Before I call the Leader of the House to move the first procedural motion, it may be helpful if I say something about the order of the debate. Following the agreement of the House to the business motions, I propose that there should be a general debate on the motions relating to Procedure—that is Nos. 1 to 18—and on the amendments that Mr. Speaker has selected. That debate may continue until 10 o'clock. At 10 o'clock Mr. Speaker will proceed, in accordance with the business motion, to put successively the Questions on the motions and on any selected amendments that hon. Members may wish to move. Mr. Speaker has placed in the Lobby a list of the amendments that have been selected.
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of Session 1977–78, and agrees with the recommendations contained in paragraph 2.9.
I should like to preface my remarks with a few personal observations. First, I wish to say how much we regret the absence of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). His presence always adds such lustre to any parliamentary occasion. The House will know that he is unwell and I am sure would wish to send its best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
Secondly, I should like to offer a word of congratulation to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams). It must be yet a further satisfaction to him today to see another section of his epoch-making report on procedure coming before the House.
When this Session's first debate on procedure took place on 25 June I called it a crucial day in the life of the House of Commons. I would not put the matter so high today. Nor is the attendance in the House quite up to the standard that we achieved on that occasion. However, I do claim that today's debate constitutes a further important step in the efforts to bring our procedures up to date.
In the long term, there is no task that this Government are undertaking that has greater significance than that of assisting the House to be more efficient and effective in discharging its duty of controlling and checking the Executive and promoting the liberties of the subject. That is the substance that lies behind the technicalities of the debate upon which we are about to embark.
We made clear in the Conservative Party manifesto that we attached great importance to reforming the procedures of the House in that it was our determination
to give the new House of Commons an early chance of coming to a decision on these proposals.
We took one leap forward towards redeeming that pledge in June. We take another smaller but still highly significant step today.
The 12 Select Committees are about to be appointed on the basis which the House has already approved. The Liaison Committee, about which I gave a pledge to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), will be the subect of a motion which I hope will be put down next week. The motion will set out its scope, size and terms of reference. Arrangements are in hand to appoint the Sub-Committees to which I referred and which are authorised by the House, including a Sub-Committee on nationalised industries, which will be set up shortly. The Committee on Welsh affairs has been authorised by the House and one on Scottish affairs will also be appointed, if the House approves the relevant motions on the Order Paper today.
They are authorised to set up Sub-Committees and they will draw that authorisation from the House. No doubt, once the Committees are set up they will embark upon their task of setting up the Sub-Committees. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the point.
I have thought carefully about the way in which we should order our future discussions. I have discussed the matter with hon. Members from all parts of the House. I considered fully the special report of the Procedure Committee and I have been guided by the wish of the House to reach positive conclusions and make actual changes if it so wishes. In my opinion it is no help to have debates which evaporate into thin air without the opportunity being afforded to the House of making up its mind at the end of the day.
Therefore, I have tabled for debate a further set of motions upon which the House will be able to reach positive conclusions today. There are 18 in all. They cover three groups of recommendations. The first group are the Procedure Committee's recommendations on Private Members' Bills and speeches in Second Reading debates, which are recommendations (1) to (3) in the report. The second group covers the organisation of Sessions and sittings—recommendations (71) to (76). For the third group I have taken the opportunity to table motions on the various reports from the Sessional Committees on Procedure, which have been hanging about—if I may use that colloquial phrase—for years, some of them since 1976. They have been in danger of becoming the Cinderellas of the procedure world and are now, at last, afforded a transformation scene.
Today, the House will be given an opportunity to reach conclusions on all 10 reports. The hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) helpfully suggested that I should reorder the orginal motions in order to simplify the arrangements for tabling amendments and taking the votes. I hope that the change will be for the convenience of the House. The substance remains unaltered, but the presentation is clearer. Not all hon. Members have the genius in these matters that is possessed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. Some people have no head for heights; others have no head for procedure.
In the first group of recommendations to which I referred we felt that it was wrong to table a motion that would restrict a Member's freedom to introduce a Bill under Standing Order No. 13, as proposed in the Procedure Committee's recommendation. I recognise that the provisions of that Standing Order are appreciated and utilised by many hon. Members as a means of ventilating at short notice matters which they consider to be of public importance. Certainly, I should decline to be a party to any attempt to deprive hon. Members of that freedom.
There are practical difficulties in determining the status of a text once it is lodged in the Public Bill Office, as envisaged by the Committee's recommendation. For example, it is not clear whether that would be the definitive text of a Ten-Minute Bill or whether the Member would be allowed to substitute a different version subsequently. Presumably, the House would require a time limit for the lodging of the text. If it is left until as late as the morning of the day itself, that would be inadequate time for inspection by other hon. Members. For those reasons, I believe that the matter should be considered in greater depth. I noticed that no hon. Member tabled an amendment to give effect to that recommendation. Therefore, I follow the wise advice of Lord Melbourne—I am leaving the matter alone.
However, the Government would support an experiment aimed at having shorter speeches in Second Reading debates, as is proposed in recommendation (2), if it is acceptable to the House and to Mr. Speaker or the occupant of the Chair. I notice that my hon. Friends the Members for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) and for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) have put down early-day motions with a similar objective. If the House so wishes, I assume that between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. the Chair would use its discretion to call hon. Members to order after they had spoken for 10 minutes, being guided by the number of Members who had indicated their wish to speak. The occupant of the Chair would exercise that discretion if the number of Members significantly exceeded the number for whom time could otherwise be found. Of course, the Chair might find that, after an announcement proposing to exercise that discretion had been made, the number of Members wishing to speak was not as great as had been envisaged. In that case, no doubt, the Chair would not wish to be bound to restrict every speaker to 10 minutes. I am asking the House to agree to a motion which would afford such freedom to the Chair. It is a matter for the discretion of the Chair.
May I intervene at this stage, since it will save my making a speech, which will be a great advantage both as to time and otherwise?
Will my right hon. Friend indicate his attitude to the amendment of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), which reproduces part of paragraph 2.9 of the report of the Select Committee which refers to the privileges of Privy Councillors? I believe that the report is misconceived, because there are no such privileges sub nomine; it is merely a custom of the House. If the amendment were accepted, the Chair would find it virtually impossible ever to call a Privy Councilor before seven o'clock in a Second Reading debate.
The matter does not arise, because the amendment has not been selected. The point was dealt with by Mr. Speaker from the Chair when he indicated that, although Privy Councillors have certain rights in the House, they are subject to regulation by the Chair.
My answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is that we are moving into a new territory and this is in the nature of an experiment. We do not know how it will work. If it works satisfactorily, that will be the time to think of extending it.
Some hon. Members think that Front Bench speeches should also be restricted and that some Ministers are long-winded. There are distinguished precedents both inside and outside the House. St. Patrick preached for three days and three nights without ceasing, though it is not recorded whether it was to the same audience. Such propositions may be popular, but if the House reflects upon the matter it will see that the curtailment of Ministers' speeches would not extend the authority and effectiveness of the House. It would extend the effectiveness of the Executive, because it would be able to shelter behind that and avoid giving a full account of its activities to the House.
We are ready to support an experimental extension of the arrangements for Second Readings of Private Members' Bills as proposed in the Committee's recommendation (3). Those arrangements work well for Government Bills and an extension would relieve pressure on Private Members' time on the Floor of the House and improve the chances of a useful and uncontroversial Bill completing its passage.
However, I believe that we should approach the recommendation with caution because I would not want the new arrangement to work to the disadvantage of hon. Members who have drawn high places in the ballot or to be open to exploitation as a means of preventing the progress of other Bills. I propose, therefore, that the scheme should be on an experimental basis initially, with motions to refer Bills to Second Reading Committees being allowed on and after the seventh Private Members' day and only if they are unopposed. The experiment will be reviewed at the end of the Session.
The second group of motions covers the recommendations on motions proposing the dates for the Adjournment of the House, on debates on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, and on Friday sittings.
I must advise the House against accepting recommendation (71), which provides that the motion to suspend the Ten o'clock rule must, if it is to be successful, have the support of at least 200 Members. I respect the wish of the Procedure Committee to discourage the Government from moving suspensions except when it is essential and it is certainly my aim to avoid late sittings as far as possible. I am no more a natural insomniac than is any other hon. Member.
However, if we are realistic, we must accept that sittings after 10 o'clock will remain a regular feature of parliamentary business and I doubt whether it would be for the convenience of my hon. Friends, or even of Labour Members should they ever find themselves on this side of the House again, to have to vote in those numbers, especially when a three-line Whip is not in force.
As regards recommendation (72) on the motion proposing the dates of each recess, we attach great importance to the opportunities for hon. Members to raise matters of concern to them in the daily Adjournment debate and in the whole-day Adjournment debate before each recess. The recommendation and the motion giving effect to it would not interfere with those opportunities.
However, as the Committee recognised, the motion proposing the date of an Adjournment is a technical matter and the debate arising from it has become a somewhat artificial occasion. I therefore commend the Committee's recommendation to the House, but I emphasise that what happens to it is entirely a matter for the House.
I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the reference of a Private Member's Bill to a Second Reading Committee could be accepted only if the motion were unopposed. The motion on the Order Paper states only that the motion "shall be put forthwith". Can my right hon. Friend confirm that a Bill could not be referred to a Second Reading Committee if it were opposed by even one hon. Member?
That is the intention and effect of the motion.
I acknowledge that recommendation (73), that debates on the Second Reading of Consolidated Fund Bills should be referred to a Standing Committee, subject to the special arrangements indicated in paragraph 9.18 of the report, has much to commend it. Time would be saved on the Floor of the House. There would be no loss of opportunities for Members to press Ministers on matters of importance. More Members would have an opportunity to take part and the debate need lose none of its effectiveness through not being held on the Floor of the House.
On the other hand, if we are to have a new scheme, it needs to be worked out with care. The Consolidated Fund Bill is of immense importance to the House and we must consider the practical effect on the timetable for the passage of the Bill and on the detailed arrangements for sittings in Committee. We must also take account of any implications for the form of the debate at the Committee stage.
Perhaps even more important, the present arrangements are the result of a carefully considered and detailed report from a Procedure Committee which was accepted in 1966. That report followed a thorough study of Supply procedure as a whole and put forward a balanced set of recommendations which took account of all three main interests involved—those of Back Benchers, the Opposition and the Government. I put them in order of importance.
I do not think that we should disturb the results of those recommendations without an equally systematic study, going deeper than the recent Procedure Committee was able to go because it was covering such a wide area. The Committee expressed the view in chapter 8 of its report that the financial procedure required more thorough investigation and that it might be undertaken in due course by another Procedure Committee which should consider the handling of Consolidated Fund Bills in that context.
There is, I believe, strong support for the recommendation that Friday sittings should begin at 9.30 a.m., especially among hon. Members whose constituencies are at some distance from the capital. We commend it, accordingly, on the understanding that private notice questions and statements will continue to be taken at 11 o'clock. Any earlier time would require hon. Members to give notice of their questions at an increasingly early hour. It would also present great difficulties for Ministers in giving adequate replies. The change, if accepted by the House, has important implications for the staff and services of the House. These will have to be considered with those concerned. If it is agreed in principle, as the motion proposes, the House authorities will prepare the new working arrangements and we would aim to bring them into operation during the new year.
I think that the enthusiasm, such as it is, for this motion is as much for the House rising at 3 p.m. as it is for its starting at 9.30 a.m. My right hon. Friend, perhaps by a slip of the tongue, mentioned only the commencing hour and not the terminal hour. It is important that an undertaking should be given that if this motion is passed the rule will not be suspended so that we end up merely starting at 9.30 a.m. but finishing at the same hour as under existing procedure.
I do not think it was a slip of the tongue or even a slip of the mind. Being less ingenious than my hon. Friend, I had not thought that such a situation might be deduced. The hours are 9.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m., followed by the Adjournment which would run from 2.30 p.m. to 3 p.m. That is what is intended.
The Procedure Committee has made two recommendations about the dates of recesses. The Committee does not propose any fundamental change in the pattern, but it has argued for the Easter Recess to be longer, if possible, than the Whitsun Recess, for Parliament to rise early for the Summer Recess and for a longer spill-over in the autumn. The committee has also recommended that the dates of the Christmas, Easter and Whit-sun Recesses should be fixed soon after the beginning of each Session.
I have not thought it right to include these matters in the terms of a motion, but I sympathise with much of the thought behind them. I have sought to meet the wishes of the House, and the spirit of those two recommendations, in the dates I have proposed so far in this Parliament. I recall that my efforts to get the House up at the end of July were not universally approved in public, although I received some consolation in the private gratitude offered to me by hon. Members. I shall continue to act in this way in the future and try to take into account the interests of hon. Members, particularly those who have families with whom they wish to be reunited. I also know the particular problem of Scotland, where the school holidays commence earlier and end earlier than in England and Wales.
The right hon. Gentleman has passed over the question of notice of recesses in his comments. If an hon. Member wants to book a holiday, a hotel or an aircraft, with his family, he needs to have some notice of a period within the recess that the Government will try their best not to disturb, even though the full length of the recess may not be known.
I appreciate that difficulty. It is almost impossible for the Government to commit themselves to a rigid pattern. If they did, the length of the recesses would shrink. It would have to be the minimum period rather than the maximum. But I attempt, so far as I can, to give hon. Members guidance on this point within the perimeter of the obligation of the Government to get their business through the House.
The third group of motions on the Order Paper will enable the House to reach conclusions on the reports that have come from the Sessional Committees on Procedure in recent years. For many of them, the House may simply wish to take note of a recommendation that no change is needed or that a change has already been made by administrative action. I believe that the following matters fall into this category: the procedure for establishing the order for oral questions, the order of precedence for Private Members' business, the practice regarding motions to divide business at a stated time, the eligibility of hon. Members successful in ballots for Private Members' Bills to take part in subsequent ballots in the same Parliament, the designation of a single Clerk at the Table to receive amendments to the Bill on the day it receives a Second Reading.
The motions on the Order Paper will enable the House to express a formal view on these recommendations, but I do not expect that there will be any serious disagreement about them or any need for prolonged discussion. The question of the method of raising points of order during a Division seems to have aroused a certain amount of controversy. I shall be interested to hear the views of hon. Members on that matter.
I can, however, assure the House, as the Procedure Committee wishes, that the practice of dividing business at 7 p.m. will be used sparingly and only after full consultation through the usual channels. I cannot commend to the House the proposal in the third report for Session 1975–76 that access to the Table Office should be confined to hon. Members and that hon. Members should be able to table only those questions that are in their own names. I am not aware of any serious difficulty over these matters. I am sure that the change, in practice, would amount to a considerable inconvenience to many hon. Members and also to their secretaries and assistants.
Our motions in this group would, however, have substantive effect on three matters. They would regularise the practice of calling an extra amendment at the end of the debate on the Address, as recommended in the first report for the Session 1976–77. This is important, particularly for the minority parties. Increasingly, the business tends to revolve around the axis of the Government and the official Opposition. The rights of minority parties should be respected as well.
The motions would implement the recommendation on the arangements for voting on Opposition motions on Supply days so that a vote could take place on the Opposition's own motion, as recommended in the third report for that Session. They would give effect to the recommendation in the sixth report which would generally prevent hon. Members raising matters under Standing Order No. 9 unless you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had already indicated that you would grant the application. These recommendations seem logical and correct. I commend them to the House.
I should like to give more background on the question of Opposition motions on Supply days—
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a feeling on the Opposition Benches that he is bringing forward the recommendation because it may assist the Government to prevent critical speeches being made by hon. Members on the Opposition side in explaining the reason for an emergency debate? Is it necessary so to change our business that one has to go to Mr. Speaker to get his permission? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain whether Mr. Speaker will be giving permission for the matter to be raised or giving his consent to the emergency debate?
I was subsuming Mr. Speaker into Mr. Deputy Speaker. It should obviously have been the other way around. I have some sympathy with the point that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is making. I hope that he will not be too suspicious of the motives of the Government. I have no desire to deprive any Member of the House of any opportunity to raise anything. But the Committee reached the considered conclusion that what had been intended as a means of raising an emergency matter had become a subject of abuse and was being used for other purposes. Its recommendation is that it would not be possible to raise the matter in this House unless Mr. Speaker had reached a positive and affirmative decision. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that point.
I should like to go further into the background of Opposition motions on Supply days. Under our present arrangements, the Opposition have the right to put down a motion on a Supply day, and the Government have a right to put down an amendment. Until 1966, the motion was put to the House in the form
That the words proposed to be left out stand part".
Apparently that caused some confusion in people's minds. It was therefore recommended in 1967, and indeed was achieved, that instead of the phrase
That the words proposed to be left out stand part
the phrase should be used
That the amendment be made".
That applies of course to motions generally, but the effect on Government amendments on Opposition Supply days was overlooked. It was not realised that the change gave the Opposition no chance to vote on their own motion, because the vote would always take place on the Government amendment and that would be the end of the Opposition's opportunity. It is therefore proposed by the Committee which was set up in 1976 that the words should now be changed to
That the original words stand part of the Question
and that the vote should be taken on that.
When I was Shadow Leader of the House, I argued strongly for a change in that respect. The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was then the Opposition Chief Whip, supported that also in a letter to the Sessional Committee on Procedure, and it was opposed by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
What suits an Opposition does not always suit a Government. At times, when the Opposition are turned into the Government, they are not so enthusiastic about the reforms which they had embraced while wandering in the wilderness. That change of attitude has caused some political cynicism among those who survey our processes from a distance. It was perhaps best summed up in the quatrain "On a Great Election" by Belloc:
The accursed power which stands on Privilege
(And goes with Women, and Champagne, and Bridge)
Broke—and Democracy resumed her reign: (Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).
This change does not suit the Government. It does suit the Opposition. Nevertheless, we tabled it because we believe that it is right for the House and for parliamentary democracy as a whole that the Opposition, although in a minority, should be able to vote for their own motions. I hope that this generosity of spirit will be noted by the Opposition when any other little local difficulties may occur.
This is a serious point, because the Opposition may be in a minority Parliament and the actual phrasing of the motion could be of vital importance. The motion gives back to the Opposition a right which should not have been taken from them.
Our motions finally invite the House to take note of the report on questions to the Prime Minister. Hon. Members will be aware that since taking office my right hon. Friend has consistently acted in accordance with the first part of the recommendation—namely, that the Prime Minister should, at discretion, retain more questions falling strictly within the responsibility of departmental Ministers if important policy issues are involved.
However, it takes two to tango. I hope that hon. Members will be equally diligent in observing the second part of the recommendation, that they should table fewer device or indirect questions. A partnership is needed. The shortcoming of the present system is that the form of question which is being put down facilitates the kind of gladiatorial contest, the "yah-boo" politics, which is so unpopular in the country. If one could get away from that form, it would be good for politics and good for the House. We also invite Mr. Speaker to take into account the recommendations about the enforcement of stricter rules of relevance on supplementaries arising from such questions.
These motions will allow useful progress to be made on a number of matters which affect the efficient working of the House and the convenience of hon. Members. However, there remain important sections of the Procedure Committee's main report which the House must still consider—those on the Public Bill procedure, on delegated legislation and on European Communities legislation.
It is our intention to provide for debate on those questions and also on the recommendations on financial control when the review of the Exchequer and Audit Department which I announced on 25 June has been completed. That might be the time to consider the investigation of the financial procedure to which I have already referred.
