I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the rôle of the Expenditure Committee, with particular reference to staff, broadcasting of proceedings, reporting by Sub-Committees, and other matters contained in the Second Special Report on Session 1970–71, the Sixth Special Report of Session 1971–72, the Second and Fourth Special Reports of the last Session of Parliamentand in the Minutes of Evidence taken on 9th April 1973.
It is appropriate that I should begin by thanking the Opposition for putting a Supply day at the disposal of the Expenditure Committee for these debates.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who is an assiduous attendant at Expenditure Committee debates, should be here today to liven up our proceedings, although he did go a bit wide, even for him. I shall not follow him up all those attractive byways. I recall the days when he was Chairman of the Estimates Committee and the very good work that he did.
Although we have a sparse attendance we need not underline it. The mere fact of having a debate has produced a remarkable degree of alacrity from the Department of Employment. Until the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) produced her report and the Expenditure Committee chose it for debate, I think that these papers were well buried. I do not know how much dust they were gathering or how busy the Department was—I am sure that it was intensely busy—but it managed to produce the papers in time and get the reply in. Therefore, we should be glad that the debate has produced a reply from the Government.
The hon. Member for Fife, West referred to the pressure on the time of the House, a matter of which we are all aware. It seems extraordinary that we should have a week like this when nothing seems to go on and then days when there is debate after debate and Committee proceedings and it is difficult for any conscientious hon. Member to get to bed at a reasonable time. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be an inquiry by the Leader of the House and his staff into the way that time on the Floor is divided. However, I am not yet convinced that the Expenditure Committee as such deserves or requires many extra days.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is Chairman of the General Sub-Committee, is bound to get at least one day, if not two days—one on the Budget and another on expenditure forecasts.
The day that we have been allotted is not what would be called fashionable, being the first day after the House returns from the Christmas Recess. The timing was unfortunate in some ways. For instance, the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers), who, with his industrious sub-committee, has completed one report on regional development incentives, which has been through the main committee, has another one which I understand is on its way to the main committee. Had the debate been postponed by a fortnight I believe that we could easily have had a day on the report on regional development incentives, which would have been a very good subject. But it is asking too much, even of a Government as gifted as ours, to suggest that we should debate a report that has not yet reached their hands.
Therefore, although the timing is not too happy, with the agreement of the members of my Committee I thought that we might use half of this day for an inquest on the Expenditure Committee which has existed for three years. We have had sufficient time and experience to draw some useful conclusions, and, with the permission of the House, I should like to begin by going into a little history, most of which is contained in the Green Paper of October 1970, Command 4507.
We owe a great deal to the inventive brain and activity of the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) who was concerned that many hon. Members seemed to have so little to do. Accepting that there are about 600 Members, of whom 100 are engaged on Government business and another 50 on Opposition Front Bench business, 450 Members are left with nothing to do except to vote. Therefore, the right hon. Member for Coventry, East thought, probably with a measure of reason, that if he could find them some harmless activity it would be conducive to building up a contented tempo in this House.
The Select Committee on Procedure, which started in 1965, no doubt at the right hon. Gentleman's prompting, recommended that there should be a new Select Committee to examine how the Departments of State carried out their responsibilities, to consider the estimates of expenditure, and to report. However, that recommendation was not accepted.
We then go to December 1966, when once again this went to the Procedure Committee and it recommended that there should be a number of Select Committees—science and technology, race relations, immigration, Scottish affairs, education and science, agriculture and overseas aid. In the main, those suggestions were adopted.
In December 1968, the Select Committee on Procedure was invited to make further inquiries into the examination by the House of Commons of public expenditure and the choice of priorities. The Committee published a report in July 1969 in which it recommended a procedure for considering public expenditure and examining the form of paper presented to the House. The Committee recommended a general subcommittee of 16 members, and eight sub-committees each of nine members, which might be a total of anything up to 80 members.
I should like to state what the Committee considered to be the rôle of the General Sub-Committee. It was to scrutinise the projection of public sector expenditure as a whole after the annual debate on the Expenditure White Paper, to consider the adequacy of the material provided and to give an account to the House of the working of sub-committees. It would guide the work of the Committee as a whole and co-ordinate the inquiries undertaken with the work of other Select Committees.
That was a fairly rigorous directive, and when there was a change of Government responsibility for the leadership of the House fell to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment who, having graduated to that post from the job of Patronage Secretary, cast a rather cooler eye on the activities of these committees. Anyway, he dwelt upon these matters and produced a Green Paper to which I have already referred—Cmnd. 4507 of October 1970—and that was debated on 12th November 1970.
I should like to go back to that debate for a while, because my right hon. Friend who was then Leader of the House said
that, as a result, a major Select Committee on Expenditure with a comprehensive set of functional sub-committees was not a feasible proposition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 620.]
That was his conclusion, and accordingly the Green Paper suggested that alongside the Select Committee which I have mentioned there should be a more modest form of Select Committee on Expenditure which might have about 45 members, which is the number that we have now.
It would have a wider rôle than the old Estimates Committee and would keep under examination the projections of public expenditure made available to the House. It would be free to consider the policy behind the figures, and therefore might sometimes wish to examine Ministers on them. That, basically, is the directive on which the Expenditure Committee has been functioning.
During that debate the former Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, now Lord Boyd-Carpenter, complimented the then Leader of the House and said:
As one would expect of the late captain of the Royal and Ancient, my right hon. Friend has gone pretty well straight down the middle of fairway and has avoided all but perhaps one or two of the bunkers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 630.]
Not being very cognisant with golf, it seems to me that that is an odd shot to play—one that goes into one or two bunkers but ends up on the fairway. But that probably is what he did, and my criticism of my right hon. Friend's conclusion is that he underclubbed himself.
He did not hit the ball as far as it could have been hit at the time. My right hon. Friend's native caution reasserted itself. Because of his experience as Patronage Secretary, he felt unwilling to commit large numbers of Members of the House to a form of activity, which I should almost describe as Stakhanovite.
On 22nd January 1971 the Committee was set up with its sub-committees and a steering sub-committee, and the Committee had the wisdom to elect as its chairman my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). I think one can say that my right hon. Friend played an important part in getting the Committee off the ground, and as his successor I should like to express my gratitude to him for all the work that he did then. No doubt his labours on the Expenditure Committee were all too much for him. He retired in the autumn of 1971 and I was invited to succeed him.
This debate deals with a number of points which hon. Members have raised from time to time and I do not propose, as it were, to get in their way. The subjects mentioned on the Order Paper are staff, broadcasting of proceedings and reporting by sub-committees. I shall make only a brief reference to each of those matters, except staff, because I know that hon. Members have important contributions on these subjects on which they have strong views. They had the opportunity of expressing most of their views to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who is with us today, when my right hon. Friend visited the Committee in April 1972. A number of points were put to him, all of which he dealt with to his own satisfaction, if not to that of members of the committee.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert) made the most original contribution to that discussion, because he is on record as saying that although he voted against the televising of the proceedings of the House he would like to see the proceedings of the sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee televised. That is almost a unique view, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will take it into account when he replies to the debate.
I should now like to say something about reporting by sub-committees. My right hon. Friend the Lord President has expressed the view that the present situation is satisfactory. That is not the view of members of the Committee, so we have arrived at what I call a working compromise. That means that I try to ensure that there is no delay by the main Committee in dealing with the draft reports from the sub-committees, and where draft reports are agreed unanimously by the members of the sub-committee I try to discourage members of the main Committee from seeking to alter them. Members have regarded that as a reasonable arrangement, but it does not seem to be logical or sensible, and that again is something which some of my colleagues may wish to raise.
The subject of staff is an old Expenditure Committee red herring. In his speech, to which I have referred, my noble Friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, speaking from his experience as former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said,
If the new committee is to work efficiently, this is not just a question of giving it one or two extra clerks on the establishment of the department of the learned Clerk of the House. It involves equipping it with a real investigatory staff of its own. We are kidding ourselves if we think that an assembly of very busy Members of this House with, as we know, many other commitments and obligations, sitting perhaps twice a week for a couple of hours can possibly get at what is referred to in the Green Paper as…' the reasons and policies behind figures…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 632.]
In general this line was also taken up by the Expenditure Committee in its Second Report of 1970–71, paragraphs 24–32. It is an argument that can be overdone. We are not a committee of audit—I am glad to see the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee present and probably he would agree—but a committee of inquiry.
I do not believe that our task would be immensely facilitated if we had 10 times as many staff. At present we have learned Clerks of the House and the inestimable advantage of the help of our specialist advisers. Every sub-committee has such advice. The specialist advisers have rendered valuable service to us.
I do not see how it would be feasible, unless we were prepared to keep them unemployed indefinitely, to employ a vast staff of specialist advisers unless they knew on what topics they were to give advice. In my experience, the specialist advisers from whose services we have benefited, have been up to their work and have made an enormous contribution to the work of the sub-committees, mainly because they were especially the best people for the job. We are able to call upon these high-class specialist advisers and they do the job not for the remuneration, which is not important to them, but because they think their work is appreciated and published.
There is also the problem of accommodation. There is not room for a large new department. What would we do with all the people involved? A number of hon. Members who take an interest in this work are present today. They would agree that their work would not be greatly facilitated if they had four times as many clerks. There are times when an additional clerk is useful. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees acquired the use of an additional clerk and used him to the best advantage with great zeal when he took on the South African inquiry before completing his report on regional development incentives.
I am not ashamed to say that I have had advice of the Clerk to the Committee who said,
Where Sub-Committees stick mainly to general principles of expenditure, or overall monitoring, there may be scope for long-term specialist staff.
This is especially the case in connection with the General Sub-Committee where the services of Mr. Wynne Godley of the Cambridge Department of Applied Economics have been invaluable. I do not wish to belittle the extremely good work of that sub-committee and its Chairman, but Mr. Wynne Godley's contribution has been admirable. In the sub-committee we had Brigadier Kenneth Hunt of the Institute of Strategic Studies. It is called the Defence and Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, but if it should switch its interest from defence to foreign affairs then Brigadier Hunt's use value would be reduced. In that event some other adviser would be more appropriate.
I shall mention other specialist advisers who have done us well. There is Mr. Murray Stewart of the University of Kent who has worked on the new towns for the Environment Sub-Committee. We have not yet seen its report but I understand that it is going well. There is Mr. Gareth Williams of Lancaster University who has worked with the Education Sub-Committee on higher education. Lastly, Mr. John Knight of the Oxford Institute of Economics and Statistics has worked on the South African inquiry with the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees. It is a satisfactory marriage between a highly skilled specialist adviser and a chairman who takes trouble, who is productive and who is liable to produce the sort of results that this committee should be able to show to the House.
I do not sympathise with the usual complaints that the committees are understaffed. It is true that the sub-committee clerks have to work very hard, especially as they have other duties in the House, I wonder sometimes how they manage to do them, but they do. I have not been aware over the past two years that the quality of the reports which the committee has produced has been less than satisfactory to the House. They have been extremely good, and they are the work of individual clerks.
What conclusions can we come to from three years' experience of this Committee? First, I suggest to the Lord President—and I believe that all my colleagues on the Committee agree with me—that it should be appointed for a Parliament and not on a sessional basis. We have known already in my chairmanship two long interruptions in work which were unnecessary. A formula has been devised for me by the clerk by which my suggestion could be adopted. I am advised that the form of resolution to keen the Committee in existence during a Parliament would be:
(a) That the Members of the Expenditure Committee nominated by the Order made on
the appropriate date
shall continue to be Members of the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament.
(b) That this Order be a Standing Order of the House".
I hope that my colleagues who agree with me will make that point because I should like to leave this as a legacy to our successors so that they may operate on a more permanent basis.
The other problem is the selection of members of sub-committees. The work of sub-committees is, mainly, carried on by the chairmen with a handful of colleagues as well as the professional assistance which they receive. Much inconvenience is caused by the fact that hon. Members are invited to join the Expenditure Committee and then find that there is no vacancy on the sub-committee on which they want to serve.
Human nature being what it is, the Defence and Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee is always over-subscribed. I do not suggest that that is because it is the sub-committee whose members do the most travelling. That would be a quite unworthy suggestion to make, and I should not put it forward. The General Sub-Committee is also over-subscribed. The result is that equally valuable and important sub-committees, such as that dealing with environmental questions, have a number of Members who attend very rarely because they are not genuinely interested in environmental problems and because basically they joined the Expenditure Committee hoping to serve on a subcommittee dealing with a topic in which they were interested.
When a new Expenditure Committee is recruited in the next Parliament, I suggest that hon. Members should be asked which sub-committee they wish to join and that before any appointments are made the usual channels should sort out the matter and produce the right mix. That would prevent much frustration.
We talk about these committees being all-party committees, but there are no Liberal Party representatives, although the Expenditure Committee consists of 45 people, and therefore on a proportional basis there would be room for a Liberal or two. One of the best chairmen of a sub-committee we had was the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne). I should have thought that nothing in his life would do anything but enhance his value as a member of a specialist sub-committee. We act a little narrowly by confining membership of the committee to the Government and to the Opposition.
I am obliged.
My conclusion is that the Expenditure Committee has justified its progress from being just another Estimates Committee. I think that we can be satisfied—and this is not an exercise in self-praise—with the results of three years' work. It is not outstandingly good, but the system is going about right and I am sure that that will continue as long as we can contrive to get Members interested in the work and to find them employment in the work in which they are interested—which are two different questions. The Expenditure Committee should be a permanent Committee and should not have to be chosen every Session.
