HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1228-43 5.15 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the government of Scotland.

Scotland has prospered under this Conservative Government. The economy has been transformed, unemployment is at its lowest for 15 years, and inward investment is booming.

The foundation of Scotland's economic success is the constitutional stability guaranteed by the Union—Opposition Members are meant to cheer at that point. The Union is not a dry legality; it is much greater than the sum of its parts. It is a constantly growing and living relationship, in which we must all continue to invest. It is strengthened by devolution for people, not for politicians. That means devolving power downwards from central Government, through local authorities, to community councils, school boards, housing associations and all other representative local groups, and ultimately to families and individuals.

The Government utterly reject a tax-raising Parliament that would damage Scotland's jobs and prosperity. We have long recognised that Westminster and Whitehall can seem remote from the people of Scotland. After all, it was a Conservative Government which established the office of Secretary for Scotland and the modern Scottish Office. As we made clear in the White Paper "Scotland in the Union", we believe that the correct approach is to work within the existing, successful framework of the Union to make Government and Parliament at all levels more visible and relevant to the people.

The expanded role recently created for the Scottish Grand Committee has been helpful both to Scottish Ministers and hon. Members, and to the business of the House in general. It has been extremely well received in Scotland, where the Committee's sittings north of the border, most recently in Aberdeen, brought Parliament to the people, making for better government.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in 1993 in his foreword to "Scotland in the Union" that the White Paper was not the end of the story, but part of an on-going process. He said: Our search for new ways to strengthen the Union will go on. We stand ready to take account of changing circumstances. And our drive to strengthen Scotland's place in the Union—and thus the United Kingdom itself—will continue. It is in accordance with that commitment that I have been working with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my other right hon. Friends. I want to tell the House today of important changes that we propose to the way in which legislation is handled and Ministers called to account.

We believe that it is right to debate the Second Reading of Scottish Bills in a Scottish forum, and so to increase the involvement of the Scottish people in the process. We intend that, from now on, Scottish Bills coming to the House should have their Second Reading in the Scottish Grand Committee sitting in Scotland, whenever it makes sense that that should happen.

The other key stage of consideration of principle is the Third Reading. We believe, in such cases, that that too should be debated in the Scottish Grand Committee, so that people can see what is being done at the stage of commitment to the approval of the Bill after the processes of detailed consideration and amendment. The technical processes will be essentially similar to those already in place for Second Reading.

Making greater use of the Scottish Grand Committee in that way will mean that we can expand the Scottish legislative programme. As an example of the potential that that provides. it has been possible this year to add the Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill[Laughter.] I am glad that hon. Members find a Bill to tackle the problem of drug misuse at raves amusing; I happen to think that it is central to our legislative programme.

Secondly, we want to use to the full the procedure under which, before Scottish Bills embark on their Committee stage, evidence can be taken by a Special Standing Committee meeting in Scotland. That was done with the Children (Scotland) Bill last Session, and was very successful. It is suited to uncontroversial Bills, and is especially relevant to Scottish circumstances.

There is in Scotland a range of professional bodies and other well-informed interest groups that have less access to the Westminster process than do their counterparts in England. The use of a Special Standing Committee gives such people an opportunity to make a key impact at a formative stage of the process.

I am pleased to be able to say in addition that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal is actively pursuing the possibility of establishing a new procedure in another place, to allow evidence to be taken in Scotland for Scottish Bills that are introduced in the House of Lords. It is our hope that that approach may be followed in the first instance for the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, which was published last week.

I turn now to the way in which Ministers are called to account. [Laughter.] Another advantage in the new procedure will be the fact that people in Scotland will be able to see how the Opposition behave. The Scottish Grand Committee already has the opportunity to call to account the Secretary of State for Scotland and other Ministers at the Scottish Office. But the business of government in Scotland is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State alone.

Many of my right hon. Friends have responsibilities and take decisions on a daily basis that impact directly on the people of Scotland; so it is only right that they too should have to explain to the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland why particular policies are being followed, and the benefits that they will bring. I therefore recommend to the House that we should change Standing Orders to achieve that.

