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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) : Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House of what proposals the Labour party now favours for devolved government in Scotland? How many seats should be removed to facilitate that?
Mr. Dobson : That cretinous interruption came from someone who is supposed to be one of the leading intellectuals in the Tory party. For a year now, we in the Labour party have been pressing for the establishment of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It is important to the people of Scotland and to their elected representatives, but it is just as important to those from other parts of Britain who believe in democratic institutions.
The Government propose to set aside the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs because it is politically inconvenient. It might cause embarrassment by, say, investigating the workings of the poll tax in Scotland--we agree that that would be embarrassing--but one of the most important functions of a freely elected Parliament is to be just that--an inconvenience to the Government. That is what we are here for. If the Government get away with swallowing up one inconvenient Select Committee, they will soon develop an appetite for Select Committees and swallow up others.
Tonight we see the naked use of power for the short-term party political advantage of the Tory party. The Government have taken Lord Hailsham's words about an elective dictatorship not as a warning but as a model. Such attitudes are dangerous in any circumstances, but they are doubly dangerous when they involve disdainful treatment of the elected representatives of the Scottish people who already feel badly and distantly governed.
Any Government--in particular, a Government led by a woman--should remember the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, "Coercion is not Government". Increasingly the people of Scotland feel coerced rather than governed. I remind the Government that it is the duty of all democratic Governments to carry the people with them. More important, I remind all hon. Members that it is the duty of all freely elected Parliaments to fashion instruments which control Governments, subject them to public scrutiny, and ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard and heeded. Whatever its shortcomings, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is one of those instruments. That is why Opposition Members would be failing in their most fundamental duty not only to the people of Scotland but to all our fellow citizens if we did not resist the Government's motion.
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Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : The House will not be surprised to note that I am speaking in this debate. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said. He said that the practices that are being put forward are fraudulent, deceitful and dangerous. There was nothing fraudulent, deceitful or dangerous about the letter that I wrote in 1985 about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I clearly wrote out my views at the time, and they have not changed since then. The hon. Gentleman said also that a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs would be inconvenient to the Government. In some quarters, my actions since 1985 would be construed as being inconvenient to the Government. Without any doubt, over a long period, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has attempted to establish the Committee. His motion is a recognition of the facts that we face.
As my right hon. Friend said, this is not the first time that a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has not been set up. There does not appear to be any record of why the Committee was not set up in the 1972 period, other than that it was difficult to find hon. Members who were willing to serve on it. It is interesting to note that that occurred with hardly any parliamentary comment.
I was one of those who, in 1979, desperately wanted a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to scrutinise the Government and to do its job effectively and properly. I was one of the most disappointed hon. Members when I found that the Committee was not conducting itself in a manner that would be beneficial to Scotland. My remarks do not reflect on the early stages of the Committee. The hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) were Chairmen of that Committee. It was a good, effective Committee, and I was proud to be a member of it. I am sorry to say that it did not continue in that vein.
It is interesting to note that, over the period 1979-80 to 1986-87, the Committee submitted 14 reports to the Scottish Office. Any Committee that prepares reports has a right to expect the Government to take note of them and, if required, to take action. Sadly, Committees that present reports that do not reflect the evidence that they received can expect scant attention from Ministers. That was my view in 1985, and it is still my view this evening.
Column 348Hon. Members hear a lot from the Scottish National party. In the period from 1979 to 1987, the Scottish National party refused to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. On 26 November 1979, the SNP was given the offer to serve. The record states : "My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) has given the House his explanation. I spoke to the Leader of the SNP, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). Every opportunity was given to the SNP to have a Member on the Scottish Select Committee. Apparently it did not wish to have one."--[ Official Report, 26 November 1979 ; Vol. 974, c. 1059.]
Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman is aware that I was talking about one possible member of the SNP. The point that I was making was one of principle rather than practice. If SNP Members--it reflects the humbug that we get from them--believe that the Scottish Affairs Select Committee was and is so important, why was it not important in 1979 and 1983? That is where the humbug is coming from. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman or his predecessor on the Committee. I would serve tomorrow on a Committee of which either hon. Gentleman was a chairman.
Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been a long-established neighbour of the hon. Gentleman. As it has been announced that I was the Chairman-designate of the Select Committee that was to be set up, the hon. Gentleman seems to be implying that he would not serve on any Committee of which I was a chairman.
