§ Mr. McLeish
I beg to move amendment No. 271, in line 4, leave out `bodies' and insert `authorities'.
I have the satisfaction of rising to speak on the final Government amendment to the Bill. It is purely technical, it changes a reference in the long title, and it is consequent on previous amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Order for Third Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the patience shown in a lengthy and protracted series of discussions. I confess that we are in no atmosphere of histrionics or high drama, but I hope that my colleagues will forgive me if I show some satisfaction at reaching the final stage of the Bill.
I do not want to rehearse all that has happened—that would take many days—but I am entitled to look back to last May and on all that has been achieved since then. Much progress has been made: the White Paper last July was complex, lucid, and above all, popular; the referendum in September was carried handsomely and without qualification on both questions, ending the argument on consent; and the Bill itself had two days on Second Reading, followed by what might lightly be called extensive, and exhaustive, consideration in Committee and on Report.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of the referendum, will he clear up a question that bothered us earlier? Does the Scottish Parliament have the power to trigger and initiate a referendum on independence?
§ Mr. Dewar
The constitutional structure of the United Kingdom is a matter for the whole country, and for the UK Government. However, as I have always made clear—I may say a word or two more on the matter later—any point of view, political or otherwise, can be advanced if the people's loyalty and votes can be obtained for it. I have made it clear repeatedly, and throughout our proceedings, that that is my view.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and I have once or twice had, if not cross words, somewhat tense exchanges, I pay tribute to his persistence and tenacity. When I came to the House in 1978 as a retread after the Garscadden by-election, I watched my hon. Friend fight very hard against the 829 passage of the Scotland Act 1978. I find it a little eerie, but remarkable, that he is still here fighting the same corner just as hard as he ever did.
I also pay genuine tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office, who has borne the brunt of the battle for a long time. He has shown patience beyond the call of duty, and has always been courteous, helpful to the House and well informed. He has been a first-class colleague, and has carried a lot of the burden of the Committee and Report stages. I am very grateful to him.
I also congratulate and thank others who have played a role. I have had exchanges with, among others, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond); I have the feeling that there may be further exchanges in future. I look forward to starring on many more billboards, courtesy of the Scottish National party, in the period that lies ahead. I may even go into that business myself—who knows?
Let us not forget the Conservatives and the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who thought that he had fled Scotland and the troubled times of the past to make a new home in a more settled environment, only to find himself sucked back into the maelstrom of Scottish politics. He found himself in the particularly unfortunate position of having no policy to promote or defend, and I think that he and his colleagues have busked most bravely. Finally, my parliamentary private secretary and many of my colleagues have also helped.
I shall say just a word to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues, whose work is often underestimated, but who have listened to many speeches. Perhaps some of them did not reach inspirational heights, but they are all part of the daily machinery of the parliamentary process. I speak for all my colleagues in expressing thanks to you and your colleagues.
I hope that the House will feel that our proceedings have been worth while. The Bill is sound; provides a coherent framework; and divides responsibility between Scotland and Westminster in a strong and logical way. The idea was to strengthen the voice of Scotland within the UK, and to put in place a structure that left at Westminster that which should be at Westminster—the most obvious matters are foreign affairs, defence, macroeconomics and fiscal matters. However, we have also left at Westminster the means to define the level playing field that is the United Kingdom. I do not want to labour the point, which the House has grasped, but matters such as financial services regulation, labour law and company law remain at Westminster.
What Scotland receives is a remarkable range of powers affecting health, education, housing and law reform. Scottish affairs will be run by a directly elected Parliament that will precisely reflect the opinions and great mix of points of view expressed on the Scottish political scene.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
I understand why the Secretary of State places great emphasis on the Scottish dimension, but he must realise that 97 per cent. of the money that Scotland receives in grants and so forth comes from the United Kingdom Parliament. Does he accept that, although the Scottish dimension is important, it remains fundamental to the concept of a united kingdom 830 that the amount of money paid by our taxpayers should be properly reflected in the proportion of power that is dispersed to Scotland?
§ Mr. Dewar
I accept that we hold firmly to the partnership principle in the United Kingdom. I have probably said that often enough, and probably to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Everyone in the UK pays direct or indirect taxes; the Government collect various revenues; and the whole lot is pooled and allocated on an agreed basis. I recognise that there has been debate about that basis—the hon. Gentleman is probably one of those who have taken part.
The Barnett formula ensures that the Scottish budget is adjusted broadly in line with comparable UK spending Departments. That mechanism was tried, tested and fiercely defended as right during 18 years of Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Stone is entitled to dissent; indeed, all my memories of him have him as a pillar of dissent on almost every matter of importance during those years. I hope that he accepts that I recognise the importance of getting the balance right. I have talked of that balance, and the balance of what remains at Westminster, and the hon. Gentleman is right to mention an important issue. I am glad to have had his help in outlining the facts.
I shall mention one or two other features of the Bill, which most people have grasped. Because the Parliament is unicameral, great emphasis must be placed on pre-legislative scrutiny, proper consultation and proper discussion with the community of Scotland before final decisions are made about legislation. It is easy to say that, and I accept that a great deal of work will have to be done to get the systems refined, in place and working properly. Everyone is in favour of them in principle, but that does not mean that it is entirely clear how they will work, or that people will always have the staying power to make them work, once they are in place.
It is important that that remains part of our objective. The structure that we are now passing on to another place makes it essential that that effort is made. I am glad that there is a discussion, which I hope will continue, between parties and between other interested bodies in Scotland about how that can best be achieved. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is closely involved in that.
Another self-evident protection that is relevant in view of the unicameral nature of the system is the new electoral system. I keep saying—I am not sure to what effect—that the Government whom I represent and the party of which I am a member deserve great credit for breaking the mould. One of the most far-reaching changes in the Bill is undoubtedly the direct linking of the percentage of votes gained by a party to the number of seats that will be allocated to it in the new Parliament.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am delighted to hear that from a sedentary position the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) is doing his best, even in that unlikely outpost, to keep the Scots language alive. He seems to suggest that the Bill is a midden. I should like to hear him trying out that expression at the next tea party of the North Essex Conservative association. It would be, to use a happy metaphor, a Pygmalion scene.
831 The electoral system is a vital part of the new politics in Scotland. Clearly, people will have to learn how the system operates. They will have to understand that they have two votes—one for their individual Member of the Scottish Parliament, who will represent them on a normal constituency first-past-the-post system, and a second vote that they can cast in terms of a party preference and which will be part of a corrective mechanism to ensure that the number of seats allocated is brought into line with the percentage of votes.
I occasionally meet cynics, although I am sure that there are few in the House, who tell me that that is too complicated for the average voter in Scotland. I do not believe that, but the significance of the system will have to be argued and explained. That important work lies ahead.
§ Mr. Ancram
The right hon. Gentleman used a rather strange expression. He said that the first vote would be for the constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament who would represent the voter. In that case, what does the second type of Member of the Scottish Parliament do? Whom do those MSPs represent?
§ Mr. Dewar
I was merely drawing attention to the simple structure that we have introduced, which the right hon. Gentleman knows well. There are some interesting arguments to be conducted on the subject. It is one of several subjects on which I differ from the Scottish National party, which has suggested mechanisms that would make a sharp distinction between those who are elected in the first-past-the-post constituency section and those who are additional Members. I do not think that we should see such a distinction. All the Members of the Scottish Parliament have a representative capacity.
My knowledge of European politics is not as detailed as that of some hon. Members, but I have visited Germany and spoken to people from the CDU, CSU, SPD and so on. My experience is that no distinction is made there, and no distinction is seen by members of the public. That is what we should aim at, although I accept that, as it is a new system, it may take some time for us to reach that position.
§ Mr. Salmond
The Scottish National party has not suggested any such sharp distinction. We questioned the scale of expenses required, as I think the Minister of State will confirm.
I wanted to be helpful to the Secretary of State. I have been looking at the record and, as far as I know, the Conservative party in Scotland is the only major political party in democratic history to say that it will put up only 73 candidates for a 129-Member Parliament. I know of no other party that has said that it will not try to fill all the seats available. That is an extraordinary position.
§ Mr. Dewar
I always respond when the hon. Gentleman is anxious to be helpful. I shall not say that I treasure the moment, as that might suggest that it is rare, and it does not necessarily have to be rare. I was not aware of that eccentricity of the Conservative party, and it seems remarkable. The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting—I look to see whether there is a confirmatory 832 nod from the wise and sage right hon. Member for Devizes—that the Conservatives will contest the first-past-the-post seats, but will not take up any list seats allocated to them.
§ Mr. Dewar
Ah. There is a little mystery here. The right hon. Member for Devizes may want briefly to clarify the matter, within the rules of order, if only so that he will not be misrepresented by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan in future. We would all want to avoid that.
I said that I would be brief, but I have been sidetracked, albeit pleasantly, by colleagues. The new electoral system is a brave reforming move. It was introduced on a matter of principle, because we believed that, on balance—there are always pros and cons and differences to be weighed up—it would produce a healthier democracy in Scotland, and a system that would be seen as fairer and more representative of all the various opinions in our political range. I have no doubt that it will have a remarkable and far-reaching impact on Scottish politics.
