HC Deb 09 March 1993 vol 220 cc787-808 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about Scottish constitutional issues.

As the House will know, since the general election —[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House will appreciate that this is yet another important statement to which Members wish to listen. Will those Members who are leaving, including Members who are having conversations across Benches on both sides of the House, please leave quickly and quietly? Perhaps we can have the doors closed so that we can hear what is going on.

Mr. Lang

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Scottish constitutional issues.

As the House will know, since the general election the Government have been conducting a wide-ranging examination of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom and the way our Westminster Parliament works for Scotland. I am today placing before the House a White Paper setting out our conclusions—"Scotland in the Union: A Partnership for Good".

The Act of Union of 1707 secured for the Scottish people a strong and special place within the United Kingdom. It guaranteed the continuance of Scotland's separate legal, educational and local government systems. The more recent establishment of the Scottish Office itself, as a Department responsible for administering much of Scotland's government, is another illustration of the capacity of the Union to accommodate—indeed, to encourage—diversity. Equally, the Union has enabled Scotland to participate fully in the affairs of the United Kingdom, and Scots have done so to considerable effect. The United Kingdom is a partnership of peoples which has achieved great things and from which all its constituent parts have benefited.

The initiative known as taking stock has led us to come forward with a range of proposals aimed at reinforcing the Union and Scotland's place within it.

First, recognising Scotland's separate legal system and its other legislative needs, the Government propose a number of initiatives to improve the existing parliamentary arrangements for handling Scottish business. The Scottish Grand Committee at present has powers to debate Scottish matters and the Scottish estimates and to take the Second Reading debates of Scottish legislation. It is also empowered to meet in Edinburgh.

We propose to build on these arrangements, providing for up to 12 general debates each Session, with the Opposition parties selecting the subject for debate on a set number of occasions, though, of course, Scottish matters, like Scottish legislation, will where appropriate continue to be debatable on the Floor. We also propose a new procedure allowing for debates on affirmative resolutions and on prayers against negative resolutions to be referred when appropriate to the Scottish Grand Committee.

The arrangements enabling the Committee to handle Scottish legislation will remain unchanged, with any Second Reading vote being taken formally on the Floor of the House. The Report stage and Third Reading debate will also continue to be taken on the Floor of the House in the usual way.

We further believe that the Secretary of State's responsibilities have become sufficiently wide to justify augmenting these arrangements by proposing that from time to time sessions of questions to Scottish Office Ministers be held in the Scottish Grand Committee in addition to those that take place every four weeks in this House. These sessions could be held either at Westminster or in Scotland.

We also propose that, at the end of each meeting of the Committee, there should be an opportunity for an Adjournment debate specifically on matters of concern to Scotland. It may occasionally be appropriate also for statements to be made by Scottish Office Ministers to the Scottish Grand Committee. In addition, we propose to establish a new procedure to enable the Scottish Grand Committee to invite the Scottish Office Minister in another place and also the Lord Advocate to give evidence before it on matters within their fields of responsibility.

Some of these changes will require amendments to the Standing Orders of both Houses, and we will bring these forward for debate in due course, having first consulted Opposition parties in the usual way.

Standing Orders of the House already contain a provision that enables Bills to be referred after Second Reading to a Special Standing Committee. We consider that this provision can provide a particularly appropriate mechanism for scrutinising some Scottish Bills and we propose its wider use for some Scottish legislation in future, with provision for the evidence-taking sessions to be held where appropriate in Scotland.

Taken together, I believe that these measures will lead to a significant improvement in the handling of parliamentary business relating to Scotland, in a way which is less remote, which is more responsive to Scottish priorities and concerns, and which may relieve some of the pressures on the Floor of the House. I stress, however, that in all these procedural changes Scottish Ministers will remain fully accountable to the House, and the Scottish Grand Committee will remain wholly a Committee of the House. The integrity of Parliament will and must remain intact.

We also propose changes in the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office. Recognising the important role of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies and their capacity to meet local needs in the delivery of the Government's training schemes, from April next year the responsibility for training policy in Scotland will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland, within the framework of the Government's overall strategic priorities, initiatives and policies.

Responsibility for the Scottish Arts Council will be transferred to the Scottish Office from the Department of National Heritage, also with effect from April 1994. We also propose to transfer the ownership of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. from the Civil Aviation Authority to the Scottish Office. And, in the context of the policies emerging from the forthcoming White Paper on science and technology, we will review the scope for transferring to the Scottish Office responsibility for schemes for encouraging industrial innovation.

These proposals represent a worthwhile integration of decision-making powers in the areas I have mentioned, with the other activities for which the Scottish Office already has responsibility.

I am also pleased to be able to confirm to the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry is today announcing that his Department will open a major new oil and gas office in Aberdeen to serve the offshore industry.

I also wish to ensure that the Scottish Office is more visible in Scotland and more accessible to the general public. I propose to publish in future a concise and accessible annual report on the activities of the Scottish office and the non-departmental public bodies and next steps agencies for which I am responsible. The annual report may be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for scrutiny and debate.

Although my Department already has offices throughout Scotland, we shall seek opportunities for further dispersal within Scotland. This will apply both to parts of the Scottish Office and to non-lepartmental public bodies for which I am responsible. In addition, in accordance with the principles of the citizens charter, we shall establish a central inquiry unit accessible from all parts of Scotland for the cost of a local telephone call. This unit will be backed up by the designation of many of the existing departmental offices as Scottish Office information points. We shall examine the case for supplementing this facility with other information points in smaller towns around Scotland, operated on an agency basis.

The White Paper also sets out other plans I have to further the goal of the citizens charter by making my Department more responsive to the needs of the people of Scotland.

