§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
I beg to move,That the proviso to paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees) shall apply to the First Scottish Standing Committee in respect of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill with the substitution of the word `fifteen' for the word 'sixteen' in line 27 of the Standing Order.I am sure that the whole House will regret the need for this motion, which arises from the illness of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), and will wish him a speedy recovery.
The effect of the motion would be to make a minor amendment to Standing Order No. 86 to enable a change to be made to the composition of the First Scottish Standing Committee in its consideration of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. At present, the Standing Order provides that, where a public Bill is certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland, the Scottish Standing Committee considering it should include no fewer than 16 Members for Scottish constituencies. All that this motion would do is change that to 15 for consideration of this Bill.
Although the motion itself is unusual, the ideas behind it will be familiar to the House. It is a routine task for the Committee of Selection to alter the composition of a Standing Committee after it has begun its consideration of a Bill, either because of the illness or one of the members of that Standing Committee—as is the case here—or because of changes in appointments on the Treasury Bench or the Opposition Front Bench.
In this case, the matter cannot he left to the Committee of Selection because, to replace my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross with another of my hon. Friends, the number of hon. Members for Scottish constituencies on the Standing Committee must be reduced slightly. It was, of course, open to us to keep the number at 16, continue with my hon. and learned Friend as a member and increase the size of the Standing Committee to add to it an hon. Member from the Opposition Benches together with two of my hon. Friends, to maintain proportionately the Government's majority. But it seemed to us that the course we have chosen was more likely to be for the general convenience of the House.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
Will the Leader of the House come clean and admit that this is yet another example of the Government changing the goalposts for Scottish democracy? Until January this year there was a long-standing tradition in the House for a quarter of a century or more whereby Scottish Standing Committees dealing with Scottish legislation consisted only of hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies. The only reason why the long-standing tradition was broken by the Government was that the Conservative party was rejected by 76 per cent. of the people of Scotland at the general election and was reduced to a discredited rump in this place.
Now we have yet another example of the Government changing the goalposts. Is it any wonder that, particularly in Scotland, there is not only decreasing respect for the Government, but decreasing respect for the House? That will continue if the rules of the House are to be changed in 832 such a way that the majority representatives of the people of Scotland do not have sufficient say on Scottish Standing Committees.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's history is a little wonky on these points. There have been English Members on Scottish legislative committees for many years.
In this case the matter cannot be left to the Committee of Selection because in order to——
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The Leader of the House gave one option, which was to increase the size of the Committee. Would it not be possible. within their own numbers, for the Government to appoint the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to be a member of the Committee?
§ Mr. Wakeham
There are various options and I am in the process of trying to explain which I believe to be the best for the convenience of the House. No doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) catches your eye, he will be able to give his views on the course that he thinks would be most convenient for the House.
Standing Orders in no way provide for or imply a Scottish Standing Committee that is constituted exclusively of Members representing Scottish constituencies. Hon. Members representing English constituencies have been selected for the Scottish Standing Committee on previous occasions. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) made a valuable contribution to the Standing Committee considering the Housing (Scotland) Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) is already serving on the Committee considering the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.
I have no doubt that Opposition Members will volunteer another possible solution of simply replacing my hon. and learned Friend with an Opposition Member representing a Scottish constituency. That would give the Government their majority, and in the spirit of co-operation in which I am sure that offer would be made, I must say that I do not believe that that would be acceptable to the House generally. The basic requirement in Standing Orders that the composition of Standing Committees reflects the Government majority in the House as a whole is of longer standing and greater force than the Standing Order prescribing 16 as a minimum number of Members representing Scottish constituencies to comprise the Scottish Standing Committee.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The right hon. Gentleman said that that arrangement would he acceptable to the House as a whole. Does he understand that this proposal is unlikely to be acceptable to the people of Scotland? As the Government refuse to set up a Scottish Select Committee, as Conservative Members are making a mockery of Scottish Question Time and as the right hon. Gentleman is undermining the principle of scrutiny of Scottish legislation, what undertaking will he give that the Government still recognise the national entity of Scotland?
§ Mr. Wakeham
The hon. Gentleman is over-egging the pudding rather substantially. If he thinks that reducing the number of Members representing Scottish constituencies on the Scottish Standing Committee from 16 to 15 will be 833 of great concern to many people in Scotland he has a lot to learn. This relatively minor matter must be dealt with in accordance with the wishes of the House.
The Standing Order and the Sessional Orders that preceded it have provided for a different minimum number of hon. Members over the years. When considering, therefore, whether to abandon a fundamental requirement about the formation of, Committees of the House, or to modify slightly in this particular instance this aspect of Standing Orders, it is clear to me which should be the more mutable.
I hope that I have said enough to explain to the House briefly why we have moved the motion. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross has been unable to attend any sittings of the Committee considering the School Boards (Scotland) Bill so far, and looks very unlikely to be able to do so. In those circumstances, we need to make alternative arrangements, and the motion would enable those to be made in the way closest to the procedure that we customarily follow on such occasions by simply replacing my hon. and learned Friend with one of his colleagues. It represents a minor change to Standing Orders as they apply to the consideration of this Bill only. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
The debate has been brought about in part by the sad illness of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). At first sight, he is not a favourite character when viewed from the Opposition Benches. When he is present, he usually abuses me and mocks my constituency. Nevertheless, he is a colourful and unpredictable character whom most Opposition Members find infinitely preferable to the motley crew of merchant bankers, estate agents and second-hand car salesmen who attempt to adorn the Tory Benches.
There are few Scottish Tory Members to adorn the Government Benches because of the results of the general election, so that is all the more reason to wish the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross a speedy recovery from his illness, which has literally and precisely decimated Tory Scottish representation by removing one in 10 of them. I remind the House that at the election the Tories won precisely 10 seats in Scotland, the Labour party won 50 seats, and the other parties won 12 seats.
Standing Orders require at least 16 members of a Standing Committee considering a Scottish Bill to be Members representing Scottish constituencies, which is not an unreasonable requirement. Tonight's motion would reduce that number to 15 in respect of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill—and not because there are not enough Scottish MPs to make up the number specified in the Standing Order. In fact, there are enough Scottish Tory Members to fill the place occupied at present by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross. As the Leader of the House admitted, the tenth Tory would be the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who is the Secretary of State for Defence. He might have difficulty in attending, but, even if he did, the Government would still have a majority of four over all the other parties on the Committee in question, so the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman would not put their legislation in 834 jeopardy—provided, of course, that they can rely on the votes of some of the other Conservative Members on the Committee. That might be one explanation for this motion.
