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Standing Committee On Regional Affairs

Volume 893: debated on Monday 9 June 1975

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10.20 p.m.

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

I beg to move,

  • 1. There shall be a Standing Committee, to be called the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which shall consider any matter or matters relating to regional affairs in England which may be referred to them.
  • 2. All Members sitting for constituencies in England shall be members of the Standing Committee, together with not more than five other Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who shall have power from time to time to discharge the Members so nominated by them and to appoint others in substitution for those discharged, and the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 62 (Nomination of standing committees) and 63 (Attendance of law officers and ministers in standing committees) shall not apply.
  • 3. A Motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of Public Business to the effect that a specified matter or matters relating to regional affairs in England be referred to the Standing Committee for their consideration, and the Question there-on shall be put forthwith: and if, on the Question being put, not less than twenty Members rise in their places and signify their objection thereto, Mr. Speaker shall declare that the Noes have it.
  • 4. The Committee shall consider the matter or matters referred to them on a motion 'That the Committee have considered the matter or matters'; and the Chairman shall put any Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on such a motion, if not previously concluded, when the Committee shall have sat for two and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings; and the Committee shall thereupon report to the House that they have considered the matter or matters without any further Question being put.
  • Hon. Members will be only too well aware of the recent pressure on parliamentary time on the Floor of the House and the effect this pressure has had on our working hours. In the present Session we have sat on average for two and a half hours each working day after 10.30 p.m. A number of factors have contributed to this. The major one is that the Government have a very large legislative programme. Secondly, we have had great pressure for debates on EEC matters. Thirdly, we have direct rule of Northern Ireland and this itself causes pressure on our parliamentary timetable.

    One of the effects of this has been that over the past few months the House has had quite insufficient time to debate on the Floor a number of very important issues. There is very little time for general debates, including matters affecting the English regions. Scotland and Wales have their Grand Committees in which such debates can be held. The prospect for such debates on English regional issues has been extremely poor and is likely to continue to be poor.

    The purpose of this modest proposal is to try to improve the situation by making provision for a Standing Committee of the House to consider any matters relating to English regional affairs which may be referred to it. Under the provisions of the motion, if accepted by the House, it will be possible by general agreement for specific matters relating to a particular region to be remitted to the proposed Standing Committee for its consideration.

    The House will recognise that under the terms of the motion it would not be possible for such matters to be referred to the Standing Committee unless there were a very wide margin of general agreement, since it would not be possible to proceed in this way if 20 or more Members signified their in to the proposal by standing n their places.

    The powers of the Committee would be only those of consideration and subsequent report to the House that such consideration had taken place; but to debate specific matters of this kind with a Minister present to answer would, I believe, be a valuable additional facility for hon. Members.

    All Members of English constituencies would be able to sit on the Committee with a nucleus of five Members nominated by the Committee of Selection.

    I emphasise that this would be a sessional Committee—that is, it would be set up anew each Session. The proposal is, therefore, put forward on an experimental basis.

    I emphasise also that there is no question of taking debate away from the Floor in this way except by general agreement. This is an additional facility for debate of specific regional matters and is not an alternative to debate on the Floor. In my view, this would be a modest but useful improvement in the scope for discussion by the House of English regional matters and experience will enable us to judge whether this is so.

    10.25 p.m.

    The right hon. Gentleman moved the motion in a pleasant enough fashion and would have the House believe that it is designed to help the House and not the administration. We should get it quite straight that this is just another of those devices which is designed to facilitate life for the executive and to chip away at the powers of Parliament and its rights.

    This is a very oddly timed proposal and indicative of the Government's piecemeal approach to such problems. It is worthy of mention that at present the procedure Committee is considering the workload on Parliament. It is, therefore, rather odd that the Leader of the House should propose a motion of this kind without even referring to this not irrelevant fact. Nor does he refer to the fact that the Procedure Committee has in its first report of the Session proposed that a committee be set up to deal with European legislation. This is a matter which has become of increasing urgency since last week's decision. But no mention is made of this. We are merely going to have this rather new Committee.

    It is a very odd proposal to set up an extraordinarily odd body. It is to be a Committee of over 500 Members, all English Members, and if the House will refer to the motion they will find that the Committee's duty will be to report that it has considered the matter or matters referred to it after a period of two and a half hours—whether or not, of course, it has in fact considered such matters or matters.

    I believe that the increasing burden of Committee work is making Members of Parliament the drudges of the executive and not the servants of Parliament. I hope that at some time or other we shall take a serious stand on this matter.

    It is worth noticing that on Thursday next we shall be debating two subjects which concern Members—Members interests and the position of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)—and there will be five Standing Committees that afternoon. Members of those Standing Committees will be seriously embarrassed, if not wholly prevented from playing their part here or even in listening to discussions.

    There are currently 43 Select Committees and their sub-committees sitting. There are eight Standing Committees, and I do not include the Committees on Statutory Instruments.

    The right hon. Gentleman modestly referred to what he called a very large legislative programme, though other people might have found some rather rougher adjectives with which to describe that legislative programme. Perhaps I may remind the House of what we have had before us this Session. Thirty-eight Bills have already received the Royal Assent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] All right, I hope hon. Members will be content to live with the consequences of those measures. Twelve are awaiting Second Reading; one is awaiting its place in Committee; eight are in Committee now, two are awaiting Report, and one is awaiting Lords amendments. There are three Commons Bills in the Lords, and there are four Bills which have started in the Lords. At this stage of the Session this is a fairly heavy diet for Parliament to digest.

    It would not be improper or irrelevant if I were to mention the burden placed upon the rather limited staff of the House of Commons, and in addition the growing difficulties for the Hansard staff. Again and again, there are well-founded complaints from both sides of the House about the impossibility of getting reports of Committee proceedings in time for them to be useful in Standing Committee.

    Nobody should for a moment suppose that the changes now proposed are designed for the benefit of Parliament. They are instead designed purely for the convenience of the executive. In my view, they are born of the desire of Governments to do things, to do as many things as possible, whether they be good or ill, and without too much regard for the consequences, either for the national or for Parliament.

    The other day the Secretary of State for Employment, in an interesting article which came as an echo from his earlier days, referred to the danger of Parliament being elbowed off the centre of the stage. He was of course referring to the danger of this happening as a result of activities in Europe, but the real danger comes from something much closer home—the greed of the executive to absorb parliamentary time and to use any tricks that it can to erode the privileges of Parliament for its own convenience. Parliament always gets the blame, and the executive takes none.

    No Government ever look at their own horrible procedures and their own beastly organisation, which on the whole is not changed year in and year out. The only major changes that I can recall are the establishment of great big Heffalump departments such as the Department of the Environment, in which I languished, and other creatures of that kind, which do not increase the efficiency or competence of any administration.

    We have the system of annual accounting, which enables the Treasury to blame the House of Commons for this rather ridiculous system of preserving a ritual which is far more cherished by the Treasury than by any Members of this House.

    We are frequently told when proposals for increasing public ownership are put before us that there will be the closest parliamentary control over the nationalised industries. A more hollow joke has seldom been made, even within the walls of Westminster. We all know that the control over nationalised industries has declined to a horrible farce of rather ill-informed control by officials and Departmental Ministers who know little of what they are interfering with and care much less for the consequences.

    The problem of parliamentary congestion lingers on, no matter what remedies or expedients are resorted to. We virtually abolished counts. We have special procedures now for dealing with statutory instruments. The Finance Bill Committee stage has been exiled upstairs. The guillotine procedure has been modified. All these proposals were designed to suit the convenience of the executive and to make life more comfortable for Ministers, with no consideration for the House of Commons.

