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Mr. Robin Cook : The Minister has said it will take a little longer to reach the target. When do the Government expect to hit the target that they promised of 60 per cent. and 470,000 claimants?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot predict the future, but I can tell him that we are on target with the amount of money paid out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will take pleasure in that. It means that the money is reaching families who need it. I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be sufficiently generous to show some satisfaction at that fact.

The Opposition have worked up considerable indignation about the freezing of child benefit. One would hardly credit it that the Labour Secretary of State who introduced child benefit in 1975, Mrs. Barbara Castle, emphatically did not plan for an annual uprating. She believed that consideration should be given each year to whether the money was best spent in that way or another. That is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done. But we have not just left the matter there. We have transferred much of that money to those on lower incomes who need the help.

It is worth putting on record the fact that, on income support, the child rate for those aged under 11 has been increased by 9.3 per cent., for 11 to 15-year-olds by 7.8 per cent. and for 16 and 17-year-olds by 7.2 per cent. On family credit, child payments for under 11-year olds have been increased by 20.7 per cent., for 11 to 15-year-olds by 13.2 per cent. and for 16 to 17-year-olds by 11.2 per cent. That is additional money far above the rate of inflation which goes to the families who need it most. It is churlish of Opposition Members, who jeered the poor targeting of those benefits, not to express some satisfaction that this extra help is going where it is most needed.

Unlike those on income support, people at the family credit level have benefited from the high wage increases and tax reductions of the past year. I am amazed that the Opposition even considered voting against a measure that produces extra help for low-income families so as to enable


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45p to be distributed each week to families well up the income scale who have done well from the tax reductions that the Opposition criticised.

There are several more points that I would wish to raise, but clearly there is not time to do so. These upratings bring the social security budget to well over £50 billion. They reflect the success of the Government's economic policies and their determination to use the extra resources that they have generated where they are most needed. We have fulfilled our promises to pensioners and others who receive long-term benefit, and we have also provided extra and welcome help to those families on low incomes. I commend both orders to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Social Security (Contributions and Allocation of Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to order [16 December], to put forthwith the Question on the remaining motion relating to social security.

Question agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Alan Howarth.]


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Select Committee on Scottish Affairs

Mr. Speaker : I repeat what I said earlier. I have selected all the amendments on the Order Paper.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the discussions that took place earlier, will you summon to the House the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to tell us whether he expects an early debate on the recommendations? That would help all of us who wish to participate in the debate.

Mr. Speaker : That is not within my authority.

7 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : I beg to move

That this House recognises the inability of the Committee of Selection to nominate Members to serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee in accordance with Standing Order No. 104(2) ; welcomes the continued scrutiny of the Scottish Office by the Committee of Public Accounts, and the extent to which other select committees have been and will continue to be able within their orders of reference to take evidence from the Scottish Office and associated public bodies on matters arising in Scotland, and to report thereon ; and notes that other Parliamentary means exist for the consideration of Scottish affairs, including the Scottish Grand Committee, particularly in its consideration of Matters relating to Scotland and Estimates for which the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible.

As the House appreciates, a long and tortuous process has brought us to the motion today. If it is passed, it will endorse the Committee of Selection's view that, despite Standing Order No. 130, there is no generally acceptable basis on which to nominate a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. When we began negotiations through the usual channels about setting up this Select Committee we realised that there could be difficulties. I hoped that the discussions would bring us to a solution. However, the only commonly shared point of view about the Committee is that there should be a debate about it. The Committee of Selection is formally responsible, under Standing Orders, for acting on behalf of the House in nominating members for all departmental Select Committees. That was a deliberate decision of the House when the departmental Select Committee system was set up in 1979, and it followed a recommendation of the Procedure Committee. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) and his colleagues on the Committee for the way in which they carry out their duties. My hon. Friend may seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to explain how the Committee set about its task on this occasion.

As the House will recall, the usual channels have also been involved in discussions about the Scottish Affairs Select Committee--not to make nominations, but in support of the Committee of Selection by seeking to find a generally acceptable basis on which names could be put forward. That is what I have been trying to achieve. It was unfortunate, but not unprecedented, that it was not possible to do so. Between 1972 and 1979, the Scottish Affairs Select Committee lapsed after some years of activity. For most of that period the Opposition were in government. They did not set up the Committee, despite the fact that fundamental issues relating to Scotland were being discussed at that time.


