|Previous Section||Home Page|
I trust, Mr. Speaker, that you will keep me in order and give me guidance.
This has been a rather strange day. We have witnessed something of a performance by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid one of my colleagues, who is also a noted exponent of the lengthy speech in the Chamber. All that I can say is that he has proved that he is not my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) : there was none of the lightness of touch, the wit and the ability to engage sympathy that can be the mark of my hon. Friend.
Column 234I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed if I say that the past three or four hours have provided us with a new definition of boredom. I fear, moreover, that it has been an essay in futility. A press release in the hon. Gentleman's name made it clear that this would be a filibuster, by stating that there was no intention actually to move the writ. While I accept that on occasion we all conduct exercises for the benefit of the press, I feel that this example has gone beyond the normal bounds--and the tragedy is that it will achieve absolutely nothing. We shall have to see how the day continues, but I suspect that the sum achievement of the hon. Gentleman's exercise will be a vote on the admittedly obnoxious Self-Governing Schools etc. Bill at around 1.30 am, rather than at 7 pm.
Mr. Sillars : Why should that be so? I have been in the House before, and the motion on that Bill would not have been passed with a different type of organised Labour Opposition. The hon. Gentleman and his team are not up to the game that is required.
Mr. Dewar : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion. It is an opinion that he often expresses in Scotland, frequently in terms of personal abuse, which those of us in politics and many outside it find extremely offensive. But that is his problem.
I do not know exactly how the day will end, but it is clear that, for all his efforts, the best that the hon. Gentleman can achieve will be a vote some four or five hours later than it would otherwise have taken place. If that is his monument, it seems to me to be a very small monument indeed.
It is not for me to delay the House with a lengthy speech, particularly in view of what has gone before. However, I move this motion for a good reason, in defence of a very important principle--which I understand, if we are to take his speech at face value, the hon. Member for Govan does not accept.
It has long been the understanding in this House that the party which held the seat which has been vacated--in this case, very sadly, through the tragic and unexpected death of Bob McTaggart--should have control over moving the writ. I have chosen the terms of my motion on advice, because I understand that, if we voted to defeat the motion that the writ be moved, the unintended--at least, I hope unintended--consequence would be that no writ could be moved for a further six months. That would be wrong for democratic practice. The manoeuvre today is risky. We are trying to avoid the consequence of no writ being moved for a further six months and at the same time to defend the principle that the party which held the seat should decide the date of the by-election.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware that this is a principle of some importance to all Opposition parties. It is perhaps arguable that it is particularly important for smaller Opposition parties. If we begin to undermine the principle, we may well be on the way to a situation in which the Government will dominate in that respect as well. Governments of the day, of whatever political persuasion, might start to set the dates for by-elections without consulting or heeding the views of the party which had been successful in that constituency at the previous election.
Column 235If there ever was a vacant Scottish National party seat--if something happened to remove one of the four hon. Members-- they would be extremely irritated and angry if the Labour party or the Conservative party moved the writ and bulldozed it through using their big battalions in the Lobby. Sometimes a convention can irritate. Sometimes it is even hard to explain or defend conventions. However, in a Parliament in which the power of the Executive is enormous, given our political system, convention can be an important way of defending individual and small group interests. I have no doubt that moving the writ is one of those conventions. Apparently the hon. Member for Govan speaking for all his hon. Friends, is prepared to sacrifice that principle, and the Labour party regards that as very unfortunate. I hope that it will not be misinterpreted if I say that in making this stand we are trying to save the SNP from the logic of its own position.
It is important that the party which held the seat should have certain rights. It will want to consult local people. The hon. Member for Govan waxed eloquent about the importance of local consultation and of the local party and its role in these matters. I believe that that is important. The Labour party will want to consult its people in Glasgow, Central who helped to elect Bob McTaggart and who supported him until his very sad death. It is important that there should be a period of mourning and a period to collect and wind up the affairs of the late Member. I am not prepared to sacrifice that principle or those rights simply because that might be an advantageous way of making a rather pointless demonstration on the Floor of the House, which is presumably designed and calculated to get a few headlines in tomorrow's Scottish newspapers.
