I beg to move,
That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the burgh constituency of Glasgow, Central in the room of Robert McTaggart, Esquire, deceased.
Mr. Speaker, may I —[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn wish to intervene?
The behaviour of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) in this instance has been shameful. Robert McTaggart's family still live in the constituency. Members of the hon. Gentleman's party have been running around the constituency looking for a seat, and the man is not yet cold in his grave.
That would be fair comment if it were not for the fact that the Labour party has gone through the perfectly legitimate process of picking its candidate and holding its initial press conferences. The Labour party candidate's photograph appears in The Scotsman today, in which he looks sound. I intend to ignore absolutely the double standards of the hon. Member for Springburn.
All of us, irrespective of party, regret that a by-election was caused by the death of Bob McTaggart, who was one of the kindest people to me after my victory in the Govan by-election. He went out of his way to tell me that, although we represented different political parties and had our differences, we represented adjoining constituencies and that there would be no differences whatsoever on matters affecting people. Like every other right hon. and hon. Member, I valued him as a human being, and it is a matter of regret that a by-election has been caused by his death.
No one in Scotland will be worried by the fact that we are debating a by-election writ which takes precedence over a guillotine motion on the so-called Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, particularly a guillotine motion which allocates only one day for the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament to discuss the Bill on Report and Third Reading and when six English Tory Members have had ample tune in Committee to pass judgment on Scottish education and, in the view of many people, to damage it. However, this debate takes precedence.
Before I explain in full my reasons for suggesting that a by-election should be held—I am open to argument that a by-election should not be held, such is the character of these debates—I cast my mind back to the 1970s when the Labour party offered tough opposition to a Conservative Government not only on such matters, but on other procedural devices, and talked away the day and the night, together with the business and the following day's business. No doubt that opportunity will arise later.
There are several reasons for suggesting that the motion for a writ should be moved and accepted today for the by-election in Glasgow, Central. My research was stimulated by the significant speech made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 20 January 1989, when he moved the writ for the Richmond by-election. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not present, but I understand that this is an important day for England and Wales in electoral terms. The hon. Gentleman explained:
Once one gets to know the rules and procedures in any walk of life"—
and the hon. Gentleman has been here for a while—
that knowledge can be very handy. Some of us are very thorough about doing so.
I thought that on Budget day, but I was not as thorough as I should have been. The hon. Gentleman went on to say:
To get a writ through from the Back Benches, as opposed to moving it from the Dispatch Box, the first point one discovers is that it is the first item of business and should precede everything else. If a writ is to be moved on a day when there are parliamentary questions, it must be done at the beginning of business. If it is objected to, then it can be dealt with after Question Time. It can take up a considerable amount of time.
We shall prove that. He continued:
It is no bad thing for the House to discuss a writ. It may be that in future, given that Back Benchers as well as Whips can move a writ, that device will be used extensively.
That is hypothetical and remains to be seen.
I read that out because it is astonishing but true that many Members of Parliament do not know a great deal about parliamentary procedure because they are looked after by the Whips. I say that not in any pejorative sense, but because we come here as brand new Members and there is no primer to tell us anything. Someone says, "Here are the Standing Orders, here is 'Erskine May'. Go and read them." But that is extremely difficult.
It is rather heavy bedtime reading.
If an hon. Member is elected in the summer, it is difficult for him to pick up parliamentary procedures. It would be a good idea if your Department, Mr. Speaker, ran seminars for Back Benchers explaining Standing Orders and their cross-references with "Erskine May". We would all know more than we do and would he more effective when dealing with the nice gentleman, the Leader of the House.
During the debate on the issue of the writ for the Richmond by-election, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made a confession to the hon. Member for Bolsover. He said:
I just want to thank my hon. Friend because by his deep reading of 'Erskine May', he has revealed that there are things in it which he wotted not of. We have not a lot of privileges on the Back Benches, but I now gather that we have privileges that we did not know about. My hon. Friend will remember that I said to him this morning that I did not know that a Back Bencher could move a writ. We have a tendency to convey to people that we Back Benchers know everything, but it is obvious that we do not. My hon. Friend has taught me that I can move a writ. I should like to try some time, so I shall study the procedure.
An hon. Member of such a long experience did not know that he could move a writ for a by-election. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman)—
Mr. Eric S. Hefter:
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman as I know that some of my hon. Friends do not want this debate to continue—nor do I particularly. Some hon. Members who were elected to the House in 1964 listened to people such as Emrys Hughes, Sydney Silverman and many others. We learned much about parliamentary procedure from them. Hon. Members who are newly elected to the House learn by listening and participating in debates. I make that point because Emrys Hughes and those from whom I learned helped me to understand "Erskine May"—a great tome that I should not want to carry to bed with me. The hon. Gentleman should take that into consideration.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) mentioned Emrys Hughes. I most remember him for his remark in the 1966 general election that the only difference between a Tory Government and the great train robbers was that the great train robbers forgot to be elected. I remember Emrys Hughes saying that from a platform in Ayrshire.
That is right; and I am not a traitor to the Socialist movement.
There is a danger of my being drawn outside the parameters of the debate. I shall be careful about that; I do not want another expulsion. I am trying to read the wise words of the hon. Member for Billericay, who intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Bolsover. This shows how wide, and at the same time how narrow, this debate is. The hon. Lady said:
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that by-elections are generally seen as a barometer of public opinion.
That is an important point.
There is another important matter. What happens if a writ is moved and defeated? The hon. Member for Bolsover has done a great deal of reseach and I compliment him on that. He said:
At least one Conservative Member has spoken of dilatory action. It was suggested a few days ago that the moving of a writ was a means of developing such action. The Clerks were unsure of the ground here. This has been a learning process for me, my hon. Friends and those people who advise the Chair, because that point was a matter for consideration. I shall not name names, but there was a complete blank on the question as to whether it was possible for a further writ to be moved within days of another having been moved and not dealt with satisfactorily. That very question was a puzzle for at least a week.
So far as I understand it—I shall be on the record in Hansard—the matter has been resolved.
So far as I am aware, there has been no correction to that authoritative statement by the hon. Member for Bolsover. He said:
The writ can be moved again. However, a writ cannot be moved again—this is another part of the learning process—if it is defeated. That is why I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that I am not hereabouts trying to get it defeated. I would not attempt to do that, because I want to win over the House and get the writ accepted; but, if I thought for one moment that I could not carry a majority, I would make absolutely sure that it was not defeated. If it is defeated, that is a different question. That would mean that the writ would fall for the rest of the Session, and none of us want that."—[Official Report, 20 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 592–601.]
There will be one or two hesitations.
In column 634 of the same debate, the hon. Member for Bolsover is reported as noting the number of political issues that can be raised, which is part of the drawing of parameters in a debate of this kind.
It is worth having a look at "Erskine May". I hope that no one objects, but one must start at page 26, move on to page 27 and then go much further. Under "New Writs" on page 26 "Erskine May" states:
Whenever vacancies occur"—[Interruption.] I am not saying anything that differs from the statement of the hon. Member for Bolsover in the sense of explaining the background to this writ and the procedural basis upon which I am moving it. "Erskine May" states:
Whenever vacancies occur in the House of Commons from any legal cause, after the original issue of writs for a new Parliament by the Crown, writs are issued out of Chancery by a warrant from the Speaker, which he issues, when the House is sitting, upon the order of the House of Commons. The causes of vacancy are the death of Members or their succession to a peerage, the acceptance of a disqualifying office, the elevation of Members to the peerage, bankruptcy, lunacy, the establishment of any other legal disqualification for sitting and voting in the House of Commons, and the determination of election judges that elections or returns are void.
"Erskine May" goes on to deal with "Vacancies during a session". I shall not weary you with that, Mr. Speaker, because you must have read these passages several times, if not in preparation for me, at least in preparation for the hon. Member for Bolsover when he moved his writ.
I shall refer not only to Scottish but to United Kingdom issues. In doing so, Mr. Speaker, I shall be invoking your own good authority. On 6 March, at the start of our proceedings on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised a point of order. He said:
We would be happy—I am sure that I speak for all Scottish Opposition Members—if the House would leave all the proceedings on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill to the individual votes of Scottish Members.
You, Mr. Speaker, replied:
I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a United Kingdom Parliament, and long may it remain so."—[Official Report, 6 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 622.]
You are perfectly entitled to hold that view—I accept that —but your remarks must mean that matters relevant throughout the United Kingdom are relevant to a debate on the issue of a by-election writ in any constituency in the United Kingdom.
When I had read "Erskine May", I read Professor Bradley, professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh university, who is such an authority on constitutional law that Lord Denning has been known to use him when trying to circumvent the rule that judges cannot refer to Hansard when interpreting an Act of Parliament. One is allowed to quote authoritative works of lawyers in court, so Lord Denning has been able to quote Professor Bradley quoting Hansard. I say that not so much to praise Professor Bradley as to show that he is an authority on constitutional legal matters.
I was astonished to read—we all have something to learn—that there is no rule about moving a writ. The moving of a writ rests upon the decision of the Government Whips if a seat has previously been held by a member of the governing party or on the decision of the Opposition Whips if the seat has been held by the Opposition. There is no hard and fast rule, so, in theory, we could leave people unrepresented for a very long time.
The convention is that a writ must be moved within three months. That arose when Dick Taverne resigned over the European Community, and the writ for the Lincoln by-election was not moved for six months. There were several rows, and agreement was reached through the usual channels that writs should be moved within three months.
That made me think about the relationship of this House and the political parties with the electors and led me to question whose primary interest is at stake when we decide to move a writ. Is it that of the people and their need to be represented, or is it that of the political parties, which need tactics and manoeuvrability? I concluded that it was not the interests of the people. I have some experience of by-elections. As Labour Members constantly remind me, I used to be a member of the Labour party. I was taught under the Chief Whip-ship of Bob Mellish, who was a past master in these matters.
I apologise, but I have not yet caught up with the boundary changes that took place while I was away from the House.
There is no justifiable democratic reason for the practices that have obtained hitherto in respect of by-election writs. The proprietorial instinct displayed in this place is offensive to those democratic principles. Political parties seem to believe that they own seats and, in a sense, people. We talk of "their seat"; it is normal parlance. We hear that a seat is "a Labour seat", "a Tory seat", "an SLD seat" or "an SNP seat". Of course it is not. The political parties are given power by the people for a given length of time. An accident, death or resignation can end the link between the people and the party. It is the people with whom we should be concerned.
The political parties manipulate by-election dates. I have some experience of that and I confess my past guilt. When I was the Labour candidate in the South Ayrshire by-election I was consulted by the Labour party's national agent, Ron Hayward, about the best date for the by-election. We took into account such factors as the compilation of the electoral register, but the main factor was party advantage. On that occasion, I was the beneficiary. Last autumn, in Govan, I was a victim of the political parties' ability to manipulate the dates. The writ was issued on the day on which Bruce Millan resigned. We all know that the Labour party decided that a snap election would be the best way to outflank the SNP. Labour thought that we would not have time to get our organisation going because we would have a cold start. That mistake in tactical judgment is irrelevent to my principal point, that the decision was made by reference to the Labour party's tactical need at the time.
The electors of Vale of Glamorgan vote tomorrow. We are adult politicians and I do not think that any of us would dispute the fact that the Tory party has tried to bury that by-election among the England and Wales county elections. The Tories fear a defeat and hope that people will lose sight of it among other results elsewhere. It will be seen as only one factor among many in people's assessment of 10 years of the Prime Minister's dictatorship of the country. I think that that is wrong, and that the needs of the people for representation should determine by-election dates. Those needs should he made the highest consideration, and that principle should be formalised either in "Erskine May" or in our Standing Orders so that party advantage is no longer the prime factor.
I worry that the Labour party will attempt—it is normal practice—to set a date for the Glasgow, Central by-election to bury it in the European election campaign, for a variety of tactical reasons. Perhaps Labour thinks that SNP will be overstretched if it has to run European and parliamentary elections at the same time, and that people will not be able to congregate in Glasgow, Central as they did in Govan because they will be trying to win in the north-east and in the south. There is also a wee bit of worry about what the result would be, and it would be quite nice for the Labour party to bury that as well. Everyone in the world leaks, and the political parties are no different. There have been leaks in the Scottish press to the effect that the Scottish Labour party has fixed its eye on 15 June, for that very reason.
Matters of domestic sovereignty over which Parliament still has absolute control—or matters of shared sovereignty involving a decision to cast a vote in Brussels or elsewhere—should not be taken into the context of a European election. Matters of domestic sovereignty should be isolated so that people may understand the issues and may be given the opportunity to decide who they want to represent them and on which issues. I suggest that we should consider the different ways in which a vacancy can occur and fix these matters in relation to that.
Some people do not realise it, but the House still has enormous sovereignty. For example, the Government decide the poll tax, policy in the National Health Service, and the monetary policy that affects interest rates The Government determine what will happen to the Scottish Development Agency, which set up the Scottish homes organisation, which decides whether there will be legal reform and, if so, what measure we will get. The Government produce social security benefits. That has nothing to do with Europe. Therefore, it is important that the two mandates are separated. There can be a party advantage, but that is not the right way to go about it.
