HC Deb 26 November 1979 vol 974 cc1029-65
Mr. Speaker

Order. Before calling the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) to move the first of the motions relating to Select Committees, I should say a word about the procedure to be followed in the light of the motion on the business of the House agreed to earlier. I am prepared to allow—I think it is important for hon. Members to hear this—a general debate on the first motion. That will then permit all subsequent Questions to be put without further debate, even if proceedings end before the expiry of one and a half hours.

In the general debate reference may be made to the amendments. When the Questions are put at the conclusion of the debate in respect of the motions to which amendments have been tabled, there may be a vote on the first name in the motion, or on subsequent names. However, amendments proposing the addition of new hon. Members to any Committee will not be called for a Division unless the House has first negatived a name proposed in the motion.

10.15 pm
Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)

I beg to move, That Mr. Richard Body, Sir William Elliott, Mr. Alastair Goodlad, Mr. Douglas Hogg, Mr. Mark Hughes, Miss Joan Maynard, Mr. John Spence, Mr. Roger Stott and Mr. Tom Torney be members of the Agriculture Committee. At the end of our debate on the motions establishing the departmental Select Committees, which took place on 25 June last, the House decided, without a dissenting voice, to place the responsibility for selecton on the Committee of Selection. It did so without imposing any conditions on the methods to be used by the Committee and without indicating any criteria to be observed. In effect, it gave full discretion to the Committee of Selection to select in any way it wished, to consult or not to consult, to take advice or to refuse to take advice. It is in the context of that decision that the debate takes place tonight.

When the decision was taken, the House was aware of the general procedure adopted by the Committee of Selection in its week-by-week task of selecting right hon. and hon. Members for Standing Committees, because in the preceding debate I outlined the way in which we normally operated. I said: I propose a very much more exhaustive examination before making any nominations for the Select Committees, because these are being appointed not for one Bill which is likely to run for not only one or two weeks but for the whole Parliament. There has to be very wide consultation, and we shall have to take very much greater care."—[Official Report, 25 June 1979; Vol. 969, c. 183.] That proposal was put into effect in two different ways by the two sides of the Committee. The House must understand that we were in new territory and we had to develop a slightly new technique.

On the Government side of the Committee, we determined to encourage individual applications and to discourage any attempt to influence us by our Whips' Office. In other words, we tried to deal direct with our public and were persuaded by no single piece of advice, though we listened to all the advice offered. This was made easy by the fact that at no time did anyone in the Government Whips' Office attempt to exert pressure in favour of or against any of our selections. The Whips' Office passed to us letters and comments that it had received from hon. Members who thought that their best chance of being selected was to make the approach through the Patronage Secretary or those answerable to him. Of course, the Whips answered any questions when we asked them for information.

With all the information that we were able to assemble in our hands, we used the total discretion that the House had willed us. This is clearly evidenced by the conflicting nature of complaints that I have received from my hon. Friends since the motions were laid. I have received protests, on the one hand, that some of my hon. Friends were appointed to Committees other than those of their choice and, on the other, that those of my hon. Friends not selected for the Committees of their choice were not considered for other Committees. I received protests that we did not consider those who failed to volunteer and also that we selected some who did not volunteer. When the House decided that we were to select, I knew that we were on a hiding to nothing, and so it turned out.

Some colleagues complained that we did not pay enough attention to recommendations that they were sure our Whips would have made to us on their behalf. They clearly felt that we should have been more influenced by the Whips.

On the other hand, as I understand it, the Opposition members of the Committee of Selection presented their recommendations to the Committee only after the facilities of their Whips' Office for gathering voices and making representations had been fully used. Yet there was some criticism that the Opposition members of the Committee of Selection had been too reliant on their Whips.

It is, of course, a simple matter of arithmetic that in selecting from the large number who wished to serve for the small number of vacancies we were bound to displease more than we pleased. We do not complain about that. But I think that it might be for the convenience of the House if I comment on certain allegations attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and reported in The Times on Saturday 17 November, as well as the amendments tabled by four hon. Members and, of course, the allocation of minority party places generally.

According to The Times report, my hon. Friend said: I was happy when I saw the proposed list of members of the Select Committee, but then I learnt that my name was never considered. I believe there has been vetting. It is of course true that the Committee of Selection, at its regular Wednesday meeting, did not consider the names of any of those who were not selected, since no recommendations were put forward by a member of the Committee for change in any of the individual proposals made by each side of the Committee. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough was considered by my hon. Friends on the Committee at private meetings as a possible member not only of the Committee for which he applied but for another one for which he was equally qualified. So, I have to tell my hon. Friend, were a number of his hon. Friends who also had to be disappointed, this time owing to the small number of vacancies available. His accusation about some secret departmental vetting does not hold water. He has only to look at the names of some of his hon. Friends not noted for their blind acceptance of Government programmes or even for their blind obedience of the Whips' Office who were selected to realise how ludicrous such a suggestion is.

However, if my hon. Friend prefers it, I am very happy to give him—as I could have done at any time privately, had he asked me—a categorical assurance that neither Ministers nor Whips imposed their will on the deliberations of the Conservative members of the Committee of Selection when they were considering their nominations. If he thinks that anyone told him otherwise, either he misunderstood what was intended or he received misinformation.

My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that the original application that he sent me and his recent letter asking whether he might be considered for any future vacancies that may arise are side by side in a file in my room, along with all the other correspondence that I have received about the Select Committees, so that whenever a vacancy occurs we can reconsider all those previously disappointed.

In a written answer to a question by my hon. Friend last Monday, I listed three categories of right hon. and hon. Members that the Committee had agreed to exclude from selection. Our failure to exclude two members of these groups, one on each side of the House, proves that members of the Committee of Selection share with right hon. and hon. Members that human frailty, fallibility. We shall of course correct our mistakes at the earliest opportunity if the House approves these motions.

The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough is one that falls within the representational parameters accepted by the Committee of Selection. It is simply a difference of opinion between my hon. Friend and the Committee of Selection. In case my hon. Friend thinks that the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) should be excluded as a member of the Shadow Cabinet, I should tell him that we understand that the right hon. Gentleman has now retired to the Back Benches and therefore is eligible to serve on the Select Committees.

From where I stand politically, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is a very attractive one. He proposes to give the Government side of the Scottish Committee an overall majority of three instead of the majority of one in our motion. For a party politician, it is a beguiling suggestion. Regrettably, it is one that I must resist since it does not fall within the representational limitations accepted by the Committee of Selection as reflecting party strengths in the House.

The assumption behind the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—to the motion on Welsh affairs is that Wales is not part of the United Kingdom and that the apportionment of places on the Welsh Committee should be related directly to the different parties' representations within the boundaries of the Principality. I have news for the hon. Members for Merioneth and Caernarvon. There was a referendum, and the people of Wales came down heavily against devolution.

