HC Deb 26 February 1985 vol 74 cc189-94 4.28 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for formal public consultation in Scotland on the subject of constitutional reform by a committee of members of the House of Commons; to provide for a report to Parliament on the outcome of such consultation; and for connected purposes. This task could most appropriately be carried out by a sub-committee of the Scottish Grand Committee, which would accurately reflect the opinions of the Scottish electorate.

I raise this matter today, Mr. Speaker, because this week will bring the sixth anniversary of the referendum in which Scottish voters gave a majority of 77,435 for the establishment of the Scottish Assembly. That referendum was followed almost immediately by the 1979 general election, and the incoming Tory Government refused to implement the Scotland Act, in spite of the referendum result. The Act was repealed in 1979, despite the fact that at that stage 49 of Scotland's 71 Members of Parliament were committed to the establishment of a Scottish legislature. The corresponding figure in this present Parliament is 51 out of 72 Scottish Members of Parliament committed to some degree of Scottish home rule. But what have we got? We have a completely unrepresentative, pseudo-colonial administration in the Scottish Office and a Secretary of State for Scotland in constant conflict with practically any group in Scotland that anyone cares to mention, whether it be doctors, pensioners, teachers, miners, ratepayers or elected local authorities of all political persuasions. One only has to name them and he is in conflict with them.

Under those circumstances the Secretary of State has had to rely increasingly on repressive powers imposed directly from Whitehall. The House has rubber-stamped a series of measures of that nature in recent years. Indeed, Scotland has often been the guinea pig for the Government's extensions of central control. Remote government is bad government. Scotland has been subjected to legislative changes, which have been at best irrelevant and at worse damaging. The Secretary of State is neither willing nor able to take appropriate action to deal with the problems that are supposed to come within his responsibility.

Let me take just one example. I doubt very much whether a Scottish Assembly would have allowed the present teachers' dispute to develop into the harmful confrontation that is now hitting Scottish schools.

The situation is dangerous. The Government's failure to respect democratic principles in Scotland is bringing the constitution into disrepute. That state of affairs can only play into the hands of nationalists who want to break up the United Kingdom. Or rather, it might play into their hands if they were not so obsessed with their party's internal structure.

There are 21 Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament, including the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) who thinks that he is the Secretary of State for Scotland. They claim to be looking after Scottish interests in the Government but there is some doubt about their ability to do that. I call to mind a certain prominent Conservative in Scottish local government who said that Scottish Tory Members of Parliament have a special relationship with the Prime Minister. He claims that if she were to tell them to go and jump in the lake, most of them would not even hesitate to take off their trousers.

But some Tories have acknowledged the need for constitutional reform. I shall refrain from saying anything that might embarrass the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), the Minister of State, Department of Energy, and far be it from me to draw attention to the promise made by Lord Home of the Hirsel that a Conservative Government would introduce a better devolution scheme to supersede the Scotland Act 1978.

But I must say something about the Tory manifesto of 1983 because, contrary to popular belief, that mentioned Scotland once in the context of a reference to the European sheepmeat regime. Some of us feel that that was an extremely appropriate forecast of the effectiveness of the present Administration in the Scottish Office.

But there was also a specifically Scottish Tory election manifesto which included a paragraph that might interest the House. It said: We remain willing to consider further changes to improve the government of Scotland within the United Kingdom. There it is in black and white. That manifesto commitment should allow Tory Members, as well as the rest of us, to support my Bill this afternoon.

Scottish Members can, must and will use every opportunity at our disposal to press the case for the constitutional reform that Scotland wants and needs. Members for my constituency of East Lothian have been on that track for a long time, starting with the famous Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun in the 18th century. My immediate predecessor, John Mackintosh, contributed a lot to the debate. I make no bones about the fact that my greatest ambition is to be able to take a seat in the Scottish Assembly and I am confident that I shall be able to do so at some time.

But in political terms we recognise that the only practical way of getting a Scottish Assembly is to elect a Labour Government here at Westminster. The next Labour Government will be committed to legislate on devolution. We are determined to make our proposals fully understood and to have them agreed in advance. There must be no grounds for confusion or obstruction next time round. We are seeking the fullest understanding with colleagues from other parts of Britain and the Labour party is launching a process of consultation on our revised devolution proposals in Scotland.

