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Individual Grievances (Parliamentary Commissioner)

Volume 640: debated on Friday 19 May 1961

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11.5 a.m.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity which you have given me in choosing the subject which I put forward for the first of the debates today, which is the question of the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for the purpose of considering cases of individual grievances referred to him, examining and investigating them, and with powers to report.

This subject has reference to a Motion in my name and the names of hon. Friends of mine which has been on the Order Paper for almost two years.

[That this House, appreciating the inadequacy of the remedies available to the individual against wrongful official action, requests Her Majesty's Government forthwith to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the institution of a Parliamentary Commissioner with powers to investigate and report publicly on all cases in which an individual can claim to have suffered serious damage to his reputation, his livelihood, or his welfare, consequent on administrative, or executive action by public authorities.]

This motion has twice been on the list of Private Members' Motions, but has not been reached. In view of the other very important matters that we have to discuss in this House, this is the kind of subject which we have not many opportunities of raising, and therefore I am all the more grateful for this opportunity.

The Motion, and also the publicity which I and friends of mine have been able to give to the subject outside the House, have rather centred round the magic word "Ombudsman", and, in a way, we have to confess that this has been, so to speak, our open sesame to capturing public imagination on the subject. I hope, therefore, that at the beginning of this debate I may be allowed to say something about this word and give an explanatory background before we start the main subject of the debate, for it is, of course, highly cogent to what I have to say later.

"Ombudsman" is a virtually untranslatable Scandinavian word denoting an office which is written into the Constitution of the Scandinavian countries. It has achieved principal fame during the last few years in Denmark since it was written into the Danish Constitution in 1953. The incumbent, Professor Hurwitz, has occupied the position with a great deal of distinction since that date. The words written into the Danish Constitution can be interpreted as meaning that the Ombudsman is a "Parliamentary Commissioner to supervise the civil and military administration of the State."

This was, of course, not new in 1953. In fact, the appointment of an Ombudsman for Sweden goes back as far as 1809, when they had one Civil Ombudsman and one Military Ombudsman with the object of supervising the public administration in those two respects. However, the office has acquired special importance in Denmark as it has been adapted to modern conditions in which the State takes on a great many more functions than it had 100 years ago. In this respect, it has evoked interest not only in this country, but throughout the world.

A year or two ago I contributed an article on the subject to the Spectator. I headed the article "Ombudsmans for All", and that is virtually the case. There is an Ombudsman for Norway. New Zealand has just appointed one. We even hear about rumours of interest behind the Iron Curtain—in Poland.

However, having said that, I must make it clear that it is only one aspect of the Ombudsman's functions that is of interest to us in this debate, and that is his function in individual grievance cases. Some of us may, perhaps, have sighed for an Ombudsman in the widest sense in respect of recent spy cases for instance, but, none the less, I think that we generally reject in this country the idea of an office of this kind, particularly an individual office, with the wide powers that are given to it in Scandinavia to range over the whole administration of the State.

In Denmark, one of the Ombudsman's recent jobs was a security case, and he was given it to investigate as part of his functions. But one points that out only to reject it at the start. It is solely his capacity as an independent investigator of grievance cases which I am concerned to put forward today. There is need, in my view and in the view of many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite, for a similar office or institution in this country that can help us in the innumerable grievance cases which we have to cope with and which form so substantial a part of our work.

The Ombudsman has important powers which we lack. First, he is an independent investigator of cases of aggrieved individuals against Ministerial authority. Secondly, he has the power, which we so often desire in the cases we put forward, to demand documents from Government Departments. As Members of this House, we are frequently conscious of that gap in our armoury.

Thirdly, on the basis of these documents, he can issue reports, which are available to both parties in the case and are also made public. That is a very important part of his function. He has no executive authority, and it is not my intention to ask for any kind of executive authority in this country. He relies solely on his prestige as an independent investigator, on his reports of cases to the Press and on the power of public opinion, which, as we know, is so important in cases of this kind.

If I had more time, I would have liked to recapitulate the constitutional argument—how this House, during the last century and before, was a place where people essentially came with individual grievances, and how that was gradually replaced with the modern function as a legislative body. It is, perhaps, sufficient to remind the House of the recent speech by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, in which he reminded us very forcibly that perhaps the most important modern function of the courts is "to act as a hand-maiden to the Administration."

In that respect, the courts are so much defective in finding for individuals on grounds of what I might call, for convenience, natural justice—though I realise that that term is only an approximate one and can be challenged. Time and again we have seen an aggrieved individual go to the courts and be told that it is entirely the job of Her Majesty's judges to interpret the Constitution and the wishes of this House, whatever they may be.

Our country and our law are run on the assumption that all of the legislation of this House is imbued by natural justice, and we are all conscious and considerably proud of that fact. None the less, there are loopholes here and there, and it is not everywhere that Parliaments are necessarily imbued by natural justice. Sometimes they do curious things, as was recently the case with the Ghanaian Parliament, which passed an Act that if directors of gold mines did not run their mines at a loss they would be liable to a fine of £10,000, or six months' imprisonment, or something like that. That Act did not last long, but it shows the capabilities of Parliaments.

When an individual fails to obtain justice against authority, he comes to us as Members of the House, and it is an essential part of my argument today that we find so many clogs in our activities. We do not see documents, so we have only half the case to go on. We on this side of the House may find ourselves involved with a Minister's prestige or, perhaps, with a policy decision, while Opposition Members may be over-eager—though it is not my desire to say anything of a political kind in this debate—to use procedures for political purposes. No doubt we on this side of the House would do the same if we were in opposition.

Here again, we have to move cautiously in defining our area of individual grievances against authority. There is, as we know, a large area of individual grievances against authority which is provided for by the constitution of tribunals, and I cannot pass without paying tribute not only to the way in which these tribunals function, but also to the Franks Committee and to the work of the Council of Tribunals, of which Lord Tenby is the present Chairman.

However, one cannot avoid mentioning the curious situation whereby the Franks Committee, which was appointed subsequent to the Crichel Down case, could not deal with that case, oddly enough, within its terms of reference, because the case was a direct administrative decision for which no tribunal of any kind was appointed, except the special ad hoc tribunal under Sir Andrew Clark. Therefore, there is a whole range, including such circumstances as those of the Crichel Down case, for which there is still an inadequate remedy for individual grievances.

This is an important distinction which I feel cannot be overestimated. One gentleman of the Press, the legal correspondent of the Guardian, in intelligent anticipation of this debate, suggested that the well-known "Chalkpit Case" would be discussed. But it is not my intention to refer to that case as it does not come within my terms of reference in this debate. There was, of course, a tribunal and an appeal to the Council for Tribunals, but it is quite outside what I have to——

Would not what is obviously an appeal from Caesar to Caesar be a job for the Ombudsman to look at?

If the hon. Gentleman would care to bring up that matter later in the debate, I should certainly have no objection. I am merely talking of my own terms of reference.

I have in mind cases which I wish had received a tenth of the publicity obtained over the "Chalkpit Case" in recent weeks owing to the fact that there was a tribunal and a reference to the Council for Tribunals, and so on. If I have time I wish to refer to cases which, in one or two instances, were scarcely mentioned in the Press, and have nowhere in particular to which they may be referred except perhaps by means of a Question asked in this House.

These cases, which must be summarised quite a lot, to my mind fall into broadly based categories. There are cases involving the employees of the Government and of nationalised industries when they have been aggrieved in the terms of their employment, or, in some cases, by dismissal. Such a case is that of managers of State public houses, in Carlisle. I had an Adjournment debate on that subject and I will try to say something about it later. There are the victims of obscurities and evasions in the Statutes. One of the cases I hope to talk about in detail is in that category.

There are disputes against delegated powers to local authorities such as appeals on educational issues over the choice of schools. We know that in such cases there is an appeal to the Minister, but there exist few cases—so far as I know, there are no cases—where the Minister has decided other than in favour of the local authority. There are disputes against branches of the Government which are not responsible to Parliament, the nationalised industries or police cases, particularly cases in county police forces which we have difficulty in raising in the House.

There are also disputes between members of branches of the same service; in the Health Service there are continual disputes between administrators and professional people. Most of these cases, with the exceptions I have mentioned, are cases which by one means or another are referred to in this House perhaps by means of a Question or by the initiation of an Adjournment debate. But, at any rate in my experience, they frequently attract little more than the local publicity which is given to the answer of the Minister in the Adjournment debate, and then the matter is taken no further.

I think that my best course in pursuing my argument would be to cover briefly one or two cases with which I have dealt personally; tell the House what happened, and why I feel that these cases were left in an unsatisfactory condition, and what would have happened had we an institution with Ombudsman-like powers such as I have described.

The first is that of the managers of some State public houses in Carlisle. The House must pardon me if I put a rather complicated case in brief form. It was the subject of an Adjournment debate in which I made a twenty-minute speech. In Carlisle, there were complaints from the managers about the insistence of the Administration on their putting "collar" on the beer when it was served. On the other hand, the Home Office was not satisfied, in some instances, with the profit returns of particular managers. Officers from Scotland Yard were called in, which, in my view, was a rather cumbersome procedure. As a result, ten of the managers appeared in court and were convicted of minor defalcations. They were dismissed.

In addition, however, there were another seven managers who were not brought into court and against whom it appeared there was no criminal case of any kind. Otherwise, presumably, they would have been brought into court. None the less, two were rebuked and five were dismissed from the service, with loss of pension, on the grounds that they were producing insufficient profits.

This created a curious and unusual situation inasmuch as these men, among other things, were civil servants and members of the Civil Service union and had an appeal through me to this House. I took up the matter in an Adjournment debate in which I put the case and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, answered me.

The debate took the usual form. I put the case of the managers who had been told what their profit percentages were and why they were dismissed. But they could never find out what was the average percentage of profits in other places in Carlisle. I have not yet obtained an answer to that question. They were supposed to produce 5 per cent. over normal, but we have not yet found out whether this was a notional figure, or whether it represented the actual figure. That was the question which I put, in fairness on behalf of these men.

My hon. and learned Friend assured me of the apparent fairness of the procedure, but I did not get an answer to that question which, I think, was a crucial matter on which the jobs and reputations of these men depended. It is a question which could have been answered, or the material with which to answer it could have been obtained, by an officer such as an Ombudsman, who could have demanded documents to see what were the usual figures from other public houses in Carlisle.

Then, a definite answer of "Yes" or "No" could have been given to the question, which would have satisfied the men and would have satisfied me as their Member of Parliament. I am quite prepared to be satisfied, but I am left unsatisfied about this case That is one instance.

I go on to another instance, which I consider to be the most outstanding mentioned in the book, copies of which I am glad to see a number of hon. Members have with them. It is the case of Dr. King and Dr. Brown, the most extraordinary of the collection of cases we obtained in our researches into this problem. It was in 1955, when I was in my political "surgery" in Carlisle, that one of my patients, Dr. King, came 30 miles from outside Carlisle to tell me his story, which is a most extraordinary one.

Dr. King was professionally ruined and had to go to Australia because he was what Mr. T. E. Utley, in his remarks on this subject, calls a new style Welfare State "criminal". But the criminal activities of Dr. King consisted of no more than buying or attempting to buy the house of a professional colleague. He was practising in the Midlands and thought that he would like to move and arranged to exchange practices with a Dr Brown, of Cleator Moor. When a practice is exchanged a house, also, is inevitably exchanged. The whole story centres round the house at I Cleator Gate, Cleator Moor, which Dr. King arranged to buy from Dr. Brown. There was a certain amount of haggling, but eventually, with the help of a local valuer, the price was settled at rather over £3,000.