It is curious that the Tory party, which got just 14 per cent. of the seats in Scotland at the general election, should get 60 per cent. of the seats on the Committees considering Scottish business under the Standing Orders. The Labour party, which got 69 per cent. of the seats in Scotland, gets only 36 per cent. of the seats on the Committee. No doubt my Scottish colleagues will have more to say on that subject before the debate is through.
The plain fact is that without endangering their majority the Government could easily find an extra Scottish MP, from literally any of the parties in Scotland, to serve on the Committee. They are refusing to do so. Instead, they wish to augment their side of the Commitee with English Members. That would be bad enough in itself, but what angers me and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Scottish seats—and, I am sure, the people of Scotland—is the stark contrast between the speed with which the Government in general and the Leader of the House in particular have decided to deal with their problem on the Scottish Standing Committee and their abject and insulting failure to establish the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
The loss of the services of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross is inconvenient to the Government, so the Leader of the House has come dashing to the House with a proposal to help. Contrast that with his sloth over the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. The people of Scotland are right to be angry. Scarcely two weeks have elapsed since the Committee on this Bill was established, yet the Leader of the House is changing its composition. Five months have passed since the House set up the other departmental Committees and still no action is set to take place on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
On 13 January, the Leader of the House said:The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is not a second-class Committee; it is as important a Select Committee as any other and should be formed in the same way."—[Official Report, 13 January 1988; Vol. 125, c. 401.]We entirely agree with that, and we want to know why the Leader of the House has not got on with setting it up.
In all seriousness, it seems to me that the current Leader of the House sees his role as that of an emeritus Government Chief Whip—a Chief Whip in semi-exile at the other end of the Chamber. Let us consider what some of his predecessors have said and what the learned textbooks say about the job. They all say that, besides having a duty to get the Government's business through the House, the Leader of the House has further and wider duties. He has a duty to secure in part the interests of the Opposition, minority parties and Back Benchers. I have to add to that, in the peculiar electoral circumstances that now prevail, that he has a duty to secure the interests of the people of Scotland. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to discharge those duties particularly well, or even to take them seriously.
I have looked in some of these textbooks for a quotation that aptly describes the duties that the right hon. Gentleman is supposed to carry out. He might say that any of those textbooks was prejudiced, being written by academics who might even be Socialists. I thought that I 835 would go to the fount of all wisdom, and I have a document entitled,"List of Ministerial Responsibilities", which was issued in February 1988 by the Cabinet Office.
The Privy Council office is referred to there and the duties of the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons include upholdingthe rights and privileges of the House as a whole,besides his duty to get Government business through the House.
There is no doubt that after the debate is over he will get this motion through by using the weight of the English majority that is at his command to reduce the number of Scottish Members on the Standing Committee. But the right hon. Gentleman should remember that he has those wider duties. He has said that we have a unitary House of Commons. We want to maintain the Union of Scotland with England. Every time something happens in the House that undermines the rights of proper representation of the Scottish people by those whom they elected, damage is done to the Union to which the Conservative party as well as the Labour party is supposed to subscribe.
The right hon. Gentleman may get away with it tonight, but he must take seriously the rights, needs and duties of those right hon. and hon. Members who were elected by the people of Scotland to represent them in the House. If he continues to treat them in the light-hearted, casual and cavalier way that he has since the general election, he will harm his reputation and that of the Tory party—although it is scarcely possible to harm it more than it has been harmed in Scotland. He will also harm the future of the House and the concept of the Union between England and Scotland. He should take this matter seriously.
I hope, whatever happens tonight, that the right hon. Gentleman will set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in the very near future to allow the representatives who were elected by the people of Scotland to get on with their task of representation, just as Members from every other part of the country are carrying out their task of representation, investigation, surveillance and monitoring on the other Select Committees. He will fail in his duty to the House and the country if he does not do so.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
I am not sure whether my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) will welcome the tribute that was paid to him by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). Perhaps when my hon. and learned Friend returns he will respond in his inimitable way. The whole House will agree with the Leader of the House and with the hon. Gentleman in wishing my hon. and learned Friend a speedy recovery.
This debate is not about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but I shall respond briefly to what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has said about it. He is being completely unfair in this matter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has tried very hard to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He has been faced with the fact that some hon. Friends, including myself, which I say openly, refuse to serve on the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For reasons that I have made clear publicly over many months in the House and outside.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was a little ingenuous, to put it mildly, on this issue. He must know the position with regard to the composition of 836 Standing Committees, which is referred to in "Erskine May". It says that they have developed since the 1880s to meet demands made upon the time of the House by the consideration of Bills in Committee of the whole House.…the Committee of Selection is directed to have regard…to the composition of the House.The key point is that a Standing Committee is undertaking functions that would otherwise be undertaken by the whole House sitting in Committee, as it did today when considering the Finance Bill. For that reason, Standing Committees must reflect the composition of the House.
In this instance, the Opposition are endeavouring to use the illness of my hon. and learned Friend the Member far Perth and Kinross as a political weapon.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Given that my party and myself have no access to the Committee, does he accept that we have no political axe to grind about the illness of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn)? There is a strong argument to reflect political opinion in Scotland, as expressed at the last election, on the Committee to ensure that the genuine opinions of the Scottish people are voiced in that Committee. In that way we could reach genuine conclusions that reflected political and public opinion.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the hon. Lady regrets that her party is not represented on the Committee, I remind her that there is an obvious way of achieving that without changing the Standing Order. If the Opposition had agreed to increase the numbers on the Committee, that would——
§ Mr. Wallace
I represent all the minority parties on the Committee of Selection. If the increase mentioned by the Leader of the House had been agreed, there is no way in which another member of a so-called minority party would have been allowed on the Committee as my hon. Friend the Member of Gordon (Mr. Bruce) was already on it. The hon. Gentleman's argument is factually incorrect.
§ Mr. Stewart
The decision reached would have to be the result of negotiations between Opposition parties. It was perfectly possible for an extra member from the Opposition parties to be appointed to the Standing Committee if they had agreed that the Committee membership be increased from 18 to 20 members. If that had been agreed, there would have been no need to change the Standing Order.
The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) may say that that would mean that the Labour party insisted upon a Labour Member. That may be the case, but it would have been possible to increase the numbers on the Committee without changing Standing Order No. 86. The official Opposition have refused to take such action. That is why my right hon. Friend has had to table the motion.
I support the motion, but I believe that my right hon. Friend is wrong not to tackle the problem in a more fundamental way because the Standing Order amendment applies only to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. But the problem will persist.[Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members are laughing. The problem will persist because my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross is unlikely to be back in the House when the Civil Evidence (Scotland) Bill is considered by the Standing Committee. When the Bill comes into Committee, my right hon. Friend will be faced with exactly the same problem. The Government should fundamentally consider the problem because it could recur throughout the Parliament.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman has a long record of attending Scottish Standing Committees without being a member. I do not know whether he will repeat his efforts on the Housing (Scotland) Bill or the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.