The hon. Members are Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. They may be appointed by the Committee of Selection to any Committee appropriate to their talents, in the same way as any other hon. Member. Indeed, we have proposed in the motion on education that the hon. Member for Merioneth should be a member of the Education Committee. It is a Committee to which we believe the hon. Gentleman can bring valuable expertise and knowledge of the subject.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has, I understand, devised a method of calculating the basis of Opposition minority party representtation to justify the granting of six places on Select Committees to the minority parties instead of the three places proposed by the Committee of Selection. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to do so and to advance his argument. Equally, the Committee of Selection is entitled to have a view. It carries responsibility for making a decision that will be acceptable to the House as a whole. The hon. Gentleman will recall from the days when he served—

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)


Mr. Holland

No I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to catch the eye of the Chair later, when he will be able to advance his argument. I wish to keep the precise information that I want to give to the House clear and unequivocal.

The hon. Gentleman will recall the days when he served on the Committee of Selection. Whenever there is a change in the composition of the House, the Committee receives from the Clerk a table of the basis of calculation of party representation on Committees of various sizes. However, as no one Opposition minority party is large enough to justify representation on any Committee of the sizes normally set up, the table assumes that all Opposition minority parties are a single party for the purpose of calculation.

The calculation is taken to two places of decimals, so that figures over 0.50 may be rounded up and under 0.50 may be rounded down. On Committees of nine Members the total of all the Opposition minority parties' entitlement is 0.39. On Committees of 11 it is 0.47. Only on a Committee of 13 does the figure exceed half a Member, namely 0.56. If the Committee of Selection had followed its normal practice, the only place offered to the minority parties as a whole would have been on the Scottish Select Committee. However, as minority party Members press claims for other Committees, the major Opposition party surrendered its mathematical right to places on each of three other Committees in return for filling all the Opposition places on the Scottish Committee. That seemed to be a generous exchange. Therefore, the Committee approved Liberal appointments to the Treasury and Welsh Committees and a Plaid Cymru appointment to the Education Committee.

When we were first given the task of selecting the new Select Committees, it was my intention that we should move with all speed to enable the Committees to start work before the Summer Recess. However, since mid-July the members of the Committee of Selection have been subjected to continuing obstruction and frustration. I share with other members of the Committee the hope that tonight will see an end to that obstruction and frustration. I hope that the Select Committees will now be able to get down to work. I wish them well in their endeavours.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

We understand and have sympathy with the frustration of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). He has a difficult task, and the House much respects the way in which he has undertaken it. Will he please explain why an hon. Member who was the chairman of a Back-Bench Committee, who submitted his application to become a member of the Select Committee on Energy, discovered later—no one informed him in advance—that the Committee of which he was chairman arbitrarily ruled out his aplication? The answer to a written question explains why certain categories have been ruled out. Would it not have been fairer to the House if hon. Members had been told in advance of the ground rules?

Mr. Holland

There were no such ground rules as described by my hon. Friend that were agreed by the Committee of Selection. Individual Members on both sides of the Committee formed their own views about who should and who should not be members of the Committees The question raised by my hon. Friend about Back-Bench Members not being on is not true. In two cases, Back-Bench Members are appointed. But the Committee, in its discretion, decided in other cases to appoint other than Back-Benchers.

Mr. Johnson Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reassurance. I withdraw the implication of my question.

10.30 pm
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Is this not the great day for the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland)? He will be entitled soon to one of those political honours that we were discussing earlier. He has an unpaid quango under his belt. He is making the best of it.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Committee of Selection is no more than an advisory body to this House. It makes recommendations—but only recommendations—to hon. Members. We have the final say about who shall and who shall not sit on these Committees. The basic objection to the procedure adopted by the Leader of the House relates precisely to that issue. The right hon. Gentleman took the House for granted. The right hon. Gentleman and my own Front Bench got into a cosy arrangement, fixed everything up and told themselves that the matter would go through the House on the nod on a Friday.

They believed that on one would be here or that those who were here would have cleared off by 4 o'clock and the matter could be pushed through without debate. I should like the Leader of the House to know that I shall be here. I am Man Friday in this House. I am here almost every Friday until 4 pm, except last Friday when I cleared off to save myself £9 on my television licence. I would not have got the closure if I had been here. I have no guilt complex on that matter. For the Chairman of the Committee to pretend that the Whips' baleful influence is not felt all the time when Select Committees are being appointed is stretching our credulity too far.

I will let the House into a secret. I have very few. I believe in open government. My party's deputy Chief Whip, some weeks ago, circulated hon. Members asking those who wished to serve on Select Committees to let him know. I let him know. I told him that I wanted to serve on the Public Accounts Committee. That is where I am. Thank you very much.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The Chair had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But the message, I believe, has been taken that the Selection Committee does not appoint the Public Accounts Committee. It is done by the Whips on the Front Bench.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

My hon. Friend knows, of course, that the Committee on Procedure recommended that the Committee of Selection should nominate all the Select Committees. In a recent debate, some were cut out, and this relates now only to the new Select Committees. I believe that my hon. Friend was in favour of that reduction in the Committee of Selection's power. He favoured, certainly, a reduction in proposals of the Committee on Procedure at the time. There is no difference, on the Floor of the House, between the procedure now, whereby the Committee of Selection recommends names, and the procedure that has existed all the time that he and I have been hon. Members of this House under which the Whips recommend the names. We are carrying on exactly the same procedure on the Floor of the House. The House has always approved the names. The only difference lies in who recommends them. If an hon. Member objects to the names when recommended by the Committee of Selection—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will catch my eye later.

Mr. Hamilton

I want to get on with what I have to say, because I think that it is important.

The House is sovereign on these matters and must make its position very clear. The Leader of the House cannot expect to get motions of this importance through without debate.

I have tabled an amendment which proposes that the name of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) goes on the Scottish Committee list. I have long had an admiration for the hon. Gentleman. His talents have gone unnoticed for far too long. As a farmer he will do a lot of good for Scotland and particularly for the Labour Party if he appears on that Committee. Therefore, I asked for his consent before I put his name forward. It was only courteous to do that. He at once agreed, because he has a worthwhile contribution to make on the agricultural problems of Scotland in bringing an English mind to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has had a marvellous experience of Scottish agriculture. I am quite sure that he has other fish to fry in this place. I know that he would be willing to make the sacrifice for the hon. Member for Harborough. That is why I suggested that my hon. Friend's name be excluded and that of the hon. Gentleman included.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I want to help my hon. Friend. If the matter is put to the vote, I am not so worried about Government supporters; I am more worried about some of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend can put those points in his defence when he speaks in the debate.

