Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills)

Procedure – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1967.

Alert me about debates like this

3.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I beg to move, That Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills) be amended as follows: Line 1, leave out 'a bill for imposing taxes or'. This is the most important of the changes in our procedure which we are suggesting that the House should adopt this Session. I am well aware that we have mulled this over many times before, so I shall not repeat all the arguments which we had throughout the year, and also in the general debate. But I thought that it might be useful if I read very carefully all the objections made both in the debate on the Loyal Address and in the general debate, and sought as far as I could to meet and answer them.

Eight right hon. and hon. Members criticised the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs. I am aware that in doing this I am changing very much the atmosphere that we had in the previous debate, when we were discussing our ideas generally, and were voting on a whole series of Motions mainly designed to assist the House, the Opposition and individual back benchers.

One example of the changes we introduced occurred yesterday, in connection with Standing Order No. 9, and I think that the House would regard what happened yesterday as a great success. It was a proof that we could stage quickly, with little notice, a topical debate on a subject which needed to be debated. I believe that our new Standing Order added something—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The right hon. Gentleman should not open the debate too widely.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

No, Mr. Speaker. I was merely about to contrast the general assent there was in the House during the previous debate and the much sharper criticisms which will come.

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

Will my right hon. Friend allow me to interpose one slight doubt about the claims that he is making? It is true that the very topical debate which was in everybody's mind was staged at short notice, but only at the expense of deferring Orders of the Day already on the Order Paper in such a way that the next debate ran after 6 o'clock this morning. I do not regard that as progress, even if my right hon. Friend does.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The right hon. Gentleman may now understand what I meant when I said that he should not open the debate too widely.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I take your warning, Mr. Speaker. I should like, however, to emphasise that in moving this Motion we cannot hope to have the same sort of debate that we had last time, in terms of a consensus of opinion.

In the Select Committee on Procedure a consensus was achieved with some difficulty about an experiment for one Session. Even on that—although I tried to persuade the House—great doubts were felt, especially by the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). It was after that that we reverted to our previous determination and decided to recommend that the House should do what many of us have thought was the right thing to do to achieve a solution, namely, to move the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs.

I am aware that this is not a new proposal. This has been suggested and fought over constantly. The striking fact is that the time taken over the Committee stage of the Finance Bill has been steadily increasing. The reason was succinctly given by Lord Butler in his memorandum. I shall not quote his arguments, but I would like to read the paragraph in which he said: It ought, in this context, to be noted that there has been a sharp increase in recent years in the amount of time taken over the Committee stage of the Bill. The figures given in Annex II show that although Finance Bills have not, on average, increased in length, the Committee stage now requires eight to ten days as compared with four or five days before 1951. As an illustration, the 1947 Bill was nearly twice as long as the 1958 Bill but only took half the time in Committee. In so far as this reflects a change in the habits or traditions of the House, at least a partial remedy lies in the hands of Members themselves. Nevertheless it would be optimistic to suppose that the time spent on debating the Finance Bill is likely to be reduced substantially and it is therefore worth considering how the procedure might be improved. Whatever were the propositions he put forward, his analysis is undoubtedly correct.

I have had a calculation made and it is true that during the 1950s and 1960s the average time spent on the Finance Bill has just about doubled. A careful study makes it clear that this is not due to the increasing complexity or length of the Bill. It is a fact that we are spending, on average, double the time that we used to spend on the Finance Bill, and this has upset the balance of our timetable and produced the chronic annual log jam which causes a string of all-night or late-night sittings.

I thought that in connection with this point I ought to deal with the first of the objections made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. In the debate on the Address he said: The reason we are doing this is so that we can go to bed earlier. This comes quite clearly from the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure. In my view, the occupation of government is not suitable for office hours. I do not think so. Perhaps hon. Members will remember what Harry Truman once said, 'If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen'."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1967; Vol. 753, c. 853.] I reflected on this and wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman was being fair or very acute in analysing the motives of those who put this suggestion forward, in saying that they are the kind of Members who cannot take it, and that their sole motive was to serve the convenience of Members who wanted to stay in bed. I think that that was attributing unworthy motives to those who put this suggestion forward.

I agree that it will relieve considerably the number of all-night and late-night sittings in the summer, but there are hon. Members who believe that it is not good to have to debate the details of a Finance Bill at 5 o'clock in the morning. It does not do good, and it is a mistake for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that this is a matter between those, like himself, who stay up all night—as, no doubt, he did last night—and some hon. Members on this side of the House. Last night, a number of hon. Members on this side were here all night, and the number of those opposite was, I believe, under seven by the end of the night. So I would not say that this was a serious objection.

I therefore turn to the first serious objection, that of the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), of the right hon. Members for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover)—what I would call the constitutional objection. They said that there was a constitutional reason why the Finance Bill should be taken on the Floor and not upstairs.

I have considered this, and this is one thing which one cannot say after studying which Bills go upstairs and which are considered here. Going upstairs is a modern innovation, anyway. The other place still does not yet have a Committee system of this kind. Moreover, now that it has developed in this Chamber, it would be difficult to classify Bills except by the only classification which I know, those which are needed at such short notice that there is no time to send them upstairs for the normal Standing Committee scrutiny.

We ought to consider the view that Bills are better studied in Committee if they go upstairs. This is the big discovery of the post-war period, that our method of studying Bills requires a period when, instead of large numbers of hon. Members discussing it together here, we deliberately send it somewhere else, to another atmosphere, an area in which a small number of people can consider it Clause by Clause and line by line.

Experience has shown that it does not matter how important the Bill. Indeed, the more important a Bill the more it needs a Committee period upstairs. No hon. Member opposite will say that the Transport Bill of this Session is not important. It will go upstairs, but who would say that it would improve the quality of the Committee work if it were taken on the Floor? Who denies that the Steel Bill was better studied in Committee and, I believe, could have been even better studied with a timetable—but we will come to that later.

Who any longer pretends that we improve the quality of scrutiny by keeping a Bill on the Floor? This is why Bills of the greatest importance go upstairs, as do a number of constitutional Bills. The only group of Bills which I can think of which stay here, as I said, are those which, like the Bill last night, must be operational in a matter of weeks, and so we push them through a Committee stage on the Floor, knowing that, if they had gone upstairs, they would have gained something with that smaller number and not lost—

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to establish a new precedent here? All borrowing powers Bills, as far as I am aware, have always been taken on the Floor of the House and never sent to Standing Committee.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I am only saying that we cannot make the constitutional point here. The point was that there was some special constitutional reason for a Bill not going upstairs. I shall be asked whether this is not unique in other ways, and whether, for these reasons, and because of its financial importance, it should not be kept here, because the House traditionally deals with finance.

This view has become increasingly out of date. If we judge by the serious question whether we want to improve the quality of discussion, there can be no question but that the Bill should go upstairs, provided that we ensure that the right of the individual back bencher to debate it in full, to discuss it in principle and in detail on the Floor is retained. Everyone who wants to send the Committee stage upstairs is aware that we have to ensure that we get adequate discussion in the other stages.

This brings me to a statement of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) that he thought Lord Butler had recommended this because he had forgotten the interests of back benchers. There is no other part of our legislation, I believe, in which the back bencher has more facility for discussion than the Budget and the Finance Bill. He has four days on the Budget plus the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and will in future, after the Bill returns from Committee, have a much enlarged Report stage in which he can deal in detail with the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman's objection about Amendments is a detail about ensuring discussion on Report. This is not a suggestion that we are denying hon. Members the opportunities for debate. Debates are there and will be maintained. We should remember, when one rightly stresses the number of back benchers who like to and who do attend, and who are, therefore, affected by the Bill going to Standing Committee, that if we can ensure their rights in the extended Report stage, the good of the other back benchers—the vast majority, after all—who do not attend can also be achieved by relieving them of the tedium of the Committee stage on the Floor.

The right hon. Gentleman also talked about the back bencher. It is worth remembering that, while back benchers are certainly concerned about their rights on the Finance Bill, which is correct, they also constantly complain that they want more time for the kind of debates which interest them; and the great thing which we shall get by taking the Bill upstairs is more time. We have already conceded under Standing Order No. 9 a considerable amount of Government time each Session for topical debates by back benchers and the Opposition, plus the four half days. We are having requests also, for instance, for debates on the Select Committees on Science and Technology, Education and Agriculture. We are probably bound to debate, from time to time the Reports of the Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner, when they are of great importance, and we shall have to find time for the reporting back of Committees to the Floor if we want them to be full and important. Also, we must find time in our programme for what I believe is essential if we are to keep the balance—a continued strengthening of the critical power of Parliament against the Executive as expressed in the Committees and in their reports to the House.

That is my answer, therefore, to the right hon. Member for Harrogate. I see some sacrifice, but we must consider carefully before deciding certain substantial compensating advantages which I believe that the back bencher will gain from the change.

I now turn to the objection of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, when, perhaps rightly, he asked me whether anything could be worse than pushing a Standing Committee into all-night sittings and also asked whether we were, by relieving the pressure on the Floor of the House in the Finance Bill, imposing on a Standing Committee an almost unbearable pressure. This should be looked at very carefully, but I reflected on it when he put the question, and asked myself whether there was anything worse than pushing a Standing Committee into all-night sittings. Why does he think that the protracted sittings of a Standing Committee are worse than the protracted sittings of the whole House in Committee? On the whole, such protracted sittings as the Opposition ensured by their opposition to the Steel Bill, and the fight which they made upstairs, do not harm the House. They fought and did their job. I can think of many things worse than a Standing Committee having to devote a long time to a subject. I do not know why that is wrong, but perfectly all right to have it kept down here on the Finance Bill.

The right hon. Member for Flint, West said that he thought that, if the Bill were taken off the Floor, the gust of public passion would not be able to flow into the Chamber, because Standing Committees were a sort of stratosphere where nothing mattered. This was not my impression of the Steel Bill Committee. The right hon. Gentleman's view is a little out of date. One of the troubles with this place is that people tend to think that Committees do not matter. It is important that they should matter, and should go on in the light of day, and that subjects be debated there as keenly as possible.

On the Transport Bill this year, I predict that the proceedings will be keenly reported, and noted with great interest, and that the Press will often be more interested in what is happening in that Standing Committee than in some things down here on the Floor, which need not be, just for that reason, important to the outside world.

I come now to the serious point of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West on the Loyal Address, when he said: … unless it is the intention of the Government to extend the financial powers of the House of Lords—and I did not gather that that was in their plans—the Report Stage of a Finance Bill is virtually useless, because it is not possible to promise consideration in an- other place, and unless the Amendment is already so perfectly drafted—which is most unusual in a Finanace Bill—that it can be accepted on the nod—and that is unusual, too—the Report stage is simply an opportunity for blowing off steam. I hope very much that the Leader of the House will consider this. I put it to him as a very serious point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1967; Vol. 753, c. 854.] I have considered it and accept it as a serious point which must be met. The right hon. Gentleman was fair to say that, if we just plump into a Report stage without any intervening stage, the Opposition would not be able to table Amendments other than perfect ones. We would not have a "clearing stage" for Amendments which could be discussed before they were added to the Bill. There would be no opportunity for the Government to consider, after the debate, whether Amendments were acceptable.

An answer has already been given by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, who said in his evidence to the Select Committee that there might be an advantage in the interpolation of a Recommittal stage between the Committee proceedings and the Report stage. I would be willing, if this idea found general support, to consider allotting part of the time, say one day of the time allotted to Report, to dispose of both these points.

The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral made some comments on this notion of Recommittal, saying that the idea was more than unsound. I would ask him to consider that if the Opposition felt that it would meet this particular objection, we on this side would be prepared to work out something like this, which would satisfy or remove this objection—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I did not think that the whole approach would be unsound, but that it would be most unsound with a Recommittal stage, which would have to be for a length of time and not purely formal—probably two or three days—followed by a delay and then by a prolonged Report stage. Thus, no time at all would be saved.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I misunderstood or misread what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and I am relieved that I did, because I was surprised that, when the Select Committee considered sending the Bill upstairs, it said that, whether one favoured the idea or not, a Recommittal stage would be an essential requirement if this happened. Although there is nothing in the Motion about it, we are prepared to consider that seriously.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in asking whether it will be in order for an hon. Member to speak more than once during the course of the debate as we cover the various subjects?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Each debate is quite separate.

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

The Leader of the House made reference to my speech on the Address. I then said that in view of the conduct of the Bill earlier this year I regarded this proposal as a breach of faith. I simply record that. I do not retract it in any way and I do not wish to embellish it. Today, we are on the equivalent to a Committee stage. We have, as it were, passed the Second Reading stage of this matter. I merely think it right to state as clearly as possible, for the record, why this proposal arouses so much feeling on this side of the House.

It has been discussed on a number of occasions before—by the Select Committee in 1958–59 and by the Select Committee in 1962–63, when I was Leader of the House. I have always acknowledged that I started, as most Leaders of the House probably start, when they look at the block of time which financial legislation takes, with the hope that we could find some way of relieving from the Floor of the House the time taken by the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. But I was absolutely convinced by the arguments when I went into them in great detail in those years, particularly in the 1962–63 Select Committee when I was Leader of the House, and I have remained convinced ever since that the Finance Bill should have its Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

Let me take the points one by one. First, I do not accept that there is any valid comparison between the Finance Bill and any other Bill of which I know. It is not just a question of discussing new taxation—heaven knows, that is important enough—but also a question of discussing the very foundation of our taxa- tion. For example, Income Tax is in the Finance Bill. This year the longest and, many who took part in it will feel the very best, debates that we had on the Finance Bill were on the appropriate level of Income Tax. From this side of the House we put forward the twin themes which the House will remember—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would then have been wiser to go for a reduction in public expenditure, balanced by reductions in taxation and the provision of incentives. I need not go back to argue who was right or wrong, although we can look back with some comfort to those debates.

The point which I make is not just because this was the original reason for the House of Commons coming into existence, but because all these matters in the Finance Bill affect the citizen in a way which means that it is not true to compare the Finance Bill with the Steel Bill or even the Prices and Incomes Bill, or with any other Bills, vastly important though they are. So much for the point about general taxation.

Let us consider—and I pick out one illustration—one tax in the 1966 Finance Bill, the Selective Employment Tax—a tax which I described as the silliest speech since we had the window tax. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was not a very good speech, anyway. I meant, the silliest tax since the window tax. There was no question, as the Leader of the House will acknowledge—he was not Leader of the House at the time but he will remember it—of that debate being dull. The benches were packed throughout the debates on the Selective Employment Tax.

Although I have many quarrels with the Liberal Party, I would remind the House that on that occasion the Liberal Party and the Tory Party fought all the time, afternoon, night and any other time that they could get, against the Selective Employment Tax, which has increasingly, and largely as a result of those debates on the Floor of the House, been discredited. That was an achievement which I do not believe could have been carried out in the same way if the debate had taken place upstairs, for one by one the concessions were wrung out of the Government—concerning agriculture, charities, Cornish mines, part-time workers and now the premium. All were argued by the Tory Party and, as I have acknowledged, by the Liberal Party.

Photo of Mr Nigel Birch Mr Nigel Birch , Flintshire West

And by many Members of the Labour Party, too.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

Indeed, as my right hon. Friend says, by many Government supporters, too. The debate on that tax would have been much less fruitful and much less damaging to the Government if it had been tucked away upstairs.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I cannot see how opposition to or criticism of that tax, valid or otherwise, would in any way have been affected by the discussion being in Committee. There might have been a better informed and sharper debate by the fact that it was in a smaller body.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

There are many answers to that, but I will give two. I referred earlier to the fact that for the S.E.T. debate there were packed benches. I have rarely seen on a Committee stage so many hon. Members present. That would not have been possible if, say, 50 hon. Members only had been taking part in the Committee stage upstairs. Nobody can deny that the great interest aroused in that tax—and I am not arguing its merits—and the feeling aroused by the tax, as the hon. Member will acknowledge, was followed in the Press, radio and on television because it was on the Floor of the House in a way which, in my view, would not have happened if the debate had been in Committee.

I take a small point to which I hope the First Secretary will refer in his reply to the debate, because it puzzles me to some extent. I do not make a major issue of it. It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). The Leader of the House did not touch on it this afternoon. It was how Members are to be able to speak in a Committee or to make their point of view known, and how one finds out, in something which affects the whole House, what is going on in that Committee. I know that it is a problem which we sometimes face in the mornings in other Committees, but this is a very different proposal, if anything like the hours suggested by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury are to be adopted.

I turn to the question of the Report stage. It is clear that if the proposal goes forward there will have to be a longer Report stage. In his evidence the Patronage Secretary spoke of four or five days. When he introduced these proposals a short time ago, the Leader of the House spoke of three or four days. No doubt that is a matter for discussion. I should like to study in HANSARD what the right hon. Gentleman said today, but I did not feel that it carried us much further forward, because it is normal, or at least extremely common, to recommit part of a Bill on Report stage.

I have read the Patronage Secretary's evidence to the Select Committee more than once, including the idea that we might divide the Report stage into two. No doubt we shall do that, but I am not convinced that it overcomes the major difficulty, which the Leader of the House recognised, that because there are no financial powers attached to another place the Report stage of the Finance Bill has a finite quality which does not apply to most Report stages. I will not go into detail about that, because we shall probably have discussions about it, but it is an interesting and most important point.

The Leader of the House believes that by doing all this we shall save quite a lot of time. I wonder how much it will save in practice. Seven or eight days are normal for a Committee stage. There are to be at least two days more for Report. Let me say, for the sake of argument, that six days will be saved. The House is rarely impressed by statements by any Leader of the House that he does not intend to take any of that time for his own purposes. It is true that some of the debates which are often taken at odd times of the Session, and perhaps when 'normally we should have risen for the Summer Recess, may be taken now at a rather more suitable time, but these are not matters which gravely disturb the House. I doubt very much whether, at the end of it all, we shall have more than two days extra for our ordinary purposes, whatever they may be. That would be my estimate of the time saved on the Floor of the House.

What shall we do with those two days? We know—I take one example—that there will be strong calls for a debate on Vietnam. But we also know that, although the House can make speeches on Vietnam, what it can do about Vietnam is strictly limited. It seems to me a great pity to take away from the Floor of the House action on matters such as taxation which the House can affect and to turn its time, even if for only two days a Session, to matters which basically the House is powerless to influence. I do not think that the Leader of the House will benefit the House by this proposal.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the House debates subjects such as science and technology—which are extremely important and relevant and over which we have control—far too rarely? Has he not made a somewhat selective illustration by picking on Vietnam?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

No, because if I know anything about the House, the pressures which will arise for those two days will be precisely along the lines that I have indicated. I think that the hon. Member knows that, too. He wishes that what I am saying were not true, but he rightly suspects that it is true.

These proposals will operate for the 1968 Budget. Obviously, there is nothing sinister in that, because they were planned before devaluation and other matters. But it has been confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as recently as last night, and by his predecessor, that we shall have a tough Budget. That is not in dispute. It seems likely that it will be a controversial Budget. When we spent part of the time yesterday deciding how much of our financial business should be overseen by people outside the country, it seems a great pity that we should limit the amount of surveillance inside the House of Commons of what will be a contentious Finance Bill next year.

The Leader of the House directed his argument for the change on 14th November against me, and I make no complaint at that. As reported in col. 244, he said: Our second reform of the Session was the compromise method of handling the Finance Bill which the Select Committee recommended for a Sessional experiment. We took a long time discussing it, and passing it, but, as far as I know, it was a dead letter before the Session ended because the 'shadow' Chancellor disliked it and preferred to rely on the traditional informal discussions between him and the Chancellor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1967; Vol. 753, c. 244.] If the complaint against me is that I came to a gentleman's agreement with the present Home Secretary when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and that I should prefer to come similarly to a gentleman's agreement with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, I plead guilty at once. I have not the slightest doubt that this is the best way, in the interest of the whole of the House, to run the Finance Bill, and I made that quite clear on Second Reading. I quote what I said on Second Reading: The long days of the Committee stage lie ahead. I made clear by my vote last night—indeed, on three occasions last night—that I personally deplore the increasing tendency of the House of Commons to try to make formal matters out of matters which, in my view, are better left imprecise. I have always had a good relationship with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer"— now the Home Secretary— and I have no doubt that it will survive this Bill and other Bills which we shall have to debate, on whatever side of the House we may find ourselves. But I believe it to be a mistake to have formal agreements about Committee stages of Finance Bills in particular. I believe that it is a mistake to talk, as the Leader of the House did, in terms of dishonouring an agreement whereas, at best, it can be a gentleman's understanding."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 429.] That puts clearly the difference between the Leader of the House and myself on this matter.

What happened as a result of that informal understanding, gentleman's agreement, or whatever else one might like to call it, and which, in practice—as the House well knows—existed this year? These are the times on each of the eight days at which the last vote was taken; and again, as the House well knows, I made no secret on any of these days that, for the voting, it was the close of play. The times were 10.12 p.m., 11.59 p.m., 11.45 p.m., 10.51 p.m., 9.53 p.m., 11.40 p.m., 9.38 p.m. and 7.45 p.m. Not once after midnight, which means that all the points that the Leader of the House was making about it being improper to sit up till 5 o'clock in the morning and discuss all these matters were untrue. In fact, this system worked extremely well. Proof of that is provided in the figures I have given, which hon. Members can study for themselves in HANSARD.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) knows, it takes quite a lot of organisation—if I may say so, speaking on behalf of the Chancellor or the shadow Chancellor of the day—to get a Bill through in a reasonable time. The complaint which the Leader of the House makes against me is not that I kept the Committee late—he cannot do that in view of the figures I have given—and not that there was not an understanding, because there was, but simply that I would not sign on the dotted line as he wanted me to do. This is the difference between us.

Let me be absolutely clear about why I declined, and will always decline, to do that. The reasons are given clearly by my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip in column 20 in the evidence to the Select Committee on 7th February. He said: I believe that an Opposition, and particularly an Opposition Chief Whip, has to go by certain clear principles regarding voluntary agreements: he must never make an agreement unless he is certain that he can carry it out. I have made many agreements, and have always delivered the goods'. If that is to be the case, then that Chief Whip must be in a position to know when he can make an agreement and when he cannot. That is the position. It is no good one saying that one undertakes to do something unless one can be absolutely certain in this unpredictable House of Commons. Debates sometimes go on for much longer than expected. Some answers from the Government which are meant occasionally to mollify end up by infuriating the Opposition and extra time is needed. A classic case, which I have mentioned before, is the time when the Chief Secretary suddenly observed, in the middle of an absolutely placid debate, that the hovercraft was an ideal smuggler's vehicle. It took hours to sort out that observation. No voluntary timetable, even with the best will in the world, can do this.

I therefore ask the Leader of the House to accept that this is a very real and serious point. He should not talk, as he has, about dishonouring agreements. He should not put, as he is to do in due course—it would be out of order for me to refer to it now—a proposition that a Minister of the Crown can indicate when he thinks someone is breaking his word or that an agreement is working ineffec- tively, as the case may be. The truth of the matter is, as I acknowledged to the Select Committee a year ago—

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I wish to check the content of my remarks to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Would he give me the reference in HANSARD?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

Column 244, on 14th November.

This seems to me a matter of very real dispute between us. The consequence is clear. The 1968 Finance Bill will take place under a Guillotine and there is no prospect of anything else. That is the decision of the Leader of the House. But neither I nor, I am confident, any of my hon. Friends has the slightest intention of making an agreement under duress. The result in practice will, of course, be a whittling away of Opposition time. This was made clear by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), when he gave this warning: When we get upstairs, those who expect much shorter discussions may find themselves mistaken; discussions may be more lengthy. The silence that has been shown on the Government back benches may be replaced with a little more loquacity. There is the further fact that hon. Members on both sides feel some deterrent about speaking when, by doing so, they are keeping their hon. Friends up into the late hours of the night. Moving upstairs may remove at least part of this deterrent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1967; Vol. 754, c. 339.] Fair enough, and I do not complain. However, the point is a simple one. If time is to be limited—and, in the nature of things, and for the reasons I have given and by the attitude which the Leader of the House takes this is bound to happen—and if the Government say, as they have every right to say, that they intend to take more of that time, then it follows that there will be less time available for Opposition criticism—and this may be the object, or one of the objects, of putting this before the House.

For these reasons, which I have tried to put moderately—but I assure the House that my hon. Friends and I feel extremely strongly about them—we believe that this proposal is improper and unfair. In one sense it is a waste of time our opposing it, because this is a Government decision and the Whips are on. Yet we are right to oppose it as strongly as we can. I should make it absolutely clear that, when we become the Government, we will not feel ourselves bound by this particular decision. We feel that consideration of the Finance Bill in Committee should take place on the Floor of the House, and that is why we oppose this proposal.

4.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I find that there is general agreement among hon. Members that we need some measure of reform. However, as soon as one makes specific proposals for reform, the opposition starts. There is no point in reforming the procedure of the House unless that reform means that we will conduct our business either more expeditiously or more efficiently. It is because I believe that by sending the Finance Bill into Committee upstairs we shall conduct our business more efficiently that I have for long advocated this reform.

