HC Deb 14 December 1983 vol 50 cc1111-7

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [8 December] That Standing Order No. 99 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended, as follows:

Line 20, leave out 'Industry and Trade' and insert 'Trade and Industry'.

Line 38, at end insert— '(d) to communicate to any other such committee its evidence and any other documents relating to matters of common interest, and (e) to meet concurrently with any other such committee for the purposes of deliberating, taking evidence, or considering draft reports.'

Question again proposed

Mr. Speaker

Before we commence this debate, I remind the House that under the order agreed to by the House last Monday this debate is in two parts. First there is the debate on the motion to amend Standing Orders and on the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), which I have already selected, if he wishes to move it. Under last Monday's Order, I am required to put the Questions on the amendment and on the main motion after one and a half hours.

Secondly, there is the debate on the five motions—Nos. 4 to 9, dealing with individual Committees. I have selected all of the amendments to these motions. At the end of another one and half hours, I am required to put successively the Questions on the five motions and on the amendments thereto.

12.1 am

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The reason for tonight's debate is, I think, well known. Difficulties have arisen over the representation of the smaller Opposition parties on the departmental Select Committees. I do not intend to engage in any sterile speculation as to the factors that have led to an impasse in this matter. I merely note that objections have already been raised on several occasions to the nominations for membership proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) on behalf of the Committee of Selection.

Motions to re-establish eight of the Committees were approved by the House last Friday, but there remain six of the Committees provided for in Standing Orders—those on Agriculture, Defence, Education, Science and Arts, Employment, Social Services, and Welsh Affairs —which have still not yet been set up. The principal purpose of tonight's debate, therefore, is to enable the House to come to decisions on the membership of these six Committees.

It is a wearisome task to arrive at everyone's ideal solution in a House with six smaller Opposition parties sharing less than 50 seats. No formula is likely to be without its critics.

In the course of the extensive consultations which have been taking place about this matter, however, it has become apparant that there might be a better chance of reaching wider general agreement if the membership of these Committees were somewhat enlarged. I make such a proposal with some diffidence, not least in the context of the Liaison Committee's preference for more compact departmental Select Committees. Indeed, the Liaison Committee pointed out that there must be a limit to the size of these Committees if all right hon. and hon. Members are to have adequate opportunities during evidence-taking sessions.

However, I have concluded that a limited increase in numbers would provide the Committee of Selection and the House itself with a wider margin of discretion in seeking to balance the sometimes conflicting claims to membership by the parties concerned.

The effect of the proposals now before the House would accordingly be to provide that, with the exception of the Scottish Affairs Committee, which would still have 13 members, all the remaining departmental Select Committees would have a uniform membership of 11 right hon. and hon. Members. This would mean that the number of members on four Committees—those on Agriculture, Education, Science and Arts, Employment and Social Services — would be increased from nine to 11 members.

In this I have been concerned to achieve the minimum feasible increase which is consistent with contributing helpfully to finding an agreed solution. I have not thought it right where disagreement still exists in relation to particular Committees—as in the cases of Defence and of Welsh Affairs—to expand the membership on an ad hoc basis to satisfy all claimants. That is simply not a practicable way in which to proceed.

I repeat that these proposals differ somewhat from those made by the Liaison Committee last Session. However, those recommendations were made in the context of a Parliament with a somewhat different party composition to the present Parliament. Furthermore, the main and majority concern at present must be to proceed on the basis that offers the best chance of avoiding further delay.

The first of the other amendments in my name on the Order Paper is merely a change in nomenclature, which reflects the formation of the combined trade and industry Department. The other amendments relate to the recommendations that were made by the Liaison Committee in its first report on the Select Committee system, last session. As my written reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) stated, the Government share that Committee's view that, in order to help facilitate further co-ordination on the work of Select Committees, it is desirable that individual Committees should in future be able to show their evidence to other Committees, and that they should be given the power to join with other Committees in order to take evidence, deliberate, or make reports. The motions referring to amendments to line 38 of Standing Order No. 99 are in accordance with the Government's commitment, and would give the departmental Select Committees the necessary powers to do that.

I recognise that the Liaison Committee's report made recommendations with regard to other possible changes in our Select Committee arrangements. I suggest, however, that the over-riding need tonight is to enable the remainder of the new departmental Select Committees to begin their important work without any further delay.

12.7 am

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

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, in line 9, at end insert— Paragraph 2, in the Table, item 14, leave out '11' and insert The purpose of the amendment is to increase the size of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs so that it is the same size as the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and has 13 members, which seems a perfectly reasonable proposition.

