I have fortified myself with the Ruling that you gave on 31st January, Mr. Speaker, of which, for the sake of greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy. You then stated:
In the debate on the present Bill, discussion is narrowly confined to the sums of money asked for by the Ministers and to the reasons for those additional demands. This Bill should not be confused with the March Consolidated Fund Bill when grants of Supply cover the whole of the public service and when, therefore, back benchers can raise grievances"—
—"before they grant Supply for any grant of the public services. There is a second consideration which I must put to the House. If the supplementary grant is for a new service, as some are, or is of the same order of magnitude as the original grant, the whole policy of that service may be raised in debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1967; Vol. 740, cc. 252–3.]
I am grateful for that, because the subject that I wish to draw to your attention and to that of the House concerns a new service—that of the Parliamentary Commissioner designate, as he is called. Some people have called him the "Ombudsman", which, I understand, is deprecated by the Leader of the House—who, I am sorry to see, is leaving the Chamber, as usual. I hope that he will take note of your Ruling and leave the Chamber quietly. He certainly comes in noisily enough, and he should leave quietly. He is never here when the matters of real importance are being discussed.
I want to raise with you the question of the manner of the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate, the matter which is to be referred to him, if any, and also the position of Parliament, which concerns every hon. Member now that the office has been established.
I refer to the House the issue which was put by the Estimates Committee when this matter was referred to that body. In its Fifth Report, the Estimates Committee administered what must be one of the most swingeing rebukes against any Government. This non-political body—if there is ever such a thing in this House—stated:
…if the procedure adopted in this case were allowed to pass without protest, the possibility would be opened up of by-passing the whole system of Parliamentary control of expenditure whenever the Executive thought it expedient to do so. They therefore consider that, before the Supplementary Estimate is passed, a clear undertaking should be given on behalf of the Government that the action taken in this case will not be used as a precedent to justify similar abuses of proper constitutional processes in the future.
I seek that undertaking today and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be in a position to give it. He and I were in the House until a very late hour last Wednesday night and he has, no doubt, studied with great care the reply given by the Treasury on this subject and all other matters. I therefore seek a clear undertaking that no action in this case will be used as a precedent. This is a matter of great significance to the whole House. It is significant that while the Treasury, as a usual exercise, argues the toss a little, it concedes that this as a basic point when it states that this allows for "a limited abortive expenditure". The Treasury is, therefore, worried. So am I. I have no doubt that the Financial Secretary saw that reply before it was given by the Treasury.
I do not have any knowledge of what went on behind the scenes. Perhaps when my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) speaks later, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will enlighten us on this point.
The House of Commons was treated with contempt by the Leader of the House when one recalls what occurred on Second Reading. After all, this matter had exercised the minds and tingled the thoughts of a breathless electorate. We were told that there would be a Parliamentary Commissioner to deal with the complaints of the citizen; and many hon. Members thought that such a thing might reduce the opportunities and duties of the ordinary back bencher. Then we found that a Bill had been brought forward. The Prime Minister then stated in August that it was all right for the Parliamentary Commissioner to be set up and that if any expenditure were incurred, that, too, would be all right, although that was during the midst of an economic crisis.
Many of my hon. Friends and I thought at the time that it was a gimmick designed to take people's eyes off the crisis in hand. [Interruption.] I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is muttering from a sedentary position. I trust, if he has anything constructive to say, that he will get to his feet. We notice that whenever there is a crisis the Prime Minister, like a conjurer or a prestidigitator, will produce a rabbit out of a hat. This is indeed an expensive rabbit. It will cost the taxpayers £49,000. We know that the Government and their supporters regard Parliament as a rubber stamp, but my hon. Friends and I who have served on various Standing Committees and other bodies are not willing to accept this state of affairs.
I would not like that remark to go unchallenged. I do not regard any Government as a rubber stamp and I have always been prepared to protest against any tendency which made a Government appear to be rubber stamping anything or when unnecessary powers appeared to be sought by the Executive. I trust that the hon. Gentleman is, therefore, not levelling that remark at me.
I do not apply it to the hon. Gentleman. I recall many occasions —including our discussions of National Insurance pensions and transport legislation—that he was extremely active; and I hope that he will be equally active today on this subject.
Having failed to obtain Parliamentary approval for the expenditure involved in setting up the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate, it was thought that the expense should be placed on the Civil Contingencies Fund. When the Estimates Committee examined Treasury and other officials on this point, the only answer it could arrive at on this type of precedent, for this type of expenditure, was to say that such a thing was normally done only when something like the purchase of a work of art was involved. I suggest that this Bill is no work of art.
Little background is available when considering this matter. I agree that there have been a number of speeches, that the Prime Minister had much to say at Stowmarket and that various other exercises in window dressing have taken place. However, this is no work of art. Instead, we are dealing with the everyday problems raised by our constituents.
An interesting article appeared in The Times on 18th October last when it stated, under the heading "Parliament's Complaint Box":
The new office and its functions are grafted on to the House of Commons, to which they will be ancillary. They thus accord with the British political tradition that for grievances which are not within the purview of the courts redress is sought in Parliament.
This means that the attitude of members of Parliament to the new institution is all important.
It is all-important, and in this matter Parliament is being treated like a rubber stamp and is almost being held in contempt. I am sorry about this, because the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate will work through hon. Members, will report to hon. Members and is a distinguished member of the Public Accounts Committee. We know him and trust him, but in this new function we seek to work with him. If we do not do so this will be the gimmick which many of us suspect it to be. When, on Second Reading and in the protracted Committee stage, we examined the matter further, at every step we found it to be what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) described it on 18th October last—simply a "carving-up" of the grievance machinery which will render much of this more complicated than it is at present.
The expenditure of the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate is £49,000 until the end of next month. That is a considerable bill, as the Treasury admitted. However, the Parliamentary Commissioner has as yet no actual function, except to form his staff and get into an operative situation. In the debate on the Financial Resolution, the Minister said that the expenditure in a whole year would be no more than £200,000. I regret that the Leader of the House has still not returned to the Chamber. He left shortly after I rose to speak, as he did when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) spoke on Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman left right in the middle of a speech being made by a senior Privy Councillor, who was adducing some extremely valid points. Despite the figure of £200,000, I should have thought that it would soon get above that mark. The right hon. Gentleman is anticipating the Royal Assent and is thinking in terms of a staff of 63. That may be the anticipated figure for the beginning of this office, but what will the total staff be in future?
Whatever the Treasury might say, this is a precedent that could be used in future. If Parliament does not kick up a row about this now, there can be little doubt that it will be used in future to circumnavigate Parliament and the duties of hon. Members towards their constituents in making sure that redress is given before supply is granted.
When one considers this matter in what we describe today in language far removed from poetical terms, what do we discover about our grievance machinery? We find that, progressively, sections of the economy and of society are being more and more excluded. For example, the nationalised industries and local authorities are excluded. I wonder, bearing in mind the statement of the Minister of Transport—to the effect that she will have two conurbation transport authorities—whether these new authorities will be local authority administered or a nationalised industry. Or will they be directly responsible to the Minister? If the latter is to be the case, will we have no redress in respect of complaints made against the bodies which are being established?
There are hospitals. The great difficulty of getting entry to hospitals is a very grievous and worrying thing. One reads in today's Daily Mail that in certain cases there is a self-appointed selection committee. This is a matter which the House would want to consider most seriously. I know that in certain cases, such as Rampton, there is direct ministerial responsibility and we can deal with that.
There are also the Services. I think many would agree that we are getting almost unprecedented postbags of complaints from the Services regarding the right to have demobilisation commutation. There is the Post Office and many other Departments which are placed within the ambit of this new authority.
We not only complain about the Leader of the House, who introduced the Bill but never sat in during debates on it and never sits in during debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill, but he has been the target of a number of early day Motions on this point. Then we have the criticisms of the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate being entitled to report to an hon. Member but not to make an award. I wonder if he is to have any teeth at all. In this case he simply refers back to the Member and to the House.
We have the anxiety of the Minister, who may say to an hon. Member who is questioning him and being a little awkward that the point may be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate. If that were done, think of the delay over the number of urgent cases in the post bag of every hon. Member.
The hon. Member is still under a misapprehension. None of these questions will arise until the Parliamentary Commissioner starts functioning as Parliamentary Commissioner. While he is Parliamentary Commissioner-designate he has no functions whatsoever.
We could have plenty of analogies on that. A person has no powers until he becomes putative. This is a point which exercises the House of Commons. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to answer these questions and will not fob us off by suggesting that they are only academic today, because in two months' time they will be far from academic.
The Financial Secretary said something which may be rather important. I understand that he is to reply to the debate on the basis of dealing only with the money which the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate has to set up his office. You, Mr. Speaker, ruled earlier, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), that because this is a new Supplementary Estimate and a new power the whole of the functions of this officer will come into debate. It would be disappointing if the hon. and learned Gentleman has come armed to reply only to a very small section of the question.
With respect Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you can assist on this. I understood that all we are able to consider today is the question of Parliament being asked to vote this sum which is for the position of the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate. I conceive that it is in order to discuss his functions as a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate, but what his functions will be when he is the Parliamentary Commissioner has already been discussed on the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your Ruling, which was that if the supplementary grant is for a new service or a service of the same magnitude, the whole policy of that service may be raised in debate. Is the Financial Secretary able to answer this debate? That is what we want to know. This is a matter of policy, not just the narrow question of expenditure for this year. It is a matter of very great importance.
I hope that the Financial Secretary has come not simply armed with the Treasury brief on the narrow point of the answer to the Estimates Committee. If so, we shall treat him exceedingly hard. He is here to answer on the whole policy. That is the Ruling of Mr. Speaker. I hope that this will not be the second occasion in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill when he will imitate the Leader of the House by ignoring a Ruling of the Chair. We are here impressed—
I thought my hon. Friend was about to press the Financial Secretary to say definitely at this stage whether or not he is in a position to answer the debate. If he thought that he was to reply only on a narrow point, he still has time to arm himself with the information he would need to answer a full debate to follow.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Get on with the debate I shall, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be in a position to answer. Will he tell us now? No, he will not tell us. We know from debates on Finance Bills that he is courteous. I hope that he is armed with a good brief, and not just on a narrow point.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has almost forgotten it in view of his answers on this narrow point. We shall press him on this because we know that this is a gimmick, that the thing is not being done properly and that no teeth are being put into it. There is a point of constitutional importance between a Member of Parliament and his constituents and the future rôle of this House. One need only look at the pictures in the corridors of this Hòuse and another place to see the great constitutional battles which have occurred on the basic principle that supply shall be withheld from Government until redress of citizens' grievances shall be given.
This is why we are here. This is why every Member of Parliament was elected. This is why we go round every village and street in our constituencies meeting our people, getting to know their problems and saying that we are willing to raise them in this House, saying that if necessary we are willing to withhold supply to the Government, whether we are Government supporters or not. This is why Hampden, why Pym, why Eliot, why all those with famous names fought for the liberties of the Commons to defend the citizens of this country, have meaning. This is the purpose, but at the same time we must remember that this was 300 years ago. The problems may have changed a little in this slow country in 300 years. It may be an extraordinary quirk of history that Thomas Wentworth, Lord Stafford, who was eventually executed—
Yes, I shall, Mr. Speaker, and I do so now. With great prescience, Wentworth wrote to a friend:
not at least by my consent, till we be in something a better readiness for the security of the subjects in their fundamental liberties.
Supply and the redress of grievances, he said,
shall go hand in hand as one joint and continued act.
This may be changing. As Wentworth said, it may be that this new machinery of the Parliamentary Commissioner may be changing it. This may be, apart from Parliamentary Questions, the first occasion when hon. Members can redress the grievances of their constituents without having to withhold Supply. If that be
the case, it is an interesting one but we should know about it. It gives a very bad precedent for future cases that it should be an absolute rupture of the principle of Parliamentary control that Supply should be given to this machinery without Parliamentary consent. This is a very deep principle and I hope that the House will ponder it well and at length.
Would not my hon. Friend agree, having referred, as he very properly has done, to the constitutional crisis of nearly 300 years ago, that that was at a time when there was a conflict between Parliament and the Crown which was won by Parliament? Would he not agree that today the conflict is between Parliament and the Executive and that the way in which this matter has been introduced means that the Executive is winning?
Yes. I am, however, enough of an historian to tell my hon. Friend that it was never the Crown in the words of the old documents of the day. It was always the Ministers who were at fault, and they still are today.
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has said, because this matter goes very deep. We are not dealing with one extraordinary item on its own. This is one of many actions which the Government have taken in deciding that they will call upon Parliament to allow moneys to be paid while Parliament is still involved in making the decision about whether that action should be taken. This is merely one example of that process.
