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Liaison Committee

Volume 977: debated on Thursday 31 January 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The following motion stood upon the Order Paper in the name of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas):

That—

  • (i) a select committee shall be appointed, to be called the Liaison Committee—
  • (a) to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees, and
  • (b) to give such advice relating to the work of select committees as may be sought by the House of Commons Commission;
  • (ii) the committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report from time to time;
  • (iii) unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament;
  • (iv) the committee may consist of more than fifteen Members;
  • (v) this Order be a Standing Order of the House.
  • 9.23 pm

    The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
    (Mr. St. John-Stevas)

    In moving the first of the two motions in my name, perhaps it would be convenient for me to do so in the amended form of which you are aware Mr. Deputy Speaker—that is to say, by inserting at the end of paragraph (iv) the words:

    "of whom six shall be the quorum."

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the sort of thing that starts like a storm in a teacup and raises great constitutional issues. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that normally when notice of a motion has been given on the Order Paper it is not possible to change the terms of that motion.

    I am informed that Mr. Speaker has been advised that this particular amended motion should be selected. I am, therefore, in the difficulty—as my contention is to be that Mr. Speaker has been misadvised—that you, as Deputy Speaker, or your successor in the Chair, are not in a position, as it were, to alter Mr. Speaker's mind. May I, therefore, suggest that Mr. Speaker should be summoned so that this matter can be considered?

    I am not on the point of order at this stage. It is my contention that Mr. Speaker has been misadvised on the precedents in order to protect a source of error, and it would be better if he were here to determine whether that is so or not.

    If Mr. Speaker has been misadvised, so have I. I should like the hon. Gentleman to address his mind to "Erskine May", which I presume he has already done. Page 367 refers to:

    "Change of term of notice of motion."
    It says:
    "A modification of a notice of motion standing upon the notice paper is permitted, if the amended notice does not exceed the scope of the original notice."

    It goes on, but I intend to deal with just that for the moment. I think that Mr. Speaker and I take the view that the words that have been added to the motion do not materially alter the motion as such. I will—

    Order. I am on my feet. The wording of that clearly indicates that it is within the right of the occupant of the Chair to make a ruling and that it is not for the House to decide on that matter, because "Erskine May" goes on to say:

    "If a motion is proposed, which differs materially from the terms of the notice, it can only be made with the consent of the House, or by a new notice."
    That clearly indicates that it is for Mr. Speaker or the occupant of the Chair to make a decision.

    If the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring something to my notice which changes that, I shall be glad to hear it. I remind the hon. Gentleman that that ruling was held to in a previous precedent. On 30 July 1963, in an Adjournment debate, a time was put into the date after the date of the Adjournment. That was accepted on the same principle. Mr. Speaker and myself say that this has not materially altered the motion. Therefore, it is a matter for the discretion of the occupant of the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to address me in an effort to show that that is wrong, I am prepared to listen to a point of order on it. However, I do not wish to go back to the seventeenth century; we have more recent precedents.

    I agree entirely with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, my charge with respect, is that Mr. Speaker and, apparently, yourself have been misadvised. In effect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have proved my point by what you have just said. The full statement on the fourth paragraph of page 367 of the latest edition of "Erskine May", which is headed "Change of terms of notice of motion", proceeds:

    "A modification of a notice of motion standing upon the notice paper is permitted, if the amended notice does not exceed the scope of the original notice".
    There is then note (r), to which I shall come in a moment. The paragraph proceeds:
    "If a motion is proposed, which differs materially from the terms of the notice, it can only be made with the consent of the House, or by a new notice."
    There then follows note (s).

    I should like to start by saying that I am grateful to the Leader of the House for tabling this motion as he has, with time for it to be discussed. It is in accordance with his normal procedure in the House of Commons, which is courteous and effective. My discussion with him would have bean about the membership of the Committee. He will be well aware that that discussion has been held in private between Back Bench and Front Bench Members over the last few months.

    Since 7 December the bulk of the second motion that the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to move has been on the Order Paper. I do not know who drafted that. Persons responsible to the Government tell me that it was the Clerks of the House and the Clerks tell me that it was the Government. Ultimately, in a technical sense, it is a Government motion. However, I am reliably informed that Officers of the House had a share in determining its content. That content did not include what it is now attempted to include at the last minute, halfway through the right hon. Gentleman's moving of the motion.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for saying that the matter is not for the House but for the Chair. The precedents referred to in the note of "Erskine May" point out that it is for the House. The first thing that I should wish to point out is that the editorship of "Erskine May" is in the hands of the Clerk's Department of the House. I accept, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are entitled to quote precedents, but if they are not included in "Erskine May" upon a given date it can hardly be unanticipated that hon. Members or even people outside will query rulings.

    This ruling has been dredged up. It has not been put into the authoritative text that we rely upon for our precedents. Therefore, I should like to quote the precedents that are included in "Erskine May" and you will see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that what you have said, and what Mr. Speaker has been advised, may not be the truth of the matter. I am following your advice and taking the most recent precedent quoted.

    I shall not go back into the eighteenth century. I am taking the most recent precedent that has been quoted in the most recent edition of "Erskine May". That edition was edited by the Clerk's Department. Different Clerks edit different chapters. The trustees of "Erskine May"—usually the most senior members of the Clerk's Department—are ultimately responsible. We are taking what they have issued as an authoritative text.

    Let us begin with the most recent precedent. Under note (s)on the page that you have already quoted, namely, page 367, it says:
    "ibid. (1895) 33, c. 961".
    That means the fourth series of Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 33, c. 961. Towards the bottom it states:
    "The London and North-Western Railway and their Welsh-speaking Employés".
    That is perhaps appropriate for next Monday. It continues:
    "Mr A. J. Balfour, referring to the following Motion standing on the Paper in the name of Mr Lloyd Geor…".
    The motion then follows.

    Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to say whether there is anything since that date that he can bring to my notice. I am not going back to 1895. I shall certainly not change my mind about anything quoted then. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that "Erskine May" is incorrect. We are not going into that this evening. If "Erskine May" is incorrect, I shall give an incorrect judgment. Is there anything since that precedent that the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring to my attention? Does he wish to say that this is a material change within the motion?

    I accept your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, you must admit that the issue has caused some confusion. The current edition—in the 1970s, not in the 1895s—was published after the precedent that you quoted which was given to you by the Clerk's Department. The current edition of "Erskine May" only gives a precedent as late as 1895 on that particular point.

    I am well aware that you are entitled to consider—and the Clerks are entitled to give you—subsequent precedents. Why did they not put them in the document that was published? Why have they suddenly discovered them in this particular context? Perhaps they have suddenly realised that it might be necessary to have a quorum of fewer than 23 for a particular Select Committee. If you do not allow me to quote a precedent that occurs in 1895, you are forbidding me to quote anything.

    I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are saying that I may not quote precedents that occur in the only printed and public document available to most people. I am aware that there are other ways of finding precedents. If you do not allow me to quote that, it will be difficult to challenge the sources of advice to the Chair. Contradictory advice has been given to me. Civil servants, responsible to the Crown, tell me that responsibility lies with the Officers of the House. Officers of the House tell me that the responsibility lies with civil servants, who are responsible to the Crown. That is one of Britain's faults. We cannot always find out—to use a lay phrase—who has "cocked up" the nation. Something has been omitted.

    Since 7 December there has been a notice on the Order Paper that did not mention a quorum. That means that every Committee member must turn up. It cannot be said that it is totally wrong that every member of a Liaison Committee, which is supposed to liaise with all the members of all Committees, should turn up.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is entering into a different argument. I hope that he appreciates my reason for supporting the ruling of Mr. Speaker. Whatever the precedents were in the past, new precedents come into existence. The Chair can operate only on the most recent. The precedent that I have read to the hon. Gentleman—quoted in "Erskine May"—from the occasion in 1963 when a similar amendment was made to a motion when a time was put at the end of the date, did not constitute a change to the motion.

    The words that are sought to be added tonight are not a material part of the motion. That is why the Chair has given that ruling. If the hon. Gentleman would address his mind to the more recent past and say whether there is anything of recent date that would conflict with what I have said, I should be prepared to listen and perhaps change my mind.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The most recent precedent was a simple change from 10 o'clock to 11 o'clock, or vice versa. It was a clear error. This may or may not be an error, but it is material to the subject that we are discussing. The Procedure Committee of the last Parliament suggested that there should be a Liaison Committee consisting of representaives of all the permanent Select Committees. That is not a precise phrase. I shall not go into the details of why it is not precise. It is open to interpretation. There have been long discussions between both Front Benches and between both Back Benches, and it was originally suggested—

    The hon. Gentleman is going wide of making a legal submission on the matter.

    With respect, the hon. Gentleman is doing so. I hope that he will direct his remarks to the precedent that I have given.

    I am pointing out that the quorum of the Committee is material. The original suggestion was that all 24, or however many, Select Committees could be represented by a small number, say, 10, 11, or 12. I do not wish to go into the details, because I should be out of order.

    During the course of the discussions it was decided and agreed by everyone that the number should be larger. I think that the number on the Paper in the next motionis 23. That is not the matter at issue. The discussions centre almost entirely upon the number who should be present in the Liaison Committee. The number who should be present in order for it to act is its quorum.

    On the Order Paper, any notice of motion from 7 December, 8 December and every single day after that until the House adjourned for Christmas and after Christmas from 14 January, up to and including today—

    Order. I am not impressed with the hon. Gentleman's argument. He has tabled an amendment to delete certain words. That amendment has been selected, and it will be possible to have a separate Division on it if the hon. Gentleman so wishes. If the House does not wish to have the words put in, it can have them taken out.

    I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's remarks up to now have not persuaded me that his argument is so material that the motion falls.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend, not on the appropriateness of including the words but on the point of order that he is presenting.

    I understand that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are asking us to address ourselves to the question whether the addition of those words puts the new notice of motion outside the scope of the original notice.

    I ask myself what the situation would be if the words that the Leader of the House sought to add were not that the quorum should be six but that it should be 20. There we would have a massive change in the practices of the House with regard to the size of the quorum in relation to the size of the Committee—something upon which the House as a whole has had no advance notice that it was coming up.

    I guess, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that additional words of that kind, to many Members at least, would seem to be outside the scope of the original motion. At least, they would think that it was not something that ought to be passed without the House having had advance notice of its coming up.

    I mention that only to explain that that is the reason why I have great sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend is making. It would be very unfortunate if a precedent were set tonight, as it were, which could be invoked in different circumstances in the future to allow a gradual erosion of the practice requiring advance notice of motions.

    It occurs to me that, given the difficulty that my hon. Friend feels he must raise, there is an alternative way of approaching the matter—if the Leader of the House felt able, instead of seeking permission to move the motion in an alternative form, with the additional words, he were simply to move the motion in its original form and seek your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to move the additional words in the form of a manuscript amendment, turning, as it were, the amendment of my hon. Friend on its head. If that were in order—which I think it is—it would achieve exactly the same object but would do so without raising all the difficulties that my hon. Friend—rightly, I think—feels inclined to press if we proceed on the basis on which we are now engaged.

    May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you would be prepared, were the Leader of the House willing, to accept a manuscript amendment—which, if you wish, I will move—along those lines, if it were thought to be a way of avoiding the difficulty that we seem to be in?

    I ought to point out that, as I understand it, it is not possible to amend one's own motion at this particular stage.

