Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th August 1945.

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Photo of Mr Harry Morris Mr Harry Morris , Sheffield Central 12:00 am, 24th August 1945

All in the House are agreed that some examination of our methods of procedure is necessary, but it is not so easy to agree upon what changes can be made. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion told us that there had been at least six general inquiries into procedure in this century, and it was interesting to hear the Leader of the Opposition to-day put practically the same points which he put before a Select Committee in 1931. Those points are still important enough to be raised in 1945. That Select Committee of 1931 failed to implement the evidence which was given, or the recommendations that were made, and it is still left for the House of Commons to devise some way of making its procedure work in accordance with the demand.

As has been said, there is nothing sacrosanct about the Rules of the House. In the past, we have had legislation which devoted great attention to detail and routine. In the nineteenth century we had greater flexibility of Debate, which devoted greater attention to detail. The change in the nineteenth century was probably greater than that of the twentieth century. There were the inventions of gas and electricity and railways, and other social changes. The House did not begrudge the time given to details of these matters. The twentieth century produced a dividing line between principle and detail. If you look at what the House did in the twentieth century, you will find that it treated as matters of detail matters which should have been regarded as matters of high policy. Let me take one right for which we fought—the right of trial by jury. That has been regarded as a matter of detail in the twentieth century, in that control of it has been vested in the Executive and not in this House. Take the financial crisis of 1931 which was resolved, according to the Report of the Donoughmore Committee, by passing six Acts dealing with financial matters, and giving to the Executive a large measure of control of taxation which should have been in the control of this House. Surely, matters of taxation are not matters of detail; they are matters of principle which should be kept within the authority of this House alone.

If one examines, for instance, the volume of legislation and change in the nature of legislation in recent years, particularly due to the last two wars, it will be found that there has been a great increase. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council quoted Gladstone and 1886, when Statutory Rules and Regulations had not begun to be published. In 1889 they had begun to be published, and it is interesting to compare their volume. From 1901 to 1914 the annual output of Statutory Rules was something in the neighbourhod of 1,000. In 1920–21 the number had more than doubled annually. It is argued that this is rather a convenience and that detailed matters of administration should be left to the experts; and that the House, in some mysterious way, is not competent to deal with them. I should like to challenge that view.