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Volume 895: debated on Monday 7 July 1975

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asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will move for the appointment of a Select Committee into the workings of Parliament.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I am planning a major review of parliamentary procedure in the autumn. Whether this should be done by Select Committee or in some other way is still to be decided.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will be warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he accept that Parliament's rĂ´ole as a check on the executive and also as a forum for national debate needs re-examination in the light of modern conditions? Will he also accept that we need to look at the servicing and working conditions of Members of Parliament, including late parliamentary hours?

I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. The first point is the fundamental one. The relationship between the roles of the executive and of the legislature has rather changed in recent years. I agree that this is fundamental to parliamentary democracy. The second matter is the kind of practical problem with which a radical review of this kind should be concerned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he gave an assurance recently to find time for debating the valuable report of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on the preparation of legislation? As this deals with a substantial aspect of the working of Parliament, can the right hon. Gentleman say when that debate may take place?

I pay tribute to the excellence of the report by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I hope that we can debate both this report and the report from the Select Committee on Procedure before the end of the present Session.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the review of the working of Parliament, take into account the changing nature of the composition of the House of Commons and the fact that it is now a multi-party Chamber, whereas many of our procedures are still geared to the outdated two-party system?

Certainly I should welcome the views of hon. Members over the next few weeks on the scope of the review.

May I take up a slight ambiguity in my right hon. Friend's remarks and ask whether he is aware that this House and the other place are masters of their own procedures, and that a Joint Committee would be better than any such body as a Royal Commission or anything of that sort?

I rule out a Royal Commission, which would take much too long, but there are a number of other possibilities. One is a Joint Committee and another is whether we should bring in one or two people from outside to help us. I think that the public have a point of view here, too.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that his remarks ruling cut a Royal Commission are wholly welcome to everyone on this side of the House? It is pleasant to be able to agree with the right hon. Gentleman for once. May I ask whether he is aware that while the Opposition would welcome a review of the working of Parliament we would want to be assured that not too much influence would be exerted by those who have succeeded in gumming up the proceedings of the House of Commons with the present congested legislative programme

I think that the gumming up, as the right hon. Gentleman rather inelegantly calls it, is due to a number of factors. That cited by him may be one, but there are others that I could mention. The right hon. Gentleman started his supplementary question in a harmonious way, and I shall not disturb the harmony.