Opposed to my point of view, it could be pleaded that I am exercising the countervailing right within the rules to prevent that happening. According to pages 326 and 327 of "Erskine May", a Back-Bench Member has the right to move the writ for a by-election, which would take it out of the European elections as one could have done to take the Vale of Glamorgan out of the county elections.
The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a powerful argument for taking the choice of the date of by-elections from parties and making it a constitutional matter. He could tap an equally rich vein in respect of general elections. They should not be a matter of party advantage, either. Are he and his colleagues in the Scottish National party prepared to participate in the procedures of the House, including perhaps a Speaker's conference or a Select Committee properly to consider those matters in the normal parliamentary way?
That is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman is an international lawyer and has a great interest in constitutional matters. He made a fair point. A Speaker's conference would clearly be beneficial. He asked whether we would participate. Of course, my colleagues and I would participate. Whenever there is an extension of democracy, the hon. Gentleman will find us participating. If I were to pursue that point, I might go outside the boundaries of order, and I am careful and anxious not to do that.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) was not given to doing exactly what the Whips told him. I have known him for a long time. He is the sort of chap who, because of democratic issues, would be compelled to move such a writ on his own initiative. However, there are other folk who are not of the same calibre as my hon. Friend. We are all politicians. Some folk would like to become Ministers or reach the Front Bench. Being in my unusual position, I am not subject to that pressure.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. As I said, I was taught under Bob Mellish. That was a rough experience. I was subjected to all the pressures that a Whips Office could bring to bear on a potential rebel. The hon. Gentleman will concede that it did not work. I have known it to work in other cases.
No. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell the House about it later.
We cannot rely on the individual being able to withstand pressure in the House. If the SLD wished to make formal submissions through the usual channels, it would be useful to have a Speaker's conference on a range of matters, such as how we run the business here and how it affects people outside and our relations with them. We could put forward some ideas. That is part of the reason for arguing about the writ today.
There are two or three circumstances in which vacancies arise. First, there are straight forward resignations such as those of the two chaps who went off to Brussels to become commissioners. Secondly, there is a forced resignation—a Stonehouse-type situation—because matters become impossible or intolerable. Thirdly, there is death, where there is a common principle.
Parties need time to select candidates. I am not naive about that. The people count, but political organisations are the lifeblood of a modern democracy. For all the things that are said about political parties, they are extremely important to a democratic society. Parties must be acknowledged and the mechanisms must be given time to operate. There must be nominations and consultations. They differ.
The Labour party deals with affiliated organisations which have the right to nominate to the constituency Labour party general committee. I stand open to correction, but that list of nominations is examined by the executive of the general management committee to produce a short list. A new system has been introduced since my days in the Labour party. Names are taken to the national executive of the Labour party and, ultimately, a short list is handed back to the general management committee, which then makes the final decision on who the respective candidate is to be, and he is then endorsed by the national executive. One could complain that that is a somewhat elaborate system, but it is the Labour party's system and it is entitled to it.
The Communist party has a much shorter system. That party is likely to run in the Glasgow, Central by-election. The Scottish Socialist party, a new party in Scotland, has selected a candidate. We do not know enough about that party to know what its selection procedure is. The Tories go through whatever procedure they have. The Scottish National party has another procedure. Potential candidates are interviewed by an election committee. The election committee draws up a short list of candidates, which ultimately goes through our system, and the constituency association chooses a candidate.
It does not matter if it takes the Labour party a week longer than the SNP, or the Tories three days less than the Labour party. Four weeks are adequate. If a vacancy occurs at Christmas, we can make adjustments. On a resignation, a writ could be moved four weeks from the date when the Member resigned from the House of Commons. After a three-week election campaign and seven weeks after resignation, it will be over. Constituents would have had an opportunity to examine the issues, elect their Member of Parliament, and be represented in the House.
The House is only partly important. It is more important to be represented in the huge apparatus that now operates as Government. As you know from your previous and present experience, Mr. Speaker, a great deal of the legislation that goes through the House is not detailed. Most detailed legislation is in the form of statutory instruments. Any hon. Member who has had to deal with the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, local authorities or regional councils knows how huge the apparatus of Government is. It is important that ordinary people in the street, electors with problems at local, regional and national level, should have an elected representative—it does not matter who he happens to be in the United Kingdom—who has authority to open doors, get answers to questions, find remedies and end injustice for his constituents. Seven weeks are ample.
The case of a death in a constituency is slightly different. One of the most objectionable aspects of the death of Bob McTaggart was the almost instant public press speculation about the coming electoral contest. Within my own family, I had reason to object personally to what happened, as we were placed in a most invidious position. Several hon. Members were placed in such a position. On the night that Bob McTaggart died, one of the television programmes in Scotland passed off his death and spent about 15 minutes analysing what would happen at the by-election. I do not dispute the need for conventions, and perhaps there should be a convention with the press that, other than report the fact that someone has died, for at least four days afterwards there should be no other comment, and the family should have time to mourn and grieve without being upset by the kinds of comment that appeared in the press at the time of Bob McTaggart's death. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you did not mind my digression.
After a death in a constituency, the timetable should take account of the necessary human decencies. I suggest that two weeks should be allowed for the family to mourn and start to pull themselves together. There could be four weeks allowed for the selection procedure, and three weeks for the by-election campaign. Thus the time between the death and a Member taking his seat in this place would be nine weeks, a reasonable time, given that we are talking about a situation in which a family is in emotional difficulty.
It is also important that an independent timetable should operate, because of the significance of the by-election process. The hon. Member for Billericay said, during the Richmond by-election writ debate, that by-elections are regarded as a barometer of public opinion on certain issues at a certain time. Often by-elections are the key turning points in politics. Because of the strange, magic chemistry that operates, a by-election in one area is regarded by all pundits and practising politicians as making a key judgment for the whole nation. I am sure that that will be said of the Vale of Glamorgan by-election tomorrow.
Mr. Tam Da!yell:
On a point of order. On 1 February, I opposed the moving of the writ for a by-election at Richmond. I was given the strictest instructions to refer to no other by-election and to limit my remarks to the point of Sir Leon Brittan and the Richmond by-election. Has there been any relaxation of the rules, Mr. Speaker?
It will not surprise the House or the hon. Gentleman to know that I have been listening with the greatest care. Until now, I have not heard anything out of order.
I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Speaker, because I do not intend to stray beyond the permissible boundaries of this debate. The by-election for the hon. Gentleman's own seat of Linlithgow in 1962 was regarded as a turning point. I remember demonstrating outside the playhouse in Ayr when Harold Macmillan told the Conservatives that they had fallen very low in the hon. Gentleman's poll at the time. I do not want to upset the hon. Gentleman, because he is a tenacious man. I do not want to get him started on Leon Brittan, but if he stays long enough he will find that Leon Brittan is likely to figure in some way in the Glasgow, Central by-election issues —and that will be raised, not by me but by a very senior Conservative.
I am delighted to hear that, because anything that inflicts a defeat on the Tory Government, particularly after 10 years, is delightful.
Some by-elections have a special X factor, and we believe that their results are widely important. The Scots are canny people, not given to great emotional splurges. That is particularly true of individuals in the west of Scotland. There is a wide belief in Scotland that the Glasgow, Central by-election will be a major test of public opinion. I am not permitted to debate or give my own opinion on the issues involved as that would be out of order. That is a matter for the by-election itself. I have quoted the remarks of the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Billericay. It is certainly permissible on a Friday to refer to various issues that the electorate should address.
Another reason for my moving the writ this afternoon is that these issues command the attention of the people in Glasgow, Central who are regarded by many people as speaking on behalf of the much wider community in Scotland, and I believe that the Labour party would say that it was a community wider than Scotland.
The by-election also represents a very important test of all the political parties, because all the various positions could be wrapped up in the European election. As far as I am aware, all the candidates of the major parties have now been picked. An article in the Glasgow Herald is headed "Candidate chosen", and states:
An advertising executive from Largs has been selected as the Tory party's candidate for the forthcoming Glasgow, Central by-election. Mr. Alec Alan Hogarth aged 23, who was educated at Stirling university, was the youngest of five candidates shortlisted by the local party association for the by-election caused by the death of Labour's Mr. Bob McTaggart.
His candidature is an interesting factor because the Labour party is strenuously arguing that it will mount a legal challenge to the amount of advertising being carried out. Therefore, the living form of the Tory candidate raises one of the issues that will be before the people of Glasgow, Central. This is an issue that Her Majesty's Opposition want to take up with the Government—whether the Government are properly using money on advertising for objective matters or for party political matters. It is not up to me at this time to comment on that matter, but this highlights the importance of the issues before the people at this by-election.
As I said earlier, a new party, the Scottish Socialist party, has been formed by the former leader of the Labour group on Edinburgh district council, Alex Wood, a man for whom I have a great deal of regard. I hope that members of the Labour party retain for him the same personal regard, despite the fact that they may differ politically. Mr. Wood's party is running on an extraordinary ticket compared to the others. It is arguing that Scotland should not be part of the European Community.
I have no doubt that Alex Wood would like the hon. Gentleman to support him, but I think that there would be differences in other areas of that platform.
Then there is the Green party. I do not think that anyone doubts that the participation of the Green party —I say this as someone who is not a member of it—is important in the parliamentary democratic process.
There will be fringe candidates as well. An article in The Scotsman of 2 May is headed:
Former vice girl considers Glasgow's by-election fight".
Lindi St-Claire, the former vice girl who stood as Miss Whiplash in the Richmond by-election, revealed yesterday she is considering standing in Glasgow, Central. Ms. St-Claire, who is campaigning in the Vale of Glamorgan by-election"—
now I have mentioned both the Vale of Glamorgan and Richmond, Yorks by-elections—
said yesterday that she had dropped the frivolous platform that she had at Richmond and now had a serious manifesto.
We shall have to wait and see what it is. It is important to note that the candidates are now lined up and that new political parties want to see how they get on in the political debate among the people of Glasgow, Central. That is one of the reasons that the House should accept the moving of the writ this afternoon.
I am arguing for a by-election that is separate from the European elections, because such a by-election, standing on its own, lays bare the important issues. It is an open test of public opinion on crucial issues. Local issues are involved, and it is important that a spotlight falls on an area in which there is a by-election because that often draws national attention to something that might be a local issue, but which requires the mobilisation of national or even wider resources to tackle it. In Govan, one local issue that emerged to unite all the candidates—nobody disagreed—was drugs abuse and the anxiety of mothers and fathers, especially mothers, about the condition of their young people who were denied work and who were often driven into abusing drugs to get by on a day-to-day basis.
That issue received national attention, wide action has been taken in the Govan area; and many people are now paying attention to that problem. I simply want to prove that local issues can arise during a by-election and that the publicity can benefit the local people and their needs.
There are also national issues in which the parties can test real live opinion through people casting their vote in the ballot box, as distinct from relying on the opinion of pollsters. Candidates can test local opinions and see whether they can be elected Member of Parliament as a living manifestation of the electorate's endorsement of their views. The other side of the coin is that there could be a manifestation of a rejection on the views of certain political parties.
I hope to persuade the House this afternoon of the need for an early by-election. I see that I have the keen attention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), and no doubt during the by-election he will want to mount his latest hobby horse, which is the question of a referendum on the Union. As we pass each other in the streets of Glasgow, Central, and as the hon. Gentleman addresses vast numbers of people, he will be able to press home before the electors his idea of a one-question referendum. It will be interesting, and he should be given the opportunity to do so. It is not a position with which I agree, but I cannot comment on that this afternoon other than to note that that is the hon. Gentleman's position and that it should be tested. It could be argued that that is a legitimate proposal—I do not argue that—but one thing that is not in the question is his right to put forward that idea.
If I am to persuade the House to favour an early by-election, I must pray in aid the issues and the reasons for having an early test rather than a test on 15 June, when we could be buried in the European elections. I shall start with the local issues, and the best way of doing that is to describe the constituency. That will be handy because I am sure that we shall be inundated with English Members of Parliament who will get on the plane at Heathrow—or perhaps Gatwick if they prefer that service—and land at Glasgow. However, I shall take a bet that some will land in Edinburgh, not knowing quite which airport is which, but ultimately they will reach Glasgow, Central.
In a city in which one is a stranger, it almost impossible to say where its boundaries are and to assess its make-up. My own constituency of Glasgow, Govan—I say "my own" not in any proprietorial sense but to delineate it from Glasgow, Central—abuts that of Glasgow, Central, and it is sometimes hard to see where the boundary is. It must be the same in the city of Liverpool. As a Glasgow Member, I often receive letters from people who think that I am their Member of Parliament, but in fact they live just outside my constituency; and people in Govan might write to the Member of Parliament in an adjacent constituency, thinking that that hon. Member is their Member of Parliament.
I shall profile the constituency. Everybody should try to hold on to their copy of Hansard, because I shall try to be as accurate and objective as possible. There will be a big run on Hansard by English Tory MPs—I see Conservative Members nodding, and I pleased to note that those Members of Parliament will be coming up to Scotland, because they are in for an education when they come.
