Committee of Selection

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1979.

Alert me about debates like this

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [11 June], That Mr. Ronald W. Brown, Mr. Walter Clegg, Mr. A. P. Costain, Mr. Ifor Davies, Mr. Paul Dean, Mr. James Hamilton, Mr. Philip Holland, Mr. Harry Lamborn and Mr. Kenneth Lewis be members of the Committee of Selection.—[Mr. Cope.]

Question again proposed.

10.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Before we start the debate on the motion, I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux).

I should also inform the House that Mr. Speaker has given careful consideration to the motion for an instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in which the hon. Gentleman proposes to give important new duties to the Committee of Selection. The powers and duties of the Committee are conferred upon it by the Standing Orders of the House. To alter those powers in the way that the hon. Gentleman proposes would require amendment of Standing Orders or a new Standing Order. The hon. Gentleman's motion does not do that. Therefore, in the view of Mr. Speaker, it is out of order and cannot be called. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to oppose the nomination of Members to the Committee of Selection on the ground that it is inappropriate until the powers of the Committee have been reviewed, he is entitled to do so.

10.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I accept Mr. Speaker's ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore, I object to the motion. The reasons for my objection can be explained, at the risk of boring you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by some brief words on the functions of the Committee of Selection.

Several Members have recently asked me for an explanation of what the Committee of Selection does. For all practical purposes the Committee appoints the members of Standing Committees and of Private Bill Committees. However, it is no secret to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in practice the Whips of all parties propose the members of Standing Committees, the ad hoc committees to consider particular Bills. Private Bill Committees, the ad hoc Committees to conusual sort. They consist of four Members, usually two from each side of the House.

In its forty-sixth recommendation the Procedure Committee proposed that the nominations for Select Committees should go through the Committee of Selection. The idea was to protect Members of Parliament from being under the complete domination of the Whips on both sides.

An illustration of what the Committee of Selection has done in the past is that on one occasion a Chief Whip proposed that a vested interest that he had a connection with should have two members on a Standing Committee. The then Chairman of the Committee of Selection, Mr. Hugh Delargy, ensured that the vested interest opposed to that of the Chief Whip should also have two members—quite different from the original proposal. On another occasion it was suggested by one individual that Members should be knocked oil a Select Committee not because of anything that they had done on the Select Committee but in connection with another matter on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] In spite of the approbation to the contrary of the Deputy Chief Whip on my side of the House—he has a certain vested interest in these matters—Back-Eench Members need some protection from the hierarchy of the Whips' offices on both sides of the House.

Therefore, the Procedure Committee proposed that these nominations should go through the Committee of Selection as a sort of check. It did not propose to deprive the House of its ultimate right to appoint the members of Select Committees. I shall not go into the details. Hon. Members can find them if they wish on page lxxiv of the Procedure Committee's report, paragraphs 6.18 to 6.21.

It is therefore important that before we make this appointment tonight, since the next motion in the name of the Government Deputy Chief Whip proposes that we should appoint the members for the whole of the Parliament, the Leader of the House should tell us his desires about the Procedure Committee's recommendation. If we had had the debate that he has promised us on the Procedure Committee's report, this issue might never have arisen. That debate will arise some time before the Summer Recess, however, as the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister have told us. Until we have had that debate, the House will have had no opportunity to consider any recommendation of the Procedure Committee.

In all, 265 hon. Members wish to have that debate and wish the House to have an opportunity of deciding on the main issue of setting up departmentally related Select Committees. I accept that the method of appointing that or any other Select Committee is a somewhat subsidiary issue. We want to know whether, if the House should decide to accept the main recommendations of the Procedure Committee and to set up departmentally related Select Committees, the right hon. Gentleman will allow the House some opportunity to reconsider the powers of the Committee of Selection.

Like most hon. Members, I have no objection to the names that are put before us tonight. It may be that the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), for example, who is a near neighbour of mine in constituency terms, will happen to become chairman. I would think only that Nottinghamshire would appreciate that fact. He is probably an ideal man for that job. However, we would want him to have greater powers in that capacity than he would have under the present arrangements. One would wish him to have the existing powers of that position over Standing Committees and those Select Committees that deal with Private Bills, and in addition to have the powers recommended by the Procedure Committee over all other Select Committees.

May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that, if the House were to decide the main issue in favour of the Procedure Committee's recommendations or something like them, we should have an opportunity at some stage to propose, as Mr. Speaker's ruling implied, a change in Standing Orders to permit us to consider the secondary issues raised by the Procedure Committee? If we could, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would encounter any difficulty with this motion. However, we want to know where we are going before we take the final step of appointing the Committee for the whole of the Parliament.

10.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I wish to raise a slightly different point from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I am not sure whether all the nine hon. Members named in the motion are now in the Chamber, but before I agree to the motion I want to know from each of them here in the Chamber, so that what they say is on record, that they will do their job according to Standing Orders on behalf of the House and not on behalf of the two Front Benches.

In the last Parliament the Committee of Selection did not do its job. It kept from Standing Committees hon. Members on both sides of the House who had a justifiable right to serve on them. Representations were made and just swept away. As hon. Members know, when the membership of Standing Committees is put before the House by the Committee of Selection, there is no possibility whatever, under our present procedures, of objecting in the way that is possible on a Select Committee appointment. We must like it or lump it. It is in the Standing Order. There is nothing we can do about it.

I wish to give two examples which highlight the problems that hon. Members on the Back Benches come up against. Let new hon. Members on the Tory Benches who in a year or two, if things have not changed, wonder why they have not been on a Standing Committee reflect on this debate tonight.

In 1977 the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) served on the Finance Bill Committee. He made speeches on that Committee that members of his own party did not like. He told the truth on many occasions. I agreed with some of the speeches he made and opposed others. Nevertheless, he went into that Standing Committee and spoke the truth as he saw it. I used to watch the winces on the faces of the Front Bench leadership on that Finance Bill at what was coming from the Back Benches. That was in 1977. In 1978, of course, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was not on the Finance Bill Committee, and there was nothing that he could do about it.

