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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I raise the question of the refusal last night of the authorities of the House to accept my early day motion because it included the word "shifty" with respect to the conduct of the Secretary of State for Wales? He first denied and then did not deny that he was aware of the affiliation to the Conservative party of David Rowe-Beddoe, whom he appointed as chairman of the Welsh Development Agency. I was told that I could not use the word "shifty" in that respect. That is why early-day motion 486 on page 1686 of today's Order Paper does not have the word "shifty" in it. Your ruling yesterday, as reported in column 631 of Hansard, deemed that it was in order to use the word "shifty" as long as it did not personally attack the person concerned. However, the word used by the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) did concern the conduct of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), as appears from column 605 of Hansard of social security questions yesterday. That raises the difficulty-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Would hon. Gentlemen resume their seats? An hon. Gentleman is attempting to address the Chair.

Mr. Morgan : If it was in order for the hon. Member for Bury, North to use the word "shifty" with respect to my hon. Friend in social security questions, what is shifty for the goose must be shifty for the gander.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : I do not want to enter into the wider debate, but, on the point that was made by the hon. Member for Bury, North, I have had a word with the hon. Gentleman about the specific words that he used in connection with me. May I assure the hon. Gentleman that I bear no ill will? He would be low on my list of hon. Members who were likely to slip into indiscretion and unparliamentary language.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Burt) : I am happy to withdraw the expression. I wrote to the hon. Member for Garscadden immediately after questions to give the proper construction of the remarks. The hon. Gentleman is not shifty. We have the warmest possible relationship-- [Interruption.] Madam Speaker, there are times when one wishes the ground to open up. We have a good relationship, in the proper sense of the term, and I am happy to withdraw the expression and the connotation that it had, if that is of help to the House.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. It is my turn, so that I may put the matter to rest. When the matter was raised yesterday, I said that I thought that the Under-Secretary of State had attributed the word "shifty" to the policies of the hon. Member for Garscadden rather than to him personally. On reading the Official Report this morning, I found that in fact the hon. Gentleman had attributed it to the hon.

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Member for Garscadden personally. That was unparliamentary and unacceptable. Had I not misheard the remark at the time, I would have required the Minister to withdraw it.

The matter has now been put right. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), as I am to other hon. Members who have raised the matter. It has now been put to rest.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Is it the same point of order?

Mr. Campbell-Savours : No.

Madam Speaker : Very good.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Can you inform the House whether you have yet received an intimation from the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that he wishes to make a personal statement to the House on whether Westminster City council ratepayers can have the £50,000 that was conned out of the rates account returned to them?

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not in order to refer to another hon. Member in that way. If he has a substantive motion, he should table it in the normal way.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order may be of wider interest than just to me. The other day the Table Office told me that the ministerial duties of the Leader of the House did not include responsibility for the parliamentary timetable. That came as something of a surprise to me. When I raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, he too expressed surprise. As he said, he feels that he is quite busy. Could you elucidate the point for us all, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker : There may have been some misunderstanding. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is referring to rules for Adjournment debates. If he is not, I do not want to have a discussion across the Floor of the House now. I shall look at precisely what he means and will give him a ruling on the matter.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Five minutes ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) was informed that the Leader of the House intends to move a privilege motion that concerns me. Is not it normal practice, when a privilege motion concerns an hon. Member, for reasonable notice to be given so that hon. Members are available on the relevant day, if they so wish? Despite an explicit request to the Government some two hours ago, no notice was given. In that case, would not it be preferable for the motion to be stood over until tomorrow's sitting?

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is quite correct in saying that a motion is about to be moved ; that is perfectly in order. I have looked at the precedents and this is exactly the procedure that the House always adopts on such occasions. I call the Chairman of the Committee.

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Hon. Member for Banff and Buchan

3.37 pm

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform the House that at its meeting this morning, the First Scottish Standing Committee, to which the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill was referred, directed me to report Mr. Alex Salmond, the Member for Banff and Buchan, to the House because the hon. Member, not being a member of the Committee, was present in that part of the Committee Room reserved for members of the Committee, and, having been requested to do so, he declined to withdraw. 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.