We have already published a Green Paper setting out Labour's plan for a Scottish Assembly with certain economic and revenue-raising powers as well as a range of powers already devolved to the Scottish Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) will seek to introduce a Bill next Tuesday to highlight those proposals. Scottish Labour Members of Parliament will be starting that formal consultation process in Scotland in the near future. I urge the House to endorse this eminently reasonable procedure by giving me leave to introduce the Bill today.

.35 pm

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman seek to oppose the Bill?

Mr. Fairbairn

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)


Mr. Fairbairn

It may be a shame for a Scottish nationalist to regard it as the right of a Member of Parliament to express his views against a Bill which has no rational or proper constitutional basis. The Bill is essentially a childish measure in which the hon. Member for Berwickshire—

Mr. Home Robertson

Get it right. East Lothian.

Mr. Fairbairn

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson)—who lives in Berwickshire. He owns it. Part of what he owns is in dreaded England. One still has to go through dreaded England to get there.

The Bill seeks to say, "Because we temporarily have a political advantage in one part of the land mass of the United Kingdom, we want to separate that bit off to our temporary advantage and impose our principles in one part of the kingdom which we shall never be likely to impose in the foreseeable future"—and, I hope, not in any other part of the United Kingdom in my lifetime if I live to be 200.

The absurd premise upon which the hon. Gentleman based his case was that remote government is bad government. Therefore, he proposes this afternoon that there should be a form of government that is run from Edinburgh and that controls, among other places, Kirkwall. Kirkwall happens to be rather further from Edinburgh than Edinburgh is from London and certainly further from Edinburgh than London is from Paxton, where the hon. Gentleman lives. Therefore, the concept of geographical distance has nothing whatever to do with the rights or wrongs of government.

If the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) imagines that Scotland should be a sort of Jewish homeland for the Scots, all I can say is that he should understand that the majority of Scots in the United Kingdom of whom he is so fond do not live in Scotland but in England, Wales and Ireland. Of all the Scots who dwell upon the earth the vast majority live in North America. Far more Scots live in Australia and New Zealand than in Scotland.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)


Mr. Fairbairn

Therefore, the concept of a separate Scottish Government or Assembly is bogus.

I do not doubt that, as the hon. Member for East Lothian said, the teachers' strike would have been settled. Of course it would. Socialism is all about giving away somebody else's money without thought for the consequences. I have not the slightest doubt that the miners' strike in Scotland would have been settled with an Assembly. The Assembly, of which he would presumaably be a member — that would be the only benefit to the House of Commons — would again give them the money. The consequences for the rest of the people of Scotland would not matter one whit.

As the hon. Gentleman was foolish enough to quote Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who happens to be one the greatest and wisest Scottish writers, let me remind him that although he prayed him in aid, Andrew Fletcher would not have been happy to read the purblind mucked-up English in which the hon. Gentleman's Bill is couched. Andrew Fletcher was a patriot—he was as much a British patriot as he was a Scottish patriot. Our country is Great Britain. We have one Queen, one Parliament and one people. Let it never be divided.

If the wishes of Opposition Members were to come to fruition, and if they think that they can cut little bits off the body politic when it suits them, I have no doubt that the south-east of England, the north-west of England and other little places that see a temporary advantage would wish to do the same.

I invite the House to reject the introduction of the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 115, Noes 223.