I agree with a good deal of what the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) has said. I shall deal later with his remarks about which I disagree.
I support the idea of appointing the Expenditure Committee not for a Session but for a Parliament, and I agree that the question of selecting Members to serve on the Committee should be given much more serious consideration. The hon. Member for Walsall, South referred mainly to the question of the membership of the sub-committee, but the appointment of Members to the Committee is still too much in the hands of the Whips. There is reason to believe that the Chief Whip or Deputy-Chief Whip says to one of his colleagues "I am sorry that I cannot send you to Strasbourg and about the CPA delegation to Barbados, but what about the sub-committee?" The Whips see the Committee as being on the fringes of patronage for the dull, dutiful, elderly and academic. That is not good enough, and I hope that experience of the Committee in the last Session and the comments of hon. Members today will persuade the Lord President and his successors that this is an important Committee to which Members should be appointed on merit and not simply because there is nowhere else for a troublesome or boring and persistent Member to go.
Three years is a very short time in the life of a Parliament in which to judge a new institution like a Select Committee. Therefore, I agree that it is far too soon to form a conclusive view of its record and likely achievement or to decide the question of its permanence within the institutions of the House. However, this may be the last chance we shall have in this Parliament to pass an interim judgment and to make comments of which a successive Lord President and hon. Members may take account when making a decision. It is therefore reasonable that we should use this occasion to make our own rather personal assessments.
I have been fortunate enough to be a member of the Expenditure Committee from its inception. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), as a result of whose urging I tentatively put my name forward to the Whips, believing that I was not dull, dutiful, elderly or academic but simply someone who thought that it might be a vehicle by which he could serve the House. During that time I have been Chairman of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee and inevitably my views are coloured by that experience, although what I say will not necessarily reflect even the views of the individual members of the subcommittee. Others will see the matter differently.
However, the important fact—this bears on what the hon. Member for Walsall, South said—is that in a sense the Expenditure Committee barely has a life of its own. We are all essentially members of mini Expenditure Committees. That is where we make our contributions and achieve our satisfaction. It is a measure of how far the Whips have been out of touch that they have tended to judge the performance of Members by the frequency of their attendance at the rather formal and, happily, brief meetings of the Expenditure Committee rather than in terms of their contributions to the subcommittee. It is in the sub-committees that the real work is done.
Being chairman of a sub-committee has been a thoroughly rewarding experience for me, even exhilarating at times, though that may surprise Members who have not served on sub-committees, and totally worth while. I shall continue to feel in retrospect that the past three years have been one of the best or most satisfying periods I will have served in my parliamentary life. Whether we have wholly fulfilled the expectations of our sponsors—those who first thought that the Expenditure Committee would have a rôle—is a different matter. On balance, almost certainly we have not. We have in some respects evolved rather differently from the way they intended.
For that reason, I am not sure that any hon. Member who served on the Select Committee on Procedure and was responsible for the report of 1968–69 from which the Expenditure Committee stems will necessarily feel that we have moved always in the right direction. But this is not true of the General Sub-Committee under the leadership first of the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), to whose contribution I should like to pay tribute, and now of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who has been devoted to his rôle as chairman.
The General Sub-Committee has largely fulfilled the expectations that people held for the Committee as a whole, but I am not sure that other sub-committees have followed the course then charted for them. We have been feeling our way, evolving our respective rôles, and if we have fallen short there is no obstacle to our redeeming ourselves in the future.
I have two broad observations to make. First, to be a strong supporter of an increased rôle for Select Committees does not mean a denial of the central rôle of the Chamber as the heart of Parliament's work. There used to be arguments that one was for one or the other and that those who chose to serve on Select Committees did not feel entirely at home in the atmosphere of the Chamber. That is not the case. Second, it should be noted that, for a Select Committee to be a success, it must lean some way in its choice of inquiry and methods of work to satisfy the natural vanity of Members of Parliament.
On the first point, at a time when, by common consent, the public are disillusioned by what they see as the excuses of party politics, which will become more excessive shortly, it is a good thing that Members should be seen to be working harmoniously together without striking attitudes. If, as a result, the debate in the Chamber is better informed, we shall not be criticised for this either. This is why I see the work of the Chamber and that of the Select Committees essentially in parallel.
Second, it is unrealistic to expect MPs as a whole to be enthusiastic to serve in only a dull background routine, but there is no need for Select Committees to be engaged only in the dull and the routine. In practice it will be seen that many of these sub-committees have had an excellent attendance. During the first inquiry of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee, we had 52 meetings and an average attendance of seven out of eight members. You would be surprised, Mr. Speaker, and probably rather bothered, by such a high percentage attendance in debates in the Chamber. You would be equally surprised to find that number of Members sitting down for two hours at a stretch without always themselves joining in the debate. We have never had a problem of getting a quorum in our sub-committee.
I have summed this up before—perhaps it is appropriate, although the phrase may sound odd—by saying that our inquiries must have some "sex appeal". In other words, they must deal with live and interesting issues upon which it is possible to take evidence from influential and significant people in public life and produce a report to which people pay attention. It is unrealistic for the Expenditure Committee and its six sub-committees or any successor arrangement of Select Committees to proceed without bearing that in mind.
I am delighted to see present tonight my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), and I therefore mention the Public Accounts Committee at this point. We may need to define more clearly the boundaries between the Committee of which he is a distinguished chairman and the Expenditure Committee and its sub-committees. I should like to see a concordat between the two which in due course was endorsed by the House. It is not the job of either Committee to do what the other can do better. We should avoid straying into areas with which the other is more competent to deal.
I should like to feel that it is the Expenditure Committee's task to deal with future policy and to review the Public Expenditure White Paper in all its policy implications, while the Public Accounts Committee continues its scrutiny, as it has done over the years, of expenditure incurred. I agree, however, that this may not be a satisfactory line of demarcation and I hope that, under the auspices of the Lord President, when the successor Committees are set up an arrangement will be reached which makes good sense.
What is the overwhelming characteristic of the evolution of the Expenditure Committee over the last three years? It is the extent to which the sub-committees have asserted their own independence. More and more the Expenditure Committee has been an umbrella, held with kindly tolerance by the hon. Member for Walsall, South. He said just now that he has been happy to see the subcommittees evolving in their own way and to see the convention established that the Expenditure Committee does not amend reports from sub-committees when they are unanimous.
There is a strong body of opinion, as the hon. Member said, which feels that sub-committees should in effect report straight to the House. I am in favour of the maximum freedom for sub-committees to achieve their own purpose in their own way.
The logic of this may be that we should have, not six sub-committees of an Expenditure Committee but six principal Select Committees which would deal with the areas with which the sub-committees now deal. This deserves serious examination. My instinct is that the General Sub-Committee now chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne should increasingly take over the rôle which would flow from the course that it has pursued, envisaged for the original Expenditure Committee—that of examining the Public Expenditure White Paper, seeking to improve it and looking into different areas in which money is spent. Perhaps also, if not all, at least some of the other sub-committees should be constituted with 10 to 16 members as Select Committees.
It is categorically impossible for the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee—I refer to it only because of my familiarity with it—of eight Members to produce more than one substantial report in a year. With luck, we shall have produced three reports by the end of this Parliament, but large areas are inevitably neglected. My sub-committee has been responsible among other things for agriculture, but by the end of this Parliament, after three or more years of life, we will never have examined a question related to this important sector of public expenditure, simply because there is not enough time.
Equally—here I accept the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne—we have not scrutinised the Estimates or given enough time to the annual Public Expenditure White Paper. Sub-committees of the Expenditure Committee or successor Committees of 12 to 16 members should be able to do three things: conduct a major inquiry, take evidence on and examine the Estimates and the Public Expenditure White Paper and conduct short sharp ad hoc inquiries as they arise. It is not possible for any sub-committee of eight Members to carry out all these responsibilities. It is unrealistic, if we visualise Select Committees working in parallel with the Chamber, for Members to give more than two half-days to a Select Committee in addition to all the reading and, in some cases, the travel which may be involved.
For example, why should not the Select Committee dealing with trade and industry matters—a sub-committee now ; a full Committee, perhaps, later—examine the secondary banking system, or aspects of public policy in relation to industry which are now dealt with by the Companies Bill? These are proper subjects of scrutiny. It may well be that many matters which appear in the Companies Bill, the Second Reading of which we are to debate on Thursday, would have benefited by the scrutiny of an appropriate all-party Select Committee of the House before they reached the form that the Bill now takes.
On the question of staff, I place the emphasis in a rather different way than did the hon. Member for Walsall, South. I am certainly not in favour of a sudden and massive recruitment of staff in order to say that we have as many people working for us as work for my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead on the Public Accounts Committee. That would be a very silly way to proceed. It flows from what I have said earlier, however, that it is essential that, if Committees are to be free to proceed and if they are in due course to fulfil the three rôles that I have indicated, there should be no impediment, whether in terms of the Clerks who do such excellent work for us now, of the specialist advisers or of a supporting staff of considerable size. Even if the Committees are larger, it will make a very great demand on the time of Members unless we have the sort of staff who can examine the Estimates for us and can look at the Public Expenditure White Paper and discuss the detailed implications of both with officials responsible for Government Departments. We ought to be moving in that direction.
As Members of Parliament are not experts, we should not try to be experts. Members of Parliament are people who ought to know how to use experts. That is why there should be no obstacle to the recruitment of either specialist staff or a permanent body of experts who can help the Expenditure Committee as a whole.
We should also review our facilities. There are times when I am amazed by how far the basic facilities of this House fall behind those available to a modest business of any kind outside. Problems such as the rapid dispatch of a large number of letters are normally beyond the resources of the House. In this respect it is true that we have still not moved from the quill pen age. There is also room for a more relaxed approach to the question of the travel of members of the Expenditure Committee. I think I am right in saying that until lately it has been the case that a sub-committee had to travel as a whole, and there was no question of one, two or three members of a sub-committee having permission to travel on its behalf. I hope that that will be changed and that, here again, there will be a high degree of flexibility.
On the subject of broadcasting, I do not quite agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, South. He referred to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert) as unique, implying that there was, perhaps, something rather odd—if I did not misunderstand the hon. Member—in Select Committees being televised before the House itself. I do not share that view. There may be a serious case, given proper safeguards, for televising or at least broadcasting the proceedings of Select Committees before the House itself feels that it is in a position to make a decision. I would not like the fact that one holds a view on one of these matters to rule out the possibility of holding a different view on the other. Although this evening we probably cannot examine that at length, I hope that the new Select Committee, when it is appointed in the next Parliament, will be able to discuss this matter sympathetically with the Lord President of the time.
Indeed, I was including that. When I said "safeguards" I had in mind not that the present proceedings of sub-committees of the Select Committees were behind closed doors. On the contrary, the openness of our proceedings is one of our advantages. Certainly the Committee dealing with trade and industry has made clear at all times that the only evidence it was prepared to receive was evidence given to it in public. But we must recognise that the intrusion—I use that word guardedly—of television may make it more difficult at some times for witnesses to provide the information wanted by a sub-committee, in an atmosphere which must be strange to them in the first place. When I used the word "safeguards" I was thinking not necessarily in a legal way but in terms of not interfering with the proper procedures of sub-committees. These are matters to be examined. The problems can be overcome. The plea that I was making, however, was that the question of broadcasting or televising the proceedings of Select Committees should be examined on its merits and not simply dismissed as something that ought to be considered in relation to any decision to televise or broadcast proceedings of the House.
The Expenditure Committee has earned the right to be regarded as an institution which has a great prospect for development. I should like to believe that we have been pushing the frontiers forward and helping in the evolution of Parliament in a way which is essential to Parliament's survival. I am not as impatient as some of my hon. Friends with the speed of progress, but I believe that the momentum of the Committee must be kept up, otherwise it could become ineffective and an experiment which should become permanent could in the end fail.
The House will have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) with great interest when he spoke about the importance of the work of the Procedure Committee from which the Expenditure Committee finally emerged. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) also referred to that important work. He put the view that the outline scheme suggested by the Procedure Committee was a vigorous view of the rôle of the Expenditure Committee. This is right. It was expected when these things were first debated that the Expenditure Committee would come to play a part in the discussion and the survey of public expenditure rather greater than I believe it has so far played. I do not believe that we have anywhere near fulfilled the hopes and expectations of that Procedure Committee. That is a matter to which I shall return later.
On the question of staff, we have very great difficulty in obtaining from Government Departments the kind of information we require. That is not necessarily due to their lack of will in giving us the information. It is because we are extending, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees said, the area of information, and this will obviously be a matter of some difficulty to us. What we really require, however, is our own system of information gathering. It is not enough to have the specialist advisers other than in those areas in which the Expenditure Committee is behaving as the old Estimates Committee.
Clearly, if the Expenditure Committee behaves in the same way as the old Estimates Committee behaved—that is, looking just at one particular expert field—we must have specialist advisers because we are dealing with only a narrow subject on which the Expenditure Committee is considering action. But if we look at the continuing work of each of the sub-committees, the work in comparing forecasts with outturn, monitoring the outputs of each of the Departments, making sure that they understand and accept the reasons for changes in the priorities and making sure that the subcommittees act as part of the great pressure groups of opinion in these matters, we see that clearly there will be a need for the continuous advice that can be obtained by a permanent technical staff gathering strength year by year in finding its way through the maze of public expenditure.
