engaged on them upstairs the whole of the House is to be adjourned because there will be no work for other hon. Members to do.
As I pointed out yesterday the work of the House of Commons is not merely that of passing legislation. It is the redressing of grievances, and it ought to sit in Session in order that people may know that it is prepared to do this work. If there is anything going wrong in the country, how, under this proposal, would it be possible to move the Adjournment of the House, which is one of the best recognised means of redressing grievances and testing the action of Ministers. It would become impossible if a Minister is to have the power to come down after Question Time and move that the House do adjourn in order that Grand Committees may sit upstairs. We shall lose the opportunity of having Adjournment Motion Debates after a quarter-past eight, although some urgent matter of definite public importance may have arisen. We shall lose that weapon on at any rate two days of the week. A suggestion has been made that this change is to be made in order that legal Members may take part in the work of the Grand Committees. But if the Grand Committees are to sit in the morning and the afternoon it will be a pure waste of time to carry out this proposal. Surely the House is not going to stultify itself by accepting an Amendment of this kind at the very time when we are trying to get more work done! Surely we are not going to make this change to suit the convenience of lawyers! The Standing Committees will sit as heretofore, from half-past eleven till three or four o'clock, and I submit that during those hours the real work will be done. I venture to ask hon. Members, whatever the details of this Amendment are, to say that they will not have the House adjourn on two days—days when hon. Members are all up from the country and have arranged to take their part in the Debates of this House and to do their duty. Further, I again submit that the proposal is unnecessary, as all the Grand Committees can do their work perfectly well between half-past eleven and four.
As far as my own opinion goes, I am in general agreement with the Motion before the House. Hat what has fallen from my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) calls attention to one really serious matter. That is the Adjournment at 8.15 p.m., and it shows how very careful we must be in the full consideration of this matter. We all know that a matter of "urgent public importance" can often only come to the minds of hon. Members by news on the very morning of the day on which they are to debate it. It may be, as it often is, a matter of urgent and indeed vital public importance, and one which is very inconvenient for the Ministry of the day. You have to deal with, human nature as you find it and know it, and as it is expressed in this House, Therefore, to pass this Motion as it stands, especially with the words "without debate," is to commit, I am afraid, rather a serious infringement of that portion of the duty of the House which is as important as legislation, and which is commonly summed up in the phrase "the grand inquest of the nation," The Noble Lord sitting opposite to me on the fourth bench (Lord Robert Cecil) knows what happened in 1906 and 1910. Certainly on one occasion he took a very active and most useful public part in impugning some acts of the Home Office. Such matter as that must be raised instantly, or otherwise the opportunity is gone. These are matters of very great importance, and I should like to hear something more from the Minister responsible for supporting this Motion on such a point as that.
I have said that the Government are prepared to accept this Amendment in substance, but I would suggest to my hon. Friend who is responsible for the Amendment upon the Paper that, having received the assurance that has been given, he should withdraw the Amendment, and we will bring up the matter as a separate Standing Order, having regard to what has been said in the course of this Debate.
I hope the Government, who met hon. Members other than my hon. Friend opposite by a concession earlier in the Debate, will not recede from that concession now.
It would be very disappointing if they did, because we attach very great importance to this particular proposal, and I really think my hon. Friend's (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) apprehensions are altogether illusory. The Government has much greater control over the House than it has over a Grand Committee.
If this matter is going to be dropped now and resumed at a later stage, would it not be better to postpone further discussion?
I quite agree, Sir, but I was rather afraid my hon. Friend's arguments might produce an untoward effect on the Government. I will not, however, continue.
Before it is withdrawn, cannot the right hon. Gentleman give a reply to the question as to whether in the form that the Government are going to put it down they will safeguard the privilege of Members of this House of calling attention to matters of urgent vital necessity, which are called at 8.15 p.m., and which could not be so called if the House were adjourned without Debated?
I certainly think that that is a matter for which we must provide in the form of words which we adopt in order to give effect to the promise we have made.
Upon the whole I think not. It seems to me as the matter now stands that it would be right to give the House an opportunity of dividing on such a question.
May I ask the Government whether they propose to bring this up at the end of all their Amendments or at some earlier stage? Experience of some of these discussions in times past leads me to fear that if it is put off to the end of the whole of these Amendments the time may not be available for its discussion. This is a very vital part of the Government's proposal, and I should be glad to have some reassurance from my right hon. Friend on that point.
Two questions are asked me. As to the first, by the Noble Lord, my answer is that the new form of words shall be put down, with the utmost diligence; and in answer to the second question, we will pay attention to the suggestion contained in the Amendment, which we have not yet seen.
Will he put the form of words on the Paper so that we can see it?
In view of the promise of the Attorney-General, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "twenty," and to insert instead thereof the word "twelve."
I apologise for putting in a manuscript Amendment, but I think it would be of interest to know why the Government fixed the quorum at twenty. I am a comparatively old Member of the House, with a large experience of Standing Committees, and I think everyone who has served on those Committees will agree with me when I say that a great deal of time has been lost because we have not had a quorum. On many occasions I have been present at the time fixed for meeting, when there were not twenty Members present, and we have often had to wait twenty minutes or half an hour before we could start, and sometimes it has been so impossible to get the full quorum of twenty that the Committee has had to adjourn till the next day, with great inconvenience to those Members who have arrived to attend. This has happened with Committees numbering sixty, but under the proposal of the Government the Standing Committees will only number forty, and if they were to consult any of the officials of the House I believe they would find that if they want to expedite the business and get through their programme the one thing that would help more than anything else would be to reduce the Standing Committee quorum. I think the time thus saved would obviate the necessity of sitting while the House is in Session. The reduction of the quorum obviously gives the Government more power, but I do not think that is a vital point, because if there was any keen interest in a particular Bill or question the Committee would be sure to fill up. The number I venture to suggest is twelve. That probably may be too few, but I would ask the Government if they have really considered this point, and whether I am not right in my contention that it would be a saving to reduce the quorum below twenty, and, if so, whether they would not very largely increase the volume of business they would be likely to get out of the Standing Committees.
I beg to second the Amendment. I would call the attention of the House to the fact, that insisting upon a large quorum often paralyses the action of a Grand Committee, simply because people stay away on purpose. I remember a rather celebrated occasion when quite a number of Members were hanging about in the passage outside ready to go in if a quorum were formed, but determined to stay outside and thereby obstruct the progress of the Bill as long as there was not a quorum. If you insist on a quorum of twenty, it may be that nineteen who want to get on with the business and eighteen who do not are on the premises, and that the eighteen will not allow a quorum to be formed, simply by remaining outside the room. If you would avoid that, the number of the quorum should be smaller. If twelve is too small a number, we might say fifteen, but with that number I believe the opponents of a measure would take very good care to be on hand, because they would know that by merely staying away they could not prevent the business being gone on with.
Mr. J. W. WILSON:
I cannot help feeling that a good deal of the experience which has been quoted by hon. Members arises from that gained on Committees where private Members' Bills were being considered, and where in short the Bills were not, from a Parliamentary point of view, of first-class importance. In my view twenty is not a very large number to get together, especially if it is a Bill that this House wants to pass, but there are many Bills that have been sent upstairs which had little chance of living through all the stages of this House, and that may have been one of the causes why the whole proceedings of a Committee have been blocked for weeks by the simple plan of boycott. I feel that from a Parliamentary point of view to suggest that twelve Mem- bers might pass an Amendment to a Bill is rather a low number. I would submit for the consideration of the Government whether some such modification might be introduced as we have in our own proceedings in this House, whereby no Division shall be valid unless twenty Members take part in it. That would not make it necessary to suspend a discussion in Committee if, for instance, during Question Time here a few Members might want to go down to ask a question. The Debate could be continued over the interval, or in some cases when an Amendment is being considered, the Committee might open the Amendment at half-past eleven, but would not be able to pass it without the necessary quorum being present. A little elasticity like that might materially assist the conduct of business.