Division No. 125] [4.40 pm
Adley, Robert Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Alton, David Haynes, Frank
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Home Robertson, John
Barron, Kevin Howells, Geraint
Beith, A. J. Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Blair, Anthony Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Boyes, Roland Hume, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Johnston, Russell
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Kennedy, Charles
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Kirkwood, Archy
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Lambie, David
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Lamond, James
Bruce, Malcolm Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Buchan, Norman Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Caborn, Richard Loyden, Edward
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McGuire, Michael
Campbell-Savours, Dale McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Canavan, Dennis Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cartwright, John Maclennan, Robert
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McNamara, Kevin
Clarke, Thomas McTaggart, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Maxton, John
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Maynard, Miss Joan
Corbett, Robin Meadowcroft, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy Michie, William
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Craigen, J. M. Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) O'Neill, Martin
Deakins, Eric Park, George
Dewar, Donald Parry, Robert
Douglas, Dick Patchett, Terry
Duffy, A. E. P. Pavitt, Laurie
Eastham, Ken Penhaligon, David
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Radice, Giles
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Randall, Stuart
Ewing, Harry Redmond, M.
Fatchett, Derek Richardson, Ms Jo
Faulds, Andrew Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Fisher, Mark Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Rogers, Allan
Forrester, John Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Foster, Derek Skinner, Dennis
Foulkes, George Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Snape, Peter
Freud, Clement Steel, Rt Hon David
Godman, Dr Norman Strang, Gavin
Golding, John Straw, Jack
Gould, Bryan Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Gourlay, Harry Torney, Tom
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wainwright, R.
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Wallace, James
Hancock, Mr. Michael Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Harman, Ms Harriet Williams, Rt Hon A.
Woodall, Alec Mr. David Marshall and
Mr. William McKelvey.
Tellers for the Ayes:
Ancram, Michael Fox, Marcus
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Freeman, Roger
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Fry, Peter
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Galley, Roy
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Garrett, W. E.
Beggs, Roy Gorst, John
Best, Keith Gow, Ian
Bevan, David Qilroy Grant, Sir Anthony
Biffen, Rt Hon John Greenway, Harry
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gregory, Conal
Blackburn, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ground, Patrick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Grylls, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Gummer, John Selwyn
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hanley, Jeremy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hannam, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hargreaves, Kenneth
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Harris, David
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Harvey, Robert
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Haselhurst, Alan
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Browne, John Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Budgen, Nick Hayes, J.
Bulmer, Esmond Hayhoe, Barney
Burt, Alistair Hayward, Robert
Butcher, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butterfill, John Henderson, Barry
Cash, William Hickmet, Richard
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hind, Kenneth
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Holt, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howard, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coombs, Simon Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Cope, John Hunter, Andrew
Corrie, John Irving, Charles
Couchman, James Jackson, Robert
Cowans, Harry Jessel, Toby
Cranborne, Viscount Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Crouch, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dickens, Geoffrey Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dicks, Terry Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Dixon, Donald Key, Robert
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Dunn, Robert Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Durant, Tony Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Knowles, Michael
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lang, Ian
Farr, Sir John Lawler, Geoffrey
Favell, Anthony Lawrence, Ivan
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Leadbitter, Ted
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lee, John (Pendle)
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lester, Jim
Lightbown, David Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Ryder, Richard
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lord, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Luce, Richard Sayeed, Jonathan
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Macfarlane, Neil Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Silvester, Fred
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Sims, Roger
McQuarrie, Albert Skeet, T. H. H.
McWilliam, John Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Major, John Soames, Hon Nicholas
Malins, Humfrey Speed, Keith
Malone, Gerald Spence, John
Marland, Paul Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Marlow, Antony Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, Michael Squire, Robin
Mather, Carol Stanbrook, Ivor
Maude, Hon Francis Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Sumberg, David
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miscampbell, Norman Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Terlezki, Stefan
Monro, Sir Hector Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Moore, John Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Moynihan, Hon C. Thornton, Malcolm
Murphy, Christopher Tracey, Richard
Needham, Richard Twinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthony Waddington, David
Neubert, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Newton, Tony Waldegrave, Hon William
Normanton, Tom Walden, George
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Walters, Dennis
Parris, Matthew Ward, John
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Pawsey, James Warren, Kenneth
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Watts, John
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Pollock, Alexander Whitfield, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Whitney, Raymond
Powell, William (Corby) Wiggin, Jerry
Powley, John Wilkinson, John
Proctor, K. Harvey Winterton, Nicholas
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wolfson, Mark
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wood, Timothy
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Younger, Rt Hon George
Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tellers for the Noes:
Rossi, Sir Hugh Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn and
Rost, Peter Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.
Rowe, Andrew

Question accordingly negatived.