The importance of the innovation should not be underestimated. It offers the opportunity of adding a completely new dimension of accountability for Government business in Scotland, with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Social Security or the Secretary of State for Defence, for example, taking part in debates in Scotland and being able to present policies and react to criticisms of them; and it will all be done in a forum accessible to the people of Scotland.

Additionally, the provisions that already allow Scottish Office Ministers in another place to make statements to the Scottish Grand Committee will be extended to include all Ministers in another place.

We shall bring the new Standing Orders forward for approval shortly. To ensure that the process can be planned properly, we shall need a timetable for sittings throughout the year. I am today tabling motions for eight meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee to consider Government business, and two meetings to consider Liberal Democrat party and Scottish National party business, all of which will be held in Scotland.

As soon as the Labour party has made up its mind where it wishes the meetings to consider its business to be held, and on what dates, we shall agree through the usual channels the full programme for the Committee, and a motion will be put before the House for approval. It will provide for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet much more frequently in Scotland, and I intend that that should involve more places in Scotland. I am delighted to tell the House that, provided that the relevant changes to Standing Orders are approved, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will take part in the Grand Committee debates in Scotland in the new year.

To sum up—[Laughter.] To sum up—

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

Is that it?

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. [Interruption.] If hon. Members seek to ask questions later, they had better come to order now.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) knew precisely what I intended to say, because I gave him a copy of my statement in advance. He knew exactly what was being proposed, which is why his laughter was not quite co-ordinated with the statement.

To sum up, the changes that I propose will greatly strengthen the role of the Scottish Grand Committee in considering legislation affecting Scotland, and will provide for an expanded Scottish legislative programme that will be examined in Scotland in ways that should produce better legislation, and involve the people of Scotland.

The proposals will provide a new focus for the role of the Scottish Grand Committee in scrutinising and calling to account not just Scottish Office Ministers but every Minister. The Scottish Grand Committee will thus assume an increasingly pivotal role in the parliamentary government of Scotland, in bringing Government closer to the people, and in underpinning the Union.

What the people of Scotland want is Government close to them, Government listening to them, and above all, Government accountable to them. This historic Parliament embodies our great Union. It is the only Parliament that can effectively and powerfully secure Scotland's interests and future.

The changes represent a significant step forward. They must be seen in the context of our plans to devolve power to local government, to create a new forum based on the Scottish Economic Council, and to give the people of Scotland more control over their own lives. The Government stand four-square behind the Union, and thereby behind Scotland and her people. I commend the proposals to the House.

Mr. George Robertson

The statement was a stark admission that the Government's policies towards Scotland have utterly failed. The whole speech was a confession that, for the past 16 years, the Conservative party has got the government of Scotland wrong. The "do nothing" policy of the Government has now been replaced by the "do as little as possible" policy. First we had "Taking Stock"; now we have taking the michael.

Did that statement really represent the full breadth of the Secretary of State's vision for his country? New Forsyth, new status quo? Is that the Secretary of State's really big idea—weekend breaks and awayday trips for the Cabinet, from the grouse moor to the Grand Committee? Will the Secretary of State confirm that that was really his best shot, and that after all the hype, the build-up and the publicity, it is the best that he could come up with?

The Secretary of State told the press the other day that, when he drew up the changes, he had started with a blank sheet of paper. Obviously he did not get much further than that, because today's long-awaited package is even more of a let-down than the new Beatles single.

Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that his revamped Scottish Grand Committee will be little more than a rubber stamp for non-controversial legislation? In that case, what has really changed? The Scottish Grand Committee can already deal with non-controversial legislation, as it did last Session with the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. We facilitated that Act's passage on to the statute book. Indeed, the Secretary of State can always expect co-operation from Opposition Members where consensus exists.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman again: what has really changed, other than the fact that there will be an extra stage for Scottish Bills and a few more meetings, debates and opportunities to hear Ministers and their reinforcements desperately recruited from the Cabinet dodge even more difficult questions?