    Now, on top of that, we have this strange new addition, which will mean, to put it simply, more pressure on the time, resources and energies of Members of Parliament. It will mean less pressure on the Government to find time which will afford adequate opportunity for Members to discuss matters of urgent public interest.

    I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that we never in these days hear words spoken about the need for the redress of a grievance to precede the Vote of Supply. Nobody really worries about grievances. They are just brushed on one side in the excited rush of a greedy executive to push through a rather stupid legislative programme on the ground that it was contained in its manifesto. Instead of being equated with almost total folly it is treated as if it were Holy Writ.

    Parliament has been progressively weakened by these devices. It will not be strengthened by the proposal now made by the Leader of the House. The House of Commons finds itself increasingly carrying in the public's eyes a degree of responsibility which is in no way balanced by the crumbs of powers which still belong to it. This place used to be a great arena of discussion, a forum of debate. Today, often enough, its very conduct sadly indicates its discontent. We are left regrettably with the impression that for the most part Parliament sees no alternative but sulkily to accept the dictates of its masters.

    I hope that the House will reject this seeming gift from the Leader of the House ostensibly designed for the convenience of the House of Commons to give it a new opportunity. In effect, it will further drain from the Chamber the attendance of Members of Parliament and will give them less opportunity to take part in our debates. This Chamber should be the main scene of our operations.

    10.32 p.m.

    The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has introduced early in the debate a great deal of his own partisan spirit which does not help serious discussion on this matter. My concern and that of my colleagues—and, I dare say, the concern of some Conservatives—must be to examine precisely the proposal that my right hon. Friend has put before the House. I shall also echo some of the views which have been indicated to me by some other Members who represent Yorkshire areas.

    There are some doubts about the wisdom of the proposal that has been put before us, but in view of the tone of his speech there will be very little understanding among my colleagues of the wholesale attack upon the democratic credentials of my right hon. Friend that we have heard from the Shadow Leader of the House. Surely my right hon. Friend is well known to most of us as a good House of Commons man. Those who have served with him over the years in this assembly know that he is at least as much concerned with the principles of democratic Government as the right hon. Member for Yeovil.

    I entirely reject the silly attacks that were made against my right hon. Friend in the speech of the right hon. Member to which we were forced to listen. Furthermore, all the nonsense about the lack of supervision of the nationalised industries is wholly extraneous to the debate. It has nothing to do with the matter we are debating and is a complete waste of time. We have had another example of the right hon. Gentleman making life easy for himself instead of studying the subject. The right hon. Gentleman has merely repeated his propaganda nonsense once again instead of starting the debate properly.

    I am concerned about the proposal concerning regional business. On 19th June 1972 the Yorkshire group pioneered a regional debate which was of some significance. That debate was widely reported at the time in the Yorkshire region. It dealt in detail with all the economic problems of the area and was of great interest to a population of about 5 million people. At that time it was recognised by all who listened to the debate that it had been a most useful exercise. I suggest that some of the decisions to declare certain parts of the Yorkshire region as intermediate development areas were based on evidence produced in that debate.

    Other regions, such as the North-East and the Northern Region, organised similar debates and all who played a part in preparing those debates, either in drafting motions or in replying to matters raised, felt that from many points of view they had been important and useful occasions. Publicity in the regions was widespread and the nitty-gritty relating to the people who live in the areas was fully reported.

    I can think of no business that comes before the House that is of greater importance than the matters which were raised in those debates. We are not now debating one more proposal about saving time in the House of Commons. We are debating a particular proposal. In view of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil, I stress that I fully support the Government's legislative programme. It is to the Government's credit that so many of the things that need to be done are in fact being done by the present administration. There is certainly no issue between my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and me—and I know this applies to my Labour colleagues—on that score. But whereas a general case might be made for the need for time to consider necessary legislation, careful consideration must be given to any proposal which will lead to less time being devoted to matters on the Floor of the House.

    I also wish to refer to the feelings of any hon. Member who feels great concern because of some important development in his part of the country. When a matter involves the future of industry in an area which affects the economic life of the community, of course it is the duty of the hon. Member concerned to seek to raise the topic in the House—and I emphasise that it should be in the House, the centre of our political life, rather than in a Committee. A matter of that nature should not be tucked away somewhere in a Committee, however many many experts or Ministers are present at its sittings. Our present system has resulted from the exercise of the political genius of our people and has developed over many years. It would be a very sad thing if any of that facility were to be lost.

    This aspect of the matter is being neglected in the present proposals. A Committee upstairs is no substitute for a full debate in the House of Commons. We might then be told that this would mean fewer debates in the House of Commons. I would rather have more major debates in the House of Commons even though in total it may mean fewer debates. That surely is preferable to our having debates tucked away in Committee Rooms upstairs.

    These points have been underlined in correspondence which has passed between my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and some of my hon. Friends. Apparently my right hon. Friend has in mind not only the problems affecting one region, but also the more general problems concerning regional policy—and certainly that they should be discussed upstairs in Committee. That would be a far more dangerous proposal than the original proposal that problems affecting one particular region should be discussed upstairs. That point needs to be clarified when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate.

    The next reason I advance in entering this caveat to the proposal concerns the House of Commons itself. I have grave fears—I do not know whether I carry with me on this subject all my hon. Friend who might have agreed with me so far—lest the House of Commons should go the way of the House of Representatives in Washington. Every American parliamentary historian and academic in political science agrees that what has virtually destroyed the House of Representatives as a debating chamber is that its many committees have been made to substitute for the House itself. All the real life in the House of Representatives takes place in the committees, and there is hardly any life left in the chamber.

    We are a long way from any such danger—I do not want to exaggerate it—but if we ignore the potential danger in the long term we might be on the road to such a development. Now is the time to be warned. I know that my right hon. Friend and the Government do not want that. I know that they believe in the House of Commons just as I, my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite in all parties do. But there is that danger.

    One of the great things about the House of Commons is that at 3.30 in the afternoon this place is the true political centre of the British people. If a regional problem which concerns the interests of the nation arises, it can be raised here. Anything which might detract from that central position in political and public dife is dangerous.

    My right hon. Friend said that this proposal is for an experimental period only. I do not believe, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil suggested, that my right hon. Friend has made this proposal because he wants it as a convenience for the executive. He does not take life as lightly as that. Those who have worked with him on Select Committees know that is so. But, if the House accepts this proposal for an experimental period, will he take due note of the many doubts that have been expressed by hon. Members and undertake that, if those doubts are confirmed, he will take the initiative and not continue the experiment after the initial period has taken its course? In other words, will he assure the House that this is not the experimental beginning of a long-term policy and that, if, as I believe, our fears are truly realised, he will take the initiative, on behalf of the Government, of abolishing what he has proposed tonight?

    10.44 p.m.

    I have been trying for a very long time to get regional problems discussed properly on the Floor of the House. As has been said, Yorkshire affairs have been discussed. Indeed, I was successful in getting an Adjournment debate on a vital matter to the North-West—the strategic plan.

    I look at this proposal with considerable dismay, because I fear that it is a bromide solution. I am not being partisan in this matter. I believe that this proposal is an excuse to satisfy the consciences of those who have to prepare the business of the House and that the happiness of tens of millions of people in the regions will be swept to one side.

    The situation in some of the regions is desperate. In the North-West we have unemployment well above the national average. In my small corner of North Lancashire we have almost double the national average, and it is 50 per cent. up on the rest of the region. That is the sort of problem that we should be able to discuss on the Floor of the House and not out of sight and out of sound upstairs.

    We had a brief reference, at short notice, to some of our regional problems on the very day that the House went into recess when we had a sort of flutter with the desperate problems of the textile industry. We want to get to grips with these problems and go into them in real depth in the place where action can be taken.