Last year the Labour Administration brought in the Social Security Bill. The chairman of the Labour Back Bench social security group, the then Member for Coventry, South-West, Audrey Wise, was excluded from membership of that Committee. We checked back on the times that that had happened in the past to Members on both sides of the House. We checked where the chairman of a subject group relating to the work of a Department had been kept off what was a miscellaneous provisions Bill for that Department, though with every right to serve on the Standing Committee.

No measure of representation behind closed doors in this place was enough. I went along with my colleagues. The Chief Whip and the other bosses of this place listened to us. Those Members with the right honourable titles and the Chairman of Selection were there as well. The Chairman said "I only did what I was told to do". All that the Committee members were doing in the last Parliament was receiving two or three lists of names and rubber-stamping them. They were in and out of the room in 10 minutes when the Committee of Selection met—or less than that, I am told.

It is not good enough, when we appoint, as we are doing tonight, hon. Members to work on behalf of the House of Commons—not on behalf of the Government Front Bench or on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench but on behalf of all of us on the Back Benches as well—that when a Bill gets a Second Reading, in a few days, or in some cases a few hours later, the Chairman of the Committee of Selection is given a couple of bits of paper, told to convene a quick meeting upstairs and—bingo—out comes the Standing Committee.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

I know that my hon. Friend is too modest to point this out, but there was another occasion when the Committee of Selection seemed to take a positive pleasure in debarring my hon. Friend and the then hon. Member for Coventry, South-West, Audrey Wise, from the Finance Bill Committee. There were many Labour Back Benchers who were very keen to see them on that Committee in view of the very reasonable improvements which they made to a previous Labour Finance Bill.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I hope that that intervention by my hon. Friend will not be lost on whoever will be the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and that he will not use his rubber stamp. We shall have a Finance Bill within a couple of weeks at the very outside, unless all the Finance Bill is taken on the Floor of the House. If that happens, I tell Conservative Members that they will have no Summer Recess; that is for sure.

The point is an important one, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I should like each of these hon. Members to stand up and say to this House that he will not be bound by lists that are given to him and that he will not be used as a rubber stamp. I should like each one to say that he will do the job laid down in the Standing Orders. Otherwise it is a farce. The Committee of Selection is the key to all other Standing Committees. It will be no good any hon. Member complaining in future about the composition of Standing Committees. This is the time, here tonight, when we have to take action. All that we can do is either not appoint the whole Committee or take the word of hon. Members that they will not be used as rubber stamps. I ask each of these hon. Members to give this undertaking before the debate is over. If they will not, I shall have to divide the House on the whole issue of setting up a Select Committee in the first place.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I believe that there is a point of principle to be made here, but I cannot join the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in his censure of what he regards as a lack of integrity among those of his parliamentary colleagues who serve on the Committee of Selection. I do not believe that to be true or fair. But the point of principle is whether nomination to Select Committees should be made by the Government and the official Opposition or by a Committee of Selection which has the confidence of its colleagues in the House of Commons. I believe the latter to be the right principle for the proper service of the House.

We have not yet had an opportunity to debate the recommendations—more than 70 of them—of the Procedure Committee. Many of the most important of those recommendations concern a restructuring of our Select Committee system, which we debated in the last Parliament but on a motion which was not executive. In my modest contribution to that debate, I endeavoured to point out that whatever we did about changing the structure of our Select Committees would nevertheless be ineffective unless the House took unto itself the task of choosing which of its Members it wished to serve on those Select Committees.

Do what we will to our Select Committee system, it cannot command the full confidence of the House which our Select Committees are charged to serve unless their composition also, is within the control of a Committee which is not itself a puppet body.

I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Perry Barr in his belief that the Committee of Selection is a puppet Committee. I do not believe that it is. It has a most difficult task in manning the Committees of the House. There are colleagues who wish to serve on a Committee but cannot. There are probably far more who are put on Committees when they would rather occupy their time in other ways.

The Committee of Selection, on which I have never served, has a most unenviable task, but I personally have confidence in its integrity, and I believe that its integrity is such that it deserves from the House the duty of recommending to the House those who should serve on Select Committees whether or not the structure of our Select Committee system is altered on the lines recommended in the last Parliament.

This is a question of principle, and if the feeling in the House is, as I hope it will be, that our Select Committee system is to be not a new way of wasting the time of busy Members but a continuation of the process of bringing back to the House of Commons the accountability of the Civil Service in particular, I think that it is a necessary condition, though not a sufficient condition, for the discharge of their function that the task of recommending to the House of Commons the composition of Select Committees, within the normal guidance which the House gives to that Committee about the comparative strength in all parts of the House, should be entrusted to the Committee of Selection.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

What is the position when a Minister in Whitehall, in receipt of advice from civil servants, draws a list of those whom he does not want on the Committee and sends it across to his Whips' office with the message "These are the ones I don't want on the Committee of Selection"? That is the Executive controlling the function of this place. I know that that happened in the previous Parliament. I like to think that it will not happen during this Parliament, even under a Conservative Administration. All I want the nine hon. Members to do is to say that they will have no truck with the approach that I have described if it takes place.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I have been in the House rather longer than the hon. Gentleman. I have been in this place for nearly 20 years. It is my experience that hon. Members who are put in decisive positions on the recommendation of the usual channels in the hope that they will be confined have their personal integrity still intact and have very often disappointed those who appointed them.

There is no foolproof system except the personal integrity of every hon. Member. We all know that to be true, independent of party. If we cannot repose our confidence in the Committee of Selection, we cannot repose it anywhere.

Photo of Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler , North West Norfolk

Will my hon. Friend give comfort to those of us who would like to believe what he says but who wonder why only three or four of the nine hon. Members it is proposed should form the Committee are present in the Chamber while we discuss this important issue?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I have no means of answering my hon. Friend's question, except that I totally reject the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Perry Barr—I do not doubt that it was made with the best of intentions—that his colleagues should have to pledge themselves to behave honourably. I should expect my colleagues to do that without making such a pledge. The idea that our colleagues who are being proposed to be entrusted with this unpleasant task, which is primarily one of collecting brickbats rather than accolades, should be present tonight to recommend themselves does not recommend itself to me.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I shall give way shortly. I should not wish it to be the custom in the House that when there is a motion to appoint hon. Members to any Committee those hon. Members should be under an obligation to be present in the Chamber to defend their selection.