It is wholly unreasonable for the Secretary of State for Defence to serve on Scottish Standing Committees. It is also unreasonable for all four Scottish Office Ministers to serve on a Scottish Standing Committee when three of them, as happened on the Housing (Scotland) and the School Boards (Scotland) Bills, will contribute nothing apart from voting.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that a party that cannot get its members elected in Scotland should not introduce controversial legislation for Scotland? Is he aware that the last fundamental change to this aspect of the Standing Order—reducing the number of Scots required to be on the Scottish Standing Committee—was introduced in November 1971 by his right hon. Friend, now Lord Campbell of Croy, then the Secretary of State for Scotland?
The reasons that the noble Lord gave for reducing the numbers then were in part to do with the fact that the Tories did not have enough Members then, either, but also specifically so that Conservative Members could be available to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. These problems keep returning to haunt the Conservative party. If there is to be a reduced number on the Standing Committee, why cannot we have a Select Committee?
§ Mr. Stewart
Considerations to do with the Select Committee are wholly irrelevant to the motion.
I do not think this problem will go away in Scottish legislation. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will consider changing the Standing Orders for future Bills in a way that will reasonably allow Ministers to undertake their ministerial duties, so that the whole Scottish Office team will not have to sit on a Standing Committee, which is not reasonable.
§ 11.2 pm
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
As the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) is temporarily indisposed, we take this opportunity to wish him a speedy recovery to full health. It would appear that he is not so indisposed, however, as to be prevented from giving quotations to The Sun.I note that last Monday he was quoted as saying:It strikes me as amazing that here we have 640 certificated alcoholics on a 24-hour licence and the catering services make a loss.That is the sort of comment for which the hon. and learned Gentleman is well renowned. When he serves on Scottish Standing Committees, he is not Lobby fodder; my experience is that he generally makes a vigorous——
§ Mr. Wallace
—spirited contribution to the proceedings. We regret his illness and hope that he will soon be back with us.
838 The motion reflects a considerable problem in the Conservative ranks. It will not be as easily resolved as the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) suggested. He said that if the Committee were increased to 20 it would be possible for the Opposition to agree that an additional member of the so-called minority parties should serve on it.
As hon. Members will recall, when we debated the composition of the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House, the Government and Opposition Front Benches emphasised time and again that only one member of the minority parties would be represented on a Committee of 20. I am sure that the hon. Member for Eastwood voted for that at the end of the day. So it is disingenuous of him to claim that there would be an additional member from the minority parties on the Committee if we increased it to 20. That is not what the conventions of the House allow.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
I did not claim that. I claimed that it would have been possible to increase the numbers on the Committee to 20, which would have given the Opposition an extra member.
§ Mr. Wallace
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he suggested that might have been the position taken by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing).
It is clear that the Government have a problem. They managed to get only 10 Scottish Members at the general election. In spite of that, in the weeks and months following the election, the Secretary of State for Scotland assured us that it would be business as usual. He was totally unperturbed, yet, 10 months later, the Leader of the House has to come and change the rules. The Government know that they cannot have business as usual because they do not have the numbers to sustain business as usual.
The Government could have business as usual, if they were prepared to allow the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to serve on that Committee. The Committee of Selection is a remarkable Committee. It is one of the few Select Committees that does not apply to the Liaison Committee for permission to travel abroad, much to the regret of many of my colleagues on that Committee. The Committee was recently asked to nominate members for a Standing Committee on statutory instruments, dealing with a legal aid order. The list contained the names of some illustrious Conservative Members, including the right hon. Member for Ayr. I do not demean the importance of that issue, but if that Committee was sufficiently worthy to have the right hon. Gentleman as a member, the Committee on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill—an important issue affecting the future of Scottish education—is also worthy of the right hon. Gentleman. The Ministry of Defence does not bring legislation before the House in great volumes. I suspect that it is a long time since the right hon. Gentleman served on a Standing Committee. I am sure that it would do him good to repeat the experience, and it would avoid the need for the Government to come to the House this evening to change the rules.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are particular problems in Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, in respect of Ayr academy and a number of other school matters, which would make it particularly important for the right hon. Gentleman to serve on that Committee?
§ Mr. Wallace
I do not know as much about the issues affecting Ayrshire as the hon. Gentleman, but I have great respect for the right hon. Member for Ayr and his local knowledge would enable him to make a valuable contribution to the Committee.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak.
If the House agrees to the motion, as it no doubt will, who will be the substitute for the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross? A couple of weeks ago, when we were debating the so-called Mates amendment, pressure was brought to bear by the Whips. Was that rebellion contained by the threat that those hon. Members who dared to oppose the Government on that occasion might find themselves on the Standing Committee on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill? That would perhaps have been a more effective deterrent than the specious suggestion that the Government were going to amend in any significant respect the rebate provisions relating to the poll tax.
I suspect that the onus may be put on someone whose experience of Scottish education is a cold shower at Gordonstoun or, worse still, at Eton. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) had no racist intent when he said, looking at the serried ranks of the double-breasted, new Conservative Members after the 1983 election, that it was like meeting a delegation of Japanese business men—he could not tell them apart. I regret that the hon. Member nominated to the Committee might not have the flair and flavour of the contribution that one could have expected from the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross.
The Opposition will be alienated by the fact that there is a principle at stake. We regret that an hon. and learned Member is ill, but the hon. Member for Eastwood was frank when he made a point that has been made time and again. With regard to the Civil Evidence (Scotland) Bill, I suspect that the Government will he quite pleased because we all know that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross is an opponent of the Bill and it will do the Government no harm to have him out of the way.
However, the matter of principle is the change in the rules. The Leader of the House tried to dismiss the objections by saying that the Government were offering 15 instead of 16. Sixteen is a significant figure. It is the minimum number for a Select Committee and I am certain that that number was included in the Standing Orders after some thought. To depart from that figure is a matter not just of incidental interest for the House, but of some principle.
It is important that we should uphold that principle, and I am sure that we will attempt to do that tonight. However, we all know that the Government have sufficient English Members to vote through whatever they want. They are the type of English Members who voted for the poll tax in Scotland, yet wore their hearts on their sleeves when it came to the poll tax for England. We know that type. We know where their principles lie when it comes to their self-interests, and they certainly do not lie with the interests of Scotland.