I must explain how it was that Dr. King got involved in the supposedly criminal activities. It was under the terms of the National Health Service Act, 1946, which lays it down that doctors should no longer sell or buy their practices. It was, however, suspected that doctors would, perhaps, do this in an indirect fashion when selling their houses, by selling them with an element of concealed goodwill, when they exchanged practices. They might not sell practices, but it was suspected that, say, a house worth £3,500 would be sold for £8,000, or something like that.

There are provisions in the Act against this purportedly criminal activity, and it laid down that a doctor found guilty of it might be sent to prison for six months, or pay a substantial fine. There is an escape clause, but it is an entirely permissive clause, which says that a certificate can be obtained from the Medical Practices Committee to say that a house is sold at its right price, and that there is no element of goodwill in it.

Dr. King had no need, in the first place, for that certificate. It is not compulsory; it is entirely permissive. He did not foresee any use for it at all. He attempted, however, to get a mortgage on the house from the Medical Sickness Society, and that society, for its own reasons, demanded, or asked, that a certificate should be obtained from the Medical Practices Committee to say that the price of the house was not materially above its value.

The difficulties then started when Dr. King applied to the Medical Practices Committee, but was refused his certificate. He was in this position, that he did not know whether, if he took over the house which he had agreed and contracted to buy by private contract, he would be entering on a criminal activity or not.

I think it fair to say that if Dr. King had been advised by his solicitors that he would be in danger of such an offence, and that he should have a certificate, he might have gone to the Medical Practices Committee for a certificate saying whether the price was the correct one or not, and he would have been safeguarded.

That is a familiar argument in this case, which I have endeavoured to cover in what I have said, and which has been dealt with, because this case has been argued about over the past years. The point is that he saw no need for this certificate. There was no need for him to foresee any need for it. So that though, perhaps, Dr. King's solicitor may have been guilty of a mild degree of lack of care, the whole transaction could go through entirely without reference to the clause, which is entirely permissive. Quite a lot of us do things, as I may mention later, of which we cannot foresee every possible consequence.

The matter came out only when the Medical Sickness Society asked him for the Medical Practices Committee's certificate. Then he was in this extremely awkward position, that, on the one hand, he had a private contract to buy a house; on the other, if he completed his contract, he did not know whether he would be pursuing a criminal activity. He was, in fact, advised by learned counsel that he would be pursuing a criminal activity if he did buy the house. He got the best possible advice when he got entangled. Then he bought another house. He thought that that would be the end of it.

But not so, because Dr. Brown had the contract and insisted on enforcing it and took it to the High Court, and Dr. King was in the unfortunate position of having the judgment go against him, after the house having been vacant for two or three years, and he had to pay costs. Thus was he saddled, through no great fault of his own, with a debt of between £3,000 and £4,000 which he could meet only by giving up practice in this country and going to Australia.

This is where the Ombudsman comes in. He could have saved Dr. King all these costs and all the delays and all the anxieties—and Dr. Brown, too, for that matter—of a High Court action and a debt of between £3,000 and £4,000 before he could find out whether he was pursuing a criminal activity or not, and before he could get a proper interpretation exactly of the meaning and powers of a certificate of the Medical Practices Committee.

Moreover, had we had somebody like an Ombudsman we should have had some comment at the end of the case on whether or not the law needed amending. For, despite this case, the law remains exactly the same. Despite the fact that this case was fully discussed, despite the fact that I raised it in this House, and discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who was then Minister of Health, the law remains exactly the same. This seems to me to be the instance par excellence to show the need for some such arrangement as having an Ombudsman as the remedy.

The answer which we may be given to that suggestion for a remedy may be that the remedy is difficult to fit into the British Constitution, that our Constitution does not allow for this kind of person. But it is wrong to say we have no remedy for these kinds of things. It is wrong to say we cannot fit him into the Constitution as we have a remedy in already. The trouble about the remedy is that it is an extremely cumbersome one. It is the establishment of tribunals under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. However, that provides for tribunals only from time to time and for particular cases.

I am reminded of the John Walters case, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). It was due only to my hon. Friend's persistence on behalf of his constituent that that case reached a tribunal. It is only when a case leaps all the fences that it eventually gets to a tribunal. Since that Act was passed in 1921 only 13 tribunals have been established under the Act, and, of course, it is absurd to say there have been only 13 individual grievances against authority in the last forty years. The point is that those cases which reach the tribunals are, so to speak, Grand National winners which have leapt all the fences and eventually arrived at the winning post.

There are, I think, two things which we can do in this respect. I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I hope that he will comment on it in answering the debate, that we should look very seriously at the possibility of having a continuous machinery at tribunal level instead of having a sledgehammer or steamhammer machinery which we use only occasionally. Let us consider the possibility of having, instead of that, a smoothly running assembly line of machinery to consider these cases as they crop up.

Secondly, as an alternative there was an interesting suggestion in a recent article in The Times that we might use a Select Committee of this House for the purpose. The particular suggestion was that the Select Committee on Public Petitions might be re-established on its historic lines. That would be a very suitable thing to do. I put that sug- gestion to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who I am pleased to see here to answer the debate. Knowing his interest in these matters, I shall look forward very much to hearing what he has to say.

I end in, perhaps, slightly lighter vein by adding a small personal plea and retailing events which I can regard with rather more detachment than I did a week or two ago. I am pleased to see that a number of hon. Members have in their possession and have brought in for this debate a book for which I have some responsibility as publisher and, in a small measure, as editor, also. There is an incident in connection with this book on which I owe hon. Members an explanation individually, if not collectively.

Hon. Members will remember that at first they had the book distributed to them by the kindness of the Society for Individual Freedom, to whom I must pay tribute for its help and support in this respect. Later, hon. Members had a correction sent to them which, I hope, they will all paste in the appropriate place. That correction concerned the story in the book of Mr. Dudley Glanfield, whose many friends admire him greatly both for his persistence and for his courage in the fight which he has put up against authority in making him one of the epic cases in the book.

However, the book had not been received by hon. Members more than 24 hours before I was approached by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), who is mentioned in the book in his former capacity as Parliamentary Secretary, to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. He drew my attention to an alleged inaccurate passage which he considered, with some reason, to be defamatory of himself. We began discussions on the subject.

Within another 48 hours, I received a letter from Mr. Glanfield, who said that he understood my hon. and learned Friend to be taking exception to a statement in the chapter concerned but stated that he would definitely not agree to any correction being put in the book, his view being that any such correction would cast an aspersion upon himself and that it would be a defamation of his character to publish a correction.

Defamation and libel are something of an occupational risk to publishers—and, one might say, to politicians, also—although one does not perhaps keep oneself awake at night worrying about them. However, few publishers are likely to have had a double event such as this one, as a result of which they might be faced with one action by leaving a paragraph as it was or be liable to an alternative action if they altered it. On the one side was the Scylla of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon, and on the other side was the Charybdis of the almost equally formidable figure of Mr. Dudley Glanfield, without even the opportunity of steering through one way or the other.

Although I endeavour to conduct my affairs with caution, I had not visualised being placed in such a situation as that. As hon. Members know, however, I came down on the side of my hon. and learned Friend, not because of any hugger-mugger in this House, the pressure of the party whips, or because we share the old school tie, or anything like that, not even because of the understanding and generosity with which he conducted the negotiations, but because he was able to produce and show me the original of a telegram which differed substantially from the material with which I had been supplied for the book and in which Mr. Glanfield's recollection had been somewhat at fault. Therefore, I have had to brave the wrath of Mr. Glanfield by publishing a correction, which I have been only too pleased to do at the request of my hon. and learned Friend.

This, again, shows conclusively the need for an official Ombudsman. Certainly, amateur activities of this kind are tricky in the extreme. It also shows that sometimes authority, on its side, can be right and that it is not always the individual grievant who is right in his recollection of events. Therefore, we want an official arrangement of that kind.

I do not say that we want a single officer for the purpose, because it has been represented to me that a single individual is not suitable for the post. We want an institution to which we can refer these cases, which can consider both sides and obtain the facts so that we can do it for our own satisfaction and so that those of us who indulge in these amateur activities should not be exposed to risks of this kind.

This may not be a great revolution that I am advocating, though I am grateful for the number of hon. Members who are here on an inconvenient day such as this to hear what I have to say. We do not have crowds parading up and down Whitehall, the mounted police are not out and the Central Lobby, I imagine, is comparatively quiet. Nobody represents we have a vast popular movement. None the less, in these cases there are feelings of injustice which rankle among a small minority of people as a corrosive poison in society that breeds a spreading scepticism and undermines confidence in authority to a far-reaching extent and even exacerbates problems that may seem remote from the present debate—problems of juvenile delinquency and of young people who take their tone and view of society from their parents and what their parents are talking about at home.

I therefore hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will consider what I have said with the utmost seriousness and will be able to give us, if not an immediate decision, some encouraging remarks in answer to what I have had to say.

11.50 a.m.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) has covered the ground fairly thoroughly, and has relieved me of the necessity of going into much technical detail, for which I am grateful. I do not want to repeat anything he said, but if I do so now and again it is merely to give further emphasis to what he said and to show that I am in complete agreement with him.

I want to approach the problem from a different angle, from a Parliamentary angle. I want to approach it as a back bencher. I discussed this problem with one of my colleagues the day before yesterday. He said that he was in agreement with me, but for a most unfortunate reason. He agreed with the proposition that there should be some independent body which could examine those personal grievances against public authority for which there is no legal redress because, he said, this House had fallen down on its job. He said that personal grievances should be remedied here. He went on to say that the opinion of the back bencher had dwindled and that the back bencher no longer had the power and prestige he had in the past. As a sad consequence, he reluctantly agreed that some other method should be found for doing the job which was formerly done by Members of Parliament.

I agree with him to a certain extent. I agree that the power of the Executive has increased, that the scope of Government activity has widened, and that the influence of the back bencher has dwindled. I deplore it.

It is especially bad for the nation, because when a democratic Parliament is brought into disrepute democracy itself is in danger, and freedom is in danger. All dictators have known this. Their first move has always been to bring Parliament into disrepute. Once they have done that, the rest of their job is easy.

Having said that, let us see the thing in its true perspective. Let us not exaggerate. Let us not panic. This is still a democratic House. [Interruption.] I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) would allow me to make my speech without so many rude interruptions.

I was not making rude interruptions. I said that, on the whole, Napoleon was rather better at selecting his marshals than most democracies.

I have never heard of a democracy selecting marshals.

There is still a lot of important work which a Member of Parliament can do for his constituents. In fact, since the coming of the Welfare State an hon. Member is required to do far more work than he was required to do in the past. He is in closer contact with his constituents than he was in the past, certainly before the war. I recall that before the war when I was active in politics and a member of the local council, I was not surprised if I did not see my Member of Parliament for six months. No hon. Member could get away with that kind of behaviour now.

A private Member can do a great deal. He can write letters to Ministers. He can see them privately and argue the case. He can ask Questions in the House. He can raise personal grievances on the Adjournment. But there is a limit to what he can do, because he is up against so many snags.

The first snag is the great danger of delay. One can put down a Question on the Order Paper and wait six weeks before getting an Answer. That is not the fault of the Minister, but the fault of the procedure. I have a Question down which I consider to be of some importance. I put it down at the beginning of May. It has not been answered, and I shall be lucky if I get an Answer before the end of May.

The hon. Gentleman must be careful. If an hon. Member puts down a Written Question, he gets an Answer within forty-eight hours.

The substance of my Question might be relevant to the debate. It is not a private grievance in the sense that it concerns one person. It concerns a number of persons. In some respects it is like the "chalkpit" argument.