    I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In no way do I wish to question your ruling or to depart from it one iota. I support the Chair entirely. However, if the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is so disposed to move this amendment, if it commands the sup- port of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and if, in your opinion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is for the convenience of the House, I think that I should be the last person who would raise any objection.

    I would be the last person to raise an objection in these circumstances.

    If that is for the convenience of the House, I think that that is the procedure that we might adopt. This in no way departs from Mr. Speaker's ruling and my own ruling on this issue.

    I accept that this is in accordance with the normal courtesies of the House and is the best way to deal with this matter. However, just for the sake of the record, I should like to put forward one simple thing. It is the utterance of a former Speaker. It is only one sentence, uttered on a similar occasion. It is the second most recent precedent quoted in "Erskine May".

    It is column 219 of the third series, volume 212, of Parliamentary Debates for 1872. It is the second most recent precedent quoted in the most recent edition of "Erskine May", edited by the trustees of "Erskine May", who are the senior Clerks of the House.

    The then Mr. Speaker said:
    "Of course, it was in the power of the House, if it pleased, to entertain that motion"
    It was the exact opposite of that which, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you will forgive my saying so, you have been advised to say.

    I think that that power should be retained by the House, because there are occasions when we may wish to deal with matters such as Bills on terrorism or something of which notice has not been given. Mr. Speaker went on to say:
    "but he was bound to say that it seemed to him, having regard to the practice of the House, that the present Motion, differing as it did so materially from the original one, should not be entertained without notice".
    I was trying to make the point that while the House should retain the power of dealing with matters without notice, it should not do this when there was no reason for so doing.

    I think that it would be convenient to proceed. While I am on this particular point, I should say that it now means that we shall have the original amendment and the manuscript amendment. Is the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) agreeable that I should put the Question on the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)?

    The hon. Gentleman's amendment is the one on which I would put the Question, but the other amendment would be spoken to at the same time and would, of course, be moved afterwards.

    I take it that the first thing that would happen would be that the right hon. Gentleman's motion would be moved in the form in which it was on the Order Paper. Then there might be amendments to it.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. What I was seeking to do was not to rise again at a later stage to ask this question. Obviously, I shall put the Question when the right hon. Gentleman has moved the motion, and then I will ask the hon. Gentleman to move his amendment and the manuscript amendment will be taken with it. Is that procedure acceptable?

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I see whether I understand your proposal correctly? Are you saying that the Leader of the House will move his motion, then my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will move his printed amendment and thereafter I will move my manuscript amendment, and that we will debate the whole thing together? For my part, I agree entirely.

    My problem is that I do not know what my hon. Friend's amendment is going to be, or in what line it is going to occur.

    I understood quite clearly that it was going to be in terms of what has been put in the motion. There must not be any dispute about that.

    I have not seen that amendment, because it is not printed on the Paper. I have only been told about it. I know that somewhere it says that the quorum is a particular number of people. My amendment begins at paragraph (iii).

    I think that we are wasting time on this. The manuscript amendment is in paragraph (iv), at the end, insert—

    "of whom six shall be the quorum".
    That is the manuscript amendment that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) will be moving.

    Now that you have said it is in paragraph (iv), obviously it should be moved after my amendment.

    As I was saying when I was so learnedly interrupted, the motion now before the House represents a further stage in the implementation of the recommendations of the report dealing with the new Select Committee structure.

    When the House debated last June the main proposals in that report, I promised to consider further the recommendation in which the Committee had proposed the establishment of a formal Select Committee Liaison Committee, consisting of representatives of the various Select Committees. I said then that I accepted in principle this recommendation, which had been proposed as an amendment to the original motions on that question, and I promised to bring a proposal before the House in due course. This needed to await the establishment of the new Departmental Committees, but I am now in a position to do this.

    Of course, as the House will be aware, a Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairmen has in fact existed since 1967. It has dealt with a number of matters affecting Select Committees, such as arrangements for Select Committee travel, the employment of specialist advisers and the avoidance of unnecessary overlap between the work of the various Select Committees. It has also acted as a channel of communication between successive Leaders of the House and Select Committees on a wide range of matters. I think that there is general agreement that the Committee has been of considerable benefit. I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), in particular for the work that he did as Chairman of that Committee when he was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

    But, of course, that Committee never had any formal status and the membership was never formally specified. Accordingly, it was the view of the Procedure Committee that with the expanded Select Committee system that it proposed—which the House has accepted—there was a need for the Committee to be put on a formal basis. That is the purpose of the motion tonight, which is in broad terms.

    I imagine that the proposed functions of the new Committee will not in practice differ greatly from those of its predecessor, although, as our Select Committee system has since been expanded, there will no doubt be more matters of common interest to Select Committees to be considered. I must stress that the Committee will have the normal powers of a Select Committee, namely, to call for persons, papers and records, but it is proposed that its functions should be only advisory—for example, in the sense that it will have no formal power to resolve a dispute should it arise between individual Select Committees. That is in accordance with the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, and I believe that it is right that individual Select Committees should continue to have full independence, for example, to decide on the subject of their inquiries and to interpret their own terms of reference.

    It is proposed that the Committee should also advise the House of Commons Commission where necessary. I know that the House of Commons Commission, of which I am a member, is eagerly looking forward to the appointment of this Committee. There are a number of matters affecting Select Committees, particularly those concerned with their supporting staff and services, which lie within the responsibility of the Commission. The proposed Committee will have an important role in this respect, that of bringing together the views of the Select Committees and advising the Commission, as required, on such matters.

    One part of the motion says that the Liaison Committee should give advice relating to the work of Select Committees

    "as may he sought by the House of Commons Commission".
    Those words seem to me to be unduly restrictive. Surely it is not intended that the Liaison Committee should be debarred from volunteering advice to the House of Commons Commission, yet the words seem to mean that.