Last December, the leaders of the European Community met in Scotland for the successful Edinburgh summit that marked the climax of the United Kingdom's presidency of the Community. We will seek to hold further such events in Scotland in the future. In that context I am pleased to announce that the European Community will hold a Europartenariat conference of small businesses in Glasgow in December. Further details of this major event will be published shortly.

The partners of the Union need to work at bringing the reality of the Union alive for all the people of the United Kingdom. The White Paper outlines how Scotland's status as a nation within the Union can be more effectively recognised. The Union was and still is good for Scotland and good for the United Kingdom, but that does not mean that it cannot be made better; and we stand ready to consider other measures to this end which may emerge over time, to the benefit of all its partners.

The White Paper that I am publishing today does not mark the end of the taking stock process, but the start of a renewed emphasis by the Government on the importance to the United Kingdom of all its component parts. We will continue to seek further ways of strengthening the Union and Scotland's place in it.

We reject utterly the arguments of those who want Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom, either through the direct means of separation or by way of the slippery slope of a separate parliament. Our firm commitment is to the future integrity of the United Kingdom, secured through this House and this Parliament. The United Kingdom is a partnership of nations that has endured. We believe strongly that it is a partnership for good. In that spirit, I commend the White Paper to the House.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the Secretary of State not agree that his statement makes it plain once and for all that the Tories do not understand the Scottish people and never will? Does he accept that 11 months ago today the lion's roar from Scottish voters, who at the ballot boxes demanded a Scottish parliament, has been met with a weak, unworthy whimper and that he has squandered a unique opportunity?

The Scottish people wanted action on industry, on jobs and on keeping water in public hands. Is it not disgraceful and a complete repudiation of the assertion that the statement represents democracy that a few minutes ago the Prime Minister, almost by sleight of hand, said that water privatisation will be introduced in Scotland? That makes a mockery of the charade in which the Secretary of State claims to be involved. It is the complete opposite of democracy at work.

Above all, did not the Scottish people in April last year vote for home rule? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The response to that is not the acceptance of the overwhelming view of the Scottish people, but today's ludicrous statement containing sheer tokenism, talking shops and timid and tired policies. These conclusions to the stocktaking exercise surely make a laughing stock of the Prime Minister's pre-election promises in Scotland. Why is the party that complains about unaccountable bureaucracy in Europe now increasing unaccountable bureaucracy in Edinburgh? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members are in good voice today, but I would appreciate it if they kept their voices to themselves in all parts of the House until I call them to speak. I hope that that is clearly understood.

Mr. Clarke

Despite the few laudable suggestions on training, industrial support schemes, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd., the Arts Council and relocation policy, does the Secretary of State agree—if he ignores the ill-informed interruptions by people on the Conservative Benches who were not elected by the people of Scotland to decide on Scottish issues—that the real issue is not administrative but political devolution, and nowhere is that in the Government's policy?

For example, the Scottish Grand Committee proposal makes it clear that decisions will be taken not by those elected to deal with Scottish issues but by the House alone. Where is the political devolution there? Where is the sensitivity? I say to the Prime Minister, as he sits there sneering at Scottish views, that he ignores the views of the people of Scotland at his peril.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the solutions offered by the Government only make the democratic deficit worse? What is the point of increasing the power of the Scottish Office without in any way increasing its accountability to the Scottish people? More bureaucracy, but no democracy.

On information points and outposts, are we to look forward to more Tory lawyers and accountants in offices in the main street? The Government will say that that is on the French model, but I remind the Secretary of State that the French support real subsidiarity, real powers to the regions, the kind of powers that the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister are denying to the people of Scotland.

Why is the Secretary of State ignoring the largest neglected group in Scotland—Scotland's women? There are no proposals concerning the Equal Opportunities Commission—no devolution there. The right hon. Gentleman talks in paragraph 9.4 about inspectors for social work, police and schools, but who guards the guards, and to whom are they accountable?

The Secretary of State tells us that the Government will consult much more openly on the appointment to public boards. Does that mean that they will rescind the decision on health boards and trusts—when they ignored the views of local communities and appointed Tory placemen and women?

Finally, how can the Secretary of State claim that his philosophy is strengthening the Union when he was prepared last night to make deals with parties whose philosophy is to break the Union? The House will be aware, despite the sneers on the Conservative Benches, of the "Dear Margaret—Yours sincerely, Ian" letter. Oh dear, oh dear.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish nationalists cannot claim that they are leading the opposition against the Conservative Government when they spend their time making private deals with the Conservative Government? Is it not the case that this week's events show that one can never trust the nationalists or the Tories and one can never trust the nationalists not to make deals with the Tories?

The truth is that this unrepresentative Chamber—in terms of Scottish affairs—ignores the simple fact that the Labour party does trust the Scottish people and the Scottish people trust the Labour party because they know that only the Labour party will deliver a Scottish parliament and real democracy to Scottish affairs.

Mr. Lang

That was not so much a sound bite as a sound nibble, and not a very sound one at that.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) calls for action, but if he sits down and reads the White Paper that I have published today, he will find no fewer than 50 specific commitments from the Government of value and importance to the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman will not recognise that Scotland can enjoy benefits from being within the United Kingdom, because he is so besotted with the idea of a separate Scottish parliament, which would inevitably lead to Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.

Wrapped up among the sound-bite rhetoric, I detected a quiet welcome for a number of our specific proposals. The hon. Gentleman knows that if he and his party and other Opposition parties reject the proposals, they need not happen—but the people of Scotland would be the poorer.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of a democratic deficit. The reality is that the proposals give Back Benchers on both sides of the House a better opportunity to pursue Scottish issues and initiatives, hold Ministers accountable, and protect the interests of their constituents.