The system is built to last. On occasions such as this, dire predictions are always made of trouble and strife. No one can rule out tensions, constructive and otherwise, in the future. We have, however, tried to accommodate that. As hon. Members will know, we have included a provision for dispute resolution. We have given a place, which has turned out to be surprisingly controversial, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. We have tried to lay down ground rules in the form of concordats. I believe that that is a sensible way of proceeding, but I concede—
§ Mr. Swinney
The Secretary of State mentioned concordats. How many concordats does he envisage will be put in place as a result of the legislation and the process dialogue between the Scottish Executive and the Westminster Parliament?
§ Mr. Dewar
A good deal of consultation is going on. The process of government, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is a process of discussion, dialogue, bid and counter-bid, leading to consensus and a common position that can be implemented. It is sensible for us to have ground rules, which is the purpose of concordats. We have made it clear, of course, that they do not reach a final form until they have been seen by the Scottish Executive, which is a party to them. They are not documents which are binding in law. Anyone who has moved, however uneasily or temporarily, through the labyrinth of government will know that precedents that have been established by agreement tend to hold. I believe that they will be helpful. Some will be more in the public interest than others, but I believe that all have a part to play in trying to shape the dialogue—which is the stuff of government—and ensure that it is constructive and serves the public well.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I ask the Secretary of State a question, in a reflective spirit, about concordats? Through no fault of his, but because of the guillotine procedure, we did not discuss properly the position of the Secretary of State after May 1999. As a putative leader of a party in Holyrood, how does he envisage the role of Secretary of State in the House? Would he be content to see negotiations on the most delicate matters conducted by 833 someone who did not have the status of Cabinet Minister—a status that the present Secretary of State enjoys? Would not the First Minister in Holyrood prefer to deal directly with the Government in London? Does not the position of Secretary of State evaporate?
§ Mr. Dewar
I do not think that it evaporates, but it certainly changes—it would be very odd if it did not. One of the prime aims of devolution is to achieve a more democratic and effective ministerial structure in place of the Secretary of State. I say in a reflective mood to my hon. Friend that, in the past year, I have had good cause to appreciate the force of that argument. It is extremely difficult to try to duplicate eight or nine United Kingdom Ministries in Scottish terms. I sometimes envy the Minister who has steeped himself in his portfolio and who has spent two or three years doing nothing but mastering the intricacies of education, for example, as I move inevitably—with what I hope is reasonable facility—between education and health, on to law reform and back to the problems of local government finance. That is not easy to do.
Whatever one thinks about the balance of the devolution argument, by looking at the machinery and the proposals in the Bill, one can see that one of the pluses will be that several Scottish Ministers—the number obviously depends on the judgment of the First Minister and his colleagues—will become not generalists but specialists in those areas. There will perhaps be a rather different dynamic between Parliament and Minister and between Minister and Administration as a result.
Therefore, the Secretary of State will lose many of the tasks that presently dominate—and I do not use that word lightly—his life. I believe that any Government in the United Kingdom will require a Minister of seniority who will have the task of interpreting what is happening in Scotland and providing advice to Government. That job will become particularly important if the Administrations in Edinburgh and London are of different political colours. No Secretary of State is a statutory animal—no one knows that better than the hon. Member for Linlithgow. A Prime Minister can decide to amalgamate ministries or simply cause a ministry or a Secretary of State to disappear—I refer not to the occupant but to the office itself. However, I do not anticipate that happening in this case. I believe that, for the foreseeable future, we shall need such a person in the United Kingdom Cabinet. Of course, I recognise that a change will take place—I glory in that change and I believe that it is at the heart of the argument for the devolution settlement.
I shall try to hurry on as I am delighted to see several hon. Members poised to enter the debate. I believe that there are other areas where the provisions of the Bill will give to Scotland a new dimension and new horizons. Schedule 5 provides the basis for the European activities of the Scottish Administration: a representative office in Brussels. I hope that Scotland will have the opportunity to compete with the Spanish autonomous provinces, the German Lander and the Italian provinces. Anyone who has spent time in Europe—even I, who have been there only to sample occasionally—knows that there is a great deal of activity at that level in Europe and that not all the power broking, discussions and arrangements are made at national Government level. I think it is important that Scotland gets involved there.
834 I said a few minutes ago that I hoped that the system was built to endure. We aim to give the Parliament the chance to prove its worth. I recognise that, for the nationalists in particular, it is a transitory matter: a transitional arrangement. They view it as being inherently unstable—although they may protest, as they have tonight, that they believe in the good government of Scotland. I simply repeat my position, which is well known: we should get down to tackling the tasks that are important to people in Scotland, whether they involve housing, education, law reform or the field of employment. We should not be plunged immediately into an endless debate about whether we do or do not need further constitutional change.
I have said repeatedly—and I shall do so again—that I believe in the sovereignty of the people. I do not want to sound as though I am repeating an old refrain or an old song: it is a matter of fundamental importance. I believe that power lies with the people. However, acceptance of that position does not imply that we should prejudge the way in which that power is exercised or what the final outcome should be. It would be arrogant to assume that the people will want to go down a particular road at a particular time and will not occasionally change their mind. I believe that our aim must be to convince people of the worth of the policies and mechanisms that we offer and upon which they must decide at the end of the day.
The devolution settlement is exactly what it says and the constitutional framework is reserved in schedule 5—and self-evidently so. I repeat what I have always said: the way to exercise our power is for parties of whatever point of view or opinion to carry the people at the ballot box. If they do that, they are obviously in a position to progress their cause. I do not believe that people will want to do other than give the Parliament that they created with their votes the chance to flourish, prove its worth and to serve the people. I believe that most people want to see it enjoy the very substantial—and, in many ways, the radical and brave—powers that will be allotted to it by this Parliament if the Bill completes its passage. This Parliament is taking that decision, which must be endorsed by a majority in this Parliament representing the whole of the United Kingdom.
What I believe Scotland wants, and what I hope will be granted, is a Parliament that will take seriously the problems that oppress and inhibit and build social and economic barriers in our communities, and which will reflect and respond to the views of people in Scotland. This is a matter for the electorate, but in my view we do not want further constitutional debate which could only distract and which would be in danger of smothering the real issues.
I understand that I have not mentioned the Liberal Democrats over the past 20 minutes or so, which seems a little churlish as they stood by us in the Scottish Constitutional Convention and have certainly played a good and constructive role in the debate. I am not in their pockets and they are not in mine, as will become increasingly clear as the days go by, but I appreciate their whole-hearted support in what has been, and essentially remains, a common cause in terms of the structure of government in Scotland and our relationship to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Bill will now move on to the Lords. Someone said to me this afternoon—it must have been a Conservative because, I am told, the Conservatives believe in fun—that 835 when it goes to the Lords it will be great fun. I do not know whether it will be great fun and I do not think that that is a term that I would apply. Their lordships will take matters seriously. They are entitled—and, arguably, have a duty—to do so. I shall watch with interest their no doubt expert debates, especially on the more abstract constitutional issues, which, to be fair, lie at the heart of the Bill.
I believe, however, that the upper House, like this House, will take the view that the referendum ended the argument on consent and that, although people of good will will want their say about detail, they will give a fair wind to one of the most exciting and important constitutional changes in this country for many years. I am unashamedly proud of what has been achieved—the coming together of diverse interests in Scotland—and have been impressed by the number of people who have said to me, "I didn't vote for your side in the referendum, but the decision now having been taken, I want to make it work and to get the best out of it in the interests of Scotland." There is determination to work with the grain of the new system.
§ Mr. Dewar
No, I am coming to the end of my remarks.
To be fair, despite much wavering on the road, many Conservatives, especially in Scotland, take that view. The message has still to trickle down—to use a favourite Conservative phrase—to other parts of the parliamentary party, which are difficult to reach. I hope that we can continue that feeling of co-operation.
The structures of our constitution will never be the same again and the face of Scottish politics will change for ever. I put this delicately, because I am aware that it may be a sensitive subject: after listening to recent contributions from Conservative Members, I believe that a lot of interesting thinking is going on about the implications for the wider United Kingdom of the brave stance and brave steps that we are taking and inviting the House to endorse.
I believe that it is right to say that nothing will be the same again and I am convinced that that will be for the better. We shall enrich the democracy of the United Kingdom and Scotland will play a full, fair and significant part in its future.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Ancram
Tonight we come to the end of a very long haul. I join the Secretary of State in thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your fellow Chairmen and the Clerks of the House for the way in which business has been conducted over the past four months. Indeed, it would be churlish not to offer some tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Minister of State for their stamina in driving the Bill through the House. I know the preparation that goes into taking Bills through Parliament, and I recognised on occasion the hunted look that comes across the face of a Minister at the Dispatch Box towards the end of a long and wearisome day, when yet another question not covered in his brief comes winging its way towards him.
836 I congratulate the Secretary of State on getting his Bill thus far. The Minister of State has left the Chamber, but I pay that tribute to him as well. Having said that, I am amazed that it has taken so long. For once, the Government cannot place an iota of blame at the Opposition's door for holding up the Bill, because we have worked throughout to an agreed timetable. When I signed up to the timetable in January, I thought that the Bill would be clear of the House by the end of March. I suspect that the Government are quietly beginning to panic about the timetable for the project, and I trust that they will not use that as an excuse to railroad the Bill through the other place.