    I do not think that that is the intention. I think that there is a general intention that the House of Commons Commission will, in general, seek and welcome advice from the Liaison Committee. I believe that one must interpret that in a general and commonsense way. After all, these are arrangements that cannot operate according to the letter of the motion. They must depend on reasonable people on the Committees and on the spirit in which the whole thing is operated.

    With regard to membership, the Procedure Committee recommended that the new Select Committee should include one representative, normally the Chairman, from each of the permanent Select Committees, and the motion provides for that. It is proposed that most Select Committees shall be represented by their Chairmen, although in certain cases—for example, the Services Committee—it would seem more appropriate that the Committee should be represented by another Member.

    The Procedure Committee also recommended that there should be a number of added members on the Committee. I do not believe that that would be right. In these matters I think that it is far better for the decisions to be taken by those who are engaged in the work of the Select Committee system. For that reason among others, I would advise that the House should reject the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).

    It gives me no pleasure to recommend the rejection of any amendment that is tabled by the hon. Member, who has devoted so much time and expertise to the service of the House. That is not always recognised, even on his own side of the House. I am happy to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his great services to the House of Commons. Indeed, I am happy to sit all night if necessary to listen to his counsel, because I always learn something from what he says, whether he is in the twentieth century, the nineteenth century, the eighteenth, the seventeenth century or, sometimes, even further back.

    I consider it unnecessary for the Committee of Privileges to be included amongst the Committees represented on this new body. I think that the House will recognise that that Committee is unique and that its requirements, role and practice have little in common with other Select Committees.

    The motion provides that representation on the Liaison Committee should be decided by the House and not by the Committees represented, as the hon. Gentleman proposes. I believe that to be in accord with the general practice of the House. A formal House Committee is now proposed. It is right that the House as a whole, from which all the powers of Committees ultimately derive, should determine its membership.

    Although it is still early days, I am grateful for the way in which the new Select Committee structure has been launched. The Liaison Committee constitutes what I might call the coping stone to the arch. I am sure that the new structure will strengthen Parliament's scrutiny of the work of Government Departments and that we shall continue as a Government—I want to give this assurance to the House—to carry out our pledge to assist the Committee in every way possible. The Liaison Committee is an essential part of that structure. We have proceeded slowly but surely in these matters. We have endeavoured to meet the anxieties of hon. Members on every point. Everyone's opinion has been taken into account. I am sure that the new Liaison Committee will add to the co-ordinated effectiveness of its work.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West for his continuing interest in these matters—interest which is of an entirely disinterested character. He is working for the good of the House, which I deeply appreciate.

    I beg to move.

    That—
  • (i) a select committee shall be appointed, to be called the Liaison Committee—
  • (a) to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees, and
  • (b) to give such advice relating to the work of select committees as may be sought by the House of Commons Commission;
  • (ii) the committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report from time to time;
  • (iii) unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament;
  • (iv) the committee may consist of more than fifteen Members;
  • (v) this Order be a Standing Order of the House.
  • 9.57 pm

    I beg to move, to leave out paragraph (iii) and insert,

  • (iii) the committee shall consist of representatives of the select committees on Agriculture, Defence, Education, Science and Arts, Employment, Energy, Environment, European Legislation, &c., Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, House of Commons (Services), Industry and Trade, Members' Interests, Parliamentary Commissoner for Administration, Privileges, Public Accounts, Scottish Affairs, Selection, Social Services, Sound Broadcasting, Statutory Instruments, Transport, Treasury and Civil Service, Welsh Affairs and of any other select committees which may be appointed for the duration of the Parliament.
  • (iv) in paragraph (iii) above 'representative' means—
  • (a) if the chairman of a select committee is not a Minister of the Crown, the chairman of the committee concerned, unless that committee othewise order.
  • (b) if the chairman of a select committee is a Minister of the Crown, such member of the committee concerned as that committee may, from time to time, determine.
  • (v) in addition to members of the Liaison Committee determined in accordance with paragraphs (iii) and (iv) above, the committee shall include such other Members as may be necessary to ensure that the committee reflects the compositon of the House.
  • I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. May I reciprocate by repeating something that I half said earlier? I am grateful to him for providing all hon. Members with the time on the Floor of the House for this discussion. It is almost becoming a pre- cedent that on Thursday evenings hon. Members who are interested in these rather esoteric matters discuss them, with the aid of the right hon. Gentleman. In return, I do not think that any hon. Member would wish to take up the time of the House unduly.

    I agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that the Liaison Committee constitutes a coping stone. My phrase would have been "Keystone", but both show an interest in architecture. The Procedure Committee took the view that the new Select Committees could not work without a Liaison Committee.

    As the right hon. Gentleman said, we are all aware that an informal committee was set up by the late Dick Crossman when he was Leader of the House. However, a formal Select Committee can tell an informal Committee in polite House of Commons language to go away if it suggests something with which the formal Committee does not agree. On one occasion the previous informal Committee tried to tell a Sub-Committee of which I was Chairman not to do a particular thing. We said that we were going to do it and that it could tell us not to do so by some formal procedure. There was no formal procedure.

    However, I do not think that we should go to the opposite extreme. The Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) appreciate that the Liaison Committee should not control the other Select Committees. On that basis they would become Sub-Committees, not Select Committees.

    I do not think that it would be disputed that if the Liaison Committee felt, say—to take a purely hypothetical case that the Energy Committee was discussing education in a way that infringed the perquisites of the Education, Science and Arts Committee, it should be within the power of the Liaison Committee to say so publicly. The ultimate decision rests with the House.

    That is, I think, the important point. This is why the Liaison Committee should not control other Select Committees but should itself be a Select Committee capable of reporting, just as the other Select Committees are capable of expressing their views to the House and to the public, and so forth.

    As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware,—

    It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Ordered,

    That, at this day's sitting, the Motions relating to the Liaison Committee may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[ Mr. Wakeham.]

