Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 11:09 pm on 28th October 2008.

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Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader 11:09 pm, 28th October 2008

I am delighted to follow the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who made a very convincing case about the impact of amendment (a), which would reduce the size of this important Committee from 14 to 11. I am pleased that it is unlikely to be pressed to a vote, but for the record it would be helpful to make a number of points that have not been made so far.

At the outset, I have to say that I have no doubt that in tabling their amendments the hon. Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) did not intend to exclude parties from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but, as I will outline, that would be the direct consequence of automatically reducing the number from 14 to 11, and I shall explain why in a moment.

The Deputy Leader of the House was right to remind us all of the "integral and vital part"—to use his words—that these Committees play. They oversee expenditure, the work of Departments and, in the case of energy and climate change, matters of supreme importance. The leader of the SDLP raised the point for the first time in this debate that many of the matters considered are devolved. There is shared sovereignty between Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and the Ministers who hold portfolio responsibilities for this issue are not from UK-wide parties. In the case of the Welsh Assembly Government, colleagues from Plaid Cymru have responsibility for it; in the Scottish Government, colleagues from the SNP have that responsibility; and in Northern Ireland, a number of colleagues have it, not least Sammy Wilson who has the environmental responsibility in the Northern Ireland Assembly Government. If a Committee is going to look regularly at areas of policy where there is shared sovereignty, would it not make sense to ensure that there was permanent representation on the Committee that could feed that experience into the deliberations?

I turn now to the issue of guaranteed places. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire rightly praised the contribution of my hon. Friend Mr. Weir to the Committee on which he sits, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that that place is not guaranteed. The minority parties do not have guaranteed places on departmental Select Committees because they have a membership of 11; the formula that is used sometimes may—just may—afford minority party Members or independents a place on those Committees. It is worth reminding the House that there is not a single Member of parties from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland on the Committees for Children, Schools and Families, Communities and Local Government, Defence, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, International Development, Justice, Treasury or Work and Pensions. I wish to see that changed, but that is not a matter for discussion this evening.

We have a proposal before us, which I hope will not be pressed and which I hope the Government will not accept, that the Committee should have only 11 members. The result would then be down to the good will of the usual channels. No doubt colleagues who are part of the usual channels would work hard to include the views of Members of all parties, but I am sure that they would concede in private, if not in public, that as the arrangements currently stand, there is no guarantee of minority party representation on Committees with a membership of 11. For that reason, I am pleased that we have colleagues from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in high attendance, because we wish colleagues from the UK-wide parties to be aware how strongly we feel about the matter. The House authorities will not find it difficult to find volunteers from our parties to serve on the Committee. Hopefully, the UK-wide parties can do likewise when it sits as a Committee of 14, should the Government's sensible proposal proceed.