The Government fully sympathise with the objectives of more effective parliamentary scrutiny and better opportunities for Back Benchers to take part in debates which lie behind all these recommendations, but they are of more than procedural significance. If they were to be adopted in full, they would present difficulty not only for the Government but for the House itself. Also, it would be unfair to ask new Members to come to conclusions before they had had an opportunity to gain experience of the working of present arrangements. In any event, many of them are recommendations which, if adopted, would most conveniently come into effect at the beginning of a new Session.
Therefore, I hope that the House will agree that it is better not to reach immediate conclusions on these recommendations at this stage, but, as the present Session proceeds, I intend to hold full discussions with interested individuals and parliamentary groups and with my Cabinet colleagues with a view to a further debate on procedure during the summer.
I turn now to the motions to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. The House made clear in the summer its wish to have a Committee on Scottish affairs equivalent to the Committees which it agreed to set up to match the principal Whitehall Departments and the Welsh Office. The Government are keen to make improvements in the government of Scotland, especially in the procedures for handling Scottish parliamentary business. I have written to the representatives of the political parties which have Members for Scottish constituencies, proposing all-party talks with that objective.
I was further pressed in June to agree that the establishment of a Committee on Scottish affairs should not await the outcome of these talks. The motions are intended to meet what I believe to be the wishes of the House in the meantime. They therefore provide for a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs with similar membership and orders of reference to those of the other Committees which the House has already agreed should be established.
If all-party talks suggest that a larger number or wider functions are needed in the Scottish Committee or that the Committee should have power to appoint a Sub-Committee, the Government will be ready to table further motions at the appropriate time. However, we do not want to anticipate the outcome of those talks in the discussion of today's motion.
I have been presenting proposals which are not primarily the concern of party. They are not party matters. They are of concern for the House as a whole. I hope that I have done so in a non-partisan way. It is, after all, a suitable way to proceed, and I am conscious that my title is Leader of the House. While you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are the servant of the House, and I share some of those characteristics, I am not above the party battle. I am frequently in the front line. It is certainly part of my duty to see that Government business gets through the House. I have to see that the legislation which has a clear mandate from the electorate is brought forward. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not be deflected from that course.
But I realise that this process has to be pursued in a context in which all parties have their rights. The measures that I have proposed today will, I believe, increase the effectiveness of all hon. Members. It is in that spirit that I commend them to the House.
I am grateful to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for what he said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and I shall bring it to his notice. My hon. Friends and I are also grateful that representations were heeded about the re-ordering of the Order Paper. I hope that it will assist all right hon. and hon. Members in their discussions this evening.
For the second time this Session, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out—and he has promised another bite at the cherry later—we are debating the procedures of the House. I note what he said about Select Committees, Liaison Committees and Sub-Committees as part of the "continuing" discussions which will have to take place. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Scottish Select Committee. There are implications concerning that Committee, with which I do not propose to deal. But I hope that my right hon. Friend the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He will deal with that aspect and I shall shorten my remarks accordingly.
I have listened with interest to the Leader of the House, and I shall simply make one or two remarks of recommendation to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I do not propose to deal with all the matters on the Order Paper which enable right hon. and hon. Members to control and check the Executive. There are matters on which it is quite proper for individual Members to make up their own minds. I shall simply raise those which I feel are of general interest to my hon. Friends—and perhaps also to Conservative Members.
It is recommended that there should be changes in the Standing Order No. 9 procedure, that the emergency procedure should be abolished, and that applications should be made to Mr. Speaker in the same manner as for private notice questions. I believe that Standing Order No. 9 was abused last winter. I was a Minister then. I have no doubt that what we were told in the debate on that occasion played no part in the discussions I had in the emergency committees. I do not pretend that I learnt anything from it. A discussion took place on the Floor of the House purely for an ulterior reason. Perhaps some hon. Members consider that what happened was right. However, I am not arguing that, as a result, the Standing Order No. 9 procedure should be abolished. We must be tolerant. Standing Order No. 9 provides an important power for Back Bench Members, enabling them to act against the wishes of both Front Benches. That is a healthy procedure and I recommend that we should not alter it. I feel, however, that, as with the Ten-Minute Bill this afternoon, if the procedure is consistently abused Procedure Committees will be forced to recommend changes and hon. Members on both sides will support them. My advice is to leave the Standing Order No. 9 procedure alone.
Has the right hon. Gentleman taken into account the matter which was considered fully by the Procedure Committee, which was that pressure was being placed on Mr. Speaker in that if he rejected a private notice question application an hon. Member could demand that he raise the matter under Standing Order No. 9? Mr. Speaker does not have to give a reason for refusing a private notice question, so it was suggested that if it were refused the House should resort to the private notice question procedure for a Standing Order No. 9 application. The Committee considered that it was wrong for pressure to be put on the Chair and believed the Chair to be a good interpreter of what was of great importance. However, although that was considered to be wrong it was not out of order.
I note the hon. Gentleman's comment on this and other matters. He is extremely fair. However, whatever the situation, I believe that this issue is best left alone. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not abuse the system. It provides them with an important power that they should not lightly give up.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it would be very wise therefore for Conservative Back Benchers to vote against this proposal tonight, or to refrain from supporting it, on the ground that when they become the Opposition they will want to use or abuse the power as the case may be? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a change in the procedure as recommended by the Leader of the House would lead to more points of order? If an hon. Member cannot get his point across by way of a Standing Order No. 9 application he will use any opportunity, obviously including points of order, to make his case.
I think that that is right. Last winter was a case in point. Ministers tried to make a statement every day to give hon. Members on both sides a chance to raise important matters. Sometimes those statements were pretty thin because there had been little change from the day before. However, the object was to give hon. Members the chance to raise issues on the Floor of the House. My view, therefore, is that we should leave this matter alone.
Another proposal is that the date of recesses should not be debatable. However, that would take away from hon. Members the chance to raise grievances in the traditional debate that we hold before the House goes into recess. I do not believe, as the Procedure Committee suggests, that these procedures are technical. It would be wrong to remove from Back Benchers the chance legitimately to raise issues which may be current at the time or which may arise during the recess. As with the proposal for the Standing Order No. 9 debate, I do not support this proposal. I recommend accordingly to my hon. Friends.
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that. Would he care to comment on the argument of the Leader of the House that Back Benchers would still have opportunities to press Ministers on matters that concerned them? Surely, if we were about to adjourn for a recess it would not be possible to do that.
I think that that is right as well. We all know that in such debates we raise issues which are of national and often great regional or local concern. Hon. Members use the debate to get issues published in local newspapers so that people may consider them.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree, however, that the debate takes on a farcical element when the Chair is unable to find anyone who will speak in favour of the recess but at the end of the debate can find no one to vote against it?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be seized of this point. My right hon. Friend said that hon. Members would have adequate opportunity of raising matters if they applied for one of the end-of-Session Adjournment debates. However, they are limited in number and one has to take one's chance in Mr. Speaker's selection. Under the present procedure, any hon. Member who wishes to make a point has the chance to do so because the Government cannot proceed to put the Question until all those wishing to speak have done so.
That is a most important point, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it.
I come next to the timing of the recesses and the concern that was expressed about their relationship to school holidays. I do not agree with the amendment—although that is a personal matter. My children are no longer young. They do their own thing. But when I look back at my time in the House—although we all make our own decision to be here, as the newspapers frequently point out—the thing that I regret most in the past 17 years has been the trouble I have had in taking holidays with my family. I sympathise greatly with the spirit of what was said, and I hope that something will be done about that.
I have doubts about the proposal concerning short speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has tabled an amendment, and I believe that that has the right idea. If on some occasion—it may be on a Second Reading debate—Mr. Speaker feels that he should call for short speeches, I believe that that could be achieved by way of a gentleman's agreement. That would be preferable to tying hon. Members down by precise procedure of the House. It would have other effects. I have spoken with some of my hon. Friends about this matter in the past day or two. This would be a Second Reading occasion. Perhaps it could be extended to other occasions if there are large numbers of speakers. I have learnt that there are occasions in the House of Commons when, if an hon. Member on either side of the House is in disagreement with his party, it is worth allowing him to speak longer than anybody else. That draws people into the Chamber. Nevertheless I agree that short speeches are important on some occasions. Indeed, I am endeavouring to make one now.
I agree with the new hours on Friday and the Friday procedure. The Leader of the House was not quite so forthcoming about that matter. I do not blame him. It was pointed out that the sitting could be exended on a Government business day and for other reasons. I am sure that that will happen.
There is a tendency to take the Northern Ireland business on a Friday. The Labour Government were as guilty of that as the Tories. I know that the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland, who want extended business, grasp at the opportunity of having it on Friday. The Northern Ireland business is important. There may be other Government business on a Friday. I should like to see the Northern Ireland business taken when Members representing the remainder of the United Kingdom are here and not left to Northern Ireland Members when the rest of us have gone home.
To put the record absolutely straight, the position of my hon. Friends and myself was not that we wished to have Northern Ireland business on Fridays—God forbid—but that when Northern Ireland business had to be on a Friday, and a substantial number of separate items were put down, there should be no restriction on time, since that would be our only legislative opportunity. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands that. However, I do not want him to get away with the notion that we were devotees of Fridays. We, like him, believe that Northern Ireland business should be taken, like any other business, at a time when hon. Members are likely to be able to attend and listen.
I am wondering whether the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) misunderstood my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I understood that my right hon. Friend gave a definitive undertaking that the bringing forward of the hour of sitting to 9.30 a.m. would not be followed by suspending the hour of rising so that we ended up where we were before.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will excuse my intervening in the interruptions to his speech. Perhaps I could give a definitive statement of my position at the end of the debate.
Some of us know exactly what the right hon. Gentleman will say at that time.
The amendment of Standing Order No. 66 would allow Bills to be sent to a Second Reading Committee on Friday. Eventually they must come back to the Floor of the House. I am not so sure about that point. I shall listen carefully to the debate. According to the way in which the motion is written, an hon. Member with a non-contentious Bill early in the list will have it taken on the Floor of the House on Friday anyway. Difficulties arise only when a Bill is lower down the list. There might be some jiggery-pokery on a Friday which would enable some Bills to move much more quickly than others. I think that the intention behind the proposal is right. I see what is involved. However, I have my doubts about it.
It is right to allow the experiment of a further amendment by a third party to the Loyal Address. I also agree with the procedure on Opposition Supply days.
The Leader of the House referred to the headgear worn when raising points of order during a Division. He said that raised a certain amount of emotion. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I fully support the traditions of the House. They matter. However, having people sitting here with a top hat on, looking like Harry Tate in the 1930s, is not the best way of supporting such traditions. We could maintain our traditions in a much more proper way. I support the idea put forward by my hon. Friend.
I now refer to Prime Minister's questions. The Leader of the House made the point that hon. Members could help in asking fewer indirect questions. I am sure that this is right. I liked his homily about yah-boo politics. Saatchi and Saatchi, thou shouldst be living at this hour that that should be said so soon after a general election.
There will be much discussion on these matters. There has been much discussion of them among Labour Back Benchers. I have given advice on only two matters.
I intended to remain all evening to listen to the debate. However, for the next half hour I must attend a meeting for which I am now late. I hope that the House will understand. I shall be here to listen after that. There will be a free vote, and we shall make decisions that will render the procedures of this House far more efficacious.
I should like to concentrate on the question of short speeches. I know a little about the matter. I do not think much of the motion, mainly because I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. It does not go anywhere near the heart of the problem, which is to stop long speeches being made before 7 o'clock—not to make them compulsory between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
We all know the facts, one of which is that Front-Bench Members on both sides of the House go on for too long. More important, hon. Members who are called early in a debate do tend to abuse that preferential position—whether they are Privy Councillors, or whether they think they should be Privy Councillors or whether they think they should be Ministers. We all remember occasions when they have bombed on for 30, 40 or 50 minutes at a time. We all know the result.
The remedy does not lie in changing the rules of procedure. It lies in strengthening the arm of the Chair. I should like the House to endorse some of the unofficial arrangements which the Chair has been known to make.
I should like it to be generally agreed that when an hon. Member promises to make a short speech, and can be relied upon to fulfil the promise, he should have priority well before 7 o'clock. I should like the House to endorse the rule that, if an hon. Member speaks for less than eight minutes, that does not count against his ration. I go further. When an hon. Member rabbits on for 30 minutes or more, that should count double. He should lose all priority the next time round, and the Chair should at once balance matters by calling two successive speakers from the opposite side of the House. That message might get home fairly soon.
If we do not do that, Onslow's law, —that speeches expand to fill the time available for their completion—will prevail. If we do not tackle the problem in the way that I have suggested, we must move to radical solutions. I put one to the House. Let us suppose that when a question is proposed, if 40 Members rise in their places there may be a vote at once for the benefit of those who do not want to hear the arguments. If that vote leaves the matter to be decided, there may be a debate for those who still feel impelled to speak. At the end of the proceedings there will be a second vote. That may be added up and the result determined. That may seem convoluted, but it would at least allow some of us to get away earlier than at present.
I want to leave three practical thoughts in the minds of those of my colleagues who recognise the description of themselves as long-winded. First, we know that Hansard has to print every word they say. But no local or daily paper will ever print more than five minutes of speaking time. The column inches are just not available. The only way to have a long speech reported at full length in the press is to be like the President of North Korea and take a full-page advertisement. I am sometimes tempted to commend some of my right hon. Friends to do just that.
Next, the longer the speech an hon. Member makes, the less chance he has that the radio or the press will pick out the parts which he thinks are important. He simply lengthens the odds against himself, which is a pretty silly thing to do.
Finally, short speeches, like short letters, take time to prepare. We all knew that. However busy we may be, if we do not have sufficient consideration for our own colleagues to devote some of our own time to shortening our speeches, why the devil should we expect them to sit here and suffer?
I wish to follow the brief do-it-yourself exercise in procedure of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) by referring to the motion on the Order Paper regarding length of speeches. I wish also to allude very briefly to the two matters in which the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was in disagreement with Committee recommendations. It would be churlish, however, if one did not, at the outset, recognise that the House is indebted to the Leader of the House for having cleared the backlog of recommendations from the Sessional Committees that had accumulated. It was becoming something of a scandal that no fewer than 10 separate recommendations—for which the House itself had asked Sessional Committees—had not received attention. It is admirable that the Leader of the House should have given the House the opportunity of disposing of those recommendations this afternoon.
On the matter of the regulation of length of speeches, those who read Committee reports from the back forwards will be aware that this recommendation of the Select Committee was not unanimous, though it had a majority in the ratio of two to one. I do not believe myself that regulation by Standing Order, even by permissive Standing Order, or the introduction of the notion of an allowance against the clock for Members' speeches, is the right way to approach the problem. On the contrary, I believe that characteristics of the Chamber which are vital characteristics could be severely damaged if we allowed ourselves to enter upon a course which might lead to the artificial regulation of speeches by time.
There are only two methods of regulating the length of speeches that are consistent with the individual responsibility of hon. Members. Those two methods, working in co-operation, are, first, the public opinion of the House—which has a way of making itself felt even to the more obtuse—and, secondly, that extraordinary skill not only of the present but of former occupants of the Chair in bringing pressure to bear upon the formation and tempo of a debate as it proceeds.
The operation of those two forces together produces a more economical use of time than would result from the sort of experiment that is in motion 1 before the House. On that experiment we could find that speeches that would have been shorter than 10 minutes were elongated to fill 10 minutes, and that a series of some 10 or a dozen 10-minute speeches were substituted for a series of speeches of varying length which would have made a more effective contribution to the debate.
After all, it is part of the liberties of a Member of the House, if he deems it right and necessary, to treat the House to a long discourse, doing so against the sanction that his opportunities to repeat the performance may be considerably limited, and the consideration indicated by the hon. Member for Woking that the effect of a long speech may be less than the effect of a short speech.
All that said, I believe that we shall be unwise to proceed to any form of regulation but will best sustain the true spirit of the House by leaving this matter to the unseen but effective regulation to which it is at present subject.
I turn to the two matters in which the spokesman for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and other hon. Members were at odds with the recommendations of the respective Committees. The question of Standing Order No. 9 motions is a matter on which I hope that, in a debate of this sort, it may be possible—as happens in a Select Committee—for hon. Members to allow themselves to reconsider and possibly be persuaded to alter a point of view which they had taken up. If a proposal with regard to Standing Order No. 9 was designed or likely to have the effect of limiting opportunities for criticising the Government and bringing the Government to book, I would not have supported it in the Sessional Committee, and I would not argue in favour of it today; but I do not believe that the proposal to which the House is invited to assent would in any way have the effect of limiting opportunities for hon. Members to criticise Government.
I believe that the actual effects would be twofold. First, it would restore fairness as between hon. Members, which is damaged at present by the form of the Standing Order No. 9 procedure. Secondly, it would put an end to undoubted abuse.
We already accept that it shall lie in Mr. Speaker's hands whether an hon. Member has the opportunity to ask a question of a Minister by private notice. I have never heard it suggested that Mr. Speaker, in deciding whether or not to give that permission, is actuated by desire to shield the Government from inquiry, and I see no reason to suppose that if his judgment were applied in advance to the appropriateness of a matter to be raised under Standing Order No. 9, he would be any more swayed by a desire to assist the Government. There would be the same impartiality from the Chair in the one case as we have in the other.
On the other hand, we should remove an anomaly, indeed, an absurdity. At present, if one applies to Mr. Speaker to ask a private notice question, should he decline it, one is not allowed to refer publicly or in the House thereafter to the fact that such an application has been made. That rule is sometimes broken but it is far more often observed. It is indeed a necessary rule of the House. In contrast, every hon. Member has the opportunity, if he is prepared to take it—even when he knows that there is not the slightest chance of the matter which he proposes for debate getting the assent of Mr. Speaker under Standing Order No. 9—to make a speech of varying length upon a topic of his choice. Where the unfairness as well as the abuse comes in is that there are often subjects that are equally exercising many other hon. Members and where one Member as much as another is concerned about it and doing his best to bring the matter to public attention or to secure a remedy in other ways.
It is grossly unfair that by deliberately abusing the Standing Order No. 9 procedure one hon. Member should be able to secure an airing for the presentation of what is often a grossly partial point of view that can never be corrected in debate, and also scoop the publicity for it, so far as that may be of importance. The present procedure is abusive, it is unfair as between Member and Member, and it is inconsistent with the procedure on private notice questions, which, so far as I know, gives no room for criticism.
I hope therefore that those who at first blush have been disposed not to agree with the recommendation of the Sessional Committee on Standing Order No. 9 will be willing to reconsider.
Another matter that has been referred to is the motion for the recess. Admittedly, this is an occasion when hon. Members exercise the right not of "grievance before supply" but of "grievance before holiday", in raising matters under the patently transparent pretext that they do not wish the House to rise. I do not think that the transparency of the pretext is a case against that procedure; for many of our procedures, which are prefectly practical and efficient, are built upon a fiction: that is well understood. I should not found upon that the case in favour of the Sessional Committee's report.
The case in favour of the recommendation is that these debates are inherently futile. Instead of doing what in the House we normally seek to do by debate—namely, bring the responsible Minister to the Dispatch Box to answer questions put to him—we all know perfectly well what happens in fact. It is done with varying skill by different Leaders of the House. For it is the Leader of this House alone who replies in emollient phrases in which we recognise the very tones of the responsible Minister whom we are really criticising, trotted out second hand in circumstances where there is no possibility of proceeding with debate.
