HC Deb 21 November 1990 vol 181 cc278-9
6. Mr. Trimble

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has received any representations concerning the Scottish Constitutional Convention; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang

In the past six months one letter about the Scottish Constitutional Convention has been received. It was from the National Union of Mineworkers.

Mr. Trimble

The Minister may agree that devolution on a purely Scottish basis might be divisive within the kingdom. However, does he also accept that the existence of the convention shows that there is a wide desire for reform which is not confined solely to Scotland? Will he consider reforming the government of the regions on a United Kingdom basis as that would have the advantage of enabling the Government to apply within the United Kingdom the principle of subsidiarity to which they appeal in their relationship with Europe? It would allow an effective devolution of powers to local authorities and regions.

Mr. Lang

Surely it is a strength of our present constitutional arrangements that, with separate territorial departments, the Government can address the different problems of each part of the United Kingdom in different ways. It is not for me to comment on the position in Northern Ireland. However, in Scotland the interest in devolution is considerably exaggerated by those who support it. During the general election the interest in devolution rose from 2 per cent. at the beginning of the campaign to 4 per cent. at the end.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the convention has concluded its deliberations, we can now look at the details? As with all constitutional change, Parliament takes an interest when the details are known. Any proposals that cannot and will not go through this Parliament because they do not receive a majority in the House have no hope of being adopted. Any hon. Member who supports such proposals is either supporting fraud or is fraudulent.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend puts the point extremely well. Unfortunately, the constitutional convention cannot be the source of detailed information, as it has ducked every serious question relating to devolution. It has not addressed the fact that Scotland would suffer considerably as a result of the creation of separate tax-raising powers. Its additional funding from the United Kingdom Parliament would be in considerable jeopardy.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Will the Minister tell me—I promise faithfully that I will not breathe a word of it to anyone else—whether, on this day of all days, he does not wish that he could get the same unity in the Tory party as we managed to get in the convention?

Mr. Lang

It is no sort of unity when every single question of any substance is ducked, ignored or swept under the carpet. The so-called constitutional convention is operating on a bogus prospectus and has totally failed to address the real issues.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my hon. Friend think that the people of Scotland would benefit from having the United Kingdom broken up and that their economy would benefit from it? Would they be better off with a United Kingdom Parliament? What would happen to the Labour party, whose Front Bench is stuffed with Scotsmen speaking on English matters?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely vital point. If one were to invite the opinion of business men in Scotland, the almost unanimous view would be that a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers would be immensely damaging to Scotland economically.