I am certain that to have the details of the Finance Bill discussed in Committee upstairs is a much better process than having the annual jamboree which takes place at present on the Floor of the House. I call it a jamboree, but I recall referring to it as the Parliamentary equivalent of the spring tribal dance. The whole point of a Committee stage is to enable hon. Members to examine a Bill in detail, and not merely to give hon. Members an opportunity to trot in and out of the Chamber during the proceedings—and, on the Finance Bill, they are very long proceedings indeed—and make speeches which delay the proceedings.

I have mentioned previously that this reform is precisely the one which I recommended in an Amendment in 1959, so at least I can be accused of being consistent. On that occasion I did not press the Amendment to a Division because of the sympathetic consideration which was given to my suggestion by Mr. R. A. Butler, as he then was, the then Leader of the House.

I was also fortified by what the then Mr. Butler said, because in 1958 he had submitted to the Select Committee on Procedure a memorandum, to part of which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has called attention. I should like to read another paragraph of that memorandum. It stated: There seems little doubt that the point at which improvement in the procedure can be most easily envisaged is in the Committee stage. It is, of course, a well-established tradition that matters of taxation should be dealt with on the floor of the House. But as conditions change tradition ought not to stand in the way of reform. While many of the Budget proposals embodied in the Finance Bill are admittedly of major importance, it seems probable that discussion of the detailed provisions of the Bill could be carried out at least as effectively in a smaller forum as in the Committee of the whole House. Provided that the House has an early opportunity to a debate the broad principles of proposed tax changes (in the Budget debate and on Second Reading) and to discuss, and if necessary reverse (on report stage) any decisions taken in Committee of which it may not approve, it is not easy to see that any vital principle would be breached if the Committee stage of the Finance Bill were taken to a suitable Standing Committee rather than on the floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Will the hon. Gentleman read the next paragraph?

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

Yes. It reads: Any such change would admittedly give rise to a number of practical difficulties. Is that the passage the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanted?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

And the next sentence.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

That reads: It is virtually certain that a single Standing Committee will not be able to deal adequately with the Bill in the relatively short period available. Is that the part the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanted me to read?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

indicated assent.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I was calling attention to the paragraph I read only because of the sypathetic consideration the Leader of the House had given to my Amendment in the debate in 1959. I disagree with that part which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) just now asked me to read.

It was, I think, in 1965 that particular attention was once again called to the question whether the Finance Bill should be dealt with by a Standing Committee. In fact, there was so much attention given to it at that time that we had the support of practically all the Press in the country. The Times, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and the Economist all advocated that the Finance Bill should go to a Standing Committee. After that Finance Bill had been dealt with, the present Leader of the House boasted in an article which he wrote in the Spectator of 23rd June, 1965: The time taken by the Bill"— that is, the Finance Bill— has thrown the Government business into complete disarray. Is that the purpose of dealing with the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House?

As a matter of fact, I believe that on one occasion, and on a very minor matter, the then Opposition defeated the Government—but what did they achieve by it? What was the result? The Conservative Party has been the Government sufficiently often to know that the Government get their business. What was the result of throwing the Government, as the present Leader of the House said, into complete disarray? The result was that the Whitsun Recess was shortened by eight days and we sat on into August. That was the effect of the long sittings needed for the Bill in 1965.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

What about hon. Members' health?

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

Well, some hon. Members' health—there are only some hon. Members who make a point of staying when the House sits late. As one who sat until the early hours of this morning I have very much sympathy with another Motion, which will be discussed later.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), in his book "Parliament and Mumbo-Jumbo", has some very useful quotations on the subject of the Finance Bill. There is one from myself which I shall not bother to read, but I want to call attention to one from The Times of 25th June, which stated: Much of current labour criticism of Parliamentary procedure and practice runs the risk of losing sympathy for the sounder proposals for reform. As it happens, the Finance Bill now passing through the Commons shows where the main fault lies in the system and suggests how easily it could be righted.When he was Leader of the House Mr. Iain Macleod came to the conclusion that there was only one way to give the Commons more elbow room, both for legislation and important debates. That was to shift the Committee stage of the Finance Bill from the floor of the House and send it to a Standing Committee upstairs, like many other Bills.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

Unless the hon. Gentleman chooses to call me a liar, I dealt with that point just now. I said that, like all Leaders of the House, when I first became Leader of the House I started with that desire—the House must bear me out in this—and that I became convinced by the arguments, and have been convinced ever since, that it was wrong. The hon. Gentleman really must not make that sort of assertion.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I heard the right hon. Gentleman, and the last thing I would do would be to call him a liar. But it is very relevant to know that when he occupied the important position of Leader of the House, and had to get Government business through, he was strongly in favour of sending the Bill to a Standing Committee. I would add—

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

I am sorry to interrupt again, but I have made it quite clear that I was not in favour. I really must ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his statement.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I certainly withdraw anything I can withdraw, but what can I withdraw? I read out the fact that in 1962 the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of the Finance Bill going to a Standing Committee. I would add something more. I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, of which the right hon. Gentleman was Chairman. When I brought forward the suggestion of sending the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee, he was my most enthusiastic supporter but, unfortunately, since he was Chairman of that Select Committee he did not have a vote. All I am calling attention to is the change that has taken place.

The right hon. Gentleman is mentioned there, as Leader of the House, as making suggestions about the only way to provide additional time for additional debates. I am not so much concerned with finding time for additional debates on the Floor of the House, because I have the great fear that the Government—whatever Government it may be—are always tempted to snap up any additional time for legislation. I am concerned with sending the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee because I think that there the consideration of the details of the Bill will be done much more efficiently.

What happens if we do take this step? If we pass this Amendment, it only puts the Finance Bill in the same position as every other Bill, with the exception of the Consolidated Fund Bill, the Appropriation Bill, or a Bill confirming a provisional Order. Therefore, what is the worry about accepting the Amendment and trying this out as an experiment, shall we say, for this year?

The Finance Bill would then be in exactly the same position as every other Bill, and it would be possible for a Conservative Government—as has been threatened by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West—to have the Finance Bill back on the Floor of the House. It would only need a Minister to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, so they need not have any great fear in accepting this Amendment. I do not see why they should vote against it, because they know that this year the experiment will be carried out. Indeed, I hope that the House will enthusiastically agree to this trial so that we can in future, speak from an experience and not from theory.

4.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has been speaking for the Opposition. The Leader of the House spoke for the Government. Someone has to put in a word for the back benchers.

This proposal affects the Government in one way and the Opposition the other way, but it affects every back bencher very detrimentally in respect of how he carries out his duties. The argument which has been put forward has a great deal of dishonesty about it. It has been put forward as if it were the idea of Mr. Butler, now Lord Butler, when he was Leader of the House. In fact, it was not his idea. What he put forward was that as an experiment the Finance Bill should be sent to two or three different Standing Committees which would sit at the same time. I think that Lord Butler made a very impracticable suggestion. I shall come later to the impracticability of the suggestion made by the present Leader of the House.

What no one has said is that while Lord Butler made that suggestion, Mr. Gaitskell, who gave evidence, was equally clear. He said: I do not like the idea of the whole of the Finance Bill going to a Standing Committee. He gave his view that we should try to divide the Finance Bill and send part of it to a Standing Committee. The other remarkable fact, which again is perhaps an odd feature of this debate is that in the Chamber there is present not a single Member on the Government side of the Select Committee on Procedure which has examined this matter and turned down this particular suggestion.

I see the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) looking rather anxious, but I am talking of the present Select Committee on Procedure, not the one which met in 1959. The present Committee looked at the matter exhaustively on two different occasions. It is true that we first asked for the division of the Finance Bill between administrative and budgetary procedures. We were told by the Treasury that although that suggestion was attractive, it was impracticable. We then came out with the idea of a timetable. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, said. Of course, if we have a voluntary timetable, the whole purpose is for it to be held in reserve so that we can get agreement between the parties. For that reason, I think that this suggestion has not been presented in quite the frank and fair way this House would expect in an important debate like this.

I come to my main purpose in rising. Why is this a great infringement of the right of every back bencher? It is because the Finance Bill is something quite different from any other Bill. It is, first, a review of all existing taxation. It is the reimposition of certain personal direct taxation and it is the Chancellor's proposals for changes in taxation for that year. In so far as one can say, on the third category the arguments of the Leader of the House are perfectly valid, but they are quite invalid for the review of existing taxation and the reimposition of personal direct taxation.

My experience as a back bencher is that in the course of a Parliamentary year we have a number of cases put to us by constituents dealing with hardships suffered under taxation. We put those on one side and when the Finance Bill comes we try, if possible, to amend it by Amendments or new Clauses. This affects every back bencher, both on the Government and the Opposition side of the House. No doubt this will be limited to the lucky 50 or 60 who serve on the Standing Committee. The rest of the back benchers will have no opportunity of raising their constituents' points during the stages of the Finance Bill. That I believe to be quite insupportable.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Does not this depend on the Leader of the House accepting, not the present Motion, but my Amendment to the following Motion?

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Knowing the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I am sure that he will make his intervention later.

This is a very real problem. Are we to maintain the right of a back bencher to take his part in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill? This worried us on the Select Committee on Procedure very considerably. We thought, if the Bill was to go into Committee upstairs, of having hon. Members who were not members of that Committee having the right to come into the Committee, but we came to the conclusion that that would be quite impossible, because hon. Members would drift in and out without having the right to vote for their constituents' recommendations. Therefore, the whole Committee rejected that conclusion. That was one of the reasons why we came to what I believe the right way of dealing with the Finance Bill.

I am as much opposed as anyone to all-night sittings. The older I get the more I dislike them, but I believe that the solution to the whole of the problem is a sensible understanding between the two sides of the House and for some sort of formal agreement with the backing of a voluntary agreement.

My third and final point is that this proposal will not save the time of the House.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, may I put this to him? If the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill is to consist of 60 hon. Members, is there not a danger that that number will be whittled away by successive Leaders of the House as the numbers on Standing Committees have been? Is he aware that the number of hon. Members on Standing Committees has been falling steadily from about 40 to just over 20? This reflects how the rights of back benchers have been reduced.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

That is quite right. When I first came to the House all Standing Committees had a membership of 60. At times, that was rather too many for a very small Bill, but undoubtedly, during the last few years, the Executive has been taking more and more away from the private Member. That is why I beg private Members on both sides of the House to consider this. It is possible that some hon. Members opposite may be private Members on the back benches in opposition quite soon if they are successful at the next General Election. This is as much in their interests as it is in ours.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

As an old Parliamentarian, will not the right hon. Gentleman concede that the numbers on Committees have been reduced not because of political pressure but because of the practical possibilities of getting so many Committees? It has been the recommendation, the Leader of the House will agree, over all the years of Conservative Government that has reduced them. I happen to have agreed, but I hope that hon. Members will not put party political overtones on to what is a practical proposition.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I do not wish to intervene in an argument between hon. Members opposite. I thought that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) was intervening in my speech.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) is aware that the method of selecting Select Committees is a mysterious one. I have been a member of this House for 8½ years, but I have never been asked to serve on a Select Committee. I do not know the method of procedure and by virtue of not having been selected to serve on a Select Committee I am unable to express a point of view on many subjects which come before the House. I would deprecate another Select Committee being appointed without back benchers knowing what was going on.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

My speech appears to be used as a background for hon. Members in various quarters of the House to voice their complaints.

I want to concentrate on my last point. Will this proposal save the time of the House very much? The evidence for my belief that it will not is the paper which was put in by the Chief Secretary to the Select Committee, and I should like to quote from the Fourth Report for the Session 1966–67, on pages 4 and 5. Paragraph 22 states: The time saved on the floor of the House by removing the Committee stage might well be offset by extra time required for Report stage, which might be partly extra time in late night sittings. As I see it, and listening to the Leader of the House, undoubtedly this will result in late-night sittings every night on the Report stage. I have reached the age when I no longer appreciate late-night sittings, and I should very much like to see whether the House can so run its affairs that late-night sittings can be avoided.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I made it clear on Second Reading that, in my view, it would be highly likely that on the Consolidated Fund Bill on at least three occasions, and on the Report stage of the Finance Bill, the tradition of the all-night sitting would be likely to be preserved; and, indeed, I thought it was undesirable to try to prevent that because, in my view, back benchers had the right to sit through the night if they were desirous of looking after the interests which they represented. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the Report stage of the kind that we are designing would be like the Consolidated Fund Bill debate in that it would be an occasion when back benchers might feel they had a right to sit all night.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

That is a fair and pertinent intervention. In fact, we are not going to save time.

Coming to paragraph 19: The time available would involve the Standing Committee in working more intensively than a normal Standing Committee, possibly for eight hours a day, three days a week. In other words, what the Treasury suggests—this is a Treasury proposal—is a 72-hour stint for the Standing Committee.

Again, referring to the evidence of the Chief Secretary, we find that he has given us the time that Committees have taken in recent years. In the period 1961 to 1966 the hours were as follows: 77, 62, 58, 34, 160—that was on the Selective Employment Tax—and 98 hours. Therefore, we shall be spending more time in Committee than we have spent on half the Finance Bills in recent years.

The other factor that one has to bear in mind are the new Clauses. In those years, as the Chief Secretary said, private Members' new Clauses occupied, in 1961, 17 hours; in 1962, 24 hours; 1963, 20 hours; 1964, 21 hours; 1965, 12 hours: 1966, 14 hours.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I do not like not giving way, but I must draw the line somewhere.

We are not gaining time. We shall have the same length of time in Committee. We shall put an excessive burden on those 50 or 60 Members who are working all the afternoon. The Treasury says that it cannot work on the Finance Bill in the mornings. Indeed, the Treasury stated in its evidence that the Standing Committee will sit only in the afternoon and evening, and no doubt at night. What will happen to the debates in the House when we have this Standing Committee sitting for three weeks on end in the afternoons, evenings, and, I expect, at night? When we have debates, as we shall, on prices and incomes in May of next year, when we have debates on the borrowing powers, the Treasury Ministers will not be here. Nor will the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and those who help him on this side of the House.

I do not believe this proposal will be good for the House of Commons as a whole. I believe it will be extremely damaging to the rights of the private Member.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Hon. Members and many people in the country have been much disturbed during the last few days by what we have regarded as the archaic and obsolete attitude of a particular group of workers to a certain problem in performing their work Those workers might reasonably have replied to some of the criticisms expressed in this House, "Gentlemen, look to your own affairs and put your own house in order."

I regard the practice of taking the Committee stage of the Finance Bill in the whole House as archaic, obsolete and inefficient as some of the industrial practices which I believe are rightly criticised. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) made what I thought was an unfortunate sneer about those Members who wanted to keep office hours. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has repeatedly pointed out, and with great fairness, that the most willing and conscientious Members are those who are most savagely penalised by the habit of sitting throughout the night and by various other practices in this House which lead to what I regard as excessive continuous sittings.

It is not my wish to take the Committee stage of the Finance Bill from the Floor of this House simply in order to give myself a certain number of hours sleep. I can do that in other ways if need be. But I believe there is no gain and much foolishness in trying to transact business from the hour of midnight to 6 a.m. when it is possible to do it more efficiently and effectively in other ways.

I emphasise that what I—and I believe this is the opinion of many of my colleagues—are concerned about in making this change is to improve the efficiency of the working of the House. We reject the imputation that we are in some way worried about our own personal comfort. I doubt whether there are many hon. Members who come here merely because they suppose there is an easier life here than in other occupations. It is unfortunate that that kind of sneer was made from the Opposition Front Bench.

We who want this reform are concerned with a better method of transacting the country's business through the machinery of the House of Commons. I am absolutely satisfied that it is a complete absurdity to have a Committee of 600 Members. That is virtually a contradiction in terms. The whole essence of a committee is that it is a comparatively small group of people who can examine in detail matters which are not appropriate to be examined by the larger parent body.

I am not satisfied by the arguments from our ancient history, though I have respect for that history, as all hon. Members have, that the House cannot exercise its traditional control over voting Supply, taxation, and so on, unless we indulge in the ritual of the Committee of the whole House on the Finance Bill. On the contrary, it is my firm opinion that what the House most noticeably lacks is a powerful and coherent Committee system for dealing with its business, not merely finance but other matters, too.

One of the reasons why I so strongly support the present proposal is that I regard it as a step on the way to a sensible Committee system for dealing with our general business. We have already set up certain Committees for particular purposes, but I regard this proposal as a more fundamental change and one which, I hope, will lead to a much more far-reaching and more coherent reform of the machinery of the House.

I take that view not only because such a change would be sensible in terms of transacting business, but also because it must be self-evident to all hon. Members—there can hardly be a quarrel about it—that the business of government is more complex today than it was 10 or 20 years ago and infinitely more complex than it was 50 years ago, and it is likely, on balance, to become more and more complicated as time goes on.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Is not the problem of taxation more difficult than it was 50 years ago? The hon. Gentleman must have had letters, many of them important letters, from constituents. How does he relate his present argument to his lack of opportunity to put constituents' views forward in time to get Amendments unless he is on the Committee?

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

That touches a point made by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), a point which I wanted to take up. In my view, the fact that taxation is more complicated gives a stronger argument for having a Committee to deal with it. As taxation grows more complex and technical, there is a case for having a smaller body of Members to examine matters in detail in a way in which the whole House cannot do it and has really never pretended to do it.

The right hon. Member for Enfield, West made great play of the Selective Employment Tax. What happened, in fact? We had an endless series of speeches, endlessly repetitious, on one, two or three main points. I do not believe that that process secured any drastic or serious reform.

Photo of Dr Michael Winstanley Dr Michael Winstanley , Cheadle

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that those endless repetitions on three main arguments resulted in a change in the tax on those three main points 12 months' later?

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

One cannot say that it resulted in changes 12 months later. That is not the point which the right hon. Member for Enfield, West made. He claimed that that weird process resulted in reform on the spot. I readily agree that the operation of the tax has resulted in changes, modifications and adaptations, put I am not convinced that they arose out of the ritual process of sitting here and listening to 19 or 20 hon. Members making exactly the same point at tedious length and wasting the time of the House.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Is it not the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument that he had better sit down and not make a speech, as he will not influence the House?

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

No. The logic of my argument is that my first speech might influence the House, but I doubt that it would be more influenced if 20 hon. Members made the same speech.

There may, however, be some point in bringing to the notice of the new Standing Committee on the Finance Bill a particular matter which interests a very small group of Members. There may be a difficulty here which the House would do well to consider and provide for, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give a little thought to it. I think that the question will arise rarely. I hardly imagine that in a carefilly selected Committee of 50 or 60 Members there will not be one or more than one who is interested in a special case in the matter of taxation. Nevertheless, there is just a chance that, somewhere along the line, a specialised interest will find no representation on the Committee. Provision ought to be made for it.

There is a difference of atmosphere between a Standing Committee and the Floor of the House. My brief experience of these matters is that there is a more constructive and thoughtful atmosphere of debate in a smaller group of Members than one normally finds on the Floor, where, unfortunately, one has an hon. Member wandering in who has not listened to the previous discussion, who is for some reason anxious to air his views about a question on hand, and who then goes away, after disrupting the general tenor of the proceedings on the Floor. This does not happen in Committee.

There is a more thoughtful, more constructive and more thorough approach to the discussion of Bills in Committee. I know that there arises from this a fear which is, perhaps, more present on this side than on the other side of the House, that is, fear of that wicked thing consensus. Some of my hon. Friends regard consensus as some sort of witchcraft or heresy, who think that, as soon as there is any kind of agreement between hon. Members across the Floor, there is something wrong. I do not altogether subscribe to that view. It is possible for sensible men holding different principles to agree occasionally on matters of practice.

One of the worries troubling the right hon. Member for Enfield, West may have been that, some day—perhaps in the1980s—when he is introducing taxation reforms in a Committee, he may find it more difficult to get through rather dubious proposals than he would in the House, where he could summon up the cohorts by the Division bell and make sure that 100, 200 or 300 Members who had not heard a word of the debate—

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

The hon. Gentleman has not been here.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

—and who simply come in to vote down—

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been here throughout the debate, except for a short time when I went out to telephone.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The hon. Gentleman has succeeded in informing the House, but it is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I am quite ready to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I simply wished to finish the sentence.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, after Members have been selected for Committee service, the Government will not ensure that they vote as required?

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Obviously, this will usually happen, but I am sure that it has been the hon. Gentleman's experience, as it has been mine, that a majority in Committee is by no means so automatic or so easily secured as a majority on the Floor. The hon. Gentleman knows that a high proportion of those who go through the Lobbies on a Committee point on the Floor of the House are not fully aware of its implications and are simply voting in support of the Government of the day. This will happen more rarely in Committee proceedings, though I do not say that it will not happen at all.

It has been regarded as an argument of some substance that by taking such matters on the Floor of the House the Opposition can delay proceedings, cause irritation to the Government, and make them give way on certain points by the sheer process of wearing down. I think that it has been shown on the Iron and Steel Act and on other legislation that, given determination by the Opposition of the day, it is possible for them to delay proceedings and insist on a very thorough scrutiny of the Government's proposals. Even in a Committee system there is abundant opportunity, if the Opposition so wish, to hold up proceedings. They have the same full rights of thorough discussion and examination as they would if the matter were considered on the Floor of the House.

I believe that the proposal will make for the more efficient conduct of the House's business and on that ground alone I support it.

5.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I agree with one thing, but probably only one, in the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), and that is his statement that this proposal involved a fundamental change. In this respect, he was a good deal franker than the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, though perhaps his right hon. Friend did not set a very high standard.

One fallacy of the hon. Gentleman's argument occurred to me as he addressed the House. He selected the example of the Selective Employment Tax and said that all the repetitious—as he regarded them—speeches made about the tax had no effect. But does he recall that they had one considerable effect that year, in that they induced the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to grant the exemption to charities which was not given in his original proposals? A great many right hon. and hon. Members addressed the House and the Committee on that point before the present Home Secretary was induced to change his mind.

Therefore, the very example that the hon. Gentleman selected to illustrate the uselessness of this Parliamentary procedure is an example of a case where a plain mistake was made by a Minister who had the honesty ultimately to admit it. As a result, serious injury to the charitable organisations was prevented by the action of hon. Members who made speeches which the hon. Gentleman may have thought repetitious but which were justified in the event.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Is the right hon. Gentleman's case that that objective could not have been achieved in Committee?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I can only say that the hon. Gentleman's argument was that there were many repetitious and useless speeches about the Selective Employment Tax, and that the proposal we are considering would have obviated that. If he follows his argument to its logical conclusion he will see that it would have eliminated the speeches as a result of which, after a considerable time and, as he said, after many had had to be made, the Government changed their mind and reversed their mistake. There seems an overwhelming presumption that our present procedure helped to bring about a result which would not have been achieved under the procedure the Lord President of the Council suggests.

The hon. Gentleman's second point was that the proposal will prevent late-night sittings. But will it? The Lord President of the Council told us a few moments ago that he expected them during the Report stage, which he has already told us he expects to take some days. Late-night sittings will certainly be involved, and they will also occur in the Standing Committees and, therefore, I wonder, even on a sober calculation of what one might call "man-nights", whether any significant saving of that commodity will be achieved. It is at least open to argument, And the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to treat it as self-evident.

I now come to the point which the Lord President of the Council challenged in my speech during the debate on 14th November. He took me to task for suggesting that nothing was worse than driving a Standing Committee through the night, and he argued that it was worse to drive a Committee of the whole House through the night. I do not know whether he has ever served on a Standing Committee that sat through the night. I recall that on one occasion he threatened us with such a procedure, but when his bluff was called the threat did not materialise. That is his method.

I have had the experience of sitting through the night on a Standing Committee. One has only to consider the contrast between the physical conditions in which a Standing Committee sits and those on the Floor of the House to see that there is a real difference in the hardship involved for those taking part. The Standing Committees' rooms are not air-conditioned. We sit in extremely close proximity to each other and, perhaps even more pertinently, to right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I have sat opposite the right hon. Gentleman in a Standing Committee and I say without discourtesy that contemplation of his features for many hours seems to me to be a pleasure which can be overdone.

The rules of a Standing Committee, with the very short interval allowed for a Division involving hon. Members in being in or very close to the Committee room the whole time, even on Amendments with which they are not directly concerned, make it much more of a physical ordeal. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's judgments of relative hardship are not self-evident, particularly to those who have experienced them both, I maintain the view that I expressed in our previous debate that it is a very bad thing to drive a Standing Committee through the night, and much worse than driving the House as a whole.

I come now to the main issue. It is an outrage that the proposal should have been brought forward. It serves as a warning to any of my hon. Friends who might be tempted to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman in future researches into the procedure of the House, because, for all the deliberations of the Select Committee—I have the deepest respect for the amount of work it put in, although I do not always agree with its conclusions—the right hon. Gentleman ignores them and brings forward the present proposal, which is not consistent with the Select Committee's recommendations. But it is wholly consistent with the right hon. Gentleman's intention to caponise the House, and turn it into a body designed to register the decrees of an all-wise Government. The trouble is that lately they have not proved to be a particularly wise Government.

