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Standing Order No 63

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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I have a brief ruling to make. The House will recall that yesterday I replied to a point of order about the attendance of Law Officers at Standing Committees. The question was raised by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). I had no notice of the the substance of the point of order, of which I make no complaint. Therefore I ruled extemporarily and off-the-cuff.

In view of a misunderstanding that I believe has arisen. I make it clear that Standing Order No. 63, which I read to the House, confers a right upon Law Officers to attend meetings of Standing Committees but does not impose any duty upon them to do so, nor does it confer any right upon a Committee formally to summon them. Should any Member, during the course of proceedings in a Standing Committee, express the wish that a Law Officer should attend, it is for the Chairman to decide whether that is in order. He is subject to no guidance from me in this respect.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it is in order for the Chairman of a Standing Committee to accept a motion that an invitation be extended to one or other of the Law Officers to attend the Committee? I am sure that you appreciate the difficulty that faced the Standing Committee on the Education (No. 2) Bill yesterday when, due to certain legal complexities, we wanted the attendance of the Solicitor-General for Scotland and possibly other Law Officers. The Solicitor-General for Scotland is a difficult man to get hold of. His attendance in this Chamber is rather irregular, to say the least—

Order. I allowed the hon. Member to proceed, but I must emphasise that the Chairman of a Standing Committee is in charge of that Committee and there is no appeal from the Chairman to the occupant of this Chair, and certainly not to me. The Chairman of the Committee decides what is in order and what is not.

Later—

I wish to raise a point of order on your original statement, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for the clarification. Does not the ruling that you gave yesterday and the explanation that you have just given highlight the difficulties facing Standing Committees of the House when the Secretary of State from one Department makes a ruling that affects a Committee that is being sponsored by a different Department? In this case the Department of Education and Science was affected by a ruling given by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Secretary of State for the Environment gave a legal ruling in terms of section 97(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, and it was that legal difficulty that caused all the problems for the Committee yesterday. May I ask the Leader of the House, through you, Mr. Speaker, whether the appropriate Committee of the House might look at the whole matter?

The remarks of the hon. Member will have been heard by those who have more influence than I have on such matters.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I speak as the hon. Member who has the privilege of chairing Standing Committee D. As a result of the ruling that you gave yesterday there was some confusion in the Committee. I appreciate that the ruling was given by you at very short notice. It resulted in an effort to table a motion by hon. Members in good faith which I, as Chairman, ruled out of order at equally short notice. I am most grateful for the clarification this afternoon, which shows that Standing Order No. 63 is quite specific. I based my ruling on that Standing Order. I am sure that all members of the Chairmen's Panel will be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having clarified the position in relation to that Standing Order for the conduct of future Committees.