I hope the Government will adhere to the number of twenty. I think the House when they hear hon. Members recount former experiences ought rather to discount them. We are going to set up these Committees as a real business element in reorganising our procedure. As to supposing such a thing as Members speaking outside in the passage so as not to have a quorum, I hope now that important measures are to be sent upstairs that will never happen, and bring the House into discredit. I think we ought to do everything to lay down that we mean business in appointing those Committees. Therefore you have to take a very serious view of what the Committees and the quorum ought to be. I think half the number of a Committee is little enough. A Committee ought to be a microcosm of this House. It ought to be really something that represents the feeling in this House, and I do not think you could have that feeling represented by less than twenty Members. It seems to me a very fair number, and if Members do their duty in trying to push on the business—and if we do not push on the business we shall come to grief for a dead certainty—I do not believe there will be any real difficulty. My right hon. Friend opposite has made a proposal which I do not think is practicable. Without a quorum you could not go on and on with a Debate in the hope that other Members would turn up so as to permit of a Division being taken. It is far better to put real, serious responsibility upon Members of these Committees and expect them to do their duty.
I think the indignation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been rather overdone, because there must have been many occasions on which the right hon. Gentleman has waited outside a Committee Room.
At the same time, I quite agree with him that it would be deplorable if the quorum should be reduced below twenty on that ground itself. Twenty is a small enough microcosm of this House to legislate, especially on such important matters as Housing or Land Bills, which are coming on. But I rise to deprecate the suggestion of my right hon. Friend below me. I certainly think you do not want to have either Divisions taken or Debates going on with fewer than twenty Members present. Surely the chief glory of our Grand Committee system is that people vote who hear the discussion, and if you are going to have Debates going on and Members being summoned by Whips you do away with the principal value of Grand Committee legislation. I was a little surprised to hear this Amendment moved by one Liberal Member and seconded by another Liberal Member. Is it part of Liberal principles that you should legislate by a quorum of twelve Members, and so practically put the voting power into the hands of a bureaucracy? In all these Committees you have the Minister in charge of the Bill and his Private Secretary, and you have the legal adviser of the Government and his Private Secretary, so that you always start on every Grand Committee with four safe votes, and if you are going to cut down the quorum to twelve or less you might just as well legislate in the Home Office without coming to this House at all. The only possible way of getting a reflex of public opinion is by having a sufficient number to decide the legislation. Therefore, I hope we shall not in this case have any change from the scheme approved by the Government.
I may say this has been very carefully considered by the Government, and we came to the conclusion that it would not do to alter the quorum. The whole essence of this change is that Members should treat these Committees as seriously as the whole House of Commons. I believe, in those circum- stances, we can rely on getting a quorum. I hope the hon. Member, therefore, will not press his Amendment.
With regard to the next Amendment, standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Fife, I would suggest that it would come better as a new paragraph. The same remark applies to the next two Amendments. I will take them after we have disposed of the Amendment which deals with paragraph (2). It will be necessary, first of all, to dispose of paragraph (1) as amended.
I beg to move, in paragraph (2), to leave out the word "fifteen" ["together with not more than fifteen other Members"], and to insert instead thereof the word "ten."
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the nature of the Amendment? If I understand rightly, it is a proposal to alter the number of Members added to a Committee. I venture to hope the Government will not press that. In my view—and I speak from experience of these Committees—the size of the Committees is not at all too large. I quite agree with the speeches made against the proposal to reduce the quorum. The number is not too large to do the business now to be assigned to it. You want a Committee, as my right hon. Friend said, which is a microcosm of the House of Commons. You do not want it to be merely a body of persons, some of whom are members of the Government, or tied supporters of the Government, and not to represent in any degree the independent judgment of the House. I do not suppose the Government contemplates anything such as packing a Committee on an important Bill. It would certainly not be difficult to construct a Committee on which there would be no opposition to the Government. Therefore, I do not think it is desirable to reduce the numbers below what they are now, and I do not see any ground for doing it. It is proposed that there shall be six Committees. If you have sixty, or even eighty, Members, that falls very far short of the total membership of the House. It is quite true every Member will not attend every meeting. There will always be a certain number of absentees, and when you have a large number to choose from, you get, at any rate, thirty or forty Members in attendance more or less representative of the Whole House, and who will be able to do the very important work the Government have indicated they intend to put upon these Committees. I hope the Government will not press this Amendment.
I should like to support what the Noble Lord has said, particularly with regard to added members. Added Members are generally persons with special knowledge of the matter before the Committee, and the more important the business you give to these Committees the more desirable it is to give wide freedom of choice to the Committee of Selection in nominating an adequate number of Members who know the subject matter from a Committee point of view, and have had experience. Therefore, from the point of view of efficiency, it seems to me the usefulness of these Standing Committees will really be imperilled if you cut them down to this limit, particularly with regard to added Members. It is quite possible to say the numbers added should not be more or less than so many. But to tie them down to so low a number as ten would, I am convinced, hinder, and not help, the objects which the Government have in view; and I say this as one who warmly approves the general plan and the attempt to get more business done.
Sir T. WILSON:
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to press this Amendment. Quite a number of questions will come before the Committees dealing with the industrial life of the people of the country, and we want to have a fair share of Members added who understand those questions, so that the views of the people they represent may be properly expressed in Committee.
I do not know if my hon. Friend who has just spoken realises that this deals solely with the Scottish Committee. I am very much surprised if he is able to speak for the Scottish Members of the Labour party. I expect he will hear from them in the course of the even- ing, if he presses that representation to which lie refers. I do hope the Government will stand by this, because we are making a real and very great and important change, and since the idea is, as far as possible with the limited scope of these proposals, to develop on lines of devolution—and this refers to a devolution on somewhat national lines—what the Scottish Members say is that the fewer English or Welsh Members they have there the better. I do hope, on the ground of the reputation of Scotsmen, that in this particular proposal the Government will remain firm.
I am quite aware that this Amendment does relate only to Scotland, but I must join distinct issue with the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not think the addition of a certain number of English Members in any way militates against the chance of a thoroughly good consideration of Scottish Bills. We are not going to have a new policy altogether started under the guise of these reforms. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that, because these reforms are introduced, we are now to have, as regards Scottish Bills, what he calls a policy of devolution, and I suppose afterwards we are to have Home Rule.
We are now considering rules of Parliamentary procedure. I am not going to have, under these rules of Parliamentary procedure, a proposal made which is to involve, as the right hon. Gentleman admits a half-way house to Home Rule. I have had as long an acquaintance and, perhaps, a more practical acquaintance, with these Scottish Committees than the right hon. Gentleman has bad, and I am quite convinced that those who have sat on these Committees will agree with me in saying that we often have very good expert advice from English Members. I hope we are not going to have a small separate Home Rule Parliament under the guise of altering the Rules of the House. I join entirely with those who think these specially chosen Members who are interested in the subject and would very often desire to sit upon the Committee are the least desirable persons and it would be a great pity, even in a Scottish Committee, if the number of English Members were reduced as is proposed.
I think it is rather a pity that we should be asked to decide side issues on a question of principle. I think the best plan would be to make a Motion to postpone consideration of the Scottish issue so as to enableus to deal with the larger issue, which does not, of course, preclude the point of view which is now being raised coming up again after we have decided the general question as to the total number. In order to do this, I propose that we leave out from "Standing Orders" in line five down to "and" in line twelve.
I think the Amendment will have to be to leave out all the words down to the end of that paragraph. The words that come in after line twelve relate to nominated Members. Therefore it will be to leave out all the words from the word "constituency" in line six down to the end of the paragraph. Would that meet the right hon. Gentleman's views?
It simply means that we decide the general question of the number of the Committee without raising this special issue, which I understand can be raised again.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that whoever is responsible for drafting these Rules, in setting down this Amendment, did not know that paragraph (2) related solely to Scotland?
No, that is not the criticism. The criticism is that we did not realise that the Scottish Members, or any of them, desire that their Committee should be treated in a different way from the general Grand Committees.
