|SCHEDULE (A)—AMENDMENTS TO STANDING ORDERS|
|5||Standing Order No. 57, line 8, leave out "shall be fifteen" and insert "of forty-five or more members shall be fifteen and of a standing committee of less than forty-five members shall be twelve".|
|Standing Order No. 57, line 36, leave out "twenty" and insert "the number prescribed by paragraph (1) of this order as the quorum".|
|10||Standing Order No. 59, line 5, after "committee", insert—|
|(2) For the consideration of|
|(a) bills referred to them for consideration in relation to their principle under paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 60 (Public bills relating exclusively to Scotland);|
|15||(b) Scottish Estimates referred to them under Standing Order No. 61 (Special procedure for Scottish Estimates); and|
|(c) specified matters referred to them under Standing Order No. 61a (Matters relating exclusively to Scotland)|
|the Scottish Standing Committee shall be known as the Scottish Grand Committee|
|20||Standing Order No. 59, line 16, at end add—|
|25||(3) For the consideration of bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a standing committee or bills committed to the Scottish Standing Committee, the Committee shall consist of thirty members representing Scottish constituencies, who shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection in respect of each such bill and to whom the Committee of Selection shall have power to add not more than twenty members. In nominating members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to their qualifications and the composition of the House.|
|Standing Order No. 60, line 11, leave out "Standing" and insert "Grand".|
|30||Standing Order No. 60, line 16, leave out "Standing" and insert "Grand".|
|Standing Order No. 61, line 9, leave out "Standing" and insert "Grand".|
|Standing Order No. 61, line 12, leave out "Standing" and insert "Grand".|
|SCHEDULE (B)—NEW STANDING ORDER|
|MATTERS RELATING EXCLUSIVELY TO SCOTLAND|
|35||61A.—(1) A motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of Public Business, to be decided without amendment or debate, to the effect that a specified matter or matters relating exclusively to Scotland be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for their consideration, and if, on the question thereupon being put, not less than ten Members rise in their places and signify their objection thereto, Mr. Speaker shall declare that the noes have it.|
|(2) If such a motion be agreed to, the Scottish Grand Committee shall consider the matter or matters to them referred on not more than two days in a Session, and shall report only that they have considered the said matter or matters.|
§ We had a useful debate on this subject, and I said that we should listen to the views expressed in the debate and then put down the necessary amendments to Standing Orders. They are these.
§ I take first the Schedule (A) Amendments to Standing Orders. I can describe them quite shortly. The first two Amendments to Schedule (A) are to implement the Select Committee's recommendation on the number required for the Quorum and the Closure in Standing Committee, The House will recall that it is desired 514 for both purposes that the number should be 15 for a Committee of 45 or more and 12 for Committees of fewer than 45. I think that that corresponds with what I said in my speech in the debate and I hope that it will be agreeable to the House.
§ I turn next to Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to any points which may be raised on this matter. Schedule (B) creates a new Standing Order. It follows the Select Committee's recommendation 515 and provides that the Scottish Commit- tee should on no more than two days each Session be able to consider specified matters relating exclusively to Scotland. I need only remind the House of the points which we discussed before. These two days will be in addition to the six days each Session on which the Committee already considers Estimates. As suggested by the Select Committee, the procedure will be along the lines of the procedure under Standing Order No. 60 by which Bills are referred to the Committee on Second Reading. So much for the proposal for the two extra days, which I think found general favour in the House. I think it will work to the satisfaction of Scottish Members and will give more opportunity for ventilating Scottish ideas.
§ I come back to the third Amendment in Schedule (A), which provides that when the Scottish Committee is considering the principle of Bills on Second Reading, when it is considering Estimates, and when, on the two new days, it is considering matters referred to it, it should be known as the Scottish Grand Committee. For this purpose the Committee remains at its present strength. That, again, corresponds with the speech which I made and which indicated that we pro- pose to preserve the Scottish Grand Committee for the major purposes for which I believe it was originally intended. At any rate, we propose to retain it.
§ This very descriptive and time- honoured title of the Scottish Grand Committee reflects appropriately the dignity and distinguished purposes of the Committee. The Amendment adds, provides or furnishes an extra seal, an official seal, henceforward enshrined in Standing Orders. The dignity and patriotism of the Scots will, therefore, I think, be enhanced by the singularly statesmanlike attitude of the Government in proposing this Amendment.
§ The fourth Amendment in Schedule (A) provides that when the Committee is considering Bills at Committee stage the Committee shall consist of 30 Members representing Scottish constituencies, with not more than 20 other Members. That, too, is what I indicated in my speech, and it was commented on by hon. Members in the course of the debate. This does not exactly follow the Report of the Select Committee, but I think that in the 516 total number of 50 it keeps near the original conception of 45 plus five. I understand that 45 plus five makes 50.
§ The Committee of Selection will, of course, select the Members to serve, and we must not try in the House to take away the job of the Committee of Selection because this is a matter for its discretion. Among the additional Members—that is, the 20—it may, if it thinks fit, include Members for non-Scottish seats, although it is one of the advantages of this reform that it will far less often be necessary for non-Scottish Members to serve unless they wish to do so. The rather disagreeable prize to be awarded on the arrival of a new Member that he has to do conscription for the Scottish Committee will not be necessary on the other side of the House, and I hope that henceforward it will be discontinued. The door is left open for Members for non-Scottish seats who may have some special knowledge or some special qualification which they can bring to the Committee. In particular, Scotsmen sitting for non-Scottish seats will be able on occasions to join this Committee for the common advantage. The object of that is to carry out, if not the letter, at any rate the spirit of the Select Committee's recommendation.
§ The remaining Amendments are all consequential on these changes. I believe that the alterations to be put into effect by these Amendments and additions to Standing Orders will improve the efficiency and smooth running of the Standing Committee system. I am quite certain that they will be for the convenience of hon. Members, particularly Scottish Members, and I believe that they are in the spirit of the recommendations of the Select Committee. I followed the debate of a fortnight ago, and I think these changes are generally acceptable to most hon. Members, and in this spirit I commend them to the House.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The changes proposed for the membership of a Committee and for the Quorum follow the lines of the Select Committee's recommendations, and we welcome the fact that the Government have agreed to them, We also welcome the Amendment to Standing Order No. 59, relating to matters at present referred to the Scottish Committee. It does not 517 go as far as was suggested by the evidence that was given us, but I think it follows the decision of the Select Committee, which considered this matter very carefully and made the recommendations that came before us al, a previous sitting.
As to the composition of the Standing Committee for the consideration of Bills, a good many of my hon. Friends have a sense of disappointment that the Government have not carried out fully the recommendation of the Select Committee. The Select Committee heard no evidence which was contrary to its recommendation, and it is rather puzzling to know whence the Government drew their inspiration to depart from the Select Committee's recommendation. The Select Committee recommended approximately what the Government have now suggested, but the Committee also recommended that the Committee of Selection should be left a considerable amount of discretion in order that Bills which seemed to be of great importance might be considered by a larger Committee than the normal one which deals with the Committee stage of Bills.
There were two reasons for this. The first was that very important Bills relating to south of the Border are taken on the Floor of the House, and the second was that the more discussion there is during Committee stage and the greater the number of Members who may take part in Committee on a Bill, the less work will remain to be done on Report. The Select Committee took the view that it was more and more necessary to devolve work from the Floor of the House to Committees, and it was thought that the Scottish Committee was providing a good example in relieving the House of the debates which must take place in the House when all the Members interested are not members of the Committee on the Bill. If the Government's proposals are accepted, there may still be some Bills to be taken on the Floor of the Chamber and there may be on Report of Bills more Amendments coming from those Members who were not able to attend the Scottish Committee on questions of great public importance.
Therefore, for the sake of the efficient running of the House, I think it would be the Select Committee's view that perhaps it would be a disadvantage to restrict the number of Members on every occasion. 518 I am fully aware of the fact that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection in the discussion the other day begged the House not to leave the Committee this discretion, as it would be embarrassing. There seemed to be the idea that if this discretion were left, every hon. Member who wanted to be on a Committee would be entitled to go on the Committee, and that suggestion was certainly not made by the Select Committee. The Select Committee meant to leave it to the Committee of Selection, and thought that that Committee would have sufficient sense to judge whether a Bill would require more or fewer Members.
On the other hand, the full Scottish Committee as at present constituted does involve penalising Members from south of the Border, and whatever Members may think about the question of numbers, I think I can say that it is the almost unanimous view of Scottish Members that it is very unfair that these Members should have to attend the Scottish Committee. While they appreciate their service to the House, Scottish hon. Members will welcome their absence with just as much enthusiasm for what are, for them, these penalising sittings which take place upstairs. Even Members who disagree with the reduction of the numbers on the Committee agree that it is desirable not to have English Members sitting on that Committee. That is a dilemma which I am afraid can be solved only by having some such change as the Select Committee recommended.
I agree that, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, this Committee normally will not require to commandeer the services of Members from outside Scotland. The Select Committee certainly thought that it was right to make allowances for times when it is desirable that what we may call United Kingdom Members should have the opportunity of serving. There have been occasions on which Members with very special qualifications and interests have performed good service on our Committee, and then they have been welcome there, wherever they may have come from.
We also welcome the distinctive change in the names of the two Committees, and in this case the Government carried out the recommendation of the Select Committee. The Grand Committee, as it has been colloquially called, is now to be 519 given that name by right. Since 1948 there has been a great deal of devolution of certain activities, which normally would be taken in the House, to the Scottish Grand Committee, and that has been accepted in Scotland, and was commented upon by the Royal Commission as being a stage towards devolution without disturbing the Union, the relationships of the two countries, or the normal rights of Scottish Members in the House.
We therefore welcome this step of consolidation by making a distinction between the Committees which deal with Bills at Committee stage and the Grand Committee which deals, as it were, with other matters as a deputy for the House. As I said in a previous debate, the Select Committee was also impressed from time to time by the problems which came before it, which seemed to indicate that sooner or later the House would have to have a complete investigation into its own timetable, to see whether the experiment which has been carried out in the Scottish Grand Committee can be applied to matters relating to other parts of the United Kingdom. We see no reason at all why, when this House is becoming more and more involved in such matters as N.A.T.O., indeed, in world affairs, and when it is spending more and more time on matters of great Imperial interest, there should not be some devolution of domestic affairs to English and Welsh Members, as well as to Scottish Members.
