Orders of the Day — Telecommunications Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:29 am on 14th December 1983.
I beg to move,
That Mr. Richard Body, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. David Harris, Mr. Michael Lord, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, Miss Joan Maynard, Mr. James Nicholson, The Reverend Ian Paisley, Mrs. Marion Roe, Mr. John Spence and Mr. Tom Torney be members of the Agriculture Committee.
For the convenience of the House, it might be helpful if we were to debate together the motions on defence, education, science and arts, employment. social services and Welsh affairs.
The Committee of Selection has tried to meet the wishes of the House in relation to the departmental Select Committees. I believe that, when the House understands the complexity of the problem, it may wish to review the present arrangements. As this is almost certainly the last occasion on which I shall have the honour to address the House as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, I should like also, in the light of experience and with hindsight, to express a personal view that in 1979 the House was mistaken in making a decision, for the 'first time in our long history, to separate the functions of selection and appointment. The difficulties created by that have been further exacerbated by the erosion of the two-party system with the development of a House composed of a multiplicity of dissimiliar political parties. I hope that I may be in order if, a little later in my remarks—I shall not be too long — I suggest remedies on the grounds that the problems arising from the 1979 decision and the changing nature of the House are, in a general sense, the reasons behind the need for this debate and the delays that occurred in setting up the Select Committees.
I shall explain our workings in relation to the Select Committees under four heads: first, the instruction that the House gave in 1979 in setting up the departmental Select Committees; secondly, a broad general application of a much earlier instruction related to a totally different type of Committee, which we have used; thirdly, the custom and practice developed over many years by the Committee of Selection in making appointments to other types of Committee on which we have had to draw; and fourthly, the precedent set at the beginning of the last Parliament in relation to departmental Select Committees.
Under Standing Order No. 99, as amended earlier today, the House decrees a maximum number of members for each of the departmental Select Committees. Standing Order No. 82(2) states:
No motion shall be made for the nomination of members of select committees appointed under Standing Order No. 99 … or for their discharge, unless:
No other instruction or advice has been given to the Committee of Selection on how to perform its task in respect of those Select Committees. In this context, the Committee is not required by the House to have regard either to the composition of the House or to the qualification of Members nominated. The new edition of "Erskine May" beginning at the foot of page 684 reports:
In 1979 when the House was debating the first nominations by the Committee of Selection for the Select Committees relating to Government departments, the Chairman of the Committee of
Selection stated that in nominating members of such Committees, the Committee enjoyed full discretion and was under no obligation to consult, to take advice, or to indicate any criteria of choice. To assist the House he indicated that the Committee would not for the time being nominate members of the Government, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and regular Opposition Front Bench spokesmen.
The House accepted that recommendation in 1979, and for the past four years has not seen fit to encroach in any way on the total discretion of the Committee of Selection in relation to selection. In 1979, the House in effect said to us, "We want the members of the Committee of Selection to nominate members for these committees, and the Committee had better get on with it in the best way it thinks fit."
We are under no requirement to recognise the strength of the Government or the Opposition parties and certainly we are not required to afford any right to nomination to any political party. Indeed, in Standing Orders there is nowhere any mention of any political party and I believe that only Standing Order No. 6 on the arrangement of public business makes any reference to Her Majesty's Opposition. According to Standing Orders in most cases we are either Ministers or private Members.
The rules that we have observed in preparing these nominations, therefore, are entirely of our own making, of an ad hoc nature and can be changed by us at any time without notice or notification unless we receive a specific instruction to the contrary from the House.
On my second point, lacking guidance from the House on how to proceed, we have had to draw on our own experience when selecting for appointments to a very different kind of Committee, appointed under different rules and subject to a different Standing Order. Because of the substantial differences between the two types of Committee, clearly we cannot use identical criteria, but we have tried to adapt one of the basic principles applied in broad outline only. I refer, of course, to our experience in selecting and appointing to Standing Committees established to consider Bills and statutory instruments.