My hon. Friend has referred to the Report of the Estimates Committee. That Report should not be taken lightly, because this is a matter which an all-party Select Committee has seriously considered. Even in that consideration an attempt was made, which did not succeed, to fob off the Select Committee when the action of the Government was likened to providing the money that may be required to purchase a work of art on behalf of the nation. This, however, is an entirely different situation to the position when a work of art becomes available and action has to be taken quickly. This is an entirely different matter involving completely new expenditure to set up, not only a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate, but a large staff who, in the words of the Financial Secretary, will not be able to deal with any cases until Royal Assent is given to the Bill.
One can, perhaps, understand the attitude of Ministers who say, "This is an action which we must take. We want to ensure that all the wheels are oiled so that as soon as Parliament takes the last step, the whole machinery will already be in motion and we can move straight into action." That might be an excuse, but not even that excuse overrides the absolute necessity for Parliament to look very carefully at any suggestion which is brought forward by a Department, particularly at the time when Parliament is, in any event, still considering whether action of the kind which is contemplated should be taken.
My hon. Friend asked whether we could have an undertaking from the Minister that what has happened on this occasion would never be used in future as a precedent. The hon. and learned Gentleman could not give that assurance. Even if he were to give it, it would not be worth very much, because whatever assurance he gave this occasion would still be used as a precedent in future to show what Parliament had allowed to happen. It would, therefore, be another step down the slippery slope. For this reason, it is important that we in the House of Commons should make it clear to the Executive exactly what we feel about this action.
The whole question of the Parliamentary Commissioner began with everyone being given the impression that here was a great bomb which would go off and which would enable the ordinary citizens to have their grievances redressed. As time has gone by, however, we have seen that the Commissioner's powers are being diminished and yet further diminished, with the result that he certainly appears to me to be, not a great bomb, but rather a damp squib.
This matter is so important that we certainly should have the Leader of the House present during this debate so that he may be aware of the feelings of Parliament and so that we can, if necessary, be given a reply and undertakings from a senior Minister, who obviously would be able to give us more of an answer than the Financial Secretary can tell us from the brief with which he has been provided about the payments for the Commissioner-designate.
We are interested not simply in the payments to the Parliamentary Commissioner designate while he is designate, because this is a completely new office. This, surely, is an opportunity when we should be able to ask what sort of duties the Commissioner is to carry out and whether our gloom is justified. I will not associate my hon. Friends with my feeling of gloom, but I certainly feel great gloom when one considers the promises that were made about the powers that the Parliamentary Commissioner would have and when one now realises that on the completion of the legislation he will have very limited powers indeed. We should thrash this question out.
My hon. Friend referred to the age-old right always demanded by Parliament of withholding Supply until grievances have been aired. Many people had hoped that the Commissioner would take away the need for us every year to spend a considerable time on airing grievances before granting Supply. I judge from my postbag that we shall still have these problems, because most of the problems that arise and which have been causing trouble to constituents will not be caught by the Commissioner's powers, even now. It seems that the only clear-cut case in which the Commissioner will be able to operate is if a civil servant somewhere makes a mistake. It appears that the Commissioner will be impotent as to ministerial decisions.
We should have a reply, not merely on the amount of money to be spent on the Commissioner-designate, but on the question of what will happen as the result of the operation of the Act and on the question whether the Commissioner's powers and work come anywhere near the great and brilliant promises which were made when the idea of the Commissioner was first mooted.
My hon. Friends the Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) and Totnes (Mr. Mawby) have laid great stress on the constitutional right of the redress of grievance before the voting of Supply and have mentioned this traditional Consolidated Fund day. We are told, as to the events of the last few days as the Bill has gone forward, that the Leader of the House has made threatening noises that, unless back benchers behave themselves, he will find some way of doing away with it.
If the Ombudsman is to be the new method of redress of grievance, he is indeed a very poor thing. This great tradition which we are enjoying today, this great right to be able to raise matters on behalf of our constituents, enables us twice a year, or thereabouts, to raise any matter which may affect the rights of our constituents.
I am grateful to you, Sir, but this is so wide that the Consolidated Fund Bill as a generality gives us this very great right; whereas this poor, miserable little functionary that the Government have pulled out of the bag will not even have the limited rights that we are enjoying today. It is to the uselessness of this functionary and the costliness of his office that I shall address my remarks.
All hon. Members, if asked what were the main sources of grumbling and genuine grievance on the part of their constituents, would reply that the bulk of complaints are, first, about local authorities, and in particular planning, and, secondly, about the nationalised industries. Neither of these two items will be covered by the Ombudsman. He is, therefore, a perfectly useless functionary. We are spending all this money to set up a preliminary office for him. It is money down the drain and window-dressing by the Prime Minister and the Government to keep an election pledge—and a very hollow election pledge it is.
Two items have come to my notice since the concept of the Ombudsman was mooted. First, the first constituent I ever saw after I was elected to the House eight years ago came to see me with a grievance. That grievance has rankled with that poor man from that day to this. I have been unable to help him, because his grievance is against a nationalised industry. He has raised the matter with me again, asking me to place it before the Ombudsman. How dis- appointed he will be to learn that the Parliamentary Commissioner is no use to him whatever.
Secondly, I believe that every hon. Member has received a circular in the last few days about the difficulties experienced by disabled people in getting into certain public buildings. I think that the circular is signed by a Lady Hamilton. The grievance that this lady raises with us is a perfectly good and valid one. She asks us to bring to bear all the weight we can on planning authorities—again, local authorities. These are the people who spend vast sums of public money and whose dictatorial actions impinge upon the daily life of the citizen. What is the Ombudsman to them?—absolutely nothing.
The large sum of money which we are asked to vote today is a disgrace. It should be acknowledged by the Labour Party to be pure window-dressing for its last election pledges. Let the citizen beware of accepting promises from the Labour Party in future.
We should consider very carefully the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner on this Vote, because this is an appointment which will cost the country a good deal of money, money which this Government say they can ill afford. They are making economies right, left and centre. They should start with this appointment.
This is an appointment which is not required by the people, if only they knew what it really meant. I do not suggest anything dishonest in the Government's action, but the office of Parliamentary Commissioner has been put forward as a means by which the citizen can obtain redress of grievances. It is nothing of the sort. It is a means by which Members of Parliament, if asked to do so, and if they think they should do so—I advisedly use those words—can refer questions to the Commissioner in respect of a number of Ministries and public bodies set out in Schedule 2 in the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill. Schedule 3 of that Bill refers to
Action taken by the Secretary of State under the…Fugitive Offenders Act 1881.
That reference will have to be amended, because there is a new Bill dealing with that subject.
I ask hon. Members to visualise the position in which Members of Parliament will find themselves if they conscientiously carry out their duty. On receiving a complaint from a constituent, with a request that it be forwarded to what the constituent will call the Ombudsman—a foreign word—if the Member takes the view that it would be a waste of time and public money to do so, he must be the person to tell the constituent—rightly, perhaps—"I shall do nothing of the sort". A Member of Parliament will be put into a difficult position, to start with. If the Member does not carry out his duties conscientiously but says to himself, "If my constituent wants it referred, I will refer it", the Commissioner will be flooded with a mass of trivial, stupid complaints which will occupy his time and that of his staff when they would be better employed upon other matters.
Even assuming that the Member does this, is it necessary? Do Members believe that they are frustrated in making their complaints, in discovering from Ministers of the day or from their Parliamentary Secretaries matters which they have raised, either of their own volition, or at the request of constituents?
I have been a Member for many years. I have raised a large number of matters at various times—some of them important, some of them small, some by letter, some by way of interview with Ministers. I have never been frustrated in learning the answers to the questions I have asked, nor have I felt on any occasion that there has been a conspiracy of silence on behalf of the Ministry concerned, through the Minister.
If I had felt that, like other Members I should have had plenty of procedures available—Adjournment debates, Questions, upon the occasion of this Bill or of the later Consolidated Fund Bill. There are plenty of procedures under which Members can raise such matters. I have no hesitation in saying, after many years in the House, that I have had the greatest of courtesy from Ministers of both parties and they have always done their best to provide me with the answers I have required.
I do not think that there is the slightest necessity for this Commissioner. He will cost the country with his staff, offices, and so on, a good deal of money. I have not heard one Member, either in the debates on the relevant Bill or today, say, "I have had years of frustration. Ministries oyster up", to use a non-Parliamentary expression, "and do not give the information which a Member requires". Nothing of the sort. We have plenty of means to make Ministers disclose information, if necessary.
In fact, Members will be put in a very awkward position in considering whether they can comply with a constituent's request that a matter be raised with the Ombudsman. What will happen is that, through ignorance of the provisions of the Bill, of which the ordinary constituent can at once be excused, a lot of matters, particularly local planning matters and so forth which affect people very much, will be put to Members of Parliament, but constituents will not accept their Member's answer when he has to say, "Whether or not I would like to send this to the Parliamentary Commissioner, I cannot do so because it is one of the excepted matters into which the Parliamentary Commissioner may not inquire".
The Parliamentary Commissioner may not inquire, quite rightly, into Government policy, rates of taxation and so on. Otherwise, he would be acting as a Minister or Member, saying that Government policy was good or was bad. They can be only personal matters within a very restricted scope.
My view is that these arrangements will cost the country a lot of money. They will cause a lot of public dissatisfaction. They will cause a lot of dissatisfaction to Members of Parliament and put them in an awkward position. They will result in disclosures which inevitably will take a long time, producing answers which any Member could obtain from the Minister concerned, with the wide powers open to Members of Parliament already. It will take a very long time to find answers which a Member could find in a fraction of the time and at the cost of a few stamps or a few pieces of notepaper in putting down Questions.
I have no hesitation in saying, therefore, that the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill—it is still only a Bill—will cost the country a lot of money. It can be described only as window-dressing for the party opposite. It will be quite ineffective, and I am sure that any Member of Parliament will feel that he will be no better able to serve his constituents by reason of it than he is now. I ask the Government not to press the expenditure of so much money for a purpose which is plainly unnecessary.
I follow the observations of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) in the very reasonable argument which he has put on the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner. He is absolutely right to focus attention on the difficulties which will confront Members of Parliament.
A constituent comes to his Member of Parliament and requires, as will seem to be his right, that a given matter should be presented to the Parliamentary Commissioner. Even though the Member is convinced that no useful result can flow from so doing, he will be put in difficulty in declining to take the action requested by his constituent. That is one objection. In addition, it will be exceedingly difficult to explain to many constituents that, although the Parliamentary Commissioner has surveillance over Ministers, he has no powers over nationalised industries or the local authorities, from which—let it be clearly stated—the abundance of complaints flow.
Fairness demands we should this afternoon propose a vote of thanks to the Leader of the House because, without his kindness and courtesy, we should not be here discussing the Bill at all. We should not be enjoying this renewed opportunity to apply our minds to these problems and, incidentally, not only to the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner but to any subject covered by these Supplementary Estimates. There are one or two others to which I hope to call attention later in my speech. However, I do not wish to move in too much hurry from the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner himself.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) rightly said, the Parliamentary Commissioner is a man who has attracted and earned the respect of the whole House. But, quite apart from the man, whose qualifications and distinction are not in question—indeed, we welcome the opportunity to salute him—the office of Parliamentary Commissioner has been born in the most shoddy circumstances. It is taking a terribly long time—if I may use the expression the wrong way round—to make an honest woman of the Parliamentary Commissioner. He still exists in a state of sin which is to be lamented. Yet we are now asked to confirm the sum of £49,000 expended during the somewhat shadowy twilight existence of this one officer.
One wonders whether the Government are proud of their handling of the matter. The Prime Minister, conscious of a gap that there might be in the newspapers of the day or the intrusion of some undesirable matter, announced the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner. For the Prime Minister, the man who is there to uphold the rights of Parliament, this seemed a strange thing to do. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman feels that this new officer is badly needed because the rights and dignity of Parliament are not secure in the hands of Members. He is entitled to his own judgment, but what seemed particularly odd was that he should appoint the Parliamentary Commissioner without the agreement of Parliament. This came a little strangely from the man who is supposed to have a profound respect for Parliament and the need to protect its rights. One assumes that the Prime Minister was guided by one of his maxims, which could be freely translated as, "Any news is better than none, whether it be right and mature news or not".
We are asked to authorise expenditure the results of which we do not know. We have no yardstick to judge its merits because we have not had the opportunity to see someone who is virtually an officer of this House in performance of his functions and duties. The situation is absurd. Although I do not doubt that, if it is at all possible, the first incumbent of this office will justify himself and it, all one can say is that he has been introduced among us in a pretty shabby and discreditable way.
Before I sit down, I want to turn to one or two other points covered by the Supplementary Estimates which have caught my eye.
Order. I cannot prevent the hon. Gentleman from raising any other matter on the Supplementary Estimates, but I called him at this stage in the debate because I thought that he wished to discuss this particular item.