Almost worse than what the right hon. Gentleman is doing are the reasons he gave in the debate on 14th November. He referred to the Committee stage of the Finance Bill as "a boring summer burden". The effects of recent Finance Bills may well be extremely boring for the taxpayer. I am not here to argue the contrary. But to suggest that the fundamental duty of the House, the decision as to what taxes are to be imposed on our fellow citizens, is a boring summer burden indicates a certain cynicism of which I have always suspected the right hon. Gentleman. These are immensely serious matters. Whether some hon. Members are bored by them or not, they are of immense practical importance to every one of our constituents. Their lives and livelihoods are directly affected by a large number of the Clauses of every Finance Bill.

It is the duty of the House to give the fullest consideration to them and not to brush them aside as a boring summer burden.

Then the right hon. Gentleman dangles before us debates on topical subjects and tells us how much more exciting they would be. But this House is not a debating society. This is the Commons of the United Kingdom in Parliament assembled. Its duty is not to arrange entertaining debates, which the Government in general ignore—Hon. Members know that that is true—but to do the concrete work of the scrutiny of legislation and to seek to induce the Government to make changes where, as in the case I quoted of the Selective Employment Tax on charities, an error has been made.

The right hon. Gentleman said that in Committee upstairs the Finance Bill will get sedulous expert attention. Does it not get it in this Chamber? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Does the right hon. Gentleman take so low a view of the quality of hon. Members, on both sides, that he believes that we can get sedulous expert attention only by disqualifying 570 of us from taking part in the debates?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I thought that I had made this clear in my speech. I said that I thought experience had shown that for the line-by-line examination of a Bill, a Committee of 50 working upstairs together usually did a more thorough job than we do working through the night on the Floor.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The right hon. Gentleman sought to introduce the contrast of working through the night. Is he giving an undertaking that the Standing Committee would not work through the night also and under the physical conditions to which I have referred? Does he think that under those physical conditions, that Standing Committee will do the job better than we do under at least the better conditions in this Chamber?

Secondly, is not the right hon. Gentleman indulging in a generalisation which it is hardly possible to sustain? I will give him the point that with a technical Bill on, perhaps, the reform of the criminal law or of company or commercial law, a Standing Committee with a large number of hon. and learned Members can probably do an extremely good job on it. I am not, however, talking exclusively of such a Bill. We are talking of a Bill which contains Clauses of a technical nature—I have made it clear that I have never minded such Clauses going to a Standing Committee, although some of my hon. Friends take a different view—but a Bill which also includes the major taxation proposals affecting the citizens of the United Kingdom. It is utterly wrong, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) so well said, to deprive each hon. Member who has had representations made by his constituents of the fullest opportunity in Committee to debate these matters and putting forward these points.

The Report stage is no adequate substitute. In the first place, there is no Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". Consequently, if one's Amendment is not selected, one does not have the chance, which one has in Committee, of raising the point on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". One is utterly cut out from raising it. If we are accepting this proposal, we are accepting that a large number of hon. Members will be forfeiting their right to raise a number of points affecting the taxation inflicted on their constituents for the year. Again, Report stage is the final stage, so that when the Government think that a Bill is wrong but themselves do not like the drafting of an Amendment, there is nothing they can do.

The Lord President of the Council this afternoon saw that point and made the suggestion of a Recommittal stage. Naturally, one would like to hear from the First Secretary of State exactly what that means. Will it be adequate to enable all Amendments which hon. Members who are not themselves members of the Standing Committee wish to put down in Committee but to be discussed on Recommittal? Secondly, will there be a sufficient gap between that stage and Report stage proper to enable the Government to put down Amendments and then for hon. Members, if necessary, to be able to put down Amendments to those Amendments?

If there is not that time gap, the First Secretary will realise that Recommittal could have very little value. There must be enough time for Amendments by hon. Members who are excluded from the Standing Committee, and there must be time between recommittal and Report stage proper if we are to get the two stages which are necessary to the handling of Amendments, particularly on such a technical subject as the Finance Bill. I hope that we shall hear more about this from the First Secretary, but I am left with a feeling that if the answers to those questions are as I would like them to be precious little time will be saved.

The question will then arise, why make the change at all? I am the last person ever to suspect my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) of being a trifle naive, but I felt that he was this afternoon when he said that he did not see anything particularly sinister in the bringing forward of these proposals at this time. My right hon. Friend gallantly acquitted the Leader of the House of any knowledge that devaluation was coming until it was announced, and he may be right about that. There is the other possible view that members of the Cabinet actually knew a little bit about it earlier.

What is quite clear to all of us is that the 1968 Finance Bill—the Chancellor of the Exchequer more or less said so yesterday—will be a particularly critical and, in many ways, I believe, an extremely harmul one. We have been told that it will include provision to increase the Corporation Tax and so make more difficult the rôle of exporters. There is very good reason to believe that the 1968 Bill will contain a capital levy disguised under the title of a wealth tax.

I have a shrewd suspicion that this Measure is being put forward at this time to make it possible for a critical and controversial Finance Bill to have its most crucial stage in a Committee room upstairs with the majority of hon. Members debarred from taking part and in the hope that there will be the minimum of publicity for it.

The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward this proposal—which is not the proposal of the Select Committee—at this time and decided to force it through by a party Whip is clearly not only consistent with his own ideas of Parliament and weakening its authority, but is directly related to the taxation changes and proposals already contemplated by the Government.

In those circumstances, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friends will make it clear that the Government's proposal is wrong, that it is especially wrong in these circumstances, that it will weaken the authority of Parliament, that it is designed to do so and that it is the last kick at Parliament of a dying Administration.

5.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ednyfed Davies Mr Ednyfed Davies , Conway

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hooley (Mr. Hooley) that this proposal would lead to greater efficiency, but I base my arguments on somewhat different grounds. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) quoted a number of interesting figures about Standing Committees. He entirely missed the real point, however, namely that the number of persons concerned in a Standing Committee would be far less than the numbers involved in the whole House.

The right hon. Gentleman has also bandied about certain imputations of dishonesty and has spoken passionately of the rights of back benchers. The danger is, and this may be characteristic of a trend which is evident in the debate, that we may be guilty of lip service to a myth about what really happens during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill and very often what happens in the transactions of the House as a whole. The implication seems to be that during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill we are carrying out important legislative functions, but this is very much a myth. It is, by and large, a misunderstanding of the nature of our Parliamentary system.

We do not have, after all, the separation of Executive and Legislature. In practice, whatever the currency of the myths to the contrary, the rôle of the Legislature, so-called, turns out generally to be, on the part of the Opposition to oppose, and on the part of Government supporters, in the last resort, to maintain the Government. That is why one is so often confronted by the unrealistic accusation that one has perhaps not abstained on an issue on which one was known to have reservations. This happens as much in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill as anywhere else. The answer has to be that, in our system, we are voting not merely on one piece of legislation, but also on the survival of the Government, in that the Government are dependent on the confidence of the House—very often excessively so. But that is a separate issue.

We should be frank about what we really do during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. Very often, it is used as an opportunity for protest by the Opposition more so than by Government Members. That is a perfectly proper activity. One of the methods of protest in the House, which is little approved of, perhaps with justification, outside, is through delaying tactics. It would be ungenerous of us on both sides to refuse to concede that, whichever party is in opposition, it generally tends to be repetitive and disruptive and to put down Amendments which have no hope of being carried, as an indication of its protest. This, rather than the creation of legislation, is what takes place in a Committee stage.

We should be clear in our minds about what we are doing. The time spent on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill will bear relation not to the complexity of the Budget, but to its acceptability or otherwise to the Opposition, and this brings out very clearly that it is an opportunity to oppose. But is it necessary that the time of the whole House should be spent on this understandable, worthwhile, but hardly legislative activity? A Standing Committee is a far more appropriate place for it to happen.

This does not mean that I think particularly highly of Standing Committees, either. One of my great disappointments on coming here was the explosion of another myth current not only among the population at large, but even among academic Government specialists—to the effect that, at least in Committee, whatever the restrictions on the free thinking of a back bencher in the House, in Committee at least he can get down to the work of thrashing out details of legislation.

I must confess that my experience in Standing Committee has been very different in that the indication of protest by delay is as typical in Standing Committee as it is in the House. Indeed, what we have is not a group of Members of different political opinions getting together to thrash out a piece of legislation but, by and large, a Minister wanting to get a Bill through and the Opposition indicating the degree of their disapproval of that Bill by the amount of delay they will cause.

When I first came to the House, I was give advice by a Whip who is not now a Member, regarding my approach to Standing Committees. It was to the effect, "If you are on a Standing Com- mittee you would be well advised not to play the Opposition's game by contributing largely to what is said. In fact, it would be far more sensible for you, since you are not allowed to read a newspaper in the Committee, to do your correspondence". This should be known about our Standing Committees.

We are too inclined to keep up the pretence that something very important and constructive happens in Standing Committees. I will quote the examples of two Standing Committees, one on the Rent Act, 1957, under a Conservative Administration, and the other on the Agriculture Act, 1966, under a Labour Administration.

In the Standing Committee on the Rent Act, 57 per cent, of the Members were Conservative, 41 per cent. Labour and 2 per cent, Liberal. But, during the Committee stage, just over 70 per cent. of the talking, measured in columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT, was by the 41 percent. in opposition. This brings out clearly that the Committee, whether it be a Committee of the whole House or a Standing Committee, is more than anything not the place for creative attention to a Bill, but an opportunity for the Opposition to object. Most of the talking in that Committee was on Amendments which had no hope of being carried.

The Standing Committee on the Agriculture Act, 1966, comprised 60 per cent. Labour Members and 40 per cent. Conservative, and 75 per cent. of the talking was done by the 40 per cent. of Opposition Members. This is very significant. Although in another context what I have said about Standing Committees might be a criticism, it makes a Standing Committee admirably suited for the particular activity which takes place in the House during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

This sort of situation is not getting down to creative legislation. It is important that there should be opportunities for protest but it should not use up the time of the whole House, which could be better used. I suggest that, if we are to have different activity, it is in the extension of Specialist Committees of a functional and investigational nature that this should happen.

5.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies) in his interesting discourse on the value of the House and Committees. He has little trust in either. I warn the Government that they should seriously consider what they are doing this year, when their own reputation in financial matters is at its lowest ebb. It could not be lower in Europe, in the world, or among their own supporters, and at this point they propose to destroy part of the rights of back bench Members. That is an act of great stupidity by the Government, because it will be misinterpreted as an effort to muzzle free speech in the House.

I am sure that that is not the Government's intention, but it is the impression we are given and it is on the sort of Budget they produce that the House will judge their rectitude on this issue. They would do better to withdraw this proposal for this year. The debates of 1959 have been referred to, but the whole point surely is that, since 1959, taxation has risen by well over £1,500 million. We are moving into an area of taxation where it is burdensome and dangerous.

What is more, the proposals put forward by the Leader of the House are not the sort, of proposals I believe the House and the country wanted to see regarding the Budget. What we wanted to see was a break in the mumbo-jumbo of the Chancellor of the Exchequer coming to the Dispatch Box with a Budget conceived by himself and his advisers, quite often without consultation with industrialists, the trade unions, or commerce. This is the sort of reform we expected to see from this "dynamic, go-ahead" Government. It would be of some value to the House and the country if there were proper pre-consultation with various interests in the country. But there is none.

Exactly the same thing will happen with these proposals. The Chancellor will arrive with an ill-digested Budget, like the last three, wrong in judgment—the present Government have probably been more wrong in their judgment of financial and economic matters than any Government since Ramsay MacDonald's—

Mr. J. T. Prire:

rose

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

I shall not give way, for other hon. Members wish to speak. These proposals will make no improvement in that respect.

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman is making a vigorous speech, whether one agrees with it or not, but he is suggesting that the presentation of the Budget should be in collaboration with all kinds of outside bodies, in co-operation between the Chancellor and industry in its various manifestations. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that constitutionally this would be opening the country's financial activities to the gravest kind of speculation which has already nearly wrecked us.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

That is a matter for the House and not for the Chair.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very valuable intervention.

What I have suggested is precisely what is done in many other countries where there is consultation. It would be valuable to have a Select Committee on Finance which could assist the Chancellor in the making of his Budget, like the Senate Committee assists in America in the formulation of financial policy.

But we have no such proposal here. There is just the same stale old thing, with one exception—the rights of back bench Members are being diminished. All we are getting is the same old-fashioned rigmarole and rattletrap with no new ideas from the right hon. Gentleman who considers himself to be a constitutional innovator. There is no innovation here other than the suppression of the freedom of speech of back bench hon. Members.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) dealt admirably with the suggestion that back benchers would have their rights protected by the Report stage. There is absolutely no chance of a back bench Member, on Report, having the same sort of right which he now has in a Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

Hon. Members opposite say that this does not matter, because much of what is said is tedious repetition. That may well be. The hon. Member for Conway was under a complete illusion about the point of the House of Commons, which is not to be efficient, not to be like a machine, not to be like a piece of steel made in Sheffield, or a huge press, or a giant engine; the whole point of the House of Commons is to be effective. Effectiveness rather than efficiency is what should balance our considerations. A serious constitutional issue is raised by the removal of the right of back benchers to intervene. As my right hon. Friend said, they will not have the same opportunities in a Standing Committee on the Budget.

Let us consider how that Committee will be appointed. One Scottish hon. Member has said that the appointment of Standing Committees was a mystery, and I agree with him. If we were to have such a Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, the economists in the House would be graded into Class 1 and Class 2. Those who were clever enough would be graded Class 1 and would be appointed to the Committee, while those who were not clever enough would be graded Class 2 and not appointed.

As a result, inarticulate Members who might know one important fact about the economies of their own constituencies—and such a knowledge is worth a thousand rigmarole speeches—would be inhibited from co-operating with the professional economists, and so on, who had been graded Class 1. In any event, grading economists of the House of Commons is a laughable concept in view of what the world thinks of House of Commons economist; it would be an impediment.

I speak from the back benches and I have no faith in the selection by either Front Bench of hon. Members to serve on a Standing Committee. Why should I have? The Government would appoint those they choose as Lobby fodder, those who would not open their mouths. The Opposition Front Bench would appoint the most articulate, the most difficult in opposition, the quick lawyers, with respect to my legal hon. Friends, those who could hold up debates and stop Bills from going forward. That is precisely what will happen. Such a Committee would have a very little value, not nearly as much value as the sort of debates which we have in Committee of the House. Hon. Members have mentioned the Selective Employment Tax of last year. How right were the comments of hon. Members on both sides of the House about S.E.T. If the Government had paid more attention to those comments, how much better off the country would be today!

In the House is a vast wealth of knowledge and, what is more, through contact with constituencies and through memberships, constituency Members keep in close touch with the finances and well-being and work of the people in the country. This proposal will break that link and do great damage to Parliament and to our financial future.

5.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am the first hon. Member on this side of the House to express a little doubt about this proposal, but I have not been helped very much in that by what has been said by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), or the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). It was most unfortunate that on an issue of this kind there should have been such political invective rather than a concentration on the constitutional issues. I want to put one or two questions which I hope the Government will endeavour to answer.

Unlike the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, I have never been on the Front Bench, but I am as suupicious of Front Benchers as the right hon. Gentleman is. I have served on Committees on which there has been a preponderance of lawyers, and they have driven me mad. I cannot think of anything worse than a Committee of so-called defence experts. I think that they, too, would "drive me up the wall". I do not look forward with much pleasure to a Committee of 60 Members being regarded as financial or economic experts, or calculators, and I should be troubled about such a Committee.

The most significant point to have been made so far was made by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), when he spoke of the right of the back bencher to influence financial policy in every respect. If we are to do that, we must be sure that our machinery permits it and it is on that issue that I feel some doubt.

As a back bench Member, I have never brought myself to be interested in all the financial difficulties of taxation as such, but from time to time I have felt compelled to raise fundamental matters of special interest to my constituents.

May I give an example? The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will remember how I challenged him when he was at the Treasury about the Purchase Tax on chocolate biscuits and on many other questions. There was a time—I am going back a few years—when it seemed that hon. Members on both sides of the House believed that jewellery was a luxury and, therefore, that it should carry Purchase Tax of 100 per cent. We brought pressure year after year on the Government to try to convince them that jewellery was a necessity as it was part of our export trade, and, as such, should not be faced with the difficulties which industries have to face when they bear taxes like Purchase Tax.

I was not interested in all the complexities of finance, but year after year I raised in the House the question of Purchase Tax on jewellery. Fortunately, Lord Amory, as he now is, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at last conceded our right to have the matter reconsidered.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Most of us will remember how strongly and for how long he put forward his case. But under the new arrangements the possibility is that he will not be on the Committee and will not be able to make such representations.

Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am coming to that point.

I am not anxious to be involved in every intricate financial proposal. As a back bencher, I want the right to be able to raise somewhere matters on behalf of my constituents. In previous years I have referred to the bicycle industry. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know how we have struggled to examine thoroughly the motor car industry in Birmingham and Coventry during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

I am all in favour of the Committee system, but there is a difference between the normal Committee stage and what is proposed for the Finance Bill. Not only is it proposed that the Committee on the Finance Bill should be wider, but apparently it will meet not in the mornings but only in the afternoons. I must express my concern about a large Committee meeting in the afternoon when the House is sitting. It will be a case of the House of Commons proper and a miniature House of Commons meeting at the same time. I can see difficulties about that. I should like to be assured by my right hon. Friend that if we allow the Finance Bill to go to a Committee upstairs, with all the difficulties that there are, we shall be able adequately to put forward all the views which we think should be put forward concerning increases in taxation and the methods of taxation as they affect our constituents.

It is said, "There will be the Report stage". On Report, we do not generally raise matters which have been discussed in Committee. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) said, "How will we be able to get points across to the Committee?" It would be difficult for a member who was not serving on the Committee to get over to the Committee a particular matter which he wanted to be discussed. But, even if it is discussed, suppose that we want to raise the matter again when the Bill reaches the Floor of the House. If there is adequate time on Report, and if procedure is not so strict, perhaps we shall be able to raise on the Floor of the House quite a number of matters which have been raised in Committee. I should like to know whether that is so.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

The hon. Gentleman is making a very practical point in defending the rights of back benchers. The Report stage of the Finance Bill is quite different from the Report stages of ordinary Bills. In the case of ordinary Bills, one makes a point on Report and a promise is given that it will be dealt with in another place. But another place does not deal with finance matters. As a consequence, the effectiveness of the Report stage on the Finance Bill will be weakened.

Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood

I appreciate that point. As a back bencher, having no prospect, and never having had any prospect, of sitting on the Front Bench, I want to know whether I shall be able to raise these matters, and, if so, how.

The Finance Bill Committee will be different from other Committees because it will be meeting at the same time as the House. If the Finance Bill is sent to a Committee upstairs, I wish to be assured that hon. Members will have adequate opportunities to pursue their constituency interests. That is absolutely vital. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames thinks that what the Government are proposing is sinister. I do not believe that it is sinister. This proposition has been discussed for years; it has not just emerged. Many people have advocated it. But I do not believe that they have always understood what they may lose. I can appreciate that new Members think, "This is ridiculous. It is a lot of repetition". I have served on Committees when the repetition has been enough to drive members mad. If it is a question of repetition, it can be done upstairs as well as downstairs.

I am not opposed to an experiment. I am offering a few cautious observations about whether this is the right thing to do. I cannot see how two days on Report will compensate for the mass of observations which hon. Members may wish to make. If that is adequate, it may be worth considering.

Those are my fears. I can see all the attractions of putting the Finance Bill in Committee upstairs. I have come to the conclusion that all-night sittings are the worst feature of our Parliamentary system. I want an end to all-night sittings. If Parliament does not end them, I shall take steps to end them for myself. If every hon. Member were to take that view, there would not be all-night sittings. I shall give sympathetic consideration to any proposal which may limit our sittings, provided that our rights as back benchers covering every aspect of taxation are preserved and provided we have an adequate opportunity to state our views. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance on these points.

5.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

I absolutely agree with the most effective speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates), who speaks from an experience of these matters which is very much longer than mine. I hope to help concentrate the attention of the Leader of the House upon the practical effect of his proposal, which the hon. Member for Ladywood has already touched upon. I have tried to make two speeches on the principle involved, and I do not want to repeat them. I thank the Leader of the House for his courtesy in replying earlier on.

In my view the practical difficulties of trying to get a Finance Bill through a Committee of limited membership have been insufficiently considered by the Leader of the House. I asked the Library to do a little research on my behalf about the figures involved in the proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs. I tried to make a fair comparison as between Finance Bills which went through when the party opposite was in opposition and those that went through when we were in opposition.

I found that in the Committee on the Finance Bill in the autumn of 1955—after the famous "pots and pans" Budget—no less than 104 Socialist Members, 49 Conservative Members and one Liberal Member made speeches. On the controversial Finance Bill of 1965, which included Capital Gains Tax and Corporation Tax, 96 of my right hon. and hon. Friends made three speeches in Committee in the first three sittings alone, and that was before we reached the stage of discussing Capital Gains Tax and Corporation Tax.

What can we deduce from these figures? In my opinion, the Finance Bill covers such a wide sweep of ground and impinges upon so many interests which our constituents feel to be vital that we simply cannot constitute an upstairs Committee big enough or expert enough to provide anything like adequate opportunity for the proper representation of those interests.

Our constituents expect us to make speeches on many topics covered by the Finance Bill, even if we are not financial experts. I do not normally participate with any great authority in financial debates, but my constituents expect me to say something when, for example, a Bill impinges on the interests of the hotel industry, as so often happens.

Such is the diversity of problems raised by the Finance Bill, and such is the great variety of expertise needed, that one requires to constitute a Committee that cannot be constituted upstairs if the Bill is to be adequately discussed in all its aspects. That is my answer to the Leader of the House when he suggests that this worked quite well in the case of the Steel Bill and the Transport Bill. Those Bills each dealt with one subject. We can get together a team of hon. Members who know about a certain subject and can cope with the weight of work that such a Committee involves, but how are we to create, with a Committee of 50 Members, a situation in which perhaps 20 Members on my side of the Committee have the time, energy and ability to deal adequately with the flood of Amendments that are put down all the time on a variety of different subjects, without killing themselves with the strain? How are they adequately to represent the points of view of those who rely on this opportunity to have their points of view expressed?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Hirst Mr Geoffrey Hirst , Shipley

Not only is my right hon. Friend correct in his figures: over the years different Finance Bills have involved more than 100 different Members—but they are not the same Members, so the variation over the House is much greater.

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

In his concluding remarks the Leader of the House seemed to give the impression that many hon. Members valued the time that we spend in debates on the Finance Bill and would like to see that time preserved in its entirety, but, on the other hand, some hon. Members wanted to see time saved, and valued more the opportunity that might accrue for wider debates on different topics. It seemed to me that the Leader of the House came down on the side of the latter category.

What worries me about the position is that on the Governmnt benches we always find pressure for opportunity to debate wider subjects and a reluctance to spend time debating the Finance Bill. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies) was right when he said that the Finance Bill should be regarded as an opportunity for Opposition protests, and the Leader of the House was wrong.

The Leader of the House has perhaps failed future generations in the House of Commons by not safeguarding the interests of future Oppositions and minorities. The figures that I have given show the importance to the Opposition of adequate Committee time on the Finance Bill. It must be remembered that the present situation of the parties will not go on for ever. I was thankful to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) say that should the position be reversed we should not expect to be tied to the permanency of the present lamentable proposal.

5.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) will not be unduly embarrassed if I confess straight away that he stimulated me to make a few observations that I might otherwise have retained for another time.

After listening to the rather rip-roaring and passionately excitable speech of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who has now left his place, I thought that my hon. Friend went a long way, with his quiet approach to the question, towards restoring some grace and verisimilitude to this Chamber. I agree that my hon. Friend is not always like that, but this evening he expressed very fairly and temperately some of the doubts in the minds of more hon. Members than himself on this side of the House.

I have spent a number of years as a Member of this honourable House, and one thing that has always interested me in my work here has been the Finance Bill. Few years have gone by since I came here when I have not made a little contribution which may have interested some people, and by which I have discharged by honourable duty to my constituents to raise matters which have been in their interest.

I do not want to become excited, as some hon. Members opposite are likely to become, in discussing our constitutional procedures—as we are doing tonight and have done recently, in debating other procedural Motions. Our constituents and the people of the country do not care much about our proceedings so long as we discharge our obligations as Members of Parliament. Therefore, I speak a little with my tongue in my cheek, because our main purpose is to carry out loyally our duty to see that our constituents have sound financing of the nation's affairs, decent social services, and a reasonable defence policy at a rate which we can afford.

