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Select Committees

Volume 969: debated on Monday 25 June 1979

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

Before I call upon the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster it may be convenient if I explain to the House the course that we should follow, in view of the business motion to which the House has just agreed. During the course of the debate it will be open to any hon. Member to discuss the various amendments that stand on the Order Paper and I think it will be to the advantage of the House if all the amendments are taken under general discussion during the debate.

When the debate comes to a conclusion I shall call on hon. Members in succession to move formally the first of each group of amendments shown on the selection list that has been published. When the last of these amendments has been

That—
5(1) Select committees shall be appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments set out in paragraph (2) of this Order and associated public bodies, and similar matters within the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
(2) The committees appointed under paragraph 1 of this Order, the principal departments of Government with which they are concerned, the maximum numbers of each committee and the quorum in each case shall be as follows:

10

Name of committee

Principal government departments concerned

Maximum numbers of Members

Quorum

1. AgricultureMinistry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food93
2. DefenceMinistry of Defence103
153. Education, Science and ArtsDepartment of Education and Science93
4. EmploymentDepartment of Employment93
5. EnergyDepartment of Energy103
6. EnvironmentDepartment of the Environment103
207. Foreign AffairsForeign and Commonwealth Office113
8. Home AffairsHome Office113
9. Industry and Trade.Department of Industry, Department of Trade.113
2510. Social ServicesDepartment of Health and Social Security.93
11. TransportDepartment of Transport103
12. Treasury and Civil Service.Treasury, Civil Service department, Board of Inland Revenue, Board of Customs and Excise.113

30(3) There shall in addition be a select committee to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and of the Health Services Commissioners for England, Scotland and Wales which are laid before this House, and matters in connection therewith; and the committee shall consist of eight Members, of whom the quorum shall be three.
35(4) The Foreign Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Committee shall each have the power to appoint one sub-committee.
(5) There may be a sub-committee, drawn from the membership of two or more of the Energy, Environment, Industry and Trade, Transport and Treasury and Civil Service Committees, set up from time to time to consider any matter affecting two or more nationalised industries.
40(6) Select committees appointed under this Order shall have power—
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time;
45(b) to appoint persons with technical knowledge either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference; and
(c) to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before sub-committees; and the sub-committees appointed under this Order shall have power to send for persons

disposed of I shall put the main Question, or the main Question, as amended. I shall then call on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to move, successively, the two other motions relating to the Expenditure Committee and nomination of Select Committees, and the amendment to the latter will be dealt with in the same way.

If any of the amendments that I have selected for Division is agreed to I shall call the Member concerned to move the necessary consequential amendments within the group in the order in which they appear on the Paper.

3.45 p.m.

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

I beg to move,

papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to adjourn from place to place, and shall have a quorum of three.
50(7) Unless the House otherwise orders, all Members nominated to a committee appointed under this Order shall continue to be members of that committee for the remainder of the Parliament.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House

I start by welcoming the former Home Secretary the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to the Front Bench as Opposition spokesman on procedure. When I was Shadow Leader of the House I had to mark two Ministers and I take it as a compliment that when the shadow has been turned into substance the Opposition need two spokesman to keep a check on one.

Today is, I believe, a crucial day in the life of the House of Commons. After years of discussion and debate, we are embarking upon a series of changes that could constitute the most important parliamentary reforms of the century. Parliament may not, for the moment, stand at the zenith of public esteem. There are tides of fashion that rise and fall as there are tides of opinion that move. We should not be too concerned about that. One truth abides and that is that parliamentary government has been one of the great contributions of the British nation to the world's civilisation, and we would do well to remember that. Great nations fail only when they cease to comprehend the institutions that they themselves have created.

That is not to say that I believe that Parliament is impeccable. The greatness of Parliament and the reason why it has survived for 700 years is that it has always been ready to reform itself. It has found the will to put matters right when they have gone wrong and to renew itself when it has discerned the signs of the times.

Let me say at the outset that the phrase "parliamentary government" is a misnomer. At no time in its long history, save for a brief and disastrous interlude, has Parliament governed or made any claim to do so. Parliament's function has been a different one. It has been to subject the Executive to limitations and control; to protect the liberties of the individual citizen; to defend him against the arbitrary use of power; to focus the mind of the nation on the great issues of the day by the maintenance of continuous dialogue and discussion; and, by remaining at the centre of the stage, to impose parliamentary conventions or manners on the whole political system.

I believe that Parliament is successful in the last two aims. It is on the two first ones that public and professional anxiety has focused and constellated. It has been increasingly felt that the twentieth century Parliament is not effectively supervising the Executive, and that while the power and effectiveness of Whitehall has grown that of Westminster has diminished.

The proposals that the Government are placing before the House are intended to redress the balance of power to enable the House of Commons to do more effectively the job it has been elected to do. In doing this the Government are redeeming a pledge in their election manifesto, which was repeated in the Gracious Speech, that the House should have an early opportunity to amend our procedures, particularly as they relate to the scrutiny of government. These proposals are based on the report of a Select Committee on Procedure appointed in 1976 which reported two years later.

It is a thorough, authoritative and lucid report. I pay tribute to all the hon. Members who served on the Procedure Committee and who spent so many hours producing the report. I pay particular tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), who, as Chairman of the Committee, presided over it and brought it, by his devotion and diligence, to such a successful conclusion. It is with his name that I trust the report will always be associated.

The report contains 76 recommendations in six main sections. It is clearly impossible to implement them all at once. This is intended as the first instalment of the implementation and I hope that it will answer my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) who broadcast this morning. He did not awaken me, because I am an early riser. He expressed the hope that there would be further commitments from the Government on this matter. We must proceed, however, in an orderly manner, and it is in accordance with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee that a high priority should be given to the recommendations on Select Committees.

As an earnest of the Government's good intentions, I add straight away that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer shares the view, reflected in the Procedure Committee's report and in recommendations from the Expenditure Committee, and endorsed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, that a fundamental review of the Exchequer and Audit Departments leading to proposals for new legislation is now needed. He has given instructions for the work on the review, announced by the previous Government on 18 January, to be pressed forward with vigour.

Yes, but I have a number of things to say, and I hope that hon. Members will make their points not during my speech but during the hours when they have the Floor to themselves.

I do not intend to try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, but I was a member of the Select Committee and I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether his remarks about the comments of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) are an undertaking by the Government that they will proceed to all the other five groups of recommendations that were in a special report of the Select Committee to the former Government. May we take it that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are an undertaking to proceed in measurable time to all those five sections?

I do not think that my remarks will bear the full weight of the hon. Gentleman's exegesis. I stand by what I said. We regard our proposals as a first instalment in the reform of the proceedings of the House.

I cannot give way constantly. I must press on to explain these important proposals.

The debate on procedure may be a dull subject. After all, Parliament is not, thank Heavens, all thunder and fury—I had enough of that last week—but to say that we can be dull is not to say that the matter is unimportant. After all, procedure is the best constitution that we have.

Our proposals follow those of the Procedure Committee in providing for the appointment of a total of 12 department ally related Committees. Their coverage departs from the Committee's proposals in only two respects. One is that we are proposing a single Committee to cover the Departments of Industry and Trade, and a separate Committee to cover the Department of Employment. We are doing that because we consider it to be a more logical association of Departments, and one that will prove more convenient for the Committees.

The Departments of Industry and Trade are closely linked, both in their organisation and in their functions, since they are largely concerned with manufacturers, trades and exports. The work of the Department of Employment impinges in important respects on the Department of Industry, but it covers the whole range of employment matters and would more appropriately be a subject for a separate Committee.

The second point of departure is that we have excluded the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers' Department from the scope of the proposed Select Committee on Home Affairs. I am sure that the House will agree that the new Committees should not be allowed to threaten either the independence of the judiciary or the judicial process.

In the Government's view, there would be a real danger of that if a Select Committee were to investigate such matters as the appointment and conduct of the judiciary and its part in legal administration, or matters such as confidential communications between the judiciary and the Lord Chancellor and the responsibility of the Law Officers with regard to prosecutions and civil proceedings.

The Law Officers have no administrative functions and the legal advice given by them to Government Departments is confidential and, by definition, is not disclosed outside the Government. The Lord Chancellor's functions are all deeply interwoven with judicial matters.

For those reasons, the Government consider that the most appropriate course is to exclude those two small Departments from scrutiny by the new Select Committees. There will, however, be no change in the existing answerability of the Law Officers to the House, both for themselves and on behalf of the Lord Chancellor.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain by what logic the Home Office's jurisdiction over the reform of the criminal law is included, and the Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction over reform of the civil law is excluded? Can he also explain by what logic the Public Record Office falls within anything that he has said?

That is a valid point. The reason for the exclusion is that the civil law administration is, in this context, a minor part of the work of those departments.

In a minute. I must press on. I turn now to various parts of the United Kingdom.

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he wishes to advance the case to the House. Since he is not giving way, he must be allowed to continue.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the situation in Scotland is basically different. Does what he has said cover any jurisdiction that a Scottish Committee may have over the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland? If the right hon. Gentleman says that he will look at the matter, I will accept that.

I was just coming to the position in Scotland. The proposals that I am making may answer the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I can be only tentative in my comments, because what I have to say about Scotland is tentative.

I turn to the various parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—some of which have been the subject of amendments. I wish to inform the House of the Government's intentions.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated in the debate on the order to repeal the Scotland Act last Wednesday, the Government do not wish to pre-empt any of the possibilities that may be raised in the forth coming all-party talks to establish common ground as to the scope and direction of improvement in the government of Scotland.

I assure the House that the Government are ready to agree in principle that there should be a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but we consider that the arrangements for setting up that Committee should be discussed as part of the all-party talks. We shall, however, be ready to put forward detailed proposals for the Committee at the appropriate stage.

Our Welsh manifesto included a proposal for a Welsh Select Committee, and that is a possibility that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will ask the House to consider in tomorrow's debate. If it is the wish of the House, a separate Welsh Committee could be established quickly. In anticipation of that possibility, we have not provided for the Committees proposed in the motion to cover Welsh affairs.

On Northern Ireland, our intention is that many of the matters for which, under direct rule, the Secretary of State is responsible to the House should, in due course, be subject to scrutiny by elected representatives in Northern Ireland. Until that situation can be achieved, we have thought it right to provide that they should be within the scope of the new Select Committees at Westminster.

Are we to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government do not propose to re-establish the Northern Ireland Committee as it existed in the previous Parliament, or will that Committee still be re-established, while these Committees deal with Northern Ireland aspects of the subjects to which the respective Select Committees will be directed?

It is not the Government's intention to establish a special Select Committee for Northern Ireland.

I apologise for intervening again. Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me, as it were, a supplementary question? The Northern Ireland Committee in the previous Parliament was not, technically, a Select Committee. I wonder, therefore, whether the right hon. Gentleman would consider the matter and deal with it again when he winds up, because the Northern Ireland Committee, as it existed in the previous Parliament, proved useful and would in no way conflict with the work of the Select Committees proposed in his motion, even in so far as they cover Northern Ireland matters.

As I understand it, it is not the Government's intention to set up that Committee. I will give a fuller reply to the right hon. Gentleman if I am allowed to speak again, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the debate.

In addition to providing for the 12 departmentally related Committees, our motion would retain the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Although the Procedure Committee recommended differently, it acknowledged that a case could be made for its retention. We believe that case to be a strong one. A Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration can keep the system as a whole under review, and can consider individual cases of maladministration on the basis of principles common to every Department. The Government believe that this work would be a valuable complement to the work of the departmentally related Committees in relation to their own Departments.

I turn to the matter of the existing Committees. I acknowledge and endorse the need, represented to me by a number of hon. Members, to carry forward the important work done by existing Committees that would be replaced under these proposals. Much of the work can be taken over by the new Committee directly. The various Committees con- cerned with nationalised industries may wish to follow up the Procedure Committee's own proposal that they should appoint a joint Sub-Committee to consider matters common to those industries of the kind considered in the past by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Our motion makes provision for that to be done.

Is it the Government's intention to allow the Committees that could make up the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries to increase its numbers from the figures put down in the proposals?

The numbers put down have been carefully thought out. They should be ample to cover the proposed Sub-Committees and the work it is intended that they should do.

The Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs will take over the interest in overseas development and in race relations and immigration respectively that were hitherto the province of separate Select Committees on those subjects. They may wish to appoint Sub-Committees so that they can more effectively maintain continuity.

I hope that all the new Committees will pay special attention to scientific and technological issues within their fields of interest and that in that way they can continue the excellent work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I hope that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts will take particular interest in scientific research and development.

What is to happen to the outstanding reports and inquiries that are only half completed? Is provision to be made for these works to be taken on?

I ought to tell the House that I have an extremely long list of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. Although the debate is due to go on until one o'clock, I think that some of them will be very lucky to be called. Therefore, the fewer interventions there are the better progress we can make.

I know of the work that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) has carried out in these areas. I hope that that is precisely the sort of work that will be done, taken up and continued where appropriate by the proposed new Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts.

I pay tribute to the excellent work done by all these Committees over the years. I am confident that their work can be carried forward under the new structure and that those hon. Members, like the hon. Gentleman, who have served on Committees with such distinction will be able to make an equal contribution as members of the new Committees. Where work is left unfinished, means will be found to ensure that it will be carried to a conclusion.

I must make it clear that the Government's view is that the existing subject Committees cannot continue in parallel with a new structure of departmentally related Committees without creating unacceptable confusion, duplication of effort and unnecessary cost. The abolition of the existing Committees must be a necessary corollary to the acceptance of the new structure.

Even with the abolition of the old Committees, we must not underestimate the effort that the new structure will involve. That is why the Government are proposing a closer restriction than the Procedure Committee had in mind on the powers of Select Committees to appoint investigative Sub-Committees.

Our motion provides for the appointment of a joint Sub-Committee on the nationalised industries. We recognise that the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and the Treasury and Civil Service all have a wide field to cover. They may find it convenient to appoint Sub-Committees to deal with particular subjects, such as overseas development and race relations and immigration, or with the Civil Service Department. But, of course, the Committees themselves will decide the allocation of their resources. We propose that the powers to appoint Sub-Committees of the Foreign Affairs, the Home Affairs and the Treasury and Civil Service Committees should be limited to a single Sub-Committee of each Committee rather than two.

The objective of the new Committee structure will be to strengthen the accountability of Ministers to the House for the discharge of their responsibilities. Each Committee will be able to examine the whole range of activity for which its Minister or Ministers have direct responsibility. The Government also accept the Procedure Committee's view that the Committees must be able to look at the activities of some public bodies that exercise authority of their own and over which Ministers do not have the same direct authority as they have over their own Departments. The test in every case will be whether there is a significant degree of ministerial responsibility for the body concerned.

Does that mean that the Committees established will be able to call not only the civil servants but Ministers without their being able to avoid appearing before the Committee for interrogation and discussion?

The responsibility of the Committees and their capacity to call Ministers, civil servants, and members of those bodies are not mutually exclusive. It will be within the scope of the Committees to call before them members of these bodies.

I come to the question of powers. The Procedure Committee recommended that Select Committees should be empowered to order the attendance of Ministers to give evidence, and to order the production of papers and records by Ministers. In the event of a refusal by a Minister to produce papers and records, the Committee should be empowered to claim precedence over public business for a debate on a motion for an address or for an order for the return of papers, unless time is provided by the Government by the sixth day after the first appearance of the motion.

I have two comments to make. First, the power to order any Member of the House to attend before a Select Committee, be he a Minister or not, is a power that constitutionally strictly belongs to the House and not to a Committee. Secondly, the Procedure Committee itself concedes that formal powers on these matters have had to be exercised only on rare occasions.

There are some specific criticisms of the Select Committee's proposals in this regard. First, it is not appropriate for a Select Committee to order about Members of the House. A Minister must be free to decline if he is not the Minister responsible for the matter that is to be discussed, or if it is clear that he will not be able to answer questions put to him.

Secondly, we do not consider that a Select Committee should be entitled to claim automatic precedence for a debate on a failure to produce information unless the matter has been shown to be one that is of general concern to the House as a whole.

More generally, however, we are concerned here with matters that will be essentially questions of judgment. Inevitably there will be occasions when Ministers will have to decide that it would not be in the public interest to answer certain questions or to disclose information. There are conventions governing these matters that the House has accepted over a long period and that the Government will respect. They are dealt with in the Procedure Committee's report, and the Committee for the most part was satisfied with them.

The Government will make available to Select Committees as much information as possible, including confidential information for which, of course, protection may have to be sought by means of the sidelining procedure. There may also from time to time be issues on which a Minister does not feel able to give a Select Committee as much information as it would like. But on these occasions Ministers will explain the reasons for which information has to be withheld. There need be no fear that departmental Ministers will refuse to attend Committees to answer questions about their Departments or that they will not make every effort to ensure that the fullest possible information is made available to them.

I give the House the pledge on the part of the Government that every Minister from the most senior Cabinet Minister to the most junior Under-Secretary will do all in his or her power to co-operate with the new system of Committees and to make it a success. I believe that declaration of intent to be a better guaran- tee than formal provisions laid down in Standing Orders.

Is my right hon. Friend saying that an undertaking given from the Dispatch Box by, dare I say, a finite Minister on behalf of a Government whom I wish to go on for ever but who may not is of equal value to a provision enshrined in legislation or the procedures of this House? I cannot believe that an affirmation from the Dispatch Box resembles even remotely the authority of a decision of this House.

That is why the right hon. Gentleman is doing it.

That remark is not worthy of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I am saying that in these matters the practice of the House and the attitude of the Government are as important as and possibly more important than any formal guarantee. I might add to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that, finite or infinite, temporal or eternal, it is the intention of this Government during their period of office to co-operate with these Committees. I believe that if a practice of that kind is established it will endure beyond the limited life of a Government.

If a Committee found itself in difficulty and if that difficulty became a matter of serious concern to the House as a whole, it would be the Government's wish that the House should have an early opportunity to debate it on the Floor, and I am sure that the Minister concerned would welcome that opportunity as a means of explaining his position and of seeking the co-operation of the House in resolving the difficulty and avoiding its recurrence. That again is a pledge that goes further than any pledge given on this matter from this Dispatch Box.

I throw in for good measure that it experience shows that more formal powers are needed for Committees to enforce their wishes—if the worst fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds are fulfilled—the question of additional powers can be considered at that stage. But we do not consider that the case has so far been established.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman saying by what he has just told the House that he is dismantling a system that has worked and has had the authority to work through Standing Orders and, by claiming to widen it, he is offering a wider shadow for a genuine substance?

I do not think that that is a fair, logical or accurate analysis of the proposals. The Committees that are set up will have the same powers as existing Committees, and they will be exercising them over a wider range of matters.

I believe that it is right to claim that the Government have acted with remarkable speed in a matter where the predecessor Government hung back. Within seven weeks of the General Election, we are putting this package of proposals before the House. They constitute a major change, although that change is of an evolutionary and not a revolutionary kind. To those right hon. and hon. Members who fear that the Chamber will be prejudiced. I say that Committees will supplement this Chamber. They will complement this Chamber. They will not supplant it. I yield to no one—

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can help the House. I know that there is concern about the motion on Nomination of Select Committees (Committee of Selection). It would help many hon. Members on both sides of the House if the Leader of the House said a word about it. Otherwise, we shall be voting on it at the end of our discussions without any comment from the Leader of the House that we can consider.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think I am right in pointing out that you did not say that we could debate that on this motion. However, it would be to the convenience of the House if we could, I think.

My statement indicated that we were discussing the repeal of the Expenditure Committee together with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I think that that is much fairer for the House, otherwise some amendments will never be reached.

I am quite willing to say a word about that motion in clarification. I had intended to deal with it if, with the permission of the House, I was allowed to intervene again. But I am glad to say a word about it now.

It was a proposal of the Procedure Committee that the Committee of Selection should have the power to nominate Select Committees. It is a proposal of very wide effect. We are proceeding by stages. It is our intention that the Committee of Selection should have the power to nominate these committees without prejudice to the wider issue, because we are dealing with these 12 new Select Committees.

The Leader of the House will know that the Procedure Committee recommended that in making this change, whether for some or for all committees, the rights of individual hon. Members under Standing Order No. 13—the Ten Minutes Rule standing order—to initiate a proposal for a change in a Select Committee should be preserved, with one small qualification. It is probably by accident that the motion does not preserve the rights of Private Members under Standing Order No. 13 in this respect. Will the right hon. Gentleman say, between now and 1 a.m., that he will give consideration to that matter? It would be bad if, in this one respect, the rights of Private Members were reduced while the rest of these motions increased those rights.

That is a fair and valid point. It is intended that the power and influence of the House, and therefore of Back-Bench Members, should be increased by the proposal. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman says about that Standing Order. I shall have something to say upon it later in the debate.

I believe that this Chamber is one of the great political inventions of our history. It remains, and will remain, the means by which the mind of the nation is focused on the great issues of the day. It will remain the channel through which the expressive power of Parliament is exercised. But the scrutinising function of Parliament is now too detailed to be discharged effectively by this Chamber alone. To pretend otherwise is not to exalt parliamentary Government as some hon. Members imagine. It is simply to degrade it. It is to turn what is a legitimate object of respect and reverence into some kind of irrational idol.

We believe that the motions on the Order Paper provide the coherent and systematic structure of Select Committees that the Procedure Committee considered and that the Government agree to be a necessary preliminary to the more effective scrutiny of government and the wider involvement that hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought for many years. It will provide opportunity for closer examination of departmental policy and of the way in which Ministers are discharging their understanding of the pressures and constraints under which Ministers and their Departments have to work. It will bring about a closer relationship with Ministers themselves. It will also be an important contribution to greater openness in government, of a kind that is in accord with our parliamentary arrangements and our constitutional tradition. It is in that spirit that I commend these proposals to the House.

4.23 p.m.

I speak from the Opposition Front Bench, with all that it implies, and I shall give my views. I am also aware that there is a free vote and that this is a House of Commons matter. Procedure is essentially a House of Commons matter. I am glad that on both sides of the House we shall be speaking without the constraints of normal party alignments.

I am aware, although I came to this subject only seven days ago, that many hon. Members have given a great deal of time over the years to procedural reform. I pay tribute to them, particularly to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), who was responsible for an excellent report with conclusions drawn from detailed investigation of procedures over the years. I have always had an interest in procedural reform, although I am not an expert. Two Cabinet posts with responsibility for matters that concern the House deeply could not allow me to forget it.

The reply of the Leader of the House to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) worried me a little. After the demise of Stormont and after all the best schemes that we could devise in this House had failed, we had to build up, over the years, whatever our views on integration and devolution, procedures whereby Northern Ireland Members could bring their peculiar problems to this House. I would like a reply from the Leader of the House on the concept of having, if not precisely a Select Committee, although I consider that a Select Committee on Northern Ireland affairs would be valuable, the equivalent of a Grand Committee, which is vital for Northern Ireland.

I had thought on first hearing the right hon. Gentleman that he was referring to some kind of Select Committee. I understand that he is referring to the Standing Committee that meets from time to time under the relevant Standing Order. That is not a committee that is in continual session. It meets from time to time as needed. Those arrangements are not affected by the arrangements I am proposing for the Select Committees. I hope that answer satisfies both the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees).

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, if there was ever a part of the United Kingdom that needed special consideration—I am not saying what that should be—it is Northern Ireland. I hope that we shall look at the matter of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

We are moving step by step in dealing with all the recommendations that have been made. We are today concerning ourselves only with Select Committees. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said about taking a further step forward relatively soon on other matters concerning Select Committees. I agree that one bite is enough. We are not short of literature on the matter. Changes have taken place over the years.

The Leader of the House described these proposals as revolutionary, qualified later by his use of the word "evolutionary". I was listening in bed early one morning—I am not an early riser any more—to a description of this report which amounted to a eulogy about the greatest changes that have taken place for 100 years. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is overdoing it. It reminds me of a description by Lord Butler of a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin. He heard Mrs. Baldwin call Mr. Baldwin "My lion" or "My tiger". Lord Butler noted laconically that it reminded him of the words on a French wine bottle, "Appellation contrôlee". A little of that description applies to what we are discussing. It is an evolutionary step. Those hon. Members on both sides concerned that we are diving into an American Select Committee-type system are wrong. I commend it to the House on the basis that it is an evolutionary step forward.

I note the 12 Committees. We should not clap ourselves to death when we move forward. Our job is to ask some questions that may not appeal to everybody. I gather that information will be published shortly about the attendance at Select Committees which we can examine. That is not available at the moment. In my years in the House I have sometimes had the feeling that attendance has been pretty sparse from time to time. I look forward to getting the information. These Committees will require a thoroughness of approach on the part of Members. Otherwise, they will fail. That thoroughness will require additonal help without our moving anywhere near the pork barrel to which the right hon. Member for Down, South referred in the debate earlier this year.

I agree with the departmental structure. However, based on my experience as Home Secretary and as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am surprised that some of the work done by the Lord Chancellor's Department has not been brought within the purview of the Select Committee system.

For example, the administration of the Northern Ireland courts is under the control of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Before the recess we shall be considering capital punishment in the context of Northern Ireland where there are the special Diplock courts which are under the Lord Chancellor's control. Yet there will be no Select Committee to examine those courts. The magistrates' courts, which are the Home Office's responsibility, will be examined.

The Home Secretary has some responsibility for the Public Record Office. We should ensure that the valuable work done by that office and the Lord Chancellor's Department is investigated by the Select Committee. I agree that the judicial aspects of the Lord Chancellor's office should not be examined.

One aspect of the Law Officers' Department needs to be examined. We are able to discuss this matter on the Floor of the House, but apparently we are not to be allowed to discuss it in Committee. There is a Royal Commission on the prosecuting process. The Law Officers' Department plays a part in that process, since it is carried out by the county police forces. It lays down certain procedures. They are not judicial procedures because they are part of the prosecuting process before the courts are involved. The Lord Chancellor's Department is not keen on a House of Commons Committee getting anywhere near it.

The present Lord Chancellor had a lot to say in the run-up to the election about the need to deal with an elected dictatorship. He was referring to the Labour Party when it was in government. There is an elected dictatorship now—they are the Lord Chancellor's words—and we have a right to look at the administrative work of his Department without involving the judicial aspects.

Because of the way the proposals have been drawn we shall be able to examine the Scottish courts through the Scottish Select Committee. The Lord Chancellor is not responsible for the Scottish courts. I hope that the Leader of the House will reconsider this matter.

The chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is not in the Chamber, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), who has done so much work on the Select Committee on Science and Technology, is present. I have examined this matter carefully. I know more about the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries than the other. I hope that those Committees will not be ended in an attmept to fit them into a new structure for the sake of it and because of a desire to be logical. I should be against that. I shall listen carefully to what is said during the debate and in relation to amendments.

I have been associated with the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration for many years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and I had some disagreements about the nature of the last report of his Select Committee. That does not weaken what I say. The work of that Committee on the education of West Indian children and on immigration procedures has been of great value to Departments and Ministers.

I am worried about the structure of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Only at the end of last week did I see what I believe to be a difficulty. For example, the education of West Indian children straddles the work of a number of Departments—the Department of Employment, the Department of Education and Science, and the Home Office. The work of that Committee is to be done by a departmentally-orientated Select Committee attached to the Home Office. I am worried about that. I hope that we shall have a satisfactory answer, since I want to support the Leader of the House. There are real difficulties caused by the straddling nature of the committee.

The Home Office has a number of grant-aided bodies—for example, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. Will it be possible for the departmental committee to investigate them? They fell outside the purview of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. There has been a growth of such bodies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I say to those hon. Members who are saying "Hear, hear" in a derogatory sense that such bodies have done an excellent job. We have the right to examine them, as they have the right to examine various aspects of Government policy. Many of those bodies have not been examined by the House of Commons.

We can agree that this is an evolutionary step. The Leader of the House has said nothing about the staff of the Select Committees. Is there to be an increase in the number who serve the Select Committees?

