HC Deb 14 March 1989 vol 149 cc339-58

7 pm

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Regretfully I have to report from the First Scottish Standing Committee that, having drawn the attention of the Committee to the disorderly conduct of the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), I have been directed to report those hon. Members to the House.

The Members referred to in my report were not nominated to serve on the Committee appointed to consider the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill, but they were present in the body of the Committee room when the Committee met today at 10.30 am. I called upon them to withdraw, but they refused to comply with my request. In these circumstances, the Committee agreed to the motion that I have reported. As the House will know, neither a Standing Committee nor its Chairman has power to discipline Members, and it is for the House to decide what action, if any, it wishes to take.

7.2 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

I beg to move the following motion relating to a matter of privilege: That the Chairman of the First Scottish Standing Committee in respect of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill shall have power to order any Member who is not a member of the Committee to withdraw immediately from the Committee room; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such orders as he may receive from the Chairman in pursuance of this order. I very much regret, as I have no doubt do most right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, that the hon. Members for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) should have thought it right to defy the authority of the Chair by refusing to withdraw from the Standing Committee on the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill when called on to do so by the Chairman of the Committee. It is a long-standing and inviolable tradition of this House that the authority of the Chair is invariably accepted. The hon. Members have challenged that authority by refusing to comply with the request from the Chairman of the Standing Committee to withdraw.

Whatever their views about the size and composition of the Standing Committee, it is totally wrong that they should attempt to express their views in this way. I fully accept that they may hold their views quite strongly, as is shown by the enforced absence of one of their number from the Chamber at the moment, but they were wrong to act in this way. By doing so they have infringed one of the most fundamental privileges of this House—the position of the Chair.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Will my right hon. Friend, in the light of what he has said, take it from me that many hon. Members take the view that the motion that he has moved is extremely moderate, bearing in mind the gross disorder this morning? Does he agree that if there is further disruption from those hon. Members, the House should consider imposing the severest penalties upon them?

Mr. Wakeham

That is a hypothetical question, and I hope that the situation will not arise. However, I have no doubt that the House would take an even graver view of any further disorder.

Subject to your views, Mr. Speaker, the size of the Committee and its composition are not a matter for discussion today. It is a matter entrusted to the Committee of Selection, and it is not the issue now facing us. It may be asked why I am taking the step of moving this motion now, before it can be printed on the Order Paper. I remind the House that it is over 16 years since we last had to consider such a step, and I think I am right in saying that on that occasion my predecessor suggested that there had been no earlier precedents. Fortunately, he was corrected by Mr. Speaker, who drew attention to a ruling of some 46 years previously by the Speaker that this was a matter of privilege which could be raised without prior notice. I am sure that hon. Members would consider it remarkable for the House not to have an opportunity to take action in time to prevent the disruption of the next meeting of the Committee, which takes place on Thursday.

As I have said, we are not debating the merits of the decision taken by the Committee of Selection, which, I may say, was in accordance with established procedure, or, indeed, the substance of the Bill before the Committee. This is a narrower debate about a very important aspect of the privileges of the House and the powers of the Chair. This, too, is entirely in accordance with the terms of the debate held on a similar occasion 16 years ago—in respect, by coincidence, of similar actions taken to disrupt a Scottish Standing Committee then considering the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

The House now has to make up its mind whether it should allow hon. Members who have been unable to get their way through the proper procedures to attempt to obtain what they want by refusing to obey the request of the Chair and by disrupting the proper consideration of the business before the Standing Committee. I have absolutely no doubt that, if such conduct were to be accepted, and were repeated, the standing and authority of this House and the orderly conduct of our debates would be seriously threatened.

In my view there is only one decision the House can take: the Chairman of the Standing Committee on the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill must be given the power to require hon. Members who are not members of the Committee not to attend to sit as members of it and thus seek to disrupt its proceedings.

7.7 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I want to speak briefly in support of the motion. The Standing Committee on the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill is supposed to be considering the detail of the Bill. The measure, as most of us know, is objectionable to most of the people of Scotland, but the Committee stage will give Scottish Members of Parliament who are opposed to it an opportunity to mount cogent arguments against it and to marshal further opposition to it. In these circumstances it behoves every Member of the House—and I mean every Member—to sustain the authority of the Chair of that Committee so that those debates may take place, and the people of Scotland may make their judgment on the basis of the arguments that are mounted.

As I said on another occasion, when we were talking about discipline in this House, Members of Parliament deal in words, and we want our words to have influence. But before our words can have influence, they must be heeded; before they can be heeded, they must be heard; and if they are to be heard, we must have order. For those reasons, we must sustain the authority of the Chair in this Committee.

The fact is that many of us—perhaps all of us at one time or another—do stupid and slightly, or even substantially, disorderly things on the spur of the moment. Most other Members are willing to forgive us because they recognise that they may themselves do something similar in the near future, or have done something similar in the not-so-distant past. But in this case the obvious object from the start was to disrupt the Committee's proceedings and to make it impossible for the Chairman to ensure that the Committee was able to discharge the business that it was supposed to be discharging.