The constituency has been put together as a result of various boundary changes. Physically, the bulk lies to the south of the River Clyde, but important parts lie to the north also. Important landmarks in Glasgow are situated in the constituency, such as Langside, Queen's Park, Govanhill, Kinning Park, and Cessnock. These place names will bring back memories for my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) who was born in the Govan area and who will remember many of them. There are other famous places, such as Argyle street, one side of Buchanan street and Cowcaddens street. It will be interesting to see various people come up to Glasgow from the English Tory establishment. Since the last by-election, the transformation of Bridgeton Cross has been remarkable, and it will be pleasant to campaign and canvass in such areas. That is the broad geographic outline.
Parts of the constituency have a fairly transient population, mainly because of the numbers of students and nurses who live in them and who move on to other areas after they have finished their training or their studies. Those areas are concentrated around the Victoria infirmary and the Rotten Row maternity hospital. English Members must not read anything into that name; if they can stay here long enough—but not too long—I shall explain exactly what the Rotten Row maternity hospital is. There is also Duke Street hospital and the Royal infirmary. A whole range of local issues are relevant to the needs of the students and nurses in those areas. Indeed, a whole range of issues locally are affected by policies on the Health Service and a whole range of national issues also emerge, to which I shall come later.
The Crosshill and the Queen's Park areas comprise largely owner-occupied housing stock. That fact will probably excite Conservative Members because they have a strange notion that, if they turn folk into owner-occupiers, those people will become Tory voters. That is part of the social engineering that has been going on for a long time. I do not know about experiences south of the border, because I have not canvassed in England for many years—not since the tragic death of lain Macleod. Therefore, although I am not an expert on English domestic politics, many Tories have told me that, because of the increase in owner-occupation, there has been an increase in the Tory vote. Although Crosshill and Queen's Park comprise owner-occupied housing stock, other areas comprise mainly public sector houses.
Although the owner-occupied areas will excite Tory Members, I advise the hon. Member for Walton that the thesis of those hon. Members will be proved wrong north of the border. However, let them come and find out. That is part and parcel of the democratic exercise. Hundreds of people may come up, probably not on the normal shuttle but on a charter flight to Glasgow airport.
My hon. Friend is whetting the appetite of all hon. Members, but, if anything, he is underselling the benefits of Glasgow, Central. It is difficult to say that to my hon. Friend, as his description of the constituency has been so good, but it is the heart of Glasgow. It contains the university, the cathedral and Barony parish, and I thoroughly recommend all hon. Members to visit that constituency. Glasgow is noted as a good-hearted city; I am sure that everyone will get a great welcome and will learn a great deal about Scotland, and in particular about Glasgow, from such a visit. I am pleased to listen to my hon. Friend's description of that excellent constituency.
My hon. Friend is kind, but judging from his opening remarks, he is a little disappointed with my speech. I am, however, on page 1 only.
Glasgow, Central is an important constituency. Its sociological make-up and housing stock are varied. It is important to deliver several important notes to get a good picture of it. If my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East gives me time, I shall do justice to it.
In fact, we have plenty of time, as the business on the Order Paper is irrelevant to Scotland. If the Self-governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill never got through, no one would be the least bit bothered. Perhaps the Leader of the House considers that it would be a good idea to test the popularity of the Bill at the by-election. The English Tories will come up in chartered planes from Heathrow and no doubt they will be piloted by their six hon. Friends who are sitting on the Committee on that Bill.
Yes, of course. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tayside, North is no longer with us, as he is a pilot along with everything else. We would have the thrill and pleasure of watching him piloting the plane carrying the English Tory Members. He would fly over Bearsden and such places, which would be fascinating, but I must not be distracted from my speech.
I have already said that Crosshill and Queen's Park are largely made up of owner-occupied homes and that other wards of the constituency are mainly made up of public sector housing. Despite the fact that the Queen's Park and Crosshill wards have such a large proportion of owner-occupied homes, those areas have a high level of unemployment; that is a local issue which must be addressed. However, unemployment is highest in the central and Carlton wards of the constituency.
Another important consideration is that the constituency is largely made up of the dispersed population from the old Gorbals area. All those folk coming up from south of the border will be amazed at the transformation of some parts of Glasgow. They will discover that what they associated with the Gorbals and the Glasgow of the past is unfair.
There are several relatively large ethnic minority concentrations in the wards of the constituency. The largest concentration is in Crosshill, where the new Commonwealth population account for 3·18 per cent. of the total population. Some 4·62 per cent. of the population were born in Pakistan. Part of the population is Chinese, some people come from Pakistan, and there are a number of Moslems in the constituency. The mosque is situated in that constituency; it is not only the religious heart, but the social heart of the Islamic community in Glasgow.
Another plug for Glasgow—I make no apologies for it —is that this year, the city is again repeating the Mayfest. The festival attracts many people from all over Glasgow and further afield. Glasgow will also be the cultural city of Europe in 1990, which is an acknowledgement of the transformation of some parts of the city. It would be wrong to say that the entire area has been transformed, because we still face enormous problems in the peripheral estates and in some of the inner-city areas. Nevertheless, Glasgow has made a great effort, which has been recognised.
Architecturally, Glasgow is a beautiful city. There are arguments between Glasgow and Edinburgh as to which, architecturally, is the loveliest city and which is the most important city in cultural terms. One of the issues that is likely to arise at the by-election comes from the Tory party. I see that the Chief Whip is looking worried, because he knows that when the Tories produce issues in Scotland they sometimes rebound on them. The Tory group on Glasgow district council wants to depose Edinburgh as the capital city of Scotland. The heart of the administration would be based in Glasgow, Central. The Tories are hard up for Scottish issues, but perhaps that suggestion will become a major debating point.
I have a home in Edinburgh and I have grown to love that city although I come from the west coast of Scotland. People might be tempted to consider the Glasgow Tory suggestion as part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow animosity, but there is an economic reasoning behind such a transfer, which would be relevant to the by-election. If the capital transferred to Glasgow, civil servants would transfer from Edinburgh. If Scotland became a free and independent nation within the European Community, there would be an aggregation of embassies and foreign organisation around its capital. Such a development would create jobs. Therefore, there is more than just the old Glasgow-Edinburgh animosity behind the idea proposed by the Tory leader on the Glasgow district council.
I will not bore the House with the previous election result, as I do not believe that the next one will mirror it. What about the people of Glasgow, Central, about whom we should be concerned? The population of the constituency is in a constant state of flux, although the overall size of the population has been relatively static for some years. The population is diverse, as it ranges from the Chinese community of Garnethill, the various ethnic minorities south of the river, the so-called yuppies in the Merchant city, to the homeless men who frequent the city's hostels. It is important to remember that there are many unemployed in the constituency.
The constituency is also diverse in terms of where the young and the elderly are based. The first-voting age group, the 15 to 24-year-olds, represent 10,700 people, equivalent to 17·37 per cent. of the total population of the constituency. At the last count, there were 28,875 people in the 24 to 64-year-old age group, who account for 46·89 per cent. of the population. The mature section of the population is therefore relatively large. Those people have experienced life, they understand it and they have suffered a lot of knocks. The people who have endured a great deal throughout their lives, those aged 60 to 65 and over, account for 13,570 of the population, or 22·04 per cent. That percentage is higher than that for the city of Glasgow, so the local and national services for the elderly will be important in the by-election.
As I have said, various ethnic minorities are represented in the constituency. Garnethill is home to the Chinese community, and a relatively large number of Asian families live south of the river. Hon. Members who visit Glasgow will be aware that many Chinese people operate businesses in the centre of the city as well as in Glasgow, Central. The Chinese restaurants and take-aways provide an excellent service.
That community is interested in a number of domestic-foreign affairs issues which I am sure will be important to the by-election. I hope that I can prove to the House that, because of the issue which is of great importance to the Chinese community of Glasgow, Central—I shall discuss it later—it is necessary that we have an early by-election. In that way, the community could put its point of view, and elect a representative here who will argue its case strongly.
Then there is housing. This is all part of the profile. The public rented sector, including Scottish Homes, as it is now called—we used to call it the Scottish Special Housing Association—has 14,274 houses, representing 48·3 per cent. of the constituency's housing stock. Owner-occupiers have 9,615 houses, representing 32·51 per cent. of the total. That is higher than the average in some parts of western Scotland. The private rented sector totals 2,705, which is 9·14 per cent. Housing associations have 1,419 houses, representing 4·8 per cent.
There are only 367 sheltered units, representing 1·24 per cent. of the housing stock. That small number is not because of the failure of anyone representing the people to argue for resources to meet the needs of all people. Whatever political differences we may have in the House, we are all aware that constant pressure has been exercised to try to get the number of sheltered houses that our old people require. That will be a big issue in the election.
Next, there are vacant dwellings. I am not saying that the Leader of the House does not know anything about Scottish affairs. I would not insult him in that way. He has to sit through various debates to learn what is happening, but he would be the first to admit that he is not immersed in the detail of the Scottish political scene. He is nodding graciously. I thank him, and I say that in the kindest spirit.
I am glad that the Minister of State is here, because he can confirm that one of the biggest debates between Labour local authorities and the central Tory Administration is about vacant dwellings. The Tory central Administration keeps arguing that the number of vacant dwellings is entirely the fault of the local authority, and the local authority points out frequently that it would be better able to manage the housing stock if it had adequate capital and management money available. Again, that will emerge as a big issue.
The 23-year-old advertising executive who is the Conservative candidate will need to bone up on the issue. I am sure that in our candidate and in the Labour candidate he will face folk who are extremely well briefed on the problem of vacant dwellings. As I have said, the owner-occupied sector is relatively large. Most of those dwellings are in the areas that I have specified.
I should like to concentrate for a moment on housing associations. Although they provide a minority of the housing stock, housing associations in Glasgow are unique. They are mostly community-based. They do not have many counterparts south of the border. Most of the housing associations in the Scottish housing association movement are community-based. Not only do they provide homes but they manage them sensibly.
One great benefit of community-based housing associations is that they realise that there has been an exodus of talented people from the core of Glasgow. In Bill Taylor's days—Bill Taylor used to be the eminent leader of the Labour group in Glasgow when it was a city rather than a district council—the policy was to decant people. I think that there were 23 central development areas from which people were decanted to Girvan in Ayrshire, to East Kilbride, to Glenrothes and to Livingston new town. Glasgow lost many talented people through that policy. I think that it was a mistake, but I understand the motivation behind it. There was a great danger of the last of the community leaders going.
Along came the community-based housing association movement. It retained the leaders because it gave them something to work at; with their talents and abilities, they could rebuild and regenerate their areas. It gave a new confidence to Bridgeton and Dalmarnock and places in Shettleston. Because there are housing associations in those areas, it means that there will be sophisticated interrogation at public meetings by members of the management committees, not only on housing but on more general matters. There is Bridgeton and Dalmarnock housing association, Govanhill housing association, the West of Scotland housing association and the Glasgow Jewish housing association.
Housing is bound to be a central issue, on which people will come to a decision in regard to the policies of the different parties.
My hon. Friend has been comprehensive in his look at Glasgow, Central. Obviously he has done a great deal of research. Am I correct in thinking that Glasgow, Central contains Glasgow's oldest house, Provand's Lordship, which is centuries old? That house has stood for a long time. I am sure that in the election people will be thinking about other problems apart from Glasgow's heritage. They will be concerned about modern problems of housing such as homelessness and dampness.
My hon. Friend has mentioned housing associations. Does he agree that, as well as looking at Glasgow's past, we should consider its present? If we consult the records, we find that the constituency also contains the notorious wynds of Glasgow, where there were terrible housing conditions in the last century. Looking to the 21st century, I hope that housing in Glasgow, Central will be in the mind of everyone connected with the by-election. Perhaps my hon. Friend would consider modern issues such as homelessness and dampness, and the house condition survey, which might help us all to be better informed as we approach the by-election.
I hope to have time to touch on such matters. In regard to Provand's Lordship, I am worried that the Government may want to privatise it. It is becoming quite an attraction in the centre of the city. A great effort is being made to upgrade the area. Renovation is going on across the way at Glasgow cathedral. It is the sort of thing that the Scottish Tories—no, I think that even the Scottish Tories would not want to privatise it. I am anticipating that the planeloads of English Tories coming north of the border, the No Turning Back group, the ideologues, will look at Glasgow, Central and ask, "What can we privatise?" I am worried about some of the key landmarks of Glasgow.
Of course, it is a free country. We cannot prevent them coming up. It might be better if we did not talk about some of the historic landmarks. Then they may pass them by and not realise how important they are. They may not realise the value attached to them and they may never dream of suggesting privatisation—not to the Minister of State but to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), one of the ideological group whose anchor is south of the border. Perhaps that is another reason for getting the by-election over as quickly as possible, so that we can get these planeloads of Tories up, round the streets and back on the plane. Then we will not be subject to the possible devastation of the privatisation ideology.