As the Secretary of State conceded tonight, deep scrutiny is required on many matters to which we in this House could not do justice within the timetable. Despite pressure from myself and from my hon. Friends, many questions remain dangerously unanswered. The lateness of the Bill is entirely of the Government's making, and the obscurity that still surrounds great lumps of it is solely the result of their reluctance to answer questions. In fairness, the right hon. Gentleman occasionally tried to answer questions, but, as we witnessed earlier tonight, that usually led him and the Government into deep water. The Minister of State made an art form of not answering questions, and I fear that in that respect he did the Bill no favours.
I paid tribute to Ministers for their stamina in driving the legislation through, and driving is the right word. Steering is perhaps the more usual word, but it would be totally inappropriate in this case, as it carries the connotation of being prepared to move to meet the force of arguments and to take on board improving suggestions. That has not been the Government's way with the Bill. Almost all amendments have been rejected, no matter where they came from or what they sought to do. With few exceptions, even amendments that were tabled by Labour Back Benchers met the same, mostly unexplained, rebuffs as those that were tabled by the Opposition.
The Government have given a new meaning to the slogan "Not an inch". Even the proverbial donkey with a leg stuck on each corner normally proves more mobile than have the Government during the Bill's passage. When they were faced with an embarrassing issue such as euthanasia, they were prepared to use underhand methods to avoid debate. Their actions will not go unnoticed outside, not least among their supporters who believe, as we do, that this is an important issue.
The Government's arrogance will bring smiles of anticipation to the lips of lawyers. My old profession loves to see such Ministers because they are the guarantors of their future prosperity. Lawyers like Ministers who see concession as a weakness and admission of error as a character defect. I suspect that that is why they have enjoyed watching the Bill's progress. I fear that for many years it will be a dripping roast for lawyers on both sides of the border.
The legislation will feed not only lawyers: it will feed the suspicions of those who believe that there is an agenda behind the Bill. In the debate, the Minister of State exacerbated that feeling by the way that he dealt with the constitutional issue. He was asked a simple question by me and by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about whether a Scottish Parliament could trigger a 837 referendum on independence. He ducked and weaved and refused to answer the question, leaving great suspicion in the minds of all who heard him.
When the Bill began its parliamentary voyage on 12 January, it left port to the sound of cheering crowds. Scottish newspapers heralded the Secretary of State as the father of the nation. The Government were the champions of Scottish aspirations, and the sunshine cruise to the smooth election of a Labour First Minister in a Cabinet in the Scottish Parliament was guaranteed to all who bought tickets. However, the voyage has gone badly wrong. The vessel, which was famously billed as the weapon that would kill nationalism stone dead—[Interruption.] Some vessels are weapons, as I am sure the Secretary of State would find if he asked the originator of that expression—the Secretary of State for Defence.
The vessel has run into an obstacle. The captain and crew became so convinced of their own importance that they stopped listening. The rest of us saw what was coming and warned about it, only to be called Jeremiahs. The Government listened even less. They stopped listening to views on where the Parliament would be sited. They started by saying that they would consult on that, but, in the end, they made the decision themselves. They stopped listening to people in Scotland and to hon. Members who warned that the Bill was fundamentally flawed in relation to money and to Europe. They saw every constructive criticism as an attempt to scupper the project, becoming so convinced by this political form of paranoia that, in the end, they would not even listen to their friends who tried to warn them as well.
When the Government first struck the growing mass of nationalism, they would not even admit that it was there. They assured us that there was nothing to worry about, and the band that was led by the Secretary of State played on. When we raised the dangers in the House, we were accused of somehow being anti-Scottish. How different matters are now. The Secretary of State's sober analysis in this debate, compared with the triumphant confidence of his speech on Second Reading, shows how much has changed. Nationalism is not just creeping up behind the Government: it threatens to overtake them. The nationalism which, by the Government's analysis, should be dead, is trampling all over them. No wonder the Labour party in Scotland describes them aseconomically inept, morally repugnant and spiritually bereft".I am sure that people will remember that quotation.
We mark the passage to the other place of a Bill that arrived here in a mess.
§ Mr. Ancram
I shall give way only once, because I do not want to waste time. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman because I always enjoy his contributions.
§ Mr. Salmond
That quotation is absolutely accurate, but remember: the Scottish Labour party described the Labour Government as such because they were pursuing the policies of the right hon. Gentleman's Government.
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman has obviously made the same mistake as other hon. Members: they have not noticed that the Government changed last year.
838 The Labour party is now in government. It is responsible for its actions and answerable to the House and the country for what it does. I am not going to accept responsibility for what the Secretary of State and his colleagues may do.
Tonight, we mark the passage out of the House of a Bill that arrived here a mess and leaves here a mess. If it were just any old Bill, I would probably temper my criticism in the knowledge that when, in due course, its errors and flaws became apparent, the blame for the damage would be laid at the Government's door. That would politically suit us, but this is not just any old Bill. It is a fundamental constitutional reform which will fundamentally alter the constitutional landscape not just of Scotland, but of the United Kingdom as a whole. The Government's failure during the Bill's passage not only to resolve the problems, but to concede even that they exist is of the gravest concern to all those of us who wish Scotland well in the devolved future that she has chosen and who believe also in the United Kingdom.
The Bill still carries the seeds of its own undoing. Far from achieving a glorious new Parliament and politics that would work in harmony with Westminster and Whitehall, it is riddled with irritants and omissions, which will ultimately only play into the hands of those who wish to create conflict between the two.
The Bill still creates unacceptable constitutional imbalance within the United Kingdom. The English dimension remains an arena for future resentment, conflict and division. It is almost unbelievable that the Bill finishes its process here tonight without the Government having even remotely agreed that that dimension, that problem, is real or serious.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have repeatedly brushed that aside with contempt, painting it as an anti-Scottish figment of English political imagination, a last gasp by those who would stop devolution in its tracks. They have buried their heads in the sand and hoped that that awkward question would just fade away. It has not faded away and it will not. Indeed, they have succeeded merely in building into the legislation a flaw so fundamental and an irritant so pervasive that it remains a ticking time-bomb within their devolutionary reforms. They scoff at that description. Their English colleagues do not. While they claim that there is no need to do anything, we read in yesterday's Financial Times that their English colleagues are by no means so sanguine. Andrew Parker's piece in yesterday's Financial Times states:Ministers intend to recall the Commons regional affairs committee. It could be renamed the English grand committee and may, over time, acquire limited law-making powers.Senior members of the governmentso he had obviously got this from somewhere. The Secretary of State laughs, but the Government are the masters of spin. If they live by spin, they must die by it as well. Andrew Parker states:Senior members of the government believe that reviving the committee will help shore up the United Kingdom.But ministers are also concerned at growing resentment over Scottish devolution among Labour MPs who represent English constituencies.One senior member of the government said the recall of the regional affairs committee would help to neutralise that resentment.A senior member of the government acknowledged that Scottish and Welsh devolution had to be balanced by a separate English forum.839 Now there is something different from the same Government who told us, effectively, that the English dimension existed only in our minds. We now hear that members of the same Government fear its consequences. At least some members of this Government are awake to the consequences of their ill-thought-out proposals. Sadly, however, the Scottish contingent is not.
What that senior member of the Government is offering goes nowhere near answering the West Lothian question, because it does not prevent Scottish and Northern Irish Members from voting on specifically English matters. All in all, it only goes to show the confusion that the Government have created in their own ranks and the muddle that they are in. I am only sorry that the United Kingdom is the victim of it.
§ Mr. Wallace
In the past few minutes, the right hon. Gentleman has described the proposals as ill thought out, carrying the seeds of their own undoing, a ticking time-bomb, a mess and creating an unacceptable constitutional imbalance. Indeed, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) described them as a midden. Will they vote against Third Reading?
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. and learned Gentleman must bide his time. I have had to listen to many speeches by him, and I hope that he will do me the respect of listening to mine. I shall make my speech in my own way. So far, I have described only a small part of the deeply flawed nature of the legislation.
§ Mr. Ancram
No. I do not want to take too long, and I have given way many times during the Bill's passage.
Quite simply, the mess goes on. The Government proclaim for the Bill—the Secretary of State proclaimed it again today—a proportional election system. As we have clearly demonstrated, such a system is clearly open to abuse—to manipulation by split-ticket voting for alter ego parties—in a way that could outrageously distort the result. Would the Government listen to what we said? What a hope. Concern about the issue was voiced even by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill—but not by his Scottish counterpart, to whom admission is apparently tantamount to defeat. A flawed electoral system therefore remains in place in the Bill.
The Bill also contains a flawed system of tax raising. Hon. Members from many parties, and professional people in Scotland—such as accountants and general commentators—all say that the definition of who will pay the extra tax is confused, inadequate and, in some cases, downright unfair. The Government, with their familiar humility, respond by saying that the proposed system requires no change.
The greatest flaws are yet to become apparent. Europe, and Scotland's voice within it, has been much debated in the House. We say that Scotland's right to be heard, which is implicit in the current unitary arrangements of the 840 United Kingdom, is being discontinued by the legislation, with nothing effective to replace it. I believe that both the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party agree with that analysis, as do Scottish fishermen and Scottish industry. The Government do not agree with it. Ministers talk blithely of informal agreements to regulate the matter, and have rejected genuine attempts to give Scotland statutory rights to be consulted and heard. They told us that it was not necessary to do so—because, after all, nothing much has changed, and all will go on as before.
