HC Deb 17 October 1990 vol 177 cc1200-2
4. Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had in the current year regarding the constitutional status of Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Rifkind

Nineteen letters regarding the constitutional status of Scotland have been received during the current year.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Secretary of State also tell us when he expects to receive the report commissioned by leading Conservative business men in Scotland on the future government of Scotland? In the meantime will he take some time to look at the experience of West Germany where, over many years, decentralised powers and administration have gone hand in hand with business and economic success?

Mr. Rifkind

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question appears to refer to a newspaper report in The Scotsman, which referred to certain business men, who were not named, who had asked an academic, who was not referred to, to produce a report that no one had requested. It is an interesting bit of newspaper speculation, which, as far as I am aware, has no foundation in truth.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the West German experience bears no relation to the proposals put forward either by the Labour party or by the so-called constitutional convention, which wants to create unilateral devolution with an assembly in Scotland but no significant or fundamental change in the rest of the United Kingdom. That would create the dangers and the additional level of taxation that would be so damaging to Scottish prosperity.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the people of Scotland are right to regard the conclusions of the so-called self-appointed constitutional convention with complete boredom and indifference? Would not it be better to pay full heed to the opinions of leading business men such as Mr. Ewan Marwick of the Association of Scottish Chambers of Commerce who has consistently opposed devolution in the light of his outstanding personal knowledge of business and industry in the west of Scotland, including Paisley?

Mr. Rifkind

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the important contribution to the debate made by Mr. Marwick and his colleagues. My hon. Friend asked about the constitutional convention. I hope that in one respect people in Scotland will not treat the views and recommendations of the so-called convention with boredom or indifference. It is important for the public to be aware that that convention and the Labour party are proposing that the people of Scotland, under such an assembly, should be subject to an additional level of income tax which would not be paid in any other part of the United Kingdom. The damage to Scottish jobs and prosperity which would result from that would be devastating for the future of Scotland.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

If the Secretary of State is so concerned about the people of Scotland, why is he so rigid in his opposition to the idea that people should have the right democratically to express through a referendum their views on Scotland's constitutional future? Given that his party has one stance, that the constitutional convention is bringing forward a devolution package and that my party supports the idea of independence in Europe, does he not think that there should be an opportunity for the Scots to have a choice on these matters? Is it the case that, like the Prime Minister who is afraid to debate constitutional matters in relation to Europe, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is just a big fearty on Scottish constitutional matters?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Lady is unwise to draw such a conclusion, because she will he aware that her party and mine declined to take part in the so-called convention precisely because we believe that talking shops of that kind are unlikely to be of any practical benefit to people. She will also be aware that the nationalist proposal for a referendum has had very little support from other political parties or from other expressions of opinion with interests in constitutional matters. It has been seen as a slogan by her party with little else to commend it.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if Scotland wishes to remain part of the United Kingdom, and all the indications are that it does, any change in its unique constitutional position would have to be agreed and accepted by this House and by the other place before such change could be implemented? Any attempt to persuade the people of Scotland about measures that would never get through the House must be either flawed or fraudulent or both.

Mr. Rifkind

What my hon. Friend says was the experience of the last Labour Government. It is right that all the citizens of the United Kingdom should take an interest in these matters. Apart from anything else, there are several hundred thousand if not millions of Scots living in England. Under the SNP proposals they would become foreigners in the country in which they are presently our fellow citizens. The people of Scotland are well aware that the United Kingdom as a nation has existed for almost 300 years and that the proposals of those who seek fundamental constitutional change would cause serious damage.

Mr. Dewar

Is not it a mark of the Government's desperation that when they look for an independent authority to quote on this issue they come up with an inexperienced parliamentary candidate, Mr. Marwick? If the concept of what the Secretary of State is pleased to call unilateral devolution is so objectionable in principle, why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman resign Front Bench office in the Conservative party over its failure to support what was a unilateral scheme? Does he agree that it is silly to spread daft scare stories about well-thought-out constitutional convention schemes which would give a greater say to Scots over Scottish affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom and which command widespread public support? Does he not realise that in so doing he sounds every day a little more like the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), and that that is doing his reputation no good at all? The Secretary of State managed to make the report in The Scotsman sound like an everyday chapter from life in Chester street at Scottish Conservative party headquarters. Does he not recognise that a growing concern is clearly surfacing about the totally negative attitude of the Conservative party to the government of Scotland? The Conservatives really must make some bid in this field if they are to retain any credibility at all.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is in danger of trivialising a serious issue by the nature of his question. The House will have noted with some interest that the one remark to which he did not respond was the clear and unmistakable proposition from his party that Scotland will be saddled with an additional level of income tax as a result of the proposals for a Scottish assembly. The failure of the so-called convention to address itself to the serious implications for the Scottish economy and Scottish jobs requires us to treat its conclusions with contempt and indifference.

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