HC Deb 19 December 1990 vol 183 cc281-3
10. Mr. Bill Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had about constitutional reform; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received in favour of a Scottish assembly during the past six months.

Mr. Allan Stewart

In the past six months, 19 written representations have been received about constitutional issues. A minority of them were in favour of a Scottish assembly.

Mr. Walker

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and I welcome him to the Dispatch Box. Does he agree that the representations received from the constitutional convention are flawed in that they do not address the situation affecting the Barnet formula for funding, or the number of Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies, and do not deal with the West Lothian question at all? Can he also—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question will take even longer if we have this sort of noise.

Mr. Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the convention is fraudulent and the fact that it has a front man wearing a dog collar does not change the fact that it is fraudulent because it knows that its proposals will never go through the House?

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. As usual, he speaks with great sense and knowledge. I agree with him entirely on the issue that he has raised. I can assure him that the Government will pay full attention to the views of all sensible people such as, for example, members of the North Tayside Conservative Association.

Mr. John Marshall

First, I congratulate my fellow St. Andrean on his promotion to the Government Front Bench. Does he agree that the majority of Scottish people recognise that the introduction of an assembly with tax-raising powers would result in Scotland having higher taxes than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, would discourage inward investment to Scotland and would result in Scotland being the most over-governed part of the United Kingdom and of the European Community?

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I agree entirely with what he said in his supplementary question. Although I do not believe that the people of Scotland generally attach a particularly high priority to constitutional change, my hon. Friend is right to criticise the proposals that have come from the self-elected body to which he refers.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman's return to the Government Front Bench. Of the welcomes that he received from the two hon. Members who sit behind him, the hon. Members for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), one seemed to stick in the throat. The Minister can work that out for himself later.

When will the Minister reject the nonsensical view that Scotland receives a greater share of public expenditure than anywhere else in the United Kingdom? It is clear that the south-east of England still receives the largest share of public expenditure, no matter how the figures are assessed. The Minister should read the minutes of the Select Committee on Employment on the London Docklands development corporation. He will then discover the subsidy enjoyed by the south-east. The people of Scotland have spoken. Unless the present ministerial team can get it together, it will be the last time its members sit together representing Scotland.

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I do not accept what he said in his supplementary question. I will send him the figures, which show without question that identifiable public expenditure per head in Scotland is far higher than in England and higher than in Wales.

Mr. Dewar

Talking about public attitudes, did the Minister notice that in The Sunday Times—a newspaper which I am sure he reads carefully—there was an article setting out the results of a MORI poll? It showed that the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals attracted three times as much support as the hon. Gentleman's preferred option of the status quo and twice as much support as the nationalists' position. The Minister will be aware that he does not represent direct Scottish participation in Brussels. Leaving aside the unfortunate views of Lord Strathclyde, will he clarify the Government's position and explain whether he stands by the recently expressed views of the Secretary of State that there should be direct Government participation in the form of the Scottish Office in Brussels or whether he supports the Treasury view that that is not necessary and should not take place?

Mr. Stewart

The result of the referendum in 1979, which is probably a painful memory for the hon. Gentleman, showed that, when faced with detailed and specific proposals spelling out the disadvantages of an Assembly as well as the claimed benefits, the electorate appreciates that an extra tier of government with extra taxation and all the problems to which my hon. Friends have referred is not the answer for Scotland.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question seemed not to arise directly from the main question, although there is a later question on the Order Paper to which it may be relevant. I confirm that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question was fully and comprehensively spelt out in my letter to him, which naturally had the full agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.