I wonder whether the Government really understand the purport of their own legislation. In today's Scottish questions, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), said that, after devolution, Ministers would continue to participate in European bodieson the same basis as at present".They cannot participate on the same basis, as their status will be different. After devolution, they will cease being United Kingdom Ministers. One unitary Government will become two Governments, who will not necessarily be of the same persuasion. Disagreements and conflicts of interest will arise. Where will Scotland's voice be? The precise answer is nowhere, and no amount of pusillanimous and pious talk of concordats will alter the realpolitik that will govern.
What about money? Of all the elements that can help to hold the United Kingdom together in the face of the threat of separation, foremost is the need for a system providing fair resourcing to all parts of the United Kingdom. The issue's sensitivity was highlighted in yesterday's Financial Times, which, in the same article, proclaimed thata new assessment of public spending needs across the UKcould reduce resentment. Yet the Bill remains dangerously quiet on that issue.
Again we are told that we need not worry, that nothing has changed, and that all will go on as before. However, what is now one Government will become two separate Administrations, with politically different agendas. It is really a dereliction that the specific issue of fair resourcing has simply not been addressed. If ever there was a cusp on which future division can be forced, an area for separatists to exploit and an issue requiring statutory reassurance, it is the issue of fair resourcing. Yet, once again, the Government have failed to act, leaving the Bill dangerously flawed.
There will be much work for the other place in trying to salvage the Bill's original intentions of providing for a healthy, stable and beneficial Parliament for Scotland. There are many holes to be filled, and many half-baked proposals will require proper cooking.
The real trouble is that the Bill has proceeded on a false assumption in the minds of Ministers. Throughout the Bill's passage, whenever we pointed out difficulties, Ministers used buzzwords and phrases, such as consensus, agreement, concordat, fraternal co-operation, the new politics, all working together—
§ Mr. Ancram
Yes. However, the Government's pipe-dream has been shattered by the cold blast of political reality that is now shown in political opinion in 841 Scotland. Today, we saw an example of that political reality, in the spat between the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Such personalised venom is hardly the new politics that we were promised.
Right from the start, we argued that the Bill needed to provide against the storm, and that it had to be tested against the worst-case scenario and not against the fairytale world described at the start of the debate by the Secretary of State. The need is even greater today, but, as the Bill leaves this House, that need has not been met.
The people of Scotland can rightly feel that they have been sold a false prospectus. It is certain that much of what has been said about the Bill will come home to haunt the members of the Government. All those easy words about the constitution, the role of Parliament and so on, will be there for the eating in future. The Government will wish increasingly that they had thought through the Bill rather more comprehensively before taking it through the House.
The hunted, twitching, panicking looks on the faces of Scottish Office Ministers demonstrate that that nightmare has already begun. We shall refrain from saying, "I told you so," but we shall look for the Bill to be improved in another place. Scotland was promised a stable Parliament that would work, not one that would descend into chaos in a welter of constitutional argument. As the Bill leaves us, it does not deliver that basic promise. Our role in these debates is one of which we can be proud. We at least have done our best. We can only hope that, in the other place, the Government will think again.
§ Mr. Wallace
We are still waiting to find out whether the Conservatives will act on their hot words and vote against the Bill, which the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) clearly believes is flawed. We shall see whether the Division Bell rings and whether the Conservatives have the courage of their convictions.
§ Mr. Salmond
I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is being fair. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that he was about to listen to the arguments. Which particular argument—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please be seated? I will not allow a discussion on how hon. Members might vote if there is a Division. This is a Third Reading debate. We will have a Third Reading debate on the content of the Bill, and nothing else.
§ Mr. Wallace
If I am not straying too far beyond your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I thank your good self and your colleagues in the Chair for the way in which proceedings in Committee and on Report have been conducted—not least the Chairman of Ways and Means, who convened the Business Committee? The programme allowed reasonable explanation of many aspects of the Bill. Matters that were not dealt with in Committee were largely covered on Report.
It is a convention of the House that all Committee proceedings on a constitutional Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House. From experience of proceedings 842 of this Bill, I do not think that that necessarily leads to effective scrutiny of all proposed provisions. The scrutiny that that convention claims may not necessarily be achieved in considering further constitutional Bills.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and, particularly, the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution on their tenacity and endurance in steering the Bill through the House. I congratulate the Minister, too, on the way in which he responded in several respects, although I shall come later to the issues to which we have not had a response.
We very much welcome the fact that the Bill reflects the White Paper, which, in turn, reflected the agreement achieved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. There was much talk—not least during the referendum campaign—that it was a bit of a fraud to put a White Paper before the people because the Bill would be different, but the Bill that is about to go to another place substantially and very fairly reflects the White Paper. Of course, a White Paper may include many things that cannot always be translated into legislative form. None the less, the White Paper was a fair presentation of what the people of Scotland were asked to vote for in September.
I turn to issues on which we still have reservations. The number of Scottish Parliament constituencies, once the boundary commission has reduced the number of constituencies in Westminster, is still unresolved. I welcome the Minister of State's constructive approach to that issue, and I hope that it will be addressed in another place and that the Parliament will continue to have 129 seats.
Abortion will remain a reserved matter. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments that we had in Committee, but there is an imbalance and an illogicality in making euthanasia a matter for the Scottish Parliament, but not abortion, which relates to health and law, both of which are devolved matters.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Devizes that it would be far better if there were a statutory right to Scottish representation at European Council meetings. We should always prepare for the worst-case scenario, and a future Government, perhaps of a different complexion to this one, might not want the Scottish Parliament to be involved in a delegation. It would be useful to have, as do the lander in Germany, a statutory right that would not allow exclusion.
The Barnett formula is not enshrined in the Bill. There ought to be some means by which we can guarantee the revenue of the Scottish Parliament. There is still unease and concern among professional bodies about the detail of the tax-varying powers which I hope will be considered constructively in another place.
§ Mr. Wallace
I will not vote against the Bill. It substantially represents the agreement struck between the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party and—let us not forget—many others who were involved in the constitutional convention, such as trade unions, Churches and many groups from Scottish civic life. The Government have honoured the agreement into which they entered.
843 The Bill differs in several significant respects from that put before the Scottish people in 1979. The fact that it contains tax-varying powers means that the Parliament will have some fiscal accountability, which is as much a matter of democracy as of accountability. Even if those powers are not used, the fact that they exist means that the electorate can ask, "Why has the hospital not been built?" or "Why has the school not been built?" and those who are elected must explain why they did not use the powers. Those powers improve the quality of accountability of those who are elected to those who elect them.
The pre-legislative consultative committees will improve the quality of legislation and, above all, will include many people in Scotland—not just the great and the good—in decision making. I hope that we will be able to devise structures that will reach out. The use of new information technology will allow people from all corners of Scotland to get involved in the decision-making process.
We shall have an electoral system that will fairly represent the parties, according to their strength in Scotland, in the number of seats that they are awarded in the Scottish Parliament. That is important not only in terms of democratic, fair representation, but in ensuring that it is a Parliament for the whole of Scotland.
Scotland is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an homogenous country. It varies greatly from north to south and from east to west. A system of proportional representation will mean that every party will have a stake in Scotland's rural areas and in its urban areas. That can only be for the good, because all parties will have first-hand experience of different parts of Scotland and their problems, challenges and opportunities, which can only inform all parties and will, I trust, lead to better decision making.
It is important to stress the question of the sovereignty of the people. As I said in an earlier debate, if people want to vote for independence in a general election, they are free to do so because there is a party that represents that view. They have not done so in any great numbers in successive elections.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What is the hon. and learned Gentleman's view of whether the Scottish Parliament can trigger a referendum?
§ Mr. Wallace
About two and a half hours ago, I said that I did not think that the Bill was especially clear about that, and that I had hoped that we would have clarification. I still do not think that the matter is clear; that is why I would have welcomed provisions in the Bill to put it right. I said that I thought that there should be the right to a trigger, although I also thought that it would be unwise to use it.
To return to my thread, we now have a proposal that has the overwhelming support of the Scottish people. I was one of the people in my party who opposed the idea of a referendum, but I said that if there were one, we should campaign strongly for a yes vote. Perhaps I got it wrong in opposing the referendum, because when it happened, the vote that the measure received represented probably the greatest form of entrenchment that it could 844 have. We are about to have a relationship and a Parliament which really represent the will of the Scottish people. Their sovereignty has been expressed, and the Parliament that we are about to have represents the expression of that sovereignty.
We could argue that this is the first time that has ever happened, because those who negotiated the treaty of Union in 1707 had pretty scant regard for what the vast majority of the people of Scotland thought. Despite the idea sometimes expressed that we are in some way restoring a democratic Parliament, Scotland has never had a democratic Parliament. That is what we are about to embark upon.
There is something that goes with that, and we should not be ashamed or embarrassed to say so. It is that those of us who support the idea of a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom should remember that there are two strands to the argument. Inevitably, we have talked a lot about the Scottish Parliament; we have talked about its powers, the years of campaigning that it took to get it, and the hours that we have spent discussing the detail in the Bill. However, we should not forget the other strand: the fact that the Parliament will be within the United Kingdom.
Just as we are proud to celebrate the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, we should not be ashamed to say that we still believe in the merits of a United Kingdom. In other contexts, we are debating the completion of a single market and the prospect of a single currency. Here we already have a single market and a single currency, and we have had them for nearly 300 years. They work substantially to our advantage, and have done for many years.