The hon. Gentleman asked about water. There are no proposals in the White Paper affecting the future of water. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right when he spoke about the advantages and benefits of privatisation. I have no doubt that privatisation, if we decide on that, will be better for the water industry, as for others.

As to voting for home rule, the hon. Gentleman keeps praying in aid the support of all those whom he says voted for home rule. The reality is that on the Opposition Benches one can find unionists, federalists, separatists, devolutionists, don't knows, and don't cares. That adds up to 75 per cent. of nothing.

The hon. Gentleman asked about health boards and health trusts, and complained that too many Conservatives and not enough socialists sit on them. The only complaint that I have read in the Scottish press was about there being too many socialists. When I wrote to the hon. Gentleman's party and to the other parties inviting nominations for those boards and those trusts, I received not one suggestion.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Gentleman must resume their seats.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

That was a lie.

Madam Speaker

Order. I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.

Mr. McKelvey

The Secretary of State is seeking to mislead the House, by making that statement.

Madam Speaker

Order. I asked the hon. Gentleman, who interrupted without being called, to withdraw his remark. I ask him to do that because—[Interruption.] Order. I need no help from below the Gangway. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do that because I hope that he will catch my eye later and be able to put his point. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw his remark?

Mr. McKelvey

Of course, Madam Speaker. I withdraw it.

Madam Speaker

I am much obliged. That is all that we need.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)—

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State is answering the points made by a Member from the hon. Gentleman's own Front Bench.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Monklands, West raised the question of an alleged deal between my party and the Scottish National party. I do not know whether the letter that the hon. Gentleman flourished was given to him by the Scottish National party, or whether he has been rummaging in the handbag of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not break a confidence—especially when a lady is involved.

Why should the hon. Gentleman complain about my party doing a deal with the Scottish National party when his party has been trying for weeks and weeks to do a deal with the Scottish National party? Sooner or later, Labour will have to choose—are they unionists or are they nationalists? They cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who were elected to represent Scotland's interest in the House are delighted with the White Paper's proposals? He and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are to be congratulated on their understanding of what the Union really means to true Scots. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cornerstone of this unitary Parliament is the right of right hon. and hon. Members to ask questions?

For many years, one of Opposition Members' main complaints has been that they have not had the opportunity to put more questions to Scottish Ministers. Surely they can only welcome the proposal for questions and Adjournment debates in the Scottish Grand Committee. If the new practices are to benefit the Union and Scotland, the participation of unionist Opposition Members will be required.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am grateful for the welcome that he has given my proposals.

Of course it is important for Scottish Office Ministers to answer questions in the House every four weeks, as before, so that such questions can be asked by hon. Members representing every part of the United Kingdom. It is fair to say, however, that, as the Scottish Office has responsibilities for health, education, roads, industry, housing and a whole range of other matters—each of which is separately the subject of Question Time on the Floor of the House—Scottish Members should from time to time have an additional opportunity to pursue such matters further in the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Secretary of State has managed to pull off the impossible by producing a feature film that is even more disappointing than its many trailers.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we have said in the past that we will support measures that will lead to improvement in the government of Scotland, and in the way in which we can discharge our duties to our constituents—including more Question Times, and the opportunity to question the Law Officers? Will he also confirm that evidence given to Special Standing Committees in regard to any Bill to privatise Scottish Water will be treated with more respect than the consultation responses that were dismissed and cast aside by the Prime Minister today, when he said that there "would be" privatisation of water in Scotland?

Notwithstanding all the PR hype and gimmicks that have been provided at the cost of a local telephone call, what are the realities of the right hon. Gentleman's statement? Is it not true that he has been unable to transfer fisheries responsibilities to Scotland; that, instead of a full petroleum engineering division, we have only a few jobs—welcome though they are; that we are still slavishly following the English in regard to legal aid cuts; and that the Ministry of Defence has reversed its policies on jobs for Glasgow? Is not the statement summed up by the fact that, under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, while we debate in Edinburgh we will still vote here in London?

Mr. Lang

Again, wrapped up in the rhetoric was a broad "thank you" for some of my proposals. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman: alone among Opposition Members, he took the opportunity to come to me and put his suggestions. I took them into account when drawing up my proposals.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the fisheries question was not on my agenda. The question of the Department of Trade and Industry office in Aberdeen has been dealt with by the full and welcome announcement of a considerable number of high-quality jobs: the number will increase as more oil companies transfer the relevant parts of their activities to Aberdeen. That will be of great value to the United Kingdom's offshore industry.

As for voting, it is true that power remains in the United Kingdom's Parliament. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that should not be so, he should join the Scottish National party.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

First, give that Scottish education is under my right hon. Friend's command, may I plead for the immediate extinguishing of the new word "Europartenariat"? May I also ask him to remind the House that the strength of the Union, along with the variety of our systems of law, has enabled us to teach those who live south of the border—as 80 per cent. of the Scots who live in Britain do—how much better is our system of law? Those factors have allowed us to prevent many difficulties that have resulted in the release of people who were apparently properly convicted because of flaws in the law of England. Long may my right hon. Friend's proposals strengthen our law.

Mr. Lang

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I am not very happy with the Eurospeak word Europartenariat. Nevertheless, that will be an important conference of small businesses, many hundreds of which will come to Glasgow in December, thus creating major opportunities for United Kingdom businesses, particularly Scottish businesses, to exchange contacts and contracts, to their mutual advantage. My hon. and learned Friend is also absolutely right to draw attention to the differences between Scottish law and English law. That is precisely the kind of diversity that is accommodated within the United Kingdom and that results in the cross-fertilisation of each system, to the benefit of both.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. May I appeal, before calling any other hon. Member, for one question only? Many hon. Members want to put questions to the Secretary of Stale. Therefore, I should be obliged if one question only were put, briskly, so that we can make progress.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

How much will these extra summits cost? Will the cost be similar to the last one we had, which cost the Scottish taxpayer £16 million?

