|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Sillars : Yes, he is very good : there is no question about that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was reported on 2 May in the Glasgow Herald . This is an important reason for ensuring that the focus on Glasgow, Central is separate from the European election. The Glasgow Herald stated :
"Smith scorns the locust years".
The article continued :
"Shadow Chancellor Mr. John Smith yesterday described the 1980s as the locust years as he delivered a withering attack on the Government's economic performance."
We can imagine that happening in the halls in the middle of Glasgow, Central.
The article continued :
"He told a media rally at the Barbican in London, The seed corn has been squandered by Mrs. Thatcher in her spend now, pay later society.' It was one of Labour's most savage onslaughts so far on the 10 years of hype, with the economy in retreat and with even the Tory media merchants unable to persuade to the contrary'. Mr. Smith said, At the end of 10 years, Britain has the highest balance of payments deficit in our history, the highest inflation rate of the major countries in the European Community and the highest interest rates in the industrial world. Despite the huge bonus of North sea oil revenues, worth a total of £78 billion, we are in deep economic trouble.' "
Of course, oil revenues will be one of the big issues in the Glasgow, Central by-election in relation to the national economy and Scotland. I am sure that members of the Scottish National party will be delighted to learn that, far from decrying their importance, a major figure in
Column 215the Labour party is inflating them to their proper position in the economic equation. It is important that that is known to the electors of Glasgow, Central.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : My hon. Friend will recall that today at Scottish Questions, reference was made to oil revenues. It is worth reminding the voters of Glasgow, Central and of all Scotland that the oil revenues have been worth £78 billion over the past decade and little benefit has been received in Scotland. It is time that that money was reinvested in various parts of Scotland, especially inner-city areas such as Glasgow, Central, where there is a desperate need for improvements in housing, health, education and many other aspects which my hon. Friend has mentioned.
Mr. Sillars : One of my great problems this afternoon is that I cannot be partisan. Because I am moving the writ within the boundaries set by "Erskine May", Standing Orders and the traditions of the House, I cannot say what I would like to say about the oil revenues that have flowed through our economy.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have heard the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) say just now that he was moving the writ for the Glasgow, Central by-election. He has said that repeatedly during the past couple of hours. I think that this is an appropriate point for me to direct your attention to a piece of paper that has been circulating throughout the Palace, which is directly relevant to this debate and to you. It comes from the "Scottish National Party Parliamentary Group" and is headed
"Sillars' Filibuster Against Schools Bill Guillotine".
It says :
"SNP Vice-President Mr. Jim Sillars, MP for Govan, explained that his filibuster in the House of Commons this afternoon was intended as a procedural device to slow up the Government guillotine on the Schools' opting-out Bill"
and that it was not his intention to move the writ.
Those of us who have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying have found it difficult to distinguish his argument for the early moving of the writ. Our confusion and concern are the greater because the press release says :
"Mr. Sillars said that he chose this device, not because he intended to move the writ for Glasgow, Central By-Election but to demonstrate how Scottish Opposition MPs can harass the Tories and attack Thatcher's legislative plans'."
The hon. Gentleman has just told you, Mr. Speaker, something that is simply out of line with the document that has been circulated to the press, which suggests that journalists "contact Jim Sillars" on extension 5022.
The hon. Gentleman has taken some time in telling the House that he is moving the writ for the by-election, but it seems that he is not moving it. He has told the outside world that he is not arguing about the principle of the timing of the Glasgow, Central by-election or the manipulation by the parties of by-election dates, of which he made great play earlier. This is quite simply a sordid attempt to get into the headlines tomorrow and to try to postpone the guillotine motion to be debated tonight, not into the indefinite future, but until 10 o'clock. That means that the motion will be debated between the hours of 10 o'clock tonight and 1 o'clock tomorrow morning and that the vote on this disgraceful measure will be moved from a time at which the Bill would have appeared in all its sordid glory to a time in the middle of the night, when it will be hidden from the large majority of the Scottish population.