    Question again proposed.

    As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, when the proposals for the new departmental Select Committees—originally 12 and, with the addition of Scottish and Welsh Affairs, 14—were put to the House, no suggestion of a Liaison Committee was at that time put to the House. That was perhaps understandable after a general election, with a new Government. The right hon. Gentleman readily and speedily said that he would set up a Liaison Committee, but it has taken rather a long time to do it. As I pointed out earlier in a different context, there has been a motion on the Order Paper since 7 January about a Liaison Committee. That was some time after the right hon. Gentleman's commitment. The motion now appears on the Order Paper of 31 January.

    It has, therefore, taken a long time, and part of the reason for that is the basis of my amendment. There has been a great deal of discussion about the exact composition of the Liaison Committee. I must confess to some fault in this regard. Like all the other members of the last Parliament's Procedure Committee, I thought that we were being clear when we said that the Liaison Committee should consist of representatives of the "permanent" Select Committees of the House.

    In our minds, Committees dealing with such matters as Cyprus and a wealth tax were not permament, whereas Committees dealing with such matters as Public Accounts, Privileges and Services—which tend to be recreated from Parliament to Parliament—were regarded differently. Of course, we included the ones that we were proposing. Nevertheless, I am afraid that the term "permanent Select Committee" is not a term of art and is open to misinterpretation.

    It is fair to say that in the course of discussions that have been held there has been general agreement that Com- mittees such as the Standing Orders Committee, chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means, or the Committee dealing with Consolidation Bills, are not such important Select Committees—although technically they are Select Committees—as to need to be included in the Liaison Committee.

    Various suggestions were put forward at various stages. The first was that a Liaison Committee should consist of mainly the new Committees and then of other Committees. There was a certain difficulty because the right hon. Gentleman—like most of his predecessors in office—is usually the Chairman of the Services Committee and the Privileges Committee, although there have been exceptions in each case when Leaders of the House did not wish to chair a Services Committee or a Privileges Committee. I am glad to see that one hon. Gentleman, who is not its Chairman, will be representing the Services Committee on the Liaison Committee.

    The main purpose of my amendment is to ask why no one is representing the Privileges Committee, which is the oldest and most senior Committee of the House. If anything could be called a permanent Select Committee, that one certainly could. Furthermore, it is relevant and of importance to the function of Select Committees. We all recollect the occasion during the last Parliament when a Select Committee wished to seek evidence from Sir Charles Villiers—the man who it is sometimes difficult to get to commune with others. A lady in the Department of the Serjeant at Arms had to be sent to Sir Charles with a warrant to persuade him, at is were, to give evidence. Questions of privilege were raised at that time. The Procedure Committee decided that no change was necessary in the law of privileges relating to Committees. We made a minor suggestion relating to time on the Floor of the House, but we felt that the Select Committees possessed all the capabilities, under the law of Parliament, which they needed to secure witnesses and to secure evidence.

    It is likely that these matters will arise again. Only last week the Employment Committee experienced some difficulty with Mr. O'Brien, the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission. The Committee thought that he was not going to give evidence to it. It is clear that the Committee could have summoned him. It could have issued an order requiring him to attend. In the event, that has not proved necessary. The Procedure Committee said that it should do no such thing until it had consulted the Cabinet Minister responsible for what are now called "associated public bodies" in the terms of reference of the Select Committees.

    It is clear that, if the crunch comes, there will be an occasion when someone does not wish to give evidence to a Select Committee and the Select Committee wants that person to give evidence on some material fact. I should have thought that it would be useful, to say the least, if someone, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), a well recognised Member of the House, interested in the Committee of Privileges, was a member of this Liaison Committee, where the matter could be discussed in private.

    The other point at issue occurs when Committees cut across each other. This is not difficult. I recollect a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), saying at an annual lunch of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee that there was no way in which one could get functions nicely and tidily associated inside Departments without cutting across the functions of others. The example that my right hon. Friend quoted was transport. This affects half a dozen Departments at least. Wherever one puts shipping, aircraft, road transport and railways, they will impinge on one another to some extent.

    The same is true of Select Committees that are now related departmentally to the Departments of State. Someone must eventually say that although a Committee may be primarily responsible for, say, energy, it does not matter if its members wish to talk about industry matters because that is secondary. Someone engaged on another inquiry primarily related to industry might wish to talk about certain nationalised industries which, technically, came under the purview of the Department of Energy. Someone must ultimately suggest, but not decide, a line of demarcation.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cun- ningham) shakes his head, but he forgets that I began by saying that I agreed with the Leader of the House that the Liaison Committee should not decide these matters. I do not think he suggested that its members should not have a right to their own opinion. It is for the House, if anyone, to decide these matters. But the Liaison Committee should be entitled to say that Committee X is going beyond what is normally accepted and that, in its view, the House should not allow this. It is a free country, and even Select Committees should be allowed to state their opinion.

    The best analogy that I can offer is Bagehot's "Constitutional Sovereign", that the functions of the Liaison Committee are to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. The other Committees are not agents of the Liaison Committee, as the hon. Gentleman has indicated. The other parallel that springs to mind is the view of the Episcopacy taken by the first Vatican Council, contrasted with the view of the Episcopacy taken by the second Vatican Council. In the first Vatican Council the members were regarded as agents of the Pope. The second Vatican Council enunciated the principle of collegiality. These Committees are collegial bodies.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He was kind enough to say that sometimes my precedents strayed back to the seventeenth century. I was almost on the point of saying that the right hon. Member belongs to a faith that was outlawed by this House in the sixteenth century, which proves that he is a century behind me in certain respects. As he will be well aware, the medieval principle was that all bishops were equal, and at that time the papacy did not have the supremacy that it was granted in the nineteenth century. We even had the use of Sarum in this country as a separate text from which the mass was preached.

