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Orders of the Day — Select Committees (Membership)

– in the House of Commons at 10:14 pm on 18th March 1991.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East 10:14 pm, 18th March 1991

I have selected the amendments to motions Nos. 10, 12 and 15 for debate. I remind the House that this is a narrow debate and should be confined to whether hon. Members should be removed from Committees and replaced by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and, under motion No. 15, by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell).

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it is technically competent to invite the House to divide on each of the motions that you have selected?

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

It is certainly competent, but the hon. Gentleman knows why I have selected the amendments.

Photo of Mr Marcus Fox Mr Marcus Fox , Shipley 10:25 pm, 18th March 1991

I beg to move, That Mr. Gerald Bowden be discharged from the Education, Science and Arts Committee and Mr. Patrick Thompson be added to the Committee. I shall speak briefly to the motion and to the other motions which it may be convenient to discuss at the same time: That Mr. Malcolm Moss be discharged from the Energy Committee and Mr. Cecil Franks be added to the Committee.That Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. Keith Mans and Mr. Robin Squire be discharged from the Environment Committee and Mr. Ralph Howell, Mr. Anthony Steen and Mr. Hugo Summerson be added to the Committee.That Mr. Ivor Stanbrook be discharged from the Home Affairs Committee and Mr. David Sumberg be added to the Committee.That Mr. Charles Wardle be discharged from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee and Sir Richard Luce be added to the Committee.That Mr. Jonathan Sayeed be discharged from the Defence Committee and Mr. Michael Knowles be added to the Committee.That Mr. William Powell be discharged from the Foreign Affairs Committee and Mr. David Harris be added to the Committee. The motions affect seven Select Committees, and nine colleagues are prevented from carrying out work that is vital to Parliament, or so I am told.

I can add little to the speech that I made on 21 January. I understand that one or two colleagues thought that it was provocative, which I find unbelievable. Given the number of interventions in that debate, brevity could be the solution.

Having read the debate on 21 January, I can believe only that this is a re-run of that debate and the one before that. If hon. Members wish to place new facts before me, in my usual manner, I shall deal with them as expeditiously as possible. I therefore trust Opposition Members will be as brief as I have been.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire 10:26 pm, 18th March 1991

I shall not detain the House too long.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) mentioned new facts being put before him, but they should be put before the Leader of the House, in whose gift many of the changes lie. The right hon. Gentleman has yet to resolve the question of which the Chairman of the Committee of Selection is aware and which is the basis for tonight's debate.

I understand that the debate is narrow, but when such changes are proposed, it is worth questioning the reason for changing the membership of Select Committees. We should question the qualifications of the new members and what contributions they will make. It might be appropriate for the House to suggest subjects for consideration by Select Committees. It is possible to discuss such matters under the terms of the motions.

We must also consider the lack of departmental Committees for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. If nothing is being done to remedy that, it is right to cross-examine and question the Chairman of the Committee of Selection about those important points. The Select Committees on Education, Science and Arts, on Home Affairs and on the Environment have no Scottish Members. It is true, however, that the Select Committees on Energy and Defence each have two Scots Members—that is Scots representing Scottish constituencies—while one Scots Member is a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. These are important facts to bear in mind when we are considering appointing new Members to Select Committees. It is unfortunate that not one of the Members proposed represents a Scottish constituency.

Photo of Mr John Gorst Mr John Gorst , Hendon North

I have followed carefully the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he aware that geographical considerations, and even the consideration of party membership, do not reflect only complaints that can be addressed to the way in which Members are selected for membership of Select Committees? There is a paucity of representation of certain political strands of opinion, even within parties, in the selection of those who serve on Select Committees. That will never be admitted but it is a fact.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

These are extra complexities—they were never known to me—that will add to the difficulties of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. They constitute another reason why the Chairman should have a discussion with the Leader of the House. Surely the Committee of Selection should discuss some of the grievances that are held by Conservative Members in addition to some of those that I am suggesting that we should consider.