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Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : On what basis is the Leader of the House saying that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs lapsed? There were two Select Committees, which were not running concurrently from one Session to another. There was one in the 1960s dealing with Scottish steel and one in 1972 and 1973 dealing with Scottish land use. To say that the Committee lapsed is wrong. There were two such Committees.

Mr. Wakeham : No Select Committee on Scottish Affairs was set up between 1972 and 1979.

Given how long the discussions continued, the House will, I hope, find it useful if I remind hon. Members briefly of their course. At the outset, it was agreed through the usual channels that the size of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs should be reduced from the maximum provided for by Standing Orders--from 13 to nine. That was in order to maintain the convention that there should be a Government majority on the Committee and to enable that majority to be made up of hon. Members representing Scottish seats only.

On 12 November last, the Committee of Selection accordingly tabled a motion nominating the Conservative and minor party members on that basis. The names of the Labour Committee members were not available at that stage. They were added on 19 November. The Chairman of the Committee of Selection, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, then received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) saying that he was not willing to serve on the Committee. Standing Order No. 104 says that a Member making a nomination shall try to ascertain whether each Member nominated "will give his attendance on the committee".

Following receipt of my hon. Friend's letter, the Committee of Selection amended its motion to remove his name, leaving just eight. The choice facing the Committee of Selection was to set up a Committee which did not reflect the Government's majority in the House or to nominate at least one of my hon. Friends representing a non-Scottish seat.

In any event, the Committee agreed a special report on 9 December which said that it found itself unable to nominate a Scottish Affairs Select Committee which in its opinion would have the support of the House and that it proposed to take no further action on the matter unless instructed by the House to do so.

Following a debate on 13 January, a motion to take note of the special report was approved by 198 votes to 160. Only during that debate, particularly during the encouraging and flexible speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), did it become apparent that both sides of the House recognised and accepted the unitary nature of our Parliament and that there might be an agreed basis on which to nominate a Select Committee, the members of which did not represent exclusively Scottish constituencies.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why he argues in that way in respect of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which is purely investigatory and not part of the legislative process, but accepts exclusively Scottish Members on the Scottish Grand Committee which is part of the legislative process? Are we not simply listening to humbug from the right hon. Gentleman?


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Mr. Wakeham : I am discussing the position as it is. I shall discuss many points during my speech and I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) will understand my position better when I have finished.

I was referring to the flexible speech made by the hon. Member for Garscadden in the debate on 13 January. It seemed that there might be an agreed basis upon which we could nominate a Select Committee, the members of which did not represent exclusively Scottish constituencies. There were further discussions through the usual channels and I wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley on 10 March saying that I believed that progress could be made in setting up the Committee.

Events took a further turn when, on 21 April, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley replied to me saying that he had reported to the Committee of Selection that he had been unable to find any colleague representing a Scottish constituency who was willing to serve on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. The Committee of Selection had agreed that he should inform me that in its view it was unable to make progress.

Notwithstanding that, I had further discussions with my right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies to find out why they were not prepared to serve and to see whether there might be a way of meeting their concerns. I was told that because of their consistent attendance at Standing Committees considering Scottish legislation, in addition to their other duties in the House, they did not believe that they could give sufficient time to the work of a Select Committee. In the light of that-- [Interruption.] The House should be reminded of the events.

In the light of that, I considered whether there was any scope for flexibility in the work of the Scottish Standing Committee so that my right hon. and hon. Friends might be readier to undertake Select Committee work. Therefore, I set out a proposal in two parts, which on 19 May, during business questions, I outlined in response to a question from the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). The first part of my proposal was that the Committee should include some Members for English constituencies but that there should also be a place on the Committee for both the Social and Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party. The second part of my proposal was that there should be greater flexibility over the minimum number of Members for Scottish constituencies who would be required to serve on a Scottish Standing Committee.