    The right hon. Gentleman tempts me into fascinating and interesting paths. Because of his intricate mind, he is likely to become a very good Leader of the House, because that is an old-established institution as well. The first mention of Parliament is in a writ in 1236, and one needs an intricate mind of somewhat medieval quality to be Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman is doing extremely well.

    The first point of substance in my amendment is why the most senior Select Committee of the House is the only one of any importance that is not represented on the Liaison Committee. I accept that there are other minor Committees not represented which probably should not be represented.

    Secondly, why should the House always decide who represents a Committee instead of the Committee deciding it? Let me give an illustration. In the last Parliament, through no fault of his own, the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, was ill for six months. The then Sir David Renton, who is now Lord Renton, chaired the Committee after being approved by the Committee and, I suppose, represented it on the unofficial Liaison Committee. However, that was never agreed by the House.

    Let us think of such an event in terms of this motion once it has been carried. Let us suppose that the Government Chief Whip or the Deputy Chief Whip came to the House and moved Joe Bloggs off the Liaison Committee and put Jim Smith on. Let us suppose also that somebody queried that. Would the Chief Whip say "Oh, he has just come out of hospital and is not really fit to attend the House of Commons"? That would not be done. The truth is that out of politeness and courtesy to Joe Bloggs that would not be done, and for perhaps six months that Committee would be unrepresented.

    I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the exact text of my amendment tonight, but I hope that he will go away and think about how he can deal with such a set of circumstances. If he thinks that such circumstances will never occur in the long lifetime that we hope the Liaison Committee will have, he is misleading himself. It will be grossly unfair if some Committees are unrepresented. I have to bring this up, but there have been circumstances in which former hon. Members, even Ministers of the Crown, have ended up serving long sentences in gaol. Are we suggesting that during that time, because such a person is technically the Chairman of a Committee, that Committee should be unrepresented? I shall not go into the sordid details, but it is apparent that there must be circumstances when the Chairman is not the only person capable of representing a Committee, and may not even be the most desirable one, even if the Committee for some reason does not wish to change its Chairman at that precise moment. I suggest, therefore, that the Leader of the House should consider what ought to happen if there are circumstances of the type that I have mentioned.

    The only other reason for paragraph (v) in the amendment is a simple one, and I would willingly accept an assurance on it from the Leader of the House. When the Procedure Committee referred to "added numbers", it was not thinking of added numbers as some peculiar, unique category of persons. It was simply thinking of the political composition of the Committee.

    We did not know in advance that the two sides of the House would agree that seven of the 14 new Committees should have Chairmen from the Government side and that seven should have Chairmen from the Opposition side. In advance, they could have been of any complexion. They could be of a different complexion in the next Parliament. What we were determined to try to ensure was that the Liaison Committee reflected the composition of the House.

    I chose those words, as you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the Standing Order relating to the selection of Standing Committees. It says that the Selection Committee has to choose the membership so that it reflects
    "the composition of the House".
    That is the traditional phrase.

    If the Leader of the House is now saying that what took place through the usual channels on this occasion is what he—as Leader of the Hous and a Minister of the Crown—regards as a precedent for the future, I think that we could all accept that. That is sufficient. The purpose of my paragraph (v) is to illustrate what the Procedure Committee was talking about in relation to "added numbers". It meant that the composition of the Liaison Committee should reflect the political composition of the House.

    We thought that that Committee should have a representative, usually, but not always, the Chairman, of each of the permanent Select Committees. By that we meant the most important of them. We did not mean the ad hoc Committees. We meant that there should be a representative of each of the permanent Select Committees and that, in political terms, they should reflect the composition of the House.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that perhaps we did not phrase it correctly. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether he is right to leave off only one of the "permanent" Select Committees—and that the oldest and the most senior of them, the Privileges Committee.

    I hope that the Leader of the House will say, on the record, for the benefit of future generations quoting Hansard—as I did earlier—that he believes that the Liaison Committee should always reflect the political composition of the House.

    That, I believe, would be satisfactory.

    Before I call the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), I should say that I think it might be for the convenience of the House to take the manuscript amendment with this amendment.

    I shall be brief. I presume that at a later stage I shall formally have to move the manuscript amendment.

    A question that was raised in an intervention between the Leader of the House and myself does, I think, merit another word. This motion seems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said, to have been hurriedly drafted. I put it to the Leader of the House that more care should be used in future.

    The motion as it stands says quite specifically that the Liaison Committee is
    "to give such advice"
    amongst other things
    "as may be sought by the House of Commons Commission".
    Since a number of points have arisen tonight on which we might need to make changes in the future, may I ask the Leader of the House to put that in his memory bank as something that ought to be tidied away out of the text at some later stage? As the right hon. Gentleman says, in practice we want the Liaison Committee not to restrict itself to answer- ing questions when the questions are put but to volunteer advice to the House of Commons Commission without necessarily having any request from the House of Commons.

    The proposal that the Leader of the House has put before the House is not the proposal that is described in the report of the Procedure Committee, of which some of us here were members. I do not make any particular criticism of that, because there can be second thoughts, and there can be better thoughts. It is the case, as anyone who reads the proceedings at the end of our report will see, that we did not have any vote on any paragraph in that section of our report. Therefore, it may well be that we did not give every sentence in it the intense consideration that perhaps we gave to some other parts of the report.

    The Select Committees have, I think, made a good start. Considering the delay in being set up, they have made quite a swift start with their work. But some of their work has been impeded by matters on which the Liaison Committee can help. I am thinking not only of the rather obvious question of travel but of staff and rooms, and particularly staffing. The new Select Committees, if they are to do the job that was intended for them, will need a different kind of staff from that which has traditionally served Select Committees of this House.

