§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.4.31 pm
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
We knew that the Secretary of State was on dicey ground when, at the end of his somewhat lengthy speech—I pay tribute to him for taking so many interventions—he founded his final remarks on a quotation from an hereditary peer. As I understand it, the Labour party wants to abolish the role of hereditary peers in the House of Lords. It seems a little ungracious to use such a quotation as the basis on which the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to support the White Paper.
I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland, unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, is genuinely committed in his advocacy of Scottish devolution in general and the White Paper in particular. However, I think that he is dangerously and damagingly wrong. Interestingly, he referred to the number of White Papers that had been sold and said that it was a best seller. I should remind him that some best sellers are horror stories or science fiction, and that nearly all are fiction.
§ Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for showing his customary courtesy. Before he gets into his stride, will he be kind enough to confirm that he is not altogether hostile to the theory and practice of political devolution? Is not it the case that, contained within the framework document published in February 1995, there is a proposal for the setting up of a unicameral assembly with legislative and executive responsibilities? Had his party won the election on 1 May and had he become the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, presumably he would have been advocating that sort of devolution for Northern Ireland. Is that not the case?
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman should read the framework document carefully, because it makes it clear that it was not a blueprint to be acted on, but was a proposal to aid discussions between the parties. That was made clear at the time, for very good reasons. The point has arisen on a number of occasions and it would be wise for the hon. Member to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether such interventions are helpful to her in what she is trying to do now.
The Government's proposals carry within them the virus that will begin to eat away, and eventually cause to unravel, the bonds that hold the United Kingdom together. It is not written into the White Paper, but the virus is there. The proposals are the first step on the way to an independent Scotland and the break-up of the United Kingdom. Conservative Members know that and the Scottish National party knows that, too. That is why it decided last weekend to support the double yes campaign. 472 We must ask the Secretary of State whether he really believes that, if he was right in his assertion that these measures protect the Union—that is the case he made today and on previous occasions—the SNP would be campaigning alongside him. It would not. He must know, as I know, that a Scottish Parliament will never be satisfied with the powers and resources that it is given. The dynamic of devolution will always ensure that it seeks more of both, and when it does not get them, it will always blame this Parliament at Westminster.
Eighteen years of propaganda have created enormously high expectations of a Scottish Parliament. Were one to come about, it would not take long for those expectations to be dashed. When schools did not improve, when hospital provision did not get better, when new housing did not appear, the Scottish Parliament would not take the blame—it would lay the blame on Westminster. When Scottish taxes were higher than those south of the border, that would be blamed on a parsimonious Westminster. To an ever-increasing extent, Westminster would be the whipping boy for the perceived failures of a Scottish Parliament.
§ Dr. Lynda Clark (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
My intervention is intended to be helpful as I am hoping to give you some support for your devolutionary credentials. I think that you are the same person—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. I did not make any statement. I know that the hon. Lady is a new Member, so I must advise her that when she uses the term "you" she is talking about me.
§ Dr. Clark
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I should start again.
I am trying to assist the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) with his devolutionary credentials. In June 1979, he said that there wasa genuine need and a genuine desire for constitutional reform not only in Scotland but in the rest of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 20 June 1979; Vol. 968, c. 1412.]The right hon. Member must have had some form of devolution in mind, so I should be grateful to know what form he would support.
§ Mr. Ancram
The date to which the hon. Lady referred was shortly after I had spent three months, together with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), campaigning for a no vote. I pay tribute to the strength of the hon. Gentleman's arguments against a Scottish Parliament of the sort that we are now discussing. I stood alongside him then, I agreed with him, and his arguments remain true today. Since then, the Conservative Government had made some changes in the development of the Scottish Grand Committee. I was involved in discussions on those changes from 1979 onwards.
On the point about the dynamic of devolution and what it would do to a Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] Labour Members shake their heads, but it is a serious matter because this has happened in other areas at other times in history. A Parliament, by its nature, always wants more power. How soon would a Scottish Parliament be flexing its constitutional muscles? How soon, claiming credence from the Claim of Right, would it be testing its own view of where sovereignty lay? I doubt whether 473 its view would be that sovereignty lay with the Westminster Parliament. How soon would it be asking for greater powers and greater resources, probably in the knowledge that it would not get them? Then what? It would become the focus for Scottish discontent, the cockpit for national resentment and the arena in which to set Scot against English. That is the virus and the dynamic it would create—it would tear at the bonds that hold this United Kingdom together.
§ Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)
How does the right hon. Gentleman's argument square with the view of the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, that, if the Scottish people wanted to assert their rights, use their sovereignty and determine their independence as their preferred option, no impediment should be placed in the way of their achieving that objective? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that? How does he square it with his argument?
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me, because that is precisely what a Scottish Parliament would argue—that sovereignty rests not with Westminster, as the Secretary of State said, but with the people of Scotland.
That is not all. The proposals, which were put before us last week, leave a dangerously unbalanced constitutional position within the United Kingdom. The envisaged reduction in the over-representation of Scotland at Westminster may help a little, but I frankly tell the Secretary of State that it is an alarmingly long way down the road. I suspect that it is the price of loyalty from his Back Benchers.
We must continue asking what will be the role of Scottish Members at Westminster. In logic, why should they still be able to vote on matters affecting English schools and English hospitals when they will not have the right to vote on those matters as they affect Scotland? Why should they decide those matters for my constituents when they cannot decide them for their own constituents? Why should a Scottish Member be able to be the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and decide individual spending programmes for England when he will not be able to do so for Scotland?
Does the Secretary of State really believe that that position is sustainable and that a quiescent England will somehow not notice the proposed constitutional travesty and inequality of treatment?
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
As my right hon. Friend is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, perhaps he cannot hear the sotto voce remarks of Scottish National Members, who are saying, "We don't want to come."
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making up for the fact that my hearing is becoming poorer as I get older. He has also reinforced the point that I was making. Scottish nationalists are supporting a Scottish Parliament because they believe that it will become the sovereign Parliament of Scotland. The intention and policy of the Scottish National party is to create an independent Scotland.
My argument, however, is not with the Scottish nationalists—like them, I believe that the Government's proposals will achieve their goal—but with the Secretary 474 of State, who tells us that the Government's proposals will secure the Union. I profoundly disagree with him on that belief, because there is nothing in precedent to suggest that that would be the consequence.
The proposals contain a frightening potential to set Scot against English and English against Scot. Far from binding together, the proposals will unbind; far from strengthening relations, they will undermine them; far from stabilising our constitution, they will unbalance and destabilise its very foundations.
For those of us who cherish the United Kingdom and believe that its great amalgam of nations, cultures, traditions and skills has been and can again be a force for immense good, the proposals are a nightmarish beginning of its unravelling. The proposals threaten the United Kingdom, and we oppose them.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Does the right hon. Gentleman care to predict the date on which he thinks that Germany, having created its läder, will break into several independent nations?
§ Mr. Ancram
If the hon. Lady studies the position in Germany, she will discover that the White Paper does not make comparable proposals for the United Kingdom. If she believes that the proposals are for the maintenance and sustenance of the Union, she should ask herself why the nationalist parties in both Wales and Scotland support them. Have those parties suddenly converted to the idea of the United Kingdom, or do they know—as I know—what the proposals will lead to?
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, once a Scottish Parliament is up and running in Scotland, the Conservative party in Scotland will put forward no more candidates for seats at Westminster?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am not sure that I understand even the purpose of that question. We have consistently said that we do not want the situation to arise. Before 11 September, we will be arguing that the proposals will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. On 11 September, we will ask the people to examine the Government's half-baked proposals. I believe that people in Scotland understand the value of the United Kingdom to Scotland, and I do not believe that they will lightly sow the seeds of its destruction. I also do not believe that they will want the voice and influence of Scotland to be diminished in the United Kingdom, and that would be the consequence of the White Paper's proposals.
We have been told—we have already discussed the matter today—that the post of Secretary of State will be maintained—but to do what? The Secretary of State said that the post will be changed quite radically. Having lost all his powers to a Scottish Parliament, however, what clout will he have in Cabinet? What influence will he have on the wider scene? The White Paper states that his role will be "promoting communication" between the Scottish and Westminster Governments. What does that mean? Is it a euphemism for a glorified message boy?
The truth is that, in politics and in government, one punches one's weight. If the proposals are implemented, the Secretary of State will have no weight, no punch and no influence. Scotland's historic voice at the centre of 475 government will effectively be gone. When, inevitably—as my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said—the political colours in Edinburgh and London are different, even the role of "promoting communication" will come into question.
Moreover, it will not be long before Scotland's voice in the House becomes very much less. Fewer Scottish Members will not strengthen Scotland's voice. The inevitable diminishing of the role of Scottish Members in the House, to meet the needs of constitutional balance, will lead to further marginalisation. The reality of the proposals—far from the Prime Minister's promise in the White Paper of giving Scotland an "exciting new role" within the United Kingdom—will be an undermining of the considerable role that Scotland now plays. That would be bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Perhaps my right hon. Friend is being too generous in his description of the role of a post-devolution Secretary of State for Scotland, because the White Paper's funding formula almost sets in stone the amount of money that will go to Scotland. In considering devolution, should we not re-examine the Barnett formula? I have spoken to Scots in my constituency who wonder why Scots in Dorset receive less money than Scottish—or English—people living in Scotland. Why should there be greater per capita spending in Scottish parliamentary constituencies than in English ones?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I have one or two questions myself on financing and on the Barnett formula, but, before I ask them, I should like to deal with Scotland's future role in Europe.
We have been told that Ministers of the Scottish Executive will have a specific role in Europe, even if Scotland does not have a voice in the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State shakes his head. He obviously does not believe that Scotland will have such a role in Europe.
The White Paper, however, tells us that Ministers of the Scottish Executive will be involved in formulating UK policy positions; supporting and advancing the single United Kingdom negotiating line; working as a United Kingdom team; and, when appropriate, speaking in Councils for the United Kingdom. That is pure political unreality—based, I suspect, on an assumption that there will somehow be a permanent new Labour majority in both England and Scotland, working cosily hand in hand.
What will happen, however, when there are different political colours and perspectives, as inevitably there will be? How likely is it that there will be agreement on a common United Kingdom policy position? What will happen to Scotland's position if there is no agreement? Will Scotland's case effectively be unrepresented in Councils, as it cannot be under current arrangements? What will happen if, politics apart, there are conflicting interests between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom on a European matter? How will Scotland's voice be heard?
By what right will a Scottish Minister from the Scottish Executive speak for the United Kingdom? We are told that it will be done by agreement. How often is such 476 agreement likely to be given? How will such a Minister answer to the United Kingdom Parliament—of which he will be neither a Member nor a Minister—for what he has said on behalf of the United Kingdom? The matter is a mess and a muddle, and we have received no answers to our questions about it—because, I suspect, it is irresolvable. The proposal is part of a sales pitch to win support at the referendum, but it does not add up, and the people of Scotland should know that before 11 September.
In reality, Scotland's voice in the Council of Ministers would be considerably lessened after implementation of the proposals. Scotland would be further marginalised, and greater would be the consequent resentment in Scotland. We would be left with such extraordinary anomalies as allowing Scottish Members to vote on abortion but not on capital punishment in the United Kingdom Parliament. Ultimately, such anomalies can only further marginalise Scotland within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's comments on Scotland's role in Europe, because it is an important matter. Can he tell us the percentage—to the nearest 10 per cent.—of times that Scottish Office Ministers attended Council of Ministers meetings? Was it 10, 20, 50 or 60 per cent? Does he know?
§ Mr. Ancram
I do not have the answer to that question to hand, but I know from my experience as a Minister in the Scottish Office and in the Northern Ireland Office that, when interests were at stake, Ministers were present, they were consulted and had a common view. The point that I am making is that if there is a differing view—if the United Kingdom position cannot be in line with that of the Scottish Parliament—the Scottish Parliament's voice would be unrepresented, and so would Scotland.
The United Kingdom would be threatened, Scotland would be marginalised and, on top of that, Scots would be worse off. The cost of the Scottish Parliament, including its setting up, would come off the Scottish block—£70 million in the first year and £30 million thereafter, we are told in the White Paper, but I suspect that that is a gross underestimate. Whether or not it is, that money will come from the block; it will come from the schools budget, the hospitals budget and the local government budget, all of which will have to pay for it.
We are told that the Barnett formula will be retained. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell the House and the Scottish people how often the increasing levels of Scottish spending over the years were achieved by the Barnett formula alone. Is it true that, over time, the Barnett formula will equalise proportionate spending, rather than preserve currently favourable Scottish differentials? How will that mean more provision, as we are told it will, for the Scots under a devolved Parliament? Or will it all have to come from tax, from the can of tartan tax worms that we began to open last night? These are the central questions that must be fully answered before the referendum.
477 Indeed, there are many questions on tax that need to be answered. The Secretary of State said that he wants the Scots to have the facts. Well, let us see whether we can get some facts today. Previously, I have been singularly unsuccessful in getting any answers, and I fear that I am again pursuing the triumph of hope over experience.
Will the Secretary of State start by confirming that, contrary to the impression given so far, income tax is not the only element of the tax-varying powers being made available to a Scottish Parliament? In particular, will he—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may want me to repeat that question so that he can answer it. Will he confirm that, contrary to the impression given so far, income tax is not the only element of the tax-varying powers being made available to a Scottish Parliament, and that other elements are available, too?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am asking the right hon. Gentleman. I return to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is a serious point that has yet to be addressed. Will the Secretary of State please tell the House what will happen if changes in income tax bands or fluctuations in the tax base, which decide how much 1p in the pound can secure in terms of revenue, create a situation in which a 3p increase in the standard rate of income tax will not produce the guaranteed and index-linked £450 million? How will that shortfall be met?
The Secretary of State made it absolutely clear in his statement and, indeed, in the White Paper, that the £450 million is guaranteed. If the tax take from a 3p increase in taxes does not produce that, a shortfall will occur and, under the guarantee, it will be made up. How is that to be done—by allowing for more than 3p to be raised in the pound, which we have been told is the maximum, or by another tax? It has to be one or the other. If not, the guarantee is false. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants to explain how the shortfall will be met.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is not for the right hon. Gentleman to invite anyone to intervene; it is for other hon. Members to ask to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman should continue with his speech.
§ Mr. Ancram
I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, having failed to get any answers from the Minister who I think is going to wind up the debate, I was hoping that I might have tempted the Secretary of State to intervene to give me an answer. It is something which the people of Scotland want to know. Either the guarantee is false or the shortfall will be made up by putting up the basic rate by more than 3p or through another tax. The Scottish people, who are worried about the 3p increase as it is, need to be told.
§ Mr. Dewar
I suppose that it was unwise of me to rise to the bait, but the right hon. Gentleman was asking me to answer a hypothetical question. If, at some future date, the present band on which the maximum of 3p is levied does not produce the requisite revenue and some alternative has to be found, it does not necessarily mean raising the 3p rate. One might look for another income tax base on which the 3p could be levied to produce the rate.
§ Mr. Ancram
The only possible interpretation of that is that there is going to be a different tax banding in Scotland. That is not in the White Paper.
There is a simple question to which the Scottish people need the answer. In a recession, for example, when there are fewer pounds to be taxed, if I can put it that way, and the 3p rate does not raise the £450 million calculated in the White Paper, there will be a shortfall. According to the guarantee that has been given, that shortfall is going to be met. I ask again, where is the money to come from? We are told that it will come from another arrangement relating to some other form of income tax. We want to know what that new form will be. We need answers to such essential questions.
I move on, however. Will the Secretary of State confirm that a Scottish Parliament with control over aggregate external finance and over the non-domestic rate and other local taxation could raise its own spending by passing the burden on to individuals and businesses through higher local taxes? For instance, could a Scottish Parliament retain some of the aggregate external finance for its own purposes, thereby pressurising local councils to increase council tax? Could it restructure the uniform business rate to achieve the same result? Or, could it, as I understand from the White Paper, introduce a new local tax—say, a sales tax—in order to justify retaining resources for itself? If it could do these things, are they not back-door methods for a Scottish Parliament to raise taxes even if the second question in the referendum has been answered no?
§ Mr. Ancram
The right hon. Gentleman has made my case for me. He has now compared the powers of the Scottish Parliament with the powers available to this Parliament. This Parliament certainly has powers to raise various other forms of taxation, but we have been told that the Scottish Parliament's tax-varying powers would relate only to income tax. It is becoming clear that in the thickets of the White Paper, well hidden from the casual reader, is the potential for many more tartan taxes than just income tax. Where potential taxes exist, one can be sure that in due course they will happen.
Scotland would be the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, with devastating effects on individuals, jobs, business and inward investment. The cost of collecting 479 and paying the taxes would be punitive. It would also create great internal unfairness. Pensioners would pay the increased income tax while those who have saved and invested would not. Someone who lives in Berwick and works in Kelso will not pay the tax; someone who lives in Coldstream and works in Kelso will. Someone spending 185 days a year in Scotland will pay the increased tax, whereas someone spending only 180 days in Scotland will not. What happens if one's job takes one backwards and forwards across the border on a daily basis? The situation is mind-boggling. We need answers to the questions arising from the can of tartan tax worms, and we need them before the Scots are asked to vote on 11 September.
One thing is clear: the Scots will be worse off. As I said last Thursday, Scots will pay through the nose for devolution. It will cost to be Scots.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am not giving way again. I have spoken for long enough, and I want to conclude.
Last week, I warned that the people of Scotland were facing a dark, cold night. Just how dark and cold is becoming daily more apparent, as the small print of the muddled proposals is examined. It is a matter not just of what is in the proposals, but of what is not—it is the failure to answer questions on Europe, on tax and on many other crucial issues; it is the rush to get the referendum through before the Scottish people wake up to what is being done to them; and it is the implicit dishonesty in implying that people can vote for the package to save the United Kingdom at the same time as voting for it to break up the United Kingdom.
But the dawn beyond the night is no less cold, for it would find Scotland, having left the wider stage which historically it has bestrode so famously, withdrawn into itself, and inevitably resentful. It would find the Scottish people worse off, and it would find the United Kingdom torn apart.
The White Paper and the project that it sets out will end in tears—tears for the Scots and tears for the United Kingdom. I firmly reject it and I call on the people of Scotland to do the same before it is too late.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
I find it sad to hear the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) talking about things ending in tears. I wish that he was more constructive and had a greater interest in putting forward ideas that would help to improve some aspects of the White Paper.
I shall start on a light-hearted note. The Secretary of State sometimes accuses me of being over-romantic and of looking back too often. I wonder who chose 11 September as the date for the referendum? Was it a tiny bit of romance in his heart? It is, of course, the anniversary of the battle of Stirling bridge.
§ Mrs. Michie
We all know about the film "Braveheart" and how everybody enjoyed Mel Gibson. I certainly did. 480 It has made a tremendous impression in America. Some 6,000 members of the American Society of Travel Agents will arrive in Glasgow on 7 September. They will make their way to Stirling for the 11 September celebrations. I hope that they will meet many thousands of Scots going to vote in the referendum.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Am I doing the hon. Lady an injustice by suggesting that the implications of what she has said are profoundly anti-English?
§ Mrs. Michie
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should think that. I never mentioned the English. I was merely saying that 11 September was a worthwhile date to have chosen for the referendum. Perhaps I shall hear from Ministers whether it was chosen by chance or whether the Secretary of State decided that it was a good date because of the historical background.
§ Mr. Salmond
I have a helpful intervention. Does the hon. Lady recall, as I do, that, when the Conservatives were in government, they almost proposed a Trafalgar day? I thought that that was a pretty silly proposal, but I do not think that I attacked them for being anti-French.
§ Mrs. Michie
That was a helpful intervention. I remember that suggestion. I reject what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said.
I should like to follow up the questions that the Secretary of State was asked after his statement about the building that will house the Scottish Parliament. As the White Paper rightly states, itmust be of such a quality, durability and civic importance as to reflect the Parliament's status and operational needs".I am glad that the Secretary of State confirmed to me during Scottish Question Time that there were various options, including a new building, if a suitable site can be found.
I have two points to make about that. The first involves the funding of the building. No doubt we shall be accused of wasting money on a new building for the Parliament. It should be funded from three sources. Obviously, there should be some public funding, because it will be a building belonging to the people of Scotland. However, I see no reason why private money should not contribute to the project and I wonder whether it would be eligible for millennium funding. The dome is to cost between £500 million and £800 million.
§ Mrs. Michie
Well, up, up, up the cost has gone. The title was changed from the millennium project to the millennium experience, which was fine. I know that various millennium projects are planned to come to fruition in various parts of Scotland, but there is no single big idea. I suggest that the new Parliament could be our big idea—the Scottish experience.
My second point is about the design. I welcome the prospect of an open competition for the design if we choose to have a new building. I have a specific request 481 for the Secretary of State and the Minister. The design should be chosen not just by an architectural hierarchy and politicians. It is important to try to involve the people of Scotland in choosing the building. Perhaps they could choose from a short list of six. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Hon. Members are being extremely unfair to the hon. Lady. She is addressing the House and she should not be interrupted. [HoN. MEMBERS: "She is not addressing the issue."] Order. She should not be interrupted. That is the end of that.
§ Mrs. Michie
I am not sure why Conservative Members are trying to interrupt. I am addressing what is in the White Paper and trying to make some constructive proposals, which I have not heard from any of them.
The Scottish people should be involved in choosing whatever building is put forward from the competition. How can we do that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Have a referendum."] No. I was about to say that we have had enough proposals for referendums. We could involve the television companies, which would put the buildings on screen, with computer simulations of the inside. The Scottish people could then give their preferences in a phone-in. Similar exercises have been carried out before. This is not just my idea. Many people have told me that they do not want any carbuncles in Scotland. We want a building that we will like and appreciate. The choice of the people is not always the same as that of the architectural purists.
§ Mr. Godman
One of the most recent international architectural competitions that we have had in Scotland was for the new museum in Chambers street, Edinburgh. Was the hon. Lady unhappy with the way in which the design for that building was chosen?
§ Mrs. Michie
No, I was not. I would be happy if we consulted the people of Scotland. I do not know whether they would be interested in bothering to tell us what they would like, but we should at least try.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
The hon. Lady has spoken for eight minutes about the building in which the Parliament will be housed. Does she not think that that devalues this debate on the constitutional future of our nation?