Photo of Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler Mr Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler , North West Norfolk

My hon Friend may have put an incorrect interpretation on my question to him. It is not my argument that hon. Members should be present to defend or advocate their own membership of the Committee of Selection. I was suggesting that they should be present at least to listen to the arguments about the Committee to which they hope to be appointed.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I can think of few weaker arguments than that. The principal reason for being present in the Chamber is to contribute to debate. There are certain circumstances in which it is generally felt that colleagues should not contribute to a certain debate. Surely colleagues should not try to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye to justify their nomination to the Committee of Selection, which is an especially important Committee. I am rather sad that the question of principle, which is whether the Committee of Selection or the usual channels should exercise this crucial function—

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

It is not the same. The water should not be muddied by allegations, none of them specific, against any hon. Member that members of that Committee are corrupt. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has been in this House long enough to know that if he wishes to allege that colleagues are corrupt he should name them so that they may defend themselves against the accusation.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

The hon. Gentleman is allowing himself to be deflected from the issue of principle. I mentioned two specific occasions when a former Committee of Selection had defended the rights of individual Back Benchers against the usual channels.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

There are many other cases of which some of us may know. Many of our colleagues perform their duties in circumstances of moral courage, unknown to their colleagues, because they do not declare them.

I do not think that the House will do itself a great service tonight if it abdicates the task before it of deciding which of two alternative courses it should take—whether the recommendation for membership of Select Committees should be made through the usual channels or by the Committee of Selection—by going into unprovable, extraneous and not very laudable arguments of ad hominem type but without specifying the Members against whom allegations are made. Let us focus on the crucial point of principle—that is, the clear decision which the House must take. The balance of advantage lies in favour of the Committee of Selection being entrusted with this most important duty.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , South Antrim 10:27 pm, 12th June 1979

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. James Hamilton" and insert "Mr. A. J. Beith"

I shall resist the temptation to become embroiled in the difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and his colleague the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler), who seemed to be arguing on an admirable basis that is common to a great many institutions, namely, that Members are eligible for election only if they are present or have tendered an apology. I shall not go deeper into that question tonight.

We tabled this amendment because we and the other minority parties that we represent simply cannot understand why we should be deprived of a place on the Committee of Selection for the whole of the present Parliament. We could have understood the decision, and therefore have been much more sympathetic, had the Government acted in accordance with the report of the Select Committee on Procedure. However, the opposite is the case. The Government are acting contrary to a recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure.

Secondly, we could have understood the change in the previous structure if over the years it had proved to be unworkable. But here again the reverse is the case. I was one of those most closely involved in the various consultations. I cannot recall a single occasion on which the mechanism broke down.

I invite the few members of the former Committee of Selection who are present to point to any meeting at which their deliberations were hindered or obstructed by lack of co-operation on the part of the minority parties. Those parties always succeeded in reaching agreement on the spokesman to be nominated to any particular Committee. What is more, when we had managed to make such an appointment, it was invariably found that we had appointed someone who was the appropriate spokesman for the minoritly parties, and, even more important, had some knowledge of the subject under discussion.

The hon. Member for Tiverton mentioned two categories. He said that there were those who wanted to be on and those who were pushed on. I would add a third category—those who were quite useless once they were pushed on to a Committee.

It appears now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the present motion were to be carried unamended, we would revert to something like the pinned-on-a-list system which totally failed us in the past. Unless the Government display some willingness to listen to reason and display much more flexibility—and the kind of co-operation which the Government and the Opposition Front Bench received from the minority parties in the last Parliament—I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends and colleagues to divide the House.

10.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

This is a most interesting debate.

When I first entered this House, nobody wished to serve on the Committee of Selection at any price. Nobody, 300 years ago, wished to serve in this House. People had to be shanghaied into this House. Twenty years ago people had to be drafted on to this Committee. But now, of course—and quite rightly, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has pointed out very eloquently—the nuances of different shades of opinion in this House have become extremely important, and the selection of the selectors has become almost like the question of who sits in the House of Lords on an appeal. One of the reasons why in the Supreme Court of the United States all nine judges have to sit is that, if one were to sit in a division there, one could get one's verdict by reason of the judges one selected

This is a very important matter, therefore, and the hon. Member for Perry Barr has made a very important case. But this is quite a modern development, and it is a good one, in my view. In the old days it was very rough justice between the two sides of the House of Commons. Those who had the majority put on their stooges and those who were in the minority put on their stooges, and it worked. It worked quickly, efficiently and cleanly, and nobody disagreed. But now we have got into a sophisticated area in which that does not work at all.

The selection of the selectors is very important indeed. Although I think we ought to pass this motion tonight—because the House has to have its work continued—we ought to look into this matter for the future, because the various shades of opinion are very important, and the system is much more democratic than the old system.

Those who have objected to the motion have a case. At the same time, I think that they are a bit premature. There are, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would agree, about 76 proposals of the Committee of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I always think of him as the author of these matters. I may be doing him an injustice, or even too much justice—I am not quite sure which—but nevertheless this matter must be looked into. Tonight we must get on with the job.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I must point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the report was originally drafted, as most reports are, in the name of the Chairman by Officers of the House. Almost every clause was discussed by all the members of the Committee. While we were unanimous on certain recommendations, no one member of the Committee could conceivably claim to be responsible for the Procedure's Committee's report.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

The hon. Gentleman is modest, as always. Nevertheless, his name is rightly linked with these proposals. They will be looked into.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr put forward a very good argument on the selectors. All I suggest to him is that, at 20 minutes to 11 tonight, before the 76 proposals of the Committee of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, or whoever's Committee it is, are discussed, we cannot—

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams).

