Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 23rd June 1983.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,That—(1) Standing Order No. 6 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely:—In paragraph (3) the word 'twelve' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 16;(2) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 11th, 18th and 25th November, 2nd, 9th and 16th December, 16th, 23rd and 30th March, 6th and 13th April and 6th July;(3) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 15th and 22nd July, 20th and 27th January, 3rd, 10th. 17th and 24th February and 2nd and 9th March and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Wednesday 29th June. Wednesday 6th July. Wednesday 14th December, Wednesday 21st December. Wednesday 18th January, Wednesday 25th January, Wednesday 1st February, Wednesday 8th February, Wednesday 15th February and Wednesday 22nd February;(4) On Monday 12th December, Monday 13th February. Monday 21st May and Monday 9th July, Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence until Seven o'clock and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursday 24th November, Thursday 26th January. Thursday 3rd May and Thursday 21st June:(5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the Ballot for that day—[Mr. Biffen.]

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

I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carrick. Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 4:11 pm, 23rd June 1983

I beg to move, at end of the proposed motion. to add '(6) Provided that a Private Member's Bill relating to the law of Scotland and brought in by a Member sitting for a Scottish constituency shall have precedence on at least one of the Fridays set out in paragraph (2) of this Resolution:(7) Provided that notices of Motions relating to Scottish matters given by Private Members sitting for Scottish constituencies shall have precedence on four of the Fridays set out in paragraph (3) of this Resolution: and(8) The dates of the Friday devoted to Scottish business under paragraph (6) and (7) of this Resolution shall be decided by ballot under arrangements to be made by Mr. Speaker'. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, and many others will have difficulty with the new name of my constituency. South Ayrshire was much easier to pronounce, remember, understand and pinpoint. Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, although rather more descriptive, is not an easy name to recall.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for selecting the amendment that stands on the Order Paper in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and myself. If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, the selection of the amendment shows a great deal of sense and wisdom. Your Speakership is certainly off to a flying start in Scotland.

Secondly, I wish to reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and others that I shall be brief in dealing with this matter. The purpose of the amendment is to advance a serious argument and my hon. Friends and I will not attempt to filibuster.

Scotland is not merely another region of the United Kingdom. In 1707 the Parliament of Scotland united with the Parliament of England to form this Parliament of the United Kingdom. That is a fact that is often lost in the mists of time. I do not want to go back to 1707. I know that some Conservative Members want to return to Victorian times, but I do not. My colleagues and I want greater consideration to be given to the specific and peculiar business of Scotland, especially to legislation and scrutiny of the Scottish Office and Scottish affairs.

As you will know, Mr. Speaker, and as many hon. Members know—sometimes to their cost—the House deals with separate Scottish legislation on a wide variety of matters late at night, all through the night and sometimes at the most inordinate and awkward hours. Scottish legislation is entirely separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.

I referred earlier in business questions to early-day motion 23, which draws attention to the anomaly that Scottish legislation, which applies only to Scotland and which affects only Scots, is dealt with by Standing Committees which reflect the political balance of the United Kingdom. That is manifest nonsense and it is entirely unfair. It bears no relation to sensible consideration of Scottish legislation. Separate Scottish legislation should reflect the wishes of the Scots.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who was formerly the hon. Member for West Lothian, drew attention in the previous Parliament to the West Lothian question when the House was considering devolution. I hesitate to call this the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley question—that title is not quite as flowing as the West Lothian question—but the anomaly is still with us.

Scottish administration covers separately a wide variety of responsibilities in Scotland. It has been said on a number of occasions—my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) will confirm this—that the Secretary of State for Scotland deals with the equivalent of five, six or even seven United Kingdom Departments. However, Scottish Members have only one Scottish Question Time in the cycle. When that takes place, the Secretary of State for Scotland has to reply to our questions on matters involving health, agriculture, the environment, employment, home affairs and industry. All those issues receive separate consideration by United Kingdom Departments that primarily cover England. Scottish affairs are not being dealt with in the manner that Scottish Members, in my view, would like. They are not being given a proper degree of priority.