May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order? I have no wish to intrude upon your Ruling or to act contrary to your advice, but, as I understand it, today's debate, unlike the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill the other day, is not subdivided. You have yourself said that this is a new Bill and a new occasion. However, if one speaks on the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner, one automatically exhausts one's right to speak on any other subject covered by the Supplementary Estimates.
When I intervened a moment ago, I assured the hon. Gentleman of his rights. He is quite in order in speaking on other parts of the Supplementary Estimates. I indicated only that this was a debate on a particular Vote.
I am very much obliged for your help and guidance, Mr. Speaker, and I am grateful to you for acknowledging my rights. I hope not to trespass over far, but there are one or two matters which I particularly wish to raise on other parts of the Supplementary Estimates which I shall have no opportunity to refer to later in the debate. They are matters of some importance.
On page 5 of the Supplementary Estimates there is an asterisk against Subheads B.20, B.23, F.13 and F.14 directing attention to a note on page 7 stating that
Any unexpended balances of the sums issued will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequer".
The same point occurs later on page 38 under the general heading of the University Grants Committee. It is always interesting to find sentences of that sort in such a document, because they run so contrary to the normal Treasury doctrines and practice. It has always been a very self-defeating measure that the Treasury adopts when it requires the repayment of sums not expended during the financial year, because only too often the money is then spent in a terrible hurry on the garden or some unnecessary piece of work because people cannot bring themselves to hand money back and, as a consequence, face a reduction in the
Estimates for their expenditure in the following year. I invite the attention of the Financial Secretary to that point, and I congratulate him upon such sensible utterances made in such a document.
Nobody can say that such documents are voluble or over-liberal in the information they give, and the notes on them are even more parsimonious than one might expect after long experience. But I approve of the sort of sentiment expressed there, and I hope that perhaps the Treasury will follow that practice more often, with the idea of encouraging people not to waste money towards the end of the financial year rather than surrender it, and public authorities financed by the Government could well be encouraged to save.
I also wish to raise a point on the expenditure by the Ministry of Health, Class VI, Vote 14, on pages 24 and 25. The House's attention should be called to a reference on page 25 to:
Increased building costs owing to the effect of Selective Employment Tax and payment of a higher number of prior year balances than expected.
There is the echo of a great many speeches made from these benches with anger, indignation, and conviction during the Finance Bill debate last year; the confession that this rotten tax has done precisely what we said it would. It has singled out certain vital industries and has inflated their costs with the resultant and inevitable increased burden to the customer—in this case the Government and the taxpayer. It was always a tax without excuse or justification, unsupported by reason, and having in it that kernel of discrimination dear to the hearts of the Socialist Party but anathema to anybody who holds the principle of the liberty of the subject important or dear.
I also wish to raise a point on the question of capital expenditure on hospitals. I recognise that it is not within the immediate province of the Minister, but perhaps he would call it to the attention of such of his colleagues are appropriate. I have not given warning to the hon. Member whose constituency is concerned, and therefore, I merely state that in the south western region there is one city where a big hospital development is taking place and approval has now been given for speedway racing in a nearby stadium. It seems to me utterly ridiculous that large sums of public money should be expended in this way and that then, apparently without serious consideration, permission should be given to carry out very nearby a really noisy activity calculated, almost deliberately one would have thought, to frustrate the very purpose for which a hospital exists, which is to promote the health and recovery of patients.
Does that not exactly bring out the point, which several of our colleagues have already made, of the absolute uselessness of the Ombudsman or Parliamentary Commissioner, in that he cannot take up planning grievances? If the Parliamentary Commissioner had been able to have a go at the local authority for their stupidity in this, would not the hospital to which my hon. Friend referred have been left in peace and quiet?
I referred earlier to the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner will be very considerably inhibited, and I need no reminder, though I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Parliamentary Commissioner cannot interfere in the affairs of either local authorities or nationalised industries, nor can he take cognisance of planning decisions.
Incidentally, I feel that I shall not be straying too far if I observe that our present planning procedures are absurd in the extreme, and the kind of farce successive Ministers are called upon to go through by way of what is called an appeal, with the Minister acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, stretches words and sense far beyond what they can possibly bear even in the House of Commons.
I do not want to detain the House much longer. I have not raised those extra points out of any desire to waste the time of the House, or to cash in on or exploit an opportunity the Leader of the House was good enough to put on our plate. I entirely agree with and corroborate the feelings expressed by my hon. Friends on the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner, who seems to me to have been raised in gimmickry and not put forward as a thought out, considered, serious solution for the undoubted problems which come before Members in their relationships with Ministers.
We have a very valuable opportunity in confirming the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money. After all, what are thousands of £s today? We do not even shake our heads at thousands of millions of £s;why should we bother about just a few thousand £s expended on a man who has not yet really got a job? That is nothing. We can always afford to disregard a little matter like £49,000 which, after all, only belongs to somebody else. But that small sum of money has given us a valuable opportunity to call attention once again to what is, to my mind, a highly undesirable state of affairs, brought about, so far as I can see, by very improper motives prompting the actions of the Prime Minister in first making the appointment without bothering to get the approval and confirmation of the House of Commons, whom the Parliamentary Commissioner is intended to serve.
I am very glad to have had this chance to reinforce the objections, concern and suspicions felt by many of my hon. Friends.
I have listened with great interest to the sentiments expressed by hon. Members opposinte. During the Second Reading debates on the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill and later, as I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debates in Committee, I too felt that the creation of the office was something which was looked for by the mass of the British public. But I also had certain reservations in that I felt that the duties to be delegated to the Parliamentary Commissioner would not, to any great extent, place him in the position of looking into the many grievances which are sometimes borne by many British subjects. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to hear that approval.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is out of order in referring to matters which are not within the province of the Parliamentary Commissioner. He is now referring to matters which should be, and that is out of order.
On a point of order. Can I have your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker? A few moments ago Mr. Speaker ruled that when we were discussing Supplementary Estimates and specifically the Parliamentary Commissioner an hon. Member was entitled to range fully over any subject covered by the Supplementary Estimates. We would like to know exactly what the position is.
In general terms that is correct, but Clause 13 of the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill precludes discussion of matters affecting Northern Ireland when they are not the direct responsibility of the British Government, or of the Government of Northern Ireland acting as agent of the British Government.
I appologise to the hon. Member if I have been precipitate in making remarks about Northern Ireland. We all know his interest in the subject. I did not intend any discourtesy.
I will try to keep my remarks within order, in spite of the sentiments which I feel so strongly, by not particularly mentioning the constituency which I have the honour to represent, although that seems to be a somewhat farcical position.
Many hon. Members opposite have expressed concern because the terms of reference and the duties of the Parliamentary Commissioner are far too limited. They have said that there will be many occasions when people from their constituencies will have grievances which the hon. Members concerned will be unable to bring before the Parliamentary Commissioner. In that I give them all the sympathy at my command, but how much better off are those hon. Members than I am! I represent 67,000 British subjects, subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, and yet I cannot bring their grievances to the notice of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I am sure that, whatever their political complexions, hon. Members will sympathise with me in my attempt to get for my constituents what other hon. Members have obtained for theirs, little though that may be.
Clause 13 of the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill is open to violent contradiction. Subsection (1) says:
Subject to the provisions of this section, this Act extends to Northern Ireland
but subsection (2) says:
Nothing in this section shall be construed as authorising the inclusion among the departments and authorities to which this Act applies of any department of the Government of Northern Ireland…
The contradiction is apparent, because first the Clause says that the Bill does apply to Northern Ireland and then it goes on to say that it does not.
On a point of order. This is very entertaining and I should like to join the fun. However, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) appears to be arguing a Committee point, which is whether the Bill should be extended, other than it already extends, to Northern Ireland. Shall we be in order in pursuing that topic?
I want to make it clear that I am listening to the hon. Member for Belfast, West with great care. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) must leave it to the Chair to decide when a speech is outside the bounds of order. So far the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not outside those bounds.
I am anxious to abide by your Rulings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but once again it has been made obvious, even during the few remarks which I have had the opportunity to make this afternoon, that an attempt is being made to limit my remarks. I will proceed with my interpretation of the Clause.
Subsection (1) says that the Bill extends to Northern Ireland and subsection
(2) says that it does not. However, subsection (2) goes on to say:
but this Act shall apply to any department or authority, in relation to any action taken by them as agent for a department or authority to which this Act applies, as it applies to the last-mentioned department or authority.
In other words, the Parliamentary Commissioner will be open to receive complaints about matters concerning defence, Income Tax and the Post Office in Northern Ireland, but that will be the limit of his powers in Northern Ireland. There may be occasions when the power of the Northern Ireland Government and that of the Imperial Government are inter-related and in such cases the Parliamentary Commissioner would be able to go so far in his inquiries, but those inquiries would be stopped once they extended into a Northern Ireland Departmental problem.
To say the least, this is a most unworkmanlike proposal and means that once an inquiry overlaps into the province of the Northern Ireland Government, it must come to a full stop. That seems to be defeating the ends of justice and the whole intention behind the Bill.
On a point of order. I want to make certain just how far I shall be able to go in reply to this argument. The hon. Member has said that in certain respects in which the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland it is unworkmanlike, and he has used other epithets. If this line of argument is in order, I want to make certain that I shall have the same latitude as the hon. Gentleman if I think that anything he says requires reply.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he will have exactly the same latitude as has been given to the hon. Member. I point out to the hon. Member for Belfast, West, as I did earlier, perhaps a little in advance of the moment, that he is treading rather warily and that he can raise matters only if they are within the province of this Government or of the Northern Ireland Government acting as agent for the British Government. He is now beginning to argue whether these powers should be extended. I think that he ought to come a little nearer to order.
On a point of order. It has already been ruled by Mr. Speaker that in this debate we are entitled to raise the grievances of the subject in general as well as in particular terms, that it is the purpose of this debate to raise questions of Supply and not just grievances of the subject.
I think that you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that before I was interrupted by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, who, for some reason which I cannot discern, seems this afternoon to be the most annoyed man in the House, I was pursuing a valid line of reasoning.
I am not annoyed in the sense that it would be normally understood in this House. Those who understand Northern Ireland colloquialism may put a different interpretation upon the word "annoyed". In fact I am delighted to hear the hon Gentleman. I am merely—
I was asking the Financial Secretary about the reasoning embodied in Clause 13, which permits the Parliamentary Commissioner to make inquiries in Northern Ireland, where the function is carried out by the British Government, such as Income Tax, defence and postal services. But where two Departments, a Northern Ireland Government Department and a Department of this Government are involved, and this is quite possible, does this then mean that the Parliamentary Commissioner can only inquire into the Department controlled by the British Government? This means that if, on reaching a conclusion in an investigation, the Commissioner wishes to proceed further, he will be prevented from doing so.
Most hon. Members have called for an extension of the powers of the Commissioner, and have said that those given to him at present may not be sufficient to protect the interests of an aggrieved constituent. However, Members of Parliament already have these powers. I can see you looking at me Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am not going into this any further. All that I would say is that the British Labour Government, having been elected in 1964, by the will of the vast majority of the people in these islands, thought in their wisdom that it was important to bring such a Bill before the House. In their endeavours they certainly have had my support and the support of my constituents.
I cannot understand why any hon. Member would wish to deny to his constituents the provisions, meagre though they be, and the rights and protection contained in this Bill. In Committee, I attempted to get Northern Ireland included, but I failed and one and a half million of Her Majesty's subjects in Northern Ireland are not being treated as British subjects, and are sadly disappointed.
I am sorry that the House should be inflicted with this pleasant interlude. I could not help but admire, as no doubt you did, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), and the skill with which he managed to produce at least even the skeleton of an argument as to why the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill should have been extended to Northern Ireland. It shows that his experience, as a Member of two Parliaments, has stood him in good stead.
That is certainly a Parliament of a sort.
There are one or two cases, to be fair, where the responsibilities of Ministers between here and Northern Ireland, overlap. Occasionally there are grey areas when it is not absolutely certain where final responsibility lies. In that respect the hon. Member was on a valid point and perhaps the Minister can say something about this.
I understand from what you have said to the hon. Member, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not be able to deploy an argument of any great length on the general question, and I content myself with saying that the views of the hon. Member about the opinions of people in Northern Ireland and the application of the Bill are as inaccurate as his assertion that the party opposite was elected by a majority of the British people.
In a sense, this is a sad Vote because of the very limited way in which the Parliamentary Commissioner's powers have been drawn. It is also a disappointing Vote because the genesis of this institution was that it was first raised by Professor Lawson and some academics, and was then recommended by Justice, of which the Minister was a distinguished member. The Conservative Party, unfortunately, indicated a certain amount of opposition, and I was always prepared to vote against the party if it had persisted in this, but common sense prevailed.