We want to be quite clear what the Government's proposals are before we allow them to withdraw this Amendment and put forward any fresh words. The Scottish Members in this House consists of members of all parties, and the Bills that go to the Scottish Grand Committee affect Scotland only, and are not the general Bills that go to the ordinary Grand Committees. I think the right hon. Gentleman, who is now a Scottish Member again will agree that he and the other representatives from Scotland can look after the affairs of Scotland quite easily in their own Committee. The fifteen added Members to the Scottish Committee have always been too large. We want to secure that in any alteration which is suggested by the withdrawal of this Amendment now, there should be less interference by the House with the Scottish Grand Committee which deals particularly with Scottish measures. I should like to know how the matteris left. It is suggested, for instance, that we should go back and move a fresh Amendment, but we may find ourselves at the end of these proceedings ruled out by the Order of Debate from considering that matter again if we allow it to be dropped now. I am certain a great number of the new Scottish Members have as clear a mandate as possible from their constituencies that Scottish affairs should be looked after by the Scottish Members, and perhaps it would help our discussion if some of the new Members for Scotland would relate their experiences.
It is rather difficult to deal with this, because it raises the issue whether the Scottish Grand Committee should be treated in a different way from other Grand Committees. I was wrong in thinking it could be raised by a later Amendment, and I do not see any way of dealing with it except by dealing with the Amendment as it stands. I wonder if the House would be willing to treat the question of the numbers as one issue, and when we come to the next Amendment take the decision one way or the other! On that point, in regard to the speech of my Noble Friend—and it applies to this Amendment as well—the Government have no interest one way or the other in the matter. On the face of it we should desire to keep the numbers as at present. We obviously wish that the Committees, which we are trying to make more important and more representative, should be as numerous as the membership of the House will make possible. The sole reason why we have reduced them is not, in my view, the idea, which has a good deal of truth in it, that the smaller the Committee the more efficiently it does its work. I do not think that would be the right attitude to adopt in the case of a Committee which is to be a microcosm of the whole House. We should desire it to be as representative as the House is. We have done it simply for this reason—and I am afraid it is a reason which is unanswerable—that unless you reduce the numbers you cannot get the number to man six Grand Committees. My Noble Friend is right if he takes the total numbers of the House, but I ask him to deduct from that, first of all, the members of the Government, who cannot serve on Grand Committees with any regularity, except a Minister in charge of a Bill. In addition, there are many other Committees which must of necessity go on in addition to these Standing Committees. There are Special Committees set up; there is the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and there are Private Bill Committees, which take a great deal of time, and beyond that, unless we were to adopt the principle which we were unable to adopt when it was suggested by my Noble Friend, that Committees should not sit in the morning at all, we must leave out the very large number of Members who have businesses to attend to and cannot come in the morning. If you make all these deductions, the House will have to come to the conclusion that the Government is right in proposing to reduce the numbers. I think that is necessary. It is not a matter of principle, but a matter of convenience and expediency. We cannot possibly go back to the numbers on Standing Committees as they are now, and if I found a general desire on the part of the House to add a small number, say, to those who are specially appointed to a Committee, to leave it, for instance, at fifteen, as it stands now, I should be ready to fall in with the wishes of the House.
I hope my right hon. Friend will not finally close his mind to the other consideration. This great and important experiment which we are trying will be hopelessly handicapped if we fix the membership of the Grand Committee at forty with ten added, that is fifty in all, to consider really big legislation, for instance, a measure like the Home Rule Bill. Granted that all cannot come, and that you must allow for that, the whole discussion on a matter of enormous importance might be taken in an assembly of thirty, or possibly forty Members at the outside. I cannot think that is a satisfactory way of doing it. The old Grand Committee consisted of possibly ninety-five Members. It could have eighty and fifteen added.
This is a new thing. We are going to send much more important Bills, and though I quite agree that your Grand Committees would not of course consist of eighty Members with fifteen added, you ought to have power to create a Grand Committee of that size in order to deal with very important matters. If my right hon. Friend had altered sixty to forty I should have seen much less objection. Then he could have had a variation in the size of the Grand Committees which would have met the case. May I put this further consideration. He has undertaken to give himself the power to have these Committees sitting in the evenings. If you have a state of things when there are six Grand Committees sitting on important measures, and large Grand Committees at that, a case would arise clearly when the Government would propose that the Committees should sit in the evening, and at a time when they could get the assistance of the professional Members of the House. I hope he will think this over again. I feel sure we must not do anything at this stage to discourage public opinion in reference to this new departure, and if you have very small Grand Committees dealing with very important subjects I believe the plan will not be tried under the best conditions. My right hon. Friend, it seems to me, in his last speech gave the most excellent and conclusive reasons for adopting the proposal I pressed on the House some time ago.
I am anxious to meet the general wishes of the House in this matter, and if that object could be attained in this way I should be very glad to do it. Instead of saying forty, I should be willing to say "not less than forty or more than fifty" in the one case and "not less than ten or more than fifteen" in the other.
I should like to make the suggestion that there should be much wider discretion, say, forty and eighty, so that on unimportant Bills there should be small Grand Committees and for important measures, such as the Home Rule Bill, which was referred to a Grand Committee, the Government would be able to fill the Committee up to ninety-five, and so get a real microcosm of the House of Commons. That would not be necessary in the case of minor Bills, but it would be a very desirable power in the case of more important Bills.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is unacquainted with the work of private Members of the House during the period when we have had Grand Committees. He probably does not know that when any Bill goes upstairs to a Grand Committee there are always a number of private Members who try to get put on to that Committee, because they have Amendments down to the Bill. They very often fail to get on to the Committee because, under our present system, there are not enough vacancies to take all of them. If a man is sufficiently interested to put down Amendments to a Bill, and to read it through and study it properly, surely he ought to have an opportunity of getting on to the Committee. The Leader of the House said there were not enough Members to go round, but as long as there are Members who are keen to serve on these Committees surely you ought not to rule them out. Members in the last Parliament will remember that again and again people were going round and saying, "Will you come off Grand Committee in order to let me go on, because I have got Amendments down." To imagine that because there are a number of business men who have work in the morning that there are still left behind a very large residuum of actives Members of this House who would not serve on Committees if they got the chance, is a mistake. I would strongly urge on the Government not to leave the figure at fifteen, but to increase it to twenty. The extra Members need not be put on, but this would afford an opportunity to people who wish to take part in any legislation to get on the Committees. There are specialists in this House on almost every Bill that comes up. There are an enormous number of specialists on housing, and to say that their number is only ten is absurd. There may be twenty or twenty-five. All these people should have a chance of getting on the Committee dealing with housing Bills. Probably there are one or two Members, like myself, who are keen on the taxation of land values who ought to be represented on such a Committee. But we shall have no chance of taking any part in a discussion on such a Bill if the Rule goes through that only ten Members should be added. Even if the number of ordinary Members is limited to fifty the right hon. Gentleman could still allow twenty Members to be added to the Committee if they are anxious to serve.
I rather think that the Government proposal is the sounder one, even from the point of view of the hon and gallant Member opposite. Take, first of all, the proposal of the Noble Lord. Members are forgetting that the practice of this House has been this. The Committee of Selection sets up the Grand Committees at the beginning of the Session. That is a point we must not forget. The Members of the House are divided—so many on Standing Committee A, so many on B and so many on C. I am myself very strongly of the opinion that we should stick like grim death to that, be cause the numbers there are free from the interference of the Executive. If you are going to leave it open to the Government, on a particular Bill, to raise the numbers, say, from forty to eighty, and if the Government can pack—I do not use the word in an invidious sense—on forty Members suddenly for a particular Bill—
The hon. and gallant Member himself suffered from the method in which these Committees are set up on a famous occasion a year or two ago. I would urge that we should stick to the number and leave to the Committee of Selection to make either Committee A, B, or C either forty or fifty at the beginning of the Session, and whatever number is necessary should be added afterward. On the question of the numbers who should be added for a special Bill, I agree to their being kept small, and I agree with the hon. Member for East. Edinburgh that there is a great danger if you want too many people added specially for a Bill that Members will be inclined to get on for a special purpose outside of what is fair and reasonable. I think a Committee of forty to fifty and ten to fifteen is quite sufficient generally for any Standing Committee, and I hope the Member for East Edinburgh will not confine his proposal to Scotland, but will apply it to the other Committees as well.