The procedure is a waste of the time of the House, which could better be used for genuine debate and genuine challenging of Ministers. I hope therefore that those who feel they would be losing a useful opportunity will realise it is not an efficient or effective opportunity, and that we could use the time better in other ways.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in a debate on such matters. The right hon. Gentleman has great knowledge of these matters and his views are much respected in the House. I had the privilege of sitting with him on the Sessional Committee on procedure. I shall comment on one of the matters that he has raised that was before the Committee.
There have been arguments for and against short speeches. I was an Opposition Whip for the best part of four years. For hour after hour I sat on the Opposition Front Bench. I was unable to intervene. I was unable even to make a seated interjection to relieve the boredom. It was a time when the iron entered my soul against long speeches. It was a change to see a different face and a different mouth talking. Therefore, I support the move to have a period of short speeches in Second Reading debates as an experiment.
The experiment will be far from easy to conduct. It will throw a great burden on the Chair. For example, we shall have to cope with interruptions and the raising of points of order that crop up within the 10 minutes. There will be great difficulties. Having considered all the factors, I believe that the time has come to try the experiment.
It is my opinion that some hon. Members are obtuse. Even the emptying of the Chamber is not enough to stop them making long speeches. If a speech is going on for too long, the natural consequence is for interest to be lost and for hon. Members to leave the Chamber in droves. That cannot be good for the House. If I were with the right hon. Member for Down, South in his interpretation of the feelings of hon. Members towards those being criticised for making long speeches, I should be much more inclined to vote with him.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the proposed change of the Standing Order No. 9 procedure. I was a member of the Sessional Committee and I had reservations about the proposal when it was considered by the Committee. I voted for an amendment that was defeated. I still feel that the ability to raise an issue under Standing Order No. 9 is not one with which we should interfere lightly. The procedure has been abused. There are few procedures of the House that are not abused. It is the extent of the abuse that we must consider. I believe that the time has not yet come to equate the Standing Order No. 9 procedure with that of a private notice question. It is very much a Back-Bench issue.
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman's argument applies when the House is full, when the House may make its own feelings about an abuse patent to the guilty Member there and then. That is one way of dealing with the matter.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the right of the individual Member is not to raise a matter under Standing Order No. 9—that right lies with Mr. Speaker and the House—but to ask whether he may put forward a request to do so? That is a very different matter. The exercise of that right in private is no invalidation of the right.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am well aware that it is the right of an individual Member merely to make an application. He does not have the right to introduce a debate. When an hon. Member uses the Standing Order No. 9 procedure, his speech should be short. Indeed, such speeches must be within the rules of Standing Order No. 9. The issue cannot be debated within the application. It is for Mr. Speaker to deal with any abuse of the procedure.
Is not the abuse, so-called, precisely what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is describing? It is recognised that, to be able to raise a matter that is an emergency, it is necessary to talk about the merits of the case rather than to apply for a debate in which to discuss the merits. We need a slot in the day when hon. Members may raise a matter that is an emergency to them, and to do it by leave of the House. In that way an issue can be aired quickly. All the other procedures, such as Ten-Minute Bills and Adjournment debates, are now so overloaded that we have to wait months before we may use them. We need a slot for emergencies, and the Standing Order No. 9 procedure is about the only one left to us.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is that which operates on my thinking. Modern methods of communication mean that matters come quickly to the notice of hon. Members. It is understandable that hon. Members feel that certain issues should be debated urgently in preference to other business. At this stage I should not seek to remove the Standing Order No. 9 slot. However, I am convinced that if it is abused for much longer the demand for the procedure that is set out in the Order Paper will be extremely strong.
I turn, finally, to a procedure that causes amusement. It is one of the many matters that we considered during sittings of the Sessional Committee. I refer to the wearing of headgear while raising a point of order during a Division. When I first came to the House I thought that the procedure was quaint. However, when I heard some of the reasons for the wearing of some form of headgear it became apparent to me that there was some sense in the custom. As we all know, once a Division is called hon. Members move around the Chamber. They stand up. If someone rises to make a point of order, it is difficult for the occupant of the Chair to respond because the hon. Member making the point of order may be obscured by those passing in front of him. The evidence suggests that it is easier for the Chair to spot someone sitting down and wearing a hat.
The proposal to which we gave our minds—it was a matter of great moment—was that two hats should be available. It was suggested that there should be one hat at each end of the Chamber. It was argued that that would save much of the present farce. There are practical reasons lying behind some of our old customs, and I for one would not like to see the seated and covered procedure abolished.
On the whole some good changes have been proposed. I am pleased that we shall allow the Opposition on a Supply Day to vote on their own motion. It was intolerable that that right was taken away from them in the first place. I am glad to see it back.
May I first thank the Leader of the House for his kind references to me. The House must feel indebted to him both for the open-mindedness of the response he has given to the recommendations of the Select Committee on procedure and for his forthrightness in accepting some of them and presenting them to the House for approval even though rejecting others.
I noted and heard with interest the recommendations that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted and those that he passed by on the other side. To some of those that he left unnoticed I wish he had given further consideration and asked for our approval, notably the proposal that we should set up a Public Bill Committee in place of our present Standing Committees. However, we are grateful for the recommendations to which he has given his blessing. They are steps in the right direction.
I have read the reports of the Select Committee and the Sessional Committees, and for the most part I approve of them. The House will, I think, not be surprised if I say that I intend to limit my comments to the proposals of the Select Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. I restrict myself to those, not only because I might be expected to welcome the wisdom of its recommendations, but also because it recommended some serious changes. The Sessional Committees, on the other hand, see almost no need for change and recommend little alteration in any of the procedures sent for their examination. In respect of the one on which they do propose a major change, that of Standing Order No. 9, I am "agin" it.
I do not want to change—even those changes recommended by my Committee—for the sake of change. I am confident that the Select Committee was right to conclude—and the Leader of the House right to accept its conclusions—that some changes were necessary, especially since the changes it proposes are evolutionary and not revolutionary. For that reason, they are more likely to find acceptance even in this predominantly conservative institution. I hasten to say that I use the word "conservative" in its traditional or conservative sense, not in its political or pejorative sense.
The Select Committee approached its task with two primary concerns. The first was to add to the usefulness of the Commons in the government of Britain. The second was to try, as far as possible, to preserve the sanity of Members of Parliament. There can be no doubt that our usefulness would be much greater if there were greater disciplines in our procedures and a good deal less indiscipline in the making of speeches by hon. Members who either have nothing to say or who say what they must at far too great length.
It is for that reason that I would, in spite of some of the criticisms that have been made, urge the House to accept the proposal in para. 2.9 of the report, that speeches, if only for a limited time in the evening, should be made mandatorily shorter. At least, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that would enable the Chair to prevent an hon. Member from continuing to bore who has not struck oil in 10 minutes.
It may be that at some time we shall, if we start from there, be bold enough—as Mr. Speaker has been from time to time—to end the unjustifiable privilege enjoyed by hon. Members who are called before 7 o'clock. They too often use that opportunity to frustrate their less privileged colleagues not only by pre-empting them from speaking but by compelling them instead to listen to speeches that their colleagues at least regard as of massive irrelevance and delivered at inordinate length.
The recommendation is a good starting point. It points in the right direction and, though I sympathise with hon. Members who want more excellent ways of achieving excellence, I urge them, even if they do not like what has been done, not to prevent the experiment from taking place. Let them give time a chance to soften the hard-line resisters to all change. I beg, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you, from your historic seat in the Chair, will be bold enough, if the chance is given to you, to seize time by the forelock. The Select Committee is surely right to suppose that the Commons could become more of a workshop and less of a spectacle if the many ways in which our procedures are now abused might be better used. In this context the Committee has been bolder in making recommendations than the Leader of the House has been in accepting them. Perhaps he is wise to make haste slowly. There is, however, no doubt of his wisdom in inviting the House to accept that legislation is not necessarily better because it has been discussed ad nauseam ad infinitum.
Before he escaped from what he clearly thought was the tedium of the Commons, Lord Glenamara thought that most Second Readings were too long and some were wholly unnecessary. Out of his objections came the Second Reading Committee procedures.
Now, the Leader of the House would have us extend the procedure to Private Members' Bills, although he has hedged that proposal about with many a barrier. Even so, I welcome the boldness of his advance so far and look hopefully for the success of this experiment. I believe that by a wider use of the Second Reading Committee procedure we could save a great deal of time and make it available for the Commons to scrutinise what the Government are up to.
There will, however, be little advantage in saving time by procedural changes if that time is still to be wasted in procedural frivolity. My Committee spent many hours discussing how the House could best confound Government cunning without at the same time hurting the nation or hamstringing the Opposition. None of us was unconscious of the perils, and the abuses, which bring Parliament into disrepute, when it is our real duty to use well the time that an expectant electorate has given to us.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, because he is dealing with the question of saving our time. Does he recall that the Select Committee of which he was Chairman made an interesting suggestion for a re-run of procedures in Committee upstairs of relatively small points on which assurances had been given but where a record of those assurances was required to save time at a subsequent Report stage? Would it not be interesting to hear why the Leader of the House did not accept that suggestion?
It is clear that the Leader of the House has set his mind against changes which he believes should be given further consideration, including the setting up of a new form of Standing Committee. For that reason I did not raise the issue.
Few hon. Members will not be aware, whether or not they admit it, that the opportunities given to us by our procedures, even for the redress of grievances, have often been the occasions of the greatest abuses of all. Hon. Members will find it profitable to read again chapter 9 of the Select Committee report.
One does not have to sit in the Chair of this honourable House to share the frustration that its occupant and the Whips must often feel at the seemingly endless, frivolous and phoney points of order that grown men who should have left them behind with their school caps have used as devices for the prevention of business that they do not like. Surely it is altogether good that the proposals in chapter 9.16, which the Leader of the House suggests we should adopt, should at least be tried, for they could provide us with some tightening up of the discipline of our procedures and the beginning of a return to the purposes for which technical procedures were intended originally.
There are many reasons why it is necessary to underline, as the Committee sought to do, that motions on the recess, Consolidated Fund Bills—and even Supply days in due course—should be returned to the object for which they were originally intended.
To which of the two old original purposes is the hon. and learned Member referring? Does he suggest that Supply days should be used more for the controlling of Supply or to redress a grievance before granting Supply?
Supply days have long since lost the purpose either of controlling the Government or redressing grievances. They are often used by the Opposition merely to table a motion on almost any topic, often totally unrelated to Supply. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) may find it useful to read what is said in the report about Supply days.
In comparison with these weighty matters, hon. Members may believe that the last topic to which I shall refer is of little importance. However, I refer to Friday sittings. I hope that the Leader of the House will not resile from the generous suggestion that he seemed to make earlier today. Friday sittings, especially for hon. Members who have constituencies outside London, are often a snare and a conundrum.
The demands of the House continue to grow. They threaten to grow even larger. From being a part-time occupation, membership of Parliament has become a full-time job and threatens to become all-embracing. I was tempted to say "totalitarian" but I am sure that that would be misunderstood. Our constituents complain and, when they do not, our famililies do that they see us too seldom.
Friday sessions finishing shortly after lunch would give us the chance to remember that there are other places, other duties and other people than the hon. Members with whom we live and move for almost all the hours that God gives us between Monday morning and Thursday midnight—and sometimes later. Perhaps one "short" day will teach us that much can be done in reasonable time, during reasonable hours, by reasonable men who put their minds as well as their backs into their work.
I commend the recommendations to the House. I hope that we shall approve them, and, more important, I hope that we shall apply them, every one.
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), I am unhappy about the suggestions that we should change the hours of sitting on a Friday. The House had an unfortunate and unhappy experience under the leadership of the late Mr. Crossman when we changed the hours of sitting. Those arrangements were rapidly brought to an end after an experimental period. If we did change the sitting we should still continue debating until 4 o'clock, because of the nature of our business.
If business on a Friday closed at 2.30 p.m. it would be easier for hon. Members to achieve the closure of a debate. Some of us do not want the Private Members' Bill procedure to be made easier. The difficulty involved in succeeding with a closure at 4 o'clock is a legitimate democratic hurdle, which Members should be able to jump. If there is sufficient support for a Bill an hon. Member should be able to persuade a sufficient number of hon. Members to appear at 4 o'clock.
I remember a famous Bill which failed to make progress because it did not achieve the closure at 4 o'clock. There is grave doubt whether controversial proposals should be contained in Private Members' Bills. Proper facilities are not available for consultations on proposals that could involve taking away minority rights. It would be dangerous for us to make it any easier for such matters to proceed to the statute book. I am certain that allowing a closure to be moved at 2.30 p.m., before hon. Members have left for their constituencies, would make it easier for Private Members' Bills to succeed.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will say that he is in favour of giving private Members more time, more powers, more facilities and opportunities. If he pursues that argument I hope that he will accept that if more time is given to private Members' business we must also consider restoring the devices for frustrating private Members' proceedings.
It was a great mistake for the House to give up the count on Fridays. We often got away by 2.30 p.m. on a Friday when, by general agreement, everybody was fed up with the legislation then before us and did not want to see it make progress. If we are to make it easier for Members to get their business in on a Friday we should look again at the possibility of counting the House out.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) pointed out the danger of Standing Order No. 37 Bills—ballot place Bills—drawn low down in the list with no possibility of getting a Second Reading debate in the first seven Fridays, as in this Session, being withdrawn from the remaining stages days and sent upstairs to Standing Committee. I absolutely agree that this is open to tremendous manoeuvring. If we are not careful we will find ourselves with the remaining stages Fridays and very little, if any, legislation having been disgorged from Standing Committees, and there will be a void. There is nothing more dangerous or frustrating than having a void. Hon. Members will not go away: they will merely take up less desirable occupations.
I should like an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that one objection will be sufficient to stop a Standing Order No. 37 Bill from going upstairs. As I understand the motion tabled by the Leader of the House, after a Bill has had a Second Reading in Committee upstairs, one objection can stop it proceeding further when it returns to the Floor of the House. But can we stop a Bill from going upstairs with one objection? If not, we shall find that the remaining stages Fridays will be empty.
I do not see the need to give any more time to an hon. Member who introduces a Ten-Minute Bill. If one introduces a Ten-Minute Bill, irrespective of what is happening, one is given the peak time of the House in which to make a speech, anyway. Why it is necessary to fall over backwards to ensure that those who have already pinched the peak time of 3.50 p.m. should get two and a half hours for a Second Reading debate on a Bill which we know will not get any further, I do not know. It seems to be a waste of the time of those hon. Members who will sit on the Second Reading Committee of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) makes an assertion that is not always correct. Ten-Minute Bills sometimes do pass through all their stages. I piloted a Bill through the House under the Ten Minutes Rule to enlarge the powers of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. No doubt the hon. Gentleman is familiar with that.
If my memory serves me correctly the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) slipped that Bill behind the Chair and did not make a speech about it, which is a very justifiable way of proceeding and a way in which we can always proceed.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will recollect that I succeeded one of the best Leaders of the House of Commons there has ever been—the late Lord Crookshank. As Lord Privy Seal, he was Leader of the House from 1951 to 1955. If we check the record we shall see that no change in parliamentary procedure was made during that time. I believe that in private the then Leader of the House used to boast that the only thing that he ever had to give way on was when he had to give Welsh Members a chance to debate Welsh affairs on the Thursday before the Christmas Recess.
The Leader of the House was quite rightly proud of the fact that many of his friends congratulated him on his speech on the Loyal Address having been in the best tradition of Harry Crookshank. Nevertheless, I remind him that perhaps the love-in with my predecessor's memory will not be so great if he proceeds with many more of these reforms in our parliamentary procedure. I conclude by repeating to my right hon. Friend the following words of Shakespeare:
Enough; no more;
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
We have just heard a charming speech from the grass roots of the Conservative Party, illustrating conservatism in its best aspects.
The Leader of the House should not draw false conclusions from the absence of any motion on the Order Paper, in particular on the Ten-Minute Bill procedure. The Procedure Committee was chaired by my distinguished colleague the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), whose tolerance of his colleagues in Committee, and particularly of myself, deserves full credit. That Committee made a recommendation on the Ten Minutes Rule procedure for a specific reason. The fact that it is not on the Order Paper today is the choice of the Leader of the House and not the members of the Committee. The Leader of the House should recognise that at the moment we are talking in Government time. Though hon. Members present at this debate have a certain degree of ingenuity, they try to put down motions and amendments relevant to the topics that the Government have chosen for debate.
That may be technically true. I agree that the Leader of the House has opened up the Procedure Committee report, but I believe that one would normally have left the Leader of the House, in this case, to put his own resolutions, to which many hon. Members, including myself, could then have put amendments.
The point about the Ten-Minute Rule Bill procedure is very simple; it concerns something that affects those outside this House. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) who moved a Ten-Minute Rule Bill today, is an expert on the procedure. But in his first Session—I am glad to say he does not do it now—he used to ask for leave to bring in a Bill and never brought one in. He never had a Bill to bring in. The unfortunate effect of that practice was pointed out to him and he has since made sure that he always has a Bill when he makes application under the Ten Minute Rule, and he is quite right to do so. If one does not do that, other hon. Members may be irritated by constituents writing to them and saying "I hope you will support Joe Blogg's Bill" or "I hope you will oppose Joe Blogg's Bill " when there is no Bill.
One should not deceive the electorate. That was the sole reason for the Procedure Committee's making that suggestion. There should be no deception of the electorate. if we do not want to have a Bill drafted by an hon. Member who seeks leave to have a Bill brought in, we should abolish the Ten Minute Rule Bill procedure and call it something quite different, and have, say, a 10 minute space for hon. Members to say what they wish, or something of that character. But under the present procedure there should be something that can be referred to, otherwise people may think that the House has done something that it has not done.
Like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in Committee I objected to the short speech proposal and I shall vote accordingly tonight. I would obect to that proposal even more in the form in which it is in motion No. 2 Notwithstanding the remarks of the Leader of the House, I did not get an answer from Mr. Speaker, who merely said that he did not allow Privy Councillors to pre-empt the whole of the period up to 7 p.m. We know that. The Procedure Committee never said that they were allowed to.
The words of my amendment are, incidentally, an exact quotation of what was recommended by the Procedure Committee. What we said was the Privy Councillors could pre-empt the period up to 7 p.m., meaning most of that time or the bulk of it. If we are to have short speeches for Back Benchers and, at the same time, have the present priority for Privy Councillors, that is not what the Procedure Committee recommended. We recommended that on days when Back Benchers were restricted to 10 minute speeches, Privy Councillors should lose their automatic right to be called first. Let me be blunt about it—one would wish to have some Privy Councillors make long speeches at the beginning of the Second Reading debate, but there are others who may have been honoured men in their time but who may now be a little past it and one would wish to call them, but during the period from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. when they would also be restricted to speaking for 10 minutes.
This is what the Chair is here for. I do not believe that one can separate the two. To pass the recommendation contained in paragraph 2.9 of the report in the first motion and not mention part of it in the second motion, seems to me to leave the Chair with two contradictory statements. It would be much better if the Chair were to follow the recommendation in the first motion, which may possibly be agreed to, rather than in the second motion, which does not exactly conform to the recommendation of the Committee.
I think that the Committee proposal on Second Reading Committees is hedged about with so many small matters that it will never be of any use to anyone in getting a Second Reading. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) is worrying too much. All that it will do it to enable hon. Members to get a debate which they will not get if one hon. Member objects to their doing so. I have put down a small amendment there, on which the Leader of the House will no doubt comment later. However, the proposal is so hedged about with restrictions that I should like to widen it a tiny bit and to say that on any day other than a Friday when private Members' business occurs—it is usually on a Monday—the Member should have the same rights.