In the last five or six weeks I have missed most, not the trappings of office, but the lack of information. I am served very well in the Library when I ask for information. But trying to operate as a Shadow spokesman not only without staff but without information is difficult. The same applies to Select Committees.

Where will the necessary information come from? My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) said that there should be an increase in the Library's research staff. I plump for that solution. The Library is excellent, as I have learnt afresh in the last five weeks. Without it I should not have been able to do, even remotely, the amount of work that I must do in opposition.

I was intrigued by the Memorandum of Guidance for Officials appearing before Select Committees. There are a number of interesting points in appendix D of the "blue book" on page 41. Under the heading
"Limitations on the provision of information"
it says
"Committees' requests for information should not be met regardless of cost or of diversion of effort from more important matters. It might prove necessary to decline requests which appeared to involve excessive costs. It may be necessary for a Department to consult their Minister"—
and so on.

If there are to be 12 departmental Committees, whose job will it be to keep an eye on them, not just as individual Committees, but overall to see what Governments are doing? I am not suggesting that there should be a Minister with this responsibility, but there should be a way by which the 12 Select Committees, or at least the chairmen of them, can work together and compare notes on what is happening in each individual Committee.

My right hon. Friend will recollect that the Procedure Committee proposed that the present totally unofficial body which consists only of chairmen should be replaced by one which is balanced in terms of the composition of the House, which can determine its own chairmanship and have the authority of the House for anything it does.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supplementing my more general approach to the matter. I think that we ought to have a word on this matter before the end of the day.

One of the points that I intended raising arose when the Leader of the House gave way towards the end of his remarks. He cleared that up to some degree, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) will want to deal with the matter later in the debate.

The shadowy body to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred—the liaison committee—has often, by just failing to meet with expedition, seriously held up the work of the Select Committees. To the best of my knowledge its existence is not due to Standing Orders or to any Resolution of the House, and yet it purports to exercise a very real power. Does he not think that this ought to be regularised in some way, and very possibly not in that form?

I thank the hon. Member for supplementing my general knowledge of that aspect of the matter. What he says has a great deal of force. The Leader of the House may well refer to this point later, and I shall make up my mind on the basis of what he says.

I have not made up my mind, and nor have the Government, about points such as the liaison committee. We shall listen to the contributions made so that we can give some guidance to the House at the end of the debate on the basis of the way in which the mind of the House expresses itself.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. The points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) seem to me to be important and are worth considering.

Yes, I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have it here as Recommendation (61).

I move now to the question of legal advice to the Select Committees. Whose job will it be to give that advice? In the discussions on this point under the previous Administration the question arose as to whether the job should be given to the Attorney-General. The feeling was, quite properly, that the Attorney-General's job was to advise the Government, not the Select Committees. We should be clear about this important matter. It is not enough just to employ any old lawyer—and I do not say that in any derogatory sense—[Interruption]. I can hear "Hear, hear" from the non-lawyers, and diffident laughter from the lawyers. I mean only that the job must go to a lawyer of quality who knows what he is talking about.

I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is not referring to the legal advice that is given to some Select Committees by Mr. Speaker's Counsel and Assistant Counsel, which is extremely good advice.

I certainly was not referring to them in that way. But that is the whole point. Is that how the work will be done? If it is I shall rest satisfied, but I should like to know more about it.

Recommendation (64) did not enjoy the best of responses from many people in the House. It concerns the presence of Ministers. I have a note before me to say that it would be much better if it were done in some statutory form. I think that it would be better for all of us to take the Leader of the House at his word. He gave a pledge and I take that pledge in the spirit in which it was given. Let us see how the matter progresses. If the system did not work, we should have to find some other way of giving it statutory form.

I raised this matter with my right hon. Friend. Will the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) give the same undertaking on behalf of the Opposition? That would go a long way to convincing the House that there is continuity in the matter, and that it is not just the question of a unilateral undertaking.

I was grinning ruefully because of the time factor here. I am absolutely sure that I can say the same thing. I am not sure what my role is at the moment, but if the Leader of the House can give that pledge from his Front Bench, I can give it from mine, and I give it in the same spirit.

Overall my view is that we should proceed in the way recommended by the Government. I do not believe that the Chamber will be harmed by the developments that are taking place. The focus of power is and will remain here. Those who see a Select Committee as a shield for a Department—and I can see that that might happen—must realise that it is up to the members of the Committee to see that that does not happen.

I turn to the question of whether there is any danger in consensus. One of my hon. Friends said that there was nothing wrong with consensus, and if by that he means honest men having looked at the same facts and come to the same conclusion, he is right. But consensus is wrong when the old boy atmosphere pervades and when there is no true consensus on an analysis of the facts. I am not afraid of one sort of consensus. I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are concerned about the other sort, but only because they believe strongly in this House and in what goes on on the Floor of the House.

If I felt that the developments we are discussing today meant the weakening in any way of the functions of Parliament as they have grown up over the years, I would reject them. I am against Parliament's acting as though it were the Executive. It is the legislative part of government. As a Front Bench Spokesman on a free vote I say to all of my right hon. and hon. Friends that they must listen to some of the points raised in the debate. We are not crystal clear about the precise way in which we shall move, but in view of the general comments of the Leader of the House I believe that we should accept the motion and see what develops in the years ahead.

4.49 p.m.

I hope that the House will pass, and with a clear majority, the motion standing in the name of my right hon. Friend. It may represent the most important procedural change introduced into Parliament for some years. It certainly has that degree of potential. I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). Incidentally, we congratulate him on his new appointment and wish him well in it. He has qualities which are admired by us all, and the responsibilities that he will discharge in this Parliament are certainly no less important than those he discharged with considerable courage while he was in government. Whether the House makes a success of these proposals depends upon all of us and nothing else. I hope with all my heart that they will be successful, but I have reservations about them which I shall explain.

Over the last week my right hon. Friend has endured a certain amount of criticism, much of which I thought was unfair. It is, therefore, a pleasure to offer him my sincere congratulations, not least on the promptness with which this motion has been tabled. He proposes to implement a substantial instalment of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, set up during the last Parliament which, as he said, deliberated for no less than two years. That is excellent. So far, so good. But let us together be as clear and as frank as my right hon. Friend was with us. What he proposes is a first stage only, a beginning of the process of reform—no more and no less. Further reform of our working methods is essential and the whole House of Commons must insist upon that. But we cannot have further steps without a first, and that is why I support this motion.

Let us put the matter into context. Over the years, certainly those years during which I have been privileged to be a member of the House, parliamentary control of the Executive has seriously declined in scope and effectiveness. The scrutiny that we give to matters is often careless, and certainly uneven: it is not continuous, it is not thorough and, alas, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South indicated when explaining his difficulties in newly coming to the Front Bench in opposition, it is not always informed. In a word, the scrutiny we give is amateur too often, and we should be ashamed of that fact.

It is not that Members of Parliament do not work hard—they invariably do. The trouble is that only too rarely do they work hard at the right things. As noted by the Select Committee on Procedure, the balance of advantage between Parliament and Government
"is now weighted in favour of Government to a degree which arouses widespread anxiety and is inimical to the proper working of our party democracy".
That is strong language indeed, but it is utterly justified.

In view of the increasing volume of business, the growing habit not merely of legislation but of delegated legislation, now added to by the large amount of paraphernalia of EEC legislation, the power of the parties, the power of patronage vested in the Government, and the strength of the Prime Minister's position, what Lord Hailsham said—which was referred to in an earlier intervention—regarding our system becoming an "elective" dictatorship is, in my view, entirely true.

Modern government is big. It grows bigger all the time. In 1972, 27½ per cent. of the working population was employed by the Government, either indirectly or directly. In May 1977 the percentage had increased to 30 per cent. of a bigger working population, a total of 7·4 million people. Not only is government big and growing bigger; it is complex, bureaucratic and, above all and worst of all, oppressively secretive. The only way to scrutinise government on a continuing basis is undoubtedly through Select Committees.

The concluding words of my right hon. Friend were admirable, will require careful study and I dare say will be quoted, and properly quoted, many times. It is no good anyone thinking that Parliament is a theatre and taking a romantic view of it. Government has all the merits that my right hon. Friend described, and I shall not repeat his words. But government is also a device for effective control and command of the Executive. We must ensure—it is our responsibility—that the House of Commons is realistically equipped to do that job. Parliament's formal controls over expenditure are hardly competent, nor are they sufficiently exercised. I have remarked before in this Chamber, and I do so again, that we no more control expenditure than King Canute controlled the tide.

These are grave charges and it is because they are true that reform must be a continuing process. That is why we are so delighted that my right hon. Friend, in fulfilment of a pledge that he gave when in opposition, is beginning that reform. Reform must be a continuing process until those charges I have mentioned can no longer be laid or even hinted at.

This is not a moment for politeness. This is a moment for resolution and dedication to the cause of reform in the tradition of our Parliament, with, as my right hon. Friend said, its habit of evolution. Therefore, questions to my right hon. Friend are in order, and so perhaps are suggestions about the size of the Committees.

The Select Committee on Procedure made other recommendations. There were no fewer than 76 of them, and they were additional to the matters that we are discussing in this motion. Some of those recommendations are controversial and I do not think that we shall be troubled with them today. We shall have enough to discuss, such as whether Select Committee Chairmen should be paid and what hours the House should sit and so on. But I think that we require an answer from my right hon. Friend, as guidance for the future, about the intentions of the Government towards the most important of those recommendations during the remainder of the lifetime of this Parliament.

There are a number of other Select Committees which the Procedure Committee recommended should continue and which, as the whole House acknowledges, are a crucial part of the scrutiny process. There is the Public Accounts Committee, for example. There is the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments—a scrutiny Committee if ever there was one; indeed, I thought that the Select Committee on Procedure was quite right to be critical about the way in which we handled delegated legislation. There is also the Select Committee on European Legislation—again a crucial Committee.

I ask my right hon. Friend when these Committees are to be re-established, because some of us will think that, important though this motion is, it is equally important that these old Committees should be brought back into action at the earliest possible moment. In addition, some of us may think that it would be very helpful to hear, either today or a little later in the Session, more about how my right hon. Friend thinks we shall handle the recommendations of the Select Committee on European Legislation. Many of us think that the last Government were not at all reasonable regarding the amount of time they allowed the House to consider their work and recommendations.

My right hon. Friend referred to the resuscitation of the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation. Does he agree that it should be more than just resuscitated in its previous form, and should have a jurisdiction on the merits of the legislation, or that some Committees should, a jurisdiction which is already enjoyed, paradoxically enough, by the Committee of the other place?

I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for making that point. In effect, he is underlining what I have already rather sketchily said. I totally agree with him, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will note the point.

The whole House would, I believe, welcome hearing from my right hon. Friend what his proposals are likely to be in relation to Public Bill Committees—that is, the reform of the process by which we conduct our Standing Committees. Is the intention to do what I believe all of us think we should do, which is to give these Standing Committees the opportunity in future to hear evidence before they begin dealing with legislation? I believe that to be profoundly important.

Then there is the report of the Select Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, chaired by my right hon. and learned friend who until the last election was a Member of this House—Sir David Renton. It is sad that we have not gone further with the recommendations of that Committee. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say a word about that.

I come to the question of the access of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the books of certain institutions, such as the National Enterprise Board and the British National Oil Corporation. This is something for which I have argued many times in this House. If we are saying that we should have all this information, and if it is put on the Table so that the House may see it, assess it and make up its mind, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give an early indication that the Comptroller and Auditor General will be given full authority to do his work properly and fully.

I was very pleased to note my right hon. Friend's statement that the examination of the Exchequer and Audit Acts was under way. Of course, it has already been under way for a considerable time, but it is good to know that it is being continued.

So much for questions put in very much shorthand form. I now come to some suggestions. The House will be aware that I have had the responsibility of chairing two Select Committees over the past nine years—the Public Accounts Committee latterly and previously, the Select Committee on Expenditure, which I had the responsibility for founding. From that experience I reached certain clear conclusions which I hope my right hon. Friend will allow me to put to him.

First, if the new departmental Select Committees are to give constructive and close, as well as continuous, scrutiny of the activities of Departments, it is essential that they should have a proper research back-up of their own. There is no doubt about that. The best analogy I can quote is that of the Public Accounts Committee. If that Committee is effective—I believe it to be generally acknowledged that it is highly effective and should be a matter of pride because of its practical and significant effect on the efficiency of Departments—it is because the Exchequer and Audit Department puts a loaded revolver into the hands of the Members of Parliament who comprise its membership.

It is absolutely essential that these departmental Committees should have not just one or two casual part-time advisers, which were the lot of the Select Committee on Expenditure and its Sub-Committees, but an informed, pertinacious and well-briefed research effort to enable them to discharge their responsibilities competently. Without their having that, they will undoubtedly fail.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most essential requirement of a successful Select Committee is an independently-minded Chairman who does not care for anyone?

The hon. Gentleman was himself a most competent Select Committee Chairman. If the Select Committee over which he presided was successful, it was perhaps due to the fact that he had the very qualities which he has described. The House was richer as a result of his work. I agree with him.

Secondly, in my view, it will not be enough for my right hon. Friend to say to the House "Here are these Committees. Now, you chaps, get on and do the work that is involved in them". More than that is required. It is essential that they should have a co-ordinated approach to their work.

I warmly support the propositions contained in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure to the effect that there should be a Liaison Committee, particularly because I believe that the Expenditure Committee, which did an immense amount of useful and valuable work, was not as influential as it might have been as the work of the individual Sub-Committees was so disparate, some would even say fey, on occasions.

Next, there must be adequate debating time for the reports of the Select Committees. It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip in his place. The eight days proposed are quite inadequate. If one takes from that allocation of eight days, which at first sight may seem a reasonable allocation of time, the one day that will go to the PAC—that in itself is inadequate if the work of the PAC for the year covers reports on no fewer than 61 subjects, as was the case last year—and if one takes off the days that might be allocated for reports from Select Committees on ad hoc subjects, such as Cyprus, abortion and other matters within the memory of right hon. and hon. Members, the number of eight is soon reduced to six, five or four.

Therefore, it is perfectly ridiculous to suggest, in effect, that a small number of days of that sort would be all that would be allowed for the debate of this new instrument of control and scrutiny. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind.

I also hope that it will be possible for my right hon. Friend, either today or subsequently, to say a little about the future of the Liaison Committee. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), with whom I invariably agree, and in the presence of five members of the old Liaison Committee, I utterly reject his suggestion that the Liaison Committee from time to time held up the work of Select Committees. That is not so. We were responsible for supervising the amount spent on foreign travel. That was an unfair responsibility that we should never have had. If we wish to be economical in the interests of the House as a whole, that should be a matter of applause rather than derogation. However, be that as it may, it is a small point.

My right hon. Friend said this was a small point, but is it? When I was on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), we had considerable trouble—there is no other word for it—with the Liaison Committee in relation to funds for the foreign travel that we considered necessary, for example, when we looked into the British Steel Corporation. How does my right hon. Friend think that that should be handled in future? If these Select Committees are to do all the work that is proposed, from where will the funds for foreign travel come?

Were Mr. Speaker in the Chair, he would be able to confirm that during the last Parliament I gave evidence to the Commissioners asking that in future this should be their responsibility rather than the responsibility of an ad hoc Committee. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House remembers that point. I shall not labour this point, but the House must consider seriously how foreign travel should be handled in future. The amounts spent have gone up from just a few thousand pounds a year to well over £100,000 a year. Much of that expenditure may well be justified and proper. All I am saying, and I have said it consistently to successive Leaders of the House—to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), to his predecessor, now Lord Glenamara, to others and to anyone who would listen—is that it is really absurd ton vest the responsibility for deciding that matter in Select Committee Chairmen in general, each of whom has a vested interest in ensuring that by and large foreign travel is allowed.

I leave that subject, because it is a matter that will settle itself in due time. The suggestion I make to my right hon. Friend is that if there is to be a Committee of Chairmen of these new Committees, it should in future be amalgamated with the Liasion Committee. It could act as a forum for co-ordinating inquiries made by the individual Committees and could give advice on such matters as staffing. I hope that it will particularly devote its attention to a matter to which I want to refer.

I come back to my general view. This British Parliament, of which my right hon. Friend spoke with such justifiable pride, was once so greatly admired. It has become ineffective—we know that—and hence often irrelevant to the process of government. In their heart of hearts the British public suspect this, if they do not know it. It is an honourable ambition for right hon. and hon. Members to seek to reverse that process. Again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the spirit of what he is trying to do. But, believing as I do that the exercise of power should be open and accountable, believing in an independent Parliament, and not a tame creature under the domination of the Executive, as we so often seem to be, I want to go much further than today's proposals.

The crux of Parliament's progressive failure to control Whitehall—again to use a shorthand phrase, which is not properly descriptive—lies less in its failure to obtain information than in its failure to control expenditure. Public expenditure has increased hugely, to the figure of over £60,000 million, and certainly well over 50 per cent. of the gross domestic product. Yet, for all that huge growth, we in this House—this is the reality—have little idea whether the taxpayers' money, on the whole or in particular, is well spent or unwisely spent. By themselves, as I began by saying, my right hon. Friend's proposals, good though they are, will not achieve this to more than a limited extent.

The last Procedure Committee ensisaged further work on this subject and further recommendations to come in regard to financial matters. So we need also to know from my right hon. Friend when the Procedure Committee will be reconstituted. I think it important that we in this House should look forward to an early report on this aspect of our matters especially.

We must maintain the momentum for change, and we must make progress in this Parliament. Over 700 years of its existence, the history of the British Parliament has been one of struggle to achieve a limited Executive in a powerful elected Parliament. My own aim is very simply put: to see more power to those of us on the Back Benches. He who controls the purse strings is he who has the power. To wrest that power from the Executive and to exercise it on these Back Benches on behalf of the electors, our fellow citizens, I believe to be a sacred democratic duty. Certainly I shall not rest in this Parliament until we achieve it more nearly, but I delight that we are making a start.

5.13 p.m.

Parliamentary government, although not perfect, is the best so far devised for ensuring a stable and a peaceful society. I agreed with the Leader of the House when he opened the debate in that way. However, the Leader of the House has acknowledged, as I do, that it can be improved. Certainly many of the amendments that have been put down by some of my hon. Friends are worthy of serious consideration.

The system of government and alternate government provides for wide streams of public opinion. At one time one party receives the support of the majority of the electors, and at another time it is the other party. This means that the Government of the day, aware of powerful public opinion in support of the Opposition, cannot make outrageous decisions or promises, because they may soon be called upon to govern. Such a system of checks and balances has a moderating influence and changes are achieved without resort to extreme measures.

The problems facing Governments today are more complex and much wider than ever before. No country can live in isolation, and developments in one part of the world can have repercussions elsewhere. The hijacking of an aeroplane can, for example, cause problems for several countries. The communications system today has world events on television screens immediately, or they are reported on radio sometimes even while they are happening. No longer do we live in an age when a gunboat could be sent on a mission and when reports of the event became known only weeks or months after it had occurred.

In the economic world, Governments must operate within world financial and economic agencies and have become involved in commerce and industry to a degree never experienced before. The general public are not fully aware of these problems that have to be tackled by Governments, even though their interests are directly affected.

The principle that public policy and administrative action should be open to discussion and that information on the working of government should be available to Members of Parliament and the wider public is vital in a democratic society. The increasing complexity of government and extension of its powers into many areas of politics and trade has inevitably meant more control by the Executive. It is my view that the Executive's power to govern should be matched by an improvement in Parliament's opportunities and techniques for questioning and criticising the Executive and the use of their powers.

Parliament is the sounding board of public opinion. It is necessary for Parliament to communicate public anxieties, criticisms and preferences to the Government, and to explain the decisions and actions of the Government to the public. Parliament also provides the opportunity for Opposition policies to be presented as alternatives to those proposed by the Government. It also gives every Member of Parliament the chance to raise any question affecting a constituent or constituency, or any matter in which he or she has some special knowledge or interest.

However, parliamentary control must not lead to frustration and ineffective government. Parliament must influence but not direct power, give advice but not command, criticise but not obstruct, scrutinise but not initiate, and, above all, ensure publicity and not secrecy. To ensure this practice, there must be the ability to obtain the background facts and the understanding essential to any detailed criticism of Administration and any informed discussion of policy.

The present machinery of Parliament has failed to keep pace with the increase in the scope of Government activity. It is my view that the system of parliamentary Select Committees provides such an opportunity for Parliament to do this. The parliamentary Select Committee is nothing new. I believe that it must now be expanded and more fully supported by the proposed system of more specialised Committees.

I was the first Chairman of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. The establishment of that Committee gave Back Benchers an oversight of one of the most difficult problems facing the nation. Our endeavour was to defuse the emotive, injudicious statements made about race relations. The Committee appointed was widely representative of this House. As Chairman, I asked the members from the beginning to project their minds a decade or two into the future in order that the public of that day would say that that Committee had done its work well. I urged that they should be factual and objective in their reporting.

To assist us in our work we decided to visit the areas in Britain where immigrants live and their countries of origin. Seeing the immigrants in their homeland enabled members of the Select Committee to appreciate their difficulties in coming to Britain. The result was that the Committee produced unanimous reports on the problems facing immigrants in education, housing, police-immigrant relations and other fields. Our trips outside Parliament were at first viewed with disfavour by local authorities, which thought we were interfering in their affairs. When, however, those authorities realised that it was an opportunity for them to show Members of Parliament how legislation that the House had passed made things more difficult for them, they made us more welcome.

We have already heard that there will be opposition to the extension of the system of parliamentary Select Committees. I regret that for many reasons. The reports of Select Committees must be debated in this House. As a result of the work done in Select Committees the level of debates is raised and hon. Members are well informed. Hon. Members are able to form a better judgment about scientific and technical developments, environmental problems, education, and race relations, as a result of the knowledge gained as members of a specialised parliamentary Select Committee. Consequently they are able to make a greater impact upon both the Government and public opinion.

If those specialised Committees are to secure the best results from their deliberations and research, reports should be promptly debated—certainly within two months. That would provide an effective weapon against closed government as practised by even well-intentioned and well-meaning Administrations. It would also preserve the principle that public policy and administrative action are open to discussion and that information on the workings of Government can and should be made available not only to Members of Parliament but to the wider public. The Government's proposals will enable us to ensure that the work of Parliament is improved and will ensure better government. Therefore, I hope that there will be solid support for them.

5.22 p.m.

The public is more interested in debates that are concerned with the direction in which the machinery of government is leading us than about the machinery itself. But if the machinery is not working smoothly, it will lead us nowhere. Thus, the debate is of far-reaching importance, not just for the working of Parliament but on the question of what Government can do on behalf of the people.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on bringing forward these proposals. Unlike hon. and right hon. Members opposite—at least in the past—I do not have a slavish worship of the doctrine of mandate. That doctrine can be taken too far, particularly if it is assumed that the majority of electors supporting an incoming Government approve of every word in that Government's manifesto, regardless of public opinion. Nevertheless, it is refreshing that the Conservative manifesto said that the House of Commons would be given an early chance of coming to a decision on the Procedure Committee's proposals and that only seven weeks after the Government came into office a start is being made.

I welcome the Government's motion for two reasons. First, the Select Committees will enable hon. Members to do a better job of controlling and supervising the Executive on behalf of the electorate. Secondly, implicit in the motion is an acceptance that the collective wisdom of the House of Commons—of the men of Westminster—is not just comparable to that of the men in Whitehall but can be a help to them just as much as ultimately it may be needed to check them.

The motion will help Parliament to do its job and, in doing so, will restore to Parliament some of its lost supremacy. That Parliament has lost power to the Executive in recent years is the fault of no one but Parliament itself. Parliament has been too often mesmerised by Whitehall. By delaying the reform of its procedures to cope with the demand now placed upon it, Parliament has lost much of its relevance, at least in the eyes of the public. It is worth reflecting that while the status of Parliament has been deteriorating the performance of Government has not been improving. Perhaps the establishment of these Committees paired with Government Departments will have far more beneficial and far-reaching effects than even the optimist had hoped for.

I welcome the motion particularly because it includes the retention of the Select Committee on the Ombudsman. Thereby it takes account of one of the few reservations that I had on the Procedure Committee's report and to which I referred when this issue was last debated. The subject Committees would not have the time to consider the detailed matters with which the Ombudsman is frequently involved. Yet these matters may be of crucial importance to the individual citizen. Thus, the retention of the Select Committee on the Ombudsman is necessary, and I am glad to note that it is contained in the motion.

The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), amongst others, fears that the new Select Committees will detract from the importance of the Chamber. But how can we hope to deal in the Chamber with the detailed complexities of today's all-embracing government? The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) referred to the growth in size and scope and complexity of government. That is at the root of the need for a new Select Committee structure. Many of us hope that the frontiers of government will be pushed back by the present Administration. Even so government will continue to loom larger in everyday life than ever before. Surely the main function of the Chamber is to cope with the main issues. For that reason, it will always remain more important. But we must recognise that people nowadays are as concerned with the managerial efficiency of government or, sadly, more often with its inefficiency. They are as concerned about that as they are about the major issues. That is natural, because the taxpayer wants to see a sensible use of or return on the money taken from him. The Select Committees have a role which makes them complementary and not an alternative to the Chamber. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, the Committees will supplement and not supplant the importance of the House.

I hope that at some stage consideration will be given to putting the Select Committees occasionally on the radio, or even on television. Members of Parliament questioning Ministers, civil servants, trade unionists, scientists, captains of industry and other specialists could be of much greater interest to listeners and viewers than much of what is heard on the radio from this Chamber at present.

Some hon. Members fear that these Committees will be too specialised. I do not think that that is necessarily so. There will be scope for overlap, and if a Liaison Committee is established either formally or informally such a Committee will be able to provide guidance for individual Select Committees in cases where there is a potential disagreement about responsibility.

This problem is not easy and it is fraught with complexities. Will the hon. Member explain what he means by "scope for overlap"? Unless we define what we mean, we may find ourselves in considerable difficulties. If overlap is not pursued at all, the Select Committees could become the servants or co-operators of the Departments that they are examining.

I disagree entirely. I do not see why the Department should come into the argument at all. It will be for the Liaison Committee to decide such matters, and if that does not exist it will be for the Chairmen of the individual Select Committees to decide among themselves which subject is more relevant for one Committee than for another.

May I recall a particular occasion? I was on the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure and on at least one occasion there was a subject that could have been considered by two other Committees. After some discussion between the Chairmen concerned it fell to our Committee to inquire into the matter. I believe that there should be an informal or formal structure to ensure that resources are not wasted when consideration is given to any particular matter.

It has also been said that the establishment of these Select Committees might result in Members themselves becoming too specialised. Their constituents will soon see that they do not. Nevertheless, after a time, consideration should be given to the possibility of developing a convention of limited service on any one Committee. That is something for the future.

My hon. Friend will realise that this could cut both ways. Just as the Department can often beat its Minister because it is more permanent than he is, so it takes some time for hon. Members to get the range of civil servants. It would be unfortunate if they were removed at a time when they were becoming most effective.

I take the point. That is why I put it forward in a somewhat tentative manner. However, it would be unfortunate if the House were divided into specialist groups of 10 or 11 Members, and if none of those groups was able to communicate with the others. Therefore, there should be some regard paid to this question of specialisation.

Similarly the power of Committees to send for Ministers, the employment of staff by Select Committees and the provision of information are issues upon which the House will have to keep a close watch. In total, I welcome the Government motion, but it is only a start and I was glad to hear the Leader of the House accept that.

I hope that there will be only a short delay before we debate the establishment of Public Bill Committees. I also want to see an experiment on pre-legislative Committees on non-party issues. It may be that there are no non-party issues, but it is worth trying an experiment because until we do we will not know the realities. Interest groups are consulted on legislation, whereas all too often Parliament is not, except by the broad brush means of a White Paper or a Green Paper. Thus, there is still much to be done on the recommendations of the Procedure Committee.

