HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc825-30 3.30 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create a constitutional framework within which separation from the United Kingdom may be achieved by England or Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. I stand—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Would those hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber do so quickly and quietly please, so that we may proceed with the business before us? I am sure that the hon. Member for Tayside, North can now make himself heard.

Mr. Walker

I stand before you, Madam Speaker, wearing the dress of highland Scotland—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Would hon. Members please leave the Chamber and not hold conversations here? Would those hon. Members who are holding conversations at the Bar please do so quietly or remove themselves?

Mr. Walker

I stand before you, Madam Speaker, wearing the dress of highland Scotland. I do so because I have no wish to be described as a little Englander; nor do I wish there to be any confusion with the black shirts of west central Scotland.

As a committed monarchist and unionist, I am presenting a Bill which I believe will strengthen the Union of the United Kingdom. I also believe that, if enacted, it would flush out the minority separatists and demonstrate clearly how little support they enjoy throughout the United Kingdom.

For far too long, the separatists in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have created massive political, constitutional and security problems. Successive United Kingdom Governments have tried to buy off support for the separatists by introducing devolution measures and power-sharing proposals. That has been done piecemeal at different times in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sometimes it has been done in unison, but more often than not in isolation, and almost always with little consideration for the likely impact on other parts of the Kingdom.

Government proposals to introduce single-tier local authorities in Scotland, Wales and England are to be commended. Those all-purpose authority proposals should be implemented in Northern Ireland. If that were done, we would have similar local authority structures and powers throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that, if they were alive, Airey Neave and Ian Gow would endorse such proposals, because, like me, they would view this as a measure to bring constitutional government nearer to the people and thus reduce the political appeal of separatists.

Commendable as the local authority changes would be, they would not, in my view, completely address the problems created by the separatists, which is why my Bill, a constitutional Bill designed to address the gap in the constitution, is needed. Without such a Bill, a minority of dedicated separatists can and will continue to attract media attention—attention which is out of all proportion to the support enjoyed by the separatists within the electorate.

Although I am opposed to the establishment of an assembly in Edinburgh, that is not the issue covered by my Bill. It is designed to create a constitutional framework within which any part of the United Kingdom, if the vast majority of the people so wish, could achieve separation. Consequently, I would not expect those who support the maintenance of the United Kingdom, but who wish to do so by way of establishing a federal structure or by way of devolved assemblies, to oppose my Bill.

If, however, support for an assembly, be it in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, is seen as a first step towards separation, I will not be surprised, of course, to find those who hold this view opposing my Bill.

My Bill calls for the separatists in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland to present, in the first instance, a petition to Parliament demanding separation of that part of the United Kingdom from the rest of the United Kingdom. If 50 per cent. plus one of everyone entitled to vote in the general election were to sign such a petition, the Government of the day would organise a first ballot in that part of the United Kingdom, and only in that part of the United Kingdom. The ballot would have a single question on the paper. If it were Scotland, for instance, the question would be: "Do you wish Scotland to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom—yes or no?" It would be a straight question.

If 50 per cent. plus one, or more, of those entitled to vote at a general election were to vote yes, there would follow a two-year period in which the true costs and the true benefits would be properly evaluated. In other words, the family assets and the family liabilities would be apportioned accordingly. That would include whether, in Scotland, Yarrow shipyard would continue to receive orders for frigates; what would happen to all the military bases in Scotland; indeed, what would happen to the Rosyth dockyard. All that would have to be decided, and of course the share of the national debt would be properly apportioned.

When that two-year exercise had been completed, there would be a requirement for a second ballot. The question again would be: "Do you wish Scotland to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom—yes or no?" Again, if 50 per cent. plus one, or more, voted yes, separation would take place.

The Bill would also contain a clause which would place a 25–year moratorium on that part of the United Kingdom which had exercised the constitutional act but had failed to reach the 50 per cent. plus one in either the petition or either of the two ballots. The 25-year moratorium is designed to ensure that good local government measures and central Government administration could be carried out effectively, without having to be diverted constantly by media-oriented publicity and political activity of the separatists.

I believe that this unitary Parliament and the United Kingdom, with its unwritten constitution and single-Member constituencies, is far from perfect. Every day, I find things that require improvement. Even so, I still believe that we are most fortunate to live in the United Kingdom. Our constitution, although unwritten, gives us flexibility not enjoyed by countries with written constitutions. Citizens' rights are protected by the fact that Parliament is not bound by decisions made by previous Parliaments. If we get something wrong, as, we often do, we can rectify it the following year, which is one reason why I oppose ceding further powers to Europe. Also, a Member's right to ask questions and the right to have the questions answered, when linked to parliamentary privilege, is the citizen's cost-free route to having wrongs righted.