    What shall we get at the end of two and a half hours debate in Committee? The answer is absolutely nothing. We shall be told that we have had our say, that the dog has had its day, and nothing will be achieved.

    I hope that the Leader of the House will reconsider this decision. Those of us who come from the further parts of the country feel that we are sadly neglected on many counts. When I was first chosen as the candidate for Lancaster we had just had a report called Strategy 2, a detailed review of the North-West, which showed that at that time, in 1967, we were at the bottom of the poll for everything; we were at the bottom of the poll for schools, hospitals, roads and housing. We pulled ourselves up by our boot strings, and by the time we had this huge volume, the further strategic plan for the North-West we had got virtually halfway up the list. But there is still a massive amount of industrial obsolescence in that part of the country which pioneered the Industrial Revolution.

    Those are the sorts of problems that we want to go into, and we cannot deal with all the regions of the country in a Committee upstairs in two and a half hours. I feel very strongly that if we accept this proposal it will be a retrograde step. Nothing is so permanent as a temporary solution. We shall have this solution wished on us for ever and we shall no longer be able to press the Government to take the action that is so urgently needed, particularly in my part of the world. We shall not be able to come to the Minister and say, "For heaven's sake help us with our unemployment problem. Give us some assistance. Make us into a proper development area and give us the assistance of the regional employment premium which can save thousands of jobs that are now going down the drain". That is the sort of thing that we must have the chance to discuss where action can be taken, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to press this proposal before the House tonight.

    10.48 p.m.

    I rise with some diffidence to address myself to a matter which concerns the procedure of the House as I am a relatively new Member, but I give a cautious welcome to this proposal.

    I should like to comment on some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). I was surprised at the partisan approach of the right hon Gentleman the Shadow Leader of the House. His problem seems to be that he feels that too much is going on in this Chamber. Perhaps he is having problems with his hon. Friends who are far more attracted to the shade and sunlight of the croquet lawns of the shires than to the Chamber.

    We know what is behind the comments of the Shadow Leader of the House. He commented on the number of Bills which have received the Royal Assent and those which are going through the House. We have repeatedly heard from Conservative Members that the answer to our problems is to reduce the amount of legislation instead of dealing with the problems with which we are attempting to grapple.

    My case rests very largely on a reply that I received from my right hon. Friend to a Question on 26th February. I asked him
    "…how many hours of debate have been spent discussing the affairs of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the North-West Region of England, respectively, since the beginning of the present Parliament."—[Official Report, 26th February 1975; Vol. 887, c. 183–4.]
    His answer was: Scotland in this Chamber 39 hours 56 minutes and in Standing Committee 32 hours 13 minutes; Wales, half an hour and 6 hours 59 minutes; Northern Ireland, 41 hours 43 minutes and 1 hour 26 minutes; for the North-West, nil.

    That puts the matter in perspective. Despite the desires of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, the Leader of the House cannot manufacture time, and we are determined to see our legislative programme through. As a Northerner, I have always been brought up to believe that half a loaf is better than no bread. If we are to consider the affairs of the regions, and particularly those which are in great difficulties at the moment, this proposal should be supported for an experimental period. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone. If this arrangement does not work to the satisfaction of hon. Members, it should be withdrawn. I also look for that assurance from the Leader of the House.

    In my region, the number of job opportunities is the worst in the country. The level of public expenditure on hospitals, schools, housing and so on, is well below the national average, and we have to find a way of debating the structure plan for the North-West. If all this meant sacrificing our legislative programme, many of us would be very concerned, but this proposal gives us the opportunty to examine these matters in depth. Not many more than those concerned with the particular region would attend a regional debate, and there is no reason why these matters should not receive detailed consideration.

    This proposal will enable us, at least for a short time, to examine a new way of discussing regional affairs instead of the lack of consideration that we have had in the past.

    10.53 p.m.

    When the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) reads his speech tomorrow, I believe that he will be surprised to find how closely he followed the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). Although—we understand that he must do this—he felt it incumbent upon him to defend his Government's legislative record, when he turned to defending the rights and standing of this House, he had a great deal more in common with my hight hon. Friend than he seems prepared to admit.

    I hope that in our consideration of the value of this curious proposal we can recognise the extent to which we in opposition are duty bound to tell the Government that their legislation is wrong in purpose and excessive in quantity. They would, of course, just as sincerely say the same in our place. It is remarkable that the chief effect of this proposal must be to make more room on the Floor of the House for business of the Government of the day. In that it frustrates one of the fundamental purposes of Parliament, which is not to give Government an easy ride but to raise the voice of the people in this place where it can be heard by all of us. That becomes more and more difficult as time passes.

    I asked the Library to do a little research about the burdens which lie upon Members today as compared with ten years ago. In the Session of 1964–65, the total number of Select Committees upon which the hon Members might be invited to serve was ten. There were 20 Committees, including sub-committees, and in those relaxed days, we were able to have three sub-committees of the Kitchen Committee, including one dealing with wine. The total number of Members involved in this process of Select Committees, or the total number of names, was 169, although the number of individual Members may have been rather smaller because there must have been some duplication between Committees.

    Today, by contrast, we have 19 Select Committees. The total, including the sub-committees, is 38. The total number of names is 282. The figures speak for themselves.

    When one takes into account the increasing demands which Europe makes upon the time of hon. Members—of both sides of the House, as it soon will be—one can appreciate that the total demands upon Members' time become greater all the while. The effect of that is that the House itself becomes less significant all the while, because hon. Members can spend less time here and matters of importance cannot be focused here both because the Government pre-empt so much of the scarce time available and because so much of Members' time is also preempted in Select Committees and Standing Committees.

    We ought to rescue the House from the immediate threat it faces, but broadcasting our proceedings will not be the kiss of life. The hope of survival for parliamentary democracy rests in our insisting as Members that anything that matters shall be debated here. On that matter I am at one with the hon. Member for Penistone. What the Leader of the House has suggested is that any Minister who thinks he can sneak something through at the commencement of Public Business without 20 Members rising in their places can come before the House with a decision that some subject should be taken to the attic and discussed there. Only if 20 Members do not rise in their places will this be prevented.

    But that is not the end of it. Let us suppose that day after day the same proposition is greeted by the same resistance from hon. Members and that Thursday after Thursday the Leader of the House is questioned during Business Questions about having a debate upon the matter on the Floor of the House. His reply will always be "I am sorry. It has been proposed that the matter should be debated upstairs, but some obstructive people are trying to prevent this happening." He would say that instead of saying "I recognise that there is genuine and urgent pressure for this to be discussed down here and I shall find room for it ahead of other less important business, which may include Government business."

    That is the real question which the Leader of the House must settle for himself.

    I hope that the motion will not be passed and that hon. Members on the Government side of the House will join with us ultimately in voting that it should not be passed. If it is passed it will become an alibi for incompetence on the part of the Government's business managers. It will become a means of avoiding debate rather than a means of stimulating it. If there are some measures which are thought to be sufficiently unimportant to be taken upstairs, what promises then will our constituents be given, on matters debated in a corner, with no Press comment, no Gallery, no "Yesterday in Parliament" and no report of substance? These will be secondary questions, shuffled away up on the corridors which no one seriously considers or visits.

    Is that really what the Leader of the House wishes to become of the rights of the people?

    Having listened to my hon. Friend's argument about things being lost upstairs and business being discussed there, receiving no publicity and having no importance attached to it, may I ask him whether he suggests that the Scottish and Welsh Standing Committees should be abolished?

    Having once served on the Scottish Standing Committee, I shall not attempt to reply to my hon. Friend. But I notice how much time Scottish matters still get on the Floor of the House in spite of that Committee. I suppose that Scottish Members have some means of insisting that matters important to them should be discussed here. I believe that we English Members have equal rights to insist that important matters should be discussed in this Chamber.