I now come to the amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Harborough. He suggested that my name be included in the list of members of the Social Services Committee, in place of that of a former Minister. It is a very good principle not to have ex-Ministers, from either side, serving on any body in the House. A sabbatical of 12 months' silence would be very popular with everybody in the House. Moreover, it would prevent a Minister from being embarrassed at the investigations made by the Committee. He might be responsible for the messes found. I want to prevent him from being embarrassed in that way.

The hon. Member for Harborough makes a humane proposition in putting my name forward. Moreover, I am a sponsored member of the Health Service employees' union. My name instead of that of the ex-Minister is a good choice. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) understands that.

We must get back to the basic principle that the House must insist that it shall be the final arbiter in the election or appointment of members to these Committees. It would be very healthy if we got rid of our personal embarrassments and any animosities that we might have, one Member against another, and put names forward or suggest names other than those proposed by the Committee of Selection. It would be a far healthier and more democratic process.

Let me say how we selected the Scottish members of our Scottish Committee. Scottish Labour Members elected by secret ballot all the Scottish Members who are proposed for the Committee.

Mr. English

Then why does my hon. Friend oppose them?

Mr. Hamilton

Because democracy is a many-faceted commodity. There is one element in the party that elects the members. Those names are then presented to the final sovereign body, which is the House of Commons. The House as a whole might take a different view—for very good or even very bad reasons—from the Scottish group. That is the very essence of democracy. We in this House are the final sovereign body.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Is it not remarkable that the Members who were elected by the Scottish Labour Members of Parliament have been put forward by the Committee of Selection? There is too much of a coincidence there, bearing in mind what was said by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland).

Mr. Hamilton

We have to take with more than a grain of salt what the Chairman of the Committee of Selection said. He is naive. He is a new boy to the game. He thinks that he is very important now. Let him have his day if he wants it. But we know the thuggery that goes on behind the scenes. He is presented with the names. He says "We have listened to the Whips and we have consulted everybody", but it is all a charade. We all know that. That is why this matter must come back to the Floor of the House and that is why this debate is a very healthy development.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

My hon. Friend has done very well to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Scottish Labour group of Members elected the people they wished to serve on the Committee. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend supported that proposition when I put it forward in the Scottish Labour group of Members. Does he agree that the principle of the subject groups electing the Members to go forward should be considered on a wider basis?

Mr. Hamilton

I have always taken that view. I have always been for election of these Committees by the appropriate bodies, whether it is the groups within the parties or whatever, but we have never got round to that proposition. I hope that my party, whatever the other parties do, will think about this more carefully. We are talking a great deal about the democratisation of the Parliamentary Labour Party and other institutions within the party. Let us begin by electing our own members on these Select Committees and then I will take seriously those who are putting that case forward.

10.43 pm
Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

My reason for blocking these motions in the House over the last couple of Fridays has been to secure a discussion on the Floor of the Hosue about certain questions I have been seeking to put. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) said that I could have come to see him any time this week or last week. That is true, but my questions are the sort that require not a sound answer in privacy but asking on the Floor of the House to be answered by him.

I have opposed these motions because I am not satisfied with what I call the modus operandi of the Committee. I am fairly naive about the Committee of Selection. I pay tribute to its members. All of those on it that I know are people whom I admire intensely. I have the greatest admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton. The work that he is doing must be very difficult.

I tabled a question for written answer last Monday seeking an answer from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection on what I termed the criteria that the Committee used in selecting candidates. The answer was not very informative. I can best describe its contents by saying that it begins with the word "No" and that the rest of it does not matter very much.

During the previous week, I tried to table a private notice question to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I was told in Mr. Speaker's Office that the last private notice question to be tabled to a Chairman of a Committee of Selection was in 1960–61, and that it was highly unlikely that mine would be selected. I therefore had no other avenue by which to secure the answers that I needed, in a proper and open way, than to use this method tonight. I should like to know what type of vetting, if any, of the candidates considered by the Committee of Selection takes place prior to that consideration.

Vetting can be done by releasing the names of the applicants for a Select Committee to any person not on that Committee of Selection. The House will probably agree that vetting ought to take place, for security reasons, of members of the Defence Committee. I am sure that no sensible hon. Member on either side of the House would see anything wrong in Members of the House who wish to serve on the Defence Committee being positively vetted for security purposes.

A second method of vetting would be vetting by the Whips. I have received an undertaking from my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip—and I accept his word unreservedly—that none of the candidates for any of the Select Committees was scrutinised by the Government Whips' Office before selection took place. I was a little surprised that such vetting did not take place, because I should have thought that at some stage somebody should scrutinise the list of candidates, otherwise there would be a real chance of all the Left-wingers in one party being put on the Defence Committee and all the Right-wingers in another party being put on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee. I should have thought that at some stage the Whips Office had a duty to scrutinise the list of candidates and to say, for example, "It is not possible to have all these hon. Members, otherwise the Committee will not be representing the delicate view of either of the main parties on any topical issue at the time of selection."

Mr. Philip Holland

My hon. Friend overlooks the fact that the House gave the task of what he calls vetting to the Committee of Selection, and that it was the five Conservative Members on the Committee of Selection who scrutinised all the applications that came to me direct and all that were passed to me from other sources, and who then made their selection. The original selections of those five Members were the ones that we tabled in our motion.

Mr. Farr

My hon. Friend is merely confirming what I have said, which is that I accept unreservedly the assurance that there was no scrutiny by Government Whips. But I am rather surprised that there was not, for the reasons I have just given.

The third form of vetting—I could not support it and I do not think it would meet with the approval of the House—is what I would call Ministry vetting, for lack of another phrase. The 14 Select Committees have been set up to scrutinise the work of 14 different Departments. It would be totally unacceptable to Members of this House if the opinion of a Minister were to be sought by or given, directly or indirectly to, the Committee of Selection on the merits of any candidate for any Select Committee. In addition, it would be totally unacceptable if the names were divulged to any Minister, prior to selec- tion, for any reason whatever. The House did not set up these Committees to give Ministers and Departments an easy ride.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

As a member of the Committee of Selection, I should like to tell my hon. Friend that there was no question of Ministers vetting any member of the Committees. No member of the Committee of Selection would have accepted that.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

I think that the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) speaks only for members of the Committee on his own side of the House. I understand that the names of Labour Members were shown to Front Bench spokesmen, and in some cases changes were made.

Mr. Farr

I was saying that I felt that it would be totally unacceptable to both sides of the House if there were any ministerial scrutiny of the lists of candidates before selection took place. It would be totally improper, and unacceptable to both sides of the House, if any Minister or anyone representing a Department had an opportunity to express an opinion before selection about someone who, for instance, might have asked an exceptionally large number of questions about the Department or who, more simply, might be regarded as a toublemaker.

There are three questions on which I should like reassurance from my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton. First, I should like comments on security vetting. If he does not wish to comment on that, the House will understand.

