§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That, for the remainder of the present Session, a second Standing Committee shall be constituted for the consideration of Bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively of Scotland and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ That the said second Committee shall, in respect of each Bill allocated Ito it, consist of not less than twenty nor more than fifty Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, of whom not less than twenty Members shall represent Scottish constituencies; and in nominating such Members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to their qualifications and the composition of the House.
§ That all Bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a Standing Committee shall be distributed between the two Committees by Mr. Speaker. —[Mr. Noble.]
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I hoped that we might have got some reasonable and short explanation of this Motion from the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is, after all, a very considerable departure from our normal procedure. Indeed, when we bear in mind that there is no section of Parliament so stretched in respect of the amount of work it is asked to do, and which it willingly does, it merits some explanation when we find that we are dealing with a Motion which means that instead of having one Scottish Standing Committee we shall have two.
We should also have a certain amount of explanation about the wording of 1658 the Order. I do not expect the Secretary of State for Scotland to realise it, but an Order of this kind is subject to Amendment. It is very difficult to amend an Order when it appears on the Order Paper and is disposed of the same night. While this is more or less an agreed Measure, as the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us, we should not take or granted the rights of the House and of hon. Members other than those who represent Scottish constituencies.
After all, every Committee is a Committee of the House. It may well be a misnomer to talk about the "Scottish Committee". Every Committee is a Committee of the House of Commons and that is why there are added hon. Members on the Scottish Standing Committee. That is not just a matter of improving the education of hon. Members from South of the Border, it is a constitutional rule. I should have thought that we would be concerned about the niceties of things and give hon. Members the right, if they thought fit, to amend these words which I, for one, did not see until they appeared today on the Order Paper.
The Secretary of State for Scotland knows what is behind this. It results from a mood of generosity on the part of the Opposition. It stems from my-self, as a matter of fact, and a suggestion which I made in a debate during last Session. It is as well to bear in mind what in happening. There are a lot of people outside this House who talk glibly about Members of Parliament being full-time and how undesirable that is, and all the rest of it. But hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies have been at work in Standing Committee since the start of the year.
Even with this Order, Scottish Members are likely to be in Committee until the beginning of August without a morning off on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Yet we are here suggesting that from our scarce resources—there are 30 hon. Members—this Order should be implemented. We have just finished discussing the Local Government Bill and we are in the middle of a Scottish education Bill, and we know that we shall have to discuss an important Bill relating to criminal justice. We also have our rights in respect of certain Supply Days and Motions, so that the whole year is 1659 fully taken up. I do not know how many Committees the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) attends, or whether he has been on a Committee since the beginning of the year.
§ Mr. Ross
We suggest that we are prepared to accept the Order for these reasons. If a Scottish private Member sponsors a Private Member's Bill which affects Scotland it is referred to the Scottish Standing Committee. An English private Member or an hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency, or a Scottish Member whose Bill deals with a United Kingdom subject, will have his Bill take its place to be dealt with in Standing Committee C, which meets on Wednesdays and deals seriatim with Private Members' Bills. But a Bill which relates exclusively to Scotland goes to the Scottish Standing Committee which has so much business to deal with at present that there will be far less chance of a Bill reaching the Statute Book from that Committee than would be the case in respect of Bills dealt with by other Committees. We suggest that we should have this second Committee for the very special purpose, to deal with these matters respecting Private Members' Bills.
We have suggested that the Committee might deal with non-controversial and small matters of importance which might be held up in the long queue waiting to be dealt with by the Scottish Standing Committee. Certain necessary reforms in respect of Scotland wait for years to be brought in. Eventually the Government make it clear that they are unable to find time, and a private Member then sponsors the necessary Measure. If it is lucky it manages to squeeze through. We thought that this procedure might be a way of overcoming these difficulties.
But when we read the words of the Motion we see that you, Mr. Speaker, allocate these Bills to one or other of the Scottish Standing Committees. We must have an assurance that the limitations which we have in mind will be abided by, and that this suggestion of ours will not be used to push through what are really Government Measures. With due respect, they are matters for what we now consider to be the main 1660 Scottish Standing Committee. It would be very unwise and unfair if this new Standing Committee met on the same days as the present one. The existing one now meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Secretary of State will not be aware of this, because he is never there. He must be the first Secretary of State for Scotland who has not appeared on a Scottish Standing Committee. He has been on the Scottish Grand Committee, but not on the Scottish Standing Committee, dealing with a Bill.