I do not think the House really knows what the proposal before it at the present moment is—at least I myself find great difficulty in following where we are, and I think that it would be well that we should get down to some specific question. As I understand, the Amendment originally moved is not now before the House.
It may be technically before the House, but it is not the actual Question, because the Leader of the House has told us that he is prepared to reconsider the matter. I understand that my right hon. Friend has made a suggestion for the consideration of the House that instead of leaving out "not less than sixty or more than eighty" it should run "not less than forty or more than sixty."
Well, fifty. I am not pinning myself to the exact number, nor, I take it, is the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested not less than ten or more than fifteen, as I understood it, in his second Amendment. Clearly what you really want is elasticity. There will be Bills and Bills, there will be small Bills, where forty might be a perfectly proper number, or a Special Committee of ten; but in the great Bills—and we really must keep that before our minds—where the Committee is going to do the real business of this House, subject, of course, to the supervision of the House, we must have a substantial Committee which really represents the House, and we must run no danger whatever of having anything else. Therefore, I would suggest to the House that the method proposed by the Leader of the House is really a business one, namely, to make it not less than forty nor more than sixty, and not less than ten nor more than fifteen. There, I think, you have got over all the difficulties.
We must deal with the Amendment which is technically before the House.
I beg to move, at the end of the Standing Order, to add,
(6) Reports of all Debates shall be published in like manner as the Debates in the House.
In view of the great changes involved in the Government's proposal, I hope the Leader of the House will give favourable consideration to the new paragraph I have just moved. The effect of the Government's proposals will be that some of the most important work will be done in Committee without any record being kept, unless this new paragraph which I have moved be accepted. If hon. Members are to be kept in touch with all the work that is being done by the House and in Committee, it is absolutely necessary that we should have the report of the proceedings published in exactly the same way.
Every morning, in exactly the same way as are the Reports of the House. This method cannot really be a business method unless we have a proper record of all the work which is accomplished. I believe that the publication of the Reports, in the way I have suggested, would tend rather to shorten the proceedings than to lengthen them, and I accordingly move this new paragraph.
I waited to see if this was the unanimous wish of the House before answering. I certainly should be sorry to see this proposal adopted. Our object is really to make these big Committees more important in every possible way. We have got to take human nature as it is, and I am sure there is a not inconsiderable number of Members of Parliament who would attach more importance to the Committee if the speeches were all reported. That is one side. On the other side, all experience has shown, and my right hon. Friend has shown, that one of the reasons why Grand Committees get through their work so well is that there is no reporting of the speeches. Reporting does tend to lengthen the speeches on Grand Committees. Personally, I am against it, and I think it would be a great mistake to introduce it into the Procedure, at all events now. If the House ever desire it, it would be very easy to do it at a later date, for, unless I am mistaken, it is in the power of Mr. Speaker now to do it.
That strengthens what I said. It is in Mr. Speaker's power, and all that is required at any time is that a Resolution should be moved in the House. I hope my right hon. Friend will not press his Motion. I am sure it would be no help to the procedure of Standing Committees at this stage.
I regret that the Leader of the House has met the proposal of my right hon. Friend with what amounts to a direct negative. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Let us see what this means. We have all been going on the assumption that this is a fundamental change in our procedure, and that the great Bills arts going to be handed up to the Committees. As matters at present stand, there is no official record at all of the proceedings of the Committees. Time and again pledges are given by Ministers as to what will be done on the Report stage. I am not for one moment saying that they have at any time, so far as I know, been broken, but at any rate there is no official record at all. With these great Bills before these great Committees, what an extraordinary state of things there is going to be. There will be no official record at all, and the Minister is to give an undertaking that a private note will be taken but no official record. I press that as showing how important it is that at any rate there should be an official record which may be consulted by all Members of the Committee and by the public. There is another point which is very important. What record is there for the great Press of the country. [An Hon. Member: "They can come in!"] What record is there the public can have of what takes place at what, after all, is the most important stage?
What chance have the outside public of knowing what is going on in regard to great Bills affecting the lives of millions of the people? I think they are entitled to have some official record of what has gone on there. I think we are really losing sight of a most important matter. This is not a matter of the kind of Bills that have been going up before, because great Bills are going up. The Finance Bill is to go up there. This is a matter in which the Labour party is deeply interested as well as the whole of the public, and unless we have some official record by which the public can judge of what is going to happen in those Committees we are taking a step the gravity of which we shall recognise when it is too late. Unless I am wholly mistaken there is no other opportunity in this House of revising these things. There is no Report stage and no Committee or Third Reading, and what we do now settles it. I want to suggest to the House that we cannot exercise too great care in this matter. I want to help the Government through so that we can get to business as soon as possible, but we must exercise every care, and here are two or three instances which show that it is necessary that we should see where we are going.
It appears to me that the answer to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is a very short and obvious one. His main contention is that the Bills sent up to Grand Committee will be so important that there ought to be a record of the Debates upon them for the public. The answer to that is that the Press are admitted to the proceedings, and they are very much better judges of what the public want a record. If those Bills are so important that the public really want to know what speeches have been made and what has been said, we may be perfectly certain the Press will see that reports are published; if, on the other hand, they are not so important or interesting, then they will not report them, and even in that case the public will not gain anything by having seven official reports. What is proposed is that we should have seven daily official reports.
I did not mean that. This has been sprung on one and requires thinking out.
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman opposite supported the Amendment, and the Amendment is that we should have seven official reports—that is, seven official daily reports. Apparently the Siamese twin leader opposite does not agree with him. If the proceedings are worth reporting the Press will do it, and if the Press do not do it the public will not gain anything by having all these official reports. The public do not look so much at the Official Report. The Press correct their report by reference to the Official Report, but that is quite different to the point raised by my right hon. Friend opposite, who appeared in the guise of a protector of the public from having important proceedings screened from their view. I do not think there is the least fear of that, and I hope the Leader of the House will adhere to the position he has taken up with regard to this Amendment.
I think the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down does not clearly understand the situation. The Official Report is used not so much to give information to the general public, as by different special interests in this country who make extracts from it and publish it in their own local papers dealing with their special interests. It is used, also, by the local Press for printing the speeches of hon. Members of this House. I have seen reports in the Press of the proceedings of Grand Committees, and they rarely exceed a quarter of a column in the "Times," and the only ease in which I know that was exceeded was in regard to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, in which it was thought the public would take more interest.
This House does not legislate so much for the benefit of those who read the halfpenny Press, but we legislate for the mass of the people of this country. They do not read the Official Report, and their opinions are formed for them by the people who do read the Official Report and translate it to them by means of the daily Press or through special papers into the instruction of the masses of the people of this country. It might be possible to allow special Bills to be dealt with upstairs in secret or be satisfied to let them have a quarter of a column in the "Times" next morning, but it is much more important that the public should not be kept in the dark without knowing what has been said upon the Estimates upon which the Government policy may be arranged. The remaining days are to be allowed for discussions on the Colonies, the Home Office, the Board of Trade, or any of the other thousand-and-one problems of national interest. They have to be discussed in Committee, and we are going to have Debates on foreign affairs and such matters as the League of Nations, and you will have no official report but merely get the reports in the halfpenny Press or the other variety which is to publish the news next morning.
I think it is monstrous that the administration of this country and criticisms of it should be carried on more or less in camera in Grand Committee.
It is true that we might have some sort of a fuller report, but that will not be an official report. I beg the House and the Government to remember that even in their own interests they should see that there are official reports of these proceedings. The ipsissima verba of Ministers' speeches and others is often extremely important to refer to by the Government officials, and when the people understand that the first change effected by the Coalition Government is one which is going to blind the eyes of the country as to what goes on with regard to important Bills and blind them to all criticism of the Administration, the people will be more disappointed than they are at the present time. You are going to make them more disappointed if they see government is carried on in a hole-and-corner manner.
