HC Deb 13 December 1984 vol 69 cc1236-7 4.55 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns the composition of the Standing Committee to consider the Local Government Bill. Earlier this morning the Government suffered a major political setback with the most humiliating vote of this Parliament when little more than half—58 per cent.—of Conservative Members voted for the centrepiece of the Government's legislative programme, cutting the Government's overall majority from 150 to 23.

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State said on the radio today that he would be prepared to listen to further argument, but he will not have that opportunity as he has not been included in the membership of the Standing Committee to consider the Bill. I understand that membership of Standing Committees is in the hands of the Committee of Selection. But is it in order for the House to express a view about this, and, if so, how can that be done?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. It is entirely a matter for the Committee of Selection. The hon. Gentleman can certainly express a view at Question Time, or in any other way, but there is no formal way of raising the matter on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to labour the point or to stray out of order, but the practice in the House has been for Secretaries of State to serve on the Standing Committee when they introduce major Bills which have constitutional implications, as the Local Government Bill has Is the Select Committee not accountable to the House in any way? Can we not do something about the fact that the Secretary of State seems to be ignoring precedent by declining to take part in rather than being excluded from the Standing Committee on this very important measure?

Mr. Speaker

That is entirely a matter for the Selection Committee. The hon. Gentleman, however, is not entirely correct. There have been many cases in which this has not happened.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As my hon. Friend has said, there is an important constitutional point involved, because this is a reform of local government without a Royal Commission or any public and objective inquiry. May I remind you that in the local government reform of 1962 the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), served on the Standing Committee? Would it not be of benefit to the whole House if we had the experience, wit and wisdom of the present Secretary of State on the Standing Committee to consider the present Bill? I look to you, Mr. Speaker, as the Secretary of State's hon. Friends look to him, for guidance on these matters. Is there any way in which we can bring the matter to the attention of the House so that we may discuss this important constitutional issue?

Mr. Speaker

It would be more effective for the hon. Gentleman to look to the Chairman of the Selection Committee than to me.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If it is not possible for the Secretary of State to find his way on to the Committee, will it be possible for you, in selecting amendments for Report, to take into account the fact that we shall not have had the opportunity to obtain answers from the Secretary of State in Committee? Will you therefore look sympathetically at the matters that we raise so that the Secretary of State can make his views clear on Report?

Mr. Speaker

That is ingenious. Like the hon. Gentleman, however, I have as yet no idea what amendments will be put down on Report.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

As it seems to be unprecedented for a senior Minister not to serve on the Committee in these circumstances, can you, Mr. Speaker, advise us as to what will happen if the other Ministers are not available? Who will represent the views of the Cabinet and the Government in those important discussions?

Mr. Speaker

I never give replies to hypothetical questions.

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