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House Of Commons Library (Estimates Committee's Report)

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 18 May 1961

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The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) wishes to raise a matter with me.

I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, whether you are aware——

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure whether I can raise a point of order with you now about a Question which stands on the Order Paper, or whether I should wait until later.

I had better hear the hon. Member for Leeds, West first, without prejudice to the rights of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton)—whatever they may be.

I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you are aware of the second Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which is on the House of Commons Library? I ask whether you will bear in mind that this is a Department for which you are responsible and for which no Minister is responsible, whether that does not raise certain problems, and whether you are aware that there is a great deal of dissent in the House from that Report? I ask whether we can have an assurance that, before anything is done about that Report, the House will have a chance to discuss it.

Further, I ask whether, in your own good time, you will consider the question of propriety—as to whether the Estimates Committee should look at a Department of the Legislature which is responsible to you, bearing in mind that in the past you have always appointed specific Committees for this task, although it is true that the Library Estimates appear on the Civil Vote. Are you aware that some of us dislike the idea that the Estimates Committee should be directed to a Department for which you are responsible, and for which hon. Members have a great deal of concern? My specific point is that some of us feel that nothing should be done on this Report until the House can discuss it.

I am obliged to the hon. Member. I do not think that there is any impropriety about the Estimates Committee looking at what it chooses to look at. The material constitutional factor is that the appointments and salaries in relation to the salaried staff are a matter, not for the Speaker, but for the Commissioners for regulating the Offices of the House, a body of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day is a member. That clears the matter of any impropriety in this context.

With regard to implementation of the recommendations of the Report before the House has considered the matter, I do not think that that is possible in any way, because the first recommendation is that the House should consider the matter. It is very difficult to get beyond that point. I have the immediate matters of the Library under my personal consideration at the moment, and I do not wish to make any pronouncement now. One of the matters I shall have to take into account—I have not had the time to do it, as I have a lot in hand—is when and how the House will have an opportunity to consider that matter.

If I understand correctly, Sir, it is true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of the Commissioners for regulating the Offices of the House, but I always understood that you, Mr. Speaker, presided over the Commission. It is a Commission over which the Treasury has no control at all, and that is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a member. I still return to the point that I think that matters of the Legislature, as against the Executive, are matters for the Legislature and are not for ad hoc Committees just to take up at whim or random. In matters like this, the House has always appointed Select Committees specifically to examine these things, and that is a practice which should be followed.

The hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, going a little beyond the range of a point of order. This is a matter which has appeared on the Votes, as he knows. I would not, prima facie, say that one was in a position to condemn the Estimates Committee because it chose to look at the way in which we spend our own money in one instance. I take note of the hon. Member's dislike of the practice.

May I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because the Estimates Committee wants to work as the House wishes it to work? We are a Standing Committee, not an ad hoc Committee, and we are ordered to examine such of the Estimates presented as we think right. In this case, the Library Estimates have gone up by nine times in amount in fifteen years, and we felt that it was in the interests of the House itself that such a very large increase in public expenditure should be examined. If we are not to do so, I would, naturally, like the House to let us know what Estimates it would rather we did not look into.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that we can discuss these interesting matters now. I have tried to indicate that, in my belief, in so far as this is a matter of order at all, there is no impropriety in what was done. Further than that, I do not wish to embroil the House at the moment.

This is a service which enables us to do better at our jobs, Mr. Speaker. The cost may have gone up nine times, but according to my memory of the service which we have had from the Library the quality of the service has improved far more in that time. Unless hon. Members get this service we cannot do our job. We do not use this procedure for the Kitchen Committee.

I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is a good thing, in your view, that this service should be looked at in this way by the Estimates Committee, when the other Departments that service the House are not looked at like this? This has caused an enormous ferment amongst the staff of the Library, leading to a number of useful people getting worried and saying that they want to give up the job. It does not seem to me that the services for this House can be treated as the public services are treated in respect of inquiries by the taxpayers' committees.

There are now two points here. One is that I do not think that it would be right for me to express any view save within the limit of what is required to rule upon order. Secondly, I do not think that we can discuss the merits or demerits of this matter now.

I am acutely conscious of the ferment, because the ferment involves heat and friction and difficulty, and I am put in the middle of it. There is not the slightest risk of my disregarding it. I propose to consider this matter, and I suggest that it would be a great mistake, if a particular Committee was performing a duty from the very highest motives, for people to feel aggrieved about it. We have to get the right answer in the interest of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What worries me is the effect of the Report on members of the staff. They do not know where they are. They are thoroughly upset and, unless some assurance is given, in a very short time we shall lose half-a-dozen of our best people.

Everybody so greatly appreciates the aid which the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) gives to me and has given to my predecessors that every word he utters in this context is of the greatest importance, but I do not think that we can discuss the matter now.