Secondly, I have of course accepted my hon. Friend's word that no Whips' vetting took place on our side, but he might care to comment on whether he believes that he can always secure the proper balance within a party by the Members he chooses, with the aid of my hon. Friends, to serve on any Select Committee.

Mr. Buchan

I am extremely worried by the hon. Gentleman's continually coming back to the question of vetting in relation to the Defence Committee. I understand his sensitivity. The problem seemed to be confined to the upper classes—people who were educated at Oxford and Cambridge. But if the hon. Gentleman followed that principle there would be no Conservative Members on the Committee.

Seriously, surely the hon. Gentleman should not be raising this matter. It seems to me to be almost a breach of privilege that he is suggesting that that attitude should apply in the minds of the members of the Committee of Selection. I hope that the Committee's Chairman will say so.

Mr. Farr

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will catch the eye of the Chair. Then he can develop that point.

The third matter on which I should like reassurance relates to ministerial scrutiny before the lists are considered.

Mr. Philip Holland


Mr. Farr

I am about to quote what my hon. Friend said 10 minutes ago—that Ministers may not impose their will upon members of the Committee of Selection. I am not suggesting that they impose their will on members of the Committee on the Conservative side. All that I am seeking from my hon. Friend is an assurance that at no time are Ministers or their representatives consulted before final selection is made.

Mr. Philip Holland

My hon. Friend got the quotation wrong. What I said was that I could give a categorical assurance that neither Ministers nor Whips imposed their will. My hon. Friend said "could never impose their will". I cannot speak of the future. I said "imposed their will on the deliberations of the Conservative members of the Committee of Selection when they considered their nominations."

I reiterate firmly, in answer to all my hon. Friend's questions, that the five Conservative Members on the Committee of Selection made a free choice of their selections for each Select Committee at a private meeting, and no change was subsequently made to any of those selections. There was no interference by any Government Department. I was not in touch with any Government Department; nor, so far as I am aware, was any member of my Committee in touch with any Government Department, and we had no interference from the Whips' Office asking us to remove or change any names.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that lengthy intervention. Of course I accept unreservedly all that he says.

There is one other matter, which relates to the wisdom of the House in setting up these 14 Select Committees. I am one who thinks that the old Select Committee system served the House very well. When there was a special project or need, a special Select Committee was set up, and it did a very good job. What I cannot reconcile are the remarks and advice that I received from My Front Bench, in common with my other hon. Friends, about the need to make economies in Government spending and the public service with the setting up of 14 new Select Committees, all of which will have to be serviced by highly paid, effective and newly recruited or allocated staff. Indeed, only this weekend my right hon. Friend exhorted the town and county halls to effect economies.

I think that this is the wrong time at which to set up these 14 Select Committees. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, speaking in a place called Saundersfoot, in Wales, at the weekend, referred to Britain's ratepayers and advised them to rebel over rises. He told a women's conference in Dyfed that it was nonsense to say the expenditure cuts threatened the structure of local government When urging local government to economise, he added that he had managed to reduce employment in the Welsh Office without redundancies and he said that local government should look to its own staff levels".

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Farr

Just let me finish this point. It seems to me to be illogical to urge the town and county halls to make the utmost economies in their overheads, when, by the stroke of a pen or by the affirmation of a vote tonight, we shall set up 14 Select Committtees that will vastly increase the overheads here at Westminster.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the House took a decision in this Session to set up the 14 Committees. The House having taken that decision, surely it is not in order to debate whether or not that should have been taken.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Genteleman is quite correct. There was a decision, but that does not mean that we can never refer to it again.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

My hon. Friend gave way to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, prior to the point of order. Does my hon. Friend not find it surprising that at the end of his long speech he is now complaining about the setting up of these Select Committees and their cost, whereas his real complaint is that he submitted his name and he wanted to sit on one?

Mr. Farr

All along I have striven to avoid personalities, because I think that the principles that I have been trying to place before the House are rather more important. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is in order in referring to me, since he is a member of the Committee of Selection and I thought that the contents of applications were quite private.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend said so himself.

Mr. Farr

I did not. My hon. Friend referred to my name in public. I did apply to that Committee, but when I saw those who had been selected I was not in the slightest bit surprised that I was not chosen, because some of them were hon. Friends of a very high calibre. The only reason that I persisted in blocking these motions was to have the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton the questions that I have asked tonight, because I believe that these raise principles that are of greater importance than any hon. Member of this House.

10.59 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

When the Select Committee on procedure recommended that the task of putting forward motions with the names of Members of Select Committees should fall to the Committee of Selection, it was with the deliberate intention of removing this onerous duty from the Whips' Offices, which would otherwise be expected to carry it out. It was recognised by some of us at the time that it was unlikely to be successful in this objective, and that there was a touch of naivety about it.

I find it extraordinary that the report of the Committee should have contained quite a lengthy apology for passing this burdensome duty on to the Committee of Selection, with the suggestion that it would take a great deal of time and a lot of trouble. I suppose that that cannot be gainsaid. On the other hand, nothing else that the Committee of Selection does takes very much time. I served on it for quite a while, and it was unusual for our meetings to last more than six or seven minutes. I recall one occasion when the proceedings of the Committee were completed in less than a minute and five decisions were taken. It depends on how quickly one can read the list of names supplied by the Whips' Office. It is possible to do it very quickly, and to have a most efficient and productive Committee. I refer to the appointments to Standing Committees and Statutory Instruments Committees, not these new Committees. It was certainly never the intention of the procedure Committee that the Committee of Selection should handle these Committees in the same way.

What do we find when the job is actually done? The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) comes swimming back into the picture as large and as noticeable as ever. I wonder why he is not made the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.

I suggest that the Committee of Selection failed in a number of its responsibilities to the House in the course of this exercise. I say this although the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) is the most courteous Member and I do not think that any hon. Member would criticise him. I refer to the Committee's general approach to the task. I wonder why, at its first meeting to set up these Select Committees, the Committee of Selection did not circulate a notice inviting Members of all parties to send in their applications to serve on such Committees. That would have been the obvious thing to do. But, no, it left the initiative in the hands of the Whips' office. At no stage did it set out a procedure which made clear that Members who wanted to get on Committees should make their wishes known first to the Committee of Selection itself. Had it done that—

Mr. Philip Holland


Mr. Beith

The hon. Member did not give way to me, so I shall not bother to give way to him.

The Committee of Selection then began to behave as if it were two entirely separate Committees. The hon. Member for Carlton talked about Conservative Members of the Committee holding a private meeting to discuss the representations received from Conservative Members. That implied that no Conservative Members had any friends on any other side of the House. It was almost as if any suggestion made by any Labour Member about a Conservative Member would be to that Members detriment. This is a serious point. The Committee of Selection is expected to behave as if it were a whole committee, and not two caucuses that ever meet only to record the decisions that each had taken. That is what the Committee was doing. The trouble was that the Labour Members did not actually behave in this way—and that was what went wrong with the procedure of the hon. Member for Carlton. They did not conduct their caucus meeting in the appropriate manner. Indeed, the caucus and the Whips fell out at one point in the proceedings, and we had fascinating walk-outs from the Committee of Selection.