I am coming to the house condition survey. There is no way that I could persuade the House to accept the motion if I did not get through to it the fact that housing is a key issue, which requires representation at its fullest. It certainly had that from the previous Member. An analysis has been published recently of the housing survey of Glasgow. I do not intend to read the whole survey; that is not necessary to give the House a full flavour of the problems that we face. The survey was published in 1987. It points to the fact that 20,000 of the private housing stock are below a tolerable standard. That is 19 per cent. of the total stock. Despite that, the Scottish Office's initial allocation for 1989–90 for the private sector is £40·5 million, £10 million less than in 1988–89 and less than half of the £91 million requested by the city of Glasgow to try to tackle the problem of deteriorating housing stock in the private sector.
As my hon. Friends know full well, a number of people can own a house, but with the mortgage rates these days, they do not generate enough income to maintain the house to the standard required, and they occasionally need help from the public purse. The majority of the houses that are below a tolerable standard are to be found on the west and south sides of the Glasgow district council area. Therefore, they are partly in the Glasgow, Central constituency. The homes of owner-occupiers aged over 75, and privately rented houses in multiple occupation, are in considerably worse repair. That is the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East wanted me to address.
The Government's recent proposals to introduce means testing for grant aid would mean that many households will fail to qualify for aid. With the state of disrepair of some houses on the south side of the city—which embraces Glasgow, Central—that is bound to be an important issue in the campaign.
The right to work and to have a job—the unemployment level—is fundamental to working-class life. In the central area, unemployment among men is 32·8 per cent., among women it is 10·9 per cent., making a total of 23·7 per cent. In the Kingston area, there is 30·4 per cent. unemployment among men, 14·2 per cent. among women, making a total of 23·7 per cent. In Queen's Park ad Crosshill, which are the major owner-occupied areas, 18·7 per cent. of men are unemployed and 10·6 per cent. of women, making a total of 15·4 per cent. unemployment.
These are horrendous figures, which show the level of stress and strain that people in Glasgow, Central, who are working-class, are under day to day. Those people need relief and remedies as soon as possible. They need their problems brought to the fore and debated in this by-election, and to have a Member of Parliament to represent their demands for remedial measures from the Government.
I am not taking sides, because I am not allowed to do so during this debate. However, I do not think that anybody would disagree that these are pretty horrendous figures, which paint a social picture of considerable anxiety to every decent human being in our society.
Glasgow, Central has high employment, but it has major employers. No doubt it will be important for all the candidates to go round these major employers; no doubt the candidates will wish to talk to them about the possibility of increasing unemployment. I shall quote a few of them to show that I am not talking about fly-by-night companies. They include Britoil plc, the South of Scotland electricity board, which is a candidate for privatisation, so an important issue at the by-election will be to discover what the score will be for employment with that company after privatisation, Scottish Gas, Craig Nicol Ltd., Sunblest Bakeries (GLW) Ltd., S. Meadow Ltd., J. Gelfor Ltd., D. C. Thomson and Company Ltd., A. Goldberg and Sons, Lewis's Ltd., Marks and Spencer plc, Boots the Chemist Ltd., British Home Stores Ltd., the Littlewoods Organisation Ltd., Gardner Merchant Ltd., the Albany hotel, the Hospitality inn, the Ingram hotel, British Rail, Denholm Ship Management Ltd., the Post Office, British Telecom, the Clydesdale Bank plc, the Royal Bank of Scotland plc, the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd., Scottish Boiler and General Assurance Company Ltd., the Scottish Mutual Assurance Society, Arthur Young, the Ministry of Defence, the procurator fiscal's offices, the Greater Glasgow health board.
I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not wish to try your patience, and have therefore quoted only a sample of the major employers in the constituency. Each of the employers in that list employ at least 200 people. The following employers employ over a thousand or several thousand. These are the district and regional councils, the Greater Glasgow health board, the university of Strathclyde, education in general, the retail industry in general, Britoil plc, Scottish Gas, British Rail, the various bus stations and British Telecom.
Most of the employers that my hon. Friend mentioned appeared to be in the service sector. Does he agree that one of the major problems facing us in Scotland is to restore our manufacturing base which has been so severely cut during the past 10 years under this Administration? Many people, particularly in Glasgow, want to go into the manufacturing industry. Having said that, the service industries are important. My hon. Friend mentioned education and the university of Strathclyde. Surely the voters in that area who are employed by such organisations would want to pass a clear comment on the content of the legislation currently being dealt with in Committee, on which the Government are attempting to curtail debate.
There is no problem for me in doing that. I am pointing out that, from this profile, we can quite easily pick out the kind of issues that demand immediate public attention and action through the election machinery that operates in this country. For example, the whole of the Glasgow, Central constituency falls in the Greater Glasgow health board area, and contains several hospitals. I understand your anxiety about the parameters of this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but what I have to say will settle your mind.
There are several hospitals within the boundaries. These include the Victoria infirmary, Duke street hospital, the Royal Samaritan hospital for women, the Royal infirmary, which is a teaching hospital, and the Rotten Row maternity hospital; and the health board is a major employer in the area. That evidence makes it pretty clear that local issues, such as the privatisation of domestic services in the hospitals will be raging issues in Glasgow, Central. There is no question of that. I found that, at the Southern General hospital in my constituency, a big issue was whether the catering and cleaning services—which are manned by low-paid workers, many of them widows—should be privatised.
It is not your fault, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but one matter of which you are not aware is that there is much tension between the community of Glasgow and those who run the Greater Glasgow health board. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State is listening to this. There is more than a deep suspicion that the Tories have loaded the membership of the Greater Glasgow health board with hard-faced Tories, who are out to privatise everything that they can get their hands on inside the Health Service in Glasgow.
We have had representations down here from the trade union movement about the number of trade unionists who have been knocked off board after board. The representation of the working-class people of Glasgow on the Greater Glasgow health board is a disgrace. That is bound to be a major issue.
Another factor of which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not be aware, but which should be registered as one reason for the by-election, is that the general manager of the Greater Glasgow health board is not the most liked character throughout the city of Glasgow. The authoritarian way in which he runs the Greater Glasgow health board is deeply offensive to the communities throughout Glasgow. Nobody will be able to prevent it from being a big issue in the by-election campaign.
Drugs are a problem in Glasgow, Central, as they were in Govan. There are a number of neighbourhood watch schemes. That may sound like a good arrangement. Hon. Members may assume that crime will not be a big issue in the by-election, and wonder why that factor should influence a decision to hold an early election. The tragedy is, however, that most of the neighbourhood watch schemes are located in the Merchant city area, where new developments are taking place. There are no such schemes in the rest of the constituency, and there is considerable anxiety in those areas about the level of crime experienced under the present Government. Later, I shall quote figures relating to law reform which demonstrate the enormous increase in activity in sheriff courts and high courts since the Government came to power.
Let me point out to the Minister, who is a Scottish advocate, that the neighbourhood watch scheme is bound to be an issue. I know a bit about such schemes because I have a flat in the Merchant city area, where the scheme does not always work.
Is not the real crime that committed against the Scottish working people, who have suffered tremendously under Thatcherism and will suffer again as this Parliament evolves? North of the border there is a feeling that politics belongs to the people, not just to politicians: that Socialism is a matter of fighting back, of resolving issues on the basis of community and of saying, in effect, "We can defeat this lot," because we are stronger outside than we are here. We can play games here, but we must emphasise our strength outside.
The Labour party must recognise the Scottish dimension. It must recognise that the Scottish working class is waking up and will take the fight south of the border, especially on the poll tax. Basic rights must be fought for, and civil disobedience may be necessary to defend those rights.
However advantageous or disadvantageous it would be to go down the path laid for me by the hon. Gentleman, it would be wrong for me to do so; I accept that entirely.
I was about to explain that I have practical experience of the neighbourhood watch scheme. I thought—I am sure that the electors of Glasgow, Central who have no such scheme think this as well—that it provided almost 24-hour cover. At about I am one night, the doorbell rang: I opened the window and looked out. Below stood three scruffy lads in jerkins, jeans and baseball boots.
No, they were not, believe it or not.
I thought, "Here we have three vandals." I was about to operate the neighbourhood watch scheme by crossing the landing and telling my neighbours that there were three vandals outside pressing door bells. However, I asked, "Who are you?" And they said, "We are the police."
If the hon. Lady waits long enough perhaps she will vote with me in the Lobby, because I am getting her wound up to support me. I am pleased that she has decided to intervene, and if she wants to get to her feet, I shall be more than happy to give way.
The "three vandals" turned out to be three policemen telling me that my car had just been "done" in the back court. There are defects in the neighbourhood watch scheme. I do not say that that is one of the major reasons for an early by-election, however; I am coming to those.
One such factor is education. Glasgow, Central is an unusual constituency, in that it contains many schools and other prestigious educational institutions, including several institutions of further and higher education—for instance, Strathclyde university, the central college of commerce, the college of building and printing, the college of nautical studies, the college of food technology, the college of technology and Langside college. The students at the university and colleges mostly live in the constituency or just outside it, and a number of the university residences are in Clyde street.
This morning Scottish Members of Parliament—including, I hope, Tory Members—were lobbied by students who had come down from Scotland about, among other things, student loans. Student loans are an important issue for many Glasgow, Central electors. Those in favour of them should have a chance to go out on to the streets and into the student unions, and to knock on the doors of student residences to try to persuade students to support the Tory candidate, who supports loans. Those of us who disagree are entitled to argue in the opposite way and to have our views tested. The concentration of prestigious educational institutions in the area means that there is also a concentration of students and a good representation of student opinion which is not found in, for example, the next-door constituency of Govan.
Another important factor is the amount of development taking place in the area. The conversion of warehousing into housing, for instance, is a major issue, and I am told that the sheriff court is being converted into a fashion centre.
There is also a foreign policy issue which is important to the people of Glasgow as a whole and to the people of Glasgow, Central in particular—the naming of Nelson Mandela square. The name is a symbol of the affinity between the people of Glasgow and Nelson Mandela, who has been gaoled for over 25 years by the white racialist regime in South Africa. It is a bone of contention between the majority of citizens and the minority in the business community, who sometimes do not like receiving letters addressed to "Nelson Mandela square". That, however, will not decide all the voting in the by-election.
An issue that affects the business community in its central setting is the St. Enoch's development. When I was a boy, my father worked for British Rail as an engine driver, in the days of steam. For a while I too worked on the railway, as a young cleaner fireman, and one of my great ambitions was to travel between Ayr and St. Enoch's as the fireman on a passenger locomotive. That happened to me only once, but St. Enoch's station used to be a great landmark in central Glasgow.
The days of steam, of course, are gone; the railway system has been reallocated and reorganised, and St. Enoch's is now a new and major development. It has been described as the world's largest greenhouse: it will he 100 ft high and nearly 800 ft long—a marvellous sight. When people come to visit the city of culture they will be amazed and impressed by this development, which opens its doors to the public on 11 May. The development is funded by the Sears group and the Church Commissioners of the Church of England. That shows just how mobile capital can be. It cost £64·5 million to build. The development will house a number of major stores which have not had outlets in Scotland before. The immediate question must be, how can that be an issue in Glasgow, Central, when new stores will mean new jobs? It could not possibly be an issue, so there is no reason for citing it in evidence for an early by-election. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Shopkeepers at the new St. Enoch's development, the world's largest greenhouse, will be able to lease shops at £90 a square foot. However, it costs £140 per square foot to lease shops in Argyle street. That anomaly must be a major issue in the by-election. The new shopping development will have an effect on Argyle street, which is the main shopping street at the moment.
Only one or two units remain to be let in the St. Enoch's development. It is claimed that the development will create 2,500 jobs when it is fully operational. However, a big issue in the by-election will be whether those jobs shift from Argyle street to the new development or whether those jobs will be extra jobs. People will want to know what can be done about the problem facing people with shops in Argyle street who are paying £140 per square foot when there is cheaper, and in many cases better, accommodation elsewhere.
I will not weary you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with more quotes from the constituency profile. The Gear area of Glasgow touches the constituency of Glasgow, Central. That area has an important history and will no doubt be an issue in the by-election. The Gear area covers the east end of Glasgow, and renewal has made a big difference to the dereliction which used to exist there. Many nice houses have been built and there are many advanced factories. The main problem is that the number of jobs expected to be created as a result of that comprehensive attempt to solve some of the problems in that area have not materialised. That is bound to be a substantial issue in the by-election.
Before my hon. Friend leaves Argyle street, does he accept that the electors of Glasgow, Central will consider the report from the Confederation of British Industry which shows that Scottish businesses have an additional rates burden of around £250 million in comparison with their counterparts in England and Wales?
If hon. Members come to Glasgow, Central they will see the effects of that massive extra rates burden, which places an unfair burden on Scottish businesses. Regional businesses are burdened with extra rates bills, and that means closures and fewer jobs. Argyle street is a good example of a bad situation which causes great harm in Scottish cities like Glasgow. Businesses in Oxford street in London have lower rates bills than Princes street in Edinburgh. I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that the electors of Glasgow, Central will believe that that is a major issue. They want to see jobs created and the widest possible variety of retail and other businesses in the constituency.