Surely we are entitled also to consider the relative merits of alternative nominees. I suggest humbly that I might be considered as a member of some of the Committees, but by no means all of them. I readily defer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who is a well-known defence expert. I say that as one who watches "Newsnight" each night. He has Leuchars air base in his constituency and he is a man who knows a tactical air-to-surface missile when he sees one. I defer with great ease and facility to the greater knowledge and experience of defence matters of my hon. and learned Friend.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Perhaps the Committee of Selection will take into account the lamentable representation of the minority parties on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. A member of a minority party has failed to attend that Committee for almost three years continuously. I have been engaged in correspondence with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) for at least two years, asking whether the minority parties will provide a representative for a Committee which everyone in the House agrees is an important scrutiny Committee to control Ministers.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I agree. Each place on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments is an important one. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is not responsible in any party-political sense for the hon. Member to whom the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) refers. He should take up the matter directly with those who are concerned. We are talking about the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes).

I was arguing my case to be considered for membership of six or seven Committees. As someone who was born and bred in Scotland, I have an admirable pair of qualifications, surely, for membership of six of the Committees in the context of the debate.

One of the principal reasons for debating the motions is that the Select Committee on the Environment is precluded from considering some of the important issues that obtain north of the border. The one that immediately comes to mind is the disposal of nuclear waste. Some of the proposals that are being brought forward are causing much controversy, heartache and soul-searching north of the border. As things stand, the Committee is constrained within the remit of the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for matters south of the border. I know, of course, that the Committee has been doing some excellent work in the preparation of reports, including that on Nirex, that are important north of the border. It is engaged in an inquiry on the landfill of waste and one on the pollution of beaches. It is also conducting an inquiry into eco-labelling. It has recently prepared an important report on the main estimates for the Property Services Agency. All those matters are important, but they relate exclusively to issues that are south of the border and they have no bearing on what is happening in Scotland.

It is important that in this debate we convince the Chairman of the Committee of Selection that if we cannot have departmental Select Committees to deal with issues affecting Northern Ireland and Scotland, he must take urgent steps to place hon. Members representing Scottish and Northern Ireland seats on the other Select Committees and he must also prevail on the Committee Chairmen to go north of the border, consider subjects that are important north of the border and report on those issues. In that way what is happening in Northern Ireland and Scotland can be considered.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring with such approval to some of the reports that my Committee, the Select Committee on the Environment, has published. However, he missed our report on Northern Ireland. We conducted an inquiry there which was well received in Northern Ireland. My Committee's remit is the remit of the Department of the Environment as constituted here. We could therefore go to Northern Ireland. However, even placing a Scots Member on my Committee would not enable it to carry out an inquiry in Scotland; that is another matter altogether. -I should like to have a Scots Member on my Committee and if one were to give his name to the Chairman of the Selection Committee, that would encourage me.

However, with regard to the minority parties, I had a Liberal Member on my Committee until 1986 when he became the Liberal party Chief Whip. We kept that place empty for the rest of that Parliament, but no one came forward to fill it. We were disappointed that the minority parties were not anxious to fill that place. Since then, the Committee has been composed entirely of Conservative and Labour Members, because we decided that it was impossible to ask anyone else to come forward.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I pay tribute to and acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's distinguished service as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. However, he does not understand the difficulties that we face. The hon. Member to whom he referred who relinquished his place on the Environment Committee was obliged to do that because we were offered, and then chose to take up, one of the number of places to which we are constrained on another Select Committee. He had to come off so that we could get someone else on to another Committee. We do not have the luxury of simply coming off a Committee. We have to deploy our resources as best we can and that applies to other minority parties.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said that he would dearly love to have a Scots Member on his Committee. Here I am. I humbly offer myself and my experience. I modestly offer to be a diligent attender. There may be a division on one, if not three, of the motions and I hope that the hon. Gentleman gets his way. He may even vote for me.

Photo of Mr Terence Higgins Mr Terence Higgins , Worthing

With respect to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and without impugning his versatility or modesty, if he wants to spread his resources among the Committees, why has an amendment been tabled to place him on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee which already has a Liberal Member?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Berwick-upon-Tweed used to be part of Scotland and we still have territorial ambitions in that direction. Perhaps the answer to the problem is that we should annex Berwick-upon-Tweed as that would give us a Scottish Member on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee. However, that is a slightly roundabout way of achieving our end. There are more direct ways of getting Scottish Members on to Select Committees.

