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Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : I am not sure quite to whom the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) referred when she talked about universities, but I assure her that I was born and educated at St. Andrew's and also taught there. I did, however, agree with her on at least one point : she was right in saying that it is extremely inconvenient for Scottish Grand Committee meetings to take place in Edinburgh. The sooner that they are moved to London the better. The hon. Lady referred to the role of the Government in the debate. That was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), and I shall return to it later. First, let me refer to two earlier speeches by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) made a constructive and sensible speech, wholly different in tone from all the previous Opposition speeches on the issue. Let me say to Labour Members that if that speech had been made on behalf of the parliamentary Labour party shortly after the general election they would have a Scottish Select Committee.
Column 360The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is not in his place, although I do not criticise him for having had to slip out briefly, but for him to refer to the many constructive interventions of my hon. Friends who represent English constituencies at Scottish Question Time and then to pray that in aid, asking them to serve on the Scottish Select Committee, is the height of humbug and hypocrisy. Every time any of my hon. Friends gets up, there is a kind of tribal yowling from the Opposition Benches.
It is absolutely clear that Opposition Members resent in principle interventions in Scottish debates by my hon. Friends who represent English constituencies. By contrast, I often enjoy the contributions of English Opposition Members to debates on Scottish
affairs--occasionally they provide illuminating shafts of light. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras possibly lacked brilliant sparkle this evening ; but his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) did not. After the conclave at the SOGAT retreat just after the Govan by- election, the hon. Member for Copeland said of the conditions then prevailing among Scottish Labour Members : "The jocks are running about like headless chickens."
No doubt we shall hear some squawking from them, headless or no. Of more direct relevance to the debate was the excellent recent statement by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope we can all agree to congratulate him on it. He said that the current debate and recent opinion polls about independence for Scotland were merely a talking point among the chattering classes. I hope that I have the unanimous support of Labour Members from Scottish constituencies in applauding that statement. The Leader of the Opposition holds many views with which I disagree, but I have always thought that on the Scottish question he is at heart the soundest of chaps.
If it is true that the debate about Scottish independence is merely a talking point for the chattering classes, how much more true that is about this debate, which perhaps is not even a talking point. It is, however, important, because of the point of principle that has been established for the future by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). The existence or otherwise of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is not in itself a matter of great importance. My view, about that have always been clear and on the record--
"We are concerned at all times to improve the quality of government in Scotland. To this end, we have set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which has done much useful work in Scotland and at Westminster."
The hon. Gentleman stood for election on that manifesto ; has he changed his mind?
Mr. Bill Walker : Just to get the record straight, the early years of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee were successful--I made that clear in my speech. My reason for wanting things to change did not begin until 1985.
My views on the matter were clearly and correctly reported in the Glasgow Herald as long ago as 28 July 1987, on the front page under the headline :
"Scottish Committee should go, says Tory".
The Herald rightly quoted me as saying that the Scottish Select Committee should be abolished as a complete irrelevance and waste of time. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made an interesting response. The Glasgow Herald reported that my statement met with scorn from the shadow Scottish Secretary :
"it would be ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Office should escape the attention of a select committee"
said the hon. Member for Garscadden. It struck me then that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, in believing what he said, were going to make the classic error of confusing the improbable with the impossible, especially as Labour Members were going around at that time claiming that they had won the election and held a mandate. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) rightly referred to the usual channels, but at the time in question the usual channels in Scotland had been abolished by the hon. Member for Garscadden, who proudly told the Scottish press that on his instructions Scottish Labour Members would not meet or discuss anything with my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) because he represented an English constituency. Labour Members failed to realise what was happening ; they failed to realise my hon. Friend's determination and the real concerns of other Conservative Members. They showed an inability to count--with the exception of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie), who suggested his own formula for setting up a Select Committee, a Committee of five. I am open to correction, but I understand that that was rejected out of hand by the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues--
Mr. Lambie : The hon. Gentleman knows, as do all other former members of the Select Committee, that during the whole of my period as a member of it I said that it was too big--we were up to about 13. I continually made representations for a much smaller Committee. So what the hon. Gentleman said was nothing new--it was a continuation of a consistent policy which was usually honoured.