Column 216Under Standing Order No. 41, it is within your power, Mr. Speaker, to rule out of order
"a Member who persists in irrelevance or tedious repetition, either of his own argument or of the arguments used by other Members".
On the basis of the evidence in black and white that I have produced, I contend that the hon. Member for Govan is involved in an exercise that has nothing to do with what he has claimed and that he should be ruled out of order.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Before continuing with my substantive argument, let me point out that I can be judged in the House only on the basis of what I say in the House. It is a dangerous course for an hon. Member on either side of the House to interject something from outside.
As far as I know, Mr. Speaker, I have not wandered out of order one iota since I started my remarks.
Mr. Speaker : That was true while I was in the Chair earlier, and I understand from Mr. Deputy Speaker, who has also been in the Chair, that the hon. Member has been in order. But it is a different matter now that I have seen a press release which alleges that this is a filibuster. That puts a different complexion on the matter, and I must ask the hon. Gentleman again, now that he claims that he has moved the motion, whether he intends to persist with it.
If I were filibustering in the technical parliamentary sense of the word, you, Mr. Speaker, could rule me out of order, but we all know that the term "filibuster" has a wide meaning outside the House. Everyone knows full well that in this place technical issues are resolved in a technical manner and that technical language is used of them. "Filibuster" is one. Technically, I have not filibustered for one minute, although the man outside probably thinks that I have. In broad colloquial language-- [Hon. Members :-- "The press release?"] But there is a difference. I know that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) wants to collude with the Tory party to get the guillotine motion through ; it would not be the first time that a Labour Front Bench spokesman had colluded with the Tories. On the technical issue, however, and according to the language used in this place, Mr. Speaker, I cannot be faulted, and you know that.
Mr. Bermingham : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I understand the argument correctly, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) has said, in answer to your question, that this is not a filibuster. I asked him to give a straight answer to your question, which he failed to do. He was not prepared to admit that he was not responsible for the last paragraph of the press release, which says clearly that he does not propose to move the writ.
It must be an abuse of the process of the House for an hon. Member to say one thing in the House having already said something utterly different outside--in advance, and in a press release that carries his telephone number.
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should answer two straight questions : first, is he responsible for the press release ; secondly, is he responsible for its last paragraph? If he is responsible for both, this must surely be an abuse of our procedures.
We are in the process of debating the writ. If you, Mr. Speaker, cast your mind back to the Richmond, Yorks by-election writ, you will recall what the hon. Member for Bolsover said. We all know what the objective was during the moving of the writ that Friday. [Hon. Members : "Do we?"] Yes, and we all read about it in the press three or four days before it happened.
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman well knows that in moving this motion, it must be his intention to persist with it. I am concerned that he said in the press release for which he says he takes responsibility that he does not intend to move the writ for the Glasgow, Central by- election. I must now ask him the question directly : does he so intend?
Mr. Sillars : Yes, Sir. I have moved it, but whether it goes to a vote is a different matter--[Hon. Members : "Oh!"] You know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker, that on the second occasion on which the Richmond, Yorks writ was moved, a certain procedural device was used--that the Question be, "That the Question be not now put". I am sure that I do not need to point this out to you, Mr. Speaker. The question whether the matter goes to a vote does not lie entirely in my hands. You know that as well as anyone. If you are asking me whether I am moving the writ, the answer is yes, I am moving the writ.
Mr. Speaker : I have already told the hon. Gentleman that he has been in order. I am saying that now that I have this press release in my hand I am bound to take a slightly different view of what he has been saying.
Mr. Sillars : I find that difficult to follow in logic. If I have been in order, there can be no complaint about my performance in the House, irrespective of what is or is not said outside. I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that this is not my first visitation to this place. As I said earlier, I was brought up in the Bob Mellish Whips Office. I know what goes on behind the Chair. You are not talking to somebody who is naive. [Interruption.] One of the most remarkable events of the past two seconds has been the "Oohs" and "Aahs" from adult people pretending that what goes on behind the Chair and through the usual channels is Boy Scout stuff.
I now refer to another aspect of national policy.