But even if this procedure had gone like clockwork it would not be the way in which one would expect a Committee of the House to behave, least of all a Committee of Selection for Select Committees. Indeed, the whole thing about Select Committees is that they do not behave like two separate bodies, but arrive at decisions, because a group of Members jointly discover that something is wrong and should be put right. The way in which the Committee conducted its affairs meant that Labour Members clearly did not know to whom they were beholden, unless they were wise enough to realise from the start that it was the right hon. Member for Wakefield, who was making all the decisions. I refer particularly to the position of the minority parties.

Another thing that the Committee of Selection never did was to decide what the representations of the minority parties should be. The right hon. Member for Wakefield decided that. The hon. Member for Carlton said that with kindness and generosity the Labour Members had decided that they would give a certain number of their places to minority parties on the Committee. That is not really a very reasonable or sensible way of running a Committee. The right hon. Member for Wakefield can be quite generous on occasions, but I would hate to run any organisation beholden entirely to his generosity.

Mr. English

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for some of them. Do I get the impression that the Liberal Party is offering to give up its seat on the Welsh Affairs Committee to Plaid Cymru?

Mr. Beith

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should have got that impression. I have not got on to the subject of the Welsh Affairs Committee. If he wants me to talk about that, I will. However, I was talking about the fact that the Committee of Selection did not at any stage—certainly not in the initial stages when it should have done—come to a decision about the number of minority places that there should be on the Committee. As is the case with every other Committee that it appoints, it should decide on the balance of parties and not leave the matter to the Labour Party.

I wrote to the hon. Member for Carlton on 3 July 1979, saying: I imagine that at this week's meeting, the Committee of Selection will be considering the criteria for nominating members of Select Committees. I went on to suggest what, in my view, would be the appropriate number of places for the Liberal Party within the group allocated to minority parties as a whole. I have still not received a reply to that letter. I do not believe that the Committee of Selection has made a decision about the matter. It has simply ratified the suggestions made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield—which have given us one or two places on the Committees—and has done no more in the matter.

Mr. Walter Harrison (Wakefield)

The hon. Gentleman's party has done very well.

Mr. Beith

I wish that the right hon. Member for Wakefield would make a speech. All my time in this place I have been waiting for his speech. I have to content myself with interjections.

Mr. Harrison

Whips are not allowed to speak on matters of this kind.

Mr. Beith

I am sure that an exception could be made for the right hon. Member for Wakefield.

Mr. Harrison

The hon. Gentleman will get a slating tonight.

Mr. Beith

On the calculations made by the hon. Member for Carlton and on the most narrow arithmetical calculations there would be no minority Members on any Committee of this House with less than 24 Members. The House does not operate in that way. If it did there would be no minority party Members on the Committee of Privileges, the House of Commons Commission or any of the bodies which govern the affairs of the House.

I suggested to the Committee of Selection that the sensible way to allocate places to minority parties was on the basis of the total number of places created by the new Committees and to apply the normal arithmetrical criteria to that total, as if we were dealing with one Committee of 120 or 130 Members. On that basis, there should be five or six minority places on the Committees as a whole. One of the fascinating things which has never emerged in these discussions is how many places the Committee thought should be allocated to Ulster Unionist Members and to whom they should go. All hon. Members might like to bid for vacant Ulster Unionist places which have never been allocated. Once again, the Committee of Selection was content to do what the right hon. Member for Wakefield told it.

It is a sad reflection on the way in which the Committee sets out its work that it should have failed in a series of three tests: first, to make itself the body responsible for appointing Members to the Committee; secondly, to ensure that when the appointment process was interminably delayed by whatever was going on in the Whips' Office it did not tolerate that and went on to make nominations; and, thirdly, to decide what the balance of parties should be on the Committees and tell the minority parties the number of places allocated to them so that their Members could make applications. To have failed in these three distinct ways to carry out the instructions given by the House seems to be a serious omission on the part of the Committee of Selection and a good reason for thinking of a better way to handle the matter next time we do so.

11.9 pm

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

The procedure Committee considered this matter on two occasions. On the first occasion it decided that the Committee of Selection should be elected by the House of Commons in a different way from that in which it is normally elected. Every Committee of the House is elected by the House on a first-past-the-post majority basis. That has always been so. That is also true of the Committee of Selection.

In its first discussion of the matter, the Procedure Committee suggested that the Committee of Selection could be elected in the same way as are the executive committees of the IPU and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with Members of all parties voting for a given proportion of each party, so that the majority party would have a majority on the Committee, but the members would be elected by hon. Members of all parties. That suggestion was rejected when the Procedure Committee discussed the matter for the second time.

However, we thought that it was worth while to retain the idea that the Committee of Selection should recommend to the House the membership of Select Committees. Our idea was that it should be slightly different from the Whips alone making recommendations to the House. There is no difference in terms of the procedure on the Floor of the House, but it is interesting that the result should have been different, because in a way that proves that the Procedure Committee was right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) did not object when the Whips used to recommend the membership of Select Committees. I do not suggest that my memory is perfect, but I cannot remember one occasion in the 15 years that I have been an hon. Member when either of those hon. Members objected to the membership of any Select Committee proposed by the Whips. [Interruption.] The Whips of the major parties are not allowed to speak.

Mr. Beith

I distinctly recall that when the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) was Government Chief Whip he spoke from the Government Dispatch Box at considerable length on one occasion.

Mr. English

I accept that, but the hon. Gentleman will recollect that we replaced my right hon. Friend. The tradition of the major parties, which some have broken, is that Whips do not speak. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that he will shortly be replaced in his own party.

The Procedure Committee did not recommend, and the House has not approved, any change in the method of appointing Select Committees. We have changed the method of recommending memberships of them to the House and we have proved our point. Once something is recommended by a Committee, it will be discussed on the Floor of the House. We are doing that now. These matters were never discussed when recommendations were made solely by the Whips of both Front Benches. That proves the Procedure Committee's point and I recollect that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was as much in favour of the change as I was at the time.

I suggest that we should retain the new procedure and perhaps consider whether the method of appointment of the Committee of Selection is right—which is a matter on which the Procedure Committee was in two minds. Surely it must be better for the whole country if all these Select Committees and, I hope, others are discussed by the House. I disagree with the hon. Members who have spoken so far, but surely the matter should be discussed. Hitherto, when the names of hon. Members on Select Committees were put before the House, no hon. Members said a word because they were frightened of the Front Benches. That cannot be right.

The Procedure Committee has not got it totally right, but it has got it partly right, and I hope that during this Parliament the House will consider how we can improve the procedure.