Therefore, it is not in any selfish way only that we welcome these changes. We welcome them as perhaps providing a beacon light for future Select Committees of the House of Commons which our Select Committee felt was bound to come, if this House is to utilise its time to the best advantage, and so leave more time for dealing on the Floor of the House with these great and important matters of world importance, and certainly matters affecting the peace and future of the country.
As will be seen from the Amendments, the welcome to the Government's proposals has not been unanimous. Indeed, it was impossible to obtain agreement amongst the Scottish Members to this change being made. That was the reason for the appointment of the Select Committee. It has proved impossible to obtain complete agreement even now, but the majority—
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
My right hon. Friend said that it was impossible to get agreement among Scottish Members, and that that was why the Select Committee was set up. I do not think that he is right about that. I do not remember Scottish Members ever being consulted before the Committee was set up.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Yes. The right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) asked me whether we might have consultations through the unusual channels—as they were at that time. These conversations took place, the matter was discussed, and I had to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I had sufficient evidence to show that it was not going to be possible to obtain unanimity—as I think will be proved when I sit down. The fact is that unanimity does not exist.
Nevertheless, the majority of my colleagues feel that an alteration should be accepted. We should have liked to have seen the Select Committee's recommendations adopted, because they provided flexibility. It is with regret that I have to say that we cannot carry forward into tonight's discussion the unanimity which existed in the Select Committee. What has been proposed is a step forward, however, and we know that proceedings in this House never give Members all that they want. For that reason we certainly shall not refuse what has been granted.
In recent years Scotland has been gaining increasing control over its own affairs. The Royal Commission did not think that that process could go very much further without disturbing the relationship between the two countries, but the evidence obtained by the Select Committee has resulted in further progress being made, and to that extent we welcome the proposals and will certainly support them. Nevertheless, we think that it would be an advantage to reconsider the matter and extend the flexibility of the Committee on occasion, so as to include more Members, if it is at all possible.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The Home Secretary has been disarmingly flattering to the Scots this evening. He has told us that we can call ourselves "grand" and has even set a seal upon us.
§ Mr. Grimond
In those circumstances it may seem ungracious to look his little gift horse too firmly in the mouth, but I am rather disappointed at not being able to carry a little further our consideration of the Committee system. I agree that the time has come to consider a much greater degree of devolution for Scotland and for England and Wales. It is also becoming apparent that the House must find some method of re-establishing control over expenditure.
There may he growing up a need for some continuous supervision by Members who are either technically qualified or who are interested in the technical subjects which are now continually coming before the House. I regret that at this moment we cannot develop the Scottish Grand Committee idea, because that Committee has proved a useful one, of a nature slightly outside the ordinary run of Committees.
The present Motion does not touch any of these matters, however. It is really one for the relief of Members and, even more, of Ministers. I do not think that anyone can say that there is no justification for relieving them from having continuously to attend on various Committees. The real way of relieving Members, however, is for the Government to look more carefully at the Bills they introduce, but that is another question which is not touched upon by the Motion.
The only substantial matter concerned in the Motion—it has already been raised but it should be pressed a little further—is the question of Bills which are of general interest to more Scottish Members than can be included in the Scottish Standing Committee, as it will be. At first sight it might seem that there must be many Scottish Bills in which at least a large minority of Scottish Members do not have much interest, but on looking back over the Bills which have been considered by the Scottish Standing Committee it is astonishing to find what ramifications most of them have had, even when they have been small Bills, or Bills which appeared at first sight to be entirely Highland Bills. The late Member for Motherwell, Mr. Alexander Anderson, who was a great expert on Highland affairs, would certainly have been a very useful addition to any Standing Committee on any Bill even though it concerned the Highlands only slightly.
522 I appreciate the difficulty of asking the Committee of Selection to go through the list of candidates for admission to these Committees on every occasion, and of asking it to extend the numbers. We should at least see how this procedure works. I hope that the Secretary of State will agree to keep the matter under review and to see if there is any widespread objection to it.
We have also been fortunate in securing two extra days. The real function of the Scottish Grand Committee is to consider the wider aspects of Scottish affairs, and the proposal gives us an extra opportunity to do that.
One method of dealing with major Bills is to discuss them on the Floor of the House. I do not suppose that a firm answer can be given as to the Government's intentions in that respect.
§ Mr. Grimond
In future, if a Bill of major importance reaches the Committee stage, is it the intention at any rate to consider, upon a suitable Motion, using the House as a whole where it seems desirable that the Bill should receive more examination than can be given by the projected Scottish Standing Committee?
I think that we should give this procedure a trial. The arguments for it were very carefully reviewed by the Select Committee, and on the whole, with reservations, the proposals bear out the recommendations made by the Committee. As certain difficulties are involved in connection with the attendance of Ministers and Members on Scottish Committees it is surely right to see how the proposal works, providing that it is always subject to review at some future date.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
On a point of order. There are several Amendments on the Order Paper. Is it your intention to call them, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)
Yes, I propose to call them now. I was about to call Members to take part in a general debate, but no hon. Member rose, so I shall call the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to move his first Amendment.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I beg to move, in line 18, at the end to insertand(d) bills, certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and as being of major importance, committed to a Standing committee".
I think that it would be convenient if we discussed together this and the following Amendment, in line 21, after "bills", insert:not being bills of major importance".
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The two go together.
These Amendments do exactly what the Leader of the Liberal Party wants. I am very glad that he, not being so very much concerned with the controversy relating to this question, has taken up the point of view that he has, because it gives us an objective standard of the way in which these proposals appeal to someone who is really interested in Scottish matters.
I am sorry that the Lord Privy Seal has left the Chamber. I feel that it is a little discourteous to move a Motion, as the right hon. Gentleman did, and then to depart before any critical speech can be made. It is not the kind of conduct that we would accept from the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Scottish Standing Committee, or Grand Committee, or whatever name we are to give it. It was very unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to leave, because I have something to say to him.
He was rather flattering to the Scots—but we are not as simple as all that. As a matter of fact, his flattery will certainly not blind us to his distortion of Parliamentary history. He told us that in this proposed new Standing Order the fact that we are to have a Committee to be known by the old name of the Scottish Grand Committee showed that we were getting nearer to what was originally intended to be the function of the Scottish Grand Committee. That just is not true. The Leader of the House is a man of such Parliamentary experience that he ought not to say things like that. He has either distorted things or he has been misled. I am afraid that he is taking us as pretty easy meat if he thinks that he can come along here and say almost anything at all and, having said it, go out without listening to criticism.
524 The Scottish Grand Committee was established as a Grand Committee to consider the Committee stages of Bills, and for that purpose only. Now we are seeking to amend the first part of the Standing Order by providing, as a fourth duty of the Scottish Grand Committee, that it should deal with Bills of major importance relating exclusively to Scotland. Only if that provision is inserted in the Standing Order will there be any connection at all between the proposed Scottish Grand Committee and what it was originally set up to do.
We are told by the Leader of the House that the Government's proposals bring us nearer to the original intention. The first of those proposals is that Bills will be considered in relation to the principle before they have a formal Second Reading in the House. When was that introduced? The House should remember that the Scottish Grand Committee is over 50 years old.
§ Mr. Ross
I am obliged to the hon. Member for being more accurate.
The House should realise that this principle was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn) in 1948. This indeed is modern history. One would have thought that the Leader of the House would have known that.
The next provision in the Amendments to Standing Orders relates to Scottish Estimates being referred to the Committee, but this again is modern history and was introduced by my right hon. Friend in 1948. The third provision, unless our Amendment is accepted, is that two additional days are to be provided to discuss Scottish matters. We are very grateful for that. We suggested additional days ourselves, though we did not suggest a specific number. It is wrong to provide for a specific number because that number of days will be used whether or not there is need for them. I would have been quite content if the machinery had been made available, so that we could have used it on two, three or four occasions if necessary but not on certain specific, formal occasions simply because the Standing Order happens to specify two days. This provision is not in force yet, anyhow.
525 There are, therefore, three functions of the Grand Committee which the Leader of the House tells us bring us nearer to the original intention of the Committee, but two of these were started in 1948 and a third is not in operation at all. Except when we are dealing with Committee matters we have, therefore, departed entirely from the original conception and purpose of the Scottish Grand Committee; and that is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I suggest the addition of a new subsection (d) to the first part of the amended Standing Orders.
We cannot be put aside by the rather strange flattery and rather peculiar sense of history which have been trotted out by the Leader of the House. We can, however, thank the right hon. Gentleman that we are to have the name of the Scottish Grand Committee restored. At present there is no such thing. It is the Scottish Standing Committee, and it is only custom and usage that has preserved the name. The old Grand Committee system is finished for all practical purposes if the Lord Privy Seal's Motion is passed unamended.
I am very glad to see the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition present. He will be glad to know that the only Grand Committee left with a Committee function will be the Welsh Grand Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is that?"] There is such a thing, to deal with Bills specifically concerned with Wales and Monmouthshire.
§ Mr. Ross
According to my researches, the provision is there and it can be set up under Standing Orders.
We seem to have salvaged from the wreck of the Scottish Grand Committee its name and something of its former power, if not its glory. With the new powers which the Committee has acquired since 1948, with the provision of the additional two days, and if we ensure that it retains the ability to consider Bills of major importance, we shall have built up a Scottish Grand Committee which might well be a model for other developments in the House.
Hitherto, when we have debated the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure on these matters we have done so 526 more or less in theory, but it will be recollected that yesterday we gave a Second Reading in the House to an important Bill, the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Bill. That Measure relates to Scottish local government reform, something which will touch every part of Scotland, every local authority, large and small, whether small burgh, large burgh or county council, right from the north to the south and from the east to the west. If anyone asked me what is a Bill of major importance, I should say that we had one before us yesterday. If anyone wants to know how these proposals will function in practice let him think of that first Bill that will be dealt with under the new procedure.