Mr. Lang

Two thirds of the cost of a Europartenariat is met by the European Community. I have no doubt at all that the benefits that will flow from such a conference will more than outweigh any other costs.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all right-thinking Scots will welcome these well balanced, well thought out and constructive proposals? Does he accept that they will welcome the "Scottish Offices" set up throughout the land? Will he consider setting up one in Ayr?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting and positive suggestion, to which I will give close consideration.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the last time that such a response was given to so dire a situation, Nero played a fiddle? Now Ian Lang has played with a White Paper, to much the same effect. If he is so sure of the proposals that he has given us today, and if he thinks that the Scottish people want devolved bureaucracy, when what they want, in fact, is real democracy, why will he not put his proposals to a multi-option referendum?

Mr. Lang

There speaks an hon. Lady who is a member of a multi-option party. She is a member of Scotland United. I learned the other day that when the Labour party conference held a fringe meeting organised by Scotland United last autumn, there were five speakers on the platform and three in the audience, one of whom was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), so I do not think that Scotland United speaks for anybody.

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the electors of Kincardine and Deeside will particularly welcome his commitment to strengthen the Union with the rest of the United Kingdom? They will also particularly welcome the news that the Department of Trade and Industry is to open a new oil and gas office in Aberdeen. May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that swift progress in setting up that office is made?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can certainly assure him that all due speed will be used to ensure that that office is set up as quickly as possible. Initially, there will he 60 jobs, but that number will rise as industrial activity moves north.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What could Lord Sanderson have meant this morning when he said that the Government were contemplating changing the powers of local government? Has the Secretary of State told the Prime Minister, who is sitting next to him, that local government reform will cost at least £600 million extra?

Mr. Lang

Local government reform is not covered in my White Paper or statement, but, since the hon. Gentleman raises that question, all the estimates that we have seen will, far from adding to the costs of local government, reduce them.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the Union's greatest strengths is its dynamism and its constant ability to evolve and change in order to meet changing circumstances, new opportunities and different demands? Does he agree that the reforms that he has outlined today will set up the Union in fine style to meet the challenges of the new century, just as previous reforms enabled it to meet the specific and unique challenges of previous centuries, and that we can look forward to the 300th anniversary of the Union in 2007 with the Union in great shape?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, of course, won a seat from the Labour party at the last general election and did it through his stout defence of the Union. This announcement today reinforces that defence of the Union.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

One of the difficulties that I have noticed in Edinburgh is that, when the Grand Committee meeting stops at 1 o'clock, very few Back Benchers have been given the opportunity to speak. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

As someone who is keen to ensure that the Union stays together, may I suggest that one of the things that the Secretary of State and the Government could do is to reduce unemployment and the despair that exists in many communities in Scotland? Where there is such despair, people become disillusioned with the present form of government and are then easy prey for the fanatics in the Scottish National party.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful response to the proposals that I have announced. Unemployment is the kind of issue which could be fully debated in the Scottish Grand Committee.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

I welcome my hon. Friend's sensible reform, but is it not high time to address the scandal of Scottish over-representation in the House? Is it not wholly undemocratic that Glasgow seats have only 30,000 or 40,000 constituents, whereas Cambridgeshire seats have 80,000 or 90,000?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for my announcement. The number of seats in the House derives from the Act of Union, which guaranteed Scotland a certain number of seats. However, I entirely agree that it is high time that the boundary commissioners got down to work on the relative sizes of constituencies.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

If there is one thing that we can say with certainty on behalf of the people of Scotland, it is that, although the Secretary of State may have tried to placate the elected representatives in the House, he certainly has not satisfied the needs, demands and aspirations of the Scottish people. There is nothing about greater accountability in the proposals for Committees to meet in Edinburgh for extended periods and question times. When the Secretary of State addresses the question of accountability, and stops dealing with people who, on the day on which he tries to deal with them, talk about civil disobedience, the people of Scotland may start believing in him.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree. If he believes that any Scottish Committee should be accountable to a body outside the House, I believe that he is wrong. I believe that the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament is central to the future well-being of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Will my right hon. Friend accept a warm welcome for his proposals, which keep the integrity of the Union, and can he assure us that, in consequence, we who represent the much larger population of the south-east of England will no longer be constantly elbowed out of debating time by the disproportionate number of Scots who pontificate on our affairs?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that my proposals show the capacity of the United Kingdom Parliament to accommodate the diversity of the different component parts of the union.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Why does the Secretary of State not have the courage of his convictions and put his proposals and the White Paper to the test with a multi-option referendum, along the lines of the Bill that I shall present to the House later this afternoon? The other option would be a Scottish parliament, whose exact powers would be decided by the people of Scotland, most of whom are fed up with the treachery and skulduggery of that parcel of rogues on the Government Bench.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman represents a party which one might call a multi-option party. It was the general secretary of the Labour party, Mr. Larry Whitty, who described a multi-option referendum as "a fairly ludicrous suggestion".

Madam Speaker

Sir Teddy Taylor. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has only just come in."] Order. I saw precisely when the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I welcome the modest but useful proposals. Is the Secretary of State aware of the huge admiration among supporters of the union for the guts and courage that he has shown in consistently resisting the divisive and costly devolution proposals, especially as he was standing in a marginal constituency and the whole of the Scottish press told him that he would have to change his mind to survive? He has shown the kind of courage that we should be proud to see in a Conservative Government and in this Parliament.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I well remember the fine example he set when he was the Member of Parliament for Cathcart.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] I do not need instruction, Madam Speaker, from the party that tried to sell out Scotland's water campaign. Is the Secretary of State seriously telling the House that he and the Prime Minister have laboured for a year to produce this constitutional charade? Does he not understand that what is wrong with the Grand Committee is not the number of meetings it holds, but the fact that it does not have the power to decide anything? Does he not understand that what is wrong with the Scottish Office is not the number of functions he has, but the fact that he is in charge of it without a democratic mandate from the Scottish people? Does he really believe that 50 propaganda offices around Scotland, peddling policies like the privatisation of Scotland's water, will endear the Scottish people to his bankrupt Union?