I do not want to say any more about that side of the matter, but I should like to point out that my understanding of the Bill is that, before schools may opt out, even under this legislation, it will be necessary for those in favour of that course to convince a majority of the parents involved that it would be a good thing. It is therefore vital that the arguments against opting out be properly heard and properly conveyed to the people of Scotland.

I urge on all Scottish Members of Parliament solidarity in this matter. Only if all the people in Scotland who are opposed to this ridiculous proposition stick together and argue against it will there be a likelihood—indeed, if we all stick together, a certainty—of the parents of Scotland rejecting it as soon as they have the opportunity to do so.

Hon. Members opposed to Tory party policy in Scotland and the Bill should stick together. One way of doing so is to stick by the authority of the Chair, by allowing debate and argument to be mounted and the people of Scotland to hear, appreciate, understand and agree with the overwhelming arguments against opting out.

7.9 pm

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I rise to respond to and comment on the report put before the House by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and the motion moved by the Lord President of the Council.

I found the speech by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) strange. He seemed to be saying that all we have to do is to collude and let the system work. It did not seem to matter whether the political opinions of the people of Scotland, as expressed at the election, will be lost in the process of such collusion. I suggest that Labour Members should cross the Floor and join Conservative Members, because that is what they have done today.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Ewing

I have just begun my remarks. I shall give way generously if the House allows me to address the issues involved.

The Government have today taken an unusual step. Rightly, the Lord President of the Council quoted the precedent that occurred on Burns night in 1973 during consideration of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. A similar step had to be taken against various Scottish hon. Members, who included the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), the hon. Member for Inverness Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian, Mr. Mackintosh, the hon. Member for Paisley, Mr. Robertson, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, Mr. Oswald and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, Mr. Grimond. There was no precedent, but it showed how much opposition there was to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, and reflected the views of the Scottish public. Hon. Members tried to make a strong point on behalf of their constituents and national opinion in Scotland.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Before the hon. Lady leaves the subject of collusion, may I put it to her that the ultimate act of treachery was committed in 1979 by her hon. Friends and Welsh nationalists when they brought down the Labour Government and let this rabble into office?

Mrs. Ewing

I thought that it might be as well to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene at this stage because I should remind Labour Members that they refused to put the Local Government (Scotland) Act to a vote of confidence, thereby destroying the Government's ability to continue. The hon. Gentleman should not include Welsh nationalists in his remarks because of the circumstances at that time.

I wish to explain to hon. Members who will be asked to vote on this issue the reason for my hon. Friends' action this morning. It is important that people understand the rationale for our activities.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The hon. Lady mentioned the incident that occurred in 1973. Does she accept that when my right hon. and learned Friends sat in on that Committee there was no Liberal representation on it? Some of the Labour Members who sat in were protesting that there was no geographical representation. Does she see a distinction between that and the present position, because the Scottish National party is represented on the Committee dealing with the Self-Governing Schools Etc. Bill?

Mrs. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the circumstances in 1973. We argue that Scottish legislation should be dealt with by Scotish hon. Members, and I think that Social and Liberal Democratic Members appreciate that. Indeed, they have said so publicly in Scotland, but they may take a different attitude in the House.

In the 1987 election, the Conservative party made a sudden announcement about the possibility of opting out being included in education legislation. It was sprung on a surprised electorate. I shall refer to some remarks made on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchannan-Smith). He remembers being totally surprised by the idea". I asked whether opting out would apply in Scotland and we were immediately assured that it would not and that it was introduced to meet special circumstances in England and Wales. The Secretary of State intervened to try to insist that this was not the case. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside said: It is a pity that my right hon. Friend did not speak to me personally during the general election campaign. Fighting as a candidate in my part of Scotland, when I consulted on the matter I was quite clearly told that it did not apply to Scotland."—[Official Report, 6 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 649:] The Conservative party did not include opting out in its election manifesto for Scotland. Indeed, it did not win any support for its general manifesto.

The issue was first mooted by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) during consideration in Committee of the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988—from which the Scottish National party was excluded—and was officially included in the Gracious Speech last autumn.

Suddenly, the self-governing Schools Bill was produced in February and is now in Committee. All educational organisations in Scotland are deeply concerned about the speed with which this legislation has been brought forward. My hon. Friends and I are concerned about the education system in Scotland. All four of us volunteered to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are debating a procedural motion. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has been making substantive points about the Bill, which may or may or not be relevant. The substance of the matter with which we are dealing is disorder. Those guilty of creating disorder should not use this opportunity further to forward arguments that hon. Members may wish to deploy in the proper place at the proper time.

Mr. Speaker

I must agree. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) must stick to the motion.

Mrs. Ewing

I was trying to explain my hon. Friends' action this morning and why the motion has been moved. Hon. Members who will be asked to vote on the motion should understand the reason behind our action.