§ Mrs. Michie
I do not want to argue with the hon. Gentleman. I have already said that I am trying to make constructive suggestions. There is a chapter in the White Paper about the housing of the Scottish Parliament. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be able to raise other aspects later.
There are many aspects of the White Paper that we welcome, particularly the electoral arrangements as spelled out in chapter 8. Those arrangements are essential, as the Secretary of State has reiterated. We worked hard to persuade the Scottish Constitutional Convention to adopt a fair electoral system and we want to ensure that all parts of the country are properly represented.
One of the main criticisms of the Scotland Act 1978 was that, with the first-past-the-post system, the Parliament would be dominated by the central belt. It was said in 1978—it may still be said—that the Parliament 482 would be dominated by Glasgow trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers. Each geographical area can now be confident that it will have proper representation and that its voice will be heard.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) has expressed concerns about other parties fulfilling their commitment to try to achieve gender balance within the Scottish Parliament. I assure her that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are trying to achieve that aim within a legal structure. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured by that commitment.
§ Mrs. Michie
I cannot answer for the Scottish Conservatives, although I think that they are beginning to understand that, with proportional representation, a gender balance and a Scottish Parliament, they are getting a lifeline to politics in Scotland. Without those things, they would be in the wilderness for ever.
Conservative Members have gone on and on about the additional list system being in the hands of party hierarchies. That would be wrong as well, certainly for the Liberal Democrats. Members of the Scottish Parliament will be vetted and selected to stand, as are Members of this Parliament, by the party members in the Euro-constituencies. Those selected will then be on the list. It is not a question of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, saying, "You, you, you and you will be on the party list." People will be chosen by local party members, as they are chosen at the moment to stand for first-past-the-post seats. I hope that we shall hear no more about patronage and party hacks going on lists.
The White Paper makes it clear that the Parliament will be responsible for further and higher education, including policy, funding, the functions of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and student support. That is absolutely right. I am concerned, however, that, as a result of the Dearing report, the Government may legislate on the charging of tuition fees, which should be left to the Scottish Parliament. The Parliament will also want to ensure that Scottish four-year degree students will not be disadvantaged.
It has been proposed that students should pay £1,000 a year, with the loan being repayable at a later date. That flies in the face of the Scottish educational tradition, which has been firmly based on the belief that the best possible investment is in our people and our children. Education has always been regarded as the one opportunity that should be afforded to all our youngsters, and as the one boost that can give them a lift out of deprived or disadvantaged circumstances and give them a real chance to make their way in life. Education is important to us.
Running up a considerable debt is a frightening prospect even for the reasonably well-off. It goes against a principle that many of us were brought up to believe in—that we should not incur debt and that we should never purchase anything until we were confident of being able to pay for it. That is a wise dictum. The Scottish Parliament may want to look at that and at other methods of funding higher education. I also hope that there will be no move to do anything about university rectors in Scotland. It is a matter for a Scottish Parliament to decide.
483 I will try to get home the point about tax to Conservative Members. The Scottish Parliament is being given only tax-varying powers, so I do not understand what all the fuss is about. The Scottish Parliament is being given a minimal power. That power will be used only if a particular party has said that it will do so in its election manifesto and if the people then vote for that party. If the people vote for that party to go into government, the power will be used, because it will be the will of the people of Scotland. The power makes the Parliament more responsible and accountable, and that is why we must secure a substantial yes vote to the second question. I do not understand why Conservative Members think that a Scottish Parliament will act against its own people in terms of business and tax. Why would it do that?
§ Dr. Fox
At columns 416 and 417 of yesterday's Hansard, when asked whether he thought that the second question was fraudulent because, even if the answer was no, the Parliament would still have tax-raising powers, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said that it was a fraudulent question to that extent. Does the hon. Lady agree with her hon. Friend?
§ Mrs. Michie
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland was saying that we would have preferred to have either no referendum or a referendum with just one question. I think that my hon. Friend was referring to the fact that we did not want a second question.
The White Paper raises a number of questions about the reserved powers, which are a bit bizarre. Under the heading "Certain other matters" on page 11, there is a list that includes the licensing of theatres and cinemas. I do not understand why that is included; perhaps the Minister can tell us later. The list also includes gambling. Does that mean casinos or betting shops? Why should they involve reserved powers? I do not see why this House should have a superior authority by which it can dictate to Scotland how it handles moral and ethical matters. We shall have to return to those matters, especially when the relevant legislation comes to the House.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow is right to say that Ministers will meet the Law Society of Scotland, because there are a number of questions to discuss. I am not a legal person, so I do not want to go into that area now.
Conservative Members make much of the merit of the Union, and they seem to believe that it is more important than democracy itself. Many people maintain, however, that the Union cannot be all that it is cracked up to be if it is unable to evolve, to adapt and to be flexible enough to meet the aspirations of its component parts. If we want to secure the unity of the United Kingdom, we should move towards a federal structure. I believe that we shall do so in the end. It has been Liberal Democrat policy for 484 many years and I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow agrees with me. It is the answer to all the West Lothian questions and those relating to tax and fiscal powers. It is how the majority of countries work.
We need only look at America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Germany. Who gave Germany a federal Government after the war? We did. Who gave Germany a fair electoral system? We did. Yet, until now, not one jot or tittle of power has been allowed to leave this place. That is why I warmly welcome the White Paper. Although it is about devolution, it is much better than I expected, particularly having heard the rather chilling words of the Home Secretary when he said that power devolved was power retained. I commend the Government for having stuck closely to and, in some instances, improved on the proposals from the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
We are home rulers and, as I have said, the ideal is a federal structure.
§ Mrs. Michie
With a federal structure, this place would no longer dictate to Wales and Scotland; rather, there would be agreement on what powers each level of government would carry out.
Sovereignty as it is understood here is quite different from how we understand it north of the border where the people are sovereign—not any one person, body of people or Government, particularly as Governments are always elected on a minority vote.
The Conservative party in general and the official Opposition in particular demean themselves by their carping criticism. They could try to recover their political antennae, which have not been in evidence for many years, by speaking to real people, and not just among themselves, and trying to understand the deep passion, the desire of the hearts and heads of so many Scottish people who, though the generations, have dedicated their lives to the re-establishment of our Scottish Parliament. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) put it so eloquently last week, many people have lived and died without seeing it come to fruition. We, their children, have continued in that desire, and our children know that they must carry the banner until the day comes when Scotland can once again hold her head up high with confidence and pride as a partner in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I am not given to exaggerated language, but frankly I was shocked by the opening of the speech by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). Let me explain to the House why. She referred to the battle of Stirling bridge some 700 years ago. She said that it was a light-hearted reference. Why did the hon. Lady start a speech in a crucial debate with that light-hearted reference when she knew very well that it was to a battle of Scots and English?
In 35 years of contesting elections with the Scottish National party—the leader of that party will bear me out in this, if in nothing else—I have never said that representatives of the Scottish National party are anti-English. Nevertheless, that will be a serious concern 485 once Pandora's box is open. I beg the hon. Lady to be careful in using that argument, because there are hundreds of thousands of English people working in Scotland and well over 1 million Scots working in England. They see it as one United Kingdom.
We are on very sensitive ground. The Liberal Democrats had great influence both in the convention and on the White Paper. In one sense, it is their White Paper as well as that of my right hon. Friends. Liberal Democrats can claim great influence on the White Paper; therefore, it behoves them to be ever more careful about what can be described as the law of unintended consequences. I beg the hon. Lady to be careful.
In his penultimate remarks, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Leader of the Opposition. He took great comfort in the fact that the Leader of the Opposition had made statements along the lines that, if there were a Parliament, it would be permanent. I understand how the position has arisen, but how long will it last? Whatever the Leader of the Opposition or any politician says, how long can 72 or 58 hon. Members, or even one hon. Member, sent by electors north of the border be able to vote on matters relating to England, but be unable to vote on matters relating to Scotland? How long can that endure?
My problem with the White Paper is this: how long can a Scottish Parliament last in the form—or anything like the form—in which it has been proposed? People who propose constitutional change must submit proposals that at least have a chance of enduring. After careful study of the White Paper, I fear that there is no possibility of its proposals lasting a decade or more. Therefore, it behoves us to argue for proposals that at least have the possibility of enduring.
Once again, it comes down to something has been recognised for a very long time, certainly since the last years of the last century. At some risk, I quote Carson, who said in 1912:We see, as Irish Ministers saw in 1800, that there can be no permanent resting place between complete union and total separation … If there were no other objection to the establishment of a separate government in Dublin, it would be impossible because legislative autonomy can only be coupled with financial independence".That is part of the problem which was reinforced by careful reading of the White Paper, by the reaction to Edinburgh castle and, not least, by the treatment of the subject by The Scotsman on that Friday morning. I fear that, at the end of the day, it comes back to the same question: the choice between something indistinguishable from the status quo and something indistinguishable from the general views of the Scottish National party. I stick to it, but the referendum really ought to be on two questions: "I wish to remain in Britain" and "I wish to be part of a Scottish state separate from England".
§ Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)
Is it the case that, in recent history, the House has passed more laws relating to Scotland against the will of the majority of Scottish Members than laws affecting England against the will of the majority of English Members?
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is certainly right. Frankly, there is one answer to that: a separate Scottish state. Anybody 486 who thinks that an Assembly in Edinburgh could have protected us from Margaret Thatcher's poll tax is wrong. There is no way that an Assembly—
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman will be able to speak later and I must be careful about time. I want to ask some specific questions.
One item in the White Paper which bothers me greatly is the statement:There will be provision for transferring further matters to and from the reserve list by Order in Council, which would be approved by both Parliaments.That might sound harmless enough, but in simple, straightforward language those 25 words mean that, at any time, areas reserved for Westminster in the 1997 White Paper can be picked up at will by the Scottish Parliament. I do not envisage a Government in London feeling that there would be any point in challenging Edinburgh on such demands, but they will inevitably arise and, sooner rather than later, there will be more and more. Every shortcoming will, of course, be ascribed to a shortage of money from Westminster. We are on a motorway without exit to a destination that may not have been intended but is indistinguishable from a separate state.
I turn to the precise questions of the Law Society of Scotland. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have the document to which I am referring. The first question has already been put. The second group of questions is:Why are the judicial appointments of the Lord President and the Lord Justice Clerk being dealt with on a different basis from other judicial appointments (paragraph 2.4)? Is there room for a judicial appointments commission in the devolved scheme?The third group of questions is:What solution is proposed in the event that the advice given to the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Executive Law Officers (the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General) and that given to the UK Parliament by the Scottish Law Officer, is different? What will the status of the Scottish Law Officer be? To which Department will he be accountable?There are other questions, such as:Will the convention that two Scottish Lords of Appeal in Ordinary should sit on Scottish cases apply to the proposal?Those questions are in the possession of the Scottish Office. It is important that they are answered before the referendum.
I turn briefly to money. I shall read out an unsolicited and short letter from Mr. Robert Hislop of 79, Belsyde court, Linlithgow. It says:Dear Mr. Dalyell,I am an employee of Hewlett Packard and based in South Queensferry, but since I work for Sales and Service, the head office is in Bracknell.My tax office is therefore in Southampton and not in Scotland.My concern is regarding tax and devolution.Like everybody else I pay UK tax, but if devolved powers ever arise does that mean I will be required to pay an extra 'Scottish' tax over and above the UK tax?487Personally I cannot see myself being better off than I am at the moment and will probably be financially worse off. Someone has to pay for the infrastructure, extra civil servants, MPs, etc. I think the man in the street, and I include myself, is ignorant of what the true cost will be if the vote on September 11 is Yes Yes.I would like some kind of response to that letter, because there are many like it. There is widespread concern. At some stage, the nine questions on tax that I asked in the debate yesterday, reported in Hansard at columns 414 to 416, should be answered.
I should like to ask about the role of the Secretary of State. Who will be responsible for oil taxation? This is of vital concern to Scotland. It will be decided around the Cabinet table in London, where Scotland's voice might be rather weaker than it has been hitherto. A Parliament may be more representative of Scottish opinion than any one Minister, but what use will that be when it cannot always make representations where it counts? There is considerable worry on matters of great consequence to our electors that it will be rather different when it comes to the Cabinet table, where key decisions are made.
My hon. Friends will have seen the concerns of Scottish and Newcastle in the business section of today's edition of The Scotsman. That company represents many employees, some of whom are in the Linlithgow constituency. I hope that there will be some response to the concerns that it has raised. There is a problem when an economy that is interlinked and has come together over all this time is in some sense, to use the phrase of Mr. Lain MacWhirter, "dewired". The dewiring of an economy is a real problem.
There are those of us who have taken and are taking a different view on a whole number of matters. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) last night. He is, as he put it courteously, a real friend. His speech was indistinguishable from that of someone who wanted something that was tantamount to a separate Scotland. I hardly think that he would deny that. He is an honourable man. I do not know whether he is here. Ah, I see that he is. The position that he took is absolutely honourable, but we cannot have our cake and eat it; we cannot ride two horses.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
My hon. Friend says that we cannot ride two horses. Does he remember the famous expression of Jimmy Maxton: "If you can't ride two horses, you shouldn't be in a bloody circus."
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not think that the situation is a bloody circus. I think that it is extremely serious for people in Scotland. We may take some things light-heartedly, but the unintended consequences of what we do will be with us for a very long time.
I fear that, on 11 September, the Scottish people and people in Scotland have to choose between something that is very like the present British position, with all its shortcomings, and is indistinguishable from the present British state—some of us think that it is worth while in general terms, although there are of course shortcomings—and something that has been described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) as a "mystery tour". The mystery tour would end up very much along the lines of what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) would like. If that is the decision of the people in Scotland, so be it.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East that it is no good criticising me on this subject—well, he can criticise me as much as he wishes—when all I am 488 doing is being a messenger of the reality that we now face. That reality is whether we want to remain part of Britain or whether we want to be part of a state that is separate from England. That is the choice.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), because he touched on the theme that I wish to develop today. It arises from the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the glossy White Paper:The Government's aim is a … settlement which will be good both for Scotland and the United Kingdom.The debate has been incomplete up to now—both today and previously. It has been incomplete because the voice of the bulk of the United Kingdom—the people of England, of course—has been silent. We have heard endlessly about what the people of Scotland may want and, in a different context, about what the people of Wales may want, but when will the people of England be asked what they think?
It is bizarre to debate the future of the United Kingdom when the voice of the people who are the bulk of that United Kingdom is silent. The people of England are assumed to be compliant in what is going on. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that the proposed solution is incomplete or partial, because it is not firmly founded. If the Scottish people, who have been given a voice, vote on 11 September for a Parliament with its tax-raising powers, we will know what they have to say, but we will still know nothing about how the English people feel.
§ Mr. Salmond
That cannot be true. During the election campaign, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the then Prime Minister, said that the devolution issue transcended the election. If that is true, did not the people of England speak on the issue—and many others—in the election, according to the former Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Forth
That is the mandate approach. It is often claimed by Labour Members, and indeed by other hon. Members, that we know what people want from the outcome of the general election. All that the people said in the general election was that they no longer wanted a Conservative Government; they wanted a Labour Government. That is clear and I accept that verdict—I can do no less. However, I am not sure that we know what the people of England think about proposals for a Parliament in Scotland.
§ Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this issue goes back a long time, to 1886 and to the forming of the Scottish National party in 1934? Is he further aware that two future Conservative Prime Ministers, one in 1968 and the other in 1970, advanced proposals for a Scottish Parliament?
§ Mr. Forth
I have a certain awareness of those matters, although I am not always as impressed as I should be when hon. Members quote former Conservative Prime Ministers at me. Perhaps I should work on that. We are considering the current position, which is that a small number of people in the United Kingdom are being asked 489 whether they want something for themselves. A large number of people in the United Kingdom are not being asked at all.
That leads me to the point made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), that several possibilities are not being considered. One possibility, which may end up as an attractive solution, is a Parliament for England. As the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, that would resolve the West Lothian question, and it should be considered. But why are the people of England not being asked whether they want a Parliament at the same time as the people of Scotland and Wales are asked what they want? That is what is so wrong with the debate. It is completely lopsided. The tail is wagging the dog, or is attempting to do so, and that is politically dangerous. If we proceed, the solution will be narrow and shallow and, therefore, its effectiveness and permanence will be open to challenge.
§ Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have shown a lack of courage in being unwilling to consult all Scottish people in the referendum on 11 September? He said that the English people will not be consulted, but nor will Scottish people who for the time being do not live in Scotland. In the general election only 13 weeks ago today, people who live in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Spain—anywhere one likes to mention—were consulted, but Scottish people who do not live in Scotland at the moment will not be consulted in the referendum. That shows the Government's fear.
§ Mr. Forth
It pains me to say it, but I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend. I have always taken the view that, if people freely opt to leave one country to live in another, they must give up most, if not all, of their say in what happens in the country they have left. I am more comfortable with the residency requirement than is my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Gray
I wish to raise a residency issue which was overlooked in the White Paper. A Scottish soldier who is based in England is 100 per cent. Scottish and fights in the tartan, but he may have registered his vote in, for example, North Wiltshire. Does my right hon. Friend feel the same way about a Scottish soldier who has been disfranchised by the Government as he does about other Scots who are resident in England?
§ Mr. Forth
My hon. Friend has made an important distinction. I said that my previous reply applied to people who had voluntarily left Scotland. If someone is posted out of Scotland because of his occupation, that is different. However, I do not wish to get involved in that debate, because I wish my remarks to be brief.
My next point is about money. I am sure that all hon. Members have studied carefully the useful research paper produced by the Library entitled "Public Expenditure in Scotland and Wales". On page eight, it reveals that identifiable general Government expenditure on education is £588 per resident in England and £791 in Scotland. On health and personal social services, the amount spent per resident is £806 in England and £989 in Scotland. The Scots are—as we know—privileged people within the United Kingdom, and that must leave the English wondering what is going on. The Scots are privileged to 490 have a Secretary of State and a Scottish Office—for which there is no English equivalent—yet the English help to pay for higher Government expenditure on the Scots.
§ Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the examples of the privilege of the Scots is that we got the poll tax a whole year earlier? We are all very grateful for that.
§ Mr. Forth
I cannot see the relevance of those remarks to the point I am trying to make. Yes, the Scots had the privilege of getting the excellent poll tax earlier than we did in England. I regret that the poll tax was not successful, and I hope that we return to it in a different form in the future.
§ Ms Squire
On the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about the poll tax, he clearly does not represent the views of the majority of people of England or Scotland. The people of England protested fiercely against the poll tax and showed their opposition to it, so he clearly speaks only for a minority.
§ Mr. Forth
I do not want to get bogged down in this argument, and I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might not want me to either. The majority of people did not protest against the poll tax; a minority of rabble protested against it. The then Government were overly impressed and, regrettably, rather than try to make the poll tax work, as we could and should have done, we decided not to proceed with it.
§ Mr. Forth
No, I want to get on with the point about money.
If we are to make some sort of fresh start in constitutional terms, we should at least attempt to level the playing field in terms of money, taxation and expenditure as well. When the English people begin to realise the extent to which the Scots are already financially privileged, and then see the Scots over-represented, with all the implications for the West Lothian question about which we have heard so often in this regard, I am afraid that that will give rise to the possibility of English resentment or a backlash. I would rather see that dealt with properly now than left festering, as will inevitably happen if the proposals are approved through both the referendum and legislation.
§ Sir Robert Smith
I am concerned about the language coming from Conservative Members. Do they want to foment or mollify English resentment?
§ Mr. Forth
I would certainly seek to mollify English resentment, and the first stage is to give the English a voice on this matter. Surely the hon. Gentleman would accept that the best way to bring about English resentment is not to consult the English, not to ask them what they want, and to make no provision for the English of the kind being made for the Scots and the Welsh. That is the problem. By proceeding as they are, the Government risk an English resentment which will serve us all badly in the future if we are not careful.
491 My final point in the United Kingdom context has not been commented on much so far in this debate. The proposals in the White Paper are for a unicameral legislative system for Scotland. I understand that the Scots will have one chamber, with a rather peculiar election system, which will be able to legislate over a wide range of issues for the Scots. The English presumably will still have their laws made by the Westminster system: a House of Commons with Scottish representation, a revising Chamber—the House of Lords—and Royal Assent. The Welsh will have yet another system of law making, whereby their primary laws will still be made here at Westminster, but a Welsh Assembly will deal with secondary legislation.
We now have the prospect of three totally different law-making processes within the United Kingdom, which is yet another reason why the proposals threaten to fracture the United Kingdom and send its different component parts off in different directions. That is the underlying danger of the proposals. The procedure being adopted, the financial underpinnings and the constitutional differences that will be set up by the proposals all endanger the United Kingdom and the relationship between its constituent parts in a way that no one has yet been prepared to recognise. That is why I and many of my hon. Friends oppose the proposals. They will be opposed not only in Scotland and Wales but increasingly, for the reasons that I have given, in England. This is a tragedy, which it might not yet be too late to avoid.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
Given their speeches so far, Conservative Members are doing an excellent job in persuading the majority of people of the United Kingdom that we need devolution and constitutional change. I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that it is my clear impression that the majority of people of England decided that they wanted to change a system of government that had become increasingly ignorant and unwilling to listen to their views. They wanted the style of politics changed to one that would give them much more influence on decisions that affect their everyday lives.
I very much welcome the White Paper. I have long campaigned for it, although I freely admit not quite as long as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I was thinking today about what I could say in support of the White Paper which has not already been ably and eloquently said by other hon. Members. I decided to focus my remarks on how a Scottish Parliament will help bring about the constitutional change that will give all the people of the United Kingdom a much greater voice in decisions that affect their everyday lives, especially those whose voices were ignored or silenced under our system of government.
§ Mrs. Laing
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, although it is not up to her to read my mind.
492 I listened carefully to what she said. How will the proposals in the White Paper give my constituents in Epping Forest in Essex a greater say? That is what the hon. Lady suggested. It is a reasonable suggestion, but I do not see how the White Paper will increase my constituents' say.
§ Ms Squire
The hon. Lady demonstrates the blinkered tunnel vision so characteristic of Conservative Members. The White Paper is the first step in a process of constitutional change that will give a much greater voice to the constituents of Epping Forest, Elgin and elsewhere. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Because it is the start of constitutional change in the way in which this country is governed. Five years as an hon. Member in this House have convinced me that, if there is one thing that I want to change, it is how the system of government has been allowed, over the past 18 years, so blatantly to ignore the voice of the majority of people throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Robert Smith
One direct way in which constituents in Epping Forest and other English constituencies will benefit is that, once a Scottish Parliament has been set up, all the time taken in the House to scrutinise purely Scottish legislation will be freed up, so that we can scrutinise other legislation. I share the hon. Lady's optimism that the White Paper is the thin end of the wedge, and I hope that we shall see a federal system for the United Kingdom in the long run.
