§ First and Second Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Considered accordingly.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the First and Second Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament.I shall try not to be long, but I must make some observations on these Reports so that the House may have an opportunity of expressing its opinion. The Secretary of State for Scotland will wind up the debate, but I shall have to mention a certain amount of Scottish business, not because I wish to trespass upon the preserves of my right hon. Friend, but to show what the Government have in mind in relation to the Scottish Grand Committee. First, I should like to thank the members of the Select Committee for their work, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) for being Chairman.
These comparatively minor amendments do themselves mount up to quite a lot, and they show that we work in this House by a process of evolution; and I hope that eventually it will make our procedure better. I think it is most important that our procedure should be fully understood outside the House so that we are followed properly in the Press and people realise what we are trying to do.
The First Report dealt with the moving of Amendments on going into Committee of Supply upon the Navy, Army, Air and Civil Estimates, the practice relating to Money Resolutions, and the extension of the Standing Orders relating to public money to expenditure from funds partly but not wholly financed from the Exchequer.
I need not say very much about that, because we have already started on that practice in considering the Navy, Army, and Air Estimates. I announced this on 2nd May last, and we agree with the Select Committee that the existing practice for balloting for and moving of Amendments on going into Committee 490 of Supply on the Civil Estimates should remain unchanged.
I come, therefore, next, as we have had some experience of this change, to the question of Money Resolutions. The Select Committee recommended that there should be no change, but considered that it would be both valuable and important if the Government could reaffirm the statement made by the Prime Minister, in 1937, that it is their definite intention to secure that Money Resolutions in respect of Bills shall be so framed as not to restrict the scope within which the Committee on the Bill may consider Amendments further than is necessary to enable Her Majesty's Government to discharge their responsibility for public expenditure.
That I reaffirm on behalf of the Government. It is a matter in which hon. Members are always interested and we are grateful for the advice of the Select Committee in spurring us further onwards. We wish to leave the Committee the utmost freedom of discussion and amendment of detail compatible with the discharge of our financial responsibilities.
Written instructions, I said on 9th May, were being given to Departments and to the Parliamentary Counsel's Office drawing attention to the Select Committee's Report and statement on Money Resolutions. That has been done. I also stated at that time that the Government would take note of the Committee's view that there was no reason for extending the Standing Orders relating to public money to cover purposes other than those for which they already provide. I hope that hon. Members will approve this attitude, also.
So much for the new procedure for Navy, Air and other Estimates and the reference to Money Resolutions. Now for the quorum. The Committee's Second Report deals, first, with the numbers required to form a quorum of and for the Closure in Standing Committees and, secondly, with the constitution of the Scottish Standing Committee. It is obvious that a great deal of the work of the House falls on Standing Committees and it is most important, therefore, that they should function as efficiently and as smoothly as possible. The House will remember that there has been recently a report on the alleged hard work of Cabinet Ministers. It would be a very 491 good thing if we made the work of some hon. Members less heavy than it has been, especially that of those who come in the morning and stay here all day to work in the Standing Committees and in the House in the evening.
The Procedure Committee, previous to the one whose Report we are now considering, made a first Report in 1945 and approved the proposal to refer substantially all Bills to Standing Committee, except Bills like Money Bills and Bills of constitutional importance. It was contemplated then, and we intend now, that almost all Bills should go upstairs, except those of the type to which I have referred. This seems common sense as a means of conserving time and keeping to time on the Floor of the House and also because generally a smaller Committee upstairs can do the work better. A Committee of the whole House is all very well for the Finance Bill, and so forth, but it is rather unwieldy for these other Bills.
The Select Committee recommends that the numbers for a quorum and the Closure should be the same and in future should be 15 for Committees of 45 or more and 12 for Committees of 35 to 45 members. This is in place of the present quorum of 15 and the present 20 required for the Closure. These recommendations seem to the Government very reasonable, because they facilitate the use of Standing Committees by allowing for rather smaller Committees.
It appears to us that the numbers required at present are on the high side. I could go into a series of mathematics to show that even in relation to what we demand on the Floor of the House they are too high. It seems, therefore, quite clear that the numbers required for both the Closure and the quorum in Standing Committee have erred on the side of over-caution up to date. I realise that safeguards are necessary, but I do not think that they are really as necessary upstairs as we have thought in the past.
Therefore, for these reasons the Select Committee's proposal to reduce slightly the numbers needed for the quorum and Closure appear eminently sensible. So does the return to the practice, prior to 1947, of choosing the same figure for the two purposes. The Government, therefore, accept the view of the Select Committee that the present practice should 492 continue whereby the Clerk of the Committee has to bring to the notice of the Chairman the lack of quorum at any time. We will take steps, after listening to the debate, to put down the necessary Orders to achieve these results.
I come now to the Committee's other recommendations in the Second Report dealing with the constitution of the Scottish Standing Committee. Here, the Select Committee made three recommendations relating to the handling of Scottish business in Committee. The first of these, as hon. Members will remember, dealt with Affirmative Orders related to such Statutory Instruments as apply in Scotland alone; that is to say, cases in which no comparable Orders had been or were likely to be, tabled for England and Wales. It was proposed by the Select Committee, on the initiative of the Government, and with the general agreement of the House, that such Orders should be referred for consideration to the Scottish Standing Committee.
We have made examination of all the Affirmative Orders relating to Scotland over a period of more than five years and it is shown that the number falling within the category referred to by the Committee is very small indeed. In practice, therefore, were we to accept this recommendation, it would make almost no difference so far as Scotland is concerned. Moreover, the idea of referring an Affirmative Order to a Standing Committee involves an entirely new departure in our procedure and we are usually reluctant to make changes of that sort unless there are strong reasons for so doing. We do not feel that the case is strong enough to make a change and we have not, therefore, the circumstances to make the change desirable. So we feel on this matter that it would be unwise to make a procedural innovation of the kind suggested. Now it will be for hon. Members to say what they think, and my right hon. Friend will reply.
The second recommendation was that two days before 31st March in each Session the Scottish Standing Committee should consider Motions relating to matters within the administrative responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland. These would be referred to it on procedure similar to that under which a Bill relating to Scotland can be referred to the Standing Committee upon Second 493 Reading. What, in our view, must weight the argument in favour of this proposal is the fact that under the present Government the responsibilities falling on the Secretary of State for Scotland have been substantially increased.
The Scottish Office now bears the whole weight of labour in various fields which previously were within the scope of United Kingdom Departments. It is natural that Scottish Members should wish additional time for debating these subjects. On the other hand, the House will wish to consider whether the expenditure of these extra mornings is justified. It will mean extra time for Scottish Members and Ministers.
As we are aware of the heavy extra work that the Scottish Members have to undertake, the House had better give a little consideration to this before committing itself. We should like to listen to the views expressed by hon. Members. I can assure the Scottish Members that our aim is that Scottish affairs should be fully and effectively discussed, and that the outcome of these discussions on Scottish affairs should lead to a happier relationship even than exists at present between Scotland and England. Therefore, the Government will consider sympathetically any general expression of opinion that these extra days should be provided. So much for the second proposal.
The third recommendation, the one to which I think many Scottish Members attach a lot of importance, refers to the handling of a Bill in Committee. It is suggested by the Procedure Committee that the Scottish Standing Committee should henceforth consist of 45 Members representing Scottish constituencies. These would be nominated by the Committee of Selection, which would also have power to nominate additional Scottish Members taking into account—as hon. Members will remember from the phrasing of the Report—the individual wishes and special qualifications of those Members and thus ensuring a due balance of parties. It should also nominate further Members from non-Scottish constituencies for these purposes. The Committee so constituted should be known as the Scottish Standing Committee.
The Procedure Committee further proposed that when the Scottish Committee was considering Estimates, or the prin- 494 ciple of a Bill, or other matters which it suggested should be referred to it, it should consist of all Members representing Scottish constituencies, together with members added by the Committee of Selection, as has been done up to now. In these circumstances, it should be described formally as the Scottish Grand Committee.
The Government feel that the principle of distinguishing between a Standing Committee with numbers comparable with those of other Committees of this House which consider the Committee stage of a Bill, and the full Scottish Grand Committee to consider Estimates or the principles of Bills or Motions, is a useful one. It will no doubt be the unanimous, or almost unanimous, view of the House that all Scottish Members should be able to take part in debate of the principle of any matter relating to Scotland. It also seems sound that for efficient working in detailed consideration of a Committee stage of a Bill that a smaller number of Members is desirable.
Certainly, having watched, during my time as Leader of the House, the considerable strain that has been imposed on the Scottish Grand Committee and its large membership, I think that these numbers are sensible. So I would hope that the only points at issue would be those which relate to the best means of constituting this number. It seems to us undesirable that the Committee of Selection should be left without a directive as to the number of Members which should be added. Our view is that in considering the composition, of the Scottish Standing Committee—as opposed to the Scottish Grand Committee—the simplest and most effective line of approach would be to follow closely the procedure used in setting up other Standing Committees. If this were done, the nucleus would, of course, consist entirely of Scottish Members, but it might be advantageous not to appoint them on a permanent basis, as is done for other Standing Committees.
Fifty Scottish Members seems to the Government to be an adequate maximum, and, since not all Bills referred to the Scottish Committee are of equal importance or interest—I refer to the maximum—the Government propose that the Scottish Standing Committee should number from 30 to 50 on the understanding 495 that for major Scottish Bills the normal practice would be to nominate 45 to 50 members. Within this limit, the Committee of Selection should have power to include a limited number of Members from other than Scottish constituencies where desirable for reasons of party balance or to make use of a Member's special knowledge of the subject under discussion. There would be no "permanent" Members of the reduced Standing Committee, but the composition would be varied to meet the reasonable interest of individual Scottish Members in particular subjects.
We hope, therefore, that that carries out, at any rate, the spirit of the Report of the Committee. All Scottish Members would, of course, continue to sit on the Scottish Grand Committee. These proposals are intended to ensure that all Scottish Members take part in the work of the Scottish Standing Committee but that none is asked to carry an unduly heavy burden; and the Government accordingly recommend them to the House.
As I said previously, we want to hear what hon. Members have to say about the proposals, and that is why, in moving the Motion, I have had to go into detail so as to put the plan on these various matters, both English and Scottish, before the House—the three Scottish matters, the matter of the affirmative Resolution, the second question to which I referred, and this matter of the constitution of the Committee.
We must, at the same time, avoid overburdening Members with too much work and leaving them insufficient time and opportunity to play their part in other committees discussing United Kingdom Bills which also affect Scotland. Nor must we overburden Scottish Members and unduly handicap them in playing a proper part in the working of Parliament in the broader fields which concern our United Kingdom and the Commonwealth where we so much want the help of the Scottish Members. I hope now that hon. Members will give their views, if they can in the time available. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who is more acquainted with this subject even than I am, will be able to enlighten hon. Members if I have not made things clear.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Can the Leader of the House possibly say a little more about the 30 he mentioned as being the minimum number of Members on a Committee to deal with a minor Bill? Will that 30 be decided by the Government alone? Will there be consultation as to whether there is general agreement about the Bill being minor in character?
§ Mr. Butler
The answer is, in short, that in so far as the Government would come in, it would be through the usual channels to discuss that sort of question about the nature of the Bill. The constitution of the Committee would be done by the Committee of Selection. The Government would confine themselves to discussing with the Opposition whether we were in agreement with the nature of the Bill.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the figures 30 to 50. Presumably the number would be increased according to the importance of the Measure before the Committee. He went on to say that other hon. Members would be added who did not necessarily represent Scottish constituencies. Would they be included in the 30 to 50?
§ Mr. Butler
I did not say that we should go above the 50 maximum. That is certain. We cannot go above that, because our precise object is to get Standing Committees which are small enough to be workable. The 30 to 50 means that discretion will be exercised partly by discussion between the two sides and partly by the Committee of Selection, whether the Committee should be small at 30, large at 50 or intermediate at 40, or some such figure.
§ Mr. McInnes
At what stage would the Members come in who do not represent Scottish constituencies.?
§ Mr. Butler
I said that the Committee of Selection would have power to include a limited number of Members from other than Scottish constituencies, where desirable for reasons of party balance. One problem in making up the small Committee is to keep it a microcosm of the House as a whole. Another reason was to enable us to include experts in particular subjects.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
It would be difficult for me, having been a Member of the Select Committee, to join personally in thanks to the Committee, but the Committee and the House generally would unanimously extend their thanks to the Chairman for the very wise way in which he handled the proceedings. We may have a tinge of regret that the wisdom that came from this handling of the proceedings has not been unanimously accepted by the Government, but that does not detract from the very wise way in which the Chairman dealt with a very useful subject. I am sure hon. Members are grateful to the Committee for the kind of work it did in trying to settle a difficult matter.
The House would have found it irksome to deal with what was, in fact, a dispute among the Scots themselves. When the former Secretary of State raised the matter of reducing the size of the Committee, we made an attempt, at my request, to see whether it could be done by agreement. Agreement proved impossible, so the Government went ahead and appointed a Select Committee to act, in a way, as judge between the different contentions that were being put forward.
The House has greatly extended its freedom to deal with major matters by the use of Standing Committees. Every Standing Committee that deals with work upstairs sets the House free to deal with what it regards as much more important matters. Purely Scottish Bills go to the Scottish Standing Committee, which includes all Scottish Members at the moment and 10 to 15 non-Scottish Members added to preserve the balance of parties and to provide for United Kingdom representation as a whole.
I think it is generally agreed that 86 is a very big Committee. It has been contended that extensive sittings of this Committee deprive the Scots of opportunities for sitting on other important United Kingdom Committees and in general from performing their duties fully as Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. Ministers certainly have difficulty when they must be in attendance on other Committees. They cannot be both there and in the Scottish Grand Committee.
498 To meet this point the former Secretary of State proposed that for its consideration on the Committee stage of a Bill the Scottish Committee should be reduced in size to approximately the same number as other Committees, from 20 to 50. That was rather alarming to the Scots, most of whom want to play their part in dealing with Scottish business. The Scots have never regarded this Committee merely as a Standing Committee. That makes a distinction between it and other Committees. The very fact that all Scottish Members served on it made it a form of devolution, and as such it was accepted in Scotland.
When in 1948 the House agreed to accept my proposals to make it possible for the House to remit discussion on the Second Reading of Bills, and that the Committee might sit up to six days to discuss Scottish Estimates, that strengthened the case for it being regarded as a form of devolution. Indeed, those were the words by which the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs, which reported in 1954, commended the arrangements. All this was embodied in the conception known by common usage as the "Scottish Grand Committee," a name which remained for this Committee alone. The opposition to the Government proposals arose, therefore, out of the feeling that the Scots were to lose a cherished right. Those who wanted to play their part in the Scottish Standing Committee saw no reason why they should be excluded solely to permit other members not to attend for whatever reason. It may be agreed that some Members do not want to attend, but why should those who want to play their part be excluded?
Since no compromise was possible by agreement, the Select Committee had to consider the two points of view. One thing was generally agreed. It was an undesirable accompaniment of the present arrangement that from ten to fifteen non-Scottish Members were compelled to attend this Committee. Since they often had no interest and on occasion were unable to follow the controversies, it was really a painful duty. We noticed that on occasion this task was passed on generously by the Whips to some new Member, probably as part of his education.