That is all before we even start to consider the kinship, the shared history and shared heritage, all of which are valued. I hope that, when the Scottish Parliament is established, we will not feel that to celebrate the Union makes us in any way less Scots. We can celebrate both the Scottish Parliament and our continuing membership of a United Kingdom that has served us all so well.
I would not wish to disappoint the right hon. Member for Devizes, who said on Second Reading that I never made a speech without mentioning Mr. Gladstone. Today is the 100th anniversary of Mr. Gladstone's death, and I cannot think of a better memorial to the great old Liberal Prime Minister than the fact that we are putting into place one of the things for which he campaigned—Scottish home rule.
In doing so, we are allowing ourselves an opportunity within Scotland to address the issues that matter to the people of Scotland—decent housing and a decent education system for our young people to train them and equip them with the skills to meet the challenges of the global marketplace, decent hospitals and a decent health service, the securing of jobs. Those are the things which really matter to the people of Scotland, and we shall have an opportunity to deal with them within Scotland. That will allow change for the better in the government of Scotland. For that reason, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will celebrate that fact, and will have much pleasure in giving the Bill a Third Reading tonight.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Secretary of State referred earlier to certain tensions during a previous debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has gone again."] Yes; I have to say that I 845 am one of those old-fashioned people who think that a Secretary of State has nowhere better to be than on the Floor of the House of Commons when the Third Reading of his own legislation is being debated. That is partly because I wanted to ask my right hon. Friend a serious question.
First, however let me say—I wish that the Secretary of State were in the Chamber to hear this—that, in one particular respect, I was wrong and he was definitely right. As I understand it, his first instinct was that although the important clauses should be taken on the Floor of the House, the rest of the Bill should be taken in a Standing Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—which was also the view of the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).
I was one of those who thought, perhaps in an old-fashioned way, that constitutional Bills should be taken on the Floor of the House, full stop. I think now that I was wrong and that my right hon. Friend was right. If parts of the Bill had been taken upstairs, it would have been less unexamined that it has been.
§ Mr. Swinney
I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider an area of the Bill that I think would have benefited from much greater scrutiny—the definition of the Scottish taxpayer, who may have to pay for the tax-varying powers. Does he believe that that would have been the subject of more detailed consideration if it had been taken in Committee upstairs, where we could have got to the nub of some of the concerns of hon. Members from both sides of the House that have not been dealt with in the Bill?
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman saves me some time, as I strongly agree with him. In particular—I wanted to put this question directly to the Secretary of State—what are Scottish Office Ministers doing to ensure that they have serious discussions with the Institute of Chartered Accountants? The institute's parliamentary officer is the daughter of one of the founders of the devolutionary movement, the late Professor John Mackintosh MP, for whom I had the greatest respect. The institute may be well disposed towards the general devolution proposal, but I am told that there are serious concerns about the important question of who is, and who is not, a taxpayer. Often, only small sums of money may be involved, but, because of the possibility of litigation, the lawyers will have a heyday, which I do not think that any of us want.
§ Dr. Fox
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way for what may be the last time in our consideration of the Bill. Does he agree that, whether the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House or upstairs in Committee, the effectiveness of scrutiny is dependent on the willingness of Ministers to give detailed replies to questions asked by hon. Members? Their failure to answer some of the specifics to which he refers has been the reason for the failure of scrutiny.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We must face the fact that part of the difficulty is that there are no answers to the problems that arise in setting up a subordinate Parliament in one part, but only one part, of a unitary state. The model proposed in the Bill is different from the one in Catalonia and has not been tried anywhere in the world.
846 I have a concern—it is one among many—to which I want to return. The problem is currently disguised by the Government's majority of 179. Not only may legislation be imposed on the English part of the United Kingdom contrary to the political wishes of the majority of English Members of Parliament, but a Secretary of State for Health, for Education or for local government in England may be imposed who does not match the political colour of the Members who have, rightly or wrongly, been elected by the English.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have attended all our deliberations of the Bill—my hon. Friend will have his turn.
Therein lies the difficulty of the slow candle of English nationalism. The position cannot endure, although it will endure during this Parliament, as it is disguised, and it will probably endure during the next Parliament. Sooner rather than later, however, hon. Members will find that the structure cannot last in anything recognisably like its current form. It is a structure built on sand and, as such, it will lead to endless difficulty in these islands. If I am Banquo's ghost, I am full of woe about what we are doing tonight.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am glad that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) ended with a literary allusion, because I had intended to congratulate the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on an historical allusion when he said of the legislation that, "It cam wi' a mess. It gang wi' a mess", but I then realised that the allusion was totally unwitting.
My party will vote for the legislation if we get the chance to vote. I do not challenge it in any way, but I was somewhat surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by your innovative ruling that speculating on voting patterns on Third Reading would not be in order. I have never heard of that before—but the House is full of surprises.
I am not sure what argument remains to be debated that will decide whether there is a vote against the Bill. I shall be interested to see whether the right hon. Member for Devizes follows the logic of his speech.
§ Mr. Salmond
As the hon. Gentleman asks me to get on with it, I shall move on to my next point: I was impressed by the turnout of Conservative Members, until several Conservative Back Benchers confided to me the reasons for their attendance. They said that they had been designated to attend and speak on the Bill and that, in return, they all got a shottie at the Dispatch Box.
Right enough, all the Conservative Back Benchers who attended, at some point or other, and with varying degrees of success, got to speak at the Dispatch Box. That puts the Liberal party and the Scottish National party at a serious 847 disadvantage: we cannot give an incentive to our Back Benchers to come along to debates by giving them a shot at the Dispatch Box.
My understanding that the Conservative party is putting up 73 candidates comes from no less a source than Mr. Raymond Robertson, the chairman of the Scottish Conservative party, so it must be true; and I leave that observation to be judged on its merits.
The Labour Back Benches were not always as full as the Conservative ones, but Labour participation was dangerous: the hon. Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) made distinguished contributions, and all of them seem to have been rejected for the list of potential candidates for the Scottish Parliament. Clearly, the best advice for aspiring candidates was not to turn up for the debates.
The Secretary of State did not get the hon. Member for Pollok's graceful and humorous point about his dress and apparel; perhaps he did not know that the lack of a tie was given, in the newspapers at least, as the reason why he had not made it on to the list.
§ Mr. Salmond
Well, it must have been some other matter of dress that did for the hon. Member for Pollok.
Some important points were established in our consideration of the Bill. I was disappointed on several occasions. I thought that the White Paper gave us reason to expect that the Scottish Parliament would have the power to summon not only witnesses but documents, which is important for its powers of investigation.
I was disappointed, as apparently was the right hon. Member for Devizes, by the lack of clarity on the European role. Earlier remarks, by the Foreign Secretary in particular, had raised expectations that the Parliament would have a defined European role, but that was not forthcoming.
I was disappointed by clause 27(7), which potentially overrides everything and means that, notwithstanding the rest of the legislation, the Westminster Parliament still has the ability if it so chooses to do anything it so chooses, even on devolved legislation. That contradicts the statements of the Secretary of State for Scotland during the devolution referendum that never again could a poll tax be imposed on Scotland. Clause 27(7) would allow the Westminster Parliament to impose such taxation.
We shall vote for the Bill despite those failings because I believe that this is a process, not an event; a beginning, not an end. Even my worst enemy would not accuse me of a lack of consistency on that. The Secretary of State raises his glasses. I take that as a sign of assent. The glasses are raised when he agrees. The glasses are now down. That must be a signal that other hon. Members are waiting to speak. I have described how the Scottish National party regards the legislation. It is therefore worth voting for.
As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, not every subject worthy of debate was debated. If he, rather than the Conservative party representatives, had been on the Business Committee, many of those issues 848 could have been brought before the House. I regarded many of our long debates as less important than some of the short ones. The hon. Member for Linlithgow nods in assent.
I regret the chicanery earlier this evening that resulted in a clause not being debated. I think that that was the only sharp practice in the course of the legislation.
§ Mr. Salmond
The Secretary of State demurs, but I think that there was some attempt to prevent a vote on that clause, which was foolish and unworthy. It could be said that the Conservatives should have asked for more than 15 minutes to debate one of their own amendments. [Interruption.] It is no argument to say that the SNP should not have voted on a clause that we thought was important.
§ Mr. Savidge
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the time taken to count the 289 votes was disproportionate compared with the time taken to count some of the votes during consideration of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill?
§ Mr. Salmond
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that two wrongs make a right and that sharp practice on one side justifies it on the other, I take it as an admission that there may have been some slow movement through the No Lobby earlier this evening. That was unnecessary. It demeans the process of legislation to resort to such a tactic. It is not worthy of the Secretary of State for Scotland or of the processes of this House. That was probably the only occasion on which I detected such practice during the passage of the Bill.
It is a small, sour note to end what has mostly been a positive and productive process. I strongly support the Bill and look to the future optimistically with high hopes and brave heart. I am confident that the judgment of the people of Scotland will be that of the SNP: that this is a beginning, not an end.
§ Mr. McAllion
It is not merely arguable but certain that history is being made tonight. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said, after tonight nothing will ever be the same again. It is therefore disappointing that this debate is taking place in such a thinly attended chamber and a flat atmosphere. I agree with what he said when he was challenged about whether constitutional issues such as this are above the comprehension of the average voter. Like him, I do not believe that. Average voters can follow very well the intricacies of constitutional Bills. Both he and I would have to admit that what has gone on inside the Chamber tonight is not necessarily the priority for ordinary voters.