I say to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), that I find it strange that Scottish Members who attend a Scottish Committee dealing with Scottish matters to voice the opinion of their constituents should be described as disorderly. I should not define that as disorderly. My hon. Friends attended because six Conservative Members who represent English constituencies and have no interest in Scottish education have been appointed to the Committee.

The Select Committee on Selection and the Whips have deliberately tried to fill the Committee with hon. Members who will agree with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Their sole purpose, as was apparent when they arrived this morning, is to sit in the Committee, deal with their constituency mail and vote with the hon. Member for Stirling. They are present not to listen to the arguments and the debate but as Lobby fodder, which is legislative imperialism by the establishment to ensure that Scottish opinion is ignored and defined full explanation.

There is anger and frustration in Scotland about the way in which Scottish legislation is being conducted through the House. The Leader of the House has said that we are trying to prevent debate from taking place, and perhaps that is true, but it is interesting to read some of the comments made on Second Reading by hon. Members now serving on the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will not go into that, I have given her a good deal of scope, but she must deal with the motion on the Order Paper.

Mrs. Ewing

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am a respectful person and I try hard to observe your rulings in this House. As one who attends regularly I am conscious of the difficulties that you face and I also know that you understand the difficulties that we in the so-called "minority" parties face.

Today we have seen an attempt by the establishment on the two Front Benches to collude to stop Scottish opinion being voiced accurately. As I said when we first discussed the Bill, I believe that the Bill should be referred to a Committee of Scottish Members. I still believe that that is the answer and, that instead of this procedural motion, the Leader of the House should have moved a motion to enable us to look at our procedures so that Scottish legislation, which deals with a distinct policy such as education, could be considered solely by hon. Members who are elected from Scottish constituencies. [Interruption.] That would best solve the problem facing us, but I gather from the noise coming from the Back Benchers of the establishment parties of the House that they do not agree.

Those hon. Members are ignoring Scottish political opinion and to do so is extremely dangerous. They should not treat Scottish political opinion with contempt. I believe that we should now remit the Bill to a Standing Committee consisting solely of Scottish Members.

7.21 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Part of the reason for our actions this morning is evident from the noise coming from the Benches around me and the way in which hon. Members have reacted.

Hon. Members do not understand what the House is doing to Scotland. Major Scottish institutions and fundamental matters affecting Scottish society are being railroaded by an English majority that neither cares nor understands and which is callously used by the Government to get their majority through. [Interruption.] That noise illustrates my argument.

At the heart of this matter is what to do in a democracy when the wishes of the Scottish electorate are not only disregarded but flouted in the House—in other words: "What do you do in a democracy when minority means you?"

It is clear that the Government have no mandate in Scotland and that is why they are forced to draft English Members on to a Committee to make up numbers. The Government do not have a majority in Scotland.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninhgame, North)


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not wish to give way.

Mr. Welsh

This morning we took a principled stand to draw to the attention of the Scottish people the injustices that are being perpetrated against them by the Government and their Labour allies. We are now faced with an unholy coalition. English Tories have been drafted on to the Committee, yet Scottish Members, who have an informed view of Scottish education, are not allowed to participate.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has told us that we should mount cogent arguments against the Bill, but his advice is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Welsh

No, I shall not give way.

The nonsense spouted by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras about cogent arguments is immediately refuted by the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) on Second Reading of the self-same Bill: None of our amendments is ever accepted in Committee. That is"—[Official Report, 6 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 690]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go back to the Second reading, we have passed that stage. He must direct his remarks to the motion.

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras favours cogent argument, but one of his Back Bench colleagues has already recognised that the Government do not accept cogent arguments or amendments. What can be done when something as important as Scottish education—

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)


Mr. Welsh

No, I shall not give way.

The Government do not accept any amendments, so any charade in Committee will leave the Bill unamended and its nature will have been determined by the English majority who have been drafted in to make sure of that. The Government are disregarding the opinions of the Scottish electorate. That is disgraceful.

I am unhappy about the use of the words "disorderly conduct" because we simply turned up in the Committee Room. Nothing was said and we did not seek to interrupt the Chairman. I am sure that that is not the type of disorderly conduct which leads to arrest at weekends. We made a dignified, orderly and justified protest.

We are up against stultifying rules that restrict Back Benchers. Earlier today, the coalition between the Tories and Members of the Labour Front Bench made sure that, through the medium of a private notice question, yet another legitimate procedural manoeuvre has been closed off to Back Benchers.

Mr. Dobson

When the hon. Gentleman served on the Standing Committee on the Transport (Scotland) Bill, why did he not make use of the procedural manoeuvres available to Committee members? He spoke only for 17 minutes out of the 33 hours that made up that Committee stage.

Mr. Welsh

I had the same success in getting amendments through as the Labour party—[Interruption.]—I am not allowed to quote the words of the hon. Member for Maryhill, but she made it clear that, whatever the Bill, the Government do not accept amendments.

English Tories have been drafted on to a Scottish Committee which affects a fundamental part of our society. What happens to Scottish education will be determined by people who do not know or understand our educational system.