840 For that reason we will oppose the motion. We accept that the Government will always get their majority in the House, but when the people have their say—as they will on Thursday—they will give their verdict and it will not be for the Government.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
They may have changed the name of their party, but they have not changed their humbug. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), the Secretary of State for Defence, might have been included as a member of the Committee. When was the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel)—the leader of what was called the Liberal party—last a member of a Scottish Standing Committee? I make no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman because I understand that he has other duties and one would expect him to carry them out. Quite properly a leader of a party must do that. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to accept that a senior Government Minister, running one of the major Departments, could not, and would not be expected to, carry out duties in a Standing Committee.
We do not expect the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale to serve on every Standing Committee, and we should not hear the kind of humbug——
§ Mr. Walker
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland in a moment if he will just let me finish. What I have to say is very important.
Conservative Members need no lessons about service on Standing Committees. I draw the attention of the House to those Members who head the attendance list—and have done so in the previous two Parliaments—for Standing Committees. The hon. Members with the most hours in Standing Committees are Scottish Conservative Back-Bench Members.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He uses the opting out provisions of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs whenever he can. Will he accept that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) served on the Standing Committee of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Bill after becoming leader of the party?
§ Mr. Walker
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr has served on a Scottish Standing Committee in this Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman drew our attention to that, but he is still coming out with the same humbug.
Opposition Members quite properly drew attention to the fact that the situation has been brought about by the absence of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). Quite properly, all hon. Members will wish my hon. and learned Friend a speedy recovery. Anyone who thinks that we in this House are immune from illness and that parties will not be affected is not living in the real world. Equally, we must recognise and acknowledge that nothing is permanent in politics and that we live in a transient situation. Labour Members are very thin on the ground in southern England. 841 Only one Labour Member has been elected in an area with about 15 million people. That is three times the population of Scotland, yet there is only one Labour Member.
That imbalance is, quite properly, taken into account by the fact that "Erskine May" lays down that the Selection Committee must take into consideration the composition of the House—not any particular geographic composition, but the general composition of the House. The Labour party would do well to remember that, because in recent times it has never formed a Government without being in a minority in England. It is important that the Opposition realise that they, like us, are the party of the Union. If the Labour party really believes itself to be the party of the Union, it must recognise that if it ever hopes to form a Government it will probably do so with a minority of English Members.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the analogy he draws between parts of England and Scotland is not only irrelevant but offensive? This is the United Kingdom, in which Scotland is a nation. We came into the Union, and that is why many of us insist that Scotland's nationhood should be accepted by this House in the way that it is not accepted at present.
§ Mr. Walker
I need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman about my loyalty to Scotland and about its being a nation. I recognise that eight out of 10 people who live in these islands live in England, that one person in 10 lives in Scotland, and that eight out of 10 of all taxpayers live in England and only one out of 10 in Scotland. One must bear that in mind when operating a unitary parliamentary system. For Opposition Members constantly to suggest that they are the only people who recognise and care about the Scottish dimension is more humbug from the same Benches. I do not doubt the integrity of hon. Gentlemen and their fight for Scotland, and I trust that they do not doubt mine. I mean that seriously. The hon. Gentleman must remember that we come to this Parliament as Members of a unitary Parliament, not as Members from any individual part of the unitary system.
I may say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), am disappointed that we have not taken the opportunity to rectify what is obviously a problem. It would take only one right hon. or hon. Member to fall ill. I remind my right hon. Friend that it was through good luck—nothing else—that my eyes were not damaged a week ago last Sunday. The skin around my eyes was damaged, but I was able to attend the House and be on duty to maintain our majority in the Standing Committee. Had my eyes been damaged in the accident, the probability is that I could not have attended, however much I might have wanted to do so. We shall be faced with that sort of problem continually throughout this Parliament.
We must find a practical solution to maintaining the balance of the House, while at the same time recognising the record of Scottish Conservatives in the hours they spend in Standing Committees. That is the point with which I began my speech, and my right hon. Friend might bear it in mind. We have never been found wanting in doing our duty in getting legislation through the House. Indeed, Scottish Conservative Members have the best 842 record of attendance and the best record for hours of attendance in Standing Committees, and that should be kept in mind when selecting Members for Standing Committee membership.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), especially as he can do himself so much damage by the removal of safety glasses. I shall treasure that story. The wisdom that is inculcated by that kind of behaviour is a moral to all Opposition Members.
The Standing Committee in question is not an isolated, run-of-the-mill Committee. It has been entrusted with an extremely precious obligation, and that obligation has been laid upon it by no less a figure than the Prime Minister herself. That point seems to have been forgotten. I cannot understand why the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) is not rushing to the Prime Minister's defence. After all, he is the Secretary of State for Defence. The Prime Minister laid that obligation upon the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, among others, and now the Secretary of State for Scotland has had to fall into line. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has now been entrusted with the dirty work. That is what is happening, and for them now to fail to ensure that their mistress's will is carried out, by providing yet one more Tory Member for the Standing Committee, seems to me to be an extraordinary phenomenon.
Nor is it unusual to see that the same kind of arrangement, with the same kind of behaviour by the Prime Minister, has taken place in relation to this Committee as, apparently, has taken place in a number of causes celebres, from Westland onward. I refer to the involvement by the Prime Minister, the denials by the Prime Minister and the leaks in relation to the Prime Minister. We should like to know from where the leak emanated.
I cannot think of any more expert member of the Committee than the Secretary of State for Defence to inquire into that leak on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. Clearly, before the Government advance much further with the Bill, they must find out the background of the leak. Previous leaks have often been investigated by Select Committees. This one is being investigated at No. 10 itself. The only Committee in existence that can explore the leak of the information that the hon. Member for Eastwood was to ensure the proposal of an opt-out clause had to be this Standing Committee. I see that the hon. Member for Eastwood is at the starting gate and ready to go.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
The issue was raised with me on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The hon. Gentleman entirely accepts that there was no question of any conspiracy or plot involving me. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear to the House that my intention of putting forward an opting-out amendment had been made public in the House long before the letters to which he refers.
§ Mr. Buchan
Perish the thought that I should suggest that so innocent a Member as the hon. Member for Eastwood would become involved in anything so dishonourable as a conspiracy. It was nowhere near my intention to make such a suggestion. If I were the Prime Minister, I would not have trusted him in a conspiracy 843 either. The person whom she could trust in a conspiracy is the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The hon. Member for Eastwood was the fall guy, and I completely accept his innocence.
We have another Tory available to be appointed to the Committee: the Secretary of State for Defence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has pointed out, there is every good reason why, for educational purposes, he should be there.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are 182 good reasons why the Secretary of State should be on the Committee? [HON. MEMBERS: "Ninety-one."] I am sorry; 91 good reasons. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to ingratiate himself with 100 or so people in his constituency to ensure—albeit in vain—his continued existence as a Member of the House. he ought not just to be pulled on to the Committee; he should be eager, anxious, even desperate to serve on it.