I should like to see an experiment conducted on limited time speeches, as is suggested in the report. There are plenty of arguments for and against this, but these arguments will never be resolved until an experiment is put into practice.

Finally, I refer once more to the Conservative Party manifesto, which mentioned a number of matters under the heading "The Supremacy of Parliament". The most notable is the manifesto reference to the House of Lords, which says:
"A strong Second Chamber is necessary."
At present it is not strong, and its weakness may stem from its constitution. I trust that the Government will not delay too long before sharing with the House their thoughts on the second Chamber. Such thoughts could be more far-reaching for Parliament's future than anything in today's motion. However, for the present the Government have made an excellent start.

Since the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has been kind enough to mention short speeches, perhaps I may remind the House that I have 30 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in today's debate, and short speeches will be helpful.

5.39 p.m.

Perhaps you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to express at the outset my thanks to the Leader of the House and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) for the kind things that they have said about me. I add my congratulations to those my right hon. Friend has received already on his new appointment.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to express my thanks also to members of the Select Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. This is the first opportunity I have had to express publicly my thanks to them.

I confess that when I was first elected Chairman of the Select Committee and sat in the chair for the first time, I looked around the gathered Members with a kind of bemused bewilderment. It has been said that the Committee sat for two years before it made its recommendations. When I first sat on the Committee I wondered if it would ever agree about anything. I would say not that it was a Committee of prima donnas but rather that it was one of solo artists. I held that view for some time after the first meeting, when I observed that each member had brought his own sheet of music. However, it is remarkable that with so many singing their own songs the results have been recommendations of such harmony and that, literally and metaphorically, they were reached without Division. Those recommendations are now before the House.

Those hon. Members who have not observed the cross-section of the Committee members would find it interesting to do so. With such a cross-section of the House joining together in making these recommendations it was wise of the Government to have regard to them. I hope that Parliament also will be prepared to accept the changes.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on the speed with which he has brought forward the recommendations for the consideration of the House. I, like him, though to a more modest degree, am a disciple of Bagehot, in his view of the nature and form of government. The right hon. Gentleman is a constitutional lawyer. In so far as I am anything, primarily I am a historian. I approached the task of my Committee historically. Historically speaking, was not the Leader of the House mistaken in suggesting that Parliament has never sought to govern? That is a persistent myth but one which has caused great harm to Parliament—certainly in this century.

Parliament is not primarily a theatre. It is a workshop. Governments have encouraged the myth of Parliament as the great forum of the nation—almost as though to provide Parliament with an emotional steam valve. For the most part, although there have been times when Parliament has acted as the voice of the people and changed the course of government, those occasions have been rare. What goes on in the Chamber has been too often like the whistle of a train—making a lot of noise but doing nothing to help the engine get anywhere. The real strength of Parliament lies elsewhere.

I agree entirely with the sentence used by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) towards the end of his speech. He said that for the 700 years of its existence, the history of the British parliamentary system had been one of struggle to achieve a limited Executive and a powerful elected Parliament. I could not agree more with those sentiments—indeed, I first wrote them.

From the time of the struggle between King and Parliament, through the battles from Magna Carta to the overthrow of the Stuarts and during the struggle between the Commons and the Lords to establish the Commons as the dominant partner, there has been an unceasing struggle for Parliament to govern. Since winning the battle against the Lords, the British Parliament, for all practical purposes, has been unicameral. I almost feel tempted to fall into the modern pattern of graffiti writing in order to state "The Commons rules—OK".

Since the Reform Acts, the Commons has unfortunately allowed the control that it won from the Crown and Peers to be surrendered, largely by its own acts, to Cabinet Ministers. Ministers have been not only more effective in restraining the Commons than the Commons' earlier adversaries but also more skilful in exploiting the myth that it is the Government that must govern and that it is the duty of Parliament, in a recent expression by a previous Leader of the House, the former Mr. Edward Short.
"to scrutinise the exercise of executive power, to monitor our activities as a nation and to debate the great issues of the day."—[Official Report, 2 February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 966.]
The consequences have been disastrous, not only for Parliament but for Britain. Bureaucracy has grown, not only in government but everywhere. Parliament has become increasingly ill-equipped to scrutinise the activities of the Cabinet and still less able to consider properly the issues of policy.

Debates on Supply that were once the most formidable weapon in the armoury of hon. Members have become, for the most part, a ritual dance by the official Opposition formally expressing criticism of matters that are wholly unrelated to its proper objectives of controlling money supply and bringing the Government to heel.

Even Question Time—regarded by many hon. Members as a sort of sacred cow and their only opportunity to cross-examine Ministers—has become largely an irrelevance.

Lloyd George once expressed this point of view more pithily. He was in a car in the country during the Second World War. All the signposts were down and he lost his way. There was an old cyclist coming down the country road in which the car had stopped, and Lloyd George said to his secretary "Here's a local man—ask him." The secretary wound down the window and asked the man on the bicycle "Where are we?" The man got off his bicycle, looked at the car's occupants for a moment, and said "In a motor car." He then got on his bicycle and pedalled away.

Lloyd George's secretary was surprised to discover the old man laughing uproariously and he said "What's tickling you?" "That," said Lloyd George, "is the perfect parliamentary answer. It is short, to the point, accurate, truthful, and it gives no information that is not otherwise available." In the result the power of Parliament has suffered and the strong independence of Members of Parliament has been greatly weakened. In its place, patronage has flourished like a weed. It is good that the Government have recognised the recommendations made by the Procedure Committee as the starting point for change.

I observe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East, (Mr. Benn) has attempted to take his resistance to patronage even further, and I have a good deal of sympathy with his view. I must confess that I have always been more successful when I relied for election to office on my fellows than when I have relied on the patronage of selection by Prime Ministers.

May I say one more thing by way of encouragement to the Leader of the House and to the Government who have taken this bold step—unusual among Governments—of accepting at least some recommendations of Select Committees? Let them not falter in good works. Let them accept also the consequences of the recommendations which they have now accepted formally. There are many matters that are still left for consideration by the Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Taunton has recited some of them, and I shall do no more than mention them. I refer to the control of finance, delegated legislation, EEC legislation and public Bill procedure. All these subjects still await the attention of the Government and, judging by the good signs that we have already observed, we look to them with hope.

It is important that the Government should be prepared to say frankly that, having set up the Committees, they will enable them to work. Already they have been challenged to attend to their proper staffing, financing, the provision of real opportunities to debate subjects on which the Select Committees make reports, and to the setting up of a formal Liaison Committee. The Government should be willing and ready to grant such powers to the House and to the Committees which they are about to set up that will enable the Committees to carry out their work properly.

The document that is now before us may not be a revolutionary document but the cumulative effect of its recommendations could radically change not only the procedures of Parliament, but the power of its Members to improve their effectiveness and knowledge. Perhaps as important as anything else, its proposals will give Members of Parliament a more constructive role than they now have of having to spend long hours on the Back Benches hoping to be called in debates that will do nothing to influence or control the activities of government—unlike, I trust, in this debate in which those of us whom the Chair has called have the honour to take part.

5.55 p.m.

As the Chair has called for brief speeches and as no hon. Member has yet kept to single figures, I shall try to observe the Chair's request.

I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, not only for taking action so quickly on this subject, but for the tone and approach adopted in his speech. That approach showed a considerable amount of flexibility. He asks the House to allow these matters to evolve so that we may consider how they work. He then asks us to return to the matter and to reach a judgment as to the success of these proposals so that, if necessary, we may alter them. That is the right and sensible way to proceed, and my right hon. Friend deserves great praise for adopting that course.

Each contributor to the debate so far has accepted that the power of the Executive over the legislature has greatly increased. That power is still increasing and somehow or other it must be diminished. This is not the only way, but it is a positive way to work towards that diminution of Executive power.

The scrutiny of government is no longer real at Question Time because there is no penetration in depth. Any good Minister—I speak with only a little experience—can play a straight bat so that his Department gives nothing away, if that is the Minister's wish, during Question Time. Furthermore, in debates, however hard and however often the opposition attack, when the time comes for hon. Members to go through the Lobbies the Government always appear to hold the day. The occasions on which Government policy is altered by a debate in the House are few. One can count only a few occasions when the Opposition's actions have altered Government policy. Therefore, I believe that these Select Committees, if properly used, will be of the greatest possible use in attempting to give power back to the House of Commons.

I wish to deal with a number of specific matters. I see present in the Chamber the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, who intends, if called, to speak in this debate—indeed, I expected him to be called before me. I have served with the hon. Gentleman on that Committee for a number of years, and I understand the view taken by some hon. Members that that Committee should be retained. I have thought most carefully about this matter, but I believe that the type of subcommittee suggested may well be able to work just as efficiently as the Committee which has worked on these matters so far. I believe that whatever body is set up should allow for specialisation and for the same Members to be nominated from the original Committees. I believe that the new Committee, so long as it is sensibly operated, should be as effective as the original body.

I notice that the Committees from which hon. Members may be nominated to the nationalised industries subcommittee exclude the proposed Select Committee on Employment. I would have thought, not with all subjects considered but certainly with some, that a representative from the employment side would have been of particular importance. I give as an example an investigation by the nationalised industries sub-committee into the British Steel Corporation. There, any consideration must affect matters of employment and I can see the need for somebody from the Select Committee on Employment—or somebody in liaison with that Committee—to be brought into the sub-committee's consideration. That is a small point, but one which may well be of considerable importance.

The only matter of grave importance concerning the Select Committees which was not included in the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was the question of debating their reports once they have been made. Unless the House debates the vast majority of these reports fairly quickly the power and work of the Committees will fall into disrepute.

It is interesting to note from the statistics in the Procedure Committee's report that the number of debates on reports from 1970 to 1977 was 44 out of a total of 83 reports. That is not good enough. I do not expect the Government to give an assurance that every report will be debated within moments of its presentation. That would obviously be foolish, but I believe that we should have from the Leader of the House some specific assurance as to how he intends to deal with this matter. Has he considered recommendation 44, that these reports be considered on at least eight days a year?

Will the Leader of the House consider, when we come to debate these reports, that it be perhaps not simply on a motion to take note but that the recommendation of the Committees should be put to the test of the views of the House? It seems to me of considerable importance that there should be a substantive motion, and I hope that he will consider that possibility fully.

The setting up of these Committees does not, and will not, ensure their success. We must try to ensure that they are not sycophantic; that they do not follow the Government, and the Department, and support them at every turn. Equally, it is of immense importance that they do not become a centre of criticism of every action, and of every possible approach, by a Department. They must not be regarded as a forum in which a Chairman, or a member of a Committee, can make his reputation because the Committee is always seen as attempting to purge government.

We need something which is sensible and reasonable between those two extremes. If that can happen the House will have done a very great service in attempting to take back to ourselves a greater control over the Executive. I hope that that can be achieved.

6.4 p.m.

I shall be brief. Today we are celebrating a notable victory by the House of Commons over successive Ministers who, quite candidly, did not want this to happen at all. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House on having conceded it in the way that he has. It is characteristic of our constitution that, when the concession comes, one is unable to find anyone on the other side who ever claimed to be against it in the first place. That is always how progress is made.

Before we sink back in a mass of self-congratulation about our incredible wisdom that after hundreds of years we should have suddenly seen exactly how to proceed with the matter, let us be clear about this. The very moment of victory is the beginning of another battle. It is to that new battle that I want to turn the attention of the House because, if the Select Committee members were simply to be "Ministers-in-waiting", hoping that they might be noticed for promotion as a result of their constructive role in the Select Committee concerned with the Department they were studying, the whole thing would be a waste of time. If this is to be the moment when the legislature—the House of Commons—asserts itself, it must be quite clear what it wants. I believe that it wants four things. I shall talk about them and then sit down.

First, the House of Commons must demand to know how the Government run the country. Why on earth should the structure of Cabinet committees be allowed to remain a secret? Dick Cross-man's memoirs came out—the first message passed out of prison—about what happened inside. The memoirs of Barbara Castle—I can now call her by name—are coming out in the autumn. Why cannot the House of Commons know what every serious student knows, namely that there are Cabinet committees on defence, on economic policy, on home affairs and on legislation and that there is a succession of such committees set up by each Government to cope with individual matters? We must demand the right to know how Government is run. I believe that any doubts that there might be among Labour Members about the case for Select Committees would melt if they knew that, probably, hundreds of Cabinet committees have been sitting over the last five years.

The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and valuable point. I recall, as Chairman of a Select Committee, that a Minister refused to tell us how Cabinet committees functioned. As the right hon. Gentleman was a prominent member of that Government, can he explain the reasons why such a convention obtained and could not be broken?

That convention can be broken if the House demands, and is entitled, to know. The reason why it is maintained is that it is much more convenient for Ministers not to be pursued. If it were known that they were on this or that committee, they would always be asked about things that they did not want people to know. On the whole, though it is an exaggeration, weak Ministers and strong civil servants want secrecy because strong civil servants want their anonymity to be preserved and weak Ministers do not want to be bothered with a lot of questions arising out of people knowing what they are doing. I think that it is time that the House dealt with that, and each Select Committee should demand that. That is the first objective.

The second objective of the Select Committees must be the right to demand the same information as goes to Ministers for the purposes of policy-making, provided that such information does not fall into certain very clear categories such as defence or security and that it does not relate to a big impending international conference where a negotiating position may be secret. Most of the paper in Whitehall, as any ex-Minister knows, is heavily over-classified, and it is time that Select Committees demanded their declassification. Why is it classified? It is classified for exactly the same reason as Cabinet committees are kept secret. It is because Ministers are then able to say to Members of Parliament "If you knew what I knew, you would not ask such a silly question."

That puts Ministers in a very strong position. The truth is that if hon. Members knew what the Minister knew he would be under much heavier pressure to change his policy. That is what we must go for next. That includes the outpourings of the Central Policy Review Staff—one item of public administration which could well be cancelled in an economy drive. I never found that Sir Kenneth Berrill's papers were all that worth while. But if they are to be pumped into Ministers' offices they should also be made available to the House. That includes papers on whether we join the EMS and the arguments about this or that policy that comes up for consideration. Over-classification is the curse of Parliament in its attempt to control the Executive.

My third point is that, although I do not entirely disagree with what the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Du Cann) said, I do not accept that detailed parliamentary scrutiny of expenditure offers as much to the House as the right hon. Gentleman believes. Patronage is the real source of power. I have been taking up this subject, as the House may have noticed, in the context of the Labour Party. I now wish to argue that the proposed Select Committees should have the right to vet at least the chairmen of all the major public corporations before they are appointed. There is no reason why a Minister, by virtue of his office, should be able to appoint the chairman of a nationalised industry without a Committee examining that man to find out his qualifications and to hear evidence about his qualifications.

For example, Sir Richard Dobson was appointed chairman of British Leyland and later had to resign. I understand that anyone who had had the chance of cross-examining him before his appointment would have discovered his position. A Select Committee should be able to recommend to the House that a candidate should not be confirmed.

If we take away Ministers' powers of patronage over huge sections of our public industries and put them into commission if the House wishes to act, we shall make a much more fundamental change than has been made by examining the "candle ends" of expenditure with the sort of scrutiny that a good chartered accountant gives to a big budget.

I shall end with my fourth point, because it is beyond our range, though it is the key to the whole thing. In the Common Market context, not only has the House lost its power, but Ministers have lost their power too. We are fooling ourselves if we suppose that we can grab back the little bit of power we need from Ministers and civil servants. We shall find that the main drainage of power has been out of the House towards the European Commission—which is, after all, made up of civil servants—the European Court, which is a new phenomenon in our constitutional history, and to Ministers who can go to Brussels, put up their hands and legislate for Britain at secret meetings without anything coming to the House.

Why do civil servants prefer Common Market legislation to House of Commons legislation? I will tell the House why. It is because it is less trouble. If a Bill has to go through the House, it has to be put in the Queen's Speech, has to get a First Reading and a Second Reading, go through Committee and Report stages, get a Third Reading and go on to the Lords. If a Minister is sent to Brussels to put up his hand at a secret meeting, the law of Britain can be changed as effectively as, and more permanently than, if it is done by parliamentary means.

As we celebrate this victory, our objectives must now be to get public knowledge about how this country is really governed, without having to wait for memoirs; to get access to papers about policy options so that Parliament can feed them into its own debates; to get control of patronage by recommending non-confirmation if the relevant Committee and the House think that confirmation would be unwise; and to open up the one question that was never properly discussed when the Common Market issue was debated—namely how the House can regain control over legislation when the main drainage of power into Brussels has already begun.

6.13 p.m.

I shall not go into all four points raised by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I shall certainly not go into the exaggerations about European legislation, but the right hon. Gentleman did by those remarks draw attention to the fact that the House's European legislation Committee needs strengthening and needs to consider the merits of proposals that come before it.

I disagree intensely with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the House should know what happens at a Cabinet meeting.

I referred to the structure of Cabinet committees. I did not argue that their content should be made public. The right hon. Gentleman is a fair man and I am sure that he will acquit me of arguing that the 30-year rule should be substituted by a 30-minute rule—though that does sometimes happen already with the help of Prime Ministerial briefing.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has corrected me because I do not think that the content of Cabinet committees would be of the least interest to hon. Members or to members of Select Committees. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Do not be so sure."] Perhaps I ought not to be speaking so frankly, but I would rather be on a Select Committee examining witnesses—Ministers, civil servants or interested bodies. By that means I would find out a lot more than I ever found out in a Cabinet committee. Obtaining information is what we are talking about.

I am grateful for the comprehensive speeches that we have had so far, but I wish to confine my remarks to the need to ensure that in what we decide today we do not trespass on the reforms that are so necessary in the Committees doing work on legislation. It is possible that we will accept some of the Procedure Committee's recommendations that would hamper us in amending the procedure of Standing Committees.

The House has three sorts of Committee—the Standing Committee, the Select Committee and the Grand Committee. None of those titles is justified by what the Committees are.

The Standing Committee is selected to deal with a temporary matter—a Bill—the Select Committee is appointed to deal with a subject for a specific period—a Session or perhaps a Parliament—and the Grand Committee is not.

The Select Committee on Procedure has recommended that we should remove some of those anomalies and also remove the mystery that if a Committee has the appellation "Standing" it can deliberate in public but cannot take evidence or hear witnesses; if it has the appellation "Select", it must deliberate in private—

I am glad to hear that. A Select Committee may alter its rules, but normally it deliberates in private but may take evidence in public.

I hope that we will accept the Procedure Committee's recommendation that Standing Committees—what I call legislative Committees—should be entitled to hear evidence as well as to deliberate on a Bill. I see no reason why that should delay the progress of a Bill. Two mornings on the text of a Bill and one afternoon hearing evidence would not delay the passage of a Bill through Committee.

The Procedure Committee suggests that that sort of evidence should go before a Select Committee and not necessarily before the legislative Committee. If that is to be the case, I shall be concerned about the vagueness of any distinction made by the report between the two types of Committee—the legislative Committee and the departmentally related Committee, what I call the policy administrative Committee. I do not want the policy administrative Committee to deal with legislative matters, whether pre-legislation, during legislation or post-legislation.

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has misread the report. In a bit of the report that we are not dealing with today we suggest that the Standing Committees, which we have restyled Public Bill Committees, should be entitled to take evidence for a maximum, normally, of three sessions before proceeding to the clause by clause consideration.

We were emphatic that the same Members and the same Committee as will proceed to do the normal Standing Committee job should initially do the investigation of witnesses relevant to the Bill.

I want to ensure that we accept that suggestion and that we do not trespass on that ground by accepting the motion before us. But I am anxious about one of the recommendations concerning the new Select Committees which says:

"Committees should also be free to consider proposals for primary legislation at any stage during its progress through Parliament, including the Green Paper or White Paper stage, and to bring their views to the attention of the House or of the relevant legislative committees."
I think that that is wrong.

The pre-legislation procedure could be by Green Paper or by White Paper or by consultation document. A Green Paper or a White Paper is usually debated by the House, and the House would be greatly helped if it had a report from the Committee which had taken evidence previously and had gathered information on the subject. That should be the legislative type of Committee. It should be the Committee that will eventually deal with the legislation coming from the Green Paper or White Paper.

I think that the third kind, the consultation document, is the blight on our parliamentary system. The consultation document is the thing that a Department sends out to those whom it thinks are interested. The Department marks the paper "confidential" so that no Member of Parliament shall see it. We are the last people to receive consultation documents, and we receive them only by the courtesy of, perhaps, the chief executive of our local authority or the secretary of the women's institute or the secretary of the townswomen's guild.

Fine as those institutions are, when their representatives come to one's surgery on a Saturday morning, present one with a consultation document from a Government Department and say "What are you going to do about it?", all one can say is "I have never seen it before." That is met with "Don't you Members of Parliament ever see these?". One has to say "No. May I borrow it so that I can photostat it?"

A Minister, if he is sending out a consultation document to those who he thinks are interested, should have an obligation to lay it before the House so that Members know what consultations are going on. When it comes to the legislation procedure, he should lay before the Committee which is dealing with the Bill not only the consultation documents that he has sent out but the replies he has received, the comments of interested persons, and so on, and then that Committee can consider whether it would like to take evidence from those outside bodies instead of, as we do at present, having their representatives sitting at the far end of the Committee room whispering in one's ear or passing bits of paper across.

I would like to have that sort of information formally before the Committee and the Committee able to cross-examine persons on it. All I fear is that, by appointing these 12 new Select Committees, that sort of procedure will be pushed into those Select Committees, the departmentally related Committees, and not dealt with on a legislative basis. I have mentioned pre-legislation procedure and during-legislation procedure.

There is one procedure that we have which crosses that boundary. It is on the hybrid Bill. I sat on the Select Committee which considered the Maplin Development Bill, and found it immensely valuable in being able to recommend particular amendments without having to go through the fine details of the Bill. In my view, it would not have made any difference if those who had been on the Select Committee were also on the Standing Committee. Why is it so important that the Select Committee should not also consider the policy and then the detailed application within the Bill?

I think that that should certainly apply to what I call post-legislation procedure, when the regulations under an Act are being made—the secondary legislation. I have always thought that the legislative Committee—the Standing Committee on a Bill—should be kept in being for at least 12 months, and perhaps longer, so that it might deal with the regulations which emerge from the Act with which it had dealt in Committee as a Bill. Most of our Bills these days are permissive—they lay down permissive power for the Minister to make orders, and so on—and those hon. Members who have dealt with the Bill in Committee know what it is all about when it comes to the exercise of those permissive powers. By that means we might do a little better than with the Standing Committees considering the merits of statutory instruments.

I am not sure that anything we do in this House could convert those Committees, which I consider a farce and burlesque at the moment, into anything valuable. It is ridiculous to think that we can deal with secondary legislation by that means. I do not know how the Selection Committee works, but I imagine that it shuffles the cards, deals out the names, and the Whips go round and say "We want a quorum on that Committee, you, you and you." So, we get about three or four people on such a Committee, dealing sometimes with important secondary legislation. We really must do better than that.

But I do not think that it is any good merely sending that work, as the report suggests, to one of these departmentally related Committees. That is not a solution. We must make those Standing Committees on the merits of post-legislation really attractive to hon. Members so that they do attend and have debates on the secondary legislation concerned.

The important point we should consider is that we are dealing today only with the Select Committee procedure and with the appointment of 12 new Select Committees. Do let us be careful, in accepting the Government's motion, that it does not trespass on what we want to do about legislation. We need to amend the legislative Committee procedure and, although I welcome the appointment of the 12 Committees, I want a clearer demarcation between the jurisdiction of a legislative Committee and a policy administrative Committee.

6.27 p.m.

I need not seek to detain the House long, because I not only participated in the earlier general debate on the report, but, as a member of the Select Committee on whose report the motion is largely based, my views are either in the body of the report or to be found by curious students amongst the rejected amendments in smaller print further towards the back. I did feel however that I would be glad to have the opportunity of referring to two Northern Ireland matters.

One of these was partially cleared up by the exchange between the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). Nevertheless, the facts should be on the record beyond any doubt; for there appeared to be some confusion, perhaps, in the mind of the Leader of the House. As the motion stands, it will be the duty of the departmentally related Committees to deal with the subjects which fall within the scope of the Departments mentioned in the second column, and with
"similar matters within the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland".
That is the first paragraph of the motion.

Question: why not Wales? Answer, says the Leader of the House: because very shortly—he hopes to announce it tomorrow—there is to be a Welsh Select Committee. Then why not a Scottish Select Committee? That too, he hopes, says the Leader of the House; but that will take a little more time, as we have to clear up more of the debris left behind by the Scotland Act.

This in turn raises the question—what about the fourth component of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland? On that subject, initially the right hon. Gentleman said that it was hoped in due course there would be local government in Northern Ireland which would deal democratically in Northern Ireland with many of the subjects which now fall upon and overload the plates of the Northern Ireland Ministers. That is true. Indeed there can be no more pressing need for the day-to-day concerns of the people of Northern Ireland. But still the question arises: what about the Northern Ireland Committee which we had functioning in the last Parliament? Then, in response to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, the Leader of the House did confirm that the Northern Ireland Committee under Standing Order No. 72A, which is a kind of Grand Committee—I agree with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), anything but grand—would continue.

This was a Committee of which my hon. Friends and I initially were somewhat wary, because part of its function is to consider Northern Ireland legislation in the form of Orders in Council, and we were most anxious that the Standing Order should not be a means of taking Northern Ireland legislation and Northern Ireland itself away from the Floor of the House. In fact it has not worked out that way. The Committee has proved to be a satisfactory way of dealing with legislation of secondary importance but substantial detail, and it has also provided a useful forum for extended debates upon administration.

We are glad, therefore, to have the assurance of the Leader of the House that the Northern Ireland Committee will continue to operate in that way. This will mean that, for example, the Select Committee on Environment—Committee No. 6—will be empowered, indeed instructed by the House, to consider the administration of the Department of the Environment in England, the corresponding Department in Scotland and also the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. We welcome this, because it will bring administration in Northern Ireland under the same scrutiny and the same purview as the administration of the corresponding subjects in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is all to the good; and it will be in no way interfered with by the fact that Standing Order No. 72A will also enable Northern Ireland members and others—it is not only Northern Ireland Members who man the Northern Ireland Committee—to debate such matters as the policy and administration of the Housing Executive, an organisation peculiar to Northern Ireland.

I am therefore grateful to the Leader of the House for making the intended pattern clear and also for the effect which this resolution will have in bringing Northern Ireland administration within the scope of these Select Committees.

The second matter relates to the proposal to continue the Select Committee dealing with the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Health Service Commissioners. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has communicated recently to the Leader of the House the arguments, which we feel very strongly, for dealing by the same machinery with the corresponding reports of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Had the report of the Select Committee on Procedure been adopted and had, therefore, the Ombudsmen's reports been part of the material to which the Select Committees were directed to address themselves, no doubt the Northern Ireland documents also would have been taken into account by the relevant Select Committee. But now that we are to continue the Ombudsman Committee for Great Britain, it becomes more necessary to impress upon the Leader of the House the importance of bringing within its purview the corresponding reports for Northern Ireland. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has not had full opportunity to consider all the implications of this, and my hon. Friends and I draw comfort from the fact that an amendment to the resolutions to do what we call for would be perfectly practicable in due course.

Certainly it is desirable. When those two Northern Ireland Ombudsmen were set up, they were set up by the then Parliament of Northern Ireland and were to report to that Parliament as do their opposite numbers in Great Britain in this Parliament. Since that Parliament ceased to exist in 1972, they have had to continue their work more or less in a vacuum. Of course, this does not diminish the value to individual Members of Parliament and to individual members of the Northern Ireland public of their work in dealing with potential maladministration and following up potential grievances. But it is surely wrong—and wrong above all in relation to Northern Ireland—that the annual reports of the independent commissioners for investigating grievances and maladministration, who were established by the junior Parliament but have the approval of this Parliament, should neither be referred to this House nor looked at by any Committee of this House.