499 At first it did not appear even on the Select Committee that we could get agreement amongst ourselves. As the evidence proceeded, however, the Committee felt it could propose a possible solution which would meet the views of those who wanted a smaller Committee, but which would not of necessity debar Scottish Members who wanted to serve from being members of the Committee. The Select Committee recommended that the Scottish Standing Committee should be reduced to a minimum of 45 from Scottish constituencies and that the Committee of Selection should be empowered to add other Members—from any part of the House—to take full account of the individual wishes and special qualifications of Members and to ensure the balance of parties.
I agree that in theory this could mean that the Scottish Standing Committee might still on occasion consist of the same number of members as at present. That, of course, would be no change. That would be what we are being asked to give up. In practice, however, the Committee of Selection could be trusted to treat this matter with reason, and normally the Committee would be on a reduced scale.
The reason why the possibility of the full existing Committee being constituted was retained was another distinction between this Scottish Committee and normal Standing Committees. It was argued, for example, that on United Kingdom Committees not all hon. Members could serve, and that is true. Of course, with very important Bills it is occasionally thought desirable to take them in Committee of the whole House, which gives every hon. Member the right to be present. This could also be done with Scottish Bills of that character, but the growing pressure on the timetable of the House was continually cropping up in our discussion and it was thought undesirable to do anything more to force back to the House additional work which had already been successfully devolved. The Leader of the House will not want more business brought back to his timetable if it can be successfully allocated upstairs.
We therefore recommend that this possibility be left with the Committee, confident that, in practice, the purpose will be served, namely, to reduce the size of the Committee. Instead of the Bill being 500 discussed by the House on the Floor of the House, it would achieve the same purpose for the Scots by leaving with the Committee of Selection the possibility of what might be described as a full House of Scots.
It was also with this combined purpose in mind—to give Scots Members more time to discuss their own affairs but at the same time to relieve the timetable of the House itself—that the Select Committee decided to recommend two further developments of the procedure agreed in 1948. These were that it should be possible for Motions to be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee in the same way as Bills are now referred and that affirmative Motions for the approval of Statutory Instruments could also be referred under this procedure to the Scottish Grand Committee for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have rejected this, at least provisionally, on the ground that there were too few of them. I think he will agree with me that if there had been a great many he would have rejected it on the ground that it would have provided too much work upstairs.
The fact that there are so few is, in my opinion, a reason for accepting the recommendation, because it is an additional devolution of work which now takes place here between 10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. It could be sent upstairs for discussion at a normal time of the day instead of being discussed here late at night. I also suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, from my own experience, that it would remove a certain amount of irritation from the House, because the House is very often not able to discuss Prayers or even Affirmative Orders until 10.30 p.m. The Committee rejected the suggestion that Prayers should go to the Standing Committee, but Affirmative Orders seemed to fall into the same category as Bills, and I see no reason that the Government should not accept that recommendation.
It has been found difficult at the end of a Session to find days for all the business which the Scottish Standing Committee has to perform, and rather than accede to the proposal that two further days be given to the discussion of Estimates, the Committee feel that it would suit everyone better to have such discussions on Motions during an earlier part 501 of the Session. Indeed, this year when we wished to discuss the Estimates it was found that the problem of placing all the Votes on the Order Paper was so complicated that it was easier for the Estimates to be discussed by putting a Motion on the Order Paper. That was agreed through the usual channels as the best and only system.
It is for consideration when, and if, the House agrees to this proposal, whether all these days will not be put down in the form of Motions rather than having two different Standing Orders with two Motions, and six days on Estimates. If it is done in the form of Motions it relieves this House of this necessity of cramming the six days into the last part of the Session, and up to eight days can be taken whenever it is found suitable, through the unusual channels of making the necessary arrangements.
I think that that would suit the House, it would suit the Scots far better and, judging by what happened this year, it would be much better to have one Standing Order and deal with Motions instead of formal Estimates. Naturally, since it has to be put on the Order Paper by the Government, the matter is not one that can get out of control. This would free both Government and Opposition of the need for crushing these reviews into the final week of the Session, when legislation presses on time.
The Committee found it necessary to reject the other suggestions. It found that there were snags and difficulties that made their recommendation undesirable. It is hoped, however, in view of the time and effort given by the Committee to the limit that the House and the Government will give favourable consideration to the recommendations. Some modifications may prove desirable, but, generally, we would support the changes being made.
As to numbers, the Committee those 45 because that is generally the number on Committees on important Government Bills. There is nothing sacrosanct about the figure of 45, and it may be that the Standing Order could be made the same for all Standing Committees for all Bills. If so, I suggest respectfully that the Committee of Selection be left with discretion as to how many there should be. I know that when passing Bills in this House about courts, we are always inclined to stipulate the maximum and minimum 502 fines that people must pay, but a maximum and minimum is not necessary here. We have the Committee of Selection, and we should have enough confidence in it to realise that it will not do things foolishly. If this matter is left to the discretion of that Committee, as is suggested, it will deal with that according to advice received through the usual channels as to the people who desire to serve.
There is no doubt at all that a considerable number of Members have other activities, and the fear that, under the new dispensation, every Member will serve every day on the Scottish Grand Committee is, therefore, quite unjustified and unfounded. I feel that the Government would be wise, even if they altered the minimum number, to accept the Committee of Selection's recommendation that it should be left to it to decide how many should form each Committee. If that is done, the question of a maximum of 50 does not arise.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in thinking that, with a smaller Committee, it is necessary to introduce any non-Scots Members at all. One of the great advantages of reducing the number in this Committee is that it sets our poor non-Scottish colleagues free from this duty. None of them need serve at all. If they do, it is because of their special qualifications or interest, or because they have a special contribution to make to our work. But it is no longer necessary to put them there to maintain the balance of parties. That is one thing about which there is unanimity because, the Scots being a very sympathetic race, their hearts used to bleed for these poor chaps who had to sit through these long Committee meetings with a weariness of mind and a pain in the flesh.
During the Select Committee's researches it was very difficult to keep our minds from being constantly diverted to the bigger subject of the pressure of time on the House itself. In our own experience, we have seen a great development in the work and interests of hon. Members. Before the war, Europe, the Colonies and foreign affairs were only beginning to make demands on our time, but now, almost daily, we see the work of the House being extended to problems far beyond our shores.
It seems to me to be only a matter of time before we become integrated in 503 some way with Europe, or, certainly, with an Atlantic community—perhaps with an Atlantic Parliament and Government. The stirring of the people in Africa and the East, and the preservation of peace are already relatively dwarfing our domestic differences. Members of Parliament also are having to make personal study of other countries and play the part of unofficial ambassadors to establish friendly understanding among the Parliaments of the world.
It seems only wise, therefore, that as far as possible the House itself should be relieved of such domestic discussions as can be devolved to these Committees, and I hope the Government will not insist upon keeping on the Floor of the House work which can be remitted upstairs. This is already done with important matters such as breach of privilege, examination of accounts and estimates, and in the case of Scotland we have successfully referred uncontroversial Bills to the Scottish Grand Committee. My own view is that this is not a matter only of interest to Scottish Members of Parliament, but that the success of this devolution might be profitably studied to see whether we might not also learn lessons which could be applied to similar English and Welsh Bills and questions.
We sensed in listening to the evidence that there was, indeed, a feeling that the terms of remit to our Committee were much too restricted and that the time must soon come when the House would want to make a comprehensive review of its whole timetable and constitution. It may be that when that is done, events will compel us to find some way of devolving the consideration of the more domestic matters of Scotland, Wales and England itself from the Floor of the House, and enable Members to divide their time more efficiently among the many problems that call for attention.
Certainly this Committee found numerous instances, such as the problem of the Scottish Questions, when it almost felt compelled to think in terms of the timetable of the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that this is giving an opportunity for an experiment applying to Scotland which, if it proves successful as the one in 1948 has proved, might indeed be a sign of things to come, and when the 504 House gets down to the job, as I think eventually it must, of reconsidering the working of its own timetable and of finding time to deal with the major matters that lie ahead, the experiments being carried out in regard to Scotland will be a valuable lesson which the House could with profit copy.
I hope that the Government, after hearing the discussion, will reconsider their decision to make the Scottish Standing Committee the same as all other Standing Committees, or at least that they will avoid imposing a restriction, which will in many cases prevent Scottish Members from doing work that they want to do, merely in order to suit the convenience of other Members who perhaps are not so anxious to be here all the time.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I find myself in considerable agreement with the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). That, indeed, might well be so, because I was a member of the Select Committee during all but the last two sittings of that Committee, and he and I, as well as the Chairman, were seeing eye to eye to perhaps a surprising extent.
During the last two meetings, however, for reasons not unconnected with the temporary occupation of the Chair, which you, Mr. Speaker, are now occupying, I found myself absented from the Committee, and in view of that I think I am free to divert a little from the Report as it was published, as I did not take part in the last discussions. I am bound to say that while I welcome most of the points which have been made, there is one fundamental point in connection with the constitution of the Scottish Standing Committee on which I differ from the Report and on which I see much more along the lines which the Leader of the House followed during his speech.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For our guidance, may I ask you this question? We are now listening to a member of the Committee telling us that he is in disagreement with a part of the Committee's Report. There is no minority report, and there is no indication in the Report to guide us towards the conclusion that the hon. and gallant Member 505 for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) has reached. Are any other members of the Commitee, who have given what appears to be a unanimous report, of the same mind as the hon. and gallant Member?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no knowledge of that, but the hon. and gallant Member is entitled to say what he thinks is right in this House.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
I had hoped in the personal remarks I made about my own position that I had made it clear. I hope that that is so. May I restrict my remarks to the one point, as it is getting late and many hon. Members, no doubt, wish to speak. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin), I emphasise my agreement with the Committee where, in paragraph 15 it stresses the importance of differentiating as between the Scottish Grand Committee, which is to consider the Second Reading of Bills as to principle, and which is to have six days to consider Estimates and, possibly, an additional two days to consider Motions. I think that there is very little disagreement in the House that all Scottish Members must rightly be enabled to attend that Committee if they think fit.
So far as the working of the Scottish Grand Commitee goes, there is nothing in the argument that the size of the Committee of more than seventy Members makes it unwieldy. For the purpose of Second Reading debates, when broad principles are discussed, I do not think the size matters. It is when we are discussing triflng and rather repetitive Committee points in the Standing Committee that a large body of members tends to make the work unwieldy.
I wish again to emphasise my agreement with the Report of the Committee, of which I was a member, when it states in paragraph 17 that it was the aim of the Committee to reconcile divergent views held about cutting down the size of the Scottish Standing Committee. To a certain extent success was achieved.
Now I come to the point where, admittedly, I disagree with the finding, as it was eventually published, that it should be possible over and above the 45 Members, who, it was suggested, should constitute the Standing Committee, to enlarge the Committee to take account fully of the individual wishes and special 506 qualifications of other Members. It may not be now, but the time may easily come when the party feeling is so strong that the Opposition of the day, going all out to obstruct, so far as it is in order to obstruct, the work of the Government, would cause each and every individual to apply to the Selection Committee to be included in the Scottish Standing Committee. To counter such a move by Opposition Members, it would be inevitable that the Government of the day would meet that threat by urging an equal number of their own Members also to apply to the Selection Committee. If that were to come about, we would be left with the same position of too large a body of Members dealing with the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has misunderstood the recommendation of the Committee, as the Government have also, I think, judging by the reports which have appeared in the Press. It is not suggested that the Committee of Selection is bound to include everybody who applies. There is no suggestion of that kind at all. The Committee would merely consider, as it always does on every Bill, whether people have a special interest, whether they have been speaking in the debates, and whether they ought to serve on the Committee. It would be up to the Committee of Selection to decide on the maximum number and to what requests it would accede.
Sir W. Ansthruther-Gray
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has said that. It indicates that the difference between us is not so great as I had thought it might be. Equally, it must, surely show that the difference between his own view and the view advanced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is not very great either. The figure of 45 was mentioned in one case and a maximum of 50 was mentioned by my right hon. Friend. There is not very much between us. When we are in the happy position of getting something like agreement, let us not seek to quarrel more than is absolutely necessary.
It is a thousand pities that some people have, for the benefit of the Scottish Press, tended to put before the country the accusation that those of us who have been keen to see this reform of the Scottish Standing Committee, purely for the Committee stage of Bills, were prompted by 507 motives other than those in the best interests of the good conduct of the business of the House in such a way that Scottish Members would make their weight felt in every possible way, not finding themselves spending far too much time in the Scottish Grand Committee when there were other things to be done elsewhere. I should like to read quickly, not in order to weary the House, but for the benefit of the public, a short extract from the evidence given to the Select Committee on Procedure by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, which is to be found on page 22 of the Report. He was showing how many other places there are for Members representing Scottish seats to be engaged while the Scottish Grand Committee is sitting, and said:…in the Session 1955–56 the Scottish Committee sat for 22 days on the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Bill, 14 days on the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill, 5 days on the Local Government Street Works (Scotland) Bill, 5 days on the Teachers' Superannuation (Part II) Bill and 1 day on the Marriage (Scotland) Bill, plus 6 days on Estimates, totalling 53 days. And at that time major bills dealing with Dentists, Sugar, Road Traffic, Clean Air and Pensions (Increase) were going on more or less simultaneously with the sitting of the Scottish Standing Committee.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite wrong to give the impression that it is a question of days. What he really means is mornings.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) says it is mornings, but I recollect very well that during the debates on the last Finance Bill there was occasion for the Scottish Standing Committee to sit in the afternoon as well as the morning, and great protest was raised by hon. Members opposite because it was said that Members were being prevented from taking part in the debate on the Finance Bill.
It may be said, and it has been said, that the difficulty can be overcome by the system of pairing. To a certain extent that is so, but there are times when, rightly or wrongly, tempers are frayed and Members are not ready to pair with one another. Again, to look at the competitive side of our political life—
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman now giving us a new reason for a reduction in the size of the Committee?
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
My reply to the hon. Member is "No". Furthermore, if there are times when we become hostile to one another, at General Elections, there is a little White Paper published once a year, as hon. Members know, which sets out the attendance of hon. Members at various committees. If it is seen that an hon. Member has attended the Scottish Committee for only ten days, whilst another hon. Member has attended on fifty occasions, it may be thrown at him that he was idle and neglectful in his duties, whereas, in fact, he might have been taking a prominent part in a Bill in another Standing Committee.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
It is not a bad thing to have an answer. It is better still never to be on the defensive.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
Does the hon. Baronet not appreciate that the same White Paper will record the hon. Member's attendances at the other Committees? It will not identify Scottish Committees only but will identify his Committee attendances in total. Does the hon. Baronet further appreciate that some of the opposition to the status quo coming from this side of the House has been offered by hon. Friends of his who have stated in terms to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that they would not attend the Scottish Committee on Wednesday mornings because they had other work to do outside the House?
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
Although the White Paper may refer to attendance at other Standing Committees, do not let the House think I am limiting my case to that. Attendance at Strasbourg has been mentioned more than once in the Report. Certainly, we want Scottish Members to go there. There are many delegations and deputations. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) referred to the importance of British Members of Parliament going over the world on various occasions. Surely, we want Scottish Members to be included on those occasions without too close a regard for the majority in the Standing Committee.