If the Opposition Amendment is accepted, that Bill will be dealt with by a Committee at which every Scottish Member will have the right to be present. It is up to him and his conscience and the relations between him and his constituency as to whether he will exercise that right, but it is a right that has existed for over 60 years and which I am not willing to have lightly taken away from us.
If our Amendment is accepted, every Scottish Member will be able to speak for his local authority and his constituents as they will be affected by that Bill, but if the Amendment is not accepted and the Bill goes to the Scottish Standing Committee as it will be constituted in future, it means that the Committee of Selection will select 30 Scottish Members effectively out of 70 and that there will be 40 Scottish Members who will be cut off from their present rights. At its very best, if the Committee is made up of a full 50, and those 50 are all Scots, then there will be 20 Members cut off.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) has not been present or has not understood. If those 20 are not selected—and I have always understood that if one is not a member of the Committee one cannot pair to go and sit in it—the fact is that, whether they like it or not, they will be denied the right they have at present.
527 We have no guarantee, however, that the Committee will consist of 50 Members. Further, we have no guarantee that if it does so the 20 added Members will all be Members representing Scottish constituencies. In fact, the Leader of the House last week talked about 70 Members from constituencies outwith Scotland, so we come to the position that between 27 and 40 Scottish Members may be denied rights they presently have.
When we reduce it still further I will guarantee that on this Committee we shall have the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who is in charge of local government, and one Law Officer, if not two. So there for a start we shall have four Front Bench Members on the Government side. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who are interested in this question will appreciate this fact. The same thing applies to the Front Bench on the other side.
§ Mr. Ross
Exactly, but the fact that they are there means that those places are filled and therefore, the exclusion of interested people becomes more certain. As I have said, the same thing applies to the Opposition Front Bench, no matter who is in opposition. The person who was formerly Secretary of State for Scotland will obviously take an interest in this Committee. So also will the Joint Under-Secretaries and the Law Officers, so we reach the point where fewer and fewer back-bench Members will be able to exercise rights they presently have.
This is a serious matter for anyone who takes seriously the rights of back-bench Members. Why is it being done? We shall not get a more manageable Committee, as has been suggested. A small Committee is not necessarily manageable. Indeed, the only ideal Committee is a Committee of one. I can remember meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee where considerably fewer than 30 Members were present, which had run on for a long time and been very unmanageable from a Government point of view.
So the Committee will not be any more efficient. In fact, one of the outstanding facts about the Scottish Grand Committee in its consideration of Bills is that we get better Bills as a result of that Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member 528 for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) will remember the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was then Secretary of State, and he listened to debate, to argument and discussion, with the result that he got a different Bill from the English and Welsh one and it was a better Bill. The first people to admit that will be the English and Welsh. It was simply because we had that general type of Committee, composed not only of experts, with that fund of common sense which Members of Parliament bring to bear on such matters.
I am at a loss to find the real reason for this change. I do not want to impute motives to anyone, but the suggestion that this will give hon. Members a better chance of serving on other Committees is ridiculous, when one considers those Members who have not come to the Scottish Grand Committee at all, or who have come very seldom—
§ Mr. Ross
In this case I would say on three sides, with all due respect to the Leader of the Liberal Party. I have here a report of attendances at the Scottish Grand Committee and the Scottish Standing Committee. The people who come most seldom to the Scottish Grand Committee do not serve on other Committees. Indeed if we consider the Members on both sides of the House who served faithfully on the Scottish Grand Committee and also represented their respective parties on the Rent Bill Committee, we find that they achieved the best attendance figures of all in both the Scottish Grand Committee and the Rent Bill Committee, so they found no difficulty, or if there was difficulty they were able to surmount it.
The same is true throughout the whole history of the Scottish Grand Committee. There were 20 sittings on the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Bill and the average attendance was between 50 and 60, nearer 50. The point is that it was not always the same 50 or 60 members. People exercised their right to be present, and they were able to make arrangements to be away when they really wanted to be, and those who did not want to attend the Scottish Grand Committee did not want to attend any other Committee.
529 All we are really doing is giving a right to be absent from Parliamentary duties. We are giving a licence to be absent, a cover-up to be absent, to people who have not been doing their Parliamentary duty properly in respect of the Scottish Grand Committee.
What we are suggesting in the Amendment is that in dealing with major Bills, Bills which are of importance to every part of Scotland and should be of importance to every Member representing a Scottish constituency, those Members who take their responsibilities and rights seriously would prefer, if they cannot get their rights preserved in respect of all Bills, at least to have the right, in respect of major Bills by which their constituents are vitally affected, to be on the Committee and to make their contributions to the discussions, debates and Amendments in order to further the interests of the people of Scotland.
If it is the sincere intention of the Leader of the House, who is still absent, to try to preserve or to get nearer the original intention of the Scottish Grand Committee, he must accept the Amendment. If the Amendment is accepted to enable Bills of major importance to be taken in the Scottish Grand Committee, thus preserving the rights of Scottish Members in respect of them, then, with the added two days suggested by the Committee on Procedure and the changes which were made in 1948, we shall certainly have a Scottish Grand Committee that is not only nearer the original intention but which has adapted itself to the circumstances of today.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I hope that the Secretary of State has listened very intently to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and is willing to answer the arguments which he advanced, particularly the one which concerns the replacement of the right to be present with the right to be absent. I think that is very important. I have a great deal of sympathy with hon. Members who may have other commitments, legitimate commitments, which oblige them to absent themselves on certain occasions from the Scottish Grand Committee. But that is easily overcome, and, in fact, the 530 attendance record shows that it is easily overcome. I have never heard complaints from either side of the House that it is not overcome by the present system of pairing. I have not heard an argument which suggests that that system is unworkable, unreasonable and does not meet the claims of hon. Members on either side who want to get away from the Scottish Grand Committee.
If it is perfectly true that there is no difficulty there, then what can the House be thinking about in changing a Standing Order to make the position more difficult for those of us who want to be present at the Scottish Grand Committee to discuss Bills of major importance? I have never heard an understandable and reasonable argument made on that point.
When one looks at the evolution of Parliamentary procedure, one sees a definite direction, a stream of thought, leading towards better Government, better administration within the House itself, better dealing with public business and so on. When one considers the evolution of the Scottish Committee and sees the changes in its procedure, particularly the changes in 1948, one wonders how this suggestion could possibly fit into the pattern. It seems to be a complete divergence. The Conservative Party in Scotland can point to the change in the number of Under-Secretaries, to the appointment of the Minister of State, and, no doubt, at the next election will advance arguments to show the tendency towards devolution in many ways, but not in this way if this Standing Order goes through unamended.
This is clearly a jarring note coming into the harmony that has gone on for some time in the emergence of the Committee in its present form. A cogent point is that Scottish Members of Parliament who have the right to attend the Committee to discuss major Bills are now being denied that right; not absolutely, of course; not in every case—we have not reached that stage yet. But the majority of us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock has argued, are being denied this right by this new Standing Order.
The Secretary of State for Scotland must answer this without recourse to the dodges that we have had in the debate. I have reread the debate which the Select Committee had, and I still cannot find an 531 argument which is supposed to meet the very legitimate objection raised by a number of Members, by not enough hon. Members, particularly Conservative hon. Members. If hon. Members opposite were not in Government, I doubt whether they would remain silent. I hope that if the Labour Party formed the Government and this sort of thing was being perpetrated, one or two of my hon. Friends would be willing to speak against it.
The only chance we have of accepting in part the proposals of the Government in this respect while still meeting the fundamental objection in respect of the rights and liberties of Scottish Members is to accept the Amendment which has been so well moved by my hon. Friend.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has made a powerful case. He was not as blunt as he might have been. I join him in protesting at the action of the Home Secretary in moving the Motion and then disappearing, especially as he obviously needs some instruction about the historical development of the Scottish Committee. I am always deeply suspicious of the Home Secretary, more particularly when he acts as fairy godmother to the Opposition.
We have put forward our Amendment having in mind the Bill that we were discussing yesterday, for it is in respect of that Bill that we shall find the first effects of the Government's proposals. I welcome the two extra sittings, but I regard them as a sop to us to pass this Motion without undue opposition. The two sittings do not represent two days; they represent merely five hours in a year.
Being an Englishman representing a Scottish constituency, I am not in any way pandering to any kind of Scottish nationalism, but I demand the right—this is our fundamental argument—to go into the Scottish Standing Committee whenever it is sitting although I may not be particularly interested in the Bill being debated. I have that right at the moment. I profoundly object to being denied that right merely because certain hon. Members opposite insist on the right to be absent, which is the essential purpose of the Motion.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)
Would the hon. Gentleman give a similar 532 right to every English Member to attend every Standing Committee?
§ Mr. Hamilton
From the numerical point of view, it is a practical proposition that the seventy Scottish Members should attend the Scottish Standing Committee, but, purely from the numerical aspect, there is no such practical proposition in respect of English Members attending ordinary Standing Committees. Therefore, the question does not arise.
It has been argued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) and others that we need this extra time away from the Scottish Grand Committee to make the Scottish Grand Committee more efficient and expeditious and to give us time for thought and meditation and an opportunity to serve on other Committees. I agree that there is something in each of those arguments, but not as much as the right hon. Gentleman pretends.
After all, every Member has some obligation to serve on some Standing Committee, and quite frequently we are under great pressure whether serving on the Scottish Grand Committee or on another Committee. One does get opportunities—some may say that they are too great while others may say that they are too small—for thought, reading and meditation.
However, I do not believe that that is the primary purpose of this proposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock hesitated to say it in blunt terms, but I say quite bluntly, because it has been said by hon. Members opposite, that the primary purpose of this proposition is to get hon. Member opposite out of the Scottish Grand Committee, although they were elected to look after Scottish interests, so that they can attend to business interests outside the House. I shall resist being denied the right to be a Member of a Scottish Grand Committee for the purpose of betraying those people who sent hon. Members opposite here.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I, too, resent the cutting down of the Scottish Grand Committee, because the Scottish Grand Committee has to be balanced in proportion to the state of the parties in the House. If some hon. 533 Members opposite want to absent themselves from the Scottish Grand Committee, it may be that to maintain a balance some Scottish Labour Members will have to be sacrificed.