§ Ms Squire
I cannot not agree with the hon. Gentleman's last sentiment, but I should have thought that some hon. Members representing English constituencies might welcome not having to pack the Benches, as they have over the past 18 years of Conservative rule, to force through legislation that related solely to Scotland, against the wishes of the people of Scotland.
§ Ms Squire
I shall continue my speech. The hon. Gentleman might then grasp why I am so much in favour of the proposals for a Scottish Parliament and of wider constitutional change.
I want a style and system of government that gives a much greater voice to those whose voices have too often been ignored by our political process: the unemployed; people on low incomes; and low-paid part-time workers, especially women. I became involved in politics because of my anger at the injustice whereby those who worked hard all their lives were given little recognition or reward for doing so, because they did not happen to speak with the right accent, live in the right part of town, or know the right people to have opportunities and doors opened to them.
§ Ms Squire
No, I wish to continue. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to give way later, I may do so.
493 In particular, I have been angered by the way in which the contribution that women—both paid and unpaid carers—make to our society has been ignored by our parliamentary system and government. Many of my hon. Friends have sought to speak out and to make the voices heard of those who have often been ignored. We see these people every week, every month, in our surgeries—people who are at the end of their tether and have come to us desperately hoping that we can deal with their grievances.
However, for every person who comes to us, there are another 100 whose voices will never be heard. Many of my constituents are disfranchised by our present system of government in many ways. They do not have the contacts, the knowledge, the networks that would enable them to get something done about grievances that affect them and their families. They may feel deeply that they have been treated unfairly, but pressure in their everyday lives means that their complaints are often ignored and they get absolutely nowhere—for example, the 25 families who recently contacted me with their complaints about maternity services in Fife.
I see a Scottish Parliament as part of a beginning of constitutional change, which will empower the many, not the few. It will make politicians more accessible and more accountable to those whom they are elected to represent.
§ Mr. Grieve
If I understand the hon. Lady correctly—I have heard this from other hon. Members on the Government Benches—the advantages derived from Scottish devolution will be an example of what will happen elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as she spoke about it in the English context. Surely, if we are to have mature consideration of the total package, it would be wise for the House to know what mystery the Government have in store for England, as the remaining part of the United Kingdom to be dealt with, so that we can take an objective view of whether the proposals have any validity. One of the things to which we on the Opposition Benches object so much is that questions will be put to the Scottish and Welsh people in September, without their having any more idea than we have of what the total package will be.
§ Ms Squire
The hon. Gentleman does not appear to be aware of the different aspects of constitutional change that the majority of people in the United Kingdom elected the Government to carry out. The majority of people in the United Kingdom believed that politicians had lost touch with the reality of people's everyday lives. I want a system of government that increases participation and involvement, and enables far more people to make their voices heard.
I support a Scottish Parliament because it will change the face of politics. I support the White Paper, as it deals with the fact that, although Scotland has its own legislation, it has no legislature of its own. A Scottish Parliament will benefit the people of Scotland, because it will be able to legislate in the areas that are raised most frequently in our surgeries—such as housing, education, jobs and health. It will give the people of Scotland a much greater say over how public money is spent. It will, I hope, end for ever the situation that we have endured for so many years, in which a Secretary of State for Scotland and four Ministers, although voted in by a minority, have total control over how they spend £14.5 billion.
494 Any tax-raising power would be exercised only after debate and majority agreement. I am in no doubt that Scots who combined individual rights with collective responsibility would be more than willing to contribute more to the public purse if they were quite clear that that money would be spent on caring for the elderly, on providing more nursery provision and on increasing health services and housing.
§ Ms Squire
No. The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet more than once already.
A Scottish Parliament will enable much better accountability of public spending and easier and more detailed scrutiny by the public themselves.
A Scottish Parliament will help to change the face of politics. Although it is encouraging that there are now more than 100 women Members of Parliament in this place, I would certainly support a Scottish Parliament in which there was 50:50 representation and a much greater cross-section of all aspects of society. I want to see a Scottish Parliament that is far more open to those from ethnic minorities and to those with disabilities. I want to see a Scottish Parliament whose benches are full not only of social workers, lawyers and teachers, but of people who have been business men, sales representatives, cleaners, carers and caretakers—a broad cross-section of our society.
I want to see a Scottish Parliament that breaks the mould of the aggressive, confrontational, egotistical point-scoring that this place has symbolised for so long; a Parliament that promotes and encourages serious and informed debate on the issues that affect people's everyday lives. I want to see a system of government that closes the gap between what happens in this place and what directly affects the people of the United Kingdom and their families. I also want to see a Scottish Parliament that provides the facilities so that people can combine a political role with their responsibility to their families and to the community as a whole. I want to see a parliamentary building that is accessible to disabled people. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that the Royal high school in Edinburgh does not meet that need.
Given the lobbying that is under way for the site of a Scottish Parliament, I should like to take this opportunity to remind hon. Members that Dunfermline was the ancient capital of Scotland for several centuries, and that we have a rather empty former naval base, thanks to the actions of the previous Government, which would give people an opportunity, literally, to sail to and from work every morning if their Parliament were located there.
I certainly want to see a Parliament that breaks the hierarchical and patronising mould of what all too often goes on in this place—it is a Parliament that still tends to say that people, if elected, should put themselves on some kind of pedestal and act at best as some kind of benefactor.
I quote Richard Tawney, an English economic historian, who sums up clearly the reasons why I want to see constitutional change:In the transition to political democracy, this country … underwent … no inner conversion. She accepted it as a convenience, like an improved system of telephones … She changed her political garments, but not her heart. She carried into 495 the democratic era, not only the institutions, but the social habits and mentality of the oldest and toughest plutocracy in the world … She went to the ballot-box touching her hat.It is because I want to change that system of government, that style of politics, that I so fervently support the White Paper and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. I urge people throughout Scotland to vote yes, yes on 11 September.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) on her quotation from R. H. Tawney. It is refreshing to know that Tawney has not been totally exorcised from new Labour thinking. Perhaps she will pass the relevant quotation and the egalitarian concepts that lie behind it to the Prime Minister and the Minister without Portfolio, to re-educate them in the views of progressive politics.
I want first to address a remark or two to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I hope that he will agree that he and I have been opponents of long standing, but always in a dignified and courteous way. However, I think that he was quite wrong in the attack that he launched on the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), who referred to the battle of Stirling bridge. The hon. Lady was quoting from a Forth Valley Enterprise brochure, perhaps trying to advertise the activities of that agency in celebrating the battle of Stirling bridge. Such an historical reference can properly be made, even in the jocular fashion in which I think the hon. Lady was introducing it, without implying anti-English feeling.
I direct the hon. Gentleman to the diary of Robert Burns, who, writing about his early childhood, says that he drew his poetic inspiration and his view of humanity and of Scotland from Blind Harry's account of the stories of Wallace and Bruce, which includes an epic description of the battle of Stirling bridge. If a great humanitarian and nationalist and internationalist such as Robert Burns can draw such legitimate inspiration, the hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to make such a reference in introducing a speech in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Salmond
I shall give way in a few minutes, but I want to develop a few points first.
The news of the evening so far must surely go not to the Secretary of State for Scotland, not even to the hon. Member for Linlithgow or to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, but surely to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). He has moved his place, but he is still around. He said to fairly startled hon. Members, even on his own Benches—I could see their faces—that the poll tax was coming back in amended form.
I have heard a number of protagonists of a Scottish Parliament make arguments this evening, but nothing like as strong as the argument that was inadvertently advanced by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. If the only thing that a Scottish Parliament on these White Paper proposals was to do was to save us from the amended poll tax, one day to be introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, that in itself would be game, set and 496 match to the Scottish Parliament—a hostage to fortune that makes the tartan tax, and any slips that occur during the referendum campaign, pale into insignificance.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, although he will not be able to vote in the referendum, his words tonight will echo through the referendum campaign until 11 September, and no one in Scotland, least of all his relatives in Glasgow, will be under any illusions that, if he ever obtains a position of responsibility over Scotland, he will try to reintroduce the poll tax in some sort of amended form.
§ Mr. Salmond
I see the right hon. Gentleman nodding his assent. We have the final confirmation from the Conservative party. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has been deserted by his colleagues, but he has been in a minority before. Presumably for the sake of advancement, he sought his career down south. No doubt he will find that there are pastures in the Conservative party which support his particular thoughts and development of opinion. I have great faith in the right hon. Gentleman's resilience, and great faith that the people of Scotland will bear his words in mind when they come to vote on 11 September.
Most of the debate has been pretty much an end-of-term affair. It has not been worthy of the subject that we are discussing. Madam Speaker said yesterday that it was bucket-and-spade time for many hon. Members. Although Conservative Members had some fun with the absence of many members of the new Labour party from Scottish constituencies, their own contribution tonight has also been half-hearted. Perhaps there is a recognition, as there should be, that the real debate will take place not in the House but in Scotland during the next six weeks. I doubt the wisdom of the two questions in the referendum, but Scotland is properly where the debate should take place.
I have long held the theory that, if I could bring everyone in Scotland down for the day and sit them in the Gallery of the House of Commons, I could turn everyone in the country into an ardent proponent of at least self-government for Scotland, and probably of independence. Some of the attitudes that are struck in this place, particularly by Conservative Members, in their nature appear to observers to be resentful of the Scottish interest.
I referred yesterday—I looked up the opinion poll evidence for it—to the fact that the vast majority of the people in Scotland now regard the Conservatives as an anti-Scottish party. I refer to the ICM poll for The Scotsman in February this year, which asked that specific question. I know that it is difficult for hon. Members, but they should read some of our debates and consider whether that impression is reinforced by many of the contributions and the asides that are regularly made in this place, especially at Scottish questions, for example.
However, nothing that I have heard in the Chamber quite compares with the debate that took place last night in the House of Lords, or perhaps for the purposes of this debate I shall call it the House of Chiels. There was an extraordinary debate in the House of Lords last night, although, in respect of what the Secretary of State said, I have to say that there were some jewels to be found within the sands of ignorance. Basically, however, it was 497 a debate of profound ignorance of the Scottish situation. Having read the report of that debate in Hansard this morning, I cannot think of a worse place in which to have a debate about the future of Scotland than among the descendants—to quote Burns—of the "parcel of rogues" who sold the nation in 1707, or, for that matter, the newly ennobled representatives, many of whom have reached that tenure by coorieing up to the establishment throughout their career.
I want to offer the House a flavour of the debate that took place. The noble Lord Renton—I apologise to him in advance, because I could have picked many other examples—began by saying that he felt that the triple system in Scotland of district, regional and Westminster government was ideal, and no one should argue for any changes. He said that completely oblivious of the fact that the previous Government abolished the regional councils two years ago. That was pointed out to the noble Lord Renton, but I was struck by the fact that he did not withdraw his original argument. With a seamless ability, he merely took on board the fact that he had missed that abolition in his many visits to Scotland, and reintroduced the same argument, saying that basically he supported two layers of government, the unitary local authorities and Westminster, which were the most perfect that ever could be devised for mankind.
If we have reached the situation where the future of Scotland is being debated in these legislative Chambers by people who do not even know the present structure of government, we have cause to reflect on whether this is the perfect way to govern Scotland and whether it might not be rather better governed if the people who were arguing, debating and legislating at least knew what they were legislating about.
I wish to refer to the ennobled contributions. This may come as a surprise to Liberal Democrat Members, but I wish to comment on someone who knows a great deal about Scotland, the noble Lord Steel. He came up with the statement that there was "no public support" for the concept of independence. I have looked at the polls for the past five years, and the average support for Scottish independence is 33 per cent. I have looked also at the average support in Scotland for the Liberal Democrats over the same period, and it is 10 per cent.
I find it incredible that the former leader of the Liberal party—I know that he is now a noble Lord, but he is not senile and he is perfectly capable of constructing an argument—can argue that a concept has "no public support", when that concept has three times more support than the political party that he still represents. Not only should we not legislate in ignorance, but we should not have a Parliament where Members are able to divulge misinformation to other Members of that legislature, who apparently accepted the point without correction.
Lord Steel said that it was wrong for the Scottish National party to try to advance its case through a Scottish Assembly, yet his party wishes to advance its case for federalism through a Scottish Assembly. It is extraordinary that the noble Lord could argue that it is okay to try to extend the Parliament's powers towards federation, but it is somehow illicit and illegitimate to extend the Parliament's powers towards independence.
§ Mr. Swayne
Could my old university friend answer two points for me? First, will he confirm that it will be his intention from the outset to extend the powers of the Parliament? Secondly, will he become for a moment the devil's advocate—or the angel's advocate, depending on one's point of view—and state whether it would be more difficult for him to extend those powers were the Scottish people to have before them a defined Act, setting out exactly the powers and the nature of the Parliament, so that they could give a constitutional seal of approval? I suggest that it would be more difficult for those powers to be extended, at least for the first decade.
§ Mr. Salmond
It is a long time since the hon. Gentleman and I were at university together, but his interventions have not got any shorter in the intervening period. I was not sure whether I was to be described as the devil's advocate or the devil incarnate, which is how he used to describe me at university. It is obvious that the Scottish National party and those who believe in independence will stand for election looking for such a mandate for independence from the Scottish people. That, incidentally, is what we do when we stand for election to the Westminster Parliament.
According to a BBC Network poll two weeks ago, 71 per cent. of Scots believe that a Scottish Parliament would be a step towards an independent Scotland. We should agree that the judge and jury on whether Scotland becomes an independent state are the Scottish people as a whole. There is no backstairs secret way to Scottish independence. My party has advanced that cause for many years, and we have always done so by looking for a democratic mandate. Not every national or independence movement does that. I see the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) in his place, and he generously has made that point on a number of occasions. We look for a democratic mandate every time we stand for election.
§ Mr. Salmond
I shall certainly campaign for a mandate for Scottish independence on any democratic platform, including this one, which provides that opportunity. There is now unity among the parties on the entitlement of the Scottish people to seek independence. The Secretary of State for Scotland has expressed that view well over the past few weeks and, in fairness, I should point out that that is not a new position for him. He has advanced it throughout his political career.
That was also the position of Lady Thatcher, as expressed in her memoirs, although I must confess that I never heard the former Prime Minister express that view in as clear a form at the Dispatch Box as she did in "The Downing Street Years". To be fair, another former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), also expressed that view at recent Conservative party conferences. I have never heard it clearly expressed by the present Prime Minister— 499 although I am certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland carries the whole Government with him in the acknowledgement of a democratic entitlement. That is where the matter should rest. Whether Scotland becomes an independent state should be determined by the people of Scotland. All the second-guessing on what policy might lead to Scottish independence misses the point.
The fundamental question will be decided not by the mechanics of government, but by the reality of Scottish identity. What is changing the nature of the debate in Scotland is not the form of government that has been proposed, but the changing nature of Scotland itself. Since the war, Scotland has become a much more Scottish place and a much less British place, as reflected in many institutions and in polls. People's identity is in transition in Scotland. For many hon. Members, that is an uncomfortable thought, and I understand that. None the less, that is what is happening.
We have not had a Scottish Parliament during the past 20 years, but support for Scottish independence as a concept has doubled among the population in that time. If only a devolved Parliament could increase support for independence, why have we seen that change in the past 20 years? My theory is that it is about the politics of identity.
§ Mrs. Laing
I compliment the hon. Gentleman on the clarity and logic of his argument, as a contrast to the argument of the Government. Independence is a perfectly clear and logical route which could be chosen. Does he agree that it is usual that, when an agreement voluntarily entered into by two parties is to be changed, both parties should be part of the new agreement? Is it not the case that Scotland—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady has got away with long interventions earlier because she is a new Member, but there comes a time when I have to say that she must be brief.
§ Mr. Salmond
The interventions are becoming almost as long as my speech, and the clarity that the hon. Lady acknowledged cannot be found in the interventions. She compliments me—beware Greeks bearing gifts and Tories proffering compliments is sensible advice.
The former Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands used to refer to the concept well, when he described the possible advent of Scottish independence as being like leaving a bowling club. [Interruption.] It is not my analogy—it is the former Foreign Secretary's analogy. He said that, if one wanted to change the rules of the bowling club, one went to the AGM—let us say that this House is the equivalent of an AGM—to propose a change in the rules. If one got a majority, the rules were changed. That was his analogy for devolution. If someone wanted to leave the bowling club—that was his analogy for independence—they should tear up their membership card. The decision would be for them, and for them alone. Independence means a decision for Scots, and for Scots alone. [Interruption.] The reaction from Conservative Members convinces me that Malcolm Rifkind did not always carry the whole Conservative party with him when he made such analogies.
500 The White Paper contains many weaknesses and inconsistencies. It is remarkable, for instance, that it should state that the Scottish Parliament is to be given "competence" over the police in Scotland, but not over estate agents. I am not sure what conclusions should logically be drawn from that. A Scottish Parliament will be given control over capital punishment, but not over abortion; it is to control the health service in Scotland, but not the legislation governing cinemas and theatres. It will not have real economic power, and, as has been made clear in the debate, it will not have access to the real decision making in Europe. It will not even have supervision over broadcasting in Scotland. Many regional Parliaments throughout Europe are able to have such powers.
Let me, however, make the case for some of the things that the Parliament will be able to do, according to the White Paper. In debates such as this, we often hear about the cost of a Scottish Parliament. The introduction of the poll tax in Scotland cost £1,000 million: that was the cost of the administration of its introduction, of transitional relief and, subsequently, of its scrapping. The Government estimate that the cost of running a Scottish Parliament will be £20 million a year. That means that we could run a Scottish Parliament for 50 years, and the cost would be the same as that of a single piece of maladministration and insensitive government that was foisted on the Scottish people against their will. The Bromley question—as we shall call it during the referendum campaign—suggests that it might come back. On the basis of the White Paper proposals, the Scottish Parliament would not make the same mistake.
The same could be said of a variety of measures. The white elephant of Health Care International, which was pursued by the previous Government, cost £20 million: that is what running a Scottish Parliament for a year would cost. Then there is the "learning tax" that the current Government propose. We are not just talking about not adopting a course that is not wanted in Scotland; we are talking about the time and energy that are currently spent resisting, campaigning against and trying to stop things from being foisted on Scotland. All that energy could be put to more creative use in an attempt to build a better Scotland. Even in regard to fairly restricted levels of competence, there is a positive democratic argument for a Scottish Parliament. Ultimately, democracy must mean better government than bureaucracy.
Let me give what could be described as a seminar about Conservative Members who constantly peddle the myth of the subsidised Scot. I rather hoped, in view of parliamentary answers given in the previous Parliament—especially those given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 13 January and 21 March—that that argument had finally been laid to rest. The parliamentary answers showed that there had been a surplus of revenue over expenditure in Scotland since 1979 of some £31,000 million—£6,000 for every man, woman and child.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) shakes his head. Let me point out that, during the election campaign in Scotland, that was finally accepted not just by the Scottish National party but by representatives of the Labour party and, indeed, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth. According to The Herald on 8 April:Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth accepted publicly for the first time that the figures extracted from Mr. William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, did show a net flow of £27,000 billion.501 In The Scotsman on 29 March, Jim Stevens, a member of the Scottish Labour party executive—no friend of the Scottish National party and, I think, no friend of some of the more ardent devolutionists in Labour's ranks—said:I am saying that the SNP are right. The evidence produced from the Scottish Office and the Treasury suggests that they are right.
Let me say this to Conservative Members. Of course, because Scotland has a relatively small population in relation to its land mass, services are delivered at a higher cost per person. There is the roads budget, for instance, and the cost of joining up outlying communities. There is also the education budget. There are far more small primary schools in Scotland than there are per head of population south of the border.
The advantage to a country with a small population and a large land mass, however, is that natural resources per head are also much greater. I am thinking not only of oil and gas, but of land, fish, water and all the other natural resources from which Scotland benefits. To concentrate on the expenditure aspects without considering the resources and revenue arguments—which is what Conservative Members are doing—is to concentrate on only one side of the case.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
The hon. Gentleman may be overlooking the fact that the level of public spending in Scotland is not currently based on needs. Does he accept that it should be needs-based, and does he accept that if it were—on an objective basis—there would be a cut in public expenditure of about £2.5 billion?
§ Mr. Salmond
Despite my best efforts during the 10 years that I have been in the House, the hon. Gentleman continues to misunderstand my position. I am for a Scottish Parliament that has total control over all revenue and spending in Scotland. I am in favour of Scotland sending no Members of Parliament to Westminster. I am in favour of putting our house in order, and allowing the hon. Gentleman—but, for the sake of the people of England, I hope that he does not prevail—to put his own house in order, along with other hon. Members representing English constituencies.
The hon. Gentleman has led himself into an illogicality. He should take two matters into account. First, the Barnett formula is an equalisation formula, not a formula that is preferential to Scotland. Secondly, that formula was devised, in the 1970s, in preparation for devolution. It is somewhat surprising to hear the hon. Gentleman argue that a formula that was devised for devolution in the 1970s should be undercut by devolution in the 1990s. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman continues to intervene from a sedentary position, as he does during so many speeches. I suggest that, on principle, Scotland should have access to all our resources, and that we should be able to enjoy the substantial fiscal subsidies that Scotland has built up over the past few years, and could generate in the coming few years.
§ Mr. Salmond
I have given way generously to Conservative Members. Let me make two final points.
The European dimension to the debate is crucial. The White Paper went rather further than I suspected it would in opening up that dimension for the Scottish people; but, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will acknowledge, many key decision affecting Scotland are 502 made in Europe. Given that we are part of Europe, it is in our interests to have the maximum influence in Europe—which, of course, means being a member state. However, if a devolved Scottish Parliament could give us more access to decision making in Europe, that would be a great advantage.
I asked the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) how many Council of Ministers meetings Scottish Office Ministers had attended over the past few years, but he could not give me an answer. I have now obtained an answer, however, and can therefore inform the House that, of 542 Council of Ministers meetings that have taken place in the past five years, Scottish Office Ministers have attended 44. That is less than 10 per cent. My constituents would say that it is a good job that those Ministers were not on piece work: if they were, they would have been paid very little.
