HC Deb 07 February 1992 vol 203 cc600-27

Order for Second Reading read— [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown signified.]

12.29 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill comes before the House by an accident of timing that, nevertheless, makes it of particular political relevance not only to the people of Scotland but to the people of the United Kingdom.

My Bill would establish a new constitutional settlement for Scotland, create a Parliament with a fixed four-year term, provide for elections by a system of proportional representation, establish a Bill of Rights, create the office of ombudsman, give to the Parliament revenue-raising responsibility, entrench these arrangements in such a way that they could not be changed without the consent of both the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments and provide that all Scottish domestic affairs should be the responsibility of a Parliament sitting in Edinburgh, reserving foreign affairs, defence and large-scale economics to Westminster. The Bill also contains special provisions for the islands, to which I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will wish to pay special reference, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The purpose of the Bill goes beyond that to which I have already referred. It is conceived as the first step towards a written constitution for the United Kingdom. It is drafted in such a way that the essential reform of the United Kingdom constitution will be a logical second step.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I should like to make progress. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in the light of the number of Conservative Back Benchers who have chosen to be present, it would seem that he has a reasonable opportunity of doing so.

The Bill draws on the scheme proposed by the constitutional convention. Indeed, it goes beyond that, so far as is necessary to promote a written constitution based on federal principles.

The Bill provides a scheme to recreate in Scotland a Parliament with all the dignity and style to which the Scottish people are entitled. The scheme recognises the distinctive nature of the Scottish legal system and Scottish institutions. It is a scheme, too, that rejects the exclusiveness of nationalism. To acknowledge a legitimate sense of national identity is far removed from the intellectual self-satisfaction of nationalism. Nationalism, as history demonstrates, is a crude, blunt force, too easily convertible into bitterness and selfishness, too easily manipulated into intolerance and too easily transformed into introspection.

On this occasion it is only right to give some historical analysis of the government of Scotland since the Union. Throughout the years of Union Scotland, unlike Wales, has acquired separate legislation throughout domestic matters. That is a major anomaly which the British Parliament has accepted because it has no alternative. The anomaly has not always worked entirely to the advantage of Scotland because, as a result of the requirements of a separate legal system, the British Parliament cannot meet fully the need for modernising, reforming and improving that legal system. Scotland is the only territory on the face of the earth which has a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it. There are other distinctive Scottish characteristics as well. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland was governed in a different way from the rest of Britain, with different administrative powers, different local government and a different structure of education. In 1885 a Scottish Secretary was appointed, and in the 1920s he was elevated to Secretary of State. In the 1930s the Scottish Office was sent lock, stock and barrel to Edinburgh. All this administrative devolution was done by Conservative Governments, and it was not done out of a feeling of national sentiment, but because of the administrative requirements needed to achieve good government for the Scottish people. It may be asked why, if we have had this enormous devolution and if Parliament, with a unitary system, is able to respond to the distinct needs of Scotland, this should not continue. It may be asked why, with a separate legal system and a separate Scottish Office, it is necessary to go any further and establish a directly-elected Assembly. The answer is that during the past 200 years or more a dynamic change has taken place. This is not because the people have changed their minds but because of the increasing complexity of government, requiring more and more administrative devolution, and more powers to be given to the Scottish Office. We have now a Secretary of State for Scotland who is for all practical purposes a Scottish Prime Minister. He covers a Department the equivalent of which in England and Wales is served by eight or nine Ministries. He has one Department, and Scottish Members are expected to scrutinise his actions. The Scottish Office has more civil servants than the European Commission… There has been a qualitative change in the call for devolution. In the early twentieth century the demand for a separate Scottish Legislature was the result of national sentiment. That national sentiment still exists, but added to it is the need for good government, good administration and a better deal for Scottish people within the United Kingdom. Those words may seem familiar to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is hardly surprising, because since I embarked upon this historical analysis I have been quoting virtually verbatim from a speech made on 16 December 1976 in this House by the now right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), which can be found at columns 1832 and 1833 of the Official Report for that date.

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman said then has, over time, come to be seen yet more acutely as a cogent and sensible analysis of the needs of Scotland as we approach the end of the century.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The Bill would remove from the United Kingdom Cabinet any power over any matter relating to Scottish governance. Given that it would remove the functions of the Secretary of State for Scotland to a Scottish Parliament, the hon. and learned Gentleman would presumably accept that there is no role for a Scottish Secretary of State, or Scottish Prime Minister to use his terminology, within the United Kingdom Cabinet. Therefore, he would remove the voice of Scotland from the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and from the decision-making process of the United Kingdom as a whole, including decisions on taxation and foreign affairs. Is that in Scotland's best interests?

Mr. Campbell

It is in Scotland's best interest to have exclusive responsibility for the conduct of its own domestic affairs. It would also be in Scotland's interest to have influence over defence, foreign affairs and large-scale economics. The financial scheme attached to the Bill demonstrates that it would be in Scotland's interest to have an influence over overall levels of taxation in the United Kingdom. All that can be achieved without necessarily retaining the existing office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Unlike the Labour party, for which this is a matter of great difficulty, my party and its predecessor have never shrunk from the fact that if one has effective devolution, and an effective Parliament with the powers that the Bill would establish, the case for the retention of a Scottish Secretary of State in Cabinet would be weakened.

Likewise, unlike the Labour party, my party and its predecessor have had no difficulty with the proposition that if we create a Scottish Parliament with the kind of effective deveolution which the Bill proposes, the case for the retention of the same numbers of Members of Parliament who presently come from Scotland to Westminster would be weakened. Indeed, in its evidence to the Kilbrandon commisson, my party accepted that if its then proposals had been accepted by the commission, the case for a reduction in Scottish Members to, say, 58 or 59 would have been hard to resist.

Mr. Bill Walker


Mr. Campbell

I wish to make a little progress before giving way.

When the present Secretary of State addressed the House on that occasion, he might also have taken the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House and to remind the public outside, particularly in Scotland, that the nature of sovereignty in the Scottish constitutional tradition is different from that of Westminster.

I refer in that context to the observations of Lord President Cooper in MacCormick v. The Lord Advocate in 1953, when Lord Cooper, generally regarded as one of the foremost Scottish jurists of this century, said: The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law … Considering that the Union legislation extinguished the Parliaments of Scotland and England and replaced them by a new Parliament, I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. This is not what was done. That judgment, passed in 1953, has never been challenged, as it might have been by an appeal to the House of Lords sitting in its appellate civil jurisdiction capacity.

Why is the case for a Parliament such as we propose now so strong? First, whichever opinion poll one reads, the great weight of Scottish political opinion is dissatisfied with the present constitutional arrangements. The great weight of Scottish opinion believes that the distinctive nature of Scottish life, with its own legal system, its own philosophy on education and its own traditions, is insufficiently recognised by the United Kingdom Parliament.

The great weight of Scottish opinion believes, with justification, that Scottish legislation and domestic affairs are invariably an afterthought in measures designed for England and Wales. The great weight of Scottish opinion finds it difficult to understand why, contrary to its Standing Orders, the House of Commons has been unable to establish a Select Committee to scrutinise Scottish affairs. The great weight of opinion in Scotland is outraged at the fact that the present Government can barely find enough Members from Scottish constituencies to fill the ministerial appointments in the Scottish Office.

Mr. Bill Walker

That is not so.

Mr. Campbell

There is a Whip who does not represent a Scottish constituency. Indeed, nor did his predecessor represent a Scottish constituency.

Home rule for Scotland would show the rest of the United Kingdom that government devolved from the centre is an opportunity to be seized with enthusiasm. In our commitment as a party to home rule, we proceed on the footing not only that the distinctive characteristics of Scotland and its people need expression and institutions of government, but that the demands of modern government require those institutions to be immediate, sensitive and properly democratic.