My Question concerns the future of Rainbow Shaw. It is a pleasant woodland on a small hillside near the village of Linford in south-east Essex. "Shaw" is an old English word for copse or thicket. Rainbow Shaw is centuries old, and beautiful. It is much loved by people in the district, but the end is in sight for this beauty spot. It is to disappear. It is to be ripped out of the hillside and replaced by a sandpit. The end of the rainbow will be a pit of sand.

Why is it to be destroyed? The answer is that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has said so. The urban district council has protested. Local societies interested in wild life and natural history and the preservation of rural England have protested. Local residents have protested. All to no avail. The Minister has spoken. His word is final.

It is that to which I am objecting. I am not at the moment arguing the merits of this case, although I feel sure that the preservation of an old beauty spot in a place where there are few beauty spots is far more important than the working of a comparatively small sandpit which in any case will exist for only a half a dozen years. I am objecting to the finality of the Minister's decision.

I know that the Minister will say that there has been a hearing; that there was an official inquiry at which all interested parties could state their case. I accept that, and no one casts doubts on the wisdom and integrity of the inspector who carried out the inquiry and made the recommendations, but in many quarters there is grave doubt about the accuracy of some of the evidence submitted to him. That is why we asked that there should be another hearing before someone independent of the Minister.

I come back to the point about Questions in the House. I put down a Question on this matter on 9th May. As it appeared on the Order Paper as Question No. 66 and therefore would not be reached for Oral Answer and I could not be content with a Written Answer, I transferred it to another day when the same Minister would be answering Questions. That was last Tuesday. On that occasion it appeared on the Order Paper as Question No. 67. It went backwards instead of forward. I had no alternative but to transfer it again and put it down for Oral Answer on 31st May. I may not even get an answer then because the Minister of Housing and Local Government does not appear on the list that day.

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will help about virtually the only rule governing the content of this debate. We can talk only about that for which there is Ministerial responsibility. There is no Ministerial responsibility for the procedure of the House. I hope that the hon. Member will bear that in mind.

Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. That was the point I was endeavouring to make. There should be Ministerial responsibility for certain things for which at the moment there is not.

I will explain myself a little more lucidly. The sole point is that it is irksome to hon. Members that their Questions are often answered after too long a lapse of time. Sometimes the case to which a Question refers has been decided before the Answer is given.

The only other way in which an hon. Member can raise a grievance is in an Adjournment debate. But here again we have similar snags. Again the procedure hampers us. That is why we need somebody else—some kind of Ombudsman—to do the work which should be done by us. When we want to raise a question on the Adjournment we hopefully send in our names to Mr. Speaker, together with the subject that we want to talk about, and sit back, hoping for the luck of the draw in the Ballot or that Mr. Speaker will select our subject before that of anybody else. But even then, when finally we address the House, we usually find it almost empty, both on the Floor and in the Press Gallery. Public business is over, and all our colleagues have gone to bed. The Pressmen have gone home. It is too late to get the news in the morning newspapers, although the news is often very important.

When we are examining personal grievances against public authority we should have the maximum publicity. Questions of the vanity or ego of a Member are not involved. It is not the case of a Member wishing to see his name in the newspapers—certainly not when he is fighting for the rights of a defenceless person. But under our present procedure we are often robbed of publicity at the end of business, either late at night or even in the early hours of the morning. Only the Minister, Mr. Speaker, the Member who is raising the matter, and the faithful reporters of HANSARD will have heard or written one word of what was said. At the end, the wretched Member of Parliament and his unfortunate complainant are no further forward than they were at the beginning.

We must retain the methods we already have. We must keep Question Time and the Adjournment debates. But we require additional methods. We must widen our opportunities, and strengthen the final responsibility which must always rest with Parliament. We must find some method of challenging Ministers' decisions, by means of some independent body, which can look at all the evidence afresh, or call for new evidence before making a recommendation.

In most cases the Minister's decision will probably be upheld, but even in those cases the aggrieved persons would feel less aggrieved. They would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that their grievances had been carefully examined by an independent tribunal. They and the whole country would know that they had some protection against bureaucracy and the insolence of office. They would know that, however unimportant they might seem, their rights as free men would be recognised and upheld. That is the whole point.

But it is not only to deal with decisions of Ministers that I would like to see an independent tribunal set up. Other decisions are taken by civil servants—by one-man tribunals—against which, at the moment, there is no appeal. The week before last my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) raised a very interesting case. My hon. Friend used to be a miner, and he represents a mining constituency. He is deeply interested in the miners' problems, and in the diseases from which they suffer. One disease—pneumoconiosis—is a dust disease which kills many miners. In fact, it kills about three times as many miners as are killed by accidents in the pits, and, goodness knows, those are numerous enough. When a man dies of this disease his widow or his dependants are entitled to a little special financial benefit, but sometimes the doctors concerned are unable to agree whether death was caused wholly or partly by the disease. In that case an appeal can be made to the inspector, who is not a doctor but a lawyer, and his decision is final.

My hon. Friend asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many appeals have been made to the inspector in the last three years, and with what result. The Minister replied that 143 appeals had been made—43 by the local insurance officer and 100 by the widows or dependants of the dead men. Of the 43 cases submitted by the officer 42 were successful, but of the cases submitted by dependants nearly all—96—were thrown out. No one is questioning the impartiality of the inspector —and I do not say that sycophantically; I mean it literally. But these widows and dependants would be more satisfied and happier if an appeal could be made to a body independent of the Minister.

Quite apart from Ministerial or Civil Service decisions, there are many other cases which could be investigated by an Ombudsman, with profit to us all. The hon. Member for Carlisle has mentioned police cases. Most boo. Members are forbidden to raise police matters. Only London Members can ask questions about the behaviour of the police in their constituencies, because the Home Secretary is personally responsible for the Metropolitan Police. This means that London Members and the people of London are more privileged in this respect than the rest of us. If a Member outside London asks such a question he is ruled out of order, and if he writes to the chief constable of his county there is nothing in law to prevent that chief constable writing back to him and inviting him to take a running jump into the lake.

In fairness to chief constables, I think that the hon. Member should make it clear that if a Member of Parliament writes to a chief constable he gets a courteous reply.

I did not say whether or not a courteous reply would be given; I said that there is nothing in law to prevent the chief constable from giving a most discourteous reply.

I must spring to the defence of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), because I agree with him entirely. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) may be right in most cases, but that underlines the whole difficulty. There are cases—and one example is Essex, where both the hon. Member for Thurrock and I come from—where we labour under a disadvantage, owing to the fact that the chief constable is exactly as described by the hon. Member for Thurrock.

It is most unusual to have the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) springing to my defence. In fact, some time ago he had the nerve to oppose me in a General Election, when he did his utmost to prevent my return to this honourable House. But I agree with him, and I applaud the endeavours that he has made in the past five or six years to have this anomaly put right. I hope that later on in the debate he will be able to give us the benefit of his advice and experience. He has given evidence before the Willinck Committee, and he probably knows more about this subject than anyone else in the Chamber.

All kinds of other cases could be referred to these Ombudsmen. The hon. Member for Carlisle has spoken of persons losing their jobs in the National Health Service. This happens to a far greater extent than we ever hear of because so few cases are ever brought to light. One of the very rare cases that we heard about concerned a gynaecologist who was sacked from his job, which he had held for seven years and to which he was not reinstated even after being fully vindicated by a decision of the High Court. It was only due to the persistence and quite splendid efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that this man finally received justice.

In other Government Departments people are in danger of being sacked. They are tried in secret and sacked in secret, in the sense that they are sacked without being told why. The answer that we get from many Ministers when we put Questions to them about such cases is that it would not be in the interest of national security to tell us why. This is very dangerous and can be abused to any extent. That is another reason why we must have someone like the Ombudsman.

Whenever one discusses with people the merits of having an Ombudsman, they usually have one or two objections to make to the suggestion. Of course, there are always objections to a novel idea anyway. They say, "If you appoint an Ombudsman he will be swamped with work—he will have far too much to do." This objection I find particularly funny. Because there is too much work to do, we do not give him any at all. Surely, the fact that there is so much work to do is another reason why the appointment should be made speedily. In any case, I do not believe that the Ombudsman would be swamped with work.

Surveys have been made and analyses have been made. The hon. Gentleman himself referred to the typical correspondence of Members of Parliament and the Questions which they put to Ministers concerning cases of personal injustice. The list was certainly impressive, but it did not seem to be more than even a small Department could handle. People also say, "Well, you know, you are going to introduce another Government Department. Instead of putting a curb on bureaucracy, you are going to make things even more bureaucratic than they are."

No, it would not be a Government Department, but it would be a Parliamentary appointment.

I am strongly in favour of the idea put forward that the Ombudsman, instead of being an individual or a group of persons outside the House, should be a group of persons inside the House and drawn from all parts of it. We have a Select Committee on Estimates. Why should we not have a Select Committee on grievances? I suggest that such a group of persons should examine all the cases. At the beginning it would only be cases of personal grievance that would be submitted to them by Members of Parliament.

Such an arrangement would have various advantages. First of all the fact that such a committee of grievances existed would do something to re-establish the power and prestige of Parliament, and that in itself would be excellent. The committee would also have at its disposal the skill of Members of Parliament, and if Members of Parliament have one skill it is in reading their correspondence, sorting the wheat from the chaff, knowing what to answer and what not to answer, and what Questions to submit and what not to submit. Then the committee could sit and publish its report so that hon. Members could know in advance what the subject matter was before it was debated.

When at the present time we raise a matter of personal injustice, either at Question Time or on the Adjournment, one of our great difficulties is that, apart from the Minister and the Member concerned, no one knows what we are talking about. Members cannot be blamed for that. When the Question has been put down the Minister reads a suave, evasive Answer. He is primed about possible supplementary questions, and then everyone in the Chamber, including Mr. Speaker, is in a desperate hurry to get on to the next Question and the whole thing is shelved.

On an Adjournment debate there is usually, apart from the Member concerned and the Minister, no one to listen to what is said except Mr. Speaker and HANSARD. But if we had a committee of grievances which published a report and submitted it to Parliament, then we could ask for a debate in the House and should know what the matter was all about. At long last we should be able to do something which at the moment we find it nearly impossible to do—to be the Ombudsmen for our own constituencies.

I do not know what sort of a reply we will get from the right hon. and learned Gentleman—I know it will be plasant; his replies always are—but, at all events, I think that if as a result of this debate people begin to think and talk about the matter, that will be a great step forward. Of course, this idea will never be accepted by the two large political parties unless there is a big public demand for it. When such a public demand arises they will go head over heels for it.

Yes. However, I hope that we shall receive a sympathetic answer and sympathetic consideration for my proposed Select Committee on grievances.

12.17p.m.

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) on putting the case to us this morning for the grievance man? I feel that, perhaps, other hon. Members in the Chamber will support me when I say that the case could not have been presented to us better or more completely than it has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle or more impressively than by the hon. Member for Thurrock. The most amusing but rather pointed speech made by the hon. Gentleman must make us all think of the things that could be avoided by the appointment of the Ombudsman.

It is obvious, of course, that as time goes on the expansion of Government activity must make necessary a more effective machine for protecting the rights of the individual. It is quite impossible to think that we can go on and on adding to Government activity, not only central Government activity but all forms of government activity, both local government, trade union government and professional government. Trade associations, trade unions, professional unions and professional associations are all, let us not forget, practising a form of government of people. Such people very often suffer even more under this type of government than they do under central and local government.

Although, of necessity, the facts and cases that have been put before us and highlighted here today have been those which we experience in the House, I hope that we would certainly not overlook giving power to the Ombudsman, if we had one, covering all forms of government. We read recently of the Jockey Club forcing its members to behave as it thinks they should outside its sphere of activity altogether. That is absolutely wrong.