509 We can reach a general measure of agreement on this subject. Provided we are convinced that what we are doing is in the interests of Scottish representation, whether by Conservatives or Socialists, what we can be united in is desiring Scotland and her Members to play their full part in the work of the United Kingdom Parliament.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) has managed to stir up in the minds of some of my hon. Friends a number of memories of the earlier part of the controversy about this matter. Although I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member, that prompts me to say that this is not a party issue. We are dealing with something which is a matter of the House of Commons and not a matter in which the two parties simply face each other with different points of view.
The reason why I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member in what he said is because I want to turn to the speech of the Leader of the House. I can quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman is no longer with us. He opened, sat through and closed the preceding debate. Having sat through it myself except for about ten minutes, I find myself fatigued with simply having listened to the arguments. I can quite see that have delivered his third speech this evening, the right hon. Gentleman did not feel obliged to stay.
The Lord Privy Seal, was, however, courteous enough in dealing with this general matter to give the lion's share of his time to Scottish affairs. I should like to return the courtesy by saying just a little about those matters in the two Reports which are not Scottish. The right hon. Gentleman began with the question of the Financial Resolution. I am sorry to say that it seems to me that the Select Committee has rather missed an opportunity to deal with something that is fairly serious. The Committee's Report suggests that people who want to get round the financial Resolution or who want to upset it have from time to time been able to do so. New Financial Resolutions have been brought in on various occasions.
510 I shall not try to go into detail, because I am somewhat oppressed in conscience by the possibility that I may make a long speech at a late hour of the night. I do, however, suggest that, in practice, there are many occasions when the Financial Resolution presses very hard on the Committee stage of a debate. There are many occasions when a simple phrase, even an adjective, as I know from experience, has cut out what might have been, and probably would have been, extremely important discussions in relation to major matters in a Bill.
It does not seem to me that the argument for retaining the present practice with Financial Resolutions is based on anything very much stronger than history and formality. We should try to look at the substance of the question, and if we did that we should manage to evolve a system which would bear a little less hardly on hon. Members in Committee on Bills.
I agree with the change which is taking place in the moving of Amendments cm going into Committee of Supply on the Service Estimates. There is such general agreement on that that one need hardly comment upon it.
The numbers proposed for the quorum and Closure seem to me to be reasonable and sensible, a quorum of 12 for the smaller Committees and 15 for the larger, and the Closure numbers to equate with the quorum numbers. I am always rather sad when something takes place which seems to derive from the small attendance of Members, from the difficulty of getting Members to attend. It is an aspect of the House and its Committee's which always makes me feel depressed when I contemplate it, but it exists, and it seems to me that this change is in consonance with what will prove proper and reasonable practice.
The experience, to which the Select Committee refers, with the Sugar Bill, a short time ago, is to my mind the conclusive argument against having a number for the Closure which is high proportionately to the total membership, and I quite agree that the number for the Closure should be fixed at the same as the number for the quorum.
Another recommendation of the Select Committee, a very minor one perhaps it may seem, of which I am very glad, too, 511 is in connection with the Count. It has been suggested that the Clerk of a Standing Committee should not automatically draw the attention of the Chairman to the fact that the number of Members present has fallen below 15. I should have been very sorry if the practice had been changed. The House itself is always the House; it has always dignity and prestige; even if there are present, apart from the Chair, only two or three Members—it is still the House of Commons.
A Committee upstairs is a different matter. It will lose its dignity and prestige if it does not consciously and deliberately keep them up, and I should strongly dislike any inclination to ease the discipline of keeping the quorum. I am very glad that the Select Committee has reported as it has on this matter.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I wonder whether my hon. Friend will agree with me that the Select Committee and the Leader of the House have failed to deal with the very serious problem of the Standing Committees in relation to Private Members' Bills, the problem that it is quite possible for a whole series of Private Members' Bills to be held up because of objection in Committee to the first Bill in the series. Does my hon. Friend not think that something ought to be done about that problem?
§ Mr. MacPherson
I agree that it is a serious problem. I am inclined to take the point of view which has put in favour of the status quo because of the question of ordinary Parliamentary tactics. I do not take objection to parliamentary tactics being used within legitimate bounds. However, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not comment further on that, because there is a limit to the number of things one can say in a speech of reasonable length, and I hope against hope that my speech will be of reasonable length.
To have two Scottish Committees, the Scottish Grand Committee and the Scottish Standing Committee, seems, in general, to me to be an admirable arrangement. The House, throughout its history, when it has found its time-table overloaded, its business too heavy, has generally attempted to shed some of the load by the setting up of Committees to take it over.
512 Here we have one of these Committees now following the same precedent. If I may put forward a point of view which perhaps sums up a general feeling, and is not intended to settle the question at issue, the Scottish Grand Committee feels that it is rather overburdened with work and that its time is overpressed. The suggestion now is that it should shed part of the work in some way to a smaller Committee. That seems to me perfectly reasonable, sensible and practical. It is, I think, the first time in the history of the House that such a thing has been done, but it seems to me none the worse for that.
I agree that the Scottish Grand Committee should include all Scottish Members. On the size of the Scottish Standing Committee, the Leader of the House raised one or two matters which will require a little consideration before all Scottish Members agree to them. I think that a small-sized Standing Committee is desirable. I am entirely in favour of a Committee with a maximum membership of about 50. Present practice is for a smaller sized Committee to deal with Private Members' Bills, and a larger Committee to deal with Government Bills.
A Committee of roughly the same size as the larger of these two types of Committee would be best suited to deal with Scottish Bills. That is what the Leader of the House proposes. He says that there will be no nucleus of Members with others being selected for the particular Bill. I agree with this. I do not know how a nucleus could conveniently be found among Scottish Members. But the right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that among the Members might be a number of English and Welsh Members.
I see no real justification for that. The right hon. Gentleman seems to suggest a type of English and Welsh Member different from the type now appointed to the Scottish Committees. Those whom we tend to get now are the defenceless, largely the freshmen. I remember an hon. Member who came to the House at a by-election. On the afternoon of the day after he had been welcomed by Mr. Speaker, I met him in the Division Lobby. In the course of conversation I asked, "How are you getting on and settling down?" He replied, "I have just had a notice saying that I have to 513 serve on the Scottish Standing Committee. What is that?" That is the kind of hon. Member who is roped in at present.
The proposal now is that we are to have English and Welsh Members who are experts on certain subjects. I distrust this interest in experts. The presence of experts properly so-called in the House is a matter of pure chance. When we are discussing a certain subject and we find that the great expert sits in another place we do not try to drag him into our deliberation. We assume that he is not in this House and we do not use him. When a great expert on a subject does not belong to the Scottish group of Members, we should get along without him. That seems perfectly reasonable. He can give his expert knowledge to the House, while the Scottish Committee can rely on its own Scottish Members to deal with Scottish affairs.
I am sorry that the Leader of the House was inclined to be rather conservative about some of the work which it is suggested the new Scottish Grand Committee might do. The Scottish Standing Committee would deal with the Committee stage of Bills. That is clear, but I hope that, in practice, there will be a division of work and that the Bills which, to Scottish Members, are major Bills would be put into the hands of the Scottish Grand Committee for the Committee stage rather than into the hands of the Scottish Standing Committee, following the practice by which major Bills in the United Kingdom sense are not sent upstairs but are dealt with by the House as a whole. I hope that that will be the practice.
There may be, in fact there certainly will be, a number of Scottish Bills which hon. Members will feel ought to be kept before all Scottish Members. The increase in the number of days specifically for the consideration of Estimates is not an unreasonable suggestion. I find it difficult to reconcile myself to the comparatively offhand fashion in which we toss about financial responsibility without trying to keep up with it. We shift the responsibility for roads and electricity from United Kingdom Ministers to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Not only is the right hon. Gentleman responsible for policy, but also for finance, and one would have thought that the Committee should have added time to deal with that.
514 The comment is usually made that Estimates debates deal with policy and not with finance, but that is not completely true. A number of Estimates debates dealing with Scottish matters have gone into sufficient detail from time to time to keep track of expenditure and I should have thought there is justification for adding time for Estimates and trying to do something about this transference of financial responsibility.
On the question of Motions and other matters, I am sorry that the Leader of the House was not more ready to adopt at least the recommendation of the Committee which I consider a very minor one. A number of hon. Members have found it a rather tightly drawn recommendation, as it restricts in days and by date. These two restrictions are hardly necessary when, in point of fact, Motions would not, in the terms of its recommendation, have been sent to the Scottish Grand Committee, except on the initiative of the Government.
The restriction which seems to me serious is the one repeated by the Leader of the House on subject matter. The phrase used by the Committee and by the Leader of the House was "subjects within the administrative responsibility of the Secretary of State." That would cut out a large number of subjects which Scottish Members would wish to discuss. Almost certainly the Committee could not discuss South Uist, for example. And a great many other subjects in which Scottish Members might be strongly interested would be excluded by such a phrase.
I will give one illustration far from the ordinary hurly-burly of the day-to-day debating battle. There is a good deal of interest in certain aspects of higher education. A debate on the universities would not be out of the way. We cannot debate the universities on the Scottish Education Estimates, because they are under the Treasury. But although they are the Chancellor's responsibility, when there was last a Bill about one of the Scottish universities, it came to the Grand Committee and the Secretary of State for Scotland piloted it. I quote that as an example of a subject which is not the administrative responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman. Why not do the same sort of thing in the case of Motions, if we are to have 515 Motions? There should be some provision for Motions and there need be no limit on the number of days or date, because in any case, the Government can determine that, and the scope should be greatly widened.
I wish to endorse the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). The House of Commons is continually under fire from hon. Members, and critics outside, because of the pressure of business and the difficulty we experience in getting subjects discussed on the Floor of the House. Here we have a Committee system which, even though it is now only inching along, is doing something bit by bit to take over the burden of business at present borne by the House.
In this discussion a great number of hon. Members may feel strongly about the Scottish Committees in general, as they will be when they are set up if this procedure goes through, and all hon. Members will feel strongly about the House. What seems to me important in changes like these is the House far more than the Scottish Committees. It seems to me that, as my right hon. Friend suggested, the House might well devolve a number of other things to Committees in the same way. This may appear, if not an appeal from "Philip Drunk" to "Philip Sober", at least an appeal from "Philip in the House" to "Philip in Committee". But it is not a matter of the individuals concerned. The pressure is not so much the pressure on individual Members as the pressure on the House itself as an institution—the time of the House, the procedure of the House, and so on.
That would be relieved by sending matters to Committees. The pressure on Committees may become great—that is, indeed, part of what we are discussing—but the possibility seems to me to be one of the real chances of dealing effectively with the question of future procedure in general in the House.
I doubt my right hon. Friend's examples of further subjects, however. He suggested Wales and England. It seems to me that for this system to succeed—and it has succeeded in the Scottish Committees in spite of all our shortcomings; it works well—one needs 516 two things. One is a community of interest, interest in the sense that it goes right down to constituents, interest in the Member and in the constituent, the interest on the part of the general public on which the work of this House rests.
The other thing is Ministerial responsibility. It is because these two things exist together in the Scottish Committees that we have the concentration of interest and the real Parliamentary sense about what is being done. A Welsh Committee, I should think, would have that interest, but the difference is that it would have only half a Minister, whereas we have two Ministers—the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate, plus their various satellites. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sputniks."] I do not want to argue about terminology.
I suggest that the system might be applied to groups of subjects, such as the nationalised industries. It does not seem to me out of the way to have that kind of system applied in this House to the nationalised industries. The Colonies would be another possibility. There are other suitable subjects or groups of subjects. I do not think that the analogy of Wales and England is quite the best one in respect of the actual work that Parliament does.
My general feeling about the statement by the Leader of the House is that, on the whole, I am in agreement with it, but I hope that he will be inclined, on reflection, to go a little further in the matter of things which he is willing to refer to the Scottish Grand Committee, and I hope, also, that he will stabilise rather more in the direction that I have been suggesting the membership of what will now be called the Scottish Standing Committee.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
With my fellow-members of the Committee, I should like, in the first place, to thank the House for the friendly reception, on the whole, which it has given to the proposals which we put forward. There are actually two Reports here. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) referred to some of the other proposals besides the proposals for the alteration in the Scottish Grand Committee. It is right that they should be referred to, 517 because they are matters of considerable importance.
I think the House accepts the procedure that we suggested for going into Committee of Supply and on Financial Resolutions. I can only say that I think one must still attach great importance to the financial responsibility which is inherent in the Government. After all, the Government had to find the money for proposals which are put forward, and the fact that the charge upon the subject cannot be increased except upon the Motion of a Minister of the Crown is one of the real sheet anchors of our Parliamentary procedure, and one from which we should depart with great care and, indeed, with considerable reluctance.
The main topic which has been discussed is the proposal with regard to the Scottish Standing Committee. It is generally accepted that it would be good if every Scottish Member did not serve on every occasion in every debate on every proposal affecting Scotland. It is important that hon. Members should have the opportunity of sitting on other Committees and of serving not merely on business connected with the House outside the House, but even on business not connected with the House outside the House. I would quote in support of that suggestion no less a person than Earl Attlee, formerly Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. He said in The Times of 11th April:It is desirable that there should be Members whose outside activities forbid them to give whole-time service, but whose contact with outside interests brings in what might be called the non-professional outlook.It is well worth remembering that that point of view was not put forward on behalf of a Member whose private interests were at stake, but on behalf of the House of Commons by one who had been Prime Minister and has held great and responsible posts. He was Prime Minister and was for many years Leader of the Opposition and cannot be suspected of tendencies towards wealthy men trying to make money outside the House.
Points which were brought forward seriously in discussion, and I think with general agreement, were very interesting and novel, and I am glad to find that they are receiving a great deal of support throughout the House. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) need not fear that 518 they will narrow the administrative responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The general activities of the Secretary of State, as Minister for Scotland, goes very wide indeed, and has been held to allow his activities being called into question for matters for which he was not immediately adminstratively responsible, but for which, as Minister for Scotland, he held a general watching brief.
There will be sufficient opportunity to debate subjects of great importance which we have not been able to discuss and which are narrowly and specifically within the right hon. Gentleman's province. I refer to matters like hydroelectricity. It is a great pity that we have not been able to debate hydroelectric schemes, because that might have obviated some of the misunderstandings which have arisen and to which a Select Committee recently made reference. It will be very useful and desirable for the Secretary of State to enable us to discuss specific matters which might enable us to cover matters past, present and to come.
These are valuable proposals in themselves, and I hope that they will commend themselves to the House as a whole. The absence of party divisions, as the House will observe by examining the lines on which divisions took place, when they did take place, enabled a very wide discussion in the Committee.
The next point to stress was our desire, as far as possible, to relieve the weight on the House. One of the reasons why we came to the recommendation which has been referred to more than once, sometimes with appreciation and sometimes not, was that the Selection Committee should have power to nominate further Members representing Scottish constituencies, to carry out fully all the wishes and to use all the special qualifications of hon. Members, and to ensure the balance of parties in accordance with that in the House of Commons. There was no sense in a proposal being passed in Committee by a weight of numbers against the Government merely to have it reversed by the weight of numbers in favour of the Government in the House. That would not diminish the work of the House but would increase it. The desire of making sure that as far as possible debate of Scottish matters by those keenly interested in them should take place 519 upstairs in Committee had the corollary that it meant not so great an inroad was made on the time of the House on Report stage downstairs. There is no real advantage in transferring a debate upstairs to a Committee Room to have it all over again, possibly at greater length, downstairs when the Report stage is reached.