Mr. Walker : I regard the hon. Gentleman as one of my friends in the Opposition. Nothing that I say this evening reflects in any way on his integrity. I hope that he will accept that I cannot accept the kind of guarantees that we were supposed to get from the Labour party in the past and that it was unable to deliver. Its inability to deliver guarantees makes me extremely cautious about what is likely to happen. My remarks are no reflection on the hon. Gentleman or his integrity. His integrity has never been in doubt. It is important that we get this into the correct perspective.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : My hon. Friend talked of humbug from the Opposition. Does he recall that I was honoured to be called to sit on the Standing Committee on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and does he remember the reception I had from Opposition Members who now suggest that they welcome Members representing English constituencies with an interest in Scottish matters sitting on Scottish Committees?
Mr. Walker : That was a helpful intervention and later I shall draw the attention of the House to these matters. That is the nub and the hub of everything that we are discussing this evening. Either we accept that this is a unitary Parliament or we do not.
It is important that all hon. Members understand the SNP's position between 1979 and 1987. Neither of the then SNP Members, Gordon Wilson and Donald Stewart, served on any Select Committee of any kind. Neither of those gentlemen attended Standing Committees at
Column 349anything like the rate of my Scottish colleagues and I. I have all the figures if anyone is interested. Gordon Wilson, who represented Dundee, East, attended 105 Standing Committees between 1979 and 1983 whereas I attended 228. Donald Stewart, who represented Western Isles, attended 51, fewer than anyone else. In the 1983 -87 Parliament, Gordon Wilson had 71 attendances in Standing Committee whereas I had 148 and Donald Stewart had 20. In addition, I attended 79 Select Committee meetings during the 1979-83 Parliament and 64 during the 1983-87 Parliament. Therefore, any SNP Member who suggests that Scottish Conservative Members are not doing their job or pulling their weight is talking humbug and hypocrisy.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : I am interested to hear how busy the hon. Gentleman has been. Certainly he has been busy since 1987. According to the Register of Members' Interests, he has been to Hong Kong and Peking twice, he has spent 18 days in Brazil and six days or more in China. He has three directorships and is an adviser to three other groups. Have not his business interests and gallivanting round the world more to do with his lack of interest in serving on a Scottish Affairs Select Committee and in doing what his Conservative constituents would like him to do, namely, look after the interests of Scottish Conservatives, and, God knows, there are not many of those?
Mr. Walker : That is a stupid and offensive attack. My visits were made during the recess. [Hon. Members :-- "Ah."] If the hon. Gentleman cares to note the companies which sponsored my visits to these different parts-- [Interruption.] It is all on the record. He will see that I was acting in an unpaid capacity to assist them in their sales programme. [Laughter.] I would have thought that all hon. Members should be doing that. If the hon. Gentleman further examines my entry he will find that the advice and help I give to the organisations listed, such as the Scouts, the Air Cadets and the British Gliding Association, is given free. There is no charge. I now turn to the Labour party--and Opposition Members should stop laughing, They may find that this is not so funny. In 1979 the Labour party had views on the establishment of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee, but those views were not unanimous. Not every Labour Member wanted the Committee to be set up. Willie Hamilton had this to say :
"I also have doubts because of the unwarranted assumption that there are in the House--and I measure my words--120 Back Bench Members who will apply themselves diligently to the hard work entailed in serving on Select Committees it is important to understand that there are reservations among Back Bench Members about the effectiveness of this package."--[ Official Report, 25 June 1979 ; Vol. 969, c. 98.]
The Labour party is constantly reminding the House of the difficulties that we in the Conservative party have in staffing Scottish business of whatever kind. The same Labour Members have no hesitation in becoming involved and active in matters which could be construed as being purely English business.
I am sure that the Water Bill is important and I have no objection to Members from all parts of the United Kingdom taking an interest. That is to be recommended and I am strongly in favour of it. But Opposition Members apparently say one thing when Scottish matters are affected and another when they are not.
Column 350[Hon. Members :-- "No."] At 8.6 pm, as is shown in column 381 of the report of our debate on the Water Bill, on 7 December, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) spoke for 10 minutes. He was concerned about the Council for the Protection of Rural England. [Laughter.]
