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Industry Bill (Standing Committee)

Volume 887: debated on Monday 24 February 1975

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I first thank you for the ruling which you gave on Friday on a matter which had been raised by a number of hon. Members about the composition of the Standing Committee on the Industry Bill. We obviously understood and accepted your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that this is not a matter in which you can get involved. We also appreciate your statement that if there is any way in which you can help you will remain willing to do so.

I think that the concern expressed in the House underlines the very wide feeling in all parts of the House that the outcome of the Second Reading debate which resulted in a majority of 14, which was equivalent to one seat in the Committee, resulted in a majority of three in the Standing Committee when the selection was made.

Further to your ruling on Friday, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has made any request to make a statement? This matter was raised. Although the date was incorrectly given to you as Tuesday, the Standing Committee is, in fact, meeting on Thursday. We are not aware whether the Committee of Selection is meeting before Wednesday. This is a procedural matter for the House, and I think it is still a matter of considerable urgency. The Leader of the House, like you, Mr. Speaker, has a responsibility to all Members of the House—to the minority parties as well as to the majority parties.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand the limitations of the Chair and I do not wish to add to your difficulties, but we are in some real difficulty here. It is very important indeed that if we are going to continue to use Standing Committees, the House should have confidence in the way in which they are set up. In this instance, Mr. Speaker, it appears to us that the Committee of Selection made a mistake. On Second Reading there was a majority of 14 for the Bill and 48·9 per cent. of the House voted against the Bill. [Interruption.] If the Patronage Secretary will be kind enough to keep quiet, I shall be able to complete my remarks much more quickly. He is, incidentally, one of the most talkative Chief Whips we have ever had, on either side of the House. In the Standing Committee, 45·7 per cent. of the House are opposed to the Bill. I suggest that it is very important that the Committee of Selection should have another look at this. I understand that it will meet next on Wednesday, and I suggest that the first sitting of the Standing Committee should be postponed till Tuesday in order to give the reconstituted Committee a fair chance to look at the matter properly.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the limitations of the Chair, and the Chair is very conscious of those limitations. These matters were all raised on Friday or before. The Committee of Selection is an independent Committee of this House. I cannot give it directions. But it is expected to take a general view of the opinions held in all parts of the House. I wonder whether this continuing argument might do more harm than good.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I entirely agree with you, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter entirely for the Committee of Selection. That Committee will meet on Wednesday and it may be that it will bear in mind what has been said in the House. So far as I can see, there is nothing wrong with the composition—[Interruption.] No, nothing at all. The Committee cannot take any account of the majority. If hon. Members will read the Standing Order they will see that the Committee has to take account of the composition of the House. Short of quartering one of the National Members, the Committee could not be fairer.

Some of us did not intervene on Friday, Mr. Speaker, because you indicated that these matters would be taken into account and that Friday was not the occasion; also, we understood that the Leader of the House could not be here. Some of us heard the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) say that he would listen with respect to whatever the House said, and for that the House was grateful. But there are, in my submission, two matters which are the responsibility of the Leader of the House. First, if the Committee of Selection meets, as we understand it will, on Wednesday and if it should vary its decision, there may be additional Members or substituted Members who at 24 hours' notice will be expected to master all the amendments which will be raised in that Committee. It therefore seems right that in any event the first meeting of that Standing Committee should be postponed. I submit that that is a matter for which the Leader of the House has a responsibility.

The second point, from reading Standing Order No. 62, is that clearly the Committee of Selection had not taken into account the composition of the House. It is quite clear that a Committee of 35 should consist of 18 Members of the Government, 15 Members of the Opposition and two Members of the minority parties. It happens that there are 39 Members of those parties, 34 of whom voted against the Bill and only four of whom voted in favour, and it is one of those four who has been put on the Committee to represent the 39. [Interruption.] It may well be that the acting Chief Whip, in the absence of the Government Chief Whip, thought that he had pulled a fast one. But he will not get away with it.