Because I wish my children and my grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of the United Kingdom, the Westminster Parliament and the unwritten constitution, and because I do not wish them to lose that inheritance by default, constitutional change involving separation must and should require the support of the vast majority of the people, whether in England, in Scotland, in Wales or in Northern Ireland. If 37 Members elected on a ticket to come to this House were to sit in Edinburgh and say that it was a Scottish Parliament, we would have a constitutional headache of immense proportions, and we would have separation by default. Therefore, constitutional change should have the support of a vast majority. That is why we need the Bill.

3.40 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I rise as one of the red check shirts from the east coast of Scotland. I cannot speak for the black shirts; Conservative Members have more familiarity with black shirts than I do.

There are any number of reasons why we should oppose the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Indeed, there are many in Scotland who would ague that the fact that the Bill has been presented by the hon. Gentleman is in itself sufficient reason for opposition. After all, he was one of the foremost proponents and defenders of the poll tax in Scotland, and he remains to this day a keen supporter of water privatisation in Scotland. He might even be described as a Thatcher loyalist, someone who would revisit the Baroness on Scotland and on the rest of the United Kingdom. So I would argue that he could not be trusted with the constitutional arrangements for a bowling club, never mind those for one of the most ancient, historic nations in the continent of Europe. I refer to Scotland—which, as you know, Madam Speaker, preceded the birth of the United Kingdom by many centuries.

There are reasons other than the obvious shortcomings of the hon. Member for Tayside, North as to why the Bill should be opposed. First and most important, it is based on the idea that the House can tell Scotland what it must do to achieve independence. I do not want to get into an argument about the differences between the policy of the SNP on independence in Europe and the Labour party's policy of home rule within the United Kingdom; it is sufficient to say that both argue for a Parliament within the union. One would be within the European union and the other would be within the union of the United Kingdom.

The Bill assumes that sovereignty over Scotland—

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

and Wales.

Mr. McAllion

— and Wales—rests with a majority in the House. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sovereignty over Scotland rests with the Scottish people and only with the Scottish people. Sovereignty over Wales rests with the Welsh people and only with the Welsh people, as sovereignty over England rests only with English people. (HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is not just my view; the "Hear, hears" from my hon. Friends and other Opposition Members show that it is the general view of the Opposition parties.

That has always been the view of the Scottish National party. Since the claim of rights for Scotland has been supported by the Labour party and the Liberal Democratic party, it is their view as well. Therefore, it can be argued that it is the view of 75 per cent. of Scottish voters in the most recent general election.

There exists in Scotland a massive majority opposed totally to the thinking behind the Bill proposed today. Even more, the Bill reeks of double standards and humbug. The hon. Member for Tayside, North said that, before Scotland and Wales could vote to separate themselves from the United Kingdom, a petition signed by 50 per cent. of those entitled to vote, plus one, would have to be presented to the House. That means 50 per cent. of those on the electoral register plus one.

Such support has never been achieved by any party this century. It is clearly meant to be a blocking mechanism to prevent any of the countries from moving away from the union. Indeed, the hon. Member belongs to a political party that readily accepted in last April's general election in Scotland that, had 37 Scottish national party Members of Parliament been returned, that would have been a mandate for separation from the United Kingdom.

As you know, Madam Speaker, 37 Members can be elected from Scotland on less than 40 per cent. of the vote —or less than one third of those whose names are on the electoral register. It seems neither sensible nor reasonable, therefore, to argue that less than a third of those entitled to vote in an election represent a mandate for separation, yet in a wholly unreal situation such as a ten-minute Bill that is going nowhere in the House to argue that, for separation, there must be a majority of 50 per cent. of those entitled to vote. The Bill adds nothing sensible or reasonable to the future government of Scotland and should be ignored for that reason.

But perhaps worst of all, Scotland is currently governed under constitutional arrangements that have the support of only 25 per cent. of those who voted at the last general election. Indeed, they have the support of only 19 per cent. of those whose names are on the electoral register in Scotland. I refer to those who voted for the Tories and for the constitutional status quo.

By the standards of his own Bill, the hon. Member for Tayside, North is arguing that the Tory Government do not have a mandate to run Scotland. Indeed, according to the mandate requirements of his Bill, the only parties that have a mandate to run Scotland are those that support a directly elected Scottish Parliament. Those parties received three out of every four votes at the last election and the support of more than half of those on the electoral register.

If the hon. Member for Tayside, North were being true to the proposals in the Bill, he would have joined Scotland United and would be taking part in a vigil outside the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. He would have stood side by side with Opposition Members on top of an open-deck bus proclaiming Scotland's right to self-determination since the last election in April.