Mr. Stewart : I am glad to have given the hon. Gentleman the chance to make that point. He was right to say that he was consistent, and he speaks with the experience of having been the Committee's Chairman. It is a pity that his suggestion was ruled out of court by his hon. Friends.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries referred to the position taken by Scottish Labour Members in November and December last year and to their refusal to accept the idea of English Conservative Members which was advanced so reasonably by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North tonight, the hon. Member for Garscadden shook his head--I see the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) shaking his head, too. But the record is clear, and I refer Opposition Members to it. On 22 October 1987, speaking on behalf of the Scottish parliamentary Labour group--I
Column 362take it--the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said this to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House : "the only options before the Government and the House are to give the Committee a Labour majority, which would reflect the balance of parties in Scotland, to reduce the membership of the Committee to three members, or to import English Tory Members to sit on it, which would be as unacceptable to them as to us. May we have an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that neither of the second two options would be accepted and put before the House?"--[ Official Report, 22 October 1987 ; Vol. 120, c. 941.]
That seems clear enough to me. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries was right in referring to the record when he concluded, in essence, that the Labour party blew it. As the House knows, the Government went ahead anyway, and nominated the five Scottish Conservative Back Benchers to the Committee of Selection, including myself.
I must say that I did not realise the importance of Standing Order No. 104- -nor did my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries--which was so successfully invoked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North, who had obviously studied the Standing Orders in greater detail than I had. He has, of course, established an important principle, which will, no doubt, be referred to by many hon. Members in future. The principle is that there is no compulsion on any hon. Member to serve on a Select Committee--or, I assume, on any other Committee of the House.
Dr. Reid : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The important principle that has been established this evening--if the hon. Gentleman can drag himself away for a moment from the transcendental minutiae that seemed to make up the bulk of his speech--has been established by the Leader of the House. He told us, in effect, that if Members of the Government party refused to serve, as is their right, on any Select Committee, the Government would be legitimately justified in refusing to establish that Select Committee, thereby avoiding any scrutiny of Government business. That has been established tonight and it will have implications far wider than for Scotland alone ; it will have implications for the good government of the whole of the United Kingdom and for the democratic scrutiny of Parliament.
Mr. Stewart : The important point that I am making--I accept that it may not refer to Standing Committees--is that it has been established that no hon. Member is under any compulsion to serve on a Select Committee.
I shall now deal with the Government's role in the matter, which has been referred to constantly by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland quoted the statement that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made after the last election, that it would be business as usual. However, the point is that the Select Committee is the business not of the Secretary of State but of Back Benchers. My hon. Friend the Minister of State may be winding up the debate this evening, but that is because the Scottish Office obviously has a general interest in the Select Committee and in matters relating to Scotland. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm to the House that the Secretary of State for Scotland has no responsibility whatever in relation to the setting up of the Select Committee.
Column 363Reference has been made to the Whips and the business managers, who are, of course, in constant communication with hon. Members. However, there is no compulsion that they, or anyone else, can put on hon. Members who do not want to serve on a Select Committee. Many of the criticisms that have been laid at the Government's door tonight are wholly misplaced because the Government did not have, and do not have, the power to compel Back Benchers who do not wish to serve on the Select Committee to do so.
I now want to make one or two points about my own view of the Select Committee. I asked myself whether there would be any benefit to the people of Eastwood if I served on the Scottish Affairs Committee. The answer to that was, fairly unequivocally, that there would be no benefit that I could discern to my constituents from spending time on the Scottish Affairs Committee. The second question was whether there was any chance that the Scottish Affairs Committee would do a reasonable job. The Opposition might be reasonably objective in accepting that we do not live in a perfect world, so it might get on reasonably well. I referred to that possibility in my speech in the last debate on this subject and I referred to the possibility of concrete, bankable assurances on that. Of course, none was forthcoming. I have never thought that there was a reasonable chance, in the present political climate and in the light of the experiences of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North, that the Scottish Affairs Committee, if it was established, would do a reasonable and objective job.