Home rule and proportional representation are the means by which we shall break the stranglehold of Westminster. They are also the means by which we shall provide a system of government which commands the confidence of all the people, in which the democratic deficit is made good and in which pluralism is entrenched.

I say without qualification that home rule without proportional representation would not be home rule at all, and I would not support any measure to bring devolved government to Scotland which did not have PR as its centrepiece, for, however desirable it would be to create a Parliament in Edinburgh, to create one as unfair and undemocratic as that which we have here would be a betrayal of the people of Scotland.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge and welcome the moves by the Labour party in Scotland, endorsed nationally, for the new Scottish Parliament to be elected by a system of proportional representation?

Mr. Campbell

I accept and welcome the progressive nature of the Labour party's views on proportionality. But I question whether, under Professor Plant's most recent proposal, proportionality will be achieved. I am anxious that a list system in which the lists are provided by parties might be less than democratic. However, I welcome without any difficulty the progression in Labour party thinking from a first-past-the-post system to a system of proportionality.

In my Bill, for which I seek a Second Reading today, the provision is that Parliament should be elected by the single transferable vote in the first instance, but thereafter, in subsequent elections, Parliament should be free to determine its own electoral system as long as that is consistent with the principles of proportionality.

There is always some value in looking back in history, and I offer a quotation that best seems to describe what we are about today. It states: as to the future, we have to secure for Scotland a much more direct and convenient method of bringing her influence to bear upon her own purely domestic affairs. There is nothing which conflicts with the integrity of the United Kingdom in securing to Scotsmen in that or some other way an effective means of shaping the special legislation which affects them and only them. Certainly I am of the opinion that if such a scheme can be brought into existence it will mean a great enrichment not only of the national life of Scotland, but of the policies and public life of the United Kingdom. Those words were spoken in Dundee on 3 October 1911 by Winston Churchill.

What is the Government's position? The Secretary of State is implacably opposed to any measure of the sort that my Bill embraces. As I understand it, he offers a choice between the status quo and independence. I understand him to say that if there is a democratic vote for the status quo, it will be honoured, as will a democratic vote for independence. But if there is a democratic vote for reform, the Secretary of State says that that is to be ignored.

The Secretary of State argues that to allow what my Bill proposes would be to place Scotland at the top of a slippery slope, but his attitude has the effect of placing Scotland at the edge of a cliff. If the pages of the national newspapers of Scotland are to be believed, increasing numbers of his own party do not accept his analysis—

Mr. Bill Walker

How many?

Mr. Campbell

Sir Russell Fairgrieve, who is a former chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. I cannot imagine that, as Sir Russell was granted that post, he is regarded as anything other than a man with eminently good sense. Others include Councillor Brian Meek, Mr. Struan Stevenson, Councillor Christine Richards and Mr. Arthur Bell, who I know is a particular favourite of the Under-Secretary of State. Those are all prominent Scottish Conservatives who have made it clear that they believe that the Conservative party should have joined, and even now should still join, the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

It is clear that, in the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland, there is a substantial measure of support for devolution. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with my list, I can also cite the example of a distinguished former Member of the House, Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith, whose principled support of devolution all his political life was, among many other factors, a proper mark of his integrity and desire to see the best government for Scotland.

At the centre of this argument is the question whether a Parliament should have the right to be responsible for revenue. The Government's position is that a tax-raising power in the technical sense inevitably means that taxes will be raised. That is a proposition without logic, because the power contained in the Bill is a power to vary income tax: it may be raised or it may be lowered depending on the political judgment of those who form the majority in a Scottish Parliament.

The Government's arguments do not, however, deal with the question that runs as follows: if the Parliament in Scotland decided to raise taxation, would it not be entitled so to do if a majority in favour of that existed? Similarly, if it chose to reduce taxation, that too would be democratically justified. Is not the responsibility of determining the level of revenue, at least within a variation, precisely what is needed to make a Parliament responsible? The noble Lord Home certainly thought so in 1979. Was he right then when he told the people of Scotland, "Don't vote for the proposals of the Labour party because they do not contain any responsibility for raising revenue. Reject them, and we in the Conservative party will bring you a better scheme"? We have waited for some time for any scheme, let alone one that would justify being called better than the proposals of 1979. It is to these important matters that the people to whom I have already referred—distinguished members of the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland—are already turning their minds, away from the implacable nature of the Secretary of State's response.

There are other straws in the wind. At a not-much-reported occasion in north Berwick last Friday night, the right hon. and learned Member for Pentlands made a speech of an accomplished delphic nature in which he said that, if change were to be allowed, independence would be the least advantageous change. I have no doubt that were he here today he would tell us that he was merely offering the hypothesis as a basis for argument; but bearing in mind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the author of the words that I uttered a moment or two ago in support of the analysis of the historical nature of the government of Scotland, the Government should certainly take some account of this further straw in the wind.

Mr. Bowis

If Scotland were to have a Parliament with tax-raising powers, it could of course raise taxes that it wanted to raise, but the people of Scotland should be aware that there would then be no capping and no one to protect them from excessive expenditure decided by Strathclyde or Lothian.

The point about the cost of the measure and the additional tax that will be needed relates to present circumstances. Scotland receives 25 per cent. more per head from United Kingdom taxation than the rest of the United Kingdom, so unless England, of its benevolence, gave more tax revenues to Scotland there would have to be a 5p increase in tax just to stand still. These are not my figures; they were recently published in the Scottish newspapers, including the non-Conservative Daily Record.

Mr. Campbell

That of course assumes that everything spent on transport in England is a national cost and that the policing of London is a national cost, but we say that once we settle down and allocate the nature of expenditure as between the two countries, disallowing the cost of running the southern region of the railways as a United Kingdom expense, it is perfectly clear, as the Scottish newspapers have often demonstrated under the heading "Scotching the Myth"—Scottish Television has demonstrated the same in a programme of the same name—that there is no question of Scotland being subsidised in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

If that is the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, he has not read the Bill. The Bill provides that a Scottish Parliament would have the right to vary upwards or downwards from the United Kingdom's established level of personal income tax. It could act in that regard only and in none other—no alteration of VAT, no alteration in corporation tax, only alterations in personal income tax. While people in Scotland are flattered that in Battersea they think of nothing else but the protection of the people of Scotland from excessive expenditure, I fancy that the people of Scotland are mature enough to elect or to refuse to re-elect Governments who do not conduct taxation affairs in the way in which they wish.

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the position of his party in Scotland, he should have regard to the fact that, at the 1987 general election, the city of Glasgow returned 11 Labour Members of Parliament. However, 25 per cent. of those who voted in Glasgow voted Conservative. Therefore, the first-past-the-post system ensures that a Conservative voter living in Glagow has no representative in Westminster. If we had proportional representation, the Conservative party would find itself with rather more influence in a Parliament in Scotland than it has here.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that not one Member of Parliament from the Scottish National party is present, although I am sure that, in common with everyone else in Scotland, we shall be challenged by it to hear statements about its separatist policies? The hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that SNP Members of Parliament should be here today to debate this honourable Bill. Furthermore, they have taken no part in the great debate in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, although there is still a seat available for that party.

Mr. Campbell

I can confirm as a matter of fact that the Scottish National party did not join the convention, although some distinguished individuals, no doubt at some political disadvantage to themselves, were prepared to do so. I can confirm that there is no SNP Member of Parliament present to hear this debate today.