Yes, the M.C.C. as well. In fact, there are hundreds of forms of government. If, today, we cannot effectively do something about it we can be sure that things will get worse. More and more forms of government are coming into being every day. The Executive usually acts as the accuser and as its own judge and jury—the lot. There is no appeal all too often. We must not overlook the fact that, although the newspapers do not give us all we ask for, they highlight some of these cases, although all too often they appear at the bottom of the last column.

Governments are imperfect, but many of them, perhaps all of them in their own way, seek to do the greatest good to the greatest number of the people they govern. But that is only the majority, and the individual goes on suffering under all forms of government to some extent. The smaller the number of people involved, the greater the hardship they have to suffer before something is done about it, but if there is a large minority suffering, however slight the suffering may be, we are probably prepared to consider it. That goes for all forms of government.

Hon. Members have mentioned the protection which is provided in the House of Commons by means of Questions and Adjournment debates. It is fresh in our memory that we recently had a debate on Lord Stansgate, and I thought at the time how grateful some people would be if they could have their difficulties brought before the House of Commons as that case was. There is an extreme difference between what we are prepared to do in some cases and what we are prepared to do in others. We ought to remember that our democracy should be strengthened and kept alive and not allowed to dwindle away as sometimes happens.

I support the suggestion of the hon. Member for Thurrock that we may be able better to deal with this problem by setting up a Select Committee. I have given much thought to this matter and I think that, on balance, that would be the best way of going about it. After all, we are not committed to this proposal for all time. If it does not work efficiently and to our satisfaction—and, more important, to the satisfaction of the whole community—it will be our job to do something about it. It has been said that there has not been a major scandal in Denmark since the appointment of an Ombudsman. There have been several scandals in this country during that time, and that is all the more reason why we should pay attention to what goes on.

Reference has been made to the confidence of the public and the satisfaction to the individual who is harmed. That is very important. Three or four weeks ago there was brought to my notice the case of a youth who was summoned for a misdemeanour in my constituency. It was clear to me that if, in their letters to me, they were telling the truth—and, of course, we always have to allow for that—the parents of the youth could prove beyond doubt that their boy was not involved in the incident in question and, in fact, was never on the scene. It is easy to understand that, having done something not very bad, but in breach of the law, young boys might think it a good idea to give the name of a "pal". It may be that that happened, I do not know. Certainly, the police obtained the name and address of the boy and he received the summons. However, no one saw him about it. No one came to see whether he was the boy involved and, so far as I know, no attempt has been made at identification.

We can all see that there are ways of avoiding difficulties of that kind. For instance, a good solicitor might have been employed. We can all say that if this had been done and that had been done, the circumstances would not have arisen, but, so far as I could see, the boy had not been guilty of any negligence in that respect and he could not have protected himself in any way. I do not know whether the case has proceeded and it may be that it has been dropped and that no evidence was put before the court or that the case was adjourned. I must not go further, or give names and addresses, because the matter may still be sub judice.

Among the cases which have been instanced was that which I call Mr. Glanfield's electric pylons. This was a glaring case of the kind that caught the headlines- I am told that it was reported worldwide, as it should have been. There was the case quoted in the book of Herbert Bryant, who failed because of a legal technicality when he had what was apparently a concrete case against his employer when he had suffered mercurial poisoning, an extremely sad case.

For all those cases about which we read, and about which we are told, I believe that there are hundreds more. I do not want hon. Members to feel that this is our private problem and that we can raise matters in the House because we have received hundreds of letters and because our hearts are torn. I hope that if a Select Committee, or an Ombudsman, is appointed, its activities will spread far and wide into every type of government, such as I have suggested.

However, let us not forget that authority is often wrongly accused. Those of us who have served on local authorities know that only too well, but, if we are honest, we will admit that we get away with it all too often and are not accused on some things about which we should be accused, something which we have done no doubt inadvertently. There is something to be said on both sides for the appointment of an Ombudsman. He may well say that an authority should not be frivolously accused in a certain case, and no doubt that will go for nationalised bodies.

But the important thing is the suffering of the individual, the possibility of the loss of his job, which may be a terrific penalty because that may be the only trade or profession which he knows.

It may be the only job he has been trained to do, and he may be getting near retirement age. It is very hard for such a man to lose everything in life and perhaps to go on to unemployment pay. Even if he is told that he can get another job it is not easy, at that time of life, to switch from one profession or trade to another.

I have the highest regard for the conduct of the police. I served on a watch committee and I know the police. It is a compliment to the police that there are not more complaints about them and that so few come to our notice, but there is no fair means of going into this problem to see who is wrong and who is right. Policemen, civil servants and municipal servants, are all human and all can err. We must recognise that.

All of us at times like to content ourselves by thinking that the established authority is 100 per cent. sincere and honest and that we have 100 per cent. faith in it, but we have to recognise that actually it is only 99 per cent. right. The judgment of authority depends upon the interpretation it puts on facts and figures. It is human to err and it is human to seek to justify a position we hold. Often it is all too difficult to say that we were wrong.

It is difficult for the civil servant, the policeman, the inspector or the man behind the inquiry counter to say, "I am sorry. My department was wrong in this. We shall try to put it right". What an encouraging thing it is when we get that sort of answer, but how rarely do we get that sympathy from people in authority. It may be that here we have a chance to improve our democracy.

12.32 p.m.

We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) for raising this matter and for the information that he has given. No one has shown himself since he has been in Parliament more capable of raising grievances or less capable of sitting down when he has raised them.

I agree with everything my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) said, except when he engaged in "biting my ear off". I think that he spoke magnificently in the important case he put. If he erred at all on the question of pneumoconiosis it was by understatement.

I have had the problem of pneumoconiosis all my professional life and the problem of byssinosis all my political life. [Laughter.] This is an eminently serious matter. Anyone who knows the disease of byssinosis knows that mental depression is one of the symptoms, and the feeling that a man is not getting justice aggravates that symptom. I know that people can get persecution mania from a wrongly conceived grievance just as they can from a rightly conceived grievance, but it can be a very serious thing to suffer from and a serious burden for anyone.

I think that the examinations for pneumoconiosis are wholly insufficient. "Parkinson's Law" applies to this question. We have all sorts of rival pensions tribunals investigating rival diseases, schemes for pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, and so on, and then the poor blighter is told that he has bronchitis. I have always urged that the only real question to decide is whether the chap is crippled by the disease. We go on arguing whether a soldier got silicosis from the sands of the desert because the sand has only brand "X" amount of silica in it.

We have a whole series of pensions disablement tribunals, industrial injury tribunals and tribunals under health insurance and so on allocating slightly varying amounts from varying funds and all administered by different bodies. One of the things that the suggested committee could do—and I entirely agree that a Parliamentary committee is needed—would be to make recommendations to Her Majesty's Ministers when it discovered what was going wrong. This would not be merely the rectification of individual grievances, but the making of recommendations to the Crown in relation to discovered collective grievance.

The hon. Member for Carlisle mentioned the Bryant case and the Statute of Limitations. I was one of those Members who put that Bill through. We started it in the Standing Committee dealing with coal nationalisation. My right hon. and hon. Friends said that there were special reasons for it. I cannot remember them, but I know that I spoke against it. I expect that I voted for it. I have not looked it up, but I have many votes on my conscience now. It was said that with a large organisation it would involve too much difficulty to investigate such matters in arrear, which is not a good argument for nationalisation.

When people plead the Gaming Act, that is generally regarded as a dishonourable thing to do. I should not like to suggest that this view is wrong, but the Gaming Act was passed by this House for the purpose of being pleaded. The Statute of Limitations was never for that purpose. It was to provide the subject with a remedy against a grievance. It was argued quite fairly that it is always possible without some form of limitation for someone to bring an action because he knows that long since the documents have been destroyed. Then it becomes impossible to administer justice because no one can check the story which the person is telling. Then there may be a case for pleading the Statute of Limitations. No one is compelled to plead the Act.

In the Bryant case it was disgraceful for the electricity board to plead the Statute of Limitations. The facts were all there and it was a contemptible little bit of tyranny. It ought to have been investigated. That is the job of an Ombudsman, to look at these things to see that even if they may be statutorily necessary there is a certain amount of judgment in the way in which they are used.

I had a case recently from which I learned that there is a rule that if one does not claim a disablement pension for seven years the onus of proof shifts. I do not know when it came into force. I should not be surprised to discover that on a dark and dirty Parliamentary night I was one of the putative fathers of this particular bastard proposal, but it is a shocking state of affairs.

I have a case of a man who is gravely ill. Another thing which an Ombudsman could do would be to see how difficult it is when we want to raise a pensions case. For instance, we have to pay for the medical expert out of our own pockets. One cannot get a doctor to go from Oldham to Manchester for this purpose. I do not blame the doctors. They have more important things to do, and they are grossly overworked and are called out for everything. But it is not easy to persuade them to go from Oldham to Manchester and sit all day waiting to give evidence before a pensions tribunal on which they are liable to be cross-examined by people of more expertise, anyhow. Even if doctors would go, they would, naturally, want a substantial fee. The poor chap who goes to the pensions tribunal is either lucky or not lucky, and if he is turned down there is no organisation which can say, "This is a case which we intend to consider, and we shall see that it goes forward".

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance is, no doubt, a charming man in private life, but some letters which I receive from the Ministry give me the gripes. There was a case, some months ago, in respect of an hereditary disease, when the Ministry told me in a letter that it not only had my constituent's medical certificate but also his father's. I went to my constituent and said, "How did this happen?" He replied, "I do not know". But it appears that what happened was that, having two people in the same street with precisely the same name, the doctor had first sent the records of the older man and then had corrected it by sending the records of the younger man. The Ministry had copied both, which I call a little dishonourable. It did not hurt us very much, because we were able to prove that the two people were not related at all and that one had been a hundred miles away at the time. But that is the sort of evidence which can be decisive in a case.

I have a case of a young lad of 15 in hospital with consumption. We said that it had a traumatic origin. They said that the lad had a previous accident and that the medical causes probably arose from the previous accident. They wrote to me and said, "Dr. So-and-So confirms this evidence about the previous accident". I went to my constituent and said, "This is rather astonishing, is it not? You say that this doctor did not see you until six months after the previous accident." He replied, "That is true". Thereupon, I wrote to the Ministry of Pensions, and they replied, "He confirmed it by looking at the report made six months ago." If juries, after six days of advice about the meaning of a word, have to send out for a dictionary, I cannot make a very big case out of this, but it raises an important point.

My hon. Friend was quite right when he said that this is a failure of Parliament. We are the people who are asked these things. Personally, I have long held the view, when we talk about the increase in juvenile delinquency, that everyone talks about the increase in crime but no one remembers that we are creating criminal offences at the rate of about 50 a day, and that every night the Queen's Printer pushes out a few more regulations providing for someone to be prosecuted for something or other—and unless the Committee upstairs is doing its job nobody ever knows how they are passed through the House. There is an immense increase in criminal offences. In the good old days we did not prosecute people for fraud. We said that the victims should protect themselves, and there is a lot of sense in that. In an educated community I should repeal half the criminal law and nearly all the property law, and start again.

When I was about to have my breakfast this morning I found stamped on the eggs, which I was about to put into the pan, the word "Large", which, in the first place, is a euphemistic description of the eggs and, in the second place, is highly unnecessary, anyway. I gathered that as a result of a law passed by this Parliament somebody is sticking rubber stamps on nearly every egg in the country, and, no doubt, some silly ass has constructed a machine to do it. We know that the body concerned has built an enormous building in a part of London where many inhabitants have never seen a hen, in order to arrange the stamping and dissemination of these eggs among us. At the same time, we have a great many eggs coming in from other countries, and the British farmer——

Recently, when the Prime Minister went out for lunch somewhere, in South Dakota, he was told by President Kennedy that we have to join the Common Market, which would alter the whole of our agricultural policy and presumably that enormous building would be available for an Ombudsman, or something of that sort. A little reason leads one to the general approach that, on the whole, if there is a case for and a case against legislation, then one should not pass it.