I am sorry to say that this two-part proposal was not acceptable to the main Opposition party. After I had held further discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, the Committee of Selection agreed on 29 June a further special report. The report said that the Committee had concluded that there was no generally acceptable basis for names to be produced to complete nominations to the Scottish Select Committee.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I remind the Leader of the House that on the morning after the last general election his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland commented on the results in Scotland and said that it would be business as usual ; the fact that there were only 10 Conservative Members with Scottish constituencies made no difference. It is quite clear


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that this is not business as usual. What has happened? Has the Secretary of State for Scotland been unable to deliver business as usual?

Mr. Wakeham : The Government's legislative programme for Scotland is going extremely well. The Scottish Office is performing very well indeed in the interests of Scotland, so it is business as usual. It will be clear from this account that some of the difficulties have arisen because the positions of various participants in these discussions have changed at different times. I make no complaint about that. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to change their minds, in the same way as anybody else, but it has meant that the opportunities that may have existed at certain times to set up the Committee have been missed. I regret that, but I accept the position.

The three amendments to the original motion still seek to set up the Select Committee. The essence of both the official Opposition and the Scottish National party amendments is that they call on the Committee of Selection to nominate the Select Committee without giving it any unequivocal guidance on how it should do that. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and his colleagues instructs the Committee of Selection to nominate the Select Committee on the basis, roughly, of the proportion of the popular vote gained by each party in Scotland. I disagree with all three amendments.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Is it more important, in the opinion of the Leader of the House, for the Select Committee to obey the convention that the Select Committee should reflect the composition of the whole House, or for us to obey Standing Order No. 130, which says that a Select Committee "shall" be established?

Mr. Wakeham : I believe that the Select Committee should be set up in accordance with the generally acceptable conventions of the House. I should have welcomed the fact that it had been set up.

However, let me deal with Standing Orders. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman realises that this debate is not being held in accordance with Standing Orders. The debate that ended at 7 o'clock was not held in accordance with Standing Orders. The debate that we are to have on Thursday will not be in accordance with Standing Orders. The House has resolved to deal otherwise with these matters. It is a total non-point to say that the House must set up a Select Committee in accordance with Standing Order No. 130, if the House resolves to do something else. That is the purpose of my motion. All the business of the House is in accordance with Standing Orders unless the House resolves to do something different. My motion recognises that it is not possible to comply with Standing Order No. 130. If the House approves it, my motion will be perfectly in order. The Social and Liberal Democrats' amendment would result in a Committee that would not reflect the Government's majority, as the other Select Committees do, in this unitary Parliament. That basic convention was agreed at the start of the discussions and I do not believe that we should reject it now.

The other two amendments seem to me to place the Committee of Selection in the position either of nominating my right hon. and hon. Friends for Scottish


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constituencies, regardless of their refusal to serve, or of nominating colleagues on this side of the House exclusively from non-Scottish constituencies. I do not believe that the House would find either course acceptable.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The Leader of the House is giving us a history lesson or a catalogue of failures by the usual channels. May I ask him to clarify what he said earlier? Is he saying that Standing Orders do not really matter--that when it suits the Government they want them but if it does not suit the Government they forget them? What are Standing Orders for? There are rules for conducting our business.

Mr. Wakeham : I am sure that this is not the place for me to give a tutorial on the workings of the House of Commons, but I am very willing to try. The Standing Orders of the House are the basis on which the House proceeds unless the House resolves to do something different. The House is continually resolving to do something different--sometimes at the Opposition's request. For example, the debate that terminated at 7 o'clock was for the benefit of the Opposition, as a result of discussions through the usual channels. This debate is not in accordance with Standing Orders. Therefore, Mr. Speaker kindly said that he had selected the three amendments that have been set down for debate. Had the Standing Orders of the House not been varied, that would probably not have been possible. Standing Orders are the basis on which we proceed unless we resolve to do something different.

The proposals of the official Opposition and the Scottish National party are unacceptable for two reasons. The first proposal would introduce press- ganging into our procedures for nominating Select Committees. The second, strictly non-Scottish option, although correct in procedural terms, goes against our traditions, both by providing that a majority of Members in a Committee dealing with Scottish affairs should come from non-Scottish seats and by its failure to contain a representative for a Scottish seat from the party in government.

