HC Deb 11 December 1991 vol 200 cc847-50
7. Mrs. Irene Adams

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now meet representatives of the Scottish Constitutional Convention to discuss proposals for constitutional change in Scotland.

8. Mr. McKelvey

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he intends to meet the Scottish Constitutional Convention to discuss the future government of Scotland.

Mr. Lang

I have no plans to meet the self-styled Scottish Constitutional Convention, whose report fails to address the substantive issues involved in constitutional change in Scotland. But I welcome any participation in the debate I have called for on these issues, provided that it addresses the issues in a realistic way.

Mrs. Adams

Will the Secretary of State recognise that now his party is being called to the debate, not the Opposition? Will he reconsider his decision on meeting members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which represents 70 per cent. of the views in Scotland, including the churches, trade unions, the Labour party and the Liberal party? Will he consider bringing the Conservative party, and talking to the Scottish National party to bring it into the Scottish Constitutional Convention so that we can then have a genuine debate on which way the constitution of Scotland should go?

Mr. Lang

I certainly do not intend to fight the Scottish National party's battles for it. The Scottish Constitutional Convention, which I have described in the past as the Labour party at prayer, failed to address any of the substantive issues that would affect Scotland's representation in the House if its proposals came into effect. It took no account of funding arrangements, parliamentary representation at Westminster or the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the members of the convention disagreed among themselves on the number and sex of its members, the method of election and a number of other aspects affecting Scotland's constitutional future.

Mr. McKelvey

Some hon. Members will welcome the partial movement by the Secretary of State for Scotland in as much as we have had the enormous political death-bed confession that he will look at the Scottish situation. But does not he realise that throughout Scotland he and his cronies are seen as a wee parcel of rogues in a nation who were bought and sold for English gold"? Why does not he take his head out of the sand and understand Scotland's problems? Scotland as a nation will determine its own sovereignty whether he agrees to it or not and he should be talking to the Scottish Constitutional Convention about the matter.

Mr. Lang

Far from being reluctant to debate the matter, I have invited the Opposition to take part in four debates on matter days in the Scottish Grand Committee to compensate for their failure to make use of those opportunities in the Scottish Grand Committee during the previous parliamentary Session. Far from being unaware of the impact on Scotland of the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals, I am aware that Scotland enjoys identifiable public expenditure 22 per cent. per head higher than the rest of the United Kingdom which would be jeopardised by any change in the constitutional arrangements.

Mr. Rowe

It sounds slightly improbable that my right hon. Friend will be called to a meaningful debate on Scottish constitutional matters in the near future, but will he assure Conservative Members that were he to be so he is fully aware that people in England would take it amiss if any proposition were seriously entertained which allowed Scottish Members to decide matters in Scotland and then to have a say in English matters in England?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend identifies part of the problem which those who favour changes in the constitutional arrangements should address. In the event of the changes that the Opposition favour, one wonders whether Scottish questions could take place on the Floor of the House, or whether there would be a Scottish Grand Committee or Scottish Standing Committees.

Mr. Salmond

Both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made clear statements in the past 10 days that if the Scottish people vote for independence at the election, independence is what we shall have, but will the Secretary of State say a bit more today about how he answers the current argument about whether he has the right to run Scotland with nine Members of Parliament and, according to the latest poll, 18 per cent. of the vote? Does he incorporate the votes of everyone who voted Labour or Liberal Democrat at the last election and use that as part of his mandate to enforce his unwanted policies on the Scottish people?

Mr. Lang

At the previous election I stood for election to a United Kingdom Parliament, as did the hon. Gentleman. As a Member of that Parliament, I am a member of the United Kingdom Government and no one has seriously called in question the right or propriety of the United Kingdom Government to govern Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a tax-raising Scottish assembly would be the worst thing for Scotland because it would discourage the inward investment which will be encouraged into the United Kingdom by the fact that we are not part of the social charter?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The tax-raising powers of such an assembly, which are referred to coyly by Opposition Members as being only marginal, would, even if they raised only 2p in the pound, cost a single man on average wages £4.72 per week. The single man on average wages will think carefully before welcoming such an impost.