§ Mr. Mackie
We could not man the Committee entirely by Socialists to excuse all Conservatives. That would be ridiculous, and the hon. Member knows it.
§ Mr. Bence
The Scottish Grand Committee is to be reduced from 71 to 30 Members. We know that some Conservative Members, say 10, do not want to attend the Scottish Grand Committee. In order to maintain the balance of parties in that Committee, the Committee of Selection is bound to say that if there are 10 Conservative Members who do not want to attend there must be 10 Labour Members who cannot attend. If the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) is prepared to support the proposition that the 30 Members of the Scottish Grand Committee shall be the 30 Members who want to serve, irrespective of party, then that is perhaps worthy of consideration.
However, I should resent it if, merely because our opposite numbers do not want to attend, some of my hon. Friends were debarred from attending. That is very bad practice and the more I have considered the matter and the way representation in Scotland is distributed, the more I believe that to be a serious infringement of the rights of Scottish Members. I know that some Conservative Members have intensive business interests. I do not question the morality of that. Members are entitled to have interests outside the House. I am not criticising that, but merely making the point that if there are 10 or 20 Members who do not wish to attend the House and who wish to be absent, the Committee of Selection is bound to eliminate from the Scottish Grand Committee that exact number of Labour Members.
I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider this issue. In a later Amendment we have suggested that the numbers should be increased to avoid a large number of Labour Members having to be eliminated from the Scottish Grand Committee in order to maintain a 534 balance merely because a number of Conservative Members want to absent themselves.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
It seems to me that the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is one which should be considered at some time by the Government, because as the proposed new Standing Orders are worded there is no doubt that we have denied the Scottish Committee the right to consider a Bill in Committee. I do not think that that is entirely a good thing. By and large, I think that it is an advantage to be able to put certain business before a Scottish Standing Committee. At the same time, I should have thought that it would not be impossible to leave Bills, if they were considered to be of sufficient importance, to be considered by the Scottish Committee.
I do not agree altogether with some of the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. I think that some of them were rather tenuous.
§ Mr. Willis
The argument that to have the whole of the Scottish Grand Committee to consider a Bill makes it a better Bill.
§ Mr. Willis
I apologise to my hon. Friend if I mistook the reason why he made this particular reference. However, he was at the time adducing a number of arguments. He made this point, which I thought was rather tenuous. He said that we might have the same result with a Committee of 40 or 50 as with a Committee of 70 or 71. I should have thought that any Bill at the end of the Committee stage ought to be better, and in nearly every case is better than when it enters the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Willis
Yes. I do not think that my hon. Friend's argument about being able to attend the Committees is a good or strong argument. My hon. Friend referred to the Rent Bill. The position about the Rent Bill was that there was not a sitting of the Scottish Committee whilst the Rent Bill was on. We had to postpone the sittings of the Scottish Committee whilst that Bill was being considered.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think my hon. Friend will agree that there was sustained argument that it was quite unnecessary to suspend the sittings of the Scottish Committee while the Bill was being considered. I think my hon. Friend took part in the argument on the Rent Bill.
§ Mr. Willis
I am dealing with the historical aspect. The historical fact is that there was not a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee whilst the Rent Bill was being considered, which made it possible for my hon. Friends, as well as myself, to give good attendance to that Bill and also to give good attendance to the Scottish Grand Committee. It might not have been so easy if both Committees had been sitting at the same time.
§ Mr. Willis
I agree, but after that Scotland was considerably concerned right through the Bill. It is true that one of the reasons why the Scottish Grand Committee did not meet during those weeks was because the Rent Bill was under consideration. I am not arguing whether that was right or wrong. I am simply stating it as a fact. All I am suggesting is that that made it possible to attend and not only to have a good record of attendance, but also to take an active part in the debate in the Committee at the time; but it is not easy when two Bills are being considered.
The arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) were, I thought, much more to the point: namely, that we ought to have given a certain amount of freedom to the Committee of Selection so that in case of necessity we could have had the Grand Committee and not cut ourselves off. My own feeling about the procedure 536 and the changes we are making is that I want to see the status of the Scottish Grand Committee increased. I want to see the work that it does increased. I, too, think that the whole way in which we deal with our work in the House of Commons must at some time be considered and that this procedure undoubtedly offers an example of how it can be done.
I therefore wish to see as much as possible devolved upon the Scottish Grand Committee, but I believe that it would add to the prestige and dignity of the Scottish Committee if, as well as having a Committee of all the Members, we had at the same time the right to have a sub-Committee of fewer members to consider small Bills of a lesser degree of importance. Therefore, from that point of view, it seems to me that we are going along the right road.
§ Mr. Willis
No. I think that in these proposals we are going along the right road. It would have been better had we retained the right, if the need arose or if it was felt sufficiently important, to have a Bill considered in Committee by the whole of the Grand Committee. I agreed with that right at the beginning, but even though that is not included I still think that we are going along the right road. I do not see that it will be impossible to remedy this at any time in the future.
§ Mr. Ross
That depends upon the Government introducing revisions of the Standing Order. We do not have the opportunity otherwise. Without the Amendment, the powers of the Scottish Grand Committee will be completely taken away. We have no power of decision at all. Bills are only sent to the Committee for consideration of principle if they are innocuous. In relation to the Estimates, we cannot vote. In relation to the two days, we again cannot vote. We have no power of decision. We can only talk, and very often about unimportant things.
§ Mr. Willis
As my hon. Friend knows, I am fully aware of all the limitations of the Scottish Grand Committee, and I have said so. I want it to be given more power. I have never departed from that view since I came into the House of Commons. I want to see increasing 537 power devolved upon the Scottish Grand Committee—but we are not discussing that now.
§ Mr. Willis
That is a question of debate. It might have been better had we retained the power to have the whole Committee considering a Bill in Committee in the same way.
§ Mr. Willis
It might have been better had we done that. My argument is that the proposals as a whole go a step in advance of what we have at present. I do not see that there is any contradiction in that. The proposals give us something that we have not had before. They give us the opportunity for debating Scottish matters for two days. Motions can be tabled by the Secretary of State. Previously, we have never had an opportunity of debating motions that we have put on the Order Paper of the House. Now, we shall probably have the opportunity to do so. That is an important advance. Possibly it is a more important achievement to have secured that than for us to have the right to record our attendances. Let us be frank, that is what this right means in many cases—the right to go into the Committee Room and have an attendance recorded, and then to walk out again.
§ Mr. Willis
It may be the practice, but it is a right which we have at present. Do not let us deceive ourselves into thinking that anything else happens.
I should be far more deeply moved by the arguments of my hon. Friend were the attendances at the Scottish Grand Committee something like 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. But rarely can we get a vote of more than 50 out of an expanded Committee numbering about 80, and so we must think seriously about this matter. I agree that it is useful for hon. Members representing English constituencies to have the right to discuss a Bill on the Floor of the House in Committee. As an analogy, we might have the right to do the same thing in the Scottish Grand Committee. What we have represents a 538 decided advance on the powers we formerly possessed, and so I support the suggested change.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) says that we have rights which we should cherish regarding the Scottish Grand Committee. I cannot see what particular rights the Scottish Grand Committee, as it is to be constituted, gives to us. The principle of a Bill may be debated in the Committee, but we all have the right, as representatives of Scottish constituencies, to debate the principle of a Bill or its Second Reading on the Floor of the House. In fact, the advantage lies with the House when a Bill is referred to the Committee sitting upstairs. The legislation is taken from the Floor of the House, but we still have the right to debate it in this Chamber, and I maintain that it is better to debate legislation in this Chamber than in a Committee which sits upstairs for 2½ hours.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That was not the reason why legislation was transferred to the Committee. It was because Government business would have prevented Scottish Bills from ever being discussed in the House. Therefore, this additional facility was given in respect of non-controversial Scottish business.
§ Mr. Lawson
But that is an advantage to the House and does not represent a special right of Members representing Scottish constituencies. We have the right to debate a Bill in the House. All that has happened in this case is that the legislation has been transferred to the Committee which sits upstairs.
The same thing applies to the Estimates. Facilities would have to be provided to enable us to discuss Scottish Estimates. I exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East—though he goes most of the way with us—when I say that we are asking for what we have called the Scottish Grand Committee—and what was in fact a Grand Committee in the earlier years—be allowed to continue.
It would be an advantage to go back and examine the genesis of the proposal to make the alteration. In the first place we had behind-the-scenes approaches to reduce the size of this Committee, and they were spurned.
539 Many of us on this side of the House did not want to reduce the size of the Committee. Therefore, a Select Committee was set up to examine the question. The Government made their proposals to the Select Committee, and they are precisely the proposals which we are discussing now, an increase of from 30 to 50 for the so-called "Standing" Committee. The Lord Privy Seal in his statement said that.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
He said from 20 to 50.
§ Mr. Lawson
All right, we have made the improvement. It is now from 30 to 50. That is one change that has been made. The recommendations of the Select Committee were turned down and the Government went back to where they began. What they wanted they are getting, and it is a pretence to dress it up in some other way.
§ Mr. Lawson
The two days were accepted, namely five hours' discussion. I agree that it is important, but that was given reluctantly. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has pointed out that this dressing up makes the matter seem much more important and, therefore, more easily accepted. There was a doubt whether we would get it. In fact, the Government are getting their way. The Government wanted to wipe out the Scottish Standing Committee, and it is, in fact, being wiped out. We are being given something else. The rights of all Members to debate these matters on the Floor of the House might be much more advantageous than debating these matters in Committee.
We have examined the reasons which are given. The first was the more efficient working of a smaller Committee. This point has been dealt with at great length, and I do not propose to repeat the arguments, except to ask whether the Scottish Standing Committee has been shown to be less efficient than the smaller Standing Committees? I do not think anyone will maintain that a smaller Committee is necessarily more efficient. Consider the attendances in the Scottish Standing Committee. In the last Session, 540 the highest was 63 and the lowest 44. The attendance is not so different from the ordinary smaller Standing Committees dealing with major Bills. The important point which has been mentioned time after time is that those who wish to attend can do so as a right, but we are being penalised because some hon. Members do not wish to attend. It is for that reason that the changes are being made.
