HC Deb 26 February 1986 vol 92 cc931-3
5. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce legislation to establish an elected Scottish Assembly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

No, Sir.

Mr. Home Robertson

As we approach the seventh anniversary of the referendum in which the Scottish people voted, by a majority of over 77,000, including, I understand, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to establish a directly elected Scottish Assembly, will the Minister accept that the minority administration of Scotland is becoming intolerable? I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware that I am introducing a private Member's Bill on Tuesday based on the principles which nine years ago in this House he himself suggested were good. I wonder whether the Secretary of State would like to sponsor my Bill and, if not, what has changed in the interim period?

Mr. Ancram

I must congratulate the hon. Member on his singlemindedness and consistency in bringing up this subject every year. I remind the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he wound up the debate which repealed the Scotland Act 1978. He recognised that the referendum had displayed a lack of demand — two thirds of the Scottish people eligible to vote did not vote in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member would be more honest in his approach to the Scottish people if he were to explain to them that the effect of his proposals would be to increase taxation for Scottish people.

Mr. Forth

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scots already are grotesquely over-represented at every level in Parliament? We already have Scottish Question Time and Scottish Grand Committees, and the general obsession with Scottish affairs is positively unhealthy. If the suggestion of an Assembly were ever to be taken up, would he undertake to reduce or eliminate Scottish Question Time, Scottish Grand Committees and all other elements of over-representation in the House?

Mr. Ancram

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that Scotland is over-represented. It is well represented, although we will have to wait until after the next general election to see Scotland represented in a more proper way—when more Conservatives are elected.

Mr. Dewar

I am not surprised that the Secretary of State is not answering the question himself. May I ask the junior Minister, who is presumably empowered to speak for the Scottish Office, what the position on devolution is in the Scottish Office? The Minister said that the Secretary of State advocated or supported, presumably reluctantly, the repeal of the Scotland Act 1978 on the basis that there was a lack of demand in Scotland. Does the Scottish Office team believe that the Scottish people do not want devolution, or that it is not right in principle? If it is the lack of demand, there is now clear evidence that, if the Scottish people were consulted, they would over-whelmingly support the principle of devolution.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is presumably referring to opinion polls, which ask a simple question, but do not ask whether the Scottish people would be prepared to vote for an Assembly that involved an extra tier of taxation, which the Labour party proposes, and an extra tier of bureaucracy, which it also proposes. If they were honest enough to ask the Scottish people that question, they would get a resounding no in reply.

Mr. Bruce

Will the Minister acknowledge that his reply is the best possible argument for the Government to sponsor a constitutional convention to establish the ground rules for an Assembly? Does the Minister recognise that the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people have accepted that there is a degree of devolution to the Scottish Office, but no accountability to the Scottish people? The Conservative party, with 14 per cent. of the votes, does not represent the Scottish people.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman has a rather lowly opinion of the role that he plays in the House. He is supposed to be part of the democratic process by which the Government are accountable. His party, among others, has put forward proposals on devolution, and suggests that that is a panacea for all Scotland's ills. When proposals were put forward in legislation making clear to the Scottish people the extra costs and burdens that they would have to bear, two thirds refused to vote in favour of them.