The Government have no mandate from the Scottish people and what we did this morning was simply to demonstrate that enough is enough. The present system rides roughshod over the Scottish electorate; someone, somewhere, had to do something about that, especially as the Labour party has failed to do anything. The Labour party has sought to co-operate with fellow Tories, but we have used the procedures available to us to demonstrate that enough is enough.

7.27 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Angus East (Mr. Welsh) I am interested in the term "disorderly conduct". I do not know what happened in 1973 among the hon. Members on the Liberal Benches—[Interruption.]—but our conduct in the Committee this morning was less disorderly than the conduct of many Labour Members tonight.

The central element of the speech of the Leader of the House was that we should make our arguments in Committee. Surely it must be in order for me to answer that suggestion. The answer lies in the words of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), who is a member of the Committee, and who said to you, Mr. Speaker, on Second Reading: I say that with all respect to you, Mr. Speaker. I did not sit in my place thinking that if I were fortunate enough to catch your eye I would be able to change the minds and attitudes of Conservative Members. We all know what a foolish hope that would be. None of our amendments is ever accepted in Committee. That is certainly true of social security and employment legislation, and the same can be said of any other measure that is considered in Committee."—[Official Report, 6 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 690.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) was speaking in the Second Reading debate.

Mrs. Fyfe

I thank the hon. Member for giving way. I certainly agree that those were my words, and I stand by them, because the point of being on a Committee or discussing legislation on the Floor of this Chamber is not to change the minds of the hon. Members opposite; it is to get the words on the record and communicate them to the Scottish public. To do that we have to put down amendments and be there.

Mr. Salmond

I am glad that the hon. Member stands by her words. Perhaps she can discuss with the shadow Leader of the House whether it is fruitful to put these arguments in Committee. I agree that it is important to the Scottish public to hear the arguments, but the most fundamental thing is the decision made by the Committee.

Mr. Dewar


Mr. Salmond

If the hon. Member will contain himself and allow me to develop some points, I will give way to him later in my speech.

The fundamental point is whether we can expect this Committee, in view of its complexion, in any way to respect Scottish public opinion. A brief glance through the six English Conservative Members who have been parachuted on to this Committee gives the lie to any feeling that they are there to listen to the Scottish arguments. There is the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos), a former London teacher, councillor, Right-winger, anti-smoking, pro-birching for muggers and rapists, strong NHS supporter, educated at St. Albans—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with this motion. The hon. Gentleman should return to it.

Mr. Salmond

It was not my intention to go through the six Members one by one. I was going to mention the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), a former director of Michael Forsyth Associates Ltd.

I make the point that these six hon. Members from English constituencies are not there to listen to the Scottish arguments. I, as a Member of this House who volunteered to serve on that Committee, have thousands of constituents who stand to be threatened by this measure, which will divide and fragment Scottish education. These hon. Members do not have a single constituent who will be affected by this legislation, yet they were selected to serve on this Committee while the applications of myself and my hon. Friends were refused. That is a fundamental point.

It has already been said that we on this Bench are beginning to think there is a degree of collusion, to put it no stronger, between Labour Members on these Benches and those on the Benches opposite. The vote this morning in Committee was, significantly, 17 to 1. This afternoon we saw the remarkable sight of a Leader of the Opposition who believes it is his job not to create problems for the Government but to solve them. We believe, as a minority party, that we are the victims of collusion between the two major parties.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I am genuinely curious, and I hope the hon. Member will be able to help me. We understand from the earlier part of his speech that he is totally convinced that membership of this Committee is a futile exercise which will gain absolutely no results. We understand, on the other hand, that the whole point of this manoeuvre is that all the Scottish National party members want to be on the Committee. How does he reconcile these two points?

Mr. Salmond

The case the Scottish National party makes is that this Bill should have been considered by the Scottish Grand Committee on Second Reading. We are happy to leave the decision to hon. Members whose constituencies are affected by this legislation and, as the hon. Member well knows, 64 of the 72 Scottish Members have declared their opposition to the Bill. It is not the right of the Scottish National party to decide what we are arguing for; it is the right of the Scottish people to decide this legislation that we are arguing for.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I am not sure whether the hon. Member really wants to destabilise the Committee or not. If he does want to stop the show, he has a friend in me. However, what concerns me now is that he seems to be sailing through clearer waters in wanting it put before the Grand Committee. Why can he not put it before the Convention?

Mr. Salmond

I am happy to answer the point directly. We want to form a body which will decide matters. If the Convention were to discuss the fundamental issues of Scottish education, yet allow a Standing Committee of the House of Commons to railroad through opting out legislation in Scotland, the cause of the Scottish people would not be advanced one jot.

I claim that it is not just a Scottish National party point of view that this Committee has been rigged against the wishes of the Scottish people. It was also the view of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) himself, when he argued that the Bill is not merely bad but a breach of faith, and that it concerns a matter of honour.

