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Mr. Home Robertson : Yes. May I draw your attention to the exchanges yesterday on the Floor of the House? It was put to Madam Speaker that the government of Scotland and of this House was being brought into disrepute in the eyes of the people of Scotland by the way that Scottish affairs are treated. Any number of Ministers and Conservative Members of Parliament were willing to come to the House to raise frivolous points about Monklands district council, yet when major decisions are being taken about the future of the national health service a Minister cannot be found. Who is running Scotland? Who is meant to be in control of them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Certainly not Madam Speaker.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I do not think that we need to take this matter any further now. Hon. Gentlemen have made their views extremely clear this morning. I must now call the hon. Members-- Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I heard the Opposition spokesman say that further efforts were being made to get hold of a Minister before 2.30. It is only just coming up to noon. I suggest that those negotiations continue so that we can get on with the debates and protect the interests of Back Benchers.

Several Hon. Members rose --


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Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I call the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), and then it must be the turn of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway).

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further to my earlier point of order, I mentioned to you that our Chief Whip was negotiating with the usual channels. As yet, there has been no reply. I do not know whether that is an act of discourtesy or whether it means that negotiations are still going on. None the less, it means that we are still hopeful that someone will come to the Chamber to make a statement. I ask you to use your good offices to press those who are sitting on the Treasury Bench to make sure that we get that statement before the end of business today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Those who sit on the Treasury Bench will have heard that negotiations are taking place. I am firmly stuck in this Chair for the moment. Therefore, I call the hon. Member for Croydon, South.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I shall take no more points of order on this matter.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. McAllion rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have already called the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McAllion : I spy strangers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot spy strangers for a second time.

Mr. McAllion : This is the first occasion on which I have moved that I spy strangers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat when I am on my feet. May I also respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a look at "Erksine May"? [Interruption.] Order. I must ask the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) not to carry on an argument while I am talking.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) . I am sorry.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am most grateful. It is a rule of the House that the House can spy strangers only once during a day's sitting. That motion was moved by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and was negatived. Therefore, that particular route is now closed. I call the hon. Member for Croydon, South.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I shall take no more points of order.

Mr. McAllion : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I spy strangers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I must refer the hon. Gentleman to page 172 of "Erskine May", which I took the precaution of reading while he was out having a coffee.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.


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Mr. Deputy Speaker : This must be the last point of order, then.

Mr. Hood : May I explain-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) wants to intervene and interrupt his hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) is, I hope, raising a new point of order.

Mr. Hood : Yes. I heard about the previous points of order while I was dealing with my constituency correspondence. I apologise for not having been here then, but that was the reason for my absence. While I was with my secretary dealing with my correspondence, I received two telephone calls asking me whether it was true that Stone House hospital and Law hospital will announce next week that they are to opt out. Fourteen hospitals are to optout.

I am not aware of what happened here earlier this morning, but I am concerned that, while I have been doing my work on the last day before the Christmas recess, my constituents have been panicking because of reports of hospital opt-outs--information that should have been provided first to Members of Parliament. I am in an embarrassing position, because I cannot give answers to my constituents. It is disgraceful. I want--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hear the hon. Gentleman. I understand and sympathise with him if he feels that he has been placed in an embarrassing position with his constituents. No hon. Member should be placed in that position. However, the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is waiting to raise an important matter that affects his constituents. My job is to protect the interests of all Back Benchers, and the hon. Gentleman has gone to considerable trouble to ensure that he can voice the concerns of his constituents. I am sure that Scottish Members would not want to embarrass him with his constituents by preventing him from putting his case.

Given that, as I understand it, negotiations are continuing through the usual channels, and the fact that hon. Gentlemen have put their points with conviction and considerable persuasion, I hope that we can now move on to the next debate. I call the hon. Member for Croydon, South.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : No ; I have heard the points of order.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Lady has not yet put a point of order to me. As she has been rising with some conviction, I shall hear her.

Mrs. Adams : You have been referring to "hon. Gentlemen," Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I apologise to the hon. Lady.


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Mrs. Adams : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder what protection the House can offer me and, therefore, the constituents who elected me. They learned this morning, from a newspaper published 200 miles away, that our local hospital is to opt out of the national health service. What protection can the House give me against that announcement?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have to say to hon. Members-- [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members cannot get up when I am speaking.

The hon. Lady asked what protection was available for Back Benchers. She could have asked a private notice question this morning, but, to the best of my knowledge, none was submitted to Madam Speaker. The avenues in this House are legion. Hon. Members have been here a long time and they know that what they should not and cannot do is continually to challenge the Chair on a policy issue, which is an argument between the Opposition and the Government--

[Interruption.] Order. I understand the strength of feeling and I am sure that Madam Speaker would also understand it. However, the House succeeds only if hon. Members respect the Chair.

Since hon. Members have now put their views twice and with considerable conviction, and having, I imagine, gained enormous media coverage, I hope that we can now move on to the scheduled debate. [Interruption.] Order. The subject of delays in the commercial courts is every bit as important as trust hospitals-- [Interruption.] Order. I will take a last point of order from the Opposition Front Bench. My understanding is that negotiations are continuing through the usual channels-- [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members may disagree with their Front Bench, but my information is that negotiations are continuing.