For example, we heard from Opposition Members about the huge resentment outside this Chamber among the English people, who will rise up in rebellion when the true significance of the Bill becomes known. I went outside the Chamber earlier to have something to eat and read the London Evening Standard, which has a wide circulation in this metropolis. Its banner headline is not about historic events inside the Chamber but reads, "Labour chaplain gropes wives." [Interruption.] Sorry, 849 it was "Army chaplain"—[Laughter.] If any Labour Member is called Chaplain, I apologise immediately. That headline shows the level of interest outside and gives the lie to many of the arguments that we have heard from the Opposition tonight.
I must associate myself with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he thanked the various contributors to the long process of this Bill, but I want to single out some he did not directly mention. I thought that the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) have been outstanding. I am sure that everyone who has been in the Committee would agree that they are excellent parliamentarians and that they would grace any Parliament anywhere in the United Kingdom, if they were given the opportunity to stand, and I am sure that they would return the compliment to me, if they had the opportunity.
Most of all, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on succeeding in getting this important Bill to its Third Reading in a form recognisable as the scheme set out not only in the White Paper on devolution, but in the blueprint established by the Scottish Constitutional Conventional all those years ago. We have to remember the sort of Parliament that we are agreeing to set up. For the first time, Scotland will have a democratically elected Parliament—not for the first time in 300 years, but for the first time ever. The last Scottish Parliament was anything but democratic, which is why it no longer exists. If it had been democratic, it would still be with us and all this would have been unnecessary.
Also, the Parliament will be elected by proportional representation and the Labour party ought to be congratulated by the minority parties in Scotland—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—well, the majority in some cases, but by the other minority parties for being reasonable enough to allow the electoral system to be changed when it worked to Labour's advantage.
We shall have a Parliament which has the right to vary the rate of income tax, as was promised by the constitutional convention; a Parliament which will be in control of the Scottish block, which will be arrived at through the Barnett formula, despite the moans from Tory Members; and a Parliament in charge of the health service, local government, housing and Scottish law. In fact, we have in the Bill an excellent Parliament, which the Scottish people will be happy to see set up.
There have been some disappointments. We are not yet there on 50:50, but that is not through lack of effort by my hon. Friends in the Labour party or, indeed, the Scottish Labour party as a whole. The problem has lain with other parties failing to come to an agreement that would ensure a 50:50 Parliament in Scotland.
From time to time, there has been falling out along the way. For example, there was some dispute earlier over the right to hold referendums. I must tell my hon. Friends that I do not set out to be on the other side of the argument from them on every occasion. I remember that, when they suggested that there should be a referendum before the general election, I disagreed, and when I suggested that there should be a referendum after the general election, they disagreed with me. That was coincidental. I have been saying what I think, not deliberately setting out to 850 go against them. However, we have a sound basis for a powerful Parliament and one which will be very popular in Scotland in the years ahead.
Some issues have clouded debate on the Bill for me, in particular the debates on matters to be reserved to the Westminster Parliament and the assertion of the sovereignty of that Parliament over everything else, as well as the role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council—those areas that are said to be extra vires for the Scottish Parliament and all those different ways in which the Westminster Parliament is seeking to assert its right to control what the Scottish Parliament does. I cannot believe that any of those different matters will be a practical option for the Westminster Parliament in the real world when it comes to co-exist with another democratically elected Parliament inside the United Kingdom.
What we have to remember is that the Scottish Parliament, unlike the Westminster Parliament, will be exclusively Scottish; it will be elected exclusively by the Scottish people; it will be answerable to the Scottish people alone; that will be Scottish in every sense of the word. If the Scots in the Westminster Parliament take this Parliament's side against the Scottish Parliament, it will be seen as being anti-Scottish and it would not be sensible for anyone here to do that.
§ Mr. McAllion
No, I have not got time and other hon. Members want to speak.
I know that the fact that there is to be a new relationship with a new sort of Parliament creates uncertainty and that Members of this Parliament do not like uncertainty, so they cling to the old certainties like Westminster sovereignty which reassure them and make them feel better. However, that is entirely the wrong attitude to take, because hon. Members have to recognise that they are dealing with a body that differs greatly from anything with which they have dealt before. We cannot compare a Scottish Parliament to Scottish local government and say that, because Scottish local government is a creature of Westminster statute, the Scottish Parliament will be a creature of Westminster statute. We are dealing with a national Parliament—a Parliament which has behind it the democratic authority of a nation having voted in democratic elections to put it into power; a Parliament which will have to be treated with respect and not as a plaything of this Parliament, to be chopped and changed to this Parliament's liking.
I remember—albeit not personally, as I was not a Member of Parliament at the time—Enoch Powell arguing way back in the 1970s that devolution meant power devolved being power retained. That was 1970s-style devolution, but hon. Members have to remember that that sort of devolution was not sufficiently popular to stand up to the chicanery of the Westminster Parliament, so it did not succeed in getting enough of the Scottish people to support it against the desires of Members of this Parliament. Since the 1970s, the world has moved on and the situation is entirely different. We have had 18 years of undemocratic Tory government in Scotland, which hugely changed the opinion of Scots about the role of a devolved Scottish Parliament. We have had the Claim of Right for 851 Scotland, which asserts the sovereignty of the Scottish people and which is unchallenged in Scotland by almost all parties—even the Tories have come to accept that the sovereignty of the Scottish people is sacrosanct above all else. We have had the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which drew up a scheme for a devolved Parliament that was very different from the sort of Parliament suggested back in the 1970s.
§ Mr. McAllion
There is not time and I shall finish soon.
The 1990s-style devolution will be very different from the 1970s-style devolution and it will require the Westminster Parliament not to retain power, but to let go of power and free the Scottish Parliament to go its own way. Ultimately, what devolution really means is the right of the Scottish Parliament to be different from the Westminster Parliament—the right to decide that Scotland wants a different way of running its health service, a different way of looking after its schools and a different way of organising local government or paying for public services. That is Scotland's right and that is what devolution is all about. If we in our ignorance attempt to prevent Scotland from developing its own distinct and different ways, we really will be stoking up trouble for the rest of the United Kingdom.
Today's political change becomes tomorrow's political status quo, and no status quo lasts for ever. Even the old Union, which was swept away on 11 September by the double yes vote in the referendum, was not the same Union that had lasted for 300 years. It had survived for so long only because it had changed constantly. The Scottish Office was not around in 1707 and neither was the Scottish Grand Committee or the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs; those changes were made over time, because nothing in politics lasts for ever. Everything has to change and we must not get hung up on the question whether or not there can be further change in the constitutional arrangements between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, or whether the demand for such constitutional change has to be channelled through the Westminster Parliament, rather than through the Parliament that we are going to establish up in Scotland.
On its own, a devolved Parliament does not make any difference to whether Scotland will become independent or remain within the United Kingdom and neither does the holding of a referendum. Scotland will become independent only when a clear majority of the Scottish people want it to become independent. There is no road block that this Parliament or anyone else can put in the way of the Scottish people once they have decided to become independent; nor should anyone try to obstruct that desire. I cannot believe that anyone in the Labour party would genuinely want to frustrate the desire of the Scottish people if they wanted Scotland to become an independent country.
I believe that, tonight, the Scottish people are getting what, in the main, they voted for in the past four or five general elections—what I voted for—and in a democracy, that cannot be bad.
852 It is said that history is sometimes made in very strange places, and they do not come much stranger than this place. Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that the Bill, having been considered by the democratically elected representatives of the people since the start of January, now passes to another House which is not democratically elected, and about whose deliberations the people have no say. I can only say to the lords who sit there that, although we can do nothing about that now, they should be wary of trying to make any changes to the Bill.
I hope that Ministers will reassure us that the Scotland Bill is the beginning, not the end, of constitutional change in this country. When we have seen the Bill on to the statute book, we shall return to get rid of those—I was going to say "tyrants", but I had better not—unelected members of the other place.
§ 10 pm
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
I have taken part in most of the deliberations on the Bill and, notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, I should have done so regardless of the fact that doing so might increase the possibility of opportunities, however brief, to stand at the Dispatch Box. I have taken part in these proceedings because this is a matter of fundamental constitutional importance, and I am sure that goes for all my colleagues.
§ Mr. Salmond
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is an honourable man, is not disputing the point that I made.
§ Mr. Hayes
I merely reply that hon. Members in other parts of the House suggested to me that it was a good tactical move on the part of the Conservative party to give its new Members an opportunity to extend their skills and expand their experience. I am delighted to inform the House that that suggestion came from some of the frustrated new Labour Members who are given few opportunities to do anything. However, I do not want to become involved in such tittle-tattle because time is short and I wish to be brief.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said, the Bill is full of contradictions and anomalies, in many fields. In drugs policy, in food safety, in abortion and in tax-raising issues, there are significant anomalies in the Bill. One can only hope that they will be corrected when it passes to the other place—for which some of us have a great deal of respect, despite the comments by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion).
Beyond those anomalies and contradictions, one fundamental point needs to be amplified. By the admission of all those who have spoken, the Bill is significant. The Secretary of State told us that nothing would be quite the same again, and it was suggested from our Front Bench that the Bill was a matter of fundamental constitutional importance.