I want to turn to our belief that the rules and regulations of this House are flexible: there is one set of rules for the Scottish National party and minority parties and another set of rules for the Front Benches. We have already found in this Parliament that a Standing Order of the House of Commons concerning the need to set up a Scottish Select Committee has not been implemented. We found a remarkably flexible interpretation of the rights of private notice questions and what notice should be given this afternoon. I will not go further on that matter, except to say that it is a matter to which we shall certainly return later.

As a minority party, we believe it is our right to represent our constituents in a matter which affects only Scotland. It is only Scottish constituents who are threatened by the opting out legislation for Scotland. Not a single constituent of the six hon. Members parachuted on to the Committee will be affected. I, as an SNP Member, a Scottish Member, cannot accept the right of English Members of Parliament to ride roughshod over clearly expressed Scottish opinion.

I close with this remark. There are only two measures which I believe have mobilised deep opposition in Scotland to the present Government. The first is the poll tax, and that campaign is under way. The second is this Bill, and the Scottish National party will not accept the English majority imposed upon us on the Standing Committee.

7.28 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

I feel inclined to be very brief, and I sense that the mood of the House is of great tolerance on both sides, because hon. Members have listened reasonably attentively to arguments in the hope that people outside will appreciate the exigencies and intricacies of our procedure. The Leader of the House is well known for his tolerance and understanding, and I do not want to go into the difficulties he has had in setting up a Scottish Select Committee.

I think we are due some explanation of the effect of this motion. How long is it intended to last? Is it intended to last for the duration of this Parliament or just for the duration of this particular Committee? Normal procedure, as I understand it, is if Members who are not on such bodies as Select Committees enter Committee rooms when a Committee is deliberating in private, the Chairman may courteously ask a Member who has inadvertently come in to remove himself, and no draconian measures will be necessary.

I wonder where we are going. If Members are sitting within the precincts of the Committee, as I expect was done today, how are these defined in our Committee rooms? We know quite clearly when we are in the House and when we are out of the House. For example, if I step across this line, by convention I am out of order. If I move into the Gangway, I am out of order. How are we to determine, when a Member is in a Committee room, whether he is actually in the Committee or not? [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say that those SNP Members were stupid. We do many things in this place which are apparently stupid. Some of our procedures are dignified and sanctified, but the whole procedure of voting might be construed as stupid as we march through the Lobbies, walking back and forth, at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. My God, what could be more stupid than that? If our constituents saw it, they would think that we were mad.

That is not at issue today. We are considering a unique power which we are going to give my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). The last time such powers were used was in 1973. I believe that the use of such powers was justified then to deal with a piece of legislation from which many of our difficulties today emanate. My goodness, if there was any piece of legislation which we should not have passed, it was that legislation dealing with the so-called reform of local government. We will have to try to reform that again, but that is another issue.

I do not want to be disrespectful to you, Mr. Speaker. However, my experience of this place goes back in one way or another for 14 years. I have never known a private notice question not to appear on the annunciator. Its absence today was sharp practice. I am not accusing you, Mr. Speaker, but the Front Benches used sharp practice against the Back Benches. I do not care tuppence which party that practice was used against: it was used against Back Benchers. Some people have used a rather crude word to describe it—collusion. The Front Benches collude and Back Benchers must be very careful that they do not collude against them. Our liberties and rights as Back Benchers can be severely restricted in this place. We must be careful to ensure that they are not further restricted.

I do not intend to consider the merits of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill now. Nor do I intend to consider the merits of the Government's railroading the legislation through. There can be no more objectionable legislation before the House now than the legislation to reform Scottish education.

The Leader of the House has responsibilities. I have emphasised to him before that his responsibilities lie not simply to the Tory party, but to the House. His colleagues may shake their heads, but I have described the tradition and we are considering the traditions of this place. The onus and balance of the argument in this place claims that those terrible SNP Members have offended against the traditions of order.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I hesitate to intervene, but is it not a fact that those hon. Members intervened on the freedom of speech?

Mr. Douglas

I doubt that very much. This House has a responsibility to defend the freedom of speech, but people outside the Chamber defend it. Freedom of speech is defended outside this place. Many people have a mistaken view about the location of the repository of free speech. We are lucky to have freedom of speech, and over recent years the Government, with their enormous majority, have railroaded minorities in this House and particularly over minorities represented on the Labour Benches.

We must be very careful about the powers which we confer. Of course we want order and we want the procedures of this place to be carried out. However, we should not kid ourselves that the Government will play by the rules. Any Opposition Member who thinks that is kidding himself. The issue arises because the Government know that they have extreme difficulties over the number of Conservative Scottish Members. They are changing the rules daily. That is why we must be very careful before we pass this motion. We must ensure that we are not creating an unfortunate precedent.

7.42 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

I suppose that hon. Members who speak in this debate should present their credentials. For the past 18 years, I have fought against the erosion of the rights of Back Benchers. Over that time, I have seen rights eroded. When I first came here, hon. Members could table two written questions to Ministers. There was also a counting-out procedure in the House. In those days, we could ask Mr. Speaker to count the House and if there were fewer than 40 Members present, the Government would lose their business for the day.