Motion made, and Question proposed ,

That the Chairman of the First Scottish Standing Committee in respect of the Local Government 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.-- [Mr. Newton.]

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you confirm that the motion is debatable? If so, may I give notice that I would like to debate it?

Madam Speaker : The motion is now open for debate. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly free to speak. I call the hon. Gentleman. 3.38 pm

Mr. Salmond : The point at issue is whether the Chairman of the Committee should be given power to exclude hon. Members from the Committee. My argument is that we should not give the Chairman that power. There is a substantial case for saying that the First Scottish Standing Committee, which is considering the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, is improperly constituted under the Standing Orders of the House. Under Standing Order No. 86(2), the Committee of Selection of the House of Commons is charged to do two things with regard to the choice of hon. Members to serve on Standing Committees. It is charged with looking at the composition of the House as a whole, and the qualifications of the hon. Members chosen.

My submission is that the qualifications of members of that Committee are substantially in question. I refer to the qualifications of the hon. Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). The Committee has been certified by you, Madam Speaker, as being exclusively concerned with Scottish issues. How on earth can Conservative Members representing English constituencies be considered to be "qualified" to serve on the Committee when they have no constituency interest in the proceedings of the legislation? That is an important point of principle for myself and for my hon. Friends, who were willing to serve on the Committee but were not chosen.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Salmond : If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall give way to him in a few moments.

The House might like to consider that the Committee of Selection had available to it other Conservative Members with Scottish constituencies. They were the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)--the Minister of State, Department of Employment--the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)--the Secretary of State for Defence--and even the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understand that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) was perfectly prepared to serve but was not chosen, apparently because the Government Whips believed that he would have been an unreliable ally on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill.

In those circumstances, I cannot consider that it would be appropriate to give the Chairman powers over a Committee that may have been improperly constituted.

Mr. Connarty : How many Standing Committees has the hon. Gentleman volunteered to serve on or served on in the House since he came here?

Mr. Salmond : The previous occasion when there was a major Scottish Committee was in 1989. It was the Committee on Scottish self-governing schools. The hon. Gentleman may recall that again I volunteered to serve on that Committee and was excluded. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will appreciate the important principle that, if a Committee is certified by Madam Speaker as being exclusive to Scotland, it is important that Scottish Members have first option to serve on such a Committee.

I see Welsh Members in the Chamber.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : On the issue of legislation dealing exclusively with Welsh matters, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a Standing Order that requires every hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency to serve on the Committee ? That Standing Order has to be followed unless there is an express resolution to the contrary. When the Standing Order was put on one side for the Welsh Language Bill 1993, that action was fought vociferously by all Opposition Members. Should not the rule applying to legislation on Welsh matters also apply to Scottish legislation ?

Mr. Salmond : I agree with that argument and with the Standing Order. The hon. Gentleman and I wish that other Opposition parties would view the matters relating to Scotland with the same concern as they view matters relating to Wales.

There are two effective and important precedents for such a resolution being brought to the House. The first was in 1989 during the passage of Scottish schools legislation. It was argued that the Chairman of the Committee should have powers to proceed. Two arguments were advanced in favour of that motion : first, that it would be proper for the Committee to be allowed to debate, for the debate to proceed and for each amendment to be judged on its merits ; secondly, that people in Scotland had the right and ability not to use the schools opt-out legislation if they so chose. Neither of those arguments stands in the case before us.

If we consider the precedent set during the self-governing schools legislation, in Committee no substantive amendment was accepted by the Government,

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although debate was allowed to proceed. I suspect that, if debate is allowed to proceed in the Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, a similar situation will arise. There would be no protection for people in Scotland if the House give the Government their way on the Committee.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the House were to accept the principle that he has adumbrated, it would inevitably mean that any Bill dealing with England alone should not have on its Standing Committee a single Scottish or Welsh Member ?

Mr. Salmond : I am prepared to accept that principle. The hon. Member will note that my hon. Friends do not vote on specifically English legislation, the most recent example of which was the Bill for Sunday shops opening. I thought that it was not appropriate for Scottish Members to decide for English Members whether shops in England should open on Sundays. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would extend the same courtesy to us in Scotland. In terms of the principle--

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Salmond : In a few moments.