That admittedly put a duty on the Committee of Selection, and it may well be that the Leader of the House felt uneasy about that duty. I would accept the position as set forth by the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) when he said that the Selection Committee was not bound to put everyone on a Committee merely because it thought they should be there. Many of us have had a desire to be included on deputations, delegations and committees and have found that our views of our own capabilities were not fully shared by our colleagues. That experience has happened to many, and it may happen to many more Scottish Members. I hope that they will take the rough with the smooth and that if they are not on one Committee for one Bill they will feel all the more fresh, eager and ready to take part in discussion of other Bills. I have seen signs among my colleagues of hon. Members becoming jaded when they have sat on every Committee and have not been able to do themselves full justice. I think that a little rest will do them no harm at all.
I am in a position to speak with feeling on this matter. I suppose I am by far the oldest member of the Scottish Grand Committee, having a service on it which—unlikely as the House may think—runs to nearly forty years. On the whole, I think I have not shirked my service at any point there. I had the honour of being Chairman of the Committee which has made these recommendations which, it is hoped, will lead to a smaller and more efficient Scottish Committee, dealing with certain problems. It is my belief that there is no desire to stifle discussion but rather to strengthen discussion so that we in the Scottish Grand Committee can give more adequate attention to problems there and outside the Committee and can give more adequate attention to the great problems both in Committee and on the Floor of the House which require attention.
520 It is not enough to say that these are merely morning Committees. The feeling is that as they sit from 10.30 a.m. that is only part of the day, but it is the part of the day when one does one's reading and preparation for speeches, if we are to speak in the afternoon we cannot do so if the whole morning is taken up with the grind of the Committee system. The mornings free are not holiday mornings by any means for those who are taking an active part in this House. They are an indispensable portion of a week's work in the House. They provide time to read, time to think and time to write. All that is indispensable and is very greatly cut into if the Committee sits, as it sometimes does, week in and week out for months at a time, sometimes by no means only in the mornings, but in the afternoon and far into the night as well.
§ Mr. Rankin
The right hon. Gentleman would agree that the use of the word "day" in reference to a Sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee creates a misconception because the "day" is only two and a half hours.
§ Mr. Elliot
It does not create a misconception. It is the suggestion that it is only two and a half hours which creates the misconception. This cuts into the thinking period, the meditative period, the fruitful period of the day. I regard the morning as an indispensable a part of my day as any part of the 24 hours, and if my morning has been destroyed I find it difficult to make adequate use of the rest of the day. I do not withdraw this statement at all. If there is one thing which we lack in the House it is time to meditate and time to digest the mass of information which pours upon us.
§ Mr. Elliot
Some of them will serve on the other United Kingdom Committees. I have had a great deal of experience of this, and I have served on other United Kingdom Committees, too. If there is a standing mortgage on one's time by which, every time the Scottish Committee sits one is summoned to attend it, that is a handicap under which no other set of Members in the House work, and it is a 521 handicap which I do not think it is fair should be imposed upon Scottish Members.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not quite understand the hon. Member. It is a House of Commons Committee. It is certainly a Committee of the House of Commons to which those hon. Members serving on it attach very great importance.
§ Mr. Elliot
We are discussing the Scottish Grand Committee. The hon. Member must not resent our discussing it when we are here specifically to do so.
I think the danger does not come so much from the large Committee as from the undue loquacity of our people. We are a naturally garrulous and talkative race. A good deal of the work of this Report arose from the fact that there were adverse criticisms in the Press and elsewhere, as we all know, of the work of the Scottish Grand Committee. It was taking too long. It was dragging out debates on minor Bills. No one who has sat through some of the debates can deny that that was so.
I therefore think that the Scottish Grand Committee above all Grand Committees should regard the use of a time-table as part of the normal procedure of the Committee. I do not think that the night express from Euston to Glasgow or Edinburgh would be best set off by a meeting of the passengers on the platform in committee with the engine driver, deciding that when a reasonable number of passengers had assembled the train would set off. I want to know when the train will start and when it will reach its destination. Equally, I am sure that the Scottish Members will find it necessary and desirable to work much more than in the past on some timetable under which a reasonable allocation of time is made in order that we may have some reasonable conception of when the bill be brought forward, when the main points will be discussed and when it will be possible to dispose of the business. That, I think, is one of the further subjects to which we shall have to turn our attention.
522 The first point, however, is to deal with the proposal which we brought forward. I still stand by the Report and by a system of allowing Scottish Members to be fully represented on the Committee in accordance with their wishes and with their interests. If further reform is needed, it lies more in the direction of a timetable of discussion than an undue restriction of the number of Members who should be allowed to serve on the Committee.
Let us see how it goes. Let us begin with these proposals that have been brought forward. I think there is general agreement on most of them, and I am sure that if we get a general consensus of opinion—as, I think, is developing in this Chamber tonight—we shall make a considerable step forward to a more efficient examination of our Scottish affairs, and a more efficient working of the great institution of Parliament of which we are all so very proud.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I do not propose to deal with any of the Scottish matters that have been under discussion, but I should like to take up one or two points that were made by the Leader of the House in the earlier part of the debate. From what he said, I thought that the Government were really collecting voices in this debate, although they put positive suggestions before us to see what were our reactions.
I suggest that it would be in the interests of the House if we had special Standing Orders to deal with Private Members' Bills, because I feel that at present the House does not do full justice to the private Member. A very common criticism made of this House in foreign countries, particularly in America, is that the power of the Executive has become so great that the private Member has little or no say in the House. I think that all of us who know the House believe that he has a very considerable say, but there is enough truth in that criticism for us to take note of it.
It is particularly important, when many countries are setting up new constitutions which copy this Parliament, often in great detail, that we should put right anything that seems to be wrong, so that, to countries like Ghana and others that are setting up Parliaments and taking us as 523 their example, we can set a better example.
Points that I think require taking up particularly are those relating to the quorum and the Closure on Standing Committees. I was very interested to see that in a memorandum that he put before the Select Committee, the Leader of the House suggested 10 or 12 as the figure for the quorum and 12 to 15 for the Closure. He also said that he thought it desirable to bring the two figures into line, if possible. The Committee came down in favour of a quorum of 12 for the small Committee of 35, and of 15 for a Committee consisting of 45 Members.
I recognise that it is now becoming the practice for Private Members' Bills to be sent to a smaller Committee of 35 and, therefore, to lower the quorum figure to 12 is a very big advance in helping the private Member to get progress with his Bill. I would suggest, however, that it would be in the interest of the House if we wrote into the Standing Orders that a Standing Committee set up to deal with Private Members' Bills should consist of 35 Members, and that we should not just leave it to the growing practice of the House.
Secondly, I suggest that we should adopt the first suggestion of the Leader, of the House rather than that of the Committee as a whole, and make 10 rather than 12 the figure for the quorum. That should also be the figure for the Closure. I believe that, at the present time, the private Member, not having the assistance of Whip or party behind him, has very great difficulty in getting his Bill through Standing Committee.
Nearly all the important Bills that private Members bring forward are supported from both sides and opposed from both sides. In fact, the main purpose of these Bills is that they should deal with the sort of issue that cuts across party. But we all know that a small group of hon. Members, when opposed to such a Bill, can hold it up by absenting themselves from the Committee—if they get on that Standing Committee, and it is easy to do so. They can obstruct in many other ways, too.
When this matter was discussed earlier in the House it was suggested that there was a danger, if we made it too easy for 524 a Private Member's Bill to get through Committee, that we might have Bills pushed through which really did not represent the feeling of the House. We all know that surprises do, from time to time, take place here, but I should have thought that there was one very strong safegurad against that contingency.
Even if a Bill had had its Second Reading and had got through Committee but did not represent the opinion of the House, it could always be turned down on Third Reading. The House has that control over a Bill which does not represent the general feeling of the House. But it is difficult to mobilise opinion in favour of a Private Member's Bill if it has to do with a matter about which there is not an enormous amount of strong feeling. Therefore, I suggest that it would be better when making new Standing Orders if, first, we made special ones for Private Members' Bills and, secondly, if we made the number for the quorum and Closure for them 10 rather than 12 as suggested in the recommendations.
I support the proposal made by the Leader of the House that as far as a quorum on Standing Committees is concerned it should not be the duty of the Clerk of the Committee to draw the attention of the Chairman to the fact that the number of Members present has fallen below the permitted quorum, and that the matter should be left to a Member to raise. In other words, the practice in Standing Committees should conform to the practice of the House as a whole. In this, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). It seems to me that the present rule for Standing Committees in this respect, which is different from that for the House as a whole, is an impediment to the private Member in making progress with his Bill. I hope that the Government will follow the lines of the original suggestion of the Leader of the House rather than the recommendations of the Committee.
I would go further and ask the House to support a proposal that the Select Committee should be asked to look at one or two other matters not at the moment before the House which would, I think, improve the position of Private Members' Bills, particularly the matter of the Closure for Private Members' Bills 525 on Second Reading on Friday afternoons. I suggest that the present figure of 100 is much too high. I have suggested 40 as a possible figure, but it is a matter of argument. I would certainly suggest that if we are really to make the best use of private Members' time in the House it is important that the figure for the Closure on Friday afternoons should be reduced.
We should ask the Select Committee to put forward suggestions to the House—if possible, to take evidence on what has happened in the past concerning Private Members' Bills. It is a matter which ought to be further considered and on which we ought to have a further report. If that were done I believe that the rights of private Members would be fully safeguarded and private Members would be able to make a more useful contribution through their Bills to the House. At present, they are not.
I agree that if the proposals put forward by the Committee go through the position of Private Members' Bills as far as Standing Committees are concerned will be improved. But there is still the important point of the Closure on Second Reading, and on that matter I think that we ought to have further advice. I hope that the Government will ask the Select Committee to consider that matter. Private Members' Bills, if through their Second Reading, might also be carried forward to the next Session of the same Parliament.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)
I feel rather brave intervening in what has really become a Scottish debate, more particularly because it is on that aspect of the Select Committee's Report that I want to speak. My excuse is that I have the honour to be Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and many of the points raised will, I believe, affect that Committee very considerably. I have not had an opportunity of discussing the matter with the members of the Committee collectively, but I feel fairly sure that they would agree with most of what I propose to say.
The proposal in the Report is that the Scottish Standing Committee should consist of 45 members, to which are to be added other Members for Scottish constituencies and, when necessary, further Members representing English or non- 526 Scottish constituencies, all at the discretion of the Committee of Selection without any directive as to the numbers concerned. That proposal—and I believe it was supported by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn)—would put the Committee of Selection, I believe, in an invidious position, because I think it is the wish of the House generally that the Scottish Standing Committee, as it will be called, should be reduced in numbers, and it is also the wish of the House that the desires of hon. Members should be met by the Committee of Selection in putting them upon Committees dealing with Bills in which they are interested.
Those expressions of view which the Committee of Selection will have to consider when setting up Committees may very well come into conflict with one another, as the right hon. Gentleman envisaged. One may have, in many cases, a Scottish Standing Committee of much the same dimensions as it is at present and one will not be carrying out the wish of the House, which is that the Scottish Standing Committee may be reduced to a much more practicable size and—much more important—that we should have the advantage of Scottish Members on United Kingdom Bills which concern Scotland as much as England.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Does not the hon. and gallant Member agree that the Committee of Selection at present has to face that problem with every English Bill of importance—on matters such as education, for example? The Committee of Selection cannot put on to the Standing Committee everybody who would like to be on it. Some hon. Members have to be excluded. The difficulty with regard to Scottish Members would be no greater than it is now. The Committee of Selection always has that discretion and that responsibility. I do not see why they should be particularly terrified of the Scots in this respect, or that they would not exercise their duty with common sense. Personally, I would be prepared to have confidence in their judgment.
§ Sir R. Conant
I will deal with that point in a minute. At the moment, the numbers whom we have power to add are limited, in the case of United Kingdom Standing Committees, by Standing Order No. 58, to 30. I believe that we ought to have a limitation in the Scottish Standing Committee in the future. I am sure that is essential if we are to carry out our duties efficiently and meet the wishes of the House. I can only say that I believe it is the wish of the House that the Scottish Standing Committee should be reduced in numbers, and personally I think that that is right.
If it is also the wish of the House that Members who wish to serve on the Committee are to be appointed irrespective of numbers, I do not believe that the Committee will be able to carry on, particularly as the Members of the Committee of Selection are kind-hearted men who would not like to prevent Members from sitting on the Committee of their choice. In fact, we should find that the Committee would be approximately of the same dimensions as it is at present.
Of course, I am not opposed to English Members serving on the Scottish Standing Committee, particularly if they happen to be Scotsmen representing English constituencies. I think it would facilitate the duties of the Committee of Selection a great deal if we had a clear directive from the House as to the numbers of Members whom we should appoint to our Scottish Standing Committee.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian)
I am forcibly reminded tonight of the Englishman who remarked with great glee, "Now we have the Scots where we want them." According to the logic of one hon. Member opposite, apparently the Government have the Scots where they want them tonight, because he said they were on the defensive. Like the old Celtic team, believe that the best method of defence is to attack, and I intend to do that tonight.
It is far too late to discuss fully such an important question as this. The present position, so far as I can see, having looked all round the problem, works better than many of the suggestions put forward by the amateurs. For instance, we have never resorted to the filibuster, and if we have sometimes taken what is termed a long time to do 528 anything it has been simply to carry out our duties to our constituents. The Scottish Committee is different from almost every other Committee in the House. It is elected by the electors in the constituencies in Scotland to come here and represent their interest. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Member had better come up to Midlothian and find out.
We believe that the present suggestions would not tend to improve our work. The real reason for this discussion tonight has not yet been uncovered. It is perfectly true that it emanated from a few disgruntled people on the Government side of the House. A Division on it was forced and the then Secretary of State for Scotland was saved only by the support of Labour Members in the Committee. Until now, we have never got the real reason. It emanated from a few who wanted to make a little "on the side". They were quite willing to work all right, but not for their constituents. They wanted to do it for themselves. This is a wages question.
The reasons advanced by the Leader of the House are almost laughable in the extreme. For instance, we were told that we were gathered here tonight because the Scottish Committee was overworked. Then the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to give us another couple of mornings to aggravate the position. If that were the reason, why should we get another couple of days? Is it not true to say that it was quite simple for Scottish Members to be on two Committees upstairs at the same time? [An HON. MEMBER: "We were under a Labour Government."] And under a Tory Government too, very recently.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)
The hon. Member will remember very well that during the period of the Socialist Government, with overriding powers, from 1945 to 1950, hon. Members were often placed in the position of having to serve not merely on the Scottish Committee, but on one or two of the other Standing Committees of the House. If the hon. Member's memory serves him sufficiently well, he will remember that.
§ Mr. Pryde
Too well I remember. I remember, also, the times when that Labour Government took on a job with which nothing else in history was comparable. There was nothing in the kitty. It had been all blasted away, and the 529 Labour Government rehabilitated the country as it had never been taken care of before. Yes, we remember.
I want to devote myself to the reasons advanced by the Leader of the House. We were told that we were overworked. The right hon. Gentleman is bound to remember how, in quite recent times, for six months in the year the Scottish Committee never met at all.
§ Mr. Pryde
They are not entitled to stand for election at all if they do not intend to come here and carry out their duties to their constituents.
The proposals which have been made will not do anything to improve Scottish representation. The Leader of the House said that we were overworked. If we are overworked, that is a wages question. I hope that we shall get the right hon. Gentleman's support when we put forward a claim in that direction.