It was that point that was referred to in the Second Special Report of the Expenditure Committee, which was printed on 10th June 1971. It is significant to note the date because it was at a time when we were still talking about an Expenditure Committee as an Expenditure Committee, before we had started to descend into the old Estimates Committee form. At that time we were talking about the rôle of staff in monitoring expenditure, to be able to see the way in which the Government were directing and redirecting their expenditure, to take account of the different priorities which they established, but which did not necessarily reflect the priorities of the particular sub-committees.
It is that kind of staff that will bring to the attention of each of the members of the sub-committee what the Government are actually doing in public expenditure—for instance, whether they are spending more on nursery schools than on other forms of education ; whether this is a good thing, and where resources are being directed—and ask the sub-committee for its view on these matters. That kind of continuing work will require an increase in specialist staff.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South is right in saying that if a Committee proceeds as an Estimates Committee it does not require much increase in staff because it will obtain the specialist advisers required.
I turn now to the relatively small matter of the direct reports of subcommittees. It is quite absurd that the whole Expenditure Committee, each time a report comes before it, should take responsibility for that report. None of us has time—I certainly have not—to go through a report in detail, let alone weigh up all the mountains of evidence. It should be enough for the report to represent the views of those members who took evidence and who weighed up the information which came before them.
We need to introduce the convention of the minority report. It need not necessarily be an appendix to each report, nor do I believe that we need to stress as much in the future as we do now the need for unanimity in reports of this kind. If we are ever to play an important rôle in decisions on public expenditure, it is clear that there will be divisions of opinion. The matter is what fundamentally divides the House. A large part of Parliament's job is considering where we raise the money, from which section of the community we raise it, to which section of the community we give it and how we spend our money on goods and services on behalf of each member of the community.
It is clear that in such a situation there will be divisions of opinion. This does not mean that we necessarily need to have a House of Commons type debate in that sub-committee. It means that in the report of the sub-committee it can be stated that Messrs. A, B and C believe so-and-so and that Messrs. D, E, F and G believe something else. The report could then revert to the unanimity that is usual in these matters. After all, Royal Commissions are beginning to act in this way, realising that unanimity on broad areas can reflect spurious unanimity. The Fulton Committee had many such provisos, on minor matters in the main, whereby people were able to express differences of opinion. If those differences can be expressed in such a report, it is even easier in expenditure reports.
When my hon. Friend suggests introducing a convention, I take it that he is merely saying that Members should make a minority report if they wish. As I am sure he realises, all that a Member has to do in order to have a minority report—if that is what it is—printed with a majority report is simply to table it. Even if it is defeated, it will be printed in the same book. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) did that in the Privileges Committee. Rather surprisingly, what he intended to table as a minority report became a majority report, because he won his case. But whether a Member wins or loses, it will still be printed with the report.
I am aware of that. I have done such a thing with my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) in the Select Committee on Tax Credits, but it is an artificial way of operating and it is so much easier to see it in the context of the report itself, so that it follows as one reads the text.
There is no need to avoid party political subjects in these matters. If the Committee is to play an important rôle, these are areas in which we must engage. If the Expenditure Committee is to be a body which examines priorities and the way in which Governments make their choices, we must enter these areas, as was foreseen so long ago. I agree with much that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees said about broadcasting. I believe in the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House. I accept that broadcasting the proceedings of Select Committees is a quite different matter. An explanation would be needed of much of what was broadcast to enable the public to understand many of our complex problems in Select Committees. If the work of the Expenditure Committee is fundamentally to reflect the kind of expenditure which people require so that it can bring its own pressure to bear on the Government, there must be that educative process. That works back to the public, from which all impetus is derived. I do not believe that there would be anything like the distorting effect which could arise if proceedings of the House were televised.
The main argument against televising the House has always been that certain people may take advantage of it in ways which we know. It cannot be said that the same would apply in the televising or broadcasting of Select Committees, which can be looked at separately. In any case, before it was decided to broadcast the proceedings of Select Committees on a regular basis there would have to be an experiment. That would be the first step.
When the hon. Gentleman speaks of televising Select Committees, does he mean televising the whole of the proceedings or an edited version? In the United States the whole of the proceedings are often televised. Is he considering that, or has he in mind an edited programme such as "Tonight in Parliament"? Is he thinking of '' Tonight in Committee "?
My view is that the television cameras should be switched on and that the broadcasting companies would be able to use whatever version they wished. In the main it would be an edited version, but at certain times it would be a live version. The broadcasting companies would be able to decide what they needed, but in the main it would be only a few items arising from the day's business.
Therefore, the case for an experiment in televising or broadcasting the proceedings of Select Committees is that much stronger than the case for broadcasting the proceedings of the House, because the disadvantages are nowhere near as evident. It would enable Members to become more familiar with such disadvantages as there may be as well as with the advantages.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the matter was discussed in Committee. Although a majority of Members were in favour of the proposal, quite a substantial minority were opposed to it. I believe that those present today represent those who were in favour of broadcasting the proceedings, but it was not a unanimous view of the Committee.
The House will take note of that observation.
I came on to the Expenditure Committee at the beginning of 1971. when it was set up. I came from the Public Accounts Committee, of which I had been a member for nearly six years, because I believed it to be the most important Select Committee. I am reluctant to say it, but I now doubt whether that was necessarily the wisest move I made at that time. My reasons for the move derived from the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which gave what the Committee felt were the advantages for setting up the Expenditure Committee. It showed what might be possible and it gave what came to be, if not a blueprint for, at least a fairly close approximation to the kind of examination of expenditure that we grew to understand.
If we consider the work over the past three years, I do not think any of us can deny that, other than the work of the General Sub-Committee, which has a special brief, almost everything that has been done could have been done under the Estimates Committee. Although so much of the work is excellent—I pay tribute to the excellent reports—I am also aware of the excellence of so many reports published under the aegis of the old Estimates Committee. If this were all that was required, nobody could say that we had been the success that had been expected.
I believe that the success of the Expenditure Committee will be determined by how far we shape our choices, how the priorities of expenditure are determined. I should like to quote from paragraph 75 of the Plowden Committee, which was quoted in its turn by the Procedure Committee. The Plowden Committee said in 1961:
Unless the issues of long-term expenditure priorities and policies can be discussed in Parliament and become the subject of public controversy it will be difficult for Governments to carry public opinion with them.
It felt then that the necessary ingredient of choice was to be public opinion, but I do not believe we can say that we have succeeded in mobilising it. If the Expenditure Committee is to perform its rôle, it must speak on behalf of certain sectional interests. It must find a way of dealing with those sectional interests so that it can bring their views to bear upon Government changes and choices.
I should like to see the situation, which arises all too rarely, of individuals and organisations writing to sub-committees and individual Members on the subcommittees of the Expenditure Committee to seek their support, to persuade them of the rightness of the views of the interests involved. It is when we come to the division between those who want more schools and those who want more housing, with Members of Parliament devising ways of reconciling their claims, that we can see the kind of success that many of us hoped to achieve from the setting up of the Committee.
We are very grateful for the work of the Departments that we interview. We unquestionably take a great deal of their time, but we understand that they accept the necessity. I must tell the Treasury, which has been the recipient of so much questioning from me, that although we may sometimes appear as opponents it is only through direct and vigorous questioning that we can discover the quality of administration. By getting Departments to defend themselves, we can find out the true situation.
Here I should like to say something about the main aim of the Committee. In paragraph 35 at page xvi of its First Report, the Select Committee on Procedure gives the basic object of the subcommittees. It is useful to compare what was expected from them with what has been achieved. The report said:
The task…would be threefold.
(a) It should, first, study the expenditure projections for the Department or Departments in its field, compare them with those of previous years "—
that is not done—
and report on any major variations or important changes of policy "—
that is not done—
and on the progress made by the Departments towards clarifying their general objectives and priorities.
That is not done.
(b) It should examine in as much detail as possible the implications in terms of public expenditure of the policy objectives "—
that is not done—
chosen by Ministers and assess the success of the Departments in attaining them.
That is done frequently, but not invariably.
I am wholly in sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. I suppose the objection to his view and mine would be that if the Committee goes much further in that direction it will be encroaching on the ground of the executive. Has the hon. Gentleman any answer to that? We have an extremely thin House—1 plead guilty myself—examining the reports of the Committee. If it is to take an active part in important policy decisions and compare housing and, say, schools, which I should like to see it do, we must somehow or other enable Parliament to be more fully aware of what the Committee is doing.
That was the whole purpose of the establishment of the Expenditure Committee. The comparison of Government expenditure was not being done by the Cabinet pre-Plowden. Post-Plowden it was done by the Cabinet, but it was done inadequately. That was realised, and the suggestion was made that it was the task of Members of Parliament, but that Members, interested only in sectional choices, could not look at the situation as a whole. Therefore, the idea put forward by the Procedure Committee was that a Committee could do part of the work.
There are a number of sceptics. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), who in the past has rightly pointed out the difficulty of achieving the objective. There have been people who have said that it cannot be done. I still believe that, if we are to bring pressure to bear on the executive, this is the only way of doing it. It will not be possible for Parliament as a whole to act in this way. It might be possible if a Committee—the Expenditure Committee—were to act in this way.
I return to the task of the subcommittee as outlined in the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in 1968–69. It said:
(c) It should enquire, on the lines of the present Estimates Sub-Committees, into Departmental administration, including effectiveness of management.
That is the work of the Estimates Committee, and it is the work that has continued unchanged. It is the concentration on the old and the reluctance, or almost total failure, of sub-committees other than the General Sub-Committee to take account of the new that has been the
most serious fact of the first three years of the work of the Expenditure Committee.
Following conversations and discussions that we have had recently in the Expenditure Committee, I know it is hoped that each of the sub-committees will now take account of the White Paper on the changes in policy and the variations in decisions of Government concerning public expenditure. As a result of the work of our specialist advisers, each of the sub-committees will be given some small account of the main changes in expenditure in the areas of Government spending covered by each of the subcommittees. That I welcome. However, we are still at a very early stage in obtaining from the Government the information we require, let alone the concentration of our understanding as to what each of the members of the subcommittees wants to see done in his own particular area.
I should like to deal with the question of secrecy, and if I am a little "hobby-horsical" in this matter I hope I may be forgiven. This important aspect of assistance from Government Departments must be dealt with. There is so much that Government Departments could give to the sub-committees were it not for the obsession with secrecy which still prevails. Of course I understand the question of the economic forecasts which are a particular bone of contention with the General Sub-Committee. However, I believe that the Civil Service must bear a great deal of the responsibility for the failure to give information to the subcommittees and to hon. Members generally.
I am not surprised that each new administration devotes itself publicly to claiming that there will be greater openness with Government secrets and Government information. Each time this lofty thought tends to be dissipated during the period of office. The main reason for the lack of information is the civil servants to whom openness would present great problems. It is much easier for them to make their decisions unhurried and to consult quietly. They are able to come to a better quality of decision without the interference or interruptions of democratic views. I recall many Ministers making the claim that there would be greater openness in Government but under pressure of events they submitted to arguments that allowed them little scope for extending this openness in Government.
If there were much greater openness, much of the work of the subcommittees would be very much easier. If Government Departments were to take sub-committees more fully into their confidence, I do not doubt that it would be easier to examine what Governments were deciding.
The Expenditure Committee was set up on 22nd January 1971. It was established on the understanding that the essence of public expenditure concerned choice. The Plowden Report of 1961 stated in paragraph 105:
Our proposals are designed to lead gradually to greater public interest in the priorities of expenditure, to the stimulation of academic thought about it, and to greater awareness of the implications and choices involved in policies as they come forward.
We have achieved some small success and I do not regard it as being very much. Changes of the kind I have mentioned would help to improve the position a little.
I shall intervene briefly in the debate. I am not a member of the Expenditure Committee but I wish to lend my support to the proposal that the Expenditure Committee should authorise the broadcasting of its public proceedings, particularly since such support from the Tory side did not seem particularly evident in the vote that was held on the matter.
The proposal raises an important question of principle in this House. The Expenditure Committee considers important areas of policy. Employment services, which were debated earlier today, are an example. The public often take a keen interest in these and they have a vital interest in seeing debate upon them. These proceedings, however, are closed to two of the most important media—radio and television. In other words, although the Committee decides—this applies to other Committees than the Expenditure Committee—that its proceedings should be in public, only a small number of the public can have the opportunity of hearing with their own ears and seeing with their own eyes what is taking place. They are allowed only the privilege of reading an account in a newspaper, an account which may be brief and in some cases unbalanced.
That is an extraordinary anomaly to which the House at some stage must address itself. Newspapers are allowed to report the public proceedings of the Committee, but broadcasting is excluded from doing exactly the same job and from playing exactly the same kind of rôle. It is that exclusion which seems to me to make no sense whatever. It is illogical. If there is a case for reporting the proceedings of the Committee, and presumably that case is accepted, there must also be a case for not distinguishing between the media and how they report. If that is so, two of the most powerful and most popular of the media—radio and television—should not be excluded.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. That Committee takes evidence in public and visits cities and areas of immigrant concentration. It permits the national and local Press to hear the evidence which is given but the most extraordinary performance has to be undergone if it tries in any way to have its proceedings covered by radio or television. Members of the Committee or the chairman may comment either before the evidence has been given or afterwards, but never are the public given the chance of hearing and seeing for themselves the atmosphere of cross-questioning in which that evidence is given.
