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Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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5.10 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be glad of your advice. On Monday the House will debate Ravenscraig. Are we to understand that the Government's policy is as described by the Leader of the House or as described by the Secretary of State for Scotland? How should we expect Tory Members to be whipped and to vote on Monday? Will they tell us that Ravenscraig's future must be determined on commercial criteria or will they be whipped to defend Ravenscraig?

Order. I hope that it will not be further to that point of order, because I could not possibly answer such a question, but I will listen.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I failed to catch your eye during Prime Minister's Question Time, or to get a clear answer from the Leader of the House during business questions. Scottish Members have no early opportunity to clarify the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland inside the Government. Today in press briefings No. 10 has made it clear that the Secretary of State is isolated from and disowned by the rest of the Cabinet and that he does not speak for Government policy. At this critical juncture in our history Scotland cannot afford to have its representatives in the Cabinet publicly humiliated in this way. Can you advise me how within the rules of the House we can ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to the Dispatch Box before the weekend to answer Scottish Members' questions?

Order. Let me deal with the matter. Yesterday I granted a private notice question and every hon. Member who was present was called. I cannot say whether the Secretary of State will answer the debate on Monday. The Opposition are using their time for a debate and that is the occasion when hon. Members should put their questions.

Order. In that case, they cannot possibly be points of order for me. The opportunity arises on Monday.

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have a political crisis in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the representative of the Government in Scotland, has been repudiated by his Cabinet colleagues. I have the press statement that the Secretary of State issued yesterday and the early-day motion signed by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and his five Back-Bench colleagues, which demands that British Steel changes its mind and invests in Ravenscraig.

I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that you may not have the power to demand that the Secretary of State comes to make a statement about his position, but clearly we cannot allow the crisis to run over the weekend without the Secretary of State making his position clear. Even if you do not have the power to demand that, you have the ability and persuasive powers to phone the Secretary of State when you leave the Chair and ask him to come to the House and clarify his position because it has become wholly untenable.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your earlier response to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) you referred to yesterday's private notice question and said that hon. Members who stood were called to speak. None of us will deny that. However, what has happened since is of great significance. The Leader of the House and deputy Prime Minister clearly said that the Government would not seek to influence the decision, which is in complete contrast to what the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday. It is absolutely intolerable for Scottish Members to return to their constituencies with two completely different messages from the Government. Surely the Secretary of State must clarify that for us tonight or early tomorrow morning.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will appreciate that this afternoon's events raise serious questions about the identity of the Secretary of State for Scotland. As he has been wholly repudiated by his right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, he is not just semi-detached, but completely adrift. Have you received any notification that the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has been replaced by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) as Secretary of State for Scotland?

I cannot answer any of those questions. However, I am pleased to tell Scottish Members that I am looking forward with great pleasure to visiting Scotland this weekend for the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. I hope that I may have the opportunity to discuss these matters informally with the hon. Members concerned.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that charges, real or imaginary, have been levelled against me. May I take this opportunity to make it clear that I have no problem in standing behind the Government's decision. None whatever. I stand by my question yesterday and there is nothing contradictory about it.

I support what the Labour Opposition are attempting to do and I see nothing contradictory about that. My question made it clear where I stand on this issue.

Order. We can leave the matter until Monday. It sounds as though we shall have an interesting debate.