Standing Order No. 65(2) states:
In nominating such Members"—
that is, to Standing Committees, not Select Committees—
the Committee of Selection shall have regard to the qualifications of those Members nominated and to the composition of the House".
Even there the House leaves it entirely to the Committee to interpret those words in its own way. The qualifications of an hon. Member to serve on a Standing Committee may mean anything from simple availability to a high level of technical expertise. The composition of the House may refer to hon. Members with different work experience, different educational backgrounds, different political interests or different subject interests or, more broadly, those who support the Government and those who oppose the Government. It is, of course, the last interpretation that has been adopted by the Committee over many years, with the acquiescence of the House.
There are substantial differences between Standing Committees and Select Committees. Select Committees are appointed for the whole Parliament to specialise in a single subject of government and to engage in an investigative rather than a legislative function. Therefore, we believe that only the most general criterion applied to the Standing Committee—that is, the balance between Government and Opposition—can be adopted.
On the third point, in recent years in relation to Standing Committees we have developed the practice of recognising that there are two Opposition groups with sufficient numbers to merit the offer of places on each Committee of a certain size. The Opposition Members on the Committee of Selection have therefore offered to the smaller of the two Opposition groups — that is, an amalgam of minority parties—the appropriate number of places on each Standing Committee for which its numbers qualify.
In the time that I have served on the Committee of Selection, since 1974, there have been many occasions on which minority parties, for reasons of their own, have not been interested in taking up all the places offered to them, and they are at liberty to do that. The places have therefore had to be occupied by the majority Opposition party to retain the balance that the Committee of Selection wished to achieve between Government and Opposition. In practice, therefore, over the years, it has not been possible to apply a rigid arithmetical formula to differentiate between the various groupings on the Opposition side, not least because of the very selective way in which minority parties have been prepared to co-operate
Can the hon. Gentleman cite one occasion in all the time that he and I have worked together both on and with the Committee of Selection when I have failed to co-operate when he has asked me to do so?
I said that the minority parties had not always taken up the places offered to them. I will give one or two examples. On 9 December 1981 we appointed hon. Members to four Standing Committees, on two of which the minority parties did not wish to appoint Members.
Fourthly, when we selected the nominations for the Select Committees in 1979—
I have answered it in my own way.
In 1979 two minority parties over-subscribed Members and three exhibited little interest in the Select Committees. As interest and application from the smaller opposition parties in 1979 was uneven—I am not arguing against the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on this matter — the Committee of Selection was not surprised when only one minority Opposition party—the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is aware of the party — applied for more than its strictly arithmetical entitlement through the spokesman for the minority parties on the Committee. So long as this did not upset the general balance as between Government and Opposition, the Committee found it acceptable.
The difficulty of preparing nominations that would find general acceptance in the House arises from the existence of no fewer than seven dissimilar opposition parties, plus the fact that the Committee of Selection is not a negotiating body—nor was it ever designed to be
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative party in Scotland is the minority party? The hon. Gentleman's Committee of Selection had great difficulty in finding sufficient Conservative Members during the previous Parliament to serve on the Scottish Select Committee and some hon. Members failed to attend on many occasions.
We are the Parliament of the United Kingdom and not a Parliament purely for Scotland or Wales. The Committee of Selection must observe that fact as a fundamental principle.
The task of finding sufficient Members for the Scottish Select Committee is outside the scope of the debate. However, the hon. Gentleman will note that we did find sufficient Members for that Committee——
—appropriate to the numbers on both sides of the House. However, we are not discussing the Scottish Select Committee.
The difficulty of preparing nominations that would find general acceptance in the House arises from the existence of no fewer than seven dissimilar opposition parties. Without a negotiating process — the wheeling and dealing that makes the smooth function of democracy possible—it becomes impossible for the Committee of Selection to reconcile the legitimate but often conflicting aspirations of seven dissimilar opposition parties, which are united only in their general opposition to some, but not necessarily always the same, Government policies.