We now have a Bill limited to Members of the House of Commons. That is a disappointing limitation, and a lot of what I consider to be spurious arguments have been advanced, saying that the Parliamentary Commissioner will fulfil the tasks of the back benchers, and that if one has a Parliamentary Commissioner able to look into grievances not put through the House of Commons, the back benchers' powers would be usurped. I do not believe that any of these arguments are valid. The Member of Parliament will be placed in very great difficulty as a result of having to deal with the grievances.
A constituent may write and say that he wants a grievance remedied by the Member, or he may say that he wishes the grievance to go at once to the Parliamentary Commissioner. Assume that the Member is strong minded and does not mind telling the constituent that he is talking nonsense, if he is doing so. Let us assume that; but in many cases can the hon. Member be so certain of his own judgment as to say that this is a grievance not within the purview of the Parliamentary Commissioner?
One reads the debates in Committee and sees that there were lots of points very much on the edge of the subject and also points which were at the discretion of the Parliamentary Commissioner. One might have a very good case for saying that the Commissioner would not exercise his discretion in a certain instance, but a Member of Parliament cannot be certain. If the Member refuses to send the grievance to the Ombudsman, a constituent may write to another Member of Parliament complaining about this, and he may have a perfectly good case.
There may be a Member of the House seeking to increase his little empire, who wanted notoriety, or to make an appeal as a public figure. He may say, "I have engaged 10 secretaries and three lawyers; everyone send your grievances to me and I will process them. I will be the most efficient fellow in the House of Commons to deal with your grievances, because they will be pre-packaged." Even if the Member does not go to that extent, some Members may get a reputation for putting grievances to the Ombudsman better than others. Just as people prefer some doctors and specialists, they may prefer a Member who specialises in certain grievances
Therefore, constituents are not bound, rightly, to go to their own Member of Parliament. They may well shop around and choose the most likely Member to put their grievance in the best way to the Ombudsman. That is very undesirable. The Danish Ombudsman can deal not only with grievances from anybody, but with grievances which no one has put before him and which he thinks worthy of inquiry. Sometimes the victims of injustice are not vocal. There may be an understanding between two parties who decide something and the injustice falls on the silent third party.
It is with sorrow that I see this Vote. It is disappointing to support a Vote the extent of which is so small. I expect that hon. Members have read the article in the Economist, which has always been a great supporter of the Ombudsman. It said that the Vote was hardly worth supporting. I do not believe that that is so. Le mieux est l'enemi du bien. I very much hope that the Government will realise after a short time that the limitations put on the office of Parliamentary Commissioner are such that they deprive his office of much of the good which it could have done.
It is perhaps understandable that some members of the Civil Service do not want this kind of interference. I believe that the Conservative Party received a good many expressions of opinion about that when it was in power. If the system were wider, the members of the Civil Service would realise that it was a protection for them and that a method of settling grievances is better for the Civil Service as a whole and certainly for the government of the country.
There is a great deal in what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) has said, but I was tempted earlier to believe that there is nothing to replace effectively the alert constituency Member of Parliament. However, I realise that there are, and could conceivably become, areas in which he would wish to call upon the support of someone who could give more effective scrutiny in greater depth than he would be able to give. In these circumstances, I would go a long way with those who advocate the establishment of the Commissioner if his duties were more wide-ranging. Like many of my hon. Friends, I regret that he will be so circumscribed as to be of comparatively little assistance to those who wish to bring their special cases to his attention.
Before commenting further on the general point, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for breaking the ice and showing other hon. Members that it is within order during this debate to discuss all subjects raised by the Supplementary Estimates. It is right that hon. Members should have this clearly in mind, for, although it has been so ordered for the convenience of Ministers that certain subjects shall be taken in an agreed order of batting, I am sure that you would agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no hon. Member fortunate enough to catch your eye should feel himself confined to the subject which at that time had come to the head of the list. It is right that hon. Members should be reminded of this.
I remember times in the past when during similar debates my hon. Friends and I on the then Government back benches took the opportunity whenever it occurred to press our own Front Bench
for a greater amount of information. This is what we are about today. This debate is primarily about the control expenditure. We should have more debates about controlling expenditure. We should have many more debates threatening, and meaning what we say when we threaten, the Treasury that it will not get the enormous sum of money for which it asks unless we have a full explanation about why it wants it.
I am aware, as must be all hon. Members, of the enormous pressures on our constituents of the punitive rates of taxation to which they are being subjected as a result of the Government's policies. Any increase in expenditure by this Government should be thoroughly and closely examined by every hon. Member. He would be doing a far greater service to his constituents by doing that than could be done by any actions of the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate or whoever may follow him in line of succession.
In view of what my hon. Friend has been saying, with which I entirely agree, would he say that one of the first duties of the Ombudsman should be to inquire into the expenditure of £49,000 before he even began functioning?
I do not know whether that is the case of the chicken or the egg, and I do not know where he came into the picture, but I agree with the implications of my hon. Friend's comment. A point which was admirably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil was that it was most extraordinary that the Commissioner, whose primary job is to protect the interests of the citizens of this country against the marauding instincts of the Executive, should have been appointed in a manner wholly contrary to the interests of the taxpayers. I hope that we shall hear some justification from the Minister as to why this was thought necessary.
I see from the Sixth Special Report the observations of the Treasury on the comments made by hon. Members who served the House on the Estimates Committee. They came to the conclusion in paragraph 15 that it would be wrong, in view of the distinguished officer who had been appointed Parliamentary Commissioner-designate, to withhold the money to be voted in this case. This indicates how close they came to doing just that. I wish that they had done so and that they had decided that there was no justification for passing this Vote. It still lies within hon. Members' power to come to just that conclusion.
I am happy to try it, and that is what I am doing. I invite the hon. Member's support—that is, if he is in any way interested in trying to protect his constituents from increasing taxation.
The Estimates Committee went on to say that it hoped that the procedure adopted in this case would not be allowed to pass without protest and that it would not be used by the Executive as a precedent. But the Treasury, when making its observations on this point, called in aid a number of earlier instances when it claimed that this procedure had been adopted. I quote from the Sixth Special Report from the Estimates Committee at the bottom of page 3, where it says
The Treasury do not consider that the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund in this case departs from long-standing practice governing its use as explained to the House on a number of occasions, e.g. statements by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 3rd March, 1925 (Mr. Guinness), and by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on 12th July, 1963…
I looked up those cases, and I have them here. The first referred to the statement made by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Guinness, who, in col. 276 and 277 of HANSARD of 3rd March, 1925, set out the purposes for which the Civil Contingencies Fund could be used. It says quite clearly—and this is the point to which I at once face up in connection with this vote—that:
The Civil Contingencies Fund provides a sum…to meet payments for miscellaneous services not appropriate to any separate or specific Vote of Parliament, and to make advances where necessary to meet deficiencies on existing Votes or for new services, in anticipation of Votes of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1925; Vol. 181, c. 276.]
I believe I am doing justice to the Financial Secretary's case when I say that it has been claimed that this is a new service and that before the end of the financial year it was required to pay the necessary advance moneys
required out of the Civil Contingencies Fund.
Lest this is thought to be a precedent which may be followed in the future, I take some comfort from the words—and I ask hon. Members to look at these words—spoken by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), on 12th July, 1963. I quote from col. 1688 of HANSARD of that date, in which he said that in the fifth category of the various categories for which this Fund may be used:
…advances may be made on account of new services where the need for expenditure arises too late for a supplementary estimate to be presented within the same financial year".
My right hon. Friend then went on to qualify this—this is extremely important —or, rather, to describe the sort of circumstances in which this sort of situation might arise or had arisen in the past. He said:
This is a question of timing rather than of a new category of expenditure. An example, perhaps, is the emergency expenditure which resulted from the floods of January, 1953, which will be within the recollection of the House…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1688–9.]
This put a totally different gloss on the situation. My right hon. Friend was then, in his extremely responsible position, making it perfectly clear that he saw the operation of this procedure as an exceptional circumstance. He saw it as something which would be justified only in a sort of emergency situation, of which he gave the House at that time one or two examples.
By no stretch of the imagination can the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate be likened in any way to an emergency situation such as was described by my right hon. Friend. There is a very clear case here on which we want a completely frank answer from the Treasury Front Bench when the hon. and learned Gentleman replies.
Can it not also be said that there was no demand for this new service? If there had been a demand for people to have Ombudsmen treatment, there would have been an emergency and a new service, but the appointment of a man who will be doing something only after the Supplementary Estimates are passed cannot possibly come in that category.
That is a valid point. It is further strengthened in my mind by the knowledge that there was no great and continuing public outcry for the creation overnight of a Parliamentary Commissioner. This is not something which animated people in the constituencies, or which occasioned a great deal of speechifying by hon. Members up and down the country. I do not know how many hon. Members even referred to it in their election addresses. One or two may have done, but comparatively few did. This was not something to which the Government were particularly wedded. They brought it in, as my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil said, as a piece of political window dressing at the time, as a means of convenience to get out of some embarrassing situation which looked like flooding the headlines of the newspapers to the disadvantage of the Prime Minister. They wanted something to distract the country.
The speech of the hon. Gentleman was interesting until he dived into the political propaganda side of it. Whilst it seems to me that Members of the Conservative Party have always been making sly digs at administrators and civil servants, and saying what horrid people they are without identifying them, we on our side have also acknowledged that there is a danger for the administration, so to speak, to take over from Parliament. The big argument that went on within the Labour Party was that there should be someone to whom an ordinary backbencher could submit a case, without or, perhaps, in addition to appealing to Ministers during Question Time or by using an Adjournment debate. It is a pity to spoil a good argument, on a matter which has concerned Members on both sides of the House, by dragging in ridiculous political points, as the hon. Gentleman has done.
Despite the hon. Gentleman's gratuitous comments, I might have had greater sympathy for his remarks had he shown a greater degree of concern over the encroachment of individual civil liberties by the power of the Executive. We are concerned here with the arbitrary decision of the Executive to anticipate the decision of the House. They have done this in a manner which necessitated the expenditure of public money. They have resorted to this device in order to draw on the funds provided for other purposes, and not for a purpose such as this, as I have sought to describe. If we are to have a new office of this nature, with a Parliamentary Commissioner and his staff, we are entitled to have a pretty clear idea of the ultimate expenditure which is likely to be involved.
We are asked in this Vote to grant the sum of £49,000, to meet the salary of the Commissioner designate and the salaries, etc. of his staff, for the period up to the year ending 31st March, 1967. That is a very short time. I should have liked to have had written in clearly, so that every hon. Member could see it, the anticipated expenditure of the Parliamentary Commissioner when he ceases to be designate and becomes fully fledged. To what extent is his office likely to grow? If we are being called upon to pass initial expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money, should we not have clearly in our minds the total expenditure likely to be involved in a full year, and the manner in which this expenditure is likely to grow in the future? It must be that in the experience of every hon. Member that once a new Department has been created, no matter what it is called or whatever its main purpose may be, like Topsy it grows and grows, not necessarily in efficiency, but certainly to the increasing disadvantage of the interest of taxpayers. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a clear answer on this point.
I am grateful for the assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who, as usual, has been assiduous in his researches and has done a great deal in bringing this matter to the attention of the House in the first place to serve the interests of every hon. Member. It would, however, have come much better from the Treasury had it been made abundantly clear in the Vote, in the document which is now before us, exactly what the expenditure in a full year is likely to be and what stages of growth are expected. We are most concerned, as, I believe, is the Treasury, to ensure proper control of expenditure. This means full and complete disclosure by the Government and by every public Department associated with them which is dependent in any way upon the taxpayer's money.
I am tempted to go further through the Supplementary Estimates as contained in publication No. 227, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to a number of Sub-heads or Votes. I will content myself by mentioning just one which causes me more concern almost than anything else. I refer to Clause IV, Sub-head 17, an increase of £15 million to be paid by way of grant to the British Railways Board.
If anything needs a thorough shake-up and overhaul, it is the British Railways administration and the Railways Board and everything that goes with them. Here we are blandly being asked to fork out another £15 million of the taxpayer's money for a service which already costs him hundreds of millions of £s. I regard this as wholly indefensible, and I expect to get proper justification for this demand from the Government Front Bench.
I hope that when the Financial Secretary replies, the House will be given a clear answer about the reasons why it was found necessary and urgent to appoint the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take particular note of what was said by the Estimates Committee in its Fifth report. I ask hon. Members to note that this was the Report of the Estimates Committee, which is appointed by this House, comprising hon. Members of the House who report back to the House. The Estimates Committee said at paragraph 15:
They therefore consider that, before the Supplementary Estimate is passed, a clear undertaking should be given on behalf of the Government that the action taken in this case will not be used as a precedent to justify similar abuses of proper constitutional processes in the future.
We want that clear undertaking from the Financial Secretary. We have not had it yet. We have not had anything approximating to it in the Sixth Special
Report, which was the Treasury's observations, and I hope that we get it before the House is prepared to pass this Vote.