My hon. Friends and I welcome the opportunity of more debates with the Secretary of State and his colleagues. I look forward to exposing the Government's betrayal of Scotland, wherever the debates take place. Does the Secretary of State not realise that this travelling circus is no substitute at all for a Scottish Parliament, elected by, and responsible to, the Scottish people?

Is it not true that the proposals will mean that not a single extra decision will be taken by Scotland's Members of Parliament, and that the so-called new Scottish Grand Committee will continue to be no more than a toothless talking shop, with no real powers to change Scotland for the better?

To get down to the specifics of the statement, what about the Third Readings in the Scottish Grand Committee? Will the Secretary of State confirm that decisions on Second and Third Readings taken in the Grand Committee will not stand, but that they will simply be on procedural motions that can be overturned by a Tory majority on the Floor of the House?

Since that is the case, will that not be yet another worthless trick, offering nothing beyond the present position, in which no real decisions can be taken in this tarted-up Scottish Grand Committee?

I should like to put the real acid test to the Secretary of State. Will the Scottish Grand Committee decide on the issue of nursery vouchers for Scotland, as was promised in the Scottish Office press notice which described his education Bill in the Queen's Speech? Or is he simply going to sneak through this unpopular, unwanted intrusion into Scotland's education system by some statutory instrument or by adding it to the English Bill?

I tell the Secretary of State this: if Scotland's representatives will not be able to make decisions on such legislation, his reforms will be simply worthless. The people of Scotland are not going to be bought off with a few more powers for local government, a few more debates in the Grand Committee, or some beefed-up old quango. That is not real devolution: it is simply a con trick—nothing more and nothing less.

The unity of this country, which we value as much as any Conservative, will never be guaranteed by cosmetic, panic-driven gimmicks that arrogantly insult the intelligence of the Scottish people. The people of Scotland want a Scottish Parliament, and nothing less will do. Only a Labour Government will deliver that to them.

Mr. Forsyth

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman cleared his lines with the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Is he advancing a proposition that a Scottish Grand Committee should be able to pass legislation without the approval of this House, which is what it sounded like he was saying? Is that his position? The hon. Gentleman was implying that that was his position.

Can we take it, then, that it is the Labour party's position that, under a Labour Government, an English Grand Committee, for which there are provisions in our Standing Orders, would be able to pass legislation without the consent of this House? The hon. Member for Hamilton is nodding his head in agreement. I had no idea that he had jumped so far into the nationalist camp. He is supposed to be a Unionist politician. He speaks the language and the policies of nationalists.

We Unionists believe in the sovereignty of this House. The proposals that we have put forward are to strengthen the Union, to hold Ministers who are accountable to the House accountable within Scotland.

The hon. Member for Hamilton asked how accountability will be strengthened. If he thinks that senior Ministers having to go to Scotland to debate issues will not result in their Departments having to wake up rather more to the Scottish dimension, he has even less experience and understanding of government than I imagined.

I ask the hon. Member for Hamilton to solve this puzzle: why is he so opposed to the proposals? Imagine for a moment—it is a big thought; an impossible thought—a Labour Government and their having a majority in the Grand Committee with its proposed powers. They could take legislation through the Grand Committee, through all its stages. They could win votes, because they would have a majority. Indeed, they could do everything in the Grand Committee that they could in a Scottish Parliament, and more. The only thing that they would not be able to do is raise taxes in Scotland, and make the Scots pay a tartan tax. In addition, they could hold the Prime Minister to account.

Writing in the Evening Times, the Leader of the Opposition was quoted as saying: I look forward to the day when, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I will be able to visit a Scottish Parliament working to improve life for the people of Scotland". Our proposals mean that the Prime Minister will not visit a Scottish Parliament—he will go to Parliament in Scotland and will be held to account by this House.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend first on his practical and innovative Unionist package, and secondly on smoking out the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) as the crypto-nationalist we always thought he was?