In those circumstances, I am worried, not by the hidden political electoral agenda, but by the absence of an agenda in respect of the constitutional strategy for the United Kingdom. There is an absence of vision about where the Bill leaves us in terms of the settlement between the various parts of the kingdom. I do not know whether the vision does not exist or whether the Labour party is not prepared to come clean about it; I shall be generous and 853 say that it is the former not the latter. However, as a result, further difficulties are inevitable in the relationship between the constituent parts of our kingdom.
If the Labour party chooses to solve those matters by setting up an English Grand Committee, or even perhaps an English Parliament—or a council of the isles, as has been suggested—let us hear that now. Let us have a frank, open and full debate about the future of the entire constitution of these islands. Let us not have piecemeal, ad hoc reform of the constitution, whereby Scotland and Wales are dealt with in one fashion, leaving us in an inconsistent state, and other matters must be patched up to quell the dissatisfaction in England that will undoubtedly result from this legislation. Let us have a full and open debate. Let us hear what the Labour party believes is the appropriate way to deal with those matters.
I shall conclude so that as many people as possible have a chance to speak. What concerns me is not so much what we have discussed in recent weeks and months, but the matters that have not been fully aired and considered: future democratic accountability of the nation; the distribution of sovereignty; how these islands will be governed; and the impact of all that on the interests of all the British people.
§ 10.4 pm
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I could not disagree more with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). If we had waited until the rest of the United Kingdom worked out how to conduct its home affairs, we would have waited a considerable time. Scotland was more than ready to go ahead with legislation for a Scottish Parliament. We have fulfilled our promise to introduce a Bill in the first year of government, and it will not be long before that process is complete.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) compared the Bill to a great ship leaving harbour and setting sail across the ocean. The more he went on, the more I thought he must have seen "Titanic" recently, although he stopped short of comparing the recent opinion poll to an iceberg. The Scottish National party will have to make up its mind; it cannot be on the bridge, steering the ship safely to port, but then take it out to meet an iceberg. By saying that the Bill is part of a process that does not stop with devolution, the SNP rejects all that the people of Scotland said in the referendum in September. They wanted what the Bill is delivering; to say that they want to go further is to fly in the face of their will.
We could hold referendums again and again, as was pointed out last Thursday at Question Time. We should remember, however, that people in Quebec are at each other's throats all the time, and we do not want that in Scotland.
The right hon. Member for Devizes referred to aspects of the Bill that had been left undebated. He said that large lumps and holes had to be filled, but I can ignore his mixed metaphors. As some of my hon. Friends have said, if members of the House of Lords do not treat the Bill seriously, or try to frustrate the clear will of the people of Scotland, their actions will come to haunt them.
Abortion and euthanasia have been raised, but I am baffled that any hon. Member should think that they are similar. To me, it seems obvious that abortions are carried out in clinics and hospitals, and it would be sensible to avoid cross-border traffic. Euthanasia, however, is by its 854 nature likely to be carried out wherever the dying person happens to be; we are not talking about transporting people on the point of death to clinics—a point which appears to have escaped those who discussed the two issues.
Let me turn to the heart and soul of the Bill. We have rightly gone for a unicameral system, following the discussions of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The system involves consulting outside bodies—Special Standing Committees can do that here, but are rarely used—and that can only benefit us by making it more likely that legislation meets people's needs.
I am glad that the Labour party in Wales has followed our lead in Scotland and has voted to carry out a twinning process for the selection of Labour candidates in Wales. I should not like the debate to conclude tonight without our thanking those in the convention who were involved in the fight for 50:50 representation. Particular credit must go to the Scottish Trades Union Congress women's committee for first raising the issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) pointed out, we will not achieve 50:50, but, owing to the Labour party's efforts alone so far, we are likely to achieve a high percentage of women Members, possibly one of the highest in Europe. We may well go on to achieve more.
With reference to the advice given on that subject, I maintain that there is nothing in our law or in European law to prevent political parties from taking steps to ensure equal representation in our Parliament. If I and others who share my view are wrong, I am indebted to Professor Noreen Burrows for pointing out that the equal treatment directive also applies to other matters in the constitution and political processes—for example, the succession to the Crown. The Princess Royal could take her case to an industrial tribunal. Although I am not a monarchist, I would say that, when the job goes a-begging, it should go to the best candidate, and many of us think that she would have an excellent claim. Likewise, peerages that pass from father to son under the present system could be challenged by the daughters.
I hope that I am not upsetting my hon. Friends too much, and I am glad that I will not be standing for the Scottish Parliament. If anyone tries to railroad our efforts and overturn them by taking us to an industrial tribunal, such consequences are likely to be raised, together with contests that were never aired before.
To conclude on a positive note, the Scottish Parliament will be different. It will bring about widespread discussion in our country and meet the needs of our people. I am glad to support it, as it will initiate change throughout the United Kingdom, to the benefit of us all in achieving more democratic processes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have received word that hon. Members on the Front Benches wish to make winding-up speeches, and I shall call them at 10.20. I hope that I can call at least one hon. Member from either side of the House before then.
§ Mr. Swayne
One of the principal weaknesses of the Bill was illustrated this evening when the Minister of State, in answer to an earlier debate, complained that, after 55 weeks—that was his timetable, not mine—we were still discussing this constitutional circus. It is extraordinary that, as the Bill leaves the House, we are 855 still ignorant—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are."] The House is still ignorant of whether the Scottish Parliament will be able to initiate a referendum on independence in Scotland.
We have heard various opinions, but it has been suggested from below the Gangway that the matter will be decided in the courts. I hope that it will be decided by their lordships, rather than in the courts, but the issue properly remains to this House. The constitutional settlement that was offered in the referendum referred to a devolved Parliament, a subordinate Parliament, where the sovereignty of the Scottish people properly rests with this House.
A referendum on independence in Scotland should be triggered only when this House takes notice of the fact that a majority of Scottish Members of this Parliament are members of the party below the Gangway, the Scottish National party. That is the proper time for such a referendum.
This is a dreadful Bill. Another of its principal weaknesses is the extraordinary arrangements that it will put in place to elect the Members of the Scottish Parliament. Those arrangements are the product of what we were told would be new politics and a new consensus. We were told that Labour was a party for the new Jerusalem, and that everyone would agree and co-operate. So many of this Bill's arrangements depend on that and on the good will of the Scottish Members in working together.
As the processes have unfolded, as we have watched the Bill proceed and the opinion polls in Scotland change, we have seen the saints beginning to fall out. We know that politics has not changed, and that there is nothing new under the sun. We know also that these extraordinary electoral arrangements will return to haunt the Government as the matter proceeds.
§ Mr. Swayne
No, I do not have time.
The question that remains to be decided by those of us who are deeply alarmed by the Bill is essentially whether the problems that it will create will be greater if we stop the process now, simply as a consequence of the quite unrealistic expectations that have been raised.
§ Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr)
I shall be brief in view of your earlier comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that this is an evening for celebration, and I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister. The Secretary of State may look rather tired, but he certainly does not look haunted or hunted.
Although this has been a rather low-key debate, and some people might say that the Committee stage was not exactly scintillating, I believe that this is a significant day for the Scottish people. They gave their verdict on this and other issues on 1 May last year—and I note that the sun came out today in celebration of the achievement of a Scottish Parliament, just as it did then in celebration of the general election.
I do not share Opposition Members' views about the cynicism of the so-called "new politics". The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) spoke 856 uncharacteristically about new politics, which he described as a fairy-tale world. I believe that many people in Scotland and elsewhere regard this place as a bit of a fairy-tale world at times, and I am optimistic that the Scottish Parliament will be different. I hope that it will have a more co-operative approach, with more women Members and greater representation from ethnic minority groups. That will be very welcome. I shall not rehearse those arguments again, and I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). There will also be more transparent procedures.
§ Ms Osborne
No. I am sorry, but there is no time.
I support change, and I have great hopes for the Scottish Parliament and its new approach. I believe that many people in Scotland share my view. However, although there appeared to be a positive consensus across Scottish politics for a time, the situation is now very different. I for one am very disappointed about that. I believe it is because too much time is being spent discussing whether there should be a referendum and independence for Scotland even before the Parliament has had a chance to set up and get on with its business.
I support the Scottish Parliament because it will bring more democracy to the everyday issues that affect the lives of people in Scotland. As a former councillor, I know the importance of health, education and housing. We must be able to deal with those issues closer to the people, in a way that they feel is relevant. I realise that the consultative steering group is doing a lot of work examining structures.
I am worried that, when people hear the usual yah-boo exchanges, they will lose heart. I hope that, over the next year, we can discuss each party's position regarding the Parliament's responsibilities. We have had, "Where will it be?", "How much will it cost?" and, "What will it look like?"; it is now time for, "What will it do?" Scottish Office Ministers have made many announcements in the past year—today's announcement on child care to name just one. They have not achieved the publicity they deserve for the revolutionary and radical things they represent, especially in relation to child care, which is a subject close to my heart.
In spite of the conduct of Conservative Members today, I believe that far more detailed and constructive discussion will take place in the Scottish Parliament. The staying power to maintain the momentum for genuine consultation is crucial, and the Scottish people will not thank us if we do not make sure that there is a genuinely different approach in the Scottish Parliament. People outwith the chattering classes in Scotland want something different, which reflects Scottish values and aspirations. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) must be fair to the hon. Lady. She has been in the Chamber all night, and she must have a hearing without interruption.