11.14 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

I apologise—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I understand that he was not here when Mr. Speaker gave his ruling. We are having a general debate on the first motion on the Order Paper and reference may be made to the other motions and the amendments before us.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to apologise for missing the opening speeches. Having seen the debate on the Agriculture Committee motion go on for so long, I came to the conclusion that the debate could not be solely on that subject, and I rushed into the Chamber

There was a time, not many months ago, when we used to say in the House "We are all minorities now". Sadly, those times have gone.

We are now living with the consequences. We no longer have those nostalgic telephone calls on a Sunday from the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) asking about our health and whether it will last until Tuesday. Nor do Conservative Members now check on the ones and twos in the House. The ones and the twos do not matter so much now and the democratic system of first-past-the-post in general elections appears to work in the Select Committees.

In principle, Select Committees can be useful. They have a role to play. However, I have grave doubts about the way in which they have been set up. Traditionally, the House has accepted and respected that the balance of the parties within Wales and Scotland will be reflected on the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee respectively. The Welsh Grand Committee met last Wednesday. It is true that three Conservative Members from England were added to that Committee, but that made only 14 Members out of a total of 39. It was therefore not possible for the Welsh Grand Committee to reflect the balance in the House by any stretch of the imagination. It reflected rather the balance of the parties in Wales.

The same is true of the Scottish Grand Committee. That Committee also reflects the balance of the parties in Scotland. That is only right and fair, because the Select Committees, or Grand Committees, are debating issues of particular and peculiar interest to the people of Scotland or Wales. That would not be an issue of little import if the Select Committees or Grand Committees were taking a vote and a decision that was conclusive, and if there were not a requirement to come back to this Chamber for a substantive decision.

However, that is not the way in which we operate, nor is it the way in which the Select Committees will be operated. The weight of opinion and evidence is overwhelming. In terms of fair play, representation on the Scottish Select Committee and on the Welsh Select Committee should reflect the balance of the parties in Scotland and Wales as well as possible.

Conservative Members pride themselves on the concept of fair play. They should therefore ensure that at the very least each party has a voice on that Committee. Each party has its own peculiar standpoint even if hon. Members do not always agree with it. The composition of Committees that has been put forward by the Committee of Selection frustrates that point because the minority of minorities—the smallest possible minority party, a party of two—does not have a part in the normal exchanges that take place when such Committees are set up.

Mr. Harrison

We must start to reveal the truth. On each occasion that there was any consideration regarding these particular Select Committees I personally went to each minority party and consulted it. The initiative was not taken by anyone else. I discussed the issue fully with every minority party.

Mr. Wigley

I accept that the right hon. Member for Wakefield talked to us, but is that the only channel that we can use in order to gain representations? We have no direct voice, as of right, on the Committee of Selection. There was no attempt to delineate how many Members should be on the Committee to get a balance and then to allocate them. We were in the hands of the gauleiter from Wakefield. He was benevolent, but we were in his hands. There was no opportunity for us to have a voice as of right.

Mr. English

Did the hon. Gentleman write to the Chairman or the Clerk to the Committee of Selection on this issue?

Mr. Wigley

There has been a barrage of correspondence on this issue. I shall not go into all the details, but some Conservative Members are aware of them.

The balance in Wales at the general election, given that we have an 11-member Select Committee for Wales, lends itself ideally to a composition as follows: that the Labour Party, which has been the dominant party in Wales since the First World War, would justify six out of the 11 places; that the Conservative Party, which did better than for many years but is a minority party in Wales, would be entitled to three places; and that the Liberal Party and Plaid Cymru, at about the 10 per cent. mark, would be entitled to one place each. That would make up the 11-member Committee in a balance that reflected opinions in Wales and gave each party an opportunity to have its say. At the end of the day, the decisions—if decisions arise from the deliberations of the Committee—would come back to the House. Then the Conservative Party—the party in Government with an overall majority—could always have its way.

We are seeking for the right to have a voice on these Committees. We are asking for the opportunity to ask questions. If this Parliament cannot afford to small minorities in Scotland and Wales the right to ask questions, there is something fundamentally wrong.

11.22 pm
Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

I think that I can make my point in a few short sentences. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) is entirely right in saying that there is advantage in debating the membership of the Committees in whose favour the House so clearly voted some months ago. But I have said to him privately—and I say now to his face in the Chamber—that I am certain that debate could easily have been arranged without obstruction of the will of the House in the establishment of these Committees over successive weeks. I am sorry that we have delayed in setting up the Committees.

I must comment that the style of this debate will have done the dignity of the House little good. I was staggered at the facetiousness of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). He is a most serious, competent and admirable Member, but to treat the subject with the levity that he did was a great pity.

I must also remark that the plaints of the minority parties were unattractive. It has been my long experience in this Chamber that, if anything, we treat minority parties with extreme generosity. The representatives of these trivial parties have only to stand to their feet in main debates to be called. Many of us in the last Parliament were more than aggrieved at the priority that the House, in its generosity, afforded to them.

Mr. Beith

Four million votes.

Mr. du Cann

Furthermore, I had the honour, on behalf of the House, to be Chairman of the first Expenditure Committee and to establish it. Then, after that, I was for five years the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I reflected during that time that, when it came to the serious work in the House, the minority parties were conspicuously absent. Certainly it was true of the Liberal representative on the PAC. He came, found that there were no opportunities for personal publicity, and promptly left.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. du Cann

No, I shall not.

Thirdly, I disagree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough about the way in which he has approached this subject. I do not impugn his sincerity for a moment, for not only is he my hon. Friend in the parliamentary sense but he is also my friend. But the House should reflect upon one simple matter. Over the lifetimes of us all the power of the Executive has grown constantly and inexorably, and we on the Back Benches, deplorably, have connived at that. It is time that we brought matters under better control.

I have nothing but admiration for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He put before right hon. and hon. Members the clear recommendations of the procedure Committee within seven weeks of the general election. That was as near immediate as anyone could wish. After all, there was an interruption for the European election, and there were many other complexities. We had an immediate debate in this House and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) said in his striking speech, we agreed promptly nemine contradicente to establish these Committees. Since then, there has been a wrangle between the two sides of the House about the chairmanships. There has been a wrangle within the Labour Party about the membership of the Committees. Lately, we have had individual obstruction. There may be detailed matters which are wrong with this or that Committee—membership, status or activity. This will all come out when they begin their work.

But I am certain that the country looks to us to see that those Committees start their work, and promptly. Already we have wasted far too much time. I hope with all my heart that this House will agree tonight to start these Committees to work, and let us by all means review how they are getting on as time goes on.

11.27 pm
Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

I hope that the House will decide to establish the Select Committees, because I believe that the task of the new Committees is of very great importance.