Despite Scotland's apparent claimed influence in Europe, its influence amounts to less than 10 per cent. in terms of vital decision making that affects it. If the White Paper enhances that to any extent at all—as it claims that it will—it is very welcome.
I said that I thought that this debate had a bucket-and-spade feel to it. The real debate on the issue will take place in Scotland over the next six weeks, and I shall enter that debate in a positive frame of mind. I shall speak about the future of Scotland and try to look as constructively as possible at how the proposals will benefit the Scottish people—at what is in Scotland's best interests. I do not regard any political debate as a foregone conclusion, but whatever the outcome, I am certain that the quality of the debate about the future of our nation will be better over the next six weeks at home than it has ever been in this place.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on at least returning the debate to a serious mode. I have always disagreed with his advocacy of Scottish nationalism, but he is at least making a serious case. He and I and many of my hon. Friends will agree that we find it deeply offensive for Scottish business to be discussed in this place as if it were fun and games or the subject of a fourth-form debate. The view is that it is not to be taken seriously, that it is only about mad Scots, kilted people from up north somewhere.
That attitude is deeply offensive to Scottish people and it is one of the major reasons for the Tories being wiped out in the general election. The televising of Parliament showed that attitude being taken night after night, and some Conservative Members were especially guilty. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who spoke about a different way of conducting Scottish business in our own Scottish Parliament.
Some hon. Members have queried why no one is consulting England on this issue. The matter was raised in a fourth-form way, but it is a serious point and I shall address it. It may be news to some Tory Members that the campaign for a Scottish Parliament did not begin with a White Paper or among hon. Members: it began with the people of Scotland.
For more than eight years, those of us in the Scottish Constitutional Convention made plans for organising the Parliament, having elections to it and deciding what 503 it would run. Over those eight years, Scottish organisations and political parties discussed those issues. The media were aware of that, and if the people of England had wanted to review and revise how they were governed and how their home affairs were to be conducted, they could have engaged in such an exercise at any time. They could still do that: nobody is stopping them.
I do not want to tell English people how to conduct their home affairs: that is for them to say, and I am prepared to listen to their proposals with good will. However, Opposition remarks about the tail wagging the dog are utterly unacceptable and grossly offensive. Some people seem to have forgotten that in 1707 there was a union of Parliaments, although it was brought about by a parcel of rogues for ill motives. It was not a case of a small group of people "up there" making a nuisance of themselves. Such attitudes have destroyed the Tories in Scotland, and long may that continue.
Some women Members have said that in a Scottish Parliament at least three parties—Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists—will be committed to equality of representation of the sexes. I had assumed that some Scottish Conservatives would be elected and thought that we would fall short of our ambition for a 50:50 representation. However, given the way that Conservatives are going on, they will have no Members in that Parliament and there will be 50:50 representation.
§ Mr. Grieve
I think that the hon. Lady misunderstands the comment about the tail wagging the dog. It was not a reference to the Union, whose ideals and existence we support. I understood the reference to be to the fact that, in the discussion of the devolution process, changes are being suggested for Scotland that will have a knock-on effect on the English. That issue is not being addressed and, to that extent, the tail is wagging the dog. The comment has nothing to do with the Union. There were unequal populations, but the Union came about and developed from a meeting of minds and a willingness to co-operate.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
As I have said, no one is stopping the people of England discussing whether they want to change the way in which their home affairs are conducted. They are still free to do that. The previous Prime Minister tried to scare English people into voting Tory at the election. He made fear of breaking up the United Kingdom the biggest issue, and he told them to vote Tory to preserve the Union. What did they do? They voted against the Tories in their millions. That showed that the people of England are not convinced or swayed by attempts to frighten them. Those of us who believe in devolution want the best for our friends and colleagues in England, but it is up to them to say what they want. It is not for us to tell them or for anyone to tell us how to run our home affairs.
For many years while the battle was going on, Labour Members and Labour activists were continually asked, "Will Labour really deliver? You failed 20 years ago and imposed a 40 per cent. rule. Can we trust you?" No one says that now, because Labour is delivering, and all that will stop us getting the Parliament is failure by people to 504 vote yes in the referendum. We were also asked whether we would water it down, but it is obvious to one and all that, far from a watering down, the Government have improved the proposals that were delivered by the convention.
One reason for a possible poor turnout could be a lack of publicity about postal and proxy votes. During the general election campaign, I met many people who wanted to vote but had left it too late. There must be more publicity about the referendum and, of course, about other elections. I am sure that that will have a bearing on the turnout.
§ Mr. Salmond
I was shocked to find in my constituency during the election that some polling stations were not provided with proper access for disabled people, despite representations by me and other hon. Members over some years. Perhaps the hon. Lady has had a similar experience and if she has, this might be a good point at which to put it on the record.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my next point. In my constituency, disabled people were being turned away at one polling station until access was made available. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports my view on that.
It is important for the Parliament to be genuinely representative of all our people. When women Labour Members raised the issue of equal representation for women, Opposition Members sniggered. I hope that they will say why they found that funny. They have not yet offered any thoughts on equal representation, but perhaps they will. The Parliament can provide equal opportunities through legislation, and will be entitled to do that.
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
The hon. Lady decries what we said on this matter. Has she not considered that people should be elected to this place and to other democratic assemblies on merit and not because they belong to a specific class, sex or party?
§ Mrs. Fyfe
Sometimes I think that I am psychic. I knew that the hon. Gentleman would say that. What is wrong with Scottish Tory women? Few have been elected. Are they inadequate? The hon. Gentleman speaks about merit. On 1 May, the Scottish people certainly offered an opinion on who had merit and who did not.
§ Mr. Swinney
Does the hon. Lady agree that some Conservative women in Scotland may be appalled at the prospect of representing what currently constitutes the Conservative party in Scotland?
§ Mrs. Fyfe
I am sure that that goes for the majority of Scots women. Some women in Scotland support the Tory party, but it gives them little support. Not many of them are chosen as candidates because the Tory party is very much a male club.
One important thing that this Parliament can do is to have a system that genuinely listens to people and is open to them. It is appalling that this Parliament found time for children's legislation affecting Scotland only once in 25 years, but, when it did so, various bodies in Scotland gave evidence, which was a valuable part of the process and which the Scottish Parliament will follow through on.
505 I must watch the time; I have been giving way too generously. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—and he is a friend—said earlier that the Scottish Parliament would not last 10 years, but he blithely went on without giving a shred of evidence for that remark. It will last for as long as the Scottish people want it to. It could last for a long time, but it all depends on what they want.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
I am sorry. I cannot because of the time.
The Scottish Parliament has been a long time coming. I look forward to getting that Parliament. I am sure that it could not introduce any measure worse than the poll tax. In recent days, we have talked about the cost of the poll tax. Let us never forget the human misery that it caused. People in our surgeries were in tears, afraid of not being able to pay that debt and wondering what would happen to their worldly goods. Nothing could have been worse than that. I cannot believe that those people in Scotland who are elected by Scottish people to conduct their home affairs, will ever perpetrate anything remotely like that. I look forward to achieving a Scottish Parliament in due course.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
It is a matter of some pride to me that, three hours into this debate, I am the first Englishman representing an English constituency to be called to speak, and I have a right to speak. Hon. Members might expect me to launch into a tirade against Scottish devolution. I intend to do no such thing. In my few comments, I am not going to start lecturing people in Scotland about what the nature of their government should be. I will analyse simply what the legislation will mean for my English constituents. When England wakes up to what is proposed, there will be considerable debate about these issues.
For the sake of argument, I will assume that the referendum is passed and that devolution happens—I do not think that that is such an absurd assumption—and I will be entirely agnostic about the merits or demerits of devolution as it affects Scotland. Last week, after the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, I again had the honour of being the first Englishman to be called—on that occasion, after 34 minutes. I put this question to him: why should he vote on the future of a grammar school in Caistor or in Gainsborough in my constituency, when neither he nor I would have the right to vote on education in his constituency?
Of course, the Secretary of State had no answer to that. His response was a variation of the argument that might is right. It seemed to be that Parliament is sovereign, can do what it chooses and has decided to do this. That is fair enough. I accept that at face value. The Scottish Parliament is going to happen. We knew that it was going to happen. We cannot stop the Labour party using its majority to achieve those ends. Of course, Parliament can decide to act unfairly or treat people in one part of the UK differently from those in another part of the UK, but, when it does act unfairly, this Parliament usually decides, in the course of time, to put things right. Devolution is going to happen, but I predict that this anomaly will be put right.
506 As an Englishman, I, too, have a claim of right. I and my constituents have a right to be treated fairly. I proclaim this principle: no representative should make a decision on behalf of people in other parts of the nation unless those people have a right to run affairs in that representative's part of the nation. That is an elementary democratic right. It is the principle of reciprocity, and we in England have a right to proclaim it. I say to the Scottish people: as the years go by, we will proclaim it with increasing force.
The first union that this country was involved in was with the United States, and it broke up more than 200 years ago on the cry, "No taxation without representation," so England shall awake—[Interruption.] There is no point in Scottish representatives laughing. Just as, in recent years, the European debate has dominated our affairs, so the devolution debate will increasingly dominate them.
The Government's answer is, "We accept this. This is the old West Lothian question. We have had all this before. It has been discussed for 18 years. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has bored us rigid about it, but no system is perfect. There will always be some imbalance." But, sometimes, something can be so unbalanced that the scales do not just tilt or sway, but come crashing to the ground. I suspect that that will happen within five, 10, or 15 years in this Parliament.
The answer from the Liberal Democrats is the obvious one: "We accept all this; the answer is the federal solution," but I suggest to my Liberal friends that, if a federal solution is to work, there has to be some similarity in size between the different regions, and a tradition—as in Germany and Italy, which were not nations before 1870—throughout the nation of devolved government. That is not the case in the UK.
South-east England has a population and an economy infinitely greater than that of Scotland. There is no separate sense of nationhood in south-east England. People who live in Sussex do not feel that they are different in any particular way from people who live in Leicestershire, although that would be in the east midlands region, while Sussex would be in the south-east region. In Lincolnshire, we have no right or desire to be run, as would happen, by the Leicester Labour party. We want to run our own affairs through our county and district councils, and we want our national affairs to be run here in London, not in Leicester.
Therefore, the Liberal solution, the so-called federal solution, is bogus. It will not happen. There is no call or desire for it in the English regions. In any event, we would be offered in Leicester, Plymouth or wherever not a Parliament, but only an assembly, a souped-up county council.
What will happen? The only solution—and I do not suggest this as a desired state of affairs, but as something that will happen—is that the Speaker will mark every Bill that relates to matters such as health and education that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and Scottish Members will be prevented from voting on that Bill. That will be a significant step forward or perhaps, in some people's view, a step back.
Scottish Members will still be able to vote on a considerable range of matters. As we know from the White Paper, they will vote on defence and constitutional matters that are reserved to the UK Parliament. In a spirit 507 of compromise, I have no doubt that they will also vote on matters relating to finance. After all, the size of the block grant influences many decisions relating to education and health, but Scottish Members will be prevented from voting on operational matters.
What are operational matters? The obvious example is the one that I put to the Secretary of State, which was whether we should preserve the remaining 164 grammar schools in England. As long as the people of Scotland are aware that, ultimately, their Members of Parliament will be prevented from voting on such matters—I suspect that that will be the case—they can go ahead and vote for devolution. They may say that they do not want a vote on such matters as they have no interest in English education.
It has been said that that is unlikely to happen and that there are huge constitutional objections to the Speaker marking Bills. What would happen if Labour Members outnumbered Tory Members in the United Kingdom Parliament as a whole, but, as in both the 1974 elections, they did not outnumber the Conservative Members in England alone? That would be a major objection, but the Government would have to carry on. The Government would have to be based on the total number of Members of Parliament, because those Members will decide what happens in the really important issues such as the Budget, the constitution, defence and foreign affairs.
I have already given a warning to the people of Scotland about their declining influence, but the Labour party should look to the future, too, and realise that it will not always have this enormous majority. There will, one day, be another Conservative Government and there will be pressure to introduce changes. The Labour party will find that its ability to influence matters such as health and education in England will be severely restricted.
There may be difficult or even absurd situations. For example, a Scottish Minister in the Cabinet would be able to decide the fate of grammar schools in England because the Cabinet is an informal structure. However, in the Division at 10 o'clock, he would not be allowed to vote. However, as the Government have said, nothing is perfect and, as they have rejected the apparently neat device of a federal solution, this will have to do.
What is the history of all this? Is this just the hon. Member for Gainsborough coming out with a few ideas that have not been talked about in the past? Of course not. I have done some research. I have been talking about what is known as the in-out solution. The idea was first suggested to Gladstone by Lord Rosebery at the time of the Irish home rule legislation. There were two arguments against the in-out solution. Gladstone told Rosebery that it put too much power in the hands of the Speaker. He said:I am afraid that the Speakership would hardly bear weight of your proposal.I do not believe that Gladstone was right. You have broad shoulders, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I believe that you could bear the weight. It would be easy for you to determine the issues that relate purely to Scottish operational matters. You would then mark them and Scottish Members would not be allowed to vote on them.
The second objection was raised 100 years ago, again on Irish home rule legislation, when it was suggested that such a procedure would be constitutionally impossible. 508 As I have said, the parties could have different parliamentary majorities in Scotland, Wales and England and it could bifurcate the Executive.
We could overcome these difficulties. There would be a considerable problem because, together, Scotland and Wales have 112 Members of Parliament. Let us make no mistake; this is no small issue or small constitutional point that need not worry the people of these islands.
In 1969, the Kilbrandon commission dealt with all the objections to the in-out solution, but said that it was the most logical answer. The hon. Member for Linlithgow will know that section 66 of the Scotland Act 1978 said that where a Bill in the House of Commons which does not relate to or concern Scotland receives a majority on Second Reading only by virtue of the votes of Scottish MPs, a second vote will take place at least 14 days later, and only if a majority is achieved on that second vote will the Bill be deemed to have been read a Second time. That section was eventually passed by one vote.
There is nothing new in this. It is going to happen and it has been talked about in the past. It is a real threat, if it is thought of in those terms, to the influence of Scottish Members of Parliament.
There is another threat of which Scottish Members must be aware and, as an Englishman, I am entitled to mention it. There will be a further reduction in the number of Scottish Members. During the debate on Irish home rule, the question of Irish representation was bitterly disputed on the Floor of the House. Gladstone's first home rule Bill of 1886—this will delight our friends in the Scottish National party—entirely removed Irish representation from this House. His subsequent Bill of 1893 gave the Irish a reduced number of Members—they had 107 and it was reduced to 80. Originally, the 1886 Bill contained an in-out restriction such as I have described, but it was dropped in Committee. In 1914, the legislation for the Government of Ireland proposed 42 Irish Members, with no in-out restrictions.
All the debates that we are likely to have were aired 80 or 90 years ago. We all know that, when the Northern Irish Government was set up, the number of Members was reduced. There were originally 13 Members but it was reduced to 12 in 1947 with the loss of the university seats. In 1918, in the pre-Stormont Parliament, Ulster had 30 Members. At one time, the number of Northern Ireland Members was 13, but it was increased to 17.
We all know that Scotland has always been over-represented at Westminster. Since the war, Scotland has had more than 11 per cent. of the total seats, but in 1994, it had only 9 per cent. of the United Kingdom electorate. Fair enough: we have all accepted that compromise. However, if the 1920s Northern Ireland formula were adopted—two thirds of its proportionate share—the number of seats for Scotland would be reduced to 40. That might have to be 45, as that was the number of seats given to Scotland in the Act of Union 1707.
I am not making those points to our Scottish friends in order to be difficult. I do not want to drive them out. I am just saying that these issues have been discussed for over a century and they will be discussed more and more.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am not sure that this is the best example for the hon. Gentleman to use. In world history, there are many examples of devolved Parliaments 509 becoming independent Parliaments, but Ireland is not one of them. Surely, Ireland is an example of devolution not leading to independence.
§ Mr. Leigh
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must say that that is a bad point. Stormont was created by people whose entire raison d' etre was to stay in the United Kingdom. Is that the ambition of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) who represents the SNP? His ambition is precisely the opposite. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) knows that perfectly well.
§ Mr. Leigh
The hon. Gentleman had plenty of time to make his points. He knows what his game plan is and he has no doubts about it. He is perfectly honourable about the fact that he intends to remove himself and all Scottish Members from this Parliament. That is the doomsday scenario, which may or may not happen.
I can tell Scottish Labour Members that there will be increasing pressure to reduce their number to below 58 and to insist on the in-out proposals that I have mentioned. The influence of Scotland in the United Kingdom Parliament will gradually and inevitably decline. Do Labour Members and the people of Scotland want that?
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I was interested in the reference by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) to Gladstone's Bill. I should have thought that it is not the number of Scottish Members, but the principle of representation in this place, that is a matter of contention. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that, over the next few years, that issue will be debated over and over again.
I want to respond to three comments—one by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), one by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—who is not in his place at the moment—and one by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said about the criterion of residence for the referendum. Two members of my family have chosen to live in Australia. One is now an Australian citizen; the other hopes to become one. I suspect that, had they voted in the last election, they would have voted for the Scottish National party—but I am not responsible for youngsters. They told me that they had chosen to live in another country and hence had no moral right to take part in the referendum. Therefore, I agree on that point with the right hon. Gentleman, although I thought that his remarks on the poll tax were utterly absurd.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow referred to the unintended consequences of this measure. I remind him that, at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Dumfries last July, I said:I believe that within the next 20 years, Scotland will either be a constituent nation within a federal Britain, or an independent member state of the European Union. I think that we will proceed unevenly down the federalist road."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 5 July 1996; c.30.]510 My hon. Friend was right to say what he did.
The right hon. Member for Devizes might have been a little needled by my earlier comment on his contradictory view on political devolution. He told me to take care and speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about a Northern Ireland elected Assembly based on proportional representation. I actually did that on 30 June. In response, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State—it is germane to this debate—saying:As you well know we endorsed in Opposition the proposals published by the previous Government for new democratic institutions in Northern Ireland outlined in the 'Framework for Accountable Government' document of February 1995. Those proposals were based extensively on discussions in 1991/92 with the four main political parties in Northern Ireland. In essence the proposals include the establishment of the unicameral Assembly which would have legislative and executive responsibilities; with a system of Assembly Committees, constituted broadly in proportion to party strengths in the Assembly and detailed checks and balances intended to sustain confidence in the new institutions. Elections to the Assembly would be by a form of proportional representation.That is precisely what the White Paper suggests. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was sympathetic to that proposal, if not a signatory to it.
My hon. Friend the Minister continued:It will be for the talks participants, however, to decide how far they take into account these proposals. Any new arrangements settled on must command support from representatives of both communities in Northern Ireland—as the talks voting rules require—and then be approved in a referendum before being submitted to Parliament.There are vast differences between Northern Ireland and Scotland, as we all know. The right hon. Member for Devizes was party to a proposal for an elected Assembly based on proportional representation—but, before it was set up, the people would have to decide through a referendum.
In advance of the debate, I picked up a book entitled "England's case against home rule", written by a professor of English law at Oxford university. In his concluding remarks, he said:On the whole, then, it appears that whatever changes or calamities the future may have in store"—I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow will support these sentiments—the maintenance of the union is at this stage the one sound policy for England to pursue. It is sad because it is expedient, it is sound because it is just. Still, at this great crisis in the fortunes of our country, when every course is involved in undeniable perplexity and surrounded by admitted danger, there are two principles to which we may confidently appeal"—this is an English case against home rule—it is by habitual adherence to them that England has grown to greatness. These two principles are the maintenance of the supremacy of the whole state and the use of that supremacy for the purpose of securing to every citizen, whether rich or poor, the rights of liberty and of property conferred upon him by law.That was published in November 1886, a few months after the defeat of Gladstone's first home rule Bill. That is why I was pleased that the hon. Member for Gainsborough referred to that Bill.
I want to quote more recently from an Irish author who is employed at Edinburgh university. In the current edition of "Scottish Affairs", Owen Dudley Edwards says:Tory devolutionists were once an impressive throng, with such prominent names as Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, William Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher, Alick Buchanan-Smith, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Forsyth: of these Buchanan-Smith alone remained true to his faith. But today's Tory Devolvers are Edinburgh 511 ex-Councillor Christine Richard and Councillor Brian Meek, Struan Stevenson (the vanquished heir to Sir Hector Munro's once safe seat in Dumfries) and other minor lights.
Brian Meek said in his recent column in The Herald:
One of my biggest political mistakes, and not the only one, in the past decade was to turn my back on participating in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Devo-Tories like me ought to have been there. You can't have any influence from outside.
We should have been arguing for a better system of financing for the parliament … Yet I do long for a parliament in Edinburgh and believe the people of Scotland will vote overwhelmingly in favour of the principle. When it happens nothing will ever be quite the same again.
He is absolutely right in his prediction. He continued:
I hear a whisper that my good friend, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, is thinking of standing".
Lord James would make an excellent Conservative representative.
§ Mr. Godman
The Parliament will be based upon proportional representation and there will be a number of Scots in that Parliament.
I want to refer to that most fair-minded and courteous of adversarialists, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). I shall have a bet with him here and now that that fine son of his, Charlie Cormack, will stand for the Scottish Parliament. He, too, was a fair-minded and courteous adverserialist in the recent general election. I met him and I believe that he would grace the Conservative Benches of a Scottish Parliament.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous words. However, I want to put on the record the fact that my son, of whom I am very proud—I am delighted by what the hon. Gentleman said about him—will certainly campaign for no, no in the referendum. I shall help him so to do. However, he is a democrat and if the vote goes in favour of a Scottish Parliament, of course he may stand. If he does, it will be with my blessing. However, he would do so not because he wants a Scottish Parliament, but in the hope that, from within, he might help to prevent the worst things from happening. He believes, as I believe, that the very integrity of the United Kingdom is threatened by these ill-thought-out proposals.
§ Mr. Godman
That was a most graceful intervention. All I would say to Charlie Cormack is not to come back to Renfrewshire. He would be better off standing in Perthshire, even with proportional representation. However, I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says. I am simply saying that I would place a bet—
§ Mr. Salmond
It was a graceful intervention by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), but did the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) note the inconsistency? Earlier, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that it was inevitable that a devolved Parliament would end up as an independent Parliament. Now his colleague has said that his son will be dispatched to try to prevent that from happening. They cannot both be right. Which one is?