I do not want to detain the House long. I cannot discuss the question of the police, because I am a member of the Willink Commission. Hon. Members have said that some of these matters appear to be deemed to be within the terms of the reference of the Willink Commission because evidence has been given upon them. I hesitate to use the words sub judice in that connection, but, as far as I am concerned personally, I feel that it would be highly improper of me to express a view on this question.

We are living in a highly artificial society. One of my hon. Friends told me the other day about an immense motor tank full of milk which had been seen wandering round the Scottish lanes bearing an enormous label, in coloured letters, saying, "This tank contains exclusively certificated, dehydrated, pasteurised, full-cream, best quality milk with Vitamin 'D' added." Over the hedge one unsophisticated cow said to another, "It makes you feel damned inadequate, don't it?"

I look back nostalgically to the days of freedom. May I conclude with one other observation? There is one other thing which this Ombudsman would do. Many of these injustices are being defended with such obstinacy that they nearly always involve a smear on the character of the victim. One hon. Member referred to Dr. Barber. I will not say a single controversial word about that case, because it was settled to the credit of all parties and the arrangement is working happily. But one argument used against me then was, "After all, it is no use doing anything about it. He has lost the confidence of the community and it is hardly worth while retaining him." After that, every organisation in Oldham unanimously demanded his reinstatement. All the churches demanded it. The church argument was used against him, as if it were an occult and ecclesiastical question which was being raised. He was supported by everybody, and he is now so busily employed that it is a local joke in Oldham that if one wants Dr. Barber to attend one, then, because he has such an enormous list and there is so much pressure on his time, one probably has to give more than nine months' notice of the birth, and that presents a technical problem.

The Glanfield case was the classic example. I do not say that Mr. Glanfield was obviously a very cooperative individual, but the methods which were used in that case were disgraceful. The claim of £94,000 damages was a gross and ridiculous abuse of the power and strength of a big authority. The final point about an Ombudsman is that he should try to see that there is a little more balance between the weak and the humble, on the one hand, and the big and the powerful, on the other.

12.49 p.m.

One advantage in following the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is that the House is always very wide awake when one rises to one's feet after he has finished. I should like to tell him how much I agree with so much that I have heard him say on this subject, both today and at other times. He shows a sincerity which I think is one of the most important things which hon. Members, and particularly back bench Members, should have.

I welcome the debate because it is probably within your knowledge, Mr. Speaker, that as long as four years ago I was fortunate enough, with your predecessor in the Chair, to obtain an Adjournment debate on the question of the powers of chief constables, touching much of what has been said this morning.

On that occasion I came here full of hope and full of zeal, expecting to be able to put the case to the House; and, as I was a comparatively new Member of the House in those days, I expected great support. I expected to see the benches full and everybody eager to discuss this matter, which touches so closely many of our constituents. Imagine my surprise when I found that only three or four of my hon. Friends had come to support me. What was more surprising was that within the first fifteen minutes of the Adjournment debate I was ruled out of order about twelve times for daring to put to the House, and to the Minister who was present for the purpose of answering, the very questions which had been put to me by my constituents. We were completely out of order, purely and simply because there was no Minister who had responsibility.

The Minister who should have had the responsibility, on that occasion as now, was the Home Secretary. Whilst we would all agree that the Home Secretary, by his actions and speech, can claim to be one of the great reformers, he certainly has shown no particular zeal to take upon himself the responsibility which would enable him to appear more in that light.

I must point out to my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary's responsibilities in this respect are laid down and circumscribed by Parliament. He could not take action under the existing law, but he has done something, as I am sure the House will recognise. He has, with my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, appointed the Royal Commission on the Police, which is looking into the very problem my hon. Friend has in mind.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend very much. It would not be considered good form to say that it has taken four years and much pressure before he did so. However, better late than never. We can only hope that, if the Royal Commission reports in favour of the opinion that a number of us have, the Home Secretary will be able to support the recommendations it makes.

During the sitting of the Royal Commission when my evidence was taken—this was heard in public and can therefore be referred to—one of the members, whilst appearing to agree that something should be done to give the Home Department, the Home Secretary in particular, additional powers, said that what worried him was that there would probably be so many complaints that the Home Secretary would be overburdened by work. This is the point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). If this state of affairs exists, it shows the absolute necessity of it being possible to bring the complaints to the notice of the House.

I do not want continually to report to the House—I have done it several times in public—what can happen with regard to chief constables, but I must say again that the point is that at the moment they are above the law. I object to this, and I am sure that if they knew the facts thousands and thousands of people in this country, if not millions, would be not only alarmed but up in arms at this state of affairs. When I was a small boy at school, one of the phrases which my master was continually using in various lessons was this, "All Her Majesty's subjects stand equal before the law". That is not so today with the existing system as it concerns chief constables of police outside London. To quote another example which alarms me and which has come to my notice only within the last twenty-four hours——

My hon. Friend is distorting the view which was expressed by his schoolmaster. Of course chief constables are equal before the law in every respect.

I know, and I should be very pleased to argue that point and instruct my hon. Friend, who, obviously has not heard all these arguments before, otherwise he would not have risen to make such a stupid remark. It is generally admitted by nearly everybody who has taken the trouble to study it that what he has just said is utter nonsense.

If my hon. Friend wants to get heated, he should at least give us some facts.

I shall be very pleased to take my hon. Friend on one side after the debate and try to educate him if possible. The matter to which I was referring, which has come to my notice within the last twenty-four hours, also seems to me to require the services of the person we are discussing this morning. In my constituency there is a firm of haulage contractors which is engaged in long-distance haulage. The firm, to use it own words, as far as humanly possible tries to keep within the law in every way. Its drivers are compelled by law to keep certain records and times of their journeys. The men very often set off on journeys of 300 or 400 miles. When they leave the garage the people behind them are obviously not able to see what they write on the sheets. The have to rely on the honesty of their men. By and large the men are extremely honest.

This is an example. The Ministry of Transport, apparently in order to get some prosecution, has been to the Ford Motor Company and asked it to produce the internal sheets which show the arrival times of various lorries from different parts of the country. Naturally the Ford Motor Company was not very anxious to do this. It was advised by its legal department that, if it did not, the Ministry had the power to demand the documents and to subpoena the officers who made the entries on the sheets.

If this sort of thing is to be done, we are getting unfortunately near a state of affairs which is undesirable and should not exist. If these documents are handed over and then produced in court, it will only be the word of the man who made the entry on the sheet at the gate as against the word of the lorry driver who put a different time, apparently, on his sheet. What will the answer be? Does anybody here think with confidence that the time of the ordinary common or garden, decent old lorry driver will be taken against the official time sheet at the gate when Ministry of Transport officials are pressing the prosecution? I do not think there can be any better bet as to which way it will go.

It has been suggested this morning—I agree with it entirely—that if we are trying to find people who are not overburdened with work and who could undertake, possibly as representatives of the House—this is important—some of these cases, my right hon. and learned Friend should think of recommending the Committee on Public Petitions. I am a member of this august body. We meet approximately four times a year. Our meetings last five minutes. Then we just issue a report. I hold in my hands a report which was issued yesterday. I ask hon. Members to note its size. The Committee has five minutes work four times a year. There have been occasions when we have been told what a privilege it is and how important our work is. The Clerk merely says, "We have received some Petitions. They are printed on this sheet". The Chairman says, "Thank you very much for your attendance". He says this to all three of us! I believe that there is a much larger committee but it rarely sits——

Order. I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman was here before, when I had occasion to remind the House that there is no Ministerial responsibility for the procedures of the House, so it is out of order to discuss them.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was merely trying to be helpful and to suggest that, if the overburdened Ministers could not see any possibility of finding anybody to help them out of their dilemma, there was machinery in the House which could willingly be pressed into service.

On the major issue which I have mentioned this morning, I await with confidence the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police. I sincerely hope that when my right hon. and learned Friend replies to the debate he will try to give us some definite replies and not, as sometimes happens, pass us off with the charm at which—I mean this sincerely—he is such an expert.

1.0 p.m.

I am sure that both sides of the House are grateful to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) for raising this important matter. If my speech is brief, it is out of courtesy to colleagues who may want to speak. I hope, therefore, that its brevity will not be taken as an indication of lack of interest on my part.

This subject is of such importance that we should try to obtain a full day's debate on it. We as back benchers ought to use the instruments available to us, if it is only by hundreds of us, if necessary, seeking opportunity in the Ballot, to raise matters of this kind. There ought to be a private Members' day union, because the euthanasia of private Members' rights is now entering into the Parliamentary system. It is very easy for people outside the House to make cheap jokes about Members, but there are very few of what I would call "cheap-jacks" among hon. Members on either side of the House.

On both sides, men and women love this House and look upon it as a bastion of democracy for the British people. Gradually back benchers, largely because of the party machines, are allowing these opportunities and liberties, if not to disappear, at least to grow rusty. That is a danger and it sometimes needs courage on both sides of the House to fight the massive party executive and the sometimes intolerant, growing, grinding, party machine.

None of us would doubt your impartiality, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker, but all that we are here for is the protection of the liberty of the individual. Some kind of grievance committee is required. It might be called the Johnson-Delargy Committee, as a tribute to both hon. Members. Certainly, some organisation is required. It might be even the Committee on which the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) has just told us he has the honour to serve. There are those of us who sit on Estimates Committees and work very hard on the Committee of Public Accounts.

I hope that the hon. Member will not pursue this too far. Mr. Speaker has pointed out that there is no Ministerial responsibility.

Yes, but we ourselves must construct some machinery which will give back benchers the opportunity of showing to their constituents that it is possible to obtain satisfaction. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock spoke of the growing insolence of office. That was a powerful description.

We will discuss that later, but "the insolence of office," and I now put the words in inverted commas, is one of the things which the small man fears. He does not know how to thread his way through the machinery of the complex society of the twentieth century, and hon. Members are so overwhelmed with their own problems in trying to attend debates and be present in their constituency. Cheap jokes are made and articles written in the Press about the payment received by Members. We have no secretarial help and no true research departments. If we had a committee of the kind suggested, with power to summon persons and call for papers, we should be strengthening the liberty of the subject.

I could give scores of examples of problems which have arisen over many years of work in my constituency. Some of them are pathetic. There is the persecution mania from which some constituents suffer, and I am sure that most hon. Members have come across examples. These people feel that they have been done an injustice. I have one such case. I have tried in every way to satisfy this person, but he is still not satisfied. It is pathetic and tragic to find this man writing to me at least one letter a week over a period of twelve years and then writing to other hon. Members and saying that nothing is being done for him.

I do not think that these people who write to Members every week would be satisfied, whatever action was taken to investigate their grievances.

We can but try. There are also those who do not write every week, but, nevertheless, have a sense of grievance. Let us not take the exceptions. Let us consider the reality of all this. Every hon. Member knows that there is a great truth behind the purpose of this debate.

I had a pathetic case with which a grievance committee could have dealt. I had to pay for an international telephone call to save a sailor from getting into terrible trouble when he overstayed his leave and his ship was out in the Atlantic. His wife was dying of haemorrhage. He came to my house at midnight. The chief constable had sent him to me. I tried to pacify him. He needed understanding and help.