We have had an interesting debate this afternoon and we are all grateful to the Government and to my right hon. Friends the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House for this opportunity for the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) to get some of the passion off his chest and to give an opportunity of speaking to one or two other hon. Members who were conspicuous by their absence when this subject should have been raised the other morning—unlike myself. I was here.
I hope that I am not out of order in drawing attention to the zeal of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who was present the other night to raise this important subject. It is rather surprising that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition should now claim credit for counting out the House and thus preventing his hon. Friend from raising the subject on that occasion.
May I assure the hon. Member that we give full credit to his right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary for his incompetence and inability to keep a House in support of Government business?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for ensuring that at least I get a slightly bigger audience than I had before.
We have been discussing this afternoon the important question of the function of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the action of the Government in putting into these Estimates a sum of £49,000. It was, no doubt, right and proper that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West should call for proper control of expenditure, but this comes ill from the mouths of some right hon. and hon. Members opposite when one remembers some of their own previous extravagances. [An HON. MEMBER: "Blue Streak."] That was something like £400 million, was it not? Here they are complaining about £49,000.
Yes, we must not forget that.
The hon. Member said that there had been no outcry for this appointment. That, again, is a rather surprising statement when one looks up the record of Questions from right hon. and hon. Members opposite over the last two years clamouring for a Government announcement about when we would have the Bill and when a Parliamentary Commissioner would be appointed. They were the very people who clamoured in this House for the appointment. In all the postbags of right hon. and hon. Members, there have for a long time been inquiries about when this important official would be appointed to deal with grievances.
The remarkable thing is that I have never yet had anyone in my constituency —and neither, to my knowledge, has any of my hon. Friends in theirs—saying that this was not a proper appointment to make. The only criticism has been some rather doubtful criticism that has come up today.
With a certain amount of humility, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will make this submission to you. We are talking about the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner. That is one of the matters which has been subjected to question during this debate. It has been one of the main reasons why the Opposition have objected to the Government putting in this sum, as the Opposition have not been told so they say, of the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner, or that his powers have been limited. I think that, in reply to that, it is quite reasonable for me to point out another limitation on those powers. I hope, therefore, that in this argument I may be permitted to go on to make my point, which is, that a far more serious limitation on the powers of the Commissioner is in relation to what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West was saying in his very interesting speech.
I think I ought to try to help the hon. Member. He may refer to those matters, but he certainly ought not to go into them in detail. I gave some latitude to his hon. Friend, but it is a limited amount of elbow room.
That is precisely what I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you may have noted that I did not refer in detail to what my hon. Friend said. I merely referred to it in very general terms—and, I hope, general terms of approval ; as always, because my hon. Friend always makes a very good speech and always a very entertaining speech, as, no doubt, the hon and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will agree. It was a very right speech, too, today, and with that also, no doubt, the hon. and gallant Member will agree.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare made what I thought was a perfectly proper point for this debate, that the House ought to question the granting of supply before the Bill becomes law. That is, I think, a perfectly proper point, but I would put this submission to him, that if the Government had not made this provision, and the Parliamentary Commissioner were appointed, with no supply having been granted, that would at once have been a source of a major complaint from the Opposition. They would at once have started to argue, "Here we have again an example of the Government's incompetence. An appointment has been made for a Commissioner, but there are no offices for him, and no provision has been made for him to do his very important public work." I can well imagine the cries of "Shabby" and "Shoddy" which would have come from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton)—that no proper provision had been made for dealing with the grievances of the subject. Yet here they are complaining today just because the Government have perfectly properly made provision.
Grievances will be redressed. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that when that Bill becomes law grievances will be redressed. They will be, indeed. This again, is an example of the very narrow, limited, shortsighted, and curiously crabbed minds that we have on the Opposition benches. Here we have a reform. It may be limited, and I have pointed out that it does not affect Northern Ireland as it should. But here we have a very good, if limited, reform, and the crabby people on the Opposition benches complain that it does not do this and that it does not do that, and therefore they are opposed to it. Did they never, in all their long Parliamentary record when they were in power, introduce perhaps an odd little reform which they commended to the House, saying, "This is a modest reform; it may not fulfil all the demands of the House, but, nevertheless it will go a long way towards meeting the grievances of Her Majesty's subjects"?
We have really caught a big fish. Having listened to all the speeches, and having heard what the hon. Member for Yeovil called that Bill—"shoddy", he called it; "shabby", he called it; "discreditable", he called that Bill—I must say it is extraordinary that the Opposition now say they support it. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, who, unfortunately, has been called out to answer a telephone call—his absence is not due to discourtesy—also went into what were really—
—paroxysms of rage, indeed, because, he said, it was a bad Bill. Yet now we have an Opposition Front Bench spokesman, who is now being reminded of what somebody did say, stating that it is a good Bill and the Opposition support it. But not until Third Reading. Are they not funny? They really are.
We have had a very interesting debate and we have had one or two interesting debating points from the Opposition, but I would return to what I said earlier: what would the Opposition have said if the Government had not made this provision? "Another broken promise", as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) remarks. That Bill has been debated and accepted by the House; it is a Bill which is called for in the country; several of my constituents have already written to me on this matter with approval, hoping that the Parliamentary Commissioner will be appointed as quickly as possible. I hope that, with the support of the other place, we shall have the Commissioner appointed very soon, and going to work.
I am very disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. We often have very valuable contributions from him, but he did not really seem to me to have his eye on the ball at all. I should like, briefly, to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) on what is the real point, as I see it, in this discussion, and it is this. We have an Estimates Committee. May I pause for a moment to say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), who intervened a little earlier, that I would hope we would have his assistance. This is not at all a party matter. We are supporting the Estimates Committee, which is a non-party organisation, essentially composed of back benchers, and particularly interested in maintaining the individual rights of Members of this House. That Estimates Committee has pointed out here that the Government have done something which is quite unprecedented.
The precedents which the Treasury has so assiduously produced do not at all justify what has been done, because it has only suggested that this Commissioner comes under the heading of a new service. But there is no new service. The appointment of the Ombudsman does not create a service. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), he has tried, with ingenuity, to suggest to people that the Ombudsman is already functioning—he did so, I will not say in the hope, but certainly rather on the assumption, that they will think that the ombudsman is already functioning—as a result of the promptness with which this money was found. It was done four or five months ago.
The fact of the matter is that this is a new precedent, which, apparently, Whitehall would like to have established, and the Estimates Committee does not think they should. If ever there was a moment when I should have thought the back benchers of all parties should have stood firmly behind the Estimates Committee against the Executive, whether of their party or not, this, I should have thought, would have been the occasion for it.
It is a remarkable thing that there has not been more indignation expressed. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ealing, North would have been one of the people who would have been with us in this. There are no Liberals here to deal with the matter at all. One would have supposed this to have been the kind of thing they would have been interested in. If ever there was justification for this kind of debate, this is the very sort of point for it.
But the hon. Gentleman said that nobody has expressed any concern about this unusual and irregular thing being done—the expenditure of public money on something which has not yet been approved, as a matter of law. When he says that, I do not agree with him at all. I have heard quite a lot. In addition, I read in several newspapers at the time strong comment on the very airy way in which the Prime Minister brushed it off.
There are people in this country quite apart from politics who are afraid that there is a growing tendency on the part of this Government to become dictatorial. This is an opportunity to point out to them that, irrespective of party differences, we do not wish the Executive to become more dictatorial. There have been examples of it in a number of directions which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not wish me to detail now. There was the attitude of Ministers during the discussions that we had on the Finance Bill and the Selective Employment Tax when, time after time, good, reasoned arguments were made and not answered at all, when Ministers simply said, "We have decided to do this, and it is going through".
This is a stage further. We have not even got it through Parliament. Ministers say, "But what does it matter? It is going through, so let us alter the rules accordingly". Before long, we shall find that things are done without an Act of Parliament at all. Indeed, they were when, at the beginning of the prices and incomes era we were told, "There will be legislation, so people had better do what they are told".
This is the moment when back benchers ought to sit up and realise what is going on. I am astonished that hon. Members supporting the Government should not have appreciated what a Report of this kind from our Estimates Committee means. Here we have an all-party Committee making a serious recommendation about a precedent which the Treasury shows by its own language that it wants to establish, which is a new and dangerous precedent and something to which we ought to object. I should have thought that it was the sort of case where we would expect a Minister to apologise to the House for having done something which was unwarranted, because that is what it is. That is what I hope that we shall hear.
It is my understanding that hon. Members opposite are supporters of the Opposition.
As I was saying, it seems to me that the Opposition are concerned about this whole business for one single reason. The recommendation and the ultimate creation of the office of Parliamentary Commissioner is new. Nothing is more irritating and annoying to any Conservative than something which is new.
I do not deny the right of any back bencher from either side to criticise the Government if the Opposition feel, as is their right, that they can do much better in challenging the Government from the back benches than from the Front Benches.
As I see it, the argument is that if there had been no preparation for the creation of this new service, the Government would have faced the challenge, "What sort of planning is this? What sort of preparation have you done?" It is not possible, overnight, to create a department which will play a very important rôle in our society. It will make a contribution to defending the individual which, as I have always understood it, is one of the main planks of Conservative argument.
They would have charged the Government, quite rightly, "Why did you not take steps to see to it that, when the new service is ready, it can go into operation as swiftly as possible?" It does not matter for which way the Government had opted. As far as the Opposition are concerned, they would have been in the wrong.
There is another attitude which we have to examine. If, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) has said, in principle the Opposition have supported the idea. the sort of arguments that we have heard have been so wide ranging that they have really been criticisms of the entire concept. The argument concerning the appointment of the particular individual and the Estimates Committee's Report itself has merely been the hook on which to criticise the whole concept and, at the same time, provide an opportunity for the Opposition to say that they were only attacking the fact that the Government acted and made some appointment before the House had gone into the matter.
I am quite sure that time will show that many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will take full advantage of the service which the Parliamentary Commissioner will create. I hope that they will.
7 hey will be forgetting all the ugly things which they have been saying today.
If the Opposition were honest with themselves, they would admit that what has irritated them is that they would have loved to be on record as saying that, had they won the last General Election, they would have instituted such a Measure. All the raucousness and irritation that we have heard today is due to the fact that the Opposition, quite frankly, are jealous of many of the things which the Government have been doing in all their spheres of activity. One in particular which has irritated them is that this so-called wicked Socialist Government has introduced a Measure primarily designed to see that the individual is safeguarded from any threat that might emanate from the Administration.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With all the good humour in the world, a very serious observation has been made. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) suggested that hon. Members of this House had been criticised personally in letters to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) for not carrying out their Parliamentary duties. That was brushed aside rather lightly by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, who said that that might well be so. Either it is so or it is not. If it is so, it should be acknowledged and substantiated. If it is not so, it should be withdrawn.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If any remark of mine caused offence to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), I hasten to say that I was certainly not referring to him or to any other right hon. or hon. Gentleman whom I see in front of me.
Perhaps we can move on from discussion of whether right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are competent. I wish to ask the Minister seriously if he will consider some of the points which I wish to raise about many of Her Majesty's subjects in Northern Ireland.
A very serious situation will arise there, one which I think will concern us all. Some of our constituents, not necessarily people from Northern Ireland, who live in Ealing, or in Bournemouth, may have need of the Parliamentary Commissioner for something which has been threatened or done to them in Northern Ireland. It seems to me that the Bill will not apply in such circumstances, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will seriously consider this matter. To prevent this serious situation arising, with all its considerable complexities, the best thing that the Government can do is to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the Parliamentary Commissioner and the entire office that he represents embraces Northern Ireland.
I rise to deplore the fact that there seems to be no reference in these Estimates to the need for establishing in Wales an office for the Ombudsman. After all, this is a multi-national State. We have here not just one nation but four, and I think it right that every nation which belongs to this confraternity of nations in the United Kingdom should have the institutions established by this Government. If we have it, certainly Northern Ireland should have it. If we had a Government of our own in Wales, we would certainly have this institution.
New Zealand is smaller than Wales in population, and less wealthy, and yet she has a flourishing institution of this kind. We should certainly have one in Wales, but, as I say, there seems to be no provision for this in the Estimates, not even for the establishment of an office in Wales to carry out the duties of this official.
We have a national background. We have a different culture. We have a national language, which I am not allowed to speak in this Chamber, but which will be the subject of legislation here before long. This means that there are problems in Wales which are peculiar to Wales, and we should have this institution to deal with such problems in our own country. I think that this applies not only to Wales, but to Northern Ireland and Scotland, where, even if a different language is not spoken by a large proportion of the population, at least there is a different law, and it therefore seems right to me that England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland should as nations have this institution in their own right.
