HC Deb 31 January 1996 vol 270 cc983-5
2. Mr. Duncan

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future relationship of the Government of the United Kingdom with the Scottish people. [10786]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

We are Unionists and stand four square behind the Union, which has benefited Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Mr. Duncan

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us from England who express an interest in Scotland do so not to pursue narrow party advantage, as the Labour party does, but out of concern for the United Kingdom as a whole? Will he reaffirm that devolution would be a profound act of unsettlement? Would it not throw into turmoil the number of Westminster Members of Parliament that there should be from Scotland, the way in which Scotland is taxed and funded, and the election system itself? In seeking any cross-party understanding on this matter, has my right hon. Friend had any confirmation from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) that he is prepared to deal with the anomalies to which he has admitted, and with his differences with the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Forsyth

I do not like the word "anomaly", which is how the hon. Member for Hamilton has described the vital issue of how many Members of Parliament represent Scotland in the House. Nor do I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, who described the funding of the Scottish Parliament as an accountancy detail. On those matters rests Scotland's prosperity, the quality of public services and our ability to have an effective voice for Scotland here at Westminster, where, even under the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals, the big decision—on Scotland's budget—would be taken. Liberal Democrat Members are at least honest enough to admit that there would have to be a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament, and the loss of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. That is too high a price to pay on top of the Labour party's tartan tax.

Dr. Reid

One of the primary mechanisms by which the people of Scotland convey their representations to the United Kingdom Government is local government. I understand that, within an hour, there will be a report of the inquiry into local government in North Lanarkshire council. Why was that not available before Question Time today? Is it because it exonerates councillors in North Lanarkshire and, if so, will the Secretary of State tell us how much the inquiry cost and who will pay, and guarantee that in future such inquiries will not be used as a party political weapon by one party against another?

Mr. Forsyth

A written question has been tabled and the report will be published. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to study it, together with the report that has been published by his own party. The inquiry was established after we received representations from those with responsibility for ensuring fair play in local government, and it is pretty disgraceful of the hon. Gentleman to ask a question in those terms.

Mr. Marlow

How would my right hon. Friend describe a proposal that would allow Scottish Members of Parliament to vote, for example, on whether there should be selection in our schools in England, but would not allow English Members of Parliament to vote on education policy in Scotland? Would that not be hypocritical perhaps?

Mr. Forsyth

I am a Unionist. I believe in this Parliament and I believe in everyone's right to vote on matters that concern the United Kingdom. Opposition Members have argued that English Members should not vote on issues affecting Scotland. It is interesting to note that tonight, when we celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns—

Mr. Foulkes

The death.

Mr. Forsyth

All right, it is the bicentenary of his death. The hon. Gentleman may be celebrating his death, but let us compromise on death and birth so that we have his life's work.

It is significant that tonight, as we have a big function in Whitehall to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns, Scottish Opposition Members will insist on no pairing arrangements applying to voting on, of all things, the English rate support grant.

Mr. George Robertson

The relationship between the Government and the Scottish people will be immeasurably soured by the spending restrictions that the Secretary of State is imposing on Scottish local councils. Has he read The Scotsman today, in which the Tory leader of the new Borders council has expressed his disgust at the spending restrictions that are being imposed on that council, necessitating cuts in the education budget?

When the Secretary of State sounds off about law and order in Scotland, which is an important issue in the relationship between Government and the people, will he explain why the expenditure of Strathclyde police joint board is £304 million yet the Government will give it only £302.5 million? With that spending gap, how will the police be able to tackle the problems of law and order in that part of Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth

I have given substantial increased provision for the police. The hon. Gentleman's position would be slightly more credible if he and members of his party were not travelling around Scotland saying that expenditure was not enough without saying how much extra they would spend.

Instead of speaking about cuts, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that there is an increase in local government expenditure in Scotland over and above the amount that we get under the Barnet formula consequences of more than £25 million. Instead of telling fibs about the Government and what the Government have done, members of the Labour party would do better to draw attention to the increase that has been made. If the hon. Gentleman feels that the expenditure is not enough, he should say how much more a Labour Government would provide. If he is not able to do so, he should stay quiet.

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