I rang up the Admiralty, but could not get hold of a duty officer. I then rang up a port and then the ship at sea. This was a case where a Member of Parliament, out of his own pocket, had to pay a telephone bill of 30s. The distressed sailor said to me, "May I pay you for the telephone call?" The truth was he could not pay for it. My grievance is that a chief constable or a town clerk could have put the cost of that telephone call on the public account, but a Member of Parliament is expected to pay for these things, and many others, out of his own pocket. These things stand between us and doing our utmost for the liberty of the individual. Things like this should be erased from a Parliament of the stature of ours.

There is another very simple example. How many hon. Members on both sides of the House receive hundreds of letters from parents who are dissatisfied because their children have not won an 11-plus scholarship? This is a very simple thing, but the complete examination of the grievance and the complete satisfaction of the constituent is a matter of great importance.

Many of us could give scores of examples of that kind of thing, but I must honour my pledge to hon. Members. I am tempted to lengthen my speech, but I must not allow my speech to get the better of me. As back benchers it is our duty to do our utmost to make the suggestion which is the subject of the debate a living reality. It can be a beacon for the twentieth century, as important to the twentieth century man as Magna Carta was to the man of the thirteenth century.

1.9 p.m.

I will not take up more than a few minutes of the time of the debate, because it is due to come to an end at about 2.15 and I want to give other hon. Members the opportunity to express their views. I am opposed to this Motion.

Is it not true that the hon. Member takes immeasurable pride in the fact that he is here every Friday to oppose every Measure however constructive in character?

Perhaps I might remind the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) that the Motion is the Motion for the adjournment of the House.

You are too quick off the mark, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Member's words were a dastardly attack on my reputation. On many occasions I have contributed to the passing of constructive legislation on a Friday.

I wish to refer to some of the points raised in the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) and I am sorry that he is not in his place. The hon. Gentleman gave considerable support to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) for the setting up of a Parliamentary Commissioner. His case was that a Parliamentary Commissioner would be unbiassed. I have not heard any evidence put forward today to suggest that a Parliamentary Commissioner would be less, or more, unbiassed than a Minister of the Crown or a civil servant.

He would, in fact, be paid by the Crown and, in that way, he would be in a similar position, in many respects, to that of a servant of this House or a member of the Civil Service. I cannot see the force of any argument that a man with the responsibility of a Parliamentary Commissioner would be less likely to do his job in an unbiassed way than any civil servant or Minister of the Crown. The hon. Member for Thurrock—and I am glad to see him back in his place—mentioned the question of security. I assume that he was referring to the proposal that there may have to be a tightening up of our security arrangements concerning people who are involved in confidential work.

I am concerned with cases that have been brought to my notice—as is the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths)—about people who had been dismissed from their Government employment without being told why, when no one could know why, and when even hon. Members could not get information about the dismissal.

Unfortunately, where questions of security are concerned, one naturally cannot disclose all the sources of information or the reasons for a particular dismissal. In many cases it would not be to the advantage of the person concerned to have the information disclosed. That disclosure might be inclined to damage him in securing other employment.

I understand that it is the practice in the Civil Service, and in Government service, that if a person is a bad security risk, attempts are made to move him into a position where he will not be in contact with security material. Thus, I do not think that a Parliamentary Commissioner would give any protection to any of Her Majesty's subjects who complain to him that they have been dismissed on grounds of security.

The hon. Member for Thurrock also referred to the Question of setting up a Select Committee on grievances. The hon. Gentleman said he thought that the establishment of such a Committee would go a long way towards satisfying the complaints of people who were not satisfied by merely raising their complaints with their local Member of Parliament. I find it difficult to see how that would be the case We all receive some rather strange correspondence from people who have an idée fixe about some complaint, and we all know how difficult it is to satisfy them.

Most people who write to hon. Members really believe that they have a genuine grievance which, in many cases, might be righted upon investigation by their local Member. In many cases a reply can be sent explaining why the complaint cannot be met, because it might be either a complaint about something which is outside the law and which requires amending legislation, or one which, perhaps, is founded on a false premise. Therefore, I do not believe that a Parliamentary Commissioner would be confronted with anything but a series of complaints from people who, in many cases, are unbalanced.

I thought that I had made it clear that the complaints which would be submitted to this Select Committee on grievances would come from hon. Members, thus the complaints would be sifted to begin with and the Committee could get straight on with the job.

Nevertheless, many people would feel that the issues about which they were complaining were outside reference to their hon. Member, and would refer the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Hon. Members know only too well how many strange complaints are received. Some time ago I received a complaint from a gentleman who wrote saying that instead of writing to every hon. Member every month he would, in future, be writing only to a few hon. Members—and I was the lucky one this month. The complaint of this gentleman—who was not a constituent of mine—was that he disliked certain practices in the Royal Navy. The gentleman in question complained to me that when a ship went into action the crew were battened down, but the officers, every one of them, had an escape hatch above their heads in case they had to get out in a hurry.

The gentleman stated that he had made that complaint to many people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and on each occasion he had remembered to enclose a stamped addressed envelope. He told me that, as a result of his letter to the Archbishop, he received in return a letter from the Archbishop's secretary stating that His Grace had neither the time nor the knowledge of the matter to investigate the complaint. This gentleman said that he had received replies of a similar nature to letters he had sent to Premier Stalin and the President of the United States. In the case of a complainant such as the one I have described, I do not believe that any Committee or organisation would be of value. He will complain for the rest of time.

The hon. Gentleman who opened this debate did so with great skill and went through the evidence on which he bases his plea for the setting up of a Parliamentary Commissioner in a most able manner. But I must inform him that we have 640 institutions already in existence in the form of hon. Members of this House. It would be a very great mistake, and a fundamental interference in constitutional matters, if anyone appeared to come between an hon. Member and his constituent. It has been the pride of this House to identify individual hon. Members with particular constituencies. Other countries do not operate that system, but have hon. Members representing provinces or states, and so on, and the intimate link that exists in Britain between hon. Members and constituents does not exist in those countries.

It would be a grave disservice to this House if anything were done which sought to undermine that. If it became known that hon. Members were not capable of pressing the complaints of their constituents to the right quarters, and if those complainants went to another body—either inside or outside this House—great damage would be done to our constitution.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) has an erroneous impression of the purpose of this debate. It does not interfere with the activities of hon. Members. It strengthens their position, for when they make representations to a Government Department—and I could give many instances, but I will not delay the proceedings—the Government should not be the final arbiters in matters affecting personal liberty. An independent Parliamentary Commissioner would give a greater measure of satisfaction to all concerned.

The hon. Gentleman is under a misconception. It is suggested that if a Parliamentary Commissioner were set up on the lines of the Ombudsman as described in the book by T. G. Utley, he would merely have power to criticise and draw attention to a difficulty or complaint, and hope that, as a result of that, some change would take place by regulation or legislation in due course.

I do not think that a Parliamentary Commissioner would be able to do any thing more than any hon. Member at the moment. To allay any anxiety on the part of the hon. Member for Thurrock, lest any party should seek later to establish a Parliamentary Commissioner and say that it thought of the idea first, I would point out that Mr. Utley is a well-known Tory. This book describes how the Public Bill procedure——

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that nobody else has written about this subject until now. As a matter of fact, I wrote about the Ombudsman exactly two and a half years ago. I am not claiming credit for that, but let us get the facts right.

I was referring to the fact that this book was by Mr. Utley. I have no doubt that hon. Members have had similar ideas in the past.

In his book Mr. Utley refers to the decline in the value of the Private Bill procedure, and describes how the Private Bill was originally fought through in this House and people marshalled their forces against it if they thought it was unfair. He says that now the Private Bill procedure is largely automatic. That is the implication of his remarks.

I have paid a great deal of attention to Private Bills as well as to Private Members' Bills. I suppose that since I have been a Member of this House I have devoted more time to this aspect of our business than a great many other hon. Members. In fact, I devote myself to a very great extent to these problems.

Private Bills, as distinct from Private Members' Bills, receive very careful examination by hon. Members before they come before the House. There is a committee—I realise that I must not refer to it; and perhaps I ought to describe it as a "body"—which examines Private Members' Bills before they come before the House. It is a party committee. Hon. Members opposite may have such a committee of their own; if they have not, I strongly suggest that they should set one up.

These Bills are carefully examined, and if we find in them offensive Clauses, they are very often taken out. If they are not, then the Bills are opposed when they come before the House. Private Bills are often the subject of a great deal of discussion in the House, and in many cases they have been thrown out. Only recently we had a case of a Bill thrown out by the House of Lords. Maybe that Bill will in due course come forward in another form.

I do not think it is fair to say that it is now automatic for Private Bills to go through this House. It is true that we have not the time to discuss them very fully on the Floor of the House or to take the Committee stage here, but it would be wrong if it went out from here that the statement in the book is correct. It is not correct to say that we do not give careful examination to Private Bills. They are examined very carefully. Also, Private Members' Bills are often a cause of bitter battles on Fridays.

My real criticism about the proposal for the setting up of an Ombudsman is that I believe that it would undermine the Administration. It would do great damage to the Civil Service and make the job of civil servants incomparably more difficult.

I stand very firmly by the principle that the person who should take responsibility for any injustice that is done is not the civil servant but the Minister of the Crown under whom the civil servant works. We had a very good example of this when the late Mr. Crouch raised the question of Crichel Down in this House. It was, without any doubt, a scandal. Lord Crathorne was Minister of Agriculture at the time. I did not think that he was personally responsible, and I think that we should all agree that it was one of his staff who let him down, but he did what I thought was a very proper thing in tendering his resignation. The greatest credit is due to him for that. I think that it would be a great tragedy if we set up a body which, instead of holding the Minister responsible, would have power to examine civil servants and members of nationalised boards, thus making their jobs extremely difficult.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important statement arising out of the Crichel Down incident. I appreciate the then Minister's sense of decency and the honourable way in which he resigned. But would it not have been much better in connection with the Crichel Down incident if we had had an outside body, such as a Parliamentary Commission, to deal with it, so that the Minister would not have been involved at all?

That is the very point which divides the hon. Gentleman and myself. I think that the Minister should be responsible. I believe that if one of his staff does something which is scandalously wrong, it is right that the Minister should carry the burden. It is quite wrong that a Minister should seek to hide behind the Civil Service.

Does not my hon. Friend consider that the Minister is in an extremely embarrassing position, because he has a divided loyalty? He has, by tradition, to be loyal to his staff, and yet he has to be in the position of a judge in these cases. In contrast to what my hon. Friend has said, I submit that that is a position into which no Minister should be put.

I could not disagree more with my hon. Friend. In fact, I cannot believe that any Minister of the Crown is likely to allow an injustice to continue in order to cover up the deficiencies of a member of his own Department.

Surely the answer is that ultimately the Minister must accept responsibilty for the people who work under him. If a mistake is made, the Minister must either take the responsibility or take the proper action against the individual; but the Minister has paramount responsibility for his Department.

That point by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn)——

It is no good my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) turning round and saying "Nobody denies this". If civil servants are to have complaints against them investigated and, possibly, be criticised by an outside body——

It will be a body outside their Department. The point about a Parliamentary Commissioner is to put him so high up that nobody can get at him. If he can be got at, then he is just another civil servant and there is no advantage at all in it. It is far better to continue to attack a Minister of the Crown.

As a final point, which is terribly important, it would make the job of those concerned in the public sector of the country's economy—the nationalised industries—quite impossible. It was agreed by the Labour Party when they were the Government of the day and set up the nationalised industries that matters of day-to-day management should not be the subject of Question and Answer on the Floor of the House of Commons.

That is not the point. We have never agreed that the point was matters of day-to-day administration. It was the question of public accountability to Parliament.