I hope, therefore, that in due course the right hon. Gentleman will decide, since we are to have the Ombudsman Committee continued, that it should be given the additional duty of looking at, investigating and reporting upon the corresponding reports which proceed from those functionaries in Northern Ireland.

6.35 p.m.

May I take this opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it being the first time that you have called me in the House, to congratulate you on your elevation to the Chair?

The only reason for this very important debate is to strengthen the purposes of Parliament. I think that we are all agreed about that. It has become clear that great concern has been shown by every right hon. and hon. Member who has addressed the House about the method by which we fulfil our classical role of controlling the Executive. That we are not ourselves executive government was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It is in that context that I draw attention to a very interesting warning that was given in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond):
"many of my colleagues have acquired an appetite for government even when they are not in office. … I fear that some of the support for select committees comes from Ministers manqués."
I assure the House that I do not regard myself as a Minister manqué, but I am a supporter of the Select Committee system. I wish to see that system strengthened, but I believe that there is a certain danger in the warning given by the right hon. Gentleman, and reference has been made to it already by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

My reason for wanting to see the Select Committee system strengthened is simple. It is the most effective method today of ensuring that we fulfil our traditional duty of control. I suggest that that control falls into three categories. First, Parliament gives a Government authority for taking executive decisions. In the main, this is done through legislation and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) pointed out, increasingly that legislation is of a permissive nature and the teeth of it often lie in the secondary legislation following it.

Secondly, Parliament supervises and monitors those decisions. Thirdly, Parliament eventually audits those accounts. In that connection, I am delighted that the Public Accounts Committee is to remain in being. As one who had the honour some years ago of being a member of it, may I say that I think that it is one of the most effective Select Committees in the House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said, it is effective because it has the Comptroller and Auditor General's Department to support it—at least, that is the theory.

It seems to me that any examination of our present procedures must be directed to how we strengthen our functioning in those three areas—authorising executive decisions, supervising them and auditing them—and the report of the Select Committee suggests many ways in which we can do it.

Tonight we are concentrating entirely on the Select Committees whose work lies mainly in the second of those areas—namely supervising executive decisions. It is the received wisdom of this House that the principal instrument of parliamentary supervision of government has been through the control of Supply. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton rightly reminded us, we are not being very effective in controlling Supply. I say this in full knowledge of the excellent work done in recent Sessions by our colleagues on the Expenditure Committee and its various Sub-Committees. Their work encourages one to believe that if we move on to the departmental Commit- tees proposed in this motion those Committees will be more successful than the present arrangements.

I am sure that we all agree with the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams) that Supply days on the Floor of the House have become a complete misnomer. They are not Supply days in the traditional sense. They are days allocated to the Opposition to initiate debates on subjects of their choosing. I do not quarrel with that. But they are no longer Supply days.

We as a House have largely abandoned any attempt at detailed examination of annual departmental Estimates. So complicated and extensive are those Estimates today that it is right that in the first instance they should not be taken on the Floor of the House but in an appropriate Committee. I take the simple view that an appropriate Select Committee should examine each year the Estimates of each Department and report back to the House. The House may not wish to take any further action. But it has become almost obscene that we pass, on the nod on a Supply day, enormous sums of money which have never been examined upstairs or downstairs. In addition to the Estimates, there would be the Supplementary Estimates and each Department's contribution to the expenditure White Paper. We have an annual debate on the expenditure White Paper. But that debate does little justice to the mass of information contained in the White Paper. This will clearly fall within the remit of the departmental Committees.

There is also the question of departmental cash limits, which are increasingly becoming part of the governmental scene. I believe that the new Select Committees will wish to examine the appropriate cash limits in depth.

These three areas within control of Supply will be the first duty of the Select Committees. I can see no other approach. This work could not be done as extensively or as thoroughly by existing subject Committees, although I share the view of certain hon. Members that we should retain some subject Committees. It is not a case of "either … or".

My right hon. Friend, in moving the motion, hazarded the view that the creation of these departmental Committees made unnecessary any subject Committees. He is, in fact, allowing two or three subject Committees. In certain specialised areas there is still room for subject Committees. I wish to draw the attention of the House particularly to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. That Committee has an experience and a competence that it would be a pity to break up. That sort of competence does not arise quickly.

It has been pointed out that only when one has acquired a degree of special knowledge in a Select Committee can one be really effective. That is particularly true when dealing with scientific matters that cut not only across Departments but across the boundary between the public and private sector and across the boundaries between countries. I should like therefore to support the view put forward in our previous debate by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), so long the distinguished Chairman of that Committee. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) has similar views to give the House if he succeeds in catching Mr. Speaker's eye.

If this motion is carried, about 120 hon. Members will be occupied in the work of these departmental Select Committees. I do not believe that it will tax the resources of the Committee of Selection to be able to man the Select Committee on Science and Technology in addition to these 12 new departmental Committees. I hope that the House will not be impressed by arguments that there are not sufficient hon. Members available. I believe that we have more than enough. I believe that they would be all volunteers.

In case the proposal to retain the Select Committee on Science and Technology is regarded as too radical, hon. Members will see a group of amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) and myself. Both of us are officers of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. It is in that capacity that we have put down what I would call a compromise proposal between that of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East and the motion. That compromise proposal would separate the science function and the arts function from the responsibilities of the departmental Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. The House will realise, in any case, that responsibility for the arts, under the new Administration, has been moved from the Department of Education and Science into a separate office. That alone would justify a separate Select Committee being set up.

Hon. Members involved in normal educational matters would not necessarily wish to involve themselves in matters of scientific policy or of artistic policy. The only criticism which could be made of the proposal is to ask why the hon. Member for Dewsbury and myself have put science and the arts together in one Select Committee. The reason is simple. The hon. Member for Dewsbury and I do not agree with the views of the noble Lord Snow that there are two cultures. We are both essentially Renaissance men. I hope that in that spirit, when we vote, we shall have the support of the House.

It is right and proper that we consider the reform of procedure. That is why we are here. Let us be under no illusion. If we want to achieve better control over the Executive, we, Members of this House, must show more courage in dealing with Governments, particularly when we are of the same party as the Government in power.

6.47 p.m.

The Leader of the House was extravagant in the language he used when trying to sell his product. I hope that events will justify his claims. I want to give one or two reasons why I doubt them. It is idle to pretend that this new procedure will even marginally reduce the gap between the power of the Executive and the power of the legislature to control it. One has to compare the resources that have been available to Select Committees in the past and that are likely to be available to them in the future under the current dispensation and the resources available to the Departments of State that they are presuming to challenge and control.

I got out some figures at random for two or three typical Departments which are to come under scrutiny. I find, for instance, that the Ministry of Defence currently spends in excess of £6,000 million a year, about £150 million every week. At the head of that Department are 934 top civil servants of administrative class and 115,000 non-industrial civil servants. We are presuming to frighten the lives out of those people by appointing 10 Back Bench Members of Parliament, serviced by one or two part-time Clerks, estimable people no doubt.

Ministers of Defence attend Committees with air commodores and generals. God knows what they do when they are not appearing in front of Committees. Generally 20 or 30 people are faced by three miserable little Back-Bench Members. That is what the Leader of the House claims to be a great revolution. He says that we shall put the people in the Ministries in their place.

The Department of Health and Social Security employs 1,021 administrative class civil servants. It employs 98,073 non-industrial civil servants. Only nine hon. Members are to survey that massive empire.

Another example is the Department of Education and Science. It employs fewer top class civil servants—163. Hon. Members know of the secretiveness of that Department. It refused to give a Committee documents about the OECD. So long as that secretiveness remains, whatever the numbers of staff available to a Department and a Committee, the gulf cannot be narrowed in a meaningful sense.

Because of the Government's determination to cut bureaucracy and to reduce or freeze recruitment to the Civil Service, there is no likelihood of the Government giving the Committees the number of staff required.

I also have doubts because of the unwarranted assumption that there are in the House—and I measure my words—120 Back-Bench Members who will apply themselves diligently to the hard work entailed in serving on Select Committees. I speak from some years of experience. Hon. Members write to their Whips applying for membership of Select Committees. Mountains of paper are produced by each Department. Paper is their secret weapon. They churn it out to Select Committees but the Back Bencher has neither the time nor inclination to wade through it. Invariably it is left to the Chairmen of those Committees. Hon. Members go to those Committees unbriefed and unread, hoping that the Chairman will give them a lead. Others will agree with me. Clerks often have to browbeat some hon. Members to attend Committees to achieve a quorum.

I wish to be brief. I am just throwing a few spanners in the works. The impression is being created by the Government and the media that this is a revolution. It is nothing of the kind. It is the status quo in a different wrapping. I have been a member of the Estimates Committee and the Expenditure Committee. I have seen it all before. We have tried to divide sub-committees into departmental committees.

I read the evidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) gave to the Committee, and it is wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way. "] No. Hon. Members are getting worked up. I am glad that they are, because it is important to understand that there are reservations among Back Bench Members about the effectiveness of this package. There is euphoria that this is the end of the day. It is not even the beginning of achieving a minimum of control over the Executive.

The hon. Member has a reputation for fairmindedness. He is in danger of losing that reputation. I was Chairman of a Select Committee and I attended every meeting. I do not recollect a single occasion when that Committee lacked a quorum.

My hon. Friend should not get so worked up. He should go and see a doctor.

The Leader of the House made compromising noises about the appearance of Ministers before Committees. It is not good enough. If the Government are serious in wanting to make the proposals work, it must be obligatory for a Minister to attend a Committee if the Committee decides that his presence is required. The Committee must decide whether a useful purpose would be served by a Minister appearing before it. After all, a Minister can fudge the issue or stall. Ministers stall in the House. Why should they not stall in Select Committees?

The time allowed for debating reports from Select Committees is not mentioned, although the Committee specifically recommended that at least eight days should be set aside each session to debate Select Committee reports. That is not an extravagant proposal.

There must be hundreds of Select Committee reports collecting dust. Some of the recommendations receive no response for months. That is not good enough. One of the main functions of Select Committees is not so much to lessen the gulf between Executive and legislature, but to provide background information so that our debates are better informed. If we do not hold debates, that function is eliminated or drastically reduced.

Cynicism has bitten deep into my soul in the course of a long experience in the House. After seeing successive Governments of all political persuasions in action, I find that I am against government. Basically, I am an anarchist. I do not believe that Governments willingly yield power to any legislature. The Government are making these proposals precisely because they know they are cosmetic and will not change anything much.

6.58 p.m.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) sometimes reminds me of that late but famous actor, Akim Tamiroff, who designed parts to provoke those with whom he acted. The hon. Member always provokes the House, but he does so in an interesting way.

Information provided by Select Committees must, if it is discussed in the House, enliven and enlighten debates. But the work of Select Committees is not altogether lost if their reports are not debated, although it is preferable that they should be debated.

One of the important functions of a Select Committee is to act as an interface between the House and those who give evidence to the Committee. That function should not be underrated.

When on 19 February the House discussed the Procedure Committee's report the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) drew our attention to the obvious fact that a number of Select Committee Chairmen had supported the generalities of the report but had argued for the survival of their own Committees. He added that he had
"never heard special pleading so arrant and so naked in my life."—[Official Report, 19 February 1979; Vol. 963, c. 107.]
I declare immediately that I join those ranks, naked and unashamed, to ask the House to consider carefully what it is doing and to plead for the survival of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I do not believe that I have ever spoken in this Chamber on a more important subject bar one, and I am not merely opposed to the consequent abolition of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I find myself in the somewhat unaccustomed position of viewing with more than a little scepticism the generality of the Procedure Committee's proposals on Select Committees. By nature a radical, I find myself overwhelmed with caution and conservatism.

I start at the beginning. On 5 April this year the distinguished scientific journal Nature carried the following:
"Whatever the issues the forthcoming election in Britain brings up, two things are reasonably certain: that the nation's place in the EEC will be widely discussed and that science and technology policy will not … the future of Europe is so much bound up in science and technology that if the public were kept adequately informed scientific and technical policy would be expressed in terms of electoral concern."
On 10 May the editor of that journal pointed out that it was as he had expected.
"The election was fought almost entirely on economic issues. … Of science we have heard nothing—except on environmental issues from the Ecology Party and on nuclear power from the Liberals. We hope,"
—he concluded—
"that the Government will recognise the central importance of science—and basic sciences at that—to the economy."
He then went on to contrast the "massive increase" in West German funding for its science Ministry with our comparatively humble support for science in Britain.

In spite of the Prime Minister's discourse on ships, celebrated though it was, we returned to find the Government apparently uncertain about whether or not at least one of the two parliamentary institutions which recognise the significance of science and technology and the vast importance to an industrial nation of bridging the gap between them was to be abolished. Whatever its merits or failings, the Select Committee on Science and Technology considered both science and technology. It recognised that the gap between them lay at the heart of some of our national problems, and it offered the scientific community an opportunity to talk about the many problems of great national significance.

Never has a smaller word maintained a more vital connection. The Committee was, of course, criticised. It would have been strange if it had not been. But it was also highly commended and strongly defended, and not only by its late Chairman. On 10 May two Fellows of the Royal Society, Professors Ziman and Denbeigh of the Council for Science and Society, argued in a powerful letter to Nature, which I sent to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, first, that the Select Committee on Science and Technology was important precisely because
"the central co-ordinating functions for scientific and technical research are vestigial".
and they are. Second, they argued that
"no amount of liaison and co-operation between departmental Committees could deal satisfactorily with the broader, long-term issues of science and technology"
and they could not. Third, they argued that
"current issues of great political, social and economic significance, such as…. genetic manipulation or … microprocessors … obviously overflow all the boundaries appropriate for the administration of science and research within the Government machine"
and they do.

These two professors concluded that the Committee "fulfilled an indispensable role"—the words are theirs, not mine—and that the role should be strengthened rather than weakened. I concur wholeheartedly with that analysis, because, as Professors Ziman and Denbeigh point out, nothing would be more undesirable at this stage than to perpetuate and exacerbate the split between science and technology which is presently reflected in our Government organisation, and many other national institutions.

I recall once being told by the late Sir Dennis Robertson that
"God did not devise human problems in the way which man created University Departments."
I have had many occasions to reflect on his wisdom. It is equally true of Government Departments and would, I am convinced, be equally true of departmental Select Committees.

Let us begin by examining the record of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I have a complete list of the Government Departments which have been involved in every inquiry. Only a small minority involve one Department. Most involve several. That on population involved 12. That on computers involved six. That on research and development policy six plus the Lord Privy Seal and the Cabinet Office. Most recently genetic engineering—which is not yet complete—involved three.

The Procedure Committee concluded that this was so, and accepted that
"many of the matters investigated … are not the direct … concern of government departments at all."
It conceded further that the Committee's work
"gained much of their impact and importance"
from the fact that its inquiries
"involved subjects of major political importance".
But all this was to no avail. Technology is to disappear and the supervision of science policy—policy which involves a research requirements board in every major Department of State—is to be the responsibility of a departmental Committee confined, initially and in principle, to the Department of Education and Science. It is also to monitor the arts, a strange combination, irrespective of which side of Lord Snow's division we find ourselves on. That I believe to be a damaging decision, for the Department of Education and Science is preoccupied with education, a subject of high political visibility, and the departmental Committee would certainly and probably properly reflect that balance of interest and activity.

It has been argued that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has spent much effort on energy, which is true, and that the departmental Select Committee on energy will discharge that role. But I do not accept that argument. Each of the inquiries we conducted into energy involved many Departments, and our most recent, on energy conservation, involved five. But that is not the point. The point is that consideration of a question such as the appropriate balance of national investment in solar, nuclear and fossil-fuelled power must inevitably involve several Departments and many other institutions. The most interesting observations in such a field will quite possibly, if not necessarily, be made by those whom Government and even universities would almost certainly regard as cranks.

The Procedure Committee justifies its decision on three grounds: first, that all Government Departments are affected by research and development; second, that overlap between departmental and "subject" Committees should be avoided; and, third, that otherwise departmental agencies would be "overburdened".

I find none of these arguments convincing. The first seems to me, in logic, to justify rather than refute the need for a subject Committee to follow the inquiry wherever the problem leads it. The second can be solved by precisely the liaison procedures which the Procedure Committee concedes will be necessary even under the new system. The third can be avoided if liaison is effective, as it has been in the past. The Procedure Committee itself concedes further that the new mechanism
"will need to be able to go beyond the examination of Government activities on a strictly departmental basis".
It suggests that the solution lies in arranging for departmental Committees jointly to take evidence, to exchange papers, to deliberate and to report. I can imagine nothing more cumbersome and impractical. Such a procedure would offer constant grounds for stepping on the toes of other Committees, and should other Committees be either unwilling or unable to conduct, for perfectly understandable reasons, a joint inquiry, what is then to be done?

The Procedure Committee goes on to concede what is, in my view, a point which damages the case for its proposal most profoundly. The Procedure Committee has stated that the new Committees will not work unless they have rights of access to information. But this is the one thing which the Government do not propose to give them, at least in any greater measure than is enjoyed by the existing Committees. If this is a necessary and fundamental condition for their success, it is equally a necessary and fundamental condition for the success of past Select Committees. If we change that, we change the things that really matter. If we leave that, we really alter nothing.

It is interesting that in this context it should be the old Committees that should be criticised by the Procedure Committee for having two serious weaknesses—inadequacy of information, and lack of expert staffs. I accept that without qualification. But does the remedy for this situation require a change in the structure as well as a change in the adequacy of information and the strength of expert staffs? I think not.

Does the hon. Member, from his considerable experience of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, think that the departmental Select Committee on Energy would have enough courage to conduct a completely independent inquiry into the fast breeder reactor?

I am obliged to the hon. Member for putting that question. The answer is that in all probability it would not. It might do, but in all probability it would not.

We are dealing essentially with a matter of system design. Recently the design team which produced a most successful new digital tape defined its design objectives. They were very interesting. They were as follows:
"The product had to meet existing and predicted users' requirements; have a low cost of ownership; be simple (and therefore inexpensive) to manufacture in high volume; offer genuine practical operating advantages over existing competitive equipments, yet be physically compatible with them and incorporate the latest technological innovations that were both necessary for its performance and fully proven for reliability."
One can quite easily transform those requirements into appropriate criteria. First, do our proposed changes meet existing and predicted user requirements? We have concentrated largely on existing requirements and have ignored the future and I shall explain why in a moment.

Secondly, we can translate "low cost of ownership" into the question, "Is the proposed change cost effective?" This question does not appear to have been examined. We have no information whatever, no suggested studies, on the comparative cost of 12 departmental Committees with limited facilities versus, say, six such Committees with a modern information technology back-up and adequate staffs. I should like to see such a comparison before I felt I could vote on this.

Thirdly, we can certainly ask whether the present proposals offer
"genuine and practical advantages over existing arrangements".
What could these possibly be—more continuity? I cannot see where that would come from. I doubt it. Could it be more expertise? I doubt it. We are calling on the same Members—possibly, but not because of a change in the system. We are calling for better information—again, possibly, but not because of the procedural change but because of the changes that have been made to support the procedural change.

What this analysis reveals simply is that if the new system proves better than the old it will be because we have incorporated additional rights and priorities. There is no reason whatever why existing Committees should not receive similar benefits and their performance improve correspondingly.

The fourth criterion is by far the most revealing. Does our new system incorporate the latest technological innovations? This is where we really fall down. The first thing that we have done is to eliminate any specific or formal reference to technology. In the year 1979 that is a most remarkable action. There is no indication anywhere in the report that the Procedure Committee appreciates the fundamental nature of the change which modern information technology has introduced into the procedures of decision making. We are involved. If anything, we are expert in the procedures of decision making. It has been said that we are leaving the age of Gutenberg as the silicon chip transforms the whole balance between information and other production costs. Yet this report contains not one mention of that fact.

What is now clear is that both in and outside Government the most vital information will no longer be contained in "papers" and many persons will use "on-line" information contained in tapes, discs, bubble memories and other as yet unimagined electronic miracles. Information will be called up on the visual display units, used, recalled or eliminated. The decision will be made before the papers even appear. If government in the future is to be increasingly "on-line", as it will, monitoring and investigatory Commitees of this House will also have to be on-line. I see no suggestion in these proposed reforms that that is to take place.

My conclusion is that the reforms might bring the House into line with the needs of the 1950s, which probably should have been done a long time ago, but bear little relevance to the needs of the 1980s, when decisions in Government and industry will be built into the information systems which are designed and continuously developed precisely for these purposes. That is certainly my view. However, I do not stand alone. It is also the view of the "NORA" report commissioned by President Giscard d'Estaing, and also of the Japanese Government. It is the view of every major British and American company operating in the information technology sphere.

In the last 30 years the proportion of the working population engaged in acquiring, storing, processing and transmitting information has risen from 15 per cent. to 50 per cent., and the trend continues. We are in the silicon age, an age in which technology is utterly dependent on, and indissolubly wedded to, science. The editorial from which I quoted in Nature concluded with these words:
"Remember the scientists—and you will be remembered."
The trouble with this report—I do not wish to appear ungenerous, because I realise the tremendous amount of excellent work that has gone into it—is that it has forgotten the scientists and has forgotten to look at the main characteristics of the age into which we are moving, the age of information technology. The report has forgotten to ask fundamental questions and it will not be remembered; if we do nothing to bring our thinking up to date, nor will we. This is not new wine into old bottles. It is not even old wine into old bottles. It is essentially a new label on our old bottle, and the result will mislead and confuse.

We should build on what we have—improve, enlarge, extend and reinforce success. We are not doing that. Most untypically for the House of Commons, and even more untypically for a Conservative Government, we are abolishing the tried, if imperfect, system that we know and substituting an untried system that has obvious flaws, and little to commend it that is new or relevant to the 1980s in which it will begin operation. I beg the House to think again.

7.17 p.m.

Before I give some replies to the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd), it might be helpful to the House if I briefly refer to the third of the three motions on the Order Paper. It refers to the use of the Committee Selection as a stage on the way to appointing members of Select Committees.

Although I broadly welcome the proposals of the Leader of the House, I think that this particular issue has been mishandled. We began with a debate late one night asking the Leader of the House why he had set up a Committee of Selection without doing anything about its powers and the Leader of the House gave nothing away, though he was his usual courteous self. Then, upon the Papers we had a motion—not this one—which included everything that the Procedure Committee had asked for, and which said that all the Select Committees should pass through the Committee of Selection. Finally, all of a sudden, two or three days ago, just before the weekend, that motion was contracted to relate solely to the appointment of members of these 12 Select Committees, should the House agree the proposal in motion No. 1.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) rightly took up this point and received no answer. It is incumbent upon us to ask why the Government have changed their mind. As I understand it, the Government were not asked to do so by the Opposition. But they were presumably asked to do so by somebody. The Government have changed their minds. They have wilted.

There are other important Committees to be set up, as the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) pointed out. He mentioned various committees such as the Public Accounts Committee. I just mention one that could cope with a point mentioned at the beginning of this debate. We need a broadcasting committee to consider again the question of a House of Commons broadcasting unit. The BBC opposed such a unit, but has not—no doubt due to its financial difficulties—been prepared to spend any money on the necessary equipment for Committee Rooms and, to some extent, for this House, to do the job of broadcasting as it should be done and as was originally envisaged.

Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House, will explain to us why the Government have changed their minds. It is a matter of some importance. Discussions about membership of Committees should be possible in private as opposed to only in public on the Floor of the House. This is the basic reason of the proposal—to protect the interests of Back Benchers.

I come to the main motion. It would be impossible to go through all the groups of amendments that have been tabled. However, many are special pleading, with respect to the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo. With the exception of the Expenditure Committee, I think that a member of every Committee which it is suggested should be abolished has put down a motion suggesting that it be retained. No one has tabled a motion stating that all these Committees should be retained. Individual hon. Members have tabled amendments stating that each one should be retained.

When the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo pleads for the retention of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, why does he not want an Arts Committee, because that is the implication?

No, we do not. Under the existing Committee set-up, we have a Committee whose terms of reference are to consider science and technology. We have no Committee whose terms of reference are to consider matters which are not science and technology. Under the new proposals there will be something related to every Government Department.

Much of what the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo said is a perfectly good stricture which, if he wishes, he should put to the new Treasury Committee. He suggested that the machinery of government was in some way wrong, in that unlike Germany, which he quoted as an example, we do not have a science Ministry. If the hon. Gentleman feels that, he should say so. I do not know whether the Select Committee on Science and Technology has said so, but the hon. Gentleman should say so if that is what he feels. The reason we link to Departments is to ensure that nothing gets missed out.

I would hate the hon. Gentleman to go away with the impression that I was advocating some sort of philistine structure for these Committees. Of course there should be consideration of the arts. But I suggest that those who have a natural competence in relation to science and technology, whether Members of this House or otherwise, do not always have a natural competence in the arts.

If the hon. Gentleman expects those who are most competent in any subject necessarily to be in Parliament, he overrates his colleagues. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. I have been informed by some Fellows of the Royal Society, whom I do not propose to quote by name, that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has quite frequently caused individuals a great deal of work in respect of some minor recommendations at the end of the day. I regard the Royal Society as to some extent expert on science and technology in a way in which I do not regard hon. Members.

Over the years, on an ad hoc basis, we have thought up various Select Committees. We have never sat down and decided that we should have a set of Select Committees spanning the whole ambit of government and its associated bodies. That is our mistake. The result has been that while we have done good work in various Committees, no work at all has been done in some areas where Governments have been extremely active. Energy is one example. The reason why the Select Committee on Science and Technology has produced 13 reports on energy alone out of 35 simply that we do not have a Select Committee related to the Department of Energy. At one time here was no Department of Energy, but circumstances have caused that to come into existence.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Select Committee on Science and Technology had the power to deal with a Department? The point at issue is that the words on the Order Paper make it quite clear that the Select Committees will be there:

"to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments".
However, page lxi of the report, in which my hon. Friend was involved, states:
"As we have made clear, however, our proposals evisage that, although the fields of interest of the committees would be defined by reference to the existing pattern of government departments, they would in no way be inhibited from taking evidence from any government department or other body relevant to the studies which they undertake."
I do not see any words on the Order Paper which make that clear. Therefore, as long as that omission remains, there is a genuine concern that where there is a good sound basis of reporting to this House, across Departments and other bodies, by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the House must concern itself with what the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) has said.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has quoted a passage that I had already marked, just as the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo quoted it. I intend to come to it.

We found from experience over many years that it was quite impossible to assess the efficacy of the British aid programme unless it was related to external trade policy and domestic economic policy. We were totally unable to establish from Government Departments how co-ordination was effected in Whitehall, and we came to the conclusion that there was no co-ordination. Only that Committee, taking evidence from a wide range of Departments, could have come to that conclusion, and it is a conclusion that is vital to the efficiency and working of Parliament.

Yes, and the conclusion of the Procedure Committee was perfectly simple. Whether it works well or ill, there is in Whitehall on any given subject what is called a lead Department. For example, the lead Department on education, science and the arts would be the Department of Education and Science. But that does not mean that no other Department has a chief scientist. Seven others have. It does not mean that no one else has scientific problems.

The point is that we should all stop talking as inflexibly as we have done. Let me give hon. Members a quite different illustration which is not yet a vested interest. If we set up Select Committees on Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, we cannot thereby exclude Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland from consideration when we are dealing with, say, education, local government or even such a simple thing as public expenditure. For example, the Sub-Committee that I chaired in the last Parliament once wanted to know what Exchequer funds went to local authorities. In order to find out we had to summon not only the Treasury but also the Department of the Environment, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Civil Service—not merely the Northern Ireland Office of the British Civil Service, but some people from the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Of course, there is no possibility of any of these Committees operating at all if they are to be prevented from summoning people from various Departments. It would be foolish for a Government—I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman means to do this—to come before this House and say "No Committee may discuss anything being discussed by more than one Department in Whitehall". That is not in the motion, and it is foolish to read into the motion what is not there. It would be sensible, to put it no higher, if a Committee related to the lead Department dealt with subjects wherein its Department is the lead Department. But for a given reason this may be done slightly differently.