As for the principle that he raised, the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) may like to remember that in connection with the White Paper, "Taking Stock" the Tory Government argued that many more measures should be debated in the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland by Scottish Members. How on earth can that principle be upheld if English Tories are required to gerrymander Scottish local government on a Scottish Standing Committee?

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : In view of the Scottish National party's declared anti-racist stand, I am sure that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) does not seek to drive irrational wedges between Scottish and English Members in the Chamber. Would he therefore care to pay tribute to the Opposition Members representing English constituencies who last night argued the case on behalf of important sections of the Scottish community with regard to the new duty on air passengers? In that lengthy debate no representative of the Scottish National party sought to speak, nor was even present from beginning to end of it. Some good may conceivably come from that debate for Scottish communities, so will the hon. Gentleman please accept that there are hon. Members representing non-Scottish constituencies who have a deep and genuine interest in Scottish affairs? Whether that extends to Conservative Members, especially on the Bill in question, is another matter, but let us not divide the House or the country on racist lines. [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman is being heartily cheered by the Tories. I should have hoped that on this occasion even the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is not right and proper for English Conservative Members to be parachuted on to the Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. I remember that exact point being made--presumably it was not racist then--by the leader of the Labour party in the first debate in the new Session of

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Parliament. He said that it would be an outrage if English Conservative Members were put on the Committee on the Bills on local government in Wales or Scotland. If that was an outrage last October, it is still an outrage now. I would have hoped for some support from the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), but perhaps I should have known better.

The first precedent dates from 1972, on the Local Government (Scotland Bill). That was the first time that a similar resolution was brought before the House, and it provides an important precedent. The action was taken by several hon. Members, three Liberals and three Scottish Labour Members--the late Jo Grimond, the late John Mackintosh, the late John Robertson, the late Tom Pendry and two Members who are still with us, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). In 1972 those people thought it appropriate, on a Bill far less contentious than the Bill now before the Committee, to challenge the right of the Committee Chairman to exclude them from the Committee. There were then no English Conservative Members on the Committee, but it was still considered appropriate for those Liberal and Labour Members to challenge in what they thought was the most effective way. I wish that Labour and Liberal Members would join us today in making a similar objection.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Gentleman appears to be making a case why he should be on the Committee. That case may or may not have virtue, but the motion before the House relates to whether a Chairman has the right to tell a non-member of the Committee to go away. The hon. Gentleman is not arguing that point at all. May we return to where we are supposed to be?

Madam Speaker : I am listening carefully to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who is a very experienced Member of the House. I know that he understands what the motion is about, and I am sure he will ensure that his speech relates to it.

Mr. Salmond : Of course you, Madam Speaker, with your experience, will have noticed that I am talking about the precedents, when hon. Members came before similar Committees and similar resolutions were moved. That must be relevant to the context of the debate. In determining whether the Chairman should have powers

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am slightly concerned, because I understood the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to describe the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) as the late Member. Was I right to be surprised, or has something happened to him?

Mr. Salmond : I meant to refer to a late Labour Member whose constituency was Edinburgh, Central, I believe--[ Hon. Members :-- Tom Oswald."] Tom Oswald. I accept that correction, but it is the only correction that I intend to accept from Conservative Members. In determining whether the Chairman should have powers, we must determine whether the Bill should proceed in the light of the arguments put forward. I have no doubt that if the motion is successful, it will enable progress to be made on the Bill. I also have no doubt that

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progress on this Bill will be against the interests of the Scottish people and my constituents in Banff and Buchan. In Banff and Buchan, 92 per cent. of the people are opposed to the legislation. I cannot conceive of a situation where the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman)--he is keen on water privatisation--can have more knowledge than me about the views of my constituents. I would question whether the hon. Gentleman knows the difference between Peterhead and Portsoy.

Surely, when the Standing Orders of the House provide for exclusively Scottish legislation, hon. Members on both sides of the House should have the charity and understanding to allow exclusively Scottish matters to be debated exclusively by Scottish Members. We have a precedent in terms of the public Bill on legislation for Wales. It would be better if that precedent were followed in Scotland.