If we allow a set of complaints to go forward and appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate them, I submit that we shall have a mass of complaints about the nationalised industries, which will make their task absolutely impossible and they will never be able to function.

It is for these reasons that, while I think that this has been an interesting debate, I hope that the Government will take no steps towards setting up such an office as has been suggested.

1.28 p.m.

There is a tendency on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House to look askance at some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) on Fridays, but I think that today he has spoken a great deal of good, sound, common sense.

I came here today with an open mind. I was very much attracted by the speeches made by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). It is certainly a very attractive proposition to argue, "There are a tremendous number of grievances on the part of citizens; people write to us about them and we feel dissatisfied with the way with which they are dealt. Let us have a personality—such as a Commissioner—to deal with these grievances." It sounds very good, and I agreed that one can make out a very good case for it. However, I think that there is a tendency to criticise adversely and to too great a degree the work which is done by Members of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock is wrong, in my view, in saying that the prestige of Parliament has sunk to a low degree and that Members do not perform their duties in the way they should, and that back benchers are becoming less important. That is a dangerous suggestion to put forward, and I do not think that it is true. It is proved not to be true by one fact. The work of Parliament in the past, certainly in the years before 1945, was very much less than the work since 1945. We now do great deal more work. As has been said, at one time a Member of Parliament was seen perhaps once in six months in his constituency. Today, if he does not keep in close touch with his constituents on all sorts of problems, he gets into serious trouble. Thus, the links between Members and their constituents, and the ways in which they deal with the affairs of their constituents, are much closer, more intimate and very much greater in volume.

Constituents write to us about their problems. We go to our constituencies and hold, from time to time, what are called "surgeries", where we listen to their problems. Every conscientious Member takes up those problems, writing to the Minister and raising Questions in the House, and he also has the opportunity of dealing with them in Adjournment debates. As was said by the hon. Member for Exeter, it would be a bad thing if there were to be a department to which we merely had to transfer grievances. One of the most important pieces of work done by a Member of Parliament is taking up a grievance of a constituent, pressing that grievance upon a Minister, and bringing it acutely home to him so that it can be remedied in some way.

It is all very well saying that a remedy may not be available. If it is not available to a Minister, how much more would it be available to a Commissioner if it were referred to him?

A Commissioner could have documents and evidence which a Minister will not let us have.

That is the very thing that is disconcerting about this debate. I have listened carefully to so many examples that have been quoted which seem to show that it is questions of appeal and matters of that kind that are involved here. After all, if a remedy is not provided, and one thinks that a remedy ought to be provided, one can get up in the House and say so, or bring in a Private Member's Bill, or press for reform in other ways. How much further could a Commissioner go?

I recognise that there are grievances which call for reform. One should study the existing machinery from that point of view. I see no harm, for example, in the suggestion that there should be a Select Committee to deal with grievances. That may well do a great deal of good. But that is a different proposition from that originally put forward by the hon. Member for Carlisle. If we had one person, or a number of persons constituting a commission, dealing with individual grievances, then there would be a danger—mentioned, quite properly, by the hon. Member for Exeter—that the rights and duties and responsibilities of Members of Parliament would be usurped.

I do not want to limit Members' responsibilities. I want to see Members carrying out their duties properly. Those duties should not be thrust on another department. I do not want grievances to be put in the hands of another department, with a Member of this House simply being the person who transfers the grievances of his constituents to it.

Further, it is important to recognise the position of the Civil Service. How is this affected? Is it suggested that the individual, or the number of individuals constituting a commission to deal with grievances, would be part of the Civil Service? Or would they be apart from the Civil Service? If they were apart from the Civil Service there might be conflict, and in that situation, as the hon. Member for Exeter has said, the doctrine of responsibility of Ministers for the Civil Service might well be called into question.

I listened with very great interest to this matter, which is important and should be probed further. I believe that we should see what we can do. I do not regard the problem unsympathetic-ally. It should be looked into, but I favour the idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock that, rather than have an individual, or a number of individuals, responsible for grievances, we should try the experiment of a Select Committee being given the duty of looking into particular grievances where there is no remedy. I hope that we shall hear from the Solicitor-General on those lines.

I join with other hon. Members in saying that I hope we shall not be fobbed off with general remarks about how interesting this matter is and how we should consider it. I hope that we shall hear something practical.

1.38 p.m.

I had not risen to my feet, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, although I hope to catch your eye later.

I am sorry. I thought that it was arranged that the right hon. and learned Member should rise at this time.

I saw the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) rising, so I did not rise because I thought that you might see your way to allow him some time.

I was standing and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) was sitting. May I ask what was arranged?

There is a general arrangement that this debate should end at a certain time, and that the two Front Bench speakers should wind up at a certain time.

As a back bencher, I have no interest in the usual channels. I am here to protect the interests of my constituents.

The power of the Executive is increasing and ought to be diminished throughout the land—and that includes both the Executive Front Bench on this side of the House and the usual channels of the Front Bench opposite.

Is my hon. Friend saying that his cause would be advanced through having no speech from the Government Front Bench?

On this occasion it might be of little advantage to hear the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, because I could almost give it now.

The Government will look on the matter sympathetically for a good many years to come, and when finally public clamour becomes such that they see an injustice being done by little tribunals here and there, up and down the country, eventually they will do some, thing. I think that the best way of describing all this is to say that they preserve our institutions as they preserve our pheasants only in the end to destroy them.

The point of this Adjournment debate is that many hon. Members have certain cases presented to them by constituents about which, unfortunately, they are unable to obtain any redress. I have had cases involving people from abroad who have written to me complaining about some Government Department like the Colonial Office. How can an hon. Member, who has received a complaint concerning a Palestine ordinance, do anything about it from his constituency? Time and again, we get cases from abroad with which we cannot deal properly.

I listened with respect to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I beg him to understand that this Parliamentary Commissioner, sitting with a grievance committee, would never usurp any of the rights of hon. Members. The Commissioner would be there to assist us to obtain our rights and to obtain from the Executive information which we cannot get now; and in certain cases to present documents which some clubs, institutions and tribunals in the country will not make available to a Member of Parliament. I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that this Commissioner would be there for one purpose, to assist back benchers.

I know that the House is anxious to hear speeches from the Front Benches, but I must make it dear that there are certain cases with which I have to deal, and about which I have not an easy conscience. I know of people who have been taken to mental homes. I have had to deal with two or three cases in which after long and arduous effort I have had people released from such places. I have details of one case, which has been going on for two-and-a-half years, concerning a boy in a hospital in Liverpool. I asked the person in charge, "Is this boy mentally deficient, or anything like that?" I was told, "No, he is a naughty boy. He is going to stay here." I am glad that a tribunal has been arranged under the new mental health legislation which will allow an appeal. The boy's grandmother is constantly regretting that she allowed the boy to go away. There are cases which go to the Minister but about which we are not able to get a satisfactory answer. How much better it would be if a Parliamentary Commissioner could present to a committee the proper facts and allow the committee to see the problem for itself.

I have had cases arising out of problems of local government. There is the case of a lady whose house had been knocked down under a compulsory purchase order and she waited for two years to be rehoused. She came to me and said, "Mr. Yates, I am not going to be rehoused." When I asked why, she said, "The housing manager lost my address and I was not able to be traced and so I shall not be rehoused." Such things as this can sometimes be corrected by an hon. Member, but if a local council is obstinate the Member of Parliament is helpless.

I had another case where a house was knocked down and the occupant, an elderly lady, was offered alternative accommodation in the form of a bungalow. She did not wish to go to the bungalow and said that she would wait her turn for other accommodation. She waited for three years and then when she went to the housing manager she was told that, as she had been offered alternative accommodation which she did not accept, her name had been knocked off the housing list. That is the sort of man that we are after, a man who had the impudence to tell an old lady of 75 that her name had been knocked off the list. In this case it was a tragedy for the old lady, but luckily the housing manager was relieved of his responsibilities some time ago.

We must face the fact that from time to time, when we are trying to do our best for our constituents, we find ourselves in the position that, having gone through the letter-writing stage and asked Questions in the House and had an Adjournment debate, we cannot sincerely say that we have fulfilled our duties in respect of the matter in question. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance and it is for us to be vigilant. If we want some other authority to help us to protect the rights of our constituents, I think that we have done a good service today by having this debate.

1.45 p.m.

I did not avail myself of your invitation the first time that you called me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, knowing that the intervention which I wish to make is short. I think that the whole House must be grateful to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) for having initiated this debate. Whatever view may be held by anyone on either side of the House as to their proposals, I am sure we all agree that they have put their finger on something of vital interest to the country as a whole.

I do not profess to have a concluded view on the subject. I do not altogether subscribe to some of the assumptions on which the two hon. Gentlemen and other hon. Members base their case. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) that it is somewhat unfortunate to imply that the interventions of Members of Parliament on behalf of their constituents are, in the aggregate, so ineffectual, or not sufficiently effective. We have previously discussed the question of Parliamentary Privilege and a question was raised in this discussion arising out of what I think is now known as the Strauss case as to what "proceedings in Parliament" really included.

I think that it has been generally accepted that procedure by way of Question has been supplemented to a large extent by procedure by way of direct communication by letter to the Minister and his Department. I do not know what is the feeling of other hon. Members, but I consider that it is open to a Member of Parliament, by correspondence if he cannot get down a Question—it is often more convenient and effective by correspondence—to bring a matter effectively to the notice of a Minister. The Member can continue to press the matter and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) and other hon. Members who have spoken with great sincerity in this debate have nothing with which to reproach themselves regarding the intensity and persistence with which they have urged those cases about which they have spoken this afternoon.

It is certainly my feeling that pressure and interventions on behalf of their constituents by hon. Members are effective and I think it a mistake always to assume—I do not suggest that hon. Members always do—perhaps too often, that the Departmental answer is wrong. Very often one is——

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman misconceives our case to some extent. It is not our case that in the aggregate we do not get satisfaction, but rather that there are certain really outstanding cases in which we have failed to get satisfaction. It is those cases which cause a great deal of trouble.

I must at once add that, despite all the endeavours one would always expect, cases do arise in which every effort made does not achieve a satisfactory result. But it is not always the fault of the Department. Sometimes it is impossible to concede the relief which the hon. Member is claiming. Circumstances differ and in a population of 50 million people it would be astonishing if, now and again, cases did not arise in which there was a seriously unredressed grievance. It does not follow from that that one should not try to explore every possible method by which these few cases can be redressed. I do not suggest that one should not.

The hon. Members who have sponsored this Motion say that this is perhaps the right method. I think that there are considerations on both sides with regard to that. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) pointed out, it can, in a sense, be said that if we have a Parliamentary Commissioner who, at the invitation of individual Members of Parliament, brings before a Parliamentary committee individual cases which they think worthy of the notice of that committee, we are interposing a new form of machinery between the individual Members of Parliament and the Minister.

They may be right or they may be wrong, but I can say to the two hon. Members who have put the point that I thing there is something in it. At the moment, the situation is that one can ask the Minister, one can put down a Question——

None of us who has put forward the suggestion that there should ever be anyone interposed between a Member and the Minister. It is after we have failed with the Minister.

I agree. I quite appreciate that. If I have misrepresented the case, I am sorry, but, after all, they say after we have approached the Minister the Parliamentary Commissioner will bring it before the committee. The committee, in the assumed case, will take power to insist upon information and documents——

I thought, information as well. It may be that that may be an effective way. I am not saying it is not, but one has to remember, also, that as the matter stands, if one does get an unsatisfactory reply from a Department, if one gets a letter apparently signed by a Minister, who, perhaps, is hard pressed and has not time to consider all the implications involved, one can see the Minister practically every day in this House. If one feels aggrieved one can go to him and say, "This letter of your Department is below your usual standard." [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I have done it over and over again.