I dismiss the notion that the reason why the Select Committees have not been set up until almost Christmas can be attributed to the disagreement reflected in the motions and amendments. We did not embark on the process until after the summer recess because the Labour party waited until it had elected its shadow Cabinet. I shall not argue whether that was desirable, but it cannot be laid at the door of the minority parties that the process was not started until relatively recently.

The Leader of the House's motion increases the size of some Committees. There is no logic in his selection of Committees to increase. It does not conform to the wishes of the Liaison Committee and, perhaps more striking, it does not even conform to the objective of enlarging Committees on which many hon. Members want to serve. The Leader of the House may be aware that among the Committees that he has chosen to enlarge are some on which hon. Members were not greatly enthusiastic to serve.

If it is argued later that there are on the Order Paper Liberal nominations for six Committees, I can tell the House that we were pressed to furnish a nomination for one of the Committees on which there was a vacant Opposition place, but there was no great enthusiasm to serve on it. I shall not embarrass hon. Members or the Committee by saying which one it was. The Leader of the House knows full well that he did not choose Committees on which hon. Members very much wanted to serve. That cannot have been the logic of it. He simply took those that happened to have nine members and increased the number to 11.

The Liaison Committee's suggestion was that only Committees that had a Sub-Committee should have 11 members. We should not have to follow that either. We should look at the situation in this Parliament and see what would help to ensure that the Committees had a proper spread of members.

With regard to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, it is impossible to represent the two significant minorities in Wales — the Liberals and Plaid Cymru — without increasing the size of the Committee unless other parties are prepared to give up what would be their rightful share of the normal figures used by the Committee of Selection. The Government could well afford to do it. I have put down an amendment to the later motion to enable them to take that route if they prefer. They do not have many Welsh Members, and I doubt whether all those Welsh Members are filled with unbounded enthusiasm for serving on the Committee.

If the Government did not favour that route, it would have been perfectly reasonable to increase the size of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs in order to accommodate an alliance that gained 23.8 per cent. of the votes in Wales at the general election. It is ludicrous that the representatives of nearly a quarter of the voters should be excluded from the Select Committee which deals with Welsh affairs. I can see no reasonable defence of that.

It is no part of my case that Plaid Cymru should be excluded from the Committee. We gained nearly three times as many votes in Wales as Plaid Cymru, but it is reasonable that Plaid Cymru should be represented on the Committee. I can well understand that party's view that, of all the Select Committees, this is the one on which Plaid Cymru Members most want to serve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) has been a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs since its creation. Fie has served on the Committee with distinction. It is generally accepted in Wales, and, I believe, in the House, that he has been an asset to the Committee in its work. I can see no argument and no reasonable defence for removing him from the Committee, and I do not believe that the Leader of the House could find a convincing argument. If we do not enlarge the Committee we shall exclude from it one of its most effective and respected members, even though the political grouping that he represents got nearly a quarter of the votes in Wales. No one could defend that.

I therefore seek the support of the House in increasing the Committee to a size that would enable us to represent on it all the parties that have a legitimate interest in the affairs of Wales. If we fail to do so, we shall be deliberately flying in the face of what the people of Wales decided at the ballot box.

12.12 am
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I support the amendment, and I suggest to Labour Members that it is in their interests to do so too. At the general election, 20 of the 38 seats in Wales were Labour seats, and yet there are to be only three Labour Members out of 11 on the Select Committee

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

On the Scottish Affairs Select Committee we have four seats out of 13. That is equally ridiculous

Mr. Wigley

I accept that increasing the number to 13 will not solve the problem, but it would be better to have four members than three and increasing the numbers to 13 will make room for an additional Labour Member.

I believe that the balance in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and in the Scottish Affairs Select Committee should reflect the balance of opinion within Wales and Scotland. The reports of the Select Committees come before the House before any decisions are taken. I can see no reason why the same pattern should not exist in the Select Committees as in the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee.

That would not be a major departure, but the amendment does not go even as far as that. It seeks only to ensure that all the parties in Wales are represented. It would be unfair to Plaid Cymru, as it was in the previous Parliament, to give it no voice on the Select Committee. In this Parliament, it would be equally unfair to the Liberals and the alliance. In this and the previous Parliament, the situation has been unfair to the Labour party.

In considering the balance that the Committee should reflect, we should cast our minds to Northern Ireland. If there was a Northern Ireland Select Committee on the same principles, it would include only one Northern Ireland Member. That would be ridiculous. The House must get rid of the idea that the politics of the various parts of the United Kingdom are identical with the politics of England. They are not.