Scottish Members on Select Committees is very much the second best. I am not arguing for additional Scottish Members so that a Scottish flavour and tone can be brought to the deliberations; I am putting forward these points because they are my only means of trying to force the Leader of the House to implement the Standing Orders. Technically, he is in breach of the Standing Orders as he has not put forward names for Select Committees to deal with Scottish affairs and with Northern Ireland affairs.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Gentleman says that he has no option. I thought that all was now sweetness and light between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories. In the past few days the leader of the Liberal Democrats has been saying that, as the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) is no longer the leader of the Conservatives, things between their two parties are different.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Let the hon. Gentleman come to our next conference.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that all that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said the other day does not mean anything? Is his party still falling out with the Tories? We want to know.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I am tempted to stray out of order. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to come to our next conference I shall pay for his day ticket. If he listens to what is actually said, he will not have to make it up on the hoof. Of course, he is merely trying to score points.

Photo of Mr John Gorst Mr John Gorst , Hendon North

How will the hon. Gentleman cope if the votes go in his favour and he is elected to all the Committees? I put the question not as a disaffected, non-selected Member, but out of interest.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I shall cross that bridge when I come to it. I am very willing to learn. I am young, fit and eager for experience. It will be time enough to start worrying when I am elected to all the Committees.

Scots Members have a record of assistance to Select Committees. Two of the most formative experiences of my life are relevant to this debate. I attended a comprehensive school—Cranhill senior secondary—in the east end of Glasgow. The hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), who was there at the same time, has just told me that the school is about to be closed. I could indeed bring some interesting educational experience to bear on the Education, Science and Arts Select Committee. Having graduated from Heriot-Watt university—I took a BSc in pharmacy—I became a Member of this House. A few weeks later the right hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)—now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but then a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Education and Science—announced that the school of pharmacy at Heriot-Watt was to be closed, on the ground that the quality of the graduates was not high enough. Thus, my combined school and university experience has certainly provided me with something to say in the Education, Science and Arts Select Committee. In addition, I have played in pop groups, so I could contribute to debates on the arts. We used to get 27s 6d for playing at scout hall gigs on Friday nights. A panoply of experience could be brought to the deliberations of these Committees, of which the Education, Science and Arts Committee is but one.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

The hon. Gentleman has insight and experience in a wide range of the subjects with which the Select Committees deal. Does he agree that, important as the work of these Committees is, the really important scrutiny must be done by a Scottish Select Committee and Northern Ireland Select Committee, as Scottish affairs and Northern Ireland affairs are two areas of government in respect of which this House is not scrutinising Government action properly?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

The hon. Gentleman states the case very succinctly.

I do not need to say very much more. I do not take any pleasure in saying to the Leader of the House—it is not meant as a warning—that the motions that are tabled every time the membership of a Select Committee changes will be used by us for the purpose of making the point that matters pertaining to education and science in Scotland and in Northern Ireland are not being considered as thoroughly as are such matters as they affect other parts of the United Kingdom.

In particular, the Energy Select Committee has direct relevance to what is going on in the North sea. The Environment Committee and the Home Department Committee examine matters south of the border. I refer also to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, the Defence Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which are crucial in respect of public policy. At the moment they have the luxury of scrutinising the work of Departments south of the border. That opportunity does not exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Every time the Government try to change the membership of Committees, the same device and procedure will be used so that hon. Members who seek to serve on Committees, let alone come off Committees, will have to sit and listen to half an hour or longer of debate. Perhaps Divisions will take the odd 15 minutes here or there. That will happen time after time until the Government get it into their heads that the situation will not change to any great degree after the next general election. The Government of the day, of whichever party, will have to face the difficulty in future.

There are alternatives. The Joint Select Committees are looking for English hon. Members who are Scots born and have bona fide interests in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. The Government are not examining those matters properly and urgently, and the House of Commons will have to consider changes time after time until they do so.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) had to say, but never once did he indicate to me or for the purposes of the Official Report that he was moving an amendment, and I cannot propose the amendment until he moves it. Will he now do so?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out `Mr. Patrick Thompson' and insert `Mr. Archy Kirkwood'.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale 10:46 pm, 18th March 1991

My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) was so overcome with modesty that he omitted one important point, which is that the Select Committee on Procedure considered this matter in October last year. In its report, it made it quite clear that the initiative for putting the matter right lay with the Leader of the House. I understand that there is a convention that the Government should respond to Select Committee reports within three months. The Leader of the House and the Government have not responded to that Select Committee report. The right hon. Gentleman is doubly in dereliction of his duty and should tell us what he will do in response to that Select Committee report on this important matter.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that he was formally moving the amendment to motion No. 12, which Mr. Speaker selected for debate. You read out, Madam Deputy Speaker