I much regret what the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said about minorities. I say that not so much on behalf of my own party but on behalf of other parties, because the essence of these Select Committees is that they represent the House as a whole. I hope that we shall not find Committees divided into groups of five and four, and so on. I believe that those who find themselves serving on these Committees will regard themselves as being responsible to the House. The experience of other Select Committees has been that people have learnt to work together as a team, and I believe that that will happen in these new Committees.

However, on both sides of the House there is a good deal of dissatisfaction about the way in which the selection has worked. I do not seek to blame the Committee of Selection. This debate should have taken place a long time ago. We should have discussed beforehand how the procedures were to work and what sort of consultation there should be. I believe that my own party should have consulted the specialist groups concerned with each of the subjects to see how they felt about the right hon. and hon. Members who should be on the Select Committees.

I intervene in this debate partly because the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) seeks in his amendment to delete only my name from the list of members of the Social Services Committee. The argument appears to be that we should not include anyone who has been a Minister. That seems to be nonsense. I am not a Minister. I am not on the Opposition Front Bench. I sit on the Back Benches. I behave as I believe a Back Bencher should. I suppose that it is a disadvantage for some to have on a Select Committee an hon. Member who has a deep knowledge of the range of work of the Committee. But that to me does not seem to be a disadvantage.

I hope that no one will think that we would leave hon. Members off Select Committees because of their experience of the work that the Committees have to perform. I hope that the House will decide to establish the Select Committees. I am not arguing that I should be given a place. If my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) takes my place, that will be fine. It is my wish to see the Committees establishd and getting on with their job.

11.30 pm
Mr. William Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

I intervene because I am concerned that the voice of Scotland has been taken as the voice of Central Fife. That is not the view that I should wish to hear north of the border. The new Scottish Select Committee is seen as an important part of Scotland's government. We look to it to do a good job for Scotland. We look to all hon. Members, from whatever party, to do a good job for Scotland. Scotland is certainly looking to us to do a good job.

I was tempted by the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). It is a rather mischievous amendment. It seemed appealing to have additional Conservative Members sitting as representatives on the new Scottish Select Committee. However, when I considered the proposition further I realised that the people of Scotland would not take kindly to such a move. They would see it for what it is. They would much prefer to see a Scot asking questions of Scottish Ministers.

It has been suggested that all Conservative Members should be disqualified from membership of the Defence Committee following positive vetting. I hope that that remark will be withdrawn. It would not apply to me. As I understood it, it was something to do with background. That is not what Britain is seeking. The people are looking to us to do something, and we have a unique opportunity through the Select Committees. We have all said that something needs to be done. Let us get on with the job. I hope that we shall do something positive this evening.

11.32 pm
Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

It may be that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) was referring to me. I picked up the argument about positive vetting. It seems to be a dangerous task to throw to any Committee. It was an argument that was uncalled for and I regret that it was advanced.

I am pleased to know that there are some on the Conservative Benches who want to see the Scottish Committee unchanged. I have a vested interest in it and I welcome that support.

The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) is a brave man. I remember reluctant recruits to the Scottish Grand Committee. We used to say that the extra English Members joined the Scottish Grand Committee as compensation for their political honours. There were so many knights that my friend Willie Ross used to describe the Committee as the "knight shift". Even bolder is the House when it calls on a Member to undertake that task. He will find it difficult. He will have to be au fait with Scottish affairs. He will need to know not only Jock Stein but Andy Ritchie. He will need to know the difference between Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid. He will need to know the name of Scotland's other national drink. There is a range of things that he will need to know.

Mr. Rooker

What is the name of the other national drink?

Mr. Buchan

Barr's irn bru.

I deplore the attack that has been made on minority parties. I deplore the undercurrent of criticism of dissent. I welcome dissent. I must tell the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) that, whatever has happened in his own party, it is not right to say that the SNP was disregarded. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) has given the House his explanation. I spoke to the leader of the SNP, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). Every opportunity was given to the SNP to have a Member on the Scottish Select Committee. Apparently it did not wish to have one. We have seen the usual letters appearing in The Scotsman, and it is time that the SNP charges were rebutted. I do not intend to join in the argument, but this is the proper place in which to rebut it.

There is another problem facing the hon. Gentleman. It arises out of the manner in which the Scottish Members were chosen.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

The hon. Gentleman said that he had asked SNP Members whether they wished to have a seat on the Scottish Committee and they had declined the invitation. If my memory serves me aright, it was said not long ago in the press in Scotland that the former Secretary of Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian), had approached the SNP and offered a deal, which was that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) should take a seat on the Committee and he had accepted the offer. Why, therefore, is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the SNP did not accept the seat?

Mr. Buchan

I should thank the hon. Gentleman for being helpful, but I do not know that he has been. He has asked me to comment on a report in the press. I know nothing about that. What I do know is what I said, namely, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield spoke to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), that a week later my right hon. Friend the Member for Craigton spoke to him and that on the same evening I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman. At that time there was apparently no inclination on the part of the SNP to go on to that Committee. I know nothing about the press comment.

Mr. Harrison

I am willing to help my hon. Friend and anyone else on this occasion. As I have said before, I consulted everyone concerned. During the 10 or 11 years that those concerned have been dealing with Select Committees there has been very little trouble. However, on this occasion, with this great democracy that has arrived, there have been so many fingers in the pie, and so many people requesting others to serve on a committee, that there has been confusion. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) was approached by at least five people, and he wondered what was happening to him. In answer to the official approach he said "No, I decline", but the others put so much pressure on the right hon. Gentleman that he was thinking of changing his mind.

Mr. Buchan

I hope that that settles it, because that is the record as I understand it.

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that my understanding is that there was a general invitation to SNP Members to say whether they wanted to be on Committees in general? They replied that, with only two Members instead of the 11 that they had had in the previous Parliament, it would be difficult for them to do as much Committee work as they did in the previous Parliament. That was interpreted as implying that they did not want to be on the Scottish Committee.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the SNP had wanted to be on the Committee it should have been represented there? Does he accept that other minority parties should be on Committees if they want to be represented on them? Does he further accept that, as the Select Committees have been formulated in this way, it appears that a grave injustice is being done in that there are members from other parties who did not want to be on these Committees but were put there? Why was it not possible to ensure the balance by putting them on the Committees whether or not they wanted to be there?

Mr. Buchan

I am neither the Chairman of the Committee of Selection nor the right hon. Member for Wakefield. I can talk only about that which I know and that with which I am concerned. There are points of difference. The first point of difference is that the Scottish Committee was to have had 13 Members Secondly, I accept the comment that the SNP now has only two Members in Parliament and therefore they would be too occupied if they were on the Committee. I take that as more than implying a refusal. I take it as a refusal, and therefore I stand by what I said. I am not referring to anything said by the SNP. I am talking about what has been said by the hon. Member for Caernarvon tonight.