The present Standing Committee meets every Tuesday and Thursday, and we shall consider it a considerable breach of the understanding arrived at in the discussions we have had if we discover that the second Scottish Standing Committee proposes to sit on the same days as the existing one. That would be absolutely impossible.
That is why I thought fit to make a speech about this proposal. Hon. Members opposite seem to think that this matter should merely wander through the House on the nod. It is far too important a matter to be dealt with in that way. Hon. Members on this side of the House have sponsored this suggestion as being a way out of the Government's present difficulties, and it would be far too generous a gesture on our part to let the matter go through without a word.
Apart from the Bills that I have mentioned, and the Scottish Members who are tied up on the Scottish Standing Committee, other Scottish Members are serving on every other Committee of the House. For instance, there is the Children and Young Persons Bill, into which the Secretary of State dragged Scotland, under the provisions of Clause 1. We had expected that Scotland would not be concerned until the Committee had reached Clause 31, and we had arranged our memberships of the various Committees in such a way that certain of the Scottish Members would have been able to duplicate their attendances. Three Labour Scottish Members are serving on that Committee, and the Government have one—the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for agriculture. He is now on the Bill which is looking after the welfare of children and young persons. This only shows the extent to which the pressure of Scottish business is now extending even the Government. Let 1661 them remember that they have the whole Civil Service behind them, together with batteries of secretaries. We have nothing like that.
Furthermore, when a Bill leaves Committee it is not finished with. The Local Government (Scotland) Bill has left the Scottish Standing Committee, and that Committee is now dealing with an important education Bill, but Scottish Members will have to marshal all their arguments again when the Local Government (Scotland) Bill appears on the Floor of the House on Report. This all adds to the tremendous amount of work which Scottish Members are doing. They are dealing with Scottish Bills, the Children and Young Persons Bill, the Television Bill and the Contracts of Employment Bill, apart from the day-to-day business of the House—and we do not tend to neglect that aspect of our work, either.
I hope that the Secretary of State will fully appreciate the weight of work that we are prepared to take upon our shoulders in order to see that justice is done to Scottish legislation and also to private Members in respect of the Bills that they sponsor. I should like an appreciation From the other side of the House of exactly how generous we are in our attendance to Scottish business and helping the Secretary of State in the battles we hope he will be having with the Cabinet to secure for Scotland its due share. He can call on our aid at any time if he wants further help.
I hope that the Secretary of State will give us assurances in respect of the limited nature of the Motion, equally the fact that this Committee should meet, as does Standing Committee C, on a Wednesday forenoon and be limited purely and simply to that, and that it will not be used for pushing through controversial Government Measures. If it is used for that, we shall have a certain remedy, because no Bill can go to a Standing Committee until it has had a Second Reading. If the proposal is to have the Second Reading in the Scottish Grand Committee, thus saving the time of the House, I remind hon. Members that there are ways and means of circumventing and obstructing that by the simple process of 10 Members standing in the House. Then the Bill has to be taken on the Floor of the House. We do not want to go to that extent. What 1662 we want from the right hon. Gentleman is the simple assurances we have asked for, especially that the Measure will be used to the limited extent I have referred to, which is the basis on which it was agreed that the Motion should not be opposed.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
No one could possibly accuse, or would ever think of accusing, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) of neglecting his duties, either in the House or in Standing Committee. He would not wish—none of us would wish—to delay the passage of the Motion. The hon. Gentleman spoke not once, indeed not twice, but three times, of the generosity of the Opposition in proposing and approving the Motion. I am not quite so sure about that, because not only is the Motion, as understand it, necessary for the Government if we are to hope to get through the Scottish legislation which has presently been approved in principle by the House; it is also essential if two or three Private Members' Bills relating exclusively to Scotland and sponsored by hon. Members opposite are to be approved.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
And by us. As I understand it, there are at present three Private Members' Bills relating exclusively to Scotland which have received Second Readings. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) has the Forestry (Sale of Land) (Scotland) Bill, a Bill of some importance in a limited sphere. There is a Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) relating to an indemnity for the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is the Sheriff Courts (Civil Jurisdiction and Procedure) (Scotland) Bill, sponsored by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson). Two out of the three Private Members' Bills are sponsored by hon. Members opposite. Further, as recently as this afternoon, the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) urged my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to find time to promote a Bill dealing with intestacy in Scotland. If that Measure which, I think, would 1663 be welcomed by all hon. Members, is to secure a passage on to the Statute Book in the current Session, it will certainly be necessary to have a Second Standing Committee.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock must fight that out with his hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North, because he will recall that this afternoon his hon. Friend urged the Leader of the House to find time for such a Bill.