This manoeuvre will not work. We are all in the business of agitation and putting across a point of view, but it goes beyond the bounds of honesty to pretend that this kind of demonstration, carried out in this way, is fighting for Scotland or will divert or change the course of events in this House. We will change matters ultimately through the ballot box, by winning the argument on the basis of a rational case. I do not believe that we will achieve that in the way pursued by the hon. Member for Govan.
I protest against the futility, and perhaps, if I may say so, the conceit, of what has been practised here today. An important matter of principle is at stake and I believe that I carry my right hon. and hon. Friends with me in this respect. For these reasons, the motion moved by the hon. Member for Govan is insincere and hypocritical--I can state that in terms of his press release. It is inappropriate, wrong and damaging to the interests of the Opposition. I am not prepared to ask any of my right hon. and hon. Friends to take part in this conspiracy or to sacrifice the interests of opposition parties, of the House and of the democratic system simply to put a cheap and worthless point into print in tomorrow's papers. For that reason, I believe that the question should not be put.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : We are discussing a very important issue. The debate began with a long exposition about the necessity for an early by-election. There is a vacancy in the constituency of Glasgow, Central and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) put forward what sounded like a highly principled argument for an early by-election. He told us that the principle involved the moving of the writ not being in the
Column 236gift of parties. He told us that this was a matter of some consequence to the representation of people in Glasgow, Central. During the course of the debate, word came down from the Press Gallery and we began to realise that what we were listening to was what we suspected all along--that the hon. Member for Govan was filibustering. He was using a procedural device. He was using, perhaps even abusing, the procedures of the House to make a political point outside the House. The emptiness of the hon. Gentleman's principle became all too vivid.
The press release stated that this filibuster was intended to be a procedural device to slow up the Government's guillotine on the Self- Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill. That is what the outside world has been told, although the House has been told something entirely different.
We know, though, that this device will only delay the guillotine on that obnoxious and unwanted legislation until 10 o'clock this evening. Either the hon. Member for Govan and his party believed that they could go after 10 o'clock this evening and that that would somehow frustrate the Government's intention to bring forward the guillotine, or they did not know that the procedures would limit the debate to 10 o'clock. In that case, they have scored yet another own goal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has pinpointed the major issue. The decision on the moving of a writ for a by- election has, by custom and practice, as the hon. Member for Govan quite fairly pointed out, been moved by the party which had held that seat. Of course that procedure has its own imperfections. However, the hon. Member for Govan pretended to the House that he wanted to change it.
The parliamentary SNP has tried to deceive this House or the outside world, via the press. It has told the House that it is interested in a principle related to the timing of the by-election. However, it has told the press, and via the press whoever else is interested, that it is really interested in something completely different.
I remember a speech that I heard within a few months of first entering the House. On 9 November 1978, during the debate on the Loyal Address, the then hon. Member for South Ayrshire made one of the most effective attacks on the Scottish National party that I had heard for some time. That hon. Gentleman--now the hon. Member for Govan--said :
"Throughout the last four years that SNP Members have sat in this House they have lacked cohesion and strategy and they are hopeless tacticians."
Nothing changes. Eleven years later, the hon. Gentleman returns to the House with a set of tactics that would make that former Member for South Ayrshire weep, if he were to use his critical faculties. What makes me more sorry than angry about this afternoon's display is that the hon. Member for Govan used a device, hidden and cloaked under the pretence of principle, that he knows is as important to his party as it is to others. It does not necessarily offer a one-party advantage. The hon. Member for Govan wheeled out a fair amount of the cynicism of the ages, but it is important, for reasonable, decent and human reasons, to maintain that convention. There is no better illustration of that than the case of Glasgow, Central.
When the hon. Member for Govan makes a cheap publicity point out of the circumstances surrounding the
Column 237by-election, he sinks to depths that we never really expected of him. Bob McTaggart died only a few weeks ago, aged 43--the same age as myself. He has a young family still living in the constituency. There is something indecent about an exercise that involves grabbing headlines in circumstances that will upset the bereaved.
A period should be allowed to elapse between the tragic death of a young Member of Parliament and the electorate being consulted about his successor. The electors of Glasgow, Central know that only too well. Their problems and complaints are currently being dealt with, with due dedication, by hon. Members representing the surrounding constituencies. There is something slightly seedy about the tactic that we have seen used this afternoon, in which the SNP Members suggest that they will, in all their wisdom, make a decision at an early date to issue the writ for a by- election and that we will go along, willy-nilly, with them.