§ Mr. Godman
With due respect to the right hon. Member for Devizes, I plump for the interpretation of the 512 hon. Member for South Staffordshire. I look forward to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire canvassing for a no, no vote, and I hope that he will come to Greenock and Inverclyde. I should say also that I do not represent Port Glasgow.
Let us not deny that creation of a Scottish Parliament will undoubtedly lead to restructuring of the United Kingdom. Let us remember that the previous Conservative Government, who made some admirable proposals for Northern Ireland, began restructuring the United Kingdom. We could not have established a Northern Ireland Assembly with legislative and executive powers and expected that there would be no change in other parts of the United Kingdom. There will be changes.
The Scottish National party's agenda is not hidden, and we know that its members want an independent Scotland. I admire them because they have always been peaceable and democratic secessionists—unlike some of those whom we know, to our cost, in Northern Ireland. I admire the principle in which they believe, although I do not agree with it, because I am a federalist, and I have been one throughout my adult life. Nevertheless, they maintain an honourable position—although, of course, I always hope for their defeat.
In a recent editorial, The Guardian wrote:A more important question is whether creation of a Scottish Parliament will maintain the Union—just as Catalonia has remained part of Spain and Bavaria part of Germany—or whether it will lead to full independence. It is a 50–50 shout. Under the security of the European Union umbrella, independence is a feasible option. Labour's response is a grown-up one: if the Scots eventually opt for independence then so be it"—as many hon. Members have said in this debate. In The Observer, Will Hutton wrote:The Bill published last week on Scottish devolution (and to a lesser extent that on Wales) captures this demandfor changeand in so doing represents an incalculable change to the way Britain will be governed. For what will emerge from devolution is a dynamic that will create a federal Britain.I believe that, in the next 20 to 25 years, there will be such a dynamic.
As I said in yesterday's debate—after an Opposition Member asked about the possibility of an English Parliament—let us establish an English Parliament over time, once there is a genuine and legitimate demand for such an institution. Federal societies work well elsewhere, and a federal Britain could work extremely well. There will always be contradictions and stresses, but we shall have to live with those problems.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a few questions—although I asked him one yesterday, and he said that I was not being very helpful. For many years, I have argued that there should be an international architectural competition for a new Scottish Parliament—although I would love for us to return to Parliament house. If there is an international architectural competition, however, I am not sure that the winning design should be chosen by people watching STV, BBC or Grampian, because it should be chosen by a panel of people who are representative of the nation. If I had been on the panel that chose the design for the national museum of Scotland, I would have chosen the runner-up rather than the winning design. A panel will have to choose the design in any international competition.
513 Yesterday, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister whether there had been any assessment of the suitability of adapting Holyroodhouse palace as a Parliament. The right hon. Member for Devizes may smile at that question, but, in the past few years, that wonderful building has been used on average for only 29 days per year, although each year it costs the Scottish Office more than £1 million to maintain. Although meetings were held there during our presidency of the European Union, it may be utterly unsuitable for use as a Parliament. Nevertheless, using it for only 34 days a year leaves much to be desired.
§ Sir Robert Smith
The hon. Gentleman may not have heard a sedentary comment of, "Who cares?" Do not such comments demonstrate the need for a Scottish Parliament? The Scottish people care about debates on events in Scotland, even if some hon. Members representing English constituencies do not.
§ Mr. Godman
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am utterly and genuinely convinced that, on 1 May 1997, had that currently English regional party won the general election, many more of my constituents would be opting for independence. I think that the Labour party, in winning the election, was given a last chance in Scotland. We shall deliver our promise and establish a Scottish Parliament, based—I am delighted to say—on the list rather than the single transferable vote system. The Irish Republic and other places show that the latter is wholly unacceptable.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland presented his White Paper, I suggested that, in the medium term, it may make sense to create a constitutional court to resolve conflicts between Edinburgh and London. It could be composed of four senior judges, one each from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Answering my question, my right hon. Friend said that the best recourse would be to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in cases in whichpractical solutions to any dispute resolution … are required, ending with arbitration".—[Official Report, 24 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 1051.]Such a solution might be legitimate and fair on a short-term basis, but for the medium term we should be considering a constitutional court.
As I have said often, we live in a multinational state. If one of the constituent nations of that multinational state attempts to transform that nation's governance, no person or party in another part of the multinational state has a legitimate right to obstruct the reform or to hinder the advance. We are witnessing such obstruction and hindrance by Conservative Members. They will lose the debate in the United Kingdom, as they have already lost it in Scotland. We shall have a Parliament.
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
I have listened to the entire debate and can best describe my reaction to it as one of sadness. I belong to a nation that has barely been mentioned by any hon. Member in the debate, because I am not English, Scots, Welsh or Irish—I am British, and very proud of it. We have not heard much about that aspect of the debate.
We should remember that this is the British Parliament. We already have a Scottish Parliament, and this is it. There is already an English Parliament, and this is it. 514 We already have a Northern Irish Parliament and a Welsh Parliament, and it meets here. We cast aside, doubt and jeopardise that fact at our peril.
In the devolution debate, the Scottish nationalists have been absolutely open, honest and true to their beliefs. It is also no accident that the Scottish National party supports the Government's proposals for Scottish devolution.
This afternoon, I have with regret heard some of my English colleagues speak from a purely English perspective. I do not like it; it is against my temperament, because being British is what defines me and my nation. However, the views expressed this afternoon undoubtedly, but sadly, represent a rising tide of opinion in the English constituencies. If I can send any message to the Government that has any chance of being listened to, it is that they should not, for God's sake, underestimate the potential of the proposals in the White Paper to provoke the kind of reaction that we have heard today.
§ Mr. Day
We must avoid that at all costs.
I shall do all in my limited power to defend the Union that I love and hold dear. Nothing that is said from the Scottish perspective to antagonise the English, and nothing said from the English perspective to antagonise the Scots, holds any sway with me. They are small arguments that matter not to me. People who adopt a nationalist position and threaten the United Kingdom, and those who propose changes to our constitution such as those found in the White Paper, are people with little minds, creating little plans which will ultimately lead to little countries with no influence in the world. If this Parliament and the United Kingdom want to go down that path, I shall have to question whether this Parliament is still the Parliament that I knew and of which I wanted to be part.
§ Mr. Swinney
If this is such a British Parliament, why was the poll tax introduced in Scotland before it was introduced in England?
§ Mr. Day
Obviously, I was not a member of the Government at that time; I was a Back Bencher so I was not responsible for deciding when that legislation was introduced. However, the system that those with a nationalist perspective appear to want to bring tumbling down around their ears worked to the advantage of the Scots, the Welsh and everyone else in that it ultimately delivered them from the community charge, the poll tax or whatever one wishes to call it—the very thing about which people had been complaining. The system cannot be so bad because it reacted to the fact that people across the country did not like the poll tax. As a consequence, Parliament was representative, and reacted to the feelings and wishes of the people of Scotland and England.
I have no doubt that the White Paper holds the seeds of the dissolution of the United Kingdom. I believe that, for several reasons, some of which have been outlined already. We have debated English rights as opposed to Scottish rights, and I do not propose to repeat that aspect of the debate. However, I tell the Government that they are not only creating a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly but that they could, God forbid, be creating regional Parliaments in England.
515 The White Paper is therefore part of a package and should not be seen in isolation. It is wrong to debate the proposals for Scotland in isolation. We debated the proposals for Wales in isolation, but I sincerely believe that proposals made from an isolated position will ultimately lead to constitutional isolation for the part of the United Kingdom to which they refer. That is the danger inherent in the proposals.
Let us consider the differing powers being debated for Wales and Scotland. There will inevitably be competition between the two to match the powers of the other. Wales has been denied the power to raise taxes, while Scotland has been granted the power to alter taxation levels. Wales will inevitably want the same. The proposals are a recipe for constant constitutional change and pressure within the United Kingdom.
When I consider the proposals for a Scottish Parliament, I realise that the English regions could face regional Assemblies. I do not know anyone in my constituency, or, indeed, anyone in the north-west region, who has any interest in having a regional Parliament in the north-west. I am sure that the same goes for every other part of England. Such a Parliament could be foisted on people in my part of the country in an attempt to answer the West Lothian question about representation. I have to tell the Government that it is a price that we in the north-west do not want to pay, thanks very much. The Government can leave that Assembly on the shelf where it belongs. We do not want an Assembly building in the north-west, with all its cost implications.
If the Government proceed with their proposals, I fear that my United Kingdom will cease to exist in perhaps 10 to 20 years. I resent the fact that, when those matters are discussed in Scotland or Wales, the debate will not be about the effect on the constitution of the United Kingdom as a whole. It will be purely about whether the Scots want a Parliament in Scotland or whether the Welsh want an Assembly in Wales. People will not be asked whether they want what will be the inevitable consequences for the United Kingdom. The British aspect of the debate is completely overlooked, which is a disgrace.
If, as I fear, the proposals in the White Paper hold the seeds of the dissolution of the United Kingdom, I accept that we have to consider alternatives, other than the status quo, which might just save the Union that I love so much. The Liberal Democrats have a proposal for a federal system. It is certainly the case that, in a system in which each constituent part of the whole has equal legislative rights and powers, the whole is more likely to survive as a single political entity. However, the United Kingdom does not debate such matters in federal terms in isolation from arrangements beyond its borders—we are in the European Union. I suspect that the morass of Government proposals will ultimately lead to some kind of federal arrangement, but such arrangements would also lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. A federal system for the United Kingdom within a federal Europe—a Europe of the regions—would leave nothing for this national United Kingdom Parliament to do.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) laughs, but I am making serious points. Anyone who knows the proposals of those who want a federal European state knows that the first step is to create a 516 Europe of the regions. To bring that about, the power of existing national Parliaments must be destroyed by the creation of regional Parliaments. That is what the Government are proposing. Even if the powers of the Parliaments were equal in a European federal system, the United Kingdom would still break up. Any federal system would leave for this Parliament only the two main policy areas of defence and foreign affairs, which are the areas most coveted by the European Union.
Let us not kid ourselves. If we have Parliaments in our regions—in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland or in England—it will be impossible to guarantee the survival of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the United Kingdom would inevitably break up in those circumstances.
I do not want to lecture the Scottish people—or the English people—on what is best for them, but I ask the people of the United Kingdom to think about the British perspective. They should not just cast it aside. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who is no longer in his place, said that Scotland is now more Scottish and less British than it was. I suspect—in fact, I know—that that is true, but it is sad. However much pride we have in where we come from within the United Kingdom—we surely all have that—we count for nothing separately. These islands counted for nothing in the world until they came together. If we want to consign ourselves to the dustbin of history individually, Scotland will start the process by accepting the proposals in the White Paper.
Being British means far more than being English, Scottish or Welsh. It is time that those of us in this British Parliament had the guts to say so and remind the people of this United Kingdom what a privilege and a pleasure it is to live in such a great country.
§ Dr. Lynda Clark (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
I am afraid that I do not share the sadness of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). I hold the White Paper with pride, and I hope that its proposals will soon become a reality.
Conservative Members claim to be concerned about what they describe as anomalies in the proposed constitutional structure. They criticise the fact that Scottish Members may vote on English matters. The British Parliament has never been an exercise in academic logic. If it were, would we all be sitting here tonight? Would we have a system in which we would be arguing not about whether Scottish Members voted on English matters, but about whether Members who did not have a clue about the proposals voted at all? Our system is anomalous.
§ Dr. Clark
No, I will not.
In our system, the Queen in Parliament is sovereign. Any legislation approved by the Queen in Parliament is legal and constitutional. I have not heard or read in any of our debates of any attempts to change that system. The legal consequences of having such a system are that legislation that passes through Parliament defines the constitutional position. There is no point in talking about anomalies and unconstitutional matters. That is constitutional nonsense. If new proposals pass through both Houses of Parliament and the Queen gives Royal Assent, we shall have a new constitutional system, which will last until we change it.
517 No other country that claims to be a democracy has hereditary peers voting on legislation. Conservative Members have lived with that anomaly for many years. Left to themselves, no doubt they would go on living with that anomaly. That outweighs any other anomaly that the proposed constitutional changes may create. I am sure that Conservative Members will grow to love the new constitutional arrangements in the same way that they have grown to love other changes that they long opposed, such as votes for women—or perhaps they have not really grown to love that so much.
No constitutional lawyer will lose sleep over the possibility of a Scottish Member voting on legislation on English matters. I doubt whether many citizens—in England, Scotland or elsewhere in Britain—lie awake at night, tossing and turning, worrying about that.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has led an ill-fated attack today. It may go down in history as a battle lost by generals, not the troops. There are many Conservative voters in Scotland shouting to be heard. They are trying to tell their leaders that devolution is the only hope for the Conservative party in Scotland.
The debate is not just about devolution: it is about democracy. The democratic process has cleared Conservative Members of Parliament out of Scotland. There is a lesson to be learned from that. Perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman had stayed in Scotland to fight for devolution and constitutional change, the Conservatives might have fared better. No doubt Scotland's loss is Devizes's gain. However, if all that he is offering is a toothless, wandering Scottish Grand Committee, it is perhaps as well that he made the change. In 20 years, the Conservatives have done nothing to meet the desire for constitutional change. They are afraid of it. Constitutional change is necessary and they must take a more positive attitude.
Conservative Members have suggested that the legislative system in Westminster has worked well for Scotland. As a Scots lawyer with more than 20 years' experience, I know that Scots law and development have suffered badly from the present system. I cannot believe that a Scottish Parliament would have insufficient time to debate issues raised by the Scottish Law Commission after they had been researched at great public expense. I cannot believe that, with a Scottish Parliament, there would be Scottish Law Commission reports on which no action was taken because of lack of parliamentary time. I cannot believe that a feudal system and the structure of land tenure in Scotland would have survived until now if there had been a Scottish Parliament.
There is much to be done. Much bad legislation has passed through this House on its way to Scotland. As a Scots lawyer, I have been struggling with it for the past 20 years, so hon. Members will understand that I am pretty fed up about it. I look forward to having a proper legislative Assembly that will give proper time and consideration to Scottish legislation. For that reason alone, I would vote for a Scottish Parliament, regardless of the more important policy matters.
I have great hopes for the future. We already have a devolved Executive and thousands of civil servants in St. Andrew's house, but we do not have a proper forum for detailed debate about Scottish issues or a proper system of democratic accountability. I look forward to the Bill that will follow the White Paper. I hope that it will lead to a Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
Before I come to the meat of the White Paper, I want to say a little about the introduction, which has not been mentioned so far. I welcome the Government's commitment to have a referendum on proportional representation for elections to this Parliament. That is an important development which would help to do away with many of the anomalies of the past few years and much of the dissatisfaction with parliamentary government that is to be found throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I also welcome the commitment to incorporate the European convention on human rights into English and Scots law. That has long been the policy of the Scottish National party and I am glad that it is now Government policy.
I welcome the White Paper because I welcome anything that brings some power back to the people of Scotland, no matter how little or how much. I am a supporter of the current system of having a Secretary of State for Scotland, even though we sometimes describe him as the governor-general. I was glad to hear him refer to the position of governor-general. I have always thought that he would look very stylish in a white helmet with feathers. Having a Secretary of State is better than the position in the 19th century when there was no Secretary of State.
The White Paper transfers significant areas of power back to the people of Scotland. I particularly welcome the fact that it deals with reserved powers and does not get into the mess of the Scotland Act 1978, which tried to lay down the powers that would be devolved rather than the powers that would be reserved. The proposed legislation will be much simpler.
I also welcome the fact that there is no attempt to place a glass ceiling on what the Scottish Parliament can discuss. The Scottish Parliament will be able to discuss any matters that it thinks are important to the people of Scotland. That is an important factor in trying to get all the people of Scotland to support the White Paper proposals.
I even welcome the recognition in the White Paper that the devolved scheme is subject to repeal by the Parliament at Westminster, despite the speeches by the Leader of the Opposition. We all know that what one politician says one day can be contradicted the day after by his successor. The recognition that the Scottish Parliament could be abolished in future by Westminster will emphasise to Scots who wish to see a substantial Scottish Government that the only way in which to ensure that in perpetuity is to go for independence.
I welcome the fact that the Government have eventually fulfilled a pledge made by the no campaigners in the 1979 referendum. They said that people should vote no so that the Government could come back with a better scheme of devolution. One of the reasons for the extinction of the Conservative party in Scotland after 18 years in power is that it failed even to try to come back with a better scheme.
Annex A to the White Paper lists all the Scottish bodies that the Scottish Parliament is to control. My first reaction, and that of many other hon. Members, was astonishment at how many bodies there were. It speaks volumes for the record of the previous Government that they established so many unelected quangos in Scotland 519 with no democratic input or control. I am particularly glad to see that the Scottish Parliament will control the Scottish Standing Committee for the Calculation of Residual Values of Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs. This is heady stuff. This is the stuff that will rock the foundations of the imperial Parliament. If the Parliament is to have powers like that, I can understand why Conservative Members are so deeply suspicious of the White Paper.
I now turn to representation. I feel that it would have been a more equitable method of representation, given that the Act of Union merged the two Parliaments of Scotland and of England, to have had an equal number of Members from Scotland and from England. The Secretary of State seems, however, to have lost a battle on Scottish representation at Westminster. Scottish representation at Westminster was set at 72 in 1885, and it has never fallen below 71 since then. In 1885, Scottish representation was proportional to English representation. When the Irish Members went away, the proportions changed, but the number of Scottish Members did not change.
It may be that, proportionately, Scots are overrepresented in the Chamber, but that should have nothing to do with the White Paper proposals. It is sad that a commitment to reduce Scottish representation has been included in the White Paper. It should not be a trade-off against the West Lothian question, because it has nothing to do with it. Consideration of the representation of Scots at Westminster should be a separate exercise, especially given the commitment to consider proportional representation for this Chamber.
I want to look at some of the anomalies in the proposals. I do not do so to be obstructive, because I know that Conservative Members are capable of obstructiveness for its own sake. I accept that all systems have anomalies in them, but I know of no system with more anomalies than this Parliament. Some people, for example, automatically come to the Houses of Parliament by accident of birth, whereas the rest of us get one vote in the process of electing the person who will represent us in this Chamber.
Some functions that are currently marked down as reserved to the Westminster Parliament could safely be devolved to the Scottish Parliament even if people wish to maintain the United Kingdom and even if their reason for agreeing to the Government's proposals is to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) gave some examples of those functions earlier, and I will give one or two more.
The Scottish Parliament will be able to impose prohibition—I suspect that it will not—but it will not be able to alter the age limit for gambling. The Scottish Parliament will be able to outlaw alcopops, but it will not be able to outlaw scratch cards. The Scottish Parliament will be able to regulate lawyers—given the number of Scottish lawyers in politics, that may be a good thing—but it will not be able to regulate veterinary surgeons. It will be able to control the police, the fire service and the judiciary, but it will not be able to control the vital functions of architects and estate agents. It will be able to control the standard of foodstuffs, but not the standard of medicines. It will be able to control the release of 520 prisoners who have been sent to gaol for terrorist offences, but it will not be able to control the definition of what constitutes a terrorist offence.
The Scottish Parliament will be able to vary the basic rate of income tax, but it will not be able to vary the size of the band to which the basic rate of income tax will apply. It will be responsible for the collection and publication of statistics, and for the publication of registers and records, but it will not be responsible for data protection, although all those records are now computerised. It will be able to make policy decisions, but it will not be able to regulate the civil service which is meant to put those policy decisions into practice.
I hope that, when we discuss the Bill that will follow the White Paper, the Government will accept amendments on some of those points, which will, I hope, be argued for constructively. I hope that they will resist the temptation to use their huge majority simply to steamroller through every proposal without accepting any changes to the detail. The Scottish people should be able to take mature decisions on many of the matters that are currently being reserved for Westminster.
There is a significant opportunity for the Scottish people. After almost 300 years, they will be able to take some decisions for themselves. The major question is whether they will want to take all the decisions for themselves. Only the Scottish people can answer that question. I am particularly glad that there is nothing in the White Paper that will prevent them from giving that answer themselves.
§ Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
I am grateful to be called to speak in a debate on a further important step towards changing the nature of politics in the United Kingdom. I refer specifically to the United Kingdom, to which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) referred. It will remove power from a handful of people elected to the House and return it to the people.
The Opposition fail to understand that people voted for change. People knew what they were voting for at the general election. They voted for constitutional change—for a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly, London government and eventually regional government in England, if that is what the regions want. Unlike the hon. Member for Cheadle, I know many people in his part of the country who are already discussing the nature of a regional assembly. I have no fears about whether the people of England will welcome regional government as the Scots welcome a Scottish Parliament and the Welsh welcome an Assembly.
The Scottish Parliament will be different. It will have different electoral arrangements and every vote will count. No one will feel that his or her vote does not matter. It will provide much better representation for rural communities and far-flung peripheral areas. Most important, it will be different, because it will give political parties the opportunity to increase their representation of women and minority groups. Unlike the Opposition, I consider that extremely important. If we ignore the views of 50 per cent. of the population, we shall take bad 521 decisions, as can happen in families. The remarks earlier about able men being elected on merit are a great insult to women.
§ Mr. Swayne
If women are unable to represent men and men are unable to represent women, can the hon. Lady explain how she can represent the views of all the males in her constituency? Surely the logic of her position is that each constituency should have two Members of Parliament to represent the two different classes of antithetical human beings.
§ Mrs. McKenna
The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated why there are so few Tories in the House. Clearly, he does not understand the issue. My constituents understand that I represent them all. However, if we ignore the views of 50 per cent. of the population and do not involve them in a decision-making process, we shall end up with wrong decisions. The views of some Opposition Members make it quite clear that they do not want women in the House for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the decision-making process.
I now turn to the parliamentary arrangements. The Scottish Parliament will decide how best to conduct its business. I know that it will not be based on the silly rules that apply to the House and date back centuries, such as those whereby people hurl abuse at each other across the Chamber, as we have witnessed today. The Scottish Parliament will have modern working methods which will not be based on the premise that a practice should continue simply because it has always happened.
I hope that the Scottish Parliament will be much more family-friendly. If Opposition Members do not understand the importance of that, they should be aware of the quandary of hon. Members who wish to be with their families, particularly during school holidays. Because of the rules of the House, if Scottish Members have children, they are unable to spend time with them during the school holidays. They have to make difficult decisions, and are frequently decried for doing so.