§ Mr. Buchan
I can only presume that it is because of the desperation that my hon. Friend describes that the right hon. Gentleman has been prevented from serving on the Committee. There are other elements of the conspiracy. By the way, I do not like the mathematics of those educated in Scotland. Surely the figure is not 91 but 92–91 plus one. I do not know what is happening to Scottish education under the present Government.
It was not only right and essential that the Secretary of State—who was apparently desperate—should be on that Committee; it was necessary because of the leak. We want to know who blew the gaff on the conspiracy. That is even more interesting than the conspiracy itself. I only wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had spoken—perhaps he will do so after me—for he is a great expert on these matters. But it is a very interesting story, which only the Standing Committee could elicit. No Ministry is more experienced on the question of leaks than the Ministry of Defence. It is an expert Ministry, and we should have welcomed the presence of the Secretary of State for Defence to explore the question.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. This is very interesting, but I find it difficult to relate to the motion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the motion.
§ Mr. Buchan
It might have seemed convoluted and distant, but such is the intricacy of this Government. They seem to be able to drag distant elements into the most peculiar places. In this case, the Secretary of State for Defence would have been the 10th or 11th man on the Committee. As far as I know, he was available and able to serve.
Hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies were complaining not about putting an additional Scottish Member on the Committee, which was obvious, and, as I have shown, eminently desirable to get at the truth, but about the Government wanting to reduce the number by one and cutting out a member of the Committee instead of bringing on the available Scottish Member.
It is even more strange because I am also serving on a Committee tomorrow, an absolutely Scottish Committee, 844 to consider the Salmon (Weekly Close Time) Scotland Regulations 1988—[Interruption.] As if upon cue, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), the expert on salmon, has arrived. Suddenly he sniffs salmon in the air and he arrives. That Committee has 20 members to discuss a statutory instrument, but here the Government cannot get more than 15 Members for a Standing Committee which has so much to explore. They have imported five additional Tory Members on to the Committee. We know they are short of numbers, but the selection is indeed interesting. I shall not name them all—that would be invidious—but one in particular attracts my attention. It shows the state of the Conservative pansy that the Government have appointed to a Committee on a statutory instrument meeting at half past 10 on a Wednesday morning—that must be a record for the right hon. Gentleman—the chairman of the 1922 Committee.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
I remind my hon. Friend that the chairman of the 1922 Committee is on that Committee because, like so many hon. Members in this House and in the other place, he is up to his neck in salmon vested interests.
§ Mr. Buchan
I should never have given way to my hon. Friend. He has taken my best line. There is nothing like salmon for getting the Tories to rise to the bait. Like the falls of Pitlochry, they leap to keep an eye on king salmon. If only we could bring salmon and the freshwater fisheries of Scotland into the ownership and control of the people of Scotland, we would slash the tyranny of king salmon, and some of us who have been given the opportunity will say so tomorrow. However, I seek not to stray from the motion.
In the absence of the Secretary of State for Defence, at least we have the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for Eastwood—who has interfered so much in my constituency, but I can forgive him for that—who between them will tell us not who started the conspiracy, but who gave the leak to the Glasgow Herald in an exchange of letters.
Was it the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? Was it one of his civil servants? I cannot believe that, as I know the civil servant who serves under or over him. The hon. Member for Eastwood has already said that he was not involved in the conspiracy or the leak. The Secretary of State for Defence, the expert in leaks, was not involved. So we are left with two people. One is the Secretary of State for Scotland. He looks so innocent. Who could suspect him of a leak? However, as Sherlock Holmes once said, "When you have eradicated all the possible solutions, the one that is left is the only possible one." Who is left? The Prime Minister herself. We should like an answer on that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not see anything in the motion that could lead the hon. Gentleman to his argument about leaks. I hope that he will address himself to the motion.
§ Mr. Buchan
If I had had a little more warning. I could have clearly shown the relationship between that Committee and the leak. But my main point is that had the one remaining Scottish Conservative Member been appointed to the Committee he might have given us the source of that leak.
845 As I have not been appointed to the Committee, I have some questions for someone who has and who is here. If I had been on the Committee I would have asked that hon. Member how many of his constituents go to an overcrowded school in my constituency. I would have asked him how many Eastwood constituents are in schools in my constituency where they are seeking to create problems. "How many came from outside Paisley?" would be a useful question. I regret that I have not been appointed to the Committee, so I cannot challenge him other than by swords and thorns at half past 11 at night.
These are serious discussions about the problems put forward by members of the minority party and by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I speak also for my colleagues in the Scottish Labour party. We would have preferred more Scottish Members and fewer Tory Members on the Committee, and the elections on Thursday will show that the people of Scotland feel the same.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
First, let me emphasise the kind regards that I send to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). We all wish him a speedy recovery from his illness. This debate is no criticism of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
As always when we discuss matters relating to Scotland, this debate has shown itself to be an embarrassment to the Government. It has provided us with one of the keenest arguments in support of the televising of the House. That would ensure that our proceedings are relayed to the people of Scotland so that they can see that the minority viewpoint proposed by the Conservative party is completely alienated from the majority view in Scotland. The arguments tonight also show the desperate need for decentralisation, because education in Scotland is, after all, traditionally seen as being separate, different and worthy of support.
The School Boards (Scotland) Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that faces us during this Parliament. All Scottish hon. Members must be aware from their mail bags of the various priorities allocated by our constituents to various pieces of legislation. The responses from my constituents clearly show that their first priority is the poll tax, on which the verdict will be given on Thursday; secondly, the housing benefit and social security changes; and, thirdly, the education proposals for Scotland, and, in particular, the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.
Ever since the initial proposals were brought forward I have had a heavy correspondence, not only from my constituents, but from people from all areas of Scotland, expressing their anxieties about the Government's proposals. The School Boards (Scotland) Bill must be treated as a serious piece of legislation, and the composition of the Committee should also be treated seriously.
The Government appear to be trying to set a precedent for reducing the number of Scottish Members on a Scottish Standing Committee from 16 to 15. I fully appreciate that when the Committee was established the Leader of the House and the Committee of Selection were faced with a problem because several hon. Members were 846 serving on Standing Committee D which was dealing with the British Steel Bill, but that Bill completed its deliberations at about 6 pm this evening, thus releasing five hon. Members to participate in this Standing Committee.
