HC Deb 16 October 1996 vol 282 cc847-52 4.59 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

It is difficult to turn our thoughts to other matters after today's sombre statements, but I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce a Scottish Parliament in accordance with the scheme proposed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The first and greatest reason for creating a Scottish Parliament is that the people of Scotland want democracy. That is reason enough for change. Time after time, however, our democratic will has been denied by the Government, who are so determined to thwart us that they will even attempt to overcome the will of the people by means of the hereditary peerage. What could better illustrate the difference between those who want to advance democracy and those who will do anything to resist the advance of democracy? Those who want to resist the advance will not succeed, and, instead, they are likely to hasten the end of mediaeval baggage that a modern democracy should have left unclaimed long ago.

It will not be long now before a Scottish Parliament is meeting for the first time in almost three centuries. A Scottish Parliament will not be a return to the far-off, undemocratic days, when only a privileged minority could determine its actions. It will also not be a copy of Westminster. A Scottish Parliament will make advances in our democratic system, putting it in the forefront of change, and I hope that it will encourage Westminster to follow where it leads.

This is not the dry stuff of constitutional tinkering, remote from people's lives. We want a Scottish Parliament because it will make a difference to our lives. In election after election, Scotland has consistently demonstrated a desire for its collective and community traditions to be respected and acted on by selected representatives. We feel increasingly frustrated as our wishes are consistently disregarded. A Scottish Parliament, however, will be underpinned by the specific consent of the Scottish people, and it will place power in our people's hands to decide how our public services—such as health, education and housing—will be delivered, how our laws and administration of justice will be determined, how our economy will be boosted and how our cultural and artistic life can be shared and enjoyed by all.

None of that does any harm to our neighbours and friends in the rest of the United Kingdom, and it is rank dishonesty to pretend that it does. People who wrap themselves in the Union flag to defend the current negation of democracy are merely demonstrating that they have no clothes. As for the so-called "tartan tax"—which was mentioned again today at Scottish questions, as if Conservative Members thought that they had latched on to a stout argument—the Scottish people know that they will have that degree of power only if they vote for it. If they had been able to vote on VAT on domestic fuel or on the poll tax, to name but two Tory taxes, those taxes would have been thrown out with all the contempt that they deserve.

I have been involved with the Scottish Constitutional Convention since it was founded in 1989. I am proud of the way in which it has carried forward the debate, not only on what a Scottish Parliament will do but on the way in which it will do it. The convention has devised plans for how a Parliament will carry out its work, which will create openness and accountability. I believe that Westminster will be able to learn a great deal from how that Parliament conducts itself in the future.

The Members of the Scottish Parliament will reflect Scottish society. For the first time in any elected body in Britain, we shall see the equal representation of women and a fair reflection of the ethnic minorities in our society. A Scottish Parliament is worth fighting for to achieve those objectives alone. I remind the House that only 24 women have ever represented a Scottish seat in Westminster. As one of that small number, I look forward to the day when women in Scotland will have an equal share in making the decisions that affect our daily lives. If anyone thinks that we shall be deterred by a hereditary peerage, whose claim to rule is based on ancestral encounters on the battlefield or in the bedroom, they are about to be disabused of that notion.

Time is too short today to be able to describe all that we plan to achieve in a Scottish Parliament. If there is anything that I want for my constituency from a Scottish Parliament—I know that I speak for many others—it is jobs. I want secure and decently paid jobs, and an end to the poverty that blights so many of our people's lives. Thousands of our people live in inadequate housing, while building workers are idle and investment in housing declines. What a way to run a country!

We know a better way, and it will not be long now before we achieve it. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.4 pm

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

The hon Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) started off by suggesting that the people of Scotland want a democracy—which means, I suggest, an assembly. Labour Members told us that back in 1979. At that time, the people of Scotland failed to register sufficient interest—sufficient interest even by the standards of the Labour party. Labour Members abandoned their ideas then, and apparently they are abandoning them now.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Maryhill on having the courage to present the Bill, because I believe that it cuts across her party's current policy—policy recently adopted and thrust upon the Scottish leadership. I recognise that that policy has not necessarily been signed on to, and that if "Islington Man" changed his mind tomorrow, the Scottish Labour party would follow along.

Obviously the Bill was prepared before the recess, when the hon Lady's Scottish boss, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), was proclaiming: We will have up and running a Scottish Parliament within a year of the Labour party taking office. That could be a long way away. In fact, there is nae chance of that ever happening. There never was a chance of it, and it will be most unlikely under the referendum scenario now on offer.

The Bill was prepared at a time when the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) was repeatedly telling us that never again will Scottish legislation be determined at Westminster. Such farcical comments are not untypical of the hon. Gentleman.

The Bill was prepared at a time when the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) believed that he was the Opposition spokesman on constitutional change. We all respect him for his beliefs, because we know that he holds them conscientiously. Quite honestly, I do not often agree with his beliefs, but at least he adheres to them. It must have been galling for him to discover that there had been a policy change on this key election issue, and for him to be informed of the change by the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. That incident does not say much for Labour, and it demonstrates its unfitness to govern. Obviously hon. Members in the shadow Cabinet do not discuss issues of vital importance with so-called "junior shadow Ministers".

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

Speak up.

Mr. Gallie

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman cannot hear me; I shall try.

The fact is that the Labour party in Scotland is not in control of this issue, because it is being decided in Islington. The shadow Secretary of State for Scotland has, to some extent, been abandoned. He has submitted meekly to instructions from those above him, although some people would say that he has done so bravely, because he attempted to take responsibility for the change of heart on the referendum fiasco. Once again, however, he was undermined by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who has claimed full responsibility for the referendum decision.

