Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House):
We have in recent years made more than one experiment in the appointment of Select Committees to consider Estimates or expenditure, but I am afraid I cannot flatter myself that any of these experiments have given full satisfaction to the House. [HON. MEMBERS "The Government!"] No, the House. I have reason to know they have not from the representations I have received. I am doubtful whether in these circumstances, there would be any advantage in merely reappointing the Estimates Committee, and am inclined to think that the time has come for a review by a Select Committee of the House of our whole financial procedure. We are considering the suggestion, and I shall be glad to discuss it with my hon. Friend and any other Members who are interested.
Can the Estimates Committee, which was set up at the end of June—the 28th I think it was—and deprived of the expert assistance for which it specifically asked, be said to have had a fair trial, or to have failed? What could such Estimates Committee have done in July or August of last year? Furthermore, may I ask whether, instead of a third experiment, it would not be better to give the Estimates Committee of last year a chance and under reasonable circumstances?
My hon. Friend has put a series of questions of a debating nature with which I cannot deal fully; but his questions are sufficient to show that the experiments we have made have not given universal satisfaction to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—or reached a real solution of the difficulty. The reason why the official to whom my hon. Friend refers was not attached to the Committee was because—and I do not say it athersely—in the general opinion of those gentlemen of high experience whom I asked to co-operate with me in the matter it was thought that such official could not properly be appointed to consider the subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am obviously not trying to argue the question now, but only to answer what has been asked me. It is just matters of this kind that lead me to think that it is no use merely scraping on the surface, especially in the present condition of finance, but that we should review our financial procedure, and see whether the House might be willing, on the advice of the Committee, to remodel its procedure so as to get a more effective control over finance.
One question, not a series, nor an argument—will the right hon. Gentleman say on what his statement is based that the Estimates Committee, or the Committee on National Expenditure, did not give universal satisfaction to the House—what are the grounds for making that statement?
Yes, Sir. Each time we have appointed these Committees there has been a discussion and division of opinion as to whether the Committee as constituted was suitable for the purposes the House had in view. I am casting no reflection upon the Committees, or on their members. There has been no unanimity in the House as to what the Committee should be, what its exact powers should be, or what assistance it ought to have.
Is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to appoint a Select Committee at all likely to reflect itself in any effective sense in the Estimates of this year, when the need is more than urgent? Is not the proposal only another means of shelving the whole question?
No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to make an insinuation of that sort. I am speaking as Leader of the House, and as a man as jealous of the powers and privileges of the House as any other Member. I believe I am within the recollection of the House when I say that from every side and quarter of the House repeated dissatisfaction has been expressed as to the power of the House to control expenditure. I am suggesting to the House—and I am sorry that my suggestion should have been received in the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has received it—I am suggesting that it is worthy of the consideration of the House as to whether they should not appoint a Select Committee to consider our financial procedure, and try to make it more effective.
Well, I have really only been considering this matter seriously in the last day or two, amidst very great pressure of business, and wished to put my idea before the House at once, in order that hon. Members who might desire to make any communications, either direct or through what are called the usual channels, should have the opportunity of doing so before we took a final decision. If I find that the suggestion meets with general approval, I shall try to start it as soon as possible.
I doubt it, Sir. I profoundly doubt whether if I put down a Motion for the appointment of an Estimates Committee in the form of last year, it would be passed by general acclamation, and without discussion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]