Tonight's proposition, if carried—as it will be, in view of the Government's majority—fundamentally alters our constitutional procedure, because the Finance Bill is the machinery for levying taxation and the first stage in the supply of money to the Crown. Many hon. Members, some no longer with us, argued this matter passionately during the 13 years which I spent in opposition. We made full use then of our opportunities on every Finance Bill. In one such debate, in 1954 or 1955—I have not prepared these details in the Library—we were having an all-night sitting, which, like most sensible hon. Members, I deplore, but in which I have taken part on occasion and which I have enjoyed—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] If the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) wants to start the business in which he was involved last night, the debate will go on much longer. I am trying not to waste time.

On that occasion, at about 4 o'clock in the morning, there was so much, perhaps factious, opposition that Mr. Deputy Speaker said that if hon. Members did not behave themselves he proposed to leave the Chair. Someone said, "I beg to move that Mr. Deputy Speaker do leave the Chair". Captain Harry Crookshank, who was then Leader of the House—and a very good one—did not wake up enough to see what the situation was. He did not challenge the Motion and it was carried and Mr. Deputy Speaker walked through the door behind the Chair with the Finance Bill in his hand. He took it out of the House and it had to start again at square one.

The Opposition of which I was a part in those years were alive to this duty, because we did not like the Government of the day or their Finance Bill and opposed it for all we were worth. I do not object to opposition in the House. This is the reality of politics. This is why we sit opposite each other instead of having tiered benches separated by great spaces as in some Continental legislatures.

I suggest that the Finance Bill, being the first stage of Supply to the Crown, is one stage at which any constituent with a grievance should be able to articulate it on the Floor of the House through the mouth of his Member, on the time-honoured principle that no grant is supplied to the Crown without redress of grievances. This used to be passionately argued by some of my hon. Friends who are no longer with us. It was also argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), who I see listening sphinxlike to what I am saying.

But I was thinking particularly of our old colleague for Stoke-on-Trent, South, Ellis Smith, who used to make this kind of speech much better than I am doing in his own vernacular. The House enjoyed it, because he was stating an integral part of the principles by which the House discharges its duties.

I do not want to get as passionate as the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, but I must add that, when people talk to me about increasing the speed of motor cars from 50 miles an hour to 60, 70, or 100 miles an hour, as a man of sensible philosophy, I am entitled to ask, "What do you do with all the time saved at 100 miles an hour when you could have got there safely at 50 miles an hour?" This may be thought very old hat by some of my more modern hon. Friends, who have come here to reform this place. I do not stand in the way of reform. There is much to be done and much new sweeping is needed, but I want to know that the reform will produce a better state than the one it replaced.

I am not convinced that, by saving a lot of time, we will necessarily release it to serve the nation which sent us here more efficiently. We may have a few spare days. I am not sure whether the estimate of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) that, after all this business, we will not save more than two days, is correct. We might save more than that by having the Committee stage upstairs, but, even if it is only two days, I do not want two days of waffle inflicted on me by a pressure group which wants the Leader of the House to give it Parliamentary time to bellyache about a dialectical or academic matter with no practical impact on the country's affairs.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone has returned, since I referred to him when he was absent, probably getting a bite to eat. When he gestured scornfuly in my direction, as if making a personal reference, and then talks of Lobby fodder, I would ask: who would ever accuse me of being Lobby fodder? This is not what I came here to be. I am, I hope, a loyal Member of my party, with a record which compares favourably with that of the Leader of the House. When a few of us with some experience of this place make it clear to him and to the House—not behind anyone's back, but within the full knowledge of the House [HON. MEMBERS: "In the Lobby?"] I will decide that for myself—[An HON. MEMBER: "Running away."] No, I am not running away. I am trying to make a reasonable speech and hon. Members opposite will, I hope, respect what I am saying. It is not easy to say and there are not many left here to say it.

I am saying this because I am not so naive as to suppose that a Government of the party to which I am attached as a declared Socialist, with nothing to hide, are any different from any other Government of Tories or any other party. Every Executive will try to get its business, regardless of the feelings of its own back benchers. This is natural: it is the duty of a Government to get their business, and if they have a Parliamentary majority they will use all the machinery to ride roughshod over Members who do not entirely agree with them. An unhappy example of that occurred yesterday, but that has no bearing on this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood said sincerely that we want to know that the constitutional position of back benchers will be sufficiently safeguarded so that we can express our constituents' feelings on important financial matters on the Floor of the House if need be. Second, if time is to be saved by truncating our procedure by means of a Standing Committee, however high powered, God forbid that it should be a Committee of high-powered economists—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or lawyers."] Yes, or lawyers. We want to be assured that, if this Committee saves time, that time will be properly used in the nation's interests and not to further the desires of small groups and cliques in the House. I have I hope said what I wished to say spontaneously and that it will be taken as an expression not only of my point of view, but of that of many who are not here tonight but who are deeply concerned about what is taking place.

6.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I have some sympathy with the Leader of the House. There has been a continual demand to save time on the Finance Bill, and I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) will confirm that he found it extremely difficult to divide the Bill, which was one proposal, and that we have therefore come back to the proposal to send all of it to a Standing Committee. But I am bound to join with the hon. Members for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) and Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) in saying that we cannot accept this proposal without clear safeguards.

I am entitled to say, to begin with, that, if the House really wants to save time, this is a powerful argument for some measure of devolution to Scotland, Wales and the regions within the three centres, which would be the simplest way of doing so.

In my experience, many detailed debates are much more effective than global debates. Many a time this House discusses foreign affairs in general in a great two-day debate. The House is practically empty for most of the time and a panoramic discussion takes place which could well go on in the columns of The Times. The business of the House is not only to discuss, but to discuss with a view to persuading or forcing the Government to take some action, and this is much more likely on a specific point than on a great global subject.

Thus, I do not entirely accept the view that the House should necessarily save time on what may appear comparatively small matters so as to make it available to very large debates. In some ways, foreign affairs might be sent upstairs just as well as the Finance Bill. Further, there is a tradition of protecting small parties in this place. We now have one party in the House of 12 Members and two of one each, and they must be represented on this Committee. If it is to meet while the House itself is sitting, this will create considerable difficulties for minorities.

I would agree with much of what has been said opposite so I need not say it again. It is true that, in the days that we discussed such things as Purchase Tax, it was exceptionally important for hon. Members whose constituencies were affected to be able to speak upon them. This point was very well made by both the hon. Members to whom I referred.

Two points might be put by the Leader of the House. One is that hon. Members who feel that some points concerning themselves and their constituencies must be raised will be able to put those points in private to Ministers or will be able to get other hon. Members to raise them on their behalf. But one of the most dangerous tendencies in modern government is for decisions to be taken out of the daylight and behind the scenes. I should not be content if I felt that representations were going on in private to the Government which could not be freely debate either in Committee or on the Floor of the House.

The fact that we can make representations to the Government does not meet the point. Nor do I think it satisfactory to say that hon. Members may raise points in Committee for other hon. Members. We are still sent here by constituencies and not by parties, and we have obligations, first, to our constituents. We are supposed to speak with our own mouths, to think with our own heads and to react with our own hearts, and we are not supposed to delegate all that to other hon. Members. That is a very important point which should be safeguarded.

I should like the Government to explain their proposals in far more detail. What is to happen on Report? How are we to deal with the point that there is no further consideration in another place or with the point that if a subject had been discussed in Committee, technically it is not discussable again on the Floor? Would it be acceptable to the Government for hon. Members to be added to the Committee for certain parts of the deliberations? The Liberal Party have a proposal on the Order Paper on this subject, but we cannot discuss it now.

Exactly how do the Government foresee their own behaviour during the Finance Bill? Will they regard the Report stage as affording another Committee stage which they approach with an open mind, being prepared to listen to all sorts of new suggestions? I hope so. But Report is a later stage in the process of the Bill, and it might make considerable difficulties for the Government. I have genuine sympathy with the Leader of the House, for it is very difficult to save time in the House without doing something about the Finance Bill. He could well argue that we pass Estimates on the nod and that many important matters are sent to Committee upstairs without protest, but the fact that these questionable things occur in our system is not necessarily a reason for adding to them.

If the right hon. Gentleman can assure the House that the Committee will be flexible, and if he can reassure us about the Report stage, his proposal ought to be considered. I do not know how far he is prepared to go about the composition of the Committee, which obviously is a vital matter. But certainly on the bare bones of it—that the whole matter should be left to Committee and that hon. Members should merely be entitled to a problematical right to talk on a Report stage of doubtful length—I do not think that the House should accept his proposal, and I should certainly vote against it.

619 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

As I am the first ordinary hon. Member to speak from this side of the House, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will allow me to say that perhaps the most valuable point thrown up by the debate was the speeches made by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) and Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price). Both spoke from the heart, and they spoke with a great deal of experience of the House.

I am not seeking to embarrass them by giving them Opposition support, but in what they said they had the respect of most hon. Members on this side of the House. The principle which they sought to enunciate was very important. It is always difficult to deduce from the faces of Ministers exactly what their reactions are, but I very much hope that the Leader of the House digested the import of what 'his two hon. Friends said.

I will be very brief. The points which I want to make arise directly out of the speech made by the Leader of the House this afternoon. He suggested that the view that money matters should be kept on the Floor of the House was becoming increasingly out of date, and he added that the Government's purpose in putting forward this proposal was to relieve hon. Members of the tedium of the Committee stage. I marked his words. I have never heard such a direct condemnation of a proposal as that from the Leader of the House. To say that one of the main duties of the House of Commons has become a matter of tedium for us is a reflection upon us and no one else.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

The hon. Member must have misunderstood or misheard me. I said that it was to relieve hon. Members of the tedium of a Committee stage on the Floor as contrasted with a small Committee upstairs. I was expressing a preference for a small Committee, rather than the Floor of the House, as a forum for dealing with detailed work.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that by the withdrawal of the Finance Bill Committee stage from the Floor many hon. Members would be spared the tedium of having to take part in the debate or having to be present in the House while the debate was going on.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I said that from my experience—and it is no wider than the hon. Member's—a Committee stage should be in Committee. If it is in Committee, it is often efficient and it often does better work, and it is not tedious. If it is on the Floor of the House and through the night, it tends to be tedious.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

That is the right hon. Gentleman's view. I have given my view, and I will not dwell on the matter.

I pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman in that I have never heard him more beguiling or more courteous than he was this afternoon. It took the perspicacity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West to make clear the argument on which we should refuse this forbidden fruit which the Leader of the House is offering.

Basically, the argument is this: what is the purpose behind the proposal? The Leader of the House tells us—and I would not dream of challenging his sincerity—that it is to strengthen the critical power of Parliament. I believe that the effect of the proposal will be to enhance the convenience of the Executive—an aim which I have never held very high or, indeed, cherished at all. I was here fairly late last night, although I shall not go into that argument.

The need in the House, whether we like it or not, is for more concern about finance, not less. It is wholly wrong that we should get rid of what the Government apparently regard as a formal and tiresome exercise which takes place annually. In fact, it is the most important exercise in Parliament every year. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West—a point echoed eloquently by the hon. Member for Westhoughton—that Parliament will gain nothing by pronouncing endlessly on matters which are right outside its control. To do that is fatuous. The plight of our country today demands, above all, a greater attention to the fundamental job of harbouring the nation's resources, rather than joining in this rather weak-minded, if not squalid, attempt at squander.

What the Government are doing will not make Parliament efficient. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) is right when he says that the aim should be to make Parliament effective. What the Government are doing is to enable a Parliament which the public increasingly comes to regard as complacent to dodge its duty in this matter.

6.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I want to support the proposal which my right hon. Friend is putting forward to send the Finance Bill to Committee upstairs. Some of the backwoods speeches from hon. Members opposite are an indication—

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

There have been a few backwoods speeches from this side of the House, too.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that point. I hope later to answer one or two of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price).

I agree that we want to make Parliament effective. Of course we do. But I recall the experience of the Finance Bill when I first came into the House in the 1964 Parliament. In the 1964–65 debates we had all-night sittings which were a protracted political fight—very genuinely—in the sense of the Opposition trying to delay the Finance Bill, and in my opinion they brought the House into disrepute with the public outside. At the end of the day the Government will get their business, because it is votes that count here at the end of the day, not speeches.

The House knows the position that arises when some hon. Members come into the Chamber late at night. Some of my hon. Friends are very adept at this. They have not listened to the debate, but they make speeches, and then they go home and leave it to others to carry the business forward. Upstairs, in a Committee of 50 or 60 hon. Members, it will not be as easy to do that, whichever side of the House is affected, because the hon. Members concerned will be accountable to other hon. Members in that Committee.

Many of my hon. Friends, with much more experience of Parliament than I have, will agree with me when I say that we must make Parliament effective and able to focus attention on issues, large and small, which are important to our constituents, to the country and to the world. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton referred to debates on subjects which do not matter to the country, or are not important, is he talking, for instance, about such debates as that which we had yesterday on the economic situation, when we saw Parliament at its best? Would he not call that important?

Would my hon. Friend not call it important to discuss world poverty, the United Nations, or the war in Vietnam? Are not these subjects which affect us all? I believe that if we saved time by sending the Finance Bill upstairs, the House would be able to use that time more effectively, within hours which are acceptable to hon. Members, and it will not be abused to the extent that is on the Finance Bill.

I accept that the debates on the Selective Employment Tax—I did not take part in them, although many of my hon. Friends did—were an invaluable Parliamentary exercise. I accept that Corporation Tax and other taxes which are vitally important to vested interests, on one side or the other, are of major importance. But I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that if we have the Finance Bill upstairs, and if there is no attempt to preclude matters being raised which have already been debated in Committee, it will not stop those matters from being fully debated in the House in a concentrated matter.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

Would the hon. Member be quite happy if the views of the Managing Director of the I.M.F., as represented in the Finance Bill, were discussable only in Committee and not on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

This will obviously be discussed upstairs, if the Bill is sent upstairs, but there will be opportunities to discuss it on the Floor of the House, after the Committee stage. It will be open to any hon. Member to raise any issue in the House. Having watched with interest the progress of three or four Finance Bills since coming to this place, I have found that most of the business on them is conducted rather like a charade. There are some major debates, but frequently the discussion becomes a time-wasting process. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton that it is the right of every hon. Member to discuss matters in Parliament, but can he object if such opportunities are provided in a representative Committee upstairs. As he said, at the end of the day the Government get their business.

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

My hon. Friend is asking rhetorical questions. He says that an hon. Member with a genuine point to raise can raise it on Report. That is not necessarily so. I need only remind him of the mechanical processes involved in tabling Amendments on Report. They must run the gauntlet of selection by the Chair. If an item which my hon. Friend wished to discuss was rejected by the Chair, that would be the end of the matter and if he attempted to raise it he would be out of order.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

If it was a matter of some importance—not necessarily of major importance—it would almost certainly be discussed, and if it was the concern of a number of hon. Members they would see to it that it was raised.

I accept that any reform of our procedure is not an easy thing to achieve. Some experiments were conducted in the last year and, of these, some have proved successful while others have not. The Leader of the House proposes to conduct an experiment. It will be put to the test and it will be open to Parliament to accept or reject it.

A vitally important matter is the method of selection for the Committee, and this has a bearing on making the experiment acceptable to the House. The Whips move in mysterious ways. If I wanted to be a member of the Committee, I would probably not be selected—and if I were it would, for me, be a punishment. I have felt about many Committees that there should be more freedom for hon. Members, both Government and Opposition, to express their views. It is wrong for the Government to "load" Committees for the sake of getting a Bill through, but it is equally wrong for the Opposition to place hon. Members on Committees with the idea of destroying for the sake of destruction. There must be fair representation and much of the success of this experiment will be judged by my hon. Friends on the way this point is handled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton said, some hon. Members have special interests to raise. They must have opportunities to do so.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, of most of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who spoke in the debate yesterday, probably only one would be on this new Committee?

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I am not dealing with specific groups, although I agree that other ways of selection for the Committee might be considered. I know that I am speaking to deaf ears on both Front Benches because consensus lurks in this regard. I am speaking as a backbencher, but I hope that I have some support because the need for fair representation is a constitutional matter. I believe that the Leader of the House is aware of the pitfalls that exist and the fact that, if this problem is not tackled thoroughly and adequately, the effectiveness of his proposal might be destroyed.

If my right hon. Friend's series of Amendments to the practices of the House are to be successful, he must secure the success of this proposal because it will act as a turn-key in the whole process of trying to reform our procedure. If he does not prove successful in this respect, he will be dealing with only the periphery of the problem and will not be getting to the heart of the matter. In consequence, we should support this change and allow it to go forward as an experiment.

6.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I hope that it might be helpful if, at this stage, I dealt with some of the points raised so far. Frankly, I do not intend to spend very long on the suggestion that this is what the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) called an outrage or a sinister plot.

A different proposal was made by the Select Committee. That was a compromise proposal and it was agreed to—because it was a compromise—by members of the Committee who would have preferred something on these lines. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was himself one of the people who caused that compromise to be rejected. He was quite within his rights in doing that, but he is not within his rights in saying, in effect, "I do not like what the Select Committee proposed and think that it would be wicked for the Government to propose anything else."

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Is not this proposal the one which the Government have always wanted in their hearts to bring forward? Are not they simply taking this opportunity to bring it forward and so get what they really want?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

It seems odd for the right hon. Gentleman to complain because the Government are bringing forward a proposal which they consider to be right—a proposal from which they would have been prepared to stand aside if the compromise proposal had been agreed. The compromise having been rejected—and by the right hon. Gentleman himself—I do not see why the Government should not bring forward a proposal which they believe to be sound. In any case, I do not think we need waste any time on the pretence that there is something disreputable about this. I learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) at least indulged in a flirtation with this idea at one stage; and nobody would suggest that he would have flirted with anything disreputable or sinister.

We can now turn to the realities of the argument, and they are serious and powerful, and persuasive speeches have been made on both sides of the argument. A great part of the case against making the change rests on the statement that the Finance Bill is a unique Measure which has an effect on people's economic lives and liberties as no other Bill does. I ask the House to consider some of the things that we have got used to doing in recent years. It is true that the rate of Income Tax is determined in the Finance Bill, but the rate of National Insurance contributions—a matter which affects all citizens, including those too poor to pay Income Tax—we alter by Order in the House.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , South Angus

On the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

We do it by Order and not even by Statute. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that if we proposed to get through the Finance Bill by something like a Statutory Order, that would be all right—as long as we did it on the Floor of the House? My point is that the Finance Bill, although of very great importance, has now to be considered side by side with many other things we do which equally affect the economic lives and the liberties of citizens.

For example, our decisions on the social services affect not only the contributions people pay but whether or not they may live in poverty or be subjected to hardship or degradation. We take decisions about particular industries. Whatever Government are in power, it is now necessary for us to consider a whole range of Government policies towards, say, transport or docks, and these things can affect in a direct, individual manner the workers in those industries, and in an important economic manner the economic lives of the citizens as a whole. Government actions can determine what economic activities are likely to prosper in particular regions. This is a matter of as much constituency interest to M.Ps as, I would say, anything that is done in the Finance Bill.

I repeat, therefore, that we have got into the habit—perhaps without realising it, but inevitably, because of the society in which we live—of doing a great many things as vital to people's economic lives and to their liberty as are the provisions of the Finance Bill—

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

The right hon. Gentleman is merely illustrating the point that has been made. Each of the cases he has given is rather closely confined so that one can form a committee of experts to deal with it, but the range and scope of the Finance Bill is so enormous that it is difficult, in many instances, to get a sufficiency of experts to deal with the broad range and subjects it touches.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I made the point that these things are not at all confined—their effect is felt all over the country. One of the points made about some of the Clauses of the Finance Bill was that their effects were specially confined to constituency concerns, and that that was why the individual Member ought to be there, but I say that exactly the same is true of many other economic matters we debate; that they can have both a general and a particular effect. Whatever view one may take on a prices and incomes policy, no one can deny that it is a matter as much related to people's economic wellbeing and to their liberty as anything we do in the Finance Bill.

It is a rather remarkable fact that during these recent years when we have begun to do very many things other than the Finance Bill which affect people's standards of life, and even their liberty—while that range of things has been multiplying, the proportion of time we devote on the Floor of the House to the Finance Bill has been increasing. We therefore have to ask: have we got the proportions right? I believe that there is a clamant need for rather more time for the whole House to discuss the whole range of topics to which I have been referring, because they have this enormous economic effect. They affect people's liberties, and I do not think that we have yet found a way of having full enough discussion of them in the House. With all the range of matters affecting people's economic life and liberty, in the Finance Bill and out, there must be, therefore, some discussion on the Floor of the House and some in Committee.

Have we got the proportions right when, while the number of non-Finance Bill things has been growing the proportion of time on the Floor of the whole House taken up by the Finance Bill has been increasing during that period?

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , South Angus

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that if this Government—a id all things seem possible—have to introduce a new Bill freezing prices and incomes they will find time for discussion on the Floor of the House and not in Committee?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

The hon. Gentleman is not following what I say. When talking to many hon. Members opposite one never knows what they think of a prices and incomes policy, but as some of them believe that they have a prices and incomes policy it is reasonable, whatever one's view, that the House should have proper time to discuss it. I instanced that as one of the things outside the Finance Bill that we must take into account. The hon. Member is trying to make a rather fiddling point which indicates that he has not been following the argument.

That would be my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), who was worried about the use we should make of the time we saved. There are a great many things of vital concern to people in the economic and liberty realms for which it would be very desirable to find, if we can, more time for discussion on the Floor of the House.

There is, then, a legitimate case for asking: is it right, in the present state of history, to devote quite the time to the Finance Bill Committee stage on the Floor of the House that we do at present? Hon. Members have asked whether, if we tamper with the amount of time used on the Floor of the House to deal with the Finance Bill, it will mean that there is not adequate surveillance of that Bill. Let hon. Members notice what there will be in any case. We want surveillance partly to consider the impact of the Finance Bill on the country's major economic problems, and partly to deal with the complexities of the effects on particular industries, regions, or even towns.

For the first, we have four days of Budget debate. We have the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. We have four days for the Report stage. I would also ask the House to remember in this connection my right hon. Friend's proposal about recommittal, which partly answers some of the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton. Then we have the debate on the Third Reading. All that time is still available for the close study of the general impact of the Finance Bill on the country's economy.

For the detailed discussion, our case is that we can certainly get at least as good surveillance in a Standing Committee as in the House itself. It seemed to me that hon. Members who disagreed with that view were seriously underestimating the quality of the work that can be done, and is done, in Standing Committee. I have done a very great deal of Committee work during my time in Parliament. My recollection is that the pressure on a Minister is, to say the very least—

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

Since my right hon. Friend's remark is obviously made in my direction, I must say that I have as much experience of Standing Committees as has any Member of the House of my own vintage. I have served year after year on Standing Committees, and I rather object to this slighting implication that people like me do not know what we are talking about. I know very well what I am talking about.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

My hon. Friend must really acquit me of that. Neither in words nor intention was there the smallest wish to say that my hon. Friend was not experienced in this way. We know perfectly well that he is. But nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has referred to his experience of Committees and I did not see why I should not allow myself the same indulgence, particularly when I think of the long hours spent on the infamous Rent Bill in 1956–1957, the London Government Bill, and heaven knows how many other Measures.

My recollection is that criticism of the Minister can, to say the least, be as intense and well directed in Committee as in the House, and it is certainly true that if hon. Members are not lobby fodder in the House, still less are they lobby fodder in the Committee. We had the instance of the Leasehold Bill, when the only hon. Member opposite who voted with the Government was the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), which indicates a considerable spirit of liberty—

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I am not closing the debate and I do not want to take up too much time, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth , Hendon South

The right hon. Gentleman has been referring entirely to Committees which meet in the morning, but he is now speaking of a Committee which will sit on three days a week in the afternoon. This by definition would exclude all who are already members of Select Committees and other Committees from taking part in debate on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I am coming to that. I do not think this derogates from the quality of discussion in Committee. We must reject phrases like "shoved away in Committee" or, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, "behind the scenes". The Committees will become in public esteem and reporting in the Press what this House chooses to make of them. We know very well that some of them occupy a very considerable place in public notice.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

When I said "behind the scenes" I was not referring to the Committee. I said that it might be argued that hon. Members who were not on the Committee could make representations behind the scenes and I did not think that was an alternative to making representations in Committee.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I think he will agree that there has been a suggestion made in several speeches that if a Bill is sent to Committee upstairs somehow it is being hidden. This is not so, and ought not to be so.

There are often references made to history and the traditions of this House. I feel deeply about this, but I have always felt that it is not loyalty to history to say that one wants things to go on as they have been because that is the old way of doing them. Someone who says that has no feeling for history. To have a feeling for history means to study how people in the past did things, how ways of doing them have changed, and how far they represent permanent needs of a deliberative assembly.