Another question involved in any test of the electorate is local consultation as to the timing of a by-election. If Glasgow, Central had been held by one of the four SNP Members, or by any of the three that have been present in the Chamber during this afternoon's display, they would expect the same consideration to apply--and few right hon. and hon. Members would dissent from such an arrangement.
One of the worst iniquities arising from this afternoon's seedy exercise is that the hon. Member for Govan is handing the initiative to the Conservatives. If the principle is applied that any old person can move the writ, if the convention is not to be observed, or if there is to be a break in the convention that has been observed until now, of course the majority, Government party will inevitably take over any decision concerning a new writ, as they do so many other decisions.
The hon. Member for Govan and his hon. Friends give no thought to that aspect. They are concerned only with securing a few headlines in tomorrow's newspapers. However, they do a disservice to the members of the press if they believe that their tactics will automatically achieve for them the press coverage that they anticipate. Government Members may consider that the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill is a good and necessary piece of legislation and that it must be pushed through. However, there is a substantial division of opinion in the House, and in Scotland there is virtual unanimity that the Bill is not wanted. However, instead of debate on that Bill taking place at a time when it would be well reported, and when the poverty of the Government's arguments would be highlighted, the success of the tacticians on the SNP Benches means that the debate will be postponed and carried off until the middle of the night.
That is the publicity coup of the hon. Member for Govan. Over the course of four or five hours, and just slightly within the rules of order, mumbo- jumbo has been churned out to make a point that has not anyway been honestly made. We know that one argument has been made outside the Chamber and another inside it. At the end of the day, we are no clearer about the SNP's objectives than we were at the start.
Column 238The hon. Member for Govan mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who seems to be his role model, and quoted the remark of my hon. Friend that the device of moving the writ would be used again--but only within the limits that the Government, with their silent majority, are willing to tolerate. The consequence of the hon. Member for Govan's actions is that another tactic will probably be lost. At the end of the day, the Conservative Benches will be stronger, not the voice of the Scottish people.
I have known the hon. Member for Govan for many years. I am sure that he will agree that for many years we used to call ourselves friends. We used to lunch together most days in the canteen of the General and Municipal Workers Union in Glasgow before the hon. Member entered the House of Commons and promised us all tea on the Terrace. What is so disappointing about this afternoon's exercise is the lowering of dignity that has been necessary to undertake it. That is the most distressing and disappointing aspect off all.
I remind the House of the words of the hon. Member for Govan in the debate on the Loyal Address on 19 November 1978. They give a message to us all :
"I do not think that at the end of the day anything will save SNP Members from the consequences of their own folly. One must go back a very considerable period in the history of Scotland to find the Scottish people so badly served by a group of self-appointed generals. The best description of the Scottish National Party is that if they had been in charge at Flodden we Scots would have lost even if the English Army had been on our side."--[ Official Report, 9 November 1978 ; Vol. 957, c. 1273-4, 1276.]
The hon. Member was right in 1978, and his words also ring true this evening.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) illustrates precisely the Labour party's difficulties. He fulminates about other hon. Members unnecessarily using parliamentary time but then commits the same crime of which he accuses them. The hon. Member speaks of seedy actions and unseemly haste, but those words cannot come easily from a Labour party which has already chosen its candidate for Glasgow, Central--whose photograph appears today in The Scotsman, and who is already holding press conferences. That is another example of Labour's double standards.
The contributions that the House has just heard from two Labour Members show that the Labour party is perfectly willing to use up parliamentary time, but only if it can do so to attack the SNP. The Labour party could have joined in to ensure that the only weapon available to the Opposition-- time--was used to block Government legislation. Even a 15-minute contribution from Labour Members tonight could have effectively held up Government business--but that is not something that the Labour party were willing to do. The Labour Opposition are clearly disorganised and do not know what they are about in terms of parliamentary business. The Government Whips must love them.
Question, That the Question be not now put, put and agreed to.
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill :--
Committee 1.--(1) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 18th May 1989.