I turn briefly to two small points. There are three amendments in my name, including amendment No. 13 about the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers Department. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), the former Solicitor-General, will catch the eye of the Chair, since he signed it as well. It seems quite ridiculous that the security service of the State, which is an associated body or Department of the Home Office, or its mate, which is an associated body of the Foreign Office, should apparently come within the terms of this motion—I think that they come within the definition of "associated public body", if not that of a Department—and yet the Lord Chancellor's Department should be left out.

One amendment says that we should have a new Committee on official information. We would not need that if the Home Affairs Committee chose to discuss official information. But apparently it could not discuss the Public Record Office because that comes under the Lord Chancellor. This is a foolish omission and is quite unnecessary.

Similarly, I do not know why two particular quangos, the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise, have been specifically mentioned. But the most important omission that the right hon. Gentleman will find is his omission of a Liaison Committee. There must be some means of linking the various aspects of policy. I suspect that he will need some means of solving disputes, even, for example, between a Department of the Environmental Committee and a Welsh Committee or an Education Committee. There is a whole series of small points made by the Procedure Committee, such as whether Chairmen should have votes and whether Sub-Committee proceedings can be published, that the right hon. Gentleman can easily agree if only he has someone to talk to about them, such as a Liaison Committee as we have proposed.

Finally, we come to the question of money and staff. The money and staff are no longer solely the responsibility of the Treasury. It is no longer the case that the Leader of the House goes to the Treasury to defend the House of Commons Estimate. He now considers it, but in his capacity as a House of Commons Commissioner. So far, I believe that only he and Mr. Speaker are House of Commons Commissioners, but eventually there should be six of them, and three of them should be Back Benchers. But these are the people who will present the Estimates to the House. Someone, somewhere, must co-ordinate the desires of these Committees, for, obviously, this boils down to money, although it may be money to pay for staff.

This is a highly important point. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that he has no mechanism whereby these things can be discussed in general. There will be no way, for example, if Committees desire to discuss statutory instruments, of saying "Yes, you all need a common service to provide you with those statutory instruments". There will be no way of paying for it, except all 12 of them, plus all the other Select Committees, negotiating directly with the House of Commons Commission.

It seems a very silly way of doing it, because—and this is the point—they will not simply negotiate through the Services Committee or an unofficial committee under some chairman—a committee chaired by a particular chairman who has been chosen on a permanent basis irrespective of the personality of the person involved. Members of Select Committees and their Chairmen do not wish to be beholden to the Chairman of some other Select Committee.

The blunt truth is that one has to have a linking mechanism whereby they can all fairly have their requests considered by all their colleagues and by a balanced political group, and not by the sort of unofficial body which had no legal power but which considered these things in the last Parliament. That was automatically chaired—because the senior Chairman is the Leader of the House, and when Dick Crossman was Leader of the House he did not want to do it, nor indeed, did more recent Leaders of the House—by the Chairman of the second senior Committee, the Public Accounts Committee, a position that holds no particular virtue. It may be that the Committee that we are to create tomorrow is more important than the one we created in the last century. We do not know.

All of them should be treated fairly and equally. There ought to be a mechanism for considering all of their require- ments, putting them to the House of Commons Commission and to the House, and for the Treasury and the Leader of the House to consider them on the way. That is not in the motion.

I hope that at the end of the day the Leader of the House will realise that he will only cause himself difficulties if he has to negotiate with 12 Chairmen instead of a Committee of them and their colleagues.

7.34 p.m.

It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He and I have served on the Procedure Committee for four years. It is probably fair to say on behalf of my colleagues on the Committee that all of us have had the opportunity many times of speaking after the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of procedural matters is encyclopaedic. His advice to the Committee has been absolutely invaluable.

I welcome the motions. They include virtually 95 per cent. of what the Select Committee on Procedure recommended as regards Select Committees. There has been some talk about whether this change, if it is agreed to by the House tonight, as I hope that it will be, will be revolutionary. I do not believe that it will be revolutionary. I see it much more in the evolutionary pattern of change in Britain. When we change things constitutionally or procedurally, we do so in an evolutionary way.

I very much recall the words of King Magnus in "The Applecart", when he said
"I prefer the evolutionary appetite to the day's gluttony."
I believe that this is the way in which the House changes itself. I hope that we shall witness the beginning of this change tonight.

This change is not revolutionary in the way that some hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), have been saying that a great counter-bureaucracy would be built up, something on American lines. I do not see that happening at all. I believe that the American Congress has some 40,000 civil servants and bureaucrats servicing it, a sort of counter-Government. That is not envisaged in the proposals before us, nor do I believe that it will happen. The new Select Committees will be allowed to appoint advisers and staff as they see fit, but that will not be a form of counter-bureaucracy.

Nor do I believe that the system which I hope that the House will approve tonight will undermine this Chamber. I have never accepted that argument. The former Leader of the House has used it many times. This Chamber will still be the crucible of British politics. Reputations will be made and lost in this Chamber. Ministers will still be held to account at the Dispatch Box. That will continue in the future.

I happen to believe that this Chamber is the finest debating chamber in the world. It is fashionable to denigrate everything British today, but having listened to debates in many other parliamentary assemblies, I have absolutely no doubt that we have the privilege of belonging to the best debating chamber in the world.

I thought that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would come in at that moment.

However, this is something of which we can be proud. I do not believe that that will change.

What these Committees will be able to do, and which the House cannot do at present effectively, is to examine in considerable detail the policy and the Estimates of the different Departments. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the Estimates and the actual detailed expenditure of Departments have not been examined in detail for many years. We know that we are invited to vote vast sums of money on the nod for various Departments, but it will be up to these Select Committees, if they so wish—and I hope that they will so wish—to comb through in detail the estimates and the expenditure and the policy implications that lie behind that expenditure. That will be an enormous improvement.

Does my hon. Friend agree, having himself had some experience, as I have in a minor way, that not only are the policies and Estimates of our great Departments not thoroughly scrutinised by Parliament, but very often they cannot be, for lack of time, adequately scrutinised by Ministers?

Yes, probably anyone who has had ministerial experience would agree. Members of Parliament have an effective supplementary role to call to account not only Ministers but Government Departments.

One thing about which I am disappointed is that there is no clear commitment to having these reports from Committees debated. The Select Committee on Procedure recommended what we called Select Committee Mondays—up to eight per year. If these reports are to be effective, the circle must be completed, and they must come back and be debated on the Floor of the House so that what goes on upstairs is given the wider publicity which only debates in this House can give. I hope that when winding up the Leader of the House will be able to give a clear indication of the Government's intention to ensure that Committee reports are debated.

There has been criticism that the Government have not accepted the recommendations on sending for papers and persons and the tougher suggestion of the Select Committee on Procedure that a condemnatory motion on a particular Minister who does not attend a Committee should take precedence at 3.30 p.m. That is not a great omission by the Government. In practice, if Ministers are called by Select Committees they will attend. In recent years there has been only one exemption, which is well known. It was when Lord Lever declined to attend before a Select Committee because the then Prime Minister told him that he should not. I do not doubt that Ministers will appear before Select Committees when required to do so.

We have dealt with only about a third of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure. I hope that the Government will give a clear undertaking that when we return in October the House will have an early opportunity of deciding on the other recommendations that do not affect Select Committees. These recommendations are important. They consider European legislation and subordinate legislation. They also involve proposals for changing the Standing Committee procedure so that those Committees will be able to receive evidence during three sittings. I notice that the first Standing Committee of this Parliament has been set up for the Education Bill. If that Committee starts work soon it will be under existing procedures and not under the Public Bill procedure, which would have allowed it to take evidence. That is disappointing.

There are a whole range of minor matters that the House should have an opportunity to decide. We should be allowed an opportunity to decide whether we want to make the Ten o'clock rule more tough. The Committee recommended that the Ten o'clock rule should not be suspended if fewer than 200 Members voted in the majority in support of the motion. No Government will agree with that, but the House should be given an opportunity to decide whether it wants to change an important rule that determines the length of its sittings.

There are other matters such as Friday sittings and whether we sit at 9.30 a.m. or 11 a.m. That is a minnow of a recommendation, but it is extraordinary that as Members of the legislative Assembly we cannot decide on it unless the Executive gives us that opportunity. I hope that the Government will give us that opportunity. There are other sensible recommendations about such matters as dates of recesses. I hope that in the autumn we shall have an opportunity to decide the important changes relating to Standing Committees that we are not debating tonight. With that, I welcome the proposals on the Order Paper.

7.43 p.m.

I hope that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) will forgive me if in the interests of brevity I do not follow him, although some of the matters that he raised tempt me to comment. My intervention will be a pedestrian one about a specific matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) expressed the hope that I might catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not for the first time he seems to have had his wish.

There is a discrepancy between the proposals in the report and those before the House. The Procedure Committee recommended that the Select Committee on Home Affairs should include within its terms of reference the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers' Department. In today's proposals those two Departments have disappeared. Almost alone amongst the functional as opposed to the geographical Departments they are missing from the proposals.

The Leader of the House explained the Government's thinking—that it was to protect the independence of the judiciary. I do not dissent from that proposition. The House has always sought to exercise its powers in such a way as not to inhibit the independence of the judiciary, and I hope that it will continue to do so. The right hon. Gentleman said that it meant, for example, that there should not be public investigation into the appointment of judges. I do not quarrel with that.

Representative democracy is a sophisticated concept. There are certain kinds of appointment in which everyone should be entitled and encouraged to take part, particularly to positions where the principal function is to enunciate what is in the hearts of ordinary people. But where the appointment is to a function dependent on a technical qualification, it is more complicated.

I have never heard it suggested, for example, that the manager of the England football team should be appointed by direct election. I believe that that is for three reasons. First, where the appointment requires technical expertise those best qualified to judge are those who have been able to watch the candidates perform. Secondly, technical judgments of that kind are not always best carried out when the candidate is looking over his shoulder at potential electors. Thirdly, that kind of election does not always produce the boldest and most adventurous of spirits. It often produces someone who has simply not upset anyone.

I have a great respect for the American judicial system and I do not think that I will offend my American friends if I say that on this they serve as something of a warning. We have seen the way that the Senate has exercised its power over Presidential appointments to the Supreme Court. That provision in the constitution was intended originally to ensure that the Supreme Court was not packed with President's men. But many questions are asked publicly of potential appointees which are not immediately relevant to that issue. The procedure does not necessarily attract the best candidates if they are cross-examined about the whole of their past life and everything that they have said on subjects which bear little relation to the appointment. I do not dissent from the right hon. Gentleman's reasoning on that.

It does not necessarily follow, however, that all the functions of the Lord Chancellor's Department should be removed from public examination. There are some on which public discussion would be healthy. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West gave the example of the Public Record Office. There are many reasons why hon. Members should from time to time want a public discussion and investigation into the way its business is conducted.

We are from time to time approached by constituents about a witness who has been kept waiting an inordinate length of time or left shivering in a cold anteroom. There is no reason why such matters as facilities for those attending court should not be publicly discussed. The legal aid system and the provision of law centres also have no particular quality that makes it essential for investigations to be carried out in secrecy. What is embarrassing or secret about such matters?

There are areas in which the Lord Chancellor would probably welcome public discussion and want to give reasons for something which he has done or abstained from doing. He may wish to resolve some of the misconceptions that exist in this area. Goodness knows there are enough of them.

For those reasons I ventured to add my name to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West.

When my right hon. and learned Friend is talking about this Lord Chancellor, is he not talking of the Lord Chancellor who wants to supervise us through the Bill of Rights rather than have us supervise him?

I will not be drawn into discussing personalities in this case. My hon. Friend has made his point. I was speaking about the Lord Chancellor in the abstract.

Earlier my hon. Friend made the point that there was something a little odd about the proposal that the administration of the criminal law through the Home Office should be open, quite properly, to scrutiny. One would have thought that it would be, if anything, less embarrassing if the administration of the civil law were protected.

My right hon. and learned Friend is talking as if the motion as at present drafted positively prevents the Committee on the Home Office from looking at the Lord Chancellor's Department. Is he sure that he is right? There is nothing in the motion that stops the Committee from doing so. I agree that it would have been better if the Lord Chancellor's Department had been added to the list of principal Departments covered, but there is nothing in this motion to inhibit that Committee, once it is established, from doing exactly what it wants in relation to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was about to venture a word about the terms of reference of Committees.

It seems to me that the terms of reference may be what each Committee interprets them as being. It would be helpful if the Lord President would clarify this matter. But if something is specifically within or outside a Committee's terms of reference, it must be intended that the Committee should pay some attention to that when it decides what it will discuss.

Yes. I say no more than that at this stage. Perhaps we shall get some clarification.

I wish to say a few words about the Law Officers' Department. When he was discussing this, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) referred to criminal prosecutions. It has always been accepted that the Law Officers are responsible to this House for their policy on criminal prosecutions. But we all know that there are difficulties about public discussions on specific criminal prosecutions. If it has been decided to prosecute someone, the matter is probably sub judice and it would be grossly unfair if the trial were preceded by a public discussion on the reasons for the prosecution. If it were decided not to prosecute someone, it would be absurd and unfair to embark on a public discussion as to why that person was suspected in the first place. If someone has been acquitted, it would be distasteful to reopen all the evidence which has been considered by the court. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South that criminal prosecutions are probably not suitable for this kind of investigation. But we may hear something from the Royal Commission on the prosecution process.

The same is true of other law enforcement matters, some of which trespass into the civil law, such as relator proceedings. All that is then left of the Law Officers' Department is the advice which it tenders to Government Departments; and no one is normally compelled, either private individual or public authority, to disclose the advice which he has received from his lawyer. So there is not very much left, and I would not press for the inclusion of the Law Officers' Department. I think that when my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West put down his amendment it was purely of a probing nature. I do not think that he intended to divide the House on it.

But this raises one question that goes right across the board. What happens if it is discovered that there are particular topics within a Department which do not readily lend themselves to public discussion? There have been references in the debate to what might happen. It has been suggested that we might rely upon the restraint of the Committee. But I suspect that a public discussion about what we intend to have a public discussion about would be as damaging as having the public discussion itself. Something more formal would probably be more appropriate. Yet it would be a great pity if we were left simply with an alternative between having no investigation into the affairs of the Department and insisting that everything was entirely open and that nothing could be held back.

May I refer to one further matter raised in the discussion between the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West? The Committee had to decide whether the structure should depend upon subject matter or whether it should depend upon departmental responsibilities. Understandably, for the reasons given, it has opted for departmental responsibilities. However, there are some nomadic questions which wander backwards and forwards across the borders of departmental responsibility. Of course, the work of Departments can be co-ordinated. Sometimes there is a lead Department which takes the subject seriously, but sometimes there is a subject which is not the major responsibility of any Department, and all Departments regard it as a peripheral burden. When this happens there is a danger that that subject can disappear into the cracks between the respective Departments. Science and technology may be one of those matters, and there was a time when human rights and industrial safety certainly were. I suspect that the protection of children and the protection of animals may be among such matters. It would be a great pity if these issues also disappeared into the cracks between Committees, because it is just such topics which require their attention.

However, all this is an experiment and, provided that the institutions that are being erected now are not regarded as unchangeable and immutable, I welcome them.

7.57 p.m.

I do not intend to add anything to the general argument in favour of the setting up of these departmentally related Committees. Sufficient to say that I am wholly in favour of this development, and support many of the arguments that have been deployed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Therefore, I shall restrict my remarks to some brief comments on amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16 and the consequential ones which I have placed on the Order Paper.

I am very much opposed to the move away from the recommendation of the Select Committee on the sort of shadowing that the departmental Committee should involve. Originally it was suggested that there should be a Committee shadowing the Departments of Industry and Employment, and another Committee shadowing the Department of Trade. This has been turned around in the recommendations that we are discussing today. Now it is suggested that instead there should be a Select Committee on Employment on its own and a Select Committee dealing with the Departments of Industry and Trade.

My opposition to that stems from the fact that I believe that as far as possible these Committees should reflect the distribution of Ministries as they are. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that some years ago, because it was felt by a former Government that the burden of a vast Department covering both trade and industry was too immense, it was decided that we should revert to the previous situation of having a Department of Trade and a separate Department of Industry.

The old DTI having been abolished, we should move towards a situation in which these new Select Committees reflect the Department of Industry and the Department of Trade. They should be considered separately because each of them has very important subjects falling within their areas of responsibility.

It is important that the Department of Industry and the Department of Trade have separate Committees, but it is even more important that the Department of Trade has a Committee of its own. It should be remembered that on the formation of the present Administration the former Department of Prices and Consumer Protection was added to the responsibility of the Department of Trade. We now have an additional Minister of State at the Department of Trade responsible for consumer affairs and prices. Therefore, the public interest in matters such as prices and competition policy, monopolies and mergers, and not least fair trading, run the severe risk of being buried in a departmental Committee that is more likely to emphasise industrial matters. Industrial developments tend to be rather more glamorous and more prone to catch the attention of the media and, from time to time, Members of this House. That would be a retrograde and unfortunate step. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend, who has done so much to move this matter forward expeditiously, to reconsider whether there should not be a separate Committee for the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs.

The Department of Trade covers a wide field on its own, quite apart from its recent responsibility for prices and consumer affairs which it has just taken under its wing. It deals, for example, with company law, insurance, aviation and tourism. There are problems which should be investigated by a Committee which mirrors the Department of Trade and its consumer affairs branch.

Why have the Government taken this step? Is there a magical number of 12? What is wrong with having 13 Committees? Is there a shortage of Members of Parliament, as has been suggested? If my amendments were to be adopted the net increase would be an additional seven Members of Parliament. I cannot believe that it would be impossible to find seven volunteers on the Benches on both sides of the House. If the suggestions are not adopted that will be seen as a downgrading of the Department of Trade vis-à-vis the Department of Employment.

I am not against the suggestion that there should be a Department responsible for monitoring the Department of Employment alone. However, I am against the suggestion of pushing the Department of Trade, with all its consumer matters, into the ambit of the Department of Industry. Whereas it might be said that the Department of Employment will be responsible for rather less legislation in the immediate future than has been the case in the past, the possible development of a third London Airport, for example, should be considered in order to realise the important policy decisions and the enormous public expenditure within the Department of Trade.

Bearing in mind that Select Committees attempt to reach unanimous reports, does my hon. Friend believe that a Select Committee of the Department of Trade would reach a unanimous report on the question of a third London airport?

The House has tried and failed on several occasions to reach a unanimous decision. Therefore I do not see why my hon. Friend believes that, if the matter were moved into Committee, the Committee concerned with the activities of the Department of Trade would have less of an opportunity to succeed. Clearly, the matter has not been resolved yet.

Whether the matters undertaken by the Department of Trade relate to proposed Government expenditure on a truly enormous scale or whether they relate to the need to continue to reflect consumer interests, they demand the restoration of a Committee related to the Department of Trade. It should not be put in as an afterthought for the consideration of the Department of Industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see the force of that argument and that he will reconsider whether there is anything magical in the restriction of the number of Committees to 12.

8.3 pm

I shall speak briefly because I have had the opportunity to take part in other debates over the long period during which we have had these matters under consideration.

I strongly support the proposals before us tonight to develop a new and expanded system of Select Committees. That is not least because I served on a Committee that laboured hard and long to prepare the proposals and that is grateful now to have them set before the House. The proposals fall within the tradition of attempts to strengthen Parliament, particularly in relation to the Executive. That has been a long-standing commitment of my Party and I speak on its behalf in commending the proposals to the House.

Why do we—and the members of the Committee—feel that in the activities of a Select Committee there are better opportunities to scrutinise the Executive than there are in the many procedures of the House? One of the reasons for that belief is that the procedures of the House are intermittent in their impact upon the Executive and the procedures in Select Committees can be a great deal more continuous. Once every six weeks a Minister comes before the House at Ques- tion Time. He may escape scrutiny altogether on a pressing matter because it does not fall among the highest rated questions of the day. Those questions themselves are only pinpricks on the subject under discussion.

A Committee can take an issue, pursue it thoroughly and in detail, and follow one point to another in a way that it is not possible to do in the other procedures of the House. The opportunity afforded for continuous scrutiny of a subject over a long period is a major advantage which will be enjoyed by the Select Committees.

The second reason why I feel that Select Committees offer a great advantage over the other procedures of the House is that they represent a break away from the pattern of government and opposition—the antithesis of what is the hallmark of many of the debates in the Chamber. The wisdom of Select Committees over the years, going back to the early experience of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, has been to find ground upon which it is possible for all the members of the Committee, from whatever party, to agree—ground upon which they can sign a common report. That has not led to any diminution in the subjects that are worthy of consideration by a Committee.

It is a refutation of those who oppose consensus whenever it occurs to show that there have been many issues of widespread concern upon which Members from different parties and from different ideologies can agree that the behaviour of the Government has been inadequate or that the direction of the Government has been wrong. It has been possible to do that on a wide range of issues through Select Committee reports.

Select Committees fulfil the desire to find a unanimous basis upon which there can be sound criticism. A group of Members from different traditions when confronted with the facts can reach such an agreement. That has been the success story of Select Committee work in the House so far. We should build upon that tradition.

The hon. Gentleman has used the phrase "the success story" of Select Committees so far. Does he agree that the report now before us on balance says that the work done by the Select Committee of Science and Technology hitherto would be better done in departmental Select Committees? If that is how the Procedure Committee feels, and having regard to the hon. Gentleman's emphatic declarations that Select Committees in the past have been successful, does it not appear that the work of science and technology, which goes beyond and within all Departments, might be one subject to be added to the departmental lists as a separate subject?

I thought that if I gave way I should be drawn into the arguments of special pleading which have occupied much of the debate. It is a pity that those who wish to plead a particular case have not the eloquence of the Lord Chancellor. He has been successful in getting his Department excluded from the remit of today's order. Perhaps hon. Members should take his advice about influencing the Leader of the House on the form of the resolution.

Although I will pay attention to the cases put forward for individual Committees I prefer the comprehensive approach that is provided by departmentally related Committees. That system gives an assurance that the whole range of Government business is covered. There are dangers in restricting the activities of those Committees to the Committees which are related to Departments by suggesting that the matter is a job for a Committee that deals with one subject only—wherever it may occur in government. I shall stand by that preference unless I am convinced to the contrary by anything that I may hear during the debate.

What is the outcome of the Select Committee recommendations that I have described? Usually, it is a report. Some of tonight's argument has been about how the report can be debated in the House. There are a number of Select Committee reports which need not be debated in the House and which may have an effect without giving rise to debate. It is to be hoped that many of the proceedings in Select Committees will have an effect that is based not on the eventual acceptance of a particular report but on the investigation—the opening-up of a particular subject. Indeed, much of the work of the PAC is reflected in a proper apprehensiveness in Departments that it they misbehave that Committee will be on their backs. That is an effect that we hope to secure.

We would very much like to see other reports debated. I attach importance to trying to ensure means by which we may be assured of debates. I lament the absence of some such guarantee in these motions.

To go a stage further, I believe that the mere debating of some of the reports of Committees is not enough. It may not get the House very far simply to debate a take-note motion. This debate has been extremely lively, and one of the reasons is that this debate has an outcome. Decisions have to be reached, and hon. Members know that they must be within the precincts of the House because the House this evening has the opportunity to decide on the proposals put forward by the Select Committee.

Many of our debates on reports by Select Committees are attended by Members of the Committee concerned who are the main participants in the discussion, and little other interest is aroused. That often happens because the House is not given an opportunity to make a decision. Therefore, it is important that in this evolving pattern of Select Committees the House should ensure that it does not leave to the Executive the right to deny the House the opportunity to decide the issues raised by Select Committee reports.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in these half-day debates few Members have very much chance of participating because Members who have taken part in the preparation of reports generally are called first. Is this not one of the practical difficulties of half-day debates?

That is true, but I attach a great deal of importance to the outcome of the debates and to the fact that too many of our debates on Select Committee reports have no outcome other than a decision to take note or not to take note of the report under consideration. We must consider how we can in future have debates which, where appropriate, allow the House to pass judgment on many of the decisions that arise from Select Committee reports.

The matter that is now before the House is not a revolution. It is an evolutionary and beneficial change. Many more things remain to be done. There are many recommendations of the Procedure Committee which the House should not be denied an opportunity to decide. There are many items about which hon. Members are genuinely concerned. I see the pained expressions on the faces of the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip at the thought that they have more business to put before the House. However, I remind them that they have the responsibility to allow the House to take decisions about its own procedures. I believe that many of these decisions could be taken fairly quickly if we were given the opportunity to do so.

There are more matters relating to the effectiveness of Parliament which go far beyond the scope of the Procedure Committee's report, and there are matters with which the House will have to deal sooner or later. I conclude by reminding the House that its own composition and the pretence that is built into that composition, and the fact that Governments have large majorities in this House but not outside, is an issue which this House will have to face in the very near future. So long as we pretend that Governments have mandates when they are not elected by a majority of the population, we are failing to represent the wishes of our people.

8.16 p.m.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is not present in the Chamber, because I wish to congratulate him not only on the content of his speech but on his reforming zeal. I am particularly pleased at the proposal to establish a Foreign Affairs Select Committee. For far too long we have been one of the few countries, if not the only country, in the Western world without a foreign affairs committee. For a country which lives by international trade, this was a remarkable weakness in our national Parliament.

I first referred to the inadequacy of our procedures for discussing foreign affairs in a debate in 1973. I followed it up in March 1977 by tabling early-day motion No. 222, which secured the support of no fewer than 385 Members in all parts of the House, including 30 members of the present Government. It was a three-part motion which expressed the dissatisfaction of the House at the manner in which we discussed foreign affairs. It expressed the wish to improve the quality, and indeed the frequency, of our discussions by the establishment of a Select Committee. The third part of the motion related to the need for reports of such a Select Committee to be referred back to this Chamber for debate within 30 days of publication.

The announcement of the Government's intention to establish a Foreign Affairs Select Committee met the first two points of that motion. Following the publication of that motion there were discussions in the Select Committee on Overseas Development, of which I was then a member, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). We concluded that, notwithstanding the importance of foreign affairs generally, there was need to make provision for permanent scrutiny of overseas development, not least because it accounts for £ 600 million of taxpayers' money per annum.

Following those discussions, my hon. Friend put in a memorandum to the Select Committee on Procedure from which I should like to quote. On page 224 it stated:
"The Committee are convinced that any new committee structure should make proper provision for ensuring that the subject of Britain's relations with the developing world should be under continuous scrutiny as it is at present. Since many other Parliaments and international assemblies have their own specialist committees on development matters, it would be ironic if the United Kingdom, with its unusually close historical and continuing links with so much of the developing world, were to do less."
My hon. Friend went on to express a fear on behalf of the then Members of the Select Committee on Overseas Development. That fear was that if, instead of providing a separate Committee on overseas development, this subject were to be a matter embraced by a Committee covering both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the then Overseas Development Ministry, it might easily be overlooked unless the Committee proposed to allow for a permanent Sub-Committee on development.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to this matter and told the House that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee could appoint a Sub-Committee to consider overseas development. However, the fear that I and other hon. Members on both sides of the House still have is that if it is the Government's intention that such a Sub-Committee should be permanent during the lifetime of the parent Committee, charged with responsibility for overseas development, it will be impossible for the Foreign Affairs Committee to establish a temporary Sub-Committee to examine matters of immediate but passing importance in an economical way.

I shall be grateful if in reply to the debate the Minister will confirm that the Government intend that the Sub-Committee will be permanent and will concern itself with overseas development. If that is so and the parent Committee wishes to look at problems overseas—which one might foresee, for example, in Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands—it would be able to do so only if it were prepared to send the whole of the Foreign Affairs Committee comprising 11 hon. Members and Clerks at what may be enormous public expense.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is special because, in the nature of things, it is concerned with affairs overseas, the examination of which requires overseas travel. Therefore, there is a case for enabling it to do so at the least expense to the public.