Again, it seems that the report and the proposal raise an important challenge for the House. It is important because the proposal asks the House to come to terms with broadcasting. It is important also because it asks the House to recognise that the demands of the 1970s are here and that we are not living in the 1940s or even earlier. It presents a real challenge to the House in the sense that many politicians complain—I suppose that we all do at some stage—about the gap between Parliament and the public. At the same time, we persist in excluding two of the major media from reporting directly on matters which are of vital concern to the public. In short, it is an obstinate refusal and one which is not in any sense based on logic.
I should like to see all the proceedings of the House broadcast. I should like to see our proceedings televised and put on radio. I hope that the next Parliament will take that step. Meanwhile, I think that the step which is proposed by the Committee should be given the full support of the House.
I am grateful to be called to speak immediately after my colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). He is my next-door neighbour in that we are constituency neighbours. I must describe him as my benefactor as he is departing from his seat to one with a substantial Conservative majority. He is leaving behind the most Conservative portion of his constituency for the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke), who is now sitting on the Front Bench as a Whip for the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South is leaving behind the most desirable Labour portions of his constituency for me. He is a benefactor to at least two others here.
I sincerely trust that the hon. Gentleman will take the same advice about his new constituency.
I now turn to the Sixth Special Report of 1971–72. It is one of the easier problems with which the Leader of the House will be dealing. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) rightly went back to the earlier history of the Procedure Committee's consideration of how to reform the Estimates Committee. He may recollect that I was a member of the Procedure Committee when the discussions started and when some of the reports were published.
There were a number of advocates of specialist committees. I was such an advocate and I still am. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and his colleagues on the old Estimates Committee had a not unnatural reluctance to be abolished. That is what would have happened had a set of specialist committees been created. If that had been done, the old Estimates Committee would have had no function, nor indeed would there have been any function for the Expenditure Committee if there had been set up specialist committees dealing with, for example, defence and foreign affairs or other issues. The compromise was reached of setting up the Expenditure Committee which, unlike the old Estimates Committee, could, if it wished, consider policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ash-ton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has detailed what the Procedure Committee said in one of its reports. Sub-committees were created which were specialist committees. That is what they are, although I agree with my hon. Friend that they proved in practice to be more limited than was envisaged. It was then said that it was a reasonable compromise because the Expenditure Committee, with experience of of its own working, could say after a time whether it wished to continue to work in the way in which it was set up or whether, in the light of experience, it had recommendations to make to the House.
The first thing to be said about the Sixth Report is that it does exactly what the Expenditure Committee was set up to do. One of the purposes for which it was set up was to recommend how the problem should be resolved. The Committee is now putting forward a modest suggestion—namely, that a sub-committee should report directly to the House as if it were a full committee. There is a need for co-ordination between the sub-committees. For example, there could be a committee of the chairmen. There must be something to ensure that the sub-committees do not cross each other's boundaries as regards their function.
It is almost the unanimous view of the Expenditure Committee that it does not want to interfere with a sub-committee which has heard all the evidence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) said, after, for example, 52 meetings, and which has produced a report which in the overwhelming number of cases is unanimous. It is the sub-committee which sees the witnessses. It is possible to read the evidence, but it is the members of the subcommittee who see the witnesses' demeanour. It is even true that the Expenditure Committee does not see a large part of the evidence of the sub-committee dealing with defence and foreign affairs because of the confidential nature of the evidence.
The Expenditure Committee does not wish to interfere with that position, but it is in an unsatisfactory position in that the principle which the chairman has been trying to inculcate cannot be adhered to under the rules of the House.
Under those rules we are responsible for something for which we do not feel we are responsible. Under the rules of the House, whether the chairman tries to discourage it or not, he cannot stop a member of his Committee tabling an amendment. For example, if I sought to table an amendment relating to the report of the sub-committee of which the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees is a member, the other 40-odd members, however daft they thought I was, could not stop me from doing so. They could not stop me from tabling an amendment and wasting their time. No doubt they would defeat it but they could not stop me.
That is what we wish to alter. I refer the Leader of the House to his answer to a question which I raised in the Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committee on Expenditure on Monday 9th April 1973. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, after going through the history which I have detailed, to give his views on the report. It was a good answer which he gave at the time. He said:
In the light of what has been said this afternoon, I shall have to have another look at this. One of the points made by Dr. Owen—that certainly unanimous reports by a Sub-Committee should be able to be reported direct to the House—is something that I would like to consider again and see whether or not it is possible. One wanted to build up the strength of the whole Committee and one wanted reports to have the stamp of the Expenditure Committee as a whole behind them.
They are the Lord President's views and not the views of the Expenditure Committee. The right hon. Gentleman then said:
For this reason we thought that it was right that the Committee itself only should report ; but perhaps I can consider this again. The recommendation of the Committee does not of itself have to be debated in this case but there are ways and means by which the Committee could get it debated, and I shall have to consider with my colleagues and the usual channels what the next step is to take. I would not want to go further than that.
We understood that he would not want to do so off the cuff.
When he said
We thought it was right that the Committee itself only should report.
the right hon. Gentleman was then referring to the Government memorandum on the report. Frankly, I do not think that that was ever considered. I say that as one who was concerned with the setting up of the organisation. There was created a committee and sub-committees to which the normal rules of the House applied. We said specifically that the Committee, when it was set up, could decide how it wanted to operate. We did not decide, just because there is a rule of the House which says that a sub-committee has to report to the Expenditure Committee, that that was the only way to proceed. We thought that that is how the matter should start but that afterwards the Expenditure Committee should decide all the details.
I hope that after considering this the Lord President will look favourably upon the suggestion. It seems a small thing which in no way interferes with the normal practice of the House. It is justifiable to ask, if the Expenditure Committee wishes to work in this way, why should the House or the Government wish to stop it?
I turn now to broadcasting. I voted in favour of the Second Special Report on broadcasting to come out in the 1972–73 Session. I did so on the general principle that, like the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, I have been in favour of this proposal for as long as I have been in this House—since 1964. I did it only for that reason, because I believe the Committee did not fully discuss the problems that arise from it. The Second Special Report of the Committee is simply one sentence, to the effect that the Expenditure Committee asked the House to authorise the broadcasting of the Committee's public proceedings.
I would not wish to lay much stress on that. The Committee was aware at the time that it put this forward that it did so simply to get the subject aired. Technically, if such a resolution were passed by the House, it would have no effect whatever because the Committee does not have any public proceedings. With the exception of our discussion with the Lord President the Committee hardly ever interviews witnesses. It leaves that to its sub-committees and it deliberates in private.
In consequence the number of public meetings of the Expenditure Committee is practically nil. It would have to be the proceedings of the sub-committees that would be broadcast. We sought to raise the principle. Much as I am in favour of that principle I feel that we must consider the implications and the difficulties. There are no difficulties of substance with radio broadcasting with one exception. It is not possible to do it in the way recommended by the Select Committee which considered broadcasting the proceedings of the House—that is, by producing a feed from the House from which the broadcasting authorities could select what they wanted. That is because Committees are discontinuous bodies.
it might be that to provide enough work for the unit preparing the feed we would literally have to distribute the Select Committees of the House in such a way that one met on Monday, another on Tuesday and so on. Otherwise we would have the extraordinary situation of the personnel producing the feed trying to cover the meetings of two or three Select Committees at the same time on a Wednesday and having no work on a Monday or Tuesday.
There is, however, no significant problem with radio broadcasting. With televising the proceedings there comes the problem of the excessive heat generated by the lights required for colour television. Technologically it is possible to produce cameras which do not require excessive light, but no one is doing that development work because there is no motivation for it. Until the House decides that it wants this work done, it will never get done.
There is much to be said for us agreeing to radio broadcasting and then developing the necessary camera for televison work. I do not think that hon. Members would want to sit for hours in the heat and light required for present-day colour television. We would certainly need to spend a considerable amount of money upon air-conditioning in the appropriate Committee Room otherwise hon. Members would be collapsing in the heat.
Nevertheless, I agree with previous speakers who have said that there is no earthly reason why, even if the House does not want its proceedings broadcast, its Committees should not be broadcast. The obvious example is the United States. Many people do not realise that the Senate has consistently rejected television and radio broadcasting of its proceedings but has said, "It is nothing to do with us if our committees want to be broadcast." It has said that although it does not wish its proceedings as a chamber to be broadcast, it is willing to leave it to its committees to decide whether they will permit broadcasting. Sometimes they do not permit it, for the reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees. They feel that it would be better not to do so. Sometimes the committees are simply not newsworthy. It is only in certain cases that broadcasting is permitted by the individual committee.
There is no reason why the House should not be as tolerant as the Senate and say that it does not want its proceedings broadcast—which is what it says at the moment—but that it sees no reason why facilities should not be established to make it possible for the proceedings of the Committee to be broadcast.
The trouble is that the Expenditure Committee does not seem to have considered some of the difficulties before placing this motion before the House. My hon. Friend mentioned the United States Senate. Has he seen the proceedings of the Watergate Committee? Without commenting on the rights and wrongs of the situation, does he not think, with his high standards, that the Watergate Committee is conducting its proceedings in an adversary atmosphere and without due regard to the rights of witnesses? Would it not be necessary for the Expenditure Committee, in making this sort of suggestion, seriously to consider that point? There is a difference between the proceedings of the House and those of a Select Committee. A Select Committee hears evidence from persons who are not Members of this House.
My right hon. Friend has a point. I accept that it should be considered. I was trying to explain that the Committee was considering the principle and not detailed problems. I accept that the proceedings of a Committee taking evidence are quite different from proceedings in the House or elsewhere. I see no reason why court proceedings should not be broadcast, as they are in the United States, but if a Committee were inquiring into matters of a possibly criminal nature there is plainly a difference between that and the sort of thing we are normally doing in the Expenditure Committee. Incidentally I have seen portions of the Watergate Committee hearings.
In the Expenditure Committee we are normally inquiring into policy alternatives. There is no shame in a man coming along and saying "I believe in X although someone else believes in Y". That is something the average witness is prepared to do in public, and does.
I should like the hon. Member for Nottingham, South to consider that as a member of the Expenditure Committee I find that the parliamentary Press does not cover its proceedings. He says that broadcasting a Committee's proceedings would give it the same facilities as the Press has. Unfortunately the Press does not have in Parliament the facilities which it has in relation to Departments of State. One of the things this House needs is a series of information officers such as Departments of State have. The Department of the Environment has an information section comprising 160 persons.
This House has none. It is not possible for the Press to cover every Committee. It might be possible for the Press to cover a particular Committee if it were known that that Committee was where the news was, but the parliamentary Press is limited in number and has no facilities for finding out which are the newsworthy Committees, so the parliamentary Press simply does not go to any Committees.
Sometimes the Press Association covers Committees, but Select Committees meet at the busiest time in the afternoon and often no representative of the parliamentary Press is present at all. Occasionally the economics correspondents of newspapers will attend meetings of the General Sub-Committee, and as a result they often write articles. I imagine that diplomatic correspondents might come to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-Committee if it were discussing something of relevance to them, but they have to be informed that such discussions are taking place. That is done on an amateur basis by the House because it has not an information section as has a Department of State. More is involved than broadcasting procedures. The House needs to brush up its relations with the Press, not least with the foreign and Commonwealth Press who are treated almost as if they were lepers compared with our home Press.
I do not want to go into questions of staff, which have been discussed ably by my colleagues, but the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said was not being done by the Expenditure Committee will never be done unless it has an adequate staff. For the final audit of the same Government expenditure the Comptroller and Auditor-General, as an Officer of Parliament, has a staff approaching 500. The Ombudsman who investigates complaints has a staff of about 90. The staff of the Expenditure Committee consists of one Clerk per sub-committee, one specialist adviser per sub-committee, and that is it.
That is not good enough. Sooner or later the Lord President will have to consider whether he wants an effective Expenditure Committee. We have long suspected that Governments do not want an effective Expenditure Committee. To be effective it needs a staff that could look at each item of the Public Expenditure White Paper and say, "The average increase this year is 10 per cent. but that item has gone up by 25 per cent ; why is that?" That is what is needed if the committees are to work as was originally intended. Without such a staff that cannot be done and that is why it has not been done. In my view it should be done, but it would need a substantial increase in the staff of the committee.
To me, as a member of both the Procedure Committee and the Expenditure Committee, this has been an interesting debate. It is difficult to take one's mind back to the time when the Procedure Committee discussed the setting up of the Expenditure Committee, but I wonder whether at that time we asked the Government for an undertaking that time would be available in the House to discuss and carry out all the obligations which the Expenditure Committee was intended to carry out.
My guess is that, although members of the Expenditure Committee, who do a great deal of work—and could do a great deal more—are interested in it, the whole House is not necessarily so interested in it. I think I am right in saying that we never had a decision from the Government that there would be sufficient parliamentary time to discuss the work of the Expenditure Committee as it should be discussed.
To give one example, I was present during the discussions in the Expenditure Committee on whether each sub-committee should be allowed to report direct to the House. I can see the advantage of that to those hon. Members who are working on the committees, but on the other hand, having been in the House of Commons for much of my life, I know that many reports have emerged from various committees which, sometimes regrettably, have never been discussed in the House. If every sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee reported direct to the House, what chance would there be of all those reports—even the most brilliant of them—being discussed on the Floor of the House? Who would decide which reports should be discussed in the House? Although that is an attractive procedure, it is not practicable. Will the Leader of the House say how much time these reports would be allowed to occupy on the Floor of the House?