Mr. Lang

First, may I say how glad I was to see the hon. Gentleman in the Government Lobby last night? I am, however, grateful to him for not welcoming my announcement. I should have been deeply worried if he had welcomed it. The hon. Gentleman talks about a democratic mandate, but I remember that not so long ago he was shouting, "Scotland free by 93." Then he went to a general election, his representation in this House went down by 40 per cent. and his party now has three seats.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

My right hon. Friend will know that some of us have watched our party struggle for more than 20 years with the problem of coming to terms with the situation. Is he aware that those of us who were not attracted by Lady Thatcher's regime will find his proposals a move back in the direction of compromise, towards trying to satisfy the aspirations of the Scottish people? Does he agree that this afternoon we have really seen the continuing battle between the Labour party and the Scottish National party for the soul of the Scottish electorate which, as far as those on the Opposition Benches are concerned, seems only to be represented by a minority of the people of Scotland?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome, but I would not wish him to think that the package represents a compromise. It represents a firm commitment to the integrity of the United Kingdom, and we shall not budge one inch down the slippery slope towards devolution. With the package I believe that we can show that Union need not mean uniformity and that the United Kingdom Parliament can adapt its procedures to suit the needs of all its component parts.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

They might be dancing in the streets of Raith this evening at the news, but certainly not anywhere else. The proposals will be treated with derision and disgust by the majority of the Scottish people, including a considerable number of Scottish Conservatives, according to a poll in The Scotsman this morning. Scotland deserves better than that —better than the ridiculous raft of proposals and better than the shabby, squalid manoeuvrings of the Scottish National party or the culture of political sectarianism that exists elsewhere. Why will not the Secretary of State answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams)? Why will he not have the legendary courage that his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) referred to a few minutes ago? Why will he not put the proposals to the Scottish people in a multi-choice referendum?

Mr. Lang

I read in the newspapers today a poll that indicated strong support for the type of approach in our White Paper. I know that the hon. Gentleman thinks that a lot of people in Scotland want what he calls home rule. I am indebted to his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), speaking with all the authority of the shadow Chancellor, who said last week: I think we are making a mistake if we just assume somehow there is huge enthusiasm for home rule in Scotland". The hon. Gentleman asked for a multi-option referendum, but we had one on 9 April last year and it returned a Conservative Government.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that English Members are used to special treatment being given to Scotland and to Scottish Members in this House? He referred to the Act of Union and to the gross over-representaiton of Scottish Members here—20 per cent. more than is appropriate for English Members of Parliament. As we hear so much about democracy from Members on the Opposition Benches, would he increase the number of English Members by 100 so that there is a balance?

Mr. Lang

Decisions of that kind should be made by the House. But the House has continued to take the view that the treaty of Union should be honoured. That is the reason for the present representation.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

The Secretary of State will not be surprised that right hon. and hon. Members on the Ulster Unionist Bench give a wholehearted welcome to this measure to strengthen the Union, especially as many families in Northern Ireland trace their roots to mother Scotland. At the end of the White Paper the Secretary of State enunciates two principles—that the Government will continue to seek further ways of strengthening the Union and Scotland's place in it; and that they utterly reject the arguments of those who want Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom, either through direct means of separation or by way of the slippery slope of a separate parliament.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that those two principles are supported by all his Cabinet colleagues? If so, will he direct the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to them and remind his right hon. and learned Friend that an even greater proportion of people in Northern Ireland vote for the Union than is the case in Scotland?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for hs welcome for the statements in my White Paper. He will appreciate that, as I am a territorial Minister, my responsibilities relate to Scotland, and my statement today is clearly directed towards Scotland. However, I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did the other day, that the Government remain committed to the unity of the United Kingdom, as it affects Northern Ireland, so long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland support it.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I thank my right hon. Friend for doing nothing to undermine the key role that Scotland plays in the United Kingdom. Does he agree that Scotland and England have much to learn from each other? For example, England could learn lessons from the Scottish legal system, while Scotland could learn lessons from England's highly successful introduction of grant-maintained schools and water privatisation.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and for his confirmation of my expressed view that union need not mean uniformity.

Mr. Norman Hogg: (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

I should like to give a warm welcome to the Secretary of State's statement that the Europartenariat exhibition is to come to Scotland and to compliment the Minister for Industry, who, in Thessalonika last June, worked hard to that end. The exhibition will bring jobs to Scotland.

However, I must ask the Secretary of State for an undertaking that if there are to be any inter-party discussions about his proposals and about changes in our Standing Orders he will refrain from taking part in any shabby negotiations with minority parties and other hole-in-the wall organisations, which have discredited him in the past 24 hours. I make that point in the hope that we shall get back to doing things properly, and away from arrangements such as those that so discredited the Government last night.

Mr. Lang

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the decision to hold the Europartenariat in Glasgow in December. It does indeed flow from the visit of the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, who has been working so hard to secure this outcome for Scotland.

