HC Deb 26 June 1989 vol 155 cc701-3 3.32 pm
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

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 closure of Edinburgh university dental school. The matter is urgent because the decision was leaked through a detailed press briefing last Thursday evening. The university was told of its fate when it saw the television cameras filming outside. The matter is important because three years ago, Edinburgh was promised a new dental hospital with teaching facilities. Last year, it was told that the dental school would expand. Now it is told that the school is to be shut, with its final admission of students only three months away. The Secretary of State for Scotland has recycled an old promise of a new hospital and he claims it as an achievement.

The leak has all the hallmarks of a Scottish Office briefing. How typical it is of this Government that if there is dirty work afoot, they use a leak to carry it out. If a decision is bad or unpopular, they blame someone else. Edinburgh has been told that it will lose its school. It is told that it will have instead a post graduate institute, if you please. It is not told who will pay for the institute, where it will be or when the hospital will be built. Many believe that the car park that is on the site at present will remain there for a considerable time.

The university is entitled to make its case. It was never warned of the closure. It is no use the Secretary of State blaming the Universities Funding Council. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an Edinburgh Member himself and he was also rightly quick to save the Glasgow veterinary school. The decision to close the Edinburgh dental school stands in stark contrast.

If we cannot have a debate today, we need a statement—not further press briefings. Edinburgh university and the public, who value their education and their dental health, are entitled to something better than this shabby treatment at the hands of the Secretary of State and the Government.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman 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 closure of Edinburgh university dental school. I listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman said but, as he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given precedence over the business already set down for today or for tomorrow. I regret that the matter he has raised does not meet the criteria of the Standing Order, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept the ruling that you have just given, but can you use any influence on the Government to ensure that we have an early debate on university education, so that this matter, which has so incensed the Edinburgh community, can be fully aired and debated?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me, but no doubt there may be other opportunities.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday's edition of The Observer carried reports about the behaviour of the immigration service, on the instruction of the Home Office, in attempting to deny Kurdish refugees from Turkey the right to apply for political asylum.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

What is the point of order?

Mr. Corbyn

My point of order is that this is a serious matter and serious allegations were made in that newspaper article, so I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, have had any application or request from Home Office Ministers to make a statement about that behaviour and what instructions they have given.

Mr. Speaker

I have not had such a request.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is an Opposition Day.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you the question of what is published on the Order Paper. You may be aware that I have been running a campaign to get Mr. Tiny Rowland to divest himself of his interest in The Observer. Over the past two months I have tabled 21 motions drawing attention to his conflict of interests and to the pressure that is being exerted on journalists of that newspaper in a number of ways. The motions relate to the tapping by Mr. Rowland of the Al-Fayed telephones, to allegations made by Donald Trelford against Mr. Mark Thatcher, which are untrue and which have been firmly denied, and to other allegations about the Tornado contract and the activities of Lonrho in the Bahamas.

Under our new procedures, these motions only surface on the Order Paper on Thursdays. Those of us who campaign on various matters rely on our motion; being published, particularly if our campaigns involve a great deal of extra work. Last Thursday, I added signatures to 21 motions and briefed people to the effect that all the motions that I had tabled would be available for scrutiny. Thursday's Order Paper did not carry all the motions, however, and I am told that there is confusion in the system. Five of the motions did not end up on the Order Paper as a result.

Something must be done about this new rule, which undermines the position of campaigners. It has been done to save money, but there are other ways of saving money which have not been pursued. Will you, Mr. Speaker, personally review this matter and give a ruling on why my motions did not appear on the Order Paper, when I was assured that they would?

Mr. Speaker

I shall certainly look into that. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that motions appear in full on Thursdays. The matter has been confirmed by the Services Committee, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a change made, he should make his representations to that Committee.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any notice of a possible statement by the Prime Minister, who is proposing to use taxpayers' money to subsidise Ministers whom she sacks? Are you aware that it could involve yourself, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I am not a Minister.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, Mr. Speaker, but let me finish. Will the new order extend as wide as the sacking of Mr. Speaker? I do not know, and I do not know whether you have been informed of that.

There is also the question whether Ministers will in future wish to resign. What will be the point of Ministers sending resignation letters if they can be sacked and pick up 7,000 quid? What will happen before a general election when it looks as though the whole of the Cabinet will be cleaned out through a Labour victory? It is conceivable that some of them might use taxpayers' money to get out before the ship sinks. We should know all the facts.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will have to pursue that matter in a different way—[Interruption.] Order. As far as I am concerned, I think that I can only be sacked by the House.