I draw the attention of the House to early-day motions 155, 172 and 191 standing in my name and those of some colleagues on
"The Union and the Unitary Parliament."
Scottish Labour Members complain that English and Welsh Conservative Members who table Scottish questions are behaving badly and out of order, yet it is apparently in order for Scottish Labour Members to table questions on Northern Ireland, where the Labour party holds no seats. Early -day motion 172 states clearly that 37 questions were tabled for oral answer by Northern Ireland Ministers and that 27 of the questions were tabled by hon. Members representing English, Welsh and Scottish constituencies.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : I am desperate to try to save some time because the hon. Gentleman is tilting at windmills. No Labour Member is suggesting that English Members should not take an interest in the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. We are anxious that they should because we then might get the Committee. As the Secretary of State, with his careful attention to language, will appreciate, we have never argued that English Members with a genuine interest in Scottish affairs should be banned from Scottish questions. This is an important point and I want to get it over to the House. We have made it clear that we object to the clearly orchestrated campaign where hon. Members have been abrasive, provocative and irritating for the sake of it, have no interest in what is going on and when the whole escapade has been conducted like some public school dormitary jape.
Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman talks about orchestration. I have been doing a little research and had a lot of research done on the Order Papers for the past two weeks and I can deal effectively with the hon. Gentleman's point. On Tuesday 20 December six Scottish Labour Members had questions tabled to the Department of Education and Science. More important, 12 Scottish Labour Members have questions tabled to the Department of Transport for Monday 16 January and seven of them are fascinated by the Channel tunnel.
If one looks at them carefully, one will see that a number of them are identical in every word. Where is the orchestration? I, frankly, support them in doing that and I am not being critical. I am responding to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, who opened for the Opposition. He mentioned those aspects and I just happened to have the information handy in case he did.
There have been questions recently on North East Shipbuilders. The north- east, of course, is the north-east of England and, quite properly, a number of Scottish Members participated. The hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked questions. Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) rose --
Column 351I accept that the hon. Member for Dundee, East knows that North East Shipbuilders have an interest in Dundee. I make no complaint about that. I am merely drawing attention to the fact that, of the three hon. Members who asked questions, the hon. Member for Dundee, East was the only one with a direct interest.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) rose --
We have heard a lot about what is right and what is wrong. What I would say to Opposition Members is that it is my view that I have achieved more in this Parliament for Scotland, while not serving on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, than I have achieved in all the months and years that I have spent as a member of that Committee. During this Parliament, with the assistance of Opposition Members, I have been instrumental in placing the Scotch Whisky Act 1988 on the statute book. With the assistance of Opposition Members, I have played a part in saving the search and rescue helicopter flight at Leuchars.
Dr. Godman rose --
Mr. Walker : I shall give way in a moment as it is important that I finish this point. Also, with the assistance of Opposition Members, I have been instrumental in getting a reprieve for the Dundee dental college. My view is that I have used my time more effectively and efficiently than I could ever have done as a member of a Committee whose reports would not have been considered by the Ministers who received them.
Dr. Godman : With regard to the early-day motion on the North East Shipbuilders, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that I have a direct constituency interest in the continuity of that shipyard, because, if the Government had not betrayed the workers of Sunderland--in that the Ministers prevented that yard from winning an order from Cuba for 10 ships- -the engines for those 10 ships would very likely have been built at Clark Kincaid of East Hamilton street, Greenock.
Mr. Walker : Members on the Government side of the House who represent English constituencies have many direct interests in Scottish constituencies and business. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman about his involvement in northern England affairs. I wish to encourage that as that is how I see this unitary Parliament functioning and working.