Although many Opposition Members have emphasised the role of the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), it is worth noting that the Minister of State, Scottish Office, the hon Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), has now been released from his responsibilities in Standing Committee D. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I did not realise that the hon. Gentlemen was already a member of the First Scottish Standing Committee. Four Opposition Members have been released to serve on that Committee. It is important to recognise that, given the importance of the legislation to Scotland, hon. Members are willing, available and wish to serve on the Committee.
The precedent is important. If the Government solve their problems of minority representation in Scotland by reducing Scottish representation on a Scottish Standing Committee, there is every likelihood that, after the next general election, Conservative Scottish representation will be reduced even further. Are Scottish hon. Members increasingly to be denied the opportunity to serve on Standing Committees, so that Conservative Members who represent English seats are given access to such Committees, to vote and to decide on legislation that is of importance to the people of Scotland? That is a dangerous precedent for the House to set. I hope that the Leader of the House and other Conservative Members will think carefully before they cast their votes. They are treading a dangerous path. It denies democratic aspirations.
As the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) said, Scotland must be regarded as a nation, not as a region. If we deny Scotland's right as a nation, we are in danger of denying Scottish people their democratic aspirations, and we would be treading a dangerous path.
I speak as a Member of a party that has been denied access to the Committee. I was grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), for mentioning the rights of minority parties. Perhaps it would have been more helpful if he had made it clear that it is a matter of ensuring, not that a Labour Member, but that an Opposition Member, becomes a member of the Committee. As a minority party, having fought all 72 seats in Scotland——
§ Mrs. Ewing
We fought 72 seats in Scotland, having strongly argued that the people of Scotland should opt for self-government. We won three seats, having fought democratically for our right to representation. We are not trying to achieve that result in any way other than through the ballot box. We have a legitimate right to have our voices and opinions heard in Standing Committees.
On Second Reading I spoke not only as my party's education spokesman but as an ex-teacher within the Scottish education system. I have a deep knowledge of needs within the education system. We have a great deal to offer the debate in Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
The hon. Lady said that the Scottish National party fought democratically. Will she explain the recent decision by some members of the Scottish National party to break the law with regard to 847 the community charge and encourage other people in Scotland, who perhaps do not understand the charge, also to break the law?
§ Mrs. Ewing
It is interesting to hear that some of the loudest plaudits for that stance have come from Members of the party of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). We are challenging the legality of the Government to impose a tax on people who opposed that form of taxation in the democratic processes of the general election.
I shall now return to the right of the Scottish National party to have its voice heard on the Committee. I speak with the authority of someone who went through the training procedures within the Scottish education system. I worked as a remedial teacher within the Scottish secondary education system. I believe that we have a real opportunity to offer genuine opinions and options on this Committee. We have been denied that opportunity because the Government have taken the coward's way out. They have decided to reduce the membership of the Committee rather than increase it and face democratic aspirations. The Government are treading a dangerous path and judgment will be given, not only on Thursday of this week, but in future general elections, when people recognise that the Government are intent on destroying the Scottish education system, which we treasure and value.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I shall be as helpful and constructive as ever to the Leader of the House. I can offer a way out. The Secretary of State for Defence is far too busy. He has to attend NATO planning groups and he has to go to Brussels and Washington. However, there is one English Member who could contribute a vast amount of knowledge and enlightenment to this debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Prime Minister".] That is it. Why go for the monkey when we can have the organ grinder? The right hon. Member to whom I am referring is the Member who dispatched Professor Brian Griffiths—a special sort of nuncio or emissary—to talk to heaven knows who in Strathclyde behind the backs of the local authorities.
Why should the Select Committee mess around with the Secretary of State for Defence, who could only do the job second hand, when it could find out first hand why the right hon. Member in question came to the aid of her hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)? The right hon. Lady could explain her motivation in getting her office to leak the correspondence on the benefits of opting out and the promotion of her own view.
I do not wish to be long at this time of night, but if we cannot have Perth and Kinross, why should we not have Finchley?
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I would welcome the addition of the Prime Minister to the Committee on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. That would at least guarantee that she will learn something about Scottish education. On a recent visit to Scotland, the right hon. Lady visited my constituency and expressed astonishment that Scottish schools were not run by boards of management, as they are in England. That is rich from someone who has been Prime Minister of Scotland for nine 848 years. The hon. Lady does not even know how the Scottish education system is run. She would clearly benefit from membership of that Committee.
I was impressed earlier in the debate with the passion expressed by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). He gave expression to his Unionist sympathies and sentiments. That is only to be expected from an hon. Member who has the nickname "Biggles" and who can be seen strutting around the streets of Perth bedecked in his kilt, tartan and bowler hat, without seeing a thing. He really gives physical presence to the very idea of Unionism.
§ Mr. Wilson
My hon. Friend speaks of the hon. Gentleman wearing a bowler hat. Was there an Orange walk on in Perth that day?
§ Mr. McAllion
I would not slur the hon. Gentleman to that extent.
I would like to join all the other hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and say that I regret the illness that has afflicted the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). Unlike the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I cannot vouch for the independence of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross in Committees. I have served with him only on the Standing Committee dealing with the Housing (Scotland) Bill and he did not show a great deal of independence on that Committee. He voted with the Government in every Division except one. However, he was good entertainment value. I remember that during one late-night sitting, when we were debating some obscure part of the legislation, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross made a contribution that began with a description of the wallpaper in the Committee Room and ended by discussing the sexual predilections of the Gladstone Cabinet and how it affected whores in London. Therefore, he can be an entertaining Member to have on a Committee and he will certainly be missed on the Committee dealing with the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.
I regret the motion that has been proposed by the Leader of the House. It weakens and undermines the right of representation of Scottish hon. Members. I should have hoped that that view could have been shared by Scottish Conservative Members. I am new to the House, but I understand that the Standing Orders have been framed partly to facilitate the passage of Government business through the House but equally to ensure that minority interests are protected in the House. It grieves me to say so, but in the short time I have been here, it seems that Scottish interests are minority interests. I have heard ad nauseam from Conservative Members the argument about the fact that we are a unitary Parliament and act as a unitary Parliament. However, with only 71 Scottish Members in a 650 Member House, that, by definition, means that Scottish interests are minority interests. Therefore, it is all the more important that we protect Scottish interests through the Standing Orders.
Where those Standing Orders have been established to protect Scottish interests, they should not be abandoned lightly as they are in the motion. The motion would amend Standing Order No. 86 and reduce the minimum number of Scottish Members from 16 to 15 on an important Scottish Standing Committee. I hope that all hon. Members who are genuinely interested in protecting Scottish interests in this place will not support the motion and will vote against it with the Opposition.
