HC Deb 11 April 1968 vol 762 cc1600-2

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 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.—[M. Peart.]

12.25 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I should like to ask the Leader of the House to withdraw the Motion so that we may be given an opportunity to debate it. It has only now appeared on the Order Paper. If it had appeared on it before I should have wished to table an Amendment to it. As it is Private Members' Business which follows I am anxious not to take up the time of the House. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider withdrawing the Motion now and moving it again after the Easter Recess so that we may discuss it. If not, I have some assurances to seek from him about it.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I am afraid that I cannot at this stage withdraw the Motion, but I should like to have talks with the hon. Gentleman afterwards.

Mr. Steel

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what Bills he proposes to put before these two Standing Committees. should like to put the very serious point that under the Motion as the right hon. Gentleman has tabled it a Committee could be appointed consisting of only 20 Members, and if that is so, the 20 Members, according to the Motion, would all represent Scottish constituencies.

I think that such a Committee places the Committee of Selection in a very difficult position. It is supposed to reflect the composition of the House. According to custom and usage the Liberal Members of the House do not get representation on a Committee which is as small as 20 members. We have always accepted that as fair. But when it comes to a Committee which is exclusively Scottish and we represent one-fourteenth of the constituencies in Scotland, it cannot be allowed to pass. We should not have a Committee of only 20 members relating to Scotland if it does not have a Liberal Member on it. We cannot have major legislation affecting our constituents going through the House when we have no right to speak on it. I ask for an assurance about this, in which case I shall not press my opposition.

Mr. Peart

I think I could do that, but the Motion is in the usual form. It aims to set up a second Scottish Standing Committee to consider Private Members' Bills. Standing Order No. 61 provides for only one Scottish Standing Committee, which is engaged on a Government Bill, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland-) Bill. A Private Member's Bill, the Highlands and Islands Industry Bill, is awaiting its Committee stage, and it is this Bill which will be committed to the Scottish Standing Committee being set up today. It is hoped to start the Bill on Wednesday, 1st May. I should have thought that we should have had agreement here.

Mr. Steel

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I point out that the very fact that it is the Highlands and Islands Industry Bill makes my point even more important? The right hon. Gentleman will recognise, surely, that the bulk of the Highlands is represented by Liberal Members. It would be intolerable for that Bill to proceed in this way with no representation, and with no undertaking of representation, from those constituencies.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can intervene now, but he cannot make a second speech.

12.28 p.m.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

It seems to me that the House is owed an explanation by the Leader of the House for making a completely new departure from normal procedure apparently, according to his answer to Business questions, without any consultation with the Opposition party. If he wants to introduce a change of this kind, I should have thought that he should be expected to justify it and tell us what kind of legislation he will put before these Committees. Should he not at the same time take into account the fact that, due to the new changes in the Finance Bill procedure, Scottish Members will be very thinly represented indeed? In fact, I understand that there will be only one Conservative Scottish Member. This is very poor representation, no matter how good that one representative may be. Bearing that in mind, would it not be much more sensible for him to consider diverting more Scottish Members on to the Finance Bill Committee instead of having two Standing Committees running in parallel. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will explain why he is making the change.

Mr. Peart

The Scottish Office informed me that this had been agreed. However, in view of the feeling of hon. Members and what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) has said, I am prepared to adjourn this. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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