What I find interesting about the debate is that we do not get the same heated interest in Northern Ireland, which there should be if all the factors discussed this evening were agreed. They are not, of course, but if they were, Northern Ireland would have the same case for having a Select Committee on Northern Ireland affairs. However, we all know that there are differences, which may be part of the problem in the way that we try to run our parliamentary system. This is not the evening when I
Column 352wish to speak at length on that, because that is not the reason why we are here. I believe that the time is long overdue for us to talk seriously about how we should run our unitary parliamentary system in all parts of the United Kingdom. If we do not, the danger is that for short-term party political opportunism--I shall not put it any higher than that--a unitary Parliament, and all of us who believe in a unitary parliamentary system, could be at grave risk. We may differ on the solutions, but I believe that it is important that we should get down to serious talking about it instead of constantly flaunting, for short-term political gains, slogans that have nothing to do with the realities of passing legislation through the House, and we should act in a way that is good for the responsible government of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : The motion is a sad one. I regret to say that the Leader of the House presented a very undignified and pathetic figure when he sought to justify it. The motion refers to the Committee of Selection, but we all know that the failure to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs lies with the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary. It has nothing to do with the Committee of Selection which, by and large, takes the names offered to it by the Whips. Although I am sure that the Leader of the House, who is in his place, tried hard, the fact is that the failure lies with the Government. I am certain that if the Government had had the will, we could have had a solution.
Much has been said by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), about the Select Committee system. Some hon. Members say and believe that Select Committees are a distraction which takes hon. Members away from more important work. The hon. Gentleman quoted our old friend Willie Hamilton. Some people believe that the dignity and importance of the Chamber would diminish once a Select Committee was set up. What the hon. Gentleman said was half true, which is the problem with the hon. Gentleman. He makes half true statements. I do not quarrel with the statements quoted from Hansard of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, as he then was, Mr. Willie Hamilton, who was arguing against the entire Select Committee system. However, he was not arguing that there should not be a committee on Scottish affairs. The hon. Gentleman should not attempt to twist words.
I do not hold the hon. Gentleman's view. I believe that Select Committees are important. I served as a member of the Select Committee in the incarnation of both the Select Committees on Scottish Affairs. First, it was set up specifically to consider land use. I am reminded that in the 1960s there was a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs which considered especially steel. The Select Committee system has a long history. Committees have been sporadic. They have been set up to consider specific matters at different times and then have disappeared. It is not a question of the system lapsing. There never was any continuity until we had the Select Committee system set up by Norman St. John-Stevas, as he then was. Secondly, I sat on the Select Committee as an ordinary member when it was a regular, growing concern. I was proud--I still am--to have succeeded my hon. Friend the
Column 353Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) as Chairman. I found the Committee and its work most useful.
I believe that, while Government Departments in general have been appalling in their responses to the criticisms of Select Committees, the fact is that the Scottish Office has been one of the better Departments of state in responding to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Paradoxically, it has often been a minority report of Opposition Back Benchers on the Committee that it has taken up, and has rejected Government Back Benchers' majority reports. The hon. Member for Tayside, North made some sour comments about the Government and the Scottish Office not following the views of the Select Committee. He tried again to twist matters slightly.
Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South) : Is it not correct that sometimes the Select Committee took up a subject on representations that it received from Ministers--especially Ministers in the Scottish Office--and sometimes Ministers representing United Kingdom Departments, for example, the Department of Trade and Industry? Therefore, the purpose of the Select Committee was not only to monitor the work of the Scottish Office and Scottish Ministers but was sometimes to give the Secretary of State for Scotland support in the various Cabinet sub-committees when they were taking decisions on the future of certain Scottish affairs.
Mr. Hughes : I am happy to concur. The general view, and sometimes received wisdom, was that the Select Committee was always a bear garden, with everyone fighting with one another, constantly with daggers drawn against the Scottish Office, but that was not true. I do not know why there was a sudden sea change by Scottish Office Ministers towards the idea of a Select Committee. On all the Scottish Select Committees there had always been useful co-operation and discussion between the Government and Chairmen on valuable points. I accept that the work of the Select Committees appeared, on occasions, to disappear. But even if recommendations are not acted upon, it is important that we get the best information so that we can conduct our political debate. Debating in ignorance does not do democracy any good. Evidence is useful. I do not deny that there have been difficulties. Scottish politics is a vibrant body. It sometimes seems like a cockpit, with all of us trying to scratch one another's eyes out.
Scottish Members are a comparatively small number of Members of Parliament and we constantly meet through television, radio and the press or in the House and have a go at one another--and why not? Scottish politics are probably more adversarial than in other parts of the United Kingdom, and that is a good thing. What is wrong with vigorous debate? Why can we not vigorously debate without personal animosity? Sometimes animosity arises, but this form of politics is good for the system and I do not understand why we cannot continue it. It is said that the vigorous way in which we conduct our democracy makes it difficult to step back and take an objective look in the way that Select Committees are supposed to do. Select Committees were able to do that in the past, without blunting the thrust of their investigations or of questions.