I have made this reference to history because I think the history of this House shows that the steady growth from centuries back of the power of committees has gone on side by side with influencing the power of Parliament itself. Parliament moved from being a subordinate to a leading body during the reign of the first Elizabeth. It was no accident that during that time it began to use the Committee system increasingly—[An HON. MEMBER: "A Committee of the whole House."]—not exclusively a Committee of the whole House—because it found that in that way—[Interruption.] I said that I have some respect and feeling for the history and traditions of this House. I know that the hon. Member who interrupted does not share it, but a good many of us do. I believe that the lesson of history is that the application of groups of Members to particular problems strengthens the capacity of the House to understand and therefore to act on a problem. That, it seems, is a principle that is of application today.

We are left with one other point I want to refer to which I believe to be the point of greatest substance. It was made in the debate very powerfully by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and taken up most eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates). That is a real problem and it would be quite wrong to suggest that there is not a problem here. It is the problem of the individual back bencher who has an individual point to make. I believe, and I hope I carry the House with me thus far, that there is an important procedural case for moving the Committee stage of the Finance Bill upstairs, that the nature of the age we live in makes this an appropriate step but, like all changes, it creates its own problems and difficulties.

On the next Motion to be debated—and I must say no more so as not to get out of order—this question comes up particularly in view of an Amendment on the Order Paper. The Government have listened most carefully to this debate and will listen to the forthcoming debate and we will listen very carefully to that particular point. I think we shall have to see—I cannot give any undertaking as to what proposal the Government must finally put to the House—if there is any way of reconciling the point that has been made about the need for back benchers to express themselves individually, and reconciling that with the great advantages that I believe there are for the House as a whole in the change we propose to make.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a back bencher expressing his view. What I was talking about, and what I think the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) was also talking about, was moving an Amendment or a Motion. If an hon Member is dealing with a problem of a widow or a blind person, it is no good merely expressing a point of view. He has to be on the Committee to move a Motion or an Amendment. That would be excluded by what we cannot discuss at present.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I think I am precluded from answering that point about what can be discussed, but we shall deal with it later. I have in mind all that range of back-bench activity which the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend had in mind. Although we cannot discuss that now, it is something which I hope we may shortly get on to.

6.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Many admirable speeches have been made in this debate and this is a very important issue. I oppose the Motion on grounds of principle and practice. I am not against change in any form. I have said repeatedly that I think it might be possible to send a section of a Finance Bill dealing with very technical tax measures to a Standing Committee, but what I object to is sending the whole Bill there.

I put to the Leader of the House the importance of a consensus in procedural matters. We have heard a lot about consensus between the two Front Benches. I am not talking about that; I am talking of a consensus of all hon. Members wherever they sit in the House. This is a fundamental change. It has become apparent in this debate not only that the Opposition is bitterly opposed to the proposal, but many Government supporters also have doubts about it. It would be folly for the Government to insist on this change because I do not believe that in that atmosphere it would succeed.

Dealing with the question of breach of faith over the Select Committee's Report, I knew that in that Committee there was deep feeling on the part of many Members against this proposal, so I worked very hard for a compromise, and a compromise proposal came from the Select Committee. In argument and evidence it was described exactly how it would work. There would be what was described as a general agreement, an informal agrement, between the Chancellor and the spokesman on financial matters from the Opposition. For a rough timetable one might say that there would be seven-and-a-half days needed and the other that there should be eight-and-a-half days, so that it would end with eight days being occupied. I realised that it would not be enough for the Government to have to rely on that, so I suggested that there should be the safeguard for the Government that if the agreement was not working out there could be a reserve power.

That compromise became a Sessional Order of the House and the Finance Bill last Session was discussed on the basis of an agreement between the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). He has given the timings showing what happened and when the last Divisions took place. On the first day it was 10.12 p.m., on the next 11.59 p.m., on the next 11.45 p.m., the next 10.51 p.m., the next 9.53 p.m., the next 11.40 p.m., the next 9.38 p.m. and the last 7.45 p.m. There were not any all-night sittings there. That arrangement worked perfectly well. I therefore think it quite monstrous for the Leader of the House to put this proposal before us.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not quoting a characteristic Finance Bill. Would he not admit that the Budget this year was wholly uncharacteristic, whatever view we take of it in the nature of making substantial proposals or changes in the tax system?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

This was the only Finance Bill which operated under the Sessional Order. We find that, with few exceptions, this system worked perfectly well in the past. I think that on only the two occasions of 1952 and 1965 would the sitings on the Finance Bill not fall within this framework. I will deal in a minute with next year's Finance Bill.

The next matter is the evidence of support for this proposal. Lord Butler has been quoted. I submit that paragraph 5 of his memorandum completely destroys the notion that he supported this Standing Order, because he put his finger on one of the difficulties. He said that he did not think a single Standing Committee would be able to deal with the Finance Bill, that it would need two or three to deal with it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West was quoted in some book which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I think, had written, as having come out in support of this proposal. My right hon. Friend made it clear that he was attracted by the idea, that he thought it ought to be considered, but he decided firmly against it, and the Select Committee of which he was Chairman took the same decision, if not unanimously, almost unanimously. What was not quoted was the testimony which my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) quoted, of how Mr. Gaitskell rejected this proposal when he gave evidence before a Select Committee.

There are certain important questions which have not been answered at all. First, is it the Government's intention to guillotine the Committee stage upstairs? If hon. Members knew the answer to that, it might change their attitude to the proposal. Are there going to be morning sittings of the Standing Committee? If not, why not? We have heard rather more than a rumour that it would be inconvenient to the Treasury if the Committee were to sit in the mornings to deal with the Finance Bill and that, therefore, the sittings will have to be in the afternoons. What about that? Does that mean that anybody who is a member of a Select Committee—there are some very important Select Committees, of two of which I am a member—is debarred from serving on the Standing Committee, or vice versa? Is the Chancellor going to pop in and out, or will he be a member of the Committee? I shall come to the question of numbers and procedure later.

What about the Recommittal stage? Is there a firm undertaking that there shall be a Recommittal stage? Is it also agreed that after an interval there shall be a Report stage?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I stated this point as precisely as possible. I said that we were prepared to discuss the practical details of working out a Recommittal stage.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

This is a point of principle, because on the Report stage there is no debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". Therefore, if an Amendment has not been selected, there is no opportunity for an hon. Member to raise a point which otherwise he would have been able to raise.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is now referring to a point that I raised. There is no guarantee that an Amendment will be selected in a debate on the Floor of the House, either.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

When the Committee stage is taken on the Floor of the House there is always a debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of a Bill", when it is possible to raise any matter affecting the Clause.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

Would not the guarantee that my right hon. Friend has given leave this open to discussion?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. He said that he is prepared to have a Recommittal stage and that he is prepared, after a period of time, to have a Report stage. I am glad that we have got that clear.

Then there arises the question: will this proposal save time? One can imagine what will happen during the Committee stage. The matter will be bitterly contested; there is no doubt about that. It is not some technical Bill which will be quietly scrutinised. This will be a bitter struggle within the Committee, very like the struggle on the Iron and Steel Bill but more general.

Then we come to the Recommittal stage, and I am prepared to bet that there will be two all-night sittings then, and I am equally prepared to bet that there will be another two all-night sittings on the Report stage. All the Government will have done will be to land themselves with an acrimonious stage upstairs and four all-night sittings. That is how it is likely to turn out.

Then I come to the point about the disruption of the business of the House. Taking all these Members away when the House is sitting, meeting in considerable discomfort, the battle going on upstairs with all-night sittings will have a very bad effect on the general morale and hard work of the House itself. On practical grounds, it is a very bad proposal indeed.

A matter of principle is also involved. I believe that the Finance Bill is different from other Bills. I could not have bettered in my description of it the speeches of the hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) and Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price). I think the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies), who ha, not been in the House so long, was very cynical about the procedure of the House, the Committee stage and the proceedings on the Floor of the House. I do not think there is any comparison between the Finance Bill and other Bills. But even if there is, I do not think it is a reason for sending the Finance Bill upstairs. I am not convinced by that argument at all. It is not only a reenactment of existing taxes. It is the enactment of new taxes. It involves structural changes and is an occasion for raising grievances. It is a field where the House can by its collective mood, exercise influence openly and be seen to do so.

I now come to the question of the next Finance Bill, the post-devaluation tax system. I am surprised at the hon. Member for Salford, West, one of the "stubborn seventeen" or, if we include the Tellers, the "naughty nineteen". They will be souped by this proposal. Minorities will go to the wall. There will be no room for minorities on the Standing Committee. I think it is a very bad thing indeed, whether I agree with the hon. Member for Salford, West or not.

What happens in a Standing Committee is nothing like so effective as what happens on the Floor of the House. We had a clear example of the effect on S.E.T., applying to charities, which was a direct result of constant pressure on the Floor of the House. This matter affects the powers of minorities; it affects the power of the Opposition; and in the power of minorities—including the largest minority of all, the Opposition—lies much of the strength of Parliament. This is a blow to Parliament born partly of theoretical study, born partly of Ministerial convenience, which those who have made this proposal will bitterly regret. We shall not he bound by the decision and we shall vote against this proposal tonight.

7.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Cities of London and Westminster

I have a single point to make, but it is rather different from others which have been raised. It will take me less than three minutes; but first, I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price). I do not, as a Tory, congratulate him. I would do nothing so vulgar or patronising. I offer him my homage as a human being and, I hope, as an individualist, as he is. I was very moved by his speech. Well, now, will he be on this Standing Committee upstairs? I doubt it. What he said is exactly what we shall lose.

This proposal, whatever may be said or intended, will sweep the Budget under the carpet and, as such, it is most dangerous and irresponsible.

It is surely essential for us here—all of us—occasionally to be brought face to face in detail with the extreme complication and severity of the measures necessary to pay for the decisions which we have taken all the rest of the year. Already far too many of us here view money as an abstraction—think that we should simply decide what we want, and leave the details of paying for it to others; like children going out shopping and putting things down on their parents' accounts.

The Leader of the House talked about the tedium of the Committee stage. Those were his words. I wrote them down, and I hope that we shall see them in HANSARD tomorrow. It is just those who find the Committee stage tedious who should be made to endure it, those who prefer to discuss ways of spending money rather than ways of raising it. I have no sympathy with those who think that spending is a full-time job.

Surely, it is good that the public should see us treating the Finance Bill seriously. To take away people's money is a serious matter, and the more we take away the more serious it is. We shall insult and mislead the public if we poke the Finance Bill into a corner and—this will be tried sooner or later—try to distract public attention from it by putting on gayer subjects on the Floor of the House. This proposal to sweep the Budget under the carpet is dangerous and irresponsible, and indeed decadent. Of course I oppose it.

7.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

I shall not debate the merits or demerits of the Government's proposal. I wish to raise the question of the machinery of the proposed Committee, particularly as it affects the chairmanship. I have matters to put to the Leader of the House for his consideration.

The question of the chairmanship is important because the chairman of a Standing Committee is a not unimportant part of the Committee, and, very often, the success of a Committee depends upon his ability, his resilience and so forth, during what may well be its long sittings. How is it proposed to appoint a chairman of the proposed new Committee if it is to be taken upstairs? There are at least three ways of doing it.

The chairmanship of such a Committee could be left almost entirely to the Chairman of Ways and Means and his Deputy. However, as this Committee will start in the afternoon, and, no doubt, on some occasions go on into the early hours of the morning or even all night, and as, moreover, the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy Chairman will be required to be on duty at certain times in the House itself, there could be a very considerable strain upon the two right hon. and hon. Gentlemen concerned. That, therefore, seems not to be a good way to organise the chairmanship of such a Committee.

The second way is to do it as we do on most Standing Committees, to appoint one chairman for the whole Committee. The House will recall that this was done, for instance, on the Iron and Steel Bill and the Prices and Incomes Bill, and in those two instances it is well known that a considerable strain was put upon the chair- man in carrying out his duties efficiently and effectively. Again, one can see difficulties in that procedure under the suggested new system.

The third method, which I commend to the Leader of the House, is to do exactly as we do when the Finance Bill is taken in Committee on the Floor, that is, to leave it to the Chairman of Ways and Means, his Deputy and a rota taken from your Panel of Chairmen, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that this is the best way. I tell the right hon. Gentleman publicly rather than privately that it represents the consensus of opinion, if I may suggest it respectfully, of the Panel of Chairmen, and as such I commend it to him for his consideration.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If I may say so with respect, it is the consensus of opinion of the Patronage Secretary and myself, too.

7.16 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I found neither speech of the Leader of the House nor that of the First Secretary of State convincing in persuading the House that the Finance Bill should be moved upstairs. I see that the First Secretary nods his head, no doubt because he is not surprised to hear by view. What the right hon. Gentleman said in giving examples of Bills which have been taken to a Standing Committee did not disclose a situation which we should applaud but, rather, it implied that for far too long there had been an erosion of the rights of individual Members to be present during the Committee stages of Bills. There has, in effect, been a muzzling of a great many hon. Members who might otherwise have had contributions to make on important matters.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

The hon. Gentleman says that he was not convinced, and it is painfully clear, also, that he could not have been listening to what I said. I was not talking about Bills which ought to have been sent upstairs but of subjects which ought to be discussed more fully in the House than they are at present. This is why it is reasonable to make a proposal which will give us a bit more time for that kind of subject in the House.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

If the right hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will hear me come to the point which he has now raised. The Government seem to have the impression that the Finance Bill clutters up the business of the House and that if they could get it out of the Chamber they could introduce all sorts of subjects which might be convenient. There is an important consideration to be borne in mind here. I absolve the Government of any sinister motive in the matter, but the statement made by both the First Secretary of State and the Leader of the House that if the Finance Bill goes to a Standing Committee the newspapers will take an interest in what is going on, its proceedings will be reported and will probably get as much Press coverage as before, cannot be left there. It is quite likely to prove otherwise.

If a difficult passage was likely in the Standing Committee, the Government could introduce a debate on the Floor, about which there might even be a division within the Government, and this might well attract all attention away from what was going on in the Committee. This would be in the interests of neither the House nor the country.

Whatever the Government may say, only 50 or 60 Members will now be dealing with a highly complex and complicated Bill, a Bill unlike any other coming before the House in scope and effect. 'Whatever may be said about other Bills, about the Iron and Steel Bill or the Transport Bill, there is no doubt that it is far simpler to appoint a neat Committee of Members specialising in a particular subject than it is on the Finance Bill, which ranges over so many fundamental subjects and influences the lives of so many people.

There may be no sinister intention at the outset, but a sinister intention might come in here at a later stage. Plainly, it will be extremely convenient for the Government if the next Finance Bill goes upstairs. The Chancellor has already warned us that the Budget will be tough and difficult. The Government received a lot of criticism only this week, when 19 hon. Members, including the Tellers, went into the Lobby to vote against them. Those hon. Members disagreed strongly with the Government's policies, and they have made perfectly clear that, if the next. Budget is a really tough one, they will have some very harsh things to say against the Government.

Does any hon. Member really think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) or the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) will be put on the Committee to consider the Finance Bill upstairs and to criticise the Government and possibly vote against them? Certainly not. It is much more probable that a very convenient subject will be brought up for debate in the House, which would confine them to the benches here, and they will have no opportunity to express their sincere dislike of the Finance Bill and move Amendments to it upstairs.

If the Government are honest about this, they will admit that certain of the hon. Members who voted against the Government yesterday would be the last people in the world to be on the Finance Bill Committee. But if the Committee stage is held on the Floor of the House those right hon. and hon. Members opposite who oppose the Government, and who, I believe, include some ex-Ministers, will have every opportunity to express their point of view.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

Would my hon. Friend consider that possibly the only hope that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and others might have of getting on the Committee would be to inform the Patronage Secretary that if they were not on it they might seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. There are still hon. Members who have been waiting all day to enter the debate. Let us keep to the subject.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

We are told that the Committee stage upstairs will be prolonged and arduous, lasting for 72 hours—nine days of eight hours a day—and will range over a wide area. Do the Government hope that by selecting hon. Members to serve in a Standing Committee upstairs they will get through it much more quickly? Right hon. and hon. Members from this side of the House will ensure that the Finance Bill upstairs is given as much scrutiny as was the Iron and Steel Bill, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will not be rushed through, if that is the intention.

The strain on the members of the Standing Committee will be very considerable. There will probably be all-night sittings. When the Committee stage of the Finance Bill is on the Floor of the House there is no such strain on hon. Members, because we have Division bells and time to get to Divisions. Hon. Members can come into the House to debate subjects of interest to them, and when the subject being debated does not interest them they can go elsewhere to relax. They can even "pair", but matters will not be so easy for the members of the Committee upstairs. Therefore, although the proposal is aimed at creating more convenience for the House generally, it will impose far greater hardship on those hon. Members serving on the Standing Committee.

There is no obvious reason why the total time taken on the Finance Bill should be in any way diminished. If I am correct in my assumption about some hon. Members opposite who might strongly disagree with some of the Government's proposals, the Government might well find that there are prolonged sittings on the Report stage. There could be several all-night sittings so that we should have not a greater easing of hon. Members' time but a much greater hardship imposed on them if the Bill went upstairs.

7.25 p.m.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I am very grateful to have caught your eye in this very important debate, Mr. Speaker.

I think that the Leader of the House is accident-prone. All his schemes for the modernisation of our procedure, designed to reduce the number of hours we work, seem inevitably to end in us all working longer hours than before. Last night, under the new Standing Order No. 9, I understand that the House—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman has waited a long time to speak, but he must talk about the Motion.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I should like to ask some questions about it. I understand that the Leader of the House has mentioned 50 as the membership of the Standing Committee. That is the figure in people's minds. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), who is an experienced member of the Chairmen's Panel, suggested—and I saw the right hon. Gentleman nod his head—that the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Deputy Chairman and the members of the Chairmen's Panel would take the Chair. But, unless we produce special new rules that do not apply elsewhere for the Committee, they will all have to be included in the 50 members. Otherwise, the whole of the Chairman's Panel and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, totalling more than a dozen, would have to be taken out of the 50 members of the Committee. The Opposition, making up perhaps a third of the remainder, would have only about 12 or 14 members in a Committee dealing with one of the most important problems, if not the most important problem, with which the House deals in a year. That is the first practical point that must be ironed out if the proposal comes into effect.

Secondly, I understand why the Committee may have to meet in the afternoon. But if it does, no Member serving on it will be able to enter the Chamber for three or four weeks during the time it is sitting. There is no reason why the rules should not be altered, as it will be a special Committee, but at present only one minute is allowed for a Division, and no Member could get from Committee Room 14 to the Chamber to hear a statement, do important business, or listen to a major debate, in case a Division was called upstairs.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

To relieve the hon. Gentleman's mind, I should like to say straight away that we are aware of the question of the time for Divisions, and it will certainly have to be dealt with.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, it is a pity that some of the practical problems were not stated in his speech or that of the First Secretary of State. If these problems are already seized of by the right hon. Gentleman, and if the Government have a solution, the House should know that solution before it votes on the matter.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also tell me what he proposes to do about the chairmanship of the Committee, because that is a very vital problem that must be solved. I am not sure that the House should take a decision tonight on a Committee which will apparently have about 12 chairmen out of its 50 members. When the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) enters the Division Lobbies tonight that is what he will be voting for, because right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench nodded their heads and said, "Yes, that is a good idea. That is how the Chair should be manned in the Committee".

When the hon. Member goes into the Lobby, he might as well realise that he is voting not for a Committee of 50 but for a Committee of about 36. Let him bear in mind that he will probably spend more o his time in the House on the Opposition than on the Government benches. If he gets on to the Committee, he will be one of the lonely 12. What chance has the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) of getting on to the Committee as one of the lonely 12? He would not even make it if he was able to say to the Patronage Secretary, "We have 17 supporters in the House", because he would be told that nobody qualified for the Committee who did not have 50 supporters in the House, because that is the size of the allocation. If the hon. Members who instigated the emergency debate yesterday imagine that that sort of thing can be done in the Committee, that is the last place where that sort of debate will take place.

The Finance Bill is different from all other Bills. This has been said ad nauseam, but it is different in this way. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Fool) is always saying that we ought to have great, far-reaching debates in the House of Commons. During the Committee stage of the Finance Bill we have some of the most wide-ranging debates on certain subjects in the Bill. It is not as though we spend eight or nine days discussing the same thing the whole time. We probably spend a full day on Corporation Tax and, perhaps, another day on Selective Employment Tax. Each of those is as big a subject as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is likely to get on a day which is allocated by the Government for some far-reaching debate.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the logical proposal after a panel of Chairmen is a panel of Committees, so that we can each cover our special subjects?

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I would not like to get drawn into that one.

I am speaking very much as somebody who loves the House of Commons. We are in great danger of doing the House of Commons enormous damage. We are not sent to this House merely to speak in far-ranging debates. It is only the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale who has the eloquence to capture the House when we have those debates. When most other hon. Members speak, everybody else walks out, but the practical problems of our constituents are all the time relevant to the Finance Bill, and we do not get a better opportunity during the year. Those are the opportunities when those of us who do not have the eloquence of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale can at least do something practical to deal with our constituents' problems.

One hon. Member has said that we are sent here from our constituencies not as Conservative or Labour. There is great controversy about it, but we are not allowed to state our party label on the ballot papers. Every Member of the House is sent here as an independent Member. If he is an independent Member, it is implicit in our constitution that his first duty is not to his party but to his constituents, long before his party loyalties and long before dividing up the Committee into neat rows of loyalists for the Government and for the Opposition.

A Member's first responsibility in the Committee or on the Floor of the House is to his constituents. Under the proposed procedure, how will he be able to look after the problems of his constituents? If we are to have recommittal, about which the Lord President of the Council has been very cagey, will it be one day, two days or three days? If the right hon. Gentleman is to satisfy his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, it will take at least three days to enable his hon. Friend to raise in Committee, if he were a member, the points that he would like to have raised on the Floor of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we should have four days on Report which, added to the time for recommittal, makes seven days. Under those conditions, how much time will the right hon. Gentleman save? [HON. MEMBERS: "None."] Yes, probably none, perhaps two days, but they will be two days saved at the complete sacrifice of the whole 630 Members who have the right to criticise the Government in detail in Committee on each Clause of the Finance Bill.

If this proposal is passed tonight it will not be an improvement in our procedure. It will again lower the status of the back-

bencher, and we shall find that we damage the House of Commons if we pass this proposal.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 136.