On a day on which the House will be considering matters of honesty, Labour Members should examine a little more carefully the matter of honesty in their party, on their home ground. The Bill presented today by the hon. Member for Maryhill seems to be detailed. In effect, it demands that its passage through the House be set in train.

If the Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme is to be followed, there will be no referendum. With the return—if ever that were to happen—of a Labour Government supported by the Liberal Democrats, a tax-raising assembly would be imposed along the lines that Opposition Members will no doubt press in the general election campaign. If there was any honesty in their approach, surely they would be prepared to debate the issues in the general election campaign and, if they came to power, to follow through what they believed to be the right course for Scotland.

The Opposition's tax-raising assembly would impose a 15 per cent. tax increase on Scots who could least afford it. That would surely be unwise. In my constituency, I sent out 17,000 questionnaires to people of all political affiliations. To date, almost one third have been returned, of which 85 per cent. oppose the tartan tax, 4.3 per cent. support it and the remainder simply back an independent Scotland. That is an honest position, which I respect, although I do not support it.

Another survey carried out by "Newsnight" in my constituency showed that 12 out of 13 people questioned were against a tax-raising Scottish Assembly. Those are the views of the Scottish people, which they believe that the Conservative party in Scotland will have the guts to get out and fight for in the next general election. We shall stick to our principles, not abandon them as Opposition Members seem to have done.

As to a tartan tax, the idea of a Scottish Parliament opens up other threats. Already, we have heard Opposition Members querying the rights of local authorities to impose additional taxes on business. Conservative Members fought for the uniform business rate. A Scottish Parliament would put that in jeopardy and Scotland would be the worse for it.

The Bill refers to Scotland alone. The hon. Lady has ignored Wales and England. If a tax-raising Parliament is right for Scotland, why should there not be one for the regions of England and for Wales? She knows that that would not be wanted by the Labour party in those parts of the United Kingdom, where people are much saner than those on the Opposition Benches.

I am amazed that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) supports the Scottish Constitutional Convention's intention to introduce proportional representation. He has fought against proportional representation for many years, and rightly so: it is undemocratic and ensures that the party hierarchy will appoint those who represent the nation in such a Parliament.

If Labour Members support the Bill, they are cutting across the wishes and desires of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield and stabbing their leader in the back. That would be entirely inappropriate. On that basis, I ask the House to reject this stupid Bill.

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

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 46.

Division No. 216] [5.13 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Davidson, Ian
Ainger, Nick Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Denham, John
Ashdown, Paddy Dewar, Donald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Harry Donohoe, Brian H
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Dowd, Jim
Benn, Tony Eagle, Ms Angela
Bermingham, Gerald Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Betts, Clive Flynn, Paul
Blair, Tony Foster, Derek
Blunkett, David Foster, Don (Bath)
Boateng, Paul Foulkes, George
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Galloway, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell-Savours, D N Graham, Thomas
Canavan, Dennis Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cann, Jamie Grocott, Bruce
Chisholm, Malcolm Gunnell, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Harman, Ms Harriet
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Harvey, Nick
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Home Robertson, John
Cohen, Harry Hoon, Geoffrey
Connarty, Michael Hoyle, Doug
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)
Corston, Ms Jean Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Dr John Hutton, John
Cunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross) Ingram, Adam
Dafis, Cynog Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Darling, Alistair Jamieson, David
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW) Pope, Greg
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S) Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen) Prescott, John
Khabra, Piara S Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Kilfoyle, Peter Quin, Ms Joyce
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles) Reid, Dr John
Lewis, Terry Rendel, David
Liddell, Mrs Helen Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Lynne, Ms Liz Roche, Mrs Barbara
McAllion, John Rooker, Jeff
McAvoy, Thomas Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum Salmond, Alex
McFall, John Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheldon, Robert
Mackinlay, Andrew Short, Ms Clare
McNamara, Kevin Skinner, Dennis
Madden, Max Steel, Sir David
Maddock, Mrs Diana Steinberg, Gerry
Mahon, Mrs Alice Strang, Dr Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Meacher, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Meale, Alan Timms, Stephen
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Wallace, James
Miller, Andrew Wareing, Robert N
Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Watson, Mike
Mowlam, Ms Marjorie Welsh, Andrew
Mudie, George Winnick, David
Mullin, Chris Worthington, Tony
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Tellers for the Ayes:
Olner, Bill Mr. John Maxton and Mr. Norman Hogg.
Pickthall, Colin
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)
Ashby, David Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Atkins, Robert Carrington, Matthew
Carttiss, Michael Monro, Sir Hector
Chapman, Sir Sydney Neubert, Sir Michael
Duncan Smith, Iain Pawsey, James
Dunn, Bob Porter, David (Waveney)
Eggar, Tim Richards, Rod
Gallie, Phil Riddick, Graham
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Shaw, David (Dover)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Shersby, Sir Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Sims, Sir Roger
Harris, David Sumberg, David
Hawksley, Warren Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Tracey, Richard
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Twinn, Dr Ian
Hunter, Andrew Waller, Gary
Jessel, Toby Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Whittingdale, John
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Tellers for the Noes:
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Mr. Bill Walker and Mr. John Marshall.
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. Jimmy Hood, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Mr. Eric Clarke, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Mike Watson, Mr. George Foulkes, Mrs. Ray Michie, Mrs. Alice Mahon and Mr. Harry Cohen.