When I first came to the House, someone told me that Parliament could be brutal in its treatment of Members. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Parliament will be quite different and that its Members will be treated with courtesy, respect and consideration. That certainly does not always happen in the House.
The nature of the Scottish Parliament will appeal to many people. It will be inclusive and non-confrontational. That appeals to the groups of young people whom I meet regularly. Politics has become discredited. I am extremely unhappy that my profession has become discredited because of the behaviour of a few. The Scottish Parliament will offer the beginning of an opportunity to change the nature of politics. Young people are enthused by the notion of inclusive politics and being able to express a point of view without constant interruption. We do not have to hurl abuse at each other. We can have strong views and be passionate about causes without constantly hurling abuse and interrupting each other. That is on offer from the Scottish Parliament and throughout the United Kingdom as we change the system.
Turning to the building that will house the Scottish Parliament, it is appropriate that a modern Parliament should be housed in a new building. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde 522 (Mr. Godman), who is not in his place. I do not consider that Holyrood house is appropriate. The Scottish Parliament should have a modern, accessible, friendly building. Edinburgh is the right place for it as the capital of Scotland.
A couple of points should be made about the cost of the Scottish Parliament. No one refers to the cost of maintaining the Westminster Parliament, as no one has a problem with the cost of democracy. It is just as important for Scotland. However, the cost of the Scottish Parliament will be but a fraction of that of the poll tax, and we should be happy to accept it.
The Scottish Parliament will take responsibility for health, education, anti-crime measures and job creation, all of which are important to the people of Scotland. It also begins to extend democratic control over the responsibilities currently undertaken by the Scottish Office. It will bring government closer to the people. For the past 18 years, we have had decisions with which we disagreed imposed on us. It is the beginning of the modernisation of democracy in the United Kingdom, and perhaps that is what most upsets the Opposition.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have listened with extreme care to my hon. Friend, who was a very distinguished and effective chairman of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. However, am I unjustified in thinking that the Parliament which she describes will suck up many of the existing functions of local authorities?
§ Mrs. McKenna
Not at all. I spent a great deal of my time in local government protecting it from the Conservatives when they imposed the reorganisation of Scottish local government against the wishes of the entire Scottish population, as is evidenced by the fact that Scotland does not have a single Conservative council or Member of Parliament. I do not envisage a Parliament that will do that; I see one that will discuss with local government where the appropriate boundaries should be between the functions of local government and those of the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that that crucial debate will take place, but I do not envisage that the Scottish Parliament will suck up the powers of local authorities. I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to make that important point.
Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that people cherished parliamentary democracy. It is not the first thing that my constituents rush up to me in the street to discuss. They are more concerned about jobs, health and education. If the right hon. Gentleman really cherishes parliamentary democracy, he should realise that the majority voted to change this country to a more participatory democracy, which is in touch with the people, understands their aspirations and recognises that, if everyone is involved in the decision-making process, better decisions, which people want to make work, are made.
I urge the Opposition to recognise the voice of the Scottish electorate and to support the White Paper. I really believe that we have a clean page on which to write. We have an opportunity to make the Scottish Parliament a world first, which, with the Welsh Assembly, London government and regional government in England, will secure the Union—a Union based not on the Westminster system but on a new Parliament for the new millennium.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I shall return to the speech of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) in a few minutes.
As a retread, giving his first speech on returning to the House of Commons, I am one of those biological improbabilities—twice a maiden. Nothing has more convinced me that I am back in the House than listening to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman). We found out that he reads books, likes architecture and wants federation—and it took him 19 minutes to tell us. [Interruption.] Such was my surprise that it took so long, I dropped my notes.
Any Government who are introducing legislation have two important duties. The first is to assess the possible impact of their proposals. The second is to attempt to reassure those who raise legitimate questions about what is suggested. That is particularly so when major, irrevocable constitutional changes are proposed.
Unlike the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, I do not agree that, by themselves, a large majority and a manifesto commitment are enough to fully legitimise new laws. A Government have to provide answers of substance to important objections, not just on matters of principle but on matters of detail. This Government have failed to do that with the devolution proposals. Instead, they have relied on, as we have heard time and again today, the old mantra, "Well, it was in the manifesto." I shall therefore reiterate some of the questions. This is the last opportunity before the referendum in six weeks' time for the Government to tell us and our constituents what, in their estimation, are the implications of their legislation.
Can the Government deny that the development of a new assembly in Scotland may create strains which could well pull apart the Union? How can they reassure us that the new layer of government will not become ever more hungry for more and more power? What reassurance can they give us that there will not be rivalry between a Scottish Parliament and Westminster? If that rivalry gives way to division and discord, how will they stop that being exploited by those who wish to see the break-up of the United Kingdom?
When the deal that the Secretary of State for Scotland has foisted on the UK is clearly understood in all its malignant detail, there will be justifiable anger throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at the shabby injustice of what are partisan proposals. As the legitimacy of the Parliament to be will be based on a referendum in which the majority will have no vote, we may even find that some short-sighted English will start applauding the break-up of the Union. This Government have failed to explain why the Barnett formula will continue, with an English majority continuing to fund from their taxes higher spending in Scotland on matters that English Members of Parliament cannot influence.
§ Sir Robert Smith
There is much criticism of the proposal. Does that mean that those who are critical are happy with the status quo, or would they like the Scottish Office to be abolished? How else do they see the Scottish Office being made accountable? If they are worried about the break-up of the Union, they should be very worried 524 about the fact that Scotland has a separate Government as it is. This debate is about making that separate Government accountable.
§ Mr. Sayeed
I would prefer the status quo. I do not believe that the proposals are sustainable in their current form. I believe that they are a Trojan horse that will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. That is why I oppose them.
I shall carry on with the questions to which I should like—and to which I believe the House and the people of this country deserve—answers. We have had no satisfactory answer as to why it will possibly take until 2012 to reduce the over-representation of Scotland. Why cannot it be done sooner? Why cannot the Boundary Commission for Scotland report earlier, so that we can reduce the number of seats in Scotland to make representation closer to that in England—accepting, of course, that, in areas in the north where there is a higher rate of depopulation, there will be some overrepresentation? Such representation must be more realistic.
Nor have we been told why, on health, education and training, local government, social work, housing, economic development, transport, law, home affairs, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, ports, the arts and other matters, Scottish Members of Parliament will be able to speak and vote on English matters when they affect only England, but no English, Welsh or Northern Irish Member of Parliament will be permitted to vote on those matters as they affect Scotland—even though those who have no vote will foot most of the bills.
The White Paper is very clear: it says that a simple majority of those who vote will be sufficient to secure a "yes" to the largest constitutional change that this island has seen for hundreds of years. I asked the Secretary of State what would happen if the turnout was only 40 per cent. and there was a 60:40 vote in favour. I asked him whether he believed that that 24 per cent. of an artificially deflated electorate was sufficient to legitimise such irrevocable and major change. He could not answer; he did not answer. I hope that the Minister will answer in winding up.
We all heard the Prime Minister promise the leader of the Scottish National party a Bill before the referendum. At the very least, that would have permitted precise scrutiny of the undoubtedly bedevilling detail of the proposals. We now know that there will be no such Bill. I wonder why that change took place. If it had been a mere slip of the tongue and the Prime Minister had meant a White Paper and not a Bill, all he would have needed to say was, "I am sorry. I made a mistake. I am new in the job." That would have sufficed, but that did not happen—possibly, for different reasons.
One such reason might have been that the Prime Minister was just too arrogant to accept that he had made a mistake. It might have been that the Government belatedly recognised that, if the true implications of devolution saw the light of day, in all their legislative details, the anger of the majority in the United Kingdom would have been so enormous that they would have been thrown out.
I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Scotland is feeling rather pleased with himself. He is pleased by the way in which he has cozened the Labour Cabinet, 525 dominated by Scots, into proposing legislation so deeply damaging to the interests of the English majority. In doing so, he forgets that he is not a Minister in Scotland, but a Minister in a Government of the United Kingdom, and his principal duty as a Minister in that Government is to look after the whole United Kingdom, not an already over-represented minority.
The White Paper poses more questions than it seeks to answer. It fails to reassure on the fundamental questions of principle or to answer clear questions of detail. Tonight, Ministers have another chance to remedy that omission. Unless and until they do so, they will forfeit their claim to govern in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
The Government are seeking cross-party consensus on the Scottish Parliament, and to obtain the widest possible support and the most inclusive dialogue. For that reason, we welcome the widespread support for the White Paper. We would welcome the support of people of all parties and none in our campaign for a yes, yes vote in the referendum. Above all, when that vote has been delivered, we will try for a constructive dialogue with people from all parties as we create a Scottish Parliament.
With that in mind, we are glad that the Liberal Democrats and many representatives from civic groups were involved in our discussions in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. We welcome the Liberal Democrats' support in our campaign. We also welcome the vote by the Scottish National party executive last weekend, and we look forward with eager anticipation to the vote at that party's national council. We look forward to working with both parties on the yes, yes campaign.
We welcome the fact that some Scottish Conservatives have recognised that a Scottish Parliament is coming and have shown some willingness to co-operate. However, what can we say to people such as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) who seem not to have learnt their lesson?
In my maiden speech, I quoted Cromwell's famous saying:I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.In all sincerity, I suggest that the Tories should have learnt their lesson from the election. You—I am sorry, I mean Conservative Members—may be in shock from the May result. I fear that you may be in greater shock after tonight—I refer to the possibility of headlines such as "Slaughter in Uxbridge". It is time to learn the lesson of Scotland.Scotland sent you home to think again.I apologise for saying "you", Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that was a quote from the song. You have been sent home—I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will try to remember—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. May I gently make the point to the hon. Gentleman that the whole point of the custom of the House is to ensure that we choose our words carefully?
§ Mr. Savidge
Scotland sent the Tories home to think again, and surely that lesson should have been learnt. 526 Scotland has proved their lack of thinking. For the Conservatives, Scotland has proved the converse of Descartes' famous statement, "They ceased to think, therefore they ceased to exist."
Let us remember the extent to which the Conservatives ceased to exist. There are no Scottish Members of Parliament, no Scottish Members of the European Parliament and no Scottish councils controlled by the Conservative party, and that shows that they should start to think again.
It would be too optimistic to hope that the Conservatives will have a Damascene conversion before the referendum, but, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, I welcome the suggestion made at the weekend that the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to think again if the referendum delivered the expected result. If so, I hope that we will be able to work together constructively, instead of repeating tired arguments from the election. There is a place for combative politics, but there is also a place for consensus politics. We need consensus politics when we discuss the constitution, because the advantage of democracy should come before simple party advantage.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I am slightly curious about that point. There was a different settlement on 1 May, but what opportunity has the House had to discuss constitutional options and whether the White Paper was the right approach, as opposed to any other? We have had no opportunity to discuss the constitution in those terms. The hon. Gentleman, who is from my birthplace, makes a welcome argument, but many of us wish to engage in discussions, and have been frustrated by the management of business in the House.
§ Mr. Savidge
That is precisely the point that we wish to make. We will be interested in constructive discussion in Committee, if we get constructive proposals that do not resemble the 200 childish, irrelevant and frivolous amendments that were tabled to the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. I urge Conservative Members to join in constructive discussion, but I appreciate some of the feelings that they have expressed about the future of the United Kingdom. I accept that their fears are genuine.
I have mentioned before that I am a mongrel, being half Scots and half English by birth and by residence. As a Member of Parliament, I expect to stay that way. I would say, as passionately as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), that I am British, but I am also Scottish.
The proposals will strengthen the Union. I recognise that some nationalists will wish to continue to work for independence after we have a Scottish Parliament, but I note the point that was made by their leader, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), when he said that nationalist views have strengthened in the past 18 years. I have noticed a strengthening of an anti-English nationalism among some young people—I accept that the Scottish nationalists do not necessarily welcome that—because of their resentment of too much centralised government and a refusal by the previous Government to recognise the feelings of the Scottish people.
§ Mrs. Ewing
The hon. Gentleman and I represent constituencies in the same part of the country. I hope that he will accept the point made by the hon. Member for 527 Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that, in all his years of experience of contesting elections with the Scottish National party, he has never experienced anti-English sentiment. Any time members of the SNP have expressed anti-English sentiments, they have been expelled immediately.
§ Mr. Savidge
I am happy to endorse that point, because that was the point which I sought to make. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) mentioned how undesirable it was to have Scottish versus English and English versus Scottish, but those attitudes have been fed by the invidious process of over-centralism. At this point, I wish to bring in the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, who is both honourable and my friend. However, I was surprised that in this debate he should have used a quote from Carson in relation to Ireland. Surely the lesson to be learned from that is that, if only the right steps had been taken a century ago, the tragic history of that country since then would never have occurred.
That must be a strong argument for starting to have true devolution. Far from being a nationalist, my soul and feeling are internationalist. Although I try to be a pragmatic politician, my long-term, distant vision is that we shall evolve to a system of world government and—dare I say as I see that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has just left the Chamber—systems of continental and national government, all the way down to community councils, with proper subsidiarity throughout that process. A Scottish Parliament has a valid position in that, and would be properly regional in its outlook.
Central belt domination used to be one of the fears of people in north-east Scotland; however, people now feel much more confident, as is confirmed by opinion polls. In her maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) said that our local paper in Aberdeen, the Evening Express, had a poll showing strong support for Scottish devolution.
In 1991, when I was a candidate in Kincardine and Deeside, opinion polls showed not only overwhelming support for devolution but that the majority of those who said that they would vote Conservative in that by-election—a by-election that the Conservatives lost—favoured devolution. A similar view was expressed in The Scotsman. In an exhaustive opinion poll, it showed that all areas of Scotland favour devolution. John Smith said that it was the settled will of the Scottish people; I believe that it is the settled will of people throughout Scotland.
Feelings about regionalism had been allayed partly because the system of proportional representation will be included in the Scottish Parliament. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said yesterday, one advantage is that it will strengthen the position of minority parties. I have made facetious reference before to the fact that the Conservative party has been reduced to minority party status in Scotland. I agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that it is healthy for politics that the Conservatives should have an opportunity to be represented in the Scottish Parliament. It would not be healthy if their views were not represented. I do not necessarily favour proportional representation for the House of Commons, although I would favour it to create a proper revising second Chamber in the other place.
528 A Scottish Parliament can, however, set a radical example in other ways. It will be a new Parliament for a new millennium, capable of new thinking. One issue which has concerned us as we have discussed modernisation of the House is that it is difficult to get really novel thinking in this place. To some extent, many of our traditions are literally set in stone. Indeed, they are set in wood and stone, because it is difficult to consider even seating or voting changes without upsetting many people. Even since the war, the building has become hallowed in many people's memories and minds.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) said, a Scottish Parliament can set an example to Westminster in terms of new thinking. It can also set an example to English regional assemblies or even an English Parliament, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). He may be more correct on that than he was on people's views about the poll tax.
This is an historic Parliament because it enshrines our democratic history and its evolution; the Scottish Parliament will be historic because it will make history. The first historic date will be 11 September, when all the people of Scotland will have a chance to take part in the historic victory of a yes, yes campaign. It will be an historic victory for Scotland, for Britain and for democracy.
§ Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)
I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland—I hope that his colleagues will pass on my congratulations. He genuinely deserves great credit for standing up to the opposition, both in front of him and, in some cases, according to the newspapers, behind him, who tried to water down the Bill and the White Paper.
The White Paper is excellent, although it is certainly not perfect and can be improved. Even the Almighty took seven days to create the world, and he had two testaments. Perhaps this is the old testament White Paper and we shall have a new testament White Paper. It is at least a good testament on which we can build.
Some of the weaknesses have been illustrated by the two excellent speeches from Scottish National party Members who pointed out some of the anomalies. The Liberal Democrats feel that moral issues should be brought within the scope of a Scottish Parliament. A regulatory gremlin seems to have got into the White Paper and there are all sorts of issues on which a Scottish Parliament cannot regulate, because the uniformists have obviously won. The Scottish Parliament should control matters such as broadcasting.
Overall, it is a good package for which we are happy to campaign. Like the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats would like to go further in due course, but the White Paper is a good basis for a Scottish Parliament and for the form of the whole United Kingdom.
Conservative Members' doom and gloom are often genuine. They think that devolution is apocalyptic and that the world as they know it is about to collapse. They have no reason to believe that. They are like tipsters who still support a horse that they tipped in the general election and that came last. The horse just does not run. The public are not in tune with their ideas and their historical analysis is entirely incorrect. As a previous speaker said, the example 529 of Ireland shows that the Opposition of the day should have taken a constructive attitude to Gladstone's efforts to have an Irish Parliament. They should have improved his proposals, which were faulty but were at least a serious attempt, instead of blocking them. As a direct result, people in Ireland were, until very recently, still killing each other.
§ Mr. Day
If one looks at Irish history, one sees that the creation of the free state, which the cleverer nationalists subscribed to and supported, had all the trappings of the British state, with the oath of allegiance, Crown forces and the rest of it. Within a short time, however, all that had gone; the link with the Crown had gone and Ireland had become a republic. The Irish experience does not necessarily prove that the present proposals would save Scotland from a similar fate.
§ Mr. Gorrie
The point is that the Irish were not given their independence, or whatever they wanted, in a federal system at the time. They achieved it through the gun and extremely grudgingly, because the Conservatives managed to stop successive Liberal Democrat efforts generously to give them their own Parliament.
If the Conservatives persist in rejecting any endeavour to improve how the United Kingdom runs, they will break it up. I shall now try to be a tipster. The only bet that I have placed in recent years was on myself to win the general election, so I have a 100 per cent. record.
§ Mr. Gorrie
I did not bet, but I had some idea where the truth lay.
The Conservatives, who genuinely have a mystical idea about the Union, risk destroying the Union by not looking at what the public want, especially in Scotland, but also in England. Basically, the Conservatives do not trust the Scots. They have an extraordinary idea that the Scots will legislate in an anti-British spirit, and that we are a bunch of peasants who are not to be trusted. That is simply not true. That is the thinking behind the Conservatives' views. [Interruption.]
I can say in all honesty that that is the message that comes across, not only to us but to Government Members. They have said that. The message is, "You have no confidence in the ability of the Scots to run their own affairs." Because it will have proportional representation, the Scots Parliament will be more responsive and more responsible to the Scottish people than this place.
The other issue which I should like to stress is that various people have said that the worm will turn. It is time that the English lion roared. We would welcome that. We believe that having a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly will cause the English to examine how they wish their affairs to be run. If the English want an English Parliament, or if they want a regional structure, that is great; they should get on with it. The logic behind the various speeches that have been made—that, because the English are not, at the moment, offered anything, the Scots cannot be offered anything either—is just not acceptable. The Scots have discussed this for years. There is a very strong majority view in Scotland that there must be a change.
§ Mr. Swinney
The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that, in all respects, peoples, as they define 530 themselves, should have a right to self-determination. That seems to be the point that he is arguing about Scotland and England.
§ Mr. Gorrie
Absolutely. We in Scotland believe that sovereignty lies with the people—that sovereignty in Scotland lies with the Scottish people, and in England with the English people. We do not wish to prejudice the English in any way whatever. I honestly do not see in what way these proposals are prejudicing them; in the past, however, 500 or more English Members of Parliament consistently voted through laws that the majority of the Scots were against and that were quite harmful to Scotland. That is the problem—not the fact that there might occasionally be some Scots voting on an issue and the English could not reciprocate.
§ Dr. Fox
That is exactly the point. The English are being prejudiced by this arrangement when Scots can vote on English issues, but not vice versa. The hon. Gentleman would be consistent if he made the case for a federal system, which has been suggested by the Liberal Democrats on other occasions. The hon. Gentleman's case is not logical in the way in which it has been presented today. It is another part of the bogus Liberal Democrat love-in with the Labour party.
§ Mr. Gorrie
If the Conservatives had their way, we would never get any change in anything. In the real world, we are trying to get a change. We would like a greater change to a federal system.
§ Mr. Gorrie
No. Let me make my point.
The Scottish National party would like a change to independence, but we both accept that there is a very responsible and worthwhile Scottish Parliament on offer as a first stage. The next stage is that the English have to get their act together. Hitherto, they have not done that. That is what is now called for.
We can look forward to a Scottish Parliament that will, as other hon. Members have said, have a new way of doing things and be inclusive. Let us get on with it and make it a success. We have an opportunity to do things better, to learn from the dreadful mistakes of this place, to learn the best practice from here and from elsewhere, and to do things better. We can offer either the politics of fear, which the Conservatives offer, or the politics of hope, which the White Paper offers. Let us go for hope. Let us go for the White Paper.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
One of the disadvantages of being called more than five hours into any debate is that many of the points that are worth making have already been made. Therefore, I shall try not to be repetitive and will try to make a few fresh points, but, first, I shall respond to some of the comments that have been made, particularly from those who would describe themselves as the official Opposition.
I am really depressed, although never surprised, by the repeated failure of the Tory Opposition to rise to the occasion in debates such as this, which are about a 531 momentous turning point in the history of Scotland and, indeed, the United Kingdom. The tenor of speeches from Conservative Members has been disgraceful. It began with the obvious and appalling ignorance on all matters Scottish.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) intervened during the speech of his Front-Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), with the "news", according to the hon. Member, that he had overheard some SNP Members talking on the Back Benches. What do they want? Goodness gracious, they want an independent Scotland. They do not want any Scottish representation in the House. That is news to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps it is also news to Conservative Front-Bench Members. Lord Renton, who was mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), has nothing on the ignorance shown by Conservative Members in this place.
Then there was the mean-spirited, spiteful and anti-Scottish nit-picking from Conservative Members. Indeed, the debate began very badly with a point of order by a Conservative Member about the number of Scottish Members who were present. When that point of order was raised, there were 46 Members in the Chamber—46 out of 652—and more than half of them represented Scottish constituencies. Usually, there is only one Scottish Member of Parliament for every nine Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. On this occasion, there was more than one of us for every two of them. Where were the English Members at the beginning of the debate? They are always telling us, "This is a matter of profound importance to the English people. This is a matter which affects every English Member in the House." Where were they?
We have the usual suspects present, including the English nationalist wing of the Tory party. The Euro-sceptic wing of the Tory party is here to knock any change whatever. Also taking part in the debate are the exiled Scots, of whom Dr. Johnson once said that the finest prospect that they see is the road that leads south to England, away from their own country.