Even if the official Opposition and the Scottish National party claim today that they would agree to the last course, I think that the House would be well advised to be cautious. The acceptance by the Scottish National party of the principle of a unitary Parliament has consistently been uncertain, to say the least. Although the official Opposition have said for some months that they accept the principle that this is a unitary Parliament, they still complain when Members for English constituencies take part in Scottish Question Time. Whatever their reasons, having considered the options, the Committee of Selection advised the House that in the circumstances it could find no generally acceptable basis on which to complete nominations to the Committee. For the reasons I have given, I share its conclusion.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : Is the Leader of the House not prepared to accept that the purpose of Select Committees is to ensure that major Departments of state are brought to account before the House for their actions? Is he saying that when the Government decide that it is not convenient for a matter to be brought to the attention of the House it will not happen? What will happen when that principle is extended to other Departments?


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Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman has intervened at precisely the right moment in my speech. In the first part of my speech I have sought to suggest that it is for the Government to determine whether there is a generally acceptable basis for setting up the Select Committee, and it is for the House to decide whether to support my motion. The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the scrutiny of the work of the Scottish Office by Select Committees. The work of the Scottish Office continues to be the subject of inquiries by Select Committees.

The Public Accounts Committee has carried out five inquiries to which the Scottish Office gave evidence. They include a review of Scottish new towns, the report of the Scottish Development Agency on the private sector, a report on financial support for the fishing industry and, most recently, a report on the quality of clinical care in the National Health Service.

Scottish Office officials and Ministers have given evidence to a number of departmental Select Committees, including the Select Committee on Agriculture, the Select Committee on Transport and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. The House will recall that the report of the Select Committee on Energy on the privatisation of electricity which we debated on the Second Reading of the Electricity Bill last week contained recommendations directly concerned with privatisation in Scotland.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : The Leader of the House must accept that the argument that he is propounding is not good enough. It is not sufficient to suggest that other Select Committees can examine Scottish affairs in detail. The Department of Energy, in its report on privatisation, stated that it could not look in sufficient detail at the Scottish dimension which merited a separate report. It is just not good enough. The Minister is using an argument that would apply to every other Department. Why should Scotland be singled out as different?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not understand why the hon. Lady is quarrelling with me. I share her regret that it is not possible to set up the Select Committee. I am pointing out to the House that the Scottish Office is still subject to considerable scrutiny by Select Committees of the House.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : The Leader of the House is being uncharacteristically disingenuous. Does he accept that, although there is a Select Committee on Defence, there are numerous overlapping reports of the Public Accounts Committee on defence matters? His argument is an argument for having no Select Committee on Defence and for abolishing all other specialised Select Committees. It is nonsense and he should know better.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. I regret that it is not possible to set up a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, but I am pointing out that it is possible for other Select Committees to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Office. If the hon. Gentleman reflects for a minute he will realise that what I am saying is correct.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Will the Leader of the House give us his opinion about whether the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs would be competent to look into the affairs of the Scottish Office in view of the fact that the Government are increasingly treating Scotland as a colony?


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Mr. Wakeham : That is not a matter for me. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is still a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, but he had better discuss that with his colleagues if he considers it a sensible way to proceed.

Since it is not any part of the Government's position to seek to limit Select Committee inquiries into Scottish matters, we welcome the fact that the Scottish Office continues to be the subject of scrutiny by hon. Members in Select Committees. We are also using the other parliamentary ways in which Scottish matters can be addressed by the House as they have been for many years, for example, by considering Scottish Estimates in the Scottish Grand Committee. Hon. Members have suggested that, in recognising that it is not possible to find a generally acceptable way for nominating a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, we are contravening Standing Order No. 130 which states that such a Select Committee shall be appointed. But Standing Orders are a creation of the House, and are made for the House. It is not the other way around. As I have already said, it is commonplace to agree to motions varying the Standing Orders where that is for the general convenience in arranging business. For example, at the beginning of this Session, the House approved without debate or Division a motion varying the arrangements in Standing Order No. 13 for private Members' time. There is nothing new or revolutionary in the House determining that on a specific matter we should proceed differently from the way set out in Standing Orders. We should reflect very carefully on the question of ordering hon. Members to serve on Select Committees so that Standing Orders may be fulfilled. Certainly the House has the power to do so, but I do not believe that it would wish to use it. Generally each hon. Member can decide for himself how he carries out his parliamentary duties. The House will consider it only fair that my right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish seats should have the same rights as other hon. Members. I regret their unwillingness to serve on the Select Committee, but I respect it. No doubt one or more of them will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later in the debate. The House may also wish to reflect on the harm it would do to the reputation of our Select Committees if they were made up of hon. Members who had been dragooned into serving on them.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : Will the Leader of the House reflect on the irony that we are talking about press-ganging and ordering when the Government Whips have no difficulty in getting hon. Members with no great interest in Scottish affairs to attend Scottish Question Time and other occasions such as this debate, yet those hon. Members are not interested in the hard work of scrutinising the Scottish Office? The Leader of the House cannot talk about press-ganging-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Leader of the House.