    I am interested to hear that. We are tonight being endowed by the grace of our Scottish colleagues with an opportunity to discuss our matters away in some corner. No. I am sure my hon. Friend and I can be at one on this. He presumably would wish to see Scottish matters discussed where they can be seen and heard at any time. Whether he thinks that should be in the Scottish Grand Committee or on the Floor of the House is a matter for him. My fear, and that of others as well, is that if they are taken upstairs somehow they will not attract the same magnetic attention that the Scots manage to take to the upper committee corridor with them.

    I hope that the House will be very careful indeed before it passes this measure. If Members use their right to object, I hope the hon. Leader of the House will understand that it is because we do not necessarily trust or like this experiment, and that in objecting to it, as we may still continue to do, we shall still be seeking to make Parliament work as it should.

    11.1 p.m.

    It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) along his somewhat diverse path. I shall address myself to the question as objectively as I can, and say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I give a somewhat cautious welcome to his proposition. I do that quite deliberately, with the full knowledge that in the years I have served as a Member of this honourable House far too little time has been allocated for debating regional affairs. I mean by this the whole complexity of regional affairs—all the English regions together, as well as the individual regions which from time to time we are able to debate only because someone has been lucky enough to win a place in the Ballot for a Private Member's motion.

    I recall one or two of my hon. Friends doing so, including the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham), who has the distinction of being the very last Member representing a constituency in the northern region to have the advantage of debating—and in turn providing for us the advantage of debating—the very complex and difficult problems of economic development in that region.

    There is a suspicion in the minds of some of us that my right hon. Friend is not, by proposing this particular form of Committee, giving the full attention to regional affairs that the importance of the subject demands. One cannot help but feel that, with the number of English regions involved here, there will be too little time available for the multiplicity of subjects which fall to be debated and which hon. Members feel ought to be debated in a committee of this kind.

    The hon. Lady the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) has quite properly attempted to make a case for more frequent discussions based upon the requirements of her constituency. I want to say to her, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those of us who represent constituencies in the northern region have continually made representations to the Leader of the House and to his several predecessors concerning the allocation of time for regional debates. We have also made it abundantly clear that we continue to be highly dissatisfied with the altogether too high rate of unemployment which exists in the northern region. For too long now we have been top of the unemployment league.

    One can be excused for feeling that the difficult problems of economic development, of the relief of unemployment, in a region like ours, will not obtain the kind of priority which we think they deserve to have. The same thing can be said, of course, for those other regions in the country which, whilst not having the same degree of unemployment and the same difficulties as we have in the North, are in a position to warrant more attention being paid to debating their problems.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) has reminded us of what I have always considered to be a very unfair position concerning debating time in this House for the English development areas. He quoted the number of hours allocated to debates on Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland affairs. We realise that what he said about the time available to the North-West is equally applicable to the lack of time for debating the affairs of the Northern region.

    There are those of us who have claimed over the years that because of the enormity of our problems and the almost imponderable difficulties that we confront in relation to economic development and unemployment, we are at least entitled to a fairer measure of time, even if it cannot be as much as that allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Certainly we should have more time than we have had over many years. My right hon. Friend spoke about the time spent on the Floor of the House on these three regions. But it is not just a matter of the time spent on the Floor of the House. It is the fact that there are Grand Committees for Scotland and Wales, with a similar Committee about to be set up to deal exclusively with Northern Ireland affairs. The establishment of a Committee to deal with Northern region affairs is an aspect of regional debate in this House which I hope that my right hon. Friend has not overlooked completely.

    I join my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) in saying to my right hon. Friend that, although Government supporters welcome what I am sure is a genuine attempt to provide more time to debate regional affairs away from the Floor of the House, it will be regarded as something essentially to be embarked upon on an experimental basis and that, before too much time elapses, my right hon. Friend will report back to the House to discover whether there is still the same support for his idea as there seems to be at the moment.

    11.6 p.m.

    I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) about the difficulties of finding time to debate issues affecting the northern region, although I cannot agree with his misgivings about whether the experiment will be continued if it is found to be unsuccessful. Our experience has been that Committees which have proved to be successful, especially in exercising scrutiny over the Government, have tended not to survive. The example of the Select Committee on Agriculture suggests that the success of such an experiment seems to confer no guarantee of continuance at all.

    I regret that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) should have said, in effect, so little about the reason for this discussion, namely, the problems of the regions and the contribution that they make to our debates. Following the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, however, other hon. Members have brought us back to the reason for discussing the subject, which is the real concern of many of us about the need to ventilate the difficulties of our regions on the Floor of the House.

    The question is why this proposal is before us. In seeking to answer it to my own satisfaction, I come to different conclusions from those of the right hon. Member for Yeovil. I do not attribute it to the desire of the Government to make their life easier, although I attribute a number of other things to that. I see another and more commendable explanation, which I hope that the Leader of the House will not find it necessary to challenge, although he may disagree with my conclusions.

    On a number of occasions outside this House, the right hon. Gentleman, speaking as Member of Parliament for a North-East constituency, has rightly pointed to the fact that the North-East cannot look on unmoved when substantial devolution is being granted to Scotland and Wales while its own affairs continue to be conducted in the same old way. He has said publicly that we must look again at the way the English regions are treated.

    The North-East faces very similar problems to those of Scotland. It has the same kind of industrial legacy, the same problem of under-development in terms of new industrial progress, the same problems of unemployment, the same problems of outworn and outdated housing stock and the same problems of remoteness as those applying to Scotland. What is more, of course, the North-East is further from London than all of Wales. All these features tend to be even more obvious in a constituency like my own which lies on the border between England and Scotland.

    If, as I hope, we get rapid development of devolution for Scotland and it proves successful, it will be painful for my constituents to look only a short distance down the road to where power is being exercised by bodies closer to the people and more readily accessible to them than they themselves enjoy. Indeed, it is apparent in my constituency that the attention that can already be given by the degree of devolution which the Scottish Departments enjoy is often closer than they can get from London-based English Departments. The contrast is more marked if that comparison is made.

    The Leader of the House is concerned with devolution as part of his responsibilities, and I am sure that he has noted that point. I take it that the introduction of this new Committee is in part a recognition that the English regions must have some treatment of their own, but those of us concerned cannot be satisfied that this proposal will meet the sort of problems to which I have referred. I would rather see the right hon. Gentleman paying closer attention to the points made by Lord Crowther-Hunt in his dissenting memorandum to the Kilbrandon Report. I should welcome progress based on those principles.

    What can we expect from this new body? It is to be an all-region body not specifically concerned with any one region. Its membership is to be drawn from English Members. An exchange which I hope will be classified has already caused hon. Members to wonder to what extent it will be concerned with regional matters affecting the whole of England and to what extent with matters distinctive to any one region.

    What is meant by "regional affairs"? There is the matter of regional policy and the instruments we might choose for it, but that is a crucial issue which must be discussed on the Floor of the House, for it could not be discussed in its entirety elsewhere. But beyond that where do we go, since many matters of concern to different regions are seen differently in others? In the North-East, we might make common cause in certain matters with Yorkshire or with Scotland but would be at odds with the South-East or the South-West.

    The notion that the English regions have some identity of interests which can be readily subsumed under one heading is misleading. If all that the Committee will do is provide a place where we can discuss those matters which are of common regional interest in the absence of Scottish and Welsh Members, it will not get us very far. Already one only has to put the word "English" on the Order Paper in large letters and there will be no Scottish National Members sitting behind me. If one places it late on a Thursday night, there will be very few Welsh or Scottish Members present, and many North-East Members will regret the departure of the one o'clock sleeper without them.

    Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there will be a few issues of serious importance which concern only one region and very few which will not concern more than two or three?

    I agree. For example, the North-East might well share a common interest with other regions. Shipbuilding, for example, concerns the North-East, the North-West, the Bristol Channel and Clydeside. But there are, of course, marked differences between industrial regions suffering decline and unemployment and the South-East. To assume that one can neglect that difference, or that it can be readily accommodated in a Committee of the type proposed, is misleading and short-sighted. Of course, time will be provided which is not now available on the Floor of the House—but it is the time of Members who themselves are involved in business on the Floor of the House and in other Committees. We must not set that supposed advantage too high.

    If the Committee is to operate on the basis of a "shifting sands" membership, with North-East Members attending it for one subject and South-West Members for another, for example, with the remaining Members generally absent and with debates concentrated on particular occa- sions on the interests of one or two regions, we are dealing with a rather different body. I wonder whether it will manage to develop any continuing identity if it is merely a procedural device whereby Members representing one or two regions can gather to discuss a subject of common interest. Between these two extremes I find it difficult to know what satisfactory compromise can be arrived at.

    I raise these as reservations, not as reasons for rejecting the notion of creating this body. Its real disadvantages are matters that we might try to allow it to disprove rather than reasons for not setting the committee up. The paramount disadvantages of this body is that it looks like yet another talking shop which is bound to be viewed with little enthusiasm by those in regions such as the North-East who are anxious about the problems confronting them.

    It does not seem to me that the setting up of this Committee will in any way satisfy the most important cries coming from the regions. The first of these cries is for some clear voice to Government for their region. No Committee of this nature can provide such a voice, because it will combine representatives of a great many regions. The Committee cannot pass resolutions. It cannot make statements of any kind. It can only report that it has "considered the matter". Even if within the context of a debate within the Committee it became obvious that a view was emerging which represented the views of Yorkshire, say, that view could be "out-voiced", so to speak, by Members from other regions taking a different view. The Committee does not satisfy the need to present the views of a region collectively to the Government through that region's Members of Parliament. We must recognise that one of the crucial things that the regions have asked for will not be satisfied.

    Nor does the Committee give to the regions any of the power of action which Scotland and Wales will secure through substantial measures of devolution. If the Leader of the House believes that those of us who are concerned to get effective democratic control through regional bodies will be mollified by the setting up of this Committee, he is very mistaken. It does not meet the case for democratic regional control of ad hoc appointed bodies in such areas as health and water.

    This proposal condemns the English regions to the political kindergarten, from which Scotland and Wales are, after a long period, graduating. How long will we remain with this Committee as our only means of expression other than the Floor of the House? Will we have to wait as long as Scotland and Wales have done before we go anywhere beyond this?

    Viewed in that sense, this Committee is a poor bargain. I would not wish to resist the experiment, nor would I wish my hon. Friends to resist it, as a place in which regional matters can be discussed to a greater extent than they are now. However, let no one suppose that it carries us very far or that it satisfies the legitimate demands of the regions of England which share with Scotland and Wales precisely the problems which have led the Government at long last to proceed to measures of devolution. We have those problems and we will still have them however many times this Committee sits.

    11.19 p.m.

    It is a good thing that some of those hon. Members should speak who do not have in their constituencies the types of problem about which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and hon. Members opposite have spoken, problems concerned with unemployment and industrial decline.

    I should first like to ask what region my constituency is in. I do not believe that the Leader of the House can answer that question. It is not in the West Midlands. It is not in Wessex. It is not in Wales. It is not in the South-West. That, perhaps, is an illustration of the difficulty of setting up a Committee to deal with regional affairs when England is not divided into regions and there are no firm boundaries as to what are regions and what are not and which is in which region.

    I should like to ask, secondly: what are regional affairs? The term "regional affairs" is in the motion. It is surprising that nobody has yet defined what regional affairs are. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed came nearer to attempting a definition when he talked about industrial decline and unemployment. It has seemed to me from listening to the debate that most hon. Members who have talked about regional affairs are talking about the industrial situation in their constituency. He certainly was, although, with respect to him, I know his constituency very well indeed and I can say that there is very little industry and certainly little declining industry in it.

    The coal mines there are very few and far between and represent a tiny proportion of the population.

    Be that as it may, the hon. Gentleman had in mind the obtaining of further grants and assistance for industrial development, and the choking off of industrial development in other parts of the country such as that which I represent where it is judged that there is a sufficiency. If we are to interpret regional affairs in this sense, my constituents will find it very difficult to contribute. Perhaps their main point of view would be that they would like to pay less tax towards grants, loans and premiums to the regions and they would prefer that the industrial development certificate control be relaxed, because every time a new business of any size comes to my constituency it is denied an industrial development certificate in the hope that the business will go somewhere else. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Selfish."] No, it is not at all selfish. It merely tends to be rather a different point of view from that of the hon. Gentleman. I might suggest that he is talking, from his sedentary position, rather selfishly. Since he used the word, I use it too. This illustrates the divisive nature of the proposal.

    It seems to me that these are matters of great substance. They involve, first of all, the denial of certificates for industrial development, and, secondly, the raising of taxes and the distribution of subsidies from one group of citizens to another. This is a matter of great political import. To shove this sort of matter off to a Committee would be to devalue it. But, of course, there is no proposal that this Committee should be able to take substantive decisions. It is not a Committee which is going to enact law. Nor is it a Committee which is going to pass financial votes. It is masquerading if it is called a Standing Committee, because at least a Standing Committee on a Bill has the power to recommend or to raise taxation if it is a financial Bill which is before the Committee. This is not to be a Standing Committee. It is to be a talking shop, and it seems to me that it would be totally valueless.

    If I have a criticism about our present procedures, it is that when there is a debate on Scotland or the North-East or the South-West, on the whole, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and Mr. Speaker tend to concentrate on calling those who represent the area under discussion, who are all asking for more, but those who are trying to defend their constituents against increased taxation are not consulted so much.

    One of the further dangers about these debates on the regions is this. If we are to debate industrial development or water supply or housing or roads, the debate should be a whole one involving not only the benefits which are to be obtained for any region but the cost of that provision. We tend to have a day's debate on statutory corporations, such as today, or on British Leyland, just before we rose for the recess, and to spend large sums of money, and hon. Members with constituency interests in these matters put their points of view; and then every six months or so we have a Budget, and all those hon. Members disappear and another set of hon. Members come along and say that public expenditure is much too high and must be cut.

    If we are to have debates on regional affairs they should be attended by those whose job it is to defend the revenue-raising aspect of government. There should be Treasury Ministers present, who would rise and say "This policy for the region is going to cost X, Y or Z millions and we shall raise taxes in this way or in that way to cover the cost", and the representatives of the taxpayers should be able to comment on those proposals. This would be an improvement to our procedure, but it should not take place in a Committee. If it is to take place at all, it should take place on the Floor of the House.

    What sort of Committee will it be? I think that there are to be about 516 English Members plus five. The Leader of the House is to appoint a further five. Who will they be? Why are these extra I per cent. selected? Is it that the Labour Party has 254 English Members and needs five more to obtain a majority on the Committee? Is a sort of party majority point involved? If not, what is the reason for adding these five people to the Committee?

    Where will the Committee sit? Will it sit in the Grand Committee Room? Even that is not big enough to hold 500-odd Members.

    My hon. Friend gives me an idea. Perhaps we should sit by counties. Then there could be a different county represented in each Committee Room along the corridor. All the objections to Earls Court are applicable to this proposal.

    It would have been much better to drop the proposal, for all the reasons that have been given. There has not been one supporter of the proposal, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), who was lukewarm.