The amendment seeks to give Scottish private Members —those who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to introduce legislation affecting their constituents in Scotland—the right to ensure that their Bills receive separate consideration. Four of the 24 days that are allotted to Private Members' Bills should be allocated to Scottish matters so that we may consider fully the issues that concern Scotland.

I should prefer not to have to move this sort of amendment. I should prefer not to allocate time on Fridays, Mondays, in the middle of the night or early in the morning to Scottish business. I should like the views of the Scottish people to be respected by the Government, and for them to demonstrate that respect by setting up a Scottish Assembly in Scotland so that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), for example, do not have to sit through debates of concern only to Scotland. A Scottish Assembly should have been set up.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

Why does my hon. Friend presume that I do not wish to know about the affairs of Scotland? I am very concerned and interested in them and I hope, therefore, that he will exclude my name from any of his further animadversions.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

If we had a Scottish Assembly, we would keep my right hon. Friend closely in touch with all its proceedings. He would be very welcome if he attended its sittings. He would be as welcome at a Scottish Assembly as he would be in Cardiff. That remark can be taken both ways but, as my right hon. Friend knows. I meant it in the nicest possible way.

Ideally, these matters should be dealt with in a Scottish Assembly, but, instead, we have a Scottish Grand Committee that sits only occasionally in Edinburgh. It is badly prepared. For example, the Government give insufficient notice of the subjects to be discussed. It is not programmed and planned in advance. It is a diversion from the real matters that come before us in both United Kingdom and Scottish terms. I hope that the Government will still give consideration to some form of Scottish Assembly. I read with interest the Scottish and the English and Welsh manifestos of the Conservative party. The way is open to the Government to consider any method of improving the government of Scotland. The most obvious and sensible course is to set up an assembly, and I hope that they will do so.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Is the hon. Gentleman implying that if the Government give way to his request he will participate rather less in English affairs in this place? If he is, I am sure that that will be welcome. Is he aware that Scottish Members are able to participate as fully in English and Welsh issues as English Members are able to participate in Scottish matters? Does he not believe that that is the best way for a Parliament of the United Kingdom to act?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I do not participate very much in English affairs, although it may seem that I do. When I have participated in debates on English affairs, the issues under consideration have affected the United Kingdom as a whole. We can all participate in such debates and we should do so. I note that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), is on the Government Front Bench. I know that in his heart he is in favour of an assembly for Scotland. I hope that his true feelings will emerge and that we shall see the Government engaging in real, sensible and meaningful discussions about setting up an assembly to deal with Scottish affairs.

In the meantime, my colleagues and I will consider every possible way of discussing the government of Scotland on the Floor of the House until Conservative Members are so sick and tired of it that they will be only too glad to grant us an Assembly.

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

I think that the House wishes to get on to the debate on the Loyal Address, and there will be many other occasions on which we can debate this matter.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

With my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I wish that it was unnecessary to draw attention to such matters in the House, but there is no other forum in which such a matter can be raised. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your indulgence, and I shall not detain the House for long.