In looking over the evidence submitted by the Secretary of State in this House and to the Select Committee, I think he was searching for arguments. He was seeking to illustrate how much more hardly done by were the Scottish than were the English, Welsh and Irish Members. He afterwards said that one could do very queer things with figures. On 4th December, he reached the conclusion…that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies are called, on the average, about four times as often as are Members representing non-Scottish constituencies for Committee work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1957; Vol. 579, c. 570.]He reached this conclusion in what to me was a very strange way. He told us:According to the return for the Sessions 1956–57, the total summonses for Standing Committees A, B, C and D was 4.570. Dividing this by the number of English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members, it appears that these Members were each summoned on aver- age eight times. On the other hand, last Session the total summonses to attend the Scottish Standing Committee were 2,106. Dividing this by the number of Scottish Members, the average number of summonses per Member was 30.It was pointed out that there had been only 26 meetings of the Scottish Standing Committee. The mystery of how he arrived at his figures still remains.
It seems to me that here we had an example of desperate searching to find arguments showing that the Scottish Members were overworked. What were the meetings of the various Committees in the Sessions mentioned? Standing Committee A dealt with six Bills and met 42 times. Standing Committee B dealt with six Bills and met 21 times. Standing Committee C dealt with nine Bills and met 21 times. Standing Committee D dealt with five Bills and met 30 times. The Scottish Standing Committee dealt with one Bill and met 20 times, plus the six meetings on the Estimates. In all we had 26 meetings, but in his effort to show how much more hardly done by we an and how much greater is the burden 541 we carry the Secretary of State produced 30 summonses out of 26 meetings. He said that on average we are doing four times as much Committee work as the average English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Member. For my part, I cannot accept the argument.
His second argument is contained in column 571, from which I quote:The whole case revolves around whether or not Scottish Members, tied so tightly as they are today to this Scottish Committee, can do their duties as United Kingdom as well as Scottish Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1957; Vol. 579, c. 570–1.]This is the kernel of the argument. Time after time we were told that we cannot do our duty as United Kingdom Members and at the same time do our duty as Scottish Members. It has been pointed out, however, that a number of Scottish Members apparently find no difficulty in doing their duty both as Scottish Members and as United Kingdom Members.
The Rent Act has been mentioned. I can very well recall the rivalry to be on the Committee dealing with the Rent Bill. It was very keen rivalry. I can recall the heartburning and the disappointment of many of my hon. Friends who were not chosen to be on the Rent Bill Committee. This was a major Bill; there is no question about it being a major Bill. But only four Scottish Members on this side of the House and five Scottish Members on the other side of the House were on the Committee. It was not a serious burden. It did not mean that the Scottish Grand Committee could not function without those four Labour Members and five from the other side of the House. They would have been almost automatically paired. The evidence is that all were very keen to be on the Rent Bill Committee.
Although much has been made of the duplication of membership on perhaps two Committees, nothing has been said about the positive advantage which Members sometimes gain from being on two Committees at the same time. Perhaps I may mention the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). He is not here tonight, but I understand that at the moment he is a Member of the Committee dealing with the Slaughterhouses Bill and a Member of the Scottish Standing Committee dealing with the Land Drainage (Scotland) Bill. The hon. 542 Member certainly utilises his opportunities. He appears on the Scottish Standing Committee, as it is properly called, and he is very interested, no doubt, in farming matters. He appears on the Scottish Standing Committee, argues his case and then disappears to the Committee dealing with the Slaughterhouses Bill where he argues his case there.
§ Mr. Willis
It is rather unfortunate that, having made his appearance and having argued his case, we do not have the opportunity of replying to him because he is not there.
§ Mr. Lawson
I accept the various points made. It is also positively advantageous to the hon. Member for South Angus to be on the Slaughterhouses Bill Committee and on the Scottish Committee at this time. He is interested in both. If they were to meet at different times, it would be better for him, but since they are meeting simultaneously and since he is interested in both, he does not have to attend each one, after all. He notes the particular sections of the Bill in which he is interested, attends the Committee at the time these are dealt with, argues his case, and then goes from the one to the other. It is not always a disadvantage; indeed, in many cases, it is a positive advantage, but there are occasions when Members—
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I also happen to be on both Committees, and I find that there is no advantage whatsoever.
§ Mr. Lawson
No doubt the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South does not find it advantageous. I was making the point, which I think is a perfectly valid one, that it is clear from the behaviour of the hon. Member for South Angus that he finds it advantageous to be on both at the same time. What is true of the hon. Member for South Angus can also be true of others at this stage. Again, much was said about the other duties of—
§ Mr. Willis
As far as I can see, there is nothing in this proposal to prevent the same position continuing, if the hon. Gentleman were desperately interested.
§ Mr. Lawson
Not if he is desperately interested, but presumably the Committee of Selection would see that he was on the one and would not put him on the other.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think myself that this is what the Committee of Selection did. They put him on one Committee, and saw that there was no duplication. The principal argument is the duplication of Committees; if that is not the case, the argument is much less sound, as has been pointed out.
The Secretary of State made a great deal of play about Members doing duties abroad on behalf of the Government, and pointed out how difficult it was for them if they were regularly summoned to attend the Scottish Grand Committee. Strasbourg was mentioned in particular, and it was said that here there was no question of a waste of time, because they were doing valuable work on behalf of the Government, though the fact that a Member might be a Member of the Scottish Grand Committee might cause very great difficulty.
The hon. Member for Motherwell happens at the present time to be on the Strasbourg delegation, as does the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White), and from my own knowledge I can say there has been no difficulty whatever. The hon. Member for Rutherglen sits on the Government side of the House, and the hon. Member for Motherwell sits on this side, and when they attend Strasbourg they cancel each other out and there is no difficulty at all. The Strasbourg delegation usually carries two Scottish Members, one from each side of the House, so that that particular difficulty hardly ever arises. Similarly, with other delegations that we send abroad, we usually have one from each side and they cancel themselves out.
§ Mr. Lawson
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. The argument surely is that these difficulties are quite easily overcome if we are concerned to overcome them.
Another point was raised about the difficulty of Ministers of a United Kingdom Department in attending the Scottish Grand Committee. I perfectly well recognise that difficulty, but how many Members are in that case? As I understand it, there is only one junior Minister—outside the Scottish Office—who represents a Scottish constituency. He is in the Admiralty. I quite understand that he should not be expected to attend the Scottish Standing Committee, but I do not see why there should be any difficulty in evolving some system, or in making some sensible arrangement, to cancel out the disadvantage of his absence. I notice that it is possible to do something in the case of the Chairmen's Panel. When they attend or take the Chair at some other Committee their absence from the Scottish Standing Committee is cancelled out.
An example is my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson). He is a most faithful attender at the meetings of the Scottish Standing Committee. He is recorded as having been summoned to only six meetings, and he has attended six. The reason is that he is a Chairman, and arrangements are made to meet that difficulty. The same situation applies in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). Arrangements are made to meet the difficulties of Members on the Chairmen's Panel, and what can be done for them can be done in other cases.
Summing up my objections to the Government's proposals and my support for the Amendment, I would say, first, that what we call the Scottish Grand Committee has worked well over the years. No serious argument has been put forward that it has not worked as effectively as any other Committee.
Secondly, since the total number of Scottish Members is seventy-one the size of the Committee is quite practicable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) has pointed out. It 545 is not practicable to put all the English Members on to a Standing Committee, because there are far too many. If we want to take English business off the Floor of the House we must break down the number of Members to consider it, but that consideration does not apply in the case of Scottish Members. Their number—seventy-one, with the additions necessary to make up the Government majority—provides quite a manageable Committee, and there is no reason why, on grounds of practicability, it should be reduced or wiped out.
Thirdly, the Committee as at present constructed gives all Members the right to be present. If they do not want to be present they can absent themselves. The right to be present should not be taken away because certain Members wish to be absent, but that seems to be the reason for the proposal.
Finally, whatever we may think of the Scottish Grand Committee here it is highly regarded in Scotland. It is very often spoken of there. That is one of the arguments we use when demands are made for more devolution, or even for separation. There is no lack of voices in Scotland demanding separation from the rest of the country. There is not a majority movement in that direction, but there is a potential one, and if it were once thought that Scotland was being treated in a slighting fashion that potential could speedily become a movement exceedingly difficult to control.
At present we can always say that we have the Scottish Grand Committee, upon which we all have the right to attend. That is to be taken away from us, and in that sense, instead of being a movement towards devolution, it is a movement away from it. If I were asked to give my reasons for this movement I would say that its real purpose is to make it easier for the Government of the day to control the back benchers on both sides of the House. The acceptance of this change makes it easier for the machine to operate. It makes it easier for the Whips and for the Government, and more difficult for the back benchers. I have the greatest respect for the Scottish Labour Whip, but let the House think of the kind of situation that could easily arise.
I and some of my hon. Friends might not be particularly anxious to attend a 546 certain Committee, although we want the right to attend if we so wish. We might say that we did not want to attend a Committee when it was dealing with a certain Bill, and then we might very well find that when the same Committee came to deal with another Bill, which we were anxious to discuss, we should not find ourselves members of that Committee. This applies to back benchers on both sides. The machine is given added power and placed in a position in which it can more easily control the back benchers. Back benchers on both sides of the House should think in terms of preserving back bench powers, such as they are. This proposal is something that undermines those powers, and for the reasons that I have enumerated I support the Amendment.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
As hon. Members will probably have noted, I have listened with the closest attention to everything that has been said in the debate. I regret what was said about the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House. I think that all hon. Members know that at times Ministers have duties which take them out of the Chamber, even if they have spoken in debate.
§ Mr. Maclay
My right hon. Friend is a man of great courtesy to the House and I am very sorry for what has been said.
After listening to the debate I find that there is really little to say. What there is to be said on each side of the argument has already been said, and I do not want to go over much of the ground again. I will, however, try to pick out the main case that was deployed by hon. Members who have supported the Amendment.