The point at issue here is that the Government never exercised the powers that we gave them. I served on a previous Procedure Committee which created the Second Reading Committee proceedings. What we said there was that a Minister of the Crown had to move that a Bill go to a Second Reading Committee. It was never our intention that Ministers of the Crown should not do that for Private Members' Bills. But they do not do it. It was our intention that, whoever the Leader of the House was, he should, if he thought it appropriate, move for a Second Reading Committee for any Bill, be it a Government Bill or a Private Member's Bill.
Unfortunately, successive Leaders of the House have chosen never to do it except in the case of Government measures. The result therefore is that Back Benchers do not have the same rights as members of the Government, which generally speaking in this House they do in relation to Bills they are restricted as to time but not in other procedural ways.
Because the Government have failed to exercise the power that we gave them, we thought that we must find another device and allow the private Member himself, the Member in charge of the Bill, to move for a Second Reading Committee. That is the reason for the suggestion.
If the Leader of the House does not like that, all he has to do is to give the House an assurance that he would exercise the powers given to him by the present Standing Order in appropriate cases. That might possibly be a better way. It might meet the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South in a better way. However, the present practice of the Government having a power which they do not exercise and thus frustrating private Members from even getting their Bill talked about is unsatisfactory. I hope that in some way it will be altered.
The 9.30 a.m. proposal is so piffling a little thing that it is a matter of great unimportance. It seems that hon. Members think that by adjourning at 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. one can somehow get to one's constituency at an appropriate time. In the case of Nottingham, I assure the House that it makes no difference whatsoever. Due to a quirk of British Rail the service to Nottingham is such that it takes over two hours—only a few minutes less than it takes to get to Warrington. The result is that instead of arriving at 7 o'clock in the evening, one might arrive at 6 o'clock, or thereabouts. It does not make a practical difference. Very few people hold meetings at 6 o'clock.
Perhaps the House wishes to approve this proposal. However, I think that it is likely to cause difficulties when people try to get here through the London rush hour—but most of those difficulties are inflicted upon millions of people, so I suppose that there is no real reason why we should not be subjected to the traffic difficulties of this city.
I refer lastly to my amendment concerning the Liaison Committee. That amendment has been selected. By the sound of what the Leader of the House said, it looks as though I need not move that amendment at a later stage. In order to assist me, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would describe a little of what he would have said in his closing speech—the point at issue being the nature of the terms of reference that he is proposing to produce next week. The terms of reference that I have put down are exactly those recommended by the Procedure Committee. Obviously I did not take it upon myself as an individual to change them. I think, therefore, that if the Leader of the House wishes to change those terms of reference, I would wish him to justify the change from those recommended by the Procedure Committee. I do not think that it is the other way round. I think that he has to say why the terms of reference suggested by the Procedure Committee may not necessarily be satisfactory.
The importance of the Liaison Committee cannot be underestimated. Sooner or later, inevitably, problems will arise. There has already been the problem of Sub-Committees. The Procedure Committee recommended that certain of the larger Committees should have two Sub Commitees so that every member of the Committee should serve on one of them. Now by restricting those to one Sub-Committee we have created first-class and second-class citizens in the Treasury and Civil Service Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is unfortunate, to say the least.
On the other hand, we cannot allow Committees to proliferate ad infinitum. We realised that in the Procedure Committee, and we said that the simple, obvious solution was to have a Liaison Committee and to give it the power to decide whether a Sub-Committee was really necessary, because it affects staff and accommodation. In relation to Select Committees, staff and accommodation are two of the main things that we wanted the Liaison Committee to consider. But it could consider other things. There were several procedural recommendations which are not yet on the Order Paper but which I hope will eventually come forward, on matters such as how the minutes of Select Committees and their Sub-Committees should be presented. They are small but useful things. They were not controversial but they should eventually be dealt with. If the Leader of the House had a Liaison Committee he would have a Committee with which to have a dialogue on such matters. Therefore, I hope that he will make sure that such a Committee has an adequate set of terms of reference when he puts down his motion next week.
I support the bulk of the motions, though by no means all of them, and not the motion in regard to Standing Order No. 9. I certainly congratulate the Leader of the House on his bringing all these forward for discussion and decision by the House. It really is hopeless if we can never change our procedures. The House alone has the power to do that, usually upon a free vote. It hardly ever does it without some Committee having considered the matter in detail. When those Committees have considered it and nothing whatsoever happens, it is a matter of total frustration to anyone who believes that there is some small procedural change which can take place.
The Leader of the House deserves full credit for seeing that this night we have the opportunity to make those decisions.
Perhaps I may follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on bringing forward these motions.
I shall detain the House on only one issue—the length of speeches. I can claim before the House to be a reformed sinner. In my early days in the House I used to feel it necessary to enlighten the House on every subject, if I was lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, with what the French would call a tour d'horizon. I felt intellectually that it was necessary to do that. I have learnt the error of my ways. I can in truth say that in the last six years I have never made a speech of more than 10 minutes. Therefore, I have felt with a clear conscience that I could support all the motions on the Order Paper, including early-day motions for brevity in speeches. I go further and plead guilty to having sponsored some myself.
That is the background to what I wish to say. It is my personal confession.
The basic reason for curtailing speeches is to enable more hon. Members to get into the debate. Sometimes right hon. Members on both sides of the House forget a little their Back-Bench days and the immense frustration that hon. Members suffer when continuously they do not get into debates. Indeed, there is only one experience more demanding upon an hon. Member than being called by Mr. Speaker, and that is not being called by Mr. Speaker.
There are moments when one skulks out of the Division Lobby after the subsequent vote repeating the words of G. K. Chesterton in "The Secret People"—
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England that never have spoken yet.
There is no reform of the procedures of this House by which we can get every Member into every debate in which he wishes to have his say. Nevertheless, I believe that if we had shorter speeches we could get very many more right hon. and hon. Members into debates.
I would go further than the motion on the Order Paper for the Select Committee's proposal. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), I believe that we should have general limitation of speeches from Back Benchers—I include all Back-Bench Privy Councillors in this—for all Second Reading debates, all Supply days and all debates on the Address or on the Budget. It is possible to make a speech on the Budget during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill as that is not limited by time. Nevertheless, I prefer to have the motion applied to the Budget debates too.
During a major debate, there are rarely more than four hours available for Back Benchers or Back Bench Privy Councillors. Often only three hours are available, and we all have experience of that. A small number of Opposition Back Benchers, particularly in a multi-party Parliament where minority parties must be given an opportunity to speak, are not called until late, so that brevity would help everybody.
Having made a simple mathematical calculation, I suggest that one should aim at including at least 24 Back Benchers in a major debate. At the moment we do well to include 12; perhaps 10 minutes is too short. The proposal on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) for a limit of 15 minutes may be more appropriate.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking said, we can no longer rely on the good sense of the House or on self-discipline. We have gone beyond that. We should experiment with imposed discipline because it is to the advantage of hon. Members to have short speeches. To use an old phrase, it is not necessary in speeches to be eternal in order to be immortal.
I shall give three examples where brevity is the essence of the message. In the Book of Common Prayer, the Lord's Prayer consists of 71 words, including "Amen". The Apostles' Creed contains 110 words, and the Ten Commandments, ignoring the responses, contains 285 words. In the old days, the BBC Talks Department used to give the rough guide of 120 words a minute when advising how long a talk should be, and the examples from the Book of Common Prayer are under two minutes, except for the Ten Commandments, which are just over.
A 10-minute speech should contain about 1,200 words, and much can be said within that limit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking said, the disadvantage for some hon. Members may be that to make a short, crisp speech requires more preparation than a long rambling one. It is possible to distinguish an hon. Member who has not prepared his speech and who rambles on without knowing when to sit down.
As Mark Twain said:
It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.
That is a lesson for us all.
Some hon. Members would like to see a limitation to the speeches made from the Front Bench. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave good reasons why that would not be beneficial, but I hope that we can rely on a degree of self-denial from Front-Bench spokesmen. People wish to hear from the Front Benches, particularly when a Bill is being introduced. In that respect the realism of John Morley is relevant:
Three things matter in a speech—who says it, how he says it and what he says—and of the three, the last matters the least.
A Minister's words carry more weight than those of Back Benchers—simply because he is the Minister.
Motion No. 2 does not go far enough, but we move cautiously in Parliament and I am content to give the experiment in Motion No. 2 a trial. I remind the House that it is only an experiment; it is for applying in Second Reading debates only and only between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. It is not a very revolutionary motion and applies only to this Session of Parliament. I beg the House to give this modest motion a chance and urge hon. Members to be brave and brief.
I shall obey the injunction of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) to be brief. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) pointed out that it might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke about the Select Committee on Scottish affairs. I am therefore not taking a double share of Front Bench time. Scottish affairs fit uneasily into the debate, as it is concerned purely with procedural matters. However, I welcome the establishment of the Scottish Committee and am glad to have an early opportunity to debate it.
It is a separate issue from the management of Scottish parliamentary business. The Leader of the House has written to the parties on that point, and we are considering it. It has nothing to do with devolution. That came before the House previously, in the Scotland Bill. There have been previous Select Committees on Scottish affairs, in 1968–69 and 1971–72. I shall refer to them later. We are not establishing a novelty in Scottish affairs.
The terms of reference of the motion on the Order Paper are adequate and comprehensive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has pointed out, there are fears that as Scottish affairs cannot always be circumscribed within Scottish borders there may be difficulty in taking evidence from Government Departments. No such difficulty arises from the motion. Perhaps the Leader of the House will confirm that. Judging by the precedent set by Select Committees taking evidence from Government Departments outside the Scottish Office, the terms of reference adequately cover that point.
It is a pity that the motion does not include a specific provision for the establishment of at least one Sub-Committee. The previous Select Committee on Scottish affairs worked through two Sub-Committees rather than the main Committee. Given the wide scope of work in the Scottish Office, it will be difficult for the Select Committee to work efficiently unless it divides into two Sub-Committees. I should have liked that provision to be included in the motion.
I appreciate the opening remarks of the Leader of the House. He said that if it were felt that a Sub-Committee was necessary it would be considered. I hope it will be considered favourably. That is particularly important for the Scottish Office, because of its wide range of work. There is no reason why an investigation into housing cannot be carried out at the same time as an investigation into industry or education. All those matters fall within the work of the Scottish Office. However, it would be impossible to do that without a division of work. I look forward to that development.
The motion in the name of the Leader of the House provides for 11 Members on the Scottish Committee. My amendment would provide for 13. Another amendment selected provides for 20 and an amendment that has not been selected provides for 21.
I believe that I have the support of a large number of Scottish hon. Members when I say that I strongly believe that we need more than 11 Members on the Scottish Committee. The work of the Scottish Office covers a wide field and there will soon be a need to divide that work into two sections.
If the Committee has only 11 Members of the House, problems arise in relation to the position of minority parties. I see one English Member of the Liberal Party here but I do not see any hon. Member from the SNP.
The Procedure Committee made no recommendations about a Welsh or Scottish Committee because of the albatrosses hanging round our necks at the time. Had such recommendations been made, the size of the Committees would have been considered. My right hon. Friend's remarks, however, are relevant to size when considering Sub-Committees. The Procedure Committee was convinced that no large Committee could adequately take evidence. The proceedings in a large Committee resemble those on the Floor of the House, when it is difficult for one hon. Member to continue a line of questioning without irritating others. Evidence would therefore have to be taken in Sub-Committees. I support my right hon. Friend's comments and hope that he will stick to his guns.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Apart from his remark about albatrosses, I agree with what he said. We shall have to consider the matter again soon. If a Committee is too large, it is impossible to maintain a coherent line of questioning and have all members participating, and its work is not done adequately without a coherent line of questioning. It is equally unfortunate if too much is left to the Chairman. My hon. Friend has considerable practical experience of the working of Select Committees, and I welcome his support.
I repeat that there is a need for more than 11 Committee members. During the Labour Government in 1968–69 and 1969–70, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs had 16 members, and in 1970–71 and 1971–72 it had 14, so 11 would be a retrograde step.
The Labour Party has twice as many hon. Members in Scotland as the Conservative Party has, and there has elsewhere been speculation on the question whether the Government should have the normal majority on the Scottish Committee. In present circumstances I accept that they should, but that question can be looked at further if the all-party talks on the management of Scottish parliamentary business ever take place. That is not an argument against increasing the size of the Committee.
My proposal for 13 members is modest, and I hope that the Leader of the House will accept the amendment. It will have widespread acceptance in Scotland. I am anxious, not least in view of the history of the Scotland Act, that the Select Committee should do a good job for the House. My amendment would help it do that job, and I hope that the House will agree.
I doubt whether I shall again have the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and express my complete agreement with him. If I were on a future occasion to do so, that agreement might meet with considerable consternation on this side of the House.
The proposed constitutional change and its importance to Scotland is so obvious that I unreservedly welcome the proposal to set up a Select Committee on Scottish affairs. I also welcome the decision to put the motion before the House now and not wait until the possible conclusion of the all-party talks. I did not understand the argument for waiting until these talks were concluded, which would have significantly reduced the importance of the constitutional change in the eyes of the people of Scotland. It would have been seen as the least worth while of a number of devolutionary changes in the government of Scotland, which it is not. It is a constitutional change in the arrangements whereby this House scrutinises and observes the proper government of Scotland while retaining its powers. Whatever views hon. Members may have about the debacle of the previous Government's Assembly proposals, I believe that in Scotland there is still an acute desire to see that the government of Scotland is properly scrutinised.
The setting up of the Select Committee will have a valuable and worthwhile side effect. Hon. Members from Scotland agree that, in spite of all that has been said in recent years about government in Scotland, there is a surprising lack of understanding about the amount of executive control and power vested in the Scottish Office. There is a great ignorance of the fact that the vast majority of Scottish civil servants are not just resident but work in Scotland; and, relatively speaking, Dover House is a tiny part of the Scottish Office. With the Select Committee sitting in Scotland and scrutinising the work of the Scottish Office, it will be brought to the attention of the Scottish people that there is a Scottish Office in Scotland.
The working and activity of the Select Committee may from time to time cause discomfort to the Secretary of State for Scotland and other Ministers in the Scottish Office. However, in spite of that, I do not hesitate warmly to support the proposal.
There have previously been Select Committees on Scottish Affairs, but this motion at this time is significant because it will be more widely accepted than ever before by all hon. Members. Furthermore, there is an enthusiasm and determination to see the proposals work.
One significant political sector in Scotland has not unreservedly welcomed the introduction of the Select Committee—the Scottish National Party. Neither hon. Member from that Party has been present during the debate, which will not have escaped the attention of the House. It is not surprising that it is not in favour of the proposal. If in scrutinising the Scottish Office the Select Committee reveals that there is good government in Scotland or, if there is bad government that it can be put right, that party will have lost the opportunity to nurture the sense of resentment and remoteness that has been the mainspring of much of its political activity and support in Scotland in recent years.
I welcome the motion and all that has be said by the Leader of the House, but we must recognise that in some respects it has yet to be clothed. The powers that should be attendant upon the Committee have yet to be spelled out.
I hope that I did not read too much into my right hon. Friend's remarks when I assumed that potentially what he indicated was that the size of this Committee might be larger than the existing Select Committee that was set up in June, and that potentially the Select Committee on Scottish affairs might have greater powers than any of the other Select Committees that have already been established.
I should like to make a number of brief observations on the powers to be given to the Select Committee. My first point relates to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the proposal that
other Government Departments with responsibilities in Scotland
might be subject to the scrutiny of this Committee. I would welcome that. While we never want to arrive at the state of affairs experienced by the American Congress from time to time—where, for example, on the Three Mile Island disaster no fewer than 12 Committees are looking into one aspect or another—it would nevertheless seem to me that in the Scottish context an element of jurisdictional conflict between other Select Committees and the Select Committee on Scottish affairs would not altogether be unwelcome. It would certainly have the effect of ensuring that hon. Members who sat on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs were kept on their toes.
As the right hon. Member for Craig-ton has already said, some indication about the number of Sub-Committees that are to be allowed would have been welcomed. But I take the point that until we have determined the size of the Select Committee it is more difficult rationally to establish the number of Sub-Committees that there should be.
Finally, but by not means least importantly, I hope that this Select Committee will be able to sit in Scotland and will be subjected to the glare of publicity, possibly with television cameras in attendance. Irrespective of one's political views, I believe that we must demonstrate publicly that this Select Committee is important.
Although the proposal with regard to the Select Committee on Scottish affairs may fit awkwardly into the context of the rest of this debate, I trust that hon. Members, especially those who do not come from Scotland, will appreciate that this constitutional reform will not only be widely welcomed in Scotland but will also be one of the greatest importance.
I make the same point as the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), in that it is rare for me to agree with so much that he said. I begin my remarks by taking up the question of the Scottish Select Committee. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and the hon. Member for South Angus, I believe that the proposal with regard to such a Select Committee sits rather unusually in this debate. I may be considered a little more contentious by suggesting that it reflects the Government's attitude to the better government of Scotland, compared with the last Government's attitude, by subsuming such an important item in a general debate of this nature. I believe that the question of the Scottish Select Committee should have had a debate to itself so that it could have been discussed fully.
The numbers to be appointed to the Select Committee are very important. I hope that even tonight the Government will give way on the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Craig-ton. We need that number as soon as the Select Committee is established. It has very little to do with the all-party talks on devolution. It concerns the problems of the organisation of work of existing Government Departments. It has nothing to do with the Scottish Assembly. We need larger numbers in order to carry on the work of the Select Committee on Scottish affairs.
The plain fact is that at present the Scottish Office deals with nine subjects which each have a separate Department in England and Wales. That requires a level of expertise and supervision by hon. Members which in my view cannot adequately be undertaken by 11 people. The number must be greater than that. I assume that the present rules will apply to membership of the Select Committee on Scottish affairs. If they do, it means that the main Opposition party, although the major party in Scotland, will be represented by four or five Members. The work that those four or five people will have to undertake is too great a burden. If we had six, seven or more Members, the task would be spread much more evenly and we could do a better job.
I turn to a matter that many hon. Members may feel is related to Scotland—the problem of the Summer Recess. I am disappointed both in the Procedure Committee's report and in the remarks of the Leader of the House. As a Scottish Member who is married with three small children, two of whom are at school, I believe that an impossible burden is placed upon myself and other young married Scottish Members. Our school holidays begin at the end of June and sometimes finish as early as the middle of August. If the House does not rise until the end of the first week in August, which is reasonably common, according to the figures over the last 20 years, that leaves us one week at most in which to have a holiday with our wives and children. That is an intolerable burden, which is additional to the burdens that are already placed on Members from distant parts of the country. By not seeing our families for five days a week anyway we are already putting strains on our wives.
I doubt whether this is common only to Scottish Members; I believe that it is a problem that affects all hon. Members, particularly those with young families. The respect with which this House and hon. Members are held by the public is something of which we should always be aware. When the Houses rises at the end of July or the beginning of August, and does not return until the end of October, it is not treated with a great deal of respect by the public.
I know from experience—I am sure that other hon. Members do, also—that at the end of September or the beginning of October neighbours, friends and members of the public remark "Still on holiday, I see". That is not a position in which Members of Parliament should be placed. I tabled an amendment, which unfortunately has not been selected, suggesting an alternative.
This is not a new proposal. If one looks at the report of the Procedure Committee for 1967–68, one finds that it proposed a parliamentary year that was not radically different from the one that I propose in my amendment. It was that we should rise on 11 July, return on 16 September and sit until 3 October, and have another recess for the party conferences until 27 October. That is not very different from the proposal in my amendment.