Whatever the progress of my Bill, one thing is clear beyond doubt. After the forthcoming general election, the constitutional position in Scotland will be reviewed, whatever the composition of the Government. It is clear that the present arrangements will not survive. My Bill is an attempt to satisfy the needs of the people of Scotland, and it is designed to open the door to the necessary constitutional reform for the rest of the United Kingdom.

12.57 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) on his good fortune in the private Members' ballot. Given the number that he drew in the ballot, it was not certain that he would have the chance of a debate on his Bill, but he has had that opportunity and has spoken with his customary mellifluence. Some of his expressions of outrage were a little overdone. I do not believe that the people of Scotland are up in arms over the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) is, among his many other duties, the Scottish Whip. I have not noticed many placards complaining about that bedecking the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the mirror image of those charges, when one looks at the Liberal Democrat and Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen to see how many come from Scottish constituencies and frequently and regularly speak on purely English matters?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has just spoken in a debate on a United Kingdom Bill and is entirely entitled to do so.

I am glad to note that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is with us. I noted, after the recent widely publicised opinion poll in Scotland showing that 50 per cent. of the Scottish electorate favoured independence, that he was quoted on television and in the press as saying that a Scottish Parliament would be a first step. The first question before the House today, therefore, is whether his hon. and learned Friend's Bill is a first step.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the majority of the people of Scotland vote for independence, they should be entitled to have it? That appears to be the position of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. What my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) said was entirely consistent with that.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member for Gordon said that a Scottish Parliament would be a first step towards independence. If I misunderstood him, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt correct me.

The hon. and learned Member referred to opinion polls. Is it not surprising that after several years of unremitting devolutionist propaganda from the Scottish Constitutional Convention, support for devolution is almost at an all-time low, according to the opinion polls?

Mr. Bowis

The point that my hon. Friend has just made might explain why, if there is uncertainty in Scotland, there is also uncertainty among Scottish Liberal party members. That may explain why, although 10 Scottish Liberal Members of Parliament appear as sponsors on the face of the Bill, only three have managed to turn up today.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is arithmetically correct. That proportion is, however, rather greater than the proportion of Scottish National party Members or, for that matter, Labour Members who are here. I see that Scottish Labour Back Benchers are heavily represented by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) who is listening with his customary attention to my remarks.

May I return to the point made by the hon. and learned Member about the views of certain members of my party. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has made it unequivocally clear over a long period of years that he is wholly opposed to unilateral devolution, which is what the Bill proposes. I hope that the hon. and learned Member forgave me when I chortled happily when he read out the names of about four members of the Scottish Conservative party who are in favour of this assembly. According to the press, the vote at the Scottish Conservative party conference in 1988 at Perth was about 600 to 12, the 12 being in favour of devolution, one of whom, I happen to know, voted that way simply because he was sorry for the minority. That leaves 11. Those 11 votes include the names of the persons to whom the hon. and learned Friend referred. I do not deny for a moment that about 0.01 per cent. of Scottish Conservative party members have always taken that view.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend also note that, unlike the Liberal party, whose individual members have held this view for a long time, what is most interesting is the view held by senior members of the Liberal Democrat party in Scotland who are now calling for separatism?

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Not true.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. and learned Member says that that is not true. Like him, I do not necessarily automatically accept everything that is stated in Scottish newspapers. Those Liberal Democrats, whom I saw quoted as being in favour of the Scottish National party's position, will no doubt clarify their position in due course.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

May I bring the Minister back to the tiny proportion of Scottish Conservatives who, he claims, support any form of devolution? Does he rule out any constitutional change? If not, what is the Conservative party contemplating?

Mr. Allan Stewart

I can make the position absolutely clear. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the Union is not set in concrete; it has changed over time, but, broadly speaking, we favour the current constitutional arrangements. There has been some administrative devolution, to which the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East referred. The Conservative and Unionist party will fight the next general election as the party of the Union.

Mr. Graham

I am glad to see that the Minister is fine and fit, because it was reported that he was ill.

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that opinion poll after opinion poll in Scotland has shown support for the quest of the Scottish Constitutional Convention for a Scottish Parliament? The recent survey showing that 50 per cent. of Scottish people want independence resulted from the Government's decimation of the Scottish industrial base, such as Ravenscraig, Armitage Shanks, which is in the Minister's constituency, and the litany of factory closures and job losses and from increasing poverty in Scotland. People are angry and are pitching hard because of the polarisation of the debate between the status quo or independence. The people of Scotland have proved for years that they support an assembly. Why will not the Minister take part in that debate?

Mr. Stewart

May I make two points in reply to the hon. Gentleman? First, the much-publicised recent opinion poll showed that 70 per cent. of Scottish people oppose the proposals of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. They favoured either independence or the status quo. Secondly, of course it is true, and it always has been, that if people are asked, "Do you think that a Scottish assembly or a Scottish Parliament is a good idea?", most tend to give a positive response. That was true before the last referendum in 1979. When people are faced not with broad philosophy but a specific choice, opinion changes markedly.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

The Secretary of State said that if the majority of Members elected from Scotland were Scottish National party Members, the Government would regard that as a vote for independence and accept it. If after the next election there is a clear majority of Members committed to reforming the United Kingdom and creating a Parliament for Scotland within the United Kingdom, will the Conservative party accept the verdict of the people of Scotland?

Mr. Stewart

The reform of the United Kingdom Parliament, as the hon. Member refers to it, will take place if there is a majority within the United Kingdom Parliament for that reform. The hon. Member must recognise that England is a partner in the Act of Union.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

We can have independence but not reform.

Mr. Stewart

What I am saying is perfectly clear and straightforward. If a party obtains a majority in the House on a programme of reform, it will endeavour to pass legislation through the House.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister should clarify the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). It is obvious, by the very nature of things, that the Scottish National party could win all 72 seats in Scotland and not have a majority in the House. At what point does he think that there is a majority for independence, and at what point is there a majority for reform in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Stewart

I think that there is a majority for what the hon. Gentleman refers to as reform within the United Kingdom when that case commands a majority in the House. It is as simple as that.—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making the political point that if the SNP had 72 Scottish Members of Parliament as he posits, sovereignty would remain with the House, but the House would conclude that the Act of Union was no longer sustainable. However, the ultimate decision would have to rest with the House—that is clear.

I shall deal now with some of the detailed aspects of the Bill. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, it is always the case that the more one considers the details of specific proposals, the more problems arise. That has always been the case and remains so, and it is true of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) asked the fairly obvious question about the role of the Secretary of State—would there be one? Would he be responsible only for Scotland? Would he be of Cabinet rank? The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde is clear about the answer, but the rest of the Opposition do not agree with him. He is clear, I think, that there would not be a Secretary of State for Scotland, but that is not the Labour party's view. Already, on that simple and straightforward question raised by my hon. Friend, the so-called united front on devolution has fallen apart fairly quickly.—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde said something from a sedentary position which I did not catch.

Mr. Graham

The Minister asserted that the devolution scenario has fallen flat, but that is absolutely untrue. The massive majority of people in Scotland have a clear desire for a devolved Parliament in Scotland. The Minister should test that.

Mr. Stewart

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was going to say whether he was in favour of the Liberal Democrats' position that there should not be a Secretary of State and on Labour's position that there should be.

Mr. Graham

That is not important.

Mr. Stewart

Oh, the hon. Gentleman does not think that it is important—I suppose that that is one way to answer questions about the British constitution.

I deal now with how the role of Scottish Members of Parliament would fit in the scheme. Again, the Opposition were immediately divided on this simple question. I have to give it to the Liberal Democrats that they realised that there is a problem. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East was honest enough to say that they—the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats—had always accepted that in the context of Scottish Assembly or Parliament there would be fewer Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. That is not the Labour party's position. Labour believes that when a Scottish Assembly or Parliament had been set up Scotland would still have 72 Members of Parliament at Westminster. Does any objective commentator accept that as a reasonable proposition? No.