Mr. Wakeham : If the hon. Gentleman's example of dragooning and bullying in the Government Whips' Office is reflected on his side of the House, it has not been very successful recently. I can assure him that that does not happen in the Government Whips' Office.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : I wish to inform my right hon. Friend that I am here because I want to be here and not because any Whip asked me to be here.


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Mr. Wakeham : If I may say so in the House of Commons in this unitary Parliament, we are delighted to see my hon. Friend here.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Does my hon. Friend remember when he was Patronage Secretary? Will he remind the House how many Scottish Labour Members stopped people in England having the right to shop on Sundays and prevented us from changing our absurd Sunday trading laws which they do not have to put up with in Scotland?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend tempts me but I shall not follow that route.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Before the Leader of the House concludes, does he recognise that he is embarking on a profoundly undemocratic argument? He is saying that because Conservative Members decline to serve they have a right to veto the Select Committee over the majority of elected Members representing Scotland who have a duty to scrutinise the work of the Government.

Mr. Wakeham : I am saying that there is no generally acceptable way. It would be just as farcical for us to set up a Scottish Select Committee if the Labour party refused to serve on it as it would be if Government Members refused to serve on it.

Between 1983 and 1987 I spent quite a lot of time setting up Select Committees. I was most anxious to ensure that they should be set up with representatives from all parts of the House. I remember having debates late at night because there was a strong feeling that Members representing Ulster were not being properly treated and we defeated the nominations of the Committee of Selection. Over the years I have spent a considerable time ensuring that the chairmanships of the Select Committees were allocated on a fair basis between all Members of the House, as the previous Patronage Secretary did.

Therefore, I reiterate that if Opposition parties were not prepared to serve on a Select Committee I cannot see how that Select Committee would be of very much use to the House of Commons.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wakeham : No. I have given way very generously all around the House. I have spent more time sitting on my seat than standing up and I must conclude.

The motion reflects the belief that I have said I share with the Committee of Selection that there is no generally acceptable basis on which to nominate a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Acknowledging that fact does not undermine the Government's support for the departmental Select Committee system. We remain as committed to it as we were when my predecessor invited the House to approve the establishment of departmental Select Committees in 1979. The motion is simply a recognition of the current position and I commend it to the House.

7.29 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : The speech made by the Leader of the House was a travesty and created the impression that everyone was out of step apart from "our Johnnie" and that the poor man had been thwarted at every turn in his efforts to establish a Scottish


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Affairs Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has done his best to ensure that the Committee has not been established. If he had possessed the political will to establish it, it would have been set up months ago. It is no good him thrashing around trying to blame everyone else ; the fault lies with him and his colleagues in the Government.

The democratic decision of the Scottish people reduced the number of Scottish Tory Members of Parliament to a rump of 10 out of 72. No one can deny that that caused the Government problems, such as trying to find Members of ministerial calibre for the Scottish Office. Living evidence of that problem is sitting on the Front Bench tonight. It means that five Scottish Tories were left to serve on the Committee. No one can deny that that caused the Government problems, but there were many possible solutions. One would have been to set up a Select Committee that did not have a majority of Government members but reflected the outcome of the 1987 election in Scotland. We understand that that was rejected by the Prime Minister herself. That having happened, the Labour party quite naturally expected the five Scottish Tory Members of Parliament who were not Ministers to serve on the Committee, but that did not prove to be the case. Apparently they have better things to do than scrutinise the activities of the Scottish Office and monitor the effects of Government policies on the Scottish people.