I concur with everything that my lion. Friend has said. I would like the House to support me today, because I want to release my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East on to the streets of Glasgow, Central to campaign on the issues to which he has referred most eloquently. My hon. Friend's parents come from Glasgow. I do not believe that I will change scores of minds today. Hon. Members may not want my hon. Friend to campaign on the streets of Glasgow, Central at an early date. I can understand that, because my hon. Friend had a devastating effect on my election prospects in Glasgow, Govan. I owe him a great deal for the fact that I am in the House now.
I want to give just a glimpse of one or two important local issues and to refer to issues on which people need a Member of Parliament to go in and bat for them. On Friday 21 April 1989, the Glasgow Evening Times reported:
Special passes hit by muddle. Government red tape is depriving Strathclyde's epilepsy sufferers of cut price travel passes.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is listening to me. He is a nice man and I hope that he listens to me carefully. The paper continued:
Thousands of epileptics in Glasgow and the west of Scotland are by law eligible for half-price rail and bus passes to travel round Glasgow and the west of Scotland, but they say that the Department of Transport is making it almost impossible to apply. They have told epileptics that Strathclyde passenger transport executive cannot accept a doctor's certificate as proof.
That is unbelievable.
The Evening Times is a very accurate paper. It continued:
Instead, they must write to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea and formally apply for a driver's licence even though they know that they will be refused.
They can qualify for a pass only when they are armed with a letter of refusal.
The Rev. David Laing, the convenor of Strathclyde regional council's social work committee, said:
This is red tape for the sake of red tape.
That is the kind of thing that a Member of Parliament must attack. He said:
The Government are hell bent on making it difficult for people to receive benefits to which they are legally entitled.
That is Mr. Laing's point of view and I am not entitled in this debate to pass comment on it. However, Mrs. Vivian Carely, the development officer for the Epilepsy Association of Scotland stated that that was a
ridiculously cumbersome piece of Government legislation. The law has always said that anyone who has suffered an epilepsy attack within two years is not allowed to drive, and we accept that. However, what we cannot understand is why passengers submit this phoney driver's application, complete with a £17 cheque, which is then returned with a letter of refusal even though Swansea already know that they are not eligible to drive. There are around 12,500 epilepsy sufferers in Strathclyde, of whom about 6,500 are eligible for half price travel throughout the region.
That kind of nonsense should be tackled. Hon. Members are doing their best to deal with that matter. However, people in Glasgow, Central are in a catch-22. They cannot get a driver's licence and the doctor's certificate is not acceptable. That kind of local issue deserves an early resolution of the fact that that area needs a Member of Parliament now.
Maternity services will be another issue in the by-election. When I referred to Rotten Row earlier, I believe that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) laughed. That is understandable, and I will not take too much offence about that because it is a very strange name for a hospital, let alone a maternity hospital. However, Rotten Row is an ancient Glasgow name and the hospital is a worthy institution.
On 23 April this year "Scotland on Sunday" reported:
Baby hospital faces closure in health review. The Queen Mother's hospital in Glasgow, which deals with more than 3,000 births a year, is facing closure following a health board review of maternity provision. Next month, Greater Glasgow Health Board's maternity and Paediatric management team will present the board with a report recommending a number of ways to streamline the maternity service, two of which are expected to spell the end for the Queen Mother's. The package of options designed to take the service into the 21st century will include a proposal to merge the 25-year-old hospital with Glasgow Royal Maternity, better known as Rotten Row, and Stobhill maternity unit. The three would then be relocated at a custom built unit at the Royal Infirmary site, which would deal with more than 10,000 births a year.
Many people in the constituency and staff in the hospitals will have views about that.
Maternity facilities are very important for constituents and hon. Members, as those who represent Grampian region are aware. A proposal like the one described by my hon. Friend was brought forward by the health board in my constituency. As a result of pressure from me, councillors and other groups working as a cohesive unit, the Scottish Office had to set up an investigation into the maternity facilities in my constituency. Yesterday, the Scottish Office published a very effective report which has taken account of the views and made clear recommendations for improvement to the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is clear that a Member of Parliament can play a vital role to ensure that the needs of his constituents are met, particularly with regard to maternity services.
You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I can speak about Moray and Nairn. The point that my hon. Friend makes in principle is very sound, and I can dip into my own experience to prove how correct it is, and how important it is that the writ should be moved so that an election can be held and a Member of Parliament elected.
Between 1965 and 1970, before the last hospital reforms, I was a member of the Western regional hospital board. Among the earliest appointments made to that board was the convenor of the maternity services sub-committee. I had to deal with many letters to the official administration from Members of Parliament. There is no question but that when a Member of Parliament writes to a health authority requesting action or raising a point, his letter receives very special attention inside the whole administration. At the end of the day, the chain of responsibility ultimately ends with the Minister responsible.
That was a very good point of order.
I refer next to the poll tax, but not to the poll tax in its whole immorality—although I should not say that, because I am not supposed to pass comment on it—but to the poll tax in its totality. I do not know whether you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair when I spoke about the substantial number of privately rented houses in the Glasgow, Central constituency. I refer again to a report in the Glasgow Evening Times. One wonders what our city would do without that excellent and campaigning newspaper. On 13 April, it carried the banner headline:
Tenants warned of rents rip-off.
Greedy landlords are cashing in on poll tax regulations. They are charging tenants the same rents as they paid when rates were part of the total rent.
The rent rip-off could be avoided, it was claimed today. Glasgow district deputy housing benefit manager Alan Sinclair said that all private tenants have the right to register their rent. By going to the rent registration officer, they could have the amount they pay fixed for three years at reasonable rate.
Mr. Sinclair said: 'We are advising all private sector tenants who come to us for help to do this. Landlords are going to make a killing out of the poll tax change. We don't have the power that English authorities do to send tenants to the registration officer. All we can do is advise. Although there are assured tenancies based on market rents. Anyone who moved in before January 2nd this year is still covered by the fair rent legislation. Glasgow district has a special private sector office in its housing benefit section at 11 George Street'.
The report goes on to comment that it is disgraceful and scandalous that people in the private rented sector are being ripped off by their landlords.
I know from my own experience in the city of Glasgow —as do other right hon. and hon. Members—that the public very often do not know their rights. We live in a very complex society and it is difficult for people to find their way around all the regulations that affect them.
In that respect, a Member of Parliament's surgery is very important. I pay tribute to the Labour Members representing constituencies adjoining Glasgow, Central. I read in The Glaswegian that a number of the late Bob McTaggart's colleagues have been holding surgeries in his area. I admire them for that and pay tribute to them for it. However, everyone knows that those hon. Members already carry a heavy surgery case load, and no one would pretend for a moment that the efforts of the hon. Members concerned are a substitute for a Member of Parliament who is plugged into the local community on a day-to-day basis and able to tackle issues such as fair rents.
I refer to another local issue that will cause a lot of trouble. If there is only one reason for holding the by-election at a very early date, it is that which I am about to describe to the House. The Glaswegian is a free sheet set up by Robert Maxwell. He is a member of the Labour party but The Glaswegian does not pretend to be a Labour party newspaper. It is delivered to every home in the area. The headline in its issue of 29 April was:
A concrete jungle. Row over £2 million car park plan for the Green.
A £2 million plan to improve Glasgow Green has been slammed by local residents, and proposals to construct a £½ million car park on the historic and well-loved Green have been tagged a disgrace, with demands to district council to reject the idea.
The green is right in the middle of Glasgow, Central. Locals complain of lack of consultation, but their wishes
are being ignored and there is to be a concrete jungle in place of Britain's oldest park. The newspaper report continues:
Betty McAllister, chairman of the Community Council said: 'This is not on'.
We tend to speak very bluntly in Glasgow. That is something that English Members will find when they take their charter flight and land at Glasgow airport. When they arrive, they will find that the people there are very blunt speakers. There is no beating about the bush with Glasgow people.
The report states:
Betty McAllister … said: 'This is not on. The consultants say that we won't see the cars because they will landscape the area with flower boxes. How on earth can you camouflage 150 cars?' she asks. The Glaswegian can exclusively reveal that the entrance to the car park will be at the Green Dyke entrance to the Green, with access through Monteith Road. The council hope to begin construction by July,"—
that is why it is so important to elect a new Member of Parliament soon—
with the work being completed for the City of Culture 1990.
That is a real-life issue and one that must be resolved. It is one in which the constituency's Member of Parliament must be involved. The East End management committee also want to block that plan:
Ken Hamilton the deputy manager of the committee, said: 'We are geared towards promoting the east end of the city, and I can't see how having a large expanse of concrete in the middle of the Green can help our cause.' Councillor Crawford, convenor of the council's Parks Committee, said: 'The alternatives put to us regarding the problem of parking in this area of the city are not feasible. The plans for the future of Glasgow Green are still in the planning stages and the people who have objections to them will have the chance to make their objections known'.
However, the plan is to start work in July.
Glasgow Green is an historical area in the Glasgow, Central constituency that has incredible connotations for the Scottish working class movement. I remember the great demonstrations that were held there in 1971 against the Heath Government's Industrial Relations Bill. I remember 15,000 Transport and General Workers Union members, together with members of the Boilermakers' Union and of other unions, marching through the centre of Glasgow. Glasgow Green is a traditional place of assembly. They marched to Glasgow Green to be addressed by Alex Ferry or the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers; Jimmy Jack of the Scottish Trades Union Congress; a previous Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Central, wee Tommy Macmillan, who was a National Union of Railwaymen member; and myself.
I make the point that it is not just a matter of a few cars being parked on green grass. Glasgow Green belongs to the people. It is part of our tradition and history. It is critical that there is a Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Central who can take on that issue and fight to ensure that the matter is resolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West knows that very well.
My hon. Friend clearly describes the concern of the electors of Glasgow, Central about their environment. Perhaps he will explain to English Members —although there are very few in the Chamber—that Glasgow is known as the "dear, green place." That being so, that historical part of Glasgow's environment will surely play a great part in any election campaign. As my hon. Friend rightly says, Glasgow people care deeply about the history of Glagow Green which is very much part of the city's folk culture as well as of the environment. That "dear, green place" must remain an asset, despite the city's industrial development. Glasgow's environment must be well to the fore in the minds of the electorate of Glasgow, Central.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It would do English Conservative Members who come up to Scotland canvassing, such as the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), the world of good to come up against our working-class cultures and traditions. Glasgow is a great city which has produced many great people.
Sunday shopping is an important local issue. Glasgow, Central constituency contains many small shops which are owned and operated by the Pakistani community which makes a significant contribution to the area. The Glasgow Herald on Friday 28 April claimed that Sunday shopping is eroding family life. That is some claim. The article went on:
Sunday trading in Scotland is on the increase, leading to further erosion of family life, the exploitation of shopworkers and increased pressure on small traders, it was claimed yesterday. The criticisms of Sabbath shopping expeditions came at a news conference in Glasgow yesterday called the `Keep Sunday Special Campaign, Scotland' to launch a booklet which claims that more than two thirds of Scots see no need for the shops to open on Sunday other than what we have at the present time.
That is quite an important issue because Glasgow, Central contains all the large stores and the St. Enoch's development, which I have mentioned, and Sunday trading would transform the lives of citizens in Glasgow, Central. Many people in that constituency live near the major shopping centres, so from Monday to Saturday life can be pretty rough in that there are many people and many cars and much hassle is attached to living there, so Sunday is a very relaxing day when people can enjoy the beauty of the city. If Sunday became like any other weekday it would have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the electorate in Glasgow, Central.
A further issue requires the attention of a Member of Parliament. Robert Maxwell's paper, The Glaswegian, the paper for the people of Greater Glasgow, for the week ending Saturday 22 April 1989, stated:
Gas Under Glasgow. Oilmen set to sink wells. Exclusive story.
That possibility has implications for Glasgow's economy and the folk in Glasgow, Central. I shall read out just a wee bit, not the whole story, unless the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) would like me to read it all. The article states that an international oil company is to spend more than £1 million drilling for natural gas 1,000 metres under the streets of Glasgow. London-based Marinex Petroleum will sink a well near Bargeddie in the city's east end later this year. But this week a top engineer with the company said that the gas pocket they hoped to find ran under the city centre. That is a major issue, if it is true.
In the centre of Glasgow, in the middle of the constituency, there is some of the most beautiful architecture and architectural layout one could imagine. I am not boasting simply because I represent part of the city of Glasgow. Everyone in Scotland is very proud of our architectural heritage. George square, the city buildings and the City Chambers are among the most beautiful buildings that anyone can imagine. Glasgow is full of classical buildings, and people are talking about gas underneath the city. Do they want to put gas belts in George square and Clyde street? The possibility has to be examined extremely closely and very carefully. It would be vandalism.
In addition, a new prestige building is being built in Glasgow, Central. We need an early writ and an early by-election because Glasgow district council is building a new concert hall. I shall tell the House a wee story that is relevant to why the writ should be moved. Glasgow district council is very proud of the fact that Glasgow is to be the European city of culture in 1990, but what if the city of culture of Europe in 1990 did not have a major concert hall? That could be an enormous problem. How could the city of culture lack such prestige? I pay respect to the Labour group which controls the city. It met and decided that Glasgow could not be the European city of culture unless it had a modern concert hall. It is being constructed just north of Queen street station. What will happen if in the middle of building the concert hall someone discovers gas underneath it? There will be an argument about the mineral rights. Such matters require the attention of a Member of Parliament who can raise them with the Scottish Office Ministers and try to resolve the major economic benefits, if they exist, without damaging the cultural centre of our city. That is why we badly need a by-election.
