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Column 715Sweeney, Walter
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Column 715Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Column 715Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Queen's recommendation having been signified--
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Health Authorities Bill, it is expedient to authorise--
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-- (a) any expenditure of the Secretary of State under the Act, and-- (b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act, and
(2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of sums received by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act.--[ Mr. Malone. ]
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): I wish to make some points about the credibility of a money resolution to a framework Bill such as this. The Opposition want to know how a Bill--which is essentially of a take-powers kind--which contains almost no specifics about the number of health authorities that it will create, can be absolutely definite about the savings that it will provide. Although the Bill estimates that money will be saved, it fails to show how that saving will be achieved. The Bill contains no details about how it will save £3 million in Wales; it makes no reference to where that money will come from.
The Bill contains categories of alleged savings for both England and Wales, but it does not address the major issues of a sectoral merger between the family health service authorities and district health authorities on the one hand, and geographical mergers on the other. How much money will be saved by each of those entirely separate aspects of the Bill? If the Bill is about savings, why do we have a money resolution?
That brings me to my final point: if there is a money resolution--in other words, the Government have to spend money in order to save it--is the Minister talking about a massive redundancy bill to deal with the existing chief executives of regional health authorities and those for the joint authorities which have been set up already? I hope that the Minister will respond to that point.
When the Minister sets up completely new health authorities, will the present chief executives of joint health purchasing authorities--which have already been set up on a non-statutory basis--be guaranteed their jobs? Their jobs will be remarkably similar to those which have been set up on a non-statutory basis-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Morgan: Madam Speaker, I am grateful for your attempts to get a bit of 'ush--as they used to say in my part of the world. This is an important point because it affects directly how much the Bill will cost the Government in the short term. Will the Government give the existing chief executives of the joint purchasing authorities any kind of promise that they will retain their job after the Bill is passed, or will they have to reapply for their jobs, as I understand is the case?
Using the powers in the Bill, the Government will appoint a new board and a new chairman of each new merged health authority, and they will be entirely responsible for appointing the new chief executives. If they choose not to reappoint the existing chief executives,
Column 717there will be a massive redundancy bill. However, if they say, "In the general spirit of things, we will re-appoint the existing chief executives, although now on a statutory basis"-- obviously there will be no redundancy bill. Is the calculation in the Bill of the huge cost that is to be spent by the Government to save money based on a redundancy estimate for the present chief executives of the joint purchasing authorities that are already in place, or is there an assumption, or even a promise to those chief executives, that they will keep their jobs?
Question put and agreed to .
Relevant document: First Report of the Committee of Privileges (HC27)
Madam Speaker: I have not selected the manuscript amendment that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) submitted to me. No doubt he will deploy the arguments used in that amendment in his speech this evening.
That Mr. Tony Benn be discharged from the Committee of Privileges.
The motion has been tabled in response to the first special report from the Committee of Privileges of 21 November. That report is very brief; I will read it to the House in full as it sets out both the background to the motion and the arguments for it. It says: "At the meeting of the Committee of Privileges which took place on 1 November, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, Mr. Tony Benn, drew attention to part of a speech he had made in the House on the previous day in which he had said:
`Whatever the decision of the House or the Committee, I am no longer prepared to accept the present restrictions and if I return to attend future meetings of the Committee of Privileges it is my intention to issue my personal report of those proceedings that I attend. My reports will be based on notes made at meetings of the Privileges Committee and they will be as fair and accurate as I can make them. It will be for the House to determine how to deal with that matter, but I believe that I have a duty to make my own position plain in advance. I hope that the House will understand and respect my reasons for doing so.'"
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the right hon. Gentleman's proposal this evening apply to future meetings of the Committee of Privileges on matters unrelated to this particular complaint?
The report continues:
"Mr. Benn issued a summary of the meeting to the press and the public later that day. Your Committee recognises that the action taken by Mr. Benn was in consequence of his long-held belief that all proceedings of select committees whether deliberation or evidence should be open to the public. Whatever the merits or otherwise of this view we cannot condone Mr. Benn's action in publishing any report of a deliberative meeting. This is clearly contrary to the rules of the House which apply to all select committees and which only the House itself can change. Since Mr. Benn has declared his intention of summarising future meetings we have no alternative but to recommend to the House that he should be removed from the Committee forthwith."
As the right hon. Gentleman fairly acknowledged in his speech on 31 October, it is for the House to determine how to deal with this matter.
No one disputes the right hon. Gentleman's integrity or the sincerity of his view that all Committee proceedings, including deliberation, should take place in public. For that reason, I can say for myself and, I suspect, for others, that it gives me no pleasure at all to move this motion.
I must, however, also say equally clearly that, like the Committee generally, I profoundly disagree with the position that the right hon. Gentleman has taken up. I must, of course, emphasise that the point at issue here is not--this may be the point that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has in mind--whether the Committee
Column 719should take some or all of its evidence in public. The House has already reaffirmed that that is a matter for the Committee itself to decide.
Indeed, in a sense it is not even the issue whether the Committee should deliberate in public, although I must say for myself and, I suspect, many others, that I believe public deliberation--that is to say, discussion in public of how to proceed, of the content of evidence heard and of the conclusions to be drawn--would profoundly damage the search for consensus which is a key factor in the public standing and influence of our Select Committees generally.
The essential point of the Committee's report, which underlies the motion, is that the Standing Orders of the House contain no provision for any Select Committee to undertake such deliberation in public. The House can, of course, change its rules on that, or any other matter, if it wishes, although I think that most hon. Members would agree that such a change could sensibly be contemplated, let alone made, only after a very thorough discussion of all the arguments, including the effects on the work of Select Committees.