The Government's reluctance to see more Sub-Committees set up may be related to fears that the staff of the Clerk's Department may need to be expanded. Yet it may be cheaper to make extra assistance available to that Department for the scrutiny of foreign affairs than to send large numbers of hon. Members overseas on missions for the Committee which could be carried out satisfactorily by a much smaller temporary Sub-Committee set up for that purpose.

I hope that, for these special reasons, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give favourable consideration to the Foreign Affairs Committee having two separate Sub-Committees as suggested in my amendments Nos. 29 and 32.

I refer to recommendation 61 of the Select Committee on Procedure report, which refers to the Liaison Committee. I quote from page cxxviii. Recommendation 61 reads as follows:
"The informal Chairmen's Liaison Committee should be replaced by a select committee, to be known as the Liaison Committee, consisting of one representative of each permanent select committee, together with additional Members to ensure that the overall membership of the committee reflects the composition of the House.…"
In his remarks this afternoon my right hon. Friend preferred not to comment on that, but said that he hoped that during the debate hon. Members would let him know what their views were on the establishment of such a Select Committee.

My view is that there should be a properly constituted Committee of the House empowered to consider requests for funds for overseas travel. I would hope that such a Committee would have the power and the responsibility to make decisions on overseas travel costs after the fullest consideration of the purpose of overseas studies. The Liaison Committee has taken decisions on such matters in the past with wisdom and tact but without the full authority of the House. I believe that that is unfair to members of the Committee and could be unfair to Select Committees whose plans to travel might be turned down, or changed, without proper authority.

8.21 p.m.

In responding to your plea for brevity in contributions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I indicate that in my contribution I propose to deal with amendment No. 27 standing in my name and in that of hon. Members on both sides of the House? The amendment seeks the establishment of a Select Committee to establish public access to official information, to make recommendations and to monitor progress towards the implementation of such recommendations.

I listened attentively to the Leader of the House when he introduced the debate. He spoke with an engaging frankness and candour and with characteristic enthusiasm. I share an admiration for his frankness, but I cannot wholeheartedly share the enthusiasm that he generated for the establishment of these 12 Select Committees related to individual Government Departments. I noticed the words that the right hon. Gentleman used. He suggested that the establishment of these 12 departmentally related Committees was a crucial decision, historically significant, arrived at with speed and dispatch. I suppose it is reasonable for Leaders of the House to put those interpretations on motions, particularly on those which they are moving.

As far as historical significance is concerned, it might be a little early to make such a judgment. Only time will tell when we have seen how these Select Committees work. I was interested in the point made by the spokesman for the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He said that this had been a live debate. I would have welcomed a much livelier one. This "live" debate sounded a bit like a mutual admiration society. The people who have contributed, from both sides of the House, have mostly been members of Select Committees, or admirers of Select Committees. They have said what a splendid job Select Committees have done and will do in the future.

I do not dispute those claims, but I want to follow on from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said about there being at the end of every battle the beginning of a new battle and demands for more advances. That is my role in the debate. I feel that I have taken on an Oliver Twist complex in asking for more. I want the 12 Select Committees related to individual Departments, but I also want a Select Committee to establish the criteria for public access to official information and to monitor that access.

Government in modern industrialised countries has become more complex. The responsibilities of Governments have increased and their power and influence has become more pervasive. I welcome the motion, but I am asking for more. The motion will provide a significant addition to the armoury of parliamentarians and Back Benchers in their relationship with Ministers and individual Departments. It will assist parliamentarians in bringing Ministers and Departments to account.

But the provision of greater access to official information for parliamentarians is only one side of the equation. The other side is the need to establish and ensure public right of access to official information. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity provided by my amendment to put right their omission and will establish a Select Committee on access to official information.

The public have a right of access to official information. I know from my former responsibilties that there is a demand for greater public access. It was encouraged by the Croham directive of July 1977. That was the directive contained in a letter sent by the then head of the Civil Service, Sir Douglas Allen—now Lord Croham—to all Civil Service departments encouraging them to make the background information on policy considerations available for public access.

An appreciable amount of public information came forth from that directive and under the previous Administration there was a significant improvement in the amount of official information made available to the public. Of perhaps greater significance is how the author of the Croham directive saw the operation of the directive that he issued. In a Radio 3 broadcast in August 1978, Lord Croham said:
"There are signs that some Departments, doubtless due to the enthusiasm of their Ministers, are much more active in preparing and releasing material. I think the laggards should do better."
He went on to argue for a regular review by Parliament.

It was understandable that Lord Croham should argue that a variation in criteria was established by individual Ministers and individual Departments of State. One of my colleagues, on seeing the amendment in my name, said to me "Why are you concerned about providing greater public access within the context of a Select Committee on official information? Surely the proposal to establish a Select Committee related to the Treasury and Civil Service Department would give you very much the same result."

Quite frankly I do not believe that that would be the case. One individual Civil Service department or one Department of State cannot establish the criteria and ensure that they are followed in every Government Department. One thing my recent ministerial experience has taught me is that ministerial authority changes depending on the ministerial area of authority and responsibility.

The case for my amendment was made crystal clear in paragraph 21 of Cmnd. 7520, issued during the course of the previous Administration, only a matter of months ago, in March 1979. The previous Government's policy on open government was explained in paragraph 21:
"the Government acknowledge that administration is still conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy which cannot always be justified."
There are nine countries where access to official information is enshrined in legislative form, or is contemplated, or is under consideration. They are Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Canada, France, West Germany, Australia, the Netherlands and the United States of America. That is the extent of the development in the demand for greater public access to official information.

It might be argued whether it would be more efficient and effective to await legislation. Quite frankly I believe that a Select Committee for direct access to official information would be more effective if it were to establish a code of practice which would, I hope, establish criteria that would be generally applicable throughout the whole of the Government administration.

The proposal in the amendment is important. The idea of making legislative provision for public access to official information poses a number of problems that I had the burden of seeking to explain when we were considering the Official Information Bill in the previous Parliament. Legislative provision for public access to official information would, in the event, involve legal judgments on ministerial judgments as to disclosure, and exempt material, and a variety of other problems would be involved.

The House is doing a useful service today by debating the motion. I hope that the motion will be carried, and equally I hope that amendment No. 27 will be carried. If we are assisting parliamentarians by that which we are doing during the course of the debate, I urge the House to remember that the public are still waiting. They have a right to know the factors and influences which are brought to bear in the determination of Government policy.

8.35 p.m.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is back with us, because I want to draw to his attention not only that I think that he has taken the right decision in the motion that he put forward but further steps which need to be taken to make this decision fully effective.

The old Select Committee system as we knew it could, at its best, be extremely effective. However, its efficacy tended to be sporadic because the number of Departments which the Sub-Committees covered was far too great for them to follow up investigations with consistency, however useful those individual investigations might have been.

I had the good fortune to serve on the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee from its inception, and there were some memorable reports from that Sub-Committee, especially when we were going through the trauma of the collapse of British Leyland and the recovery operation for Chrysler. These exemplified some interesting shortcomings of Select Committees. For instance, it was quite clear to the Sub-Committee that the viability of the Chrysler rescue operation could not be detached from the future of the Chrysler operation in Iran. Yet the Sub-Committee was prohibited by the present Leader of the Opposition, who was then Foreign Secretary, from going to Iran so that it could make its own assessment of this crucial element in the viability of the Chrysler recovery operation.

We also had the interesting experience of the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is now in the House of Lords, refusing, on the orders of the Prime Minister, to appear before that Select Committee, which was under the very distinguished chairmanship of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), whom I am glad to see here and whose courage and integrity shone right through the proceedings. Later on, under the chairmanship of his hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), we had the interesting experience of the Attorney-General refusing point-blank to advise the Committee. This was not just on some curiosity of the law. It was on points of law about which departmental witnesses told the Committee that they did not know what the law was.

It would have been reasonable either for the Departments concerned to find out from the Attorney-General, whose job it was to advise Government Departments, and then come back to us, or for the Attorney-General, who quite untruthfully said that he and his predecessors had not advised Select Committees—and we were able to find many precedents for his having advised them—to advise the Committee. He did not advise the Committee. Nor did the Departments concerned.

When we came to write our report, which was on the British fishing industry, there were aspects of law germane to that report on which we were unable to get advice of the calibre that we needed.

It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members to know that there is a clear and unambiguous Standing Order of the House, Standing Order No. 82, which simply is not enforced and for the lack of which enforcement the examination of witnesses by hon. Members is rendered unnecessarily difficult. It is short. I shall read it:
"To every question asked of a witness under examination in the proceedings of a select committee there shall be prefixed in the minutes of the evidence the name of the Member asking such question."
Nothing could be more unambiguous. Yet one can turn through the proceedings of the Committee for page after page without being able to find either who is asking the question or who is answering it. When reference is made, during quick exchanges with witnesses, to Question No. 1945 and an hon. Member, who is examining that witness, quickly flicks to it and cannot tell either who is asking the question or who is answering, this does not make for efficient and efficacious examination. I am not suggesting that a new Standing Order should be made. I am merely suggesting that the House should enforce a Standing Order which can be seen by all who care to read it.

It is not a reform we need. It is simply enforcement of an existing Standing Order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) remarked that whoever held the purse strings was the repository of power. That is true. But it is also true of Select Committees. It may again come as a surprise to some hon. Members to know that there is no extant authority for paying the expenses of any Select Committee while taking evidence in the United Kingdom. The resolution—a pretty woolly one—taken to authorise reimbursement of Select Committee expenses refers only to visits abroad. Abroad, by definition, does not include the United Kingdom. So one has Select Committees set up to control public expenditure the arrangement for whose housekeeping is so woolly that were the boot on the other foot, we could justly be criticised for spending money without authority.

My original point on this restricted area is that those who control the purse are in effective power. There is a so-called Liaison Committee, or Chairmen's Committee, set up by no resolution of the House, which is in a position to prevent Select Committees from undertaking with great expedition evidence-taking which is necessary for the prompt reporting to the House. This has happened, contrary to what my right hon. Friend said, in the last Session of Parliament.

Select Committees may need to change their travel arrangements at short notice in response to changes in whipping in the House and to changes in the business of the House. If that has to await, on the grounds that it may result in increased expenditure, a meeting of the Liaison Committee, which may not be within a fortnight, the whole structure of the Select Committee's plans for taking evidence can be brought to ruin.

It would be much better if the House decided to vote to the various Select Committees a budget, as is done to Government Departments. The Select Committee can get on with its job, being accountable to the House for its spending of that budget. If it needs a Supplementary Estimate, it can come back to the House as a Government Department does. That would seem a sensible parallel to the disciplines that we expect the Departments to adopt, whose affairs we are endeavouring to monitor.

Visits abroad can be taken by the public at large to be perks and a joyride. In the work of the Sub-Committee, of which I have personal experience, on the British fishery industry, we had 12 or 13 meetings in only 36 hours in Iceland.

What we learnt about the necessary characteristics of fishery protection vessels and what we learnt at the marine biological laboratory at Reykjavik and Bergen enabled us to put questions to the Ministry witnesses and to confront them with evidence that we obtained from expert sources. When they were confronted with that evidence they admitted that the evidence which they had given to the Committee a couple of months earlier was incorrect. We should not have been aware of that if we had not had the opportunity to travel.

In one country, which I would rather not name, it was brought home forcefully to us how untrue were some of the statements made by that country's official spokesmen. A senior Norwegian civil servant pointed out to us that although we were told that Britain as a member of the EEC could not negotiate with a third country bilaterally for access to fishing waters, that was exactly what Denmark did with Sweden on Kattegat herring.

These were crucial discoveries which would not have been made had we remained in Britain. They enabled a report to be produced to stop the slaughter of fish breeding stocks before it was too late.

What is the effect of the Select Committees? There is an effect upon Ministers. There is an effect upon civil servants and upon policy. A Select Committee often holds up a mirror to individual civil servants in which they see themselves and in which they and their seniors discover the paucity and unrepresentative nature of the data on which they make what they believe to be rational decisions.

There is also the function of accountability. We all know that a tremendous amount of real power resides not on the Treasury Bench but in the Civil Service. For years only Ministers were answerable to Parliament. The Select Committee system has made the Civil Service answerable to Parliament. That has been healthy internally, from permanent secretaries down.

My Sub-Committee summoned the permanent secretary of the Treasury, Sir Douglas Wass, and gave him a rough ride, because of the unacceptable, inept performance of the Treasury witnesses which the Treasury had put in to waste the Committee's time. The effect of that meeting was not long in being seen. The Department of Industry, which had put in a derisory witness, withdrew that evidence and the top echelons of that Department never stopped coming through the door There was shock therapy of that kind.

The effect on Ministers is several-fold. It focuses their attention on a subject which may, for adequate reasons, not have commanded much of their attention. But, in preparation for the meeting of the Select Committee the Ministers do a lot of homework on that restricted focus. They discover for themselves some of the skeletons in the cupboard, whether or not the Committee does.

There is an effect on policy when the Department finds out not only the shortcomings of the data on which it has taken decisions, but information of which it was unaware emanating from other sources to that Select Committee. That enables the Department, without additional prompting from the Committee, to tailor its policies more rationally. So it is not a question of using just a battering ram. It is not a question of bullying or of pure research. All have their place. It is the sum total of them, and I believe that in recommending to the House that we should accept the structure recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure my right hon. Friend has done a real service to the House.

I should also like to pay my tribute to him for responding to our earlier debate when the point was made about the advisability—the point made by the Procedure Committee in its report—of having the membership of Select Committees nominated by the Committee of Selection. the Chairman of which I am so happy to see here, rather than by the two Whips' Offices. This again shows a genuine willingness on the part of the Leader of the House to respond to relevant debate, and that, I think, augurs well for our future.

I believe that we have now got what is basically the right structure. I believe that it is necessary to have power to send for Ministers as recommended by the Procedure Committee, even though I recognise fully that there will be circumstances in which their answers will be less full than the Committee might wish. It is absurd that anyone in the country can be summoned before a Select Committee except Ministers who are paid to be answerable to Parliament. That must be a constitutional, rational and real absurdity.

With those reservations, and my point about Standing Order No. 82, which is a serious one in the cut and thrust of examination of witnesses, I believe that the new Select Committee system, if the House adopts it, will provide a more consistent check on the policies followed by the Department and on the expenditure involved in them.

I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), who appeared to see some merit in the view that members of Select Committees would benefit from being changed around. On the contrary, a Department has a richesse of expertise with which to confound Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament, however, have one great weapon, and that is their memories. When Members of Parliament have been on a Select Committee for some years, perhaps for a longer period than many of the senior officials have held posts in the Department concerned, if they are endowed with an effective memory that can be a devastating weapon of inquiry and an effective means of establishing a consistency that might otherwise not be available.

So in that wise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and hope that it will be approved by the House tonight.

8.54 p.m.

In welcoming and supporting these proposals I am conscious that it would be presumptuous of me to dwell at length on their merits, since I am a Member of but seven weeks' standing. I hope, however, that it will seem less presumptuous of me if I seek to justify amendment No. 25, which deals with the retention of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

In defending the retention of that Committee, I do not, of course, defend its last report on immigration, which was unfortunate to say the least. However, the earlier reports of the old Select Commit- tee were well received and made a significant contribution to thinking and understanding on race relations problems in this country. At first sight it might appear somewhat illogical to seek to retain a Select Committee which cuts right across the proposed departmental Select Committee. However, the two could co-exist with advantage to the House and to the issues that would be discussed.

Earlier today my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) posed a question to the Leader of the House regarding certain issues which had previously come within the scope of discussion by the Select Committee and how they would be dealt with by the new Select Committees. I notice from the report of the Select Committee on Procedure that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration in the previous Session suggested that certain aspects of the subject of race relations might be neglected under the new arrangements.

That is only the nub of the point that I wish to make. There are many issues that might, under the new arrangements, be left out which deal with race relations and immigration if there were not to be this new Select Committee. I appreciate that the intention is that the Home Office would be the lead Department. Indeed, that is suggested in the report, where we read:
"We recommend that the new Home Affairs Committee should be empowered to refer detailed consideration of race relations and immigration matters to a sub-committee as and when the committee think necessary."
I fear that leaving such things to a Select Committee concerned entirely with Home Office matters would neglect the race relations aspects of such subjects as education, housing and, indeed, the whole topic of the West Indian community upon which the previous specialised Select Committee considered and reported.

It is suggested that the Select Committee on Home Affairs might consider the workings of the Race Relations Act, but that neglects the point that many of the aspects of that Act call for responses not from the Home Office but from, say, local government. I fear that that whole area would be neglected under the new arrangements.

Earlier today my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) referred to some of the good reports that had been produced by the previous Select Committee. I suggest that those reports would not have appeared had we simply had the new arrangements without this particular Select Committee to help us along.

There are one or two other advantages of the course of action that I am suggesting. By having a Select Committee similar to the previous one, Members would be able to acquire, or, if they were the same Members, retain, their specialised knowledge of many race relations issues. One notes from earlier reports that those Members had become pretty expert over the years. There is also the question of time. Race relations issues extend into many aspects of life in this country and one questions whether merely by having a Sub-Committee of the new Select Committee on Home Affairs time would be found to go into many race relations issues in sufficient detail.

It may be that there are other issues that one would seek to put forward as being exceptional and demanding a separate Select Committee—that is, apart from race relations. But I suggest that there are two tests that one might apply and that would enable the course of action I am suggesting to qualify, and that might exclude some other special subjects for different specialised Select Committees. The two tests are, first, the importance of the issue that would be reviewed or scrutinised by the Select Committee and, secondly, whether that issue could be adequately handled and scrutinised under the arrangements that we are discussing today of the normal departmental Select Committees. By those two tests, race relations would get a pretty poor hearing under the new arrangements and that is why I suggest that we should have a Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration as part and parcel of the new system. The main opposition to the suggestion is likely to be that it does not fit neatly and logically into the new arrangements. One can take neatness and logic too far. I quote from something written some years ago by G. K. Chesterton. He said:
"The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait."
Those words suggest to me that logic can go so far. I hope that the House will, as it were, go a little further than pure logic and neatness and support the suggestion that the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration be retained as part of our new arrangements.

9.1 p.m.

I shall not deal in detail with the remarks of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), except to say that one of the reasons the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration was set up was that the subject became a matter of political pressure. I suspect that if the Home Affairs Committee, or any other Committee which might deal with relevant subjects, feels that this is a matter of political pressure and interest, it will adopt that subject. That seems to be true of the way in which the whole operation has gone so far.

That leads me to my main point. It may be presumptuous, but not unreasonable, to assume that my right hon. Friend's motion will be carried and that we will move into a system of departmentally related Select Committees. Therefore, I do not want to argue the case for those again, especially as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) did so with such clarity.

What I should like to consider is what will happen from here on. This is a moment not of revolution, as has been suggested by some hon. Members, nor of gloom, despondency or cynicism, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). This motion is neutral. It can either be a continuation of the old stage game or it can be something new. That is the question to which the House must now address itself.

I for one would be gravely disappointed, and it would make this exercise pretty pointless although quite interesting, if we ended up with a system of Select Committees which operated in much the same way as the Sub-Committees of the previous Expenditure Committee. Although they were satisfying to hon. Members who served on them, and sometimes produced good reports, their total effectiveness upon the work of the Government was limited in relation to the amount of time and effort that went into them. Therefore, in what we are now setting up we are looking for something which is sharper and tougher.

I should like to mention one or two points about the future. I address these remarks to the Lord President, because although he is not wholly responsible for all of them, they will largely be brought about as a result of his initiative. Most of these matters will have to be brought before the House by a Minister of the Crown.

First, the Expenditure Committee has been working with a wholly inadequate staff. Financial control of the House is still too much in the hands of the Treasury. If one puts those two points together, we arrive at this new system of Select Committees and the golden dawn is perhaps upon us—"perhaps" because one must ask what resources will be available to these Committees.

I urge the Government, who have my full support on matters of public expenditure control, to recognise that one way of securing public expenditure control is to provide good resources for those people who do the controlling. Although that may mean that the balance sheet of the House of Commons will look a little more expensive in the short term, the effect upon the control of public expenditure could be considerable.

This also relates to a whole series of matters that have come up in the course of the debate, such as the Liaison Committee, about which my right hon. Friend said he will listen to views before bringing a decision before the House. Clearly the Liaison Committee, as proposed in the report, should be set up. We need some fairly strong body to make sure that these Committees are properly serviced and that their voices are properly heard against those of Ministers from the Treasury.

Talking about attitudes to these matters, the way in which the Sub-Committees have been treated has to be a little matter of concern. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) has put down an amendment which would allow all the Committees to have Sub-Committees. As I understand it, the report of the Procedure Committee would have allowed a wide discretion in this matter. The Government are seeking to limit that discretion. I ask myself why it is a matter with which the Government need concern themselves at all. If a Committee wishes to appoint a Sub-Committee and that is controlled by the Liaison Committee in the interests of economy and to avoid overlap and so on, why should the Government wish to intervene?

In looking at all these matters, I would hope that the Government will continue to work on the principle that as far as possible the matters of the House shall be governed by the House, the Members of the House and Committees of the House, and not too often referred to the convenience of the Government.

I come to my second point about the future of these Committees, which I regard as very important. I do not honestly know whether I want the Chairmen of Committees to be paid, but the essential feature of these reforms is that the House of Commons must provide what one might loosely call a different career structure. One of the problems from which this House suffers, which is different from those of other Assemblies, is that the Government sit here. They are part of it. They are a natural attraction. They are a source of patronage. Many Members quite honourably desire to be members of the Government or want to get something out of them. Therefore, the Government's position on the Floor of the House is very powerful. For many other Members, the position of the press in the Gallery is the other attraction. One goes either for the publicity or for the Government.

However, there ought to be a further attraction, which is for those people who wish to make the House of Commons function as a control of the Executive or a watchdog over them in its own right. That should be a powerful attraction.

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. What he is saying is that if an hon. Member is either on the Government side and has not been selected by the Prime Minister or on the Opposition side and cannot find anything else to do, a Select Committee system of this kind should be created to find something to do, because he cannot find himself something to do.

That may be the right hon. Member's interpretation of what I have said, but clearly he was not listening. I suggest that he thought up that one before I started speaking. The Select Committee system is what we happen to be debating now. It is one of the functions which a Member performs. Many hon. Members do it very well and I hope that they will have an opportunity to do more of it. The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and many other Members will doubtless take up opportunities and will bob up and down in this Chamber and do many other worthwhile things.

One of the problems in dealing with this matter is that some of the procedures that the House sets up are corrupted by the need to make party capital. I shall not go over this matter at great length. Various people have mentioned the Supply procedure. One could add to that the Ten Minutes Rule procedure, and there are other matters, such as Question Time, which are now organised in a sense to get the best position for the party. It is almost impossible to devise a series of rules which will not be "corrupted" by that. I am sure that in a few years the Select Committee procedures will be subject to just as much political and party pressure as other forms of procedure now are.

Thirdly—this is of great importance—we can write all these procedures and draw up the Standing Order, and we can even agree to staff the Committees properly, but it will be up to members of the Select Committees to devise how they will function. They have the great advantage that they are continuous. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton substantially outlined those advantages.

We must also look to other things. There is the stability of having a physical office in the building, the choice of Chairman and the way that that Chairman conducts the proceedings of the Committee. Anyone who has been to these Committees knows that our expertise in these areas is not great. Sometimes the inquisi- torial function of the Committees is well done, and at others it is not. We have a lot to learn about these processes.

We must also ensure that the Committees obtain the necessary information. An amendment has been put down which would set up a Committee to ensure that we all get the right papers, but there is no way to ensure that other than by the continuing activity of Members. It is important to make that point. There is no simple alternative. There is a natural and continuing tension between the Government and Back Bench Members which should exist. Some battles will be won and others lost. Unless there is continuous pressure to secure what Select Committees want, no matter what is written into the rules, we shall not succeed.

The fourth important feature for the future was dealt with excellently at some length by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). It concerns access to this House. Although not all reports should be debated in the House, there should be a convention whereby the Chairman of a Committee can on matters of major importance bring his report to the House. There is no difficulty in that. I do not disagree with the proposal of the Procedure Committee for eight-Committee Mondays, but that could also be achieved by giving the Speaker the decision in that matter, as with Standing Order No. 9 debates. He could decide and in time establish a convention of what is urgent, what is important and what can be brought before the House.

These matters are for the future, but are of great importance in determining whether what we do tonight will influence the control of the Government or is merely a new label on an old bottle. One advantage is that we have a Leader of the House who is keen to get on with these proposals.

9.12 p.m.

The Leader of the House said that this was the first instalment in this process and he hoped to consider other suggestions by the Procedure Committee. I therefore throw in for his consideration a simple but useful proposition—that on Friday the House should meet from 9.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. rather from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. It would be of great advantage to hon. Members with far-flung provincial constituencies, who often want to be here to partake in the business but have constituency engagements. The recommendation is in the report and if the Leader of the House considers it it might provoke a considerable response in the House.

I want to discuss the nuts and bolts of Select Committees rather than general high principles. First, however, I should like to deal with the notion that somewhere in Whitehall, in Cabinet committees and ministerial files, there is a hoard of secret, high-powered information, and if only Select Committees could get at it we should all be better informed, government would be better and the country would be much better run. That is an absolute myth. There are files and documents that we are not allowed to see, but I doubt whether they contain high-powered and important information that would make government different.

Over the past couple of years we have had the fringe banking crisis, the sterling crisis and the scandal of the Crown Agents. We have had scandal after scandal in the City and among businesses. The Department of Trade sat there in apathetic indifference and did nothing about that. If all that secret and high-powered information is in the files of Whitehall, why are Government Departments taken completely aback time after time whenever a crisis occurs? They seem to run headlong into crisis after crisis, despite all the information that they have.

My belief is that the trouble with Whitehall and the Ministries is that they are not sufficiently equipped to deal with the vast complexity of the problems that modern government throws on them. One of the great advantages of the Select Committee system is that it provides a technique for drawing on the vast amount of expertise which lies outside Whitehall, the Civil Service and the Ministries.

The Select Committees have formal power to summon anybody they like. This formal power does not need to be exercised, because whatever the subject under discussion there are always scores of individuals—very expert people—who are only too willing to come along and give Parliament the benefit of their expertise and knowledge. It is this process of drawing on outside expertise which is one of the immense contributions that Select Committees can make.

One example of this occurred when the Select Committee on Science and Technology was looking at genetic engineering. The first thing we did was to go to some of the greatest international experts on molecular biology at the university of Bristol and listen to what they had to say. They were able to tell us things that no civil servant, no Minister and no person in Whitehall could possibly tell us. They were the genuine experts in this field and they were able to give us an outline of the problems that we wanted to discuss.

There is the question of Sub-Committees, and this brings me to my amendment. It is quite absurd that only three Committees should be designated in the order as having the power to appoint Sub-Committees. In fact there is an odd type of Whitehall snobbery here, because the Committees that are allowed to appoint Sub-Committees are the classic three—the Home Office, Foreign Affairs and the Treasury. These are the three senior Ministries of Whitehall, and presumably because of this peculiar seniority they have the power to appoint Sub-Committees. It is absolute nonsense that they should be able to do so and other Committees should not. The range of topics which the Select Committee on Industry and Trade, for example, would look at would certainly require at least one Sub-Committee and probably two or more. All the Select Committees should have the power to appoint a Sub-Committee if they felt this was necessary.

I appreciate that the Leader of the House and his advisers are probably worried about the fact that if every one of the 12 Select Committees set up three or more Sub-Committees there would be a vast proliferation with which the staff of the House and Parliament itself could not cope. Therefore, my amendment suggests that each Select Committee should have the power to set up one Sub-Committee, and that they would have to come to the House to ask permission if they wanted to go beyond that figure. Certainly, the present restriction giving power to only three Select Committees is absurd and illogical.