The proposal is a reasonable one, and it will facilitate the setting up of Sub-Committees. The Welsh Office is not a single function Department. It covers health, housing education, roads and so on. There is a crying need for Sub-Committees within the structure, and if there were 13 members it would be easier to set them up.

Taking the Committees as a whole, the Liberals have not done badly in getting six seats. They have done rather better than many other people, but the other part of the alliance has not done so well

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is all the same

Mr. Wigley

That is a matter of internal argument in which I should not like to become involved. The amendment refers to Wales, and I should have thought that it was of interest to all Opposition parties. I commend it to the House

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I should like to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on the issue of representation. I tend to support the amendment, but we should find out whether there have been discussions through the usual channels to discover whether the rules for creating the Select Committees have been changed since they were set up in 1979.

In 1979 the Labour party was represented by four members on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs; the Government had six members, and the Liberals one. That was a fair and even balance, and as a result some excellent reports were presented to the House. I ask the Leader of the House whether the rules for allocating representation on the Select Committees have been changed since 1979. The Labour party has 20 elected Members in Wales, the Conservative party 14, the Welsh nationalists two, and the Liberal party two. If the Government make the appropriate allocation on the basis of the 1979 representation, the Labour party should have at least four seats. At present it has three.

The Select Committees were set up primarily to investigate the Establishment. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs was set up primarily to investigate the Welsh Office. How on earth can we investigate the Establishment when the Establishment predominates in the Committees? I can imagine the attitude of the Tory Members on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs with a Labour Chairman, two further Labour Members, seven Tories and one Liberal or Welsh nationalist if we tried to probe the Secretary of State for Wales or the Welsh Office and their actions. I ask the House to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 26, Noes 129.

Division No. 103] [12.18 am
Beith, A. J. Lewis, Ron (Carllsle)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Marek, Dr John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Maxton, John
Foulkes, George Paisley, Rev Ian
Freud, Clement Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
George, Bruce Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wlght)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Haynes, Frank Williams, Rt Hon A.
Home Robertson, John
Howells, Geraint Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mr. Michael Meadowcroft and Mr. Dafydd Wigley.
Johnston, Russell
Kennedy, Charles
Ashby, David Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Baldry, Anthony Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Batiste, Spencer Hunt, David (Wirral)
Beggs, Roy Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Best, Keith Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Knowles, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Lang, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lawrence, Ivan
Bottomley, Peter Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Bright, Graham Lilley, Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Lord, Michael
Burt, Alistair Lyell, Nicholas
Campbell-Savours, Dale McCrindle, Robert
Carttiss, Michael Macfarlane, Neil
Churchill, W. S. McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Clegg, Sir Walter Maclean, David John.
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Conway, Derek Maginnis, Ken
Cope, John Major, John
Couchman, James Malone, Gerald
Currie, Mrs Edwina Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Dixon, Donald Mates, Michael
Durant, Tony Mather, Carol
Dykes, Hugh Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Emery, Sir Peter Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Fallon, Michael Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Fox, Marcus Neubert, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Newton, Tony
Goodlad, Alastair Nicholls, Patrick
Gorst, John Nicholson, J.
Gow, Ian Norris, Steven
Gower, Sir Raymond Osborn, Sir John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Ottaway, Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hanley, Jeremy Parris, Matthew
Harvey, Robert Parry, Robert
Haselhurst, Alan Pawsey, James
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hayward, Robert Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Henderson, Barry Powley, John
Hickmet, Richard Proctor, K. Harvey
Hind, Kenneth Rathbone, Tim
Hirst, Michael Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Terlezki, Stefan
Ryder, Richard Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Sayeed, Jonathan Thurnham, Peter
Silvester, Fred van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Sims, Roger Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Skinner, Dennis Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Warren, Kenneth
Soames, Hon Nicholas Watson, John
Speed, Keith Watts, John
Spence, John Wheeler, John
Spencer, D. Wood, Timothy
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Yeo, Tim
Stern, Michael
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Mr. Harry Greenway and Mr. Andrew Rowe.
Stradling Thomas, J.
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That Standing Order No. 99 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended, as follows:

Line 20, leave out 'Industry and Trade' and insert 'Trade and Industry'.

Line 38, at end insert— '(d) to communicate to any other such committee its evidence and any other documents relating to matters of common interest, and (e) to meet concurrently with any other such committee for the purposes of deliberating, taking evidence, or considering draft reports.'

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