Labour Members have largely brought this situation on themselves. They delight in referring to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and his supporters--of whom I am one--as quislings and traitors. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is on record as using the term "quisling" from the Opposition Front Bench, and I was described on a radio broadcast in which I took part with an Opposition Member as a traitor. If that is Opposition Members' attitude, they will not get the co- operation that they need to set up the Scottish Affairs Committee. The comeuppance for that attitude, and for using the language of nationalism, was their by-election defeat in Govan. I hope that relations between the parties will be reasonable throughout this Parliament, but it must be said that the Labour party in Scotland has brought the end of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on itself.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : The speech of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was not designed to create good relations between the Labour and the Conservative parties or, indeed, between any two groups of people.
It is difficult to contain one's anger at the way in which Scottish affairs are being treated. Apart from the two opening speeches, all the speeches made so far have been made by hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that the three Conservative Back Benchers present--the hon. Members for Eastwood, for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for
Column 364Dumfries (Sir H. Monro)--have a perverted sense of pleasure at the way in which they are frustrating the political will of the people of Scotland.
I have been in the House for nearly 18 years. I have known countless Leaders of the House, but I have never seen one in a weaker position than the present Leader of the House as he sought to defend his position. In effect, he was saying that five Tory Back Benchers can stop 62 Opposition Members of all political parties who represent Scottish constituencies from carrying out effectively the task for which they were elected.
I make no apology for repeating a warning that I gave not long after the last general election. Democracy is a fragile thing, and it has been seriously damaged by the attitude displayed in this debate. I came here tonight innocently believing that we were searching for a solution to the problem of setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I was absolutely wrong. The purpose of the debate has been not only to kill off but to bury the possibility of setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and I suppose that I should not be surprised at that.
Before I expound my argument, I want to register my protest that the debate is to be wound up by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, although it is not a protest against him personally. It is ludicrous that a Minister of State at the Department that is the subject of complaints about its failing to be examined should try to justify why that Department should not be examined. There is no place in this debate for a Scottish Office Minister, and this really ought not to be allowed to happen. It is a further insult to the integrity of the House.
There is a deliberate attempt to diminish the role and responsibility of the Scottish Office. That is why in the last Session, major amendments to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Act 1984 were contained in English legislation. That is why amendments in relation to educational provision in Scotland were contained in English legislation. That is why the proposals to privatise the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board are contained in a United Kingdom Bill. It is much more sinister than just having insufficient Scottish Tory Back-Bench Members. If the role of the Scottish Office continues to diminish, it will no longer be worth examining.
There has also been an attempt, either deliberately or unconsciously, to deceive. The Leader of the House and his colleagues talked about the non- existence of Select Committees on Scottish Affairs between 1973 and 1979. If the right hon. Gentleman did not know about this, he must have been inadequately briefed. In those days a Select Committee was set up to consider a specific matter. In the 1960s, in response to a demand from the House of Commons, a Select Committee was set up to consider the steel industry in Scotland. A similar Committee was set up in 1972-73 to consider land use in Scotland. Those Committees were different from the Select Committees that we have now, which examine the work of a specific Department.
I can say with some pleasure that the Leader of the House is a good personal friend of mine, but it will be a sad reflection on him if he tries to persuade the country that a Government with such a large majority cannot find enough Back-Bench Members to form a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman can introduce all sorts of legislation against the wishes of the people of Scotland.
Column 365That is dead easy for him. He can say, "That is all ABC stuff, but do not ask me to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs because I cannot do it." He is the weakest Leader of the House in the weakest position that I have ever seen. I am sorry to criticise him in his absence, but that is not my fault. After presenting that picture to the House, he cannot be a proud man tonight.
