HC Deb 31 March 1993 vol 222 cc338-40
5. Mr. McAllion

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many responses he has so far received to his White Paper, "Scotland in the Union—a Partnership for Good".

Mr. Lang

The response to the publication of the White Paper, "Scotland in the Union—A Partnership for Good", has been generally very favourable.

Mr. McAllion

The White Paper offers only procedural tinkering with the Standing Orders of the Westminster Parliament while continuing to lock Scottish business into a voting procedure dominated by Tory votes from the south. Why cannot the Secretary of State see that that is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of the Scottish people, who are demanding their own national Parliament under their own democratic control? If he does not accept what I am saying, why does not he let the Scottish people speak for themselves in a multi-option referendum? If he is not prepared to trust the Scottish people with such a referendum, why on earth should they be prepared to trust him with anything?

Mr. Lang

Once again, the hon. Gentleman, because he is not in a position to exercise power in this place through the will of the electorate, seeks to change the rules or move the goalposts. The fact is that the vast majority of the people of Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, want to maintain the Union and have one United Kingdom Parliament. The Courier and Advertiser, the hon. Gentleman's local newspaper, said: Scots MPs have the opportunity to become less confrontational. This would be good for Scotland, maybe even for Parliament.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the best possible news for those of us who seek to preserve and, indeed, to strengthen the Union were the howls of outrage from Opposition Members, who seek to undermine the Union? That is eloquent testimony that my right hon. Friend has it absolutely right. Will he give a commitment that, in its new role, the Scottish Grand Committee will come to Aberdeen to debate matters of great importance to that city and the north-east of Scotland?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion and I will certainly give it consideration. The Scottish Grand Committee is one Committee which is advanced by the proposals in the White Paper, but the Committee of the Regions is also mentioned. The White Paper says that the Government will ensure that Scotland has substantial representation on it. In that context, I am indebted to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) for drawing my attention to the SNP's campaign handbook, which described the Committee of the Regions as a toothless regional Committee which would lock Scotland out of decision-making in the European Community.

Sir David Steel

The one item of interest in an otherwise colourless White Paper was the proposal to hold Question Time in the Scottish Grand Committee. The Secretary of State has been very coy about how often he expects that to happen. Will he tell us now?

Mr. Lang

I believe that these matters should be discussed through the usual channels and that we should move forward by general agreement across the Floor of the House. I look forward to those discussions in the weeks ahead.

Mr. Bill Walker

My right hon. Friend will be aware that many people in Scotland feel that strengthening this Parliament and its operations is the best way to reinforce the Union and to secure its future. The White Paper proposes additional meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee and increased opportunities to ask questions, which can only be positive and good. Will he bear it in mind—I hope that the House will do so, too—that it is important that amendments to legislation directly affecting Scotland are fully and properly debated?

Mr. Lang

I will certainly reflect carefully on what my hon. Friend suggests, but I am grateful for his support for the White Paper, which is clearly designed to strengthen the interests of Scotland within the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mrs. Ewing

Is not the Secretary of State very precious about his own position, which is why he sets his face against the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland? He uses his powers as a colonial governor to impose alien policies on the people of Scotland. Is not the real challenge to all Opposition Members of the House to stop sitting on Green Benches and to stand up for Scotland, to support the recall of a Scottish Parliament and to oppose water privatisation? Will they stand in their places for a Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Lang

I am not an appointed governor-general, but, like the hon. Lady, an elected Member of Parliament. As to the rest of her question, perhaps I should offer to write to her.

Mr. Tom Clarke

When the Secretary of State writes to the hon. Lady, will he publish that letter and the rest of the correspondence? When he considers representations on these constitutional matters, will he consider the paper that was presented this morning by the Scottish Foundation for Economic Research at the new Glasgow Caledonian university? It studied achievements in Germany, especially in the socialist region of Nord Rhein-Westphalia, and found that, because of the devolution of power, unemployment is half that in Scotland and growth is 20 per cent. more. If subsidiarity works in Germany and in Europe, why is not it good for Scotland, especially when that is what the Scots want?

Mr. Lang

I am not sure what these facile comparisons between the constitution of the United Kingdom and that of Germany have to do with the question before us, but, if the hon. Gentleman wants comparisons, he can consider the fact that inflation and interest rates have fallen sharply in this country and that we have a competitive exchange rate and are moving out of recession while Germany is still facing considerable problems. The hon. Gentleman may not be so keen on making comparisons in a few months' time.