(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 18th May may continue until Ten o'clock whether or not the House is adjourned before that time, and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 19th May 1989.
Report and Third Reading 2.--(1) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight on that day ; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of that day as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.
(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolution as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.
(3) The Resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 80 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on consideration of the Bill are taken.
Procedure in Standing Committee 3.--(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
(2) No Motion shall be made in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who makes, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
4. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in that order.
Conclusions of proceedings in Committee 5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question. Dilatory motions 6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be made in the Standing Committee or on allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Extra time 7.--(1) On the allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.
Column 240(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to said period of two hours.
(3) If the allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion. Private business 8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on the allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.
Conclusion of proceedings 9.--(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)--
(a) any Question already proposed by the Chair ;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill) ;
(c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment is moved or Motion is made by a member of the Government ;
(d) and other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded ;
and on a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock--
(a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time ;
(b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
(4) If the allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
Supplemental orders 10.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour
Column 241after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings. (2) If on the allotted day the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee as the time at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion, no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order. Saving 11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub- Committee shall--
(a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
(b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.
Recommittal 12.--(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommittal.
(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
Interpretation 13. In this Order--
"allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day ;
"the Bill" means the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill ; "Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee ; "Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
I do not think that I need remind the House of the importance of the Self- Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, to which my motion seeks to apply a timetable. I know that the measure is controversial, especially among Scottish Members, but I believe that it is also a sound and beneficial one. I would hope that the passions aroused by the Bill's contents will not prevent us this evening from discussing and deciding upon a reasonable framework within which the Bill may be hotly disputed.
One of the Bill's main aims is to enable Scottish schools to withdraw from local authority control to become self-governing schools, run by individual boards of management and funded directly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. Other provisions relate to the establishment of college councils for colleges of further education ; the formation of companies to manage colleges ; and the abolition of the committee to consider pay and conditions of further education teaching staff. In addition, the Bill provides for the establishment of technology academies, testing in primary schools, and the appraisal of teachers and lecturers. Taken as a whole,
Column 242those measures represent a radical and dynamic package which will meet the developing needs of education in Scotland.
To those ends, the Government consider it most desirable that the first schools which wish to do so should be able to achieve self-governing status by the beginning of the 1990-91 school year--in August 1990. Moreover, the Bill sets 1 April 1990 as the date by which college councils are to be established. Interested parties will need to know in good time the legislative base on which they can proceed, including the regulations specifying which colleges are exempt from these provisions, and, perhaps most importantly, if we are to have the first tests in primary 4 and primary 7 running in the schools by the school year 1990-91, the Scottish Examination Board will need the extension of its powers under clause 63 as early as possible, so that the process of writing, scrutinising and processing test items can be completed by May 1991. To ensure that those developments can take place in an orderly and timely fashion, we need to commit ourselves to a definite timetable for the rest of the Bill's passage through the House.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can hardly hear the Leader of the House. If he were in a Scottish primary school, and if we still had the strap, he would get it. Will he please speak up so that we can hear exactly of what he is trying to convince the House? His speech is not convincing in substance, but delivered in that manner it will never--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The Chair is not responsible for substance. The occupant of the Chair has very good hearing, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman also had quite good hearing.
Mr. Wakeham : Although the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I was saying, I noticed that he was still able to comment on its substance. To the hon. Gentleman's better hearing, I am proposing a timetable for the Bill.
The Committee has so far spent about 120 hours discussing part I of the Bill. It must make quicker progress on the remaining 25 clauses if the Bill is to be enacted in time to enable the necessary measures that I have just outlined to be taken. In devising the timetable motion, I have sought to ensure proper and orderly consideration for the remainder of the Bill. There are, in fact, not more than 10 substantive clauses in the Bill which remain to be looked at, but the motion that I am proposing would allow for a further 36 hours for discussion in Committee, making a total of 156 in all. In addition, there will be a full day until midnight on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading. That is in keeping with the generous provisions which have become a traditional feature of the timetable motions that I have moved.
I have in mind, too, the need for a balanced consideration of the Bill. I accept, of course, that part I of the Bill, dealing as it does with provisions for self-governing schools, is the most controversial, but part II on further education, and part III, making provision for
Column 243technology academies, testing in primary schools, appraisal of teachers, and other matters, should also receive adequate scrutiny.
