HC Deb 04 July 1983 vol 45 cc13-4
30. Dr. M. S. Miller

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will set up a Select Committee on Procedure to cover all aspects of House of Commons business.

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

I am aware of the interest in a general review of procedure that has been shown in all parts of the House. I am still considering this matter in the light of the views that have been expressed.

Dr. Miller

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he appreciate the necessity for a review of procedure? Does he agree that one matter that should be considered is the way in which Back Benchers do not have the facility to have urgent matters which occur in their constituencies debated in the House? Will he consider either changing the Standing Order No. 10 procedure to permit that to happen or recommending that some other procedure be implemented so that a legitimate matter of concern to an hon. Member may be debated quickly and briefly, but with a Minister present?

Mr. Biffen

Should it be the decision of the House to set up a Select Committee on Procedure with a very general remit, I am certain that one matter that would receive urgent attention would be the present Standing Order No. 10 arrangements.

Mr. Wilkinson

Regardless of whether a Select Committee on Procedure is established, and as it will be an urgent task of this Parliament to establish the Select Committees of the House, will my right hon. Friend reconsider re-establishing the old interdepartmental Select Committees, such as those on the nationalised industries and science and technology, which did an outstanding job in the past?

Mr. Biffen

I congratulate my hon. Friend on recognising a side wind whenever there is one. The question deals with a Select Committee on Procedure, and I am afraid that I cannot go further than what I said in reply to the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller).

Mr. Maclennan

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the handling of Scottish Bills is a matter requiring attention by the Procedure Committee? Does he appreciate that it would be wholly unsatisfactory if the Government were to bring back the police and Criminal Evidence Bill with substantial proposals to amend the Scottish law without proper consultation with Scottish Members and representation of Scottish interests on the Committee?

Mr. Biffen

The Government's views on the reintroduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill are well known, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman's reservations. On the wider issue of dealing with Scottish matters in the House, I find it inconceivable that any Select Committee on Procedure would survive without having to address itself to those matters.

Mr. Tim Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important matter which should be referred to a Select Committee on Procedure is the question of Standing Committee procedures? Is it not complete nonsense that a Standing Committee, such as the one on the Telecommunications Bill earlier this year, should spend 120 hours considering three clauses followed by 50 hours considering the remaining 81?

Mr. Biffen

I must remind my hon. Friend of Mrs. Beeton's dictum—"first catch your hare". Once we have resolved to have a Select Committee on Procedure with general terms of reference, I have no doubt that timetabling will be a matter for consideration.

Mr. Silkin

If and when the House decides to set up a Procedure Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman advise that Committee to look at the way in which the parliamentary year is now conducted? Many hon. Members—as I look round the Chamber now, more perhaps than for some time past—have young families whose holidays are not as well catered for as they should be.

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman and I are profiled as "usual channels", and he will recognise that that is a matter that we would have to discuss through those channels. However, I say at once from this Dispatch Box that I have a very lively sympathy with the point that he raises.