The general gravamen of the first charge against the new proposals was that they are somehow derogatory to the Scottish Grand Committee. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) implied throughout his speech that we had been developing the Scottish Grand Committee over the years. He agreed that there had been changes of importance in 1948 and certain added rights had come to the 547 Scottish Grand Committee, and he conceded that the additional two days were a small advance. His whole line was that there had been a steady advance in the utility, dignity and status of the Scottish Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Ross
It is a pity that the Leader of the House is not here, because I was answering his speech. He told us that what was being done was bringing the Scottish Grand Committee nearer to its original intention, and I have pointed out that it was so far away from the original intention that the only powers now left to that Committee were powers given to it in 1948.
§ Mr. Maclay
If that is a general summary of the argument, I have not been far wrong.
The position is exactly the opposite of what it has been stated to be. The whole history of Parliament has been a history of evolution in the way in which it works. Many of the arguments deployed today about the right of every hon. Member to attend every meeting of a Committee must have been deployed years ago when the Committee system started. If the argument applies to Scottish Members in relation to the Scottish Committee it must have applied with equal intensity in its day to hon. Members from all over the United Kingdom. The attack that has been developed today in relation to the right of every hon. Member to attend every Committee on every occasion is an attack on the whole Committee system.
§ Mr. Maclay
What I have said applies equally strongly to major Bills. I agree that the House takes Money Bills on the Floor, but very few major Bills indeed are taken on the Floor nowadays. The substantial change has come only since 1945. I know that very well. Before the war, and before the highly controversial nationalisation Bills were put forward by the party opposite when it was in power, it would have been very unusual for such Bills not to have been taken on the Floor of the House. They were taken in Committee after 1945, and people had their views on that at the time.
548 So what we are really discussing is the evolution of Parliamentary institutions. I am astounded to find hon. Gentlemen opposite tending to be extremely conservative in their point of view. They want to hold on to practices of the past, regardless of the natural process of evolution that must go on if Parliamentary institutions are to work properly.
§ Mr. Maclay
It is wrong to impute ulterior motives to those of us who support the proposals before the House, unamended. I do not want to go too much into the detail of what has been said. Whether Parliament should be composed of full-time Members or not has nothing to do with this argument. I re-submit that the question is the simple one of how Scottish Members can make the best contribution to the work of Parliament, to Scottish interests and to the interests of their constituencies. I am convinced from my time in this House that excessive time devoted to the Scottish Grand Committee can be, and has been in many cases, an obstacle to the full and proper part that hon. Members would like to take in the general work of the House and in other committee work.
Now I come to the point of delegations going abroad, because these have assumed great importance in the functions of a Member of Parliament. I repeat that I do not consider them to be an escape from Parliamentary duties—far from it. Any of us who have served at Strasbourg or elsewhere know that it is extremely hard work, and that it can be valuable work because of the obvious contacts and discussions.
Then there was the pairing argument. Far be it from me to decry pairing. It is a necessary institution for the work of the House of Commons. Without it we could not function at all but, because that system exists is not a valid reason for holding on to a size for a Committee which nearly everybody who has spoken in this debate has agreed practically never meets with its full number of Members. Attendance figures are one thing; the Members in the Committee at a given moment are another, as has already been pointed out this evening.
Throughout the discussion it has been clear that everybody agrees that if Scottish Members are to do their job properly the 549 Scottish Committee cannot be filled with 71 people every day it meets. Some have to be out of the Committee, and whether they have signed the attendance register or not is another matter. There is a wide measure of agreement that the Committee functions well with an attendance of between 40 and 50.
§ Mr. Ross
Then is the Minister now going to reform the House of Commons? As far as I can see, there are not 625 people here; there have not been any day this week and probably not any day this year. How does he propose to remedy that on the analogy that, because all the Members do not attend the Scottish Grand Committee, we should cut down the number on it?
§ Mr. Maclay
I will not follow that attractive bait. The only remaining argument to deal with is whether it would have been wise to leave the precise numbers to the discretion of the Committee of Selection. That is open to argument. We have considered carefully what was said in the previous debate and we have paid attention to what was said by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) made it clear that in the mind of the Select Committee there was never the intention that the Committee of Selection would have to appoint everybody who asked to be put on the Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Woodburn
So far as I can remember, the understanding of the Select Committee was that hon. Members should go on the Scottish Committee in the usual way, through the usual channels. The discretion as to who would be selected would rest entirely with the Committee of Selection.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is right. The decision rests with the Committee of Selection but if there was no limit there would be left to the Committee of Selection the rather difficult job, at times the almost impossible job, of deciding between two Members, both of whom wanted to be put on the Committee. If the Committee felt that the result of the new procedure' was that it should necessarily put everyone on who asked—that was not what, I think, the right hon. Gentleman said—it would he easy for it to decide. But there was no intention that it should 550 necessarily accept, or should accept, every hon. Member who applied. I think-Oat the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
I think that it puts an almost impossible task on the Committee of Selection, and I suggest that the proposals that the Government have made go a very long way to meeting the broad wishes of every hon. Member in the House, except those who take the extreme view that there should be no change in the Scottish Grand Committee.
I would only repeat that this proposal is another stage forward in developing the dignity and status of the Scottish Grand Committee, if that needs developing at all, and that we are moving more and more to a really effective way of enabling Scottish Members to do their work in the House. I therefore hope that the House will reject the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if hon. Members discuss with this Amendment the one in the name of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) in line 26, leave out "twenty members" and inserttwenty-one members representing Scottish constituencies".
§ Mr. Lawson
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) I move the Amendment very shortly because the arguments in favour of it have already been advanced. The purpose of the two Amendments taken together is to so change the Scottish Committee that there would be a minimum of 50 Members to deal with minor Bills, with the normal number of 71 Scottish Members and the addition of extra non-Scottish Members to make up the balance of power as represented in the House. It would be better to have a smaller Committee of 50 Members. The purpose of the Amendment is quite frankly to achieve the minimum change possible by the reduction to 50. The case has already been argued and I do not propose to weary the House by repeating it.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Bence
I beg to second the Amendment. I support the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) that we should make the minimum disturbance possible on the Scottish Grand Committee. With 50 Members and 21 added it would provide an opportunity for more Scottish Members to serve upon the Scottish Grand Committee to deal with appropriate Bills.
In the proposed Amendment to the Standing Orders, the phrase is used that the Committee of Selection in selecting Members for the Scottish Grand Committee shall pay a certain amount of attention to expert and qualified people in various directions serving on that Committee. It is amazing the number of experts that there are in the House. The Committee of Selection appointed one expert to a Committee. The hon. Member came to me and said that he had been put on the Committee but he knew nothing about the subject and he asked whether, as he understood that I knew a reasonable amount about it, I could give him advice as to what it was all about.
I am thinking of legislation introduced in the future based on a famous Report. The selection of experts to serve during the discussion of the Bill may be very embarrassing to those selecting and to those selected to serve. I hope that the Secretary of State will give consideration to increasing the numbers from 30 to 50.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
As has already been said, we have been over all this ground before, and so there is no need for me to elaborate what has already been said.
There is one remark that I think I should deal with. It is in respect of the figures of 30 to 50 which the Amendment would replace by 50 to 71. It was implied that there was a risk of only 30 Scottish Members being put on the Committee. That risk is so negligible as to be unthinkable. The Committee of Selection has a clear line from the terms of the Motion as to the qualifications that it should consider before appointing Members. It is clear that the intention of the Motion is that Scottish Members should be appointed wherever practicable consistent with the balance of parties in the House. The need to drop to the 552 figures of 30 to 50 arises from the fact that there are certain Bills which, while important, are not of major importance. There may be some Private Members' Bills which, while of interest and importance, are not such as to command the attendance of too many Members. I hope the House will reject the Amendment.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
Where does the Motion say all the things that the right hon. Gentleman has now told us? I can see nothing limiting the power of the Committee of Selection to select 30 Members. The Motion says:…the Committee shall consist of thirty members representing Scottish constituencies, who shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection in respect of each such bill and to whom the Committee of Selection shall have power to add…".Clearly, the Committee equally has power not to add. Also, there is nothing to say that the additional Members should be Scots. The Motion merely says:…the Committee of Selection shall have power to add not more than twenty members.I am talking about what the Secretary of State said. He is not in the habit—he certainly has not been tonight—of addressing himself to Amendments, and so I hope I may be excused for answering what he said. The Amendment asks for the status quo, for which I have argued in the past, and which I should much have preferred. In our last debate I went out of my way to support the excellent suggestions put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure, and I very much regret that the time and effort spent by the Committee in trying to obtain a balance between the rights of Scottish Members and the needs of Government have been turned aside by the Government. I have not yet heard an argument from the Secretary of State why the Amendment should not be accepted.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg to move, in line 24, to leave out from "Selection" to "to" in line 25.
Subsection (3) of the Standing Order will then read:For the consideration of bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a standing committee or bills committed to the Scottish Standing Committee, the Committee shall consist of thirty members 553 representing Scottish constituencies, who shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection and to whom the Committee of Selection shall have power to add…and so on.
That leaves out the wordsin respect of each bill".It will be noted that Standing Order No. 60 is to be amended in lines 11 and 16, and Standing Order No. 61 is to be amended in lines 9 and 12. Under the new procedure the Scottish Committee will be known as the Scottish Standing Committee. The suggestions about numbers, estimates and the two extra days refer to the Scottish Grand Committee.
Standing Order No. 59 relates to the Scottish Standing Committee. No Amendment is necessary because that is now the name. Standing Committees are established at the start of the Session when Members are selected to form the nucleus of a Standing Committee. The membership is printed and displayed in the corridors of the House. Additional Members may be added to a Standing Committee, but the actual Standing Committee is established and its membership is laid down and the Committee is a Standing Committee in the sense that it is appointed for the whole Session.
The Scottish Standing Committee is a queer bird. The only bird like it is the Phoenix, because the Scottish Standing Committee does not come into being until a Bill is sent to it, when a nucleus of 30 Members is formed by the Committee of Selection. After that, somehow or other up to 20 additional Members are then selected. When the Committee's consideration of the Bill is complete, the Committee goes out of existence, because at the moment the Standing Order says that the Committee Members shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection in respect of each Bill.