Will my right hon. Friend develop the point that he has just made? What on earth could a Labour Scottish Parliament actually do which, under his proposals, a Labour Government, sitting here, could not in any event do, except impose additional taxes on the people of Scotland over and above the taxes imposed on the people of the United Kingdom? Surely the hon. Gentleman has failed to answer that question.

Could we have the first meeting with the Prime Minister in that well-known Unionist citadel of Eastwood?

Mr. Forsyth

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's bid. I hope that towns and cities with suitable premises with which the House authorities are satisfied will bid for the Grand Committee to come into their communities. I am sure that that would be a desirable step forward. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All that the Scottish Parliament will be able to do is raise income tax by 3p in the pound and make the people of Scotland pay more tax than that paid in England—and in Wales, because Labour's proposals for a Welsh Assembly do not include tax-raising powers. We have to have a tartan tax, but no Taffy tax, which seems to be deeply unjust.

Of course a Scottish Parliament will not be able to decide the level of the Scottish Office budget. That will be decided here in Westminster. Indeed, hon. Members on the Liberal Bench have already conceded that we would have fewer Scottish Members of Parliament and no Secretary of State. So who will speak for Scotland when the money is decided?

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

People in Scotland, and, indeed, the Secretary of State's fellow Cabinet members, will notice that, a few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman conceded that many UK Departments were not fully awake to the needs of Scotland when dealing with legislation.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when the Prime Minister was on his soapbox before the election defending the Union, he had in mind that to do so would require an awayday ticket to attend meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland? Will he answer the question that he has already been asked: whether education vouchers policy will be subject not only to the Scottish Grand Committee's deliberations but to a vote?

The Secretary of State has said that Ministers will be able to go to Scotland to present policies and react to criticisms of them. Will he confirm that there is nothing in his proposals that says that Ministers will change those policies in the light of Scottish opinion?

Mr. Forsyth

Of course we will take account of Scottish opinion. I am quite prepared to discuss through the usual channels which Bills have their Second Reading in the Scottish Grand Committee. In fact, the provisions which require legislation concerning nursery vouchers are, for example, to secure inspection, which the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) has been going around Scotland saying is essential for nursery vouchers. So I am surprised that hon. Members are contemplating the prospect of voting such things down.

Mrs. Helen Liddell (Monklands, East)

Is it to be a statutory instrument?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Lady asks from a sedentary position whether it is a statutory instrument. The answer is no. In fact, we do not require legislative powers at the present time in order to pay grants directly to parents. But we will make provision in the legislation, and when it is published, Members will be able to discuss it. We can discuss whether that can be dealt with through the Scottish Grand Committee.

I would certainly welcome the opportunity of scrutiny in Scotland, so that every parent with pre-school children would know that dogma dictates that Labour Members do not want them to get £1,100 in vouchers to choose the nurseries of their choice; that they, the socialists on the Opposition Benches, would much rather decide for parents what is good for their children.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I have attended Scottish Grand Committees for many years under many Governments. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is good news that we will have real purpose in the future, and that our opportunity to consider legislation and to cross-examine will be extended? Does he agree that attendance by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers in Scotland for cross-examination will enhance the reputation of the Scottish Grand Committee? Does he agree that that is in stark contrast to the proposals of the Labour and Liberal parties for an assembly in which there will be no Secretary of State for Scotland and no one to look after our interests in the Cabinet?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my right hon. Friend: he is right. The Scottish Grand Committee is not a Scottish Parliament. It cannot impose tax on the Scots over and above what people pay in England. It is not a Parliament that would mean that people were taxed more because they worked in Scotland than people in any other part of the United Kingdom. It has none of those powers. I make no apology for that. As my right hon. Friend points out, our proposals strengthen the Union, strengthen the accountability of Ministers for what they do in Scotland, and take Parliament to the Scottish people. They are a step forward.