Stormont is something of a precedent in this issue, although not necessarily a tremendously powerful historical case for devolution. The number of Scottish Members of Parliament would be less than 40 according to that precedent. The number of Members of Parliament does not answer the West Lothian question, because it is not about numbers. The West Lothian question, which the devolutionists have spent the past 12 years failing to answer, is why this House should tolerate a situation in which Scottish Members of Parliament could vote decisively on English education, English housing and English local government when neither they nor the English Members of Parliament could vote on comparable Scottish matters.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend consider Kent, where there may not be a single Labour Member? Kent still has grammar schools, but they could be abolished by the votes of Scottish Members. Kent, where there is not a single Labour Member, would see its grammar schools abolished if this rather peculiar proposal were implemented.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The position would be intolerable and unacceptable. It is conning the people of Scotland to suggest that there is not a problem and that the matter can be resolved in due course. The West Lothian question goes right to the heart of the proposals for devolution. There is a fundamental flaw of which the Liberal Democrats at least show some recognition, although they do not answer the problem because they cannot answer it.

I recall the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) saying in the House, in answer to a question from me, that he thought that the West Lothian question was unanswerable. It is, and the Bill provides an answer.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

The first step to federalism.

Mr. Stewart

The first step to federalism? I thought that it was independence.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East said that the proposed Scottish Paliament would be entrenched —an interesting concept. Once established, it could not be disbanded. It would be a creature of statute set up by Act of Parliament—this Parliament. For it to be entrenched would require some part of the enabling statute to be irreversible, which is outwith the power of Parliament. That is not and cannot be devolution. Power devolved is power retained. The proposal is not devolution.

Mr. Wallace

It is federalism.

Mr. Stewart

It is not devolution. We are agreed on that. The Bill then is not a devolutionary proposal, but an entirely new animal. The Bill would require this sovereign Parliament to set up a lower tier of government in such a way that it surrendered the power to amend or repeal its own statute. That would be a far greater step of surrendering the sovereign authority of this Parliament in favour of the created body, if it could be done. It is absolutely clear that one cannot uphold the Union of the Parliaments on that basis. If one is able to set up an entrenched sovereign parliament of some sort, one cannot at the same time uphold the Union of Parliaments. That point is probably agreed and I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East is talking about the upholding of the Union of Parliaments.

The next point that the hon. and learned Gentleman emphasised to the House was the central importance for the proposals of proportional representation. We do not know how many members his body would wish to have, although we are told that it would be between 75 and 125. We are told that the exact number would be determined by the electoral commission for Scotland, which would be set up under the Bill, and that the system would be the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. Interestingly, that is not the form of proportional representation being proposed for the Scottish Constitutional Convention on which I thought the proposals were supposed to be based.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Read the Bill.

Mr. Stewart

As I understand it, the proposal for the Scottish Constitutional Convention is the added member system. I am not an expert on the many forms of proportional representation—AMS, ATV, STV, Sky News—once we have heard one, we have heard them all. There are substantial arguments against proportional representation and the proposal in the Bill is quite different from that put forward by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

Let me deal with some of the financial aspects of the proposals. How would a Scottish assembly work in practice, and what would it cost? The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East has said that the body that he proposes would have the power to vary income tax up to 3p above or below the United Kingdom rate of tax. I am sure that those with economic expertise will agree that the consequences of a separate tax regime in Scotland are unpredictable. The ramifications, both within and without Scotland, could be highly detrimental to Scotland's business and to Scotland's interests abroad. Why alter income tax rates but not rates for indirect taxes? Would business rates be cut to encourage inward investment?

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that macroeconomic policy would be retained by the Westminster Parliament and central Government yet he proposes to give the Scottish Assembly or Parliament power to raise or lower income tax by 3p in the pound, and to do that is to place a major area of macro-economic policy outside the control of the Treasury. We could be talking about up to 2.5 per cent. of GDP—from one extreme to the other. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot argue that macro-economic will be retained by Westminster while at that same time arguing for such tax-raising powers.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the level of taxation and expenditure in Scotland, about which there has been a great deal of comment. I must say that "Scotching the Myth" seemed to me rather high on assertion and rather low on arithmetic. There is no doubt, however, that identifiable general Government expenditure per head in Scotland is 24 per cent. higher than in England. Put another way, for every £4 spent in England, we spend £5 in Scotland. There are, of course, reasons for those figures.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend will also realise that the Scots represent just under 9 per cent. of the United Kingdom population. Can he confirm that the Scots do not pay that percentage of the income tax contributed to the centre? The figure that they pay is less, which means that other areas are paying more income tax relative to the number of people living there.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is right, and that is because incomes are higher, particularly in the south-east of England. There is no doubt that Scotland does relatively well in expenditure terms.

I was interested to read paragraph 32(e) of schedule I which proposes powers to initiate forms of public ownership or control in the public interest". I take it that those powers will not necessarily be used in relation to the steel industry, as I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is against that.

Mr. Wallace

I do not know whether the Minister is about to make a point about the preparation of a socialist revolution. He must recognise, however, that the Westminster Parliament has powers to take companies into public ownership. The exercise of those powers would depend on which party was in control in the Scottish Parliament—just as their exercise here depends on which party has an overall majority in this Parliament.

Mr. Stewart

Parliament can take powers to pass particular forms of public ownership, but the new Scottish Parliament would be given a very general power to nationalise whatever it wanted.

I should like to outline the economic and industrial powers that are proposed by the Bill for the new body. First, it would duplicate functions that are best administered at a United Kingdom level. Secondly, it would triplicate structures that are already in place in Scotland for the delivery of, for example, education and training policy. It also would undoubtedly complicate the layers of bureaucracy and the administration that is necessary to oversee Scotland's economic and industrial development.

The Bill contains proposals on relations with the European Community. Its first proposal is for the establishment of a representative office. Secondly, it suggests an entitlement for the executive to be represented on all United Kingdom ministerial delegations to the Councils of Ministers. That ignores the fact that the Scottish Office already has a representative office through UKREP, with which we have extremely close relationships. Scottish Office Ministers can already attend Council of Ministers meetings, at which their presence is important, such as for discussions on fishing. What is supposed to happen under the new arrangements when somebody from the executive of one political party has to join a United Kingdom team of a different political party? The Bill does not address the way in which such arguments can be resolved. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, who has left his place for a moment, alleged that the demand for constitutional change somehow related to the state of the Scottish economy. During the past 12 years or so many Opposition Members and their allies in Scotland —I do not accuse the Liberal Democrats of this—have sneered at or regarded with contempt every bit of industrial good news. They have consistently alleged over a period that the problems of the Scottish economy are the fault of the constitutional system, saying that if the constitution were changed, the problems would be resolved.

Let us assume for a moment that the Bill had been on the statute book a few years ago. Which industrial problem would have been resolved? Would the problems of Ravenscraig or of Armitage Shanks have been resolved? Would the problems that face our modern telecommunications and electronics industries, which also face all such industries worldwide, have been resolved? The answer is that they would not have been resolved. There is no way in which the proposals could have changed the circumstances of those industries. However, if the proposals had been in force, there would undoubtedly have been a climate of considerable uncertainty about Scotland's constitutional future and a climate in which taxes in Scotland could increase over and above the rate in the rest of the United Kingdom, thus making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. That would have been bound to be damaging to our growth industries and to the case for inward investment where we have been markedly successful in a tough, competitive market. We have been markedly successful because the Government changed the institutional arrangements in that area. To be in favour of the Union is not to be in favour of an unchanging status quo. We changed the arrangements for Locate in Scotland, for example—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gordon sneers—

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

The change was administrative, not constitutional.