Between 1970 and 1974, the Conservative Government, led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), reduced the quorum in Standing Committee and abandoned the counting-out procedure and the quorum in the House. I fought against all that.

If I give the impression that what happened in Standing Committee this morning was an erosion of Back Benchers' rights, I would be giving the wrong impression. Members of the SNP may call that collusion. I do not care about that, because I have been in politics long enough and I can defend myself before my constituents. SNP Members need not take my word for that, they can ask Dr. McIntyre, John Donnachy, John McGregor or Ron Halliday and all the other SNP candidates who have opposed me over the past 18 years. They will say whether I am fit and able to defend myself before my constituents in anything that I may do.

It would be a great mistake if we created the impression that what happened in the Standing Committee this morning had to do with the erosion of Back Benchers' rights or was related to concern being expressed on behalf of the people of Scotland about the measure before that Standing Committee. It is wrong for SNP Members to give the impression that they are the only Members of this place concerned about the Government's proposals on opting out.

If you do not mind my saying so, Mr. Speaker, the three SNP Members who have contributed to this debate have displayed an appalling lack of confidence in their ability to convince their constituents that this legislation is so bad that their constituents should not use the terms of the legislation to opt out.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ewing

No, I will not give way, because I do not want to get involved in an argument with the hon. Gentleman and the three SNP Members. I want to make serious points. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is going to make a serious point, I will give way. This is not a trivial matter.

Mr. Walker

My serious point is that the hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record for having amendments accepted in Committee when he was leading from the Opposition Front Bench. If his colleagues had his confidence, obviously the Standing Committee could make progress and we could get on with the work.

Mr. Ewing

I suspect that if I had been leading from the Opposition Front Bench during this Parliament, my distinguished record would have been somewhat dented.

About three weeks ago the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup detailed 47 pieces of legislation to which no amendments were accepted in Standing Committee. I would not want the impression to go from this place tonight that what has happened in Standing Committee today is an erosion of Back-Bench rights or an expression of concern.

Mr. Salmond

Looking at the complexion of the Standing Committee with his long experience in the House, does the hon. Gentleman anticipate any meaningful amendments being accepted in Committee? As we both know the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, does he believe that Scottish schools which might be vulnerable to the legislation will be provided with substantial incentives to opt out if the Bill reaches the statute book?

Mr. Ewing

This is not the first piece of education legislation to come before Scottish Members during this Parliament. The school boards legislation passed through the House, but there was no demonstration by SNP Members and there was no SNP Member on that Committee. There is one SNP Member on the Committee on this Bill, and there has been a demonstration.

It is as well that the House should know that this whole exercise has been trailered for the last three weeks. The only people who have been taken in by it tonight, as far as I am aware, are the Scottish media. I understand that they have covered this incident, but that is because it has been a dull Budget. To be fair to the Scottish media, they have not really had much to report in terms of the Budget.

In all seriousness, it would be a great tragedy if somehow or other the impression were given that the demonstration in Committee this morning was a demonstration of concern for the people of Scotland or concern that Back-Bench rights were being eroded. It is purely and simply—there is no nice way of saying this—a publicity stunt for the SNP, and some of the media in Scotland will fall for it.

If all four Members had secured a place on that Committee, it would have been the worst thing that could happen to the SNP. I apologise to the Leader of the House, because he is not responsible for it, but I am sorry that the Chairman of the Commitee could not find a place for all four Members, because they would not have turned up. I have the voting record here, if any hon. Member wants to challenge me, of Committees they have been on. I will not speak ill of Donald Stewart, because he is one of the finest friends I have had in all my years in the House. Donald will send me a nice letter after this; the only problem is that he will write it in Gaelic so that I will not be able to read it.

However, when Gordon Wilson and Donald Stewart were here and we had the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the two of them would serve on that Committee. The SNP does not have a good Committee record. We have had as many as 11 SNP Members here and they still did not have a good Committee record. They are trying to give the impression today that somehow or other they are bubbling over with concern for the people of Scotland. They are bubbling over, all right—bubbling, full stop—and they will bubble all their days here because that is all they can do.

I am confident that I can take this bad legislation to my people in Falkirk, East and convince them that it is not worth paying any attention to it. If the SNP Members had any confidence in themselves, they would do the same. I shall give my support to the Chairman of the Committee because that is the only way the House can function. The only alternative is to break away. There is just no other option. The rules and procedures of the House will not be reformed to meet the views and the needs of four Members, so we should face up to that challenge: we either support the Committee Chairman and make sure that these Committees work, or we do the extreme thing. I am against that, so I am in favour of the Chairman and will support him tonight.

7.52 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that we are getting used to the idea that there will be a bit of excitement from the Scottish national on Budget day, but I suspect that it may be the start of a tradition. I remember that when I first came to the House the excitement was what Mr. Leo Abse might be wearing. Perhaps in future years it will be who is going to be thrown out from the Scottish National party Bench.

I do take this seriously, although it is a matter on which it is easy to joke, and there are quite important principles at stake here. It is not a matter just of who is colluding or conspiring with whom; it is a matter of the good order of the House and how we conduct our affairs.