Although I appreciate that our proposals do not do the damage that they want to do to Scotland's interests, I should have thought that Opposition Members would at least welcome them as a step forward. It shows how lacking in confidence they are that they do not welcome the opportunity to call the Government to account in Scotland.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Madam Speaker, have you noticed how touchy and tetchy the Secretary of State has been in presenting his statement today? Is it not clear—it is certainly clear to all of us on the Opposition Benches and I am sure it is clear to the people of Scotland—that the Secretary of State decided that somehow he had to upstage the celebrations tomorrow of the launch of the constitutional arrangements recommended by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, but then realised that he had nothing to say?

All that the right hon. Gentleman could come up with was a ragbag of nothing. Was he not equally aware that the people of Scotland wanted a Government nearer to them and more accountable to them, but, above all, on matters relating to Scotland and within the framework of the Union, a Government elected by them? Until we deliver that, the Scottish people will not be satisfied.

Mr. Forsyth

A Scottish Parliament with a Government elected by the Scottish people is what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) wants. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) agrees with that, he should join the Scottish National party. If he is a Unionist, he believes in the Union and the sovereignty of this Parliament. The fact is that he is so damn scared of the nationalists that he is prepared to say almost anything and put at risk our ability to get a good deal for Scotland and ensure that it has a strong voice which is heard in Government. That is what our proposals will achieve.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Government spending in Scotland is 21 per cent. higher than in England. There is massive over-representation of Scotland in this House. Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people in England, particularly in the south-west of England, believe, with justification, that Scotland gets an incredibly good deal from the Government and from the Union? Given those facts, can he understand the pathetic response of Opposition Members to his statement, which clearly strengthens the position of Scotland in the House and in the Union?

Mr. Forsyth

I do not want to alarm my hon. Friend, but the hon. Member for Hamilton has gone round Scotland telling people that the tartan tax might be used to cut taxation. The proposition that he has put to the people of Scotland—we do not hear Labour Members saying it here—is that my hon. Friend will continue to vote 21 per cent. more per head than he votes for his own constituency to a Scottish Parliament and will sit back and watch the Scottish Parliament hand out tax rebates.

If that was not so serious, it would be laughable. The hon. Member for Hamilton is trying to have his cake and eat it. I am afraid that the people of Scotland will lose out if Labour's proposals are ever shown the light of day. It is simply not sustainable to have a Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh the budget of which is determined down here and which is able, even if it raises taxes of 3p in the pound, to raise only 3 per cent. of its revenue. That would be an unstable Parliament, and one doomed to disaster. The most vulnerable people in Scotland would suffer as a result.

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that, while much of what he said about the Children (Scotland) Bill was true, the crux came in Committee when there were controversial issues? The Committee always split along party lines, and the Scottish vote always lost. Does he not realise, therefore, that the real test of his proposal will be whether the Scottish vote in Committee counts, and that the only way to make it count is to hold the Committee stage of consideration of Bills in the Grand Committee? If that is not a part of the Secretary of State's proposal, the sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee will be no more than just another travelling talking shop.

Mr. Forsyth

That is a point of view, but it is not a point of view with which I agree. If the hon. Gentleman's position is that the Scottish vote should prevail in determining what happens in Scotland, what would he say to those of my hon. Friends who would say that, in that case, the English vote should prevail in England? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We have the federalists and the separatists shouting out. That is certainly not a Unionist position. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) is an intelligent and thinking Member of Parliament. He should think about how far he is running away from the Unionism upon which the future of our country depends.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

On the basis of the infantile response of Opposition Members this afternoon, if that behaviour is typical, is my right hon. Friend aware that many English Members of Parliament will welcome the opportunity for the Scottish Grand Committee to sit in Scotland as often as possible?

For those of us who represent constituencies which strongly support the Union with Scotland, I should like to reiterate the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). We are prepared to continue to put up with the over-representation of Scotland in this House, and with the favourable financial treatment that Scotland receives from the British taxpayer, on the basis of proposals which strengthen the Union, but we would not be willing to put up with that if constitutional proposals such as those proposed by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), which weakened the Union and moved it towards separation, were brought before the House.

