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Burden On Ministers(Privy Councillors' Inquiry)

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1957

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With permission, Sir, I will now answer Question No. 47.

Yes, Sir. I have, after consultation with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, asked a small group of Privy Councillors with long experience of the House of Commons to give some preliminary study to these problems and I am grateful to them for acceding to my request. Their inquiry will be informal and I have asked them to report to me so that I can consider, in the light of their recommendations, whether a more formal type of inquiry would be profitable.

The group consists of Lord Attlee, who will take the Chair, Lord Crookshank, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) and South Shields (Mr. Ede).

Will it be possible to submit evidence or make representations or suggestions to this Committee?

My idea was that it should be a purely informal discussion and that I should rather leave it to them to have their first discussion and see what is the best method by which they can make progress.

Would the Prime Minister also consider allowing this Committee to consider the burden on Members of Parliament after it has dealt with the burden on Ministers?

Is there not a great deal of exaggeration about the heavy burden which is imposed on Ministers? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us have been Ministers since 1924 and have never suffered any inconvenience or hardship? Does he suggest that the frequent changes which have taken place in Her Majesty's Government over the last few years have led to ill-health on the part of any of the Ministers, or to their demise?

We are, of course, always glad to see the right hon. Member in such good health, and I am bound to say that I feel very well myself, but there have been Questions in the House and some discussions in the newspapers—nor could one hide from oneself that in recent years there has been a heavy casualty list among distinguished right hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am not saying that that could be cured by a difference of procedure. Nevertheless, I think that there are methods by which the House could be better served and public business better able to be carried on as well as the problem of Ministers dealt with.

If there is anything of that kind in response to this proposal, which was not my proposal, I think it might be worth while—I discussed it with the Leader of the Opposition—to ask these experienced right hon. Members to have an informal discussion and to consider whether there was a suggestion which they thought that the House and we might pursue as a result of their talks.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has presented us with afait accompli,of course we can do nothing about it, but will this small Committee take into consideration the number of social engagements in which Ministers indulge?

That is, indeed, one of the methods by which some progress might be made.

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his good health and the way in which he manifestly enjoys so ably filling his office, may I ask whether he is aware that the House of Commons as a whole would resent it very much if Ministers became less answerable to the House and put in fewer appearances in the House?