Mr. Stewart

It is indeed administrative. It is an example of administrative change that the Government have introduced. It has been highly successful and is practical and sensible. It has been put to good use on behalf of the people of Scotland. That is the kind of sensible change that we have introduced and will continue to introduce.

There are two fundamental arguments against the Bill. First, there are no answers to some of the practical questions that I have put to the House. One can always advance a broad-brush argument in favour of fundamental constitutional change—

Mr. Wallace

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Stewart

I am about to finish—but the more one gets down to the nitty gritty, the more arguments become clear and the more the difficulties become overwhelming.

Secondly, the business community and wealth creators in Scotland have most to fear not from a one-off constitutional change, but from the fact that a constitutional change such as this would in no sense be the end of the road. There is a simple reason why it would not be the end of the road. If the arrangements were perceived to be working well, the Scottish National party would say, "Make them work better. Let us have full independence." If the arrangements were perceived to be working badly, as it is my belief that they would, the SNP would be in even better position and could say, "We have tried this half-way house, O people of Scotland, and it does not work. Westminster is not giving us enough money. It is all the fault of Westminster. This does not work. Give us more power." At that stage Westminster, wholly fed up with the procedure, would almost certainly say, "Let Scotland have independence, in any event." That would be the inevitable result of unilateral devolution as proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I have no doubt that the House will rightly and properly continue to consider these matters in the months and years ahead. Because of the detailed effects of the measure and the fundamental implication that it would inevitably result in the break-up of the United Kingdom, I urge the House to reject the Bill.

1.33 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill that was so ably and eloquently presented by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell).

The Minister said that he would examine the detail of the Bill and we waited for a rigorous examination of it. When hon. Members who are not here read the debate tomorrow they will agree with us that he scarcely made any dent in these proposals. The Minister must recognise that although the proposals do not amount to a federal settlement for the United Kingdom, because that would involve other parts of the United Kingdom, they face up to the issue of federalism. This is certainly a step down the road towards federalism, which, from reading the Scottish press this week, is the option with the greatest intellectual arguments in its favour. I am sure that, increasingly, it will commend itself in political terms as well.

Mr. Bill Walker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) was not prepared to extend to me when I tried to put this question to him earlier. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is viable to suggest that one can introduce a federal structure in a piecemeal manner? Does not the 83 per cent. of the population, who represent those living in England, have some say in whether or not it wants to be part of a federal structure?

Mr. Wallace

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I had said, instead of rehearsing the question that he wanted to ask my hon. and learned Friend, he would have heard that I said that our proposal was a step towards a federal settlement. I said that it was not, in itself, a federal settlement.

Hon. Members should consider what has gone on in Spain since democracy was restored in the aftermath of Franco. Seventeen autonomous provinces, many of which have taken steps towards regionalised self-government at their own pace, have been established. In provinces such as the Basque country and Catalonia a considerable measure of self-government has been achieved. Obviously there are difficulties and no one would suggest that any administrative machinery runs smoothly all the time. However, when my hon. Friends the Members for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I visited Spain last autumn we found that considerable advantages had been gained, particularly by the business communities of Catalonia and the Basque country.

The Minister suggested that the business community here was apprehensive about our proposal. However, those in the business community should visit Barcelona or Bilbao to see how self-government is working in practice. Many of those companies have obviously already done that because a list of British household-name companies are already making substantial investment in Catalonia and the Basque country. If it is all right for them to invest in self-governing regions in Spain, the Minister owes it to us to tell us why they would be so afraid to invest in a self-governing region within the United Kingdom.

In the past few days, there have been some newspaper reports about certain members of my party who see the broad vision somewhat differently from the overwhelming majority of Scottish Liberal Democrats. However, the Minister did not adequately address the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East about the considerable number of people, many of them eminent, within the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party who have called for the Government to take active steps immediately towards devolution. They include people such as Brian Meek, the former convenor of Lothian region, Christine Richards, the leader of the Conservative group on Edinburgh district council, Struan Stevenson, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh, South and Sir Russell Fairgrieve, the former chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. They are eminent figures within the Minister's party and the fact that they are calling for the Government to take active steps now is a significant straw in the wind.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I pointed out that when the Scottish Conservative party conference considered devolution it was defeated, according to the press, by some 600 votes to 11 or 12. All those whom the hon. Gentleman identified were part of that 11. There is nothing new in any of their statements. They have not changed their opinion.

Mr. Wallace

I apologise if I got the figure wrong. However, I believe that more than 12 chairmen of Scottish Conservative and Unionist constituency associations have now given some support for change.

The Minister must recognise that the pace of the debate in Scotland has speeded up since the Scottish Liberal Democrats became, in terms of parliamentary seats, the second party in Scotland on 8 November 1991. That change is significant and the Conservative party must address it.

The danger is that the hard-line Unionist attitude—which the Minister presented today and which the Secretary of State loses no opportunity in speeches to present—will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Minister gave an inadequate answer and suggested that if there was a Scottish parliamentary majority in favour of independence, somehow that would be a mandate for independence, whereas he would not accept that if there was a Scottish parliamentary majority for reform of the present system—as there already is—that would merit the present arrangements for the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom being reformed in a way which would lead to greater self-government for the people of Scotland.

I particularly wish to comment on the provisions in the Bill relating to the island areas of Scotland. The House will recall that during the passage of the proposed 1978 legislation, my predecessor, my noble Friend Lord Grimond, proposed an amendment which would have provided for the arrangements for the island areas of Orkney and Shetland to be considered in the scheme of devolution, had that Bill been implemented.

That was supported overwhelmingly in a local referendum in Shetland. But it must be said that in the actual referendum of 1979, the proposals in the 1978 measure were rejected by the voters in both Orkney and Shetland. One must also admit that in many of what one might call the peripheral areas of Scotland—for example, in Highland region—there was a bare majority in favour of the proposals. Although we would argue that a simple majority should have carried the day, I accept that if a scheme did not command widespread support from different parts of Scotland, we needed to come forward with a better system.

In that context, a system of proportional representation, which was missing from the 1978 proposed legislation, is critical. I have made it clear, as have my hon. Friends, that in future we would not support any measure for Scottish home rule that did not contain provisions for PR. In that way, PR can be some assurance, particularly for those who do not live in the central belt, that, unless there is a massive landslide, there is unlikely to be overwhelming dominance by one party which does not command the majority support of the people of Scotland.

Mr. Bowis

As a grandson of Scotland, I am interested in the subject. I find when talking to people in Scotland, particularly in the type of areas about which the hon. Gentleman is talking, and in areas from which my family comes, that they are particularly concerned lest they move from the present position in which they may feel that they are not always heard sufficiently in Westminster, to a position where they will not be heard in Strathclyde or Lothian. How would the hon. Gentleman's PR system, which I gather would ensure political breadth and balance, ensure regional breadth and balance? With a list system, there would be no guarantee that the party list adequately reflected the needs of the Shetlanders and those who live in the borders, in Galloway and elsewhere.

Mr. Wallace

We have said that the list system does not necessarily commend itself to us. A system of single transferable vote, by its nature, concentrates on communities, and schedule 1 sets out in paragraph 18 the principles that would have to be followed in implementing a system of PR. It says that (a) it produces results in which the number of seats for various parties is broadly related to the number of votes cast for them; (b) it seeks to achieve equal representation of men and women and fair representation of ethnic and other minority groups; (c) it preserves a link between the member and the constituency which that member represents; (d) it is as simple as possible; (e) it ensures adequate representation of less populous areas. The last point answers the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Bowis


Mr. Wallace

I have given way generously and I now wish to make progress.