Let us have our discussions just as we have our diplomacy, all open and on the table with official reports, even though it involves the large amount of additional printing. When you talk of seven official reports it is ridiculous. Anyone knows that the amount of talk that goes on is not one-tenth on Grand Committees of what it is in the House of Commons. The reports would be quite short and would come well in one official report of a similar size to the present one. The Committees would not be sitting simultaneously. The Welsh committees would sit very rarely and Scotsmen would only sit when there was a Scottish Bill. The Committees would not sit more than a day per week on an average, and this would not mean a large amount of additional printing. A great principle is involved in this which is that the Debates of this House, or any microcosm of it upstairs, should be reported so that it can be referred to by the Members and the public with same certainty of getting the exact words which have been uttered by the Ministers and their critics. In the case of two particular Bills which were sent to Grand Committees six or seven years ago, I believe the minority employed shorthand writers to take down every word, and in a subsequent Bill they got permission to have an official report. Now if it was actually worth while to employ shorthand writers to take these things down in the interests of the minority, surely it is even more important now, when we are going to discuss subjects of infinitely more importance up stairs in Committee than has been the cast in the past! Therefore, I think we ought to go to the expense of having an official report of what goes on.
There seems to me to be a certain degree of unreality in this discussion. Let us see how the matter stands. My hon. and gallant Friend has summed up the grievances of those who complain by saying that under the plan the Government propose discussions in Grand Committee will be taken in a hole-and-corner manner. There are, I suggest, at least three answers to that allegation, in the first place, it is common ground that the Press will be admitted to these Committees. The Press, in accordance with its usual practice, will exercise its usual discretion, and will take up a matter as occasion offers, will cherish it so long as convenience serves, and will drop it as soon as the decline of popular interest, or the rise of new excitement, seems to suggest. Secondly, there is an official report—[Hon. Members: "Where?"]There is circulated daily an official report of the proceedings of Grand Committees. The Amendments are reported, the results are reported, the Divisions are reported, and everything which is accomplished is reported. What is omitted is the talk. In the third place, if those two considerations do not suffice, everybody knows that it is within the power of Mr. Speaker in a particular case, without any express authority given by the House, to direct a full report of the proceedings, and, in deciding whether such a report should be given, Mr. Speaker, of course, will have regard to the general wish and the convenience of the House. If upon any particular occasion there should be any doubt upon the matter, the House has it within its own power to convey to Mr. Speaker, by means, for example, of a Resolution, what is its general wish and convenience. For those three reasons, if there were no others, I submit that this Amendment ought to fail. The House observes the universality of its terms. It is not that reports may be published or circulated in like manner with the reports of the Debates of the House, but that there shall be no exception to that rule, and that we shall have in every ease what is called a verbatim report. I submit that is superfluous and ought not to be done.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the unreality of this Debate, but the Amendment is not put forward so much with a view of educating public opinion. Personally, I have no regard whether the Press take a certain view or not. I do not think the House ought to be influenced by that, and I do not think we ought to be concerned whether it will tend to hon. Members talking to their constituents. I am principally concerned with its effect upon the Constitution and the position of Ministers themselves. In the early days of trades disputes a shorthand note was unknown, and I do not hesitate to say that I always opposed a shorthand note being taken in any trade negotiations. I did it for the reason that it tended often to people talking inside in order that they might be able to use what they said inside, however unreal it was, for propaganda purposes outside. I believe that just as we want to do business in negotiations so we want to do business in the Committee stage. But let me put the other and serious alternative. It has been shown in negotiations with Ministers in trades disputes that certain pledges and statements have been made on which disputes have arisen. One side has said that the Minister made a certain pledge and the Minister has entirely denied that interpretation. I may disagree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on any point of principle or politics, but it will be a bad day for this country and it will be a bad day for the House of Commons when the word of a Minister is not accepted as being honest. That is the difference in the whole situation. Apply that to a Grand Committee. I venture to say that any Member of this House, taking any big Bill you like passed during the last or previous Session, will admit that in Committee the Minister in charge of the Bill made at least a dozen promises to consider certain things on the Report stage. You often have a Minister from that bench jumping up at once and, rather than face a Division, saying that if the Amendment is withdrawn he will consider the drafting of some Clause for the Report stage of the Bill. I put such a position on the Home Rule Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) is satisfied that there should be no report. The Home Rule Bill is in Committee upstairs, and on a certain Clause the Minister in charge makes a promise.
There is no record. When the Report stage is reached in the House he puts on it an interpretation that is denied by one of the Nationalist Members, and the Minister puts forward another interpretation. I put it that that, instead of helping business, would very considerably hamper business, and really destroy the value of the Committee stage upstairs. I entirely agree that we have got to guard against wasting the time of the Committee, and you do not want unnecessary reports, but there ought to be some safeguard to ensure that any promise made in Committee is placed on record and is not open to dispute by any Member when it comes to the consideration of the House as a whole.
It appears to me that it would be quite easy to meet the case which the right hon. Gentleman puts. It is quite true that under the existing practice, knowing that the thing is going to be reported, when a pledge of that sort is given the House passes on and takes no further notice, but if everybody knew that there was no official report it would be merely a question of the Members concerned taking a note and agreeing with the Minister, that that was his promise.
Then the underlying assumption is that the only people interested are the hon. Members in dispute, but I put it to the hon. Member that the great public—their constituents—are interested, and are entitled to know as well as the hon. Members and to put their interpretation on it, and that can only be done if there is a complete record of the proceedings. After all, these Grand Committees will in the future take the place of this House as a whole. The Members of the House are entitled to know, and their constituents are entitled to know, what goes on upstairs, and they can only know if a full report is taken of the Parliamentary proceedings. It is for that reason that the Labour party have put forward this Amendment, and not in any unreal sense. It is really because they believe that it would facilitate business.
There is one matter upon which, I think, the House is not informed. What are the powers of the Committee to keep a record? We all know that they do keep a record, but I do not know under what rules or whether it is under your orders. If they have the power of keeping a record, or if you have the power of ordering a record, it may be that we should get over some of the difficulties which have been put forward if there were some power of extending the record. My right hon. Friend opposite, as I understand, supports the whole of this Amendment, which means seven Official Reports.
No, to the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last. In my opinion that would be a gross, scandalous waste of money. I do not believe that even the Proceedings of this House are very largely read, or read to any extent, by the public in the Official Report. I believe, if you pass this, it will mean the endowment of some of those contractors who are going about in carts making fortunes collecting waste paper. Everybody knows that there are tons of the Official Retort at the present time which go to waste, and if you multiply that seven times you take out of the taxpayers' pockets money which might be far better spent. No one knows what the waste and the cost would be. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that Ministers are kept to their pledges by the Official Report. I have been 26 years in the House, find I entirely dispute that proposition. I have never yet seen a Minister moved one iota by bringing up his pledge in the Official Report. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what has happened on the Home Rule Bill and the other Bills which I have sat out hour after hour in this House. Whenever you get up and tell a Minister "you promised so and so," and refer him to the passage in the Official Report, he says, "That is not what I meant." [An Hon. Member: "That is a lawyer's argument!"] Yes, it may be, and there are worse people for arguing than lawyers. Then what happens. With a view to facilitating business, the whole of the speeches are gone into. I have seen it done over and over again. Somebody who moved the Amendment gets up and says, "That is what I understood the Minister to mean." Then another quotation from the Minister is brought up, and then another quotation from somebody else.
He cannot very well say that if there is something down. After all, the Minister is doing the business of the country with his Government and if he has changed his mind he has a perfect right to say so, particularly when he comes to this House, because this House is not going to be bound entirely by what takes place in the Committee upstairs. This House will have to express its judgment upon the merits of the question. Of course, if it becomes necessary we may have to have some of these records, but, believe me, you will get on far quicker with the business if there is no Official Report, and that is what you want to do. Let us not get out of our minds—it seems necessary to remind the House very frequently, as the Attorney-General lately did—that we are not powerless in this matter. A simple Motion as regards any Bill will authorise the reporters to take down and report to the House the whole proceedings as regard any particular Bill, and it is far better to leave it at that than to say that every single Bill, no matter how small and how trivial, that goes upstairs is to be reported, and that the country is to pay the cost of a report. I submit that the speech of the Attorney-General is unanswerable. Under the existing system we retain, in our own hands, the power to have a Bill reported when it is necessary, and not when it is unnecessary.