Consultations regarding the amendment of Standing Orders will be conducted through the usual channels and in the usual way. The hon. Gentleman is a former deputy Chief Whip, and I myself am a former Whip, so neither of us is an amateur in these matters.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am sure that the taxpayers of Scotland will be very grateful that my right hon. Friend did not take the route towards having tax-raising powers in Scotland. I wonder whether he could move towards a system fairer to Scottish Members and taxpayers. I refer to the fact that the spending powers of his Department should be proportionate to those of the English and Welsh Departments. We ought not to have a situation in which a disproportionate amount of taxpayers' money is spent in any part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The approach that the Government take in these matters is to secure a comparable level of service in all parts of the United Kingdom. Given the varying circumstances within the United Kingdom, it is inevitable that more resources are directed to some areas, be they Merseyside, East Anglia or the central belt of Scotland, than to others. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that the important thing is to try to achieve a uniform standard of service, as far as possible. The formula for distributing resources to achieve that is reviewed regularly.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in reality, his statement changes nothing in Scotland? The Scottish people remain as before, wholly at the mercy of a Tory majority in the House which they did not elect. Does he not understand that, despite the parliamentary cretinism shown by some on the Opposition Benches last night, he cannot count on continuing disarray and disunity on these Benches to see him safely through to the next general election? The Scottish people are beginning to understand that if the fight against Tory policies, the fight for socialist change and the fight for Scottish self-determination is ever to be won, it will not be won in the House but through mass extra-parliamentary action by the Scottish people back in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

Promises, promises. What is clear from the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that he has no right to claim to speak for the people of Scotland, any more than have the Scottish National party or the Liberal Democrats. We stood for election to a United Kingdom Parliament in April last year and the Conservative and Unionist party won that election.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he is extending the number and use of forums where Scottish questions can be asked and debated without the presence of hon. Members representing England, Wales and Ireland? If that is to be the case, will he ensure, as a member of the Cabinet, that when matters concerning England, Ireland and Wales are debated in the House, Scottish Members will not be present? Otherwise, we shall have a constitutional problem.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the experience that Scottish Members can have from time to time when they seek to intervene in health or environment questions on the Floor of the House only to be told by the Minister that they are matters for which the Scottish Office is answerable. This is something which cuts both ways. It is important in this Parliament that we arrange the mechanisms for delivering government to ensure that the varying and diverse interests of different parts of the United Kingdom are fully accommodated. That is what I am trying to achieve.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The Secretary of State trumpets that the White Paper and his statement address the real problem of open government and giving information. Why, then, did he choose today of all days to smuggle through the House, by a planted question from one of his hon. Friends, the announcement about the petroleum engineering directorate? Does he not realise that it is not a matter of information being given that is at the root of the problem, but the Government's total insensitivity to the problems facing the people of Scotland? If he really wants to strengthen the Union he must begin from the ground up, by strengthening local government, rather than weakening it and by taking on the Scottish nationalists and not getting into bed with them. Above all else, he must stop pandering to them with some of the nonsense that he has in the White Paper.

Mr. Lang

Far from trying to smuggle in the oil jobs, I am delighted to be able to proclaim that announcement, as I have done today. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy is in Aberdeen holding a press conference to announce the precise details. I hope the hon. Gentleman can find it in his heart, as a Member representing Aberdeen, to welcome the announcement, which is of great value to his constituents.

Of course we are keen to reform and strengthen local government and we will bring forward proposals on that. As to relations with the Scottish National party, I hope that those on the hon. Member's Front Bench are listening to what he said.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Scotland have always wanted more say over their own affairs? There is only one party that is willing to give parents more say over the education of their children, council house tenants more say in the running of their estates and taxpayers more say in the spending of their own income. Is it not paradoxical that those who call for a multi-option referendum today were, on 9 April, promising constitutional change without a referendum?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I could not put it better.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

We have heard much from the whingeing English about the preferential treatment given to the Scots. Could I ask the Secretary of State why preferential treatment, or even-handed treatment, was not given to the Scots two weeks ago when a statutory instrument went through the House on the opening of betting shops in Scotland? The Government side of that Committee was nine Anglos and a Scottish Minister. Not one member of the Back-Bench committee for Scotland was allowed on it.

Mr. Lang

That is a matter for the Selection Committee and I am sure that it will note the hon. Gentleman's point, with which I have some sympathy.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reaffirmation of the fundamental importance of the Union will be widely welcomed in Wales?

Mr. Lang

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and I am sure that the interests of Wales will also be taken into account in considering these matters further.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Does the Secretary of State not appreciate that this is not going to be taken as much of a stocktaking for a nation which has voted consistently and overwhelmingly for the establishment of its own parliament within the United Kingdom? Does he appreciate that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) had it wrong when 'he said that the most important right that we have in Parliament is the right to ask questions? The most important right that we have in Parliament is to vote and if these reforms are serious surely the right hon. Gentleman should have the courage to submit any legislation on the future of the water industry in Scotland to a vote in the Scottish Grand Committee, elected by the people of Scotland?

Mr. Lang

I am glad that the hon. Member recognises the importance of the vote in our democratic system. I will do nothing to diminish the importance of the vote; nor will I do anything to diminish or dissipate the power of that vote here in the House of Commons, where it matters most.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland for reminding us that the quisling SNP has been reduced to "three in 93". May I suggest that it might be reduced to "none in 2001". That might be appropriate. On the question of partnership, I cannot agree with the Secretary of State. I wonder if he might address this. This is not a partnership that he is talking about but an unequal and unrepresentative fix that he is attempting to obtain. I share his concern—and I hope that he sees that—for the Union. I wish to see the continuing Union of the United Kingdom, but I am concerned that the present set-up may diminish it and make it an even more devalued arrangement.

In terms of accountability, I am glad that the Secretary of State said that he would not reduce the power of the vote. May I ask him to put together a Scottish Grand Committee that reflects the voting power of the people of Scotland and then allow the legislation that he and I discussed to be judged by a representative committee that reflects the people's voting pattern in Scotland? That is why people will reject this. Does he not realise that, so long as he uses his English colleagues' Tory majority—

Madam Speaker

Question, please.