    In the past the Select Committees have depended upon the procedural Clerks of the House andon specialist advisers who are normally retained on a short term and ad hoc per diem basis. Many members of the new Select Committees feel that they will not be able to do their work properly unless they have a kind of permanent staff recruited and on contract, perhaps for a couple of years, perhaps for a Parliament and perhaps notionally on a permanent basis. Devising arrangements that can be put to the House of Commons Commission for approving a system like that is something for which we need a Liaison Committee. One of the important losses through not having it over the last few months is that no such proposals have been possible to be put forward to the House of Commons Commission.

    Then there is the matter of rooms. Here I take the opportunity to ask the Leader of the House to do everything that he can to hurry up the process of increasing the number of rooms available within this building to the Select Committees. We have on the Upper Committee Corridor five rooms which have been in the process of gestation for a very, very long time now. I find it hard to understand why not one of those rooms has yet come into operation. That difficulty is severely in the way of the working of the Select Committees. Indeed, some of us suspected that some of the delay in getting them set up last autumn might have been related to the difficulty of physically accommodating them if they were set up.

    I should like the Leader of the House to do all that he can to speed up the process of getting those rooms ready and to make sure that the current promise that they will be ready by about Easter is realised.

    My hon. Friend has referred to the rooms on the Upper Committee Corridor. It is obvious that the electrical work is infinitely more complicated than anybody had imagined. Re-doing a building such as this is a major operation. It seems that those who have been working on the Upper Committee Corridor have been working hard enough, heaven knows.

    Yes, I dare say, but different administrative arrangements need to be made so that it is possible to bring five rooms into operation in this the legislature of the nation in something less than nine months. If the situation there is so complex that it needs the putting on to the job of more people, or better people, or higher people, or a few kicks to be delivered, or whatever, to the people in charge of the work, let it be done. It really cannot be beyond the possibilities of this nation, can it, to produce five rooms in the course of nine months? Of course, the answer to that question is "Yes, it can be beyond the capacity." If anybody wants an illustration of the British disease, there it is up on the Upper Committee Corridor, rampant.

    Anyway, let me get back to some other matter on the motion. I concur with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West that the Leader of the House would have done better to have constructed the Committee in the form of representatives of the new Select Committees without naming them.

    We said in our report that the Liaison Committee should consist of representatives, and that objective is more effectively achieved without the disadvantages and difficulties that could ensue—which were mentioned by my hon. Friend—if the idea of representation is put into the motion.

    The Leader of the House said that that would be against the practices and the traditions of the House. It would not. The new Select Committees—some of them—are permitted to have a Joint Sub-Committee to deal with nationalised industries. We have not laid down who will be on the Joint Sub-Committee. We have left that to the different Select Committees that have an interest in any one nationalised industry. We have said that it is up to the Committees to appoint their representatives to that Joint Sub-Committee.

    There is also the fact that in a certain sense we are departing from the practice of the House by putting names on the Order Paper of people who will continue to be members of the Liaison Committee, irrespective of whether they continue to be Chairman of the Committees of which they were originally appointed.

    It will be necessary in the future always to amend this motion whenever a Select Committee changes its Chairman. A Select Committee does not need the approval of the House to change its Chairman. We would not normally have to pass any motion to secure that change. But now we shall have to pass a motion to take the consequential act towards the composition of the Liaison Committee. And that takes no account of the valid point made by my hon. Friend about what happens when the Chairman of a Select Committee is ill—not for a day or two, but for a prolonged period.

    I have no strong views one way or the other about the inclusion of a representative of the Committee of Privileges, but, as the Select Committee of Privileges is the only important Committee that is left out, it seems unecessary and invidious to leave it out, and we all might come back to that issue later.

    However, I do not agree with my hon. Friend's reason for wanting the Committee of Privileges included. If Select Committees have difficulty in obtaining papers and getting summoned witnesses to appear, their correct course is to make a special report to the House and to process the matter in that way rather than to discuss that with a representative of the Select Committee of Privileges in the Liaison Committee. That difficulty is too weighty a matter to be decided in the Liaison Committee. It belongs here, on the Floor of the House.

    I do not wish to delay the House, and on these occasions most of the people here are those who are familiar with the papers that we are discussing. Therefore, repeating them would be rather tedious.

    I hope that when the Liaison Committee is set up it will consider a variety of matters, such as the power to set up Sub-Committees, the power of Sub-Committees to report their proceedings and, amongst other things, how a Committee, which is in a given circumstance—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and I have outlined—should raise the matter before the House by special report or otherwise.

    I do not want to go into the details of that at this stage, but what my hon. Friend is saying is exactly what I did not wish to happen. I agree with him. I do not want the Liaison Committee to discuss an individual case. I want it to consider the principle, in the abstract, as it were, when passions are not being aroused perhaps because the Home Affairs Committee is trying to summon the Minister responsible for immigration, or whatever it might be. I thought that my hon. Friend and I were at one on this, but I think that the Liaison Committee should consider the general principles.

    I feel that we are not at one. All the specific matters that my hon. Friend mentions are matters that are properly the concern of the Liaison Committee and the Privileges Committee. If there is to be further discussion of the need for a change in practice or rule of the powers of Select Committees to summon people and papers to it, that is for the Pro- cedure Committee, when we have one again, and not for the Privileges Committee. The Privileges Committee is best almost restricted to consideration of individual cases. It should not try to take the place of the Procedure Committee of the House.

    With those reservations, we very much welcome the presence of these motions on the Order Paper. The Liaison Committee will be an important conclusion to the reforms which the Leader of the House has brought forward so rapidly. We pay tribute to him for that. It will assist Select Committees in the important job that the House has laid upon them.

    10.30 pm

    May I briefly reply to some of the points that have been raised, and also express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for his generous words? It is a joint effort, and we are all united in a common purpose—to improve the procedures of this House and make it a more effective instrument of its traditional purposes.