But this is not a serious Bill; it is a parliamentary stunt that does nothing for democracy and nothing for the right of the Scottish people to self-determination. Nor does it do anything for the very real problems that face far too many Scots in the hard lives that they must endure under a Government they did not elect.

A new generation has grown up in Scotland during a period in which Scotland has been rendered powerless by the Westminster system of government. That generation, and other generations of older Scots, are no longer prepared to accept or tolerate that situation. They recognise that all the rights that they regard as important —the right to a decent education, to proper training, to a job, to a living wage, to decent housing and to decent health care—do not grow on trees but spring from the system of government under which people live.

They are no longer prepared to tolerate a system that gives no voice to what they have to say in the government of their own country. They are no longer prepared to tolerate being told what they can or cannot do by those whom they did not elect. They are no longer prepared to tolerate parliamentary stunts such as that which the hon. Member for Tayside, North has tried to pull off this afternoon. We, the elected representatives of that majority in Scotland, are here to ensure that this Parliament will pay attention to the just demands of the Scottish people for self-determination.

Madam Speaker

The Question is that the hon. Member have leave to bring in his Bill. As many as—

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) suggested that he was in highland dress: he is in nothing of the kind. He misled the House, and I have reason to believe that he is wearing little red pants under his kilt.[Laughter.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I have had enough colourful descriptions for one day. I shall now put the Question.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) :—

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 180.

Division No. 144] [3.48 pm
Alexander, Richard Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Porter, David (Waveney)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Cran, James Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Spink, Dr Robert
Dicks, Terry Stern, Michael
Duncan, Alan Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Fry, Peter Townend, John (Bridlington)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Trimble, David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Hawksley, Warren Whittingdale, John
Hunter, Andrew Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Kilfedder, Sir James
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Tellers for the Ayes:
Marland, Paul Sir George Gardiner and
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. Christopher Gill.
Abbott, Ms Diane Blunkett, David
Adams, Mrs Irene Boyce, Jimmy
Ainger, Nick Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Burden, Richard
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Allen, Graham Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Alton, David Cann, Jamie
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Chisholm, Malcolm
Armstrong, Hilary Clapham, Michael
Austin-Walker, John Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Clelland, David
Bennett, Andrew F. Coffey, Ann
Berry, Dr. Roger Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Betts, Clive Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Ms Jean Macdonald, Calum
Cox, Tom McFall, John
Cryer, Bob Mackinlay, Andrew
Cummings, John McLeish, Henry
Cunliffe, Lawrence McMaster, Gordon
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) McNamara, Kevin
Dafis, Cynog Madden, Max
Dalyell, Tam Mandelson, Peter
Darling, Alistair Marek, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Martlew, Eric
Denham, John Meale, Alan
Dixon, Don Michael, Alun
Donohoe, Brian H. Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dover, Den Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Dowd, Jim Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eagle, Ms Angela Morgan, Rhodri
Eastham, Ken Morley, Elliot
Enright, Derek Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Mowlam, Marjorie
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Mudie, George
Faulds, Andrew Mullin, Chris
Flynn, Paul Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland) O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Foster, Don (Bath) Olner, William
Foulkes, George O'Neill, Martin
Galloway, George Pickthall, Colin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Pike, Peter L.
Golding, Mrs Llin Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gordon, Mildred Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Primarolo, Dawn
Grocott, Bruce Radice, Giles
Gunnell, John Raynsford, Nick
Hain, Peter Redmond, Martin
Hall, Mike Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Hanson, David Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hardy, Peter Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Harman, Ms Harriet Rooney, Terry
Henderson, Doug Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Heppell, John Salmond, Alex
Home Robertson, John Sedgemore, Brian
Hood, Jimmy Sheerman, Barry
Hoon, Geoffrey Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hoyle, Doug Simpson, Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster North) Skinner, Dennis
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Soley, Clive
Hutton, John Spearing, Nigel
Illsley, Eric Spellar, John
Ingram, Adam Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Steinberg, Gerry
Johnston, Sir Russell Stott, Roger
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Straw, Jack
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Turner, Dennis
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Tyler, Paul
Jowell, Tessa Vaz, Keith
Keen, Alan Watson, Mike
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Wicks, Malcolm
Khabra, Piara S. Wigley, Dafydd
Kirkwood, Archy Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Leighton, Ron Wilson, Brian
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Winnick, David
Lewis, Terry Wise, Audrey
Litherland, Robert Worthington, Tony
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wray, Jimmy
Llwyd, Elfyn Wright, Dr Tony
Loyden, Eddie
Lynne, Ms Liz Tellers for the Noes:
McAllion, John Mr. Bill Etherington and
McAvoy, Thomas Mr. Ian Davidson.

Question accordingly negatived.