I agree that there is no case for keeping former Ministers off the Select Committees. I was a good Front Bencher as Front. Benchers go. As good Front Benchers go, I went. I hope that that will not be a barrier.

There is dissatisfaction. We know how this place operates. It does not always operate by directives and patronage. It operates by a series of winks and nods and a series of understandings. We know the pressure that can be brought by both Front Benches. This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Harborough are trying to resist. I have a great deal of sympathy with them. But there is a solution. Better progress is sometimes made by accident. When the King's head was cut off by accident, it seemed a good idea to a lot of people who followed after him.

We have stumbled on a good idea in the Scottish group of Labour MPs. We have decided that the six Members shall be decided by vote. It is a principle that should be extended, certainly on this side of the House and, I would hope, elsewhere among Back Benchers to try to get people who are representative. It has been extraordinarily successful. There is a remarkable balance of opinion. If the hon. Member for Harborough replaces me, he will have to join the Tribune group or the balance will be severely shaken.

I cast myself at the mercy of the House. If it feels that the hon. Member for Harborough is better qualified to interpret Billy Connolly than I am, then so be it.

11.42 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Not having been a lifelong enthusiast for the establishment of Select Committees, I speak with some diffidence in this debate. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) emphasised the fact that the House made its decision some time ago on the question of principle. The House having done that, we would be wise to proceed as speedily as possible to the establishment of the Committees themselves. We will then be able to see the result, who was right and who was wrong in their prophecies about how this experiment might work.

The debate has served a useful purpose in relation to the method by which these appointments are made. I do not accept the remarks of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) that this debate was unsatisfactory or that it has served no useful purpose. I believe that the debate may influence the way in which the Committee of Selection operates in future. Before we come to new selections, perhaps in the new Parliament or some other time, the House itself may wish to lay down some other criteria. The questions about the smaller parties are important. The House might consider all the questions that have been properly put forward in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that the House is sovereign. That is correct. Every Committee, including the Committee of Selection, must understand that this is the situation. No one can contest my hon. Friend's view. My hon. Friend is always extremely persuasive. He was so persuasive that I almost considered accepting his advice to agree that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) should serve on the Committee. On hearing the hon. Member for Harborough, I revised my opinion and thought that we should revert to the status quo. That is probably the general decision of the House itself.

If no vote takes place at the end of these proceedings, that would probably be the most agreeable way of settling the matter. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has been meticulously careful to be present to hear every word of the debate. For the last one and a half hours, he has been weighing every inflexion and every nuace.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Foot

I have only half a second. My hon. Friend is not going to have half of that half second. He may wish to vote on the matter. Having listened to the whole debate—

Mr. Skinner

Some of us have not changed.

Mr. Foot

I have not changed my view at all on the matter.

Mr. Skinner

We do not need to listen to debates.

Mr. Foot

If only my hon. Friend would conduct the novel experiment of listening with his ears instead of his voice, a whole new world would open to him. I believe that this debate has been

Division No. 112] AYES 11.45 pm
Alexander, Richard Fisher, Sir Nigel Mellor, David
Ancram, Michael Fookes, Miss Janet Meyer, Sir Anthony
Ashton, Joe Foot, Rt Hon Michael Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Aspinwall, Jack Forman, Nigel Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Foster, Derek Morgan, Geraint
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Banks, Robert Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mudd, David
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Garel-Jones, Tristan Murphy, Christopher
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Golding, John Myles, David
Berry, Hon Anthony Gorst, John Neale, Gerrard
Best, Keith Gow, Ian Nelson, Anthony
Bevan, David Gilroy Gower, Sir Raymond Neubert, Michael
Blackburn, John Grieve, Percy Newton, Tony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) O'Neill, Martin
Bowden, Andrew Gummer, John Selwyn Page, John (Harrow, West)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hampson, Dr Keith Palmer, Arthur
Bright, Graham Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Parris, Matthew
Brinton, Tim Haselhurst, Alan Parris, Matthew
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Hawksley, Warren Patlen, Christopher (Bath)
Brooke, Hon Peter Heddle, John Patten, Jonn (oxford)
Brotherton, Michael Hicks, Robert Pawsey, James
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Pollock, Alexander
Cant, R. B. Holland, Philip (Carlton) Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hooson, Tom Radice, Giles
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Hunt, David (Wirral) Rathbone, Tim
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Renton, Tim
Cockeram, Eric Jessel, Toby Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Colvin, Michael Jopling, Rt Hon Michael St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Cope, John Lamont, Norman Sheerman, Barry
Costain, A. P. Lang, Ian Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Lawrence, Ivan Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Crouch, David Leadbitter, Ted Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)
Crowther, J. S. Lee, John Short, Mrs Renée
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sims, Roger
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Skeet, T. H. H.
Dobson, Frank Lyell, Nicholas Speller, Tony
Dormand, Jack Lyon, Alexander (York) Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Dorrell, Stephen McAdden, Sir Stephen Sproat, Iain
Dover, Denshore McCrindle, Robert Squire, Robin
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Macfarlane, Neil Stevens, Martin
Duffy, A. E. P. MacGregor, John Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Dunlop, John MacKay, John (Argyll) Stott, Roger
Emery, Peter McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Stradling Thomas, J.
English, Michael McQuarrie, Albert Tebblt, Norman
Ennals, Rt Hon David McWilliam, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Eyre, Reginald Major, John Thompson, Donald
Fairgrieve, Russell Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thornton, Malcolm
Faith, Mrs Sheila Maxton, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)

a perfectly reasonable one for the House to conduct.

I believe also that it is right for the House to consider the recommendations, particularly since we are embarking on a new experiment with the establishment of these kinds of Committees. I hope that the Government—I am not suggesting that the present outfit will still be in office in 12 months' time when these matters are considered afresh—

It being one and a half hours after the motion had been entered upon, Mr. DEPUTY Speaker proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings:

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 17.

Vaughan, Dr Gerard Wheeler, John
Waddington, David Whitehead, Phillip TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Waldegrave, Han William Wickenden, Keith Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire) Woolmer, Kenneth Mr. Carol Mather
Waller, Gary Young, Sir George (Acton)
Beith, A. J. Leighton, Ronald Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Parry, Robert Wigley, Dafydd
Canavan, Dennis Penhaligon, David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Cryer, Bob Rooker, J. W.
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Howells, Geraint Skinner, Dennis Mr. John Farr and
Lamond, James Soley, Clive Mr. William Hamilton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. Richard Body, Sir William Elliott, Mr. Alastair Goodlad, Mr. Douglas Hogg, Mr. Mark Hughes, Miss Joan Maynard, Mr. John Spence, Mr. Roger Stott and Mr. Tom Torney be members of the Agriculture Committee.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

then proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the motions relating to Defence, Education, Science and Arts, Employment, Energy, Environment Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Industry and Trade, Social Services, Transport, Treasury and Civil Service, Scottish Affairs and Welsh Affairs.

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