Mrs. Fyfe : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank you for your great courtesy and helpfulness this morning. However, we have just learnt that no Minister will come to the House to make a statement--[ Hon. Members :-- "Disgraceful."] As my hon. Friends say, it is disgraceful. Ministers have had ample opportunity to come to the House, but they have not done so. We can only register our utter contempt for such behaviour. The Government have shown contempt for the House, for the people of Scotland and for the people who use the national health service.

We will have to continue with our points outside the Chamber. We do not want to disrupt the time of other hon. Members who have debates today. We do not want to hurt their the feelings or damage the interests of their constituents. We have used this opportunity to put our points and it is a pity that no Minister has had the guts to come here to discuss the matter with us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Perhaps we can now move on to the next debate.


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Commercial Courts

12.4 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : When so many hon. Members turned up in the Chamber at 11.45 am, I thought for a glorious moment-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. I appeal to hon. Members to recognise that what they are doing by standing before the Mace does not bring credit on any part of the United Kingdom. I have listened to a large number of points of order-- [Interruption.] Order. I hope that those hon. Members who are trying to prevent democracy at work-- [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members are directly challenging the Chair-- [Interruption.] Order. It is not a matter of politics any more-- [Interruption.] Order. I suspend the sitting for five minutes.

12.5 pm

Sitting suspended.

12.13 pm

On resuming--

Madam Speaker : I ask hon. Members who are standing before the Mace to resume their seats.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) : We do not in any way ignore your presence in the Chamber, Madam Speaker, nor did we intend to insult you or your deputies. We believe that we are entitled to a statement from the Leader of the House, who we know is in the building.

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members normally speak from their seats. I ask hon. Members to resume their seats. I will hear what the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has to say if hon. Members will now resume their seats. I cannot hear while hon. Members are standing at the Mace.

Mr. Ross : I want to make it quite clear that we did not intend to challenge your presence through your deputy while Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair.

My hon. Friends on the Front Bench and my Back-Bench colleagues have raised a succession of points of order in response to the outrageous decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in the building, who answered questions yesterday afternoon and was present during the five-hour debate on another piece of legislation. We noticed that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) had a written question on the Order Paper. We woke up this morning to excited telephone calls from our constituents who told us that hospitals in their areas were to be given trust status in a written announcement at 3.30 this afternoon. They demanded that we do something about that. That is why we are here. We could not answer their questions, so we are here to find out what is happening.

We are simply asking for a statement. If the Scottish Office Minister responsible is not present, we know that the Leader of the House is here as we have seen him. We want him to make a statement about the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland to grant trust status to a number of hospitals in Scotland.

I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker reported to you everything that has happened this morning. It is not just


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today's announcement ; it is much more worrying that an announcement is to be made next week while the House is in recess. That is even more insulting, given the rules that you, Madam Speaker, and your predecessor have made about Ministers making press statements or announcements by way of press statements instead of coming to the House.

Madam Speaker : I have been listening for most of the morning to the points of order, and the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has made the position quite clear to me once more. I understand that negotiations are taking place outside to see whether a statement can be made before the House rises today. That being the case, hon. Members should allow the debate to take place, as we always do in this House.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. There can be no more points of order on this subject. We must now allow the debate to take place.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I have heard all the points of order and I have been listening all morning. Hon. Members must now wait to see whether a statement by a Minister will be made later today. I believe that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has the Floor.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. I heard the point of order from the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who has made the matter quite clear on behalf of most of the hon. Members who are in the Chamber. I have been listening all morning and we must now proceed with our debate. I call Mr. Ottaway.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. I have heard all the points of order that are necessary. Freedom of speech is allowed for everyone in this House. I have heard points of order from hon. Members who have been raising them all morning. I take them very seriously, but the debate must now proceed. Back Benchers have a right to make themselves heard.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I believe that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) is seeking to raise a point of order from the Opposition Front Bench. I will listen to that point of order, which will be the final point of order.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : I thank you for your consideration, Madam Speaker. Can you clarify further what you said a moment ago when you said that you believed that negotiations were continuing? We understood just a few minutes ago that there was to be no ministerial statement. Is it your understanding that negotiations are still continuing?


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Madam Speaker : I understood from the Annunciator that negotiations were taking place. Nobody has informed me other than that. Therefore, until I know, I think that the debate must be allowed to take place. Several Hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. I have heard enough points of order. I call Mr. Ottaway.

Mr. Home Robertson : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has already raised a point of order. I have dealt with all the points of order that are necessary. We must wait until I, as Speaker, am told whether a statement is to be made. Hon. Members must do likewise.

Mr. Ottaway : In drawing attention to delays in the commercial courts, I shall initially declare an interest as a solicitor and a director of a company which from time to time has reason to use the commercial court.

Mr. Home Robertson : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.


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Madam Speaker : Order. I have to protect what is known as the Royal Assent and therefore I shall suspend the House until 3 o'clock. 12.20 pm

Sitting suspended.

3 pm

On resuming--

Royal Assent

Madam Speaker : I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts :

Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Act 1992

Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992

Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992

Adjourned without Question put at one minute past Three o'clock, pursuant to the Resolutions [27 November and 14 December], till Monday 11 January.


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