849 I understand the difficulties that have been caused by the illness of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross. However, we cannot allow his illness to influence our voting on this important matter. I spoke earlier today to a noble Lord who was a Member of the House of Commons during the Labour Government of 1974–79. He explained that the majority under which that Labour Government had to operate could vary from four to one. Therefore, they were always on a tight edge as to whether they would get their legislation through. He explained that no consideration was given by the Conservative Opposition to the illnesses that afflicted Labour Members. He recalled Labour Members who had suffered serious heart attacks. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) found himself in that position. The Tory Opposition Whip insisted that those hon. Members be brought by ambulance to this place so that he could ensure that they were present when Divisions took place. They showed no consideration for the medical condition of some Labour Members, and I do not think that we should allow the medical condition of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross to affect our decision on this issue. If it was right that the Labour Government of 1974–79 had to get their business through under the Standing Orders, that should apply to the Government today, with their majority of more than 100.
Reference has been made several times to the fact that an offer has been made by the Leader of the House to the Opposition that we can have one additional member on the Committee and that that member may come from any political party on the Opposition Benches. However, the price that has to be paid for that concession is the addition of two English Members to the Committee. May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the fact that that would mean that the Government majority on the Committee would increase to four and that there would be an extension of English influence on what is an exclusively Scottish Bill.
I do not have to remind the Leader of the House of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and of the exception that he has taken in the past to interference by English Members in exclusively Scottish matters. Indeed, he disrupted a Standing Committee, on which I served, to show his disagreement. When my hon. Friend took that disruptive action, he had the backing of Labour Members serving on the Committee. It is outrageous that English Members should be drafted on to a Committee to interfere in specific Scottish legislation.
We have heard contradictory speeches from Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said that English Members serving on Scottish Standing Committees only vote and make no other contribution. The Leader of the House assured us that the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) had made an important contribution to the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I sat through 100 hours of debate in that Committee, and if he did I failed to notice it. His contribution was on a par with that of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) on the Health and Medicines Bill. In nearly 100 hours of debate, he contributed only 850 about 12 minutes. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford contributed a great deal less during the 100 hours of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.
It is important to recognise that Scottish Members object to Scottish Committees being influenced and interfered with by English Members who have no direct influence on them. We are keen to ensure that Scottish representation on Committees is defended.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although one or two hon. Members have referred on a number of occasions in the debate to a unitary Parliament, this is a Parliament of the union of the two Parliaments of England and Scotland? Scottish legislation. which was transferred from the Scottish Parliament to this one, is in a special position in this Parliament of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. McAllion
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I wish that Conservative Members could get into their thick heads the fact that Scotland is not trapped in the Union. Scotland decides to be part of the Union but, equally, it can decide not to be a part of it. If the Government continue to deal with Scottish affairs in the way that they have since last June, Scottish people may decide that it is no longer in their interests to be a part of the Union.
The Government's record on Scottish affairs since the election last June is appalling. They have failed to set up a Scottish Select Committee. With 370 Conservative Members, they cannot find five who are sufficiently interested in Scotland to serve on the Scottish Select Committee. The Scottish Grand Committee is supposed to meet at least six or perhaps 12 times a year. In the last year it has met once, and that was because the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) thought that there was some capital on education matters to be made out of it before the local government elections.
Scottish Question Time has become a mockery as time and again English Members deliberately disrupt it. The Housing (Scotland) Bill and the School Boards (Scotland) Bill are being disrupted. The Government do not give a damn for the people of Scotland or Scottish affairs. It is time that Scottish Members stood up for Scotland instead of following their Whips' advice and the kind of motion that is before the House.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) had spoken for only 12 minutes in a total of 100 hours debate on the Health and Medicines Bill. My hon. Friend was not a member of that Committee, but he spoke on Second Reading, on Report and Third Reading. Perhaps the hon. Member for Dundee, East will withdraw his remark.
§ Mr. McAllion
I based my remarks entirely on comments that appeared in the Scottish press. If the hon. Lady would prefer, I could refer to the Standing Committee on the Local Government Act 1988 to which the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) made a small contribution. He missed a Division relating to the exemption of Scotland from the provisions of the Local Government Act 1988.
§ Mrs. Ewing
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) initially referred to the Committee on the Health and Medicines Bill. Will you, Sir, ask the hon. 851 Gentleman to withdraw his remarks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) was not a member of that particular Committee?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Does the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) wish to clarify that point?
§ Mr. McAllion
There seems to be a discrepancy in my advice and the advice that I have just received from the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). I shall check my sources and report back to the House.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
It is obvious from Opposition Members' exchanges that it would be quite impossible for them to agree to add members to the Standing Committee; they are constantly fighting among themselves.
First, I wish to send my best wishes to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). I spoke to him on the telephone the night before last and he was in good heart and longing to get back to sort out Opposition Members, yet again, when he is fit enough.
§ Mr. Buchan
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has come forward with a most interesting proposition from the Front Bench, albeit below the Gangway. Should we not now defer the proceedings of the Committee until the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) returns?
§ Sir Hector Monro
It is a pity that the hon. Member likes to proceed by means of points of order rather than debate.
As I was saying, it is strange that the Opposition should be sold on the numbers game. If they cast their minds back—perhaps further than they might wish—they will remember that the Standing Committee was originally the whole of the Scottish Grand Committee with added members. It was a Whips' nightmare to try to whip 35 or so hon. Members on each side and maintain a majority. In the 1960s, a Labour Government were happy to have a Standing Committee of 32, which subsequently became 16. There is no particular reason why the number should be 16, 18, 20 or anything else; it should be for the convenience of the House.
It is also important to remember that the squabbling Opposition had the opportunity to have a Standing Committee of 20 members. All those Opposition Members who wanted to serve on the Committee could then have had their names added. They would then have had an opportunity to participate in the debates in the Standing Committee. The important point to all of us who are members of the Committee is that the otherwise mediocre quality of Opposition Members' contributions would then have been enhanced. It could not have been worse; it must have been better. Opposition Members have missed a great opportunity to add two more members to the Standing Committee while still maintaining the balance of the parties.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
The hon. Gentleman talks about offers being made to Opposition Members on the composition of the Standing Committee. Does he accept that no direct representations were made to the minority parties about the setting up of the Committee?
§ Sir Hector Monro
I presume that the hon. Lady has heard of the usual channels. The Liberal party likes to name a Chief Whip, when it has only one Whip. The Scottish National party also has a Chief Whip although it has only one Whip. They could all have co-operated and discussed the matter together with the usual channels. I am sure that they would then have had the opportunity to field an additional member of the Standing Committee.
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Gentleman has made several speeches and many interventions. It is time that he sat down and let other people have a word. He may be the Scottish Chief Whip of the Social and Liberal Democrats, and the rest of them for all I know.