I have to say to my colleagues on the Scottish National party Bench that I have found some of the remarks made tonight difficult to understand. The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), for example, made a very spirited point about the difficulty in getting any of his amendments accepted. My understanding—I am quite prepared to be corrected—about the Transport Bill is that the hon. Gentleman put down one amendment, to replace the word "may" by the word "shall", so possibly he is generalising from a rather narrow base.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

As usual in these matters the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. That was not my amendment. He perhaps might take into account my eight amendments on this particular Bill.

Mr. Dewar

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman's interests are growing. I noticed that he was careful to say, "That was not my amendment." He did not say that he had more than one, however, in the whole history of the Transport Bill.

Undoubtedly, what took place this morning was an attempt to disrupt the Committee, and this has not happened in Committees of the House in the past. I have considerable respect for Gordon Wilson and Donald Stewart, and they did not think it was necessary to disrupt the poll tax Bill, although certainly that was a piece of legislation that was disliked by the people of Scotland in an almost unprecedented way.

I am totally confused as to exactly what argument has been put to the House. As I understood what the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who spoke first for the SNP, had to say, she was advancing the argument that the whole point of the demonstration today was that she and her three colleagues should all have been included in the membership of the Committee. Then we had the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who argued very strongly that the last thing he wanted was to be on the Committee as at present constituted because it would he an essay in futility and he would be unlikely to make progress of any kind. I am not clear whether we are being told that the Committee should never meet or that the Committee should be reformed to include those hon. Members.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

The hon. Gentleman seems to have moved very substantially from the points he made in his own speech on 6 March, columns 644 and 645, when he said it would be—

Mr. Speaker

Let us not go into the Second Reading Committee again, please. We are dealing with this motion.

Mr. Dewar

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the information that she has been re-reading my speeches. I do not often make that mistake, but on this occasion I will perhaps have a look.

It is always dangerous to put historical perspectives on these matters and I plead guilty to trying to do this. Perhaps I could be allowed to give the House a quotation which is of historical interest as it goes back to the mid-1970s: Following Hamilton and Mrs. Ewing's grand tour of Scotland, where she played to packed houses, the SNP gained an instant mass membership. But it was membership lacking in political background and quality, with a higher than normal proportion of cranks and people motivated by grudges. That was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) talking about the hon. Member for Moray's mother-in-law. I give you a solemn undertaking, Mr. Speaker, that that is my last mother-in-law joke of the evening.

To be serious on the matter, I genuinely regret that this motion has had to be brought foward, but this is, as the Leader of the House has said, a very unusual set of circumstances. What distinguished this from many rowdy scenes that we have seen on these premises at various times is that it was quite clear that the people involved intended to persist. This was not a matter of making a point and withdrawing. It was quite clear that if the House did not take steps to deal with the matter we should see it on Thursday and Tuesday and the following Thursday ad infinitum. That, I think, is what gives it its special character and justifies the fact that this motion is now before the House.

It is not a draconian measure, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas); it is a motion specifically related to the proceedings of this one Committee when it is considering this one Bill. It is not a blanket power that is being brought forward that will stay there to threaten the activities of Back Benchers on all occasions. It is tailored to deal with this one specific situation, where unmistakable notice has been given that if the House does not take steps we shall be in a situation of continuing impasse, which would not be good for Scottish politics or, certainly, for the conduct of the House.

I am not on the Committee but, on behalf of my colleagues, I am anxious to see the issues debated, because this is an unusual Bill. I will not go into the merits of the Bill except on this narrow point, which is relevant to why I believe that we should not be faced with a continuing impasse. Even if the Bill is forced on to the statute book, its most objectionable part—the opting-out provisions— will remain simply an entry on the shelves and a piece of constitutional lumber, unless it is brought to life by groups of parents using the powers.

The real argument will be conducted in Scotland with public opinion, with the Minister trying to create circumstances in which the powers will be used, while those of us on the other side of the argument will try to persuade parents to consider the wider interests of the educational system and refuse to have anything to do with the legislation.

To do that, it is necessary to debate the matter in Committee. This morning, all that was achieved was two and a half hours of nominal debating time, during which the Minister did not have to say a single word to justify or defend his proposals. There is no point in that.

Mr. Salmond

Will the hon. Gentleman address the point that, if the legislation proceeds, either parents will be faced with huge incentives to agree that schools should opt out or, as has been the English experience, they will be faced with school closures—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) should not address that point, as it has nothing to do with the motion.

Mr. Salmond

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to be allowed to make an argument and then for other right hon. and hon. Members not to be allowed to pursue that argument with questions?

Mr. Speaker

The motion before the House is in order, but much wider consideration of the merits of the Bill is not.

Mr. Dewar

It is clear that there are points of difference as to the Bill's merits. I am saying to the House that it might be advisable to get down to debating those differences rather than get hung up on a procedural wrangle that has a lot to do with column inches hut not very much with the practical fate of the legislation.