Proportional representation is a key element of the Bill in giving confidence to people who live outside the central belt that there will not be a Strathclyde or Lothian region writ large.

There are specific provisions relating to the status of the islands districts. There has been a change in the attitude of people in the islands regions since the 1979 referendum. That change is not unrelated to the fact that, apart from a two-month period, that time coincides with the Government's term of office. Those people feel that, on a wide range of issues, they have been saddled with legislation that is insensitive not only to Scotland, but to the needs of the islands areas. For example, they did not want the poll tax, but it was foisted on them. They are more likely to obtain sensitive and sympathetic government through a Scottish Parliament dealing with Scotland's domestic affairs.

To their credit, the incoming Conservative Government of 1979 set up the Montgomery committee to look into the structures and powers of the islands authorities. The committee, which reported in 1984, recommended that, wherever possible, those powers should be consolidated, developed and extended. That was a vote of confidence in single-tier islands authority.

The Bill guarantees that the provisions of the Zetland County Council Act 1974 and the Orkney County Council Act 1974—key pieces of private legislation which allowed the islands to develop in response to the challenges of the oil era—will remain in place unless there is majority support through a local referendum for their change. It guarantees that it should be accepted that the islands enjoy special status—not just the Orkney and Shetland islands, but the Western Isles.

The Bill sets out powers that might be taken on by the islands authorities if, and only if, demand is expressed through the ballot box by people in the islands areas for those powers to be transferred. I am thinking of the fisheries management in coastal waters, which is one issue on which there could be more sensitive government in response to the particular needs of the communities where the fishing industry is of such vital importance to the local economy.

Even in my time in the House, measures have been introduced to deal with the needs of the highlands and islands, for example those involving milk quotas. I remember arguing that special arrangements were needed to deal with council houses occupied by teachers who were employed by both the housing and local education authorities. That took a long time; the Government ultimately gave way, but the original Bill should have taken account of the special arrangements needed in the islands.

I am sure that, as the Minister with responsibility for local government finance in Scotland, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will accept without a hint of controversy that the local government finance arrangements for Orkney and the Shetland islands, not to mention the Western Isles, give him a few more headaches than those for other parts of Scotland due to recent events in the Western Isles, the presence of large oil terminals and financial expenditure related to the infrastructure of the other two island groups.

There are many facets—apart from historical and cultural aspects of the islands—that make them that bit different and special. The Bill seeks to establish that that special status should be accorded to the islands. That would go a long way to reassure islanders that, under any Scottish Parliament, they would not be overridden by large labour groups from Strathclyde. In addition, under proportional representation, any Scottish Parliament would have to take proper account of people in all parts of Scotland.

The underlying principle of devolving power and moving towards home rule is that government should be exercised as close to the people as is possible and consistent with good and efficient government. We believe that people who make their own decisions are likely to make better ones. They will undoubtedly make the wrong decisions sometimes, but one could argue that they had a democratic right to do so. They are liable to make the right decision more often than not, as they know the local conditions, sensitivities and needs. That is the fundamental principle to which we as a party strongly subscribe; it is embodied in the Bill. I trust that the House will support the Bill, which was so eloquently introduced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East.

1.49 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) showed that he wanted me to make a speech of my own by not allowing me to intervene. I wanted properly to debate the details of his Bill and he did not give me the chance, so I have every intention now of drawing attention to those details and to the political scene in Scotland with which the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests his Bill is intended to deal. As I shall show, it fails to do that.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)

Will my hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that although this debate is graced by the presence of one of the Scottish Labour Whips, it is not, unfortunately, graced by a Scottish shadow Minister from the Labour party?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend is correct. The failure of a Labour party Front-Bench spokesman to speak in this debate will not go unnoticed; it is probably due to the differences of views held by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party within the constitutional convention. The absence of the Scottish National party clearly shows that it has no desire to participate in debates on the constitution of Scotland.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) mentioned regional self-government in Spain. Of course there are advantages in studying what other countries do, but hon. Members should be very careful about comparisons with countries that have only recently emerged into a democracy which as yet can only be described as skin deep. We wish them well, but in the United Kingdom we have progressively achieved democracy in the Parliaments of Scotland and of England and in the unitary United Kingdom Parliament. That progression has taken place over 1,000 years, so our system is quite different from that of countries that have practised democracy for only a short time.

I, too, have looked at the situation in Spain. Admittedly I was there for other reasons, but I had the chance to see what was going on there. It is not quite the Valhalla that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland suggests. Why are we Conservatives unable to support the proposals in the Bill and the proposals of the constitutional convention? The plain fact is that the Conservative party is the party of union. We do not apologise for that: we are proud of it. We cannot support proposals that we judge to be flawed and unworkable. Governments have to try to deliver what they publicly support. One of the advantages of a minority party with little prospect of forming a Government is that, for almost a century, it can peddle its proposals because it knows that it will never be in a position to deliver them.

In any case, the Liberal Democrats' proposals are not, as they claim, for a federal structure. I do not argue with the theory of federation. In theory, it is a viable proposition, but politics is about the art of what is possible, not about what one writes in theory books.

The plain fact is that 83 per cent. of the people living in these islands live in England. Notice that I did not say that they are English, because there are an awful lot of Scots, as well as many others, living in England. That 83 per cent. has made it clear that it will have no truck with federalism, despite having heard it peddled by the Liberals, the Liberal Democrats, the Social Democrats or whatever name they call themselves this week. They have been peddling that policy and philosophy for the best part of this century, but their popular appeal has hardly improved at all. We take no lectures from them on our representation in Scotland. We remind them that we enjoy a greater share of the popular vote in Scotland than they do, and have done so for a long time.

The Liberal Democrats made typical Liberal jibing remarks claiming that the Conservatives could not staff the Scottish Office. That is nonsense. As this is a unitary United Kingdom Parliament, I remind them that while there might be 72 Scottish constituencies, there are 90 Scottish Members of Parliament, so Scots are well represented. Of the Cabinet of 22, five are Scots. As Scots, why should we listen to the rubbish from other parties about how well we are represented? We are representative in this unitary Parliament in a way that the Liberal Democrats envy and would love to be.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Is my hon. Friend aware that people in my constituency of Wanstead and Woodford, which is represented by someone who has seven eighths Scottish blood, would feel sympathetic to the Bill if they thought that it would result in the Scots being less overrepresented? There should be 59 constituencies in Scotland, rather than the number that there are.

Mr. Walker

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which draws attention to one of the great problems in trying to restrict the debate to Scotland.

If one appeals to the heart and never to the head, it is not difficult to get people to respond. However, when people see the price that has to be paid for what is on offer, that changes. This is why all the proposals for all the different forms of devolution that have been dreamed up lose their attraction once they have been put on the table. That is what happened with the Scottish Constitutional Convention. While it was sitting and deliberating, the press and the media loved its ideas, and there was popular support. Once its deliberations were completed and the proposals could be examined, popular support started to diminish and then it went down with a thud. This is exactly what happened in 1978–79. Tragically, that results in a boomerang upward effect, luckily only temporary, on support for narrow nationalism. Again, as in 1979, that upsurge will be defeated because the Scots recognise the great advantage of the Union.

Any party—this is particularly true of those which expect to form a Government within this unitary Parliament—cannot and should not, for short-term electoral advantage, support proposals that have no prospect of being enacted. That is an important fact. I do not always believe what I read in the Scottish press or in the national press, but even if we were to believe that the Conservative party's reason for not having more representatives from Scottish constituencies in the House is because we have failed to embrace devolution proposals, that should not be used as a stick to batter us with. It is something we should be proud of. We have stood by our values and the truth, as we see it. I believe that we command the high moral ground in Scotland on the issue because we are not prepared to embrace proposals that would put the Union at risk.

