HC Deb 25 May 1988 vol 134 cc309-11
3. Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding a Scottish Assembly since 5 May.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I have received two letters in favour of an Assembly and two against.

Mr. Wray

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the district election and the general election results, and that he did a somersault on devolution. He will also be aware that he bestowed on himself powers under the Local Government, Planning and Land (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981 and thereby eroded democracy in Scotland. Is he aware that the only way getting rid of totalitarian demagoguery is by abolishing the poll tax and establishing a Scottish assembly?

Mr. Rifkind

I am aware that at the local elections the Conservative vote in my constituency increased from 39 to 46 per cent. and, indeed, that in Edinburgh the Conservative vote was greater than the Labour vote for the first time in five years. I doubt whether the Scottish public believe that a tax-raising Assembly would be in the interests of the Scottish economy or the other economic requirements of Scotland.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Scots have seen through the flawed proposals that have been put forward for any type of Scottish Assembly? Does he agree that the proposals, as they now stand, would have no chance of passing through the House, whatever its political complexion, because eight out of every 10 people in English constituencies would not want their Members to vote in favour of it?

Mr. Rifkind

As almost every Labour Government since the war required Labour Members of Parliament from Scotland and Wales to provide them with their United Kingdom majority, it is increasingly puzzling why the Labour party should wish to adopt a constitutional solution that will result in a substantial reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster and the end of any effective voice for Scotland in the United Kingdom Cabinet.

Sir Russell Johnston

The Secretary of State knows full well that many people in Scotland have strong views on a Scottish Assembly. Does it not occur to him that it is a bad thing that only four bother to write to him—mainly because they know that he will not listen?

Mr. Rifkind

On the contrary, since the election the Labour party and, indeed, the Social and Liberal Democratic party have been unable to demonstrate any substantial demand in Scotland for constitutional change. I recollect that when the Labour party called for a great rally on Glasgow Green for Scottish democracy, fewer people turned out for that than the number who voted Conservative in the Glasgow, Garscadden constituency.

Mr. Irvine

Did any of the four letters received by my right hon. and learned Friend address itself to what has come to be known as the West Lothian question? Does he agree that if Scottish domestic issues are to be reserved to a specifically Scottish Assembly it will be difficult to justify Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster retaining their right to vote on and debate the full range of English domestic issues?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend has raised a genuine and serious problem that the Labour party must consider. The Labour party and, for that matter, the Social and Liberal Democratic party, are, by instinct, as Unionist as the Conservative party, yet they have failed to appreciate that the constant adapting of nationalist rhetoric is incompatible with the Unionist position that they have upheld since they were formed. They cannot at the same time argue for a Scottish Assembly unless they are prepared to provide an adequate and credible answer to the question that was so effectively raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who then represented West Lothian.

Mr. Dewar

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman not spent too much time recently in that painfully unrepresentative gathering, the Scottish Conservative party conference? Is there not a clear wish for some form of constitutional change in Scotland? Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not quite recently say that there was at least a preference for devolution in Scotland, although he still argued whether it was a priority? Is it not a dangerous exercise in obstinacy to try to go back on that, as he is now apparently doing? Has not the message about the Government's unacceptable social and constitutional policies been proclaimed loud and clear this morning in the unanimous decision of the Church of Scotland not to invite the Prime Minister to the General Assembly next year? [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman may laugh at the Church of Scotland, but that will not do him a great deal of good in Scotland. Clearly, the right hon. Lady's sermon made few converts, and unacceptable policies remain unacceptable, however cleverly disguised. Is it not time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought again on devolution and an Assembly, as on many other policies?

Mr. Rifkind

I am amused, and it is significant, that, given the nature of the hon. Gentleman's questions, he clearly considers the General Assembly to be more important to Scotland than his proposals for a Scottish Assembly. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received an extremely warm and genuine welcome from the General Assembly, and the efforts of a tiny minority of the commissioners of the General Assembly, led by a commissioner who is also a Labour councillor on Glasgow district council, were seen to be totally unrepresentative of the views of the vast majority. Of the 1,200 present, only five, including that Labour councillor, showed the discourtesy that is so untypical of the Church of Scotland as a whole.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appreciate that we are about to debate the spring Adjournment motion, but I hope we can have less of a holiday atmosphere at Question Time.

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