HC Deb 15 July 1997 vol 298 cc178-9
2. Mr. Graham

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps his Department will take to cooperate with local authorities in preparations for a Scottish Parliament. [6691]

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

The Government are committed both to strong local government and to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. We are committed to establishing an independent review to consider the relationship between local government and the Scottish Parliament, and we shall be consulting on its terms of reference after we publish the White Paper on our proposals for a Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Graham

Does my hon. Friend remember the absolute fiasco that local government was landed in by the Tory Government, and the fact that a lack of consultation and finance led to a disastrous position? I am absolutely convinced that the measure that the Minister has announced will strike up an accord between local authorities and the Scottish Office to ensure that we have one of the most famous Parliaments ever, set up in Scotland. I look forward to seeing close co-operation between the Scottish Office and local authorities.

Mr. McLeish

Let me assure my hon. Friend that we intend to ensure that co-operation and partnership strengthen democracy in Scotland. Our intention is to strengthen instead of weaken local government. We want to see powers moved from Westminster to Edinburgh, not from the Western Isles, Glasgow and Fife to Edinburgh. We make a firm commitment on that basis. In view of the spirit that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has shown, we believe that we can march forward together and ensure better-quality services and a fundamental strengthening of democracy.

Mr. Hogg

When the hon. Gentleman consults local authorities in Scotland, will he please make the point that devolution proposals will not prove durable unless they are fair to England? Will he go on to make the point that the present proposals are not fair to England and will not be fair to England unless, for example, they are set in the context of a federal scheme for the entirety of the United Kingdom or, as another approach, they provide for a reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament in this House, a reduction in their capacity to intervene in the affairs of other parts of the United Kingdom, and a further reduction in per capita spending in Scotland? Will he suggest to the local authorities that, if the Scottish people were faced with those realities, they might vote against devolution?

Mr. McLeish

Far be it from me to try to curb the enthusiasm of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. What he has just said to the House convinces us that, when he sees the White Paper, he will be able to acknowledge and discuss some of the important issues facing Scotland. We want a fair settlement. Enormous discussions have taken place, but at the end of the day the White Paper will be published and that will be the time for the nation and the House to debate those matters.

Mr. Canavan

May we have an assurance that the contents of the White Paper on the powers of the Scottish Parliament will be influenced more by our men of mettle in the Scottish Office than by our man of Straw in the Home Office?

Mr. McLeish

It is widely known that we in the Scottish Office are, indeed, men of mettle. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall produce a substantial and detailed White Paper which will ensure a fair debate. Scots will soon have the chance to vote in a referendum on their future. The House has taken some decisions already. It will soon have a White Paper to debate. Then we shall move on speedily to the referendum. After we have had an endorsement through a substantial yes, yes vote, we shall come back to the House and introduce a substantive Scotland Bill.