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) cannot do that until later. He moved the amendment to motion No. 10 on education, science and arts. I have that very clear.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 10:47 pm, 18th March 1991

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that he was concerned about hon. Members from Scotland being on Committees. Of course, several hon. Members from Scotland represent the Labour party on Committees. Truth to tell, if we examine the amendments, we shall find that they represent not so much Scotland as the Liberal party. Although I can understand the desire of the minority parties to have representation on Select Committees, as I said earlier, with the Joint Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which I chair, representation by minority parties has not been too successful. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) disclaimed any responsibility for the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), from a minority party, who has not attended the Committee for several years. When that hon. Member's name was put forward, it was at the request of the minority parties that an hon. Member should be placed on the Joint Select Committee of Statutory Instruments. Naturally, the Committee that I chair turned to the minority parties and the Whip of the largest minority party to ask for a replacement so that the membership of the Committee should not be burdened by an absentee.

It is true that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments is not a glamorous part of parliamentary work. It does not have television coverage. That is not because of any lack of desire for it on the part of the Committee members; it is simply that no televison channel wants to go to the Committee to record its proceedings. Therefore, it remains a relatively obscure and hidden part of the work of Parliament.

I should have thought that, under the terms of the Standing Order that established the Joint Select Committee and the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, the description entirely accorded with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire—it is an absolutely crucial sector of public policy. The Joint Select Committee was created in order to scrutinise Ministers who had been granted powers under primary legislation to ensure that they do not abuse their powers, the huge volume of delegated legislation—more than 2,000 statutory instruments and regulations every year—are intra vires, within the Minister's power, their drafting is clear, they do not contain ambiguities, make unusual use of powers or contain any retrospective provison when the primary legislation does not do so. All of those issues are important to Parliament and provide some safeguard and scrutiny for the people of our country. Ministerial powers should be curtailed where there is any possibility of abuse.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, unglamorous and obscure though it is, was established because, in the past, Ministers have exceeded and abused their powers. I can well recall that the Joint Committee made a report about the powers of officers to collect information for the Scottish poll tax that clearly exceeded the powers of the primary legislation and was the subject of a heated debate in the Chamber, when the Opposition spokesmen made a powerful case to show that the Government were riding roughshod over citizens' rights and exceeding the powers of primary legislation.

It seems curious that the Liberal Whip should repudiate someone who was put on a Committee with the Liberals' agreement, when they were friends and waved to each other, albeit from separate buses. Now, they have stopped waving to each other and go, not just in separate buses, but on separate trains and keep well away from each other except to exchange an occasional scowl. It seems that the Liberal Whip cannot evade responsibility for that original action. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland knows, I have made several approaches to him, the latest of which was that if any of the minority parties cannot provide a Member for the Select Committee, the Labour party would be pleased to do so because it is keen to exercise scrutiny on behalf of the citizens of this country.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The Chairman of the Committee of Selection is present and I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong. The Joint Select Committee on Statutory Instruments is set up not by the Selection Committee, but by the House, and has been doing a good job without the help of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes). Does the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) have been nominated to all the Committees, not so that an additional minority party is represented, but because we needed the consent of the Members involved to table the motions? Nothing would have pleased me more than to submit the name of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I was unable to do so. The point we are trying to make is that the absence of Scots Tories holds up the Scottish Select Committee—we are using this device to raise that issue.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

It is a particularly poor device in view of the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman's party has created for one Select Committee—[Interruption.] As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be prepared to acknowledge, if I may continue without the continuous heckling that is going on behind me—something that is entirely within the traditions of the House—the Chamber establishes all Select Committees, including the Committee of Selection, and all Select Committees are responsible to the Chamber. The parallel that I draw tonight is absolutely apt and accurate. In the midst of some vicious heckling from the Liberal Democrats—their smooth face has fallen tonight so that we can see the viciousness and the political chicanery that go on beneath that facade—I want to make the point that if the Liberal Democrats wish to make a case for an extension to Select Committees, they should have a good record themselves. That is palpably not the case. It is fair for the House to take such a record into account.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill 10:54 pm, 18th March 1991

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) did not realise that he was unwittingly ambushing a united attempt by Scottish Members to get something done about the lack of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. That was the whole purpose of tabling the amendments. Scottish Labour Members support that attempt.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

It would have helped if the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) had made some reference to that point in his speech.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) did so, as Hansard will show. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South was getting some heckling from behind, he should have been puzzled by the satisfied smiles of Conservative Members. He has given them some arguments to bolster their own case, although not successfully. The reason why we are taking up the time of the House is to highlight the enormous injustice to Scotland of not having a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, although other Committees cover all the other Departments and work of the House—except Northern Ireland and Scotland.