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

We cannot tonight hold up the whole procedure of the House, because the selectors of the selectors are the foundation and groundwork of our procedures. Let us get on with it tonight, but let us accept the view that we can no longer go on with the rough and ready, black and white, Whips from both sides—

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

Hits and misses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) puts it. Let us get on with it tonight, but take seriously what the hon. Member for Perry Barr has said. The question of the selection of the judges is crucial to the life of the House and of democracy.

10.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I do not think that the House should accept the advice proffered by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). If the motion is passed, the Committee will be in effect for about a year.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Five years—the life of a Parliament.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

There are two issues here. There is the question raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), with which I shall not deal at the moment, but that does not mean that he has not put forward a good argument.

I wish to support the submission made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I understand that the reason for the exclusion of a representative of the minority parties is that the formula precludes such a representative on the ground of insufficient numbers in the House. In the last Parliament the mathematics did not work out at all, but, for all that, we were represented on the Committee. I served on the Committee for a year. It worked very well. Therefore, I see no reason for exclusion on this occasion.

The country has just gone through an election which has raised grave doubts about fair representation. I do not think that we should add to any questions raised by jerrymandering of this kind. It will mean that the voters represented in the House by the Liberal Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Scottish National Party will have no say on the Committee of Selection. The matter can be resolved by good will and fair practice on both sides. I ask the Leader of the House to pay attention to the argument for inclusion on the Committee of a representative of the minority parties in the House.

10.39 p.m.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I wish to contribute briefly to the debate because it is important to look at the circumstances in which the practice of representing the minority parties on the Committee of Selection arose. It led to the appointment of the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) as the first of a number of us who have done the job by rota. It arose during the last Parliament when, as members of minority parties, we found increasingly that our views on membership of individual Committees were not being respected, not out of any lack of good will on the part of the members of the Committee of Selection but because of the practical difficulties of relying upon a member of another party to assess the relative claims of members of a group of parties with whom his links were limited.

The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland)—I see that he is nodding—manfully sought to carry out this task. I would not wish it upon him when combined with the greater responsibilities which he might yet enjoy on this Committee if the main motion is carried tonight.

It was obviously a more sensible arrangement to have someone who could speak for the minority parties, and who would not only do that but engage in consultations week by week with the other parties to reach some agreement on who would claim places on particular Committees. That we were able to do with considerable success. However, we were not able to do so until we first crossed the barrier of getting representation on the Committee.

We had many consultations and many arguments, and many letters went to and fro. We advanced a case based upon numbers. We advanced the case that we ought to have a place on the Committee because of the size of our representation in the House and the numbers we had outside the House, the votes that were cast.

However, the Committee of Selection did not accept the case based upon numbers. It took a quite different view. The Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), made a special report on the subject, in the 1975–76 Session, in which it said: In nominating Members to serve on Standing Committees Your Committee is well aware of the difficulties arising from the present composition of the House, especially in regard to the Members of the Minority Parties: that is to say the Liberal Party, the Scottish Nationalist Party, the United Ulster Unionist Coalition, and Plaid Cymru.Your Committee has given careful consideration to the proposal that one of the members of Your Committee should be drawn from the Minority Parties. The Committee went on to argue that these minority parties cannot claim, even collectively, to qualify for a place on Your Committee on the grounds of number. The report continued: Nevertheless, having regard to the nature of Your Committee's work and the need for acceptance by the whole House of decisions of Your Committee, Your Committee proposes the inclusion of one member from the Minority Parties. The Committee made a positive recommendation, which was then implemented. In order for it to be implemented, the consent of the then Opposition party was necessary, because it was in effect one of that party's places, an Opposition place, which was given up for the purpose.

The whole argument tonight is about whether the present Opposition are prepared to surrender one of their places for the same purpose. The unwillingness in this respect is strange indeed. I look to the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) to speak to it in due course. I think that the speech that we ought to hear tonight is really one from the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison), who is the person who made this decision. We have all been waiting for many years for a speech from the right hon. Gentleman. On this issue he could contribute manfully, because I am quite sure that it is he who lies beind it.

But once the Committee had made that special report, the House, with the co-operation of the then Opposition and, indeed, the Government, who consented to this arrangement, went on to implement it. The right hon. Member for Western Isles took his place on that Committee. Some time later, by agreement between the parties concerned, I succeeded.

The arrangement worked well as an arrangement between the minority parties. We were able to arrive at agreement on who should serve on the Committees, and that saved a great deal of difficulty, because otherwise the Committee of Selection itself has to decide whether to put an SNP Member, an Ulster Unionist Member or a Liberal Member on a Committee considering a United Kingdom Bill, or whether—and this is often the more difficult question—to put a Liberal Member or an SNP Member on a Committee considering a Scottish Bill where each party has representation and votes in that country.

We resolved these difficulties and saved the Committee a great deal of work. It worked well within the Committee itself. I know that the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North, the then Chairman, and, I am confident, the then Opposition leader on the Committee, the hon. Member for Carlton, both found that it eased their responsibilities and enabled the Committee's work to proceed smoothly—so smoothly, indeed, that I cannot recall in all my time on the Committee a meeting of the Committee of Selection ever lasting longer than seven minutes. I can recall at least one occasion when the Committee made five decisions in the course of one minute and brought its proceedings to a conclusion.

There was a great deal in what was said by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, because at least the minority parties were able to assist the Committee's work and ensure that it did not have to spend its time making assessments of which minority party should serve on a particular Committee.

The minority parties, which are seeking a continuance of a practical and effective working arrangement, represent substantial bodies of opinion in the country, and they represent groups whose position in the House ought to be considered. The idea that qualification for a place on this Committee can be decided only on a numerical basis was rejected by the Committee and the House in the last Parliament. We have no need to advance the case on that ground, but we advance it because it is a practical and sensible working arrangement. There is no good reason why the present Opposition should seek to overturn it, and I seek the support of all hon. Members in continuing something that has been practical and useful.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

I speak to the amendment in the names of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith).