I suggest that we have not yet had a logical reason for interfering with the Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend talks of the Scottish Members being overworked. I have before me a Return relating to the Scottish Standing Committee's work for the Session 1956 to 1957, and I find that the Committee then considered only one Bill and held 20 sittings. What is all this about the Scotsmen working hard?
§ Mr. Pryde
Without wasting any more time, let us ask the Government to do what they should have done a long time ago—place the question before the electorate in Scotland and allow the electorate to decide what is to be done. To reduce the number of Scottish Members to 45 will mean simply that some of the Members elected in Scotland will not be able to carry out their duties on behalf of their constituents.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), naturally, supported the Report in full, and it was, of course, right and proper he should have done so. I am sure he will not mind if I make bold to differ from him on one or two matters. I was not a member of the Select Committee, though I had the honour of giving evidence before it. I also claim, like my right hon. Friend, to have been a member of the Scottish Standing or Grand Committee for a considerable time, having been a member of it for an unbroken period of thirty-four years. I am not going into the question of my attendance, which may have varied a little from time to time. If an hon. Member wants to go into that with the record, I would say that I have the record here, too.
I shall not dwell upon the Select Committee's proposals, with which there seems to be general agreement, because it is getting too late and there is no point in elaborating upon those agreed proposals. I am in full agreement with the suggestions relating to going into Committee of Supply and to the numbers for a quorum and a count. There are, however, three matters with which I should like to deal, two of them with great brevity, I hope.
The first is the question of sending affirmative Resolutions to the Scottish Grand Committee. I would say at once that I am in full agreement that it should be the full Committee to consider Bills at Second Reading stage and also Estimates: it should be the Grand Committee which should consider those. The Standing Committee to consider Bills in Committee would be a smaller Committee.
I return to the affirmative Resolutions. The Leader of the House said that it would make almost no difference to adopt this proposal. I should prefer to say that it would make little difference, if any, but it would mean the same thing. I do not, for that reason, see any real necessity to adopt this. I confess to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), and to the House, that I am doubtful about the constitutional wisdom of giving the right finally to decide matters of this nature to a Committee of the House sitting upstairs. It is quite a different matter with the Committee stage of a Bill which comes back to the House for Report and 531 Third Reading. As to the six sittings—and I will call them sittings to avoid arguments about days and nights—dealing with Scottish Estimates upstairs, we do not vote on those Estimates. They are reported back to the House and a decision is taken by the House.
I confess that I am doubtful about the wisdom of this proposal. If it is the case that it will make almost no difference, again to quote the Leader of the House, I am still more doubtful about the wisdom of adopting it. My mind is carried back to the old Bairnsfather cartoon of the First World War and the caption, "If you knows a better 'ole go to it." If it is a case of, "You don't knows a better 'ole" there is no point in moving from where we are.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misapprehension. He will find from the Select Committee's Report that an affirmative Resloution would be treated in exactly the same way as a Second Reading. In other words, no decision would be taken by the Committee, but, for convenience, the Resolution would be remitted for consideration upstairs. If there were to be a vote the Resolution would be sent to the House. If there were an affirmative Resolution on which it was known there would have to be a vote, neither the Government nor the Opposition would allow it to go upstairs.
§ Mr. Stuart
That is perfectly true. I have read the evidence more than once, but I must say in my defence that I had not considered the point when it was put to me in the Select Committee. I had no idea that it would be put to me. I have thought about it since, and I am now giving the House the benefit of my long and mature consideration.
As to additional days for the Scottish Grand Committee to discuss Motions, as suggested—or Estimates—having left the Scottish Office only at the beginning of this year, I think that the Secretary of 532 State for Scotland is rather hard put to it as it is with these debates. There are other sittings on the Committee stages of Bills. It is now sugested that two more days should be added to the six which themselves are an innovation dating back only to 1948. We have two days on the Floor of this Chamber to deal with Estimates and, in addition, there come before us in this Chamber Estimates covering the whole of the United Kingdom, which Scottish Members are fully entitled to debate if they are called by the Chair. I believe that those Estimates number 25 altogether.
I feel, therefore, that there is a great deal going on. The travelling, the Committee work and the Cabinet meetings and other meetings which the Secretary of State has to attend make a very heavy burden. I am not ruling out all this as impossible, of course, but I suggest to the House that there are already a good many opportunities, when we take into consideration the six additional sittings upstairs which were instituted by right hon. Members opposite in 1948.
On the question of the size of the Standing Committee for dealing with Bills, I have long thought that it would be for the better working of the Committee if it did not consist of all Scottish Members. One reason is that Scottish Members can hold other offices outside the Scottish Office and it is very difficult to get a majority in the Standing Committee in the event of a repetition of the narrow majorities which both sides of the House have experienced in recent years.
In the First World War, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who. I am surprised to notice, is not listening to this debate, was holding office as First Lord of the Admiralty. I cannot believe that he took much part in the work of the Scottish Standing Committee of that time. Probably the same would apply to Sir Robert Horne, who represented a Glasgow constituency and was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister of Labour, and to Mr. Asquith and Mr. Bonar Law. I myself was Chief Whip at one time and I do not think that the present Chief Whip would find it very convenient were he also a permanent member of a Standing Committee.
My strongest argument, which I stated before the Select Committee, and have 533 always believed, is that the Scottish Members should be free not only for such other work as was referred to by Lord Attlee and my right hon. Friend, but also to serve on other Committees dealing with Bills of United Kingdom application. There are many such Bills and I do not want to delay the House with examples. To have to run down the passage to vote in one room when one is trying to speak in another is not common sense or good management of business. I believe that the smaller Committee which I would model on the existing Committees would be the most efficient. We know that they would work because the existing Committees have been working for years, and, therefore, that seems to me as good a model as any.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I will be brief because, clearly, with such a short experience as a Member of this House I can have little to say. I cannot follow the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) in his criticism of the position of Ministers who are members of the Standing Committee by virtue of representing Scottish constituencies, and the conflict between carrying out their Parliamentary duties or honouring the Committee with their presence. I will leave that for other hon. Members who may be able to work out a comment.
To me, there seems to be a considerable amount of pairing in the Scottish Grand Committee. Looking at the attendance figures in the recent White Paper, I think I can boldly, and, I hope, rightly, say that we have about a 50 per cent. attendance at the sittings of the Committee. That means that half the Members have been absenting themselves, no doubt for legitimate reasons, which reduces the Committee of about 90 members to a working number of about 45 which, I understand, is the proposal in the Report of the Select Committee. The charge I have heard is that the Committee is talkative and garrulous, because there are far too many members. I do not think that that follows. It may well be a reflection on certain hon. Members rather than on the numbers.
The proposal here is weak on two counts. First, it says that full account will be taken of the individual wishes and special qualifications of Members, which seems to imply, as the hon. Member for 534 Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) mentioned, that we can all apply and be considered for membership. I suggest that there are some of us who, for obvious reasons, will be disappointed by not being selected. Otherwise, the proposal is meaningless. If there are hon. Members who will be disappointed, surely that is unfortunate, because the present position is that Members who want to participate have the initial right in other words, to contract out by pairing. Under this proposal, they would have to find ways and means of contracting in. The power of contracting in will be delineated by whatever Standing Order is moved by the Government in respect of the views of the house as expressed in this debate.
I take it from what I have heard that the Standing Order will be difficult to frame to meet the very imprecise, perhaps pious hopes of the Committee as contained in that sentence. It is on that sentence that the issue depends. Are we simply looking at our present composition, criticising it rather severely, and imagining that this reform, if it is a reform, will be much better? I suggest that if there are to be 45 of us on the Committee, the 45 will be expected to work. If all that the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) has said is true, that we want to have time to do four things apart from being in the Scottish Committee—to meditate, amounting almost to Parliament by yoga, to attend other Committees, to attend to business in the House, and to attend to to business outside the House—I take it that the 45 will do a job of work, and if that is so, we are likely to have a lot more talking in the Scottish Standing Committee.
Suppose my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) were excluded from the Committee, but were anxious to be a member of it. If I were a member of it he might urge me to attend regularly and put certain matters to it. In other words, under the stimulus of having a reduced Committee its members would have to carry the briefs of other hon. Members.
Some may say that that applies to United Kingdom Committees, but the position is not quite the same. We are having something taken from us which, in the case of the other Committees, has 535 already gone, so the same criticism cannot be raised there. In other words, Scottish Members now have a right to raise in the Scottish Grand Committee anything that they consider pertinent to their constituencies. Take roads, for example. What hon. Member could opt out of the discussion in Committee of a Bill dealing with roads and say, "It does not concern my constituency. I will leave it to another Member"? That applies to many other subjects.
The Leader of the House said that since April the Secretary of State for Scotland has had to carry a heavier burden of work and a greater responsibility for other Departments. That was an argument not to justify a smaller Committee, but for all hon. Members being able to attend the Committee. It seems to me that the suggestion is defective because it merely adds an irritant to the existing situation. What is the point of the proposal? Is it to release yet more hon. Members from attendance? Does it mean that there will be fewer than half the Scottish Members attending a Scottish Committee stage? That would seem to be the proposal, working it out numerically on the basis of past attendances at the Scottish Grand Committee with the full 90-member strength.
My other comment is about Questions. I sympathise very much with the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Since the change in the amount of work of the Secretary of State, in April, there has also been a reduction in the number of Scottish Questions asked in the House. It may be argued that Scottish Members previously did not ask enough Questions to justify their having two days, but now we have only one day out of seven, in effect. Yet we have more matters to raise in Questions. The point put by my hon. Friend, which was submitted in the Memorandum but was not dealt with in the Report—of having Questions in Committee—seems to be sound and reasonable. There are certain Questions which I agree should not be taken in Committee, because on the Floor of the House they have a publicity value bringing the attention of the nation, possibly, to a mistake or misdemeanour. That is important.
Scottish hon. Members could, however, have the option of deciding whether they 536 were willing to press some Questions in Standing Committee rather than on the Floor of the House, and I do not see why it is necessary to regard Questions in Committee as mutually exclusive of Questions on the Floor of the House. Possibly my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire will be able to press this matter further. I raised it because I thought that it might be neglected in the debate if he were not called.
I cannot see the advantage of reducing the size of the Committee. If we do so it will be an irritant in the future. I think that Scottish hon. Members on both sides of the House will complain that they have been unfairly excluded from the Committee when it is dealing with these matters, and their constituents will wonder about it, as many wondered about the discussions of the Rent Bill. It was a United Kingdom Measure, but about 62 Scots were excluded. The Glasgow Members, in particular, who did not serve on that Committee, wish very much that they had been on that Committee so that they could have put forward points which they are now putting to the Ministers—active points of legislation which do not go beyond the basic premise of the Bill. It is a great pity that that Bill was not taken in full Scottish Grand Committee so that every Scottish voice could have been raised at the appropriate time against or for the Bill.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
At this time of the night I do not intend to speak for long, but I want to support the Government in the recommendation which they have made.
The Committee made three recommendations affecting Scotland. The first is that affirmative orders should be debatable in the Scottish Grand Committee. This is dealt with in page 6 of the Report. I very much doubt whether that is a good idea. First, there must be extraordinarily few of these Orders which apply only to Scotland; probably there have been one or two, but I do not recall them. I am opposed to change for the sake of change, and we should not make a change unless there is some point in it.
Moreover, I do not like the idea of the Government having the right to put down a Motion to refer such an Order to the Scottish Grand Committee. Either 537 the Order should be sent to the Committee or it should not. Presumably that Motion would itself be debatable, and the procedure would, therefore, waste time. In view of the remote chance of there being frequent discussions, it seems to me better to leave well alone.
The second recommendation concerns the extra two days' debate. I am not sure what the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) had in mind about this. He talked about debating Motions on all eight days—that is, the six days on Estimates and the two extra days. I think there is something to be said for the proposition which the Labour Party Group put forward to the Committee, that we should have Motions in the early part of the Session to discuss matters of Scottish interest which come within the administrative sphere of the Secretary of Slate for Scotland. We must remember that at that time of the year the Estimates have not usually been published, and that we cannot, therefore, discuss the Estimates.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
May I explain what my right hon. Friend had in mind? He had in mind the possibility of the Scottish Grand Committee taking the Estimates formally and going on to debate a Motion, as we do in the House. We got into difficulty last year when hon. Members on both sides wanted a debate on tourism but the Committee Clerks were in some difficulty about our being in order.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I see the point, but the difficulty about the two days in the early part of the year is that there will then be no Estimates, because they will not have been published. There will, therefore, have to be some other method of putting Motions down. The right hon. Gentleman was not very clear, nor is the Report of the Committee itself, as to what sort of Motion would be put down. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would like to clear up that point now?
§ Mr. Woodburn
The suggestion was to have two extra days for Estimates. The other point was that already there is great trouble at the end of the Session, when legislation is coming to the top, in getting the six days fitted in. Therefore, to avoid those two difficulties, the idea was adopted that was adopted on the recom- 538 mendation of the Whips this year, that, instead of Scottish business being discussed purely with reference to Estimates and Votes, a Motion might be taken which would enable them to be discussed at a different time of the year. All I was suggesting was that since that had been adopted for the Estimates this year, we might, instead of having two Standing Orders, make it eight days, debatable in a similar way.
§ Sir J. Duncan
What has been happening up to now is that we have supposedly debated the Estimates on the six days, but what, in fact, we have discussed have been the Reports of the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture and the rest for the previous year. Which is right?
One of the criticisms that I have of the House of Commons set-up is that we Members are completely without control of finance. If we are to try to regain that control of finance we should discuss the Estimates much more than the Reports of the previous year. We should criticise them, and examine them here and there, in Scottish Grand Committee, to see that the Government—whichever Government are in power—run Scotland efficiently.
I would rather not have one Standing Order only for Motions. I would like to leave it open, and have an alternative method of dealing with this. As I say, we cannot, on the two early days, deal with the Estimates. I would like to leave it open on the other days, because I think that we should try to get hold of Scottish finance better than we have done in the past. That deals with the two extra days.
As to the Scottish Standing Committee, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson), who called it an admirable arrangement. I would like to support that from my own personal experience. Last year, I was sitting in Committee on a Bill which was of great interest to agriculture in Scotland, and particularly to agricultural workers—the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Bill. It was a United Kingdom Measure.
At the same time, the Scottish Grand Committee continued to meet, sometimes even in the afternoons, and it really was impossible for me to try to devote my time to running along the passage between Rooms 14 and 10. One could not concentrate on either job, and made a mess of both. It has been suggested that 539 a Member should pair, but I do not like pairing on those occasions. I do not think that it is a Parliamentary practice to be generally encouraged. If we are on a Committee we should not try to avoid any of our responsibilities, but should do our duty. The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mahon) has said that if we are on a Committee we should do the work of that Committee, and I agree.
On the other hand, I think that the corollary of that is that we should legitimately be allowed to get off. At the moment, one can be required to attend the Scottish Grand Committee on 53 or 56 days. It really is an intolerable burden on the person who wishes to take an interest in United Kingdom legislation. That affects Scotland and Scottish people. From my personal experience, I welcome this idea of splitting and reducing the size of the Scottish Grand Committee, leaving some of us able to act in other directions; but I speak from personal experience.