What provision is there in the Estimates to secure in Wales people who are competent in the Welsh language to translate from English to Welsh and from Welsh to English for this purpose? I think that we need a corps of translators to do justice to this kind of institution.
I see from the Estimates that a sum of £15 million is voted for transport. What is this for, and how much of it is to be used in Wales where we are in need of the greatest possible expenditure on railway transport? Our railway system is almost being destroyed. What is this money for? Is it to help the electrification of lines in England which are now being planned, although it is known beforehand that they will lose millions of £s per year? Or is it perhaps to help to bring the railways of England closer to the heart of England? This is the widely advertised aim of British Railways. Apparently they are at last bringing the railways of England to the heart of England. It is high time that they were brought closer to the heart of Wales, where the country is almost denuded of railways. I therefore ask the Minister to say whether this money will be used for this purpose in Wales, and whether it will be used to develop a railway system which will be adequate to our economic and social needs.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that the intervention of the Financial Secretary at this stage does not mean that there will be any attempt to bring this debate to a conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), has been here for more than two hours waiting to take part in this debate. May we have an assurance that there is no question of the debate being concluded?
On a point of order. When the Closure was previously moved on this debate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) had just made an extremely interesting speech about E.L.D.O. and the Minister had got to his feet to reply. Are we not to hear his reply? It is all very well for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say that someone may catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair. It may be that the Patronage Secretary will do that. He is very large but not very handsome. I could catch your eye, so could he, and if the latter were to happen our rights would be seriously curtailed.
On a point of order. I made a series of very serious charges against the Government. I asked that the grievances which I put forward should be answered before we voted Supply. Surely it is in the interests of the Government themselves to seek an opportunity to reply to the charges that I made? If they do not we will be left with the prosecution's case, and not hear the case for the defence. It cannot be in the interests of the House to permit that.
Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) could not interest enough of his hon. Friends to listen to what he had to say at 3.15 the other morning. I was here and I heard him. There was no closure. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has slipped up. There was no Closure. The hon. Gentleman was not here. Most of his hon. Friends were not here either, and so the poor hon. Gentleman—
The Minister was here, and if only there had been enough of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends here to listen to him the hon. Gentleman would have been able to hear everything that the Minister had to say.
The debate today has really fallen into two parts. On the one hand, there have been those hon. Members who have referred to, relied on, and elaborated the criticisms contained in the Estimates Committee's Report, and, on the other, wehave had a rather more wide-ranging debate in which hon. Members have questioned the rightness or wisdom of appointing a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate because they say that the provisions of the Bill are, in one way or another, inadequate.
Perhaps I might deal with those two series of points in order, and take first the criticisms based on the Estimates Committee's Report. Roughly, three criticisms have been levied against the action taken by the Government. First, it is alleged that the system of Parliamentary control of expenditure is being by-passed; secondly, that it is improper to use the Civil Contingencies Fund for a new head of expenditure for which legislative or other Parliamentary approval has not been obtained; thirdly, that a new Department of the Executive has been brought into being under the guise of adding the word "Designate" to the Parliamentary Commissioner's title. I think that that is a fair representation of the three criticisms in the Estimates Committee's Report.
The Minister has used the word "improper". I would remind him that the Estimates Committee, which is not merely a body of Opposition Members but is an all-party body, said that
if the procedure adopted in this case were allowed to pass without protest, the possibility would be opened of by-passing the whole system of Parliamentary control of expenditure whenever the Executive thought it expedient to do so.
The word "improper" is not used. It is simply said earlier on that it is without precedent, except for the purchase of a work of art, and I do not see the relevance of that.
I am surprised that the hon. Member, to whose interesting speech I listened with patience, should seek to intervene before I have had any opportunity to begin to deploy my argument. If he says that he does not think that it was improper, I am glad to hear it, but I thought that the tenor of his remarks, and those of some of his hon. Friends, indicated that the criticism of the Estimates Committee was that this was an improper use of the Civil Contingencies Fund. I see some hon. Members opposite nodding. That was one allegation that I proposed to seek to meet.
With the greatest respect to the Estimates Committee, I submit that all three criticisms are misconceived, I suggest that that is fully established by the departmental observations contained in the Treasury Minute now published as a White Paper. The Treasury shares the Estimates Committee's concern that the system of Parliamentary control should not be by-passed, but we cannot accept that the meeting of the expenditure from the Civil Contingencies Fund in this case did by-pass it or was an improper use of the Fund. In one sense every use of the Fund is a by-passing of Parliamentary control, in that it is an anticipation, and an exception to the general rule that no expenditure is incurred before money has been voted by Parliament.
But this is the purpose for which the Fund exists; it is to enable the Government, in circumstances which they are prepared to defend to the House, to incur expenditure before it has been voted and approved by Parliament.
The Estimates Committee appears to think that the Fund should be used only to defray additional expenditure incurred by a Department in carrying out its normal functions, for which the existing Estimates provision is insufficient, and suggests that it should not be used to finance an entirely new head of expenditure. With great respect, this is not in accordance with precedents for the accepted uses of the Fund. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) has already referred to the classical statement of the purposes of the Fund, which was a statement made by my precedessor, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury —apparently another Irishman, because his name was Guinness—on 3rd March, 1925, when asked by Mr. Runciman
for what purposes and under what powers the Civil Contingencies Fund was originally instituted, and what limits are placed upon the uses to which it has been customary to put the fund; and whether assurances as to the use to be made of the fund were given to the House by the Treasury when the capital sum in the fund was last increased?
It was a lengthy reply, and I shall read only the relevant part of it. The Minister said:
The Civil Contingencies Fund provides a sum, entrusted to the Government, to meet payment for miscellaneous services not appropriate to any separate or specific Vote of Parliament, and to make advances where necessary to meet deficiences on existing Votes, or for new services, in anticipation of Votes of Parliament. The Fund dates from 1862. and the arrangements in force follow, with one exception…the recommendations in the Fourth Report of the Public Accounts Committee of 1861.
Those recommendations were, first:
That the Treasury should continue to make advances to meet deficiences on the ordinary Votes or for the new services, and that such advances be included in the Estimates for the succeeding year, as at present, and be repaid to the Contingencies Fund.
That the Estimates should in each case state the sum to be repaid to the Contingency Fund.
That no final payment should be charged to the Fund; but that, in case the Government, for the Public Service, feel it necessary on their responsibility to incur any Civil Service expenses, the deficiency occasioned by such expenditure shall be considered as an advance, and be submitted to Parliament as a Vote in the succeeding year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1925 ; Vol. 181, c. 276.]
The essence of the matter is that the Government, on their responsibility, incur expenditure in advance of a Vote and are able to use this Fund. That cannot be a final payment ; they must seek the authority of Parliament, which is what we intend to do, to repay the Fund and to satisfy Parliament that it was a proper use of the expenditure. That is the way in which it is done and Parliament is always informed when recourse is had to the Fund, and the proper time at which to satisfy Parliament is when the Estimates are laid before the House.
In the hon. and learned Gentleman's view, is there any limitation at all on the powers of the Government in this respect? Following his argument, it would appear the Government can do exactly what they want and come to Parliament afterwards. There seems to be no limitation at all.
I propose to quote the words of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) when he was Economic Secretary to the Treasury. As the hon. Member will see from what his right hon. Friend said, the Government have exceedingly wide powers. The Government, taking the risk that Parliament will not approve what they are doing, are entitled to use the Fund for purposes they think right and necessary, it being their responsibility to satisfy Parliament that it was a proper use of the Fund.
There was quite an interesting debate on 12th July, 1963, on the scope and use of the Civil Contingencies Fund. The then Economic Secretary went into some detail and instanced six categories of expenditure—of which the hon. Member cited one, namely, payment on account of new services—and gave examples showing that it was a question of timing and was dependent on an emergency having arisen, such as floods. As the hon. Gentleman will agree if he studies what his right hon. Friend said, these were not intended to be exclusive categories, and he himself made a number of general statements afterwards to show the use and scope of the Fund. Having enunciated the six categories, he went on to say:
I elaborate these matters, because I want my hon. Friends to understand particularly that while I and the Government share with them the ideal and the desire to control expenditure I must make the point that there will always be circumstances where there will be unexpected expenditure and there have to be funds available to meet it.
He went on to say that
the Government possess the ultimate power to use the Fund in any way in which they are prepared to defend it. I think this is the difficulty that hon. Members may have in mind. I cannot help feeling that this power is fundamental to the existence of the Fund…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1963 ; Vol. 680, c. 1689.]
He went on to compare it—I am not sure how happily—to the power of a managing director, granted by the board of directors, to advance cash for purposes he thinks necessary.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that, in the end, it is the responsibility of the Government to determine in what way or for what purposes the Fund shall be employed. The Treasury, in its Sixth Special Report, specifically refers to this aspect, of the Government's being prepared to defend and justify the purposes to which they put the Fund. But the examples quoted by the Minister from the speech made by my right hon. Friend in 1963 clearly seem to relate to the application of this Fund for expenditure on new services, and special circumstances on an emergency situation, if not actually being one. I fully accept that there are opportunities open to the Government to go wider, but does not the Minister agree, from the precedents showing for what purposes the expenditure of this Fund on new services has been employed, that this has been primarily in the past in an unforeseen or emergency situation, and not a situation such as the one currently under dispute or examination this afternoon, which is the creation of a new office which had long been prepared for and anticipated in the election programme of the Government?
I come to the circumstances in which the power is being used on this occasion. I was referring to a speech made by the right hon. Member for Taunton, who was making clear what kind of new services could be established for which recourse would be had to the Civil Contingencies Fund. He mentioned the need for expenditure arising too late for a Supplementary Estimate to be presented in the same financial year—in other words, in anticipation of a Supplementary Estimate. The most obvious example—and the one which that right hon. Gentleman used on that occasion—is expenditure arising out of a disaster; an emergency forced on the Government. However, if at any time the Government decide to expend money on a new service in anticipation of Parliamentary authority, they must satisfy Parliament that it was proper to do so. They would, of course, have recourse to the Civil Contingencies Fund only—
I regret to delay the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is important that he gives the House at least one other example, particularly relating to the time from which he was quoting, the time of Mr. Guinness.
I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite to be patient and allow me to develop my argument. I will answer all these points.
The Estimates Committee invited the witnesses to say whether there was any precise precedent for this and concluded in its Report that there appeared to be no precedent for such an officer being appointed and beginning work in advance of the passing of the enabling legislation. As the Treasury Minute points out this is not surprising because there is only one other such officer known to our constitution, the Comptroller and Auditor General. However, if the Committee was suggesting that appointments had not been made, and persons paid out of the Civil Contingencies Fund, before an Estimate or Supplementary Estimate had been authorised, it was under a misapprehension.
I will give two examples of what I mean. First, in the spring Supplementary Estimates for 1962–63 there was a sum included of £11,000 which was provided for the office of the then First Secretary. The House will recall that this appointment revived, as it were, an ancient office which had not been used for a long time. The person concerned was Lord Butler. He had assumed office in 1962 without any prior Estimate having been presented to Parliament. He was paid—and, presumably, his private office staff were also paid—out of the Civil Contingencies Fund until such time as the Supplementary Estimates were presented.
My second example shows how a completely new Vote arises, because this was one of the criticisms in the Committee's Report. In December, 1965, the Social Science Research Council was set up and it was financed as to £28,000 from the Civil Contingencies Fund before the Supplementary Estimate had been presented or passed. When it was presented, it was in the form of a completely new Vote. Almost any Supplementary Estimates contain something new in that some new service was originally financed from the Civil Contingencies Fund, and the relevant Estimate contains a note to that effect.
The Committee appears to have thought that there was something unconstitutional in setting up what it described as a "Department of State" before Parliamentary approval had been obtained. In fact, no Executive Department has been set up. The Parliamentary Commissioner-designate has not, in this sense, begun work. He has not begun work as a Parliamentary Commissioner.
The implied criticism about the word "designate" misapprehends the position. He is carrying out none of the executive functions which will fall due to him on his appointment as Commissioner. He and his staff are doing the preparatory work which will enable them to begin work as early as possible after the Bill is passed. If we had not appointed a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate and had not allowed him to secure his staff and do the preparatory work, we would have needed a substantial period between the passing of the Bill and his appointment and the making of the appointed day to bring the office into force. We were anxious to avoid that delay.
Indeed, the Government accepted the risk of abortive expenditure if Parliament did not approve the Measure. That was the sole risk involved in what the Government decided to do. With respect, I suggest that it was hardly a reckless risk for the Government to have taken. The proposals for a Parliamentary Commissioner had figured in our programme in two General Elections. Before the second General Election we had published both a White Paper and a Bill which is substantially the same as the Measure introduced in this Parliament. The only criticism of the Bill when published was that it did not go far enough. Apart from that, there was virtually no opposition expressed to it and, indeed, we had been harried and pressed at Question Time—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was asked a number of Questions on this issue—to fulfil our election pledge and introduce a Bill to set up a Parliamentary Commissioner.