If only Opposition Members, of whatever party, could have coordinated their opposition—my goodness, it would add a little fun if they gave us something to attack—they could have added two more members to the Standing Committee and we should have added the same number on our side. All would have been perfectly in order and this debate would not have been necessary. Everything could have been sorted out quietly through the usual channels; but no, the Labour party wanted to make a great scene and song and dance. They have achieved nothing.
§ Sir Hector Monro
No, I am certainly not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; good Lord, no. Opposition Members turn up at debates. do not listen to them, expect to get in at short notice, and behave like Lord God Almighty. I shall not give way when we are reaching the end of the debate. If hon. Members opposite did not interrupt so much, another Opposition Member might have been called in the debate.
The important consideration is that we have put forward a motion to amend the Standing Orders. If hon. Members opposite had been prepared to co-operate and add extra members to the Standing Committee from their own parties, they would have had an opportunity to come in and join the debates on the Bill. From what we have heard in the past four sittings their members are sadly lacking in experience.
Therefore, I have every intention of supporting the motion because it is the right thing to do in the circumstances.
§ 12.2 am
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened carefully to what Conservative Members have said during the debate.
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) let the cat out of the bag. This is not just a little, inconspicuous motion laid before the House at dead of night; it is a very dangerous motion. The hon. Member for Eastwood said that we might have to take a more fundamental look at the problem and bring forward further measures later to deal with the situation. In other words, this changing of the goalposts will not end tonight. It will go on and on because of the increasing difficulties that the Government will face in their Scottish legislative programme.
It is not good enough for hon. Members to say that this is a unitary Parliament, that the Government have a majority in the House, and therefore they must have a majority on all Standing Committees, including Scottish 853 Committees. It is incumbent upon any Government to look at the various countries making up the United Kingdom and to take into account the differences in tradition and, indeed, democratic expression of Members representing the different countries of the Union. To say that this is a unitary Parliament within a United Kingdom and that therefore the Government must always have a majority on a Scottish Standing Committee is nonsense.
Let us suppose that the Government had been reduced to zero representation in Scotland, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility. All the Scottish Tory Members can fit into a couple of taxis at present. Some of them, such as the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), got home by the skin of their teeth, so it is not inconceivable that the Scottish Tories might be down to zero representation in the House. Would they seriously argue in such a situation that this precious United Kingdom and the unity of this Parliament demand that in a Scottish Standing Committee there ought to be, say, nine English Tories and perhaps only six or seven Members representing Scottish constituencies? That is the logic of what some of them have said tonight. If that is what they are proposing, they are in a sense endangering the very unity of the United Kingdom that they claim to defend.
Although there is not a majority who wish to set up a Scottish state, many people in Scotland feel that this place is unwilling to respond to their legitimate demands for a devolved Scottish Parliament with legislative and economic powers and even to the smallest of their demands. Indeed, it changes the rules and shifts the goal posts time and again. I warn those Tory Members who come in here on the tap of the Whip, including those who have not even listened to the debate, that if they go into the Lobby in support of the motion, they will weaken the unity that they pretend to defend.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 121.855
|Division No. 284]||[12.05 am|
|Allason, Rupert||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Arbuthnot, James||Evennett, David|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Fallon, Michael|
|Baldry, Tony||Farr, Sir John|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Favell, Tony|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Field, Barry (Isle ot Wight)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Forman, Nigel|
|Brazier, Julian||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Forth, Eric|
|Carrington, Matthew||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Chope, Christopher||Freeman, Roger|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||French, Douglas|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Colvin, Michael||Gill, Christopher|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Cran, James||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Gow, Ian|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Devlin, Tim||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Grist, Ian|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Ground, Patrick|
|Dover, Den||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Durant, Tony||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Dykes, Hugh||Hannam, John|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Pawsey, James|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Harris, David||Portillo, Michael|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Price, Sir David|
|Hayes, Jerry||Raffan, Keith|
|Hayward, Robert||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Redwood, John|
|Hind, Kenneth||Renton, Tim|
|Holt, Richard||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Rost, Peter|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rowe, Andrew|
|Jack, Michael||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Jackson, Robert||Ryder, Richard|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Sims, Roger|
|Knapman, Roger||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Knowles, Michael||Speller, Tony|
|Knox, David||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Squire, Robin|
|Lang, Ian||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Stern, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stevens, Lewis|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Lightbown, David||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Lilley, Peter||Summerson, Hugo|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Thorne, Neil|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mans, Keith||Thurnham, Peter|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Tracey, Richard|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Miller, Hal||Walden, George|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Waller, Gary|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Morrison, Hon Sir Charles||Watts, John|
|Moss, Malcolm||Wells, Bowen|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Wheeler, John|
|Neale, Gerrard||Whitney, Ray|
|Needham, Richard||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Nelson, Anthony||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Neubert, Michael||Wilshire, David|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Wolfson, Mark|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wood, Timothy|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Page, Richard||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Paice, James||Mr. David Maclean and Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.|
|Patten, Chris (Bath)|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Allen, Graham||Canavan, Dennis|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Ashton, Joe||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Clay, Bob|
|Barron, Kevin||Clelland, David|
|Battle, John||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Beckett, Margaret||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Beith, A. J.||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cousins, Jim|
|Boyes, Roland||Cryer, Bob|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cummings, John|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Darling, Alistair|
|Buchan, Norman||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Buckley, George J.||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Dixon, Don|
|Dobson, Frank||Marek, Dr John|
|Doran, Frank||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Douglas, Dick||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Eadie, Alexander||Maxton, John|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Michael, Alun|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Fisher, Mark||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Flynn, Paul||Morley, Elliott|
|Foster, Derek||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Foulkes, George||Mullin, Chris|
|Fyfe, Maria||Murphy, Paul|
|Galloway, George||Nellist, Dave|
|George, Bruce||Patchett, Terry|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Pike, Peter L.|
|Graham, Thomas||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Prescott, John|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Grocott, Bruce||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Haynes, Frank||Robertson, George|
|Henderson, Doug||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Short, Clare|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Home Robertson, John||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Soley, Clive|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Illsley, Eric||Turner, Dennis|
|Ingram, Adam||Wall, Pat|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Wallace, James|
|Kennedy, Charles||Walley, Joan|
|Lamond, James||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|McAllion, John||Wilson, Brian|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|McKelvey, William||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McLeish, Henry||Mr Allen McKay and Mr. Ken Eastham.|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the proviso to paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees) shall apply to the First Scottish Standing Committee in respect of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill with the substitution of the word `fifteen' for the word 'sixteen' in line 27 of the Standing Order.