If we had many debates on the reports of sub-committees hon. Members on both sides of the House would be getting up in a fury and asking why all those reports should occupy the time of the House when other matters of greater interest and political necessity should be debated. There would be rows in the House, and we should achieve nothing.
The Lord President might say that we are having this debate today yet very few hon. Members have taken the trouble to attend. The next thing would be for the Press to ask why we go on debating these matters when the House of Commons as a whole is not interested. If the Lord President said that there was to be a debate on whether taxpayers' money should be spent on putting up more schools or more houses, that might create an interest and controversy, but that is not a practicable proposition. As a member many years ago of a sub-committee dealing with education Estimates, with other members I investigated a large number of bad schools in England, Wales and Scotland and the sub-committee made a most interesting report. That report was never discussed in the House and no action was ever taken on it, which is a great pity.
We must decide whether to disband the Expenditure Committee and return to the Estimates Committee, as some hon. Members favour, but if the Government have a crowded legislative programme in any Session I cannot see any Lord President allocating many parliamentary days either for discussion of reports by sub-committees reporting direct to the House or of the report of the Expenditure Committee which carries out the obligations outlined by the Procedure Committee.
Although I feel that the Expenditure Committee could do a great deal more which could be of value because of all the trouble everybody takes over its activities—and I have found that even when great efforts are made by back benchers it takes nearly ten years to win any battle against the executive—I cannot see how we can make the Expenditure Committee's reports more effective or even provide for a proper discussion of its reports.
I am sorry that I feel this way, because I strongly believe that the Select Committees could have done their work even more effectively. However, I do not see any Lord President agreeing to have a great many debates on Expenditure Committee reports in each parliamentary Session. Therefore, we must make up our minds whether it would be better to return to the Estimates Committee set-up, even though we were able to have fewer discussions on those reports, or whether we want to go on, as we are now, hoping for genuine and unanimous Expenditure Committee reports. Unless Expenditure Committee Members are present to take part in debates in the House on their reports, I do not see how we can exercise very much pressure on the Lord President to give us more time for discussion.
It is a little disappointing that we have reached this situation. However, since we have been called upon to discuss these reports today, the first day after the Christmas Recess, apart from the emergency recall last week, I cannot help wondering whether this has been done deliberately to give the Lord President an opportunity to say, "You have made all sorts of suggestions—those of you who have come to the House to take part in the debate—but you do not seem to have much support either from your own Committee or from the House as a whole". However, if we lay down that each subcommittee must report direct to the House, that in turn would put us in a ridiculous position. I enjoy being a member of the Expenditure Committee, and I am only sorry that it has not operated more effectively and efficiently.
The democratic process represented through the parliamentary system has traditionally focused on the control of expenditure. It is worth looking at what we are discussing.
Government spending, central and local, now amounts to 40 per cent. of total national output. The proportion of Supply expenditure in terms of gross national product was 4 per cent. in 1870, 6 per cent. in 1910, 12 per cent. in 1930, 22 per cent. in 1960 and 27 per cent. in 1972. Although we have exercised our so-called control by the democratic process, over the century it must be observed that, give or take a few alterations, the situation has remained remarkably unchanged. This is the central problem which we should be discussing. As Government involvement in expenditure has become ever greater, I believe that Parliament's involvement in the control of that expenditure has been progressively reduced.
I have been struck by the feeling of complacency in this debate—the attitude that all is well with the way in which Parliament exercises its democratic control. I do not share that complacency. When I entered the House my frustrations were the obvious ones that flow from youth and impetuousness. I was told that after a few years I would forget these frustrations. However, I must confess that I now feel even more impatient with the processes of Parliament.
This Parliament, which spends a great deal of time discussing reform of industrial relations, reform of local government and reform of the constitution, does absolutely nothing substantial to reform the House of Commons. This is the great dilemma. Therefore, we must look at the question of what is Government and what is Parliament.
Constitutional historians make great play of the fact that in the United States there is a separation of powers between the executive and the legislature and that in the British Parliament there is a fusion of powers. From that statement people conclude that, because there is a fusion of powers, there is also to some extent a sharing of powers between the Government and Parliament. I believe that this power-sharing is a façade. What little sharing there once was has been eroded by a combination of powerful government and equally powerful party machines. I believe that we shall never regain any control over the executive until we are prepared to challenge the growth of government and party machines and assert the independence of Members of Parliament. The Select Committee procedure, and potentially the Expenditure Committee machinery, could be a vehicle for the exercise of independence by Members of Parliament in forming a judgment across a fairly wide range of Government decision-making, and this is where I see the most hopeful line of reform.
The first myth that needs to be examined is that a multitude of decisions are made by the Government under the authority of Ministers. Many of these are decisions which Ministers never see and in which they never have any involvement. When we talk of ministerial responsibility, we are increasingly talking about decisions made almost without the knowledge of Ministers. It is in this area, more perhaps than in major policy decisions which come to the Cabinet, that government is completely unchecked by any form of democratic process. This is the area that comprises the most fertile territory for Members of Parliament to exercise some control ; it is a most important area for parliamentary activity.
When I have not been in government I have always, either as an Opposition or Government back bencher, been a member of a Select Committee. I served on the first Select Committee on Science and Technology. Looking back over a period of eight years, I cannot imagine what it is like to be a Member of Parliament who is not also a member of a Select Committee. I often wonder what other non-Select Committee Members must do. Service on a committee takes a great deal of my time, but I spend some of my most worthwhile hours sitting in Select Committees. I do not think that I have devoted enough time to it, and if I had more effective assistance I feel that my work in the Select Committees would have been more effective. I have gained a great deal of knowledge from Select Committee activities. Over the years my colleagues and I have looked into Britain's nuclear power programme, defence matters and other important subjects. This has been educative for me and has helped to close the knowledge gap.
The knowledge gap can be a serious problem between back-bench Members and the Government. This knowledge gap allows Oppositions to adopt ridiculous postures which they have to undo when they find themselves in government. It is the weakness of the system that causes Opposition to do entirely different things when in government. The public tend to judge Parliament in terms of the contradictions that flow from this situation. They do not understand why Opposition act differently when in government. This is true in defence and in many other matters. When in opposition it is difficult to hold back-bench Members of Parliament to sensible policies with all the limitations that exist in a complex, interdependent world.
It is much easier to sloganise our way through difficult and complex policies, to trivialise issues and to make them appear simple. It is that which is undermining democracy. We shall restore people's faith in democracy only when they see the real Parliament and if we bring to the forefront of parliamentary activity the work which goes on upstairs in Select Committees where Members of Parliament discuss serious issues. We need not be ashamed of the fact that it is often difficult to discover the parties to which various Members belong because we all know that, of the complex decisions we make, a large number are questions of balance and judgment made by individuals, whether they be Ministers or Members of Parliament.
If we look at how we can make the Expenditure Committee effective, we come rapidly to the conclusion that it will be effective only if it is seen to have powers. One of those powers stems from its unanimity, and we should not scoff at that. The fact that a report has been endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House is an important aspect of the Committee's influence.
Then we have to decide how we can reinforce that power, that unanimity and that influence. First, the general public have to know more about our activities. More important, at times the Government have to fear Committees of this kind. Until we use the power of the vote on the Floor of the House to reinforce Committee decisions, I do not believe that we shall effectively regain respect and power from Government Departments.
We need a situation in which a Minister says to his Department "If we go down this path and the Expenditure Committee has come down against it, I am not sure that I can get it through on the Floor of the House." It is as naked as that. Of course, I do not advocate that the Expenditure Committee should vote against the Government day in and day out. It should be a rare event occurring perhaps five or six times a year. But that is what must occur if we are to regain and assert our authority and influence.
It is an essential part of British entry into the Common Market that the executive should be subjected in this House to far more criticism and should be capable of losing a vote, if necessary on a bi-party basis, having compromised late into the night at Brussels, and having to come back to this House and, if necessary to go back to Brussels again. That was an aspect of democracy mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) in his Godkin lectures in 1969. At the time he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, but he spoke with considerable experience as a former Leader of the House who had set up a number of Select Committees, and he envisaged this separation taking place. I do not think we should fear that. If we wish to restore authority and respect for this House, we shall have to adopt this kind of separation.
This is a major reform and it will take time. We have to consider how we can do it in the short term. The Expenditure Committee has not been a success. It lacks cohesion. Essentially it needs a central core, the General Sub-Committee, or something emerging between the PAC and the Expenditure Committee which I am inclined to favour—to monitor expenditure across the board, both prospective and retrospective. It needs to be staffed effectively.
There are problems in allowing the PAC to go into government and to look not only at retrospective decisions, as it does at the moment, but also at the same time to have a mandate to look forward at policy decisions actively being discussed in the Ministries. The Civil Service and the Government machine would find it very difficult to adjust to the rôle of PAC investigators looking forward as well as backwards. But it is inevitable and it has to come. However, there are difficulties for the Government machine when one starts looking forward into policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) has already moved the PAC significantly into policy, as was inevitable. Apart from anything else, hon. Members want to be involved in policy. That is why they come here. They are not auditors or tax specialists. Looking purely backwards is not enough for them. That rôle will have to be performed, of course, but it lends itself to being performed by officials buttressed by Members of Parliament exercising their judgment. But clearly the Expenditure Committee needs some central monitoring rôle.
As for its sub-committees, inevitably if they are small they will not perform that monitoring rôle effectively. They should do, but, having tried desperately to see the Defence Sub-Committee monitor the complex expenditure with which it is involved, I am forced to the conclusion that it is essential to become involved in detailed policy decisions. However, it has not been a total failure. In one small way the capability of the Defence Sub-Committee to look at our nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s was a significant expansion of democratic control inconceivable even five years ago. It discussed complicated issues of policy and the expenditure implications. It brought them together in a unanimous report producing a solution which many Ministers and senior civil servants did not like since it did not reinforce all their beliefs and also the sub-committee sought the advice of outside experts, predominantly in the United States. The total exercise was a significant advance in democratic control.
The sub-committee would be helped greatly if it had more staff. At present it has two people on secondment from the PAC. I believe that that is the way it will have to go if it is to move forward. The practice of having people who already have worked in Government Departments and who have seen through their PAC rôle how the Government machine works is already showing benefits, providing that they continue to divorce themselves from their past PAC rôle and use their experience.
It may be that initially we shall always have to insist that the staff make a distinction between their PAC retrospective investigatory rôle and their coming on to a policy committee. They can no longer expect the same access to departmental information. They can no longer expect to operate on that information and on the valuable material obtained from outside. One of their essential rôles is to challenge Government views and to bring in a wider range of people. For example, there is a need for various pressure groups in the country to think of the Expenditure Sub-Committees as bodies to which they can make representations.
It is high time that Parliament was seen as a focus for representation from pressure groups. We should cease the endless creation of Royal Commissions or interdepartmental committees—a succession of ad hoc bodies answerable to no one, usually as an excuse for delay—when the Government and Parliament have available on their own doorstep an excellent investigatory machine that can make reports more quickly and represent the views of the democratically-elected Members culling in the experts and their knowledge. This is how Parliament will regain its power and control.
We are believed to be now arguing about what is democracy. We will no doubt go through a period of four weeks in which all the major issues of a democracy are sloganised and trivialised. I doubt whether the British parliamentary or democratic system will be strengthened in the next four weeks if, as we are led to believe, there is to be a General Election. Indeed, I suggest that it will be looked upon as irresponsible and damaging to Parliament.
Be that as it may, this House is deluding itself if it does not face the fact that outside there is considerable concern about the way we conduct our business. Most of us recognise this situation. If we want to get something across, we try to arrange to speak on television or to write an article in one of the national newspapers. Very few hon. Members believe that any serious note will be taken of this kind of debate. One has only co look at the Press Gallery. Those great protectors of democracy are not interested in the serious discussion that goes on in this House. They do not write about it. They could not care less. They will pontificate in their editorials, but they will not bother to listen to a debate like this.
One problem is that, when Members of Parliament do hard work on an all-party basis and produce detailed unanimous recommendations, they see not only Parliament but the Press taking precious little notice of them. Some of the fault is ours. We should seriously consider allowing television into Select Committee proceedings. I have often wondered why we do not broadcast debates on radio by linking up the microphones in the House. It could be a first step towards the eventual televising of proceedings.
We would be making a great mistake if we did not accept that all is not well. We should start with expenditure, because that is the only effective way to have any democratic safeguards. This is the way that we shall be able to vote against the executive and control the growing machine of government. Let us be under no illusion. It means that those who expect to be in government must say in government the same as they said in opposition. That means being prepared to give power to the Opposition across the Floor of the House to criticise the Government. It is difficult for Governments to do this. Procedure in this House is controlled not by the House but by the Government. We all know that to be a fact of life.
Very few Leaders of the House have seen their rôle as protecting the House. They talk about it, but they are primarily servants of the Government. They serve in the Cabinet and have rarely been prepared to fight for the rights of this House. One party will have to take office with, as a major part of what they as the Government will do, the reform of this House in a way which will make life uncomfortable for them. That is asking a lot of politicians. It is easy to be in favour of Select Committees when in opposition, but it is much harder to be in favour of them when in government. To some extent the present Government have moved quite a long way in that direction and deserve some credit for it. The amount of information that the Defence Committee has been given has been a breakthrough. But it is not enough and it is not public enough, because it is given only to the eight members of the Committee.