For this reason it did not seem that any grave risk was involved, and this was borne out by what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said in an earlier intervention, in which he reminded the House that when the Bill was debated it had an unopposed Second Reading and an unopposed Third Reading.
I agree that the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct in saying that a Statute existed for creating that office. In any event, the approval of Parliament was necessary for the resuscitation of that office and that approval was obtained, through this Estimates procedure, subsequent to his appointment.
There having been no precedent for the creation of this office, would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that both the I.R.C. and the Steel Corporation are precedents from the present which are equally regrettable?
In his Answers to the hon. Gentleman's Questions today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated at Question Time that there were many precedents of people having been appointed and their staffs having begun the preparatory work before the actual legislation had been passed setting up whatever was the body they were planning. I believe that there are plenty of precedents—
—and if the hon. Gentleman will put a Question down to my right hon. Friend for amplification I am sure that he will receive a satisfactory reply.
As to the precise circumstances of this appointment, the House will remember, as I said, that in the previous Parliament we published a Parliamentary Commissioner Bill and that it had been the wish and intention of the Government at that time to present it before the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate was appointed. However, the General Election intervened and it did not prove possible, before the Summer Recess after the election, to have the Second Reading debate of the Bill. Consequently, if we were to give the Parliamentary Commissioner adequate time to do this preparatory work, it was necessary to appoint him before the Summer Recess. This was done. The Prime Minister informed Parliament at once and said that Parliamentary approval would be sought by the submission of a Supplementary Estimate at the earliest possible date, as has been done.
I assure hon. Members—and I hope that the Estimates Committee when it has read the Treasury Minute will be satisfied—that there is nothing unconstitutional, improper, or disrespectful to the House in the procedure which has been followed.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted the precedent of the Bill which was before Parliament before the General Election and has said that because of that we knew that the matter would come forward again. I point out the entirely opposite precedent of the Land Commission Bill, which was before Parliament before the General Election. It was much modified and a completely new Bill was brought forward after the election. Far from appointing officers and bodies under the Bill, the appointed day has been set back until the Bill has been through both Houses of Parliament.
The hon. Member proves my case, that different circumstances apply in different situations. This was a different piece of legislation and I have pointed out that it was not controversial legislation. The only complaint made has been that it does not go far enough. Everyone, except the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), who opposed the idea in principle, was anxious to see this office introduced and starting to function as soon as possible. That could be achieved only if a Parliamentary Commissioner-designate was appointed and given time to assemble staff and make arrangements for the organisation to start as soon as the Bill is through Parliament. This has been achieved by this modest expenditure which the House is now being asked to approve.
I turn to the rather more general points raised about the scope of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I am sure that I shall not be expected to deal with them at length as we debated them very fully in Committee and in the Second and Third Reading debates on the Bill. I have not answered the question whether what was done on this occasion would provide a precedent for future occasions. I only repeat what is said in the Treasury Minute that this is most unlikely because the circumstances are very unusual and it is most unlikely that they will be repeated. The general complaint in so far as it has been made again today, is that the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill does not go far enough, that the Parliamentary Commissioner-designate is too circumscribed and restricted in his powers, and one hon. Member referred to him as a "poor miserable little functionary".
That criticism comes very ill from hon. Members opposite because the proposals contained in the Bill with the limitations that there is no power for the Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate discretionary decisions, were almost word for word proposals contained in the "Justice" report submitted to the previous Government and rejected by the previous Government.
I remind hon. Members of the grounds on which the proposals were rejected. It was not that the Parliamentary Commissioner would be a poor, weak, miserable little functionary, or that he would be so circumscribed as to be practically useless. "Justice" did not recommend that he should have power to deal with the complaints against local authorities or nationalised industries. The reason given by the previous Government was that the setting up of a Parliamentary Commissioner would seriously interfere with the prompt and efficient dispatch of public business.
They thought that he would be so potent and powerful that he would slow up the whole machinery of government. We have heard nothing on those lines from hon. Members opposite today. The second reason given by the then Attorney-General for rejecting these proposals was that in the then Government's view there was already adequate provision under our Constitution and Parliamentary practice for the redress of any genuine complaint of maladministration in the citizen's right of access to Members of Parliament. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East today deployed that very argument. He certainly is the first hon. Member to do so today and, I think, in the whole of the debates on the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill in this Parliament.
That was one of the reasons for which the proposal was rejected. It surely is hardly consistent with the howl which goes up from hon. Members opposite whenever we discuss the Parliamentary Commissioner, when they say that he would be quite incapable of assisting in any way people who seek redress for their grievances.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to "Justice". I can tell him, as chairman of the executive committee, why "Justice" agreed that it should be limited to Members of the House of Commons. That was because it was felt that the Bill would never have gone through the House of Commons without that provision, but I still regret it very much.
I know the hon. and learned Gentleman takes that view. I am sure from my experience in handling the Bill that "Justice" was right. If the office were set up other than as an office of Parliament with access to Members of Parliament, I doubt very much whether the Bill would have been accepted.
I remind the House of a third objection which was raised to the Parliamentary Commissioner proposal by the Leader of the Opposition during the 1964 General Election. He then attacked these proposals as being a threat to the authority of Parliament. We have heard some echoes today of the complaint and criticism that access is to be through Members of Parliament. The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) is strenuous in advocating this argument. We shall see, I hope very shortly, when this Bill has passed through another place, what results, but the criticisms which we have heard today are partly contradictory in themselves and certainly wholly contradict the attitude taken by the Government when hon. Members opposite were in power.
I was asked a specific question by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) about the application of the Parliamentary Commissioner in Northern Ireland. He inquired what would be the position when we had a complaint on a matter which in practice involved two authorities, both a Department of the Northern Ireland Government and a Department of the United Kingdom Government. He asked if in that case the Parliamentary Commissioner could investigate only the activities of the United Kingdom Government. This question was gone into fully in Committee. The Commissioner will, of course, be able to investigate complaints against activities of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland but also complaints against activities of the Northern Ireland Government when performing a true agency function for the United Kingdom Government. This happens in relation to agricultural deficiency payments, passports and repayments of Income Tax. Because then the Northern Ireland Government would be acting as agents for the United Kingdom Government, things of that sort would be within the scope.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) asked whether there would be an office of the Commissioner in Wales. This is something which we shall consider and which the Parliamentary Commissioner will consider when he sees how matters work out in practice. It is his intention, as I informed the Standing Committee, to set up an office in Scotland. There are many Government Department offices situated in Edinburgh and the need for a Commissioner's office there can clearly be anticipated. It may be that there will be a need for an office in Wales and for an office in Northern Ireland. We want to see how it works out in practice and, if the need is established, offices will be established there as well.
Finally, I was asked one question by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) right outside the scope of our debate about the Parliamentary Commissioner. He pointed out that certain passages in these Supplementary Estimates had a note to the effect that moneys not expended would not be
liable to surrender to the Exchequer.
The hon. Gentleman thought that this was a new practice. I must advise him that it is not. It is always the practice in relation to grants in aid and a note to
that effect is, therefore, inserted in the Estimates.
(seated and covered): Further to that point of order. Has it not been the practice in the past for hon. Members to be able to intervene in a speech towards the end of an hon. Member's speech before he has finally sat down? I watched very carefully, having taken part in this debate, for the Financial Secretary to be drawing to an end of his remarks and then sought leave to elucidate one further point. Surely I should have been given the opportunity to do that before we were gagged?
lection of any Member on this side that the Patronage Secretary was seen to move the Closure. On the other hand, it is within the recollection of hon. Members on this side that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) was on his feet on a point of order before the Financial Secretary sat down.
|Division No. 266.]||AYES||[6.33 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)|
|Albu, Austen||Eadie, Alex||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Edelman, Maurice||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras, S.>|
|Allen, Scholefield||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Anderson, Donald||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Archer, Peter||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Ellis, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Ennals, David||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Ensor, David||Kelley, Richard|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, yardley)||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)|
|Barnett, Joel||Faulds, Andrew||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)|
|Bence, Cyril||Fernyhough, E.||Lawson, George|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Finch, Harold||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Lee, John (Reading)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Fletcher, Raymond (likeston)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Binns. John||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Floud, Bernard||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Foley, Maurice||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Booth, Albert||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Boston, Terence||Ford, Ben||Loughlin, Charles|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Forrester, John||Luard, Evan|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lubbock, Eric|
|Bradley, Tom||Freeson, Reginald||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Gardner, Tony||McBride, Neil|
|Buchan, Norman||Garrett, W. E.||McCann, John|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Ginsburg, David||MacColl, James|
|Cant, R. B.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||MacDermot, Niall|
|Carmichael, Neil||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Macdonald, A. H.|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||McGuire, Michael|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Gregory, Arnold||McKay, Mrs. Margaret|
|Chapman, Donald||Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Coe, Denis||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mackie, John|
|Coleman, Donald||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hamling, William||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Harper, Joseph||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mapp, Charles|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Haseldine, Norman||Marquand, David|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Hazell, Bert||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Henig, Stanley||Mellish, Robert|
|Davidson, james (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hilton, W. S.||Millan, Bruce|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hooson, Emlyn||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Horner, John||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Molloy, William|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Dell, Edmund||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Dempsey, James||Howie, W.||Moyle, Roland|
|Dewar, Donald||Hoy, James||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, 3.)||Murray, Albert|
|Dickens, James||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Neal, Harold|
|Dobson, Ray||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Doig, Peter||Hunter, Adam||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Dunn, James A.||Hynd, John||Norwood, Christopher|
|Dunnett, Jack||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Oakes, Gordon|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Ogden, Eric|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rose, Paul||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Orme, Stanley||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Ryan, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Owen, Will (Morpeth)||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.||Wallace, George|
|Padley, Walter||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N E.)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Pannell, Rt. Hn, Charles||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Weitzman, David|
|Pardoe, John||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Park, Trevor||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Whitlock, William|
|Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||Skeffington, Arthur||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Small, William||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Snow, Julian||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)||Spriggs, Leslie||William, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Probert, Arthur||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Randall, Harry||Stonehouse, John||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Rankin, John||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Rees, Merlyn||Swingler, Stephen||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Symonds, J. B.||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Rhodes, Geoffrey||Taverne, Dick||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Richard, Ivor||Thornton, Ernest||Woof, Robert|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Thorpe, Jeremy||Yates, Victor|
|Roberts, Go[...]wy (Caernarvon)||Tinn, James|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Tomney, Frank||FELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Robinson, W. O. J. (Waith'stow, E.)||Tuck, Raphael||Mr. Alan Fitch and|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Urwin, T. W.||Mr. Charles R. Morris|
|Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Grieve, Percy||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Barber, Rt Hn. Anthony||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Batsford, Brian||Gurden, Harold||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bell, Ronald||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Bitten, John||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Peel, John|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Peyton, John|
|Body, Richard||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pounder, Rafton|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn, John||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Braine, Bernard||Heseltlne, Michael||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Brewis, John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pym, Francis|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Bruce-Cardyne, J.||Holland, Philip||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hunt, John||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Campbell, Cordon||Iremonger, T. L.||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Jenkln, Patrick (Woodford)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Royle, Anthony|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Jopling, Michael||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Clark, Henry||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Scott, Nicholas|
|Clegg, Walter||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Sharpie, Richard|
|Cooke, Robert||Kershaw, Anthony||Sinolair, Sir George|
|Cordle, John||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Smith, John|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kitson, Timothy||Stodart, Anthony|
|Costain, A. P.||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lancaster, Cot. C. G.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Taylor,Edward M. (G'gow.Cathcart)|
|Crouch, David||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Temple, John M.|
|Dance, James||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Tilney, John|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Lovcys, W. H.||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. w. F. (Ashford)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Mac Arthur, Ian||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Doughty, Charles||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||vickers, Dame Joan|
|Eden, Sir John||McMaster, Stanley||Wall, Patrick|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Marten, Neil||Walters, Dennis|
|Elliott, R. W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.;||Maude, Angus||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Farr, John||Mawby, Ray||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fletcher-cooke, Charles||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Webster, David|
|Fortcscue, Tim||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Foster, Sir John||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. william|
|Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||More, Jasper||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Morrison, Charles (Devizee)||wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Goodhart, Philip||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||woodnutt, Mark|
|Goodhew. Victor||Murton, Oscar||Wylie, N. R.|
|Gower, Raymond||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Younger, Hn. George|
|Grant, Anthony||Neave, Airey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Nott, John||Mr. Reginald Eyre and|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. Hector Monro.|
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? I understood that this was a new Bill which we were to consider this afternoon, and you yourself, Mr. Speaker, had put down a number of subjects which back-bench Members might discuss on the Second Reading. We had a discussion on the first of the subjects which you had put down, and when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury rose to speak there were several hon. Members on this side who had been waiting here throughout the whole debate so far in order to take part in the discussion either on the first subject or on the remaining subjects.