Mr. Connarty

I am asking a question. Does he not realise that he will never get the credibility of the Scottish people for what he is trying to sell?

Mr. Lang

I hope that the hon. Member is wrong about the SNP having no representatives in 2001. I hope that we shall achieve that result long before that time. The route that the hon. Member is suggesting for the Scottish Grand Committee would mean either that some Members of Parliament, notably from his own party, would have to be disqualified from the Scottish Grand Committee or that English Back Benchers would have to be brought in. We had English Back Benchers on the Committee in the past, and the Labour party was against that. For some incomprehensible reason, those of my hon. Friends who served on the Scottish Grand Committee were no longer keen to remain on it, so we now have all Scottish MPs on the Scottish Grand Committee, and I think that that is generally recognised as sensible.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

The Secretary of State can wriggle all he likes, but the whole House heard the Prime Minister commit Scotland's water to be privatised. Does that careless and casual announcement by the Prime Minister not indicate his contempt, not only for the Secretary of State for Scotland, but for the Scottish people?

Mr. Lang

I heard what my right hon. Friend said and the hon. Gentleman heard what he said and he did not give the commitment that the hon. Gentleman indicates. He certainly spoke of the strength, the value and the qualities of privatisation and that is demonstrated by a large number of privatisations that have taken place in the past. it is not, however, part of my statement today.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

It is a fact that a disproportionate amount of taxpayers' money, taking the United Kingdom as a whole, is spent in Scotland, as, indeed, it is in Northern Ireland and in Wales. It is part of the price which I gladly pay for maintaining the Union. We should not fail to recognise the special needs of Scotland in that respect. I would suggest one item of public expenditure that should be given to a public body in Scotland to bring it up to the standards of England. I refer of course to the Scottish Rugby Union.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, despite the barb in the tail of his question. The fact is that, in a sense, England is playing at home in this Parliament; and as my hon. Friend will know and as Twickenham demonstrated, that gives some advantages.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

If the Secretary of State does not already know it, he will soon be aware that his proposals will be greeted with universal contempt throughout Scotland. They amount to a tawdry little collection of half measures and non-events; they mean nothing to the people of Scotland, and will give them no more say over their own affairs, which is what they clearly voted for in the general election last year.

If the right hon. Gentleman does not have the confidence in his views to put these matters to a referendum, will he at least allow a full debate in the House on the matters, to ensure that the points that the Scottish people sent us here to make are clearly put across to him in a way that there has been a failure to do hitherto? We want a Scottish parliament: we will settle for nothing less.

Mr. Lang

The suitability of the changes that I have proposed today will be shown by whether the hon. Gentleman's party takes advantage of them in due course. Debates are not a matter for me, but Standing Orders will have to be amended and the subject will be debated at that time.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

On the transfer of Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd. to the Scottish Office: will the Secretary of State give a guarantee to the employees of that company that there will be no reduction in their pay and conditions or in the quality of their pension plans? A number of the employees are worried about that and would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would give them a categorical guarantee now.

Mr. Lang

We have no plans to make any changes in that respect.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Secretary of State agree that an occasion such as this prompts the thought among many that we enjoy exceedingly good fortune, in that the secessionist movement in Scotland is so honourably eminent but so poorly represented in this place—by this lot? Will he at least concede that there is a widespread belief in Scotland that we live in a highly centralised multinational state, which is more and more firmly embedded in an over-centralised European union? Why not settle the argument among federalists, unionists and separatists by holding a referendum?

Mr. Lang

We see the best way of resisting centralisation as devolving power to the people. That is what we are seeking to do by setting up local enterprise companies and hospital trusts, by privatisation, by council house ownership, by reducing taxation and by a range of other means—developing the citizens charter, which permeates many of the ideas in the White Paper, for instance.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing a comprehensive series of questions—that certainly goes for our side—on the vague statement that the Secretary of State has made.

The right hon. Gentleman has removed confusion and introduced confusion. He removed it by publicly thanking the hon. Member for Banff and Buchanan (Mr. Salmond) and the SNP for supporting the Government in the Lobbies last night, so no one is in any doubt about what took place then. He introduced confusion by appearing to be in conflict with the Prime Minister on the issue of water privatisation. The Prime Minister's statement was quite clear; what is not clear is whether the Secretary of State's consultation is a charade. The House must return to that important matter before too long.

This document, for which we have had to wait 11 months, offers little to the people of Scotland. It offers no real democracy; it offers devolution of power but not responsibility or accountability to the people of Scotland. It falls far short of the clearly expressed views of the Scottish people as recorded in April of last year.

The Government have ignored the opinions of the Scottish people. It is interesting that the document was published in a blue cover, the colour of the Tory party, whose supporters amount to a small minority of the people of Scotland—a minority becoming smaller still because of the Government's attitude. They have rejected the real democracy to which the Scottish people are committed but the Government clearly are not.

Mr. Lang

I think that the hon. Gentleman's initial response showed that he agrees with and supports quite a number of these proposals. He talks of conflict. If he is looking for conflict, he should look to the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who has said, as quoted in the Courier last December: I acknowledge there are too many Scots still sceptical of the value of a Scottish Parliament in bringing better government". That clearly differs from the hon. Gentleman's view.

The colour of the White Paper is the blue of Scotland—[Interruption.]—the blue of Scotland in the Union. I believe that the presence of Scotland in the Union is a partnership for good.