Do we have any Scottish Standing Committee after such a Committee has dealt with a Bill? Members are selected for a single Bill only. When by negligence of the Government in not moving a Motion to take the Committee stage of a Bill on the Floor of the House a Scottish Bill automatically goes to the Scottish Standing Committee, the fact is that there is no Scottish Standing Committee. It is only after a Bill is committed to a Scottish Standing Committee that its membership is selected.
§ Mr. Mackie
Does the hon. Member suggest that in future Scottish Standing Committees will not occupy a similar position?
§ Mr. Ross
That may be possible because there is no nucleus. I will read the Standing Order to the hon. Member. It says:For the consideration of bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a standing committee or bills committed to the Scottish Standing Committee, the Committee shall consist of thirty members representing Scottish constituencies, who shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection in respect of each such bill…Until a Bill is sent to it, the Committee does not exist and the names cannot be printed. After the Committee has dealt with that Bill, the Committee goes out of existence; but a new Committee is called into existence when there is another Bill, because a Committee has to be nominated for each Bill.
Is it right to call it a Standing Committee? I should like to know exactly what the position will be. When there is not a Motion to take a Bill on the Floor of the House, it automatically goes to a Standing Committee. However, there are automatically Committees standing waiting—Standing Committees A, B, C, D, and so on. But there will be no Scottish Standing Committee. There will be a name.
I should like to know exactly how this proposal will be administered. I certainly think that is it illogical to call it the Scottish Standing Committee. We cannot call it a Scottish Sitting Committee because it will not sit. We have had a square-table conference about this, for which I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm McPherson) and Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). We have been very definitely puzzled as to whether we should call it the Scottish Phœnix Committee or the Scottish Phantom Committee. It has Phœnix-like 555 qualities, but it has also chameleon-like qualities. It rises from the ashes, but also it changes its form.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I am not sure whether the hon. Member said "fiends" or "Phoenix".
§ Mr. Ross
I did not think that my enunciation was so bad, but I should never label English Members of that Committee with the word "fiends". I should not describe his hon. Friends in that way. They have never behaved like that.
This matter calls for examination to find a suitable name for the Committee. I cannot understand how we can possibly accept that it is a Standing Committee when it does not stand. It has, in fact, no existence. I want to know exactly what the administrative machinery will be. We have a nucleus in relation to every other Standing Committee, but there is not a nucleus for the Scottish Standing Committee.
I know that the effect of my Amendment is to propose a nucleus of 30 Members, but frankly I do not want that. [Interruption.] I can understand the difficulty of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) about this matter. I have said before that my main purpose is to draw attention to the illogicality of naming this Committee the Scottish Standing Committee. I suggest that the Secretary of State should find some other way of describing this Committee. It is not comparable with any other Committee of the House. Standing Committees are made at the beginning of the Session, the names of the nucleus are printed and names are added thereto.
There is another point to which I want to draw the attention of the Secretary of State. I suppose he will be concerned with this. When a Committee is formed a Motion has to be put down on the Order Paper. We have already heard tonight that there are many people concerned about the fact that they may not or will not be members of the Scottish Standing Committee. I think that there will be anything from 21 to 40 Scottish Members so affected. It may be fewer or it may be more.
The Committee of Selection, having first drawn up the nucleus and then the list of additional Members, will have to put a Motion on the Order Paper and 556 it will be open to Members to object that their names are not included. This has never been done in regard to the Scottish Committee. The Scottish Grand Committee consists automatically of every Scottish Member with additional Members, and the only thing in relation to this which appears on the Order Paper is whether one of the martyrs feels that it is time he should be released; and one added English Member comes off and some other woebegone newcomer is put on. Now, in the case of every Bill that goes before the Scottish Standing Committee, a new Committee has to be selected and a Motion must be presented to the House that certain Members be members of the Scottish Standing Committee—if we are still to call it the Standing Committee.
There are three things I want to know. What is to be the administration in relation to selection? Bills are to be sent to a Committee that does not exist, will not exist and cannot exist, until a Bill is committed to it. How a Bill can be committed to a Committee which does not exist is something I have not quite been able to understand; but that is what the Standing Order is intended to say. That is the stupidity of it.
§ Mr. Ross
We want more than the Lord Advocate. We want the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General and the whole lot. Remember, the Home Office is involved. No wonder the Leader of the House, the Lord Privy Seal, the Home Secretary and the Lord High Panjandrum left after his few short flattering sentences to avoid the difficulties he has brought upon us.
Secondly, is it intended to continue to call this phantom Committee—I wish I could find all the names we suggested—
§ Mr. Ross
Most of them would be in order. I have spoken about this strange creature with these chameleon-like propensities. Whatever it is, it is not a Standing Committee. Can we have some Scottish logic and get a better name for it?
Thirdly, what are to be the powers of hon. Members when the Committee is created and the names go on the Order 557 Paper, and have we the right to object? Let me remind the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) of something. I was reading once again the speech made by Lord Robert Cecil when Committees were revived in, I think, 1907. He made the point that he had been consistently making about the Scottish Grand Committee that people had to work somewhere else. Lord Robert Cecil made another argument—my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell has referred to it—that people get in the way of the official machine, the Whips.
It has been known that people are kept off Committees dealing with certain Bills. That is one of the dangers facing hon. Members opposite if they show particular activity concerning controversial Bills, whether it is, for example, the Rent Bill or the Local Government Bill. It is up to the Whips to recommend to the Committee of Selection which of them shall be put on a Committee to consider a Bill. If they are not kindly in their treatment of a Government Measure, the chances are that they will not be selected.
§ Mr. Willis
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the Government have stopped Members on the Government side from serving on a Committee because they have been opposed to the Bill in question?
§ Mr. Ross
I am merely giving my hon. Friend the benefit of the experience of a distinguished Parliamentarian at the beginning of the century who said, from bitter experience in this House, that that is what is done by Governments.
I have not the slightest doubt that the same thing has happened and will happen regarding the Bill we discussed yesterday. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) who trounced the Bill yesterday will be a member of this Committee? I am perfectly sure that the Scottish Tory Whip will make sure that the hon. Member is one of those who is not selected. I am doing my best to get him selected by this speech, but we shall have to watch and see.
I wish to know whether the Committee of Selection has made its selection and whether the Government have thought of the difficulties in their way, not once a year, bit with every single Bill which comes to the Standing Committee, if objections are raised to the membership. 558 It would have been far better had the Government accepted our original Amendment regarding the Scottish Grand Committee having major Bills to consider and leaving the minor Bills to a Committee—hon. Members may call it what they like—now known as the Standing Committee.
I shall be interested in the explanations and defence of the Government by the Secretary of State about this phantom Committee. It is a Committee which is to be unknown, and which in fact is nonexistent until something is sent to it. It is a "Scottish Sputnik Committee" because it must exist in outer space, if not in this House, until such time as a Bill is committed to it. I shall be interested to hear the Secretary of State defending this strange new Committee and the strange new name given to it.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
Were this Amendment accepted, it would mean that a permanent Committee nucleus would be formed, which nobody wants. I understand from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that he does not want a permanent nucleus either and so I do not know why he put down the Amendment.
§ Mr. Maclay
If the purpose of the Amendment is to talk about why the Committee is called by this name, I think it might have been much simpler had son-le other method been devised of notifying us of that intention; but I accept that this is a device which may be used to enable us to discuss the matter.
The hon. Member asked whether the Committee existed. It is provided for in Standing Orders and therefore it exists. If provision is also made for the membership to be altered for each Bill, that does not in any way detract from the existence of the Committee. The name is convenient and is understood. I think we must accept that, with all the imagination in the world, there could not be devised a more accurate name to describe the functions of this Committee.
§ Mr. Ross
When the right hon. Gentleman says the Committee exists, does he mean that it exists without members until a Bill comes before it. It has no members until then, and after the Bill has been dealt with it has no members. It continues to have no members until another Bill comes before it. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Committee exists, and has a right to be called a Standing Committee, when it has no members?
§ Mr. Maclay
I am convinced that if it appears in Standing Orders that there is a Scottish Standing Committee, then there it is. If that appears to be too metaphysical I will not take the matter further. I think that even the hon. Member would prefer that his Amendment should be withdrawn and I hope that all hon. Members will agree with him.
§ Mr. Lawson
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we appeal to you since this appears to be something about which we should be concerned in connection with procedure? Here is a Committee being set up with no members. Bills may be committed to it but it does not and will not exist until after a Bill has been committed to it. With your great knowledge of procedure, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you to throw some light on this, or is it an absurd position in which we find ourselves?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that is a matter about which I can intervene. The House may deal with the matter as seems fit. The whole question is before the House.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Surely the House will not be satisfied with the treatment which the Secretary of State for Scotland has just meted out to it? He has treated the House with contempt. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has posed a definite question to him, but he has made no attempt to answer it.
My hon. Friend pointed out the illogicality of the situation which is now being created in trying to constitute a Standing Committee. I do not want to repeat all the arguments that were advanced a fortnight ago when we were debating this issue in the House and when the parallel was put forward that this proposal would 560 be comparable, if not exactly the same, to a little Scottish Parliament which would, as is done in the House of Commons itself, refer Bills to a Standing Committee, and that this was a gain we should be getting.
Now that is shown to be not so much a "Sputnik" Committee as a "phutnik" Committee. The Secretary of State, having no defence to put up against the illogical position in which he is now landed, merely uttered a few sentences and sat down, hoping that the weight of the Government's majority would justify the contempt with which he was treating the House. My hon. Friend put forward a very sound case. This is not a Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Rankin
Children used in their play to sing, "Broken Bridge is Falling Down". The proposed Scottish Standing Committee will be like that bridge; as soon as it has completed its work it will be broken, and then it will fall down. The Secretary of State expects us to go on saying to ourselves. "The Committee is still standing". Some other Bill later on will be committed to this non-Standing, notional, falling-down Committee. This is one of the greatest pieces of codology—[An HON. MEMBER: "What is that?"] It is a new science, which the Secretary of State has been expounding tonight. [Interruption.] I am always glad to see the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) here, because he always uses two words when he comes. They are, "Hear, hear". I shall be glad to hear him expounding these matters during the debate. I shall not explain "codology", but I ask the Secretary of State to explain it, because he is becoming a master of the subject. If he listens to me now, or at least pretends that he does, in keeping with his other pretences, the Secretary of State will save himself a little bother, but he will not solve the problem.