None of the difficulties is insuperable. If the Government had the good will, they should be able to introduce this system. The failure of Conservative Back
Column 354Benchers in particular, especially those representing Scottish seats, to serve as members of the Committee shows their lack of self-confidence in themselves and their party. That Scottish Office Ministers are afraid to face questions shows an amazing lack of confidence.
We are told ad nauseam in advertisements on television and in glossy material how good the Government are and what marvellous work they are doing in Scotland. Then we hear the plaintive cry, "What a shame that that is not understood in Scotland." We understand what the Government are doing. There is an excellent set of Scottish Ministers on the Government Front Bench, but we hear the plaintive cry that they are misunderstood and that we do not appreciate their work. We are told that St. Andrew's House is an efficient, tightly run ship. If all that is true, what do Scottish Office Ministers have to hide? Why cannot they allow their actions to be open to public scrutiny? They should be so pleased with themselves that they trample over us trying to get on a Select Committee. Such a system should have been set up long ago. The Government could have provided the Select Committee with the necessary Members.
Leaving aside the dragooning point, I accept that one cannot compel a Member to do anything that he does not want to do. But the Government always find their way when they want something done. There are the blandishments and the offers of knighthoods--there is hope yet for the hon. Member for Tayside, North. The Government could have gone further.
I accept that some of the strident views put in the Scottish press did not help our cause. I was one of those who, from the beginning, was prepared to accept Members from English seats sitting on a Scottish Select Committee. It is important that they should look at what we do and that we should learn from their experience. I do not believe that the Scots have the arrogance to say that everything they do in Scotland is right and that they know better than anyone else. We have much to teach the United Kingdom about politics. That is why we take part in United Kingdom debates. We should not be frightened of English Members--even if they are English rather than Scots representing English seats--serving on a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I should welcome that because it is important to set up such a Committee.
In an intervention, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) said that the Scottish Grand Committee no longer had added Members on it and was made up only of Scots. During his absence, there was a slight change. A trade-off was made so that the Scottish Grand Committee was composed entirely of Scottish Members but there were to be no votes. That was wrong. We should not rely on the exclusiveness of Scottish Members on the basis of not voting.
Mr. Hughes : I recollect that there has been one vote. That was the general deal done, but there is nothing in Standing Orders to say so. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, he will find that there have been few votes in the Scottish Grand Committee since it was composed solely of Scottish Members. But that was a minor aside. Scottish exclusivity does not give the whole picture and is not always wholly good.
Column 355I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. In private conversations he made a helpful suggestion which he has empowered me to mention. We are all anxious to have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs up and running. My hon. Friend has suggested that, if we cannot get an agreement on a Select Committee which runs every week and every year, perhaps the Government would consider setting up a Special Committee on Scottish Affairs, as existed in the past, to look at a particular issue and, if that works, we could go on to another Special Committee. I support my hon. Friend's helpful suggestion entirely. I hope that the Leader of the House will think again, even at this stage. I am not pleading with him, because I will not plead with anyone on this matter. I ask him in the interests of his party and Government and of democracy and the people of Scotland to withdraw the motion and consider the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East. If he does, he will have done a great service to the House of Commons.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I wish that the reasonable approach of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) had been available on the Labour Front Bench a year ago. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) put some Opposition Members to flight by bringing out statistics which proved the humbug of their case. I shall put my view on how I saw matters last year. After the 1987 election I expected to be a member of the Select Committee. On returning from the recess in October 1987, I reluctantly gave up my place on the Defence Select Committee--a place which I had achieved after many years of waiting and which I had enjoyed. That shows that I believed that I would be wanted for the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and would have to forgo something that it had taken me a long time to achieve. I was happy that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) was to be the Chairman.
Problems began to arise when on 12 November the Committee of Selection tabled the list of Members for the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Members were available from the Conservative and minority parties but not from the Labour party. If the Labour party had got itself organised and made its Members available, the Committee might well have been set up on 12 November, ready to go and off, but it had not. The following week, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North, as he has already explained, declined his place and made the interesting discovery that there was a right to refuse to serve should one so wish.