    My final reason for suggesting that we do not proceed with the proposal is the very reason at the heart of the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and others who have talked about the power of Parliament, the potency of the House. By questioning our power we are admitting not that we have not enough Committees, enough machinery, enough organisations and institutions to do our job, but that we cannot do our job because we are never prepared to use our votes in this Chamber. If we were to use our votes more in the direction that we believe right, we should at a stroke restore the authority of this House over the executive in a way that could not possibly be done by any amount of Select Committees, Standing Committees or any sort of Committee that the Leader of the House can set up.

    Those hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), who feel, for slightly different reasons, that this is not the right way to proceed could in a strange way restore the authority of the House in a short while tonight by voting against the proposal. Put in those few clear, simple English words, the proposition seems so clear, simple and easy. Yet I can see that the conscience of the hon. Member for Penis-tone is writhing. I can see a torment of agony at the thought that what he said should be translated into simple action which he knew perfectly well when he spoke he did not intend to take. But when he thinks about the arguments he used and the arguments advanced from the Opposition benches he will see that he could put right that omission by going through the Lobby that he did not intend to go through before he started to speak.

    Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the proper way to restore the authority of this House is to vote against the Government, right or wrong?

    No—to vote against the Government when they are wrong. I think that most hon. Members on both sides of the House think that the Government are wrong tonight.

    Hon. Members are much more likely to restore the authority of Parliament, and respect for it, if they reverse a wrong proposal by the Government. They are a million times more likely to succeed than all the Select Committees, Standing Committees, Sub-Committees and Grand Committees that the Leader of the House can dream up. These are but diversions, ways of wasting the time of hon. Members, who would be far wiser to spend their time in this Chamber, listening to the arguments and deciding when it is their duty and responsibility to vote against the executive.

    11.30 p.m.

    I have rarely heard so much sound and fury about a simple proposal for an experiment designed solely to help provide more opportunities for hon. Members. The Shadow Leader of the House made a niggling and utterly negative speech. There was not one positive proposal in the whole of it.

    I apologise for intervening. Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether he is attempting to draw the debate to a conclusion? I shall support his proposal, but I should like to have my say before the debate is concluded.

    That is a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    The right hon. Member said that this proposal—

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my right hon. Friend for intervening again. I asked whether it was his intention to try to draw the debate to a conclusion.

    That is not a point of order; it is a way of making the hon. Member's point.

    I replied to my hon. Friend. I said that this was a matter entirely for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    This proposal is purely for the benefit of hon. Members who want to ventilate regional problems and who have expressed this view over and over again on Thursdays in business questions. To say, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that this is a case of the executive using tricks to erode the powers of Parliament is utter nonsense. It is a proposal for an experiment designed purely to help hon. Members who really want to debate specific regional problems.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was talking of a debate on Yorkshire in 1972 but he will recollect that the then Opposition were prepared to devote some of their Supply time to regional matters, and frequently we gave a day which was divided into two regional debates. The present Opposition, so far, have not given any time for regional debates in that way.

    My hon. Friend also talked about the undoubted rights of Members to bring local matters—he referred to the case of a local industry—to the Floor of the House. I agree—and that right is completely unimpaired by this simple proposal. That right will remain. This right would be an additional one. It would mean that many specific matters which cannot be debated now would be debated. My hon. Friend also asked whether we would accept this for an experimental period, and whether, if doubts were still expressed by hon. Members, I would take the initiative in abolishing the procedure. Of course I would; this is simply an experiment for a period, to see how it gets on.

    The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), who has pressed for regional debates, called this a bromide solution. If she wants a debate on the strategic plan for the North-West, here is an opportunity, not out of sight and sound but in Committee, with the Press and the public present if they wish to be present. I should have thought that a debate in Committee in that way was better than no debate at all. I hope that the hon. Lady will support the proposal.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) quoted a reply that I gave which illustrates that Scotland and Wales have a good deal of time to discuss regional matters in their Committees, and the proposal tonight is simply to give English Members the same kind of opportunity as that which Scottish and Welsh Members now have.

    The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said that the object was to make more room for Government business on the Floor of the House. That is not the object. The simple fact is that we are not debating regional matters sufficiently. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) made the same point. I fully agree; we are not. I come from the same area as he does, where there are the most acute regional problems. How fortunate the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) is to have no regional problems. But he came from the North-East and he knows well that we have the most difficult regional problems there which need debating. This would be additional to any time that we can give on the Floor of the House.

    The hon. Member for Woking also complained—I note that the hon. Gentleman is not present now—about something which he says I shall say in reply to a hypothetical question which I may be asked on the Business Statement some time in the future. The hon. Gentleman kept on talking about this Committee being out of sight and out of hearing. That is utter nonsense. The Press and the public would be present, and there may even be radio broadcasting.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring gave the proposal a cautious welcome. He said that I was not sufficiently concerned with regional matters. It is because I am concerned with regional matters that I have brought forward this proposal.

    The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put the very interesting point that the need to provide more time for regional matters was the consequence of the policy of devolution. The hon. Gentleman went on to develop that argument to an unwarranted extent. I would not suggest that this is a proposal for some kind of devolution in England for some time in the future. The hon. Gentleman also raised the point—this was a matter raised by other hon. Members—whether the Committee would be able to discuss regional policy generally. It would be able to do so if there was general agreement that it should, but no subject could go to the Committee without general agreement.

    I would see the main purpose of the Committee as being to discuss not regional policy generally but specific matters relating to specific regions. The "shifting sands" concept of membership of the Committee would apply exactly as it does in the Scottish Grand Committee, where Members who tend to be interested in the subject under debate turn up for the debate.

    Is there any association in the right hon. Gentleman's mind between the proposal the right hon. Gentleman has put before the House and regional government and the election of regional councils?

    No, none whatever. The two matters are completely unconnected. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was right in saying that this would be a forum. I believe that as such it would be extremely valuable. Members would be able to go to the Committee—that is, Members who were interested and concerned—to put their point of view and the point of view of their region. Ministers would have to answer, and almost certainly the debates would receive wide publicity in the local Press as the Scottish and Welsh debates do.

    I emphasise that this is a modest proposal for an experiment. It would give opportunities for debate which are not now available. It is not designed as a substitute for a debate in the House, nor is it designed to make more time available for the Government in the House. It would be additional to any time we can devote to regional matters on the Floor of the House. It is an experiment. It is a sessional Committee and nothing more. If it does not commend itself to the House after an experimental period, I shall propose discontinuing it. With those assurances I commend the proposal to the House. I hope the House will now be able to accept this proposition.

    11.38 p.m.

    Perhaps you will allow me to complete my sentence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House having made a second speech, I hope that I may have the leave of the House to do the same.

    I do not want to repeat my arguments, nor do I want to counter what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I do not think he hoisted in the point that there is some genuine interest on both sides of the House as to whether this proposal is as useful as he appears to think it is. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will not be so precipitous and unwise, in view of the misgivings which have been expressed from both sides of the House and in view of the number of Members who want to speak, as to move the Closure on a matter which should be one of no party controversy.

    11.40 p.m.

    When a few moments ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he intended to wind up the debate, I did not intend to be discourteous. As the motion has been in existence for a period of between six and eight weeks, and as one Lancashire Conservative Member has already spoken in this debate, I thought I should have the opportunity of making a contribution from Lancashire's point of view from the Labour benches. There are obviously still a number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate and, therefore, I shall put my points briefly.

    Obviously, every hon. Member would prefer to discuss regional affairs on the Floor of the House. In practice, however, this has happened on fewer and fewer occasions in recent years. Therefore, it would seem that our choice tonight lies between having the opportunity of discussing regional matters upstairs in committee and of having almost no opportunity to discuss regional affairs.