There is a perfect attendance tonight by all the women Scottish Members. There is nothing unusual about that, yet only one woman, the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), is a member of a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) talked about the criteria for selection for Committees. He mentioned geography, party composition and the possibility of someone standing within the parties. He did not mention whether any effort was made to provide a fair balance of women Members. That is another issue which I am willing to take up, for its own sake and as another means of drawing the House's attention to the lack of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I hope that there will be a fair balance of women Members on such a Committee when we manage to achieve it.

Photo of Mr John Gorst Mr John Gorst , Hendon North

The hon. Lady has slightly misunderstood my intervention. I tried to get across the point that the Liberal Democrats addressed themselves to the criteria that the hon. Lady has enumerated, but that one heard little about liberalism, non-conformity and an approach to the facts rather than party-political criteria. Those are often lacking in the approach of the Committee of Selection—or at least some members of it. That is my complaint. I should have been more inclined to support the Liberal Democrats if they had made it their complaint.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when the Government concede this matter of justice and finally let us have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, if my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and his colleagues have anything to do with it, the Committee will be full of reason, justice, truth and light, and will have every possible quality that one could imagine. [HON. MEMBERS: "And women."] Yes, it has a fair proportion of women and that will help to ensure that it has all those qualities.

Until the Government provide a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind the hon. Lady and other hon. Members that we are not discussing the non-existence of a Select Committee. We are discussing the motion and the amendment. I am sure that the hon. Lady will oblige me, keep within the procedures of the House and discuss what is on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I believe that this is relevant to the motion—[Laughter.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I should like to hear the hon. Lady, not the laughter of hon. Members below the Gangway.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In conclusion, I thought that my remarks were entirely relevant to the issue because the amendments would not have been tabled without that concern, on which Scottish Members are united. These matters will continue to be pressed until we succeed.

11 pm

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I start with a rather obvious point that I would not normally make, although it is often factually correct. I refer to the total absence from this debate of any hon. Member from the Scottish Conservative party.

There is no doubt that one of the underlying causes of the motion is the refusal of hon. Members who represent Scottish seats in the Tory interest to serve on a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Their absence is a mark of considerable disrespect, because although I know that some of them were in the House this evening, none has come into the Chamber now either to listen to the debate or to put a point of view. It is also disappointing that no representative from the Scottish Office is on the Front Bench[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) wishes to make a point, she may do so by intervening.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Since Scotland is not mentioned on the Order Paper, I can see nothing odd about that.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

If the hon. Lady will listen to the argument being unfolded—

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I am delighted to hear that—[Interruption.] I am delighted—

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Scotland is not mentioned on the Order Paper.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I have not, Madam Deputy Speaker, felt so affrighted since I was in primary school.

Serious matters are at stake. This debate is part of a continuing argument of real significance to those involved in the Select Committee system and to the Committee of Selection. The absences that I have referred to are unfortunate. I am also disappointed because I understand that the Leader of the House does not intend to enter the debate. Although there is a constitutional theory that the Leader of the House has nothing to do with these matters, none of us is naive enough to believe that or so to undervalue the right hon. Gentleman's activities among his colleagues.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

The hon. Gentleman is understating his case. It is not a question of a constitutional convention. I repeat that the Select Committee on Procedure has particularly charged that the Leader of the House must try to resolve this matter, but he has not.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

It is extremely uncharacteristic of me to understate my case. I am astonished at my own modesty, and am delighted to be corrected. It is a fair point. As I remember, there was some trenchant criticism from the Select Committee on Procedure about the failure to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It is remarkable that we are only now beginning to tempt—as I see from the body language opposite me—the Leader of the House to break his Trappist vows. I gladly give way to him.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House Lords (Privy Council Office), Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I do not—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hurray."] I must advise the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that I do not remember any Trappist vows. The reason for my not seeking to speak in the debate is simple. I am obeying your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker, because some of the points that have been raised are entirely irrelevant to the debate and to my position. It is a matter for my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox). At the appropriate time I shall, of course, respond to the Select Committee on Procedure, but that is not an issue this evening.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

Well, perhaps I shall be able to persuade the right hon. Gentleman that that is a mistaken impression.