We have had a day of excitement. Earlier in the day, the House was invited to advance the Budget debate by discussing the fate of the Vale of Glamorgan. I know that I cannot do that now, but that was a transparent procedural device—it could not be anything else. There was the extraordinary situation of an attempt to move the writ being made by one member of the Scottish nationalist group while being opposed by another. That was a device for making a point on the Floor of the House. It was a manoeuvre for political advantage, and one cannot call foul if one is out-manoeuvred. The only result is that one hon. Member has been suspended, which is to no one's credit—certainly not to his. The cause in question was advanced not a whit.

I back the motion not because I am conspiring with the Leader of the House, with whom I have not spoken today, nor because I am in some way conniving in the suspension of Back Benchers.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Dewar

I am just finishing. I have given way several times.

I am backing the motion because, put in the simplest possible terms, I believe that it is an attempt to mount a parliamentary manoeuvre that is outside the rules of the House, that cannot be justified, and that is wrong on the basis of the arguments and the merit. It is for those reasons, and because I agree, albeit reluctantly, that such a step is necessary, that I invite my hon. Friends to support the motion that is before the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 256, Noes 10.

Division No. 121] [8.3 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Arbuthnot, James Fishburn, John Dudley
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Fisher, Mark
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Flynn, Paul
Baldry, Tony Fookes, Dame Janet
Battle, John Forman, Nigel
Beith, A. J. Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bell, Stuart Forth, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Foster, Derek
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fox, Sir Marcus
Blackburn, Dr John G. Franks, Cecil
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter French, Douglas
Blunkett, David Fyfe, Maria
Body, Sir Richard Galbraith, Sam
Boswell, Tim Gardiner, George
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) George, Bruce
Bowis, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Boyes, Roland Golding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, Keith Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brazier, Julian Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Browne, John (Winchester) Ground, Patrick
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Buckley, George J. Hague, William
Budgen, Nicholas Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hanley, Jeremy
Butler, Chris Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Butterfill, John Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Caborn, Richard Harris, David
Callaghan, Jim Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Haynes, Frank
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Cash, William Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chapman, Sydney Holt, Richard
Chope, Christopher Hood, Jimmy
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cormack, Patrick Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cran, James Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Dalyell, Tam Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Darling, Alistair Hunter, Andrew
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Ingram, Adam
Davis, David (Boothferry) Irvine, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Janman, Tim
Dewar, Donald Jessel, Toby
Dixon, Don Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dobson, Frank Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Doran, Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Duffy, A. E. P. Kennedy, Charles
Dunn, Bob King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Durant, Tony Kirkwood, Archy
Dykes, Hugh Knapman, Roger
Eadie, Alexander Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Eastham, Ken Knowles, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Knox, David
Fallon, Michael Lamond, James
Favell, Tony Lang, Ian
Latham, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Lawrence, Ivan Rogers, Allan
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rowe, Andrew
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sackville, Hon Tom
Lightbown, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lord, Michael Sheerman, Barry
McAllion, John Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
McCartney, Ian Sims, Roger
Macdonald, Calum A. Skeet, Sir Trevor
McFall, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Snape, Peter
McLeish, Henry Speed, Keith
Maclennan, Robert Speller, Tony
McLoughlin, Patrick Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Squire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Stanbrook, Ivor
Madel, David Steel, Rt Hon David
Malins, Humfrey Steen, Anthony
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Maples, John Stevens, Lewis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stokes, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stott, Roger
Martlew, Eric Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maxton, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Meale, Alan Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Miller, Sir Hal Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mills, Iain Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Sir David Thurnham, Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Twinn, Dr Ian
Morley, Elliott Vaz, Keith
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Morrison, Sir Charles Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moss, Malcolm Walden, George
Moynihan, Hon Colin Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wallace, James
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Waller, Gary
Norris, Steve Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
O'Brien, William Wareing, Robert N.
O'Neill, Martin Watts, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Wells, Bowen
Page, Richard Wheeler, John
Paice, James Whitney, Ray
Patnick, Irvine Widdecombe, Ann
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wiggin, Jerry
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wilshire, David
Pike, Peter L. Wilson, Brian
Porter, David (Waveney) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Portillo, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wolfson, Mark
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wood, Timothy
Redwood, John Worthington, Tony
Rhodes James, Robert Young, Sir George (Acton)
Riddick, Graham
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Mr. David MacLean and Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.
Robertson, George
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Salmond, Alex
Beggs, Roy Skinner, Dennis
Douglas, Dick Wigley, Dafydd
Kilfedder, James
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tellers for the Noes:
Nellist, Dave Mrs. Margaret Ewing and Mr. Andrew Welsh.
Ross, William (Londonderry E)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Chairman of the First Scottish Standing Committee in respect of the Self-Governing Schools Etc (Scotland) Bill shall have power to order any Member who is not a member of the Committee to withdraw immediately from the Committee Room; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such orders as he may receive from the Chairman in pursuance of this order.

    1. cc357-8
    2. Lords Amendments 394 words
    3. c358
    4. Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 215 words
    5. c358
    6. Supplemental 221 words