On a number of occasions in this House we have had words about the Committee of Selection, most notably in May 1976 when the Government lost yet another by-election and the number of Members on both sides of the House was pretty even. The current dispute is different. It is occasioned by what can only be called the churlishness of the Opposition Whips. The amendment quite simply is not a personal one. No one would like to say anything unpleasant about the man who, we hope, is to be replaced by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). It is simply a question of allowing a minority party to have a say.

Business in the House has always been transacted with a mixture of expedience and precedence. I draw the attention of the House to the establishment of the Committee of Selection in 1839. In that year Lord Melbourne was the Prime Minister. The Members were fairly volatile in their party allegiance, but the original Committee of Selection had on it five Members. They were Mr. Estcourt, who was an independent Liberal university member, and he was joined by two Liberals and two Conservatives. It seemed absolutely right to have that sort of composition. There were no minor parties in Parliament at that time, unless one called them all minor parties.

The idea of the Committee of Selection at that time was to include people who had either a pecuniary or a geographic interest in the matter to be transacted by the Committee. I quote from the Procedure of the House of Commons, Vol. II, 1908: The Committee of Selection, to which reference has already been made in several places. This committee consists of the chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, who is ex-officio chairman, and ten other members: three are a quorum. The work of the committee is continuous organisation. It has always been the idea of a Committee of Selection to represent people who best know the quality of those Members who are due to serve on it. For that reason it is important to have a representative of the minor parties.

The 1976 dispute ended in the sad death of Mr. Hugh Delargy, but on 3 May 1976 he said about the Members: They are independent parties with their own Leaders, their own Whips and, more important, their own policies. They are the Liberals, the Scottish National Party, the United Ulster Unionist coalition and Plaid Cymru There is also the SDLP of Northern Ireland. None of these parties was elected to support the Conservative Party in this House. They were not elected primarily to oppose the Labour Party. They were elected for positive reasons—to pursue certain policies and to serve their electorates.Combining those parties as though they were one united group is wrong. Uniting them with the Conservative Party is doubly wrong. Lumping those parties together and saying they are a united Opposition is simply a wild and crashing confusion of thought.—[Official Report, 3 May 1976; Vol. 910, c. 984.]

In that debate the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said something which I shall read because it is important and well put. He said: Before the Committee of Selection proceeds to that task, it seems to me right that the Committee should be representative itself of this House. At the moment, five of its members are supporters of the Government and only three represent the Opposition parties. Indeed, there are no members of the Committee who represent the four minor parties which sit on this side of the House. That seems to me to represent a totally undemocratic situation and one which should not be allowed to proceed.The Committee does not report to the House and have its policy approved by a motion, and the House does not have the opportunity to approve the general principles upon which the Committee will be proceeding. That means the Committee could proceed to nominate Standing Committee representation which could be totally unrepresentative of the House. It is for that reason that it seems to me all the more important that the Committee itself should at least carry parity of membership from both sides of the House before it deliberates on its policy."—[Official Report, 28 April 1976; Vol. 910, c. 389–90.] When I was fortunate enough to draw the No. 1 position for Private Members' Bills, I was faced with the selection of Members for the Committee. It is the tradition of the House that if there is no Division on Second Reading, he who moves the Second Reading may nominate the Members of the Committee. Having given two Members each to lead for the two major parties, I suddenly faced problems because the Government Whip decided that he would like a third person. It is essential that all Members of Parliament have someone on the Committee of Selection to whom they can plead their case. Had I not been fortunate enough to have my party's Whip serving on the Committee at that time, I would have lost one supporter. When there is no Division, it is right that the rule of the House should be continued in this way.

I draw the attention of the House to the composition of the Committees of Selection. In 1935, when there were 387 Conservatives, 154 Labour Members, and 21 Liberals, the Committee of Selection consisted of six Conservatives, three Labour Members, one Liberal, one National Liberal and one National Conservative. And so it went on, year after year. Look where you will—Gretton, Colonel (Chairman); Albery, Sir Irving; Boulton, Mr.; Davies, Sir George; and so on. In 1947 there were six Conservatives, three Labour Members, one National Liberal, one Opposition Liberal and so on.

The Committee of Selection should by rights have a majority of Government Members. But whether the Opposition have one, two or three fewer seems to me totally unimportant, and doubly unimportant after what we have heard about the length of time of deliberation. What is important is that the Opposition Members on the Committee of Selection, who should, democratically and rightly, be outnumbered by Members representing the Government, should represent all parts of the Opposition. It is wrong that these Members should be confined simply to the Labour Party when there are, albeit in lesser number than previously, a good selection of independent parties in this House.

Therefore, I ask Government Members to be fair-minded. I ask Opposition Members to be brave and admit that they were elected for themselves and not to serve the deputy Opposition Whip. I ask them to look at this motion, which seeks to give the five minority parties in this House a representative on the Committee of Selection, and to vote in favour of the amendment.

10.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in speaking for the Opposition rather than my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison), but the motion before us is simple. The hon. Gentleman referred to the special report of the Committee in the Session 1975–76 and quoted accurately from some part of it, but he omitted to read the final sentence, which said: Your Committee will review the position during the Session, especially in the context of any changes in the composition of the House. The difference between this and the previous Parliament is in the composition of the House. In the previous Parliament the minority parties numbered 40. In that situation the view taken by the Committee was that although they did not reach the number of 70 which would automatically entitle them to a seat on the Committe of Selection—on a proportional representation basis, I suppose, apart from anything else—the fact that they had more than half that figure, arriving at 40, entitled them to one seat The present situation now is that there are 27 Members representing the minority parties, less than half the number that would automatically entitle them to a seat. I think that that is a very good reason for making the change proposed in the motion.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

The right hon. Gentleman is overlooking the most important interpretation of those words in the Committee's report. The Committee, when it made that point, was not supposing that the representation of minority parties would be drastically reduced at a series of unlikely by-elections following the deaths of a large number of Members of the five parties. The Committee was anticipating what actually happened, namely, that the Government's majority in the House might disappear and that it would have to return to the issue of the overall balance between the two sides of the House.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

I am content to rest not on the interpretation but on the plain meaning of the words, namely, that the recommendation was conditional upon the balance of forces in the House of Commons remaining as it was at the time when the Committee made its recommendation. The report makes clear that the normal basis of selection in getting a Member on to the Committee of Selection would be to achieve the number of 70, which is one-ninth of the membership of the House, excluding Mr. Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. Therefore, I think it is clear that the Committee had in mind that its recommendation was conditional on the balance of forces obtaining at that time.

