§ Mr. Harry Ewing
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the spending of public moneys by the Secretary of State for Scotland without the approval of the House and in anticipation of 210 legislation that has not yet been presented to, or approved by the House, and dealing with the question of the assisted places scheme relating to private schools in Scotland.I am glad to see that the Patronage Secretary has decided to stay in the Chamber to listen to my application under Standing Order No. 9. This is the fourth or fifth occasion during this long Session that I have complained bitterly about the way in which the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Scottish Office Ministers have treated the House. I regard this matter as being by far the most serious of all complaints that I have waged against the Scottish Office during this Session.
The Scotsman newspaper this morning printed an article under the headingTories take the plunge on private schools plan".I shall quote briefly from the article. It states:Publicity material for parents on the Scottish private schools assisted places scheme is being issued by the Government before they have sought parliamentary approval for the proposals.And within two weeks the Scottish Education Department will also be publishing a list of up to 45 schools taking part at a cost next year of £750,000 and rising to more than £3 million in five years.A leaflet, Assisted Places Scheme, a Brief Guide for Parents, describing how the scheme will operate in Scotland was published yesterday by the SED.
§ 'ACT QUICKLY'
§ Though the leaflet points out that the scheme is still subject to parliamentary approval it urges parents to 'act quickly' if they want to apply for an assisted place for September next year.
§ The scheme will be bitterly opposed by Scottish Labour MPs when presented in an Education Bill in the forthcoming session, but the Government are confident that their parliamentary majority will ensure that their proposals are unaltered.
§ A Scottish Office spokesman confirmed yesterday that it had been decided to issue the guide now because many of the private schools involved were beginning to plan their intakes for next year. The Education (Scotland) Bill is not expected to receive Royal Assent until next summer."
§ The Education (Scotland) Bill, far from not receiving Royal Assent until next summer, has not even been intimated to the House as being part of the Government's legislative programme. We have not heard anything about the contents of the Queen's Speech, which we shall hear 211 when the new Session begins on 20 November. Of all the complaints that I have made against the Scottish Office, this is the clearest indication that the Scottish Office has a complete disregard for Parliament. I am bound to say to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that if that sort of conduct is allowed to continue—we are told through the publication of a leaflet that a Bill not yet intimated to the House is to be introduced, and that there will be no alteration to the Bill—it is pointless for any Member of Parliament to come to the House to discuss the matter. Through the article in The Scotsman, and on the say-so of the Scottish Education Department, the Government are saying that the proposals will remain unaltered. Surely that is a most serious position to face the House in considering legislation. This matter is of vital importance to the rights of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
§ I can imagine what would have happened had the previous Labour Government sought to take such measures without the approval of the House. That never happened, because no democratically elected Government would ever seek to usurp the will and the authority of the House. I cannot argue the merits of the assisted places scheme, as much as I should like to do so. The leaflet goes into great detail. It is not a general leaflet. It defines the income limits for parents, the parental contribution that will be required and the grants available—all that in anticipation of legislation that we have not yet seen, let alone had intimated to the House.
§ I must ask you to give the most serious consideration to my application, Mr. Speaker, because if one Department can do what I have described and get away with it, God knows what the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary 212 of State for Industry will try. If the matter is allowed to go on and the Secretary of State for Scotland is not called before the House tomorrow to answer for what has appeared in The Scotsman today, and the leaflets issued yesterday we shall be moving along the road to the time when Parliament need not meet, when all that we need wait on are edicts from various Government Departments, with our system becoming a dictatorship rather than democracy.
§ The Scottish Office has much to answer for because of the way in which it has treated the House. Against that background, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to grant my application.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before 12 o'clock today that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the spending of public moneys by the Secretary of State for Scotland without the approval of the House and in anticipation of legislation that has not yet been presented to, or approved by the House, and dealing with the question of the assisted places scheme relating to private schools in Scotland.I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman said, for I have no doubt that he raised a very important issue. But I do not decide whether the House shall debate the matter; I decide merely whether there can be an emergency debate tonight or tomorrow night. I am directed not to give any reasons for my decision.
Although I listened very carefully and with concern to what the hon. Gentleman said, I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.