I must welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) who, in a cloud of dust and good intention, has arrived on the Treasury Bench. I doubt whether his presence will do us any good, but I am glad to see him there.

I make it clear that, among Labour Members at least, there is no animus towards the hon. Members whose progress out of and into Select Committees we are attempting to block tonight. No one is throwing aspersions on their character or competence. I hope that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will not misunderstand if I also stress that we do not necessarily imply that he has superior or particularly valuable qualifications for the work of the Environment or any other Select Committee, but he has one qualification which seems extremely relevant: he represents a Scottish constituency. It is perhaps an accident of geography or a peculiarity of the Scottish system that he has been elected in Roxburgh and Berwickshire, but he has been elected.

The point of the motion is that there are real reasons why we should artificially reinforce the Scottish membership of the Select Committees. That is not an argument that I would normally sustain. In a way it is an odd argument. I understand entirely why the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who has risen on several occasions, is antipathetic to that argument, but it is an important argument and it is justified by the strange fact, in the Select Committee system, that the Scottish Affairs Select Committee has not made its appearance, for reasons that we understand.

It would not be possible to move the motion, in defiance of the advice of the Committee of Selection, if the Scottish Affairs Select Committee had not failed to appear and if it was scrutinising the work of the Scottish Office. That is the kernel of the case for removing the hon. Members who have been proposed by the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) and his colleagues and substituting that ever willing workhorse, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire.

There is a certain air of good nature about these proceedings, but no one should underestimate the strength of feeling on the issue, the sense of grievance about the parliamentary machinery and the lack of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee and the remarkable gap that exists. I recognise that there is a tendency among Conservative Members to shrug off the absence of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee and, therefore, to devalue the positive case for the substitution that we seek to make, but that is a mistake.

I would be open to the argument that we should not press the motion if I were convinced that there were ways in which we could set up a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which would remove the need for the artificial reinforcement represented by the motion. I do not wish to labour the point, but I am satisfied that for many years we have done everything that we can within the rules of the House to persuade the Government, the Committee of Selection and Conservative Members to moderate their view and set up the Select Committee. It is because we have failed to make progress that there is a strong case for the substitution that we seek to make.

We have offered to reduce the number of members of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which was originally the largest Select Committee.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is discussing a Select Committee which does not exist, a matter to which I have already drawn attention. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would direct his comments to the amendment and the main motion.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I do not intend to deal with the Select Committe on Statutory Instruments, &c., for example, or any of the other Committees that I could discuss, which are not mentioned in the motion. I am entirely in your hands, Madam Deputy Speaker[Interruption.]—or arms, if Madam Deputy Speaker wants, but there would be no case for the motion if there were a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. There would be no strong case for the motion if there was a genuine opportunity to establish such a Committee or to persuade the powers that be that there should be a Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

I merely wish to explain—it might be a matter of contention—why I at least am satisfied that there is no way to proceed other than by the tactics represented by the amendment. I was simply making the point—I shall not dwell on it, Madam Deputy Speaker—that we have made every concession that we reasonably can on the numbers on the Committee, and by accepting representatives from non-Scottish seats and one-off ad hoc Committees to consider a specific and important matter of interest in Scotland. We have in vain made several such concessions.

I wish to clear up a slight dispute to which reference was made in recent weeks. I am aware of only one occasion when the Labour party baulked at a suggestion which, it was said, might clear the way for a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. The authorities suggested to me that if I were prepared to waive the Standing Order that demanded that there should be 16 Scots on Scottish Standing Committees considering Scottish Bills, thus relieving the burden on Conservative Back Benchers, something might be possible. That was interesting, because it implied that, if the right bribe were taken, it would be possible to form a Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

I did not believe that it was right to go down that road. Short of that, we have offered every conceivable concession that we could responsibly offer. We have got nowhere. That is why we are considering motion No. 12 and why Labour Members believe that that approach should be pursued tonight and in future when the opportunity arises.

There is another reason why the motion has considerable substance. I pray in aid not only the present Leader of the House but his predecessor, now Secretary of State for Energy. We have been told more than once that we do not need to worry too much or to mourn the absence of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee because Scottish Members serve on other Select Committees which can do valuable and useful work considering Scottish issues.