The simple fact is that, as a result of the election, the balance of forces in the House has changed significantly by reducing the number in the minority parties from 40 to 27, thereby greatly weakening the case they had when they had 40. The matter is as simple as that, and I ask the House to support the motion and to reject the amendment.

10.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The House is indebted once again to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) for having initiated an interesting debate on the procedure of the House. If anybody was in doubt before this debate about what the Committee of Selection actually does, that doubt will have been dispelled by this debate. We have been shown what an important role that Committee performs.

In the course of this debate the proposal of the Procedure Committee in recommendation 46—namely, that there should be a new procedure for the appointment of Select Committees—has been mentioned from time to time, but it is true to say that that is not, strictly speaking, before the House tonight. Until the House has debated the various recommendations of the report it would be inappropriate for Members in general to express a final view. It would certainly be inappropriate for me, as Leader of the House, to preempt what will, I hope, in due course be a debate on this subject. Until the House decides otherwise, the old procedure remains in force.

Although I agree that we should proceed as expeditiously as possible with the discussion of the various recommendations of the Procedure Committee, I would remind the House that there are 76 recommendations. They cannot, in the nature of things, all be debated at once. We must have some kind of priority for them. I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I have stored his remarks up for consideration at perhaps a more appropriate moment.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems is that there is another motion on the Order Paper which attempts to perpetuate the life of the Committee of Selection until the end of this Parliament? Therefore, by taking the decision tonight that the Committee of Selection should be appointed as it is, we shall be taking a decision which could last until the end of this Parliament, regardless of the recommendations of the Select Committtee on Procedure.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The motion on the Order Paper refers to the composition of the Committee of Selection. It does not affect its powers, and it would be possible to alter those powers even if the motion were passed tonight.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right, if one phrase is added; namely, that the Government will give time for such a matter to be debated. Is the right hon. Gentleman committing the Government to that?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

It would not be right for me to make that sort of commitment when we have not begun to debate the important recommendations of the Procedure Committee. We should proceed in an orderly way. I hope that in due course all the recommendations will be debated. It should also be remembered that eight reports on procedure still await debate in the House.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and the machinations that he described with a certain amount of pained surprise that such things could be alleged to be going on in the House. I should like to make the point that it is nothing to do with me—I was not even in shadowy office at the time. There seems to be an internal dispute in the Labour Party, and it would be unfeeling and presumptuous of me to intrude into some kind of private grief.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

That is not true. I deliberately gave two examples, one from each side of the House, where hon. Members have been kicked off Standing Committees. It is not a matter that affects one side of the House only, as time will tell.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Whoever it affects, it has nothing to do with responsibilities—

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The right hon. Gentleman black-balled the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen).

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I did nothing of the kind. I shall do what I can to ensure that this unhappy pattern of events does not occur—if it did—again.

I turn to what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said. It is not necessary, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, that hon. Members should declare their intention of acting honourably. We apply that presumption to all hon. Members. Until the opposite has been established beyond all doubt, we must have confidence in hon. Members that they will act in the best interests of the House and not as puppets for the usual channels on either side of the House.

I turn to the amendment that was moved by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). It is an import- ant amendment, its purpose being to remove the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton) from the Committee and replace him by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I hasten to say how much I agree that there is nothing personal in this issue. The hon. Member for Bothwell is the corpus delicti in every sense of the term, and he has been selected for this position only as a matter of convenience.

I have a considerable degree of sympathy with the argument that has been advanced by the hon. Members for Antrim, South, for Berwick-upon-Tweed and for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), the last in a most interesting historical exegesis, for which we are grateful to him and, no doubt, to the Library staff. But we are bound by the condition that is laid down by Standing Order No. 109 on private business that there can be only nine members on the Committee, and, as the hon. Member for Isle of Ely generously admitted, it is right and proper that the Government side, whichever party that happens to be, should have a majority on the Committee.

So this whole issue comes down to a question of the Opposition. It is the responsibility of the Opposition, not of the Government, how the Opposition seats are divided up. The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) advanced a numerical argument. He said that there were 41 minority Members in the previous Parliament and only 27 in this; and if 41 justified a member on the Committee, 27 did not. But then he seemed to say that 41 did not justify a Member anyhow and that the minority parties needed 70 Members to justify having a Member on the Committee.

I am more literate than numerate, but there does not seem to be an overwhelming numerical argument for this case.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I am grateful for the support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). Incidentally, I found his reminiscences most interesting. They stretched back over some 300 years. I knew that my hon. and learned Friend has experience. I did not know that he had that much, and it is not surprising that with such extensive experience my hon. and learned Friend got straight to the point, which concerns the powers of the Committee. This matter is not before us at present.

This has been a useful debate. In considering these difficult issues, which must be resolved speedily for the good of the

House, I shall certainly bear in mind all the important points that have been made by hon. Members today.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 11, Noes 186.