It was odious to hear the Leader of the House, followed by the hon. Members for Tayside, North and for Dumfries, compare the position of Scotland with that of Northern Ireland. It sounded like a warning to us. We should not allow those remarks to pass unchallenged. Tomorrow when we read Hansard and in the days and weeks ahead we must consider why those remarks were made and their likely effect on Scottish politics.
The SNP, the other parties in Scotland, The Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald, Scottish Television and the BBC have all had great fun saying that the Labour party is being ignored. But tonight the SNP and the Social and Liberal Democrats are being ignored, too. We are all being ignored, and that is what has caused the tension in Scotland.
Our fragile democracy could easily be snapped by the attitude we have seen displayed. There is a way out but I admit that it is a compromise. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to refer to a proposition that I wish to put. I am grateful that the Leader of the House has returned in time to hear it.
The way out of the dilemma is to return to the original Select Committee system. The Leader of the House needs only to put a motion on the Order Paper suggesting that a Select Committee should be set up to consider a specific subject. My goodness, there is no shortage of subjects. There is the Hughes report on the future of the Scottish Development Agency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Training Agency. Nothing is more important for the industrial future of Scotland.
Mr. Hughes put his suggestions to the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State for Scotland trailed along on his coat tails. He did not know anything about the document until he boarded the train at Waverley station, and the first time he saw it was when it was handed to him in No. 10. If that is the treatment given to the Secretary of State, it is time we looked at the proposals in the Hughes report and the effect they will have on the SDA, HIDB and the Training Agency. I am sure that the SNP would want to examine its proposition on an independent Scotland in Europe. No attempt was made to examine that subject in "Left, Right and Centre" on Scottish Television on Friday night.
There is the issue involving the massive American hospital to be built on Clydebank. It will be a blood transfusion centre provided out of NHS funds. There has been no inquiry into that.
There are plenty of subjects in need of discussion and the Leader of the House should suggest that a special Select Committee on Scottish Affairs be set up to consider one of them. We would see how that Committee got on and we could then move on to another subject. I plead with the Leader of the House not to close the book. He will win the vote, but he will lose the argument. In losing the argument, he may well lose Scotland and that could raise problems that even he does not begin to comprehend.
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Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : It has been an interesting debate so far and I wish to contribute to it by talking about the basic principles that my hon. Friends and I believe are at stake. The first principle is how the House deals with Scottish business and the second is how the House responds to the aspirations and political desires of the Scottish people and how it meets their expectations. Those two principles are closely entwined. If we ignore one, we ignore the other. The integrity of both cannot be ignored because, ultimately, we know that sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland. It is demonstrated by their political will and democratic voice. There is a long legal tradition in Scotland that sovereignty lies with the people. That may come as a shock to the Leader of the House, but it is well worth bearing in mind in view of some of the comments made earlier.
The SNP amendment emphasises the importance of the conduct of business in this place and how it responds to the political circumstances in Scotland.
I was distressed at the way in which the Leader of the House introduced the motion. It seems to us that he was finding a way of riding roughshod over the Standing Orders of this establishment. It seems strange to have Standing Orders if one then proceeds to disregard them. The Leader of the House seemed to be trying to ditch Standing Order No. 130 as quickly as he ditched the possibility of having a nuclear disposal site in his constituency just before the last general election.
It is important that the Leader of the House should take into account the way in which his remarks will be perceived in Scotland, not just by hon. Members but by journalists and the people who read their newspapers.
The Leader of the House should read the article in The Scotsman today. It is interesting because it talks about the way in which Scottish business is conducted here and how people perceive it. The article refers to the many interventions by English Members of Parliament during Scottish business since the last general election. The article says :
"If they want to question the Secretary of State for Scotland, that, they say, is their right ; Scots can question the Home Secretary, after all. If they decide not to form a Scottish Select Committee, that's also the right of the dominant Commons party. And if they decide to change the rules on the make-up of the committee debating Scottish Bills, well, that, too, is up to them and not the Opposition."