    The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised two questions. The first was why the Privileges Committee was not included on the Liaison Committee. I can only say that it is a question of qualitative judgment. I do not say that one can demonstrate one way or the other that it should or should not be. The argument that I put forward is that it is a sui generis Committee, different in nature from the others, and, therefore, that is sufficient reason for not including it.

    The hon. Gentleman asked why the House should decide the membership of the Committee. I believe that this is in accordance with the practice of the House. When there is doubt, it is always a sound rule of practice to go back to the House, which is the fount of all authority for Committees.

    The drafting of the motion was criticised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He particularly drew attention to the words "as may be sought". Those words were carefully chosen, but I wanted to give them a wide interpretation and not a restrictive one. There must be the freest co-operation between the Liaison Committee and the Commission, and, indeed, between the Liaison Committee and myself.

    I am anxiously awaiting the appointment of the Liaison Committee. That will enable further progress to be made on a number of important matters.

    I am well aware of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman regarding travel and staffing. The Commission is dealing with the question of travel for Committees. No one will be more relieved than the Commission when the burden of that can be shared with the Liaison Committee. It is most invidious to make decisions on these matters, distinguishing between different groups of Members. I shall be glad when I do not have to participate in those decisions.

    As long as he is Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman will have to participate in decisions, even if only as a member of the Commission and the Minister of the Crown responsible for this House.

    Much more important than the question of staff is simply the question of money, which includes staff. A Committee of this House, which, strangely enough, is not one of the new 14, only the other day was wondering whether it could afford to get an outside consultant to advise it on a particular issue. That should never be the case.

    We are now independent, in the sense that the Commission presents the Estimates. It is as impartial a body as can be constructed, but it needs advice from somebody linking all the Select Committees on what is necessary. I hope that one of the principal functions of the Liaison Committee will be to do just that—to link those Select Committees to the authority putting the Estimates to the House, upon which, of course, the right hon. Gentleman sits.

    I am not suggesting that I shall suddenly disappear from the scene. That is not my intention. I am happy to be on the stage. I am also happy that there should be other parts being played by those who are well qualified to do so.

    I do not wish to have too much responsibility in this matter. It is a very delicate one. This is precisely where the Liaison Committee, after a time, will have experience. It will develop a feel and an intuition about these matters which will be very useful.

    These Committees must have adequate staff. If it is necessary for hon. Members to travel, they should be able to do so. At the same time, we have to take these decisions against the background of a very grim economic situation and a general reduction in Government expenditure. We must balance the matter. There must be no extravagance.

    Whatever Government had been in office, there would not be a lot of money around at the moment. We must take that into account.

    I am not in favour of setting up Committees and then preventing them from doing their necessary works. Most foreign travel, in any case, is rather unpleasant in my experience. I would much rather stay at home. The call of duty occasionally calls one forth from one's nest.

    With regard to rooms, they are a continual problem to me, not only for these Select Committees but for everyone in the House. Only when we get an adequate Parliament building, at some time, will the problem be solved. At present we are doing what we can. I am in constant communication, through the usual channels, with those who are satisfied, dissatisfied, hopeful or despairing. I have followed with interest the construction going on upstairs. I agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in his tribute to the electrical system. From what one sees, it is amazing that it has ever worked at all, let alone that it continues to work now. I am convinced by the survey that I have made that those rooms will be in use soon. Certainly we shall look into that.

    Finally, let us proceed one step at a time, and on a provisional basis. We are moving into new territory. We must not be dogmatic about it. We must start somewhere. If these arrangements do not work or prove to be unsatisfactory, we must revise them. I am clear about this and about other measures that we are taking.

    I am sure that I shall have the benefit of the advice of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West at all times—for which I am indeed grateful, because he has been a great help in getting these reforms forward. I recognise it. I wish that he was more recognised by the Opposition Front Bench.

    The Leader of the House has made that remark twice. I assure him that we on the Labour Benches appreciate my hon. Friend enormously. We are more exposed to the benefits of his advice than the Leader of the House is, and that is why we appreciate it even more than he does.

    I am delighted. Let there be some tanglible recognition—perhaps the suggestion of membership of the Privy Council for the hon. Gentleman might not come amiss. I leave that constructive thought, which seems to have been well received below the Gangway but received with less rapture above the Gangway. There are other claimants, of course, as I recognise.

    In the light of all that I have been saying, I hope that the hon. Member will not press his opposition to a Division.

    10.38 pm

    For many centuries every Member of this House has been familiar with the phrase timeo Danaos dona ferentis. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman means well, but I would not wish to follow in the course he has pursued. However, he has been very courteous and, as I said, my amendment was in the nature of a probing amendment. I hope that he will reconsider the question of composition and so forth, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Manuscript amendment made: in paragraph (iv), at end insert

    'of whom Six shall be the quorum.'—[Mr. George Cunningham.]

    Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to,

    Ordered,

    That—

  • (i) a select committee shall be appointed, to be called the Liaison Committee—
  • (a) to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees, and
  • (b) to give such advice relating to the work of select committees as may be sought by the House of Commons Commission;
  • (ii) the committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report from time to time;
  • (iii) unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament;
  • (iv) the committee may consist of more than fifteen Members, of whom Six shall be the quorum.
  • Ordered,

    That this be a Standing Order of the House.

    Ordered,

    That Mr. Leo Abse, Mr. Joel Barnett, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Antony Buck, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Paul Dean, Mr. Donald Dewar, Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann, Mr. Edward du Cann, Sir William Elliott, Mr. John Golding, Mr. Philip Holland, Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir Donald Kaberry, Mr. Anthony Kershaw, Sir John Langford-Holt, Mr. Ian Lloyd, Sir Graham Page, Mr. Christopher Price, Sir Anthony Royle, Mrs. Renée Short, and Mr. Julius Silverman be members of the Liaison Committee.—[ Mr. St. John-Stevas.]