Mr. Forsyth

I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend's use of the phrase "put up". This is a Union. We are a United Kingdom, and we are a Conservative Unionist party. Scotland gets a good deal out of the Union, and England gets a good deal out of the Union. The Union is greater than the sum of its parts, and it works.

Opposition Members are prepared—for their own narrow party political ends, because they want to have an entrenched socialist majority in Scotland—to gerrymander our constitution, to put Scotland's vital services at risk, and to play straight into the hands of the nationalists. When the electorate discover that, the Opposition will find that their lead in the polls will tumble.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

If the Secretary of State really believes in people power, does he recognise the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to decide what system of government is best for them, instead of being constantly told what is best for them by a puppet of a discredited Tory regime?

Mr. Forsyth

Apart from the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I agree with what he says. If Scotland wanted to become independent, it could become independent. What is not possible is to vote for the ragbag of ill-thought-out proposals that is the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which would result in independence, because divisions would be created between Scotland and England and because damage would be done to Scotland's interests. Even on the back page of a supplement that the Evening Times produced on a Scottish Parliament—16 pages of it—we are told, on the sports page: Major Scottish disappointments on the international sporting stage could be a thing of the past under a devolved Parliament". It seems that there is no end to the benefits. If that is true, it may well be that the Scottish people will be tempted.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Before anyone comes forward with more radical constitutional proposals—a sensible package has been announced today—does my right hon. Friend agree that they would do well to reflect on the fact that public expenditure in Scotland is some 20 per cent. higher than it is in England? Does he understand that, as an English Member of Parliament, I am very happy to justify that to my constituents as an investment in the Union, but that I could no longer do so in any conscience if there was a Scottish Parliament with Scottish tax-raising powers of its own?

Mr. Forsyth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. People must realise that the future of the Union is a matter for everyone in the Union. It is not just a matter for Scotland. What is so devastatingly damaging about the proposals of the hon. Member for Hamilton is that they take no account whatsoever of the interests of those from south of the Border. The hon. Gentleman is proposing that Scottish Members of Parliament will come down here with no say in health, education, agriculture or any of the other matters which concern our constituents for the simple purpose of keeping in office a Labour Government by voting on those matters which are in England.

That is an intolerable position, on which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), when he was the Member for West Lothian, asked his question. After six years of deliberation, the Scottish Constitutional Convention and the hon. Member for Hamilton still cannot answer the West Lothian question. Labour Members want to have their cake and eat it—they cannot have it.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

May I return the Secretary of State to his statement? I suppose that any concession—however weak and belated—must be welcomed. But I must say to the Secretary of State that, if this is it after all the build-up, it is not opposition that he is risking today, but ridicule.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, under his proposals, the absolute Westminster veto over Scottish business remains? If what the Secretary of State is proposing had been in operation during the poll tax debate, would the proposals have gone to the Scottish Grand Committee? If the Scottish Grand Committee had come up with an inconvenient vote on the poll tax, would it have been overruled in this Chamber? Would the Secretary of State have defended his pet project through these processes?

The Secretary of State has sidestepped the question of nursery vouchers so far, but he told us in his statement that Scottish Members could decide on the future of deer. Can he explain to the people of Scotland in a simple phrase why Scottish Members should be trusted with the future of red deer but not with the future of Scottish children?

Mr. Forsyth

I said no such thing. Legislation is a matter for this House and this Parliament. The proposals which I put forward allow for scrutiny and debate on matters affecting Scotland in Scotland and involving Ministers. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has a perfectly honest and responsible position—he wishes Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and become independent. In those circumstances, he would find that he was £8.6 billion short of the money he needed to run Scotland, and the Scottish people would be greatly damaged as a result.