I have mentioned Scottish housing. Scottish Homes has been operating since 1 April, so no one really knows the score. I have mentioned housing associations, but one of the great problems of the new housing legislation is that housing associations receive smaller grants, as a means of attracting private money into housing, and that will affect rents. The private sector also creates major problems as 20,000 houses are below tolerable standards.
Another city-wide matter is of important local concern. One of the reasons why I wish to persuade the House to accept the writ and have an early by-election which would bring focus to bear on Glasgow, Central ouside the European arena is Mayfest. It is not so much a local issue as a local delight. It is city-wide, but the central part of Glasgow in which the constituency lies plays a major part in providing the necessary facilities for that cultural feast in Glasgow. I should like to persuade hon. Members of the need to focus on Glasgow because the by-election will attract many visiting journalists, not only those from south of the border who come up occasionally to find out what the natives are doing, but a much wider media because of what happened in Govan and elsewhere. People will come from France and Germany. Only this morning I received a telephone call from Finland where people are interested in what is happening politically in Scotland.
Irrespective of political differences, we are trying to raise the international prestige of Glasgow and make it internationally attractive so that people will come to live there and invest there, so that we can build up the social and economic infrastructure and create manufacturing and new service industries. There will be important economic benefits for the community of central Glasgow if there is wider knowledge of the city's regeneration, its new vitality and the incredible pride running through the city. I should like Glasgow to attract people from abroad as well as those from south of the border so that they can talk to ordinary Glaswegians in Glasgow, Central, where taxi drivers say how proud they are of the city and ordinary men and women, despite their housing problems, say that the city is on the move and how proud they are of it. If we bring those folk to Glasgow we can dispel the old myths about the city, and about our quality and worth that still pertain in some parts of the world.
I shall give hon. Members an example of what the Mayfest involves. The Glaswegian said of the Mayfest:
This is what it is all about. It just keeps growing. The spectacular Glasgow Mayfest begins again next week and it is brighter, bigger and more vibrant than before. The festival started six years ago when a group of trade union officials, Wildcat theatre members and members of Equity decided to extend the traditional May Day celebrations. This year is the biggest Mayfest ever. There is sponsorship of over £700,000, with money coming from district and regional councils, the Scottish Arts Councils, the visiting arts organisations and Scottish and Newcastle brewers.
We are pleased that Scottish and Newcastle Breweries was saved from a take-over by Elders.
The article continues:
More than 200,000 people are expected to attend over 100 venues to see more than 200 companies or individuals. Glasgow can only reap the financial benefits. Hotels, bars and shops will be flooded with tourists from other cities and other countries, all anxious to spend their money in Glasgow. Jackie Westbrook, organiser of the event summed it all up. 'The people of Glasgow take Mayfest to their hearts and treat it with wonderful affection.' That may sound over the top, but it is true and it is great.
We would like people to see "Borderlines, Glasvegas". It writer, Morag Fullerton, said:
It captures the humour, spirit and character of Glasgow.
We want to attract people to Glasgow so that they can see the quality, spirit and character of Glaswegians. Once the visiting media people have attended their press conferences and made their reports they will want to go to the pubs, clubs and bars. A number of arty-crafty people will want to go—
That is true. It is my fault, because I have not explained clearly that Glasgow, Central is at the heart of the Mayfest.
I have an article that says:
You will not get more Glaswegians shown "Borderlines, Glasvegas". They take the song 'Looking for Linda' and rename it 'Searching for senga.'
That sums up the irreverent Glaswegian attitude to life, which makes Glasgow and its people extremely attractive.
My hon. Friend is considering in detail the constituency's problems and why it is important to have an early by-election. He has mentioned ecology, housing and other important topics that the electors will want to discuss in detail, but amazingly, he has not mentioned a subject that is of interest to the electors. He must surely recognise that football is important to the electors of Glasgow, Central, given the success of our national team. I am sure that the electors will want to discuss the team's future prospects against Norway and Yugoslavia. As the Government are about to introduce identity cards in England and, we hope, not in Scotland, I am sure that this will be a hot issue on the doorsteps of Glasgow, Central. Is there a football club—I suspect that there is—within the constituency? I am sure that football spectators, who are also electors, regard football as an issue important to a by-election.
The national stadium of Hampden park lies just outside the constituency's boundaries. That will be of relief to the Chair, never mind anyone else. There is no doubt that many people in Glasgow, Central are fanatical football supporters, like most Scottish people. We shall he queueing up to see our team qualify, for the fifth time running, for the World Cup in Italy. It would be wrong for me to try to shift Hampden park over the constituency boundary line just for the sake of argument.
National issues will be as important as local issues in the by-election. Rarely can electors in one constituency have had so many crucial national issues to consider. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were not in the Chair at the time, but I reminded Mr. Speaker that earlier this year he pointed out that this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and added, long may it remain so. Whatever the political differences we may have, I accept that this is the system.
I was not about to repeat that argument, but I am happy that I do not need to elaborate on it. I am especially pleased that it registered first time, given the confusion that I have caused once or twice.
The views of the electors are vital and must be known as soon as possible. Once I have set out the issues—I do not intend this arrogantly—I will have convinced even the most sceptical Tory Member that the writ should be moved and that we should have an early by-election.
It is not for me to comment on Government policy, but it is bound to play a large part in the by-election. The Budget, which unfortunately I was unable to hear for a variety of reasons, will be a big issue. On the day after the Budget, The Times—not the Evening Times; hon. Members from Glasgow tend to talk of the Evening Times as The Times—said:
Battle against inflation fuels hope of future tax cuts. Cautious but clever Lawson
It will be interesting to see whether that is the judgment of the people of Glasgow, Central.
People who think that it was a cautious but clever Budget should have an early opportunity to test opinion in Scotland. As the National Health Service is the main issue in the Vale of Glamorgan by-election, perhaps opinion on the Budget will not be tested. I should not be surprised to see Ministers on television tomorrow night or on Friday morning explaining that it was a one-issue campaign and that folk did not understand. If that is so, the Government should allow the people of Glasgow, Central the opportunity of a major debate on the Budget, which is central to our economic policy.
A very good letter appeared in the Financial Times from a member of the Labour party. Leaving aside the training figures and the weakness of manufacturing industry, many people are concerned about manufacturing and believe that we cannot take in each other's washing. This Labour Member should be let loose on the streets of Glasgow so that he can have debates with Tory Members. I tell the Leader of the House that this campaign will be fought on the streets. We expect debates to be held not only in halls but on street corners. The people can argue with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the weakness or strength of our manufacturing industry.
Like everyone else, a number of folk in Glasgow, Central have borrowed. I have heard them described as yuppies in the Merchant city—I object to that. I am a resident of the Merchant city and am not a yuppie, certainly not at 51. My neighbours across the landing from me are not yuppies either; they are ordinary folk who have bought flats using a mortgage. On 9 March, The Times —the London Times—stated:
Mr. Robin Leigh-Pemberton, Governor of the Bank of England, has warned that the number of personal borrowers defaulting on their debts is likely to rise this year as higher interest rates take their toll … The Governor said that between 1976 and 1978, personal borrowing had risen sevenfold, while the ratio of debt to personal income had grown from 50 per cent to more than 100 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West is a trained economist. I look forward to slipping into the back of the halls to listen to him deal with the monetarist aspects of this policy. We are told that borrowing has risen sevenfold during those years under a monetarist Government.
Central to the political debate in the British political system is the question whether a monetarist policy operates—where did it begin, does it still operate, has it stopped and, if so, what operates in its place? Those are major issues which will excite a number of Conservative Members, those ideologues, six of whom the Leader of the House put on the Committee dealing with the so-called Self-Governing (Scotland) Bill.
That day will come.
We want those folk to go before and be interrogated by the electors of Glasgow, Central. I hope that the English Tory Members who come up to Glasgow on their charter planes make no mistake: they should not think the folk in the constituency do not know about monetary policy. When Tory Members enter the city of Glasgow, particularly Glasgow, Central, they will meet a well-educated political electorate. In some respects, I am sorry for Conservative Members, because they will be subjected at their public meetings to severe interrogation at a theoretical level on monetarism, added value and the mode and means of production.
This will be an interesting election for the Government. One of the benefits of holding an early election and focusing on this issue separately from the European elections will be that it will educate the Government, who think that they are the only ideologues. There are a fair number of ideologues in Glasgow, Central. I have heard them at my public meetings, and they subject people to telling scrutiny.
Property is another item of the national economy that is relevant to the issue of the writ. About 35 per cent. of 'people in Glasgow, Central are owner-occupiers. The Daily Telegraph is a Tory newspaper and, although it does not sell much in that constituency, one of the things that I like about it is that it distinguishes between its news coverage and its editorial policy. It is one of those newspapers that most politicians use as a resource. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West want to intervene? No? We all understand his difficulty.
On 14 March this year, The Daily Telegraph, under the headline
Property seen as safe refuge",
Nothing the Chancellor of the Exchequer does or says today is likely to divert the big money from property, believes Bob Bowden, Conrad Ritblat's investment partner.
The article quoted Mr. Bowden as saying:
It may be premature to talk of a return to the situation in the late 70s when the average institutional holding in property was as high as 19 per cent. but already, after a spell in the doldrums—down to 8 per cent. in 1986—the percentage is edging into double figures.
It does not take too much imagination to visualise a scenario where the funds will take refuge in property for anything up to 15–18 per cent. of their investment cash reserves.
Certainly, they are still good buying opportunities, particularly in the strong market sectors such as offices and industrial. Strong rental and capital growth is under-pinned by demand and there is currently a high level of investment cash from overseas to bolster this sector.
That pressure on industrial and commercial property is bound to have an effect on property overall, but in Glasgow, Central, commercial and industrial property forms a big part of the capital. That issue will be important.
The other day, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) made a remarkable speech.
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
the 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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
Under 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.
I have moved the writ, Mr. Speaker; I began my remarks with the words "I beg to move".
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.
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.
The hon. Gentleman must give me the opportunity to answer as I wish.
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.
If the press release is a genuine press release put out by the hon. Gentleman, it puts a very different complexion on what he seeks to do in relation to the abuse of our procedures.
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.
Of course I take responsibility for it. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] There is no way that I would shed responsibility on to someone else.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Fine, Mr. Speaker. You and I both know that I am not doing anything which other folk have not done before.
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
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.
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.
I agree with the hon. Member. This is a debate. I hope that he will bear in mind that other hon. Members 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?
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.
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.
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.
Speaker, 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
Leader of the House tabled said that other Select Committees would consider Scottish affairs. The Sunday Times report states:
Scotland could become a dumping ground for the whole of Britain if tough new safeguards and waste disposal proposals for England and Wales are not adopted here.
Long may it be that wherever one lives in the United Kingdom the same laws apply. The article continues:
Pollution controls north of the border have been described as a shambles and the problem has been made worse by the closure of Scotland's largest waste tip near Coatbridge in Lanarkshire which handles 300,000 tonnes of waste a year.
The report goes on to say that David Boyd, the industrial director of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, warned that, unless the Government took immediate action, disaster was looming. A person called J. M. Bright wants the Scottish Office to adopt the recommendations included in the report on toxic waste published last Wednesday by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment chaired by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi). The article states:
Rossi recommended far-reaching changes for England and Wales including a beefed-up inspectorate and a radical reorganisation of the system of dump licensing. 'It will be much, much tougher if our recommendations are adopted, and the Government seems to be taking our report very seriously', said Rossi.
The folk of Glasgow, Central, listening to the hon. Gentleman, would think that the Environment Committee should be looking after Scottish interests.
The article continues:
The report was severely critical of the Department of the Environment and the local authorities. No evidence was taken from Scotland. Rossi explained, 'Scotland is a foreign country as far as our recommendations are concerned. It is up to the Secretary of State what action he takes on the environment.'
The Government told the people of Scotland that there would be a Select Committee system and that, although they could not set up a Scottish Select Committee, they assured us that Scotland's interests would be looked after. However, one of the major Select Committees dealing with one of the major issues affecting our part of the country as much as anywhere else has said that it regards us as a foreign country.
Many academic institutions dealing with environmental problems are situated in Glasgow, Central. We have experts who know about the subject and who are electors there. They will want an early opportunity to cross-examine the Leader of the House. I hope that he will assure me that he will come up to Glasgow, Central because it is important that there is such an opportunity at an early date.
The poll tax is another important issue and, although I shall not go into its merits or otherwise, I advise the House that a major concern in Glasgow, Central is whether warrant sales will operate against poor people. It is important that that matter is examined carefully and closely in the arena of an election that matters and that people have an opportunity to make a decision that matters. There are basically three ways in which non-payment of the poll tax could be enforced. The first is wage arrestment, the second is bank arrestment and the third is warrant sales. I know what I am talking about because I have gone into this matter extensively in Glasgow, Central. As many people in that constituency do not have a wage or a bank account and perhaps own only half of what is in their house, whether or not Strathclyde region will implement warrant sales has become a major issue.