Some hon. Members will argue that the Chairman should have powers, otherwise the Government may move a guillotine. After yesterday's experience of five and a half hours' debate and the Government moving towards a guillotine, I thought that all hon. Members would realise that when the Government wish to move a guillotine, they will do so. The most effective way for Scottish Members and, indeed, Opposition Members to register their protest is to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Standing Orders to deny the Chairman of the Committee powers which are otherwise restricted to Madam Speaker to order hon. Members off a Committee.

The key matter is the rights of Scottish Members as well as those of the Committee Chairman. If Scottish Members must accept the position where we are excluded from a Scottish Standing Committee so that five English Tory Members can be parachuted on it, not because of any qualifications that they may have in terms of the Standing Orders but as voting and Lobby fodder for the Tory Whips, surely we deny our own right as hon. Members to make our case against the gerrymandering of Scottish local government and against the pursuit of putting Scottish water into the private sector.

There is a specific Scottish interest which is recognised in the Standing Orders of the House. In arguing against this motion, I am doing no more than arguing that our Standing Orders should be respected with regard to Scottish legislation. It is possible for hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill to disagree on the specific tactics and to believe that the Chairman of the Committee should have powers. However, if it is not the place of Scottish Members to object to such an obvious injustice, what is our place in the House? What alternative do we have, knowing the make-up of the Committee?

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : Did the hon. Gentleman or anyone else in his party ask to be a member of the Committee debating the privatisation of the coal industry? If not, why not? The Scottish coal industry should be looked after by the people of Scotland. It is just as important as anything else.

Mr. Salmond : If the hon. Gentleman looks, he will see that the Liberal Democrats took the minority-party place on that Committee. Given that my hon. Friends and I put our names forward for the Scottish Standing Committee which we are discussing at present, I ask the hon.

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Gentleman to consider that it would be difficult for us simultaneously to nominate ourselves for another Committee. Now that the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to consider the precedents and the objections that were raised by Labour Members in 1972, I thought that he would join us in arguing against the principle and practice of parachuting English Tory Members on the Committee. The hon. Gentleman has a substantial interest in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. Midlothian is one of the key issues before the Committee. How on earth can the hon. Gentleman accept the Midlothian boundaries being determined not by him, but by hon. Members representing Blackpool, Stroud and Leeds? The complexion of the Committee looks like the English football league, as opposed to a Scottish local government Committee.

The question is whether the Committee Chairman should have powers, and I say that he should not. Otherwise, Scottish hon. Members will find that the Bill and the Committee will be gerrymandered from under their feet. There is no other way to organise opposition to the Committee.

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is in his place. He has argued, I take it in all sincerity, that it is possible to persuade English Conservative hon. Members to rebel and to sacrifice their political careers to save Scottish local democracy. Is it likely that those five English Conservative Members who were chosen by the Whips will go on the Committee and rebel to save Scottish local government? I think that is highly implausible.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On the question of parachuting hon. Members, could it be clarified whether a parachute was applied for by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn)? When the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman was mentioned and it was suggested that the Minister did not want him to be a member of the Committee, there was a great shaking of the head from the Minister. Will the Minister now say what the position of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, because the Minister violently shook his head when the matter was raised? Could it be clarified whether the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to be a Committee member or not? Mr. Salmond rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. The House is moving quite a long way from what is a narrow motion. Will the hon. Gentleman who now has the Floor relate his speech more closely to the motion which is before the House and on which the House must make a decision?

Mr. Salmond : The question raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is pertinent, and perhaps he will have a chance to ask it at a later stage.

The motion, as you rightly say, Madam Speaker, concerns the question whether the Committee Chairman should have powers. My argument is that he should not.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : As the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, perhaps I may say something? I do not think that anybody on the Committee of Selection could forget the differences and the arguments which we had about the legislation. It was debatable whether the Government should have a majority of two or one, and in the end the Government have a majority of one.

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One of the hon. Gentleman's party colleagues wrote to me to suggest that all three Scottish National party Members should be on the Committee. I am afraid that I have not come across any Standing Committee that has the whole of one party's parliamentary representation serving on it.