I believe that the Government could not, even if they wished, use the second Scottish Standing Committee to give precedence to Government legislation above Private Members' Bills which have already been committed to a Scottish Standing Committee. I have not had time to look this up, but the fact that certain Private Members' Bills have received Second Readings and have been committed to a Scottish Standing Committee would, I am sure, give them the right to go to that Committee in advance of Government legislation which may not yet have received a Second Reading. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will deal with this when he replies and I would like to give my warm support to the proposal.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I was delighted to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the generosity of Scottish hon. Members of the Opposition. I feel even more worthy because I was in favour of altering the Standing Orders to permit a second Scottish Standing Committee to be set up. My hon. Friends did not oppose that. In fact, we not only accepted the idea that it should be set up, but we said that its conception would help to deal with Private Members' Bills, for we thought that hon. Members introducing Private Bills should have a chance of getting them through.
1664 Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, I was rather puzzled when I read the Motion under discussion. I was not clear what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind in the statement in the second paragraph, which states:… the said second Committee shall, in respect of each Bill allocated to it, consist of not less than twenty nor more than fifty Members …I do not think that we need a Committee of that size to deal with Scottish Private Members' Bills, for I would have thought that one consisting of 20 to 25 hon. Members would have been sufficient. From my experience of the activities of one particular Standing Committee, it has been comprised of about 20 hon. Members, so I do not see the need for the phrase… not less than twenty nor more than fifty Members …
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know if I might be able to assist the hon. Member, but the only proposition I have put to the House, or have yet been able to put, is, of course, only the first paragraph of the Motion.
§ Mr. Willis
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand that after we have discussed the first paragraph we can discuss the second?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member desires to do so, most certainly. All he can discuss at the moment is what I have put. The hon. Member can relate what he was saying to what I have put, but he did not appear to be doing so.
§ Mr. Willis
It is rather difficult to decide whether or not we should appoint a Standing Committee without discussing what it is for, particularly when the right hon. Gentleman has indicated the size of the Committee he proposes to set up. However, I shall reserve my remarks on the second paragraph until we come to it. Meanwhile, we ought to have some undertaking from the Government as to what it is proposed to remit to the second Standing Committee, because although I am willing to agree to the second Standing Committee for the purpose of considering Private Members' Bills. I shall greatly hesitate to agree to setting up a Committee which might be meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same time as the present one is sitting—
§ Mr. Willis
I do not know about that. We do not know whether it will be done, but it is possible for it to be done by the addition of very large numbers of English Members. Already, because of the failure of the Scottish Tory Party to secure adequate representation in this House, we are subjected to our legislation being discussed and voted on by considerable numbers of English Members. Decisions are now being taken in the present Scottish Standing Committee in accordance with the will, not of Scottish, but of English Members—
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
Can the hon. Member say how many English Members are sitting in the present Scottish Standing Committee? I have not observed any.
§ Mr. Willis
I have as much experience as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), probably more, and my recent experience has been that even now our Scottish legislation is being determined by the English majority in that Committee. While appreciating the Government's position, it would be most undesirable to have two Scottish Standing Committees dealing with two major Bills at the same time. We should object to that most strongly, and that is why I hope that we shall be told that it is intended to confine the proceedings of the second Standing Committee to Private Members' Bills, and that it will be a small Committee, so that it may consist, in the main, of Scottish Members.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), I think that anyone reading the proceedings of the Scottish Committee would come to the conclusion that not only were there not any English Tory Members on it but, for all the contribution they make to our discussions, no Scottish Tory Members either.
Like my hon. Friends, I should like an assurance from the Secretary of State on this extremely widely-drawn Motion. Like them, I should consider it very much a breach of any sort of formal agreement there may be if the second 1666 Committee were to be used for Government legislation, even for uncomplicated Government legislation, but particularly for complicated and technical Government legislation.