I am happy to report that I have received a letter from Charlie Gray, the leader of the Strathclyde Regional Labour Group, with whom I am friendly enough personally, although we differ politically and we accept the cut and thrust as one must do. Although the letter is not the friendliest that I have ever received—
I will tell you the relevance, Mr. Speaker. I wrote to Charlie Gray as a Member of Parliament for a Glasgow constituency, which has exactly the same problems as the Glasgow, Central constituency, which is next door. I am sure that the constituencies of other hon. Members have the same problems. The regional council is the levying authority, and it is the representations that we as Members of Parliament make to the regional council and the pressure that we bring to bear on it on behalf of the community that will determine whether people who do not pay the poll tax are chased up through bank arrestment, wage arrestment or warrant sales.
Another reason why the letter is relevant is that the Tories will want to contest what Charlie Gray has said. It is a bone of contention and bones of contention are what politics are all about. Charlie Gray wrote:
I am unable to reply on the specific question that you asked as my council has yet to discuss and decide the matter.
Nobody can deny that this will be a big issue and that because the council has not decided on the warrant sale issue, pressure will have to be brought to bear. The letter continues:
However, I would remind you that our proud record is that in our whole existence we have never carried out a warrant sale in a dwelling in which people were living.
That looks good, but the matter has yet to be clarified by a decision of the regional council. Perhaps it will be possible to take deputations to the regional council and to argue the case against warrant sales. Perhaps there will be a public statement and perhaps the Conservative Government will want to argue against the regional council taking that action. That is the relevance of this issue to the by-election in Glasgow, Central.
There is also a constitutional crisis. I said earlier that few by-elections raise the opportunity to address a range of major issues and I cannot think of any by-election except this which has had the opportunity to address a major constitutional crisis such as the one developing between the judiciary and the Executive in this country. We cannot under-estimate the importance of this issue, because acres of newsprint have been devoted to it. I am sure that your good self, Mr. Speaker, must have read about it extensively in The Times and The Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.
Judges in England and Wales have threatened what some people have described as a "one-day strike". Others have described it as a "one-day stoppage" or a "one-day meeting". That has relevance to the people of Glasgow, Central for the very reason that you, Mr. Speaker, mentioned. It is also relevant because part of the judicial system south of the border is part of the superior court system of the House of Lords. Although on criminal matters there can be no appeal from Scotland to the House of Lords, on civil matters the House of Lords is the final court of appeal. In Scotland a case would go to the Outer House, and then to the Inner House, of the Court of Session, and the appeal is then to the House of Lords. Therefore, there is an organic link as well as simply a community interest in what happens in the constitutional crisis that is developing between the judicial system and the Executive.
Some people have said that the House of Lords might strike down Government legislation that has been passed by the House of Commons. That raises a multitude of important issues. The people of Glasgow, Central will be fortunate in being able to address that issue. How often in this country do we have a major debate at a by-election or even at a general election on constitutional matters such as the separation of the powers? We have an unwritten constitution and in such a country it is important for our democratic machinery that we have such debates. Glasgow, Central will probably become the national platform for that debate
The Government are fortunate with their Lord Chancellor of England. He is often called simply the Lord Chancellor, but he is actually the Lord Chancellor of England. He is a Scotsman. He was the Lord Advocate who became a Court of Session judge and then a House of Lords judge. He then joined the Government as their Lord Chancellor. He is Lord MacKay of Clashfern. He is in trouble on other matters that I cannot mention at present. Lord MacKay is likely to take part in the Glasgow, Central by-election, because I cannot imagine Lord MacKay, who wants to push through everything he can, not seizing the opportunity that will be offered by the platform of a by-election in Glasgow, Central if I persuade the House about the moving of the writ.
Although that is a major issue, I realise that I might have to persuade one or two folk of its importance. Some people might have been upset by the fact that the judges threatened to go on strike and to lock their minds away. In The Times of 7 March, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylehone, the former Lord Chancellor, predicted that the legal reforms proposed by the Government would lead to the creation of a Ministry of Justice. The Times reported:
He warned the conference that such a Ministry would see judicial independence go out of the window. The three Green Papers setting out the reforms had been cooked up without evidence and consultation.
Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC, the chairman of the Bar, is reported as saying:
Seeing justice as a consumer durable would undermine the integrity of the English justice system … the underlying approach of the proposals which supported competition and market forces was flawed.
Lord MacKay has also had his say. What a wonderful thing it will be to have the city hall of Glasgow at the centre of this great constitutional debate among the judiciary whose members are now all speaking out. I was taught in politics that judges do not say anything political. Like many other people, I am beginning to change my mind about that because major statements are now being made by judges.
This issue will also affect the small man and Glasgow, Central because the Scottish law reforms are also on their way. There are many solicitors' firms in Glasgow, Central. I know many of them and some are highly prestigious. There has been report after report on that. I have the press cuttings with me, but I shall not read them all because that
would be tedious, repetitious and out of order. However, I should like to quote the words of Lord William Rees-Mogg in The Independent:
The general tone of the debate was, however, carefully considered and tightly argued. Some newspapers have represented the lawyers' contribution as merely self-interest.
I believe that this issue should be widely debated in Glasgow, Central. We should consider whether the legal interests south of the border that are opposed to the Government's reform measures are acting out of self-interest alone, as was suggested by Lord Rees-Mogg. Despite your views about the United Kingdom, Mr. Speaker, you might think that the Scottish electors will have a stand-off attitude to law reforms south of the border. They might consider that it is much ado about nothing because, to be fair to them, the senators of the College of Justice in Edinburgh and the Court of Session have made no statements about the reforms. They have not suggested any outlandish action and no doubt they are operating as they usually do—privately, behind the scenes; in a sense, behind the Chair.
There is an organisation in Scotland, however, that is deeply concerned about the law reforms inside Scotland. I do not believe that anyone, even the hon. Member for Hamilton, would disagree that this matter deserves an early decision at the Glasgow, Central by-election. The electorate will have an opportunity to make a decision on the attitude taken by the Government, the Labour party, the Scottish National party and the Social and Liberal Democratic party as well as by representatives of the Scottish legal profession, especially solicitors.
What is of great interest and of relevance is that the leader of the Law Society of Scotland is Professor Ross Harper. The House may not be aware that Professor Ross Harper is also the president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association. I cannot imagine for one moment that he would not want to seize the opportunity of getting on the platform during the by-election at Glasgow, Central. After all, that constituency is home to the High Court, the sheriff court and firm after firm of solicitors.
That is another reason why it is impossible to believe that Professor Harper will not seize the opportunity afforded by the by-election.
Professor Harper has already issued major statements that demonstrate his passion and that of the Law Society of Scotland about law reforms in Scotland. He is the president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association, but the headline of the Scottish Law Council report reads "We Must Be Independent". In that report of his speech he mentions independence 25 times and in one paragraph he mentions it four times. His comments are important as they set the background against which the debate in Glasgow, Central should take place. He said:
The independence of Scottish law and the distinctive Scottish legal system are important cornerstones of the preservation of a Scottish identity.
He goes on to talk about the independence of the profession and speaks of
exemption from external control, influence, pressure and support
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) will take note of that, as it will be referred to in another context.
Professor Harper also said:
Independent solicitors give independent advice. That must be our watchword. Perhaps in a few years it will only be independent solicitors who will be available to give independent advice.
He went on to talk about the protection of the public, and I am sure that the House will agree that that issue warrants an early resolution at the Glasgow, Central by-election. About the argument that one does not need to be a solicitor to do conveyancing, he said:
While it is odd to answer a question with a question we could perhaps ask ourselves why should lawyers not practise brain surgery.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) might like to argue with Ross Harper about that. Both men are leading lights in Scottish politics and one can imagine them clashing in the city hall of Glasgow, Central. Ross Harper also quoted Adam Smith and went on to say:
Regulation is not for the protection of the interests of the profession, but for the protection of the interest of the public.
That is an important matter. He then discussed MDPs —multidisciplinary practices—a matter that the people of Glasgow, Central will want to resolve. That major issue, which affects the Scottish legal profession, can be resolved only by the political process; there is no other way.
I shall not quote any further from the report of the president of the Law Society of Scotland, but it is important to remember that the sheriff court is based in Glasgow, Central. Several members of the Law Society of Scotland have put forward what they have described as "thought-provoking suggestions" on the appointment of sheriffs, which include formal training and psychological assessment. Make no mistake, that will be an issue at the Glasgow, Central by-election. A lot of folk in that constituency know a lot about sheriffs and they have an opinion about whether they are properly trained and, more importantly, whether they should be subject to psychological assessment.
Even the "Doomsday scenario" is mentioned and is relevant to the by-election. You will not be familiar with that phraseology, Mr. Speaker, but it rings bells everywhere in Scotland.
The Lord Advocate and the Law Society of Scotland have fallen out on the question of who should become judges. I shall not go into that, but what the Lord Advocate has said is relevant to why the Scottish legal system should be part of the debate during the by-election campaign. He said:
In 1980 there were 394 High Court cases and in 1988 there were 889. It is projected that that will rise to 1,120 in 1991.
That demonstates how crime has risen in the past 10 years. There are two levels at which cases are heard in Scotland—either in the sheriff court or in the High Court. For a case to be heard in the High Court one has had to be involved in something guy bad. Our sheriffs have considerable powers, but beyond them lies the High Court. The random quotes I have given demonstrate that the question of legal reform, the constitutional crisis and the separation of powers are relevant and should be decided by the people of Glasgow, Central as soon as possible.
I have studied the newspapers down here and I know that the Government get upset with the Church of England about social issues. Scotland, therefore, is not unique, even though a special Church and state debate is currently taking place. In Glasgow, Central there is a large churchgoing public of all denominations—the mosque is also found in that constituency.
The Church's view on how things should go was put clearly by the. Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I am sure that no one will mind me quoting the Moderator—I believe that you have met him, Mr. Speaker—as his remarks illustrate the difference of opinion between the Church and state about the values that govern our society north of the border. I am sure that every hon. Member who represents Scotland, including those on the Tory Benches—even the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)—would agree that the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church's views on moral values as they affect political judgment and social policy are a red hot issue that should be put before the people of Glasgow, Central so that they can speak on behalf of the Scottish people.
An article in the Glasgow Herald, under the heading,
Moderator tells of the struggle for the soul of Scotland",
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said they"—
the Scottish people—
are not prepared to make money their God, to regard greed as the only motive for economic activity or individualism as the highest form of human life. They stubbornly believe that we are responsible for one another and they are stubbornly loyal to the communities in which they live whether it is a mining village where the pit has been closed, a city"—
this demonstrates its relevance to Glasgow, Central—
struggling to maintain its services to help the poor, the frail and the handicapped or the struggling confused reality which is Scotland itself, a nation with a history and perhaps a future.
We should now perhaps thank God for the thrawnness of the Scottish soul.
That Scottish thrawnness and the stubborn determination of the right hon. Lady who leads the Government will be central features of the by-election. They were in Govan, and they will be in Glasgow, Central. That is why I quote the Moderator. I cannot think of anyone in recent times who has put the point so clearly and so eloquently.
Of course, there are European issues. Although I do not want the by-election to be involved in the affairs of 15 June, on the domestic side there are questions about the European monetary system and about economic monetary union which are for this Parliament to resolve. There are big divisions between the Government and the Opposition and between ourselves and various other people. Those are matters that should be debated. There is the question whether we should legislate in this House for social Europe. The Leader of the House will accept that that is a point of division in the House. That will be reflected in the debates in Glasgow, Central.
There is also the alleged corruption within the European Community. One of the saddest features of Scottish politics, which the Glasgow, Central by-election will remove for a while, is the absence from Scotland of the hon. Member for Southend, East, (Mr. Taylor). He will be back among us for the by-election. We have missed him. He used to sit for Glasgow, Cathcart. I say in all sincerity that it is sad that he is not involved in Scottish political life now. I miss the debates that I had with him, a sharp wee fellow, wee Teddy, as we knew him in the west of Scotland. He has got a bee in his bonnet, as we say, about corruption in the European Community and about how the Community operates.
I do not want to weary the House with that, but. I have no doubt that when the hon. Gentleman comes back—they are bound to send up people who know something about Scotland to act as guides for the "no turning back" English Tories who will be coming up—he will be in his element talking to the folk in various parts of the city. One of the great things about the hon. Gentleman is that he has always managed to talk to the people of Scotland in their own language. No toffee-nosed Tory snob is wee Teddy. I will not go on about it, but it will be one of the nicer features of the by-election when he is back home and we bump into each other in the street. I think that he is unhappy where he is. Even for a short time it will be like home for him. I might even persuade him to look for a seat north of the border next time. Perhaps I could persuade him to stand against me in Govan. However, I will be straying out of order if I go further into that.
Another important issue is universities. Strathclyde university lies right in the heart of Glasgow, Central constituency. It has a law facility and it is a technological university. Its principal is Sir Graham Hills. He is an issue in Glasgow, Central. Let me put it on the record that I have a lot of time for Sir Graham. Some of his ideas about reaching out technologically into the international community are right. Last year I found myself in south-east Asia only a week behind the principal. Strathclyde university has set up former graduate clubs all over the world. The university maintains close technical and commercial contact with them. Sir Graham Hills goes out and meets the clubs. That is good, because there is always the possibility of Scottish companies in Glasgow, Central getting work in south-east Asia and places like that.
