HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 cc633-4
26. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he proposes to take any new initiatives to make Government more accountable to Parliament.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

The only recent initiative taken by the House is to establish a Select Committee to consider our Supply procedures. I have no further proposals to make at the present time.

Mr. Canavan

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that last month the Government suffered a humiliating and unprecedented defeat by 40 votes to none in the Scottish Grand Committee, after a debate on Government proposals to close down three colleges of education, yet the Secretary of State for Scotland has so far failed to withdraw the proposals? Will it not be to reduce parliamentary democracy and accountability to an absolute farce if a Minister is allowed to get away with that? Therefore, will the Leader of the House arrange for this important matter to have a full-scale debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Pym

I do not know whether it is in order to take a business question on a Monday, but I think that I should tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not think that a debate on the Floor of this House is appropriate. But I shall consider with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to assure the House that, unlike the Labour Party, he has no intention of making the Government more accountable to, least of all the poodle of, the trade unions?

Mr. Pym

However that may be, I think that the accountability of Ministers to Parliament is really quite important.

Mr. John Silkin

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on obtaintng two senior Ministries for the price of one. Does not he agree that a proper measure of accountability to the House is for Ministers in future to make important policy decisions known by oral statement, not by written answer and not by prior leak to the press?

Mr. Pym

We must be careful about the number of statements. I have every sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman said, but one can reach a stage—I have witnessed this, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has—when there are too many. Therefore, I think that the written answer certainly has a validity and is appropriate for certain kinds of statement. Howeve, I shall of course bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman says.