There are other opinions, and there are other right hon. and hon. Members; and I would mention the position of Scottish Ministers who speak on United Kingdom matters, and United Kingdom Ministers who have to deal with Scottish interests. It is not possible, in my view, for a Minister at, say, the War Office, to spend morning after morning dealing with purely Scottish matters.
Then there is the case of the Minister at the Scottish Office who has to spend his time sitting with a Committee handling a Scottish Bill when he knows he should be dealing with matters at the Scottish Office. There is a Scottish Minister sitting with me on the Slaughterhouses Bill, but we both are also supposed to be in Westminster Hall dealing with the Land Drainage (Scotland) Bill. We are automatically supposed to be there under our present arrangements. Here, surely, is a case where a Minister ought to be allowed off to attend to a Scottish Bill.
I have put these views to the House as being just some instances where I would welcome the change proposed by the Government and because I support the idea of reducing the Grand Committee to something in the region of 30 or 50 members.
§ Mr. Lawson
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that he was very successful 540 in getting off the Scottish Grand Committee on 18 occasions out of 34?
§ Sir J. Duncan
If the hon. Member wishes to know, the explanation is that it was because of illness.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am sorry that I should be rising at so late an hour, but I cannot go much further than that by way of apology because, as a Scottish Member and as one who thinks that this matter is of vital importance even though the hour be so late, I say that this subject merits the fullest discussion and voicing of opinion.
I think that it is absolutely necessary for us to get back to the beginning of this matter. We are dealing with the Report of a Committee on Procedure which was set up to inquire into a variety of matters; matters relating to how we shall discuss the Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force, and even something in relation to Money Resolutions; something in relation to the Standing Orders regarding public expenditure of public money, and even the question of Closures in Committee. Then, towards the end of the terms of reference of this Committee, there was something which, I submit, is much more important and very different from all these other things.
I want to remind the House that when this matter was included in these terms of reference the Leader of the House was told by some of us on this side that it was not considered to be right that a matter of this importance should be lumped along with other things and sent to this particular Committee. That was not deprecation of the quality of that Committee, but rather a reduction in importance of a matter which we in Scotland hold constitutionally as of considerable importance.
I have personal experience of the Committee in that I appeared before it to give evidence and to support an objection put forward by Scottish Labour Members of the House. We spent two days before the Committee. We were subjected to very thorough though friendly investigations, and if the Committee had been given this job alone to do I would never have raised the matter originally in the form of an objection.
That takes us to the genesis of the matter. How did it come about, after over fifty years' experience of the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish 541 Standing Committee, that this matter was suddenly raised? Of course, we really have no right at present to call it the Scottish Grand Committee. It is the Scottish Standing Committee, It is the one remaining relic, quantitatively, of the old Grand Committees established before the beginning of the present century. It more or less, I think, continues a title which we in Scotland rather cherish.
There have been reviews of the standing of the House in relation to Committees. There were reviews in 1906, 1919 and in other years before the war. There was a review in 1945, in which you yourself, Mr. Speaker, took a considerable part, and I hope before I finish to quote some of your remarks on that occasion. There was another review in 1948. On not a single occasion—and remember that all these circumstances about which we have spoken tonight existed then—did we hear about the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) having to sacrifice himself in the Scottish Grand Committee when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in the First World War. The right hon. Gentleman never sought to do anything to destroy the nature of the Committee as a result of his experience.
We heard something about Sir Robert Home and others. But none of these people was prevented from carrying out his duties responsibly as a result of his automatic enrolment on the Scottish Grand Committee. Certainly, none of them suggested at any time publicly in the House that the Scottish Grand Committee should be reduced to the same status and size as any other Committee of the House. In fact, the result of our last review in 1948 was to give the Committee more work. The leading spokesman of the Government at that time, now Lord Reid, said it was right that more work should be given to the Scottish Grand Committee. As more responsibility was taken by Scottish Departments, there should be more opportunity for discussion.
I do not remember the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot) reminding us at that time that they required these six mornings for meditation and study and for the reading of books. Indeed, they read them. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) will bear me out when I say that on one occasion we had 542 to express some surprise that certain hon. Members opposite were carrying out their meditation and their reading of books while the Committee was sitting.
The fact is that on not one of these occasions was there any effort made to complain about hardships and miseries of the Scottish Grand Committee. Indeed, an entirely false picture has been painted of the Scottish Grand Commitee, whether it be in Westminster Hall, or Room 14, or Room 10, as if we have some strange gathering of the clans, performing barbarous rites in an unknown language, with the Members imprisoned and refused any opportunity of getting a breath of London's smog. The facts do not bear out this picture.
We have been told about 1955 and 1956 We sat on about 50 mornings. How many times do we as a Scottish Committee carry through the job of reviewing the whole valuation and rating system in Scotland? It had been over 100 years since a Bill of that character had been introduced in this House. Every Member opposite, and most of all the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), who piloted the Rating and Valuation (Scotland) Bill through with his customary skill and wisdom, will recognise that it will probably be another 100 years before we get another Bill of that magnitude—and that was a Bill in which every Scottish Member wished to participate.
It was exactly a year ago that this matter was sprung upon us. It was never raised in the House by anyone. It was on 9th November, 1956, that the terms of reference were made public. What about the Scottish Grand Committee? The Session started, as usual, in October. The Scottish Grand Committee did not meet. It did not meet in November, or December, or January or February. It did not meet until late in the month of March. Where is the overburdening, the lack of time for meditation there? [Interruption]. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) is repeating the "speech" that he made in one of our last debates in the Scottish Grand Committee.
It is only fair to point out that not only did we not meet on every available date. We met very seldom last year. But what happens when we do meet? There are 71 Scottish representatives and there is power to add from 10 to 15, I believe, making a total of about 85. Can anyone 543 in the House remember when there were 85 Members there? Everyone knows quite well that what happens is that for their own convenience and to suit their other work, related to the importance of the day's work in the Scottish Grand Committee, Members make their own arrangements. Although there may be an average attendance of 45 to 50, it does not mean that it is the same 45 to 50 on the Committee every day. They may well change according to the interests of hon. Members in relation to the Bill.
Taking it all in all, hon. Members for Scottish constituencies have exercised their right to be there at the time that it has been important to them and to their constituents. It is that right which has not been interfered with throughout this whole century and it is that right that we must cherish.
We have had one speech today which seemed to agree with the Government, and I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. When someone interrupted him he said that the Scottish business works. We have two things to consider: the changes suggested by the Select Committee and the wishes or feelings of the Government in relation to those changes. Is it suggested that this thing that works, that preserves a right which has been maintained by generations of Parliamentarians, should be changed in order to get greater efficiency, or what?
As far as I can see, there have always been two suggestions, and two only, in relation to the working of the Committee. The first is that a smaller Committee would be easier to handle. That suggestion was made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his evidence before the Committee and it was made also by the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn before the Committee. The second suggestion is that Members will be allowed to play their full part in other United Kingdom Measures.
There has been no complaint at any time that the Scottish Committee has stopped Members playing their full part, until very recently. In fact, evidence to that effect was given by the then Secretary of State, who was responsible for the establishment of the Committee. At Question 626, the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn): 544Mr. Stuart has been a member of the Scottish Grand Committee for far longer than I have. Has he any recollection, up to the last year or two, of anybody objecting to every member of a Scottish constituency being automatically a member of the Scottish Grand Committee?".The answer was:No, I do not know of that.We are entitled—
§ Sir J. Duncan
Will the hon. Member turn to page 22 of the Second Report, in which the Chairman reports that I myself made representations to the Chairman about the inconvenience that I was suffering at the time?
§ Mr. Ross
I am talking about a man who tonight proclaimed that he had more experience of the working of the Scottish Grand Committee than anyone else and that he had been there for thirty-four years. If the hon. Member is suggesting that 20 to 28 people should be denied the right, which at present they have, of serving in the Scottish Committee in order to allow him, and him only, a certain measure of freedom, whether to attend to Committees in the House or outside, then he is asking a little bit much. He is asking us to change something which has gone on for over fifty years and to deny to future Scottish Members of Parliament something which we had when we started as Members of Parliament, all because of something that he has not been able properly to do and because he cannot divide his time between two Committees.
The right hon. Gentleman was unfortunate in his selection of examples tonight, when he told us a harrowing tale about the Under-Secretary who had to attend to the Slaughterhouses Bill at the time when another Government Measure was in progress. It was the Government who put both of these Measures to the Committees. The Scottish Department is responsible in full for one Measure and in part for another. The failure, therefore, is not something intrinsic in the nature of the Scottish Committee, but in the mishandling of business by the Government.
In any case, even if the suggestions of the Leader of the House are accepted by the House, that state of affairs will still persist. The Scottish Committee will be dealing with the principle of a Bill on Second Reading, and that position will continue. The right hon. Gentleman was, therefore, unfortunate in his gathering of examples.
§ Mr. Ross
I want to deal with the reason put forward as the main one for the proposal. It is that we shall be able to play our full part on United Kingdom Bills. That presupposes, first, that the Scottish Grand Committee is always sitting. It is only if the Scottish Grand Committee is always sitting that hon. Members will be debarred from taking part in consideration of United Kingdom Bills. I have already shown that there are times in the year when it is not sitting at all.
Secondly, it presupposes that when it is sitting there is always an important United Kingdom Bill. That is not true. At present, there are, or have been, two United Kingdom Bills. Scottish Members have played their full part in consideration of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill without loss of their rights in the Scottish Grand Committee. There is the Slaughterhouses Bill. I find it difficult to believe that the hon. Gentleman could not leave the Committee on that Bill, which is non-controversial.
§ Mr. Ross
It was not voted on in the House, and it is not controversial in the party sense, though it may be in other ways. However, the hon. and gallant Gentleman could have left the Committee to have given us in the Scottish Grand Committee the benefit of his views.
When Bills are debated on Second Reading in the House, Members do not sit all day in the House. It is not demanded that they sit all day in a Committee. They make their speeches to have them printed and then depart. It is unfair to suggest the same does not happen in Standing Committee.
As to the question of Members being overburdened, let us remember that there are many who are on Committees which sit in the afternoons. The Government are not concerned to bring proposals to deal with that problem. There are the Select Committees on Public Accounts, on Estimates, on Standing Orders, on Selection, and on Obscene Publications. Members on those Committees, which sit in the afternoons, are deprived of opportunities of participating fully in the work on the Floor of the House. There is a lot of humbug about this trumped up reason for this proposal.
546 If a Bill is of major and comprehensive importance it is not dealt with in Standing Committee, but on the Floor of this Chamber, so that Scottish Members have their full chance of participating in consideration of such a Bill. If a Bill is not important it makes little demand on Members in the Scottish Standing Committee, even if it is meeting, and, as I have pointed out, it is not always meeting. Certainly, the demands on Members' time are not so great as to merit the exclusion of 27 Members who are desperately anxious to speak on Bills in Committee. The Scots have been able to play their full part in Committees without inconvenience and have done all this work for many years.
Let us get to the bottom of the reason for the proposal. It is not to allow Members to play their full part in the House. It is to enable Members to give full attention to matters outside the House.
I heard the point raised by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove about spending mornings outside the House. If every hon. Member did that the work of the House of Commons would collapse. We have to recognise that we should not deprive hon. Members of existing rights which they cherish in order to allow full freedom to others to earn a living outside the House. Many hon. Members do not want to come here at all in the mornings. I can only give the answer given by the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn, that if that is how they feel they should not be in the House at all.
As to the suggestion that a smaller number would make the Scottish Committees easier to handle, the fact is that attendance at the Scottish Standing Committee never reaches a high proportion of the present maximum and the Committee is least manageable when there are few Members present. I can remember an occasion in the last Parliament when I and five of my colleagues had the glorious privilege of engaging in debate hon. Members opposite who were members of the Scottish Grand Committee from about midnight until noon the next day. The fact that there were only six of us made no difference. We were not more manageable. We were determined to have a full discussion on Scottish matters and we were very successful. We won many concessions from the Government that night. I also remember an 547 occasion when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) spoke for a whole sitting and part of the next. There is no refuge in smallness of Committees in order to get efficiency and speed.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that when the Labour Government brought in Standing Orders to reduce membership of Standing Committees from 85 to 50, you had something to say. You moved an Amendment suggesting that that should not be done. You were seconded by an hon. Member who was a member of this Select Committee and who would have cut down the number, because he voted against the main proposal which was finally recommended. He was the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). You had only one supporter in the debate on that occasion, namely, the hon. Baronet the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart), who, until recently, was Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
You said that this would mean that Bills of greater range and scope would go to Committee upstairs, and it was necessary that the size and universality of the Committee should be capable of bearing the burden to be put upon it. You added that those who advocated the proposal were…asking the great bulk of M.P.s to abrogate their functions of discussing Bills in Committee and I am sure that the end of that procedure will be worse for Parliament than its beginning."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 2406.]That is equally true of the Scottish Grand Committee, if the Government are asking us to abrogate our right of discussion in the House. But Parliament seldom gives up its rights.
I express my gratitude to the Select Committee for what it did in relation to some other matters, although I do not entirely agree with some of its findings in relation to negatived Motions. It could have accepted not only two additional days to debate Motions but have given additional days to debate Estimates, because I agree with the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) that we should debate them as Estimates in relation to financial Measures. I believe that a definite number of days should not be laid down, but that the expression should be "no fewer than six days."
The reason why we debate this more or less in Reports is that we are 548 denied other opportunities. There is no constitutional or administrative reason which could not be got round to enable us to debate additional Motions when the Scottish Grand Committee is not engaged in discussing legislation or Estimates. I think that the Select Committee made an honest effort to find a compromise to link up the historic rights of the Scottish Members with the feeling of the need to spread the load. I came to this debate in a spirit of conciliation, prepared to accept that, and I regret that the Government have turned it down.
The right hon. Member for Kelvin-grove said that the Press sometimes plays a part in giving information about what happens in this House. I was interested to read in the Evening Dispatch recently:Scottish Tory M.P.s have been strongly opposed to this idea"—that is, the idea which the Committee has sponsored, of giving Scottish Members the right, if they feel it important, to get on to the Committee—on the ground that it would give the Opposition the chance to 'opt' on to the Committee in large numbers and thus frustrate the Government's plan. Government back benchers have told the Scottish Secretary"—this is how business is done, evidently—Mr. John Maclay, and Mr. Butler, at private meetings, that they would not support the adoption of this proposal.They insist on selling the pass and giving up rights of considerable value to Scottish Members of Parliament, and to gain little from it in the way of freedom for meditation. In one breath we are told that is the reason for it and in the next they have to go on more United Kingdom Committees so as to get speed and efficiency. Such things are not obtained by small numbers, and if that is what is wanted the right number for the Committee would be one.
Parliament seldom gives up the rights of private Members on arguments based either on temporary advantage or to suit the convenience of the Executive. Temporary excess of business should not be used, and seldom has been allowed, to lead to the permanent restriction of full discussion. Any rights of discussion given up are seldom won back. We have a tradition of resisting new measures of restraint upon the freedom of hon. Members until that has been proved necessary, not when we read about it in the Press.
The fact is that the Scottish Committee has worked, that no private Member has 549 felt is necessary, during past discussions, when pressure of business was greater than today, to complain publicly and to urge remedies. That shows the need for change is neither apparent nor proved. The fact that the Select Committee sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to bring a compromise to the Government proves that we would do well to leave matters alone.