I do not think we should leave this matter where the right hon. Gentleman has left it. We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) for having raised this question of whether a record of the proceedings upstairs is necessary or not. [Hon. Members: "The hon. Member for West Fife!"] I was referring to an earlier speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles, in which he argued that we ought to know exactly where we are going. It seems to me that the power already exists of ordering a full report. The Official Report which is already made of the Divisions covers most of the ground, and the only really substantial point which remains is where Ministers give some undertaking. I would like to ask the Government if they could not meet us by promising that the Official Report should be extended in this way. If a promise is given to me I should have the right to say, "May that be recorded?" If it is recorded, there it is next day, published in black and white. The terms of the promise are there as agreed upon between the Minister who gave it and the person to whom it was given. If that is carried out, then I ven- ture to think that we may accept the Government proposal and be content with the securities we already have and with this additional one.
I understand that the practice of this House is to report Committee stage proceedings as fully as the Second Reading stage. I have spent the most of my life in a part of the Empire where democratic ideas do not stagnate by any means—that is Australia. I want to point out that it has been found expedient there, in at least some of the Parliaments, to cut down the Hansard Report of the Committee stage proceedings. I not only have lived in Australia, but I have had Parliamentary experience there, and I want to say that the effect of that limited report has undoubtedly led to the business being carried through without waste of time. On many occasions when a Member has forgotten that he is in Committee and is speaking at great length, it has only needed an interjection across the floor of the House to the effect that the sitting is in Committee to bring a rapid end to the speech. That has happened on many occasions. As regards the general public having knowledge of what takes place in this House and receiving proper education in political ideas from the proceedings of this House, I think all that can be provided in the Debate on general principles which takes place on the Second Reading stage, and to that extent I do not think therefore the political education of the people generally is at all likely to suffer. Whatever may be the many criticisms passed by Parliament, not only in this country but elsewhere, the main criticism is that there is more talk than work. I take it the great object of the Members of the present Parliament is to reverse that position and remove that criticism as far as possible. I am cordially in agreement with the main propositions of the Government for the alteration of Standing Orders, and I think we shall have achieved the end desired by having working Standing Committees without having their work prejudiced by the introduction of long speeches with a view of getting them reported.
As a new Member of this House I venture to obtrude my views on this question. Although I am new to the work of the House of Commons, I do not think it can be said of me that I am new to public business. I have not been impressed with the way in which various questions have been dealt with in this House either to-night or last night. Whatever public knowledge I possess has been gained in connection with municipal work, and, with all respect to this House, I think the municipalities can give it points in many respects. We have generally in our public bodies a good hard-working class of men, but we usually divide them into two classes—those who work hard behind the scenes and those who reserve their main efforts for field days. Our experience with regard to the work of our committees in municipal matters is one which might be followed. I am sorry to use that word "followed" in reference to this House, but still I do think our example is one which could be followed with advantage by the Members of this Assembly. It is an absolute fact that most important work is done in Committees behind the scenes, work of which the public know nothing, and of which they get only an epitome in the minutes which may be published monthly just before they are to be brought before the full council. Then, and then only, they become public property. I do not wish to cast any reflection on anybody, but I am certainly afraid that many Members whom I have heard speaking here to-night are far more anxious to see their own words in print than they are for the public interest in the question. That, at any rate, is my opinion. There is not to my mind any justification for asking that we should have a voluminous report of the work that goes on in Committee, because when it comes before the House of Commons every Member who is interested in the Bill, in any shape or form, is entitled to ask questions upon what has been done in Committee, and can vote according to his honest convictions. I do not attach as much importance to the speeches leading up to the decisions which have been arrived at in Committee as I do to the actual results of the Committee's deliberations, which results in themselves may be taken as a correct interpretation of what the Committee has done. There has been a good deal of unnecessary talk about a number of things which is not worth the breath wasted upon them. With regard to Committees and the question when they are to meet, or the difficulty of securing a quorum—
I must remind the hon. Member that these are not the questions before the House. The only question to which attention should be directed is whether there is to be any publication on the speeches which are made in Committee.
I think it is important that there should be a record of the proceedings. Under the present system, when an Amendment is withdrawn a mere statement of that fact is made, and there is nothing to show that an Amendment has been withdrawn because the Mover of it has been convinced by the arguments used against it. I think it would be of real value, both to the House and to the outside public, that, when an Amendment is withdrawn on a pledge given by a Minister, that pledge should be definitely recorded. If that is done, it will go a long way to meet the case presented to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and at the same time it will not involve the heavy expenditure to which objection has been taken in some quarters.
I rise to answer the appeal of my right hon. Friend and at the same time to beg the House to come to a decision on this Amendment. I really think, if I may say so, that all the fears that have been expressed are not justified by what is going to happen. It has already been stated that Mr. Speaker has complete power to order whatever kind of report he thinks suitable under the circumstances. He is, of course, influenced by the views of the House of Commons, and he has listened to this Debate. The suggestion made by my right hon. Friend seems a very reasonable one, but the difficulty I anticipate is that the clerk who takes charge of the Committee is not a shorthand writer, and it would not be easy for him to do what is asked. But the House can rest assured that the whole point is, firstly, in the hands, without any influence whatever, of Mr. Speaker, and, secondly, of the House itself. I think we might now take a decision one way or the other, and I hopemy right hon. Friend will not press the Amendment.
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.||[7.42 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, V.||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hayday, A.||Smith, Capt A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hayward, Major Evan||Spoor, B. G.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hirst, G. H.||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Bromfield, W.||Holmes, J. S.||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Irving, Dan||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Cape, Tom||Johnstone, J.||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Cairns, John||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Jonas, J. (Silvertown)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||Lunn, William||Thorne, Wm. (W. Ham)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Tootill, Robert|
|Donnelly, P.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwelty)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Entwistle, Major||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Wignall, James|
|Finney, Samuel||O'Grady, James||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Onions, Alfred||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Grant, James Augustus||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Radmond, Captain William A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. Frederick Hall.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Harbison, T. J. S.||Richardson, R. (Houghton)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Betterton, H. B.||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Bigland, Alfred||Burgoyne, Lt.-Col. Alan Hughes|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Blair, Major Reginald||Burn, T. H. (Belfast)|
|Ainsworth, Capt. C.||Boles, Lieut.-Col. D. F.||Butcher, Sir J. G.|
|Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Borwick, Major G. O.||Campbell, J. G. D.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Campion, Col. W. R.|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Carr, W. T.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Casey, T. W.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Breese, Major C. E.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Briggs, Harold||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Cheyne, Sir William Watson|
|Barrie, C. C.||Broad, Thomas Tucker||Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Brown, T. W. (Down, N.)||Clough, R.|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Bruton, Sir J.||Coates, Major Sir Edward F.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Cobb, Sir cyril|
|Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Hopkinson, A. (Mossley)||Randles, Sir John Scurrah|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hudson, R. M.||Raper, A. Baldwin|
|Coote, W. (Tyrone, S.)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler|
|Cope, Major W.||Hurd, P. A.||Remer, J. B.|
|Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Hurst, Major G. B.||Renwick, G.|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Jephcott, A. R.||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Cowan, D. M (Scottish Univ.)||Jesson, C.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Rogers, Sir Hallewell|
|Davies, A. (Lincoln)||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Rowlands, James|
|Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Knights, Capt. H.||Samuel, A. L. (Eye, E. Suffolk)|
|Dennis, J. W.||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B.||Larmor, Sir J.||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Dixon, Captain H.||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)|
|Donald, T.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Seager, Sir William|
|Doyle, N. Gratten||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Lister, Sir A.||Shortt, Right Hon. E.|
|Du Pre, Colonel W. B.||Lloyd, George Butler||Simm, M. T.|
|Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham)||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville|
|Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Lorden, John William||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Falcon, Captain M.||Lort-Williams, J.||Starkey, Capt. John Ralph|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Fisher, Rt Hon. Herbert A. L.||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Lyle, C. E.||Stevens, Marshall|
|Foreman, H.||Lynn, R. J.||Stoker Robert Bunion|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Foxcroft, Captain C.||M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Sugden, Lieut- W. H.|
|Gange, E. S.||M'Guffin, Samuel||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.|
|Ganzoni, Captain F. C.||Mackinder, Halford J.||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Gardiner, J. (Perth)||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Talbot, G. A (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Geddes, Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)||Macmaster, Donald||Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Maddocks, Henry||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Malons, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Thompson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Martin, A. E.||Waddington, R.|
|Glyn, Major R.||Mason, Robert||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)|
|Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir E. A.||Middlebrook, Sir William||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Gregory, Holman||Mitchell, William Lane-||Whitla, Sir William|
|Gretton, Col. John||Moles, Thomas||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W.E. (B. St. E.)||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Hallwood, A.||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Wilson, Capt. A. (Hold'ness, Yorks.)|
|Hallas, E.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Mount, William Arthur||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Stourbridge)|
|Haslam, Lewis||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Henderson, Major V. L.||Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Neal, Arthur||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Woods, Sir Robert|
|Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Higham, C. F.||Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Parker, James||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Hinds, John||Pickering, Col. Emil W.||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Hood, Joseph||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Dudley Ward and Colonel Gibbs.|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Pratt, John William|
|Rae, H. Norman|
Question put, and agreed to.