I am glad that the Lord Advocate has arrived, but it would be more helpful if he sat beside the Secretary of State and held his hand, because his right hon. 561 Friend needs some support. We might then get legal enlightenment on the difficulty which has been created: when is a Standing Committee not a Standing Committee?
I suggest that the only honest thing which the Secretary of State can do tonight is to agree that the House should adjourn in order to give him an opportunity to present a defensible argument on behalf of an indefensible case. In order to do that he will have the valuable assistance of the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate's colleague is in a difficulty. We sympathise with him. That is why all these Amendments have been put down. They try to help him and let him see the error of his ways. If my two Amendments had been accepted, which unfortunately I could not be here to discuss at the time, there would have been no further difficulty in the matter, because the Scottish Grand Committee would just have been the Scottish Standing Committee, it would always have been in session; it would always have been in existence, and it would have consisted of seventy-one Scottish Members and, if the Committee of Selection thought fit, an added number of English Members in order to preserve the balance of representation in the House.
That would have saved the Secretary of State from the morass into which he has now fallen. I do not know why he ignores the helping hands which are offered to try to draw him out. Does he not intend to think up a more satisfying explanation of the situation which has been created, where, once we have finished with a Bill on the Scottish Standing Committee, that Committee ceases to exist, and then the Grand Committee at some future date meets, discusses the principle of a Bill and solemnly refers that Bill to a Committee which does not exist? That is a farce.
Of course, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), who is one of the keener intellects on the other side of the House, knows it to be farce. I am certain that if he did not realise that it is so he would be on his feet tonight supporting the Government, but he is keeping quiet because he knows that he could not say a word to justify this pantomime. This is the season of pantomime, but the Secretary of State is 562 making a very poor principal boy. Had it not been a pantomime I am certain that the hon. Member for Pollok would have been on his feet tonight in support of his Government. Not far away, ruminating and thinking about the matter, is an experienced right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), who I am sure would have been defending the Secretary of State had he thought there was a case to defend. He has kept quiet, too. I can only conclude that they agree with that.
No case has been stated in reply to the arguments put by my hon. Friend, and I suggest to the Secretary of State that he should delay further proceedings in this matter. He can hold it up; he can wait and see. There is no great rush in the matter. There is no reason in the world why he should not find a way out of this illogical situation in which he is now placed, and I am sure it will help him to find a way out if he will just take a little more time and delay the present proceedings.
§ Mr. Ross
I am really shocked by the naive confidence of the Secretary of State in the infallibility of the Leader of the House. If something appears in Standing Orders, that is when it becomes logical and all right. That is just nonsense. I have no desire that the Amendment should be voted upon, because I was concerned with the illogicality of the proposal, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a little more thought to it. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Speaker rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not propose to select that Amendment because I understood that it was to be discussed with the one before it. The point seems to me to be concerned with the same thing, but if the hon. Member can give me a case for discussing it, I will gladly reconsider the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought that was dealt with on the Amendment we have disposed of. However, if the hon. Member cares to move his Amendment I have no strong feelings.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not think it was desirable to call it. I thought the point had been covered, but if the hon. Member has a new point, he may move the Amendment.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg to move, in line 26, after the first "members" insert "representing Scottish constituencies".
We have had no opportunity of questioning the Secretary of State on what is proposed in regard to this. I am concerned because of the fact that we now have a smaller Committee, and it is quite unnecessary to have English Members added in order to make weight. I am perfectly sure that I have the support of every English hon. Member who has suffered the torture of silence on the Grand Committee and of all the others who have been terrified that they might still be sentenced for a term on the Scottish Grand Committee—
§ Mr. Ross
The actual fact is that it has never been a matter of any joy to the Scottish Members to have amongst them people who, by unfortunate custom and tradition, seldom spoke. We would rather have had them assert their rights and express their views to the Committee. With a smaller Committee of 50—that is 30 plus 20—out of 71 Scottish Members, there is really no need in considering the matter of the balance of parties to have any English Members on the Committee at all now.
§ Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)
Does the hon. Gentleman really mean that be objects to Members representing English constituencies, or does he mean Members representing English constituencies who are Scotsmen serving on the Committee?
§ Mr. Ross
What I am concerned about is that we now have a limited Committee 564 instead of one that included Members for all Scottish constituencies. On major Bills it is of vital importance that Members for Scottish constituencies should be there. It is a hardship for any of them to be denied their right, but to be denied their right at the same time as they see English Members for English constituencies being placed on that Committee is indeed an affront, and something of which the Government, if they intend to have any English Members on this reduced Committee, should be thoroughly ashamed.
That is why I insist on raising this matter. At present, while Members of Scottish constituencies are being denied their rights, it may well be in the mind of the Government to put on the Scottish Grand Committee Members representing English constituencies who have no interest in Scottish affairs, who do not want to be on the Committee and who, by their presence, are keeping myself or some of my Scottish colleagues off the Committee. We have a right to know what the Government intend to do in this respect. That is why I am moving this Amendment.
This will mean that whether this reduced Committee is up to its total of 50, or is anywhere between 30 and 50, its Members shall consist of representatives of Scottish constituencies only.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Bence
I beg to support the Amendment. I am ready to admit that it is difficult to regard any business which is before the House or a Committee as being purely related to one part of the United Kingdom, but in the sense in which we regard the situation, I would say that if this Committee is to be reduced it is only reasonable to suggest that it should be entirely made up of Members representing Scottish constituencies. No business coming before the Scottish Grand Committee will have any direct interest for representatives of English constituencies.
It is reasonable to accept the Amendment. If the Committee is reduced to 30 or 50 Members it should be made up, in proportion to the respective strength of the parties in the House, entirely of Scottish Members, since it will be dealing with purely Scottish business.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)
I do not support the Amendment. I had the honour, if not the pleasure, to take the St. Andrews University Bill through the Scottish Standing Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) was a graduate at that university, but he represented an English constituency. In my opinion, he was very well qualified to speak on the Bill. He had much more knowledge of the subject than many other Members of the Committee. It would be a very great mistake to lay down, as a hard and fast rule, that Members must always represent Scottish constituencies. I think that it is wise and right to leave the matter to the good sense of the Committee of Selection.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I want to add a word to what my right hon. Friend has just said. If the Amendment were carried I should be denied the right to sit on the Scottish Grand Committee to consider a Motion dealing with the Report and Accounts of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board.
§ Mr. Ross
At present we are dealing with the Scottish Standing Committee and not the Scottish Grand Committee. The Scottish Grand Committee will remain as at present, with added Members, who will be able to discuss the Estimates of Scottish Departments. The hon. Member's right is already protected.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My point is simply that there are certain activities and enterprises in Scotland which are of a United Kingdom character and which affect the nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is free to develop his arguments. It may be that he can show that he is right.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I shall show within a few seconds that I am exactly right in this matter.
In 1952, a Bill was brought before the House called the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Bill. The Second Reading was taken on the Floor. It was committed for the Committee stage to the 566 Scottish Grand Committee. That was a Bill which Scottish Members might consider of purely Scottish character, but I did not because it involved moneys provided under Treasury guarantee by the United Kingdom Treasury. I say that the Standing Committee to which we are now referring will be dealing in measure with United Kingdom matters and it would be wholly insupportable if English Members on appropriate occasions were denied the opportunity of sitting on that Committee.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
Surely the hon. Member should have been here to support the arguments which were advanced earlier about the numerical position.
§ Mr. Mackie
On a point of order. Has the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) asked leave of the House to speak again?
§ Mr. Speaker
That point occurred to me, but I did not think it my duty to make it. I thought that some hon. Member would have had the ingenuity to argue that aspect. It is not for me to intervene every time I hear an argument that I may consider to be fallacious.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sure that the hon. Member for Kidderminster does not realise how his intervention is inappropriate and puts the Secretary of State in a difficult position. He objects to the fact that an English Member may be excluded from this Committee—that is an English Member who has some claim to be on it. In that case how much greater is the injustice that is being dealt out by the hon. Member and his colleagues to Scottish Members, who will be prevented from being members of this Committee which deal exclusively with Scottish matters? The hon. Member for Kidderminster objects in respect of Englishmen. He should not wonder, therefore, that we as Scotsmen object with greater force 567 when in certain cases Scottish Members will be excluded, and in some cases the majority of Scottish Members excluded by his action and that of his Government in preventing all those Scottish Members who would like to serve on the Committee from being members of the Committee. Will the hon. Member now change his mind?
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
There has been such a confusion of argument that I do not know who was arguing what with whom, and I find it difficult to know with what I am expected to deal. We are back now at the original point as to why, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) says, there should be no possibility of adding any English or Welsh Members to this Committee.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member's Amendment will achieve a situation in which it would not be possible.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), with his great experience of the Scottish Committee, has brought forward one extremely good reason for having a certain amount of flexibility in the powers of the Committee of Selection. There is another reason. It is conceivable that we could have such a party balance that it could be dealt with only by the addition of other hon. Members. These reasons are very valid ones for leaving the matter to the Committee of Selection, which will undoubtedly use its powers with its usual wisdom.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) was on the assumption of the inclusion of Members in the Scottish Grand Committee, but what we are now dealing with is the exclusion of Scottish Members from the Standing Committee. What I want to 568 know is whether the Secretary of State would prefer the addition to the Standing Committee of Members other than Scottish Members of the House. If he would, then that would reinforce the complaint which many of us on this side of the House have, that injustice is being done by the Government's proposal to amend the Standing Orders in this way.
§ Mr. Maclay
The balance of parties argument is very important, too, and we must leave some flexibility.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ [Standing Orders, as amended, to be printed. [No. 42.]