By the time that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) had arranged the names of Labour Members, the Committee of Selection was not in a position to set up the Select Committee because insufficient Conservative Members were available. During that crucial time in November, the hon. Members for Garscadden and for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) played their hand badly. The hon. Member
Column 356for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley made it clear that on no account would the Labour party put up with any English Members on the Committee.
Mr. Ian Bruce : The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made an impassioned plea about accepting hon. Members from English constituencies on the Select Committee. It is strange that before joining the Standing Committee which considered the School Boards (Scotland) Bill, I was told that a story had been put into the mouths of reporters on the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. The same gentleman who accused me of having no interest in Scottish affairs was an English Member who had no interest in Scotland. The story did not appear. It went on the spike after the reporters checked their facts and learned of my experience in Scottish education.
Sir Hector Monro : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but he is a little ahead of my story. I am still dealing with November 1987 when the hon. Member for Garscadden tried to dictate to the Scottish Tory party, through the press and individually, saying that he would not approve of topping up unless it was with Members of Parliament who suited his view. I found that unacceptable. The Labour Front Bench spokesmen made it plain that they would accept only certain Tory Members to serve on a Select Committee. Their attitude did more than anything else to make me and my hon. Friends feel that the Labour party's attitude would make a Scottish Affairs Select Committee intolerable. Let me make it clear that until that happened I anticipated our having a Select Committee.
The Opposition's attitude has run true to form in business in the House and in Committee, including their refusal last April to co-operate, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explained earlier, on a deal that would have allowed an additional English Tory Member on the Standing Committee, an arrangement by which we could have set up a Select Committee. The Labour party has fallen flat on its face on so many opportunities that it ill behoves it to come to the House groaning away and complaining that it is all our fault that there is no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
We are also worried about the usual channels. We all know that the House could not operate without them. The Whips on both sides of the House and the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House have to co- operate if the business of the House is not to grind to a halt. Everybody knows that it is only too easy to find ways of making business in the House intolerable if hon. Members wish to do so. Unless we accept discipline and honour agreements made through the usual channels, everything becomes difficult to manage and it is the country that loses.
Time and again the Opposition have failed to deliver agreements. Last week, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), whom I am sorry to see has departed, made a lengthy speech on the Transport (Scotland) Bill after 11.45 pm. That was in order and no one could prevent him from doing so, but that was contrary to an agreement made through the usual channels that the business would end at 11.45 pm. The Minister and the Opposition spokesman arranged their closing speeches for that time. No wonder the House falls into disarray when that sort of thing occurs. We then had an interesting speech lasting 45 minutes from the hon. Member for
Column 357Falkirk, West. However, that shows how important it is that we have discipline within and between parties if we are to proceed in a correct and efficient manner.
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : I have a specific question to ask the hon. Gentleman who has courteously given way. Since he is extolling the various virtues of the House and telling us that there must be discipline and so on, is he telling the House that, with regard to serving on a Select Committee, he is on strike?
Sir Hector Monro : The hon. Gentleman should not try to bring his profession into the House. I am not used to taking such action. In a Select Committee, where there will obviously be a small majority, discipline must prevail if it is to work satisfactorily. Nothing that I have seen in the Chamber or in Standing Committee has given me any encouragement to think that the Opposition will behave with such discipline in the Select Committee.
When I joined the Select Committee in the 1983 Parliament it was different from what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North described. It was already at daggers drawn. It seemed an astonishing way of trying to interview and monitor the Scottish Office or to come to any unanimous report. Such an approach to the Select Committee was disappointing.
One has only to look at the reports on Scott Lithgow and Ravenscraig and Gartcosh--hon. Members may remember that I voted against the Government on that issue. We reached a unanimous view only on the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the fisheries protection reports. Otherwise, party lines were here, there and everywhere. That is no way to monitor effectively a Government Department. Fighting and voting on party lines time and again is no good. There was none of the cut and thrust of constructive debate that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North would like ; amendments were purely party-political, with voting this way and that. It was a thoroughly disappointing operation in which to be involved. The Opposition's attitude to discipline and to the usual channels which must operate it during the efforts to appoint a Select Committee in November and December 1987 and their likely attitude to the Select Committee if it were set up leads one to believe that the most satisfactory way forward, enabling hon. Members to spend as much time as possible on Scottish affairs in a united way throughout the House, is to support the motion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House so that we can get on with business rather than listen to the Opposition groaning away on this issue which does not have the importance that they like to suggest.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : It would appear that the House is about to administer the last rites to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Its death knell has sounded and the Government will see to it by trundling in their voting machine at the end of the debate, claiming authority while closing their eyes and ears to the fact that in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom the majority of people do not support them. So much for democracy. So much for this place, the so-called mother of Parliaments. That makes it a sham. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) pointed
Column 358out, after the last election the Secretary of State for Scotland, leading a Conservative band of nine Members, said that it would be business as usual. But here we are, witnessing the lack of political will to set up a Select Committee.