We are building very slowly. It is not adequate to continue in an ad hoc way. We must move towards a definite decision to separate some of the powers of Parliament from the executive. I do not suggest that we should go the whole way, as in the American system, because there are many powers that I wish to have retained by the executive. But that is the way that the decision should be made. From that, many other things would logically follow. I hope that the next Government will put reforms of that kind high on their list of priorities, because time will not be on their side.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) will allow me to say that his speech was packed with common sense which only in the British House of Commons would be regarded as revolutionary. In most places it would be regarded just as common sense, and what he said would have been brought into effect long ago. In this place it is unusual to have so many obvious truths stated so clearly.
I disagree with what my hon. Friend said about prescriptions, for reasons to which I shall come later, but I am sure he is right in saying that we need to move to a situation in which it is far more common, both upstairs and on the Floor of the House, for Members to vote against their own side without that being regarded as a reflection upon them—in fact, just the opposite.
My hon. Friend suggested that the reform of the House would have to be carried out by a disinterested Government. My hon. Friend is being unrealistic, because I do not think that there will ever be a Government, this side of paradise, who will be prepared to limit their freedom by increasing the powers of other Members of the House ; but the Government represent approximately only 100 votes out of 630, and if other Members of the House, those on the Opposition and on the Government side wish to do so they can change the House, whether the Lord President likes it or not, and that is a situation that we should encourage.
In accordance with that feeling I apologise to the Lord President of the Council for having to fix my beady eye upon him in making my remarks. I should much prefer to address other Members, but the trouble is there are no others present.
In a slightly less imperfect situation I should be addressing my remarks to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and I say that in no criticism of the Father of the House who is the Chairman of that Committee. It is the habit of the House that a debate such as this takes place without the Chairman of the Procedure Committee having any rôle to play. No self-respecting legislature would for an instant support that situation.
If this House of Commons were competent in running its own affairs the matters we are discussing tonight would have gone to the Procedure Committee and the House would have had a report from that Committee on what it thought of these matters before itself discussing them.
With that apology to the Leader of the House I shall continue to fix my beady eye upon him.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) wondered how we could change the situation in which important debates such as this are thought to be important by only a handful of Members and by hardly anyone else except a few cognoscenti amongst the academics outside the House. This is one issue on which I have changed my mind since being elected to Parliament.
When I came here, I felt that change could be brought about by an initiative inside the House only. Clearly, any change will have to be implemented by Members of Parliament, but if one is realistic one realises that the initiative will have to come from outside the House ; or at least it will have to be a joint operation by interested Members and an outside campaigning body. I am thinking of something that would do for parliamentary affairs what Chatham House does for foreign affairs. It would be somebody between the academics and Government Departments in its approach. It would be extremely practical. It would see its function as that of campaigning to expose and ridicule this place till it gave up its manifestly bad ways in favour of more competent and democratic processes.
I wanted to say that in the presence of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, because he is not unconnected with about the only source of funds which might conceivably finance such an organisation—I do not refer to the Liberal Party—and which is not limited to providing funds for charitable purposes, because the improvement of the House of Commons could hardly be regarded as that.
It is right, after three years of operation of the Expenditure Committee and the way it had discharged its rôle, that it should be subjected to review. I agree entirely with those of my colleagues who have said that to all intents and purposes the Expenditure Committee is simply the old Estimates Committee with a change of title. It has produced the same kind of reports in the same kind of way and has done no additional work which the old Estimates Committee could not have done.
From my own experience of the Committee, I can think of only one respect in which there has been an improvement. Because we have continuing sub-committees covering individual areas of policy it is possible for a sub-committee, if it wishes, to pick up again a subject on which it has previously reported. One of the most useful operations of the subcommittee on which I serve, that covering the environment and the Home Office, was to call again before us witnesses from the Home Office on the matter of probation about a year after we had produced a report on that subject and to see what had been done about it. To our surprise we found that a number of things had been done. If that practice were more common, reports would not tend to be put on a shelf in Whitehall and nothing more done.
First, the Expenditure Committee is only the old Estimates Committee with a different title. Secondly, it is not a Committee but a panel too large to be an effective Committee and only as large as it is because we need to draw from it enough people to form six subcommittees. Thirdly, if it is a Committee, it is certainly not an Expenditure Committee because the one thing which it hardly does anything about is public expenditure.
It is intriguing that tomorrow the House will vote on account £6,724 million, and on another Vote £883 million. Let us call that £½ billion. No Committee of this House has looked at those proposals ; no Committee has looked at the detail which is provided to back up that total sum. No one suggests that any Committee ought to look at the detail behind those proposals. We do not look at the Estimates before the Expenditure Committee and we do not, though we should, look at the Public Expenditure White Paper. It is debated on the Floor of the House and no more than noted, but in the Expenditure Committee and in the sub-committees the White Paper is not examined. It may be by choice of the sub-committees that they do not examine it, but the fact remains that they do not. I see the Chairman of the Committee indicating dissent. I take it that his point is that the General Sub-Committee has looked at the White Paper and at the priorities implicit in it. My point is that the subcommittees concerned with individual areas of policy over the last three years have not gone into the three White Papers which have been available to be investigated, with the exception of the operations of the General Sub-Committee on relationships between different programmes. The Public Expenditure White Paper has been as neglected by the Expenditure Committee and subcommittees as have been the Estimates, by which Parliament formally authorises funds.
I do not want to accuse the hon. Gentleman of unfairness, because he is a diligent attender at our Committee, but exactly what the hon. Member for Ashton-under- Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and his Committee do is examine the Public Expenditure White Paper and report on it as promptly as they can with the help of professional advisers. I cannot see how any Committee or sub-committee of the House can do more than what the hon. Member and his sub-committee do. I am not clear whether the hon. Member excludes or includes them in his strictures.
I am grateful for that intervention. To be more accurate, I should exclude the General Sub-Committee because it has done its job on the White Paper. I was thinking of the subject sub-committees, which cover all but one of the total. It is true of all of them that the investigation of the White Paper has not been what was envisaged for them by the Procedure Committee. The task of the Expenditure Committee has been the same as the task of the Estimates Committee—to pick a subject, produce a report on it and go on to another subject.
The fact that that has been done by a Committee called the Expenditure Committee has been relevant only to the extent that hon. Members felt that there needed to be some expenditure relevance of the subject which they chose before they felt free to adopt it. For example, my sub-committee, although covering Home Office matters, would feel precluded from adopting a legal subject which did not have financial implications. Subject only to that, we pick subjects of policy and deal with them in succession without having regard to the expenditure implications.
The point is that, while the General Sub-Committee has done the job referred to by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), it has done a particular job on the total of public expenditure. What it has not done, and presumably what it has not the capacity to do because of the time available, is to make a comparison between different items of expenditure in the White Paper. For that purpose another sub-committee or an expansion of the General Sub-Committee may be required.
I agree. I shall leave until later what I think should be the natural and common sense solution to the problem.
Perhaps I can illustrate the carelessness with which the House approaches the business of sub-committees by referring to the question of overseas aid. The House has two sub-committees which theoretically have to do with overseas aid—the Defence and Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, which could examine the aid estimates and aid content of the White Paper if it so wished, and the Select Committee on Overseas Development. Although on this subject we have not one but two committees—
I apologise. I omitted to refer to it perhaps because when the Public Accounts Committee intervened some while ago I thought that its conclusions were ill conceived.
In any event, we have two or three Committees which could oversee and scrutinise expenditure on overseas aid, but not one of them this year has considered or will consider the Government's proposals for expenditure on overseas aid. That causes no surprise to any hon. Member. That is how the House has always proceeded. But if one were to say that was the position to a member of any other legislature which I know, he would not believe it. For instance, when the French Government make expenditure proposals, those proposals are referred not to one but to several commissions of the French National Assembly. The same happens in Germany. It is odd that when seeking means by which the legislature could better control the executive we must look to Bonn or Paris rather than to Westminster.
If we were starting from scratch and thinking of the manner in which a sensible legislature should supervise and scrutinise the executive, we would surely conclude that there are three executive activities which need to be scrutinised—expenditure, legislation and general administrative action. If we were trying to devise a structure of Committees to scrutinise the executive, would we not wish the same one to take an interest in those activities which bore on expenditure, those to do with legislation and those which were mere administration, rather than to seek different Committees dealing with different aspects of Government activity?
I would therefore believe that what we need are subject Committees, each adopting either one Government Department or a prescribed area of policy. They would be separate Select Committees reporting direct to the House, dealing with expenditure and with administration but not taking over the rôle of the Standing Committees on legislation. There would need to be one Committee which fulfilled the rôle of my hon. Friend's Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure generally. That would take away the need for the Expenditure Committee as we have it now.
Such subject Committees would need to be rather larger than the present subcommittees. They would have 12 to 15 members and that would be a positive advantage of separate Committees. As long as they are sub-committees, there is a limit to their size, because there is a limit—let us say 50—beyond which an Expenditure Committee would be foolish. So there is a limit of about eight or nine on the number of members in a subcommittee. The natural number for a subject committee would be larger.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) mentioned the EEC. If we had subject Committees, one of their functions would be to take as much interest in activities in Brussels and Strasbourg as in London. It would be natural for such Committees to supply some of the personnel for subject operations in Strasbourg as well as here.
One could argue for some time the case for subject Committees. It is so manifest that to go on at length only suggests that it is less obvious than it seems. I am sure that they will come. It is only a question of how much we resist them and how reluctant the House is to make the changes required.
The objections are easily dismissed. It is suggested that hon. Members should not become accountants—
I understand that some already are.
If that argument were to hold the day, we need never have set up a Public Accounts Committee in the first place. We may be absolutely sure that, if Gladstone had not done it, no one would do it today because it would be too revolutionary.
It is also said that hon. Members should not become experts, that there is no need for them to be expert. It is part of the English disease to believe that a man is positively less competent to be a Minister if he is slightly expert in the subject with which he may be dealing. We have to get rid of that assumption.
We have virtually no control over the executive by the legislature at present. We must move in the direction of having more control. That means that hon. Members must be prepared to do their job in two different forums—in the Chamber, certainly, but also to an increasing extent in Committee. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) seemed to suggest that the affairs of the Committees would achieve nothing unless they were debated on the Floor of the House. But many things are debated on the Floor of the House in relation to which nothing happens on the part of the Government even then. Action by the Government can be brought about as a result of Committee activities which never come to the Floor of the House. That is what happens in many other legislatures and we must get accustomed to that direct dealing between Committees of the House and the Government, without the Floor of the House necessarily being involved.
The matter of staff is touched on in these reports. I do not share the view that hon. Members will become effective only when they have one or half-a-dozen research assistants. That is not the first step to take. The first step is for hon. Members to take some really lousy decisions. If they had taken bad decisions, we should be flooded with assistance in order to stop us doing anything so silly again. The first thing is for Members to decide that they are taking the decisions, and to take them. Then the administration required to ensure that those are good decisions will follow.
When it comes to the present staff of a Committee such as the Expenditure Committee, once again it is useful for the House to compare its ways with those of other legislatures. A few months ago I asked an American Congressman how many staff there were in Congress for giving procedural advice. We all know that the Americans have vast staffs for subject advice, but for giving procedural advice, the Congressman said, "I cannot remember the precise number, but it is the responsibility of the Parliamentarian." I think that that is what he called him. When I asked how many staff the Parliamentarian had—the Parliamentarian is the equivalent of our Clerk of the House—the answer was five or six, or something like that.
This House suffers from having too many Clerks who are far too intelligent for the job that needs to be done. The result is that the procedural decisions which should rest with Members are taken by the Clerks because the whole business has been erected into a mystery. There is no need for the mystery. If half of the rules got into the rule book instead of into that useless thing Erskine May, perhaps hon. Members would understand the rules and there would be no need for half a hundred Clerks to tell us what to do. At a time when we are having a change in this respect, I hope that the next Clerk of the House who produces another edition of Erskine May will have the thing wrapped around his neck, both being dropped into the river. We need more in the rules of order of the House and less in Erskine May.
Perhaps I have now condemned myself to complete futility in that no one will take seriously anything that I have said. But I conclude by referring to the matter of direct reporting from subcommittees and the way in which the Leader of the House has handled it or, rather, has not handled it. The Committee was absolutely clear on this matter. We said that we wanted direct reporting to take place. The Government's response, in Cmnd. 5187, was,
This would be a matter for the House to decide. In the Government's view, however, it is important for the Expenditure Committee to develop an effective co-ordinated approach
to the scrutiny of public expenditure ; and they believe that the recommended change would not be helpful in this respect
The Expenditure Committee as a whole cannot have a co-ordinated approach to anything. Forty-nine people simply cannot have such an approach ; there are too many of them. If the Committee has to have such an approach to public expenditure it must be limited to no more than 20 members. That rôle can be performed and is performed to a great extent by the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. The rôle of the rest of the Expenditure Committee is to look into their subject areas, to reach conclusions within the limits of each area, and to leave it to my hon. Friend and his General Sub-Committee to look at the relationship between them.
Going on from the content of the Government reply, we argued the matter with the Lord President on 9th April. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West quoted some of the Lord President's remarks and I should like to quote some of them. According to page 5 of the minutes he said, when pressed on the matter:
I do not think I would want to stand out against this
that is, direct reporting,
if the Committee felt very strongly that Sub-Committee Reports should come direct to the House.