I think that this is something about which the House should think seriously, and the question of who should be responsible for the selection and the appointment of members of the Select Committee needs to be reviewed in the light of experience. I am speaking as an individual Member and not as the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. If the House expects Select Committees to be generally supported by a multiplicity of dissimilar parties, it may be that only the negotiators in the House, the usual channels, will be in a position to achieve that support. It may be that they should be responsible for selecting and appointing the members. If selection is to be the result of negotiation between a multiplicity of groupings in the House, only the Whips are equipped to carry that out.
Yet early in 1979, with no knowledge of how the Committee of Selection would handle the matter, the House expressed its hostility to the idea that the Whips should be involved. If that remains the view of the House, the only way to avoid excessive delays in establishing the departmental Select Committees at the beginning of each Parliament, and to make changes in membership when these become necessary during the life of a Parliament, is for the House to trust the Committee of Selection to appoint the members.
The House has trusted the Committee to appoint the Chairmen and members of each Private Bill Committee since 1839. It has appointed the members of each Standing Committee since about 1880. If the Committee errs in its selection and appointment, the House always has a remedy at hand in the form of an appropriate motion. If the Committee appoints and the appointments can be altered later, at least the Committees start their business. Over the past 150 years the Committee of Selection has never had regard to the composition of the House when dealing with Private Bill Committees. Apart from Standing Committees, there is nothing sacrosanct about that principle.
I shall move from the general to the particular. The motions nominating Members to the Agriculture. Education, Science and Arts, Employment, and Social Services Committees were modified in line with the prepared amendment to Standing Order No. 99 and had to wait the approval by the House of that amendment earlier today before they could be moved. That is why the motions are being moved tonight. The Education, Science and Arts Committee motion lists one member fewer than the maximum number permitted because the Opposition were not ready at first to fill the vacancy. However, at the meeting that took place earlier today of the Committee of Selection, a nomination was approved by the Committee and the appropriate motion will be laid should that Committee motion be approved by the House. The appropriate motion to add the extra Opposition Member will be tabled immediately after the motion has been approved.
The background to the amendments to the Defence Committee motion, which were tabled by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneux) and his right hon. and hon. Friends, is that the minority parties proposed two names for one vacancy. After I had drawn the attention of the Committee to a letter that I had received from the right hon. Gentleman, a spokesman for the minority parties on the Committee, the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) spoke briefly but objectively and fairly to the claims of the two candidates for the vacancy. He gave equal time and emphasis to their respective claims. Hon. Members will have noted that the hon. Gentleman was the SDP nominee
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) is not in his place.
Support for the hon. Member for Woolwich was immediately expressed with no dissenting voice. Therefore, as Chairman, I was not required to express a view. As I did not express a view to the Committee, it is not my intention to do so tonight on the merits or demerits of either candidate or to vote on the amendment. That is something that the House must resolve.
The amendments to the Welsh Affairs Committee tabled by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) are in a different category. I have explained that as a Committee we have normally adhered to the formula of reflecting the composition of the House as between Government and Opposition. We have deviated from that formula only for the four Committees that have been enlarged by the Standing Order amendment. The Conservative party told the Committee that it wished to offer one of the two extra places to which it was entitled on the Government-versus-Opposition basis to the Opposition, and the Opposition accepted that offer. As we received acceptance of the offer, we have accepted deviation from the normal rule for those four Committees.
The Liberal amendment is designed to ignore the balance of the House as between Government and Opposition, and to take a Conservative place that is not on offer. That is a tactic that I believe the House must resist. I hope that we may now remove all remaining impediments to the establishment of the Committees, and I wish them well in their endeavours.
At an earlier stage I contemplated saying words of thanks and appreciation to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection on behalf of the minority parties, but as there seem to be murmurs of dissent from the Benches in front of me, I had better confine my thanks to being those of the Ulster Unionist party.