Mr. Tom Clarke

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Scottish people who will have been following our proceedings this afternoon must be greatly concerned about the Government's thinking on water privatisation. We heard earlier from the Prime Minister that water privatisation would be good for Scotland and would be beneficial for the people of Scotland, as it has been for the people south of the border. When the Secretary of State was questioned, he appeared to suggest that his consultation exercise was still continuing.

The people of Scotland are aware that water is of the utmost importance to them, as it is to every individual and family in the land. They are entitled to have the matter clarified, but it must be clarified quickly, now or this evening. I ask you, Madam Speaker, whether, in the light of the confusion and differences in pronouncements between the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, the people of Scotland will receive the clear statement on that important issue to which they are entitled.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I must deal with one point of order at a time.

It seems to me that the hon. Member is attempting to pursue a policy matter on which the Chair cannot pronounce. His remarks will have been heard by the occupants of the Government Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "On a point of order, Madam Speaker."] One at a time, please.

Mr. Bill Walker

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that meetings of Standing Committees of the House studying legislation upstairs—I am thinking particularly of statutory instruments—may be attended by any hon. Member? Will you further confirm that the comments made earlier by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) were wrong and out of order? I attended the Committee about which he was speaking, using the rules of the House to do so, which demonstrates how well Scots rules are covered in this place.

Several hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must allow me to answer one point of order at a time.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When responding to a question from me, the Secretary of State suggested that I might like to welcome the fact that some jobs would be going to Aberdeen. I am not in a position to say yea or nay, since the relevant information is not available to me, although apparently it is to be made available by way of a planted question.

There is no point the Secretary of State referring to the opening of a new Department of Trade and Industry petroleum office when hon. Members have no idea what that is all about and are unable to question him about it. It is nonsense to refer to better communications when the Secretary of State behaves in that manner.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair. If it is a point for the Secretary of State, the hon. Member must find other means of pursuing it.

Mr. Kynoch

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it an abuse of the House that copies of the White Paper, which appear to have been given to occupants of the Opposition Front Bench prior to the statement being made, should have been photocopied and given to Opposition Back Benchers—[Interruption.]—and were clearly visible while my right hon. Friend was making his statement?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Several hon. Members

On a point of order.

Madam Speaker

Just a moment, please. I can hear quite well.

Mr. McAllion

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The next business on the Order Paper is the presentation of a Bill by my hon.Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) designed to provide for the holding of a referendum on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Given the hostility that was shown this afternoon by Opposition Members to the Secretary of State's announcement, do you agree that we should not waste any further time on Maastricht but instead should give over the whole of tomorrow to debating the question of holding a Scottish referendum, which seems the only way—

Madam Speaker

Order. Perhaps we should waste no more time on points of order, but let the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) introduce his Bill.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There are 11 Scottish Conservative Members and, on the basis of the questions that were asked following the statement, no fewer than five Conservative Back Benchers had the opportunity to ask questions. It is no criticism of you, Madam Speaker—I am aware that other hon. Members were not selected to put questions—but is it a reasonable balance on Scottish issues that virtually every Conservative Back Bencher should have an opportunity to ask a question, whereas a party with nine Members gets only one? May I ask for your consideration to achieve a more even balance in future?

Madam Speaker

I cannot take that any further without other opportunities for debate. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I deal as fairly and justly as I can with the entire House.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You know the considerable interest that all Members of the United Kingdom Parliament take in the important statement that we have just heard. I appreciate that you allowed the period for questions to run on for some time and tried to encourage Members to ask just one concise question. I therefore have to ask whether it is in order to allow a Front-Bench spokesman to ramble on at length and be called twice on the same statement.

Madam Speaker

It is not for me to determine whether hon. Members ramble on or get directly to the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "On a point of order, Madam Speaker".] Order. Just a moment, I have not finished yet; show me some courtesy. I am courteous to the House; please be courteous to the Speaker of the House. It is in order for the Front-Bench spokesman to come back for two or three minutes, and that is often allowed.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) in today's Scotsman, where he says that his party has drawn up plans to blow up water pipes. Is there any action that you can take to encourage that party and that hon. Member to desist from the language of terrorism?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

Further to the point of order of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), Madam Speaker. As you have a justifiably high reputation for defending the interests of Back Benchers, and given that both Ministers and shadow Ministers are for a majority of the time at the Dispatch Box when they wish to be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where were you?"]—I was in the Chamber listening to the statement. Madam Speaker, whether or not it is in the rules, is it fair, when a number of hon. Members want to ask questions that are particularly important to them and their constituents, for shadow Secretaries of State to take up Back Benchers' time by asking two sets of questions on the same statement, whether it be today or at any other time?

Madam Speaker

Unless the House wishes to change what has been our custom, that will continue.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), who mentioned me, did not have the courtesy to tell me that he would be doing so. You need not worry about making any such statement as he suggested, because the SNP would not be involved in any such activities as blowing up pipelines, or anything of that kind. All I can assure you is that I may well be going to night classes to learn plumbing.

Madam Speaker

That is interesting. I have a number of jobs at home, and I shall send a handwritten note to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

The Secretary of State made reference in his statement to the fact that no nominations had been received from any Labour representative for the health boards or NHS trusts. That is wrong, and the right hon. Gentleman seriously misled the House.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw what he has just said. As I understood it, the hon. Member is making an accusation against the Secretary of State that he seriously misled the House. Have I misunderstood? [Interruption.] Order. Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman. Is the hon. Gentleman making an accusation that the Secretary of State seriously misled the House?

Mr. Donohoe

Inadvertently, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Lang

It may be for the convenience of the House if I make it clear that I was referring to communications that I sent to the leader of each party on the Opposition Benches. It may well be that individual Members have made individual submissions to my Department which I have not seen. I was referring to the party approaches.

Madam Speaker

I am very pleased to have that cleared up. Perhaps we can now make some progress.