§ Ms Osborne
I am tempted to argue that, when the Scottish people look to the Scottish Parliament to reflect their values and aspirations, they will look to the Labour 857 party, but, in the light of what I said previously, I shall resist temptation. I make a genuine plea to all parties and individuals to go forward to the Scottish Parliament in a genuinely co-operative and constructive manner.
§ Dr. Fox
At the end of consideration during which there has been extraordinarily low input from Labour Members representing English seats, it is worth stating the context within which the Bill has been considered—Scotland's politics remain Unionist. Three parties at the previous general election put forward Unionist agendas—the Conservatives believe in a unitary state, the Labour party has put forward its devolutionary ideas, and the Liberal Democrats believe in a federal United Kingdom—and 76 per cent. of Scots voted for a Unionist party of one sort or another.
The Government believe that devolution will strengthen the United Kingdom—the Secretary of State has been a consistent proponent of that position for many years, and is honest in his defence of it—and that creating devolution and creating an elusive dynamic will diminish the forces of separatism in Scotland. We do not believe that that is the case, which is why we have always argued against devolution. The risk is that it will not defeat the forces of nationalism, but strengthen them.
That is not a forgone conclusion, however. The end of this part of the Bill's passage through Parliament is the beginning of the fight against the forces of nationalism, which we shall all, in our different ways, have to confront if they are to be defeated. I believe that they can be.
§ Dr. Fox
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because we are pushed for time.
I congratulate my hon. Friends who have taken part in the debates on the Bill. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), despite a year as a Member of Parliament, has not succumbed to the new politically correct, inclusive, third-way, emotionally incontinent school of politics, and continues not to mince his words. I also congratulate the Minister, who has returned to his place, on the courteous way in which he has carried the debates in the House—he has been generous in giving way—although the manner of its doing does not alter the nature of the deed. We still believe that too many questions have been left unanswered at the end of the Third Reading debate.
We have always worked on the principle that devolution poses a risk to the unity of the United Kingdom because it is an unstable model. As we have said many times, it pretends that the constitutional arrangement in one part of the United Kingdom can be changed without affecting the constitutional position in the rest of it. Given that we are vastly outnumbered in parliamentary terms, we have done our best to diminish the risks for conflict—what the Secretary of State called on Second Reading the "worst case" scenario on which we should plan future proceedings.
Many problems remain in the Bill. We have talked about the electoral system: the Bill will establish new relationships between electors and elected, and the 858 relationship between directly elected Members of the Scottish Parliament and those elected on the list is unclear. To whom will constituents go? Who will deal with inconsistencies and with the inevitable poaching? How will the system work, because it will not be a stable model for new Members? The single-chamber system occurs almost nowhere in the developed, democratic world. How will that work, and how will a counter-balance be provided? Who will carry out revision, and what are the mechanisms by which that will be done?
We still have not had clear views on tax. The hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) said that one of the most important elements missing from the debate was a clear definition of a Scottish taxpayer. Clause 72 does not clearly set out exactly how the tax-raising powers will work, and, given the contradictions between subsections (4) and (5), we do not know how they will work in practice. Many tax experts say that it is simply not possible for two opposites to exist in the Bill and for the Bill to begin to operate smoothly. I hope that the other place will give those matters due weight, because we certainly did not have the opportunity to debate them as closely as we would have liked.
Much of what is to happen will be brought about by concordat, by trusting to good will, although I suppose that, if the Minister for Sport can take the oath with his fingers crossed, the Government can pass the Bill with their fingers crossed. The idea that it must be implemented with bonhomie is not a sufficient constitutional safeguard, and in the Bill it is safeguards that we seek.
On the issue of Europe, there has been widespread cross-party criticism of the Government's failure to accept that the relationship will change. The role of Scotland in Europe will change fundamentally as a result of the legislation. That was never better demonstrated than by the case of Scottish fishermen who, because they constitute the majority of those in the United Kingdom's fishing industry, are automatically represented by a Scottish Office Minister, who is the lead Minister in European discussions. We are told that arrangements will remain as they are, and that there will always be the same consensus. They will not: they will change fundamentally as a result of the Bill, as will the role of the Secretary of State.
What role will the Secretary of State have in the Cabinet? Whom will he speak for, and where will his loyalties lie? Who will answer in the House for the decisions of the Scottish Parliament? We have never had an answer to that conundrum, which was raised several times. Those of us who sit in the House are responsible for raising taxes. After the Budget, we each have to vote for the raising of taxes which go to the Consolidated Fund and to the Scottish block. What mechanism will we who take responsibility for raising taxes have to scrutinise how the tax money is spent? That question has not been answered.
There are still inconsistencies in schedule 5. We wanted to discuss abortion and euthanasia and the inconsistencies relating to those matters. The contribution by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) raised more questions than it answered. We shall want to explore those matters in the other place. Despite a full day's debate, we have not had an answer on what is called the West Lothian question. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said that it was not possible to have an answer to that question. That may be the correct 859 assumption, given the form of devolution that we are debating. We have never dealt effectively with the English dimension, or with how it will proceed.
The Secretary of State has long believed in devolution as a way to maintain the Union. Expectations were raised in the White Paper, in the Bill, and in the run-up to the Scottish election. We must remember that the enemies of the Union sit below the Gangway. The Scottish nationalists are the enemies of the Union. Whatever differences we may have about how the Union is structured, it is the Scottish nationalists who see devolution as a Trojan horse. They are destructive, negative and introspective, and in many quarters they are defined as much by their anti-Englishness as by their pro-Scottishness.
It is the duty of all Unionists to make the new architecture work as best we can, but the architecture is unstable, because it fails to give equal weight to all parts of the United Kingdom. This part of the Bill's passage is over, but the real challenge to those of us who believe in the Union is just beginning.
§ Mr. McLeish
It is with a great deal of pleasure and pride that I rise to say a few words at the end of the Third Reading debate.
What is depressing is that, on 1 May, the Conservatives were unsure of where they were, and tonight they are still unsure. For some people, that may seem a charitable interpretation, but that has been the style that I have adopted throughout the Committee and Report stages. The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) sums it up—the style often subdues the substance—but, in some cases, it is grudging acceptance.
The Conservative view is, "Who really needs this Parliament?" There has been carping and criticism. In some respects, a group of people have been unsure about where they stand, not only on this Bill, but on many others. On 1 May, there was an overwhelming endorsement of the proposals that were put forward by a potential Labour Government. On 11 September, with the support of all parties except the Conservative party, the Scots voted overwhelmingly for, and gave a ringing endorsement to, the two questions. With the icing on the cake of an additional member system, which can deliver the Conservatives some MSPs, I should have thought that they might at least have accepted and acknowledged those things, but, sadly, we had none of it.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) may snigger, but, in most countries, serious constitutional change has the support of every party in that country. [Interruption.] Someone says, "Why should we be the same?"
§ Mr. McLeish
No, I am not giving way.
The simple issue is that the Conservatives have to wake up to the fact that Britain is changing comprehensively and irreversibly. It is not a matter just of Scotland. On Friday in Northern Ireland, an historic decision will be made. Decisions on Wales have been made by the House.
860 London is moving forward, which is again a positive result. The European convention on human rights is to be absorbed into British law. The freedom of information Act is coming. The House of Lords is going to be reformed. But where are the official Opposition? They are simply nowhere, time-warped in the past and unable to face or embrace the future. That is sad not only for the House, but for the House of Holyrood in Scotland.
I am a moderate man—
§ Mr. McLeish
But I am not giving way. When Scots experience the continuous and intense sniggering, it does nothing for the Conservative party or for the House, and it reinforces my central proposition that the Conservatives were nowhere on 1 May, and they are still nowhere.
The plight of the Conservative Opposition should not detract from the achievements of the Labour Government. We have delivered on every occasion: on 1 May, on 24 July with the White Paper, on 11 September with the referendum, on 19 December with the Scotland Bill, on 9 January with the site at Holyrood, and on 12 January with Second Reading; and, of course, this evening we complete Third Reading. We at least can take some pride and satisfaction in that achievement.
We have had contributions from other parties as well. Let me give a warning to the nationalists as the Bill embarks from the House to another place and as we embark on our work in Scotland. The nation of Scotland wants the Parliament to work for the people of Scotland. The test for the nationalists is simply this: do they want the Parliament to work for the Scottish National party? They have to make a big decision. We hope that they make the right decision and promote a people's Parliament, instead of a narrow self-interested policy of using the Parliament merely to cause a constitutional circus week in, week out, ensuring that we do not tackle the real issues that the Scottish Parliament faces.
We hear views about elections, but the interesting thing about Scottish politics is that Labour wins when we have an election, and some parties do well between elections. [Interruption.] Let me remind the Liberal Democrats, who are carping from sedentary positions, that, just over a year ago, Labour held 56 of the 72 Scottish seats. The Liberal Democrats held six. They attack the Tories for having nil, but six is not a large way from that.
I look forward—I relish the prospect—to the contest that lies ahead. Ultimately—although issues can be debated in this place, in another place or in consultative steering groups—the people of Scotland will make the biggest decision, on who is elected to the Parliament to serve as the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there will be a Scottish Parliament, and he will embrace it. After today's Third Reading, I, too, can say that there will be a Parliament. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.