    One view from the Opposition benches was that we were now experiencing too much legislation—with the implication that if a discussion of regional affairs on the Floor of the House meant that more Government Bills fell by the wayside that would be all to the good. But that is not the way in which Labour Members would look at the situation. We were brought to power in order to put forward a programme, and we believe that that programme should have priority. Therefore, if the choice is between a debate on regional affairs upstairs in Committee and a debate in the House, reluctantly I would opt for a limited one upstairs. There are hon. Members who would prefer everything to take place in the House. There are those, such as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who argue that motions of this nature take away the pre-eminence of the House of Commons and are a threat to sovereignty. However, I believe that we should agree to this experiment and wait to see what the Committee itself brings forth.

    This does not mean that I approve every dot and comma of the proposals, some of which appear to be unnecessary. Paragraph 3 of the motion says:
    "A Motion may be made…by a Minister of the Crown…to the effect that a specified matter…be referred to the Standing Committee.…".
    Then why should not the Committee have the right to decide what it should discuss? There is no suggestion that this should be a regional Parliament. Therefore, surely such a Committee should have the right to discuss and decide what it wants to recommend, and all the rest of it.

    On the matter of the veto, there is reference in the same paragraph to 20 Members rising in their places. That is a strange way to look at the question of sovereignty, because that would mean a figure of less than 4 per cent. of the total membership. Surely that point should be examined.

    Paragraph 4 says that the Committee must state that it has considered the matter. Should not the Committee also have the right to make recommendations? On the matter of the time scale, should not such a Committee be able to extend its work for one Session, or even two or three Sessions, if it considers that course to be necessary. Furthermore, I do not think the proceedings should be subject to a maximum of two-and-a-half hours—which is less than 15 seconds for each hon. Member. We appreciate that the motion is not part of any move to devolution, and if my right hon. Friend will agree to look at these points I believe that we should accept the proposals. On that basis I give the matter my support. I think it is important that the House has had the opportunity of making its view known on these proposals.

    11.45 p.m.

    It is a credit to the good nature of English Members on both sides of the House that, as a Scottish Member, I do not feel that I am intruding on what is perhaps a family dispute.

    My main motivation for intervening in the debate is my anxiety to see English regional business given the same amount of time, discussion and emphasis as is given to Scottish and Welsh business in this House.

    I have listened with interest to the anxieties expressed by hon. Members representing the industrial areas of the North of England and by hon. Members representing the South of England. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is not here, because I should have liked to point out to him that when we are discussing regional affairs the London area is as much a region of the United Kingdom as the North of England or, in the absence of SNP Members, dare I say, Scotland.

    In listening to debates of various kinds we have noticed a natural reaction—perhaps a natural backlash—by some English Members to the amount of time that is devoted, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, to Scottish business to the disadvantage of many, if not most, of the regions of England. We Scots, believe it or not, are fair-minded people and would be happy to do what we can to even out the balance.

    This debate could and should have far-reaching consequences for devolution, despite the point made by the Lord President. It is a contribution to the shape of attitudes in the House on how we will regard the proposals that the Government will put forward for separate Parliaments in Scotland and Wales and the extent to which the imbalance that already exists in favour of Scotland and Wales in the form of devolution may be further exaggerated.

    Some Opposition Members, keen as they may be on proposals for devolution, have no desire to encourage Scotland or Wales to rush into a situation whereby they will further demote themselves in the context of the United Kingdom and Parliament as a whole.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was absolutely right when he emphasised that the basic problem is too much legislation and too many Committees. We cannot ignore the facts. There is very little evidence that in anything like the near future any remedy will be put forward which will greatly decrease the amount of legislation or Committee work. For that reason alone, I repeat my desire to see some balance in the way that regional business is handled in Scotland and in Wales.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) hit the centre of the problem which is the way that business is conducted in the House and how we deal in a piecemeal fashion with most of the problems which come before us.

    I support the motion because I believe that it is the beginning of a reshaping of attitudes. It is important that English Members should realise that, although we take in good part the chat in the Lobby when the House is held up late at night because of Scottish business, at the same time we feel that the bargain should be that it is just as important for the House to discuss Scottish business late at night as English business. Equally, it is just as relevant that English business should be taken upstairs in Committee if that is the place where Scottish and Welsh business is to be discussed.

    For those reasons, and because I believe that some balance of discussion should take place in this House, I say to the Lord President that, although I see many things in this proposal which will not improve the position as we see

    Division No. 220.]


    [11.51 p.m.

    Allaun, FrankGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)O'Halloran, Michael
    Armstrong, ErnestGeorge, BruceO'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
    Ashton, JoeGolding, JohnOvenden, John
    Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Gould, BryanPalmer, Arthur
    Atkinson, NormanGrant, George (Morpeth)Park, George
    Bates, AlfGrant, John (Islington C)Parry, Robert
    Bean, R. E.Grocott, BrucePrescott, John
    Bidwell, SydneyHarper, JosephPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
    Bishop, E. S.Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Radice, Giles
    Boothroyd, Miss BettyHatton, FrankRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
    Bradley, TomHoram, JohnRodgers, George (Chorley)
    Buchan, NormanHowell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Rooker, J. W.
    Callaghan, Rt Hon J (Cardiff SE)Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Roper, John
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)Rose, Paul B.
    Carmichael, NeilHughes, Roy (Newport)Ryman, John
    Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraHunter, AdamSelby, Harry
    Clemitson, IvorJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
    Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Janner, GrevilleSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
    Cohen, StanleyJohn, BrynmorSillars, James
    Concannon, J. D.Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Skinner, Dennis
    Conlan, BernardLamborn, HarrySmall, William
    Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lamond, JamesSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Spriggs, Lesiie
    Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)Stallard, A. W.
    Crawshaw, RichardLoyden, EddieStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
    Cryer, BobLuard, EvanStoddart, David
    Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Stott, Roger
    Dalyell, TarnMabon, Dr J. DicksonStrang, Gavin
    Davidson, ArthurMcCartney, HughTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
    Deakins, EricMcElhone, FrankThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Delargy, HughMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
    Dell, Rt Hon EdmundMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Tomlinson, John
    Dempsey, JamesMcNamara, KevinTorney, Tom
    Doig, PeterMadden, MaxUrwin, T. W.
    Douglas-Mann, BruceMagee, BryanVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Duffy, A. E. P.Mahon, SimonWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
    Dunn, James A.Mallalieu, J. P. W.Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
    Eadie, AlexMarks, KennethWard, Michael
    Edge, GeoffMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wellbeloved, James
    Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)White, Frank R. (Bury)
    English, MichaelMaynard, Miss JoanWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
    Evans, John (Newton)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertWilson, William (Coventry SE)
    Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Mendelson, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
    Flannery, MartinMillan, BruceWoodall, Alec
    Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Miller, Mrs Millie (Iltord N)Young, David (Bolton E)
    Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
    Forrester, JohnMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King


    Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Newens, StanleyMr. J. D. Dormand and
    Freeson, ReginaldNoble, MikeMr. Laurie Pavitt.


    Aitken, JonathanBurden, F. A.Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
    Arnold, TomButler, Adam (Bosworth)Elliott, Sir William
    Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Chalker, Mrs LyndaFairgrieve, Russell
    Benyon, W. L.Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
    Biffen, JohnCope, JohnFletcher-Cooke, Charles
    Boscawen, Hon RobertCrouch, DavidFowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
    Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Crowder, F. P.Freud, Clement
    Bulmer, EsmondDean, Paul (N Somerset)Gardiner, George (Reigate)

    it in the House, an important principle is being touched upon this evening and it is one which for reasons of a Scottish nature, I shall support.

    rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

    Question put, That the Question be now put:—

    The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 112.