The implication is that we should use other Select Committees to form a surrogate scrutiny machine and ensure that there is Scottish representation on them. Taking the advice of the Leader of the House, it is not unreasonable, therefore, to believe that what perhaps in normal circumstances would be seen as a preponderance of Scottish Members on other Select Committees is justified in these special circumstances. That is the purpose of the motions.

The Leader of the House mentioned the Public Accounts Committee. I heard tonight from one or two of its members that the Committee was thinking of considering a particular Scottish subject. Of course I welcome that, but it is a limited approach. The Chairman of the Environment Select Committee—the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi)—said that there are often difficulties in defining the remit. That makes Scottish subjects difficult or even impossible to tackle.

As I am sure that you are aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, within the past day or two, we have had a Department of Trade and Industry report dealing with the Scottish steel industry, particularly the vexed issue of Ravenscraig. Strangely, we proposed that specific, one-off subject for a special Scottish Affairs Select Committee, but it was turned down by the Government authorities. The report was useful. It established beyond peradventure that, according to the evidence, the Department of Trade and Industry had been totally inactive in promoting the cause of the Scottish steel industry. We were given extremely interesting information about the way in which the Scottish Office laid down—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member is straying far from what I see on my copy of the Order Paper.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I am certainly prepared to heed your words, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

With great respect, I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the report. Its recommendations are very different from what he says.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are not concerned with that report. I have just made that point.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I apologise if I have entered a note of controversy into the proceedings, for that was not my intention. The last thing that I want is to quarrel with the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, who produced an excellent and extremely helpful report—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not eulogise about a Select Committee report to which the Order Paper makes no reference.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I thought that there was always room. in the House for the occasional gracious pleasantry, but I see no percentage in flattering the hon. Gentleman. I leave that matter because I am confident that there will be a debate soon in Government time on the Floor of the House, as the Committee recommends. I know that the Chairman of the Select Committee and I will make common cause on at least that point.

Perhaps I was misled, Madam Deputy Speaker, because although there have been one or two useful Scottish reports from other Select Committees, they cannot play the role of a surrogate Scottish Committee that examines the Scottish Office as required. If there is to be any hope of getting useful service out of those Committees, it is not unreasonable to seek proper representation of Scottish Members on them. I refer to representation not only of the Liberal Democrats—as I am sure they would be the first to agree—but of all the other parties as well.

I therefore take the view that we should support the general drive, thrust and intention of the motion. Perhaps I should leave it there—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I recognise that there is a certain restlessness on the Conservative Benches as such arguments are deployed. I stress that that is so of the Conservative Benches, because I know that there is no restlessness elsewhere.

I hope that this will not be taken as a threat, but late night sittings such as this are likely to become a feature of the remainder of this parliamentary Session. There exists a good deal of justified anger, and in those circumstances it is unreasonable for the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) to expect such measures to pass through the House without scrutiny or challenge. Although he made a charmingly brief speech, the hon. Gentleman was a little flippant, and I hope that he will think again.

The Leader of the House made it clear that he does not believe that he can shift, but I hope that he will indicate whether—to follow the logic of his own argument about the role of other Select Committees in the absence of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—he has some sympathy with the arguments advanced by hon. Members on this side of the House.

Selection is always a difficult business. I was interested to hear interventions about the dangers of making selections on a geographical or party basis. That is a naive objection. At one point, we suggested that we could easily establish a Select Committee on the basis that it has no Conservative majority. The Conservatives seemed to think the matters in question were very important—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is again going wide of the motion on the Order Paper.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

There have been enough asides tonight. I shall be grateful if the hon. Member will refer to the motion before the House.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I was just finishing, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try hard not to get my second wind on the basis of interventions or advice.

I accept the difficulties, but there is a genuine point of geographical substance that is not pork barrelling or a narrow point of the kind that the hon. Member for Shipley fears. We are making a genuine attempt to build into the system a safeguard and a scrutiny mechanism for Scotland—of which it has been deprived through a series of shabby and unfortunate circumstances. On that basis, I hope that the House will view with sympathy the suggested changes that the motion incorporates.

Amendment negatived,

Main Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,That Mr. Gerald Bowden be discharged from the Education, Science and Arts Committee and Mr. Patrick Thompson be added to the Committee.—[Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]