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Scottish Development Agency (Chairman)

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the dismissal of Sir William Gray as chairman of the Scottish Development Agency."
The House may be aware that this has been a burning question in Scotland during the 48 hours since the information first leaked.

First, the decision was made in a distasteful way, namely, by leaks to the press apparently from the Government, culminating in a formal announcement this morning. Secondly, the dismissal took the form of the non-renewal of Sir William's contract, which everyone expected would be renewed in a fortnight's time.

Normally, one would not question the non-renewal of a contract, but the circumstances are hardly normal and must be seen against the background of the recent forced resignation of members of the National Enterprise Board, which is the main body responsible for Government intervention and aid to industry—the SDA being the Scottish extension of the NEB, and now apparently under threat.

The matter is specific because it refers to one man, and he a man who is widely respected and trusted by both sides of industry in Scotland. It is urgent because the decision has caused dismay in Scotland. The front pages of the Scottish newspapers have headlines and comments such as:
"Dismissed SDA Chief in Row over leaks"
and
"Thatcher had me dismissed claims angry Sir William."
Sir William is not normally an angry man. The dismissal has especially caused dismay throughout industry as the comments in the press show.

Finally, the matter is important, as is shown by the nature of the comments that have been made about its being a political decision and, indeed, a decision instigated by the Prime Minister. It is a further example of the Government's intention drastically to reduce public support for, and aid to industry, especially when one considers the difficulties that face Scotland with daily news of redundancies and closures. Against that background, we cannot accept this as a normal decision. It is a political decision. The matter not only merits but requires an immediate debate in the House.

The hon. Member gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the dismissal of Sir William Gray as chairman of the Scottish Development Agency".
As the House knows, I do not decide whether these matters shall be discussed—that applied also to the one previously raised—there being other avenues open to the House for debate. I merely decide whether a matter is of such a scale that the opinion of the House should be registered upon it either tonight or tomorrow. That is the limit of my powers, and the House has directed me to give no reasons for my decision.

I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.