The ratio for Committees is that the minority parties should have two Committee members. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), the spokesman for the minority parties, took that point on board and there is one member from the Liberal Democrat party and one from the SNP. As a reflection of those parties' numbers in the House, I would have thought that that was fair.

The hon. Gentleman said that he kept out of English matters, but I am afraid that all Scottish hon. Members do not. On a previous occasion on which the vexed question of Sunday trading was discussed, the legislation was defeated by the votes of Scottish hon. Members who denied my constituents their rights.

Mr. Salmond : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not making that point against me, as I did not vote on that legislation.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to Standing Order 86(2), which gives the Committee its guidance from the House. He will note that the first requirement placed on the Committee concerns not its composition, but the "qualifications" of Members. That is the first requirement which the House makes in the Standing Order.

My point is a simple one, but the hon. Gentleman did not answer it in his intervention : how on earth can English Conservatives hon. Members be qualified when there are even Scottish Conservatives whom he has not selected for the Committee?

Sir Fergus Montgomery : The Standing Orders say specifically that there must be at least 16 Committee members who represent Scottish constituencies, and that has happened with the Bill with which we are concerned.

Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman again fails to answer my question. What are the qualifications under the Standing Orders for the five English Conservative hon. Members? Incidentally, those five did not even turn up for the Second Reading debate. It is normally a prior requirement of the Committee of Selection that hon. Members should show an interest in the legislation.

Finally, Madam Speaker--

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : One of the hon. Gentleman's fears seems to be the threat of the guillotine hanging over the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. May I give him some guidance? At a meeting in Edinburgh about two months ago, the parliamentary--

Madam Speaker : Order. I do not like to interrupt the hon. Member, but we are moving a long way from the subject with talk of whether there is to be a guillotine or whether there is not. The motion is narrow and concerns whether the Chairman should have the power to order an hon. Member who is not a member of the Committee to withdraw from the Committee Room. It is as narrow as that.

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Mr. Salmond : I hope that you will accept, Madam Speaker, that, although I may have allowed--

Dr. Godman rose--

Mr. Salmond : Is it a point of order?

Madam Speaker : Or a point of frustration.

Dr. Godman : I am never frustrated with you, Madam Speaker, or with your pulling me into line. I was simply attempting to illustrate something for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I hope that I have your support for doing so.

Madam Speaker : When hon. Members give illustrations, they move a long way from the motion before us. I also have to take into account the business before the House today. I hope that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will come to his conclusion, as I believe he said he would.

Mr. Salmond : I hope that you agree, Madam Speaker, that I have been sticking as closely as I can to the substance of the motion.

Madam Speaker : I agree. The hon. Gentleman has been doing so. Other Members have led him astray.

Mr. Salmond : Perhaps by giving way I have allowed myself to be diverted occasionally.

I want to come to the point of the resolution and to say why the Chairman of the Committee should not be given powers. The only effective way in which Scottish Members can protest against the Committee is by doing what I have done. It is not feasible to find another way to protect Scottish local democracy.

In support of that argument, let me cite the anonymous comments of a Labour Member in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper a week past Sunday. In reaction to the hon. Member for Hamilton, who believes that English Conservative Members on the Committee could be converted, that Labour Member said :

"Everyone knows that that is not going to happen, but he" the hon. Member for Hamilton--

"has raised expectations now and it is too late to water them down."

It is too late to water them down and it is the duty of Scottish Members to oppose the resolution and to ensure that they are seen not to accept the right of English Conservatives to gerrymander Scottish local government and to begin the privatisation of the Scottish water industry.

4.2 pm

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : I very much regret that we are having to have this debate and to devote valuable time to the antics of the Scottish National party when local government reorganisation and what the Government are doing to the water industry should be debated by the House and the Government's policies thus exposed. This self-indulgent stunt today by the nationalists is a spectacular own goal for them and a huge bonus for a Government who are in deep and probably terminal trouble. Once again, just as they did last year when they voted with the Tories on the European Committee of the Regions, the Scottish nationalists have come to the Government's aid.

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