I am not the first Member for East Lothian to refer to the difficulties facing Scottish Members in this Parliament. My predecessor as the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, Mr. John Mackintosh, carried out important work on devolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Much earlier than that, East Lothian's last Member in the Scottish Parliament, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, had a great deal to say on this matter, much of which was subsequently vindicated. He said just before the union of the Parliaments in 1707: It is certainly in the Interest of all Good Men to promote a nearer Union with our neighbours of England; and no time ought to be lost on our part in going about so good a Work. However, he continued: It seems beyond humane comprehension, how these separate distinct Interests, and Establishments, can be regulated and supported by one Parliament … the Scots deserve no pity, if they voluntarily surrender their united and separate Interests to the Mercy of a united Parliament, where the English shall have so vast a Majority. He concluded by saying: This will be the Issue … of being one and not two; it will be turned upon the Scots with a Vengeance; and their 45 Scots Members may dance around to all Eternity, in this Trap of their own making. There are not 45 Members in the trap at present, but 72, and the trap has been sprung with a vengence on the Scottish majority of 51 Members who are in this dilemma. Scottish Members in the House have had considerable handicaps since the Union, and their dilemma has been re-emphasised by the outcome of the previous two general elections. In 1979 and 1983, not only has Scotland voted overwhelmingly against the Conservative party and for the Labour party, but it has voted even more overwhelmingly for some home rule and against the over-centralised and unaccountable authority and bureaucracy of the Scottish Office, which controls so much of our life in Scotland.

That is why I support my hon. Friends in the amendment to the Standing Orders of the House. Scotland has a separate body of statutes, and the problem of the bottleneck of this united Parliament frequently causes protracted delays in much-needed Scottish legislation. Some examples are the delay in the reform of the divorce law and the continuing scandals of tied housing and warrant sales in Scotland. The amendment would protect Scottish interests by guaranteeing opportunities to hon. Members to speak on their constituents' behalf.

I know that you, Mr. Speaker, as your predecessor, will do everything that you can to protect minorities in the House. However, no Speaker can do justice to the interests of a Scottish majority that is consistently thwarted on Scottish Affairs, as are the 51 Scottish Opposition Members in this Parliament.

The vagaries of our lottery system for private Members' Bills are notorious. The amendment would bring some order and fairness to the system. Despite the needs of Scotland, it is possible that no Scottish Member will draw a place in the ballot for private motions and Bills. Conversely, Scottish Members might draw all the places, which would cause a furore. Hon. Members should remember that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Corrie) drew first place in the ballot for private Members' Bills twice during the previous Parliament. However, at the end of the day, the matter will be satisfactorily resolved only by wide-ranging constitutional reform, including the establishment of a Scottish legislative assembly. In the meantime, we must try to make the best of a bad job, and the amendment would be one way of achieving that.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 4:24 pm, 23rd June 1983

A sense of courtesy requires me to answer the debate that has been initiated by the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), but a sense of compassion requires my answer to be brief.

The motion relating to private Members' time was tabled following discussions through the usual channels, as a result of which the Government agreed to make available one extra day for private Members' motions, in addition to the extra motions day to which the Government agreed to following the procedure debate on 19 July 1982. It is a reasonable allocation of time to private Members.

As to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and other hon. Members relating to Scotland, Standing Order No. 6 relates only to the numerical basis of the allocation of time for private Members and not to a regional or national basis. Such change to our proceedings and to our Standing Orders as is recommended by hon. Members should be preceded by a recommendation from the Procedure Committee as well as by a resolution of the House. It is an important matter, but the side wind that is now blowing proposes a constitutional innovation that is wholly out of character with the nature of the subject, and I must recommend its rejection.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Having made my point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,That—(1) Standing Order No. 6 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely:—In paragraph (3) the word 'twelve' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 16;(2) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 11th, 18th and 25th November, 2nd, 9th and 16th December, 16th, 23rd and 30th March, 6th and 13th April and 6th July;(3) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 15th and 22nd July, 20th and 27th January, 3rd, 10th 17th and 24th February and 2nd and 9th March and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Wednesday 29th June, Wednesday 6th July, Wednesday 14th December, Wednesday 21st December, Wednesday 18th January, Wednesday 25th January, Wednesday 1st February, Wednesday 8th February, Wednesday 15th February and Wednesday 22nd February;(4) On Monday 12th December, Monday 13th February, Monday 21st May and Monday 9th July, Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence until Seven o'clock and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursday 24th November, Thursday 26th January, Thursday 3rd May and Thursday 21st June;(5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the Ballot for that day.