I shall deal with the objections in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure and select one or two of them specifically. It is said that there is a problem with the Finance Bill—that we cannot get it through in time to allow the House to rise in the middle of July, as opposed to the first week in August. In 1967–68 the Select Committee made it quite clear that the Finance Bill was normally dealt with by early July. As the House of Lords debated it for only one day, there was no reason why the House could not finish it by the middle of July.
I accept that over the past five years the Finance Bill has completed all its stages later than early July. However, the last five years were unusual—we had a minority Government and it was obvious that the Opposition could keep the House working longer on the Finance Bill than it can now that the Government have a large majority. Therefore, that argument does not hold water.
During the period between the Budget and the completion of the Finance Bill the House indulges in a two-week Whitsun Recess. We in Scotland do not even have a one-week holiday. There is a one-day local holiday, which does not necessarily coincide with Whitsun. Therefore, the fortnight's recess does not necessarily give any benefit to hon. Members who are family men.
No one outside the House has a two-week recess at that time of the year. At most, other people have one week's holiday. If the House were prepared to accept a one-week recess and move towards completing the Session by the middle of July, we would all be much happier in our work, and the work of the House would be improved. I hope that the Leader of the House will answer these points.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised the question whether the first motion on the Order Paper is executive. He raised this aspect in terms of the rights of Privy Councillors. I think we must assume that it is advisory to the Chair rather than mandatory. This is just as well, because if it were taken literally it would have the opposite consequences to those the Select Committee intended. On page 14 of the First Report in para 2.9 a double negative is contained in line 6 with the result that Privy Councillors would be able to pre-empt the period up to 7 p.m. which is, of course, the exact opposite of what the Committee intended.
It seems a little incongruous that the hours from 7 p.m. to 8.50 p.m. should be subject to this 10-Minutes Rule. I can see an argument for saying that all speeches except the opening and closing speeches should be subject to the 10-minutes rule. However, I do not see why those on whom the 10-minute discipline is imposed should be condemned to speaking when the Press Gallery is empty, as it is from 7 p.m. to 8.50 p.m. That seems a somewhat unhappy choice. If there is to be a division of time, should it not be the other way round? Those who are prepared to confine themselves to 10 minutes should have the prime time and those who want to make long speeches should pay the penalty and should do so unobserved from the Press Gallery. That is a more logical use of incentives than that which is embodied in this provision.
In saying that we agree with the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1977–78, and the recommendations contained in para 2.9, we are definitely requesting Mr. Speaker to suspend the privileges of Privy Councillors for the totality of the time. That is the answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West.
That is not the only unfortunate choice of words. My right hon. Friend's motion to which we come later—it is Order No.
12—contains not only a nonsense, but a self-contradiction. It says:
on a day allotted to the business of supply under Standing Order No. 18 (Business of supply), where to any substantive motion an amendment has been moved by a Minister of the Crown to leave out a word or words and insert others the Question shall be, 'That the original words stand part of the Question,
So far, so good. That received our general commendation. It then goes on:
and, if that Question be passed in the negative, the Question 'That the proposed words be there added' shall be put forthwith.
To start with, it is not possible for a Question to be passed—it is decided. A motion or an amendment can be passed, but it is not within the realms of possibility for a Question to be passed. Therefore, it surprises me that this got past the Table Office. Moreover, to be passed in the negative is a contradiction in terms. If something is passed, it is affirmed. It can only be decided in the negative.
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend. When I looked at the drafting it struck me that this was an odd phrase. However, it is one which has a precedent. It is already in Standing Order No. 39(2). I understand that Mr. Speaker is not prepared to accept a manuscript amendment. Therefore I suggest we make the best of it, not the worst.
The fact that a self-contradiction and malapropism has been allowed to creep into our Standing Orders unnoticed is no reason why we should repeat such an unhappy occurrence. Draftsmen are there to be used, not abused.
Ministers are there to accept responsibility for incompetent draftsmen. It is unfortunate that if we are trying to pass a new Standing Order, it should contain a self-contradiction and an impossibility. My right hon. Friend has explained what it is intended to mean, but does not mean, but that does not help the House. That may seem a churlish introduction to my welcome for my right hon. Friend's action in placing before the House the series of decisions which the House wishes to take.
The hours of work that are put in on a Select Committee are taxing. They become totally frustrating if nothing happens to the report of that Committee, except that it becomes available in the Vote Office. The present Leader of the House, unlike his predecessor who used to pretend to have an interest in parliamentary reform and procedure, has enabled the House to debate and take positive decisions about which recommendations it does or does not wish to bring into effect.
I was heartened when my right hon. Friend gave his undertaking about the new Standing Order on Friday sittings, if we come to adopt that proposal. It would be absurd if we started at 9.30 a.m. instead of at 11 a.m. and continued until the same hour as previously. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's assurance that the Standing Order would not be suspended and that the House would rise at the completion of the Adjournment debate at 3 p.m. is a necessary assurance if the intention of the Procedure Committee's recommendation, which is embodied in the resolution, is to be brought into effect.
When I was first elected to this place a whole range of public officials worked on Saturday mornings, whether in local government, the national assistance board—as it then was—the electricity board or the gas board. Those officials could be consulted on constituents' business on Saturday mornings. Nowadays, that is not the case. Indeed, in the case of the Department of Health and Social Security, one is not permitted to know its telephone number to make contact over the weekend. Therefore, there are serious reasons why a Member of Parliament needs to be in his constituency during the week. Even close of play at 2.30 p.m. does not enable many MPs—paradoxically, not the Scottish ones who are able to fly—to reach their constituencies in good time in parts of the country where there is no air service. However, it would enable them to reach their constituencies in time to attend Friday evening meetings. For those Members of Parliament whose constituencies cover several hundred square miles that is an important measure.
The saving of time is not just the apparent saving of an hour and a half's shift over the same period of time in this place. Those hon. Members who drive out of here on the M4 will be aware that after 4 p.m. on a Friday it can take an hour and a quarter to cover the first 11 miles to the motorway. Once there, the motorist proceeds in a queue at 45 miles an hour or 50 miles an hour until after Reading. I hope that the House will adopt this long overdue reform. At the times of the year when there is fog or snow there are additional advantages in reaching one's constituency at a time other than too late at night to participate in a meeting or after a long drive in the dark.
On balance, I believe that the proposal concerning Standing Order No. 9 is an unhappy one. There has been, and there will be, abuse of Standing Order No. 9, but I do not care to challenge that proposition. I took note of one amendment, which was not selected, which sought to compromise by limiting speeches to three minutes. If that amendment had been selected it might well have found favour with several hon. Members. However, to interdict hon. Members from raising, under Standing Order No. 9, events that have occurred in the middle of the day or even at Question Time—or in statements by Ministers—would be to turn Parliament into too much of a processing machine for legislation and make it too little of a deliberative body that can show a sense of urgency when it is justified. The price to be paid is that a little time is lost before the normal commencement of Orders of the Day.
It is possible to get around that problem in various ways. Applications for Standing Order No. 9 debates on a given day could be limited to one. One of the grossest abuses can be a succession of Standing Order No. 9 applications. In that way, it would be possible, through the unofficial vibrations by which the House functions, to arrange whose application would be heard on any given day. There are ways in which the nuisance can be mitigated without the merit being totally lost.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be no way of preventing an hon. Member from raising, as a point of order which is spurious or otherwise, a matter about which he is desperately concerned? Surely, it is better to have that procedure, so that when there is a genuine reason for debate the matter can come to light.
On principle, it is desirable that, where there is agreement that the hon. Member concerned shall air a matter, rightly or wrongly, there should be the legitimate channel of a Standing Order No. 9 application rather than the illegitimate channel of taking a bogus point of order.
I wonder whether my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) and Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) would care to look at the evidence which was taken from Mr. Speaker on this point? He considered that it was easier for him to control spurious points of order, when hon. Members were trying to raise matters that they considered to be of importance, than spurious Standing Order No. 9 applications. The evidence of Mr. Speaker played a considerable part in influencing the decision of the Procedure Committee.
Mr. Speaker is entitled to his view, just as hon. Members are entitled not to share that view. I believe that it is better to have a legitimate procedure. It is more consonant with the dignity of the House than to have a bogus procedure. Irritating and inconvenient as it may be, it is a necessary function of Parliament. If I were in Opposition I would be suspicious about the motivation that lay behind the proposal, even though, as my former right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire, Sir David Renton, said, the idea did not originate from the Government and such suspicion is, therefore, ill-founded. It is in the nature of being in Opposition to attribute to Government motives which may not exist.
In the fifth report of the Sessional Committee—1976–77—on which the Procedure Committee report in based, there is an obvious error in paragraph 3 on the introductory page. It says:
In Your Committee's opinion, the source of many of the difficulties outlined above lies in the fact that the House has provided in the two weekly periods of fifteen minutes, more time for Questions to the Prime Minister than to any other Minister".
That is simply not true. A Minister can be questioned for the whole of Question Time on Mondays and Wednesdays, less
the time taken for prayers. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a Minister can be questioned for 40 minutes. Ministers can be questioned for a considerable period of time.
I do not understand the mechanism that is envisaged when the Committee recommends that there should be fewer indirect questions to the Prime Minister. With its next breath, the Committee implicitly criticises syndicated questions, but unless hon. Members operate in a syndicate or have the gift of telepathy, they cannot know whether other hon. Members are tabling indirect questions.
I can understand the proposition that there should be no indirect questions. That means that no hon. Member should table such questions. I do not, however, understand the proposition that there should be fewer indirect questions, since an hon. Member who is minded to table such a question has no means of estimating whether the "quota" of indirect questions which is envisaged has been exhausted. It is a rather woolly proposition which was not clearly thought out. Either there must be no indirect questions or they are allowable. The only other possibility is for the House to rule that the Table Office should accept only a finite number of such questions before pulling up the drawbridge. However, none of those propositions is offered. The Sessional Committee's report invites us to agree to the proposition that there should be fewer indirect questions.
Fortunately, we do not have an executive motion embodying that woolly proposition and we are only taking note of the fifth report of the Sessional Committee rather than agreeing to it, wholly or partly, as we have with some other reports.
I am not sure that the "take note" motion takes us any further. What carries us further down the road is the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has indicated that she is willing to answer more questions and to transfer fewer. That will make Prime Minister's Question Time more informative than it was with the mechanism that left the supplementary question occult until the main question had been answered.
We have a heterogeneous collection of proposals on which to decide. I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for being so responsive to the wishes of the House. This is not his first demonstration of that attitude. When my right hon. Friend altered the proposal that the composition of our new Select Committees should be decided by the Committee of Selection, rather than by the Whips' Offices, he did so in direct response to the clearly expressed wishes of the House. It is a matter of regret that some sections of the House, having expressed that wish, should have prevented their Members on the Committee of Selection from functioning in the way that the House clearly intended.
Having lost the whole of the recess, in which the Select Committees could have been preparing themselves for their investigations, the Committee of Selection will, I hope, be enabled to do the job that the House entrusted to it and that it is being allowed to do thanks to the response of the Leader of the House to the clear wishes of the House.
To have a Leader of the House who responds to the wishes of the House and permits the House to take decisions, even if he does not agree with them, rather than prevents the House from taking decisions, as happened in the previous Parliament, is a healthy constitutional and personal development for which I warmly thank my right hon. Friend.
The Leader of the House may find it convenient if I address my first few remarks directly to him, because they concern matters with which he is most directly concerned.
Agreement is breaking out all over the place. Agreement between the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell Hyslop) and the Liberal Bench is rare indeed, but I join the hon. Gentleman in complimenting the Leader of the House on bringing the matters before us in a way that allows us to make decisions. What matters is not the ability of a Select Committee to get its reports debated but that the House should reach decisions on them. The right hon. Gentleman has enabled us to do that and we are grateful to him. I hope that he will proceed in that way on other matters.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's indications on other recommendations of the Procedure Committee, particularly those concerning Public Bills. Many pieces of legislation come before the House on which we need the opportunity for those outside to be questioned in the way that the Procedure Committee envisages. We should proceed with that recommendation as soon as possible.
I am sure that new hon. Members will soon discover that our procedure for dealing with statutory instruments is farcical. It is absurd for an hon. Member to sit in a Committee for one and a half hours and to be told at the end that the only decision that the Committee can make is that is has considered the statutory instrument before it. That aspect must be reformed fairly soon.
The Leader of the House suggested that the summer would be early enough for a debate on such matters, but I hope that he will agree that, although we must allow sufficient time for further consultations, we can have that debate a little earlier so that a decision can be taken in time for it to be implemented at the start of the next Session.
The point on which I wish to take issue with the Leader of the House concerns the announcement of recess dates. I share the concern of Scottish Members who have laid particular emphasis on that matter.
I recognise that the Government cannot always determine well in advance the length of a recess or when it can begin, but they can be more helpful than Governments have been in the past. They ought at least to make it possible for hon. Members to book a holiday with their families on a reasonably certain date.
It would not be necessary to make recesses much shorter in order to do that. The Leader of the House seemed to hint that if Governments were pressed into the course that I suggest we would have shorter recesses. That would not be necessary. The Government could secure a limited period and leave open the question of how much more recess there could be.
Even if the dates of the recess were not included in an early resolution of each Session, the Leader of the House could make a fairly clear statement early on that it is intended that the House should rise on a certain date or should not be sitting between certain dates—whatever further recess may later prove possible I have sought in successive years to get Leaders of the House to make such an announcement two weeks before a recess was due to start. Normally they have been content to announce recess dates in the week preceding the start of the recess. The previous Leader of the House occasionally answered my question two weeks—and on one occasion three weeks—before the recess was due to begin. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was hoped that, subject to the progress of business, the House would rise on a certain date.
I hope that the present Leader of the House will be willing to answer such a question much earlier in the Session. If he must, he can retain the provisional element, use it as a goad or an incentive or say that dates are subject to the progress or business, but surely he can safeguard a minimum period during which hon. Members can know that they have a fairly certain chance of being able to take a family holiday, even if it is only a fortnight of clear time. The Leader of the House could help by indicating his willingness to make a statement in this form much earlier than Leaders of the House have traditionally done. With that reservation, I commend generally what the right hon. Gentleman has sought to do for the House tonight and hope that he will continue in those acts.
Many of the matters with which we are dealing are the minor works of Procedure Committee recommendations. But they are no less important for being so. Some have a particular value. I strongly support and commend to my hon. Friends the Friday recommendation. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Tiverton. For those of us with distant and scattered constituencies, there are many matters that one cannot organise except late on Friday afternoon and Friday evening. Our present arrangements put the carrying out of these engagements or our loyalty to parliamentary business in danger. This slight easing of the situation is welcome. I hope that the House will approve it. I have heard no criticism.
I welcome the setting up of the Scottish Select Committee. I do not view the move with unbounded enthusiasm. A lot more could be done for the government of Scotland. Although I am not a Scottish Member, I can travel due south from my constituency into Scotland. If the Scottish Select Committee ever wants to come north to Berwick to hold one of its sittings, it will be more than welcome. In proceeding with the Scottish Select Committee, we must bear in mind that the intentions of the Select Committee on procedure for the setting up of committees of this type must be carried out and satisfied. Several months have elapsed since Select Committees on other subjects were set up, but this matter has yet to be discharged. As the hon. Member for Tiverton has said, these Committees could have begun useful work. I am not happy that these matters have failed to progress. The House should be sure that the Committee charged with these responsibilities is given every opportunity and encouragement to carry them out and that they are not left to be carried out and decided elsewhere. I hope that the Scottish Select Committee does not fall foul of the same delays.
I welcome, as the Leader of the House would expect, the inclusion among matters for decision tonight of the arrangement by which an additional amendment can be voted on at the end of the debate on the Loyal Address. This is important to minority parties such as mine. We find ourselves in difficulty at times when there are two propositions on the Order Paper with neither of which we agree. There are many occasions in this House when we feel that business is conducted to the advantage of the Government and to a lesser, but significant extent, the Opposition Front Bench. Their control over key features of the Order Paper and the time of the House works to the detriment of those who have other views to put forward.
We welcome this means of getting round the procedural difficulty that has prevented us so many times from expressing the views that electors sent us here to represent. We welcome the opportunity to have an amendment of our own voted on. We will use it to the best effect that we can.
There are other occasions, when debates range over several days, on which a similar need exists. Other groups, perhaps groups within a party, who disagree with the line taken by their own Front Bench, may want to make use of this right. This is a direction in which we should move. It is an example of an experiment that has proved workable and is now to be continued.
I share some of the reservations about the attempt to abandon the Standing Order No. 9 procedure, even though I feel that the procedure has been abused on certain occasions in recent months. It has been tiresome to find hon. Members making repetitive Standing Order No. 9 applications on the same subject. But the occasional abuse does not justify the removal of what is a valuable right which we ought to safeguard.
Is the hon. Member under the impression that there is a recommendation to abandon Standing Order No. 9 procedure? The recommendation is no more to abandon Standing Order No. 9 procedure than it is to abandon private notice questions.
I meant that the recommendation was to abandon the procedure as we have known it, namely a procedure under which an hon. Member can come into the Chamber and give to the House his reasons for seeking an emergency debate rather than having to seek the approval of Mr. Speaker beforehand, which is the alternative now put forward. To many hon. Members, that seems a considerable reduction of their rights and opportunities. I do not consider that what I regard as the occasional abuse justifies so substantial a change and so substantial a deprivation. The House will give its opinion on this recommendation later. From what I have heard, it is unlikely to be carried. A suspicion is already abroad that anything so clearly to the advantage of Governments should not necessarily be supported.
The issue of Prime Minister's Questions has been raised. Many hon. Members genuinely find themselves frustrated in their attempts to improve what most of us agree is an unsatisfactory use of the procedures of the House. Most hon. Members, at some time, have attempted to put down a substantial question to the Prime Minister but have been frustrated in their attempts. Questions have been transferred. Hon. Members have been advised by the Table Office that questions will not be accepted and they have returned to the old methods of the open question.
Hon. Members would like to see the procedure improved, but a great deal depends on the acceptance of questions. Judging by the limited indications we have received tonight, I think that there will have to be further examination before most hon. Members are able to understand what questions they will be allowed to table, have accepted and a reply given. I am sure that there is good will in the House among hon. Members who would like to see the procedure better used.
I understand that Prime Minister's Question Time is no longer broadcast. That is a reflection on our procedures. It is one of the matters that earned the greatest criticism during the initial period of the broadcasting of the House.
There are many larger measures on procedure to which we must return, particularly Public Bill procedure, delegated legislation and European matters. Time must be found to take decisions on these matters. But there is no reason why we should not tackle and take decisions on the matters before us tonight. I welcome the opportunity to do so.
Although it is late in the debate, I should like to pay tribute to our recent colleague, Mr. Sydney Irving, who was Chairman of the Select Committe which dealt with the reports that are now before the House. He was most assiduous in looking after the Committee. The Committee was composed of hon. Members of great expertise. Sydney Irving, another former Member—Miss Betty Harvie Anderson—and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) once occupied the Chair that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are now occupying.
I should also like to congratulate the Leader of the House on allowing our work at last to come to the Floor of the House. It is not only frustrating but immensely discouraging when this House—not for months but for years—refuses to consider the findings of a Committee that has been directed by the House to investigate specific matters. I hope that we have learnt a lesson.