We appreciate the patient efforts of the Chairman and the Committee of Selection to find a satisfactory and acceptable solution to the problem posed by our arrival here in various groupings and numbers. In mitigation, I should say that that is not, strictly speaking, our fault. We were sent here by our electors and would be failing in our duty to them if we did not put forward our separate views and policies. Our amendments seek to secure allocation of the three places on the Select Commitees to which we are entitled by virtue of our numbers. I understand that the minority party entitlement, expressed in decimal points, is as follows: the alliance 5·35, giving it five places; the Ulster Unionists 2·58, giving us three places; the Democratic Unionist Party 0·7, giving it one place.
If carried, motion No. 4 would give us one place. If motion No. 8 is approved, we would have two places. If the other motions are carried including motion No. 5, unamended, we would still be one place down, whereas the alliance, which is entitled to five places, would have seven places. In view of what has been said, perhaps I should explain that all the Northern Ireland Members are somewhat restricted in their choice of Committee. Of the 14 Select Committees, only four — the Agriculture Committee, the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Committee —are concerned with Departments that directly exercise functions in Northern Ireland. A fifth Committee, the Social Services Committee, has a very real influence and bearing on Northern Ireland because of the convention of parity in social service benefits. That requires that legislation should ditto that introduced in the House by the United Kingdom Department.
I hope that the inclusion of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in the Social Services Committee will result in a simultaneous application of what one might term "rubber stamp" legislation and regulations in both parts of the United Kingdom. However, as I have said, without our amendments to motion No. 5, we shall have only two places.
The tragic events in Northern Ireland during the past few weeks will, I trust, have convinced hon. Members that the Defence Committee should have a Northern Ireland Member in its ranks. The scale of the Army commitment, the Army's role in the defence of the United Kingdom's frontier, and the potential value of Ulster's naval and air bases in countering Russian threats in the eastern Atlantic all point to the desirability and, I hope it is agreed, the need for a Northern Ireland Member to play a full part in that Committee's deliberations.
When I was invited to put forward a name, I was in no difficulty whatsoever. My choice was almost automatic. I am convinced, as I trust the whole House will be convinced, that the most valuable and suitable candidate is my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). He served in the Ulster Defence Regiment from 1970 to 1981. In 1972 he emerged from the Sandhurst officer commission course, the standard TA course, with a Regular Army commission. Following completion of his company commander's course at Warminster, he alternated periods of active service command in Northern Ireland with secondments in England where he assisted in training units of the Regular Army. My hon. and gallant Friend is still at a comparatively early stage in his political career. He still blushes a little when he comes to writing that section of his election address headed "Facts about your candidate". so I shall not embarrass him further.
I trust that I have made the case for three Committee places to go to the Ulster Unionist party. I hope that I have made an equally convincing case for the approval and support of the amendments.
Before speaking briefly in support of the amendments standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his right hon. and hon. Friends, I should like to express my appreciation of the explanation given by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) of the complexities in which the House is involved. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley has given a very convincing reason why his hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) should serve on the Defence Committee.
In supporting the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, I mean nothing against the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). He is not present. I suppose that is because he is bashful and does not want to hear his case discussed. I am told that he is on a party delegation. I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has progressed from darkness to a sort of light in his political thinking. I pay tribute to him. I have nothing against him. However, for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, I think it would be better, not from a party point of view, but from the point of view of the House, that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone should sit on the Committee.
Such a Committee should not be overweighted with military gentlemen, but there is no danger of that: there are not so many hon. or right hon. Members with recent military experience. Northern Ireland is a Province where the armed forces of the Crown are engaged and endangered, and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, through his service in the Ulster Defence Regiment, his present position in the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and his close interest in defence matters, is an admirable Member to sit on the Committee. I hope that he will have the support of Conservative and Unionist Members on the Government Benches.
I believe that the House is faced with a choice that it should not be asked to make. The House is being asked to choose between two Members, both of whom have a legitimate right to be on the Defence Committee. Nothing I say, I hope, will be misconstrued in any way by the Ulster Unionists or, indeed, by anyone who comes from the Province having the perfectly understandable reason of wanting a representation on that Committee.