At a later stage he said:
Certainly the House cannot decide it unless a Motion goes down. I personally have not been particularly keen on it ; but I must listen to what is said to me today and perhaps take the necessary action.
That was on 9th April 1973, but absolutely no action has been taken. He was to go away and think again.
I do not think it is reasonable for the Committee to place the whole blame on the Lord President. He should have done something in the intervening period, or at least have been in touch with the Committee and said that he stuck to his original view, or that he had amended it, or whatever, but if he did not, we should have chased him. But we all know that Committees are very much in the hands of the Lord President and that we cannot get anything on to the Floor of the House without his good will. I cannot remember whether it was unanimous, but it was certainly the majority view—
It may not have been the view of the hon. Lady, but it was the majority view of the Committee that there should be direct reporting. For the Lord President to do nothing about the recommendation, after discussing it with us for nine months, is too bad.
I turn now to the need for reform of this place. The House is constantly producing reports about Whitehall Departments, their inefficiency and their follies, and how they should have thought of doing things in a better way before we told them how to do it. It would be nice some time to have Whitehall do a report on this place, because its inefficiencies and managerial incompetence are far greater than anything which the House has discovered in Whitehall. In the not-too-distant future, and hopefully with the assistance of some such outside body as I have mentioned, the public will take an interest not merely in what we say and do in this place but also in how we do it. If such a report were produced we would not come out of it with credit. We need to make these reforms as fast as we can, because they are long overdue.
The House seems to be in a reforming mood this evening. That is probably because it is empty. I hope that it will not be considered odd that any hon. Member should sit through the debate on the Expenditure Committee and its reports. I have done so I suppose because it is a brother Committee to my own. Now I take this opportunity of intervening with some remarks which may be affected by the fact that I happen for the time being to be Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I intervene now because I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) may wish to contradict a great deal of what I say, and I therefore give him this opportunity.
I have the impression that some of the problems of the proposal on broadcasting have not been thought through. It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said, we do not often have Watergates in this country. Perhaps one of the reasons is that we do not have separation of powers, although I go a long way with what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) said.
Nevertheless we do have in the proceedings of our Select Committees very tense situations between the Committees and witnesses. I have the impression, mainly through following in the newspapers, the proceedings of the Expenditure Committee that that Committee has very tough sub-committee chairmen, and that they often fall out with witnesses. One needs to think out what method of protection of witnesses there would be if the proceedings were televised. I think, for example, of the recent investigations of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) into the situation in South Africa. There were many occasions then when it would have been reasonable, if the proceedings were being televised, for a witness to have had at least some protection against the eagerness of the Committee. In developing our procedures we should not depart from fairness with witnesses. It is unnecessary. There are temptations under the gaze of the television camera.
Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that Committees are unfair now in their dealing with witnesses? If they are not unfair now, why should they be unfair if television cameras were there? If they are unfair now, will my right hon. Friend explain in what way?
I cannot judge particular instances that occur in Committees. I say that there is a danger. There is a danger of drawing outside witnesses, who are nothing to do with the House, who are not even civil servants, but people from outside, to give evidence under conditions to which they are totally unaccustomed, possibly in a hostile atmosphere. I am simply saying that that question must be settled before the new procedure is recommended to the House.
I take the opposite view to that evidently taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert). I believe that it would be more acceptable to televise the proceedings of the House than the proceedings of a Select Committee. There are greater dangers in doing it the other way round. However, if my hon. Friends have an answer to the question when they have thought about the matter, which I do not believe they have yet done, they should present it to the House.
I come to the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, with which I largely agreed. He mentioned the European Community and the effect our membership might have on the proceedings of the House. I have noticed, and I am sure the Government have noticed, that since we entered the European Community we have defeated the Government more times, not on major issues but on issues of some substance, than for a very long period, and on more occasions the Government have, unwillingly I suspect, accepted the will of the House. If some of my hon. Friends who take a different view of membership of the European Community from mine—there are not many here tonight, but there are some—are looking around for the benefits of our membership, perhaps there is here at any rate one benefit, that we are moving in the direction pointed by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton.
My hon. Friend also said, and is obviously right, that there are taken in Departments many decisions of which Ministers are ignorant, for which they are in no real sense responsible, although they are responsible in a constitutional sense which is sometimes rather difficult to understand. I have come to the conclusion that in practice one of the major forms of responsibility within our constitutional system is that of the Accounting Officer to the Public Accounts Committee—the responsibility for all the decisions, many of which Ministers are not aware of.
There is an extraordinary situation in the Public Accounts Committee whenever there is a change of Government and some ex-Minister becomes the Committee's Chairman. He interviews his former civil servants on decisions for which he was constitutionally responsible and of which he probably was unaware, and even criticises the way those civil servants took those decisions. This is a large part of the substance of responsibility which exists within our constitutional system. The trouble is that the Public Accounts Committee does not have the capacity to deal with this problem as it should be dealt with. While hon. Members may be thinking of how to improve the Expenditure Committee I am thinking of how to improve the Public Accounts Committee to shoulder better this important responsibility.
It was disappointing to note how many of my hon. Friends are dissatisfied with the way the Expenditure Committee has been operating. Perhaps I could follow the recent precedent of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees and say "I told you so." He had an interesting letter in The Times yesterday in which he referred to the Government reorganisation and the break up of the DTI, and the implication was "I told you so." I was most sceptical about the Expenditure Committee and I said so in this House. I was sceptical for one reason which lies behind many of the doubts expressed today and which is that, in so far as the remit of the Expenditure Committee has been specific, it has not been performed, and that that part of the remit which has been performed has been the general part which enables sub-committees of the Expenditure Committee to discuss overall policies in general terms. That is an interesting exercise for individuals, and some of the reports which have been produced have been most interesting and of a high standard, but they seem almost unrelated to the job of controlling the executive.
The Expenditure Committee was set up to assist the House in controlling the executive. The Committee has written essays, many of them very good, which have gone to Government Departments and which no doubt have been marked there according to their quality—some alpha, some beta, and some further down the Greek alphabet. That is no way to control the executive. To do that it is necessary to take specific subjects, to give them to Select Committees and to let the committees get on with it.
I shall give some examples. The Public Accounts Committee has a certain reputation in the Civil Service and perhaps sometimes in this House and not only because it has a very large staff in the form of the Exchequer and Audit Department, although that is an important element. The other reason is that it is highly specific in the nature of its inquiries. It is always asking questions such as "Here is your policy. Why do you think these methods will enable you to achieve this policy?" That is the very specific kind of question to which the Public Accounts Committee devotes itself.
This House has developed Select Committees over the last few years. We do not need more general Select Committees such as the Expenditure Committee or the Select Committee on Overseas Aid, but Select Committees dealing with specific subjects. I should like to see Select Committees on legislation. Legislation presents specific problems which the House is charged to consider and which it considers most ineffectively, but which it could consider far more effectively through the process of Select Committees.
I took the view at the time and I repeat it now that the establishment of the Expenditure Committee, with the exception of the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, which has a specific remit, was a mistake. I suspected that the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee was at one time trying to turn itself into a Select Committee on economic affairs. That would have been unfortunate. Recently it has been devoting itself more to its real responsibilities. It has made a great success of presenting the House with information which would not otherwise have been available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees remarked on the relations between the Public Accounts Committee and the Expenditure Committee. That is an important matter which is worthy of consideration. It is undoubtedly true that there has been duplication. There has been duplication in our investigation of Concorde, RB211 and various other projects. If such duplication could be avoided, so much the better. There is always the possibility that the one will entrench on the other. One possibility would be to consider unifying the two Committees, but in that there would be major problems.
We shall certainly have to consider whether there is a clear line of demarcation between the two Committees. One thing which must take place is liaison between the two Committees. I do not like the line of demarcation which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees, namely, that the Expenditure Committee should deal with the development of policy and should look prospectively forward, and that the Public Accounts Committee should look retrospectively at expenditure already incurred. We must be careful in imagining that the Public Accounts Committee is concerned only with matters retrospective. It is certainly retrospective facts which give rise to that Committee's investigations, but its investigations have definite forward implications—for example, the inquiry into North Sea oil.
There are difficulties about my hon. Friend's suggestion. One is that the Public Accounts Committee has responsibilities to this House. It has responsibilities to investigate the accounts. We cannot allow that responsibility to be put aside. There is not only expenditure but income.
There is a better possible division between the two Committees. The Public Accounts Committee should be responsible for investigating the economy and the administration with which policy is pursued, be it past, present or future. It should be responsible for putting to Government Departments, as it does now, the following question, "Why do you expect these means, this administration and this expenditure to achieve the objective which you say is your objective?"
The Public Accounts Committee, in doing that, would not question the Government's policy. It would accept that policy and consider the means and the administration. It would leave to the Expenditure Committee the area in which it has proved to be most interested—namely, the formation of policy and consideration of priorities among policies, a matter—priorities—which I confess I doubt whether Select Committees have the capacity to undertake. Nevertheless if the Expenditure Committee thinks that it can do so, all well and good. Information about the way in which priority decisions are made could certainly be within the scope of the Expenditure Committee. That would be a better division between the Public Accounts Committee and the Expenditure Committee.
Undoubtedly there is a problem, and it is one worth thinking about. Possibly this could be done by liaison between the two Committees. Or perhaps there might be some other method which the Government might suggest.
I n spite of the earlier remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), I find relatively little in what he had to say with which I must disagree. Like my right hon. Friend, I feel that in the development of the work of the Public Accounts Committee, which is now occurring under his chairmanship, and in the development of the work of the Expenditure Committee it is important that there is discussion and liaison to ensure that both Committees are as effective as possible.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the importance of our membership of the European Economic Community and the work of the Committees. One of the arguments which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have developed against membership of the EEC—it has been an effective argument and one with which I agree—is that it has given greater powers to the executive and that it has taken matters out of the control of this House and, for the time being, of the European Parliament. In this area Select Committees might have an important part to play.
I wish to speak briefly in assessing the first three years' work of the Expenditure Committee with reference to the special reports which we are considering. Three years ago, as a new Member of the House, I was fortunate to be allocated to the General Sub-Committee, which has escaped the criticisms which have been made of some of the other Committees. I am not sure that we deserve to escape all those criticisms because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said, we have at times preferred to consider the macro-economic effects of public expenditure rather than the balances between the various Departments, which is an essential function of our task.
In its first three years of existence the General Sub-Committee has shown the need for a Select Committee on Expenditure, and perhaps the reason why the other sub-committees have not developed as well as was initially hoped lies in the question of staff, to which I shall return.
The question has been raised whether we should have one Select Committee on Expenditure or several subject Committees for different groups of Government Departments. Irrespective of the argument about direct reporting or the way in which we confirm sub-committee reports, my view is that there are probably advantages in keeping a general Expenditure Committee which has much more flexibility to tackle particular problems as they arise. I do not think that a pattern of subject Committees is necessarily the right one, nor do I think that the all-important links between the general monitoring of the expenditure programmes of the Government and the analyses carried out by the various subcommittees would work with a series of subject Committees. It would be a mistake to try to latch on to its structure things which the Expenditure Committee was never intended to do.
For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) referred to the pre-legislative study of the material in the Companies BUI which should be done by a subcommittee, but that is not what a subcommittee of the Expenditure Committee should appropriately do. One might question whether a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee is the right body to investigate British investment in South Africa. In the absence of a Select Committee for that purpose, I am glad that my hon. Friend's sub-committee could do it. I hope that the Lord President will bear in mind that we should not overload the Expenditure Committee and that we should ensure that it tackles its principal job rather than doing things which should be carried out by other parliamentary procedures.
As I was not in the House during the existence of the Estimates Committee, it is difficult for me to assess the relative merits of the Estimates Committee and the Expenditure Committees. Some of the sub-committees seem not to have changed their personnel or their mode of action greatly. I hope that with appropriate staff we shall be able to ensure that this will occur in future.
I was interested in the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) that there is need for investigations into the operation of the House and its Select Committees and the activities of its Clerks. I wonder whether we should persuade the Lord President to arrange for a Select Committee of permanent secretaries or perhaps for the Central Policy Review Staff to carry out a PAR analysis on the Houses of Parliament in the near future. It would make an interesting document for a Select Committee of this House subsequently to review.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has raised some important questions en the effect of the investigatory activities of Select Committees in the event of their being televised. I readily accept that there are problems along the lines to which he referred. This is a matter which I hope the House and the Select Committee on Expenditure can consider further. I am sorry that tonight we are merely taking note of the recommendation and do not have an opportunity to vote upon it. Controlled experiments would be of value. We could then assess whether the problem to which my right hon. Friend referred was serious.
It seems unfortunate that, when the Opposition were prepared to provide a Supply Day for a debate on this subject, they did not ensure that there was the opportunity to vote on some of the Select Committee's recommendations. I can only blame that upon the usual channels.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Gold-smid) has returned to the Chamber because I want to refer to his remarks, as chairman of the Committee, about the question of staffing. We have the Second Special Report from the Expenditure Committee for the Session 1970–71 before us. That report was initiated before the hon. Gentleman became chairman of the Committee. His remarks did not follow the recommendations of paragraphs 30–32 of the report, and, indeed, that was not necessary. It was more than two years ago that the setting up of a unit to carry out the precise monitoring function referred to so much today was recommended.