There is a major argument for altering the times of Friday sittings so as to allow hon. Members to leave London earlier in the afternoon. We are not going home. We are not going on holiday. The proposal is to enable us to fulfil constituency obligations on a Friday evening. This is frequently impossible if we have to remain at the House until 4 p.m. One has to decide whether one puts one's constituency before the House of Commons or puts one's House of Commons duty before one's constituency. I do not say that it will cure the problem, but the new sitting time will certainly help. It will encourage more hon. Members to attend on a Friday, I believe.
In this modern age, a Government should be able to arrange their business for fixed dates. I have been here 20 years, but I still find it amazing how speedily matters are dealt with towards the end of the Session in July. It is surprising how Governments get their business. It should be possible for them to set target dates at the beginning of the year. If the Opposition absolutely wrecked the Government's programme, the House would have to sit on, but target dates would be very convenient, especially to those Members with young families and those who want to take advantage of hotel bookings at prices they can afford.
In the discussion on length of speeches, surprisingly enough, no one has yet argued that a long speech is ever necessary. Yet it is sometimes impossible to mount a properly documented case in 10 minutes. It is just not true that all speeches can be made briefly. One can make a specific point in 10 minutes, but not a long and detailed case, especially if it is to be done convincingly.
A number of the speeches of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) would not have been so weighty had they been made in eight or 10 minutes—although I have heard him make some pretty good speeches in that time as well.
However, I am in favour of an experiment for a given period between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. So often, the Government Benches empty between those hours and Members have to be found to speak for as long as they can—eight, 10 or even 20 minutes. There are often masses of speakers from the Opposition Benches, and the Government want to maintain an even balance of speeches. A 20-minute speech from their side cuts down the time available to the Opposition. This has happened under Governments of both parties and the proposed experiment might help to eliminate that practice.
I am glad to see the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), on the Front Bench, although I am also grateful that the Leader of the House has sat through the debate until this moment. Will the Select Committees, which I hope will be established by means of a motion on the Order Paper tomorrow, have the back-up facilities from the Department of the Clerk necessary to enable them to proceed quickly to their work?
The growth in the last Parliament of the number of applications under Standing Order No. 9, and the willingness of hon. Members to use it for constituency matters—that had never happened before—is an abuse which should not continue. No one says that the powers of the House have been limited because one has to obtain Mr. Speaker's permission for a private notice question, so why are they limited if the same rule is applied to Standing Order No. 9 applications?
As the report says, only three or four such applications a year are granted. The practice which has grown up in the last three or four years is an abuse. Those who want the present procedure to continue believe that one can state one's case when making the application—but that is not how one is supposed to proceed. Those who favour the present procedure are advocating the continuation of an abuse.
I am willing that the Select Committee should consider ways of allowing Back Benchers more time to raise matters of particular interest, but there is no sense in continuing an abuse which should never have been allowed in the first place.
On Prime Minister's questions, my right hon. Friend is certainly doing her best to encourage a move from the vague and indirect question to the direct question on a specific point. The House would benefit from a return to the behaviour of the past. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the old procedure of the open question, but I would remind him that in 1971–72 only 10 per cent. of Prime Minister's questions were open questions. Ten years earlier, the open question hardly existed. Yet in 1977, the figure was 58 per cent. and in recent times it has been roughly 75 per cent.
To have the Prime Minister answering any question on any subject at 3.15 twice a week does the House little good. We do not get substantive answers and it leads to the kind of "yah-boo" political battle between the Front Benches which does not benefit the House. It may be fun for us, but it is not respected outside. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, it was so unpopular in the country that the BBC stopped broadcasting Prime Minister's questions.
I wish to deal now with a sentence in the report of the 1976–77 Session on questions to the Prime Minister. It states on page xviii:
Finally the Chair would be greatly helped in carrying out this duty if the Select Committee felt able to draw attention, and comment upon, the growth over the years of the long and argumentative supplementary Question and the ever-increasing length of ministerial replies.
I tried to raise this as a point of order earlier today. I hope very much, as I suggested then, that the matter of the second and third supplementary question added on by the hon. Member who is called might be referred to a new Select Committee. The suggestion made in that sentence of the report could be considered in order that we could get through more questions. The record in the report shows that in 1967–68 we used to get through 38 questions during a Question Time, and that we are now down to only 20. We ought to be able to correct that.
I apologise at the outset for having missed a great part of the earlier stages of the debate. I was attending the Public Accounts Committee, which sat for two and a half hours. If I repeat what has already been said by others I hope that the House will understand that that is in the nature of the work of the House.
I believe that this debate is an unsatisfactory way of organising a discussion of these matters, although I cannot think of any better way. It is a disjointed debate, with no continuous theme. We all have our own specialist hobby horses that we choose to ride. I suspect that that is partly why the House is now so badly attended. We could have made a small effort to improve this method of proceeding by, for example, adopting the suggestion that I put to the Leader of the House earlier this week.
It is intolerable that the subject of a Scottish Select Committee should be linked with matters such as questions to the Prime Minister, Standing Order No. 9, and the rest. Why could not the question of a Select Committee for Scotland be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee, where the Scottish Members could talk at length—and they do, and they like it—without disturbing anybody? They could be sent upstairs to talk about their problems until all hours of the night, if they wanted to. At least that would give them satisfaction, and we should probably get a much better solution to the problem as the Scottish Members see it. That would be far preferable to having one or two short speeches here in the House by Scottish Members on this matter with other hon. Members being bored stiff with them.
I am not enthusiastic about making short speeches. I like to feel free, to think that I am a political buccaneer and that once I rise to my feet I can say what I like for as long as I like in the way I like. I do not want Mr. Speaker telling me, in the course of a great peroration, "Your time is up, mate." I do not like that. Such an activity should be referred to the Restrictive Practices Court. During the course of my experience in this House I have seen the rights of Back Benchers repeatedly being curtailed bit by bit over the years.
No, we are all equal here. We all have the same opportunities. The discretion is within the right of the Chair. If the Chair sees that an hon. Member is committing an abuse by talking at great length and talking nonsense, moreover, it ought to see that that hon. Member is a long time in being called again. The discipline rests with the Chair, therefore, and with the judgment of the Back-Bench Member. I do not want something written into the rules to provide that we must make speeches of only 10 minutes.
All kinds of difficulties could arise. What would happen at 7 o'clock at night when the chopper came down and an hon. Member was in full spate and determined to keep going? In that case would extra time be allowed after 9 o'clock to make up the two hours of 10-minute speeches? What happens if I am speaking at 7 o'clock and Mr. Speaker says "Sit down"? If I say "No, thank you very much. I want to finish my speech" he will say that there is a Standing Order providing that I must sit down. It is to that kind of restrictive practice that I object very much. Furthermore, this will apply only to Second Reading debates. I do not know why that is so. Why are foreign affairs debates not to be included? Why do we not go the whole hog and cover all debates with a restriction of this kind?
I apologise if I am going over old ground, but that is in the nature of my difficulty.
This is not a novel suggestion. The Procedure Committee proposed some years ago that there should be one hour in each debate during which hon. Members should speak for no more than five minutes each. That was turned down on the ground that it would tend to create first- and second-class Members. The second-class dross would go along to the Chair saying that they had not anything sensible to say that they could not say in five minutes, and the Chair would put them down to speak in that hour. No doubt that would be the dinner hour, when everyone else was feeding himself. The poor infantryman would have to fit into that one hour. The same would happen with the new proposal for a two-hour period.
If this proposition is to be accepted in principle, I suggest that the two hours be devoted exclusively to Privy Councillors, each of whom should speak for not more than 10 minutes. That would be acceptable to a large majority of Back Benchers. If it were put to them on a free vote it would be carried overwhelmingly. That is the kind of nonsense that we get when we try to restrict the rights of Back Benchers.
I turn next to the question of the Standing Order No. 9 procedure. Of course it is abused, as is the Ten Minute Rule procedure. A lot of the rules of this House are abused precisely because we are a free Assembly. Members will always bend the rules, trying out the patience of the Chair and seeing how far they can go before the Chair wakes up and calls them to order. Those aspects cannot be dealt with by inserting various rules, changing the Standing Orders and the rest. As the Standing Orders are changed, Members will seek ways of getting round the amended Orders. Standing Order No. 9 is a very good safeguard and safety valve for the Back Bencher. Let us suppose that he raises a question, as the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) complained, on a constituency matter. What is wrong with that? We are here as constituency Members. We have constituency interests to safeguard. If a Member has a marginal scat it can be an important publicity exercise to engage in a Standing Order No. 9 debate on a parochial matter.
May I suggest a reason against that proposition? Indeed, the Member asking leave may make a constituency point—but he is making it in circumstances in which he can say anything without its being answered in any way or corrected. That is not a proper part of our proceedings.
He cannot do that if Mr. Speaker is doing his job. If the Member in the Chair is watching carefully he will ensure that the Standing Order is not abused. There are rigid rules on Standing Order No. 9 which must be accepted. I agree that the rule has been abused in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and in other ways too. However, that is not the fault of the Back-Bench Member; it is the fault of the Chair for not applying the rule more rigidly. I do not believe that to take the debate off the Floor of the House, and for the Member to be obliged to apply to Mr. Speaker in writing, would be a curtailment of the rights that the Back Bencher now enjoys.
I am glad that my first amendment to the motion on the Committee on Scottish affairs was selected. I assert the right of the Select Committee to investigate other Departments with responsibilities in Scotland. I wish my other amendment had been selected, as in it I say that the Committee should have the right to do so. I moved a similar amendment in the earlier debate on the other Select Committees. All Select Committees should have the right to demand the presence of any Minister or paper within the Department or any other papers that they think are relevant to their investigations. The Leader of the House turned down that proposal. Indeed, the House turned it down in the earlier debate. However, that is no reason why we should not pursue the matter in relation to the Scottish Select Committees.
It is imperative that any Select Committee that is to do its job properly and effectively should have the undeniable right to demand the presence of any Minister of the Crown and the production of any State paper, or any other paper which it thinks relevant to its investigations. Time and again we have seen Prime Ministers refusing the requests of Select Committees for the presence of senior Ministers when dealing with important problems. There was the case of Mr.—now Lord—Lever. The then Prime Minister refused the request of the Select Committee that he be cross-examined. That made nonsense of the powers and rights of the Select Committee.
As that proposition for the other Select Committees was rejected, this is a wonderful opportunity for the Leader of the House to say that we should have an experiment in this matter with the Scottish Committee. Let the Scottish Select Committee have the right to demand the presence of any Minister of the Crown who has responsibilities in Scotland, or any paper relevant to the investigations, and see how it goes. If it proves a success, the experiment may be extended to the Select Committees south of the border.
I hope that the Leader of the House will give a favourable response to our request for a substantially greater number of Members on the Scottish Select Committee. In my amendment that was not selected I proposed the figure of 20. There is no magic in 20, any more than there is in the 11 proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, except that the bigger the number the greater the chance of dividing up the Select Committee into Sub-Committees.
In Scotland there are special problems. That is why we have our separate Departments dealing with education, home affairs and agriculture. I should like the Scottish Select Committee to be big enough to enable it to divide into five or six Sub-Committees, investigating in great depth the working of the National Health Service, the educational system, agricultural policy, industrial policy, the police and housing policy. The sale of council houses would be a good subject to start off with.
If Sub-Committees of Select Committees could get to work with television, radio and the media present, it would be a marvellous process of education and information for the Scottish people. The Sub-Committees could have the power to co-opt local authority members. There is a great chance here for pioneering in open government. I wrote on those lines at some length to the Leader of the House. I hope that he will reply sympathetically.
I turn to Prime Minister's Question Time. Over the last two or three years it has rapidly become a complete farce, especially since radio broadcasts were introduced. We have reached the stage at which we should each be given a bingo number, which could be drawn out of a hat. If that number came up on a Tuesday or Thursday hon. Members could rise and speak, without any la-di-da about the Prime Minister's engagements. That would avoid much of the present nonsense and make Question Time more effective. At the moment it is a laughing stock and completely incomprehensible to the public.
Like many right hon and hon. Members who have spoken prior to me in the debate, I welcome the Government bringing forward the change in our procedure so soon after their coming into office. My only regret is that the suggested time limit for speeches is to be confined between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
It does not necessarily follow that the quality of speeches would automatically improve because more hon. Members were asked to speak, but it could be fairly said that most of those speeches would improve in quality if they were made briefer and more succinct.
The hon. Gentleman is a new Member and I do not wish to come the muscle about being an old Member.
However, some of the best speeches that I have heard were from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), although I did not necessarily agree with all their speeches.
Those speeches were longer than 10 minutes. The idea that a brilliant speech can be made in 10 minutes is rubbish. Some Members can do that and others cannot. I have heard speeches lasting 25 minutes and have listened to every word, in company with many other Members, without blinking an eyelid, because I have been entranced. Those speeches had an impact on the argument and sometimes on the way that hon. Members voted, especially on non-party issues. It would be disastrous to limit speeches to 10 minutes.
To some extent I accept the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. However he is referring to the minority. The reason for the Government's motion is that the vast majority of Members do not hold the attention of the House. Very few people can hold the attention of any audience beyond 20 minutes. There is a tendency for repetition, which devalues the argument that they intended to advance when they embarked on their speech.
The majority of Back Benchers usually try to make one specific point and to illustrate it by giving specific examples. It would be worth while if there were more points made by more hon. Members. That would lead to a wider variety of speeches and a wider variety of interpretations.
If the time limit were introduced, that would greatly increase the likelihood of hon. Members being called. It would mean that more work would be put into the preparation of speeches. I know of nothing that is more certain to ensure that an hon. Member does not do his homework, or that he prepares only a sketchy speech, than for him genuinely to doubt that he will be called, because the odds are stacked against him.
An excellent illustration of that is to hear Ministers and Shadow spokesmen deliver their speeches with a higher degree of professionalism than those delivered by the average Member. It may be assumed that their speeches should be eminently superior and that that is why they became Ministers and Shadow Ministers in the first place. I know that the majority of hon. Members will not accept that. I venture to suggest that one of the major reasons—it may be the only reason—why the presentations of such people may appear more professional is that they prepare their speeches in the certain knowledge that they will be called.
I freely admit that the early-day motion which I tabled on Monday of last week called on the Government to limit Back Benchers' speeches to 20 minutes. I have already explained my reason for choosing that time.
I genuinely believe that very few hon. Members can hold the attention of the House, especially now that our procedures are being broadcast, invariably live. Many of those outside the Chamber and outside the Palace are bored stiff by some of the events that take place in the Chamber. In my early-day motion there was a built-in escape clause to allow Back Benchers to continue with their speeches for longer by leave of the House. That might be an innovation for the House, but it is accepted practice in many local authorities throughout the land. It is a system that works successfully. Therefore, I cannot quarrel with the Government's motion that the experimental time limit should be 10 minutes. If the Government had considered a shorter time, I should have welcomed that move.
I hope that the motion, and the others alongside it, will lead to a shortening of our sittings on occasions, especially when the House sits until the early hours of the morning. How on earth Members of Parliament or Ministers can be expected to make reasonable and responsible decisions when they have been up half the night stretches the imagination beyond the bounds of belief.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support the motion that proposes short speeches. That support will reflect credit on the House and earn the respect of those that it seeks to represent.
The debate has undoubtedly made most of today's speeches briefer than usual. I shall do my utmost to follow suit. I wish to deal with two issues—namely, Standing Order No. 9 procedure and the motion for the House to go into recess.
Unlike the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier), I shall not be voting for the limitation of speeches. I agree that at some stage there is a case to consider for making speeches shorter—but certainly not tonight—and to make the sort of recommendation that appears on the Order Paper. There has been a long tradition of welcoming long speeches. For example mention has been made on other occasions of the number of hours that Gladstone spoke. However, I would rather rely on the self-discipline of hon. Members.
Rightly or wrongly, there has been an atmosphere developing in the House—in my view rightly—that leads us to welcome briefer speeches. I believe that that will catch on and that Members will understand that if they are fortunate enough to be called by the Chair they will be expected to speak for only 10 or 15 minutes. However, I shall vote against the proposal to introduce a standing order giving Mr. Speaker the guidance that is set out in the terms of the motion now before us.
I consider that one of the more difficult phases of my life as a Member of Parliament is getting called by the occupant of the Chair. That is no reflection on the occupant of the Chair. Is the manner in which Members of Parliament have to try to be called by the Chair—for example, to approach Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker—the best method of carrying out our duties and trying to speak in the House? I am not sure that it is. As I understand it, there is a list published in another place of those who are to be called. Surely there is a case for that procedure and for the House to consider it. If we employed that system, we should know whether we were to be called. At least there would be a good chance of being called if our names appeared on the list. We would not have to go through the process of approaching Mr. Speaker to see whether there was any opportunity of our names being placed higher on his list. Perhaps it would be a more dignified process.
I shall concentrate on the two matters that I mentioned earlier. The procedure that we have followed for a long time is to make speeches on the motion that the House should go into recess. I believe that that should continue. I am aware of the opposition that has been voiced. There are those who say "What is the purpose of it? The motion will be carried." It has been a rare occasion, if it has ever happened, that the motion that the House should go into recess has not been carried.
The purpose behind it is simple and clear—it is to air grievances. Some will say that these are matters lacking in substance and no doubt there are occasions when hon. Members make remarks they should not have made. On the other hand if the House goes, for example, into the Summer Recess and does not sit for near on three months, why should we not have the opportunity of putting forward our views? The opportunity is certainly welcomed by Opposition Back Benchers and I think it is welcomed on the Government Back Benches as well. On these occasions there is the chance to raise a national issue in, perhaps, a two- or three-hour debate. It is an important device which I hope we will not abolish tonight.
My principal concern is with Standing Order No. 9. This mechanism is a very important part of the rights of Back Benchers. To a certain extent, I suppose, the mood of the House can prevent abuse and, though I do not wish to make this a party point, we all know the number of applications which were made during the winter months—and who made them—for Standing Order No. 9 debates.
When an hon. Member does have the chance to make an application, as now, he can explain his reasons for wanting a debate. This is an important way of doing our business. I take the view that the Floor of the House of Commons is the most important part of our parliamentary life. I am not one of those who are now fashionably saying that perhaps the Standing and Select Committees are the most important. I believe that there is a role for both but of the two I have no doubt that the most important is the Floor of the House of Commons. I want to see the continuing right of hon. Members to raise matters by way of applications for an emergency debate.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in his usual interesting way, complained that an hon. Member, in raising an application for a debate, might obtain unfair press publicity. I can understand that point, though when it comes to press publicity I must say that the right hon. Gentleman is really the last person to need lessons from any of us.
The right hon. Gentleman does not abuse it by way of Standing Order No. 9 though whether he does so by what has been interpreted as abuse by some hon. Members is another matter. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's complaint is this. If an hon. Member has obtained what may be described as unfair publicity it is always open to any right hon. Member or hon. Member to make a press statement outside the House to put the record straight. I do not believe that, because there is occasional abuse, we should take away this very important right of Back Benchers. There are perhaps three or four emergency debates granted in the course of the year. The applications which we would like to make will never be made if the motion on the Order Paper goes through. We are all opposed to abuse. However, there is a thin dividing line between doing our parliamentary duty and the supposed abuse of the machinery of the House.
Like the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), I sat for two and a half hours in the Public Accounts Committee this afternoon. I also spent half an hour in the Selection Committee. That brings me to my first point. Every Monday and Wednesday, members of the Public Accounts Committee, because of their duties, are denied the privilege of hearing the opening speeches in debates. That is because of the current timetable.
