Scottish Grand Committee

– in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 16th March 1988.

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Ordered,That, in the course of its consideration of the matter of Education in Scotland, the Scottish Grand Committee may meet in Edinburgh on Monday 21st March at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Joint Leader, Social & Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Party, Joint Founder, Social & Liberal Democrats 3:54 pm, 16th March 1988

May I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, concerning section 3 of Standing Order No. 94, under which the motion on the Scottish Grand Committee was moved?

You, Mr. Speaker, will recall that last December, when a similar motion was moved, it was blocked under the terms of the Standing Order by some 20 hon. Members rising in their places. I should have thought that the fact that the meeting did not take place would have taught the powers that be a lesson, and we would have had adequate notice, the lack of which we were protesting against on the last occasion.

I have letters from successive Government Scottish Whips dated December 1986 and December 1987, accepting the need for at least two weeks' notice, and probably more, of the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh. Indeed, when the Standing Order was drafted, and consultation took place through the usual channels, it was accepted that the meeting should take place on the date of Welsh questions in the House, of which there is usually four to five weeks' notice.

Now we have been given five days' notice. That is wholly inadequate. My home and constituency happen to be near Edinburgh and I have only to cancel an industrial visit in my constituency, but other hon. Members are required to leave early on Sunday evening to get to the meeting. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), if they are to attend the meeting at 10.30 on Monday morning, will have to leave home on Saturday afternoon.

It is a scandalous and arrogant abuse of the Standing Order to put down a motion of this kind at such short notice. I would normally be asking you, Mr. Speaker to refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure for a tightening of the Standing Order, but that Committee has not been set up since the general election. Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as the custodian and protector of the interests and rights of hon. Members in whatever part of the House they sit, to advise us how we can prevent the repeated misuse of the Standing Order without losing the meeting altogether through further blocking action.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I appreciate what the right hon. Member has said. Unfortunately, as he correctly states, there is no Procedure Committee. I shall consider what he has said, but it is not a matter for me if motions are put on the Order Paper. If the right hon. Gentleman objects to a motion, he should voice his objection, and, provided that 20 hon. Members stand, the motion will not go through.

Later

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) raised a point of order about Scottish business, and I wish to ask you one question. You said that the proper course would be to object as we did on the previous occasion, but that would result in putting off a meeting that we are not against having. We are seeking some way whereby civilised, sensible and decent warning can be given. Surely something can be done.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not responsible for motions on the Order Paper. The House decides whether or not to accept them. The best course for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would be to have discussions through the usual channels about the shortage of time. I fully appreciate the point made by hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman is the Chief Whip of the alliance party, and I must tell him that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak in today's debate, including a number from his party.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) was that the usual channels had singularly failed to ensure that the Government adopted decent procedures towards hon. Members. We are looking to you, Mr. Speaker, to protect our position, which is why we raised the point of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Unfortunately, I cannot help. As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) reminded the House—it is something on which I do not readily look back these days—I used to be in that position, but I am no longer there.