But in those circumstances, a Scottish Parliament would be able to decide on legislation in Scotland. That it is the nationalist position. It is not my position. The position of Unionists is that this is the sovereign House. The hon. Member for Hamilton has got himself into a dreadful tangle, because he has been so worried about the way in which the Scottish National party has been rising in the polls.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

What about the poll tax?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Lady is getting excited about the poll tax. Does the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan remember that the great objection of Labour Members to the poll tax was that we were introducing a tax in Scotland a year ahead of England? But Labour plans to have a tartan tax for Scotland, which, year after year, the Scots will have to pay and the English will not. For sheer brass neck, that takes the biscuit.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

After the poll tax and everything else that has been imposed on Scotland in the past 16 years, surely the Secretary of State cannot expect to smother the Scottish constitutional issue in a welter of amendments to Standing Orders in Committees. Does he accept that a Committee is, by definition, a subordinate body? Does he also accept that, under his proposals, it would be open to him and his successors to continue to impose legislation and decisions on the Scottish budget as has always been the case? If he is really serious about addressing the Scottish constitutional issue, why does he not take his seat in the Scottish Constitutional Convention tomorrow, as a representative of a small and dwindling, but nevertheless significant, Scottish minority?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman asks me to take a seat in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I am told that tomorrow the members of the convention will say that they have reached an agreement.

The hon. Member for Hamilton says that we might have the office of Secretary of State, and that we would keep 72 Scottish Members of Parliament. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on the matter, says that we would have to reduce the number of Members of Parliament, and that the office of Secretary of State would disappear. If they cannot even agree on fundamentals such as those, the convention sounds like no place to he. It has wasted six and a half years, and has still not come up with an answer to the question which the hon. Member for Linlithgow asked.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) may not like being a part of the United Kingdom, and he may not like having this House as a sovereign body. If he feels like that, he should join the Scottish National party, and stop pretending to be a Unionist.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

Does the Secretary of State recognise that nobody objects to him and his colleagues having ideas or plans about education vouchers, local government or the poll tax? What is objected to—following our experience in the past 16 years—is that the right hon. Gentleman is able to impose these policies upon the people of Scotland against the wishes of the majority of the people of Scotland and against the wishes of the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament. Does he not acknowledge that that raises a democratic question about the way in which the House works, which his proposals do nothing whatsoever to address?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is an honest man, and he is acknowledging the root of Labour's proposals. The Labour party does not like the fact that it is unable to govern in Scotland, where it gets the majority of the vote. But I ask the hon. Gentleman to contemplate what he is saying. If it is the Labour party's policy that we should have a Government who represent the majority in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, how will his right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield be able to govern England as leader of a Labour Government—something that I think is unlikely—who do not have a majority of seats in England? That way lies the break-up of the United Kingdom, and the hon. Gentleman should have nothing to do with it.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

As a Member representing an English constituency in Yorkshire, may I invite the Secretary of State to get off at Doncaster when he brings the Prime Minister by the nose to Scotland, to defend the Government's policies to the people of Yorkshire? I am not sure if the Secretary of State realises quite the constitutional innovation he is proposing. He proposes to turn Parliament—or rather, those on the Government Front Bench—into a kind of travelling circus which moves to other parts of the UK to discuss parliamentary and political problems.

We heard this morning an excellent address from the President of the United States, who represents the union of America. America has 52 state legislatures or parliaments with tax-raising powers. If it is good enough for the United States and most other modern democracies, why cannot the people of Scotland have their own legislature?

Mr. Forsyth

Scotland is a country, not a county. That is the difference between Scotland and Yorkshire. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brought that matter up, because, for a while, the hon. Member for Hamilton—in an attempt to answer the West Lothian question—was telling us that Labour would introduce parliaments in Yorkshire and other counties. But that idea was swiftly abandoned in favour of quangos in the counties of England, and the answer to the West Lothian question was lost. We look forward to hearing tomorrow from the hon. Member for Hamilton what the answer to the West Lothian question now is.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Let us return to the acid test. If the Secretary of State's revised proposals had been in place at the time, would they have enabled Scottish Members to prevent the imposition of the poll tax—yes or no?