Division No. 8]AYES[11.10 p.m.
Alton, DavidPenhaligon, DavidWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Beith, A. J.Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch (S. Down)
Dunlop, JohnRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Howells, GeraintSpriggs, LeslieMr. Gordon Wilson and
Molyneaux, JamesStewart, Rt. Hon. Donald (W. Isles)Mr. Clement Freud.
NOES
Ancram, MichaelFletcher-Cooke, CharlesMorrison, Hon. Peter (City of Chester)
Aspinwall, JackForman, NigelMudd, David
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Murphy, Christopher
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Garel-Jones, TristanMyles, David
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Goodhew, VictorNeale, Gerrard
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Gorst, JohnNeedham, Richard
Banks, RobertGow, IanNeubert, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyGray, HamishNewton, Tony
Bendall, VivianGreenway, HarryNormanton, Tom
Berry, Hon. AnthonyGrieve, PercyPage, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)
Best, KeithGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N.)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Blackburn, JohnGrist, IanPatten, John (Oxford)
Blaker, PeterGummer, John SelwynPawsey, James
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHamilton, Hon. Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)Percival, Sir Ian
Boscawen, Hon. RobertHamilton, James (Bothwell)Pollock, Alexander
Boyson, Dr. RhodesHarrison, Rt. Hon. WalterRaison, Timothy
Braine, Sir BernardHawksley, WarrenRathbone, Tim
Bray, Dr. JeremyHaynes, DavidRenton, Tim
Bright, GrahamHenderson, Barry
Brittan, LeonHogg, Hon. Douglas (Grantham)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Hooson, TomRoberts, Michael (Cardiff N. W.)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Hunt, David (Wirral)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Browne, John (Winchester)Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Robertson, George
Buchanan-Smith, Hon. AlickJenkin, Rt. Hon. PatrickRooker, J. W.
Buck, AntonyJessel, TobyRossi, Hugh
Butcher, JohnJopling, Rt. Hon. MichaelSt. John Stevas, Rt. Hon. Norman
Butler, Hon. AdamKellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElaineShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Cadbury, JocelynLambie, DavidShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Lamborn, HarryShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Lang, IanShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Langford-Holt, Sir JohnShort, Mrs. Renée
Channon, PaulLe Marchant, SpencerSims, Roger
Chapman, SydneyLennox-Boyd, Hon. MarkSkeet, T. H. H.
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt. Hon. Michael (Bristol S.)Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Smith, Rt. Hon. J. (North Lanarkshire)
Colvin, MichaelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Snape, Peter
Cook, Robin F.McElhone, FrankSpeller, Tony
Costain, A. P.MacGregor, JohnSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Cowans, HarryMacKenzie, Rt. Hon. GregorSpicer, Michael (S. Worcestershire)
Cranborne, ViscountMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Squire, Robin
Cryer, BobMcQuarrie, AlbertStanbrook, Ivor
Dalyell, TamMcWilliam, JohnStevens, Martin
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Major, JohnStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Dorrell, StephenMarlow, AntonyStradling Thomas, J.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton West)
Dover, DenshoreMarten, Neil (Banbury)Thompson, Donald
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Mather, CarolThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Durant, TonyMawby, RayThornton, George
Eastham, KenMawhinney, Dr. BrianTownend, John (Bridlington)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Pembroke)Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Eggar, TimothyMayhew, PatrickTrippier, David
English, MichaelMellor, DavidViggers, Peter
Evans, John (Newton)Meyer, Sir AnthonyWaddington, David
Eyre, ReginaldMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Wakeham, John
Faith, Mrs. SheilaMills, Iain (Meriden)Waldegrave, Hon. William
Farr, JohnMoate, RogerWall, Patrick
Fenner, Mrs. PeggyMonro, HectorWaller, Gary
Finsberg, GeoffreyMoore, JohnWard, John
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N.)Morrison, Hon. Charles (Devizes)Watson, John
Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)Wickenden, KeithTELLERS FOR THE NOES
Wheeler, JohnWilkinson, JohnMr. John Cope and
White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)Mr. Peter Brooke.
Whitney, RaymondWinterton, Nicholas

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr. Ronald W. Brown, Mr. Walter Clegg, Mr. A. P. Costain, Mr. Ifor Davies, Mr. Paul Dean, Mr. James Hamilton, Mr. Philip Holland, Mr. Harry Lamborn and Mr. Kenneth Lewis be members of the Committee of Selection.

Motion made, and Question proposed.

That the members of the Committee of Selection nominated this day shall continue to be members of the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament.—[Mr. John Stradling Thomas.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With the agreement of the House, I propose that at the same time we should discuss the motion

That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.

11.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

The motion states: That the members of the Committee of Selection nomated this day shall continue to be members of the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament. The "remainder of this Parliament" could be several years. The logical prognostication is a year or 18 months. We should lay down general ground rules at the beginning of the Parliament that are sensible and reasonable, especially in the light of the comments that have been made tonight.

I am not imputing any suggestion that the Committee of Selection is corrupt or is not trying to carry out its duty. However, the House should have some degree of accountability. Some serious reservations have been issued and aired by the minority parties and by representatives of both the Conservative and Labour Parties. It has been said that there have been areas of dissatisfaction in the past on both the Conservative and Labour Benches.

The debate could be accurately described as a House of Commons occasion. We are not imputing that the members of the Committee are not trying their best when we make some criticism of the setting up of the Committee for four or five, years. We are saying that there should be a greater degree of accountability.

It is a fact that House of Commons occasions have some relationship to the realities of ordinary people. The composition of a Standing Committee may affect the outcome of the legislation before it and so affect those who come within it. It is reasonable that Members of Parliament should have the opportunity once every year to re-elect the Committee of Selection. The re-election would probably go through on the nod, but if reservations were expressed about the performance of the Committee during the preceding 12 months the re-election would be the occasion for scrutiny and alternative suggestions.

I suggest that although the election at the end of 12 months may be without dissent, it may be controversial, and it may be challenged. That right ought to be given to hon. Members. It would extend, and not diminish, the rights of hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman should withdraw the motion and bring to the House a motion that pro-vides that the Committee that we have appointed shall sit for no more than 12 months before returning to the House for reappointment on an annual basis.

That would be fairer. It would give us a greater degree of scrutiny and afford an extension of powers to Back-Bench Members of Parliament. If the criticisms that were aired tonight about the past performance of the Committee are valid—I believe that they are—the record of the Committee should be scrutinised, instead of allowing the sores to rub along the whole length of this Parliament. The private selection arrangements cause resentment. They may be seen by those involved to be perfectly proper. Nevertheless, they cause a good deal of resentment and a sense of frustration among the Members of Parliament involved.

