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Standing Committees (Law Officers)

Volume 436: debated on Thursday 24 April 1947

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May I raise a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, which I think may have some bearing on Business and affects a principle of some importance? The question which arises is whether this House can properly consider the Statistics of Trade Bill on the Report stage, as amended in Committee. as it now appears to contain Amendments moved into it by a Member of this House who was not, in fact, a Member of the Committee. If, Mr. Speaker, you look at the report of the third day's Sitting of that Committee, you will see that two Amendments were moved by the Solicitor-General, who was not a Member of it, and that those Amendments have now been incorporated in the Bill. The third time the Solicitor-General sought to move an Amendment, he was stopped from doing so by the Chairman of the Committee, on the ground that he was not a Member of that Committee. Now, Mr. Speaker, I apprehend that your Ruling upon this matter will depend upon the interpretation put upon the words of the Sessional Order passed in November, 1945, by this House. It says that the Solicitor-General and the other Law Officers may take part in the deliberations of the Committee, but shall not vote or form part of the quorum. I do not know whether it would be of any assistance if I drew your attention to the words of the Lord President in dealing with that Order on that occasion, when he said:

"We say that we want the Law Officers to be available, to the maximum practicable and reasonable extent, to the Standing Committees. When they are wanted, they will go in, make their observations and help the Standing Committee to the maximum extent, and not vote in the decision on the subject in hand. What is wrong about that? It is merely a matter of finding a way in which the expert, technical advice of the Law Officers can be available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 2461.]
I need not read any further. There was nothing said then about conferring upon a Law Officer a right of action as an understudy for the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Bill in moving Amendments, and in those circumstances I submit that the words of the Sessional Order ought not to be given an extensive interpretation, but one which is limited in accordance with the views expressed by the Lord President, and in accordance with a decision given by the Chairman of the Committee.

The hon. and learned Member raises a very interesting point indeed, and a very complicated one, to which I have given a good deal of consideration. I feel, myself, that I cannot really be bound by what the Lord President of the Council may have said in Debate. I really must look at the Sessional Order itself, and I may later make a few comments on it. After all, it does say that the Solicitor-General may take part in the deliberations. It defines what he may not do, but it does not say what he may do. It says he may not vote or form part of the quorum. What is "taking part in deliberations"? It is, I admit quite frankly, a very arguable question, and I might have said this was out of Order. Had, for instance, the Chairman definitely ruled it out of Order, I should have been in a very difficult position because two Amendments had been moved before. However, I notice from HANSARD that that attention was drawn to it not by a Member of the Committee, but presumably by the Clerks of the Table to the Chairman, and she said:

"The hon. and learned Gentleman ought not to move an Amendment…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 25th March, 1947; C. 102.]
So it is rather left open. Quite obviously she doubted the position and, therefore, thought it was safer that he should not move another Amendment. It seems to me, therefore, her attention having been drawn to the fact, that the hon. Lady used the right words "ought not to move an Amendment," and I think myself that this Sessional Order is a badly worded one; it is not clear. I should like to see an Amendment made quite soon to make it perfectly clear as to whether or not the Solicitor-General can move an Amenment—

Yes, any of the Law Officers. In the meantime, I echo the words of the Chairman of that Committee: I do not think, until some definite statement is made, that the Law Officers ought to move an Amendment, because they are not definitely Members of the Committee. Perhaps I should add that I am in further difficulty about this matter in some ways because this was a common practice, I am told, on the Coal Bill and we allowed it on the one Bill and, therefore, it would be rather curious if I did not allow it on another Bill. There was no question raised then and therefore, while I have to take the case under discussion, I do not think I can rule it out of Order, but I hope the Sessional Order will be amended before next Session.

I am sure the House is glad to have had your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker, and it will be the desire of hon. Members on all sides of the House to meet your wishes.

I expressed a personal opinion there. I am the servant of the House, and if hon. Members choose to say that Law Officers may move an Amendment, I am quite agreeable, but I should like it put one way or the other.