Mr. Robertson : I am sure that you will resent that remark as much as I do, Mr. Speaker. The House of Commons should be protected from a group of people. The press release is in the name of a group of people and is a deceit either to the press or to the House. The hon. Gentleman has produced a press release in his own name, in his own words and with quotation marks. It clearly states :
"Sillars' filibuster against schools Bill guillotine."
Standing Order No. 42 provides that the Chair should protect the House against irrelevance. I agree that that is a fine point, but the hon. Gentleman has issued a press release and told the press that this is a filibuster and is intended as a procedural device to delay the Government's guillotine on the schools opting-out Bill. He knew that the procedures of the House could not delay the Bill beyond 10 o'clock tonight. He went on to say that he chose that device not because he intended to move the writ for the Glasgow, Central by-election. Clearly he is in breach of Standing Order No. 42, because what he says is irrelevant.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) knows that there are precedents for what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is doing. He has already told me that he intends to move the motion, and he must proceed in order.
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you had had at the inception of the debate the information which you have in your hand, would you have called the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)?
Mr. Andrew Welsh : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order that was raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was less a point of order than a point of debate. My hon. Friend has moved the writ. Everything that he has said so far is relevant. Surely that is what we should be concerned about.
Mr. Speaker : The Chair is the judge of whether a point of order is legitimate. In the light of what has been handed to me, it was a perfectly legitimate point of order to raise with me. The hon. Member for Govan must now remain absolutely in order and continue to move the writ for the Glasgow, Central by-election.
As I was saying before I was interrupted, national issues demand that we enable the electors of Glasgow, Central at an early stage to decide what sort of Member of Parliament they want to represent their views in the House.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am having great difficulty in hearing my hon. Friend because of the noise which is being made by hon. Members who have been present for only about two minutes.
One of the big issues that requires an early election is the electricity sell-off in Scotland. One of the strange reports in The Independent of 27 April is headed :
"Few prepared to buy shares in electricity"
It states :
"Most people are not interested in investing in the privatised electricity industry but 50 per cent. are willing to pay for a cleaner environment, according to a Gallup poll."
Given that that is a fact, there is a major persuasion job to be done on the electors of Glasgow, Central by the Conservative Government. If half the folk do not want the electricity privatisation measure, it is important that the Government put it to an early electoral test in Glasgow, Central and come to some conclusions based upon the ballot box. A major part of the Conservative party's election manifesto for the Glasgow, Central by- election will be devoted to the privatisation of electricity. It is a wonderful chance for ideologues in the Conservative party to go north again, charter a craft and land at the airport, and knock on the doors to persuade people to buy shares in privatised electricity. It will be important for them to listen to the response of ordinary folk in Glasgow, Central. That is one of the major national issues that demand an early by- election.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : Why is it that members of the Scottish National party refused to sit on the Standing Committee and did not oppose the Electricity Bill as other Opposition parties did?
Mr. Sillars : I am in the same difficulty with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) as I was with one of my hon. Friends who invited me to give partisan political opinions, Mr. Speaker, which you and I both know would put me out of order and subject me to another intervention from the hon. Member for Hamilton. It illustrates a point. Such an issue should be debated at an early stage. I expect the hon. Gentleman to be on a plane- -it will be different from the other one--to Glasgow, Central to ask our candidate that very question.
Column 220Members wish to participate in it. He has been speaking for a very long time. He must have regard to the wishes of other hon. Members to participate. Will he bear that in mind?
Mr. Sillars : One thing you must admit about me, Mr. Speaker, is that I do not take up a lot of time in the House. I do not apologise for that. If I explain it to you, I will be out of order. Of course I understand the position. You and I know that you know that I know that you know the position. We all know the position. There is no problem attached to that.