This is a House of Commons occasion which has important repercussions. If there is a debate late at night it gives the Back Bencher a greater degree of involvement in the conduct of this Parliament. That is a reasonable step forward for this Parliament to take. I ask the Leader of the House to withdraw the motion and to assure the House that he will bring back the motion which I suggested, namely, that there should be an annual election of the members of the Committee.

11.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). It has considerable force. However, I should like to put forward an alternative point which I think also has some validity. This motion is far more binding on the Government than it is on the House. It is the equivalent of the parson's freehold. The historical object of the parson's freehold was to prevent his being sacked by those more powerful than himself if he preached views that were unpopular with the powers of the day.

This motion makes it difficult for the Government to remove members of the Committee of Selection if they exercise the independence of judgment which I am confident they will exercise. I point out to any of our colleagues who are not totally conversant with our procedure that although the House, having taken a decision, cannot properly reverse it in the same Session of Parliament, it can properly do so in subsequent Sessions.

Secondly, it is not unknown to find at the beginning of the Order Paper that Standing Order No. 1, which says that the House should rise at 10 o'clock, is to be suspended. I do not regard that as precluding the House from making changes in the Committee of Selection should that Committee unhappily fail in the task entrusted to it by the House. Apart from a motion to suspend a Standing Order, there can be a motion of censure on the Chairman of the Committee. That is perfectly permissible. But these are technical points rather than the point of substance to which I return.

I regard the motion as giving security of tenure to the Committee of Selection to carry out its task honourably and with such weight that it would be a public scandal for the Government to remove its Chairman or members because they were not complaisant to the wishes of the Government. On that balance of judgment, I come down against the valid point made by the hon. Gentleman in opposing the motion

11.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

We have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) produce arguments in opposite senses about the motion. But there is a third possibility. This issue does not need to be discussed at all tonight and does not need to be decided at this hour.

The point at issue is perfectly simple. The Prime Minister has given a commitment that the debate on our procedure, the main issue, will be held before the Summer Recess. The Leader of the House, naturally enough, supported her in that, and we expect that that debate will in due course be held and the House will be able to make a decision upon it.

We now have a Committee of Selection—the previous motion gave us that. Indeed, all the Labour Members voted with the Conservatives to ensure that we should have that Committee of Selection. We shall continue to have that Committee of Selection until October 1980 if nothing else is done. If this motion is not passed, we shall only be able to discuss the matter again in October 1980; that is all that will happen. But before the forthcoming Summer Recess the main issue will be discussed and decided upon by the House.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, having had the motion moved to extend the life of the Committee of Selection for the life of this Parliament, he should simply adjourn it, leave it on the Order Paper and bring it back to the House after the procedure debate to be held in a few weeks' time.

11.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Again, we have had an interesting debate. It has been brief, as is perhaps not entirely inappropriate at this hour. We have had a classic deploying of arguments.

The argument put forward by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is the classic Chartist argument for annual elections, annual reviews, a chance for checking to be made on those who are elected, a re-selection process, if one likes. The other argument was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and was based on the case for security of tenure, which, of course, is the great guarantee of independence in our society. Most of it, unfortunately, has been eroded, and the parson's freehold which he used as an analogue has, alas, by and large gone—I think unhappily and mistakenly so.

Let us see in this issue that the arguments are balanced one against the other. It is not, in my view, an entirely clear question, and one could argue the matter at great length.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

There is a memory that I should like to recall to the House. When the parson's freehold was about to be abolished in an unjust way, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), who is now Under-Secretary of State for Employment, drew to the attention of the House what was happening, quite unexpectedly, and the House threw out the Church measure that was proposing to do it. Some colleagues may remember that. So the House is very tender on this point.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I am grateful for that interesting reminiscence. I recall the debate. Although in a sense it had nothing to do with me, I waited for it until a reasonably late hour to vote for the parson's freehold, on general grounds of Conservative principle.

I recognise the balance of the arguments in this case. Quite frankly, I think that if one has a balanced argument one does not go far wrong if one follows the accustomed course. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will produce some precedent which none of us has ever heard of so I shall measure my words carefully.

In recent years, certainly, it has been the custom for the Committee of Selection to be appointed for the duration of a Parliament.

It is true that we could withdraw the motion and start again, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but the argument against doing that is that it would lead to more delay and it would delay the opportunity which I hope the House will have, perhaps even sooner than the hon. Gentleman expects, to debate and decide upon important recommendations made by the Procedure Committee.

Meanwhile, we have to get on, and the reason why I want this Committee to be appointed tonight is that only when it is appointed can we get on—

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I see the distinction. Only when these motions are decided can we proceed rapidly with the appointment of the domestic Committees which I know it is the wish of the hon. Gentleman should be done.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I am sorry to challenge the right hon. Gentleman, but he is wrong. He had to have the Committee of Selection appointed. I understand that, and it has just been done. But the reason why the right hon Gentleman wants this motion is that it is not in accordance with most precedents. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that we should act as he should, like a Conservative, and not have this motion because it is designed to overturn the practice of the House.

The practice of the House is that the Committee of Selection that we have just appointed, for an unstated period, is, by the common custom of the House, appointed for this Session, which, as we all know, will end in October 1980. The motion is trying to reverse that practice of hundreds of years and say that the Committee should be appointed not for only a Session but for the whole of this Parliament. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should follow the argument that he used for conservatism.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Does the right hon. Gentleman have "Erskine May"?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Yes, I have "Erskine May". I recommend it to the hon. Gentleman. It will put him to sleep at almost any time.

I am not saying that there are not arguments balanced on each side, but we have a limited amount of time. We have a very full Session ahead of us. We have a limited amount of time before the Summer Recess for debating procedural matters, and it would complicate matters further if we did not resolve this matter tonight. I recognise the force of the argument, but I hope that we can resolve this matter tonight, and then the way will be clear to resolve other and more important procedural matters.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That the members of the Committee of Selection nominated this day shall continue

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I shall put the Questions on the two motions separately.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 18.