Division No. 11.]AYES[7.35 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Ford, BenMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Alldritt, WalterFraser, John (Norwood)Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Anderson, DonaldFreeson, ReginaldMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Archer, PeterGalpern, Sir MyerMorris, John (Aberavon)
Armstrong, ErnestGarrett, W. E.Moyle, Roland
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Ginsburg, DavidNeal, Harold
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceGourlay, HarryNorwood, Christopher
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Ogden, Eric
Barnes, MichaelGreenwood, Rt. Hn. AnthonyO'Malley, Brian
Barnett, JoelGregory, ArnoldOrbach, Maurice
Bence, CyrilGrey, Charles (Durham)Orme, Stanley
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Oswald, Thomas
Binns, JohnHamilton, James (Bothwell)Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Bishop, E. S.Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Blackburn, F.Hamling, WilliamPage, Derek (King's Lynn)
Blenkinsop, ArthurHannan, WilliamPanned, Rt. Hn. Charles
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Harper, JosephPark, Trevor
Booth, AlbertHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurHart, Mrs. JudithParkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Boyden, JamesHaseldine, NormanPavitt, Laurence
Braddock, Mrs. E. M.Hattersley, RoyPearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Bradley, TomHazell, BertPentland, Norman
Bray, Dr. JeremyHealey, Rt. Hn. DenisPerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Brooks, EdwinHobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)Price, William (Rugby)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Hooley, FrankRandall, Harry
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Horner, JohnRees, Merlyn
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasRobinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Buchan, NormanHowarth, Harry (Welling borough)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp' burn)Huckfield, LeslieRose, Paul
Carmichael, NeilHughes, Rt. Hn, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Carter-Jones, LewisHughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Sheldon, Robert
Coe, DenisHunter, AdamShore, Peter (Stepney)
Conlan, BernardIrvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Corbert, Mrs. FredaJackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardJones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Slater, Joseph
Cullen, Mrs. AliceJones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Small, William
Dalyell, TamKenyon, CliffordSpriggs, Leslie
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Kerr, Russell (Feltham)Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Lawson, GeorgeStorehouse, John
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)Lee, John (Reading)Swain, Thomas
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lestor, Miss JoanThomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Thornton, Ernest
Delargy, HughLipton, MarcusTinn, James
Dell, EdmundLomas, KennethTomney, Frank
Dempsey, JamesLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Tuck, Raphael
Dewar, DonaldMcBride, NeilUrwin, T. W.
Dickens, JamesMacColl, JamesVarley, Eric G.
Doig, PeterMacdonald, A. H.Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Dunnett, JackMcGuire, MichaelWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Wallace, George
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)Mackintosh, John P.Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Eadie, AlexMaclennan, RobertWellbeloved, James
Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)Whitaker, Ben
Edwards, William (Merioneth)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)White, Mrs. Eirene
Ellis, JohnMacPherson, MalcolmWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
English, MichaelMahon, Simon (Bootle)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Ennals, DavidMallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Ensor, DavidMarks, KennethWilliams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Maxwell, RobertWillis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Faulds, AndrewMendelson, J. J.Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Fernyhough, E.Millan, BruceWoof, Robert
Finch, HaroldMiller, Dr. M. S.Yates, Victor
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Foley, MauriceMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Moonman, EricMr. W. Howie and
Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
NOES
Astor, JohnHiley, JosephPym, Francis
Baker, W. H. K.Hirst, GeoffreyQuennell, Miss J. M.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)Holland, PhilipRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bessell, PeterHooson, EmlynRees-Davies, W. R.
Boardman, TomHornby, RichardRonton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Body, RichardHowell, David (Guildford)Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnHutchison, Michael ClarkRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Iremonger, T. L.Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Royle, Anthony
Buchanan-Smith, Alick( Angus, N & M)Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Scott, Nicholas
Buck, Antony (Colchester)Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Scott-Hopkins, James
Bullus, Sir EricJones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Sharples, Richard
Burden, F. A.Kaberry, Sir DonaldSilvester, Frederick
Campbell, GordonKimball, MarcusSinclair, Sir George
Carlisle, MarkKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Smith, John
Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertKitson, TimothyStainton, Keith
Channon, H. P. G.Knight, Mrs. JillSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Clegg, WalterLane, DavidStodart, Anthony
Cooke, RobertLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Costain, A, P.Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor. Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Longden, GilbertTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dalkeith, Earl ofLubbock, EricThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Davidson, James( Aberdeenshire, W.)Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Maclean, Sir FitzroyTurton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
du Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardMacleod, Rt. Hn. Iainvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Maddan, MartinVaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Emery, PeterMawby, RayVickers, Dame Joan
Errington, Sir EricMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Eyre, ReginaldMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S, L. C.Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Farr, JohnMontgomery, FergusWalters, Dennis
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMore, JasperWard, Dame Irene
Foster, Sir JohnMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Weatherill, Bernard
Fraser, Rt. Mn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)Mott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesWebster, David
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughWells, John (Maidstone)
Glover, Sir DouglasMurton, OscarWhitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Gower, RaymondNabarro, Sir GeraldWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Grant, AnthonyNeave, AireyWinstanley, Dr. M. P.
Grant-Ferris, R.Noble, Rt. Hn. MichaelWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Grieve, PercyNott, JohnWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Onslow, CranleyWorsley, Marcus
Gurden, HaroldOsborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)Wylie, N. R.
Hall, John (Wycombe)Page, Graham (Crosby)Younger, Hn. George
Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Harris, Reader (Heston)Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Pink, R. BonnerMr. Hector Monro and
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelPowell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochMr. Humphrey Atkins.
Heseltine, MichaelPrior, J. M. L.

Resolved,That Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of bills) be amended as follows:Line 1, leave out 'a bill for imposing taxes or'.

Standing Order No. 68 (Attendance of Law Officers in Standing Committees)
That Standing Order No. 68 (Attendance of law officers in standing committees) be amended as follows:
Line 8, at end add—
(2) In a standing committee which is to consider a bill brought in upon a Ways and Means resolution any Minister of the Crown, being a Member of this House, though not a member of the standing committee, may take part in the deliberations of the committee, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum.

Under the Standing Order as it is at present, Law Officers may attend a Standing Committee though they are not members of it. We now suggest that we should extend this to cover any Minister whose presence is necessary at the Finance Bill Standing Committee upstairs in order to cover points of the Bill which may affect his Department. I am sure that this Motion is for the convenience of the House and for the future Standing

7.45 p.m.

Committee and will be welcomed by the Opposition.

7.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I beg to move, in line 5, leave out 'Minister of the Crown, being a'. The Amendment would mean that the facility for Ministers to go into the Standing Committee and take part in its proceedings without being part of the voting strength or the quorum strength should be enjoyed by all hon. Members. It is appropriate, in a sense, that the Amendment should be sponsored by the Liberal Party because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said earlier, we have not really had a satisfactory answer from the Government about the position of minorities in the House which will occur after the new procedure of sending the Finance Bill into Committee upstairs comes into effect.

I am not just thinking of the minority within the Government party of 17 or 18, whatever it may be from time to time, but more particularly of the rights of the individual hon. Member. In a sense, each of us is a minority. Each of us is anxious to protect his constituency interests and each of the other 629 Members is anxious that one should get on with it so that he can protect his own constituency interests. In that sense, each of us is in a minority of one.

Under the old procedure, it has always been the right of an individual Member on the Floor of the House to be able to raise on the Finance Bill any matter relating to taxation which may be of constituency interest. That facility will now go by the board, obviously, except for the lucky members of the new Committee.

Then there is the position of the minorities of one, such as the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans). To be fair, they are not expressing a constituency interest but a particular political point of view, which may have great relevance to taxation for Scotland and Wales. To be fair to that view, each of them should be automatically on the Committee. The Liberal Party, with its present 12 Members, has always taken an active part in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), whose kindness to the Liberal Party I have never noticed in the past, went out of his way to pay tribute to the work which we had done in seeking to make Amendments to the Selective Employment Tax.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I agree that it was unusual. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I took them kindly.

If we in the Liberal Party are to continue this work in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, it would be unreasonable to expect the whole load to fall on one Member, our normal allocation to a Standing Committee. This amount of work simply could not be done by one Member hour after hour, day in and day out, and week in and week out. We would therefore have to have at least two and if there were the two Members from the nationalist parties and two from the Liberal Party, leaving only 46 other places, Conservative and Labour Members could justifiably say that the minorities had an undue proportion of the seats on the Committee.

The question is how to get round that difficulty. The answer lies in having someone else able to make the arguments in Committee. I must admit at once that the Amendment may not be technically the right way around the difficulty, but it points the way. It is not some sort of hairbrained scheme suddenly thought up on the Liberal bench. I draw the attention of the House to the evidence given to those of us who served on the Select Committee on Procedure by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He said: I am all in favour, therefore, of a kind of procedure which is patent and clear to the Members. I think this can best be achieved by having a stable kernel of membership. But there would of necessity have to be added to that, both, if I may say so, on the ministerial side as well as on the membership side, those individuals, whether Ministers or Members, who have a contribution to make and have taken considerable interest in special sections of the Bill and who would be far too numerous to accommodate in a stable kernel of membership. I should have thought, therefore, what might be considered would be a speaking membership of those who wished to speak as opposed to a voting membership which would be the stable membership. This, therefore, was a proposal which the Chief Secretary to the Treasury himself put forward.

The principle behind the Amendment has already been accepted for Law Officers and the Motion now proposes to extend it to Ministers. It is also accepted practice on local authorities where a member who is not a member of a committee has the right to move motions or take part in the debates in that committee without being a voting member of it. This is therefore a principle already established in local government.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I have peculiar experience of this matter. The practice of local authorities where there is such a practice—and it is a matter for the individual decision of the authority—is that some authorities allow members to go to committees of which they are not members and to speak, but never to vote and never to move a motion.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That is exactly the position which our Amendment would create. Hon. Members would be entitled to speak but not entitled to vote if they were not members of the Committee. This principle is known to us in our system of government generally.

I questioned the Chief Secretary about this idea at Question No. 56. He was of the view that the way in which to control this practice so that the Committee would not be completely flooded by all 630 Members would be to say that those entitled to speak would be only those who had put their names to Amendments. They would be those who had already indicated their interest. My question to the right hon. Gentleman was: You imagine all those who put their names to an amendment would be entitled to speak? The Chief Secretary replied: It is for this Committee, it is not peculiarly a Treasury matter, to decide, but in my own personal view I would want to see everybody having the right to speak who had the right to speak downstairs … That is the principle which lies behind the Amendment.

We then had the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary. We questioned him on the proposal which had been put to us by the Chief Secretary and in his evidence when referring to this suggestion the Patronage Secretary said: I think it could be done. I also, I must confess, am not 100 per cent. sold on this idea. He said later: I do not see any technical difficulty in it. This matter has therefore been at least superficially discussed and brought forward by a. Treasury Minister and by someone partly responsible for the conduct of the House. It is not an idea which has been dreamed up as some sort of fanciful suggestion. It is a suggestion which should be seriously considered.

In his evidence the Government Chief Whip took the line that he was not wholly satisfied with this proposal, because he thought that the matter was covered by allowing longer Report stages. It is not taken care of that way. Nor is the Leader of the House in a position to assure us, because the selection of Amendments tabled for Report is a matter for Mr. Speaker and we have no assurance that the practice of the House, which, generally speaking, is for those Amendments which have been discussed in Committee not to be selected on Report, will be changed. We are merely to have a longer Report stage, but there is no guarantee that the range of subjects open for discussion by ordinary hon. Members will be anything like the equivalent of what we are losing by sending the Bill upstairs from the Floor of the House. We cannot regard the lengthening of the Report stage as an alternative to my suggestion.

By the Motion the Leader of the House has recognised that there is a difficulty in restricting the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee of 50 Members and he has done so by saying that it would be inconvenient if the Committee included all the Ministers who might want to take part and whose inclusion would take an undue proportion of the Committee while, on the other hand, to leave out some whose expertise might be needed would also be inconvenient. He has therefore provided that any Minister shall be allowed to speak to the Committee.

The Leader of the House is one of those who for many years have been concerned with the balance of the power of the Executive and the power of Parliament, but by moving the Motion he is tilting the balance further to the advantage of the Executive, because he is recognising the difficulty and saying that for the convenience of the Executive the Government will get round the difficulty, but will not draft the Motion in such a way as to cover the objections which ordinary hon. Members feel to the whole process of taking the Committee upstairs.

I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Motion after this debate and to give the matter more serious thought and to come forward with his own proposals later, so that other hon. Members can address the Committee as and when required. I am not one of those who join in the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, because, if he did nothing, he would not be criticised. He is trying to make Parliament work more smoothly and basically I am sympathetic to the objective of getting the Finance Bill into a Standing Committee, but the basic rights which we have always had must not be lost. I am satisfied that we can find methods of safeguarding those rights while at the same time realising the objective of saving time on the Floor of the House.

In all these discussions we suffer basically from one fact. When the 1911 Parliament Act for reforming the House of Lords was going through, someone said that we were slapping a bucket of whitewash over a structure which was riddled with dry rot. We are not by these changes facing the basic problem, which is that the power of Government and the rôle of Government under all parties has increased over the decades and is still increasing. If we are to make Parliament an effective place to control the growing power of the Executive, then we cannot do it within the existing structures and we cannot do it by Motions of this kind.

Because my party believes that, not only shall we press the Amendment, unless the Leader of the House agrees to withdraw his Motion, but later we shall vote against the suspension of the rule on the ground that the Government are not giving serious thought to the structure of Parliament, to the question of decentralisation or to the question of proper reform of the Upper House, which we think is absolutely essential.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The original Question was that Standing Order No. 68 be amended as on the Order Paper, since when an Amendment has been moved, in line 5, to leave out "Minister of the Crown, being a". The question is, That that Amendment be made.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Am I to understand, Sir Eric, that we are simply discussing the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), or are we discussing also the Motion moved by the Leader of the House?

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

It would be convenient to discuss the two together. It would be inconvenient to limit the debate to the narrow confines of the Amendment. Therefore, if it be the wish of the House, I suggest that the debate should range over the main Motion and the Amendment.

8.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I am wholly opposed to both the Amendment and the Government's Motion. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) is more logical, but his proposal is even more objectionable because as a result of it more people would be wandering in and out of the Committee. I cannot conceive a more inconvenient arrangement. I think that the Leader of the House should consult the Patronage Secretary, who had some sensible ideas on this matter when he gave evidence before the Select Committee.

After the answer in which he said that two or three extra days should be devoted to the Report stage, I said to him in Question No. 152: I notice that you of the 'visitors' going the committee stage Amendments and not think there is much in that? The right hon. Gentleman said: I think it can be done. I then said: You do not like it very much?". The answer was: I do not particularly like it. I am bound to say this is something that is so novel; everything that has been suggested heretofore does fit into a previous pattern that has been done with some other Bill and so on. It may be that we could eventually accept as a House something of this sort, but I do not think we are ready for it now. Almost I prefer the idea that I think is used at Strasbourg of having substitute Members. It seems to me the idea of Members who can speak but not vote is the one that is a little outside our experience. That is what worries me really". I said: May I suggest to you that it really would make almost a farce of our procedure if people could drift in and out without having responsibility for voting? The Patronage Secretary said: I would not be very happy about it. How right he was. I cannot think of anything more inconvenient. The enunciatory system does not tell us what is going on in a Standing Committee. Nobody would know what was happening or whether there were ten, 15, or 20 "visitors" drifting in and out. I cannot conceive of anything more inconvenient.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman referring to the Government's proposal, or the Liberal proposal, or both?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

The right hon. Gentleman did not hear the Chairman's suggestion that we should discuss the Motion and Amendment together. I said at the outset that I thought that the Liberal Amendment was more logical but even more objectionable because more "visitors" would go in and out of the Committee. I object to both the Amendment and the Motion.

This shows the difficulty which the Government are getting themselves into, Are they to try to make the Committee stage upstairs an adequate substitute for the debate on the Floor of the House? If so, it seems to me that they should have a Committee of 160 Members with adequate ministerial representation—an awful prospect—but with some possibility of its being a substitute for debate on the Floor of the House, with its members being able to act in the same way as on the Floor of the House.

There are all sorts of practical difficulties in the proposal. I should be probably wholly against it. If the Government are trying to make this a sort of Committee stage on the Floor of the House they must recast the proposal. On the other hand, they have conceded under pressure that they think that having sent the Bill upstairs and having the battle up there between the small bands of gladiators on each side, by recommitting the Bill and by giving a longer time for the Report stage, every hon. Member will therefore be able to take part in the Recommittal stage and Report stage. If we have "visitors" wandering about upstairs, this will affect the new Report stage. The debates in the Chamber will depend on how many "visitors" have been talking on a particular point.

The right hon. Gentleman is falling between two stools. Either he must have a very large Committee upstairs consisting of people who are entitled to vote, and not have a long Report stage, or—and this is the better choice in a proposal of which I completely disapprove—make the Recommittal stage and Report stage as comprehensive as possible. If we have this sort of nondescript business upstairs of people wandering in and out and making speeches without notice and nobody knowing what they are talking about it will affect what takes place on the Floor of the House. This is not a reform. It is one of those changes of which the right hon. Gentleman is fond, and it is a change for the worse.

8.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), I am opposed to both the Government's Motion and the Liberal Amendment. I feel some regret about the latter because I recognise that the intention is to try to diminish the serious damage which has been done to the House by the proposal which it has just accepted. However, I am forced to the conclusion that it would not rectify any of the damage done. The Government's proposal, which we seek to amend simply by extending its scope to all hon. Members, contains the words: … but shall not vote or make any Motion or move any amendment, or be counted in the quorum". If the object is to meet the point which was made in the earlier debate about the necessity of providing that hon. Members have the opportunity, particularly on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill but also on other Measures, to protect the individual rights and interests of their constituents, then I do not believe that this is enough. If one cannot move an Amendment, one cannot make sure that a point affecting one's constituents is ventilated.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. That is why I said that I did not think that our Amendment was entirely satisfactory, and that is why I appealed to the Leader of the House to withdraw his Motion.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. I have great respect for his judgment. I am glad that his view coincides with mine. This proposal, as it stands, is completely inadequate to do what the hon. Gentleman seeks to do.

I hope that the Leader of the House will adopt a similarly conciliatory attitude about his proposal and will indicate a similar willingness to withdraw the Motion. I am very much against the idea that Ministers, in general, should be able to attend Standing Committees of which they are not members and speak. I accept that there is the present very proper exception in respect of the Law Officers. But they are in a special position. They are, to some extent, detached from the Government and have the duty which all Law Officers, including the present holders of the office, have always accepted of advising the House generally on the law, even though their advice may tend against the interests of the Government of the day. They are, in truth, the legal advisers of the House and they can be extremely helpful when a difficult point of law arises in Standing Committee which the Minister is unable to explain. The position is, however, entirely different in respect of the remaining Ministers.

This proposal is designed to facilitate, perhaps, a senior Minister coming in, making a leading speech, and then going off, leaving his unfortunate Under-Secretary of State to clear up the remains. That is not a satisfactory way in which to treat a Standing Committee. Nor is it a practice which is likely to conduce to a Minister's adopting a reasonable attitude towards Amendments.

Those who have spent a good deal of time in Standing Committees, as I have, know that such a Committee develops a kind of entity in itself and that a Minister who is a Member of it and attends regularly gets the feel of a Standing Committee—and, incidentally, gets his Bill through much more quickly. He also understands those points in respect of which it would be reasonable to make a concession. The Minister who just appears, makes a speech, looks at his watch and says, "I am sorry, but I must he off for another gathering ", is not subject to the corporate feeling of a Standing Committee or the influences upon him which would induce him to make concessions.

It is much easier to go away, telling one's Under-Secretary to stand firm, than it is for oneself to stay and listen to all the arguments—perhaps from hon. Mem- bers on both sides of the Committee—and then to come to the view that a concession should be made. This proposal will weaken the effectiveness of Standing Committees and reduce the number of occasions on which concessions are made during the examination of a Bill by a Standing Committee.

When we were debating an earlier Motion we heard a great deal about the value of Standing Committees—about the close-knit, technical, expert analysis which, according to the Leader of the House, a Standing Committee could carry out. How could a Standing Committee do that effectively if the promoter of the Measure—a senior Minister—was not there, and when arrangements had been made for him not to need to be there, so that he could absent himself without the slightest effect on the numbers available in Committee?

The Leader of the House has considerable experience of Standing Committees. He will recall that on what became the Rent Act there was a good deal of unhappiness in the Committee about his fairly frequent absences—although it k fair to say that, on the whole, they rather accelerated the progress of the Bill. For that reason he should understand that members of a Standing Committee like to have a Minister there to listen to the arguments as a constituent member of the Committee, and not to attend as a kind of great power coming from outside and delivering an occasional harangue.

It is because I believe that this proposal will weaken the effectiveness of Standing Committees and to some extent spoil the good atmosphere which develops in many of them that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will follow the example of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and withdraw his proposal.

8.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I was very interested in what the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said about Committees developing a kind of atmosphere or entity of their own. That is the point which, in my own blundering way, I tried to make earlier today. It is an extremely important point. To my mind this is the value of the change that we have just approved in connection with Finance Bills. The point of handing business to a small body, or Committee, is that one gets the corporate intelligence of the Members of the Committee concentrated on the immediate issues, and by a process of dialogue one arrives at a more sensible conclusion than can be arrived at when detailed matters are dealt with in more general debates on the Floor of the House.

Although the Liberal proposal has certain superficial attractions it would undermine and destroy the value of a Committee, as a Committee. If anybody could drift in and out, make a harangue, and go away the whole tenor of discussion would be interrupted, quite apart from the question of inconvenience to Members of the Committee, who would have to sit there throughout the whole of the proceedings listening to a series of people who rolled along, made a point and went away. The Liberal proposal is not practical.

The question of Ministers coming in is much more analogous to the situation in which a Committee may seek expert advice from a certain individual at its own request. This is quite a different matter from giving an individual a right to roll along and hold forth. If a Minister is there he is presumably there for a specific purpose, or to deal with a specific topic.

I hope that the proposal would be strong enough for the Committee itself to decide whether or not a Minister should he there. I am not sure whether the question may or may not rest with the Chairman. But there seems to be a distinction between inviting a person to give special evidence on a certain issue and giving a right to any Member of the House to roll along and make a speech.

Implicit in our discussions there seems to be an assumption that every Member of the House has an absolute right to speak on any matter on which it seems to him to be necessary to speak, affecting his constituency or anything else. In practice this is not so. There are many occasions on which individual Members may wish to speak on certain points but, under the practice or procedure of the House, are not called and have no opportunity to make those points. As far as I know there has never been implicit in our procedure in the House any right of a Member to speak on a certain issue.

Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood

My hon. Friend must realise that the practice of the House has been that any Member of the House in Committee on the Finance Bill may speak.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

With great respect to my hon. Friend, if the debate is closed, a Member's right is lost. He may not have been called, and if the Closure is accepted there is no right for him to speak. I have witnessed a situation in which many hon. Members wanted to hold forth on a certain subject and when the Closure was moved and accepted and they lost their opportunity. It is wrong to pretend that there is an absolute, inviolable right of a Member to speak on a matter that he wants to speak on, irrespective of what is happening in the House. It is nonsense to pretend that this is so, and for the purpose of this argument it is no use pretending it is so.

As I have said, there are superficial attractions about the Liberal proposal, but in practice it would not work. It would be damaging to the kind of reform that my right hon. Friend has succeeded in getting the House to accept, and which I strongly support.

8.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), who moved the Amendment in such an admirable speech, I want to see the reform of our procedure go a great deal further. As I have said before, all that has happened greatly strengthens the case for self-government for Scotland and Wales, but we are bound to stick to the more modest proposal, which are before us.

I believe that we have already got some measure of broad agreement, first, that the present handling of the Finance Bill is not very satisfactory, and, second, that it is desirable that we should safeguard the rights of Members who are particularly affected by the proposals of the Bill in a certain year. Our purpose is to try to find a way in which these two desirable ends can be reconciled.

I want to answer some of the objections that have been raised by hon. Members on this side of the House. First, I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) about the drafting of the Liberal Amendment. It should make it possible for any Member to move a Motion or an Amendment, and should not make it impossible for him to do so. My hon. Friend made that clear, but we do not wish to withdraw the idea entirely.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's further point, that it is undesirable for Ministers to be allowed access to a Committee of which they are not members, I think that we must look at the Committee as a new sort of Committee and not treat it simply as one of the ordinary Standing Committees. That will not do. If we do not want a new sort of Committee, that is a different matter, but to apply the criteria of an ordinary Standing Committee to this Committee, which in certain years may range over the widest spectrum of subjects, is impossible. That is one of the difficulties about the Committee. Nevertheless, it is on that basis that we must consider it.

In some years it may be essential for the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary of State for Scotland to be allowed to appear in the Committee. If there are particular measures—

Photo of Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris , Nantwich

It occurs to me and may have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that it might be very convenient for the Government of the day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not be a member of the Committee, because he was wanted elsewhere, and it might be necessary to have only one Treasury Minister actually a member. That is not exactly the right hon. Gentleman's intention and perhaps he would comment on it.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us later whether the Government intend to have the Chancellor as a permanent member of the Committee. I agree that this is an important point. It could be necessary on this type of Committee to be free to call upon other Ministers. This brings us to the point that it is very difficult to tell in advance from year to year what the Finance Bill will contain. We want some procedure which will allow the formation or composition of the Committee to be varied accordingly.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates) said, one Finance Bill contained many changes in Purchase Tax, and many back benchers rightly wanted to speak in the debate. There have been others in which this was not the case and I would like to hear whether the Leader of the House sees this as a permanent arrangement or will allow some flexibility in the Standing Orders to allow it to be varied.

If we are to have it at all, it is difficult to avoid allowing Ministers who are not permanent members to attend. If it sits in the afternoon, some of the Treasury Ministers may be required for general debates in the House while it is sitting, so all the Treasury Ministers could not be members, especially as I think it will go on a very long time in the afternoon.

I turn now to the objections of the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who, with his usual clarity, said that the Government Amendment is illogical and deplorable and that ours is logical and most deplorable. At any rate that makes his position clear. But we cannot accept this terrible picture of the whole of the top of this building filled with milling Members drifting in and out of Committees all afternoon. I fear that many hon. Members will not go near it. The view that they will be clamouring to get in is somewhat unlikely.

A process lasting for six weeks in the height of summer, from 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock and sometimes all night, will be a formidable undertaking and I fear that this will put a great deal of power in the hands of the Whips, who will be able to make appointments to the Committee of those whom they do not approve of. This picture of half the House of Commons drifting in and out of the Committee room and swamping all the business is not a serious objection to our proposal.

Nor is the objection insuperable that it would be inconvenient. This is a constant difficulty now, and many hon. Members have to spend all afternoon waiting for Amendments to the Finance Bill when it is on the Floor of the House. Perhaps we could have indicators put up to show what is going on in the Committee.

A more serious objection is whether, having moved a Motion or an Amendment, an hon. Member is to be allowed to ask for a vote, and the question of what control he will have over a vote. This is an objection but it is not fundamental. I agree that it is a departure from our procedures, although, as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said, law officers are already allowed to attend a Committee. If we are to have the Committee at all, we must think in new terms, and if we are to reconcile the two points which I thought were agreed earlier, that we want reform of the Finance Bill and that hon. Members should have a chance to take part if they want to, we must consider this solution. If there are better ones, they should be put forward.