I fear that the House, and, perhaps, you yourself, Sir, may imagine that I have put down this new paragraph with the idea of getting in the thin end of the wedge as regards the limitation of Members' speeches, but I can assure the House that that was not my intention. I have also on the Order Paper of the House a Motion to move another Standing Order to deal with the length of speeches on the floor of the House, and not dealing at all with the proceedings upstairs in Standing Committees. I put down this new paragraph and the new Standing Order because it occurred to me that things upstairs and things down here might be different. I should like to ask your ruling, Sir, upon this point. Am I entitled to discuss the major question—that is, the length of speeches in the House generally—or must I confine myself to the length of speeches in these Standing Committees?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must confine himself to the terms of his Amendment.
The hon. and gallant Member will have an opportunity on an early day.
Then I confine myself very strictly to the Amendment I am moving. As the House knows perfectly well, there has been attempt after attempt on the part of private Members of this House to limit the length of speeches in the House. It is a good many years ago that I myself, in conjunction with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wason), got up an agitation on the subject. We circularised the Members of the House, and received replies from all Members of the House, and we got the vast or very great majority of private Members of the House in favour of shortening speeches. I am prepared to confess that from the Front Benches on both sides we got no sympathy whatever, nor did we expect it. Select Committee after Select Committee on the procedure of this House have made recommendations either for taking away from hon. Members some opportunity of speaking at all or else of putting some time limit on hon. Members' speeches. I have no desire to curtail the opportunities of private Members in this House. The Front Benches do that for us already. What we would like to do is to curtail their liberty of always coming in and making speeches and cutting a good many of us out. Only in 1914, just before the War, a Select Committee on the Procedure of the House sat, and reported, I believe, in July of that year. They reported in favour of drastically curtailing the length of speeches. That Committee examined yourself, Sir, and they examined the Chairman of Ways and Means.
If it is possible to avoid the quotation, I may explain that the Committee never did report.
Anyway, if they did not report, they very nearly reported. The matter was thrashed out, and the Committee took up a certain amount of paper in printing what had been said, and made a number of valuable suggestions. They did examine you, Sir. They also examined the Chairman of Ways and Means; also Sir Courtenay Ilbert, Mr. Asquith, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. These five gentlemen whom they examined spoke in favour of a shortening of speeches. Sir Courtenay Ilbert who I suppose, is the chief sufferer, having to remain seated for a great many hours, most emphatically, more emphatically than did Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means, spoke in favour of the limitation of speeches. Mr. Asquith himself, who is a model in his speech-making as regards brevity, strongly recommended the limitation of speeches. This Committee drew up a draft report I suppose, recommending, amongst other things, that in Standing Committees the mover of an Amendment and the Minister replying to it shall be allowed to speak for fifteen, minutes, and other Members ten. It may be said that I am not concerned with the long speeches downstairs and am only endeavouring to shorten them upstairs. It may be said that speeches upstairs never do exceed ten minutes. It may be so, but I myself have sat on Standing Committee C ever since it was first established and I would not say that that was the case. We have got to remember, as has been pointed out by more than one speaker, that it is not only comparatively small Bills that are now going upstairs, but big Bills. Hon. Members talk about Bills like that concerning Home Rule for Ireland, Housing, and so on—important measures.
Undoubtedly there would be a tendency for Members taking part in Debate on these Bills very greatly to exceed ten minutes, and very likely to speak for more than half an hour, even in Committee. I may be told that one of the main reasons why Members speak at great length in this Chamber is to obstruct. That is why, as a matter of fact, the Front Benches have always both been against any limitation of the length of speeches, because they may need the services of certain Members to obstruct. If speeches are not to exceed in length ten minutes, then they will have to provide two or three men for the obstruction, and not only one. But I myself have seen obstruction upstairs in my Standing Committee C. If there is obstruction now there certainly will be a bigger chance in the future. There is another point: these important Bills being sent upstairs have a Second Reading in the House here. But there will be a tendency to start a Second Reading Debate again when they go upstairs, without regard to the consequences in point of time. There is also the Kangaroo Closure, and an artful Member, whose Amendments have been passed over, will try to get them in by artful and controversial speech, which will mean a mere waste of time. If there is the nine minutes' rule for speeches only ten minutes can be wasted. I suggest that as one of the reasons why this comparatively small Amendment should be carried—[An Hon. Member: "Ten minutes! "]—and I do not want to stultify myself by exceeding my ten minutes, though some hon. Members above the gangway seem to think I am going to do so. I hope this new paragraph may be added to Standing Order 47 so that we may get some curtailment of speeches upstairs in Committee.
I beg to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. It is a very long time since I had the honour of addressing the House, and I would, therefore, claim the indulgence of hon. Members. I propose to put forward the best arguments I can for the adoption of this Amendment, In doing so, I should like to give the House some idea of the length of speeches in an ordinary Debate in this. House I do not think hon. Members realise for one moment the length to which speeches go. If they will bear with me a little while, I will give them a summary of the Debate which took place in 1912 on the Home Rule Bill, which produced an average Debate in this House. I happened to take the length of speeches at the time, as I was interested in the question, like the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. The Home Rule Bill came on for First Reading on three days in April. The Debate was opened by a speech from Mr. Asquith, who managed to compress the whole of his remarks into 116 minutes—just under two hours. That was acknowledged, at the time, to be a very fine performance. He was answered by the right hon. Gentleman the present Member for Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law),whose speech lasted 68 minutes. I think that length was justified, too. There were eleven speakers during that first day, and their speeches averaged in length 43 minutes. On the second day nine speakers took part. Their speeches averaged 48½ minutes.
The Debate on the second day was opened by the Foreign Minister, who was answered by Mr. Herbert Samuel in a speech of 92 minutes' length. The average length of speeches on that day was 48½ minutes. The Home Rule Bill was quite a typical kind of Bill which this House considers so far as the length of speeches go. On the third day there were eleven speakers, and their average length was 40½ minutes. So that for the First Reading there were thirty-one speeches, totalling 44 minutes apiece. That average of speeches was very fairly divided amongst the parties in the House. Sixteen Unionists spoke, with an average length of 41¼ mintues each. The Liberals occupied 43½ minutes each on an average, and the Nationalists 49½ minutes each. On that occasion the Nationalists were the longest speakers. About a week later the Second Reading came on. Substantially what we heard on the First Reading was repeated. The Debate was opened by the right hon. Gentleman the war Minister, who spoke for 75 minutes. He was answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who quite impartially spoke for 75 minutes, too. I would like very respectfully to point out that in this particular habit the Members of the Front Benches are by no means the least offenders. That day, the first day of the Second Reading, the speeches averaged forty-eight and a half minutes.
This Amendment relates only to Committees. If it were carried it would not affect matters such as those to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now referring.