    Godber, Rt Hon JosephMadel, DavidRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Ridley, Hon Nicholas
    Grieve, PercyMather, CarolRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
    Grist, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
    Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissMayhew, PatrickRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
    Hawkins, PaulMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
    Higgins, Terence L.Moate, RogerShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
    Hooson, EmlynMolyneaux, JamesShelton, William (Streatham)
    Hordern, PeterMonro, HectorShepherd, Colin
    Hunt, JohnMontgomery, FergusSilvester, Fred
    Hutchison, Michael ClarkMorgan, GeraintSims, Roger
    James, DavidMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Sinclair, Sir George
    Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
    Jopling, MichaelNeave, AireySpeed, Keith
    Kaberry, Sir DonaldNelson, AnthonySproat, Iain
    Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineNeubert, MichaelStokes, John
    Kershaw, AnthonyNewton, TonyStradling, Thomas, J.
    King, Evelyn (South Dorset)Normanton, TomTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
    Knight, Mrs JillOnslow, CranleyTebbit, Norman
    Knox, DavidOppenheim, Mrs SallyThorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
    Lamont, NormanOsborn, JohnTownsend, Cyril D.
    Latham, Michael (Melton)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Trotter, Neville
    Lawrence, IvanPattle, GeoffreyVaughan, Dr Gerard
    Leadbitter, TedPenhaligon, DavidViggers, Peter
    Lloyd, IanPercival, IanWeatherill, Bernard
    Luce, RichardPeyton, Rt Hon JohnWinterton, Nicholas
    McCrindle, RobertPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
    MacGregor, JohnPrior, Rt Hon James


    Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Rathbone, TimMr. Cecil Parkinson and
    McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir PeterMr. Spencer Le Marchant.
    McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Question put accordingly:

    Division No. 221.]


    [12.02 a.m.

    Allaun, FrankFletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)Marks, Kenneth
    Armstrong, ErnestFletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
    Ashton, JoeFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Forrester, JohnMaynard, Miss Joan
    Atkinson, NormanFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
    Bates, AlfFreeson, ReginaldMendelson, John
    Bean, R. E.Freud, ClementMillan, Bruce
    Beith, A. J.Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
    Bidwell, SydneyGeorge, BruceMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
    Bishop, E. S.Golding, JohnMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King
    Boothroyd, Miss BettyGould, BryanNewens, Stanley
    Bradley, TomGrant, George (Morpeth)Noble, Mike
    Buchan, NormanGrant, John (Islington C)Ogden, Eric
    Callaghan, Rt Hon J (Cardiff SE)Grocott, BruceO'Halloran, Michael
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
    Carmichael, NellHatton, FrankOvenden, John
    Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraHooson, EmlynPalmer, Arthur
    Clemitson, IvorHoram, JohnPark, George
    Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Parry, Robert
    Cohen, StanleyHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Pavitt, Laurie
    Concannon, J. D.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)Penhallgon, David
    Conlan, BernardHughes, Roy (Newport)Prescott, John
    Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Hunter, AdamPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Radice, Giles
    Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Janner, GrevilleRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
    Crawshaw, RichardJohn, BrynmorRodgers, George (Choriey)
    Cryer, BobJones, Alec (Rhondda)Hooker, J. W.
    Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Kerr, RussellRoper, John
    Dalyell, TamLamborn, HarryRose, Paul B.
    Davidson, ArthurLamond, JamesRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
    Deakins, ErieLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Ryman, John
    Delargy, HughLewis, Arthur (Newham N)Selby, Harry
    Dell, Rt Hon EdmundLoyden, EddieShort, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
    Dempsey, JamesLuard, EvanSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
    Doig, PeterLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Sillars, James
    Douglas-Mann, BruceMabon, Dr J. DicksonSkinner, Dennis
    Duffy, A. E. P.McCartney, HughSmall, William
    Dunn, James A.McElhone, FrankSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
    Eadie, AlexMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
    Edge, GeoffMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Spriggs, Leslie
    Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)McNamara, KevinSproat, Iain
    English, MichaelMadden, MaxStallard, A. W.
    Evans, John (Newton)Magee, BryanStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
    Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Mahon, SimonStoddart, David
    Flannery, MartinMallalieu, J. P. W.Stott, Roger

    The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 104.

    Strang, GavinVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.Wise, Mrs Audrey
    Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)Woodall, Alec
    Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)Young, David (Bolton E)
    Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Ward, Michael
    Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)Wellbeloved, James


    Tomlinson, JohnWhite, Frank R. (Bury)Mr. Joseph Harper and
    Torney, TomWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)Mr. J. D. Dormand.
    Urwin, T. W.Wilson, William (Coventry SE)


    Altken, JonathanKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
    Arnold, TomKnight, Mrs JillParkinson, Cecil
    Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Knox, DavidPattle, Geoffrey
    Biffen, JohnLamont, NormanPercival, Ian
    Boscawen, Hon RobertLatham, Michael (Melton)Peyton, Rt Hon John
    Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Lawrence, IvanPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
    Bulmer, EsmondLeadbitter, TedPrior, Rt Hon James
    Burden, F. A.Le Marchant, SpencerRathbone, Tim
    Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Lloyd, IanRawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
    Chalker, Mrs LyndaLuce, RichardRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
    Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)McCrindle, RobertRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Cope, JohnMacGregor, JohnRidley, Hon Nicholas
    Crouch, DavidMacmillan, Rt Hon M- (Farnham)Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
    Crowder, F. P.McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
    Dean, Paul (N Somerset)McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
    Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Madel, DavidShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
    Elliott, Sir WilliamMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Shelton, William (Streatham)
    Fairgrieve, RussellMather, CarolShepherd, Colin
    Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinSims, Roger
    Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Mayhew, PatrickSinclair, Sir George
    Gardiner, George (Reigate)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Speed, Keith
    Godber, Rt Hon JosephMoate, RogerStokes, John
    Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Molyneaux, JamesStradling, Thomas, J.
    Grieve, PercyMonro, HectorTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
    Grist, IanMontgomery, FergusTebbit, Norman
    Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissMorgan, GeraintTownsend, Cyril D.
    Hawkins, PaulMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Trotter, Neville
    Higgins, Terence L.Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
    Hordern, Peter
    Hunt, JohnNeave, AlreyViggers, Peter
    Hutchison, Michael ClarkNelson, AnthonyWeatherill, Bernard
    James, DavidNeubert, MichaelWinterton, Nicholas
    Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Newton, Tony
    Jopling, MichaelNormanton, Tom


    Kaberry, Sir DonaldOnslow, CranleyMr. W. Benyon and
    Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineOppenhelm, Mrs SallyMr. Fred Silvester.
    Kershaw, AnthonyOsborn, John

    Question accordingly agreed to.



    1. There shall be a Standing Committee, to be called the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which shall consider any matter or matters relating to regional affairs in England which may be referred to them.

    2. All Members sitting for constituencies in England shall be members of the Standing Committee, together with not more than five other Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who shall have power from time to time to discharge the Members so nominated by them and to appoint others in substitution for those discharged, and the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 62 (Nomination of standing committees) and 63 (Attendance of law officers and ministers in standing committees) shall not apply.

    3. A Motion may be made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of Public Business to the effect that a specified matter or matters relating to regional affairs in England be referred to the Standing Committee for their consideration, and the Question thereon shall be put forthwith; and if, on the Question being put, not less than twenty Members rise in their places and signify their objection thereto, Mr. Speaker shall declare that the Noes have it.

    4. The Committee shall consider the matter or matters referred to them on a motion 'That the Committee have considered the matter or matters'; and the Chairman shall put any Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on such a motion, if not previously concluded, when the Committee shall have sat for two and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings; and the Committee shall thereupon report to the House that they have considered the matter or matters without any further Question being put.