I suggest that the Hansard report of the opening speeches in a debate should be placed in the Library, as are late-night speeches the following morning. That would give hon. Members who have been closeted in Committee an opportunity to take an intelligent interest in the debate and perhaps feel entitled to take part in it. At present it is difficult for an hon. Member who has not been present at the beginning of a debate to speak later. The occupant of the Chair usually feels that priority should be given to those hon. Members who have been in the Chamber for the whole of the debate.
I made another suggestion when I was a member of the Procedure Committee, but this was never taken up. My suggestion should be adopted because it would save time and save the expense of the House sitting for an extra quarter of an hour at night. An opportunity should be given to hon. Members to know what is the subject matter of an Adjournment debate. The hon. Member who has an Adjournment debate should present his speech to the Table Office so that it can be printed on the Order Paper. That would mean that, if there was to be a debate, for instance, on Mrs. Jones's hospital treatment in Bangladesh we would know what it was about. Having that speech printed in advance would give the Minister all the facts so that he was better able to make an intelligent reply. The Adjournment debate would then take up only a quarter of an hour instead of half an hour.
I see that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is laughing. I would like to know what his objection is to that suggestion, because it seems a sensible way of proceeding.
That is not my intention. I am talking only of the Adjournment debate at or after 10 o'clock at night. The House should not be kept here another quarter of an hour while an hon. Member makes a speech, usually on a constituency matter, which a Minister, unless he is clever, cannot answer adequately because he does not know what he is to be asked.
At one time even questions were not printed on the Order Paper. They were just asked and it was hoped that the Minister could reply. Now questions are published on the Order Paper so that Ministers have notice of them. Prime Minister's questions cause problems, because they cannot be developed.
I am also anxious about priority at Question Time. I do not know whether it is because I have had bad luck or have not known the procedure, but in my 20 years in Parliament I have never been lucky enough either to be called for a supplementary question to the Prime Minister or to have my question in such a place on the Order Paper that it is reached. I do not know whether that is bad luck or bad management on my part. We should introduce a system so that each hon. Member has priority at some time.
Hon. Members have argued for and against 10-minute speeches. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that he liked 20-minute speeches because that gave him time to develop his argument. Samuel Johnson once apologised for writing a long letter because he had not the time to think out a short one. There is no doubt that some speeches are too long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) said, very clearly, that when an hon. Member knew that he had a 10 to 1 chance of being called he did not give the necessary time and attention to preparing his speech. Every new Member who enters the House is delighted to be called for his maiden speech and gives similar time and attention to future speeches. But when he finds, time after time, that he is not called, his best speeches end up in his locker.
I remember one of the Whips saying to me one day "Keep those speeches in your locker. You will be able to use them in some way on some other occasion." There is no doubt that much more attention should be given to seeing that Members have a reasonable chance of knowing whether they will be called so that they are able to concentrate more on the speech they wish to make.
For the present, I believe that we should support the 10 minute speech on the basis of doing it as a trial to see whether Members can shorten their speeches and, at the same time, get their point across to the House.
First, I should like to pursue the question of Standing Order No. 9, because I agree with those who have objected to the proposed change, and with many of the reasons for their objections.
Perhaps I could quote two examples to emphasise what I regard as the importance of raising such matters on the Floor of the House. I have attempted to use Standing Order No. 9 on only one occasion in 10 years. My application related to the hanging of two men in a colonial territory in the West Indies.
On that occasion I believed that it was absolutely essential that the matter be raised on the Floor of the House. In the event, my application was not granted. However, I am sure that the fact that an hon. Member could raise a matter such as that in this House ensured that the communication channels of the world buzzed with cables from the Foreign Office to the colonial territory. That might then have had some influence on events.
I am certain that had I been confined to writing a note to Mr. Speaker on that occasion—I have no doubt his judgment would have been exactly as it was in any event—it would have had no impact, because no one would have known anything about it.
On another famous occasion, a very respected late friend of mine, John Mendelson, after a fairly harsh debate on how we should proceed on the matter of the malfunctioning of the Crown Agents, raised, under Standing Order No. 9, the question of having a proper tribunal to investigate the matter. The House concurred with him and the Government were forced to have a special investigation. I am fairly certain that one of the reasons that application succeeded was that it was raised on the Floor of the House of Commons.
The mood of the House was very important in influencing Mr. Speaker in his judgment. It was the mood of the House, and the fact that it could be raised on the Floor of the House with the press present to see and hear what was occurring, that influenced the decision of Mr. Speaker on that occasion and certainly had an influence on the outcome of the debate.
It is fundamental that the greater the publicity the more likely it is that an application will be given careful consideration. I am sure that such a matter would also be given careful consideration in private by Mr. Speaker, but the mood and feeling on the Floor of the House may also influence his judgment. I am quite sure that sweeping it away into private so that an hon. Member has to put a private notice question is unsatisfactory and detrimental.
To curtail abuse, I put down what I thought was a very fair and sensible amendment which states that an hon. Member who presents an application under Standing Order No. 9 must do so within three minutes. I think that is a reasonable time. I am sorry that the amendment was not called, because that would have avoided abuse without sweeping the whole thing away. I am in absolute agreement with those hon. Members who objected to such matters being pushed aside and merely dealt with under the private notice question procedure, because that would be quite wrong.
I very much welcome the action of the Leader of the House over Friday sittings and am grateful to him for giving the House an opportunity to make a decision on this. I agree with the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). Many of those arguments were what led me to make this proposition to the Select Committee in the first place. I am very glad that some of my colleagues on that Committee took it up and that the Committee itself accepted it.
The present dilemma is that one does not know until a few days in advance what the business on a Friday will be. On the other hand, in all courtesy and fairness to constituents, one has to make commitments either for meetings or to see individuals on a Friday evening. Then one is possibly faced with a regrettable clash and the prospect of being discourteous, breaking engagements and so on, or not participating in important business on the Floor of the House. Being able to get away by 2.30 p.m. will not resolve the problem for everyone. Apparently, the train services to Nottingham are so appalling that it would make no difference to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), although it certainly would for me in respect of Sheffield, and it would for those who want to get to Northern Ireland, because of aeroplane departure times and so on. This is a valuable adjustment of our procedures, which I hope the House will endorse tonight.
I have a slightly divided mind on the question of the Adjournment debates for recesses. The basic objection to them is an objection that was raised very cogently by the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell)—namely, that one does not get a considered response to the matters raised. In an ordinary Adjournment debate one raises a specific issue and the Minister and the Department have to give a proper considered response to that issue. However, on the Adjournment debate for the recess, by its nature all that arises is a hotchpotch of matters, totally unrelated to each other. Some of them may be important; some may be relatively unimportant. The Leader of the House is faced with making a rambling, discursive and totally useless speech, merely saying that he is grateful to his hon. Friend or the hon. Member for so and so, for raising a certain matter and, of course, that it will be looked into because it is very important. Then he moves on to the next point. That is the very negation of what an intelligent debate should be.
On those grounds I would be somewhat inclined to support the proposition now being put, although it would be refreshing if the Leader of the House would say that if we abandon this three-hour operation—I suppose that over the course of a Session we use about 10 or 12 hours in this way—he will come up with some alternative proposition under which Back Benchers who have forgone their three hours or so will be given some other opportunity, an equivalent time, for raising matters which they regard as important.
I am already running over time a bit, so if my hon. Friend does not mind, I shall push on very quickly.
Concerning Private Members' Bills going to a Second Reading Committee, an interesting idea has been advanced. I hope that it will be pursued. Like a good many other interesting ideas, it will, I suspect, be aborted by people who want to obstruct it, and it may come to nothing. Nevertheless, I take the view very strongly that we in this House do not make proper use of the Committee system. If Committees can be used to further non-controversial legislation of private Members I am in favour of trying it out. In any case, the provisions made are such that if the views of those such as the hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) prevail—apparently he is opposed to private Members having the right to legislate on anything under the sun—there are plenty of safeguards in the proposition to block the system coming into effect.
Finally, I come to the question of short speeches. There is a total illogicality in what is here proposed, because it is suggested that those who have the good fortune to be called in the first three hours of the debate can go rabbiting on ad nauseam and the unlucky ones who have had to sit through those three hours are then firmly chopped to 10 minutes. That is absurd. We should treat everyone alike or place no restrictions on them at all.
I should have thought that there was a case for having an experiment in this matter, and that the Second Reading debate was a good choice. I shall spell that out. Debates on general policy—foreign affairs, agriculture, or whatever—will occur only once in six or seven weeks; perhaps only once in half a year. If an hon. Member feels passionately on a particular subject but is confined to 10 or 15 minutes, that is a severe restriction on him.
On the other hand, during a Second Reading debate everyone knows that there will be a prolonged Committee stage where different points can be raised and an hon. Member can speak for as long as he wishes. Following the Committee stage, there are a Report stage and a Third Reading. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for an hon. Member to confine his remarks to 10 or, more reasonably, 15 minutes. That should apply to all speakers with the exception of those from the Front Benches, who must have an opportunity to give the Government or Opposition case.
I cannot agree with the proposition as it is phrased for the reasons that I have given. It is unfair that those called to speak first can go on for half an hour, but those who have waited throughout the debate are cut down to 10 minutes. The House should experiment by giving a discretion to Mr. Speaker—not a mandatory order but a discretion—to say to an hon. Member that his time is up and that he should sit down.
I am grateful to two of our colleagues who chaired the two procedural Committees from which the House has benefited during the last three years. It is unusual for the House to have the benefit of two such Committees, but we have treated ourselves. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams) and our former colleague Mr. Sydney Irving—now in the other place—worked very hard to produce the many reports. I am sure that those who served on either of those Committees will join in that tribute.
We have not got the most important procedural motion because, although there are 18 motions before us, there is no motion to give effect to the recommendation in the so-called reform report. That is the report of 1977–78 from the non-sessional Committee about Public Bill procedure. The reform Committee did not just produce 76 recommendations and jumble them together. It endeavoured to look at aspects in an organised manner and to address itself first to the key areas of procedure from which the others flow.
That is why the reform Committee first recommended the new structure of Select Committees which has been implemented and the new procedure whereby Standing Committees considering Bills would be able to interview witnesses—Ministers, civil servants, outside interests, etc.—in the form of a Select Committee before proceeding to clause by clause consideration of Bills.
The Government have not yet brought that proposal before the House. However, I was glad to note that the Leader of the House is bringing it before Parliament before next summer. It could be argued that the Chamber must not suffer from indigestion through considering too many proposals.
The proposal about Standing Committees taking evidence is not incompatible with getting the new system of Sub-Committees going. Most of us on the reform Committee felt that the two were complementary. We did not recommend that Select Committees should have anything to do with Bills, but we felt that some of the Select Committee facilities should be available in considering Bills. The two could go side by side, and I hope that it will not be long before the Leader of the House brings forward such a proposal.
It is in the interests of Governments and in the interests of good government and legislation generally that the unsatisfactory situation in Standing Committees should be terminated. We have all served on Standing Committees and know of the problem. There are two strong electrical forces—the political power and the inquiries of hon. Members—and in the corner of the room is a great deal of expertise. Joining the two forces is the narrow filament of the Minister's mind, and such a joining of electrical forces causes a fuse. We have all experienced the frustration of serving on Standing Committees and knowing that the information we want is available in the four corners of the room—and particularly in one corner—when we are not able to get at it. The proposal of the reform committee would have brought to an end that difficulty. I recollect that all the Conservative hon. Members on the reform Committee supported the proposal, and I hope that the Leader of the House will quickly follow that up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) mentioned the urgent need to consider the rights of Committees to summon Ministers and others, and we must at least remove the obscurity over the limitation of that power. There will be dispute as to where the right of the Committee to summon Ministers and send for papers stops, and there may be dispute as to how far that power should lie with the Committee and how far it should lie only with the whole House. However, until the matter comes before us, that obscurity will remain.
Amongst the 18 motions there are five or six that it is unnecessary to discuss in any detail or hardly at all. They relate to the jumbling up of notices of parliamentary questions in the Table Office, the order of precedence of Private Members' Bills, what to do when an hon. Member has won a place in the ballot—whether he is allowed to win another place in the ballot the following year—and the procedure for dividing the day at 7 pm. There is the obscure question of what to do when two hon. Members simultaneously present amendments to two Clerks at the Table. The proposals before us in the motion are adequate on those matters.
For decades the Clerks have failed to number questions and the printer therefore did not know the correct order. The proposal is that the Clerk should number questions from 4.5 pm, which will not include the first questions in and they are usually the ones to be answered. The system would be a little more efficient if there were, so to speak, a queue by serial numbers, as if boarding an aircraft from Washington to New York. Surely it is possible to number questions serially so that an hon. Member who puts his question in first gets it answered first.
For me it is acceptable, and the House would do well to let it stand where it is at present.
Then, in ascending order of controversiality, we have the business of Prime Minister's Question Time. Even just in my nine years or so in the House, this is a hardy perennial. The truth is that none of us knows what to do in order to improve the effectiveness and acceptability of Prime Minister's Question Time. To a great extent the decisions lie with the Prime Minister of the day and not so much in the procedure of the House. That is recognised in the form of the report, and the form of the motion giving effect to the report, which is before us. All that we can do is to welcome recent tendencies by the present Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the previous Prime Minister, to answer more questions than were answered previously by Prime Ministers and to see how it goes.
I would inject only one thought of my own into the pool. We in this House are now very accustomed to the question of which notice has been given. It is arguable that it is that characteristic which gets us into insoluble difficulties with Prime Minister's Question Time.
In the legislature of Canada, for example, notice is not normally given of the question. That would be a terrible arrangement for us to have for any departmental Minister. I think that it takes away from the effectiveness of Question Time if one does not give notice. However, it is arguable that for Prime Minister's Question Time there is something to be said for it. When next we have, as we will no doubt have perhaps every two years, a Procedure Committee looking yet again at this issue, I think it should consider that possibility and see whether that, unlike all the other things that we have ever thought of, eases our problem.
I want to say something briefly and calmly on the subject of the hat. I make no apology for raising the subject. We have the motion before us. I am sure that we are all slightly embarrassed not only about wearing the hat but also about talking about wearing the hat. We have before us a proposal that instead of one hat we should have two—
—that instead of the rule applying only to men, which it does at present, it should also apply to women Members of the House, and that substitute hats in the form of the Order Paper should not be acceptable to the Chair. I have often wondered whether a wig would be regarded as a covering for this purpose, but have never discovered the answer.
It is my serious view that for a great national legislature to say that for the discharge of one of his functions—a tiny one, albeit one—a Member of the House is to put on his head a hat, which in practice is the comic old opera hat wrapped in a scruffy envelope under the Serjeant at Arms' chair, is contrary to the dignity of this House and of every Member in it.
It has not got the advantage that we are adhering to ancient tradition. The original reason for this curious practice was that people wore a hat in the House anyway. It was not that they went and fetched one; they had one. All they did was not to take it off. The practice about sitting down rather than standing up was equally accidental. In my view, it serves no practical purpose, because if one sits down one's mouth is further away from the microphone than it is if one is standing up. Therefore, we have before us the amendment in the names of the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) and myself, which says that as an experiment Mr. Speaker should be authorised to receive points of order during a Division according to the same rules as apply at other times.
Although this is a very funny subject, I beg the House, in the interests of dignity, to give our proposal a try. If there is a problem we can always go back to the previous situation, but for goodness sake, let us give it a try. If anyone thinks that members of the public, who watch our proceedings, see that little episode during a Division at 10 o'clock and think that it is quaint, historic and terribly British, he should talk to those members of the public. They think it is absolutely disgraceful and childish and they are right. I was interested to hear that the Government do not oppose my idea. I do not think that the Leader of the House expressed a view on the matter. I am sure that he does not give a hoot whether we wear the hat or not.
There are two proposals which relate to the rights of Opposition parties and minorities. This includes minority parties and minority groups within a party. The proposals concern the wording of the Supply motion, and the question of one extra amendment being called at the end of the debate on the Address.
On the first matter, it has been said that the present situation was an accidental consequence of a reform in our procedure which was intended to make things seem simpler but not to have this particular result. The proposal before the House, although it is open to verbal objection, which has been expressed strongly by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), is at least an improvement in substance on what has gone before. There is no opposition to the idea that the practice, which has already been adopted informally, of sometimes calling an additional amendment at the end of the debates on the Address, should be formalised; and it is acceptable.
Then one comes to the rather more controversial issues. The first of these is the question of Friday sittings. This is a matter on which each hon. Member will vote according to his personal convenience. It so happens that it is personally very inconvenient for me, as a London Member, to consider 9.30 am sittings. But it is best that the House should arrange its sittings on a Friday according to the convenience of the majority. My guess is that the convenience of the majority would favour the introduction of the earlier time. If everyone votes tonight according to his personal convenience, the House will take the most sensible decision in the interests of the majority.
I predict that, despite what the Leader of the House said earlier and despite the form of words he decides to adopt in his wind-up speech, it will not be long before the suspension is moved beyond 2.30 pm on more occasions than it would have been moved beyond 4 pm. That is a fact of life and we must accept that there is a risk of longer hours on Fridays than would have been the case. If the House votes for the new procedure on the possibility of sending a Private Member's Bill to a Second Reading Committee it will not just be a case of the House sitting at 9.30 a.m. on Friday. There will be a strong possibility of a vote at 9.30 am. That is a prospect that few hon. Members would contemplate with equanimity.
An hon. Member:
"It is better than 4 am." The metabolism of hon. Members is such that 4 am is often easier for a vote than 9.30 am on a Friday. The metabolism changes after years in this place.
I turn to the question of short speeches. We all know the irritation that is experienced about people who speak for an unnecessarily long time, especially when that happens just before the wind-up speeches are due to begin at 9 p.m. But we should look at the experience of other Parliaments. Many other Parliaments limit the length of speeches and in those Parliaments the common form is for the person to go in, take his ration of time and go out. He does not give up any of his time to another Member except in a very formal way in some legislatures. This process does not admit of the cut and thrust of debate as does our practice. I fear that if we allow the timing of speeches to be introduced the cut and thrust of debate will be limited. That consequence can be avoided if we rely on the good sense of the House rather than on the formal rule for limiting the time.
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) referred to the practice in some debates of Whips searching for hon. Members to speak, begging an hon. Member to make a 20-minute speech to fill up the time. The rule would not get rid of that because it would apply only when Mr. Speaker found that there were too many speakers for the time allotted. In the case where there are not enough Members who wish to speak the proposed 10-minute rule would not be introduced.
My experience is that when there is a shortage it tends to be on both sides or neither.
The difficulty should be faced that if the proposal is introduced even as an experiment there is the risk that it will be extended to other stages than Second Readings. It would be disastrous if it were extended to Committee stage. I believe that the House should take these matters into consideration before reaching its decision on what is proposed to be an experiment.
There is the motion that recess dates should not be debatable. I doubt whether Back Benchers are ever wise to give up the opportunity to raise anything that suits their timing, irrespective of whether or not it is suitable for the Government. I have not been on this Front Bench long enough to forget how unwise such a proposal would be for a Back Bencher. After all, we are talking about half a day occurring about three times in the year. It is true that the Member does not get a reply from the departmental Minister but that is not always necessary for every exercise of a Member's function. Sometimes an hon. Member needs to put his grievance on the record, not just to get it into the newspapers.
It was suggested earlier in the debate that the Leader of the House could not give an adequate reply. The Leader of the House is a senior member of the Cabinet, who take a collective responsibility. That point has been slightly ignored in the suggestion that there would be an unsatisfactory reply from the Leader of the House of the day.