I realise fully what you say, Sir. I am using a Debate that has taken place as a short way of putting my argument. I thought perhaps that if I hold a mirror to the House and let them see to what length speechhas grown it would be the most efficient argument I could put forward in support of this Amendment. To summarise the matter and not to worry the House with figures, I would say that the Second Reading Debate of the Home Rule Bill produced sixty-six speakers, whose speeches averaged thirty-nine and a half minutes. For the whole Debate there, were ninety-seven speakers on the First and Second Reading, and they averaged forty and three-quarter minutes. Ninety-seven speakers averaged practically forty-one minutes, and dealing with a question which has been thrashed out many times in this House and practically every word of which had been said over and over again, not only here, but on the platform. That seems to me about the best argument for supporting the Amendment. Hon. Members do not realise to what extent speeches have grown, and unless one of two things happen, unless an Amendment is carried of the nature we are now discussing, limiting speeches automatically, or secondly—which is perhaps almost the better way if it were possible unless a fashion can grow up in this House for shorter speeches, we shall be overwhelmed by our own verbosity. The question has been brought up before, and I never quite understand why, when there is such an overwhelming feeling in the House to shorten speeches, it has never been done. There must be some good reason given if this Amendment is to be opposed. I think that one of the best ways of getting on with the business of the House, and an equally good way in these Rules of Procedure, would be some limitation of speeches, and for that reason I second the Motion.
This subject is a very old friend to anyone who has been for a long time a Member of this House, and I confess that I have a great deal of sympathy with the desire which has been expressed by both my hon. Friends. Indeed, when we were framing these Rules of Procedure I did think of this matter, and with my colleagues I discussed the question as to whether, in regard to the House as a whole, that method would help us in shortening our procedure, and we came to the conclusion that it was a question very difficult to deal with, and it would not sufficiently help us to make it worth while applying it to the House as a whole. As regards the Committees upstairs, I do not think it could be adopted at the present time, and I will tell the House why. It is extremely difficult to fix the exact length of time for speeches. Both the speeches to which we have just listened are an example of this danger. I listened to my hon. Friend (Major Morrison-Bell) with great interest and with a good deal of terror, because I was not sure in what degree of culpability I should stand if he had mentioned my name, because I took part in those Debates. The first Parliament with which I had anything to do was a Parliamentary debating society, and there we had a ten-minutes rule for speeches, and I can certainly say that the effect of that does enable one to find out that you can say a good deal more in ten minutes if you know that a longer time is not to be given to you. My experience also is this, that just in proportion to the amount of preparation you have given to your speeches is the length of the speech. The more you have prepared your speeches the shorter they may be.
What would happen if you tried to apply this Amendment? The speech of my hon. Friend opposite is an example. He did not speak for more than fifteen minutes, but he was evidently under the impression that it was his duty to speak for fully fifteen minutes. That does not help us, and that would be found to be not an uncommon practice in Committee upstairs. In this House we never make a change in procedure—whether it is a good Rule or a bad Rule—until the evil is staring us in the face in such away that we have to remedy it. That has not happened yet in Grand Committee, and I hope it is never going to happen. I think the general opinion will be that it would be very unwise to attempt to cure an evil which has not yet arisen, and to make a change of this kind in Grand Committee at the present stage. My hon. Friend has raised the subject, but the principle is familiar to us, and I hope he will not think it necessary to press the Amendment to a Division.
I should like to point out to my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Morrison-Bell) that he is in error when he says that the speeches of this House have tended to increase in length As a matter of fact the reverse is the case. If he looks back forty, fifty or sixty years he will find that very long speeches were made. Mr. Gladstone never thought it within his dignity to introduce a Budget in anything under four hours. I remember listening to Mr. Gladstone who was leading the House when a Member made a casual observation and Mr. Gladstone made a most interesting speech on it. I timed the speech, and it occupied one hour and ten minutes. That would never be tolerated in the present Parliament. I feel certain I am right in saying that the tendency is for speeches to decrease in length and not increase. Speeches in Committee are very seldom long. I do not think the illustration which the hon. and gallant Member gave was quite fair. That was a Bill which had caused the disruption of the Liberal party, which had caused it to be relegated to the wilderness for twenty years in 1886, and which was one of the most controversial Bills which has ever been introduced and which had split up the whole Kingdom. If you have a Bill of that sort, surely it is not advisable to say that a man can only speak ten minutes.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that a hundred speeches of forty-one minutes each was a fair record?
As a new Member, I claim the indulgence of the House in addressing it. I had not intended to take part in the Debate, but I think there is something to be said for the Amendment. It is perfectly true that in many cases speeches are delivered which are very lengthy, and it will be admitted that where there is a lengthy speech which is devoid of interest people get very tired. It is a fact, however, that in many cases a gentleman rises to address the House and speaks with great interest. I am perfectly satisfied that in this House we have had some remarkable speeches, and although they were long speeches, I must confess that to me they were most interesting. In connection with Standing Committees it may be different. We are here as Members of Parliament to do our best for the country, and we have come here with the determination that so far as we are able we shall do our part in connection with Standing Committees or in any other way. In connection with Standing Committees it should be borne in mind that in those Committees men are free to express their views in a sort of conversational way, and ten or fifteen minutes is quite ample for a man to express his views in these colloquies. In my young days I used to read with great interest the Debates in this House, and sometimes I have been quite surprised that the House of Commons should have listened, as apparently it did listen with satisfaction, to some speeches which I thought from beginning to end were practically twaddle. Of course, if you curtail the length of speech in the House of Commons, you take away a very important thing for the House, especially for the Opposition. We are to-day in power, but the time may come when the Unionist party may be on the opposite benches, and I do not think that in this House we should like to be curtailed, especially on those questions as to which we should wish to obstruct with all our power; but in Grand Committees what we want is to sit round a table and discuss our views and practical points.
I understand that at these Standing Committees men who know their business thoroughly are able to express their views in a practical manner so as to bring conviction to those who hear them. In connection with the Debates as to procedure, I have been rather disappointed at some of the speakers, who appeared to speak a great deal and give us very little. I have been disappointed, also, with the general Debate on the Address. One heard some Members of Parliament speaking for forty-five minutes when they actually could have said all that they did say in five minutes or less. It is a sad disappointment for some of us to listen to long speeches with really nothing in them. No one begrudges, to sit and listen to speeches with interest from beginning to end and to the general Debates of the House. It would be a great pity indeed if you were so to curtail the speeches as not to get the benefit of the ripe experience of the older Members of the House, but I think that it would be a good thing if the Government would accept the Amendment, so as to curtail Debates if possible in Standing Committees, where such good work must be done, and in this way advance the work of the House of Commons.
In view of the sympathetic attitude of the Leader of the House, I desire to withdraw my Amendment.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON:
I beg to move, at the end of the Standing Order, to add the words
Any Member of the House may attend and speak at any of the meetings of these Standing Committees, but, may not vote or move any resolutions.
I move this with the deference of a new Member. It is a Standing Order which has to my knowledge been of considerable use on several of the municipal bodies that are doing work of the Grand Committee style on a small scale. Reference has been made in the course of the Debate to the number of experts and specialists who are present at various Committees. I am aware that under the Clause already passed a certain number of specialists are added to each Committee, but I would suggest that there might be others who in the course of circumstances would not find their names among those selected, and it would be to the advantage of the constitution of these Committees that an expert who had not been selected, and who was especially interested in the subject before the Grand Committee, might have an opportunity of expressing his views personally. Members, as strangers, are allowed to attend, but they are not allowed to take part in the discussion or vote. I do not suggest that these men should be allowed to vote or move Amendments, but the Committee might have the advantage of their experience and special knowledge on these particular questions. I would also suggest that it would act as a safety valve. Members are rather chary of giving up the freedom which they have now of discussing every question which comes before them. By this devolution to Grand Committees a certain number of Members only are able to take part in certain discussions on special occasions. This safety valve provides an opportunity for Members who wish to give expression to their views on particular questions of which they have an expert knowledge. Therefore I submit, with all deference, that this provision, which has proved useful in many municipal bodies and, I believe, also the London County Council, would be of advantage in connection with these Committees.