Sir Graham has other points of view that are highly contentious in the constituency. His views on how universities should be funded veer to the side of the Government. I am being polite in saying that. I think hon. Members will agree that it is unusual that the opinions of a principal of a great university should be an issue in a by-election, but they will be. There are important issues such as student funding, student loans and morale inside the university.
I mentioned that the university has a law faculty. One great problem in universities is that law faculties are being starved of resources. That is happening not just in Scottish universities. The law faculty at Cambridge was complaining about that only last week. That issue should be debated in Glasgow, Central. If we do not put enough resources into the law faculty, it will not produce the legal minds necessary to take us into a more technical society governed by a framework of law.
Local government reform is another important matter. It may surprise some members of the Government to learn that in Ayrshire the Secretary of State for Defence has been in a cabal that is trying to break up Strathclyde region, reform it and create Ayrshire as a region on its own. Hon. Members may ask what that has to do with Glasgow, Central. Strathclyde region cannot be carved up without it having an effect upon the status of Glasgow district council, whose headquarters are right in the middle of George square. It will no doubt come out in the debate that, while the Labour group in Strathclyde is not happy about the Ayrshire initiative of the Secretary of State for Defence in his capacity as the local Member of Parliament, the Labour group on the city council is not unhappy about it because it would make it, as it were, a one-purpose local government unit. It will be a big question whether the Government will be steered by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, now the Secretary of State for Defence, hanging on by 182 votes, who is very concerned to bring about reform of local government.
I make no apology for raising another matter that has arisen within the last 48 hours—the decision of the Scottish Rugby Union to sanction people going to South Africa. A constituency that has Nelson Mandela square right in its heart is bound to regard that as a major issue in the by-election.
We are very proud of Nelson Mandela square. We had to take on the Tories to have the name changed. We did it to embarrass the South African consul general in Mandela square and also to show solidarity with black people in South Africa. Now the Scottish Rugby Union is saying that it will be an individual matter whether people go to South Africa. It has said that it will see whether the Scottish squad would be available. It is facilitating contacts with South Africa and it will give players permission to go there. That will be a major issue in the by-election. I do not know whether you read The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, Mr. Speaker. I have found in debate with English Members that they do not read The Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald, the Daily Record, the Glasgow Evening Times—
One English Labour Member reads the Glasgow Herald every Monday. That is always something. If he reads Murray Ritchie on the back page, he will learn a great deal about Scottish politics and Scottish life.
The decision of the Scottish Rugby Union should be an important debating point in the Glasgow, Central by-election. With the exception of the Tory party, there will be great unanimity to bring pressure to bear upon the Scottish Rugby Union to reverse its scandalous decision.
I have talked of national issues, but there are others. The hon. Member for Hamilton earlier wanted to bring my remarks to a conclusion. He is one of the Opposition foreign affairs spokesmen. If we extract the Glasgow, Central by-election from 15 June and subject it to scrutiny on its own, we see that there is no way that Labour's defence policy will not be examined closely. I have known the hon. Gentleman since he was a student at Dundee. I know his point of view on nuclear disarmament. He is what is called a multilateralist. I can well understand the desire to slip it past the folk in Glasgow, Central. The Labour party managed to slip it past the folk in the Vale of Glamorgan. We are approaching the day when it must be open and should be looked at.
In Glasgow, Central, right in the heart of Clydeside, where we have lived with Polaris and are to be told to live with Trident, there are umpteen experts on the nuclear issue. There are organisations all over the place, located in Glasgow, Central, that send representatives to every meeting of the Labour party to ask where it stands. One of the questions would be, "Would you press the trigger?" It is not for me to say in this debate whether we should or should not, although I personally would not. That is the sort of question that will be raised and I can understand the Labour party wanting to slip it past us.
If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, read The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, you will know how important Scottish sovereignty was. The Scottish Constitutional Convention is sitting and there are differences of opinion on the issue. There are great debates taking place in Scotland about our constitutional future. It is an intriguing situation. That may be another reason why the hon. Member for Hamilton wanted to curtail the debate.
What we in Scotland call a fankle has developed and it must be unravelled. Sovereignty will be a big issue and we should have an early resolution of it. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know, the conventional view, which has never been wholly accepted in Scotland, is that Parliament is sovereign. Having read The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald in recent weeks, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be aware that Labour Members of Parliament went to Edinburgh for the week of the convention and signed a solemn declaration that the Scottish people were sovereign.
The Scottish people cannot be sovereign if Parliament is sovereign. That is a contradiction in terms. Those Labour Members may well believe that that is the case, but does that represent the official Labour party policy? That issue should be debated in Glasgow, Central and that fankle should be examined.
The deputy leader of the Labour party has travelled the country attacking Charter '88, which calls for a written constitution and a Bill of Rights. The right hon. Gentleman has attacked them because he supports the sovereignty of Parliament. The quicker we get the deputy leader of the Labour party on to a platform in Glasgow, Central, along with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who leads the Labour party in Scotland, the quicker—subject to press conferences and interrogation—we will know whether Labour Members believe in the sovereignty of the Scottish people or of Parliament.
The dual mandate is discussed at Labour party conferences. One of the national newspapers says that honours are even. The dual mandate is even more intriguing than the hon. Member for Garscadden signing the declaration of sovereignty while the deputy leader of the Labour party attacks any idea other than the sovereignty of Parliament. An element in the Labour party is putting forward the idea of a dual mandate. At the next general election, or possibly at the by-election, the Labour party may ask for a dual mandate. It is important to resolve this matter.
I am an objective neutral, but the matter seems to be a contradiction in terms. Labour party members cannot say, "Send us down to Westminster where we are sovereign, but if somebody votes against us, we can be sovereign in our own country." I could be wrong, but these matters must be debated during the by-election campaign.
Glasgow is an area of long-time working-class activity and organisation. All Opposition Members know that, as do one or two Conservative Members. In Glasgow, we are particularly proud of Glasgow Green. I mentioned that earlier and shall not be tedious and repetitious. Glasgow Green is the meeting ground of many a great working class rally.
I understand why the hon. Member for Hamilton did not want this debate to continue or to debate secondary picketing at the Glasgow, Central by-election. However, it is important and I want it debated at the by-election. I suspect that some Conservative Members will want the
matter to be debated at the by-election. If we have a by-election at an early date, it will clear up the dubiety. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is the Front Bench Labour party spokesman on employment. I have two press cuttings, one from the Financial Times, which says:
Meacher call to restore union rights disowned.
I thought that he must be being disowned by the Government. However, it seems that he is being disowned by his own party at a senior, shadow Cabinet level. The fact that that appeared in the Financial Times is important because people in the business community read it.
Many trade unionists read the Glasgow Herald and many of them live in Glasgow, Central. The Glasgow Herald said:
Labour disowns Meacher views on secondary picketing.
We should note the difference between the two newspapers. In the Financial Times, it said merely that the hon. Gentleman was disowned, but there was much more accurate reporting in the Glasgow Herald, which said that Labour had disowned its own spokesman's views on secondary picketing. That will be an important issue.
There are many working-class people in Glasgow, Central, and they are well organised. They should have an early opportunity to ask the Labour candidate and the Labour party where they stand on secondary picketing. That is extremely important to the trade union movement because, due to the outlawing of secondary picketing, men have been defeated in strike after strike. I know the hon. Member for Hamilton well from his Right-wing trade union days, and I understand why he would not want that issue examined.
You will be pleased to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am probably coming near the end of my remarks, and I am grateful for your patience. I am glad that there was no private notice question for us to fall out about today.
I have already mentioned that we do not have a Select Committee on Scottish affairs, however, an alternative has been set up by Opposition Members. It is touring Scotland, taking evidence and examining crucial issues. The Glasgow, Central by-election offers the alternative committee an excellent opportunity to meet in Glasgow, Central to take evidence from major institutions such as the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and from Scottish doctors and nursing unions about their views on the Health Service. They could make a significant contribution to the political debate. If I could persuade them to engage in such activity, what a tragedy it would be if there was a by-election on 15 June, in the middle of the European election, and the focus was lost.
I want to talk about Prestwick and Glasgow airports. Some people might ask what Prestwick has to do with Glasgow. I am glad that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South is present, because he has a strong interest in this. There is an intriguing relationship between the futures of Prestwick and Glasgow airports, and Glasgow airport's relationship to the centre of Glasgow, to which the air of culture and the development of the city is extremely important. In recent weeks there have been major debates about this.
I shall not be partisan. I used to represent South Ayrshire, but I have not changed my views because I have shifted geographically. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South will be delighted to hear that. A decision was taken at the Court of Session in Edinburgh which seems to spell the death knell for Prestwick airport —it only looked like that. There were legal problems attached to the decision because, I believe it was not a sound legal judgment. I mention that to illustrate the importance of another major issue which should be talked about and which can be talked about only if a by-election takes place.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has publicly expressed grave concern about the White Paper proposals on the future of Scottish broadcasting. One factor that will emerge in this by-election is the fact that the White Paper on broadcasting did not contain the word "Scotland". That will be a hard charge to answer. We want a Home Office Minister to go to Scotland to explain to the Scottish people why that happened. That is highly relevant to Glasgow, Central.
Scottish Television is our biggest independent television company. It employs a fair number of people and exerts a major influence on life in west central Scotland, including the life of the Glasgow, Central constituency. Many people are very loyal to that television channel. Issues to debate are whether one or more independent companies should operate in Scotland, and whether licences should be simply on a financial basis or whether quality and commitment to Scottish broadcasting should come first. Those important issues involve culture—Glasgow, Central sits at the centre of the city of culture—but they affect employment as well.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Prime Minister herself will be an issue in the by-election. Her 10 years in power are to be tested in Wales tomorrow, and there is also to be an important opportunity for them to be tested in Scotland. If I catch your eye during Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr. Speaker, I hope to persuade the right hon. Lady to come to Glasgow, Central for the by-election and to go through the streets and into areas of housing meeting people who endure torture from damp homes, unemployment and poverty. That, in my view, is a Prime Minister's role: the Prime Minister should not be afraid to come and meet the people who she says have never been better off.
One of the tragedies of the English Prime Ministers —I know that you do not see it in the same way, Mr. Speaker—is that they are locked into Downing street and develop the bunker mentality. They are surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear rather than what they should know. Our Prime Minister takes photo opportunities using the back grounds that she prefers: if she wants to project the image of an up-and-coming United Kingdom, for instance, the background to the photo opportunity will be a new factory. I think that her role is to get out into the streets and meet the people who are profoundly and fundamentally affected by her policies.
Earlier my hon. Friend mentioned a subject dear to his heart, saying that he would return to it: he referred to the large Chinese population in Glasgow, Central. My wife taught at Garnethill primary school, which was attended by members of the Chinese community.
Although the ethnic minorities that my hon. Friend has mentioned, Pakistani, Indian and Chinese, are very much Glaswegians and have been welcomed into Glasgow—some of the best Chinese restaurants anywhere are to be found in Glasgow, Central—they also feel strongly about their origins and places of birth. Does my hon. Friend think that in the by-election campaign members of the Chinese community will raise the question of Hong Kong's future? I know that my hon. Friend has an interest in that. To what extent does he believe that the population of Glasgow, Central will share his concern?
I should like to persuade you differently, Mr. Speaker. In the House of Lords, Lord Glenarthur, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that the reason why the Government did not propose a right of abode to the citizens of Hong Kong was that
it did not believe that there was sufficient support in this country for wholesale changes to the law that would entail the prospect, albeit a theoretical one, of large-scale immigration from Hong Kong.
The key words are
did not believe that there was sufficient support in this country".
How do we know that that is the case unless we put it to the test?
I have a long-standing interest in Hong Kong: my son was born there, and I have many friends who are Hong Kong citizens. When I was working there last year I met a number of members of the democratic organisations there who are seeking certain rights before 1997. The Chinese community in Glasgow is raising the Hong Kong issue. It wants the Government to engage in a test of public support—and, of course, a by-election provides a perfect opportunity for people to state their position and to commit themselves.
It is entirely fair for a Chinese from Hong Kong with a vote and right of residence in Glasgow, Central to go along to each election and ask, "Would you support a change in the British Nationality Act?"
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East raised the matter; I had meant to deal with it, but my train of thought was upset by all the points of order. Islamic issues will also figure prominently because of the position of the mosque in Glasgow, Central.
All the issues that I have mentioned are reasons for the motion to be accepted, and for the by-election to take place at an early date. I hope that I have persuaded most hon. Members who have managed to attend this short debate. I am aware that other hon. Members want to take part: perhaps, like the hon. Member for Bolsover, they will be eloquent enough to persuade me that I am wrong, but at this moment I think that an early by-election would be a very good thing.
I beg to move, That the Question be not now put.
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.
I 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.
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.
If 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.
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 gift 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 by-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.
The 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.
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.