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Oral Answers to Questions — System of Government

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th April 1957.

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Photo of Mr Desmond Donnelly Mr Desmond Donnelly , Pembrokeshire 12:00 am, 11th April 1957

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recommend the appointment of a Select Committee to review and inquire into the working of the present system of Government with a view to reducing the burden on Ministers and securing the more efficient working of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this matter. The idea behind his suggestion requires consideration and I intend to give it further study.

Photo of Mr Desmond Donnelly Mr Desmond Donnelly , Pembrokeshire

While thanking the Prime Minister for that courteous answer, may I ask whether he can give any indication of the speed with which he can carry out that further step and of the priority of this matter?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

This raises very large questions as to the functions of Ministers and their duties to Parliament, and the great increase in work, which of course has grown up with the complexity of modern government. What, perhaps, I would try to do would be to consult Ministers and ex-Ministers—those who have had long experience—to see whether something could be done which would make this work easier and to that extent, one hopes, more fruitful.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Would it not tend to decrease the burden on Ministers if there were a committee system instead of a Cabinet system? Would the Prime Minister consider doing anything as revolutionary as that?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I do not know whether the hon. Member is asking me to consider committees of the Cabinet, or committees of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Committees of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Does the hon. Member mean Standing Committees upstairs?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

No, Sir. I mean giving greater opportunity for running the country on the committee system rather than on the Cabinet system.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

To abandon the system of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet would be quite a large measure and would need a certain amount of study.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Since the Opposition also have a close interest in this problem, may I ask the Prime Minister whether, when he made a reference to ex-Ministers, he included ex-Ministers on the Opposition benches?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. I was not thinking of any immediate difficulties that might face the Opposition. I was thinking, perhaps, of some of our very experienced colleagues on both sides of the House, who, from a detached position and because of their long service, might give us some help in this matter.

Hon. Members:

Lord Salisbury.