I do not have any time for any criticisms levelled in the debate by Conservative Members. Nor do the people of Scotland. That is why the Opposition do not have a single Member representing a Scottish constituency. That is exactly what they deserve.
With apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), Conservative Members brought up the hoary old chestnut about the West Lothian question. It does not cause me any problem, and I do not think that it causes Scottish Members or the Scottish people any problem whatever. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) has been saying for some time, we have been debating devolution in Scotland for the past 30 years. We formed a Scottish Constitutional Convention. We brought forward a detailed scheme. We knew that, if a Labour Government were elected at the general election, their first priority would be to introduce a Bill for a devolved Scottish Parliament.
The English people have made no such demand at any point. That is their choice. If they choose to have their domestic legislation dealt with by a British Parliament—this is a British Parliament—that is their choice. They 532 cannot complain if Members representing Scottish constituencies take part in debates involving grammar schools or anything else in England. They cannot complain if a Member representing a Scottish constituency sits in a British Cabinet and takes decisions that affect English people.
The English people have a solution to the West Lothian question—they can opt for their own devolved English Parliament. They can even opt for independence. They would have my support if they wanted it, but they would not be able to take the North sea oil reserves if they went for independence. We would keep those for ourselves. They are entirely welcome to go down that road if they wish; they would have my blessing.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) spent most of his speech denouncing nationalism, but he wrapped himself throughout in the Union Jack, in a form of British nationalism that was no different from the nationalism that is represented elsewhere on the Conservative Benches. He is not against nationalism. He is against Scottish nationalism, English nationalism or Irish nationalism, but not British nationalism.
§ Mr. Day
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As always, he is being generous and humorous in equal measure.
Yes, the Union Jack is my flag. I am proud to say that, but I do not count myself as a British nationalist. I despise nationalism of all sorts. It creates tensions and differences between people. Love of one's country is patriotism, and it is a very different creed.
§ Mr. McAllion
I should like to believe the hon. Gentleman, because I believe that he is genuinely an honourable gentleman, but, towards the end of his speech, he gave himself away. It turned out to be another Euro-sceptic speech. He wants not so much British nationalism as Britain out of Europe. He does not want any power to be taken away from the British Parliament. He is a British nationalist in every sense of the word. His contribution was far more nationalist than most speeches made from the nationalist Benches, or even from the Conservative Benches.
The only positive point that I heard from the official Opposition during the debate was that made by the right hon. Member for Devizes when he described my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as a dangerous man. I think that my right hon. Friend was secretly thrilled to be described as dangerous. He has had a good week. During the past week, he has been likened to Robert the Bruce, Braveheart and Keir Hardie, and now he has been described as dangerous. I dare say that there is not a woman of a certain generation in Scotland who is not now extremely interested in my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he will be delighted if he continues to be so described.
I welcome the White Paper's proposals for a Scottish Parliament. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, I am delighted by the choice of 11 September for the referendum in Scotland. I have no problem with 11 September being the 700th anniversary of the battle of Stirling bridge. In fact, it creates a nice sense of history, a sense of occasion, for the referendum for a Scottish Parliament to be held on that day. It is in no way anti-English. My hon. Friend was wrong to criticise the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) for mentioning it.
533 The battle of Stirling bridge was a milestone in the wars of independence which led to the creation of an independent state in Scotland. It is something of which Scots should be proud, not ashamed. It is not something which they should hide away and not talk about in case it alarms the neighbours. It is something we believe in. It is a good thing for Scotland. I am delighted that it was mentioned by the hon. Lady.
I was a Member of the House at the time of the tricentenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which was the foundation of the current state. I do not remember my hon. Friend objecting to the celebrations that surrounded that tricentenary, yet that was based on the suppression of the Irish people. One could argue that it was anti-Irish. Why were people not criticising the tricentenary celebrations of the Glorious Revolution?
§ Mr. McAllion
For once, my hon. Friend has got me. However, I was surprised that he quoted Edward Carson as an example of what the United Kingdom stands for. If I remember rightly, Carson was the man who said, "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right," in defiance of the democratically expressed wishes of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is not the kind of example to which someone who believes in the United Kingdom Parliament should refer. I was surprised at my hon. Friend for making that observation.
I am pleased that 11 September is the date for the Scottish referendum. In future, that day will be remembered not just for the battle of Stirling bridge, but as the date on which the Scottish people had the courage and determination to vote to bring back to their own country Scottish democracy and a Scottish Parliament. It will be remembered for ever more for that reason.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it is important to remember the reception that the White Paper has had in Scotland. It has had a hostile reception here tonight, but it has had a marvellous reception in Scotland. Everywhere, politicians, political activists, the press, other media, and even the public have been delighted with the proposals. It is not often that the public are delighted by the same things as politicians, so it is nice when it happens. It has created the incredible circumstances in Scotland in which the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish National party, which have been at each other' s throats for the past generation, have come together to fight for the same proposals. That is one of the most exciting things to happen in my country for a long time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my hon. Friend solve a mystery for me? We were told on Thursday night last week that the public were delighted. On Thursday night, most of them could not have obtained copies of the White Paper, let alone read it.
§ Mr. McAllion
My hon. Friend often exaggerates his case, and I should be free to exaggerate mine as well.
The only really sour notes that have been struck today, apart from those by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and the Tory Opposition, have been by some elements of big business. The Scotsman this morning reported that Sir Alistair Grant—it is funny how these 534 big business people always have names like Alistair—chairman of Scottish Newcastle, has warned against a Scottish Parliament because it will threaten investment into Scotland, make Scottish exports uncompetitive and generally be bad for the Scottish economy.
Sir Alistair, and big business in general, are entitled to their point of view, but hon. Members should be conscious of the track record of big business on political matters over a long period. For example, big business thought that the universal franchise, giving the vote to the workers, was a bad thing. It thought that it was a bad thing that trade unions should be given legal protection. It still does. It thought that it was a bad thing that taxes should be raised to pay for the NHS and the welfare state. It still thinks that it is a bad thing to have a national minimum wage to take people out of poverty wages. It thinks that it is a really bad thing for anyone to suggest that there should be democracy in the workplace and that workers should have a say in what happens in their companies.
The political judgment of big business is usually self-serving, almost always reactionary and deeply anti-democratic. If Keir Hardie had listened to the views of big business in his day, he would never have set up the Labour party. I am glad that he did not listen to its views. My advice to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench is to follow in the footsteps of Keir Hardie and not listen to the views of Sir Alistair Grant or anyone else in big business, whether or not they are on the cocktail circuit.
I want to focus on two of the main arguments against a Scottish Parliament. The first is the alleged damage that opponents say will arise because of the tax-varying powers that will be given to that Parliament. We have already heard many of the scare stories associated with that—the extra tax burden on individuals who live and work in Scotland; the possible widening of the tax base by a Scottish Parliament which is beyond the control of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House—that really worries many hon. Members here—and the impact of those extra taxes on the competitiveness of the Scottish economy.
Those arguments chime with the prevailing orthodoxy in the House, perhaps on both sides, that low taxes and low levels of public spending are the only keys to economic success in the modern world. There is nothing new or modern about that orthodoxy. It has been the prevailing orthodoxy of most Tory Governments during the past century. I do not agree with it. I reject the notion that raising taxes and increasing public spending must, by definition, disadvantage the Scottish economy or any other economy.
Scottish business can be equally damaged by a failure to raise public revenue for investment in the social and economic infrastructure. For example, does any hon. Member believe that it would not be in the interests of Scottish business for Scotland to have a fully integrated public transport system? Of course that would be to the advantage of Scottish business. But that cannot happen unless we raise taxes and the level of public spending. That is a lesson that must be learned by the House at some point.
§ Mr. Swinney
I am grateful to my neighbour from Dundee, East for giving way. Is he satisfied that the 535 proposed Scottish Parliament has sufficient powers to address the concerns that he has raised, with which I absolutely agree?
§ Mr. McAllion
I am never satisfied with anything—that is part of my nature. I am always looking for a little bit extra in any situation. But that is a serious point. We should not allow to go unchallenged the orthodoxy that says that public spending is a bad thing and is bad for business. Public spending is a good thing and can be good for business.
My wife went to Holland for a medical conference and she could not believe the integrated transport structure there. Trains go straight into the airport. One leaves a beautiful train and climbs aboard a plane to fly off. Try getting out of this place—getting from here to Heathrow is a nightmare. The underground system of this great capital city is screaming out for public investment. The public want taxes to be raised to pay for the transport infrastructure to make this country more economic.
Is anyone arguing that modern and well-equipped schools providing first-class education for all would not give us a competitive advantage over other countries? Of course they would. Is anybody arguing that the costs of crime are not crippling business? What causes those costs? Unemployment, poverty, deprivation and homelessness cause them. Those require public spending, and I have no problems with a Scottish Parliament having tax-raising powers. I shall be arguing in the referendum campaign that those powers should not only be given, but be used. Properly applied, the higher public spending which those tax-varying powers will unlock will be a significant advantage to the Scottish people, business and the economy.
The final point that I should like to make—unless my hon. Friends want me to continue to prevent Tory Members from getting in—concerns the argument that the White Paper proposals constitute a slippery slope to independence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has put it, this is a one-way motorway with no exits, whose destination is the break-up of the UK. We have heard a lot about that tonight.
My first reaction is to echo the Scottish writer Willie Mclllvaney, who wrote:To reject devolution because it might lead further is equivalent to a refusal to engage in argument because you might have to change your mind.Willie, as always, was absolutely right. Scotland will go down the road to independence only when the people who live in Scotland are convinced by the argument. That is the basic reality. It will not be because of a Parliament here or an Assembly there, but because they believe that it is in their interests to have independence. There is no other way in which independence will come to Scotland.
I suspect that those who go on about slippery slopes and one-way motorways are uncertain about their own arguments for maintaining the status quo. They hide behind Jeremiah warnings, accusing the Parliament proposed in the White Paper of being something that it palpably is not. If they were honest with themselves, they would argue coherently and consistently why it is in the interests of the Scottish people to continue to be governed directly from this Parliament 400 miles away. That should be the basis of their case—not nonsense threats or warnings about where a Scottish Parliament set up in Edinburgh might or might not lead. 536 That argument takes us on to the dangerous ground of sovereignty, which has been touched on by some hon. Members. I make no apology—I signed the Claim of Right for Scotland because I believed in it. I fully accept that the people of Scotland have the sovereign right to decide for themselves how and by whom they are governed. The English people and all other British people also have that sovereign right.
I find it inexplicable that any democrat or socialist could believe for a moment that sovereignty should be vested in the Westminster Parliament rather than in the people who elect the Westminster Parliament. This Parliament—or, to give it its full sovereign title, the Queen in Parliament—is only partly elected. This is the only elected part of the Westminster Parliament, which is only partly modern. It is still partly mediaeval, as would become obvious to anyone witnessing the state opening of Parliament by the Queen in her regalia and finery from the middle ages. If we want to modernise our political institutions, we have to begin by accepting the basis of every modern democracy in the developed world—that sovereignty rests with the people and with no one else.
The theory of the supreme sovereignty of Parliament has been breached by the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. European laws have primacy over the laws passed by this Westminster Parliament. To paraphrase an old song by the Proclaimers, it was "sovereignty no more" for this Parliament when we became members of the EU. The Scottish Constitutional Convention, in its final report "Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's right">, noted that while, in theory, under the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom, any Scotland Act could be repealed or amended without restriction by any subsequent Westminster Parliament, in practice such an action would be politically impossible.
Using as an example the entrenched rights of the Church of Scotland under the unwritten constitution of the UK, the report recommended that similar entrenchment should be made available for the Scottish Parliament to make it impossible to repeal or to amend a Scotland Act without the prior approval of the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish people in a further referendum. I note that that recommendation has not been acted on—quite the reverse. The White Paper makes it clear that the UK Parliament will remain sovereign. I know that that is a necessary compromise to get anything through a UK Cabinet and Parliament. We all know the reality—it does not make much difference.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear—and, indeed, as the Leader of the Opposition has made clear—no United Kingdom Government would or could ever deny the Scottish people the right to decide for themselves how they are to be governed. Lady Thatcher accepted that as a reality, although she had no time for the Scots during her long period in office. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who fought the last general election on the basis that he would retain the United Kingdom's integrity, accepted it as a reality.
If, having been convinced by the arguments for it, the Scottish people voted for independence, any Government who described themselves as democratic in any meaningful sense would have to accept that decision. Every hon. Member knows that that is the truth; there is no point in pretending that it is not. The people will decide, not politicians in this place or anywhere else. As far as I can see, however, all the evidence suggests 537 that the Scottish people are not yet convinced by the arguments for independence—although I suspect that they would become so if the Government failed to implement the proposals in the White Paper, for whatever reason.
One thing is certain. Opposition Members who do not live in Scotland—who go there occasionally to fish, hunt or whatever—should accept that there is no future for the constitutional status quo in Scotland, which was decisively rejected by the Scottish people when they announced the change in the mandate. The question, of course, is the degree of the change that they demanded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said that it was not possible to ride two horses at the same time—that we must be either in or outside the United Kingdom—but I do not accept that. No one uses the same argument in relation to the European Union. It is quite the reverse: the United Kingdom is in and out of Europe at the same time. Despite the boasts about the opt-outs that Britain has, we are partly in and partly out. If the single currency goes ahead, Britain may be in and it may be out.
The position is exactly the same in this context. Sovereignty can be shared by the same people across different Parliaments. The Scottish people can decide to be in the European Union, and to concede some of their sovereignty to that institution. They can decide to be in this Parliament and concede some of their sovereignty to it, and they can decide to have their own Parliament and to concede the rest of that sovereignty. It is not impossible to achieve that; it is very easy. It has been achieved in other democratic modern constitutions.
I see many arguments for retaining the United Kingdom. I see no sense in arguing for the break-up of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force or the Army, or for different social security systems in the north and the south of this island. There should be a single integrated social security system—although it should be much better than the pathetic system that we have now, which victimises the poor in a very obvious way. Nor am I convinced by the arguments for a separate Scottish currency. I do not think that that would be in the interests of the Scottish people.
I am delighted, and convinced, by the proposals in the White Paper. As someone who has been committed to home rule for Scotland throughout my political life, seeing it as a priority, I am enthusiastic about the Scottish Parliament that is envisaged in the White Paper: I feel that I can fight for it. It is a Parliament which will be widely welcomed across Scotland. I do not think that the Scottish people are ready for separation, and I think that every election, every opinion poll and every referendum in Scotland has shown that to be the case.
The new Parliament will excite the people of Scotland. I do not fear proportional representation. I recognise that electoral systems are not run for the benefit of political parties; they are run for the benefit of those who elect political parties in to office. The first-past-the-post system disfranchises far too many people. The Scottish Parliament will not be dominated by any party or any area; it will be a genuine people's Parliament, about which all Scotland can be enthusiastic.
Female Labour Members argued strongly in favour of a Parliament that would give women equal representation. In a thousand years of history, the Westminster Parliament has not come near to achieving that, but it could be achieved on day one in a Scottish Parliament. Such a 538 Parliament could show the advantage of being prepared to change the constitution, and to go with opinion. I believe that the new Parliament will be sensitive to Scotland's needs, and that it will be in touch with the people of Scotland in general. In short, it will be everything that this Parliament is not.
Some hon. Members have argued against constitutional change. They fear it. Someone said that it is malignant, which makes one think of crosses and garlic on the doors to keep out the idea that constitutional change may find its way into this august Chamber, which has remained unchanged for so long. Those hon. Members argued that the workplace, trade union rights, the welfare state and the national health service have to change. Everything has to change except this place. I do not accept that; nor do my hon. Friends. The time for constitutional change is long past. Let us get to it and win the referendum.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
Some elements of the debate have been deeply disturbing. One is the attitude of mind that has been ascribed to Conservative Members. I treat with some disdain the remark by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that we are occasional visitors to Scotland for hunting, shooting and fishing. That is nonsense. I do not accept the comment by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) that Conservatives do not trust the Scots. That is also nonsense. Even worse was the remark by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) who said that Conservatives were anti-Scottish. Nothing could be further from the truth.
§ Mr. Salmond
In last night's debate and today, I have said that opinion poll evidence shows that the vast majority of the Scottish population perceive the Conservative party as anti-Scottish. One poll showed that a majority of people who intended to vote Tory still thought that the party was anti-Scottish. Does not the hon. Gentleman wish to address that rather grave situation?
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Gentleman is reeling off the truth of the Scottish National party and the old nostrum that nationalists hate other people's countries and patriots love their own countries. Conservatives are true Scottish patriots, true British patriots and true English patriots. We love our nation and we are not prepared to see it destroyed, which is what Labour and the SNP would have us accept. I am proud to speak as a Scot. I was born, bred and educated at primary and secondary school and at university in Scotland and I never left its borders until I was 21. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. There are many conversations in the Chamber. There should be only one speaker.
§ Mr. Gray
My father was moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. The very title has Scottish resonance. I will not accept insults from hon. 539 Members because I appear and sound English. I am 100 per cent. Scottish and I intend to speak for Scotland although I represent an English constituency.
§ Mr. Gray
No. I have given way already. Enough has been said about my Scottishness and I hope that I have established my Scottish credentials.
I feel no embarrassment whatever in saying that I am appalled by the entire content of the White Paper and its consequences for Scotland and England and, more importantly, for the United Kingdom. Some hon. Members have alluded to the West Lothian question, which was so eloquently described, as on many earlier occasions, by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Others have spoken about incipient English nationalism and its potentially terrible consequences for the United Kingdom.
I should like to concentrate on one risk that arises from the Scottish Assembly—the issue of taxation. It sounds anodyne to speak about tax-varying powers of up to 3p in the pound, but it is a great deal more worrying to speak about a cost of £321 a year for the average wage earner or £650 a year for someone earning £30,000. Those figures sound like a significant price to be paid. Perhaps on 11 September the people of Scotland will ignore that price. The average GP may say, "I am prepared to pay £600 for the privilege of a Scottish Parliament." Are people certain that the price for all time will be £621 for a person on a salary of £30,000? I suggest that it will not.
The Scottish Parliament will properly say, "We are the duly elected representatives of the people of Scotland. We have been elected and given a mandate"—as the Labour party constantly tells us it has been given here—"by the people of Scotland to do all sorts of noble and worthwhile things." I am sure that, for a time, all those things will be done within the 3p in the pound.
The Minister without Portfolio will ensure that there is no possible cross-border embarrassment of a Labour Parliament in Scotland doing something that the Labour Government here does not wish it to do, but imagine that there was a Conservative Government here and a Labour Parliament in Scotland, or even that there was a hard-left Labour Parliament in Scotland, but a Mandelsonian-Blairite Labour Government here. Let us imagine that the duly elected representatives of the Scottish people decided to put teachers' pay up by 20 per cent., to spend another £20 million on roads or to make a host of other legitimate spending decisions that would cost more than 3p in the pound.
What would happen then? There would be three possibilities. The first is that those representatives would do what many Labour councils throughout the land have always done: bust their cap, decide to ignore the 3p in the pound limit and crack on with their spending. Secondly, they could force through some subsequent legislation that would allow them much greater tax variations than 3p in the pound. Would it be lop or 20p in the pound? Who knows where it would end up?
The third and by far the most likely outcome is that those representatives would say that the block grant was insufficient. They would say, "We, the duly elected 540 representatives of the Scottish people, have taken these sensible decisions. These are things that everyone wants. We cannot do it within our 3p in the pound because those swine, our paymasters in Westminster, will not give us the cash to do it." Therefore, an incipient and inherent tax bombshell would tick away beneath the Scottish Parliament.
§ Sir Robert Smith
The hon. Gentleman seems to be confirming what hon. Members were saying earlier: the tenor of the debate is a lack of trust in the people of Scotland. The actions that have been described would be the actions of people elected by the people of Scotland. The hon. Member seems to assume and to take it for granted that his party has no chance of a revival, yet it is the only party in the history of Scotland to have had a majority of the vote in Scotland. Under the White Paper, it would be legitimate for the people of Scotland to vote for his party to cut taxes in Scotland.
§ Mr. Gray
That is, of course, true. Let us imagine that we have a Conservative Parliament in Scotland, but a Labour Government here. Exactly the same problem might arise. Those Conservative representatives might make sensible, legitimate decisions on behalf of the people of Scotland, which would effectively be blocked by Members here.
§ Mr. Gray
I think that we have had enough discussion on that point for the moment. I am short of time, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak.
There is a curious conundrum here. The Labour party says that it does not approve of capping in local government, that capping is somehow a bad thing and that we must allow local government to spend up to whatever levels elected councillors want, but the 3p in the pound is the ultimate cap. It is capping second to none. The tax-varying powers of the Scottish Parliament are capped to only 3 per cent., whereas, in local government, councillors raise 20 or 25 per cent. for their own spending.
The ultimate cap is exactly what the Labour party is trying to get away from in local government. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before the duly elected representatives of the Scottish Parliament say, "We do not want this 3p in the pound cap. We do not see why English Members in Westminster should set down how much we should spend. We are the representatives of the Scottish people. We will decide how much is spent, and we will tax them accordingly."
I do not accept that the Scottish people believe that they will pay only £300 a year if they are ordinary wage earners, or £600 a year if they are middle-class wage earners. I suspect that they think that in passing, but that, between now and 11 September, they will realise that they are signing a substantial blank cheque, which will cost them and their families for many generations to come.
As soon as the stresses and strains in spending come about, it will only be a matter of time before the Scottish nationalists and others have their way and say, "We want none of this English interference in our way of life. We want our independence." It will only be a matter of time before people in English constituencies say, "Why are the 541 people of Scotland taking spending decisions and demanding more spending powers while we are, to some degree, subsidising them?" I suspect that many of my constituents in North Wiltshire will say, "If they want their independence, let them go. Let them take their subsidies and their 72 Members of Parliament with them. They can drop us a postcard when they want to rejoin the main stream of British life." I would have great difficulty arguing against that with my constituents.
This is the thin end of the independence wedge, and it is the beginning of the end for the Union.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Scotland feels that it is safe to return to the Chamber now that his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has sat down. We noticed that, by his departure, he managed to avoid his ears being burnt by the sounds of Keir Hardie emanating from the Back Benches. All is safe and well now, and I am delighted that he is here to listen to me.