Mr. Wallace

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, I have always made a practice of giving way in the House to those who wished to intervene. Therefore I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wallace

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He says that he and his party have stood loyally by their principles. Can he tell me whether it was the principle enunciated by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the declaration of Perth, or the principle enunciated by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) in the speech quoted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), or the principle enunciated by Lord Home of the Hirsel on the eve of the last referendum, or the principle subsequently enunciated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)? These principles are all somewhat different. I should like to know which principles the hon. Gentleman has loyally stood by.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman has moved me on to the next stage of my speech. The principle that I am dealing with is that if one is to be in government, whatever one supports must be workable, viable and deliverable in this place. One must believe that when one is vetting proposed legislation. If, in the light of examination—this is true of some of the thoughts of members of my own party—we find that it cannot command support in the House, we judge that it cannot be something that we, as a party, can support. That is what Liberal Democrat Members have failed to grasp.

Let me deal with the Scottish Constitutional Convention proposals. They are relevant to the Bill. The principles are the same: can they be delivered and can a Government get them through the House? The Labour party—the major player in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, helped and assisted by its friends in the Liberal Democratic alliance, or whatever they call themselves these days—put forward the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals. The Conservative party attacked the proposals and drew attention to how unworkable they were. Any hon. Member who has listened to anything that I have said in the House on these matters will know that I have repeatedly said that they would not get through Parliament. The bottom line for me is whether they would get through Parliament.

I am delighted that the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) have made it quite clear that they would vote against those proposals.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the two hon. Members to whom he has just referred will be but two of the 360 or 370 Labour Members of Parliament who are elected at the next general election. The majority view will be for the creation of a Scottish assembly, a Welsh assembly and regional assemblies for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Walker

Let us look at the opinion polls. Everyone else wishes to draw comfort from them, for some reason. Even if the best opinion polls say that there could be a Labour Government with a majority of 20 or 30 Members, does anyone seriously believe that the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Bradford, South could not get 15 of their colleagues to go with them into the Lobby against such a proposal? We must be realistic. The hon. Gentleman can tell that to the people outside the House, but he cannot tell it to the people inside this House. We know the hon. Members who support the hon. Member for Bolsover. I could add a long list of names, including those of some right hon. Members who expect to be returned to this House and who would not support the proposal.

The Labour party is unlikely to be able to deliver. If a substantial number of Members were unlikely to support such a constitutional change, the Conservative party could not support it; it would be deemed to be unworkable.

That is the price of attempting to win favour for short-term electoral gain. The chips are counted and the chickens come home to roost. The Labour party in Scotland is running around like a lot of headless chicks; it is fascinating to watch. Those of us who have been living dangerously in Scotland for a long time are enjoying its discomfort.

When the Scots are made aware of the price to be paid and of whether the proposals are workable, support for them will inevitably decline, as it did in 1979 and in recent weeks. Sadly, such proposals have always produced a temporary increase in support for separatism.

My hon. Friend the Minister asked what Scottish Members would have to do. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) in his place, because he has the good fortune, or misfortune, to chair many of our Standing Committee sittings. He knows that the Labour and Conservative parties man the Standing Committees. We carefully study legislation and frequently amend it, as we did with the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill. Our debates are often heated and controversial, which is what Parliament is about.

I represent 2,000 sq miles of rural, mostly highland, Scotland. I can speak on a wide range of matters in Committees, but, more important, I can table questions. The cornerstone of our unwritten constitution is the citizen's right to have wrongs redressed through their Member of Parliament. That is why hon. Members are free to say what they like in this place and ask any questions, provided they fall within the competence of Ministers.

What shall I do in this future Valhalla that the Liberal Democrats propose in the Bill? The Bill provides that the Scots Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Scotland with respect to the following matters— and then there is a huge list covering two pages. But let me deal with the issues about which I am likely to want to ask questions, the first being the administration of social security. The hon. Member for Springburn and I regularly ask questions about matters affecting our constituents, but he would not be able to ask questions about social security matters affecting his constituents because of devolution. The Minister would not be responsible or accountable for that so the hon. Gentleman would not ask his questions.

Mr. Arbuthnot

But the curious thing is that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) would be able to ask questions about social security matters affecting my constituents.

Mr. Wallace

I apologise to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) if he was going to make this point, but, as I discovered recently when tabling social security questions, one cannot put many to the Minister now because they are referred to an executive agency. The hon. Gentleman must also face the fact that in his constituency there would be Members of the Scottish Parliament who would be able to undertake that task on behalf of constituents. The aim of the Bill is good government for Scotland and its people, including the hon. Gentleman's constituents—it is not to provide a work schedule for him.

Mr. Walker

That was a splendid intervention, because it encapsulated what I am trying to say. As I understand it, hon. Members come to the House to ask questions and, we hope, to deal with matters constructively to the benefit of the citizens of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) clearly pinpointed the problem of setting up such a body in isolation—that is the important aspect.

Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour hon. Members and others, whatever they call themselves—the Scottish National party, the absent lot—come here to make points and ask questions about the 83 per cent. of the population with which they are not linked in any way. However, they will have to say—as we can properly say now about council matters—to the people who elected them and who attend their surgeries, "Go and see your councillor." One can imagine the frustration, because we have all experienced the problems of two-tier councils. Most of the poor devils do not know which councillor represents them or who does what.

One can imagine the appalling situation. Euro Members sit in Europe dealing with all the odds and ends, a situation about which the absent lot are perfectly happy —they are keen to give more power to Europe and they want to take away what we have now in the way of care, interest and protection of our constituents in Scotland. Do they really believe that that will provide good, stable government or that it will not increase conflict in different areas?

I deal now with the matters about which I shall always want to ask questions, such as agriculture. Yesterday, with great difficulty, I managed to ask a question, but it was not during agriculture questions because I was not called. I make no complaint about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I draw attention to the fact that there are other ways to get things done in this place. Is not that the great thing about this Parliament? If one finds that one cannot use one method, there are other routes.

Yesterday I sat through all the agriculture questions. Why did I do that? Because the raspberry farmers of Tayside are facing problems brought about by Community changes. The fact that Commissioner MacSharry and his officials cannot agree on a policy means uncertainty for raspberry farmers. Yesterday I was unable to ask my question during agriculture questions, but the important thing was to get it on the record and to get things moving. I did that by asking a question during business questions. How many of us do that all the time? We can use early-day motions to bring out matters and we can table written questions.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman seems to be advancing an argument against his original premise. He is glorying in the fact that he, as a Member of this Parliament, was able to make inquiries about a matter that was European Community policy. The fact that the hon. Gentleman can ask questions about European Community matters shows the flexibility of our constitution. After the establishment of a Scottish assembly, he would not have a problem about asking questions about what is happening in that tier of government.

Mr. Walker

Sadly for the hon. Gentleman, he has picked on the wrong chap when dealing with Europe. He should know that I resigned recently as a vice-chairman of the party over European matters. I am unhappy that my raspberry farmers are left as the victims of the bureaucratic nonsense and problems of Europe. I make no secret of my views on that. That is why I am a great supporter of this unitary Parliament and of the Union. They work. Instead of undermining my case, the hon. Gentleman has helped to strengthen it and I thank him very much.