When we discussed Standing Orders, in 1948, the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove, said, with reference to the loss of two Supply Days and those hon. Members who supported the reduction of rights at that time:I think that they are abdicating their position, and abdicating rights which are not theirs to give away. It is not within the discretion of the Private Members of today to give away rights which have been won for them by Private Members in generations past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1669.]Those words are very true. We are not only, as it may well be, making things convenient for ourselves in cutting down the Scottish Grand Committee, but are denying a right which has belonged, to Scottish Members since the inception of the Grand Committee idea in the last century, and denying it not only to ourselves but to future Scottish Members.
I regret that the Government have seen fit to be so churlish and off-hand about the suggestion by the Select Committee. They have not moved an inch from the original proposal put forward by the Leader of the House at the start. There is still time for the Government to think again, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will impress upon the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State, in the same way as those who think otherwise, that it would be far better to accept the compromise put forward by the Select Committee.
§ 11.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Much of the Select Committee's Report deals with other than Scottish matters, and a word should be said from that aspect.
I will not venture far into Scottish affairs, but I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) refer to tears for non-Scottish Members who were forced to serve on the Scottish Grand Committee. 550 In my only sad experience—the right hon. Gentleman says it is the penalty for being a new Member of the House—of the all-night sitting I got no tears of sympathy from Scottish Members, but had bricks—some were very dirty ones—thrown at me.
I strongly oppose any suggestion to reduce the quorum for Standing Committees to 12, or even 10, as has been suggested. It would be a retrograde step. It is said that it would facilitate Private Members' Bills. I feel that it would be a sad thing if the House agreed to as small a number as 10 to serve on the Standing Committee for any Bill, and particularly a Private Member's Bill, which needs more careful consideration than other Bills.
Private Members' Bills—I remember one going through on the nod on a Friday when few hon. Members were present—need most careful consideration in Standing Committee. Yet it is suggested—fortunately, by only one hon. Member—that the quorum for Standing Committees dealing with Private Members' Bills should go down to 10. All the hon. Members to whom I have spoken would prefer not to alter the present quorum, believing it is low enough for Private Members' Bills. Many of my hon. Friends have expressed that opinion.
I do not think that Private Members' Bills should receive any more consideration than they receive now. Considerable effort is made to help private Members to get Bills through if the Bills are of any use to the nation. Contrary to everything said by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), I hope that the present quorum will not be changed. It is quite low enough if we are to put any Bill through Standing Committee in a decent state to be returned to the House for Third Reading.
§ 11.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I do not intend to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) because, frankly, I think that the recommendation about the quorum and the Closure is satisfactory and it does not trouble me nearly as much as other aspects of the Report.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Perhaps my hon. Friend does not realise that a possible reason for the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) 551 wanting a higher figure arises from the fact that he and some of his hon. Friends killed a Bill which was supported by local authorities.
§ Mr. Rankin
I said that I should not follow his argument because, to me, it is not of comparable significance with the other aspect of the Report, which concerns Scottish Members.
I think it has been made perfectly clear today that the Government have taken the decision to reduce the number of members who serve on the Scottish Standing Committee. We know that for a long time there were grumbles from Scottish and English hon. Members opposite who served on that Committee. Often their sole purpose in going to Room 14 was to find whether they could get a pair for the day, if not for the week or the month, or for an indefinite period. That seemed to be their chief object in life. It is clear that pressure has been brought to bear by the Conservative Party on the Government to do something about it, and the Government have decided to do something drastic.
To achieve their aim they utilised the Select Committee. I am not for one minute suggesting that the members of the Select Committee, who, in my opinion, have done quite a good job, were in any way conscious instruments of Government design. I hope that the House recollects that on 31st July, 1956, when we debated the proposal to refer this matter to the Select Committee, a number of us opposed it very strongly. We claimed that this was a matter of peculiar Scottish interest and that, therefore, it should be sent to a special committee created for the purpose, composed, as I said then, of Scottish Members who knew the Scottish atmosphere and background, instead of being handed over to a Committee which, judging from the questions of some of its members, revealed a somewhat alarming lack of knowledge of the functions of the Scottish Grand Committee. They made their recommendations, however, and I think that they were quite reasonable.
I agree with those about the affirmative Orders and the Motions. I thought that these things were good. They were widening the scope of the Scottish Grand Committee—but they were destroying the arguments of the Tory Members. Those 552 Members were saying that the Committee had too much work to do already; that too much time was being demanded of them. Then the Select Committee comes along and puts more work on them. It said, "You are now to have affirmative Orders, and you are now to have Motions." That meant more work, and it evidently created a minor revolution in the ranks of the Tory Party.
The result was that the Leader of the House came here today to tell us that he accepted only one of the Select Committee's recommendations—the recommendation to reduce the numbers. But he is to reduce the numbers still further. That is the only thing that the Government are doing—
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Member says, "Jolly good." There we have the English attitude revealed by the hon. Member, who, in my experience of the House over twelve years, has never once seen the inside of the Scottish Grand Committee—
§ Sir P. Macdonald
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I must contradict the hon. Member. I have been a member of the Scottish Grand Committee on two occasions.
§ Mr. Rankin
In any event, the hon. Member has just come into the Chamber. He hardly has his nose in before he starts shooting out his neck. I know that that is jumbled, but the two go together, do they not?
The point that I was seeking to make was established by the Leader of the House. He has told us, in effect, that there is only one recommendation that the Government are prepared to accept—that which embodies the primary purpose of reducing the size of the Scottish Standing Committee—they are to leave the Grand Committee alone. I shall not go into that at the moment, but the astonishing thing is that the Government have not a clear mind on the very important suggestion made by the Select Committee that two days should be allowed for Motions.
553 That is a most important suggestion from this point of view. We know, and none better than the Secretary of State, that the Secretary of State's duties are continually increasing. They have increased under the present Government and, of course, we welcome it in Scotland. Now he has responsibilities for roads and electricity. It seems fairly logical to say that if he is responsible for more work in Scotland, the Opposition should have the right to put down Motions about his responsibilities, to discuss them with him, to question him about them, and to hear what he has to tell us and the country.
At the moment, that is not being done. The Government are saying that they will come to a decision on that as a result of today's debate. I trust that after they have heard what I hope is the unanimous attitude here—that the Secretary of State should be able to give an account of his new stewardships—the Government will recognise the demand coming, I hope, from both sides, that that part of the Select Committee's Report ought to be accepted by the Government.
Nevertheless, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, although they do that, they will not solve the problem that faces them. The problem, basically, is the accumulation of work in the Scottish Grand Committee; and it will not lessen. We have got to solve this problem, but it will not be done by juggling with numbers. That will achieve nothing because, even although the Government may reduce the number in the Scottish Standing Committee to 45 or 30, there will still be, within that 45 or 30, an element of "conscripted" Members; the innocents who come unsuspecting of the dreadful fate which awaits them in the period of initiation. That percentage will still be there, and although some Members may say, "I'm all right"—and I will not use the rest of the phrase, although hon. Members know what I mean—there are others.
The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) voiced a personal lament about his responsibility. If he gets off under this new arrangement he will not care at all. We shall not escape the problem. Somebody is to pay for those who are released to go about their other duties, and this talk of being prevented from attending the Committee is sheer humbug. Those who have served two 554 Committees at the same time have carried out their work with reasonable faithfulness. The talk about the disability of Scottish Members who serve the Grand Committee is, in my view, a completely distorted account of what happens in fact.
This problem will not be solved, as I have said, by juggling with numbers. It demands far more wholehearted treatment than that. We shall only solve it when we have a Scottish Parliament which will deal with Scottish affairs. [Interruption.] I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) has woken up. I was saying that that is the only real solution, because then we shall relieve those hon. Members, on both sides of the House, from duties which may conflict with other and wider demands on their time.
Of course, we have to remember that while the work of the Scottish Grand Committee is piling up, the work of the House in, say, foreign and colonial affairs, and other matters of international significance, is making greater demands on the time of not only English, but also Scottish, right hon. and hon. Members. So, if we are to approach this problem with a determination to secure a lasting solution to it, we shall do it only by a Scottish Parliament dealing with Scottish affairs. After all, there is nothing so revolutionary about that as some hon. Members appear to think, because many of us on this side of the House believe in it. Indeed, it was one of the main fights—
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not want to entrench too far, but we are dealing with the problem, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Mr. Rankin
I thought that all that was contained in the Report and matters relevant to it would be within the competence of the House to debate.
555 I merely wanted to point out that we are looking for a solution to a difficulty, but it seems to me that we are not going far enough in providing the solution We are only tampering with it. We must deal with it along the Ines that I have been trying to indicate, but which, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you thought I ought not to pursue any further.
We are now entering that portion of the day when, according to the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), we ought to be at our brightest and best. We are now in the morning, which he loves. He ought to love it more because we are in the very earliest part of the morning and, therefore, on the logic of the right hon. Gentleman, we ought to be at our very brightest and our very best. Nevertheless, I am not going to put that to the test too far.
I propose to draw my remarks to a close because I know that there are still one or two of my hon. Friends who have interesting and useful things to say in the debate. However, I would urge the Government to think again about the recommendations of the Select Committee and not to reject everything except the proposal for a minimum of 30 Members for minor Bills and 50 for major Bills.
Look what happened yesterday morning. If anyone had asked whether the Land Drainage (Scotland) Bill was a minor or a major Measure, I think that the answer would have been that it was a minor one. Yet it is of such major significance to Scottish Members that the debate lasted the whole of yesterday morning and is to continue this morning. It might not finish even then, because one or two of us who were prevented by other engagements from being present will try to be there to give the Bill a thorough examination. It might have been decreed that this was a minor Bill and that, therefore, only 30 Members would be on it when it went to Standing Committee, though we would have realised, perhaps, that that was a wrong decision.
The question of having 30, 40 or 50 Members, a variable number, to be decided according to the circumstances of the moment will place all of us in a difficulty. It seems to me that the suggestion of the Select Committee of having a more or less fixed number of 45 or 50 is 556 a much more sensible one. I hope, therefore, that on the question of numbers the Government will think again. These are important matters, and if we have this reconsideration by the Government there will be a greater chance of support for the change than exists at present on this side of the House.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)
It would be out of order to follow the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) into the details of his speech on Scottish Home Rule. I would only say this to him. He showed himself completely out of step with his party in suggesting a separate Parliament for Scotland.
§ Mr. Mackie
The only reason that I rise is to ask the Government—and here I am in step with the hon. Member for Govan—to think again about this question. Standing Committees were, to the best of my belief, brought into operation in 1896—sixty years or so ago. At the time there was considerable opposition from hon. Members on both sides of the House, then dominated by a Tory majority much bigger than we enjoy at present. One of my own predecessors in one of the two counties for which I now sit—the right hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell, Member for Wigtownshire—was very much opposed to setting up Standing Committees, and especially the Scottish Grand Committee.
I think that from what we have heard tonight, the results have falsified that right hon. Gentleman's predictions as to what would happen with the setting up of Standing Committees at all, and especially the Scottish Grand Committee. I would go so far as to say that the Scottish Grand Committee has worked tolerably well, and it has to a great extent satisfied public opinion in Scotland that Scottish affairs are not wholly neglected. I say that particularly for the benefit of the hon. Member for Govan who, as I said before, is completely out of step with his own party.
§ Mr. Rankin rose—
§ Mr. Mackie
I am not giving way now. I am not saying this out of any factious opposition, but if we agree with this proposal it might be seriously misinterpreted in Scotland. It might be 557 thought that we are giving way to people who do not much care to attend in the mornings.
I do not want to be like a former Member of this House, now a Member in another place—who would never speak without saying how long he had been in the House, but I am in my twenty-seventh year here, and I have, on the whole, attended with considerable regularity in the Scottish Grand Committee. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), who was Scottish Whip for many years, and who used to whip me on on those mornings and say that I must attend, would agree. Indeed, I was a Member of this House with him long before he attained that exalted station. [Interruption.] I did not hear that remark. I do not know if it was in my favour or against me, but it will not deter me.
It has been said that we were juggling with the figures. We all know perfectly well that there are certain hon. Members for whom it is distasteful or irksome or boring to attend the Scottish Committees, or who may have some other business to attend to. Let them obtain a pair, especially in a Parliament where the numbers on both sides are fairly equally distributed. It is not so bad in this Parliament. It was worse in the last Parliament, and much worse in the Parliament before when the Socialist Government had their majority of 200 reduced to eight. I hope that the Secretary of State will not think that I am being unnecessarily obstructionist, or that I am trying to put a spoke in the proposals. I hope that the Government will think again.
If hon. Members who are on the Scottish Grand Committee, or who are added to it, do not wish to come here, well and good; but it would be a bad thing for Scotland if it went out from this House that we were in any way seeking to absolve ourselves from our necessary duties in the Scottish Grand Committee, which is regarded by many people in Scotland as the one opportunity where this Parliament at Westminster resolves itself more or less into the open forum of discussion for Scottish questions.
§ 12.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I believe that if we have any more debates of this kind, there will be a strong 558 demand from the English for Scottish home rule in sheer self-defence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have had some measure of support.
I wish to refer to a matter which is mentioned in the Report of the Select Committee, but which did not find much support in the Committee's recommendations. I am rather surprised that the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), who, we sometimes think, has a mind that is not closed to new ideas, should not have found an opportunity of dealing with the suggestion that was made in the evidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), that Parliamentary Questions should be considered by the Scottish Grand Committee.
I believe that if that idea were considered seriously, it would be adopted. Its effect would be to examine Ministers on the affairs of Scotland and to bring to the forefront all questions that affect the day-to-day life of Scotland. The Scottish Grand Committee and Ministers would be kept in closer touch with the affairs of Scotland and the House of Commons would be relieved of Scottish Questions at Question Time.
It has been pointed out that we have difficulty these days in putting our Questions to the various Scottish Ministers. An important function of Parliamentary life is that if we have opportunities of questioning Ministers, we will be prevented from being ruled too much by the bureaucracy, by the civil servants, and the urgent day-to-day questions that come upon us in the course of events will be kept right to the forefront. If we had, say, an hour of the Scottish Grand Committee once a fortnight that would not be asking too much and there would be no compulsion on those who did not wish to attend—that would prove a useful opportunity for ventilating the grievances of Scotland.
At present, we do not have the opportunity of asking the Minister Questions more than about once in four or five weeks. In these days, when there are new Ministries and enormous numbers of Questions crowd upon us from all parts of the Commonwealth and of the world, the Order Paper of the House of Commons is congested in such a way that day after day we find that Ministers do not 559 get an opportunity of answering Questions and Members do not get the opportunity of cross-examining Ministers. If the Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove presided seriously examined objectively this idea it would find something in it, and all I ask is that the Committee should examine it. I believe that it would revive interest in the Scottish Grand Committee and that the people of Scotland, were this suggestion adopted, would realise that the Grand Committee was in daily touch with public opinion in Scotland.
I have heard it argued that if this suggestion were carried out it would remove Scottish affairs from the Floor of the House. It might do so, but it would give an opportunity in the morning for Scottish affairs to be discussed in much greater detail than it is possible to discuss them on the Floor of the House. Mr. Speaker has to deal with a large number of Questions and he limits supplementary questions in order to allow more Questions to be answered and so allow opportunity to hon. Members to put their Questions which, otherwise, would not be called.