Mr. Forsyth

No, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He is fair-minded, and I would ask him to reflect upon the point I made. If we had a Labour Government with a majority in the Scottish Grand Committee, they would be able to do everything that they could do in a Scottish Parliament and more. They could call senior Ministers to account, and could have a Budget for Scotland.

The proposals which the hon. Gentleman supports for a Scottish Parliament would give the Scottish Parliament no say in the most important thing that a Parliament does. This House was established to be able to control and raise revenue. Revenue would still be determined in Westminster under the proposals from the constitutional convention. Scotland's voice in Westminster would be diminished, and therefore our ability to defend Scotland's interests and to hold Ministers to account would be undermined.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

For the sake of absolute clarity, will the Secretary of State describe exactly how he intends to implement the voucher scheme? In what way is that more democratic than allowing a Scottish Parliament with elected members sent by the people of Scotland to decide how nursery provision should be paid for?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Lady has not got the message. Our idea of devolution is taking power from the Government and devolving it downwards to local government and to individuals. Nursery vouchers are about empowering people, while the Labour party wants politicians to decide what is good for people. Nursery vouchers are about giving people the money to allow them to choose for themselves, rather than having them do what they are told by their local authority. That is the sort of devolution that matters—devolution to people, not to politicians.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a part of the United Kingdom in which Unionism is manifestly even stronger than it is in Eastwood, and that is Northern Ireland? Will he forget about his fixation with our proposal for a moment and explain exactly why the Government are proposing an assembly for Northern Ireland, which will have control over legislation and administration, with no reduction in the number of Members representing Northern Ireland here, or no reduction in their powers, while all he is suggesting for Scotland is a beefed-up Grand Committee?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is making a comparison with Stormont, but he will know that such a proposal would mean reducing the number of Members of Parliament representing Scotland from 72 to 40—

Mr. Foulkes

The right hon. Gentleman has it wrong.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his say. He is very articulate. He must let the Minister answer.

Mr. Forsyth

I am not sure that the Leader of the Opposition would find the argument of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) helpful. The hon. Gentleman has been going around Scotland saying that he is in favour of changing the clocks. It would appear that it is not merely on that matter that he is in favour of keeping Scotland in the dark.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I must call the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—the only hon. Member who has been rising to ask a question, but who has not yet asked one.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Does the Secretary of State really understand the length and depth of commitment behind the case for the devolution of power? It is not just a matter of the past 17 years: it was included in Keir Hardie's first manifesto, as well as the first manifesto of the Labour party in Scotland and, incidentally—[Interruption.]—this will be of interest to Unionists—at precisely the time that Gladstone was suggesting that he might give the Irish devolved powers. Had that happened, they might still be in the Union.

In that context, the right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with two problems. He dealt with scrutiny and accountability, and I welcome any step forward on those—I also welcome what he said today—but he failed to deal with the real question of power and of whether the Government are prepared to devolve the power of decision making on purely Scottish affairs to Scotland within the general sovereignty of Westminster. Is he prepared to countenance any devolution of power, rather than accountability? If he is not, and has not today, he might as well not bother putting forward any more proposals.

Mr. Forsyth

I am not a federalist and I am not a Unionist—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am a Unionist. [Interruption.] I think that the House knew what I meant to say. I am not a federalist, and I am not a nationalist. I am a Unionist, so I am not in a position to help the hon. Gentleman.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on one thing on behalf of his constituents, and it is a serious matter. The other day, more than 3,000 jobs came to his constituency, which desperately needed them after the closure of Ravenscraig. They came as a result of a major inward investment project. Scotland was competing with the Welsh, and Wales was a possible site because of the proximity of various glass-making factories.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that, if the Welsh Office had been able to say, "If you come to Wales, you won't have to pay the tartan tax that you'll pay in Scotland," the investment would have gone to Scotland? The Labour party's proposals to hobble Scotland with a tartan tax would destroy jobs and the inward investment on which his constituency depends.