The article refers to the increasingly vociferous and unashamed interventions by English Members, to the impact that that is having on Scottish business and how the Opposition parties feel about it. The final paragraph in the article says :
"Those issues have certainly contributed to a feeling among some Opposition back-benchers, not all of them Scottish, that all bets are off' and that attempts to push business later into the night, obstruct business and shun the usual niceties of parliamentary life are legitimate."
It is the arrogance that we see on the Conservative Benches that has led to such a response by the people of Scotland, the Members of Parliament who represent them and the journalists who watch our proceedings. The arrogance that is being displayed tonight on the Conservative Benches is the continuation of a process that is alienating an increasing number of people from what is claimed to be the democratic process. That must worry all those who believe in democracy.
Column 367As for our scrutiny of Scottish business, I must remind hon. Members of the major issues for which the Scottish Office is responsible. It is responsible for health, social work, education and local government. Policy changes are taking place in all those major areas and large sums of money are involved. These matters must be scrutinised. It is not sufficient, as the Leader of the House said, to suggest that that scrutiny can be dealt with by other procedures that are available to the House.
There used to be a Scottish Question Time once every three weeks. It is now once every six weeks. [Interruption.] I am corrected. It is once every four weeks. It just seems like six weeks. That has diminished our opportunities to question the Government. Very few Scottish Members are lucky enough to be successful in the ballot. Other Members, who have no genuine interest in Scottish affairs, put down questions and prevent hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies from speaking.
It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is shaking his head. He was quoted in The Scotsman on Friday as being quite proud of the fact that he had sent a circular to some of his hon. Friends with constituencies south of the border encouraging them to submit questions to the Table Office that could be asked during Scottish Question Time. The hon. Gentleman is totally unashamed and unrepentant, and it suggests that Members with English constituencies cannot have a genuine interest in Scottish affairs. The Scottish Grand Committee meets rarely. It meets once or twice in Scotland, and in July there is a mad rush when the Committee tries to deal with Scottish Estimates twice a week. That is hardly an effective way of scrutinising the Government's proposals for Scotland. General debates on Scotland are very short. English Members are now being added to the Committees on Bills that consider Scottish legislation. I had always understood that Standing Committees that consider legislation that relates specifically to Scotland should consist of Scottish Members. Even that right is being further eroded. It is not sufficient to suggest that other Select Committees can fill the vacancies that have been caused by the Government's abdication of their responsibilities.
I refer the Leader of the House again to the third report of the Select Committee on Energy. The introduction to the report refers to this Session's legislation and says :
"In the absence of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, we have felt it our duty to examine the Government's plans for the Scottish electricity industry. However we have not probed the purely Scottish dimension in the depth which would have justified a full and separate Scottish report. Scottish matters are dealt with in this report, but generic references should largely be understood as relating to the ESI in England and Wales."
That Select Committee, which is the exception rather than the rule, stated that, although it tried seriously to look at the Scottish electricity supply industry, it could not do justice to considering that issue. Therefore, we do not believe that other Select Committees will fill the gap. Nor did the Leader of the House suggest that Scottish hon. Members should be appointed to all those Select Committees to ensure that we can participate in them. I give him fair warning that many of us will be looking to participate in those Select Committees whether he likes it or not.
Column 368We are deeply concerned about the offence being delivered to the democratic process in Scotland. Essentially, we now have a governor-general with a few flunkeys in Scotland. Perhaps the failure to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs will go down in history as the revolt of the flunkeys. We now have no scrutiny over a man who is operating as a governor-general in Scotland. The real issue is the lack of the Government's mandate in Scotland. At the last general election the people of Scotland spoke very clearly. They delivered to the House 62 Opposition Members and only 10 Conservative Members. That was a clear mandate from the people of Scotland that they do not wish for the Government's policies. To add insult to injury the Government are now denying us the right to scrutiny. The arrogance that the Government have displayed, not only during this debate but throughout the continuing sad saga of attempts to establish the Select Committee, has created the strength of unity among the Opposition parties which will make life a great deal more difficult for the Government. I welcome that strength of unity of purpose on the Opposition Benches. We are not prepared to see the democratic political aspirations of the people of Scotland pushed around any longer. We are demanding our rights as an Opposition to ensure that there is a Select Committee. It will be a serious misjudgment on the part of the Government if they think that they can get away with it. The people of Scotland will speak again. If the Government have had difficulty with five Back Benchers, they should think of the difficulties that they will have with none.
Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), the leader of the Scottish National party, will forgive me if I do not immediately follow the points that she has raised. We have been debating this matter in the Chamber and through the usual channels for more than a year now. It represents, first, a serious failure on the part of the Government to secure support for their policies in Scotland in the general election and thus being unable to return sufficient Members to the House of Commons properly to discharge the Government's duties in the House, and, secondly, it represents a failure on the part of the usual channels, in which the Leader of the House is a very important figure, to secure adherence to the Standing Orders of the House. That is a very serious matter to which I will return later.
Those of us who have served on Select Committees have greatly benefited from that experience. I have no doubt that serving on a Select Committee gives a focus to the work of Back Benchers and gives purpose to membership of the House that is not easily replaced. It is regrettable that Scottish Back Benchers have lost that opportunity. When I came to the House in 1979 my only opportunity as a Back Bencher to learn about the workings of government was through serving on a Select Committee.
The Scottish Select Committee has been a success. I heard the Minister of State talking on Radio 4 this morning and shedding crocodile tears because there would not be a Select Committee on Scottish affairs, saying what a wonderful job it had done and that it had been indirectly responsible for setting up Locate in Scotland. He rightly said that it was indirectly responsible, and I was pleased to
Column 369serve on that Select Committee. Now that he is a Minister he does not want himself or the workings of the Department scrutinised. If he did, he would have persuaded Government Back Benchers to serve on the Committee.
A few Back Benchers have held the Government to ransom and ensured that no Select Committee has been set up. The rump of three out of the rump of 10 are telling the Government what will happen with regard to the functions of the House. We heard the usual speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), recounting his past glories and claiming some for the present Session, which I found intriguing. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) made a disgraceful speech. The hon. Gentleman used to be a distinguished figure in Scottish industry--that is what is said in the manifesto--and was a Minister, but he has become the youngest pensioner and has been sent to the Council of Europe, which is a sort of Saga tours for the House.
Mr. Allan Stewart : Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that I play an important role in the Council of Europe by looking after the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) ; we cannot rely on the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) to do so.
I cannot be unkind about the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) because he is the last of the decent Tories. He could enhance his reputation by voting with us tonight.
The Leader of the House gave undertakings, which can be checked in Hansard, about everything that will be done to set up the Committee. In a debate on 27 October 1987, the Prime Minister seemed to be saying that she foresaw the establishment of a Committee. In that regard, the Leader of the House said :
"I look forward to hearing their more detailed proposals for constructive guidance to the Committee of Selection, and I hope that we may soon see the Select Committee established. I share their regret that it has not been possible to appoint it."--[ Official Report, 13 January 1988 ; Vol. 125, c. 400.]
Since that time, flexible proposals have been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). The Leader of the House cannot be pleased that his reputation has suffered because of the pig- headed obstinacy displayed by Tory Back Benchers. We understand that the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) have experienced difficulty in serving on Select Committees because they have both been unwell, but there is no excuse for the other three hon. Gentlemen, and it is unacceptable that they should refuse to serve. All that we have heard from them tonight has been so much cant. They have been dishonest with the House and have not said that they do not want to serve on the Committee. This will further erode respect for the Tory party in Scotland, which will be fortunate to have a single hon. Member returned at the next election. I am not as concerned about that as I am about the loss of respect for Parliament and its institutions. Those who are refusing to serve should think before they continue their action.
I hope that the Leader of the House and the usual channels listened carefully to the major contribution made
Column 370by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). What he said was important, and I hope that the Government are big enough to take it on board.