We should be under no illusions about the seriousness of this debate. It is a debate about the future of these islands. It deals with the structure of the kingdom, which has remained largely intact for the past 300 years. I understand why Labour Members say that, because the Conservative party did so badly in Scotland at the general election, we should bow to their will and accept the White Paper. The truth is that, notwithstanding what happened to the Conservative party in Scotland, we would be failing in our duty if we did not point out the serious damage that the White Paper is likely to do to the kingdom.
§ Mr. Howarth
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way.
Although I represent an English constituency, like the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), I am an Anglo-Scot. I am proud to come from Scotland in the sense that my mother is a Douglas from the Borders, so I come from a long line of rapers and pillagers. My grandfather—
§ Mr. Salmond
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not be allowed to call the hon. Gentleman a raper and pillager. Is it in order for him to call himself a raper and pillager?
§ Mr. Howarth
I was being rather serious. I was explaining my ancestry, not my present practices. My grandfather, Thomas Douglas, thought that the best feature of the English was that they were able to produce such a large number of excellent women for Scotsmen to marry. He duly went off to Cheshire—I think the only time he came south of the border—to find an English wife.
We are as qualified to participate in these debates as anybody who represents a constituency north of the border. This is the United Kingdom Parliament, and these are matters which strike at the heart of the unity of the kingdom.
542 I believe that the proposals in the White Paper are deeply damaging to the interests of the United Kingdom and to Scotland in particular. They are bureaucratic and expensive and will turn out to be a lawyers' paradise. Most important, they are a recipe for conflict. Ultimately, they will be the first steps on the road to the balkanisation of Britain, which will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that the Scottish National party is prepared to support the proposals. It sees them as the Trojan horse.
§ Mr. Howarth
The Scottish National party sees the proposals as a Trojan horse to help its open ambition for an independent Scotland.
§ Mr. Howarth
Well, as a Welsh Member of Parliament he should have done.
This measure is, in many senses, a panic response by the Labour party, which knows that it is challenged in Scotland by the Scottish National party. That is why it has introduced this measure in the way that it has and why it enjoys the support of the SNP.
There is huge potential for conflict in the White Paper. It states:The Government believe that, given an open and constructive relationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive, problems will usually be resolved quickly and amicably.I hope that that is right, but I suspect that it is simply pious optimism.
The Scots should be aware that if they pass a law in the Scottish Parliament, it will not receive Royal Assent until it has come to this House, which will determine its vires. The White Paper says:there will be a short delay period to ensure that the UK Government is content as to vires.The UK Government will say to the Scottish Parliament, "I am sorry, but we do not regard that law as being within your power." That is what will happen under the White Paper. If there is a dispute, it will go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is a serious recipe for endless conflicts with a Scottish Parliament anxious to flex its muscles and to arrogate to itself powers that this House will not concede to it. There will be endless rows and endless lawyers' fees.
The biggest flaw in the proposals is that they will lead to conflict. They will raise false expectations in Scotland about the manner in which the Scots will be able to enjoy a degree of devolution—which no one doubts they want. The result will be that not only will there be angst and disappointment in Scotland but, as many of my hon. Friends have said, once the English realise what is going 543 on, they will rise up and revolt and the Government will be responsible for a process that will lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
In the two minutes available to me, I shall try to reduce an argument to a telegram.
I congratulate the Secretary of State. There could not have been a more persuasive advocate for a cause which, on reflection, could lead to the unbundling of the United Kingdom. I say that with diffidence, because the passions and the arguments fairly represented here, one way or the other, emphasise the unequalness of the construction of the constitutional changes. They are not consistent between Scotland and Wales. We cannot stand back and see an architecture disappear that reaffirms the one central passion that was most eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day).
The denigration of the Union or the minimalisation of it is in part a reflection of something that the people showed they wanted on 1 May. They wanted to end Conservative government. They wanted a Labour Government. In the euphoria and excitement of a new Government, looking at the detail of the proposals is somewhat difficult. The secessionist party and some members of the Labour party have treated with contempt the, in their view, impertinence of Conservative Members, albeit born in Scotland, intervening in what is perceived to be and accepted in Scotland as a done deal.
Let us remember the White Paper's history. There has been no debate in Parliament before its publication, and no weighing-up of the arguments and passions felt by Unionists. There are passionate Unionists in Scotland, too, and the way in which some hon. Members trivialise the debate and fail to recognise that fact does an injustice to Scotland.
Why are some of us passionate? Our Union was built by Scots, by Welsh and by English, and its curious feature is that England is the great melting pot. In truth, which one of us can claim that we do not have Scottish, Welsh or Irish blood within us? That is the essence of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—which is the union of two Parliaments, those of Scotland and of England. Those aspects must be weighed in the debate, but they have not been.
Why am I passionate? In the 290 years of our Union, we have marched from an oligarchical form of government to one of the highest forms of democracy on earth. We have seen the progress of our people, and we have been free people. As one united British people, our liberty and our social conditions have advanced. Unfortunately, the lack of balance in the constitutional proposals setting aside the English dimension—which is a part of the British dimension—means that the proposals cannot be enduring. If the House believes in the Union, it must do one thing: try to reach out to construct a politically balanced system, which reflects those elements.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
If I have one sadness about today's debate on a major constitutional issue, it is about how poorly attended it has been. I am especially surprised at the poor attendance by Government Back Benchers representing Scottish constituencies, and perhaps even more surprised by the non-attendance of those to whom I am not allowed to refer—who sit above the Chamber, were such a place to exist.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State was not able to be in the Chamber for more of the debate, because it has been interesting. It also contained several themes that will be rehearsed in the coming referendum campaign, including the Secretary of State's own theme of the need, or otherwise, to modernise the constitution; the effect on the Union as a whole; and the cost and effectiveness of the proposed arrangements. I passionately believe that, of those three themes, the effect on the Union is undoubtedly the most important.
The essential question about the Union was asked very powerfully in speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), and in a far too short speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). We cannot effect changes on parts of the United Kingdom without effecting changes on the whole of the United Kingdom. If the situation changes in Scotland, it will change in the whole of the United Kingdom—a fact that lies at the heart of what has been called the West Lothian question. We are unleashing a process of change, of which the White Paper's proposals—for which hon. Members had varying degrees of affection—are only the beginning.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has just said—that the biggest flaw in the devolution proposals is that they cannot be enduring. The hon. Gentleman said that a Scottish Parliament would not last 10 years, which cannot be a good recipe for constitutional change. A week ago, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said that the proposals offered the possibility of a "dynamic relationship" between a Scottish Parliament and Westminster, but they are a recipe for instability. Proposals that the hon. Member for Linlithgow called a Pandora's box are a guarantee of friction within the United Kingdom and not—as Ministers have tried to convince us in the past week—a blueprint for stability.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What I said was that, in 10 years' time, the Parliament could not exist in anything approaching the form in which it is proposed.
§ Dr. Fox
The hon. Gentleman makes the point more eloquently than I could, and very effectively. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, it is of course the very reason why the Scottish nationalists are so much in favour of the proposals, but I shall come to that in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said at the outset that one of the things that can easily be predicted about the Scottish Parliament is that it will blame Westminster for whatever goes wrong. It will blame Westminster for any policy failures, whether in education or in health. It will certainly not blame itself. It will blame Westminster whenever it is short of money—I have never known any wing of government not to blame the parent government if it is short of finance.
545 When the Scottish Parliament cannot fulfil the unrealistic expectations that have been raised in the devolution debate, it will blame Westminster. Therein lies the root of the conflict which we will endure, as the former Foreign Secretary said, for a generation and beyond.
What are we to make of the Secretary of State when he tells people on one side of the argument that they should support the White Paper and vote yes in the referendum because it is a way of preserving the Union and the integrity of the United Kingdom, while at the same time he tells the nationalists, with a nod and a wink, that if they vote yes, they may eventually get their way, which they see as an independent Scotland? Mention was made of riding two horses. It is not possible for one White Paper to be a guarantee of the Union and a stepping stone to independence—it has to be one or the other.
§ Dr. Fox
The hon. Gentleman says, "Exactly." However, there is logic in the status quo, there is logic in arguing for a federal system or for independence, but there is no logic in arguing for this proposal, which does one thing to one part of the United Kingdom and something different in another. The parts are not equally weighted, and the votes are not equally weighted for that reason.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made it clear that the Scottish nationalists will seek to use a Scottish Parliament as a stepping stone to an independent Scotland. I would have been surprised had he said anything else. He, like the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and others, was absolutely right to say that independence is a matter for Scotland. Should the Scots decide to be independent, that would, as an issue of self-determination, be a matter for them, but devolution within the United Kingdom is rightly a matter for Westminster and a sovereign United Kingdom Parliament. The Secretary of State agrees with that, but the White Paper is a recipe for conflict within the United Kingdom.
Lord Steel said that the White Paper was a stepping stone towards a federal United Kingdom—it cannot be stable and changing. Only the Government seem to believe that the Scottish Parliament will be satisfied with its political and financial lot. We profoundly disagree with that analysis, and believe that the proposals are a recipe for instability.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State spoke about modernising the constitution of the United Kingdom and bringing institutions back in touch with the people. We all accept that politicians have reached an all-time low in the eyes of the public. I understand that, according to recent surveys, only traffic wardens are held in lower esteem than politicians—it frightens me to think that estate agents and solicitors are higher up the table than we are.
Let us consider the details of what the Secretary of State said. He talked about the role of Scottish Members of Parliament, but to whom will Scottish voters go when 546 they have a problem with the health service or schools? Will they go to their Member of the Scottish Parliament? That would seem logical, so what is the role of the redundant Scottish Members of Parliament? If they do not accept the dual mandate—the logical position—and simply continue to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament, they are effectively saying that health, education and other welfare issues on which they fought the general election are not the most important issues to them, but that they want to talk about the remaining issues.
That says a great deal about the approach taken by some Labour Members. It will be interesting to see which ones decide to stand for the Scottish Parliament and continue to sit as Members of this House. Labour's remaining Westminster Members who are not Members of the Scottish Parliament will be only appendages. They will have no locus for affairs in their constituencies. They will be sidelined.
What will happen to the pay of Members of Parliament who continue to sit here, but do not handle all the issues of their constituents? When Ministers take office, they are deemed to be spending less time with their constituents. Parliament already has a precedent of reducing ministerial salaries. It will be interesting to see what the House decides to do.
§ Dr. Fox
I am sorry, but I really do not have time, much as I would love to give way.
We did not hear much about the role of the civil service. We know that it will be imposed on the Scottish Parliament as part of the home civil service. Can the Scottish Parliament reform it? What if it does not suit the Parliament's needs? Can the Scottish Parliament change it, cut it or increase it? What will be the consequence for the jobs of the current Scottish Office civil servants? The Secretary of State did not answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who said that the logic of the White Paper meant an ever-diminishing role for the Secretary of State.
I do not want him to think that I raise this issue out of affection for him. I raise it out of affection for the role of the Secretary of State. He will become a political eunuch, sitting in a Cabinet with no influence on what is happening in Scotland. At best, when there are Parliaments of the same colour in Edinburgh and Westminster, he will be a messenger boy. When there are Parliaments of different colours in the two cities, he will be a whipping boy.
The Secretary of State talked about removing the democratic deficit. He gave a slightly ungracious response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). We go back to the old question: how can we be removing a democratic deficit if Scottish Members are able to vote on English issues, but not vice versa? That introduces a democratic deficit. There is worse. If, as the White Paper says, Scottish Ministers will be able to speak for the United Kingdom in Europe, what will be the mechanism of accountability to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom? We need answers to those questions, because the Government are not removing a deficit, but introducing a new one.
Within minutes of the Secretary of State's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) asked what 547 would happen if the Scottish Parliament chose to implement European regulations from which the United Kingdom had sought derogation. That is a recipe for turning one part of the UK against another. What if farmers in Northern Ireland were able to accept a deal from Europe, when the United Kingdom Government were trying to negotiate a deal for the whole United Kingdom? The proposals are a recipe for instability, which we must try to stop as best we can.
§ Dr. Fox
I am sorry, but I am very short of time.
The great fraud in the White Paper is tax. I am sure that the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but we got the distinct impression that income tax is not the only lever of the tax-varying powers to be made available to the Scottish Parliament. If the starting point for taxation were raised to £6,000, 3.8 per cent. on the standard rate would be needed to make up the £450 million guaranteed in the White Paper. How will the shortfall be made up if a 3p increase does not make the full £450 million?
The Secretary of State called on us to be more creative in our thinking, saying that other taxes may not be involved—there may be variations in income tax. That must mean raising higher rates or widening the band. In the latter case, a Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House of Commons taking the low-paid out of tax could face the perverse situation of a Scottish Parliament putting them back into tax, so that it could continue to raise £450 million. That is surely not what the Government intend. I urge them, even at this late stage, to think again.
The Secretary of State let the cat out of the bag. In an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, he said that, if Westminster could raise taxes, perhaps we should abolish Westminster. That is exactly our point. This is a sovereign Parliament. We do not want the tax-raising powers of a Scottish Parliament equated with the tax-raising powers of this Parliament.
I was sorry that the Secretary of State missed the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East. That was real Labour. It is a long time since we have heard that in the House. He even said the S word—socialist. I am sure that his bleeper was going off at that minute.
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the views of business are important, and I do not believe that, as he claimed, big business is vicious, reactionary and deeply undemocratic. If those in the business community are disconcerted by the tax-raising powers, they may relocate and they may lay off people. That will have an impact on the prosperity of the Scottish people, and that is an important point for us to take into account in the debate.
We have already been cheated of debate on this topic by an arrogant Government. The Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill was guillotined when we wished to discuss issues in more detail. The White Paper will set up a Scottish Parliament dominated by the central belt and it will provide jobs for the boys at public expense. The Scots will pay through the nose simply for being Scottish. The proposals are essentially dishonest. The second question is fraudulent, because the Scots will face a tax-raising 548 Parliament whether or not they vote no to the second question. The proposals are a confidence trick with a large price tag, and above all, they are a threat to the Union.
The most telling moment in the debate—
§ Dr. Fox
The Secretary of State need not shout, "Idiot." When he resorts to childish name-calling, it makes us think that we are starting to score some points. If he had had the courtesy to the House today to be in for more than about an hour of the debate, he might have heard some of the arguments in more detail. He might have heard the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who had the courtesy to stay for the debate. When he was asked whether he believed that the Scottish Parliament, as proposed in the White Paper, would be a useful vehicle on his road to independence, he said yes.
§ Mr. Salmond
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) refused to give way to me. I gave way to him in my speech. He should have the courtesy to allow me to say what was on the record before he tries to paraphrase my answer.
§ The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)
I shall try, in the 14 minutes left to me, to address some of the issues raised.
The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) talked about speaking on behalf of the business community. I issue a challenge to Conservative Front-Bench Members. I want them to meet the Scottish Chambers of Commerce; we have done that. I want them to meet the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland; we have done that. I want them to meet the Institute of Directors in Scotland; we have done that. I could go on and on.
Conservative Members have not yet embraced the fact that there are Scottish business organisations that want to contribute to the debate. Alas, their comments are distorted in the House by the Opposition or, even worse, Conservative Members give the impression that they are speaking for the business community. Quite honestly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Today is an important day. We are discussing the White Paper, which is a significant step forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deserves tremendous praise and credit for what he has introduced. Today is also important because the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill has now been given Royal Assent, so we have an Act on the basis of which the referendum can take place. The other important issue is that we have had discussions in 549 Parliament. Politicians have had their say and we are now moving on to give the people of Scotland and Wales their say in the referendums.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) asked what would happen in Europe if different political complexions were represented at Westminster and in Edinburgh. In view of the position now adopted by the Leader of the Opposition, working out the policy position that is in the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole is more about information and analysis of the effects of different options than about party political positions. We are taking a reasonable view of all that. Again, the Conservatives would be advised to think rather than merely speak about the White Paper.
The right hon. Member for Devizes crowned his contribution with some very bad prose. The Secretary of State's proposals were described as a dark, cold night. We were then treated to the dawn beyond the cold, dark night after which the right hon. Gentleman told us that it would all end in tears. It was ridiculous to end a speech from the Front Bench by referring to a can of tartan tax worms. It is clear that the thoughts of Michael Forsyth live on. That speech summed up many of the remarks by the Conservative Opposition.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) referred to the Parliament building. I am grateful for her comments on the selection of the design and I shall certainly consider her suggestions. As she rightly said, funding is important, and we shall explore all possible means of funding the Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Lady also asked about the licensing of theatres and cinemas. She will recall that the White Paper said that health and safety matters are to be reserved. I hope that she will recognise that much of the legislation on licensing and theatres concerns health and safety matters. We wish to maintain that consistency and continuity.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the reserved powers relating to gambling. Gambling has always been controlled in a uniform way throughout Great Britain. Indeed, there is no separate primary legislation covering gambling in Scotland. That is sensible, as, for example, it is easy to bet by post or telephone. It is important to retain a United Kingdom market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a number of important points, some of which were raised with us directly by the Law Society. In view of the time available this evening, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that I shall need to consider the points that were raised by the Law Society and respond to them. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend receives a full reply.
My hon. Friend also referred to further transfers by Order in Council. The provision is intended to tidy up issues that may be missed by the legislation. It is important to note that the power will be used only with the agreement of Edinburgh and Westminster. Once again, I should like to respond to my hon. Friend in detail.
§ Mr. McLeish
No. I am not giving way. [Interruption.] It is absolutely vital that I respond. I have been asked for 550 answers throughout the day and I shall not be halted by the continuing silly behaviour of Opposition Front-Bench Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow also asked why the appointment of the top two judges in Scotland would be treated differently. We propose no changes to what presently happens, except that the role currently performed by the Secretary of State for Scotland will transfer to the First Minister. The Secretary of State makes recommendations directly to Her Majesty the Queen on all but the top two appointments, on which recommendations will be made by the Prime Minister. We consider that it is sensible to continue with that practice as part of the United Kingdom legal system embracing constituent countries.
§ Mr. Ancram
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has said several times that he will write to hon. Members in response to their questions. Is it not the normal practice that such answers are lodged in the Library so that all Members can see them?
§ Mr. McLeish
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow raised a number of sensible, constructive points. He should receive the respect and courtesy that he deserves. However, I am quite happy to provide Opposition Front-Bench Members with copies of my replies.
Mention has been made of service voters. Specific provisions in the referendum legislation will allow service personnel to vote according to their declared residence, which need not be the place to which they are posted. It could be their home town or where they were living before they joined up.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to funding to Scotland relative to other parts of the United Kingdom. In the past 18 years, we heard no complaints from the previous Government about the Barnett formula or the distribution of funds within the United Kingdom. Why should it be so now? Is it merely to coincide with the publication of the White Paper, or, indeed, was it simply an example of the wider issue of trying to use any point of debate to attack the proposals?
In a very witty speech, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) gave the impression that, in another place, some interesting points were made. He missed one, which I am quite happy to bring before the House. The Earl of Onslow referred towhat happens on the A9 between Lockerbie and the Border".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 July 1997; Vol. 582, c. 253.]Scottish Members will appreciate the significance of that.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan raised points about reserved powers and mentioned estate agents, abortion and licensing of cinemas. Our proposals are logical. We propose to devolve to the fullest extent possible the distinctive legal system in Scotland, but reserve employment law, health and safety, which including aspects of cinema regulation, the common UK market for goods and services, which of course includes estate agents, and certain health matters, including abortion, which are better dealt with on a Great Britain basis.
551 My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) raised two questions concerning access during the referendum, which were reinforced by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. We plan to run a high-profile absent voters campaign on television and in newspapers that will start on Monday 4 August. We also plan a general reminder-to-vote campaign nearer the referendum using television and radio.
An important point was raised in relation to people with disabilities. I am pleased to announce to the House that, after discussions with groups that represent people with disabilities and with returning officers, I intend to introduce a 50 per cent. grant from the Scottish Office to ensure that polling stations are modified so that we can try to improve access for disabled people. We shall certainly wish to promote as best practice as we can.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) asked why we should not be removing Scottish Members of Parliament sooner. Primary legislation is required to remove the requirement for a minimum of 71 Members of Parliament. The Boundary Commission will of course consider matters on the normal cycle of eight to 12 years from the last review. That is logical and coherent. It is a matter for the Boundary Commission to attend to after the House deals with the problem.
§ Mr. McLeish
Despite the curious comments from the Opposition Benches, I shall try to deal with the issues.
As well as making some other excellent comments, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) raised the question of architectural competition. We envisage an expert panel as part of the process, which will include representatives of varied interests in Scotland. The panel will recommend a shortlist of two to three options from which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can choose. We are currently looking for options for a Parliament in Edinburgh. We do not consider Holyrood palace a serious option. We want a Parliament that is fit for a new millennium and an enduring Parliament to ensure that public access is combined with excellent debate which leads to high-quality legislation.
The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) raised issues about anomalies in functions. We believe that the White Paper sets out clearly the 552 matters that we propose should be reserved, at paragraph 3.3, and the reasons why, at paragraph 3.2. The hon. Gentleman picked out certain matters and claimed that they are anomalies. He should recognise the overall structure and logic of what we have proposed. Having dealt with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate, I of course intend to write letters of clarification to hon. Members on any outstanding matters, informing them of detail.
Part of the general thrust of the Conservative opposition could be summed up in very few words. A party in turmoil should not try to undermine a White Paper. It should try to understand it first so that it can contribute a little better to the proposals. A party in retreat should not become an English national party. I suggest that the Conservatives on the Opposition Benches should appreciate that, in Scotland there is a healthy debate with the Conservative party, to which they are contributing absolutely nothing.
The important point is that the comments tonight from many Conservative Members will not protect the Union; they will threaten the Union. The logic of the Conservatives' position is difficult to understand. If one is so far out of touch, having any impact on reality becomes a strange occurrence.
The Conservative party simply will not learn. After 1 May, the White Paper and the referendum proposals, it is in a very vulnerable position. It has no Members in Wales or Scotland. The people of Scotland must now get to grips with the issues. Conservative Members have had a problem discussing the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland, because their attitude is fraudulent. They have already abolished the Shadow Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland, and the contempt that they have shown in opposition would continue into government.
On 11 September, the Scottish people will have a chance to vote. Parliamentarians in Parliament have had a chance to discuss—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.