Mr. Foulkes : The Leader of the House may know that there is great concern in Scottish universities about the regrettable proposals to remove the rector from the chairmanship of the court. How much time will be allocated to discuss this in Committee and on the Floor of the House? It is a matter which some hon. Members who are not members of the Committee but who have some experience in Scottish universities wish to discuss. As the Leader of the House is trying to convince us to vote for his timetable motion, will he say exactly how much time will be allocated to that important matter?
To ensure that the Bill has adequate scrutiny, the motion, like previous timetable motions, includes provision for allocating the time in Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading by reference to a Business Sub-Committee and a Business Committee which will determine how much time shall be allocated to the hon. Gentleman's point within the constraints of the motion.
Mr. Foulkes : I understand that the Leader of the House will play a leading role in the Business Committee. Will he ensure that the Business Committee gives proper consideration to the allocation of adequate time to the matter of the chairmanship of the court of the ancient universities of Scotland? It is a matter of some importance and has caused great controversy in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and I have a particular interest in the matter. We are not members of the Committee so we would want to discuss the matter on the Floor of the House on Report. Will the Leader of the House bear that in mind?
Mr. Wakeham : I am not a member of the Committee either, so I shall not be present when those matters are discussed, but no doubt members of the Committee will take into account the hon. Gentleman's important considerations and ensure that time is allocated in the best interests of discussing the Bill in a proper and effective way. That seems to me the key to the sensibly weighted consideration of the rest of the Bill, giving the chance for those who are experienced in these matters, and, in the case of the Sub-Committee, for those who are most closely acquainted with the Bill's provisions, to discuss the timing and divide the available time appropriately between clauses. Moreover, since many of the provisions in the remaining clauses are technical or consequential, the Business Sub- Committee will have considerable scope for manoeuvre. The time has come for the House to apply a timetable to the Bill. Any objective reading of the Standing Committee Hansard will convince right hon. and hon. Members that the Committee is not making as much progress as one might wish. The plain fact is that the Opposition have striven from the start to have the Bill guillotined. It is not my normal practice to make accusations of deliberate time wasting, but I must confess that my eyebrows rose a couple of notches when I read of the Chairman upbraiding the hon. Member for Western
Column 244Isles (Mr. Macdonald) for his tedious repetition in a speech that lasted for more than two hours. The same hon. Gentleman went on to conduct what might be termed a silent filibuster, standing but not speaking as he tried to eke out the proceedings for a few more minutes. I found tales of the glories of Blackpool, of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) having the ability to spin a football on his finger, and other examples of the Opposition deliberately prolonging the debate for several hours on amendments which Ministers had already said they would accept.
To take just one example, I notice that, at 3.50 am on last Tuesday's sitting. my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State accepted the Opposition's amendment extending the period of consultation after the result of the parents' ballot, from one month to three. Despite that, and despite a plea from the Chair that, when both sides of the Committee were agreed on a matter, it should be dealt with quickly, the Opposition continued to debate the issue for another half hour. This must be regarded, at such an hour in the morning, as a somewhat unusual way to proceed. None of these examples creates the impression that the Bill has been insufficiently considered.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : Is it not strange that, when the Under-Secretary agreed to accept the amendment, Government Back Benchers combined to vote it down and defeat the Minister's intentions?
Mr. Wakeham : I was not present, but my hon. Friend the Minister said that he would consider accepting the amendment. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends advanced cogent and sensible arguments to persuade him to move from accepting to considering the amendment. I appreciate that it is a time-honoured tactic to use delay as a weapon against the Government, but it is equally legitimate for a Government to ensure that their business is not lost on that account. I commend the motion to the House in the belief that it represents a realistic way to debate the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : In his sentence before last, the Leader of the House--significantly--remarked that the Government wanted to get their legislation through. Is it not a plain fact, given the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, that the Government had in mind a terminal date by which they must have the Bill? The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) shakes his head, but I am quite sure that the Leader of the House is quite capable of answering the question himself. Is it not a plain fact that the Government had in mind a terminal date by which they must have this legislation? That is the reason for the motion, not thorough and valid consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Foulkes rose --