Orders of the Day — Parliamentary Commissioner

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th February 1967.

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Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare 12:00 am, 7th February 1967

—"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.