Education is listed as an area that will be devolved—although this is not devolution.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

When the hon. Gentleman resigned his post, did he also resign his post as the Scottish Conservative party's defence spokesman? Curiously enough, defence is not one of the items that the Bill proposes to devolve. Why does the Conservative party feel the need to devolve spokesmanship for defence?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman should know that I did not resign my position as defence spokesman; I have held that position since 1980. I did not resign the post because I believe that the defence of the realm must be kept and controlled by this Parliament.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

By Scots.

Mr. Walker

By this Parliament, not by the Scots. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) wants to know why I hold the job, which seems to be a source of amusement.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Why is there such a job?

Mr. Walker

The reason is that many years ago the Government decided to deploy to Scotland the nuclear deterrent capability, which gave the matter a Scottish dimension. There is no secret and I do not know why the hon. Member for Gordon is so amused. My job in Scotland was to deal with the peace movement. [Laughter.] What is so funny? I think that I did that job very effectively.

Mr. Arbuthnot

This is a point that my hon. Friend cannot make. I suspect that the job exists because my hon. Friend is very good at it.

Mr. Walker

I was trying to deal with serious matters, not with the frivolous nonsense on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

I especially want to continue to have an input in education. That is also true of the environment. Hundreds of square miles of my constituency are under forestry. Health is even more important. Meigle cottage hospital is under threat. The last thing I want is decision-making on that to be taken away from this Parliament.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Is not it true that in Scotland, there is a very good education system? It has many different traditions and strengths from our system. A Scottish Parliament has not been needed to achieve that over the years.

Mr. Walker

Indeed not. The period at which Scottish education was probably at its best was the latter part of the previous century when it was under this unitary Parliament.

It is obvious that one wants to continue to have an input in health, housing, local government—always controversial—the police, prisons, pollution and regional policy. There is also trade and industry. I make no apology for my interest in the whisky industry. The hon. Member for Springburn and I regularly fight on that industry's behalf, although we are probably the only teetotallers around this place. We do that because we have constituency interests.

Apparently, transport is to be devolved. That is interesting. I wonder how we shall ensure that bus and rail services operate properly. The same is true of water supplies.

I hope that I have shown clearly that, like other attempts at constitutional reform dealt with in isolation, the Bill is unworkable. It is also constitutionally flawed.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has mentioned me several times.

Mr. Walker

Because the hon. Gentleman is here.

Mr. Martin

Because I am here. The hon. Gentleman will agree, no doubt, that the reason why there is great pressure for constitutional change in Scotland is that the vast majority of Scottish people feel that the Government are neglecting them. With the closure of Ravenscraig, for example, it seemed that the Secretary of State was indifferent to the problems. I have the Adjournment debate today, which is on a closure that has a bearing on railway safety. I shall be raising that because, once again, the Government have appeared indifferent. Every time hon. Members approach the Secretary of State on matters such as education and school and hospital closures, the right hon. Gentleman says that the decisions are management decisions and not directly to do with the Government. It is small wonder, given all the problems that we face north of the border, that there is pressure for change in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman must face the fact that the Government's complacency has led to that desire for change.

Mr. Walker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. Let us examine the facts. Since May 1979, Scotland has had its old smokestack, labour-intensive industries replaced. They are gone; they have been banished. In their place have come modern, high-technology industry. That, coupled with a flourishing financial and service sector, and linked to a revitalised whisky industry—whose existence the hon. Member for Springburn must acknowledge—has meant that Scotland now exports more per capita than Germany or Japan. No one would deny that there are problems in some sectors and some areas. What I am saying is that the Bill will not change that or address those problems. The changes that have taken place since 1979 have been beneficial to Scotland, as our export performance has shown.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman is misusing the English language in saying that the traditional industries have been replaced by new industries. In fact, speaking from memory, there are now about 105,000 fewer full-time jobs for men in Scotland than there were in 1979. Taking all employment, there are still far fewer jobs in Scotland than there were in 1979. Those jobs have not been replaced: most of them have been lost.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of misusing the English language. I said that our labour-intensive, smokestack industries had been replaced by modern industry. One could use the hon. Gentleman's argument to apply to earlier times, particularly in my constituency, where 80 per cent. of the population used to work on the land. All that changed with the industrial revolution. We live in a world of change and cannot expect people to continue working in the same activities. That change has brought Scotland to a competitive position where the service sector is growing all the time. It is the biggest employer in my constituency. There are more jobs today in my constituency in the service sector than 10 years ago, many more than there were 20 years ago, and the number of such jobs continues to grow. My local newspaper contains many job adverts each week.

The real difficulty about a Bill such as this is that when one talks about giving Scotland more say over its own affairs and a Government in Edinburgh, people will say, "Oh yes, we agree" until one mentions the cost. What is the price that we would have to pay to achieve that?

I hope that I have demonstrated how unstable the political situation in Scotland would be as a result of the division of responsibilities and power. The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford would find that I could ask questions and, more important, vote on matters affecting them, but that he would be unable to ask questions or to vote on matters affecting my constituency. That is the weakness of the proposal. The Bill is proposing arrangements to deal with the constitution of the United Kingdom in isolation. Indeed, it was admitted earlier that it would be one step towards a federal structure. The only way in which a federal structure could be created would be if it were introduced simultaneously throughout the United Kingdom as a whole and if the whole of the United Kingdom was prepared to accept it, but that is not the position.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that the gainers from the instability to which he rightly refers are bound to be the Scottish National party which, these days, is far more extreme and committed to traditional socialism than even the Scottish Labour party?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend pre-empts me. I have just picked up the next page of my notes which deals with that. The tragedy is that the separatists are helped every time proposals such as the constitutional convention and this Bill are introduced, because once they have been debated and examined, they are found to be flawed and, I would say, fraudulent because the proposers know that they cannot deliver. That helps the separatists, the narrow, socialist nationalists in Scotland. Who really believes that Scotland wants to be governed by the narrow, socialist nationalists of west central Scotland—the "red Clydesiders" as they describe themselves in my constituency? Those red Clydesiders wish to embrace the failed policies of eastern Europe, such as nationalisation, which my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned, centralism, Government controls and Government intervention.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

Looking at the recent opinion poll, surely my hon. Friend accepts that nothing is more likely to drive the Scottish people towards the extreme position of independence or separation than for the Government to do what they are doing now, and rigidly to maintain their anti-devolutionary stance? That is what is happening and that is what is splitting the Scottish Conservative party. Many of its leading figures in Scotland disagree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Walker

I would have more respect for my hon. Friend if he had remained in Scotland and fought his corner there—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!") Yes, those of us who are arguing in the House are the ones who have stayed and fought for what we believe in. If my hon. Friend had been in his place earlier, he would have heard me talking about principles, but he was not present, and he is trying to have a go at me without full knowledge of what has been said. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Bolsover in his place, because, although I do not agree with him, I recognise that he is a man of principle. Principles are often what is missing.

I turn now to what narrow nationalism really means. It means centralism, Government controls and Government intervention and the closure of Scottish defence bases at Pitreavie, Saxa Vord, Lossiemouth, Kinross, Leuchars, Arbroath, Rosyth, Faslane, Coulport, Prestwick, Edzell, Turnhouse, and Almondbank. All those places employ local people and provide jobs on a massive scale, and would be at risk if we were to accept such narrow nationalism.

What about defence-related industries in Scotland? The plain truth is that many of Scotland's industries, Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace and Ferranti, depend on defence orders. Who seriously believes that Yarrow would have an order for three frigates if we had any sort of separatist Scotland?

The Conservative party must introduce proposals for the whole of the United Kingdom and its constitution. This is not the time for me to introduce such proposals. I hope that during the debates that we shall have on the government of Scotland the Chair and the House will give me the opportunity to debate at great length—I will go on at great length because I have a huge—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 14 February.