The House of Commons Commission

House of Commons (Administration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1978.

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3.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'three' and insert 'four'.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'three' and insert 'two'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 15, at end insert— (e) one member to be appointed by Mr. Speaker after consultation with representatives of all minority parties.'.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

The object of this amendment, Mr. Speaker, is to take you out of politics. On the present basis, the proposed House of Commons Commission will consist of six persons: yourself, or your successor in office; my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, or his successor in office; the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), the Shadow Leader of the House, or presumably his successor in office; someone appointed, as the Bill puts it, by the Leader of the Opposition —a Front Bencher, in other words—and three Back Benchers, although the Bill does not put it in those terms.

I understand that there is an institution, currently not yet existing, but lurking in the background, sometimes referred to as the Shadow Commission, which consists of one Labour Privy Councillor, one Liberal Privy Councillor and the hon. Member for Bristol West (Mr. Cooke), who is now on the Opposition Front Bench.

The situation, therefore, would be that, in terms of the original parties for which Members were elected, for example, the Labour Party on such a Commission would have you, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is not inhibited in claiming to belong to the Labour Party, and another right hon. Member of the Labour Party. There would be three members from the Government side and three from the Opposition. That seems reasonable until we realise that one of those members is Mr. Speaker. That is quite inappropriate. It would clearly be better for the Commission to consist of seven members, three from the Government side, three from the Opposition and Mr. Speaker of the day impartially to act as Chairman.

That is the sole object of the amendment. It is to ensure that the Commission is balanced so that half of it consists of representatives of the Government side, whether they be Front or Back Benchers, and the other half consists of representatives of the Opposition, whether they be Front or Back Benchers, with Mr. Speaker of the day acting as Chairman of that body and not being forced to be part of either the Government or the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Southwark Bermondsey

I suppose that I should wait to hear what the Government have to say on the amendment. It seemed to me that three was the right figure. The idea was that one member would be from the Government of the day, one member would be from the Opposition and the other member—perhaps the Government will correct me if I am wrong—would be by agreement with the smaller parties. The Liberals, the Scot Nats, if they ever come back—I hope that they do not—and the Ulster Unionists would have to get together, have a chat and decide who should be their member. That is how I see the composition of the three. I am not sure what four would do.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

I understood that the intention of having four rather than three members was to provide the Government of the day with a clear majority on the Commission.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I think that we should get this matter clear. The intention is to ensure that the governing party—not the Government, as my hon. Friend said—should be represented by half the Commission. At the moment it has two out of five if we exclude Mr. Speaker. If we include Mr. Speaker, it has half. However, I do not think that we should classify Mr. Speaker as part of the governing party, still less of the Government.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

My hon. Friend and I have met somewhere in the middle. This change is designed to ensure that, if necessary, there will be a voting majority on the Commission. Some of us believe that the intention of the Bill in setting up the Commission is to keep it on a non-voting basis, and certainly one which does not have too much regard for the politics in this Chamber. That is why I resist the amendment.

The Bottomley Committee recommended a Commission of six members: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the House, the official Opposition's nominee and three Back Benchers. It will be for the House to choose the three Back Benchers. But assuming, as recommended by the Bottomley Committee, that one of the Back Benchers were from the minority parties, the party representation on the Commission would probably be one Government Front Bencher, one Government Back Bencher, one Opposition Front Bencher, one Opposition Back Bencher and one minority party representative. In so far as Mr. Speaker as Chairman would be unlikely to vote, except in the event of a tie, the party balance would be likely to lie with the minority party representative. If Back-Bench representation were increased to four members, as proposed in the amendment, the Government would he likely to have parity, even if opposed by the minority party representative, and Mr. Speaker would be more likely to be placed in the position of having to exercise his casting vote.

I repeat, the Commission is envisaged as essentially a House of Commons, not a party, body. It was not expected by the Bottomley Committee that it would have recourse to voting. In Committee I offered to look at this matter because I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) had a good point. Having looked at it, I think that on balance we should leave the position as it is.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'which shall' and insert 'and shall cause it to'.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 21 and 22.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

This is a drafting improvement to an amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Red-ditch (Mr. Miller), and accepted in Committee, to provide that the annual reports of the Commission's exercise of its functions shall be printed. The amendment has the effect of placing an obligation specifically on the Commission to ensure that this is done, otherwise, the responsibility for action would be left in the air.

In practice, it is likely that the House will notify in Votes and Proceedings and the Journal of the House that it has ordered the report to be printed, thus bringing the report within the scope of the Parliamentary Papers Act, 1840.

Amendment No. 21 involves verbal usage. It is more normal to speak of revoking a delegation than of rescinding it. Amendment No. 22 is a verbal tidying up and simplification and substitutes one word for four words. It provides that delegations of the Commission's powers should be referred to in the Commission's annual report. The amendment was agreed to in Committee. I recommend that the House accepts the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.