I have some reservations about the size of the quorum of the Committees. In fact, I think the Committees themselves are rather small for the range of subjects they will have to examine. I do not accept the argument that if they were larger there would not be enough hon. Members to serve on them. There are about 500 Back Benchers in the House. At the most, about 250 might be involved in Standing Committees on legislation at any one time. This would leave another 250 to 300 to staff Select Committees. It would be perfectly appropriate to have larger numbers than those suggested.

There could be some disadvantage in having a quorum as small as three. It might possibly reflect on the seriousness with which the Committees were going about their business if there were only three members on any one Committee actually conducting an inquiry. A slightly larger quorum might be necessary. Clearly that is a matter for debate.

I support the idea of a Liaison Committee, as has been suggested in the report of the Procedure Committee and as was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). There may well be points of procedure and practical problems on which the new Committees would like to exchange information. The Liaison Committee would be useful in that respect—apart from the problem of the allocation for funds for travelling.

The question of the chairmanship of the Committees has not been discussed so far. Whether it would be regarded as automatic that they should be taken by the Opposition or whether it is intended that the party of Government—whatever that happened to be—would seek the chairmanship is something which should be considered. There is no indication in the motion—obviously, there cannot be. However, it would be interesting to know what is in the minds of the usual channels of the two Front Benches and what they are cooking up on the matter.

The Leader of the House may be happy to leave it to the wisdom of the individual Committee to select the hon. Member it thinks is the most distinguished or competent for the job. However, things do not generally happen in that way in the House. I should like to know whether it is envisaged that the chairmanships, will be shared between all the major parties or whether the Government or the Opposition of the day will seek to take the lot.

Finance and staffing are important considerations for the effective working of the Committees. Reference has been made to those matters in the debate. I should like to refer to a suggestion that I made in a previous debate, namely, that if the staff of the House of Commons Library were expanded and strengthened the Library could be a valuable source of information for Committees and could provide them with background and specialist information.

I understand that if there were a serious collision between a Committee and a Minister as to whether he or she should give evidence, the existing Standing Orders of the House could resolve the matter. If that is correct I feel that the matter should be left as it is. There must be the ultimate power to summon Ministers. If the Standing Orders of the House provide that a Select Committee, by making a special report, can ensure, eventually, that a Minister appears, I shall be content with that provision. If the Standing Orders do not so provide I believe that there should be a provision to make clear that in the final analysis any Select Committee of the House can require a Minister to appear before it and give evidence.

In my experience of Select Committees over the past 13 years there has been little difficulty in summoning Ministers to give evidence to Select Committees. Little friction has arisen on the point. However, somewhere along the line there should be specific arrangements to ensure that Ministers attend.

Does my hon. Friend accept that if the sanction is left to the Floor of the House it will be used only in an extreme circumstance? Because of the nature of getting the Minister to the Committee the House will generally divide—as it has done in my short time in this place—on party lines. That is the problem. The sanction is too great to leave to the House and that is why the power should be given to the Committee. In that way, when the power is used the problem of the split on party lines will not arise.

My hon. Friend is being pessimistic. There are occasions when the House does not divide on party lines on a matter of this sort and there are occasions when the House is prepared to exert its authority. Where it is seen to be in the good interests of Parliament that a matter should be resolved in a particular way a majority can often be found in the House to ensure that that is so. I think the House will find that on the main issue we shall not divided on party lines tonight.

Is it envisaged that hon. Members will be restricted to membership of one Committee? Will it be open to an hon. Member, with the time and inclination to do so, to serve on two Committees? In the period 1966–1970 I served on two Select Committees simultaneously. Furthermore, in the period 1974–79 I served on two such Committees and found it quite possible to do so. I am sure that my colleagues will bear out the fact that I undertook a reasonable amount of work on each of those Committees. I should like to know whether hon. Members will be permitted to serve on one or more of these new departmental Committees.

If a departmental Select Committee is conducting an inquiry which overruns the boundaries of the Department and wishes to take evidence from other Departments, is there likely to be any objection from the Government or from Whitehall? In other words, if the Department of Education and Science Committee was examining research matters and felt that some aspect of agricultural research was of interest to its deliberations, would the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food be able to say to that Committee "We are sorry but we are not within your purview. Therefore, we cannot give evidence"? I hope that that will not happen. However, once a departmental structure is set up, I think that there will be a danger that Whitehall and Ministers will plead the nature of that departmental structure and perhaps will decline to give evidence to a Committee to which they felt they had no responsibility.

Having raised certain nuts and bolts points, I must say that on the general principle I am wholly in favour of the proposed new structure. Indeed, I submitted a memorandum to the Select Committee about two years ago roughly suggesting this structure. I have no quarrel with the proposed structure. However, I do not see how one can add to this structure the other Select Committees for which special pleas have been advanced. I admire the work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and indeed I served on that body for many years and found its work most valuable. However, I do not see how one can have, concurrently with a departmental Committee on energy, for example, a Select Committee on Science and Technology which will work away at the vast array of energy questions which have been tackled in the past two years. I believe that one should have one system or the other.

There may have been some merit of flexibility in the old system. On the whole, I prefer the merits of coherence and systematic structure contained in the present proposals, and I shall support them.

9.34 p.m.

I was encouraged, but not altogether surprised, by the way in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House introduced his proposals. He has made a good start in his important but sensitive office.

For some years I have begun to despair that the machinery of Parliament has been growing less and less capable of ensuring good government. I accept that my right hon. Friend is sincerely seeking to make a fresh start, and we are grateful to him. But this action is not too soon. My right hon. Friend conceded, with admirable candour, that Parliament did not stand at the zenith of public esteem. That is hardly surprising, since the entire House appears to agree that in recent decades the power of the Executive in relation to the legislature has grown prodigiously. What is particularly ironic is that this process has been taking place at a time which has seen the relative decline in British economic performance and our influence in world affairs. There are some of us at least who believe there is a connection between the two.

Forgive me if I am sceptical. I recall the observation made about 10 or 12 years ago by a distinguished former Clerk of this House, Sir Edward Fellowes. He said that
"all Governments have an innate suspicion of proposals for investigating their administration."
That is understandable, because those of us here who have been in government as well as outside it, part of the machinery as well as critics of it, know that much of what is done by Government is a matter of hit and miss. The right hand, very often, is unaware of what the left hand is doing. Much of what Governments do is based upon short-term considerations. As the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) told us, a week is a long time in politics.

So it is. Yet what Governments do, or do not do, in the short term may have profound ill-effects on the long-term national interest which could have been foreseen, I suggest, had Ministers been obliged to submit their plans to closer scrutiny by Parliament, or if the consultative stages—the pre-legislation stages—of Bills had been considered by Parliament in some way. The cost of this could be expressed in a number of ways, one of which could be bad policy decisions leading to misuse of resources, followed by doubt about the parliamentary process itself.

There are numerous examples of the failure by Parliament in recent years to prevent Governments of both parties from making bad decisions which have had costly consequences for the nation. I recall the fate of the Select Committee on Agriculture. When it sought to inquire into the Government's preparations for entry into the European Community in 1968–69 it met with bitter opposition from the Foreign Office, and the Government of the day wound it up. If the matter had rested there that would have been bad enough. But here we are—and I speak as a strong supporter of the European idea—10 years later, in the Community, saddled with a common agricultural policy which we all know now is damaging to our country's best interests.

Within Parliament itself the present system has led to dissatisfaction of two kinds. All of us who care about the future of the institution itself feel resentment that Ministers are presiding over a defective decision-making body. It is defective because scrutiny is not close enough, legislative proposals are all too often not thought through sufficiently, and there is too little regard for the impact of policy made in one Department upon that made in others.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who has just spoken, was a distinguished member of the Select Committee of which I was Chairman. If he is willing to serve on more than one of the new Select Committees I am sure he will find that there will be plenty of stalls for willing horses. Any Select Committee of which he is a member will be fortunate. That Select Committee uncovered the fact that there was no effective co-ordination, believe it or not, between our overseas aid policy, on the one hand, and our external trade policy on the other. Nor was there any co-ordination between either of those and the domestic economy.

Naturally the Select Committee asked Ministers and civil servants how the co-ordinating machinery worked and inquired about the Cabinet committees. We were told by a Minister who was sympathetic to our point of view and who wanted to help that she was unable to give the information because there was a convention in Whitehall that nothing could be said about the working of Cabinet committees. The truth is there was no co-ordination.

The second reason for dissatisfaction is that in a large legislature such as our own, which is large in comparison with the legislatures of other advanced countries, and to which able men and women still aspire to be elected, there ought to be another path along which the ambitious, the energetic and the public spirited can find satisfaction in their work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) touched on an important point. There should be a career prospect for a parliamentarian separate from the hope of office. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood. What I am saying is that it is better that a man or woman should come to Parliament determined to be an effective watchdog, a searcher after truth, a fearless critic and a fearless defender of constituency interests, than that he or she should be condemned by the system that we have allowed to creep up in recent decades to subordinate judgment and ideals to hopes of ministerial preferment.

If hon. Members agree with that, it follows that the legislature must be strengthened at the expense of the Executive, both in order to check the Executive—and the case for that is unanswerable—and at the same time to save the soul of Parliament itself.

When I was first elected 29 years ago I was told that Question Time, properly used, was a modern form of impeachment, a method of exposing the weakness of Ministers and Departments and forcing out information that they were unwilling to give. Of course, it was never quite like that, but Question Time, as a means of making Ministers answerable for their Departments, has steadily deteriorated.

The hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, to whom the House is deeply indebted for the work which he and his Committee have done, was right when he said that Question Time had become a farce. Indeed, judging by the broadcast version, it has not become a very edifying farce at that.

Question Time has certainly become a lottery as to whether an hon. Member can get an oral question answered. Yet in order to be able to make judgments and to criticise even in the broadest terms, one must have information. Without information it is impossible to develop understanding of what is going on.

However, Ministers do not like to give information. They do not particularly wish to promote understanding. All they want is blind obedience at the end of the day in the Lobbies. Of course, right hon. Members on both Front Benches will shake their heads at that, but we had a perfect example of what I am saying a week ago. Every argument advanced in the Chamber was in favour of one course of action in relation to the Kiribati Bill, but at the end of the day those hon. Members who preferred the path of respectability and preferment went into the Lobby to vote against that course of action. No one can tell me that that sort of thing does not happen. It has happened in every Parliament in which I have sat and it ought to make every hon. Member exceedingly unhappy.

Do not let us forget why we are here. Our purpose is to support Ministers in their reasonable proposals—that is what our constituents and our parties expect—but also to control them and make them answer for the power with which they have been entrusted for a brief period. Our role is also to demand and to obtain redress of grievance. That is what the House is about. It is about the granting of Supply and the redress of grievance.

There is only one effective way in which we can achieve that, and that is by a Committee system that has real teeth, not merely to monitor the administrative processes in each Department of State but to consider legislative proposals before the Government introduce Bills. Alas, very little progress on these lines has been made, despite all the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure over many years.

I am not decrying the existing Select Committees. I have been Chairman of one or two and I have served on a number of others over the past decade. On the contrary, the Select Committee on Science and Technology has made a notable contribution to our understanding of difficult matters in a series of excellent reports. Nobody can deny that. I would like to think that the Select Committee on Overseas Aid did something to focus attention, at home and abroad, on the problems of world poverty and the need to develop a coherent strategy in order to combat them.

The fact remains that the existing structure of the Committees lacks teeth. There have been difficulties in compelling Ministers to attend Committees. Several hon. Members have suggested that that is a very rare occurrence, and I should hope so. However, there have sometimes been difficulties in persuading Ministers to appear. There have also been difficulties in obtaining suitable information. I remember an occasion when one had to tell a Department that the papers it presented to the Committee were inadequate and that further information would have to be supplied.

I hope that I have always been tactful and polite, but there have been occasions when one has had to tell the civil servants to go back and produce fresh papers, and to return to the Committee with the information required. To give them credit, they complied with our requests.

There have been acute difficulties, too, in obtaining debates on reports that have been produced. That has been an annual struggle. We have reported on a number of important issues that have received a good reception in the press at home and abroad. Nevertheless these were never debated on the Floor of the House.

The able Minister, the strong Minister, knows that he must carry Parliament with him. The best way to do that is to make sure of the ground in advance. Select Committees, in my experience, are responsible in their conduct of inquiries and are anxious to get to grips with the truth, however unpalatable. A strong Minister has nothing to fear from such Committees.

Contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), members of Select Committees work exceedingly hard, and in the main they enjoy what they do. It is unfair to paint a picture of miserable Members unable to stand up to powerfully-briefed civil servants. That has not been my impression at all. There is mutual respect between the civil servants and the well-manned Select Committee, and so there should be.

The hon. Gentleman has referred time and again to the fact that Select Committees should have more teeth. What teeth?

I do not wish to be too long, but I shall come to that point in a moment. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the Leader of the House is offering us a new start. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd). We should retain some subject Committees, and I make this point because it is important if we are to come to the right decision.

Let us take the example of overseas aid. How can we assess the efficacy of a specific aid programme which has to be related anyway to our overseas trade policy unless that Committee has the power to call not only for ODM and Foreign Office witnesses but witnesses from the Department of Trade as well? I hope my right hon. Friend will reflect on that.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend gave a solemn pledge that from now on no Minister would dare refuse to come before a Select Committee. That is the first part of the answer that I give to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). This House should insist that, if a Select Committee thinks it necessary for a Minister to give evidence, no Minister should be in a position to refuse, and I agree with the exchange which occurred a moment ago that this is not a matter which should be left to the House itself but should be laid down in Standing Orders.

It was Lord Denning who in quite another context the other day said that no one, be he ever so high, should refuse to come before the body to which he was summoned. He was talking about the courts. Here I am talking about Parliament.

But in answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian, what is the use of toughening up the procedures for the taking of evidence if the resultant reports are not debated on the Floor of the House? My right hon. Friend did not have very much to say about that. However let us consider what is said in the Select Committee's report:
"The Clerk of Committees believed that 'Nothing would strengthen a committee's hand more than to have its conclusions endorsed by the House. If departmental replies to a report had to be received within a short specified period; if more reports were debated; and if the debates took place on a motion to agree to, or even to implement, certain specified conclusions in the report, the debates would be keener and the committees more effective'."
That is right and, when I am talking about teeth, that is what I mean.

The time has come to stop tinkering with the system. I say that, given the mood of the House—and there is no doubt what the mood of the House has been in this debate—and its readiness to accept change, it would be tragic if we did not take this opportunity to make a major reform. What is at stake here, surely, is not merely the efficiency but the credibility, and perhaps in the long run the very future, of Parliament itself.

9.47 p.m.

I am very happy to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), because I agree with much of what he said. Perhaps I shall be permitted subsequently to touch upon one or two of his arguments.

At the outset of my remarks I must say how much I agree with all those who have joined in praising the work of the Select Committee on Procedure as well as the ready response that the Leader of the House has given it, notably in the shape of the proposals on the Order Paper.

I was not able to take part in the February debate, but I sat in on most of it, as I have sat in on today's debate. I cannot recall at any time on 19 or 20 February, any more than I can today, seeing more than 100 of our colleagues listening to the debate—less than one-fifth of the membership of this House. Is there not possibly still a profound and considerable residual indifference to what we are about today?

We ought not to allow the sense of euphoria which I suspect we all feel to persist. The presence of those right hon. and hon. Members who are in the Chamber today was predictable. Any one of us could have run up a list containing the names of 90 per cent. of those right hon. and hon. Members who have sat in on today's debate and tried to speak in it. Are not we in danger therefore of allowing our natural enthusiasm for this historic change to cause us to overlook what I have described as this residual indifference to what we are doing? It may be more than that.

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) recalled in his speech the refusal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), when he was Prime Minister, to allow Mr. Harold Lever, who was then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to attend that Committee of which we were both members. I was less concerned about the attitude of the then Prime Minister than about the failure of this House to support our Committee. With a few honourable exceptions, most of them sitting here tonight, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who deserves to be mentioned because he is always ready to fight for the rights of this House, as he did on another occasion that I will mention, the rest of the House was indifferent to what was an issue of grave constitutional importance and, even more important, an issue that presented a great opportunity for this House.

I had been disappointed a few weeks earlier in mid-December when the House had before it the report of the Central Policy Review Staff. We had still not had a reply from the Government to the report of the Expenditure Committee on an industry that was obviously, by this time, after nearly five months, in a state of acute crisis.

I was not able to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that I would refer to him, although I do so in the most affectionate way. I shall not make any reference to him that requires his presence. He was only sitting in that day for the Leader of the House, who was absent. I asked my right hon. Friend who was then Chief Whip:
"Will the Patronage Secretary agree that Back-Bench Members will wish never again to see the Government delay a reply to a Back-Bench Committee's Report simply because it may be a little inconvenient or embarrassing, and will he bear in mind that a discourtesy to a Select Committee of the House is a discourtesy to the House as a whole?"—[Official Report, 15 December 1975; Vol. 902, c. 962.]
I did not mind the reply of my right hon. Friend. That does not matter it is of no consequence now. It was as robust as we would expect. What worried me was the failure of the House, again with the honourable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central and, I believe, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), to rise against this obvious, flagrant, flouting by the Government of the rights of Back Benchers.

I welcome the striking developments that have taken place during the last three years, notably under the impetus of the work of the Select Committee of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). I worry about those who show no readiness to be a part of this work or who, on certain occasions, have not been prepared to support it on the Floor of the House. I gather from some hon. Members who participated in the February debate as well as today's, but especially in February, that there is a little cynicism abroad about the possible attendance of Ministers. There is a fear that this will inject consensus politics into our proceedings on the Floor of the House and that it may lead to a proliferation of parliamentary bureaucracy.

I have never doubted that Ministers will attend Select Committees. I recall that the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee was denied the presence of Mr. Harold Lever by the then Prime Minister. Nevertheless, we were visited by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). He was a very good witness. We were also visited by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley). We were reminded this weekend by the press that we were denied the presence of one Minister but we benefited from the attendance of other Ministers.

After leaving that Committee, I was glad to be invited to return as a witness on behalf of my Department. I cannot understand anyone with ministerial responsibility, high or low, not wanting to defend his work and his Department before a Select Committee. A Minister who is not prepared to do that and who needs to be pressurised is not worthy of his office.

Most Government Departments appreciate the work done by Select Committees. The Ministry of Defence is most appreciative of the work done by the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee and of the quality of its work. It is most anxious to co-operate and assist. The relationship between the Ministry of Defence and that Select Committee, in a difficult and sensitive area, is a model for all Select Committees.

I understand the reservations of some of my colleagues about consensus politics. But I have served on Select Committees. I have not been afraid to be partisan, on occasions, on the Floor of the House nor to do the unpopular. I have not been afraid to speak straight when required. The reservations about consensus politics can be stilled. The difficulty is that bipartisan Committees have to speak and act for a partisan House of Commons.

On the Floor of the House Cabinet government prevails over the individualism and partisanship of the Chamber. To that extent, the Cabinet has come to exercise a real advantage over membership of the Commons. The collective responsibility of the Committees, as exemplified by an agreed report, should be seen as a way of redressing that im- balance and making more even the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive.

Another major fear is of the possible proliferation of parliamentary bureaucracy. A contrast is drawn with the United States. I hope that that argument will not be overdone, not only because I am an admirer of American institutions, and especially of investigative work on Capitol Hill, but because this development may be seen by historians as part of a secular metamorphosis over the last 15 years since 1964 and the new intake of hon. Members. I hope that Conservative Members will not mind my claiming credit for many of my hon. Friends who came into Parliament in that year and were disheartened by what they took to be the opportunities open to them, but were simultaneously inspired by what they believed was happening in Washington, and especially in the Committee on Foreign Relations under the chairmanship of Senator Fulbright.

It could be, therefore, that that committee might yet be seen by historians as the model for the development that is taking place here. I hope, therefore, that no hon. Member will compare any possible development here to the too obvious disadvantage and disservice of our American colleagues. That does not mean that we will not want to maintain a modest establishment. I believe that our Select Committees so far have been most cost-effective. I believe that they can go on calling upon proven experts on a short term contract basis, calling on people who are well down their learning curves.

But there is much responsibility for the imbalance between the legislature and the Executive with the membership of this House. That is why I believe that there is a dire need now for the reassertion of the sovereignty of Parliament. Too many Members have been reluctant to admit that the Select Committee puts Parliament's view against the view of the Government and the Executive. Too many Members have been too reluctant to see that the Committee members are not acting on their own behalf, that they are not necessarily prima donnas gratifying their own egos, but that they are trying to identify the line that Parliament, the ultimate authority, should be taking against or in view of the proposals of the Government.

Members therefore have to ask themselves whether Parliament is merely to be regarded as the PBI of the Administration, deployed, as the hon. Member for. Essex, South-East inferred, as tactics require. Or is the House to have a unified role which monitors and controls the Administration? Surely our constitution and the everyday needs of the modern world demand the latter. Yet the House of Commons has been notoriously slow to come to terms with its own work, and especially with the work of its Committees.

Members should regard themselves as plenipotentiaries who speak for the House. To this extent, the Committees should be supported by the House, and not treated with envy and malice. I hope that Select Committees will be interested not only in Government Departments, in Ministers and in outside experts. I hope that they will not overlook the potential of their colleagues to assist them in their work and to appear before them as witnesses.

I must comment further on the record of the Select Committees. I wish once more to draw on my experience, because it is easy to criticise Select Committees as being superficial, to say that they can only scratch the surface and that they can never get on equal terms with the Administration. But, in taking this view, it is easy to overlook their longer term effects. Given the way in which the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee shredded the policy on Chrysler in 1976, we can take it that there will not be another Chrysler. The work of that Committee reminded me again, as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East said, that such work is incomparably superior to Question Time or to Supply day debates. The effectiveness of that Committee's work is seen not only in its reports or in the minutes of evidence but in the response of Governments.

A good example of this hidden role can be seen by the way in which the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee broadened the terms of reference of the Industrial Development Advisory Board between the motor vehicle inquiry and the Chrysler investigation. Again I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East carries most of the responsibility for this, but I hope that he will not mind the members of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee claiming just a little responsibility for the important broadening of the terms of reference of IDAB, and for believing that we assisted him in his decision to take in future social factors into account.

Subsequently, if I may say on behalf of the same Committee—and I hope that my successor will not mind my mentioning this—the work of myself and my former colleagues made the Civil Aviation Authority aware of the need to look again at its methodology and interpretation of fare applications as the result of evidence taken.

Thus the quality of the work of Select Committees has a proven track record. I recall once again the work of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee. It identified the problems of the car industry in general and British Leyland in particular, yet it took British Leyland two wasted years to realise that the avenues indicated by a Committee of this House were the only ones along which it could survive. This degree of effectiveness was achieved, first, by penetrating questions; secondly, by identifying the questions that needed to be asked; and, thirdly, by a willingness to be guided by expert advice. The Leader of the House has acknowledged the excellent work of all Select Committees and has expressed his confidence that it will be carried over to the new departmental Committees.

In conclusion, I hope that such Committees will have unqualified power to summon civil servants not merely from the Department which they are shadowing but also from other Departments. The hon. Member for Tiverton will recall that our own Committee provided the precedents. I hope that such departmental Committeess will have an independent secretariat. They should also have specialist advisers seconded for a minimum of one year on a salary at least equal to that which they are sacrificing.

I cannot stress too much the need for members of Select Committees to have the requisite qualities. No one could know better than I just how well-served was the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee which made a report on the motor industry, compiled by the hon. Member for Tiverton, his right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), and the former Member for Sowerby, Mr. Max Madden.

In 1974–75, four or five years ago, which seems only yesterday, we were working on the Committee and only we know that it is not merely assiduity but industry that is called for, and, above all, courage and integrity.

I suggest that the salary of the Chairman of a Committee is not as important as the fact that he should have tenure for at least a Parliament, if he is not to be nobbled by the Government or the Whips. The basic problem for any Member of Parliament who is on a Select Committee is to provide the Committee with the right conditions that will protect him from the blandishments, temptations and seductions, as well as the threats, of this place.

I hope that more time than eight days will be allocated to Select Committee reports and that Select Committees will have access to the usual channels for negotiations on time allocation. As I have indicated, the strength of the Committees will come down to their individual members and the time that they are prepared to spend not only in Committee but in preparing themselves with a view to building up a corpus of expertise which can be used to investigate the working and efficiency of a Government Department.

Select Committees can help Governments by persuading Ministers to explain their actions and policies, and thereby become part of the information-gathering process. I look forward to the new departmental Committees fulfilling in a specific and different way the functions of Marston Moor, Naseby and Worcester—that is to say, reasserting the authority of the Queen in Parliament, thereby disposing once and for all of the rubber stamp image of Parliament.

Order. I should tell the House that there are two hours and 50 minutes left for all Members who wish to speak. Twenty-one Members have already indicated to me that they hope to speak, and they have not yet been called—that is without counting the Front Bench speakers. Therefore, despite the importance of the subject, I appeal to those who are called to make brief speeches.

10.12 p.m.

Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), I warmly welcome these new proposals. The fact that there has been a broad consensus for these proposals on both sides of the House is a telling tribute to the hard work done by the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Parliament.

I also welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has brought these proposals forward so quickly. It is one thing for a party in Opposition to be enthusiastic about improving the performance of Parliament, but it is quite another thing for the Government of the day to be equally enthusiastic, particularly when that Government happen to have an overall majority in the House. I rejoice in the fact that the Government have an overall majority. It is all the more important that these proposals should be brought forward in that situation and that Parliament should be in a more effective position to undertake its watchdog controlling role.

I believe that these 12 new Select Committees will be an important step. I also feel that they will be a limited step. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he regarded them as a first instalment. They seem to me to be very much of the evolutionary rather than revolutionary tradition. They build on the experience of the Expenditure Committee that has been gained over some years now. But only practice will show how significant they are. There will be losses as well as gains. I for one regret that under the new proposals we shall be losing the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), who was such a distinguished Chairman of that Committee, in his place. Equally, I regret that we shall be losing the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.

Certainly in the early days I think we shall find that parliamentary control over those two areas will not be as good as it is at the present time. But, equally, I accept that we cannot have two types of Committee. If we are to decide tonight, as I hope we shall, to go for the depart- mental approach, I do not think that we can have a combination of Committees marking Departments and Committees also marking Sub-Committees. Therefore, although in one sense I regret the passing of some Select Committees, there is a great hope of gain in the new proposals.

I very much agreed with the point made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) about the importance of effective staffing for these new Select Committees. They will ve very small in membership, and unless they are effectively staffed they will find it very difficult to cover the vast range of activities in the Departments concerned. I like the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that we could well look at the present facilities in the Library to see whether at least the research and documentation that these Corn-minces will need might be effectively provided through an extension of the research section of the Library.

In saying that, I express a purely personal view. I happen to be the new Chairman of the Library Sub-Committee, but that Sub-Committee has only just been set up and certainly has not considered the problem. However, I feel that this point is well worth considering. I am sure that some of these Select Committees will need outside experts to assist them, but there could be considerable advantage in some of the servicing being provided by the staff of the House, people who understand us and know our ways.

The other reason why I say that this is just a first step in improving our procedure for controlling the Government of the day is that what has always struck me as being the greatest weakness in recent times here is that Parliament is not consulted before legislation is drafted. I know that the Select Committee on Procedure considered this matter carefully in the previous Parliament, and it made some modest suggestions which I hope will be implemented before too long.

It has always struck me as very odd that the people who are supposed to be the legislators are the last to be consulted. In most cases, we do not see legislation until it actually appears in the form of a Bill. I hope very much that we shall be able to build on the experience we have gained over recent years with pre-legislation Select Committees.

For example, we had the pre-legislation Select Committee on the tax credit scheme some years ago, and there is little doubt that the legislation eventually produced was far better and far more effective—although, admittedly, it was not put into operation—because a pre-legislation Select Committee looked at it. Equally, a similar Committee looked at the wealth tax. That example will not appeal very much to Opposition Members. However, it is very significant that that wealth tax did not see the light of day because when scrutinised by a Select Committee it was found to be so defective. There are considerable advantages in developing the pre-legislation approach as far as we can.