There is a much more important issue that the House has to discuss. The Leader of the House ought to have expanded the membership of the Defence Committee to make it possible for an Ulster Unionist and a Member of the Liberal or Social Democratic party to be on it. I strongly urge the House not to seek to delete my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) from the Select Committee but to seek to enjoin the Leader of the House to enlarge the Committee so that there be representation of the Ulster Unionists.
In making the case for my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, I should perhaps first explain why he is not here. First, I know that he would not have wanted to vote on an issue that affects him personally. Secondly, he is on a NATO delegation, where he is the joint rapporteur of a report on nuclar weapons; that meeting is taking place today and therfore he is not able to be here. He has been the representative from this House to NATO since 1976.
I do not need to demonstrate my hon. Friend's constituency interest on matters of the Army; Woolwich is, after all, the headquarters of the Royal Artillery and the home of the Woolwich arsenal, but everybody who knows my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich knows him to be a man of the utmost integrity and principle. Whatever one's view of party politics, one must agree that his victory in Woolwich was more than a testament just to my party; it was a great testament to his personal qualities. He is greatly respected. Indeed, for three years he served on the Select Committee on Defence, and the House should hesitate before his name, a name put forward by that Committee, is deleted so as to accommodate—perfectly reasonably and understandably — the feelings of hon. Members from Northern Ireland.
The Leader of the House decided, so as to increase representation, to increase the size of Committees. I am baffled—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer this debate—as to why he did not increase the size of the Select Committee on Defence, a Committee on which there are strong and legitimate interests.
To argue the political case for retaining my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, it is fundamentally important to the House to reflect in the Select Committee on Defence all the different viewpoints in the country on the issue of defence. Not to have any representation of Liberal or Social Democrats on the Committee would be to deprive nearly 8 million voters—[Interruption.] That is a fact, but it is also something much more important. The creation of the Social Democratic party owed a great deal to the fact that there were people who could no longer stomach the changes of policy. That viewpoint is now legitimately reflected in this House by the votes of millions of people, and it is reflected in the personality and integrity of an hon. Member who has the respect of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
It would be greatly misconstrued if the House were to vote to delete my hon. Friend's name. I understand that it would also be misconstrued if there were any expression of feeling that Northern Ireland should not be represented. It should be represented on the Select Committee on Defence, but the way to achieve that representation is not by deleting my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich. We should urge the Leader of the House—who, as I say, should answer this debate; he cannot escape responsibility for the fact that the size of the Select Committee is a matter for him, while its membership is a matter for the House—to accept that there is a strong wish that we ensure that on this most sensitive Committee of all, there is full representation of all the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly the necessity to represent the views of those who come from the Province, where, most people readily accept, there is especial concern about defence questions.
I urge the House not to seek the end which most of us seek by deleting the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich from the Select Committee. If that were to happen, not only would the committee be deprived of a valued member, but the representation of the political parties in the House would be wholly distorted on the issue of defence. We should be ignoring the views of 8 million voters in Britain and doing great damage to the integrity of and representation in the House. Therefore, I ask Conservative and Labour Members, whatever their views, to see this issue on its merits as a House of Commons issue and retain my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich on the Committee.
I do not want to make more than one point other than to agree with the speech made by the leader of the Social Democratic Party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). His aguments were both plausible and persuasive.
The House, while agreeing the membership of each Select Committee, is in some difficulty with regard to the chairmanship of each Committee. This is fully understood to be a matter for each Select Committee to dec ide for itself. That has worked well and fairly, and I make no complaint about it.
My reservation is that in its deliberations the Committee of Selection has suggested that there should be on one of these Committees one Member who, despite an extremely distinguished career, at one stage held the position of Chief Whip of one of the parties. Whichever party it was, the same point applies. The House has no control, once Select Committees have been approved, over who becomes Chairman or—and this is much more important—who becomes the Chairman of the Liaison Committee which makes many important decisions about the functioning of the Select Committees once they are in operation.
I urge hon. Members to consider for the future whether it is appropriate that we have no say, once the Select Committees have been set up, as to who will be Chairman of the Liaison Committee which guides the deliberations of the Select Committees
The hon. Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) was wrong to imply —he may not have intended to do so—that I had not co-operated closely with him over a long period on matters such as this.
