§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to delay the normal business of the House. However, it has just been drawn to my attention that on the Order Paper today there is a selection which purports to be the Committee on the Local Government Bill. You will recall that, at the start of the Second Reading debate on that Bill, considerable anxiety was expressed about the fact that, although it was a United Kingdom Bill, it included provisions affecting the very essence of local government in Scotland. You will remember, Sir, that you listened for nearly half an hour to points being raised on that matter. Much justified anxiety was expressed about the difficulty for Scottish Members of dealing with the Scottish aspects of the matter when there was no Scottish Office Minister to answer the points.
I note with horror and very considerable anger that no Scottish Minister is to serve on the Local Government Bill Committee. I was told on Second Reading that in Committee we should have adequate opportunities to debate the Scottish aspects of the Bill and that there would be Scottish Office Ministers to answer our points. The Committee on the Local Government Bill is a large Committee, on which the Scottish National party will be represented and on which one of my Scottish Front-Bench colleagues and two or three Scottish Labour Back Benchers will serve. However, not only is there not a single Scottish Conservative Member on that Committee but—and this is more germane—there is not a single Scottish Office Minister.
On Second Reading, it became absolutely clear that Ministers from the Department of the Environment were not in a position to deal with detailed questions about Scotland. That was bad enough, but it is an outrage that there is to be no Scottish Office Minister on a Committee dealing with a fundamental and extremely controversial Bill which affects Scotland.
I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to agree with me that we must have protection on this, because it makes a mockery and a farce of the role of this House as a scrutinising body. I appeal for your help.
§ Mr. Marlow
Yes, Sir. As an English Member, can I say how fed up we are with Scottish Labour Members whingeing on and on about their lack of ability to debate matters in this House? As you know yourself, Mr. Speaker, when matters such as rate support grant are discussed in this House, there is as much time available for 70 Scottish Members as for 500 or more English Members to discuss the same matters.
As Opposition Members ought to know, there is a majority of Conservative English Members of more than 200 over Labour English Members. There are seven English Conservative Members for every three English Labour Members and they get one question for every one question that we get. If there is any degree of overrepresentation in this House, it is by Labour English Members against English Conservative Members and if 544 there is an imbalance of debate in this House, English Conservative Members have suffered a damned sight more than anybody else.
Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Govan)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) obviously does not know what he is talking about.
I return to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). This issue is important not only in connection with the Standing Committee on the Local Government Bill. It gives us an idea of the way in which the Government—if they are allowed to get away with it this time—intend to treat Scottish legislation in future. We know that the Government are in difficulties because of the small number of Conservative Back Benchers who represent Scottish constituencies and because some of those Back Benchers have said that they have no intention of serving permanently on Committees dealing with Scottish Bills. The fact is that the Scottish provisions in the Local Government Bill should in any case have been included in a separate Scottish Bill. We asked for that, but the Government resisted it and have introduced a United Kingdom Bill full of clauses applying to Scotland. It is as much a Scottish Bill as an English and a Welsh Bill and it is an outrage that on a Committee of 30 Members—it is not a small Committee—there is not a single Scottish Conservative Back Bencher and, even worse, there is no Scottish Minister to deal with Scottish points.
This matter goes well beyond normal questions of Committee selection. I hope that the Leader of the House will say something about this, because if the Government think that they can get away with it, they could not be more mistaken. We shall simply not put up with this kind of behaviour and I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will do your part to protect the interests of Scottish Labour Members.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that a number of hon. Members wish to take part in the subsequent debates and some of them are maiden speakers? It would be in their interest and for the convenience of the House if I dealt with this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am on my feet. The whole House knows that I do not make appointments to Standing Committees; that is a matter for the Select Committee of Selection. Any complaints about the nomination of Members should correctly be taken up with the Chairman of that Committee. I have no power to overrule the Select Committee's decisions or to take hon. Members off Committees or appoint to them. That is not my responsibility.
§ Mr. Dewar
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully accept what you are saying. However, this matter deeply affects the workings of the House, the standing of hon. Members and our credibility as a body that scrutinises legislation. The Leader of the House is with us. I know that he takes his duties to the whole House 545 seriously and I think that he will recognise that this is not, in any sense, a frivolous point and that we are not expressing fake indignation. We now feel very strongly about the matter. We have been snubbed dramatically in this matter and I hope that the Leader of the House will say something about it now.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
It is for the Government to determine which Ministers should lead on a Bill. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and his ministerial colleagues will be able to deal with all matters raised in Committee on the Bill.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I must tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that under the Labour Government there were occasions when Standing Committees on Bills affecting Scotland had no Scottish Office Minister as a Member of the Committee.
§ Mr. Dewar
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you can help me with a little technical information that I am sure will be within your knowledge. The selection is totally unsatisfactory. We can and will complain about it, but there is no question of the matter going unchallenged on the Floor of the House. How do we block the Committee and force a debate on an issue which is fundamental to our rights and to the conduct and working of Parliament?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not for me to advise the hon. Member on tactics. There are opportunities to raise these matters. 546 [Interruption.] Surely the hon. Gentleman is not asking me to make a judgment on matters for which I have no responsibility. It is a matter for the Committee of Selection, on which the Opposition are represented. Complaints about selection should be taken up with the Chairman and the Committee.
Mr. Alan Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I promise to be brief. I appreciate that you have been put in a difficult situation which we do not want repeated. At the beginning of a new Session of Parliament, it is as well to have the matter clarified straight away. I appreciate that it cannot be done here and now, but, as the Leader of the House is present and has intervened, may I say through you, Mr. Speaker, that I hope that between now and the first sitting of the Standing Committee the Leader of the House will take the opportunity to have discussions through the usual channels so that we may consider how in the future we deal with issues that are clearly essentially Scottish issues but on which equally clearly there is inadequate Scottish representation at both ministerial and Conservative Back Bench levels. If the Leader of the House will give that undertaking, I am sure that my hon. Friends will be only too happy to allow businesss to continue now.