When we were forced to do so by the Government we reluctantly made it clear that we were prepared to allow Tory Members representing English seats to make up Tory numbers on the Committee, especially as at least 16 of them were born and, in some cases, brought up in Scotland. This was made clear to the Leader of the House in private discussions and by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and me in the debate on 13 January 1988. Since then, the Leader of the House has made no effort to bring the Committee into being. He keeps asserting, "In a unitary Parliament hon. Members from either side of the House are entitled to serve on any Committee." If that is what he and his colleagues believe, what are they waiting for? They should set up the Committee with hon. Members who are willing to serve on it.

It was preposterous to hear a former Tory Chief Whip speak out against press ganging. The Government have been willing to twist arms, make promises of health spending in constituencies and press any gang to pass some of their policies, yet they will not twist arms to set up the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

The Government cannot expect us to believe that Tory Members representing English constituencies are not interested in Scotland because the record shows that more than 130 of them have asked oral questions about Scotland or taken part in Scottish debates. A number of them do so quite regularly, so why does not the Leader of the House ask some of them to serve on the Committee in addition to any Scottish Tory Members who are willing to do so? The answer is that he and the rest of the Cabinet do not want a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which would take embarrasing evidence even though its Tory majority might prevent it from producing embarrassing or damaging reports. Such a Committee could be highly inconvenient to the Government--an inconvenience that they do not want.

The Scottish Office is a major Department of state. Like other Departments, its activities should be scrutinised


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continually and systematically by a departmental Select Committee ; no other arrangements will be able to do that job properly. The Leader of the House suggested that the Public Accounts Committee and the Scottish Grand Committee could deal with these issues, but that was rejected in 1978 by the Select Committee on Procedure, which recommended the establishment of departmental Select Committees. It said that we should

"no longer rest content with an incomplete and unsystematic scrutiny of the activities of the Executive merely as a result of historical accident or sporadic pressures."

The Government are proposing just that--a historical accident in response to sporadic pressures from Scottish Tory Members.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's proposals are practical nonsense? In my role as Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, I am only too well aware of Committees' heavy work load. No matter how well meaning the Committees may be, they will be unable to deal with Scottish affairs, nor should they. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a scandalous ploy to prevent disastrous Scottish Ministers from being further exposed to Select Committee scrutiny?

Mr. Dobson : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Many Select Committees do not possess a single Scottish hon. Member, so no local knowledge will be fed into the Committee's scrutiny.

The debate is not about obscure aspects of parliamentary procedure but goes to the heart of the exercise of power in a democratic society--the concept of government by consent. The Government are proposing to use their majority to set aside obligations that have become inconvenient. For years, Tories have ignored or, worse still, obstructed the wish of Scottish people for a devolved form of government that will be seen to reflect more quickly and closely their needs and desires as democratically expressed in the ballot box. Not content with that, the Government are proposing to do away with existing arrangements designed to secure that at least the Scottish Office must reflect the concerns of those whom the Scottish people have elected.

I urge everyone in the House to treat what is happening tonight with the utmost seriousness. The parliamentary system will be brought into disrepute if we allow the Government to get away with what they propose, which is fraudulent, deceitful and dangerous. It is fraudulent because before the 1979 election the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), told the Scottish people that the Tories would come up with their own devolution proposals and that in the meantime a Scottish Select Committee would be set up.

After the election and the repeal of the Scotland Act 1978, and following pressure from the Labour party, the Scottish Affairs Select Committee was set up in parallel with other departmental Select Committees. In the words of the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the present Secretary of State for Defence, it would act

"as an effective watchdog on the programme and policies of the Scottish Office."

What price that watchdog now?

At the time of the devolution referendum, the present Secretary of State for Scotland was so dissatisfied with arrangements for the government of Scotland that he


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campaigned in favour of the Labour party's proposal for a Scottish assembly. After the 1979 election, in the debate on the repeal of the Scotland Act--he can turn about face pretty quickly--he commended improvements in the Select Committee system as making a

"major contribution towards improving the government of Scotland." Surely he is not now saying that not setting up the Select Committee will make a major contributon to improving the government of Scotland.

After the 1987 election, despite the few Scottish Tory Members, the Secretary of State said that it would be "business as usual." Opposition Members are saying that part of the usual business is the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.


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