Clearly the hon. Member misunderstood what I said. When I spoke of co-operation, I meant co-operation in terms of taking all vacancies on Select Committees or taking only some. It was to that that I was referring, not any personal co-operation between individuals
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go further and point out to him that not only have there been occasions when by agreement between Opposition parties places which might otherwise have gone to a minority party have gone to the Labour party, but also that on one occasion in the course of the affair we are describing—the filling of places on Select Committees—the hon. Gentleman came to me and pressed my party to take a place on a Committee for which there was not a nomination for another party. That is a point I would not have made in the debate had he not suggested that we were slow to make nominations—quite the contrary.
The fact that my party has six Select Committee nominations on the Order Paper is the direct result of my seeking to accommodate the request that he made personally to me. In any such matter I have sought always to co-operate with the Committee of Selection and with the representatives of other parties on that Committee.
Also, we have not pressed the claim for, nor have been accorded, the prospect of a chairmanship of any of the Select Committees, although the minority parties collectively could on any arithmetical test claim the right to one chairmanship out of the chairmen to be appointed. I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) that the House plays too small a part in the choice of Chairmen of Committees. The Committee of Selection does not play much part in it either. That is still very much a back stair Whips matter. The House should seek to play a larger part in the filling of these key posts.
Those who have argued for the appointment of Select Committees over the years have argued that the position of Chairman of a Select Committee should be a key Back-Bench post which is as important in the affairs of the House as the position of a Minister and as important for a Member to aim for. The House should take a closer interest in the appointment of Members to those positions.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was right to say that the Official Unionist party, in seeking to reach its appropriate number of places on Committees, is up against a difficulty in that many Select Committees do not, by the nature of the Departments they shadow, concern themselves sufficiently with the affairs of Northern Ireland. He has therefore been obliged to restrict his nominations. He has widened his net more recently, but there was a stage in the discussions when the Official Unionist party sought places only on the Select Committees on Defence and Foreign Affairs which are the most heavily subscribed of all. It was extremely difficult to meet either, let alone both, of those requests. I recognise his problem —it is similar to that of the Welsh nationalists which I have mentioned. Such parties have more interest in some Committees and less in others than parties which are based in different parts of the United Kingdom.
With regard to the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), it should be clearly drawn from what the hon. Member for Gedling said that, however much he says that he does not wish to take part in the decision on whether my hon. Friend should be appointed, the Committee of Selection took a decision that he should be appointed. The burden of what the hon. Member for Gedling said was that the Committee of Selection's decision should be supported by the House. The Committee examined the two nominations and, as the hon. Member for Gedling rightly pointed out, my hon. Friend was presented carefully and objectively—as is always the case — by agreement with the minority parties. There has been no complaint about the execution of that agreement. The Committee made its recommendation — it is the only recommendation of a Social Democratic Member for any Committee. If the House votes down the Committee's decision, it will deprive the SDP of any place on any Select Committee and thus deprive it of its reasonable entitlement, bearing in mind the SDP's numbers and the extraordinary support that it and the Liberals have in the country.
It was appalling that, in the first debate, the Leader of the House did not answer any of the questions which were raised about the enlargement of Committees. He had no answer. There is no logic in his decision to enlarge some Committees from nine to 11 members. He seemed to suggest that that was part of the general response to the interest in serving on the Committees. He knows that that is not so. Indeed, one of the Committees he chose to enlarge had incomplete nominations because, until today, the Labour party was unable to furnish a nomination for it. There is heavy interest in some of the Committees that he has enlarged and more limited interest in others. Why did he not pay some attention to the Committees on which many hon. Members wish to serve and on which it was more difficult to accommodate the wishes of the parties? He did so when the wishes he needed to accommodate were those of the Official Unionists, but he did not do so for hon. Members for all parties or, in the case of the Defence Select Committee, SDP Members.