We are all aware that if time permits, which it sometimes does—in the case of those hon. Members who speak early—the advice that is tendered to the Leader of the House comes from the same people who tender it to the departmental Minister. I do not attach great importance to the consideration. However, the House should be careful before it limits the rights of Back Benchers as compared with the Government and Front Benchers generally.
I should like to refer to the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who described the procedure as futile. It is often quite as effective for a point to have been raised by a Back Bencher in debate and not fully answered by the Minister as it is to have had an anodyne ministerial reply. In other words, the matter hangs in the air and has to be answered at some date.
I agree that there is that consideration.
More important is the motion about Standing Order No. 9. It has been said that every procedure that we have is abused and some procedures are used for purposes which were never their original intention. That is the case with Standing Order No. 9. There are two uses of the Standing Order—its proper use, which results in a half-day debate, and the brief airing of a question, although it is not supposed to have its substance aired, under the guise of an application under Standing Order No. 9.
Conservative Members will remember that in all the difficulties of last winter they were often raising applications under Standing Order No. 9. Were those applications unjustified? They were certainly thought to be justified at the time and it was the judgment of the hon. Member concerned that was important. If ever the position is reached where an individual Member is not able to exercise his personal judgment about what he believes to be important—and to take no more than three, four or five minutes of the time of the House in order to give effect to it—we have got into a bad way.
If I were looking at procedures of the House that are freely abused, I would pick out the Ten-Minute Bill as one which is abused more blatantly, more often and with greater loss of time than is Standing Order No. 9. It could be said that we had an example of that today. Hon Members produce Ten-Minute Bill applications with no hope or desire to produce legislation.
The House looked at that aspect back in 1971 or 1972, but decided not to defer the time for those applications until 10 p.m. or whatever time was suggested. It was agreed to keep the right for an hon. Member to have a little time at prime House time. The amount of time used on Standing Order No. 9 applications is sufficiently brief for the House to be justified in sticking to the present arrangement. If there is increasing abuse of its use, with much more loss of time, we shall have to look at the matter again. But the abuse has surely not gone far enough for that.
Let me make a personal confession. A couple of years ago, I grossly abused the procedure of the House to table a question in the name of another hon. Member. It was quite wrong and I apologise to the House. The House mentioned the possibility of terminating the practice by which one hon. Member can go to the Table Office and table another hon. Member's question but rightly said that it should not alter its procedures merely because I had done something stupid. The House was right.
If the abuse of Standing Order No. 9 applications goes on and becomes too great, we can look at the matter again, but it is not bad enough yet. I say to Conservative Members who felt that they were making proper use of the procedure last winter that this is not the time for any hon. Members—certainly not them—to say that having used the procedure last winter they will vote to stop others from doing anything similar next winter. That would not be acceptable and it would put Mr. Speaker in an almost impossible situation.
There seems to be doubt in the minds of some hon. Members about whether Mr. Speaker would be able to allow an application when there was any doubt about whether he would grant a half-day debate. As I read the proposal, there is no chance of that. Mr. Speaker would allow an hon. Member to make his application on the Floor of the House only if he knew from the application in private that he would be granting the half-day debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has tabled an amendment to set up a liaison committee between Select Committees. There is a liaison committee now. It is informal and it works pretty well, but there are reasons, outlined in the Procedure Committee report, for formalising the system. It is arguable that it might be better to wait until the new Select Committees have been operating for a while before setting up the liaison committee, but that is something on which hon. Members must reach their own conclusions.
The motions that we are considering are relatively trivial compared with some of the more important things that we consider, but whenever we look at procedure we should do so against the background of recognising the importance of what we do here. It is sometimes said that power has passed from the House of Commons to the Executive and even to bodies outside Parliament. There is no truth in that. The Members of the House of Commons possess now all the power they ever possessed.
No word reaches the statute book except we say so and no penny is spent by Government except a majority of individual Members permit it. No power has passed. If anything is lacking, it can only be the will of hon. Members to use that power which still rests with us.
When they elect us, the electors give us only one thing—the right to vote in the House of Commons. That is all that an hon. Member has, but it is all he needs. I believe that the public want to see their Member using in their interests the power that has been given to him. In this Parliament the individual Member counts for more than in many other Parliaments.
We must be eternally vigilant, not least on matters like Standing Order No. 9 applications, to ensure that this stays the case. Whether the threat comes from Governments or from sources outside the House, each Member must be prepared to go to the stake rather than diminish the powers that are a trust, temporarily, in our hands. Only in that way can we ensure that the House fulfils its essential and historic function to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the millions of the electorate that we represent in this place.
It is a great pleasure to reply to a debate of such high quality, so wide-ranging in its scope and important in its implications. It was brought to a fitting end by the peroration of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I found myself in agreement with nearly all his remarks.
It is a complex matter to reply to a debate in which we have been discussing 18 motions and six or seven amendments. I shall try to deal with matters as clearly as I can. I think that the most convenient way would be to go through the motions and amendments as they come on the Order Paper. It will then be possible for hon. Members to follow them.
I am grateful for the expressions of appreciation that have come from both sides that the House has been given an opportunity to dispose of a number of issues tonight. I would like to express my thanks to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for his generous words. I would also like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Honiton (Mr. Emery).
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton raised a specific question about the Select Committees and asked me about the back-up that will be available when they are set up. I can give an assurance that the new Select Committees, if only we can get them into being, will be well supported by the Clerk's Department. A staff of at least the minimum strength specified as necessary by the Procedure Committee is ready and waiting for the new Committees to be nominated. The minimum proposed was one Clerk, plus one executive officer or clerical officer, plus one personal secretary. I do consider that that would be a reasonable staff. I hone that we shall be able to get started very soon.
I should like to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) relating to recommendation 6 of the Procedure Committee. This is not one of the most difficult of the Public Bill recommendations, but it is not without some difficulty. It would result in further sittings in Standing Committee and would therefore extend the time for the passage of the Bill. The reason why it does not appear is that the rest of the Public Bill recommendations hang together with this one. If one wants to reflect on them and discuss them, one wants to reflect on them and discuss them as a whole. It is better left to the next stage of our considerations.
The first motion on the Order Paper deals with the setting up of an experiment during this Session in which Mr. Speaker would have discretion to limit hon. Members of the House to speeches of 10 minutes between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. We have had a lively discussion, with opposing views expressed on that point. I suppose that the two opposite poles were my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who felt that it would strengthen the Chair, and the right hon. Member for Down, South, who had grave doubts about regulation by the Chair and thought that the House could control itself in these matters. That is a triumph of faith over experience. The right hon. Gentleman underestimates the difficulty of people stopping once they have got going.
I know that I express myself badly on these matters, but I did not say that I felt that the motion would strengthen the Chair. I intend to vote against it precisely because I think that we should strengthen the Chair, instead of mucking about with motions like this.
I am grateful for that explanation. I misunderstood my hon. Friend's position. At short notice. I will substitute for him my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier), who will conveniently occupy the other pole of the argument, since he wanted even shorter speeches than the motion suggests.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) seemed to want to speak for ever on any subject that came up. If one approaches this matter in a detached way one finds it difficult to conclude what the right course is and where the balance of the argument lies. That is precisely the reason why we have approached the matter tentatively. The suggestion is for an experiment, to be used at Mr. Speaker's discretion, to see how it works. If it does not work well it can be done away with, but if it does it can be extended.
I turn now to the vexed question of the Privy Councillors, who have haunted this discussion from time to time. As a recent Privy Councillor, I hesitate to say that their rights should be restricted. It is the only honour that any hon. Member really wants—
Well—the only honour that any self-respecting Member wants. It carries a status in this House, which is where one requires it, and it carries a modified form of priority in speaking. However, as Mr. Speaker himself has made clear, whatever privilege there is is heavily qualified by the exercise of the discretion of the Chair.
Although I understand the fears of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), I think that he has slightly exaggerated them. In any case, let us see how this experiment works—if the House wants it—and modify things accordingly.
The second motion on procedure relates to allowing the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill to be referred, in restricted circumstances, to a Second Reading Committee. The main fears in this respect were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). I might fairly describe my hon. Friend as not being an enthusiast for Private Members' Bills, for reasons that he never made explicit but that I think the House understands very well.
From the historical point of view—I speak very often from that point of view on matters of procedure—I am much more sympathetic to the private Member than is my hon. Friend. I recall that for many years private Members controlled the business and time of the House, until the developments of the last century, when that control was taken over by the Government.
Times have changed. A private Member has been reduced in status, but there is no reason why we should not, in a modest way, tilt the balance back in his favour, as recommended by the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough wished for an assurance that the objection of one hon. Member would be sufficient to prevent reference to a Second Reading Committee. I can give him that assurance. I hope that that will pacify him on that point.
Having done that I shall now proceed to enrage my hon. Friend by turning to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, which seeks to substitute "any day" for "Friday" in the motion relating to Standing Order No. 66. I should be happy to accept that amendment.
I turn next to the question of Friday sittings, which has concerned the House at times today. I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton that I would give a definitive statement of the Government's position on this, as there seemed to be a certain doubt about what had been said.
If the motion is carried, business on Fridays will be interrupted at 2.30 p.m. and the Adjournment will run until 3 o'clock, when the House will normally rise. Many Fridays are private Members' days, when the question of suspending the rule rarely arises. However, when Government business is being taken it will of course be open to the Government to move the suspension. It will certainly not be the intention of the Government or myself to do that except in very special circumstances of urgency and importance, where it would be the wish of the House that this should be done. I cannot abandon the Government's right to move the suspension in such circumstances but I can assure the House that we shall not arrange Government business on the basis that this option will ordinarily be used. I hope that that will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton.
I come to the tenth motion and the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury on the question of the hat, a vexed issue. I felt that it was almost a personal vendetta by the hon. Gentleman against the hat, poor battered thing. There are two hats. I do not know whether that makes things better or worse from his point of view. There was a recommendation that one hat should be placed behind the Chair, and there it reposes.
I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member said. At first sight it is rather absurd that this object should be retained in use, but I was impressed by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), who said that there is a point to it. It differentiates points of order during Divisions as something rather special, as opposed to points of order raised in the normal course of debate. Secondly, it helps you, Mr. Speaker—though you would be able to pronounce better on this than I—and the other occupants of the Chair to identify the Member concerned, because he is seated and covered. With a lot of movement and many people standing it is at least arguable that the hat is a useful object.
I tend to agree with the Duke of Wellington, who said that he did not give a damn for the House of Lords. I do not subscribe to that, but mutatis mutandis that is my feeling about the hat. However, it is for the House to decide whether this relic of the past is worth preserving. I am an agnostic on the issue. I do not have the strength of religious fervour of the hon. Gentleman who wants to abolish it.
I now turn to the sixth report, which deals with the reform of the Standing Order No. 9 procedure. Here again there was a considerable division of opinion in the House. The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), in a most moderate contribution, felt that the procedure should be retained in the interest of private Member's rights and that therefore the sixth report should be omitted from our approval. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr. Winnick) said that if this went, more points of order would be raised. That hardly seems possible. However, that was the threat that was held in terrorem over us if the procedure were abolished.
On the other hand, I found very persuasive the argument of the right hon. Member for Down, South that it was essential to restore fairness in that respect; that what had developed was a one-sided arrangement, where one side of a case could be put and not the other; that it had become an abuse; and that the right to raise a question was not affected, whether it was raised in private or public. No one could suppose that Mr. Speaker's judgment would be any different on the issues of the case because of the modality of the way in which it was raised.
On balance, I feel that the arguments of the Committee should prevail. However, I do not feel that this is a clear-cut issue. There is a balance of argument. Here again, it is for the House to decide.
I come to motion No. 15, which relates to Prime Minister's Questions. It was denounced by various Members. The hon. Member for Fife, Central, with his characteristic verve, said that we might as well turn it into a bingo session, as it had become a lottery of a kind. Prime Minister's Question Time has become more and more confrontational. That is not the responsibility of any particular Prime Minister; it has been going on for the past three Prime Ministers. The previous and present Prime Ministers tried to get away from it, but they were caught m the structure of the questions. It is a case of an adaptation of Reinhold Niebuhr—moral man and an immoral society. It is necessary to change the kinds of questions that are asked if we want a different type of Question Time. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made an important statement when she said that she was willing to reserve to herself policy questions which would normally go to Ministers, if those questions were sufficiently important. I hope that the House will respond to that offer, as that is the best way of bringing about a change.
As to the motions relating to Government Departments, I refer to motion No. 16, on the Liaison Committee, which was put forward by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. I agree with him that there should be wide terms of reference, but I think that a membership of 25 to 30 is too large. I hope that he will feel able to ask leave to withdraw his amendment. All being well, the Government hope to be able to table a motion on this matter next week and so redeem the pledge that I made to the hon. Gentleman.
Turning to the important question of Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) raised a point about the terms of reference of the Committee, as did the hon. Member for Fife, Central. It is already open to Scottish Committees to call for evidence from London-based Departments on the exercise of their responsibilities in Scotland—for example, the Department of Energy on the generation of nuclear power at Scottish power stations. If that is the purpose of the amendment, it is unnecessary. If the purpose is wider—it is suggested that it may be—and is designed to enable Scottish Committees to question London-based Departments over the whole range of their functions in England and Wales as well as in Scotland, it is unacceptable to the Government.
I shall consider the Sub-Committee proposal in the light of the talks that I hope will take place. We must not prejudge those talks, but it is suggested that they will cover Scottish parliamentary business in the House. If a good case is made out, we shall consider it sympathetically.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Craigton for his acceptance that there has to be a Government majority on the Committee. That is normal practice in the House, and that is in accordance with precedent.
Numbers have been referred to by not only the right hon. Member for Craigton but by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser). There are a number of amendments in a variety of forms. I consider a membership of 20 or 21 to be too large. I ask the House to accept that 11 was not a number picked out of the hat; it is a number that is basically applicable to the other Select Committees.
I was impressed with the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman and I have no desire that this important development should be launched in an attitude of controversy. In the light of what he said I shall be happy to accept that the size of the Committee be increased to 13 in recognition of the wide range of subjects that have to be covered and of the importance and size of the population of Scotland.
To everyone who has attended this has been a valuable and constructive debate. We have had to deal with three groups of proposals and reforms. There have been proposals concerning private Members and the Public Bill procedure. There have been proposals concerning Sessions and sittings, which form the last part of the main procedure report. Also included have been the 10 neglected reports, the "Cinderellas" that have been hanging about for the past four or five years. At last the House has had an opportunity to discuss them. It will now have the opportunity to come to a decision on them.
It has been sensible to proceed in these delicate and complex matters in a determined but tactful way. The first major step was taken with the setting up of the 12 departmental Committees and the two other Committees for Wales and Scotland which will exist if the House accepts the motion. Before a second major reform is initiated it will be wise to have a pause to ascertain how the first major reform has worked. However, there are three more major areas of reform that remain—namely, the public Bill procedure, which has been mentioned, the delegated legislation section, which has been mentioned, and the European legislation. Consultations will start with hon. Members and groups to ascertain whether agreement will emerge, or whether it exists in the House, so that we may be guided by it.
I fully intend to make further progress, but I must ascertain the view of the whole House. The Government fully intend to honour their pledge to put proposals before the House in due course. We have made good progress, and it is my hope that we shall continue to do so.
|Division No. 87]||AYES||[9.59 p.m.|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Graham, Ted||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Penhaligon, David|
|Bell, Ronald||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Haynes, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Heffer, Eric S.||Prescott, John|
|Brotherton, Michael||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)|
|Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Home Robertson, John||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Hooley, Frank||Roper, John|
|Cook, Robin F.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cryer, Bob||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Kerr, Russell||Snape, Peter|
|Cunningham, George (Islington S)||Kimball, Marcus||Soley, Clive|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lamond, James||Sproat, Iain|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Litherland, Robert||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Dewar, Donald||Lyell, Nicholas||Stoddart, David|
|Dormand, Jack||McCusker, H.||Tebbit, Norman|
|Douglas, Dick||McKelvey, William||Thompson, Donald|
|Dunlop, John||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Maxton, John||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Eadie, Alex||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Waller, Gary|
|Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||Maynard, Miss Joan||White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|English, Michael||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Ewing, Harry||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Winnick, David|
|Farr, John||Moate, Roger||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Field, Frank||Molyneaux, James||Woodall, Alec|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Needham, Richard|
|Forrester, John||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Golding, John||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. William Hamilton and|
|Gourlay, Harry||Parry, Robert||Mr. Nigel Spearing.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Cockeram, Eric||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Alexander, Richard||Colvin, Michael||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)|
|Alison, Michael||Cope, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Allaun, Frank||Cormack, Patrick||Hannam, John|
|Alton, David||Costain, A. P.||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Ancram, Michael||Cowans, Harry||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Ashton, Joe||Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Heddle, John|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Dixon, Donald||Henderson, Barry|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T||Dorrell, Stephen||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hicks, Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Holland, Philip (Carlton)|
|Banks, Robert||Dover, Denshore||Hooson, Tom|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dubs, Alfred||Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)|
|Beith, A. J||Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)||Howells, Geraint|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Durant, Tony||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Best, Keith||Dykes, Hugh||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Eastham, Ken||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Blaker, Peter||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey|
|Body, Richard||Eggar, Timothy||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Emery, Peter||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Evans, John (Newton)||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Bright, Graham||Eyre, Reginald||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Brinton, Tim||Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lambie, David|
|Brittan, Leon||Fairgrieve, Russell||Lang, Ian|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Lawson, Nigel|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Flannery, Martin||Lee, John|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Leighton, Ronald|
|Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Fookes, Miss Janet||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Butcher, John||Forman, Nigel||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Foster, Derek||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||George, Bruce||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Gorst, John||Luce, Richard|
|Channon, Paul||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Chapman, Sydney||Gray, Hamish||Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Greenway, Harry||McCrindle, Robert|
|Clark, Dr William (Croydon South)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Grist, Ian||McElhone, Frank|
|Clegg, Walter||Grylls, Michael||Macfarlane, Neil|
|MacGregor, John||Pattie, Geoffrey||Stainton, Keith|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Pavitt, Laurie||Stanley, John|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Pawsey, James||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Percival, Sir Ian||Stevens, Martin|
|Madel, David||Pollock, Alexander||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Major, John||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Stott, Roger|
|Marlow, Tony||Raison, Timothy||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Rhodes James, Robert||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Mates, Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Tinn, James|
|Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Richardson, Miss Jo||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Trippier, David|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Rifkind, Malcolm||Urwin, Rt Hon Tom|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Viggers, Peter|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Rossi, Hugh||Wakeham, John|
|Monro, Hector||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman||Walters, Dennis|
|Moore, John||Scott, Nicholas||Watson, John|
|Morgan, Geraint||Sever, John||Wheeler, John|
|Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Sheerman, Barry||Whitney, Raymond|
|Morton, George||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Murphy, Christopher||Shersby, Michael||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Myles, David||Silvester, Fred||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Sims, Roger||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Neubert, Michael||Skeet, T. H. H.||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Newton, Tony||Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Normanton, Tom||Speed, Keith|
|Nott, Rt Hon John||Speller, Tony||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. David Waddington|
|Pattern, Christopher (Bath)||Squire, Robin|
Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded pursuant to Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the remaining motions relating to procedure, and the motions relating to short speeches, Standing Order No. 66 (Second reading committees), Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House), calling of amendments at end of debate, Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments), Standing Order No. 18 (Business of supply) Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), Select Committees related to Government Departments, Scottish affairs and nomination of Select Committee on Scottish affairs (Committee of Selection).