§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the likely loss to Scotland of the proposed new Ford plant at Dundee arising from the stated intention of the leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union to confound today's decision of the general council of the Trade Union Congress to allow a single union agreement to go ahead.I do not believe that there is an hon. Member who does not wish and pray that Ford may reverse its decision and bring this development to Dundee, to Scotland and to Great Britain. We face the prospect of a cataclysmic catastrophe in the loss not of any out-of-date industry but of the industry of the future. My constituency has 15 per cent. unemployment and the site of the development is partly in my constituency. For five months, nothing has been done to remove the objection of the Transport and General Workers Union. Indeed, last week the Labour party held its Scottish conference in my constituency and the matter was not mentioned, despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who is sponsored by that union was present, with eight Scottish Opposition Members sponsored by that union.
The statement that we heard today would inevitably mean that Ford would not come to Dundee. The catastrophe for Scotland—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Fairbairn
—would be not only that we would lose Ford : we would lose an infinite number of other jobs; we would lose inward investment and we would regain our reputation as a bad place for industrial development. There has been silence from all Opposition Members, including the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do not care."]
My constituents in Scotland demand that the leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union now give an unequivocal statement that they will adhere to the recommendation of the Trade Union Congress. I do not believe that there has ever been a more important industrial matter in Scotland. It is critical. I ask for a debate on behalf of the whole of Scotland and I am sure that I speak for the whole House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the likely loss to Scotland of the proposed new Ford plant at Dundee arising from the stated intention of the leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union to confound today's decision of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress to allow a single union agreement to go ahead.I listened with interest and concern to what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, as I did to today's exchanges at Question Time. I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20, and I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not question your decision but I, too, regret that you have not been able to grant the Standing 359 Order No. 20 application, because it would have given us the opportunity to expose the absolute and total hypocrisy with which the Secretary of State for Scotland has covered himself in relation to the Ford issue.
I have a point of order relating to the conduct of today's Question Time. When the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) sought to ask a question about Ford in Dundee on Question 6, you told him that there was a later question on the Order Paper relating to Ford. I put it to you, Sir, that there was no such later question. That conveys to me the distinct impression that someone—possibly someone on the Conservative Benches — had advised you that he intended to use Question 8 in relation to the Ford Motor Company at Dundee.
When you said that, those of us here on the Back Benches rightly or wrongly expected that Question 8 would be allowed to run. Tragically and unfortunately, you cut that question short and, on my behalf and on behalf of my Back Bench colleagues, I object most strongly to the fact that Question 8 was cut short because it was on an important issue. There is a distinct impression among my colleagues and myself that the Secretary of State was being protected today.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Let me answer a question of that sort. The reason why I said what I did, I believe it was on Question 7, was that the question related to the poll tax and community charge. On the second point, I assure the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that I seek to do my homework and assess what might be raised during Question Time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is appropriate for the Chair to do that. I anticipated that the issue of Ford would arise on Question 8. There has certainly been no collusion; I assure the hon. Gentleman of that absolutely.
On the matter of not allowing that question to run, we keep careful timing and that question ran for 11 minutes. That is much longer than I would normally allow any individual question.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the individual concerned, let me make it quite clear that I was perfectly satisfied with the way in which you presented it and the decision you made, and I hope that the rest of the House will accept that.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your reply to the previous point of order—that that you had judged that Question 8 was the appropriate question on which the Ford issue could be addressed — would it not have been appropriate, particularly given the time taken up by the Minister rather than by hon. Members seeking to question the Minister, for that question to be taken at the end of Question Time so as to allow for proper exchanges? You said that it was an important question. Therefore, why was it that you felt that that important question should be confined to a debate between the Labour party and the Conservative party, which have not covered themselves with glory in this matter and neither of which has done Scotland a service? Would it not have been appropriate to take that question at the end in order to allow all parties to participate?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not decide whether questions are taken at the end. That is done at the request of a Minister. It happens occasionally and it may well be that that would have been appropriate today. It was not in my hands.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. From the large number of hon. Members rising from their seats, it was clear to see how important that issue was. Subsequently, many Conservative Members chose to abuse other questions on the Order Paper and, under spurious guises, attempted to make political capital out of a vital issue in Scotland.
Surely the protection of Back Benchers means that, when there is an opportunity to question a Minister on a vital issue, it should be extended to those who are genuine in their concern.
§ Mr. Stewart
It is related, Mr. Speaker. Is it not incumbent upon the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) to withdraw his criticism of your conduct (luring Scottish Question Time?
§ Mr. Harry Ewing
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not need any lectures from someone such as the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). I did not say anything that I feel it is necessary to withdraw. If I am not sincere in what I say and if I did not think carefully before saying what I do, I would withdraw. However, I have sat here today angry at the way in which the people of Dundee and my colleagues on both sides of the House—the Liberal party and the Scottish National party make fair points — were treated. I am right, and I have no intention of withdrawing my comments. I am right to express that anger.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The business for today is under a timetable motion and this takes time out of that. I say to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that I am the first to realise how frustrating it is if one is not called to ask a question at Question Time.
In relation to what the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) said, frequently after Question Time, specifically Scottish Question Time, I receive letters from hon. Members saying that we have not gone fast enough. Today we could have probably spent a great deal of time on Question 8. However, I have to bear in mind other opportunities and, indeed, they could arise later this week on the Easter Adjournment motion.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you reconsider the request from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbaim)?
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask how much longer you will tolerate continued attacks on your judgment and integrity under the guise of bogus points of order from the Opposition? Many Conservative Members are getting extremely tired of the time of the House being wasted in this way. Is it not clear from the attack upon you this afternoon that not only is the Labour party prepared to sacrifice 1,000 jobs in Dundee, but that it wants to add your job to the list?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If hon. Members take a copy of Hansard tomorrow morning and read what happened at Question Time, they will find that during the question involved there were a great many repetitive questions which caused the Minister to repeat his answer several times. That being the case, the time went very quickly. I did not catch your eye at all today, but I make no complaint whatever about that.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I will take two more points of order, but I say to both hon. Gentlemen that we are again to have a debate under a timetable motion and that many points of order take up the time of hon. Members who have a legitimate interest in the coming debate.
§ Dr. Reid
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that it is appropriate to Question Time, and it arises from the last point of order. I think that it is order to say that part of the reason for questions being repeated is that frequently they are not answered. For instance, the Secretary of State was asked three times today whether he had discussed the social cost consequences of the loss of the SSEB contract by British Coal. He has not yet given a straight answer to that question.
§ Mr. Speaker
We cannot have a continuation of Question Time. I shall allow one more point of order. Mr. Hind.