It would have been far more reasonable if the Leader of the House had enlarged the Committees for the membership of which the pressure was greatest. As he has not done that, we are obliged to press an amendment which is designed to ensure that there is a Liberal Member on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. The only reasonable way to do that, as the Labour party is now reduced to quite small numbers in that Committee, is to ask the Government for one of their numerous places.
I do not think that the Government have found it easy to fill all of their places in that Committee. If the full story of how they have had to go about filling those places were told, it would make interesting subject matter for an article or perhaps even a novel. The Conservatives have many seats on that Committee on the basis not of its support in Wales but of its support throughout the United Kingdom. It would be a reasonable gesture for them to make one of those places available to the two minority parties that want a place. As they will not do that, I must press the amendment to replace a Conservative Member with my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) who is a long-serving and respected member of that Committee and speaks in it for nearly one quarter of the voters in Wales.
It is preposterous that one quarter of the voters in Wales should be denied representation on the one Committee which concerns itself with Welsh affairs. Such a proposition cannot be defended outside the House, no matter how many right hon. and hon. Members in it try to do so. I therefore ask for the support of fair-minded right hon. and hon. Members who have some recognition of their responsibilities to the country in pressing an amendment to secure that one quarter of the voters in Wales have a voice in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs.
As the hon. Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) said, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has already been appointed by the House, so is not subject to debate, but the hon. Gentleman made some general points about Select Committees to which hon. Members are entitled to refer.
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not like this way of doing things. He felt that the Committee of Selection should be given the power to select and should get on with it, and we should not even have the power to debate motions. I agree that this is the wrong method. First. it is wrong that at this time of night we should debate such an important subject
At this time of the morning, as my hon. Friend says.
I disagree with the Member for Gedling, who said that there should not be a debate. There should be a debate. The orders should be tabled as a debatable motion. They should be on the Order Paper and debated on a specific occasion. They should not be dragged on because of a protest, which happened this time. They should be tabled so that every hon. Member knows exactly when they are debated, so that if he wishes to make a point, he will make sure that he is present in the Chamber to do so. The motion should not be slipped through late on a Friday afternoon.
If the Committee of Selection decides the balance of the Committees, we should not debate the names. It is wrong for the House to indulge in talking about personalities, taking people off and putting them on Committees. The Committee of Selection should put down motions saying what the numbers for each party on each Committee should be. Those motions should be debatable and amendable. That would get away from the House indulging in talking about personalities, which is wrong.
I refer to the role of the Select Committees. The Committee of Selection decided that largely it would take the balance of the Committees on the same basis as Standing Committees. As the hon. Member for Gedling said, they have a wholly different role. I served on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Public Accounts Committee, neither of which is for debate tonight, but on both Committees the aim has always been to investigate genuinely what the Government are doing and not to indulge in party politics.
The Committees try to find genuine common ground for investigation, which they do on a non-party basis. However, to do that, members of the Committees must be prepared to do the work, whatever their party allegiance. On one of the Select Committees that is not so. I use the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs purely as an example, which may compare with a Select Committee that is to be debated. The Conservative party has 10 members from which it can select eight for the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Two of its members have been appointed to other Select Committees, so it is down to the bedrock of the membership. Members of the Committee have made it clear that they do not wish to serve on it and will not do the job of investigation. If that is to be a Committee of investigation, it should have a full membership of hon. Members who are prepared to do the investigation. It would be better if the party structure that the Committee of Selection uses was not used on that Committee and some others. If the Committee is to do the genuine job that it is required to do, all 13 members must work flat out to monitor the Scottish Office, which is an enormous brief, wider than the Welsh brief. The job cannot be done if the Committee is carrying passengers. —[Interruption.] Conservative Members may jeer, but all those who served on that Committee in the previous Parliament know perfectly well that there were two or three passengers
I shall not name them. Conservative Members know perfectly well who they are. They were passengers then, and they will be passengers in the present Parliament. The Committees need working members. It is time to change the rules for selecting members and for seeking the decision of the House.