Now that the Closure has been moved by the Patronage Secretary and passed on a Division, all discussion of the remaining subjects has been stifled. I ask for your protection, Sir. How is it possible now for hon. Members to raise the subjects which you yourself put down for discussion?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your Ruling on a matter which I endeavoured to raise during the course of the Division when, I think, I did not make myself clear? What I wanted to ask you, Sir, was whether the Closure was ever moved at all, because, immediately the Financial Secretary resumed his seat, I was on my feet endeavouring to address you on a point of order, and the Patronage Secretary, if he said any words at all, said them from a sedentary position.
I respectfully ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the passage on page 475 of Erskine May, under the heading, "When closure is movable". Erskine May says:
The intervention of the Chair regarding closure is restricted to occasions when the
motion is made in abuse of the rules of the House"—
the Patronage Secretary was not in the orthodox position when endeavouring to move the Closure—
or infringes the rights of the minority".
I submit to you, Sir, that this Closure certainly has infringed the rights of the minority.
The latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is out of order. He may not criticise acceptance of the Motion for the Closure by the Chair except in the way which is the undoubted right of all hon. Members, that is, by putting down a Motion criticising any action of the Chair. As to what happened before, it was a question of human judgment. I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Closure caught my eye. I accepted the Motion for the Closure.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you know me well enough—and so does the House—to understand that I would not at any time attempt to question your Ruling in any way. What I seek is your guidance on a matter of importance to the House as a whole. You said at the beginning of today's business, Sir, that this was a new Bill, and a number of subjects were selected for discussion. So far, we have managed to discuss only one of those many subjects. There are hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak on following subjects and who were expecting to be able to do so. Because of the Closure moved by the Patronage Secretary, we have now been debarred from so doing.
I fully accept that you were quite right, Mr. Speaker, to accept the Motion as you did. All I ask you is how the rights of back-bench Members can be protected when they wish to discuss matters on the Consolidated Fund which they regard as of importance to themselves, to their constituents or to the nation. By this procedure we have been debarred. How can we protect our rights?
On the issues behind the whole problem we are discussing, Mr. Speaker has no comment to make. The difficulties between both sides of the House are matters which both sides must get down to. The specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman is not a matter for the Chair. He must raise it in some other way.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say, in putting this point of order to you, that I personally regret very much that you, Sir, as well as the House should have been put in the difficulty which we have had over this matter.
I seek your guidance as a comparatively new Member of the House. As I understand it, on the Consolidated Fund Bill back-bench Members are entitled to seek redress of grievance before voting Supply. The other night I raised some grievances on the subject of E.L.D.O. That Bill, as you know, Sir, was talked out. We have now a new Bill before us in which the subject-matter is identical, and one of the subjects under that Bill, with a price tag of £4 million or £5 million upon it, is E.L.D.O.
The Minister of Aviation was present and ready to reply to the points that I made the other night. On this Bill, is there to be no opportunity whatever for the Minister to reply to those points, or is that debate to be left, like Mahomet's coffin, hanging for ever without answer?
We cannot discuss all the results of what happens because the first debate on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, Winter Supplementary Estimates, took place on an evening or early morning when the House was counted out. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of a new Bill. If he looks at the Ruling which I gave at the beginning of today's business, he will see that I did not say that it is a new Bill; it is a new Second Reading Question on the same Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance from the point of view of protection of backbench Members' rights? It is within your recollection that, when one of my hon. Friends was addressing himself to the matter before the House, you drew his attention to the fact that it was desirable to speak primarily upon the subject which had been put down for discussion. Nevertheless, you very properly stressed his right to range further if he wanted to, but you suggested to the House that it would be a good thing if we concentrated on the first subject for discussion.
In forbearance to your wishes on that matter, Mr. Speaker, some of us who might have wished to speak on later subjects refrained from speaking on them until the earlier one had been disposed of. It now seems that our rights to raise these matters are denied to us. Can you suggest some way by which they could be revived?
I have utter and complete sympathy with every right hon. and hon. Member who has found himself in some way incapacitated or placed in difficulties by what has happened today and on the previous day when the same Bill was being discussed, but I cannot do anything about it.
Mr. Speaker, you have said quite rightly that the House can challenge your Ruling only by substantive Motion. I therefore ask your guidance on what I think is an important point. You said this afternoon that this was a new Second Reading of the Bill and you confirmed that by saying that hon. Members could, if called, speak although they had already spoken in the earlier debate on the Bill. It was therefore a fresh debate. For the guidance of the House, could you state when a fresh debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill has been closured after less than three hours' debate?
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the fact that, whatever questions may be raised about the moving of the Closure, it is entirely within the discretion of the Chair as to whether it shall accept the Motion for the Closure and that therefore what the Leader of the Opposition attacks is the decision of Mr. Speaker to accept it? Should he not, like other Members, abide by your Ruling and if he has criticisms of the Chair he should put down a Motion?
Order. I did not hear any attack on the Chair in anything the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said. He was asking the factual question as to on what occasions previously a Closure has been accepted within three hours on a Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I cannot give the answer offhand at the moment. I can, however, say that this is an unusual occasion.
I first apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for my over-animation earlier, which I wish to make abundantly clear was meant as no discourtesy to you. It was occasioned by my disgust at the Government's apparent determination to fail to justify £159 million of expenditure. Is it possible under these circumstances to go back in any way over the period we have already covered? Since we have already had two Consolidated Fund Bill debates, can we now have a third and start again?
As I have already said, I have every sympathy with all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who find themselves in some difficulties because of the unusual course of events during the past seven days. It is not in Mr. Speaker's power to produce a third Consolidated Fund Bill or debate.
Further to the point put to you by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker—you ruled at the beginning of our debate today that this was a new Second Reading. The time was then 3.34 p.m. The debate was closured approximately three hours later. You yourself decided that 11 subjects should be set down. A simple mathematical calculation shows, therefore, that my hon. Friends and I have had 16 minutes per subject—if we caught your eye. I am now placed in the unhappy predicament of having clamour in my constituency—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and indignation expressed on one of the topics you selected, Mr. Speaker, namely, the deficit of British Railways.
I wished to raise on the Consolidated Fund Bill Second Reading not only the financial position of British Railways but the inadequacies of the service provided in Worcestershire. Throughout the three hours I deferred to your suggestion—for it was not a Ruling—that Members should talk only about the first topic. I am now therefore permanently denied—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—permanently denied—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—per- manently denied the opportunity to seek redress for my constituents.
I bow at all times to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is he trying to do now?"] You made the decision at the outset that there should be a new Second Reading; you made the decision of the eleven topics; you made the decision to accept the closure, and thus I am permanently incapacitated—[HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear."]—by your triple decision. While I accept all your Rulings without reservation and am deeply grateful to you for the sympathy you have expressed, I suggest—and this is my point of order —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—that the rights of an individual Opposition back bencher in a minority are of supervening importance in this critical consideration.
With the general observations of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) I am in complete agreement. The rights —[Interruption.] Order. The rights of every individual hon. Member are very precious to the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman seeks to criticise the Chair for accepting the Closure, he cannot do it in this form.
For the guidance of the House, Mr. Speaker, could you reconsider the practice of issuing a list, because you have today, purely out of desire to help the House, issued a list of subjects which it was intended Members could have an opportunity of raising, should they wish, in turn. The whole object of what you have done has been frustrated by the somewhat grubby manœuvre of the Treasury Bench, unattended by the Leader of the House, who shuffles in here with an untidy grin on his face, taking not the slightest notice of the results which have attended upon his own handling—[HON. MEMBERS: "Mishandling."] I bow to my hon. Friends—mishandling of Government business. It seems to me that the Chair has been put in a most undignified position by the action of the Government. When Ministers come sliding in here with grins on their faces, they only show with what contumely and disregard they hold Parliament.
It has been a courtesy of Mr. Speaker, and of the Chair when the House has been in Committee to provide information of the kind which can be provided by a list. It is a great convenience for the House to have a list of selected Amendments, or of topics selected for debate on the Consolidated Fund, and so on. I imagine that the House would not want that practice to cease. In today's case, as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will know, this was not Mr. Speaker's selection. The list was a factual record of the applications which had been made for topics to be debated today.
On a point of order. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked a question to which all of us would like to know the answer when he asked what possible precedent there was for a Closure being moved in this way within three hours of the beginning of a debate. I think that my recollection is right when I say that you, Mr. Speaker, said that at short notice you could not give such a precedent. For the benefit of all hon. Members, who are not trying to make things difficult for you, could you possibly consider giving that information, if not today, then in a Ruling tomorrow, so as to save a similar embarrassment in future?
I am not conscious of any attempt by any hon. Member to embarrass the Chair. I appreciate the spirit in which every point of order has been raised. It is quite possible that the events of the past week themselves have been entirely without precedent.
On a point of order. I appreciate that everything has been rightly done according to our rules of procedure. However, what can be done in future to protect the rights of back benchers, which we all agree to have been seriously curtailed today, from the repeated incompetences of the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House?
On a point of order. Does what has happened mean that these Supplementary Estimates cannot be dicussed again in any way? We have been asked to agree, for example, to an additional £15 million for British Railways without any explanation or discussion. To get out of this difficulty, would it be in order, if they so desired, for Ministers to give short statements at some future time to explain the reasons for the Supplementary Estimates?
It is always in order for a Minister, if he so wishes, to make a short statement to the House. I have no power to persuade Ministers to do so. Technically or theoretically there was no debate on the last occasion when the Second Reading of this Consolidated Fund Bill took place, but I rather gather that there was something like a debate which lasted quite a time.
Further to that point of order. I wonder whether you are fully aware, Mr. Speaker, of the very invidious position in which those hon. Members whose names have been listed as wishing to raise subjects for debate today have been placed as a result of your acceptance of the Closure. The subject which I wished to raise happened to be the next on the list. It involves the summary dismissal by a certain company of more than 150 people in Leicestershire. There are representatives here today, not only from the County of Leicestershire, who have come to listen to the debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Out of order."]—
There are representatives here today, not only from the County of Leicestershire and of the 150 people who have lost their jobs, but also representatives concerned with the financial institutions of the City of London, who have come especially to listen to this debate. It was indicated by the list that there was every chance that the subject would come up, as it was the second indicated thereon. I put it to you most sincerely and with the utmost confidence that you will appreciate the very difficult position in which I and other hon. Members have been placed. We have gone to a tremendous amount of trouble and constituents have gone to a tremendous amount of expense in a matter affecting their jobs and their livelihoods. [Laughter].
I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who indicated his intention of seeking to raise this matter on the Supplementary Estimates for the first time after the first non-event had taken place, the debate last week. I cannot comment without joining in the battle which has divided the two sides of the House over the whole issue of what happened and what has happened today.
On a point of order. In reply to the point of order put to you by the Leader of the Opposition, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that although you have seen no criticism of the Chair in what has been said, from this side of the House it looks as though this has been made the opportunity for an organised criticism of the Chair. Surely the Leader of the Opposition—
On a point of order. To get rid of any misunderstanding such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), is it not a fact—and I would welcome your guidance, Mr. Speaker—that this was only the Second Reading of the Bill and that there will be further stages when hon. Members can continue to raise particular problems before voting Supply?
I have refused to make a Ruling on most of the matters which have been raised with me. I am always grateful when the Select Committee on Procedure considers procedural matters and it might like to look at this. I am not sure whether it would be profitable for it to do so.
On a point of order. Would you be willing to consider the matter of the list from this point of view, Mr. Speaker? You said, obviously rightly, that it was for the convenience of the House that there should be a list when the Consolidated Fund Bill came up for Second Reading. However, when it is likely or possible that the Closure will be accepted, is it not somewhat inconsistent that a list of eleven subjects should be put forward, when the list indicates that as many of the subjects will be taken as is reasonable in a debate lasting until, say, 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock? Could not the practice be altered so that there will not be the apparent contradiction or anomaly of having a list of subjects which cannot be discussed in three hours and so that there is no conflict with the possibility of the Chair accepting the Closure?
The Closure was accepted after three hours. Of course, we cannot question the reasons, nor inquire into why you accepted it, but one must surmise that those reasons must have existed throughout the debate. In other words, Mr. Speaker, you did not suddenly get impatient with hon. Members for talking too long about the Ombudsman and so cut out all the other subjects. I therefore suggest that you might consider this point, not giving a Ruling today, to see whether, if these peculiar circumstances arise again, there should be a list which is inconsistent with the acceptance of the Closure within three hours.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. These considerations were in my mind yesterday when I was asked whether I would publish a list. The difficulty was that if I had not published a list it would suggest that I had made up my mind about the Closure before the debate began, which was not true.