Mr. Madden: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene as I do not intend to speak in the debate, but merely wish to ask a question before he concludes his remarks. For the benefit of the House, can he give us a clear sign whether he is giving a commitment that the evidence given to the Privileges Committee will be published without undue delay? Also, if any deletions are made, who would be authorised to make them?
Mr. Newton: It has been generally accepted--certainly it was indicated on behalf of the Committee--that every expectation is that all the evidence heard would be published, subject only to excisions, which the Committee would have to agree, for example, relating to court proceedings or to what might be construed in some senses as the irresponsible use of the privilege of the Committee to make allegations against other persons for which there appeared to be no foundation. The presumption is that the evidence would be published in full. Any decision to do otherwise would have to be taken by the Committee. I hope that that is clear.
Mr. Skinner: In the past 20 years, many changes have been made in Parliament--starting with the Register of Members' Interests and, more recently, televising this place. Why do the Leader of the House and his friends want to keep to that old-fashioned view about Committees meeting in private? Is it not time that they came up to date?
Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley) rose --
Column 720I hope that it is clear to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has undoubtedly studied the report of the Committee's deliberations--the votes that took place on various motions-- that the view that he attributed to me, as if I were expressing it on behalf of the Government, was widely shared by the majority of Committee members. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson).
Mr. Newton: Meanwhile, in the absence of any such changes being made by the House, surely it must be clear that such a change ought not to be brought about by one right hon. Member, however distinguished and sincere, deciding to substitute his rules for those of the House.
The Select Committee on Privileges has been asked to deal with serious issues relating to the conduct of hon. Members and the reputation of this House. It is important for the House as a whole that the Committee should make progress with its inquiries and agree a report. The Committee has found itself unable to make progress until the confidentiality of its deliberations can be assured. It has accordingly asked the House to change its membership and the motion that we are debating has been moved at the Committee's request. For that reason, I ask right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the motion.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the spirit in which he moved the motion and the words that he used. I ask the indulgence of the House to allow me to present a different case, which raises important constitutional questions. The motion before the House is very simple--that I be removed from the Select Committee on Privileges on the grounds that I have written reports about the deliberations of that Committee. If the matter were as simple as that--my replacement by someone else--it would not warrant a debate, for many other Members of the House are as well or better qualified to sit on the Privileges Committee, and I make no special claim on my own behalf.
The real issue that we are debating, however, is very different, and the Leader of the House touched on it. It is whether the House should in this case reaffirm its existing practice that no report should ever be published which deals with the deliberations of the Privileges Committee. I hope to persuade the House to reconsider the matter by voting against the motion that the Leader of the House has moved. I regret the fact that the debate has come so late, as I think it raises an important matter.
May I first deal with some preliminary questions which Members are entitled to have disposed of? First, a vote against the motion is in no sense a vote against the Speaker. The Speaker asked for a report to be made to allow the House to reach its decisions in an orderly manner, and the Speaker is in no way committed to the recommendations of the Procedure Committee.
Secondly, it is a House of Commons matter, and it can be decided on its merits. The Leader of the House referred to voting, and I should like to make the same point. Three of my longest-serving Labour parliamentary colleagues voted to remove me, and Conservative Members should be quite free to reach an independent judgment on the matter.
Column 721Thirdly, the House can amend, and has amended, Privileges Committee reports, and the House is under no obligation whatever to accept the report of the Committee. For example, in 1986--I was on the Privileges Committee then, as I have been for 10 years--there was a leak from the Environment Select Committee, and the Privileges Committee recommended that Richard Evans, the Lobby correspondent of The Times , should have his Lobby pass withdrawn for six months.
As a member of the Committee, I voted against the recommendation, and I tabled an amendment which read:
"Your Committee thinks it right to recommend to the House that all proceedings of Select Committees should be exempted from any protection of privilege, and that all such Select Committees be advised to conduct their business in open session and to make all their papers public when they are sent to Honourable members." At least my position on the matter is a consistent one. When the report was brought to the House, it was defeated following an amendment by the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). I participated in that debate, and I have looked at the people who voted against the Privileges Committee report. They included Mrs. Thatcher, Michael Foot, the then leader of the Liberal party, the present leader of the Labour party and two members of the Privileges Committee--the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson), who has just intervened, and the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell). Therefore, there is a clear precedent for the Committee to have its recommendations rejected.
The fourth preliminary point which I want to clear away before I come to my argument relates to reports being issued. I was not arguing in Committee about the openness of evidence, although I believe that there should be openness, but that reports should be issued after each meeting of the Committee under the auspices of the Clerk of the House.
The draft report which I moved--which the Committee rejected--very simply said:
"That minutes of each meeting, covering the evidence and the deliberations of the Committee, should be prepared by an official reporter, under the supervision of the Clerk of the Committee and published as soon as possible . . . That individual members of the Committee should be free to comment on those proceedings as is the case with the proceedings in the House itself."
Hon. Members may wonder what will happen if the House tonight rejects the Privileges Committee report. The answer is simple--the Privileges Committee will have to think again, as it did in earlier cases. But it is open to us tonight to change the procedure if we decide to reject the report. I hope that the Leader of the House will not tell us that the procedure is so tight that even a vote tonight against the motion cannot change it. Of course it can, and that is why I am speaking at some depth on the matter.
I shall briefly recall to the House the background to the events, although I am sure that everybody is familiar with them. In July, after reports appeared in the press about the alleged payment of money to hon. Members in return for asking parliamentary questions, the House referred the matter to the Privileges Committee. As the senior member of the Committee, it was my duty to summon the Committee, which I did. I moved the Leader of the House into the Chair in accordance with practice, and he will