When we look at today's date, and remember when this Parliament met for the first time, we realise that nearly a fifth of the life of the Parliament has been lost to the Select Committees because of the delay in appointing them. I do not wish to discuss the possible reasons for that. I appreciate that they are connected with politics and with appointments. However, such matters should not take precedence over the work of the House. I urge the Leader of the House to consider asking the Procedure Committee, at some time when it has been appointed, whether it should not consider the possibility of instructing the Committee of Selection that the Committees should be appointed within, say, eight weeks of the date on which the House reassembles.
It is normally suggested that the Committees could be appointed within four weeks. If that is the case, party considerations such as Front Bench and Committee appointments—whichever party is in power makes no difference — should not be permitted to delay the appointment of the Committees and prevent the House from seeing the results of their work. A Procedure Committee should consider how we could make the appointments to the Committees much more quickly, so that such a delay never occurs again.
I have a particular interest in the composition of the Select Committee on Defence, for which my name is before the House tonight. I have been a member of that Committee and of its predecessor, the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, ever since 1970, except for the time when I was the Minister. The Committee has worked well and harmoniously. I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that it should not be the function of the House to discuss the personalities of individual members. It must be extremely embarrassing for them to have their attributes discussed in the House, but that is the kernel of the present problem, leaving aside the more general questions that my hon. Friends have quite properly raised.
I totally support the view of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) that the Select Committees should be enlarged. In private discussions, I have urged the same thing. The Select Committee on Defence should have at least 12 members and perhaps 13. There is no reason why membership of Select Committees should be regarded as a privilege for the handful of hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be appointed.
I take a dispassionate view of the claims of the two hon. Members who are in contest for the seat on the Select Committee. I know nothing about the talents of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), and it follows that I have nothing against him. I have much sympathy with the case put forward by the leader of the Official Unionist party, claiming a seat on the Committee for a member of his party. However, the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) was an excellent and diligent member of the Select Committee on Defence in the previous Parliament. I found him an extremely able colleague, even though he is not a member of my party. I should regret it if the House were to vote against him tonight.
The Committee of Selection has a most disagreeable, difficult and unenviable job, and I should not want to serve on it. I congratulate the Committee on its work and I shall vote to support the selection that is has brought to the House in the discharge of its duties, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree. That signifies nothing against the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone whom I should welcome on the Committee if it could be enlarged, but it would be monstrous if the House were to vote against an established member of the Committee who has done excellent work.
I shall be brief because I sense that the House would like to reach a decision fairly soon. I agree with the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) that there is a certain distaste and embarassment in having to make a judgment about fellow Members whose personal qualities are much esteemed. I think it more appropriate, given my position, if I do not vote in the Divisions that will now take place.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked earlier when we discussed motion No. 3 on the occasion of our first debate why I had been hesitant about having a substantial enlargement of the membership of the Committees. I sought to make the point in my speech and perhaps he will allow me to read what I said into the record a second time:
I have been concerned to achieve the minimum feasible increase which is consistent with contributing helpfully to finding an agreed solution.
This may be an occasion where one discovers that one's optimism about being able to do anything helpful is misplaced. The Liaison Committee recommended that the size of the Committees should be reduced rather than expanded. I believe that the House would find itself in rather more difficulties if it expanded membership and it would find that it had done no more than open up an new series of difficulties rather than closing some matters of passing irritation.
Let us assume that there is a Select Committee which is of such overwhelming interest that the House feels it should have two minor party representatives, but let us suppose that the interest is not assuaged by that gesture and the parties say, "This is a matter of such concern that the Committee should fairly represent the composition of the House." We would then find that we had a membership which, theoretically, could be as high as 23. One can see the difficulties and arguments that would proceed from that. This is something to which the House can return. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has reminded us that that option is available. The question was raised in the context of the enlargement of the Select Committee on Defence. That option was available to its proponents but there is no motion on the Order Paper and the debate proceeded without that option having to be exercised. The more immediate task is to get the departmental Select Committees re-established and working. I hope that this evening will see that end secured.