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Points Of Order

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 15 December 1987

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3.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) brought to your attention the fact that there is no Scottish Minister serving on the Standing Committee considering the Health and Medicines Bill. That Committee met this morning. Of course, you ruled on the matter, Mr. Speaker, and it is now concluded. I drew the attention of the Chairman of the Committee to the fact that, Standing Order No. 87(1) states:

"Mr. Attorney General, the Lord Advocate, Mr. Solicitor General and Mr. Solicitor General for Scotland, or any of them, being Members of the House, though not members of a standing committee, may take part in the deliberations of the committee, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum."
That matter was raised, and the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), ruled that it was not a matter for him.

Order. We cannot discuss on the Floor of the House what goes on in a Committee.

The point is that the problem of there not being a Scottish Minister on the Committee could have been overcome if we could have sent for the Solicitor-General for Scotland because the Bill deals with primary legislation covering the Health Service in Scotland. That is not possible because the Solicitor-General for Scotland lost his seat in the general election, but the Government saw fit to reappoint him. So here we have a Standing Order that says that we may send for a Law Officer, but we have lost that right because the Law Officer is not a Member of this House. How can we get around that problem?

I have to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that he is correct in saying that there is no Scottish Law Officer qualified to attend the Standing Committee. Membership of the Committee is a matter for the Committee of Selection. As I explained to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) yesterday, that is the place where he should take his representations. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to press the point any further, but we in Scotland have now reached the point at which we have no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs because the Government cannot provide membership and cannot agree on it. We have failed to have a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee, we do not have a Scottish Minister on the Standing Committee, and we cannot send for the Solicitor-General for Scotland. It must be apparent to hon. Members and to people outside that the Government are incapable of properly administering the affairs of Scotland.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of the House, will you confirm that this is a unitary Parliament in which every part of the United Kingdom is dealt with properly and that Scottish affairs are regularly dealt with in the Chamber? In fact, within the recent week we have dealt with Scottish business.

That is true, but it does not necessarily follow from the point of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a member of the Standing Committee on the Health and Medicines Bill. This morning, I was silenced. I was unable to debate the very important—

Order. The hon. Member knows that we cannot debate in the House what goes on in Standing Committee. It is not my responsibility. It is a matter for the Standing Committee itself and for its Chairman.

You are absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. This relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg). The reason I could not speak in Committee this morning was the filibuster organised by the Labour party.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have rightly on a number of occasions pointed out that you see one of your major roles as protecting the rights of Back-Bench Members. At Question Time you mentioned to the Leader of the Opposition that it was an exception for a fourth question to be asked by him. May I ask you to re-emphasise that it is an exception because it is a dangerous precedent? May I also point out that nine of the 15 minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time today were devoted exclusively to questions by the Leader of the Opposition—

Order. I do not need any help on this. I said to the House—and the hon. Member heard me, otherwise he would not have raised the point of order—that very exceptionally I call the Leader of the Opposition for a fourth time. I emphasise to the House that in the course of a Parliament I shall seek to ensure that every Back-Bench Member who wishes to be called is called at Prime Minister's Question Time. To that extent I have to exercise a degree of rationing. I seek to ensure that the calling is as fair and as wide as possible.

On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will also be aware that today we were unable to hear at least two minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time because of the actions of a number of hon. Members. I know it is very difficult for you. It would be easy for us to identify individual hon. Members, but is there any way by which you can name collectively a group of hon. Members who seek to disrupt the House by actions such as we had today?

I welcome the opportunity of saying to the House that our reputation is in the hands of hon. Members. A row such as we had at Question Time, which, sadly, was broadcast, does the House a very grave disservice.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that, even in the short time that I have been here, the amount of time taken by the Leader of the Opposition increases—

Further to the point of order before last, Mr. Speaker. When the Select Committee on Trade and Industry asked the then Attorney-General, Mr. Sam Silkin, to advise it, he replied in writing that, although Law Officers had a duty to advise the House as a whole, they had no duty to advise Committees of the House. That was the accepted doctrine. It might be well worth reminding the House of it so that there are no further points of order on Law Officers who do not go to Committees.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Member who was next on the list at Prime Minister's Question Time and who was unable to ask the Prime Minister about the very important statement—

Order. That is just the point. I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman. I carefully keep a list, so I am aware that the hon. Member has not asked a question of the Prime Minister in this Session. I shall seek to make it up to him later.