I hope that we shall also have an assurance about the time of meeting of the Committee, because it will be intolerable if we had two Scottish Committees meeting simultaneously. The burden on Scottish Members, particularly in this Session, is extremely great. The last major Bill we had before us, the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill would have gone through our Committee a good deal quicker if the Government had been better informed about many of the provisions of the legislation which they were proposing. We now have the long and complicated Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill coming along, and again I would consider it extremely undesirable if, because of the strictness of the timetable to which the Government are now working, the Government were to suggest early in our proceedings in that Committee that we should meet not only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings but perhaps on an afternoon as well. I hope very much that the Secretary of State for Scotland has nothing like that in mind.
I quite understand that if the timetable were to get too tight then obviously the Secretary of State could not commit himself at this stage to saying that there could not be afternoon meetings in any circumstances, but, in view of the work done so far in the Session, the setting up of this second Committee, and the work we shall have to do on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has nothing like that in mind. I should be extremely reluctant to allow the Motion to go through if I thought that he could not give either the assurances for which my hon. Friends have asked or the additional assurance for which I have asked.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), in asking for some explanation of the Motion, referred to the generosity of the Opposition. This occasionally I might be prepared to concede. In this case, as in a number of others, the problem which faces many of us as Members of Parliament from Scotland is that we have a considerable 1667 amount of legislation to deal with, and I entirely agree with those who have said that Scottish Members are in some ways more continuously occupied in Committees than any other hon. Members. We realise, however, that in many cases there are desirable forms of legislation which it would be of help and benefit to Scotland to get through.
I appreciate that in bringing the Motion before the House it has been with the consent if not the detailed approval of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and of the Opposition through the usual channels. As the House knows, I have been part of the usual channels myself and therefore I know the importance of trying to do these things by co-operation between both sides of the House, particularly when they are for the benefit of Scotland as a whole.
The Motion is for this Session, and this Session alone. I entirely accept the fact that this is not attempting to set up a pattern of what should happen after this Session. It certainly is my intention that for this Session this second Committee, if it is set up, should sit on Wednesday mornings. I should not like to commit myself for the future, if some similar arrangement were made, that it will always be so. There may well be occasions when two small Bills are being taken together, and then perhaps they could both be taken together in a Standing Committee on a Tuesday or a Thursday. In this Session this is certainly my understanding of what is likely to happen. I do not think that anybody in the House today would expect the Scottish Committee to be debating two major controversial Government issues at once.
The question of the numbers was raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). This is set down in the Motion in this way largely to follow exactly the same form as Standing Order No. 58 which governs Standing Committee C for the House which deals with minor and private Members' Bills for English Members.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Milian) asked that the Committee should not be used for complicated legislation. It is rather difficult to give such an undertaking because what may seem simple to some may well seem complicated to others.
§ Mr. Willis
The right hon. Gentleman is overlooking the fact that we do not have a Lord Advocate at present, so matters are unlikely to become so complicated.
§ Mr. Noble
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that admission, which, I am sure, he will be only too happy to play the other way when opportunity arises.
It is not intended to use this Committee for complicated Government legislation such as, I think, the hon. Member for Craigton had in mind, undertake that, before any Measures of the type we have in mind are suggested for this second Committee, the usual channels will be fully consulted. I am certain that agreement can be reached.
I imagine that the House will not expect me to give the undertaking for which the hon. Member for Craigton asked, with reference to later stages of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, that there would never be any metings in the afternoon. I believe that, with luck, this will not be necessary, but these matters are discussed through the usual channels. The Bills which we have in view for the second Committee are. Broadly, uncontroversial and ones which, I believe, the Opposition and the Government can discuss together in order to make the necessary arrangements for the convenience of the House and the benefit of Scotland.
I hope that these undertakings are satisfactory, and I recommend the House to accept the Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That, for the remainder of the present Session, a second Standing Committee shall be constituted for the consideration of Bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ That the said second Committee shall, in respect of each Bill allocated to it, consist of not less than twenty nor more than fifty Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, of whom not less than twenty Members shall represent Scottish constituencies; and in nominating such Members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to their qualifications and the composition of the House.
§ That all Bills certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a Standing Committee shall be distributed between the two Committees by Mr. Speaker.