Another reason why it is absolutely critical to have an early test of opinion on a national issue is the National Health Service. I will not go out of order by quoting and naming all the hospitals in Glasgow, Central. There are many of them. The National Health Service will figure prominently in the Glasgow, Central by-election, and so it should.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State will be a day-to-day visitor, but the folk in Glasgow, Central want to see his big brother, the Secretary of State for Health. As you have said, Mr. Speaker, this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Scottish doctors have been equally scandalised by the jibe about being concerned only about their wallets. It is important that at an early stage, while the Government are formulating legislation arising out of discussions and consultation about the White Paper, they test opinion in Scotland. At the moment, no Member of this Parliament has been able to elicit from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for health matters in Scotland whether there will be separate legislation for Scotland on the National Health Service, although there has always been separate legislation before.
Mr. Sillars : The point is that, if the writ is moved now and there is an early election, there is no doubt that, at meeting after meeting that the Under-Secretary attends with experts in the Health Service--nurses, doctors and ancillary workers--he will be asked time after time the important question whether Scotland will have separate legislation, since it affects people throughout the area. That is why it is important to have an early election so that the hon. Gentleman can subject himself and his ideas to the people in the constituency. I do not know whether you, Mr. Speaker, were in the Chair yesterday to hear the debate-- [Interruption.] No, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) is wrong ; I was here yesterday.
[Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, I must ask for your protection ; I am being subjected to harassment. I do not normally mind, but I cannot keep in order and answer all these sedentary interventions as well.
Mr. Sillars : I hope that the folk in Scotland will have protection, that is what my speech is partly about. One reason why there must be an early by-election is the constitutional crisis that is now part and parcel of the political system inside Scotland, and, I am told, in England and Wales as well.
Before I deal with that, I will turn to another important issue--the green issue. I hope to persuade you, Mr.
Column 221Speaker, that this matter is highly relevant ; people should have an early opportunity to decide in an election green issues. A headline in The Times of 8 March this year reads :
"Thatcher attack on rain forests."
The headline is misleading. When I first read it, I thought the Prime Minister had picked up her axe, said "now look here" to the trees, and then attacked them. However, that is not the case. The article states :
"Mrs. Thatcher moved from the closing of the successful Saving the Ozone Layer conference in London yesterday to address the much broader question of global climate change, and in particular the part played in that change by the destruction of Brazil's tropical rain forests."
There are comments about this matter attributed by the local press to the people in Glasgow, Central. They were asked about the so-called scientific report that the greenhouse effect would raise the level of the oceans, which would inundate parts of the world, including the United Kingdom. The island of Great Britain, including Glasgow, was to be affected and Glasgow, Central, it was said, would probably disappear. That shows the importance of the green issues in politics at the moment. That matter should be divorced from the occasion of 15 June when the European elections are held in an arena of their own.
The Prime Minister's new policy must be subjected to a very early test by the people of Scotland. A whole range of other issues are related to the green issue. There are fall-outs between Ministers. The Prince of Wales has his own point of view on the environment. I live in Glasgow and am an elector in Glasgow, Central, and I listen to what folk in the area say. They were interested in what the Prince of Wales said about the environment when he addressed a major conference on the matter. Of course, there is no way in which the Prince of Wales can become involved in the by-election for Glasgow, Central. I mention this matter only to show how the folk of Glasgow, Central are tuned in to the green issues. They have picked up the fact that the heir to the throne is deeply involved in and concerned about those matters.
The Prime Minister is now a grandmother, and the folk in Glasgow, Central would like the opportunity of congratulating her and of asking her questions about environmental effects on their grandchildren as well as her grandchildren. That is another reason for moving the writ and giving the people of Glasgow, Central the opportunity to question the Leader of the House on the Government's new green tinge to the Tory blue. I am pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding. I think I have carried him on this question. Perhaps I can carry him with me on the question of moving the writ. I have carried him part of the way, but at the end of the day it is not up to me whether the writ is voted on ; that rests with the House. Other environmental issues are important. I wish to refer to a report in a Scottish newspaper that is relevant to the people in Glasgow, Central. The following headline appeared in the Scotland section of The Sunday Times on 12 March this year :
"UK dustbin fear as waste crisis looms."
I hope that the Leader of the House is listening, because one of the bones of contention between Members of my party and Government Members has been the failure to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. That matter even now is being debated as part of the political process in the Glasgow, Central by-election. The motion that the