Every day an individual Member of Parliament, if he is not satisfied with letters from the Departments, can go with them to the Minister, and, if the Minister remains obdurate, that is a matter which involves in due course the confidence of this House in that Minister. I am quite sure that hon. Members on both sides feel this, and I do not think that this is a matter for sneering about. This is a method which we all as Members of this House ought to exercise, and I believe that we do exercise it. If we do not exercise it we are neglecting our duty in that behalf.

Hon. Members who support this idea say that the system would be improved if we have a Parliamentary committee superimposed upon it. There are, obviously, a lot of questions which still have to be investigated. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock gave me in advance an answer to a question which is one of those which has to be resolved. He says it will be up to the individual Member to select cases which he requires the Parliamentary Commissioner to put before the committee. It seems to me there has to be some effective process of selection, otherwise the committee will be absolutely submerged with the number of cases which individual Members may desire to refer to it.

It is open to question whether that is a better system or not. I see the case for it. I do not necessarily say I am convinced by it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for The Wrekin instanced the housing manager. He said Chat if a council digs in its toes one can do nothing about it. The individual housing manager of whom he spoke has, I understand, been removed from office, so that possibly that is not a case which wholly supports the proposition which he was putting forward.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not rise again, because we are anxious to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, who will follow me wind up the debate. I did not rise to speak earlier, because I knew that the hon. Gentleman the Member for The Wrekin wanted to speak.

Speaking for myself and my own constituency, I certainly would not subscribe to the view that there is no ready and easy and constant access to councillors. We have all heard a number of cases in which persons who, desiring council accommodation, cannot get it, and who say that the housing manager has taken a hard, harsh view of their cases, but I have never known a case in which, if one has asked the chairman of the housing committee to lay the case before the housing committee, it has not received full consideration. Often there is an overwhelming answer by the council to a case, and, try as it may, it cannot see any adequate ground for stepping up that individual case and giving it priority.

It is certainly not my own personal experience—I do not say that my experience is universal, but I should be surprised if it were the experience of other hon. Members—that if one takes a case to a local authority, whether it is a matter within the work of the housing manager or anybody else, one cannot get the local authority to give it full, adequate attention. It is my experience one always can, and my experience, too, as I have said, is that very often, in most cases, if relief has not already been granted, there is adequate reason for that.

I fear that I have trespassed a little bit on the time of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the reply to which we are all looking forward, and I shall in a moment resume my seat. I would, however, conclude my observations by saying that I think that this is one of the most valuable debates that we have had for some time. Debates in this House which evoke individual feelings, and are not on a party basis, are often the most valuable and most fertile. This debate certainly falls within that category. This, obviously, is a matter of great importance and one which we must have prominently in our minds. I think that I am right in saying that this is the first time that the attention of the House has been brought fair and square to it, so that we shall think about it in the future.

I repeat that we owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Members who have taken it upon themselves to initiate this debate.

1.56 p.m.

I entirely agree with the right hon and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) in his tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) for having initiated this debate and to the hon. Members who have taken part in it. I agree, again, that this is one of the most important topics which can be discussed by Parliament, the ultimate relationship between the individual and the State, a question which is as old as organised society itself.

When we have passed in a comparatively short time of human history, or British history for that matter, from a state of affairs where the Executive were responsible only for external defence and, to a very limited extent, for internal order, to the state where the Executive intervenes constantly in the affairs of the community, quite clearly we have to examine afresh, and constantly examine, the relationship of the individual to the State. I recognise—the Government recognise—that the growth of official activity has enormously widened the area of possible misunderstanding and injustice, and I find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) when he says that such a state of affairs is a danger to Parliamentary democracy itself. We have all of us in our constituency experience seen that misunderstanding; all of us have seen a sense of injustice.

I personally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport that one must not underestimate what is in fact done by Members of Parliament in getting grievances rectified and injustices put right. Of course, many of the complaints which come before us, we recognise, are without basis; but many, again, are put right by Ministerial reconsideration. But I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) that all of us feel that there have been a few instances in which we have been left with a sense of uneasiness. My own view is that any worth-while system must make provision for proper and, so far as possible, independent investigation of such grievances.

I must not be understood in what I say to be committing the Government to any particular institution or, indeed, at this stage, to the proposition that a case for an amendment of the law has been made. I find myself very much in agreement with the attitude taken by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport. The Government accept, however, that in such circumstances as I have described, we should be prepared to look again at whether our existing institutions afford a sufficient opportunity for the public ventilation and rectification of grievances.

The debate has raised particularly the institution of the Ombudsman, or the Parliamentary Commissioner. The House has not been told, but many hon. Members will know, that the Society of Justice, which is a consortium of the three political legal societies to promote objects of common interest to the legal profession in the public sphere, commissioned Sir John Whyatt, a distinguished colonial judge, to examine in great detail the problem of the Ombudsman. I am told that he is unlikely to report before the summer. He has been examining the subject in great detail and I am sure that when we get his report, we will be able to judge much more clearly how far the Ombudsman would fit into the English system.

A number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden), raised the question of police powers. As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) told us, the Royal Commission on the Police, of which he is a member, is sitting and will consider that question. I do not doubt that we shall get guidance on that aspect of the problem from the Royal Commission.

Having said that, I thought that it might be of assistance, even though it must be in a tentative way, if I looked with the House at the institution of the Ombudsman. Before doing so, however, may I mention one other foreign institution which has attracted a great many people in this country who have been concerned with the problem. I refer to the Conseil d'Etat, the French Council of State. It works extremely well in France. It is difficult to see how it could be translated into the English system, but it has the enormous strength that it is part of the executive itself. In fact, it is the cream of the Civil Service. It can try actions by State employees in the sort of circumstances that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle mentioned. It can also try all cases against State employees. In our system, however, by and large we try that latter type of case in the courts. We do not have a system of administrative law. The Crown servant is responsible in the ordinary courts of the land for any infraction that he may make of the law. I do not suppose that anybody will consider changing that system.

The system of the Conseil d'Etat has the great advantage of the examination of state documents. Generally speaking, when examining a problem it will call for the departmental files from the department concerned. If they are withheld, the Conseil d'Etat will draw every reasonable inference against the department for withholding them. In addition, it has the power in certain circumstances, which gives greater flexibility, to sit in camera.

I must, however, point out two things. In the first place, we could introduce such a system into our ordinary courts of law. We could give them the right to sit in camera in certain circumstances if that were thought advisable. Secondly, however, with regard to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin that similar powers might be given to the Parliamentary Commissioner, I see great difficulties. As hon. Members know, I was one of the protagonists in the struggle for the relaxation of the rule of Grown Privilege. I see the great force of the argument that it would be difficult to preserve the proper attitude of confidence and confidentiality between a civil servant and his Minister if he knew that every recommendation and minute of his would be made public. I felt that within the sphere of the law courts, that argument could be exaggerated at times. It seems to me, however, that if automatically a Parliamentary Commissioner could bring before a Parliamentary committee the files of a Department, it might result in serious inroads being made into the traditional and valuable relationship between the civil servant and his Minister.

The Swedish Ombudsman is a completely integral part of the Swedish constitution, which is very different from ours. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle said, the Swedish Ombudsman dates back to 1809, if not further, and has grown up and developed within the ambit of the Swedish constitution. I understand that in Sweden, the Cabinet takes decisions on matters of policy but the administrative work of implementing that policy is done by public boards, rather like the boards of our nationalised industries. The officials of those boards are answerable, not to the ministers, but to the courts. That is a very different system from ours. There was great force in the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North that it is a valuable element in our system that Ministers are responsible for the actions of their officials and responsible to Parliament.

The other thing which one finds in the Swedish Ombudsman, but not, I understand, in the Danish Ombudsman, is that he also has jurisdiction over the judiciary. Clearly, that would be unacceptable in our system. As has been pointed out, many of the grievances which can be dealt with only in Scandinavia by the Ombudsman are remediable in this country through the courts and remediable also through Parliamentary action in a way which, I understand, does not obtain in the Scandinavian courts.

The Parliamentary Question, for example, is obviously partly a matter of political manoeuvre. On the other hand, we use Question Time with great value for the ventilation of individual grievances. The English Minister accepts as many Questions in one day as his Parliamentary counterpart in Scandinavia does in a year.

One would have to consider seriously the question of staffing. None of us would wish to erect a vast bureaucracy to investigate another bureaucracy. The Danish Ombudsman works with five lawyers and five typists, which is slightly larger than my own Department, but still within manageable proportions. However, it would obviously on any account have to be a fairly substantial department. Indeed, some of the grievances that were mentioned today would demand an enormous department—for example, the action of trade unions causing individual grievances, the nationalised industries, and the cases of Mr. Glanfield and Mr. Bryant.

Are we really to have a Parliamentary Commissioner with supervision over the nationalised industries? As was pertinently said by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, whether in these day-to-day matters one pleads the Limitation Act or any other example, it would make an inroad. We should not exclude this, but it will make an inroad into what has hitherto been accepted as a relationship between Parliament and the nationalised industries.

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), in his extremely forceful and eloquent speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, mentioned local authority services—education in the one case and housing in the other. Should we have an Ombudsman to investigate the municipalities? I do not say that one should exclude that. That may come later but, when one looks at the problems which have been mentioned today, one must see that they do not come exclusively within the province of a Parliamentary Ombudsman dealing with matters for which Ministers are responsible. The police authority is a local authority, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin wanted the Parliamentary Ombudsman to investigate the problems with which he was concerned in the Colonies. One would almost have to set up an alternative office if that were to be done, because we should require a roving commissioner going all over our colonial dependencies.

Those are only some of the difficulties. I do not put them forward as a conclusive argument by any means. Indeed, one could obviously limit the initial scope of any Parliamentary Commissioner. My view is that the idea would be far more likely to succeed if it were to work within the ambit of existing institutions. We could do a great deal to improve our existing institutions to deal with some of these problems. For example, in the courts of law, the common law over the centuries has had a traditional solicitude for the liberty and acquired rights of the individual. It has powerful instruments if they are properly used, including habeas corpus in the case my hon. Friend mentioned of somebody illegally detained in a mental institu- tion. Certainly one could consider making the various orders which are made in these administrative processes what are called speaking orders, that is to say, orders giving the reason for the decision on the face of them. That at one stroke would give our existing courts far more power to see whether there was proper evidence upon which the decision could have been made.

The Council on Tribunals shows signs of having teeth, and I think that when one has an institution like that one can regard it as a growing point. There are mental health review tribunals, which I think will take care of the problem my hon. Friend raised, as I think he recognised. Most of all, I think that we should use our existing Parliamentary institutions. Although, as I hope I made it plain, I am not committing the Government in any way, I am personally attracted by the suggestion put forward, I think originally, in an article in The Times of 12th December last year, that a Parliamentary Commissioner might be fitted into the institution of the Committee on Public Petitions. This is no encouragement to my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn).

We should be working by analogy in that respect, in that the Select Committee of Public Accounts has an official, the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is of great value to that Committee and who is capable of independent investigation and advice. His salary—and this, I think, is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—is borne on the Consolidated Fund so that he is independent of the Civil Service

I conclude, as I began, by saying that the problem of the rights of the individual as against the State and its institutions and servants is one of the most important that could arise in our political and Parliamentary life. It is one that any free society must keep constantly under review. The Government are alive to it, and, in the light of this debate and the investigations by Sir John Whyatt, they will continue to study the best way of meeting the views which have been put forward today.

In the meantime, I again congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle for initiating this debate, and hon. Members for their valuable contributions to this problem.