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Mr. Key: I read last night's Division lists and was surprised by them. I suspect that my hon. Friend is correct. I deplore what happened--it is a bad way to run the House of Commons, and the Government will live to regret it, because some of us care very much, and in the long term, about parliamentary democracy in this country and the way in which they are eroding it.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I regret to say that I cannot follow my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in supporting either the motion or the manuscript amendment. The first reason for that is the circumstances that appear to surround the acceptance of that amendment, although I must confess that I am encouraged that accepting such an amendment to such a motion has enabled the House to vote on them during this sitting. We must give those matters considerable attention, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, for demonstrating that innovative procedure.
Having said that, however, I deplore the fact that the amendment has been tabled through a process with which we are becoming all too familiar, whereby the Government table a substantive motion at the last minute, leaving no proper time for consideration by the House. The Chairman of the Defence Committee has been forced to table a manuscript amendment and, again, we have no proper time for debate.
Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government might have realised that the manuscript amendment was necessary had there been an interval between the debates on Second Reading and on the guillotine motion? Indeed, had they done so, they would have been spared embarrassment this evening. Do not these events prove what he said last night: the real problem is the way in which such issues are squashed together, giving no time for proper consideration?
Mr. Forth: I should say that the Government are immune to embarrassment. Although they should feel embarrassed frequently, they are incapable of being embarrassed over such things, which is a matter of great regret to me. However, my right hon. Friend is correct. The Order Paper contains a classic example of how the Government presume on the House to introduce a series
I shall deal with the motion before discussing the manuscript amendment. The Minister for the Armed Forces, who introduced the measure all too briefly, has left the Chamber. During the previous debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence said--with some pride, I thought--that the matter was consensual and that the Select Committee would operate in such a fashion. He added, rather lamely, that the Committee would not be uncritical. From the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury went on, at some length, to stress how far and how frequently the Committee would travel and how well all its members would get on together. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave the lie to all that by suggesting that the Committee would be a cosy travelling circus. Those are not quite the words he used, but they give the sense of his remarks.
The so-called Select Committee will be a cosy club of like-minded people travelling together in a consensual way. That is not good enough and completely unacceptable. What sort of criticism and scrutiny of the measure will be provided by a group of people of the kind who have been described? The proposed membership, which we must consider, gives a further lie to what has been said. The members will be cosy and consensual and will travel great distances together on our behalf.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend tempts me to go into the matters of gender, ethnicity, regional representation and many other aspects of the Committee. I did not intend to go into that, but I may be tempted, because it is relevant to the measure before us.
The House is being asked to give consideration to the members proposed for the Committee. I am surprised that the Government have not given due consideration to the question whether there is proper ethnic balance and gender balance, and whether the different parts of the country are properly represented on the Committee. That is a matter to which the House should give consideration. I may come back to it later in my remarks, but I do not want to be diverted from my main purpose at this stage.
Mr. Gummer: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) will allow me to say that the way in which his intervention was presented was a little more lighthearted than it might have been. However, two of the areas that will be most affected by the Bill are in the east of England. I see no member of the proposed Committee who has any connection with those areas. Would my right hon. Friend say that some regional consideration would have been reasonable?
Mr. Forth: I will digress briefly on that point, as it is highly relevant. Such a Committee will travel extensively throughout the United Kingdom and beyond--as we heard, the previous Committee went to Cyprus and
Mr. Key: I give my right hon. Friend an undertaking that I will not suggest that we visit Bromley. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who is a proposed member of the Committee, represents one of the largest Royal Air Force communities in the east of England.
Mr. Gummer: On a geographical point, those of us who live in Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex--I regret to mention that word--would not consider that the Committee provides a proper representation of the east of England.
Mr. Forth: I do not want to get drawn into a geographic dispute between my right hon. and hon. Friends. The point almost makes itself. It is self-evidently vital that the Committee should have thorough, comprehensive regional representation from all parts of the United Kingdom, in order better to understand the importance of the military in the different parts of the kingdom and to do its work properly. I do not judge that the proposed membership gives proper regional representation. The Committee is defective in that respect.
I will leave others to judge whether the gender balance is appropriate. I do not want to get drawn into that and, despite the helpful intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), I do not want to get drawn into the matter of ethnicity.
Mr. Wilshire: I urge my right hon. Friend to revisit the matter of the gender balance. As he is aware, the question whether women should serve in the front line of the infantry is relevant. If the Select Committee is to consider that matter, should there not be a woman on the Committee to bring that perspective to the argument?
Mr. Forth: We are constantly told by Labour Members how proud they are of the number of lady Members in the House, yet I should have expected more representation of those lady Members than is proposed. I shall go no further than that. But one can see already the difficulty into which we are getting with the proposed membership of the Committee. Whether we talk about gender, ethnicity or regional representation, on almost every one of those criteria the suggested membership fails completely.
That does not even begin to deal with why we must have two Ministers on the Committee plus sundry members of the payroll. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury in his consensual mood, and wanting, as he undoubtedly does, to see the Committee working harmoniously, would surely concede that to have so many members of the payroll, to say nothing of the Opposition
Mr. Leigh: My right hon. Friend may be missing the point. He is being unfair to our hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). We can rely on our hon. Friend to be the kind of forthright Opposition spokesman that he is, of this Committee and on this Committee. But that is not what a Select Committee should be. The real danger is that this will develop more and more into a kind of Standing Committee, where the Opposition put their arguments, piling into the Government, and the Government are set defending their line again and again, and it will not be a consensual Select Committee looking at the merits of the case, which is what it should be.