I believe that the Committee of Selection should note the sensible suggestion that the composition of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee should reflect the number of Scottish seats held by the various political parties. That is what our amendment proposes. It would mean a Committee of five Labour Members, three
Conservatives--which is a mite generous--two Social and Liberal Democrats and one Scottish National party member.
The assumption that that would not work is both ridiculous and insulting. On 13 January, referring to a former Select Committee, the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said :
"We were spending hours and hours indulging in what were often pure party- political battles."--[ Official Report, 13 January 1988 ; Vol. 125, c. 408.]
Times have changed, as the Conservative party in Scotland knows only too well. I believe that a Scottish Select Committee constituted on the lines that I have suggested would work, particularly if it included the hon. Members for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), and myself. There would be less of the alleged skulduggery and more feminine common sense.
A Select Committee does not legislate ; neither does the Scottish Grand Committee. It has no Government majority. I find nothing more shameful than the spectacle of the Scottish Grand Committee sitting and talking in Edinburgh and then having to travel 400 miles to enact legislation down here. The fact that it is a convention of the House to have a Government majority on the Select Committee is not an acceptable excuse. This Government are all-powerful, and perfectly capable of changing or ignoring our conventions. But of course they will not do so, because they obviously do not want a Scottish Select Committee to have powers to call for persons, including Ministers, or to call for papers and records, to ensure effective scrutiny of the Scottish Office and Scottish public affairs. They do not want an in-depth look at the Government in Scotland who are plunging around like a rogue elephant and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
There has been no scrutiny of the consequences of the repeated reorganisations and restructuring of the Health Service, when it has been proved that the Government are incapable of good management. Their man management is deplorable, because they are unable to build on what is good and always end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
There has been no scrutiny of the Scottish Education Department and the morale of the teaching profession. Worst of all, there has been no scrutiny of the damage being done to our Scottish universities. Of course a Scottish Select Committee is not allowed to look at that aspect of our higher education. It is shameful and disgraceful, and so the destruction goes on.
I understand that five of the Scottish Tory Members attended Oxford or Cambridge, so it is not surprising that they care nothing for, and understand nothing of, our universities north of the border. The misguided interference of the University Grants Committee and those
Column 359bred in a different academic tradition shows real hostility to Scottish intellectual needs, achievements and aspirations. The so-called rationalisation of resources at the behest of the UGC betrays a complete inability to understand the purpose of a university in Scotland, or the town and gown relationship. In Scotland a university is a community institution. The UGC, however, sees it as departments or cost centres dotted around the country, on which it bases its allocation of funds. All in Scotland have suffered, none more so than Aberdeen university as it approaches its 500th anniversary, and the latest blow has been the announcement of the closure of its music department.
We have no Scottish Affairs Committee and no Scottish Members on the Education Select Committee. What hope is there?
Scottish Question Time has also become a farce because many of us are not called. We who try to represent our constituencies find that the time is taken up by people who know nothing about Scotland. All along the line we have been betrayed, and in the recent past we have been betrayed by two Prime Ministers. First, there was Lord Home of the Hirsel. In Scots "the Hirsel" means a place where sheep are kept. The night before the devolution referendum Lord Home promised the Scots that if they voted no they would get a better deal. In more recent times the present Prime Minister has done exactly the same. Now Scotland knows that it has been betrayed again and again. The refusal to set up a Select Committee is another slap in the face for Scotland, my country. The Government should be warned that, through their continued arrogance and their dismissive attitude to Scottish political sensitivities and aspirations, they will bear the responsibility for breaking up the United Kingdom.