The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral said that a better solution would he to extend the Report stage, but he himself, in a previous incarnation this afternoon, knocked down this argument by saying that if there were a really adequate Report stage no time would he saved and we should simply transfer all the Committee proceedings to Report stage, with no advantage and considerable damage to the normal proceedings of the House, since we should have to alter the custom on Report of not discussing the Question that the Clause stand part, and so forth.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I suggested that if it were recommitted we would have a second Committee stage on the Floor of the Hot se, followed by a pause and then two or more extra days on Report.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

With my usual clarity, I can see that that might make the proceedings even longer, so that we might spend more time on the Finance Bill than we did before. One of the advantages of taking it on the Floor of the House is that an hon. Member who is interested in one part can attend only that part of the debate. But if he is upstairs, he will have to be there for the whole business—lawyers, economists and all. Sending it upstairs should be carefully considered and our suggestion is at least a way of surmounting the difficulty.

The First Secretary pointed out earlier that we have got into the habit of sending to Committee Bills which greatly affect people's pockets. Finance is now by no means confined to the Finance Bill. But, as I said then, this is perhaps a reason for looking at the whole method of dealing with such Bills, and perhaps we might have to extend this procedure to those Bills as well.

I do not necessarily think that, because we do not examine these Bills quite as fully as we should perhaps, or allow all hon. Members to take part in debates upon them, we should extend this procedure to the Finance Bill, but we should strike a balance and we want the Bill to be well-examined.

I do not share the unanimous disapproval of lawyers. Even the right hon. and learned Member for the Wirral, I feel, has his points. I am a lawyer myself. Lawyers often make shorter speeches than other people and sometimes clearer ones and occasionally point out legal difficulties. I do not even share the unanimous disapproval of economists and a Committee which could give time to examining some parts of the Finance Bill even during the summer evenings might do more good than rattling through Clauses at 4 o'clock in the morning.

Therefore, I do not oppose the idea of the Committee. But something like our proposal should be accepted. If objections to it convince the House, we must look at the matter again, because we cannot just extend the Report stage, even with a Recommittal stage as well, and hope to save much time. Nor can we abandon now and forever in all Finance Bills the right of all hon. Members to take part. I realise that, if we pass this, it can be amended or repealed in future, but it is difficult to find time for procedure discussions and I fear that once we have agreed this, it will remain with us for some time.

8.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

That was a rather whimsical speech, but it was miles away from what we are discussing, and we had better get back to the present practice, of which some hon. Members do not seem to be aware. At present a Committee of Selection sets up a Committee on a Bill and I have no doubt that the Committee in this case would consider the sort of subjects affected under the Bill, perhaps textiles or drugs in different parts of the country, and would strive to achieve a geographical balance. At the end of the day, there would be a balanced Committee.

Let us consider these questions of the Ministers. At present, very often, fewer Members attend Finance Bill debates than are in the Chamber now, and, on different Clauses, Ministers come in and out, as do leading figures on the other side, either to lead or to advise. If there are to be 50 Members in this Committee, that would be a larger number to consider the Bill than there usually is now. Therefore, it is reasonable. On Board of Trade matters, the President of the Board of Trade would attend, for instance. Obviously, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot be there all the time, and it is really a matter of servicing the Committee sensibly.

We cannot go over again the discussions of whether the Bill should go upstairs. The House has decided that it should and we are moving on now from that point. We must move on from that. I do not think that Ministers are in a different position from that of Law Officers.

I sympathise with the Liberal Party, because they are a corporate body in the House, and I shall be interested to hear what the Leader of the House says about them. But it is one thing to argue in the concept of a majority of 100—even though it may be diminishing-and entirely a different thing to argue in the concept of the 1964–66 Parliament. Minorities have their rights, but majorities must govern—and that must be the consideration of any Government.

8.31 p.m.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I am in a quandary, because while I fully support the point of view expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), I also tend towards support of the Liberal Amendment, for I consider the whole proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs to be "crackers" and I consider that the Leader of the House is cracked in his proposals. If we are dealing with a cracked situation and a cracked Minister, it may be that we should support a cracked Amendment. I do not know whether that is a logical approach, but it is impossible to deal with this ridiculous situation in a normal and logical way and I may find myself out of the normal line and tending to support the Liberal Amendment.

Both the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and myself were on the Select Committee on Procedure. I was interested that he quite rightly read out the evidence given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. At the time I also thought that the evidence given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was cracked. I do not understand how any man with the ability, the capacity and the brain of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury could give such evidence to the Committee. It was absolute nonsense. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles was right to put it on the record of the House and not to leave it tucked away in the evidence to a Select Committee, because the proposals made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury were ridiculous. It was frightening to find that the Patronage Secretary tried to ride two horses at the same time. He partly supported the Chief Secretary's evidence but partly he opposed it. We have reached a situation in which we are discussing a cracked Amendment to a cracked situation.

If I may become a little more serious, may I ask the Leader of the House whether we shall be presented, as a House of Commons, with a detailed list of how all these proposals are to work before we embark on the monstrous proposal to send the Finance Bill upstairs. I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate, but I understand that this point has not been met. It is important to have prepared a considered list of all the points which have been raised during the debate. I do not regard this as a Government proposal. I regard it as a revolutionary proposal of the Leader of the House. He has to be used for something, because he was not very successful in other posts in the Government. He is being allowed full rein in altering the procedure of the House.

But it is important for us to know in some detail exactly how we are to deal with all the points which have been raised. As far as I can gather from those to whom I have spoken since I arrived in the Chamber, the whole proposal does not seem to have been thought out with any clarity. Because it happens to be my line of liking in Parliamentary life, I should be delighted to pop upstairs into Committee on a variety of points which I should like to make on behalf of my constituents. There would therefore be an advantage in the Liberal Amendment. But we must have a very clear idea of how the Leader of the House proposes to stage the machinery for this new arrangement for the Finance Bill.

I gather that the Leader of the House wants every hon. Member to have an opportunity to raise matters of importance—through the Liberal Amendment, or on recommittal of the Clauses or on Report. In that case, the House will have to go into consultation with Mr. Speaker to ensure that the old procedure of not discussing matters which have been decided in Standing Committee shall not be continued.

No one has said how sorry they will feel for the hon. Members who will be incarcerated upstairs each afternoon, evening and perhaps all night. They will have a pretty thin time, because they will not to able to protect the interests of their constituents on the Floor of the House—quite apart from the strain of being in Committee upstairs and arguing technical details of Clauses of which they have no special knowledge and in which perhaps they have no special interest. Unless there has been consultation with Mr. Speaker we may find on Report that it is impossible to discuss certain issues which, for the protection of the public, ought to be discussed by the House as a whole.

For generations the people of Britain have accepted the procedures of the House in regard to the Finance Bill and they will not have them altered at the drop of a hat to satisfy the Leader of the House. Indeed, they are not certain of the motives of the right hon. Gentleman or the part he plays in Parliamentary life. He may have the idea that we should have an entirely different form of Parliament. Certainly the country does not want that, however much the electorate like one or other of the parties—as well as the nationalists, who represent an important, if different, point of view.

Before embarking on the sort of change proposed by the Leader of the House, we should be presented with a White Paper containing precise details about how the new procedure will operate. If these details are not presented, we should not allow the right hon. Gentleman to have his head. I would rather see his head rolling on the floor. We are here dealing with the right of the public to be represented it-, Parliament. I will listen with interest to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in reply, but at the moment I am not sure which way I shall vote.

8.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood

I will not comment on the various points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). The theme of her speech was that both the Motion and Amendment are cracked, but I detected many cracks in her speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) suggested earlier that any hon. Member could speak on any subject at any time. I agree that, at present, it is the right of every hon. Member to propose Amendments to the Finance Bill, and I would be willing to give my hon. Friend advice about the tabling of Amendments. However, if the Liberal Amendment is rejected, I want to be sure that we shall have the safeguards for which we asked earlier.

I once proposed an Amendment to the Finance Bill. I recommended that the Purchase Tax on buttons be removed. No Chairman could have refused to accept my Amendment and, in fact, the Purchase Tax was removed. I understand that even if an hon. Member does not sit in a Committee upstairs, he has the right to propose Amendments—although, not able to be present himself, he must persuade another hon. Member to move them for him.

I have great sympathy with the Liberal Amendment. Although I appreciate the position of Ministers, I trust that they will be sympathetic towards back benchers. If something is good for Ministers, it is good for back benchers. I agree that it would be difficult to allow great numbers of hon. Members to wander into Committees sitting upstairs and make speeches.

The Motion says that … any Minister shall not vote or make any motion … A Member can at present propose a Motion, but if that right is to disappear we must still do our best to see that our constituencies are truly represented. I ask my right hon. Friend to recognise the value and importance of every hon. Member with constituency interests having the right to bring a case forward. If a Member is not to be able to do that by the present method, we must have safeguards to ensure that he can continue to do it in other ways in the future.

8.45 p.m.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Hamilton

I do not know whether or not I shall be invited to a Standing Committee. I am torn between the treat of long sunny London afternoons and a fear of injustice to my constituency, party and country if I am excluded.

As to what is a minority and what is a majority, I would remind the Leader of the House, who has to take all factors into account, that the march of time can bring anomalies between elections, so that sometimes a Government may have a majority in this House but be in a minority in the country. I represent in this House the smallest party in Scotland—and I am also the smallest "party" in this House, because I am smaller than the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans).

My party is pledged to seek separate statistics for Scotland—that is a fundamental—and I have been sent here on that basis. When we press urgently for separate statistics for Scotland we are told that we will not get them. If we cannot get separate statistics in writing, for whatever reason I do not know, my party, through me, should be able to watch statistics in the making. I therefore make a brief plea that my party, through me, should be invited to go in and out of the Standing Committee as those Clauses of interest to my constituency and party are debated.

8.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I am afraid that the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) starts under a very severe misapprehension. She wants home rule for Scotland, but what she does not understand is that it is Scotland that has taken over England.

It has been said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is cracked. If he is cracked he is not the only Member—and I will not mention any names. When I listened to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) I wondered whether she had tumbled to the fact that we have already decided that the Finance Bill shall go to a Standing Committee. Towards the end of her speech it became clear that she did realise that, but what all her requests for information had to do with either the Motion or the Amendment I fail to see.

The Liberals seem to have put down an Amendment which they do not want to have made speeches on some other Amendment to something else. I have some sympathy with them, of course. In passing I would say to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that when moving an Amendment it is not a good idea at the same time to issue threats. If a Member is trying to get his own way, it is not his wisest course to say that if the Minister does not accept the Amendment the Member and his hon. Friends will vote against the Motion, and will also vote at 10 o'clock against the suspension of the rule. That is not a very sensible way of going about things.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I did not make any threats. I said that unless the right hon. Gentleman withdrew his Motion I would pursue my Amendment. When tabling an Amendment it is normal to expect it to go to a vote. As to voting against the suspension of the rule, that is for different reasons. I indicated an intention—it is not a threat—of what we will do.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's definition of a threat is. To say that he intends to vote against the suspension of the rule if he does not get his own way seems to me to be very like a threat. Their speeches had little relevance to their Amendment. It seemed that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) since a certain event took place in Hamilton has become more nationalist than the Nationalists.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) of course objects to everything that comes forward. He said that he had some experience of Standing Committees. I have had some experience of Standing Committees in a slightly different capacity. I cannot think that at any time a visit by the Law Officers to a Committee would upset what the right hon. Gentleman called "the corporate life" which develops in Committee. I cannot see that the corporate life was ever upset by the visit of a Law Officer. Nor, if we accept the Motion, can I see that it would upset the corporate life of the Committee if a Minister happened to attend it. If all the Ministers from the Treasury were put on to the Committee that would seriously reduce the number of other hon. Members who could be on it. I have not seen inside my right hon. Friend's mind and do not know whether that is the reason for the decision or not, I see very little to quarrel with the suggestion that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not a member of the Committee he could visit it at times and give advice to the hon. Members if they wished.

It would be dangerous to think of accepting the Liberal Amendment, as it stands. We would then have incorporated into what we have agreed to—sending the Bill upstairs—some of the worst features of the past whereby 630 Members could wander in and out and make speeches when they wanted to do so. Whether my right hon. Friend would be prepared to say that he would give further consideration to the problem, I do not know. I have every sympathy with the minority groups. They may not have as much representation as they would like to have. I see that there is a problem, but it cannot be solved by the Amendment. If it were agreed to, they would be in a worse state than in the present position over Standing Committees whereby an hon. Member who is not a member of the Committee can put down an Amendment. He cannot move it but a member of the Committee can do so. If we accepted this Amendment, he would not be able to put down an Amendment to be considered in the Committee.

Rather than issue threats about what will happen if my right hon. Friend does not withdraw the Motion, the Liberals would be well advised to withdraw this Amendment and ask my right hon. Friend to give further consideration to their problems.

8.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

On the previous Motion we had a great deal of discussion and I was told that it was a wide-ranging debate. When I put down this modest Motion on a modest range, I did not expect it to get so far, but it became mated to a Liberal Amendment and a variegated insect was hatched. I do not know how much the House wants me to reply to speeches which have been made, including that by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). I have a suspicion that not all her points were made seriously to be replied to.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I take it that silence means consent.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

No, I am not silent.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Then I make no reply [Laughter.] I return to the serious speeches. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said they were opposed to everything in our Motion. I realise that the Liberals drafted their Amendment on to the Motion in order to raise other subjects.

There seems to be some misunderstanding. The Motion was not aimed by the Government to oblige the Government but—this may be a wrong apprehension—entirely because there had been a great deal of complaint that Ministers whose presence was required in Standing Committees to answer a question or to clear up a matter were not available to the Committees.

The purpose of this Motion is to ensure that a Committee does its work more efficiently, to provide for the attendance of a Minister who, on a couple of Clauses or from a certain aspect, could be useful to the Committee. Speaking as a Minister, I have a suspicion—and I think the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames almost accused me of it—that Ministers tend not to throw themselves at Committees, longing to address them, but show a sinister tendency to absent themselves from them. Therefore, there is a danger of having no Ministers present.

I was asked whether it was intended that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a member of the Standing Committee. Of course, I can relieve the mind of the House and say that it is our intention that the Chancellor shall be a member of the Committee. To take another example, I do not think we would intend the Secretary of State for Scotland necessarily to be one of the 50 Members of the Committee. Therefore, we would think it sensible, if there were aspects of the work of a Minister on which he should say something to the Committee or on which the Committee might wish to cross-examine him, that it should be possible for this to be done. The purpose of enabling a Minister to attend is for the convenience of the Committee.

I do not consider we should think of reproducing just another Standing Committee to be exactly like any other Standing Committee. It will have to evolve its own rules, and this is one of the variations of this Committee from normal Standing Committees, though I think this is a rule which one might later apply to them all, so that other Standing Committees would be able from time to time to invite a Minister to attend on some narrow aspect in order to make a statement for the convenience of the Committee, but without having any voting rights.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The right hon. Gentleman said that it will be open to the Committee to invite a Minister to attend. As I understand the proposed Standing Order, the initiative rests with the Minister.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

It enables the Minister to attend if he feels that he has a duty to tell the Committee something. Equally, if he is informed that the Committee would like him to attend he will be enabled to do so. I think the right hon. Gentleman is correct. If the Government felt that a Minister was needed to put a certain point, then the Minister would be able to attend on his own initiative.

I think it is a little unreasonable of hon. Members opposite to say that they will vote against this proposal. It seems to me modest and sensible. Indeed, I am surprised that we have not done this years ago, not only on the Finance Bill

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

If I may interrupt my right hon. Friend, I remember one occasion when I was Chairman of a Standing Committee and the Committee was angry because the Home Secretary was not present and was not a member of the Committee. I had to rule that if the Committee wanted him to attend I would have to say that he could not come because he was not a Member of that Committee. This proposal would make it possible for a Minister to attend in those circumstances.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

We drafted this proposal in relation to the Finance Bill because we thought it would be a good thing to try it with a Bill where it was clear we ought to do it. However, in the next Session we might decide that it would be advantageous to make it a normal rule for all Standing Committees.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the words: may take part in the deliberations … Do they mean that if the Committee wanted a Minister to attend, the Committee could summon him?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

No, that would be the wrong way to put it. I assume that a communication might go from the Committee, but I think it would be on the initiative of the Minister to attend. This Motion does not say on what prompting he should attend. We have merely given the right for the Minister to take part. We have left it to him and the Committee as to how the arrival of the Minister is motivated.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

Would it not be logical that, if the Minister on his initiative can take part in the proceedings, the Committee on its initiative could ask the Minister to come?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

It seems that we are now moving from the question of a Standing Committee to that of a Select Committee which can summon Ministers to attend for the purposes of investigation. I should want to think that over. The present Motion merely provides that the Ministry may take part, and leaves it open.

I feel that right hon. and hon. Members opposite are being a bit cantankerous in not recognising this proposal for what it is, that is, an attempt to meet what I thought was an essential need for a Finance Committee at work upstairs. We had in mind also the frequent need of many Standing Committees in the past, and the suggestions from people who have served on them with greater experience than I have that this proposal would be valuable. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) made that point clear in his contribution.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

To take the case of the Finance Bill, should it be necessary for a Minister to attend to explain a technical point connected with, say, aviation, ought there not to be other provision so that someone on the other side who is not necessarily a member of the Committee but who may be equally expert could reply?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I am, as the House knows, only too eager to go haring after good ideas. That would provide for the attendance of shadow Ministers as well. We shall have the whole House attending soon.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

Why not? Take the Bill on the Floor.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Exactly. If we get everybody there, there will be no point in taking the Bill upstairs. This is the second point to which I was about to come. I turn now from the limited proposal which the Government have made, a sensible and modest proposal that Ministers should take part when necessary or useful, to the wider proposal made by the Liberal Party.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Before my right hon. Friend goes further, may I raise a question? First, I should apologise for not being here for most of the debate, having been engaged elsewhere. If the point I am about to raise has been dealt with in the debate already, I apologise for repeating it.

There is the question of the Scottish Law Officers who are Members of the Government but not Members of the House. It is frequently inconvenient to the Scottish Standing Committee not to have the attendance of the Law Officers to explain and discuss matters of law. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider this question at a subsequent stage so that the Law Officers could attend the Scottish Grand Committee?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

On this occasion, I should like to summon the Secretary of State for Scotland to stand by me in order to help in these matters, but he is not available now and I cannot do so. I am not pre pared to give an answer off the cuff, without his advice on that question which, though interesting, is, perhaps, dangerous for an Englishman. Wisely, I think, I shall content myself with saying that I take cognisance of it and I shall brood on it further.

Now, the Liberal Amendment. I am glad that the Liberals made clear that they realise that it is unworkable in the sense that we could not accept it as it stands, but, neverthless, it raises in practical form the issue which was discussed earlier, in my view by far the most important issue during the major debate we had. I was struck by the fact that many other arguments against taking the Finance Bill upstairs which had loomed large in previous debates had dwindled away, and this was almost the only surviving argument which seemed to have power to move hon. Members. The others had all dwindled away. [HON.MEMBERS: "No."] I may have got it wrong, but that was my impression. The cheers which greeted the speeches of my two hon. Friends who spoke on this issue and concentrated on that single argument, and the enthusiasm and passion with which their speeches were greeted across the Floor, made me realise that this was the leitmotif of those who must still find some argument against sending the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee. This is the remaining argument, the last ditch of resistance to change.

Quite often, last ditches are important. Last ditches may well matter. I take the point seriously, and I have reflected upon it carefully. First, may I reply to the Liberals about their proposal itself. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has just made one point about it. If it is argued, as we have rightly argued, that we should submit the Finance Bill to a Standing Committee because we think that Committee work is best done in Committee upstairs, and the essence of a Committee is that it is a smaller and more compact body than the House itself, involving esprit de corps and work as a team, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley said, we ought not to splay the Committee open and fill it up with occasional visitors coming to and fro. Although it is an attractive notion to turn it into a kind of Grand Committee—in which, perhaps, "Grand" means floppy or sloppy—I do not like the idea. The Committee must be a working body which works hard and together. Therefore, I do not think that that is the way.

We must solve the problem which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) put to me, and which was best described in the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Victor Yates), who said that he wanted to make sure that the back bencher who had exerted his right every year to make the same constituency speech should not suddenly be denied it this year. That is a worthy ambition. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that hon. Members have made their speeches year after year, like the speech about the offertory which comes so often. One does not like to feel that these hardy annuals will be denied to hon. Members.

Apart from the hardy annuals, there are the occasions when suddenly a Clause in a Finance Bill is of vital interest to an area, a constituency or a group of constituencies. That is the important point. How can we exclude from their right to a say on a Finance Bill the number of back benchers who find, although they may consider it boring in general, that it is of passionate importance to them on a single Clause? The answer is that we cannot. We thought that we could solve the problem by the device we have evolved of a Report stage considerably longer than before, preceded by a Recommittal stage. That will mean dividing the time we had thought of allocating to Report into two parts, the Report stage proper and the Recommittal stage a few days before, giving time for Amendments to be put down and considered. They will not have to be in final form, and the back bencher can deal with them. In that way, we see the back bencher retaining his rights.

Before we reach that situation, it is difficult to guess how many back benchers will be concerned. Whether 150 or 20 hon. Members will feel compelled to play a leading rôle will largely depend on the particular Finance Bill. It will depend on something that none of us now knows—the theme of the Bill, or the areas of the country to be affected. None of us can predict how it will go, what period will have to be allocated, and how one will calculate the time for the Recommittal and Report stages in order that all the hon. Members concerned should have their claims met. It is something that we cannot foresee and cannot guess.

The argument has been put to me that we might find ourselves back with just a new stage, that we should have the small Committee upstairs doing a very good job and then have expanded the other stages, so that we gained nothing and did not succeed in our purpose. But if I say, as I do, that we recognise the back benchers' claim, that is a commitment to a certain scale of Report stage. It has always been my view that the main purpose of the Report stage was precisely to give the hon. Member, who has already had the right to talk about the general principle of the Bill in the four days of the Budget debate and on the Second Reading, the chance to see that his particular constituency or local interests were recognised.

I have reflected on this, and I think that I am clear in my mind that for once in his life my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had the kind of speculative political imagination of which I am often accused of being a leading specimen. For once, he seems to have had the kind of impetuous psychological curiosity and roaming after ideas which is most unlike a Chief Secretary. But that is what happens to Chief Secretaries when they come into contact with a group of men so stimulating as the Select Committee on Procedure. That contact of minds produced that extraordinary outburst of political brilliance. He probably never said anything as unusual, adventurous—and possibly as wrong—as the idea he put forward there.

My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary was infected by the idea. I was infected by it that night when they talked to me. We all saw an interest in this. The cold light of reflection has, however, made me realise that we would destroy our Committee effectively before we started. We could not allow this, because we want the Committee to be an effective group. Expanding it in that way would not do it.

I turn to the latest minority groups and the problem of representation of minority groups on the Finance Bill in Committee upstairs. It is not for me, but for the Committee of Selection, to know how it selects, but certainly it is important that the Committee should hear views in the House about how it should select.

I would have thought that in the kind of precise Committee of which we are thinking there was hope that the number from the minority group might be substantially increased, even to the point of being doubled. That might happen. Of that doubling, one part might not be the Liberals if the Liberals felt that another minority should be given their share of representation. One might have a creature half-man, half-woman to represent the other half. However, I do not know. It is not for me to say. It is more practical to have minority groups adequately represented on the Committee upstairs and playing their part than seeing them floating in and out whenever their minority interests are affected and they are needed for this purpose.

I must end with a more serious thought of the representation of the rights of the back-bench Member. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood the absolute assurance that, although in planning we may have miscalculated, we have assumed that we shall satisfy that claim. I have assumed that as we will organise it this year there will not be a clamant queue of back benchers who have been denied the rights which are traditionally theirs.

I have calculated and I believe that we shall plan the Report stage and the work of recommittal so that there will not be a queue of individual back benchers who are denied rights, because that would be a denial of the purposes of that stage of the Bill. If, however, we have miscalculated, or if the Bill was of a certain character, I give the further assurance that we shall next year review precisely what has happened from the point of view of those rights. Recognising this, realising that we shall have to reorganise a second time, we shall have another go and see whether we can make things work better for them. We recognise that this is a legitimate claim of back benchers in a reform of this kind.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking

I am grateful for those assurances, which we shall be interested to see in text form, but would the right hon. Gentleman say that one way in which he might guarantee that back benchers could be certain of a share of the recommittal time, whatever it might be, would be if the Government were to put themselves under a self-denying ordinance on the tabling of Government Amendments?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

That is naturally, very much a thought which I will put to the new Chancellor, but he is, I expect, experienced enough to receive it with the scepticism which Chancellors do in denying themselves their own essential new Clauses. This is a difficult problem.