Scottish Members would have far greater opportunity to put their Questions if they were put in Scottish Grand Committee, and other hon. Members would have greater opportunity to put theirs in the House if Scottish Questions were put in Committee. If the Questions could be asked in the Scottish Grand Committee in the early mornings that would give opportunity for the Scottish Press and the Scottish B.B.C. to deal with them much more fully than they do at present.
This may be considered a revolutionary constitutional innovation, but it is a suggestion which will, I believe, sooner or later have to be considered in the interest of making Question Time a real means of examining Ministers. I can understand that Ministers are likely to object to it, and that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not want to answer Questions too often. Once in five weeks may suit him admirably. Potential Ministers may view the matter in the same way. But there is a large number of Scottish Ministers available—six with the Joint Under-Secretaries of State. It is not asking too much to ask that, say, 560 once a fortnight we should be able to ask Questions affecting our constituents.
It is said that it takes about twenty years from the time of its ventilation for an idea to become operative in this House. It may be more, but I am putting this idea forward now in the hope that by 1978 a sensible House of Commons will realise that this is a sensible change which is necessary to get Scottish questions discussed as they ought to be discussed here.
§ 12.29 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
I should like to join with those hon. Members who have already done so in expressing appreciation of the way the Select Committee did its work and of the work it did, and I would express my appreciation also, of the courtesy and effectiveness of its questioning when I appeared before it to give evidence. It was a very interesting experience. I could not let this opportunity pass without paying a tribute to the work of the Select Committee.
I have listened with the greatest care to everything that has been said throughout the debate, and, what is more, I shall, with my colleagues, carefully study what hon. Members have said when the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate is available.
The purpose of my right hon. Friend's opening speech was to give a fairly clear line on the Government's thinking. I doubt whether I can pick out every point made by the comparatively large number of hon. Members who have spoken, and perhaps the best thing that I can do is to take the subjects of the Report discussed today one by one and make such comments as I can on them in possible clarification or amplification of what my right hon. Friend said.
First, however, it is only right that I should say a few words about points not dwelt upon by more than one or two hon. Members and not particularly affecting Scotland, which has been the main subject of debate. I was glad to note that there seemed to be complete agreement with the new procedure on Amendments on going into Committee of Supply in debates on the Estimates. I took a close interest in the Service Estimates for some years and I always thought that when a debate on an Amendment intervened 561 round about seven o'clock it took away from the main flow of discussion and very detailed study of the Estimates and was not of great help. I think that everybody welcomes the change.
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) made some comments on Money Resolutions. I assure him again, as my right hon. Friend said, that we realise what was said in 1937 and we reaffirm that as far as is consistent with our obligation to Government, we will see that there is fair play in the way in which these things are handled. The hon. Member raised big constitutional issues. He said that the present practice was a historical survival, but I think that it is much more than that.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not read too much into that phrase. I said that the form in which we put Financial Resolutions is historical and formal rather than substantially justified. I believe that we should keep the same substance but have a different form, which would ease things in discussion.
§ Mr. Maclay
I will note carefully what the hon. Member has said.
There is little that I can add on the quorum and the Closure. There is apparently very general agreement that the Select Committee's proposals are reasonable and proper. I have noted carefully what certain hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), said on that subject. I assure him, incidentally, that far from disliking his presence on the Scottish Grand Committee, we welcome him, and hope that we may see him again.
§ Mr. Maclay
I was not present at that Committee and, therefore, I cannot deal with what was said there.
The recommendation of the Select Committee that affirmative Ordersapplying exclusively to Scotland for which, in general, no comparable Orders have been, or are likely to be, tabled for England and Wales.might appropriately be referred to the Scottish Standing Committee raises a very important principle. To make a change 562 would require substantial reasons and evidence of clear advantage.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Can the right hon. Gentleman make clear the distinction between an affirmative Order, a Statutory Instrument and a Bill, except that a Statutory Instrument is not subject to amendment? It is a piece of legislation in the same way as a Bill. The Select Committee could not see any distinction between the one and the other.
§ Mr. Maclay
The Select Committee referred to the Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation, in 1953, which decided that the reference of Statutory Instruments to a Standing Committee was not a feasible procedure. The Committee went on to say that there might be an exception made in the case of Orders which were exclusively Scottish. As my right hon. Friend said, the fact is that careful examination has shown there are virtually none which could be said to come within the category described and, in those circumstances, I do not think it justifiable to make what would be a very important change in the procedure of the House which would have a negligible effect in practice. For that reason, we do not feel that the proposal can be accepted.
§ Mr. Ross
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman's memory is good. There is a Bill before the Scottish Grand Committee to be discussed in principle. Can he tell me whether there is an affirmative condition in relation to any of the Orders under that Bill? At present, the House has delegated to the Committee the consideration of a Bill in principle. Within that Bill there is a demand that before a certain thing be done, an affirmative Order be presented to the House. Why is it that we should consider that Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee on Second Reading, yet be denied the right to deal with the affirmative Order when it comes along?
§ Mr. Maclay
I should not like to say, without a check, what is in the Bill.
If we examine what has happened over many years, it is difficult to find anything which would come within the category mentioned. The hon. Member will accept that it would be a major change of procedure, and unless there are substantial advantages to come from such a change. 563 I do not think that it would be wise to make the alteration.
I come now to the remarks of a number of hon. Members about the two days for Motions. I wish to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) for giving us the benefit of his experience both in the House and in the Scottish Grand Committee, and on the several matters he spoke about, particularly this one. What he said about affirmative Resolutions represents views which we should not lightly ignore.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman came to this conclusion on affirmative Resolutions when under a complete misapprehension about what was proposed?
§ Mr. J. Stuart
The right hon. Gentleman should not misquote me. I said that I fell back on what the Leader of the House said.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I ask the Minister why he prefers the conclusions of the former Select Committee on Procedure, of which I was also a member, to the conclusions reached on this occasion by the Committee of which his right hon. Friend and himself were both members and which reached wiser conclusions? Is he aware that the Clerk of the House, giving evidence before the former Committee, actually commended this procedure as a way of relieving, the pressure of business in the House?
§ Mr. Maclay
I can only repeat that when one searches back one finds very few Orders which would have come within the category which the Select Committee wanted. It would be unwise to move into such a complete change of procedure for a very doubtful advantage. I will certainly listen to what has been said and continue to consider the matter.
As to the two days for Motions, the balance of argument has been fairly well put during the debate. I should not like tonight to commit myself to what will happen. We will carefully consider what has been said by various hon. Members on both sides of the House and take into consideration the different points of view expressed about the desirability of having two extra days for Motions.
564 Some concern was expressed about the problem that we have met in the Scottish Standing Committee with regard to the days on Estimates, and remarks were made about the desirability of being able to substitute Motions. The Government's difficulty arises partly on the constitutional grounds which led to the reference of Bills to the Scottish Grand Committee for consideration in relation to their principle and not for Second Reading, and that is to preserve contact with the control of the House.
Motions, with possible Amendments thereto, might give rise to difficulties. It may be that the problem could be solved by the reference of subjects for consideration by the Scottish Grand Committee. There again, to the extent that these impinged on the responsibility of other Ministers and were not clearly covered by a Vote for which I as Secretary of State am responsible, there would be the difficulty that the United Kingdom Minister concerned would not be a member of the Scottish Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Maclay
It would be an interesting experiment. In these circumstances, I cannot give any undertakings on the matter, but the Government will look closely at it, giving due weight to the opinions expressed, because I know the difficulties we have encountered.
§ Mr. Maclay
I cannot say more on the matter than I have said tonight, but we all know that we have the difficulty of finding a means of getting precisely the form of debate on the Estimates that we want. We shall continue to examine the problem.
Turning to the question of the composition of the Standing Committee, while views have been expressed which make it 565 seem that there is a substantial difference between the different points of view, it really is a relatively narrow difference. It seems to be accepted by almost all hon. Members who have spoken that it is not practicable on every occasion for every Scottish Member to attend the Scottish Standing Committee. It is really a question of how to get the most sensible solution to ensure an adequate and proper number being present for the business which they want to put through. There does not seem to me to be a great difference between the extreme views expressed. The Select Committee's proposal comes between the two extremes.
§ Mr. Maclay
I wish to recapitulate, and possibly expand a little, some of the arguments which led us to indicate our view about the Select Committee's proposals. As regards the changes for which the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) was responsible in 1947 and 1948, every member of the Scottish Grand Committee agreed, and still agrees, that the changes have been a real advantage.
§ Mr. Maclay
No change was then made in the composition of the Committee, although at the time the size of the United Kingdom Committees was considerably reduced. The result of the change made in 1948 has been that, with debates on the principles of Bills and the six Supply days added to the steady flow of Committee work going to the Scottish Standing Committee, there is no denying that the demand on the time of Scottish Members for purely Scottish matters has substantially increased.
What follows is very important and refers to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). It is important to remember that it is only since the war that the practice has developed—after another Report, made in 1945 and implemented a little later—of sending practically all Bills, other than those dealing with constitutional and money matters, to Standing Committees. There has been a substantial change in the practice of the House since the war.
The Scottish Grand Committee existed long before then and certain Bills were sent to it, but the whole theory of the working of the House has changed since 566 before the war, and the Government's attitude to the Report of the Select Committee is to carry the evolution another useful stage further.
The demands on the time of all Scottish Members for purely Scottish matters has increased considerably, and as an illustration of this it might be useful if I gave some figures. According to the return for the Sessions 1956–57, the total summonses for Standing Committees A, B, C and D was 4,570. Dividing this by the number of English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members, it appears that these Members were each summoned on average eight times. On the other hand, last Session the total summonses to attend the Scottish Standing Committee were 2,106. Dividing this by the number of Scottish Members, the average number of summonses per Member was 30. These figures cannot be completely accurate, but they offer a reasonably good guide to the difficulty facing Scottish Members.
In other words, this broadly amounts to the fact that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies are called, on average, about four times as often as are Members representing non-Scottish constituencies for Committee work.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot
Scottish Members are also frequently summoned to the other five standing Committees, which means that the figure is higher than 30. They are summoned to all Scottish Committees and also to some of the other Committees.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Scottish Committee met on only 26 occasions last year. If the average number of summonses was 30, that figure must include summonses to other Standing Committees.
§ Mr. Maclay
This was the only way to give the figures, and even this may be a little confusing. This is the total of all summonses divided by the total of hon. Members concerned. I think that the hon. Member will find that the result is accurate.
567 It is extremely important that Scottish Members should be able to play their appropriate part in the affairs of the United Kingdom Parliament.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not include the sittings to debate the Estimates in his total number of meetings.
§ Mr. Maclay
I worked the figure out very carefully, and if I find anything wrong then I will let hon. Members know what it is. Whatever the figure, and even if we make the adjustments suggested, there is still a big preponderance of demands on the time of Scottish Members compared with the demands on the time of other hon. Members. The trouble with figures is that one can sometimes work them out in so many different ways, and get some very curious results. But nobody will deny the very big preponderance of the demands on the time of Scottish Members for Committee work.
As I have said, the really important thing is that there should be time for Scottish Members to play their part in the normal work of the United Kingdom Parliament, and I do really suggest that the argument that there is something subtle or unseen in the reasons for our views on this side has no justification. The argument about whether hon. Members should be able to do work outside the House does not belong to this particular context. The whole case revolves around whether or not Scottish Members, tied so tightly as they are today to this Scottish Committee, can do their duties as United Kingdom as well as Scottish Members.
The Select Committee has accepted the principle that there may properly be a differentiation between the Scottish Grand Committee sitting to consider the principle of a Bill, to consider Motions—if we decide to have these—and Supply Days, when the Committee would properly be composed of all Scottish 568 Members, and the same Committee dealing with the Committee stages of Bills. The Select Committee has accepted the desirability of differentiation.
The Government's view is that there should be a limit to the number which may be appointed to the new proposed Scottish Standing Committee. The Select Committee recommended that it should be left to the Committee of Selection to add further members, to a basic figure of 45, in accordance with the special qualifications and wishes of Members, and to ensure a due balance of the parties. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir R. Conant), who is Chairman of the Committee of Selection, said this afternoon—and I agree with him—it does seem to make the work of the Committee of Selection very difficult indeed, particularly as the Select Committee clearly feels that it is desirable to distinguish between the full Scottish Grand Committee, in its capacity of dealing with Estimates, and so on, and when dealing with the Committee stages of Bills.
I think that there is real substance in what my hon. Friend said: that the members of the Committee of Selection would be put in an almost impossible position if they had themselves to make up their minds as to whether there were valid reasons for adding this or that hon. Member. The result might be that we should get back to what the Select Committee itself does not want, I understand—going back to the full Scottish Grand Committee for the consideration of Bills at the Committee stage.
What we really suggest here, and I do not think we need be ashamed about it, is that we might do well to follow the practice, now well tried, of other Standing Committees. We have suggested a figure varying between 30 and 50. It is very seldom that the present minimum figure of 20—which I believe, is the minimum at the moment for other Standing Committees—is used. We have the figure of 30 in mind as being the figure nearer to what might be the absolute minimum for a Committee sitting on a very small Bill. I am advised, however, that it is only very seldom that even the smallest Bill goes to a Committee of fewer than 35 or 40 members. We have made it clear that the extra members on the Committee 569 should not bring the number to more than 45 or 50—
§ Mr. Woodburn
With respect, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has appreciated the point made by myself, and more firmly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot). At present, when the full Committee discusses an important Bill practically no time is taken in the House on the Report stage—the Amendments have been thoroughly exhausted in the Committee—but if a large number of interested Members are excluded from it then, obviously, on Report, they will exercise their opportunity to move Amendments. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the importance of the time-table of the House and not push back on to the House work that is now effectively done in Scottish Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Maclay
I have noted that point. It was raised when we had our discussion with the Select Committee. I have never been quite convinced that the difference between 45 to 50 and 71 could make all that difference to the Report stage, but we shall give careful thought to that aspect of the matter. I do not think that there is anything much more that I can usefully say on the question of the composition; but I re-stress the immediate problems which have been mentioned all through this fairly lengthy debate. They are problems which have great importance. For example, the position of a junior Minister has been mentioned, and it is a serious complication if he is automatically on the Scottish Grand Committee.
Then there was the question of delegations abroad. Those are not, as some people tend to think, junketing expeditions. They are serious undertakings and are an important part of an hon. Member's duty, and Scottish Members should be able to be considered freely as possible starters, whether it is for a 570 journey to Strasbourg or anywhere else, without it being continually necessary to keep a watch on whether such selection will upset the balance of figures on the Grand Committee.
I would just quote my own experience of a genuine case where a certain hon. Member could not be put up for selection—although a most useful Member—because of the complication of numbers. There really is a good deal of reason for our attitude towards having a maximum number which should not be exceeded.
The problem of questions was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and touched upon by his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. It is a matter which has been raised from time to time in the past, and, although I do not want to start on more statistics, I would remind the House that those who have feelings about this subject, and think that there seem invariably to be several weeks between the opportunity for "getting at" Scottish Ministers, should think only of recent months.
We were third and second on the list, and a large number of questions were reached. They were the two Tuesdays before the Recess, and we were top of the list when the House resumed. The fact is that if one takes the statistics which are available it will be found that, over the years, we have had a fait good showing: we have had a fairly good share of the time. It would be a very big procedural departure to take questions anywhere away from the floor of the House.
I have tried to cover as much of the debate as I can and I close by saying that we ought to weigh carefully all the considerations.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the First and Second Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session of Parliament.