Sir Marcus Fox (Shipley) : In spite of the increasing popularity of English hon. Members among Opposition Members, I intervene only as Chairman of the Committee of Selection. Nothing has changed since the debate that I introduced on 13 January. Obviously, it is not necessary for me to go over the same ground. I am glad that my Committee has not been criticised during this debate. Hon. Members understand that the established conventions are maintained unless instructed by the House to do otherwise.
After listening to every word in the debate and considering what has taken place, I have noticed a shift in ground. The idea that one or two English Members may be acceptable was a runner, but, somehow, the idea that all five Conservative Members should be drawn from England was not acceptable. [ Hon. Members :-- "Why not?"] For a start, there were no volunteers. [Interruption.] I shall let hon. Members into a secret. We use conscription for Committees that consider Bills. In my time, there has never been conscription or press-ganging for Select Committees. That would be a retrograde step.
All my Committee's efforts have failed. The hon. Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who sit on the Committee and, I am quite sure, shadow my activities, will confirm that. In November 1977, we set up 14 out of 15 Committees. We would have loved to have set up all 15. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) suggested that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is not to be set up because it would be inconvenient. That is surprising. Most, if not all, Select Committees are inconvenient to Government. That is what they are there for.
Mr. Salmond : Why did the Committee of Selection follow the unwritten conventions of the House in relation to the balance of the Select Committee? It paid no attention to Standing Order No. 130. There were at least 50 Opposition volunteers who would have happily sat on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
Sir Marcus Fox : The hon. Gentleman might direct his attention to other Standing Orders. Our most important remit is that the Government shall have a majority on all Committees. That is paramount. [Interruption.] We do not want to introduce an element of fear. We have debated that point before. We are a unitary Parliament, and there is no instruction on my Committee to take account of the fact that there are far more Opposition Members for membership of the Select Committee.
Any fair-minded person would accept that the Leader of the House gave a fair report of what took place. It is certainly my intention to vote for the motion.
Column 371hon. Members seem to desire. That will be a mystery to the people not only of Scotland but of the United Kingdom. Not one hon. Member has said that we should not set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Every hon. Member whom I have heard tonight has suggested that such a Committee is profoundly to be desired. We have a Government with one of the largest majorities in modern times. The Leader of the House, not in his role as a Government Minister but as a guardian of the House, said, "I have failed." The right hon. Gentleman should take that as a personal failure.
I shall not go into the history of Select Committees, but we invented Select Committees in the 14th century. The Select Committees of the 20th century are not of the same calibre, nor is the power of Government. I must disagree with my hon. Friend, the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). In Scotland we have an elected dictator, not a governor-general.
Mr. Douglas : Forgive me, but I wish to be brief. We have an elected dictator and the power of the Scottish Office is not diminishing, but increasing. The arrogance of the Scottish Office is increasing because it is not constrained.
Select Committees have few powers. The House gives them powers to call for persons, papers and records. Their sole purpose is to report to the House on the workings of the Government. Is this great Government with their massive majority going to suggest in 1988 going on 1989 that all the other Departments of state can be investigated except the Scottish Office?
Mr. Douglas : The people of Northern Ireland are capable of speaking for themselves. We are dealing with Scotland. We have a unitary Parliament, but it has designed devolution. We have devolution of administration and of the executive, and we have historic devolution of legal powers. Are the Government suggesting that every Department but the one which the House and the Government have decided is to be devolved can be investigated?
This is an issue, not for Scotland, but for this House and democracy. That is why the Leader of the House is making a farce of himself by not replying to the debate. This is not a job for a ministerial lackey. It is a job for the Leader of the House. If he does not reply to the debate, he is not doing his job. If the Minister replies, it will be tantamount to Casanova preaching chastity. It is said that the Scottish Office is not to be investigated. He will say that we should not have this organ of investigation.
Although we have spoken about Scottish affairs, this Parliament had better take note that if the Government can display such arrogance towards Scotland, next they will display the same arrogance towards the rest of the United Kingdom.