It is, I think, true to say that in the last 10 years, back benchers have doubled the time which they spend on the Finance Bill. They have done it because the opportunity was there. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the First Secretary that it is not true that these are the only back-bench rights to be defended. There are a whole number of other areas in which I want to see back benchers active and given a chance.

We have a later Amendment concerning Affirmative Orders. There is, and will continue to be, a steady growth in the number of Affirmative Orders presented to the House. I shall be making proposals about the less important ones which arise after Ten o'clock. We should spend much more time in discussing such Orders. We can have an Affirmative Order of exactly the kind which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland wants. I wish that we had time to spend a whole day—and with the growth of affirmative Orders we must allocate more days—to an adequate discussion of delegated legislation. This seems to me as important in that sense as making sure that the back bencher has his rights on the Finance Bill.

I do not deny that this is a major change, which has tremendous advantages. If we were to do it at the cost of the back bencher, with his basic right of protest on behalf of his constituency, we should have undermined a tradition which none of us wanted to undermine. Those who planned the reform have done so in a careful attempt to make provision for this. If we fail this year to make provision, we give a guarantee that at the end of next year we will discuss with the new Select Committee on Procedure how best to do this.

With those remarks, I hope that the Liberals will withdraw their Amendment and that I can get support for my Motion.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I made the point that one could hardly expect one Member on this new Committee to conduct the Liberal Party's case throughout the Finance Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said, I thought, that he would consider the matter sympathetically, although it is a matter for the Committee of Selection, but he would think that the minorities should have greater representation. Then he seemed to go on to say that out of the double representation half should be given to another smaller minority.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I have nothing to do with it. It was not for me to say what

minority it represented. I was going a bit far in saying that it might be doubled. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not fail to withdraw his Amendment because of that.

Question, That the Amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 211, Noes 118.

Division No. 12.]AYES[9.17 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford. E.)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Alldritt, WalterFoley, MauriceMacPherson, Malcolm
Anderson, DonaldFoot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mabon, Simon (Bootle)
Archer, PeterFord, BenMallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Armstrong, ErnestFraser, John (Norwood)Marks, Kenneth
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Freeson, ReginaldMellish, Robert
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Galpern, Sir MyerMendelson, J. J.
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceGarrett, W. E.Millan, Bruce
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Ginsburg, DavidMiller, Dr. M. S.
Barnes, MichaelGordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Barnett, JoelGourlay, HarryMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Bence, CyrilGray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Moonman, Eric
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Greenwood, Rt. Hn. AnthonyMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Bessell, PeterGregory, ArnoldMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Binns, JohnGriffiths, David (Rother Valley)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Bishop, E. S.Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Morris, John (Aberavon)
Blackburn, F.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Moyle, Roland
Boardman, H.Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Neal, Harold
Booth, AlbertHamling, WilliamNewens, Stan
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurHannan, WilliamNoel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Boyden, JamesHarper, JosephOakes, Gordon
Braddock, Mrs. E. M.Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Ogden, Eric
Bradley, TomHart, Mrs. JudithO'Malley, Brian
Bray, Dr. JeremyHaseldine, NormanOrbach, Maurice
Brooks, EdwinHattersley, RoyOrme, Stanley
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Hazell, BertOswald, Thomas
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Buchan, NormanHooley, FrankPage, Derek (King's Lynn)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Hooson, EmlynPannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Carmichael, NeilHorner, JohnPark, Trevor
Carter-Jones, LewisHoughton, Rt. Hn. DouglasParker, John (Dagenham)
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraHowarth, Harry (Wellingborough)Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Coe, DenisHowarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Pavitt, Laurence
Conlan, BernardHowie, W.Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Corbet, Mrs. FredaHuckfield, LesliePentland, Norman
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardHughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Cullen, Mrs. AliceHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Price, William (Rugby)
Dalyell, TamHunter, AdamRandall, Harry
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Rees, Merlyn
Davidson,James( Aberdeenshire, W.)Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Kenyon, CliffordSheldon, Robert
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Shore, Peter (Sterney)
Delargy, HughLawson, GeorgeShort, R t. Hn. Ed ward (N 'c' tle-u-Tyne)
Dell, EdmundLee, John (Reading)Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Dempsey, JamesLestor, Miss JoanSlater, Joseph
Dewar, DonaldLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Small, William
Dickens, JamesLomas, KennethSpriggs, Leslie
Doig, PeterLubbock, EricSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Dunnett, JackLyon, Alexander W. (York)Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)McBride, NeilStonehouse, John
Eadie, AlexMacColl, JamesSwain, Thomas
Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)Macdonald, A HThomas, George (Cardiff, w.)
Edwards, William (Merioneth)Thornton, Ernest
Ellis, JohnMcGuire, MichaelThorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Ennals, DavidMackenzie, Alasdair(Ros&Crom'ty)Tinn, James
Ensor, DavidMackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Tuck, Raphael
Faulds, AndrewMackintosh, John P.Urwin, T. W.
Fernyhough, E.Maclennan, RobertVarley, Eric C.
Finch, HaroldMacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)White, Mrs. EireneWinstanley, Dr. M. P.
Walker, Harold (Doncaster)Wilkins, W. A.Woof, Robert
Wallace, GeorgeWilley, Rt. Hn. FrederickYates, Victor
Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Wellbeloved, JamesWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wells, William (Walsall, N.)Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)Mr. Ioan L. Evans and Mr. Charles Grey.
Whitaker, BenWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
NOES
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Heseltine, MichaelPym, Francis
Astor, JohnHiley, JosephQuennell, Miss J. M.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Hirst, GeoffreyRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Awdry, DanielHolland, PhilipRees-Davies, W. R.
Baker, W. H. K.Hornby, RichardRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Boardman, TomHowell, David (Guildford)Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Body, RichardHutchison, Michael ClarkRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnIremonger, T. L.Royle, Anthony
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Scott, Nicholas
Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M)Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Sharples, Richard
Buck, Antony (Colchester)Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Silvester, Frederick
Bullus, Sir EricJones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Sinclair, Sir George
Burden, F. A.Kaberry, Sir DonaldSmith, John
Campbell, GordonKimball, MarcusStainton, Keith
Carlisle, MarkKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Stodart, Anthony
Clegg, WalterKitson, TimothyStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Cooke, RobertKnight, Mrs. JillScott-Hopkins, James
Costain, A. P.Lane, DavidTaylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dalkeith, Earl ofMaclean, Sir FitzroyThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Maddan, MartinTurton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
du Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardMawby, Rayvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Elliott,R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Emery, PeterMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Vickers, Dame Joan
Eyre, ReginaldMontgomery, FergusWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Farr, JohnMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Walters, Dennis
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesWard, Dame Irene
Fortescue, TimMunro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughWeatherill, Bernard
Foster, Sir JohnMurton, OscarWells, John (Maidstone)
Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)Nabarro, Sir GeraldWhitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Neave, AireyWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Glover, Sir DouglasNoble, Rt. Hn. MichaelWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Gower, RaymondNott, JohnWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Grant, AnthonyOnslow, CranleyWorsley, Marcus
Grant-Ferris, R.Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)Wylie, N. R.
Grieve, PercyPage, Graham (Crosby)Younger, Hn. George
Gurden, HaroldPage, John (Harrow, W.)
Hall, John (Wycombe)Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)Pink, R. BonnerMr. Jasper More and
Harrison, col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Mr. Hector Monro.
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelPrior, J. M. L.

Resolved,That Standing Order No. 68 (Attendance of law officers in standing committees) be amended as follows:—

Line 8, at end add:

(2) In a standing committee which is to consider a bill brought in upon a Ways and Means resolution any Minister of the Crown,

Allocation of Time to Bills (New Standing Order)
Allocation of time to bills.(1) Where, in respect of a public Bill either—
(a) Mr. Speaker has been informed that no general agreement to allot a specified number of days or portions of days to the consideration of the Bill in Committee or on report has been reached, or
5(b) any general agreement of which Mr. Speaker has been informed is, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, working ineffectively,
10a motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown that the Committee on the Bill shall report the Bill on or before a specified day, and that the Business Committee shall make recommendations to the House as to the number of days or portions of days to be allotted to the consideration of the Bill in Committee, on report or on Third Reading, and as to the time by which proceedings on any parts into which they may divide the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion in Committee or on report and any further recommendations which may in their opinion be necessary to ensure the bringing to a conclusion of the proceedings on the parts of the Bill allotted to those days or portions of days;

being a Member of this House, though not a member of the standing committee, may take part in the deliberations of the committee, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum.

9.27 p.m.

15and not more than two hours after the commencement of proceedings on such a motion Mr. Speaker shall proceed to put any question necessary to dispose of those proceedings.
(2) For the purposes of this Order the Business Committee shall consist of the Chairmen's Panel together with not more than five other Members to be nominated by Mr. Speaker.
20(3) When the Business Committee shall have reported the resolution or resolutions containing their recommendations to the House, the provisions of sub-paragraph (c) of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) shall apply to the proceedings on any motions for the consideration of such report and on the consideration of the said report.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.

I believe that it may be for the convenience of the House if at this stage I merely move the Motion formally.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take it that it would be in accordance with your wish and that of the House if, as on the previous Motion, the two Amendments standing in my name were taken in discussion at the same time with the Motion although, in view of what Mr. Speaker said at the beginning of our proceedings, I take it that our right to divide separately on the Motion and on the Amendments would be reserved.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think that it would be to the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman would move his first Amendment, the debate taking place both on the main Motion and on both the Amendments in

In line 23, at end add—
5(4) In any case in which subsequent to submission by the Business Committee of their recommendation in respect of the time to be allotted for discussion of any Bill or any part of a Bill amendments to that Bill or part of a Bill are tabled by a Minister or by the Member in charge of the Bill which in the opinion of not less than 20 Members signified in writing are likely to raise matters requiring discussion additional to that likely to arise on the Bill in the form in which it was considered by the Business Committee, the Business Committee shall give further consideration to the time required for consideration of the Bill and shall make a further recommendation to the House as to what further time (if any) shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill, and the preceding paragraphs of this Order shall apply to such recommendations.
10

My two Amendments are totally different in what they seek to do but they have the common purpose of diminishing what I believe to be the ill effect of the Government's proposal. I want to make it clear at the outset that even with those two Amendments added, although the mischief to be effected by the Government proposal would be very much reduced, I should still regard this as a very dangerous and unsound proposition.

I turn to the first of my Amendments. I imagine that most of us would be prepared to leave out "a Minister of the Crown" and insert "Mr. Speaker". That is a plain improvement, on the face of it. Nevertheless, it raises a serious point

his name, with his having the right to call a Division on either or both of the Amendments if he so desires.

9.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, in line 6, leave out 'a Minister of the Crown ' and insert 'Mr. Speaker' Possibly it would be convenient as I feel very strong objections to the proposed new Standing Order, that I should first of all direct my argument and invite the attention of the House to both the quite separate and distinct Amendments which stand in my name—alone, in the case of the Amendment I have moved but also in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) in the other case:

which I should be grateful if the House would consider.

The words that it is proposed to change relate to that part of the new proposed Standing Order which, at the moment, reads: any general agreement of which Mr. Speaker has been informed is, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, working ineffectively".

It is proposed that where there is general agreement of a voluntary nature, such as has been effectively tried on earlier occasions, and such agreement is not, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, working effectively, the procedure of the rest of the proposed Standing Order—which, in substance, means the imposition of the Guillotir e at the cost of debate for not more than two hours—is put into operation.

It is surely a well-established principle that no one should be a judge in his own cause, and where we have an agreement between a Minister and my right hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench, surely the decisive factor should not be the Minister's view whether an agreement to which he is a party is or is not working effectively. This is an agreement of which, under the proposed Standing Order, Mr. Speaker will be aware. It is not landing him with any new matter to consider. I am sure that all hon. Members would feel complete confidence in the impartiality of Mr. Speaker in deciding. aye or no, whether an agreement was working effectively.

I say this without being offensive in any way: we should not feel the same confidence in the opinion of a Minister. We all know that when we are parties to an agreement which gets into difficulties—and it is only in respect of an agreement that does get into difficulties that this proposal operates—we are apt to have our own inevitably partisan view whether or not it has been working properly. This would be as true, of Ministers from my own party as I believe it to be true of Minister,, of the party opposite.

Therefore, to go for the impartial arbitration of Mr. Speaker must improve the confidence that we would all feel that this provision, bad though we regard it basically, at least was being fairly administered. There may be many reasons, difficult for a Minister to appreciate, why an agreement is working ineffectively. It may be—it has been the case in the past—that such an agreement is working ineffectively because of the incompetent way in which the Minister has handled the Bill—because of his refusal to make concessions, or of his adopting the sort of line that the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) adopted on the Land Commission Bill, of refusing to answer quite reasonable questions.

No one can expect a Minister, who is still a human being, fully to appreciate that the cause of the ineffective working of an agreement may be himself. On the other hand, Mr. Speaker, who has to exercise so much patience in sitting here and listening to speeches from hon. Members on both sides, is perhaps better placed than anyone else to form a just and fair assessment of that question.

If the First Secretary wants this system which he and his right hon. Friend seek to impose on the House to work, he will give it a better chance of working if the operation of this provision depends not on the inevitably partial opinion of a partial Minister, but on the impartial arbitrament of Mr. Speaker.

My Amendment to line 23, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk joins me, is designed to deal with a different contingency. This contemplates a situation in which the Guillotine procedure had been set in motion at a fairly early stage and the Business Committee—in view of its composition one must accept this—had done its best to allow a fair period for argument about the provisions of the Bill, and subsequently, the Minister or the Member in charge of the Bill put down a mass of new Amendments.

This is not a fanciful conception. Those of us who remember the 1965 Finance Bill recall that the then Chancellor put down literally hundreds of Amendments when the Bill was still in Committee. Most, I accept, did something to diminish the ill effects of a very ill-drafted Bill. Then there was our experience of the Prices and Incomes Act 1966, when, at an important stage at the end of the Committee, a whole new Part IV was put down, introducing compulsory powers. These were matters of the greatest importance.

If we assume, as we must, that the Business Committee has done its job properly on the facts before it, does it not automatically follow that, if that kind of situation repeated itself, the allocation of time made on the basis of the Bill as the Committee saw it would almost certainly be inadequate for a consideration of the Bill with the additional proposed Amendments? Surely that must be so. I have not sought to set this machinery in motion simply on the whim of an individual Member. It is for the House and for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the provision for 20 Members to signify their view in writing is sensible. It seems to rule out the procedure being invoked somewhat eccentrically by an individual, but it is very much a matter for the House whether it feels that this is a sensible moderating provision.

If these 20 Members did so signify, then, under this proposal, the Business Committee would have to meet, but it would not be bound to allot more time. As the Whip on the Front Bench will see, the proposed Amendment provides for increasing the time allotted, if any, but at least the Business Committee will have to consider the new situation. If this Guillotine procedure is to work regularly, as the main Motion proposes, it surely becomes much more important to have this provision for the situation arising when the Government, in perfectly good faith no doubt, set down a whole mass of new Amendments after the Business Committee has agreed an allocation of time arrangement and the House has approved it.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants this greatly increased use of the Guillotine to function with any smoothness, he must be prepared to deal with a situation which is not fanciful but which has arisen in the memory of all hon. Members in recent years. It becomes more important if the Guillotine is to be used regularly, because this increases the probability that, among other measures, it will be applied to some which are subject to the putting down of a large number of Amendments after the Committee stage has begun.

I therefore put forward this proposal seriously on the basis that, if we are to have this proposal—and I suspect that, with the Government Whips on, a Government which still has a majority of more or less 100 will be able to carry the main proposal—at least there should be this safeguard against a situation which everyone would deplore, in which the Business Committee might reach a decision on one basis, and the House then had to operate on a basis which had been changed as a result of the tabling of Amendments.

I do not want to say too much about the main proposal, but it is clearly designed to facilitate the frequent use of the Guillotine on Government Bills. I regard that as deplorable. Every Government have the right, if they think that an individual Measure is being subjected to fillibustering and an excessive attempt to talk it out, to move a guillontine Motion. All Governments have done this from time to time, but only in respect of individual Measures and they have had to be prepared to spend a whole day, sometimes a singularly awkward and embarrassing day, arguing a guillotine Motion. That necessity is a very salutary discipline on a Government which may lightly consider interfering with the right of discussion in the House.

The balance between the ultimate right of Government to get their Measures through and the rights of hon. Members to talk and the Opposition to delay is about right at the moment. I very much regret this proposal because it shifts the balance enormously in favour of the Government, as is the case with many of the other proposals before us. This new Standing Order provides that the Government can impose a Guillotine at the cost of no more than two hours of debate, so one must consider what the effect of the intended frequent use of this power will be on the House and on the rights of the Opposition.

It is an elementary fact that time is the great weapon of an Opposition. Time and the right to use it and consume it is one of the Methods by which an Opposition can extract concessions from a Government. Anyone who has been a Minister for any length of time knows that Ministers make concessions on certain matters so as to get on with the Bill and create the atmosphere in which they can progress—to oil the machinery.

But once we deprive a Minister of that incentive, as would be done with a Guillotine, we would deprive the Opposition of this opportunity to secure, at any rate, some concessions. The Minister will know that he has only to sit in his place and wait for the clock to reach the predetermined hour and the bells will ring, he will have his Division and his Bill without having to make any concessions.

Whatever view one takes of general matters, most hon. Members will agree that that is not a state of affairs which is healthy for Parliament, because anything which induces Ministers, of all parties, to be more rigid and more inflexible weakens the authority, prestige and standing of Parliament. That, I need scarcely argue, is a thoroughly bad thing. But it must be the inevitable consequence of a great extension of the use of the Guillotine.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with two specific Amendments.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I understood that Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the beginning of these proceedings, said that we should take them together with the main Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has moved the Government Motion.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I have now had a note from the Table which tells me that my predecessor in the Chair did say that, and I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Then I may pursue the matter? I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you know that I would not willingly go out of order, although I may sometimes do so inadvertently.

Part of the danger which we see in the Government's Motion is the wide extension of the Guillotine, and it would help the House if the First Secretary would say whether it is the intention, if the Motion is carried, to use the Guillotine regularly on all major Government Bills or whether the Government will in all cases, as in the past, wait until they see whether something in the nature of obstruction has developed.

I do not want to stress the point, but there is one other important aspect from the point of view of the Opposition. Under a Guillotine there is no incentive on Government supporters to hold back. We do not see the Patronage Secretary turning round with an irritated look at those Government supporters who seek to support the Government with their voices rather than their votes or to take the opposite view. The Opposition are therefore deprived of what in normal circumstances is their traditional advantage of taking the larger part of the time in discussing Government Measures. This is a fair way of maintaining a balance between an Opposition, who ultimately in most circumstances can be voted down, and a Government who, as a matter of definition, have the right to assert their will.

Here again we are getting a shift, not from Parliament to Government but from Opposition to Government. That is something which, as a member of the Opposition, I must deplore. I think that I may say that as a Member of the House of some years standing I also very much deplore it, because here again we come to the fact that, as all hon. Members know, the power of the Government over the House has increased as the years have passed, and that has not been a good thing for Parliament. We have a proposal to operate the Guillotine on a regular basis, I suspect for fairly regular use. If that be so, then that, too, is a matter on which I must make my protest.

9.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I do not know whether it is a case of chickens coming home to roost or, "If at first you don't succeed.…" But there are so many matters which we are discussing today which I have been advocating for many years. I raised the question of a timetable for Bills in the Select Committee on procedure in the 1955–59 Parliament. Hon. Members will find it on pages liv and lv. I am referring to it because I was a little more generous to the Opposition than is the Motion before us. The last paragraph was, If during the committee stage of a Bill it is considered either by the Government or the Opposition that too much or too little time has been allocated for the efficient detailed examination of the Bill then either the Government or the Opposition should be able on one occasion only to refer the matter back to the business committee for further consideration. That is a little more generous to the Opposition than is this Motion.

My experience in the House has led me to believe that a Bill is much more seriously discussed, much more expeditiously discussed and much more efficiently discussed if the House is working to a timetable. Otherwise there is always a tendency, particularly on a very important Bill, for too much time to be devoted to the early stages of a Bill and too little to the later stages. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that the Government could always introduce a Guillotine Motion. I do not see how any hon. Member can think that to spend a day on a Guillotine Motion is a sensible way of spending a Parliamentary day. Hon. Members speak more nonsense when discussing Guillotine Motions than when discussing anything else. If we can avoid the waste of time that takes place in those debates, we will be doing something good.

The Motion presents the possibility of an agreed timetable. From what I have heard today, it is doubtful, when the Finance Bill goes upstairs on the first occasion, that there will be an agreed timetable. That is the impression I got from the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite and it is foolish of them to take that attitude. If an agreed timetable cannot be obtained under paragraph 1 (a) of the Motion, then an Allocation of Time Order will have to be made by the Business Sub-Committee.

It seems that when the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is in Opposition he develops what I can only call an Opposition technique and temperament. He forgets that there is a possibility that, some time in the far distant future, there might possibly be a Conservative Government.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

From the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman today, however, one wonders whether he even considers that to be a possibility. He must agree that the Amendment to line 6 is nonsense. Why place more responsibility on Mr. Speaker, who already has more than enough to do, by leaving it to him to decide if an agreement is working ineffectively? Mr. Speaker does not even sit in Committees upstairs. It is more sensible for the Minister in charge of the Bill to make this decision. Had the Conservative Government in 1959 accepted my suggestion, the Opposition would be joining in the making of this decision.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The question is not whether Mr. Speaker has to decide if sufficient time has been given. The point of decision is much narrower. It is whether the agreement of which he has been notified is working satisfactorily. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that a man who is party to an agreement is an unbiased judge as to whether the other party is working it effectively with him?

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

It depends on the man. The answer is "Yes" if it is a Labour Minister. He would be an impartial judge.

The right hon. Gentleman wants to alter paragraph 1(b) to read: … any general agreement of which Mr. Speaker has been informed is, in the opinion of Mr. Speaker, working ineffectively. As Mr. Speaker is not sitting in the Committee, he is not likely to know. Although the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment will be defeated, I trust that he will allow good sense to prevail and will withdraw the Amendment.

I have more sympathy with the Amendment which is also being discussed. In that, the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if, by chance, after the Business Committee had decided the number of sittings, a Minister tabled a large number of Amendments, the whole matter should be reconsidered. I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to that aspect of the problem.

I thought that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames had accepted the idea of having a timetable. I got that impression when he moved the Amendment and I was feeling rather pleased at what I thought was a change of heart on his part. He then went back to the beginning and demolished all that he had said later. I am afraid that I cannot agree with anything the right hon. Gentleman said about a timetable. I am very surprised that a right hon. Gentleman with his experience of this House should think that there is some merit in spending a day on a Guillotine Motion. I hope that the House will accept without question the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend.

9.55 p.m.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Hon. Members will see that I had put my name to the second Amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I do not think that my right hon. Friend, who is very famous in this House, will mind my saying that at least we are equal in producing that Amendment; in other words, I have not just a tagged my name to it—the idea was considerably mine. I say that only because on one of very few occasions I am not in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend. Many hon. Members opposite may think that I am an awkward person, but I try to be consistent, and because, when we were in Government, I thought from time to time that there was some case to be made out for a timetable, I could not accept quite all of my right hon. Friend's criticisms.

I accept implicitly, particularly as a back bencher, that any movement towards a timetable may start one on a very slippery slope, in that having accepted a timetable in principle the next move may take one a little further. Therefore, emotionally—I think that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) will understand what I mean about this—I am very hesitant to say that I would support a timetable. "Suspect the Greeks when they come with gifts in their hands"—I look on the Government rather as Greeks in that sense, and view them with very grave suspicion.

I agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that one of the weaknesses of the present system is that in Committee we fight a very controversial Bill tooth and nail and find ourselves still on Clause 1. The Government of the day then bring in a Guillotine Motion, with the result that we spend half an hour on Clauses 2 to 15, and find we have spent far too long on Clause I compared with the remainder of the Bill. I remember that very wise politician—and I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree that he was wise—Mr. Harold Macmillan, saying to me when, as a very young Member I went on my first Standing Committee, "Let them talk on the first Clause, and then all the really difficult Clauses go through on the nod because the other side have got tired of their opposition."

There is a good deal of truth in that statement. A wise Government do not use Parliamentary Standing Orders to get through their business through: they work the machine on the basis of the human beings with whom they are dealing. It is not always accidental that a long time is taken on Clause 1. The

Government of the day may want that to happen because they hope that their opponents will then have exhausted themselves and allow, say, Clause 4—a very emotive Clause in this House—to go through on the nod.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is a very experienced Chairman, who must have sat in many Standing Committees which had got to the position where the Government of the day thought that they might have to seek a Guillotine. Instead, they found that the Opposition suddenly collapsed because they had used all their efforts on the first one or two Clauses and then began to peter out on the remaining Clauses, with the result that the Government got their Bill in about the same time as they would have done if they had had to debate a Guillotine Motion on the Floor of the House.