There are four different types of staff which a Select Committee could have. First there are the specialist advisers for particular and specific inquiries. In some cases it may be that outside specialist advisers could continue operating over a number of inquiries. I add my tribute to those already paid to the work of Wynne Godley, Director of the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge, who has served the General Sub-Committee as an excellent specialist adviser since its inception. That is because he is a gamekeeper turned poacher, having been responsible while in the Treasury for a good deal of the work which resulted in the setting up of the public expenditure system. He was therefore peculiarly well-equipped to advise the General Sub-Committee and has done so excellently. Most of the other sub-committees considering particular areas of policy have inevitably changed their specialist adviser as they have gone along.
Secondly we have the Clerks of the House, who have provided excellent assistance. Inevitably and essentially they are non-specialist advisers. Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) has mentioned, he has had the advantage, on the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, of having two officers from the Department of the Comptroller and Auditor General seconded to the sub-committee to work with it. This is a most interesting experiment and I hope that my hon. Friend's sub-committee will in due course report to the House upon how this experiment has gone.
We should have a staff unit of our own along the lines laid down in a rather modest way initially in the Second Special Report of 1970–71. It recommended that there should be a small, full-time, properly-equipped secretariat comprising, say, a head of section and two subordinates. They would have the function of carrying out precise monitoring of public expenditure figures contained in the many documents which come from the Government to the Expenditure Committee and of ensuring that problems which should be considered are put before the various subcommittees. They would perform for the sub-committees of the Expenditure Committee the same rôle as the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff carry out for the Public Accounts Committee in pinpointing problems which should be investigated in more detail.
I differ from the hon. Member for Walsall, South since I regard this as a different task from the job carried out by the specialist adviser who comes in to assist on a particular problem. The rôle of the full-time staff would be to monitor the figures and to spot the things that should be investigated in more detail. It is only when the Expenditure Committee has such a staff carrying out a monitoring function that the development of its work can take place, as I believe was the intention in the Green Paper and in the discussions which took place in this House in 1970. Because we have not had this sort of staff at our disposal, we have not developed in the way which was hoped and, therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead can now truly say that he told us so in 1970.
Unless we have a staff such as I have outlined, I believe that the distinction between the Expenditure Committee and the old Estimates Committee will not be as clear as was intended and we shall fail to carry out the essential rôle of a Select Committee of the House in dealing with public expenditure, in controlling the activities of the executive and in ensuring that the House has appropriate reports and information on which to make decisions.
This has been an interesting and very worthwhile debate. I shall not make the obvious remarks but merely say it is a pity that more hon. Members were not present to listen to the various contributions. The debate has ranged widely and has raised a great number of points which I shall try to cover in my speech.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) said he felt that, once Select Committee members got their teeth into an interesting subject, they enjoyed their work and felt that they were doing something worth while. I agree with the hon. Gentleman since I have had similar reports from hon. Members in all parts of the House to that effect. The hon. Gentleman said he thought that three years was too short a time in which to judge whether a Committee was likely to succeed. Whether or not the Expenditure Committee has been a success, I should like at the outset of my remarks to express my personal gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) for all his work and also to all other hon. Members who have played their part in the work of the Select Committee and its sub-committees.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) asked whether the Expenditure Committee was doing its job of inquiring into expenditure. While he was speaking I took a quick glance at the three reports which the House discussed a little earlier. I noted that the Committee has been far more interested in the policy side than in the way money should be spent. I think there is a good deal in what the right hon. Gentleman said about the future division of responsibility between the Public Accounts Committee and the Expenditure Committee.
As I understood the right hon. Gentleman, he thought that the PAC should investigate the economy and the administration which governs the economy—
—and that the Expenditure Committee should concern itself much more with policy, the formation of priorities and so on. This will be examined along with all the other suggestions which have been made.
At this point perhaps I might make another general remark. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House consider that a major reform of our procedures and of what might be called our institutions is necessary. The difficulty always is that there are a number of conservatives—with a small "c"—on both sides of the House who would resist any such reforms. It is always very much harder for a Government or even for an Opposition to move on this matter than the mass of hon. Members perhaps realise.
Whatever hon. Members have said about this Parliament drawing to its close, I make no comment. Indeed, I know nothing about it. It may be that before the end of this Parliament or in the next Parliament we shall want to make considerable changes in the way we conduct our affairs. I think that a Select Committee system rather more pointed and rather less diffuse than at the moment will have an important part to play.
We have got into the habit of a few enthusiasts thinking that it would be a good idea if they could investigate something, with the result that suggestions come forward to set up a Select Committee to look at it. That is not a very satisfactory way of running our business. This again is a matter of which we shall need to take account in future.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) said that parliamentary control had become less as its expenditure had become greater. In some ways that is true. Even m the time that I have been in the House the voting of Supply has changed. I have been in the House only since 1959 but, when I first came here, quite often on a Supply afternoon there were three or four speeches concerned with the actual granting of Supply before we got on to the Opposition motion for the afternoon. We have got completely away from that habit, and I do not think that the Expenditure Committee has yet taken its place.
I agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton that, if Parliament is to be seen to be relevant to the public outside, it has to reform and has to be seen to be a worthwhile activity. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that Parliament can be effective only if it has more power.
Having said that, I believe that the power and the rôle of the back bencher has increased in the past few years. It showed itself remarkably in the last year or two of the Labour administration, and there have been many occasions in this Parliament when back benchers have told the Government what they had to do if they wanted to get a majority. On many occasions I have found myself having to tell my colleagues that such and such a policy would not be acceptable to back benchers and, therefore, that it had to be modified.
I do not take the view that the rôle of the back benches is constantly diminishing. However, there is a growing frustration among back benchers about their ability to do their job properly when so many of them are either full-time or at least extremely energetic Members of Parliament.
Not at this stage. I am trying to be as generous as I reasonably can be to all parties.
I turn now to the strictures by the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) on the management not only of Parliament but of the Houses of Parliament. Without in any way overstepping the mark on to other people's responsibilities, I hope he will see Sir Edmund Compton and put his views to him because Sir Edmund's rôle in improving the administration of this place could be very important.
The hon. Gentleman accused me of saying to the Committee that I would again consider whether sub-committees should be allowed to report direct to the House and then take no further action. The House should know that I wrote to the chairman of the Committee and expressed the view that it was better for sub-committees to report through the full Expenditure Committee rather than direct as sub-committees. I think that some sub-committees have been more enthusiastic than others. Some have produced much better reports than others. We do not want sub-committees that are too large. I am not in favour of large subcommittees. A large sub-committee tends to be dominated by either the chairman or one or two hon. Members who always want to put their points of view, and the other Members of the Committee get bored and do not turn up. That is not a satisfactory position. Therefore, I do not support large sub-committees.
Yes, when I have concluded this point. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees asked whether we required sub-committees. Would we be better placed if we had individual committees instead of sub-committees? That is a matter that we could consider, but there is something to be said for having a committee that welds the whole thing together and would do what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton wants done—namely, to speak with real authority on behalf of the Expenditure Committee.
I want to press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of sub-committees. We know that he is opposed to sub-committees reporting direct to the House. The Government's reply made that clear and the right hon. Gentleman told us that when we examined him before the full Committee. But he also acknowledged on that occasion that it was a matter for the House to decide. In practical terms, that means that a motion must be put down. Is he prepared to put down a motion containing that proposition so that the House can decide whether to accept his view or the view of the Expenditure Committee?
I am not by any means certain that it is the view of the Expenditure Committee as a whole. From discussions that I have had with hon. Members who are not on the Committee, I have found quite a bit of opposition to that course. Therefore, I have not thought it right to put down that particular motion. However, there was nothing to stop hon. Gentlemen putting down a motion today if they wished to do so.
The Expenditure Committee has made a special report to the House saying that it wishes to have direct reporting. How can the Leader of the House say that the Expenditure Committee thinks this or that? It is not for him to go behind a special report of the Committee to the House.
I have heard one member of the Expenditure Committee this afternoon say that he is not in favour of direct reporting by sub-committees. I am not saying that the Expenditure Committee did not want it, but I know of other hon. Members who have strongly objected to this course. Therefore, for that reason and because the Government have not so far approved of it, I have not put down that motion. There is no reason why the hon. Gentleman could not have put down such a motion. It could have been taken with today's business if that had been thought necessary.
I now come to the question of the time available for debates. We have given the usual three days. One was taken by the Public Accounts Committee early in the Session, one is being used today and generally a third day is made available. In addition, we are making one day available for a debate on the White Paper on Public Expenditure, and during the debate on the Budget, although one cannot guarantee that other subjects will not be raised by hon. Members, a day is being provided for a debate on public expenditure. Time is available for debates, and it is a great shame that hon. Members other than members of the Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) have not taken part in today's debate.
On the question of televising Committee proceedings. I made my view clear when I gave evidence to the Committee. The House had passed a resolution that proceedings should not be televised. I felt that no further action could be taken and that, as that view was likely to last for this Parliament, I saw no other opportunity of putting it to the House.
My own view—it is a personal view—is that the film concerning a Standing Committee by Grenada last summer, and some of the discussions which took place in the policy formation in the Department of Trade and Industry, which I think hon. Members will have seen, represent a process which we ought to consider carefully and, wherever possible, expand. It is a practice which I think could only enhance the reputation of Parliament and enable the public to have a better idea of what goes on in this building.
There are divided views on whether it is right that the Chamber should be televised or whether we should start with Committees. Again expressing a personal view, I think that it would be right to start with radio. That would be an easy way, and I have never understood why the House does not do the daily parliamentary report not as a report by an outsider but by using extracts from what hon. Members say. I think that we might discuss that further on a suitable occasion. I could not agree to any change in the decision not to televise the House until the House had had time to debate the matter again, and I doubt whether it will find time to do so this year.
The Government are anxious to do all they can to help the Committee by means of specialist assistance. At present, apart from typing and secretarial services, there are 16 supporting staff to the Committee, including four part-time specialist advisers. The Committee has a permanent adviser, who has already been mentioned, and I think the House will recognise that that is a marked increase in support in the last two years. I rather agree with the view that specialist assistance is probably best taken on for a particular inquiry and not employed on a full-time basis, but the Government will continue to consider any request from the Committee for further specialist help to assist in its inquiries.
Therefore, I emphasise that the Government's concern is that the Expenditure Committee should be able to develop in a way which will provide a stronger, more effective and more co-ordinated instrument of parliamentary scrutiny. I am concerned to stress this co-ordination aspect because of the risk, as we see it, that the Committee may lower its sights and go along the more limited paths of the old Estimates Committee. If it did, much of the advantage of the change made in 1971 would be lost. However, I wish to study the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead.
The wide-ranging and detailed nature of the Committee's inquiries involves, as the House will appreciate, a considerable volume of work not only for members of the Committee but also for Ministers and Departments who are required to give oral and written evidence. This obligation was fully recognised when the Committee was established and I think that it is fair to say that, with the help of the Committee and its Clerk, generally good working contacts have been established with the Departments involved. I hope that that will continue to be so. Certainly the Government's intention will remain to do all they can to assist the Committee to fulfil its extremely important parliamentary rôle and I shall hope, after looking carefully at what has been said in the debate, to be able to improve matters as time passes.
My right hon. Friend has made no reply to my suggestion, with which I think all my colleagues agree, that the Committee should be appointed for a Parliament and not on a sessional basis.
I am sorry. That matter is dealt with at the start of my prepared speech.
The Committee is now set up under a Standing Order. My hon. Friend suggests that its members should be appointed for a whole Parliament. I do not know whether the House would think that that was too restrictive, but I see no major objection to it, and if it is hon. Members' wish I will see that that happens. Generally, however, we reappoint the Committee for each Session and hon. Members who do not wish to serve on it can come off and others can go on. That is a practice which other Select Committees will probably want to follow. In that case, I hope that if we do what is suggested it will not be treated as a precedent.
Not the least reason for doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) suggested is that it would save weeks of time in the work of the Select Committee at the beginning of each Session, because there is always an unaccountable delay between setting up the Committee and its getting down to work. It knocks a considerable proportion off the working Session. If my right hon. Friend applies his remarks more widely, he will find that it is welcomed by the chairmen and members of other Select Committees.
That is what I thought, and that is why I thought that I should qualify what I said. However, I will consider the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). The Committee on Science and Technology has already put the point to me and I have promised to consider it further. We do not set up some Select Committees for each Session ; we set them up only for a period. It is reasonable that this suggestion should apply to a number of main standard Committees, such as the Expenditure Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. My right hon. Friend's Race Relations Committee has established itself as a regular Committee, but whether or not it will become a permanent feature of the House, I am not in a position to judge. Could I consider this matter again and report back to the House?
With permission of the House, may I say—I think I am speaking for the majority of the members of the Committee present—how deeply disappointed we are at the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about direct reporting by sub-committees? He said that if we had put down a motion he would have allowed it to go on the Order Paper in Government time today and therefore to be debated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Opposition time."] Very well, Opposition time, but anyway, the normal Front Bench time. But the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us that before. Of course we would have put down such a motion. That is a very weak excuse for it not being agreed today.
That this House takes note of the rôle of the Expenditure Committee, with particular reference to staff broadcasting of proceedings, reporting by Sub-Committees, and other matters contained in the Second Special Report of Session 1970–71, the Sixth Special Report of Session 1971–72, the Second and Fourth Special Reports of the last Session of Parliament and in the Minutes of Evidence taken on 9th April 1973.