As I mentioned, it is a strange thing that hon. Members are virtually the last people to see the legislation, and by that time it is crystallised. The practice of consultation with interests outside the House is now very well established. There could be nothing but gain in Members of Parliament being in a similar position.

Furthermore, a second big advantage of this approach would be that if the opinion of the day had some say before legislation was crystallised, there would be less chance that they would say "We shall repeal the legislation when we get in"—with all the uncertainty that that creates for those outside who are affected by the legislation and have to handle it.

The third main advantage is that it goes to the root of financial control. Much of the public expenditure that is committed flows directly from legislation. Once the legislation is passed, the public expenditure commitments are there for years ahead. If the House has an opportunity of seeing proposals in pre-Bill form, we are far more likely to be able to do our job as financial watchdogs. Under the present arrangements in Standing Committees for the scrutiny of legislation, that job is pretty ineffective.

Those of us who have been Ministers and have conducted Bills through Standing Committees know that, with a Government majority on the Standing Committee as at present, one can lose every argument on a clause but one's last card is to say that it is a finely balanced Bill. Of course one understands the power of the arguments of one's hon. Friends and the Opposition, but a concession on, say, clause 2 could spoil the delicate balance that has been worked out beforehand with outside interests. That is the trump card that one uses on those occasions, and often one carries the day on that alone, having lost every single argument on the merits of the clause.

I am glad that the Procedure Committee at least suggested that Standing Committees should be able to start as Select Committees and, before they begin to look at the details of legislation, spend some of their time calling witnesses, receiving evidence and examining the background of the legislation. I wish that that had gone further but it is at least a step in the right direction. I hope that in replying my right hon. Friend will say more about how the Government see these proposals. Will they bring forward the suggestion that Standing Committees should be able to start as Select Committees? I hope that the answer is "Yes". I further hope that we shall be told when the proposal will come forward. The new proposals for Select Committees will not be effective unless proposals for improving the performance of Standing Committees are brought forward at the same time.

In my view and that of most hon. Members who have spoken, we have made a good start, but it is only a first step and we must keep up the momentum. Parliament has lost far too much ground to the Executive in recent times, and we have a long way to go before that ground is regained.

10.23 p.m.

We have had a series of speeches from both sides of the House paying tribute to the Select Committee system. Those tributes are fully merited by the record of service to this House of many Select Committees. This is not, however, a debate about whether there should be Select Committees or whether they should continue. Nor is it a debate on whether the present system of Select Committees should be reformed or improved. We are debating whether we should sweep away the present system of Select Committees and have the specific Select Committees as proposed by the Leader of the House in his motion. The feature of those Committees is that they are designed to shadow individual Government Departments. I believe that this proposal is based on a profound and fundamental misconception of the way in which British government works.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred to the way in which the American Congressional system works. Unlike the United States constitution, this House of Commons has never been based on contention between the Executive and the legislature. In the United States the Executive and the legislature are both different parts of the Government with roles entrenched in the constitution, together with the judicial part of the constitution. In order to become a member of part of the United States Executive, a member of the legislature must leave the legislature. The only career prospect for an American legislator is within the legislature and not as a member of the Executive. That is why there is a career structure within the United States Congress. That is why the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) misconceives his proposals for an alternative career structure in this House, other than the aspirations of hon. Members to serve in a Government when their party is in office.

In this country the Executive is drawn from the legislature and I understand that many hon. Members in this Chamber would be prepared to accept positions in the Administration if they were offered to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Berm) talked about "Ministers-in-waiting". It is very interesting that four members of the Select Committee on Procedure are now members of the Government.

The role of our legislature is very different from that of the legislature of the United States. It is to scrutinise the activities of the Government, to hold the Government to account and to sustain the Government. The sustaining is a very important part of our system. Also, where appropriate, the role of our legislature is to overthrow the Government, as this House did on 28 March last, exercising a legitimate function. But it is not, and it never has been, the role of this Chamber to place itself in direct contention with the Executive as some form of alternative Government. This House of Commons is not the Government and it is not its job to try to be a Government.

Our present Select Committees, the ones to which we shall say farewell when this motion is carried tonight, as it most surely will be, have not placed themselves in contention with the Government because they have no specific counterpart role of the kind that is being proposed by the Leader of the House, that of shadowing various Departments. It is inevitable that a system of Select Committees such as that proposed in the motion will place those Select Committees in direct contention with the Government Departments that they are designed to shadow. I believe that that could be very dangerous for this country and for the way that it is governed on the basis of parties, with an Opposition legitimately seeking to replace the Government and members of the party seeking to qualify for office when their party is elected.

These Committees obviously will evolve their own policies. It is in the nature of Committees to put forward proposals, and Committees which shadow Government Departments inevitably will evolve policies for those Departments. It is equally inevitable that those policies will be coalition policies, because that is the way in which Select Committees operate. Unless these Committees break all precedents and divide on party lines, that is bound to happen. I know that some of my hon. Friends would wish Select Committees to divide on party lines. That was the wish of Brian Sedge-more, who has now left us. The coalition policies thus evolved will carry great weight, because the newspaper headline "All-party committee proposes this or that" is a very great and potent pressure on any Government and any party.

Therefore, inevitably these Committees, whatever the policies they propose—and I am not suggesting that they will propose policies that are acceptable to one side rather than to the other on a consistent basis—will buttress either the Government or the Opposition by giving to one side or another a non-partisan seal of approval. Whichever way they go, they will seriously damage the party system of government which we have in this country and which is a valuable part of our Parliament.

I believe that this is a very great power to put into the hands of 9, 10 or 11 hon. Members of the House. Curiously, while this system will inevitably create contention between hon. Members of this House and the Government, that contention could equally well be accompanied by complicity. If Departments are shadowed by specific Select Committees, it is inevitable that a very close relationship will develop between a Committee and the Department which it shadows.

It is also inevitable—I do not make this statement implying that in any way it is corrupt—that close personal relationships will, develop as well. Let me say to those of my Labour colleagues who have voiced suspicion of the role of the Civil Service in government that this will suit civil servants very well indeed. They thrive on the back-door relationship and on beguiling their critics at lunch or elsewhere, and they are well equipped, because they are exceptionally skilful operators, to manipulate. That being the case, I believe that this system—in which there will be a close relationship for the first time between hon. Members and the civil servants of a specific Department—will be bad for Parliament, because Parliament should operate at arm's length from the bureaucracy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East said that he regarded the proposals made by the Leader of the House as a victory for Parliament. I could not disagree with him more and, knowing his views on the ways in which we should seek to disentangle ourselves from the bureaucracy, I am surprised that he takes that view.

One other possibility, which is not to be dismissed, is that the Civil Service will seek to use the Select Committees for manipulation against a Minister. Civil servants will be in a position to manipulate a Select Committee in order to get a Minister to change policies from which they have failed to dissuade him and they will have another avenue through which to do so.

Surely, if a Minister is worth his salt, he will keep tabs on those civil servants and will sort them out.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A Minister who has a straightforward relationship with his civil servants is perfectly able to control them if he wishes to do so. But the back-door lunch in the Reform Club is a different matter entirely. If civil servants were coming round to the back and operating with a Select Committee, a Minister who operated perfectly well within the Department could well find himself in an entirely different position.

The greater the complicity between the Select Committees and the Departments which they are asked to shadow, the greater the danger to this House of Commons. I say again that the greater the specialisation—and we shall have a specific departmental specialisation here—the greater the danger to the true power of the Back Bench Member of Parliament, because the true power of the Back Bencher does not lie in his ability to question Ministers across the table in Select Committee. That is important and I do not decry it. It resides in his ability to choose any issue that attracts his attention and to pursue that issue regardless of whether it is relevant to any Select Committee on which he happens to serve and regardless of whether he serves on a Select Committee at all.

An hon. Member pursuing that kind of issue can, of course, pursue it simply for the sake of trivial publicity. I see no very great harm in that. It is a legitimate use of the parliamentary role. But the Back Bench Member pursuing his role as a general Member of Parliament can also obtain other, even greater and sometimes controversial achievements. Hon. Members with not very long memories will know that. As a very new Member, Ray Carter—whose presence we miss in this House—made a great exposure on the Vehicle and General collapse. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) achieved one of many great successes on the Aldabra situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) changed Government policy on power station ordering by a campaign which had nothing to do with membership of a Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) made an absolutely basic change in the Scotland Bill simply by his powers of persuasion and by his argument after pursuing a case consistently in the House.

That was done by Back Bench Members acting as individuals taking up issues which interested them or which they found important. The system that the Leader of the House is proposing tonight will lead to a decline in the scope of the general Member of Parliament. What we shall have instead—and I shall explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) why—is what the hon. Member for Withington wants. That is, hon. Members climbing the new ladder of the alternative career structure of the Select Committees, no doubt with knighthoods and salaries and the rest of it. I do not say that with any disrespect to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have justifiably obtained honours.

The reason why the general Member of Parliament will find his scope diminished—and I reply here to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central—will be that every Department will have its informed specialist who will have special access to the information of that Department. The rest will simply be also-rans in the House. What is more, the also-rans will also have less chance to speak in the debates in the House. On page 70 of the report of the Select Committee, we see in paragraph 6·9 that
"the belief that only members of the select committees concerned take part in the debates on their reports seems to rest on less solid foundations."
An analysis of recent debates on Select Committee reports, all of which arose on "take note" motions, reveals the participation of a number of non-Committee Members. It gives the figures. Of 74 Members who participated in five debates, 42 were not on Select Committees and 32 were. Nearly half of the debates were dominated by Select Committee Members. As the report makes clear, the number of Committee members participating in those debates is disproportionate.

I hope to be on a Select Committee, but that will not inhibit me from ploughing a lone furrow in whatever direction I choose to go.

My hon. Friend is an exceptional hon. Member. However, he knows that hon. Members who have served on subject Select Committees have not had to choose between Departments. Under the proposed system, an hon. Member will have to choose a Department and specialise in its work.

Because of its departmental nature, the Government's proposal will lead not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe said, to a unified role for Parliament but to a compartmentalisation of Parliament in which hon. Members will operate on the basis of whichever departmental Committee they belong to.

The proposals have been put forward with admirable intentions, but there are two possibilities for their future. Either they will be ineffectual, in which case they will not have been worth the trouble, or they will be effective, in which case they will lead to a serious weakening of the real power of the individual Back Bencher which is the real strength of the House. It may be difficult to exercise that power, but that does not diminish the possibility of exercising it.

The proposals may appeal to some new hon. Members who are rightly impatient of what they have found is the scope for them as hon. Members. I do not oppose the proposals in the romantic notion that the House as it is now is the fulcrum or crucible of the nation.

The House certainly needs to be made more businesslike, more efficient and stronger. It needs to be able to scrutinise the actions of the Executive far more penetratingly, but the way to do that is to give all Back Benchers proper accommodation and facilities and the staff that they need to do their job. It will not be achieved by enthroning 120 Back Benchers on a series of Select Committees. The way to strengthen the House is not by strangling it in a skein of Committees.

10.43 p.m.

. As Chairman of the Committee of Selection, I ought to declare an interest in one of the proposals before the House. It is not a financial interest but one that could result in an increase in my work load.

I had hoped that the main motion would be even more imprecise, though it is imprecise enough in its terms of reference to enable the success or failure of the new Committees to depend to a great extent on the individual hon. Members on those Committees. Their purpose surely must be to restore authority to the House and to enable a more positive check to be exercised on the activities of the Executive.

As the degree to which the Committees achieve that consideration will inevitably depend on the compostion of each Committee, that places a heavy responsibility on those required to make the initial selection. Ideally, we must try to achieve a fair balance within the limitations imposed by the size of the Committees, because in party terms they will involve very small numbers. Nevertheless, I believe that we must try to create a balance that can be seen within the party nominations as well as across the Committee nominations as a whole.

I want to explain the selection process, but first I join the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) in the hope that the Select Committees may be able to extend their influence to cover not only the activities of Government Departments but also the activities and expenditure of the many quasi-autonomous off-springs of each Department.

Currently, many such official bodies control very large sums of public money but are hardly accountable at all for their expenditure or their activities to the elected representatives of the people. From a recent study I have made of the ubiquitous quangos, it is evident that out of the total of more than 3,000 such bodies which I have listed—the list will be published shortly—only 96 have their books audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. There are a few more which may be required to open their books to him for a specific reason, and there are about three dozen nationalised industry boards which are subject to a measure of scrutiny by the existing Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.

But the remainder are, by and large, not accountable to Parliament either for their expenditure or for their activities to any great extent, and in most cases ministerial responsibility to the House is limited to answering questions on the names Ministers have appointed and the fees they are paying them. Other matters such as attendance records of these quasi-gurus and the expenses claimed by them are all too often matters not within the responsibility of the appointing Minister and may not, therefore, be the subject of parliamentary questions. But even more are we precluded in the House from influencing or even questioning the expendi- ture or activities of so many of these bureaucrats.

While I happen to believe that a lot of work needs to be done to slim and trim their numbers, size and powers, what matters at the end of the day is that those who are left around be properly accountable to Parliament, and it is in respect of accountability that I foster the hope that the departmentally related Select Committees may have a major part to play.

In the past decade or so, we have seen the establishment of increasing numbers of influential and powerful bodies beyond the reach of Parliament, and we have an opportunity here for Parliament to reach out and bring them back into a measure of democratic control. I commend that thought to hon. Members who aspire to serve on these Committees, although my hon. Friends who hear me may take that as a nod or a wink to a blind horse.

I turn to the proposal that appointments to the Select Committees should be made by the Committee of Selection. When the House considered the motion to set up the Committee of Selection on 12 June, the speeches of some hon. Members indicated a misunderstanding about the way in which the Committee of Selection operates and in which it has, over the years, developed its internal procedures. We never regard that as a bad thing because we are willing participants in the evolutionary process, even in our procedures in the Committee.

In that debate, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), for example, quoted the case of two hon. Members who had failed to be appointed to Committees of their choice. I was not quite sure whether he meant just that or that they had failed to be appointed to the sort of Committee to which he thought they should have been appointed.

On that evidence, however, the hon. Gentleman concluded that all who served on the Committee of Selection in the last Parliament were rubber stamps for some Machiavellian exercise in the Whips' Office. Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House, therefore, in view of the decision to be taken later tonight, if I explain how the Committee of Selection operated in the closing years of the last Parliament as an indication of the way we may be expected to discharge our duty in the early days of this Parliament, which is the crucial time for the setting up of Select Committees.

First, I must make it clear that the selection of all hon. Members from the majority party to serve on Committees is made by the hon. Members from the majority party on the Committee of Selection, and all Opposition Members for each Committee are selected by the Opposition Members on the Committee of Selection. Then each nomination is put forward at our weekly meeting for the approval or amendment or otherwise of the Committee as a whole. That seems to me to be a very sensible way to proceed.

I can, of course, speak with authority only about the Conservative procedure prior to the meeting, but I have no reason to suppose that it is any different from the procedure of the Opposition Members on the Committee. For our part, we are always pleased to receive suggestions from individual Members about Committees on which they would like or would not like to serve, and we receive numbers of such suggestions each week. We also receive suggestions from the Whips' Office, sometimes from party committee chairmen and sometimes even from Select Committee Chairmen about hon. Members who would be suitable to serve on different Committees We do not always accept every suggestion that we receive, but we consider them.

In addition, I also compile during the early months of a Parliament a dossier on the interests of my hon. Friends—I hasten to add, a dossier on their interests, not a black book. In addition, it has also not been unknown for us to consult Hansard for likely recruits. On our agenda every week we have published the names of all who speak on Second Readings, which is helpful to us in deciding who should be on Committees.

But, at the end of the day, the selection of Conservative Back Bench Members is made freely and with full discretion by the Conservative Members of the Committee and then endorsed by the Committee as a whole, or sometimes amended by the Committee as a whole. I am prepared at all times to accept full responsibility for what finally transpires and to accept, as I do from time to time, the brickbats and complaints. Human errors and misjudgments occur, but we do our best. If we discover an error or misjudgment in time—it has to be very quickly after the meeting—we try to rectify it.

Sometimes, contrary to the belief of some members of the Press Gallery if we are to believe all that we read in the press, Committees are oversubscribed with volunteers and we have to disappoint some of them. I suspect that that will happen in the case of some of these Select Committees, if not all of them, because already, before the House has even taken a decision, I have received a substantial number of letters from hon. Friends pressing their claims in anticipation of the House accepting the motion.

In the case of Standing Committees, from time to time we find ourselves short of volunteers. It will not surprise the House to hear that. Then hon. Members may be assigned to Committees not because of their interests but because of their lack of employment over the previous few months. In that context, we try to balance out the work load as between one Session and another between hon. Members.

If any of my hon. Friends who are newly elected to the House are uncertain about how best to indicate their interests, I might point out that I have the worst memory in the world and that I appreciate the written word no matter how informally it may be presented.

One of the most interesting things that the House might like to hear from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, despite the fascinating details that he has been giving us so far of this, in practice, very secret Committee, is whether the Committee of Selection proposes to prepare nominations for the new subject Committees according to the method that he has just described for deciding the composition of Standing Committees.

We have to wait and see what is the decision of the House about this. But there is an amendment on the Order Paper which, if carried, will spell out in some detail—

I am sorry. I was not sure. In any event, we must first await the decision of the House. If the motion is approved, I propose a very much more exhaustive examination before making any nominations for the Select Committees, because these are being appointed not for one Bill which is likely to run for only one or two weeks but for the whole Parliament. There has to be very wide consultation, and we shall have to take very much greater care. I am merely trying to explain to the House how we work as an indication of the way in which we arrive at a process.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if the proposals go through there will be a case for less and not more consultation with party Whips?

I did not have the party Whips in mind when I spoke about considerable consultation. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will make their views and their wishes known. Clearly, with the small numbers involved, there will have to be selection at the end of the day. That will be done by the Committee of Selection.

The point has been made about the desirability, recommended by the Procedure Committee, of maintaining, with some slight modification, the rights of Members under Standing Order No. 13—the Ten Minutes Rule—which allows an hon. Member to propose changes in Select Committees as well as to introduce Bills. As Chairman of the Committee of Selection, the hon. Gentleman presumably has no objection to the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that the rights of private Members under Standing Order No. 13 should be maintained despite the alteration proposed to nomination by the Committee of Selection.

I would wish to be the servant of the House in whatever the House decides on all these matters. For that reason, I shall not be voting tonight on the proposal that the Committee of Selection should select Members for the Select Committees. I believe that I should work with whatever the House decides. I shall accept that, and I shall be neutral. I shall accept whatever the House decides and try to serve the House as Chairman of the Committee of Selection.

It is my intention to support the motion setting up the Select Committees, although I realise that it may increase my own work load. What is proposed is in the best interests of the House and parliamentary democracy. It is my desire to serve the House and parliamentary democracy as I have served as Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I say without hesitation that it is the desire of all the members of the Committee of Selection, on both sides of the Committee, to achieve the same ends.

10.58 p.m.

We are deeply grateful to the Chairman of the Selection Committee for a unique insight into the working of the minds on that Committee. It is a pity that we were not aware of these matters 10 or 12 years ago. We would have been much smarter in the parliamentary sense.

The hon. Gentleman refers to 10 or 12 years ago. We develop the selection procedures over a period. It is a matter of evolution, just as we are now talking about Select Committees. I do not know what was the position 12 years ago. I have explained the position as it exists today.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that further insight into the way his mind works.

I rise tonight with one main purpose in mind. As the most recent Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, I want to ask the House to support the amendment which has been put down in my name and that of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry), who was Deputy Chairman of the Select Committee during my five years as its Chairman.

I take this opportunity to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West for his unfailing help and co-operation during those years and to thank him sincerely for the major role he played in helping to produce a virtually unbroken series of educative and informative reports that went a long way towards establishing the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries as perhaps our senior investigative Select Committee. Certainly the Committee was much respected by those responsible for running those great industries.

I stress that it the main proposition were not amended as my former Deputy Chairmen and I suggest, we should see the total elimination of a Select Committee which over the last quarter of a century has earned the gratitude of Parliament and the people for the quality and regularity of its reports, all of which were the product of many hours of patient and probing questioning of witnesses and frequent visits abroad and at home so that we could inform ourselves of the true facts. It was not glamorous work compared with the wit and wisdom of some of the would-be Charles James Foxes, but it was valuable work which was relevant to Parliament doing its job properly.

Effective scrutiny of the Executive, including in this context the management of great industries which play a major role in the economic life of the nation, must remain a major parliamentary objective.

A few voices have suggested that the type of patient probing which often distinguishes the work of Select Committees from the boisterous and often prankish atmosphere in the Chamber is not really what Parliament is about. The school of thought supported by the former Leader of the House, who has many inspiring and bloodcurdling performances in the Chamber to his credit and is something of a constitutional authority, likes to pretend that the probing activity of a Select Committee upstairs is somehow exclusive from the day-to-day activity in the Chamber. Moreover, people such as the right hon. Gentleman appear to believe that the work we do derogates from the work of the Chamber and so weakens Parliament, leaving an untrammelled Executive to get on with the job of trampling on the rights of long-suffering Back Benchers. This is a load of balderdash from people who should know better, and probably do.

Far from competing with the Chamber, the investigative Select Committees, such as the SCNI, do work which is not only vital if Parliament is to carry out its responsibility and proper scrutiny of the activities of those entrusted with public money and assets but which the size and unwieldiness of the House prevents it from carrying out effectively.

The two activities are complementary rather than competitive. Inconvenient though it may be for those who believe that the House of Commons Chamber is the only forum for debate, the investigative activities of a body such as the SCNI have been 10 times more effective in keeping this section of the Executive in check than all the uplifting and rafter-ringing declamations of the "House-only brigade".

Should any hon. Members doubt that, I recommend the report of my Committee on the British Steel Corporation made about 18 months ago. It became the subject of a major parliamentary debate which nearly brought down the Government. That debate was not only interesting because it showed beyond doubt that the Select Committee had sharp teeth when it chose to bite but demonstrated that when serious difficulties arose in industry and the question of who was to blame arose, the Committee was prepared to defend the managers of a nationalised industry whom it considered had done a good, albeit unlucky, job—even if that meant treading on a few political toes. Perhaps that is why, when the present proposals were mooted some months ago, almost to a man the chairmen of the nationalised industries swung to the support of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.

That was not because we were nice fellows or because we washed behind our ears. It was because the chairmen, with all of whom a wholly arms-length relationship had been maintained, came not only to respect us and to realise that, as investigators, we were pretty tough but straight, fair and incorruptible but to realise that, far from being a latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition, our prestige and experience could be invoked on their side when the Government or bureaucracy overstepped the mark and democracy had to rush to the rescue.

However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not what you, I or most of the chairmen of the nationalised industries think but what will constitute the best system of parliamentary scrutiny that matters. We debated these matters fairly briefly during the last Session of Parliament, and I do not intend tonight to cover again all the ground that I covered in my speech on 19 February, which went in some detail into the overwhelming case for retaining the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. For the benefit of new Members, I shall briefly summarise the arguments that I used on that occasion in favour of retaining that illustrious and hard-working body. I recommend alt hon. Members to look up Hansard of 19 February in order to refresh their memories on these very important matters.

What are the reasons for retaining the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, irrespective of the other changes? First, looking after no fewer than 46 nationalised industries, large and small, is no petty job. Certainly it is no job to be handled as an adjunct to departmental investigations, which is, in effect, what has now been proposed. Inevitably it demands a degree of expertise based on experience, to which the present Committee, after nearly a quarter of a century of experience, can fairly lay claim. As all people experienced in this matter will testify, there is a world of difference between a Government Department and a nationalised industry and it is important not to get them confused, as the Procedure Committee has apparently done in this instance.

I am sorry to be critical of my colleagues, but in all modesty I fear that there are some among them who are without much significant experience of public administration, who feel that they have been presented with a new toy in the shape of a chance to alter the rules of Parliament and who are determined to enjoy this unique experience for all it is worth and while the fun lasts. I am sure that most of them are more or less sincere to the extent that they are persuaded that the present proposals are pretty good or, at any rate, will not do too much harm.

I believe, however, that the damage could be considerable and that the level of effective scrutiny could plummet almost to zero if it is confined to departmental Committees or to joint interdepartmental Sub-Committees as is proposed somewhere in this mish-mash.

One casualty of these proposals will be across-the-board inquiries, for example, into consumer relations in the nationalised industries. The proposed Sub-Committee would certainly not cover that subject, and yet this has been a most valuable aspect of the work of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, including, in the recent past, an inquiry into relations between Ministers, the Government Departments concerned and the nationalised industries themselves. That is the sort of inquiry that could go right out of the window under the new proposals.

Another source of future friction sticks out a mile to anyone experienced in this area. The present proposals will result in different industries being treated differently by the different departmental Committees. That is not necessarily because of prejudice or because of differing degrees of political clout but because different Committees of only slight experience will inevitably employ different guidelines and different standards.

Let me now turn to the amendments in the names of my Deputy Chairman and myself. All three of them go together, and their proposed effect is to allow the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries to continue as before. Some will say that the proposal for a joint Sub-Committee will in effect provide for a Select Committee on nationalised industries. In our opinion, that is not so. We believe that that is a procedural and practical nonsense. Procedurally, a Sub-Committee must be a Sub-Committee of a main Committee, and this one therefore, I gather, is almost in limbo. Second, the existence of the Sub-Committee is permissive, not mandatory. The word "may" has been used rather than the word "shall", and there is a world of difference between those two words.

Thirdly, such a bastardised Sub-Committee would have no common purpose, no common experience and, above all, no esprit de corps. Perhaps I can say, in parenthesis, that one of the great things during the 12 years when I have been associated with the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has been the fact that right across party lines we have managed—anyone who has been a member of the Committee will confirm this—to develop a tremendous esprit de corps which, if I may quote our motto again without making my Friends on that Committee wince, is to let the facts be eloquent on our behalf.

Despite allegations of collusion and this and that, that was our guiding light and motto. Certainly during the 12 years that I was privileged to be a member of that Committee that is what accounts for the fact that we have a long record of fair, deeply researched, well-produced reports to our credit. That little bit of work which we did collectively will always be one of the monuments of which I am most proud.

When we get to the stage—if we ever do—of producing reports, will all the reports of this alleged Sub or Joint Committee, or whatever it is to be called, have to be endorsed by all the main Committees involved? What happens when one of the Committees accepts a report from the Sub-Committee, one amends it and one rejects it? What sort of a Barnham and Bailey effort shall we get then? That would be playing it for laughs with a vengeance. I hope that that sort of un-parliamentary folly will not be something that we shall have pointed at us in a roar of laughter in the future.

It occurs to me that all members of such a Sub-Committee would be occupied with their existing Committees and would, in practical terms, not find much time to meet and put their minds to the problems on which we were asking them to concentrate for the good of the nation.

Some of the brighter hon. Members, recognising some of the difficulties to which I have alluded in passing, might suggest that it would be possible for such a body to report directly. That would make it not so much a Sub-Committee but a Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, therefore, returning, as it were—if we pursued that line of circuitous reasoning—back to square one. In the process, I suggest with great respect to the House, we would have made "BFs" of ourselves.

Accepting your advice to keep this short, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I say that it is far better to keep a separate Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and perhaps have a certain amount of overlapping membership with a relevant departmental Committee or two, so that out of a membership of, say, 15, one or two could also sit on each of the relevant departmental Committees.

As an alternative to the destruction of a body of considerable distinction and effectiveness, that would seem to me to be the way forward. Certainly, in my view we should, as a legislature, hasten slowly before carelessly committing ourselves to an ill-thought-out rearrangement to supplant a tried and true Select Committee such as that on nationalised industries which for a quarter of a century and more has served this House and the country well.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Hogg
(Grantham)