Sir David Steel

Does the Secretary of State recognise how arrogant his original answer sounded with its reference to the "self-styled" Scottish Constitutional Convention? Does not he recognise that it is a broadly based representative body in which it was open to the Conservative party to participate and that for him to call now for a debate, once its work is completed, is extraordinary? He is still welcome to join the convention.

Mr. Lang

The right hon. Gentleman can hardly refer to such a body as having the kind of authority with which he seeks to imbue it when it disagreed on a number of matters and failed to address any of the ones that really matter.

Mr. Dewar

May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on yet another about-turn? Does he recall that just a few months ago he dismissed devolution as a stale hangover from the 1960s in which there was no public interest? I therefore welcome his belated decision to take part in a full debate and the fact that he is now—I quote him from last week—keen to acknowledge that there is always room for constitutional change. Will he give an assurance that his ideas for reform will be produced before the Scottish Grand Committee debate on the constitution that he proposes? Does he recognise that dialogue is not criticism by Ministers of everyone else's proposals without making any positive contribution themselves?

Mr. Lang

Once again, the hon. Gentleman shows great coyness in approaching debates on the issues that he and his colleagues support. He is trying to set preconditions before agreeing to those debates taking place. I welcome the possibility of debating the proposals of the Opposition parties. They have come forward with plans which, they say, are carefully costed and carefully thought through and represent the interests of the great body of the Scottish people. I wish to explore those proposals, lay bare the dangers which lurk beneath them and identify the threat not only to parliamentary representation from Scotland in this House but to the economic well-being of Scotland if the Labour party were ever in a position to exercise in Scotland the kind of powers that it would give to such an assembly.

9. Mr. Bill Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has recently received about the governance of Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang

A range of representations, both for and against constitutional change in Scotland, has been received.

Mr. Walker

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that there is only one place where the constitution of the United Kingdom can be changed, and it is this Parliament? Therefore, debates in this Parliament must address the realities of the constitution that the so-called self-appointed body would have to face such as the West Lothian question, the Goschen formula and the number of Members coming to this House from Scotland? Unless those constitutional proposals are properly, fully and adequately addressed in a manner that both this House and the other place can accept, they are no more than pipe dreams.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the important issues that would have to be addressed in any new constitutional settlement for Scotland would be the funding arrangements of Scotland within the United Kingdom. On 5 December The Scotsman said: Of course, upon devolution there would have to he an adjustment in spending: there is no dispute about that. I think that the editor of The Scotsman would be surprised to hear the views of Opposition Members on that. However, it is a very important issue which would need to be fully addressed in any debate.

Mr. Eadie

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is not the West Lothian question but the Westminster question, which will become predominant if, after having just nine Members, his party is left with none, or just two or three?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify Westminster as the seat of government. It is the Union of the United Kingdom that would be breached by the sort of proposals that the Labour party identifies. I intend to expose the shortcomings of the Labour party proposals. Moreover, I do not anticipate the general election consequences to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr Worthington

It is clear that the Secretary of State has not a single idea on the issue. If he wants a debate, he must produce some ideas. Part of the government of the United Kingdom consists of local government in Scotland. The Tory party's working party on local government—including Bearsden and Milngavie district council, one of the three Tory district councils—proposes that education, social work, housing, the police, fire, water, sewerage and strategic planning should be removed from local government and transferred either to the Secretary of State or to local prosperous companies, or that they should be privatised. Do the Government agree with those proposals? Is that part of the Secretary of State's proposal for the government of Scotland? Does the Secretary of State agree that when local democracy does not come up with the results that he wants he abolishes it? Is that his policy?

Mr. Lang

Oh dear, the hon. Gentleman is in a muddle. He contradicted himself within his own question by saying that we have no constitutional ideas and then identifying an area on which we are currently consulting with a view to making constitutional changes. Local government reform is important. We were consulting widely on the possible change to a single-tier all-purpose authority structure in Scotland. I do not regard the United Kindom constitution as set in concrete. It is not a written constitution—it is organic, and it can develop change and adapt to the needs of new circumstances. I should be more encouraged if I could identify within the Labour party a consensus for the preservation of the Union.