HC Deb 04 March 1998 vol 307 cc1079-94

Amendment proposed [23 February]: No. 258, in page 37, line 32, to leave out from the word 'is' to end of line 33 and insert the words '120 per cent. of the electoral quota for England.'.—[Dr Fox.]

4.41 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: clause 81 stand part.

Amendment No. 259, in clause 114, page 52, line 13, at beginning insert— 'Subject to subsection (3) below,'. Amendment No. 260, in clause 114, page 52, line 17, at end add— '(3) With the exception of an order relating to section 81, no order may be made under subsection (1) until each House of Parliament has approved any draft Order in Council which may be required to give effect to the first report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland to be submitted after 31st December 1997 under section 3(2) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986.'. New clause 6—Restrictions on voting rights of Scottish members of House of Commons— 'As from the day on which the Parliament first meets, no member of the House of Commons representing a constituency in Scotland shall be entitled to vote in that House on any matter certified by the Speaker as relating solely to another part, or other parts, of the United Kingdom.'. New clause 16—Restrictions on voting rights of Scottish members of House of Commons (No. 2)— 'Members of the House of Commons representing constituencies in Scotland may continue to participate in any vote in that House unless the Speaker deems the vote to relate to matters exclusive to England, or to England and Wales.'. New clause 19—Restriction on voting rights of Scottish Members (Committees on English Affairs)— '.—No member of the House of Commons representing a constituency in Scotland shall be entitled to vote in, or participate in any other proceedings of, any committee of that House established under any enactment or by the Standing Orders of that House, the functions of which are to consider matters exclusively in relation to England which are not reserved matters within the terms of Schedule 5 to this Act.'. New clause 22—Voting rights of Scottish members of the United Kingdom Parliament— '.—Scottish members of the United Kingdom Parliament shall by standing orders be entitled to speak but not to vote on matters which arise in that Parliament affecting only those parts of the United Kingdom other than Scotland.'.amendment No. 259, in clause 114, page 52, line 13, at beginning insert— 'Subject to subsection (3) below,'.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The guillotine falls at 5.30 pm, so we have 50 minutes. I hope that the Lords have a serious discussion of the clause, because it represents a geological flaw in the Bill.

With the benefit of the marvellous advantage of hindsight, we can see that it is perhaps unfortunate that, in 1977, the late Enoch Powell invented the sobriquet "the West Lothian question" as shorthand for the real dilemma with which I wearied Michael Foot and the late John Smith, who was doing the job now performed with less overt bad temper by my hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution. If my hon. Friend entertains exasperations when I speak, he is better at concealing them than John Smith was.

I have come to believe that Mr. Powell did the argument a disservice, because the shorthand tends to camouflage the real dilemma, which is not about parliamentary niceties or, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put it, the Schleswig-Holstein question, but about the exercise of power and the principle of direct relations between government and the governed. Power devolved is not power retained.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend says, "Hear, hear," and his interpretation is important; we do not want him, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and my other hon. Friends to feel deceived.

In practical terms, I do not suppose that matters will come to a head during this Parliament, in which one party has a majority of 180. The size of the majority submerges the problem. As soon as Holyrood, or Strathclyde house, or whatever we call it, is inaugurated, the Chief Whip will have to get along without my vote on purely English business.

The self-evident problem becomes acute when a Government party has to depend on its favourable majority in Scotland to get its English business through the House of Commons. Then the Government really will be asked: how come whoever is the Member of Parliament for Linlithgow or for Livingston can vote—and vote decisively—on policies for Liverpool and London on matters that not only English Members but Scottish Members cannot trespass upon in relation to Linlithgow or Livingston, unless of course, clause 27(7) will be operated differently from how we have come to believe?

To put it in practical terms, I suppose that it is really the Two Feathers in Hebden Bridge question so beloved of Bernard Ingham. I will spare the House the expletives, but the Two Feathers question is this, "What are all those … jocks doing coming … telling us what to do when they've got a … Parliament of their own?"

That is the question that will be asked. Therefore, my question is, how long can such a situation last? It simply cannot endure in anything like the form that the Bill proposes. Whatever else it is, the Bill is not a settlement. The deal must not be seen by the English majority, either at the outset or as experience builds up, as giving Scotland one-sided privileges and advantages of an unacceptable type and scale.

We all have to curtail our speeches, so the House will forgive me for reading one quotation from Sir Michael Quinlan, one of the cleverest civil servants of his generation, who was called in by John Smith to tackle precisely those problems. Writing in The Independent on 2 January 1995, Sir Michael said: But this leaves the enormous and still unanswered 'West Lothian' question … If we take away from Westminster and give to a Scottish Assembly effective law-making power over, say, education, health and transport in Scotland by what possible right do the 70-odd"— or 60-odd— Scottish MPs at Westminster continue to vote on education, health and transport for England? But if they are excluded, there stands to occur a situation—given particularly that, while Scotland is usually Labour, England is usually Conservative—in which there is a settled Labour majority at Westminster on some subjects and a Conservative one on others. (That would have been the case for certainly three and probably four of the five Parliaments in which Labour has governed since 1945.) Such a political arrangement would not be coalition or even cohabitation. Given the interdependence, especially in tax and expenditure terms, of large areas of public administration, it is simply not possible to run coherent parliamentary government in this way. That is the considered view of the civil servant who, along with Sir John Garlick, was asked by John Smith, Bruce Millan and Michael Foot to give his mind to the problem in the late 1970s. Sir Michael Quinlan's view at least has to be answered in depth, and it cannot be answered this afternoon before 5.30 pm. On Report or in the House of Lords, we should hear a considered Government answer.

Finally, judging by all the arguments so far, I see no reason to retract the view that I expressed constantly and daily during the referendum, that, unfortunately, we are on a motorway without exit to an independent state.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)

I echo the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) about the utter unacceptability of the fact that the time permitted to discuss this, perhaps the most crucial and central part of the whole Bill—the part upon which this whole constitutional experiment may founder to the damage of the whole United Kingdom—has been squeezed by a statement that could have been left until tomorrow, and an important Bill on broiler chickens.

Mr. McAllion

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

No, I shall not give way. I have things to say that are more important than answering the hon. Gentleman's questions.

I am delighted to speak after the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Throughout the consideration of the Bill, he has bravely identified the difficulties inherent in it, as he did with its predecessor many years ago. He and I do not always agree. In Hebden Bridge terms, there have been moments when others, not myself, might have referred to him as a … nuisance, but the way in which he has campaigned against a very bad and blatantly wrong Bill that is self-evidently damaging to the United Kingdom redounds strongly to his credit. I much admire what he has done.

This bad Bill will do more damage to the United Kingdom than any Bill for generations, and will institutionalise advantages for Scotland and for Scottish Members of Parliament. The Bill will do more: over time, it will institutionalise resentment against Scotland and Scottish Members of Parliament, which is not a light matter for those of us who care about the unity of the United Kingdom.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

If the hon. Gentleman Will forgive me, I shall not. Many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall be brief.

The key point—

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

The right hon. Gentleman has not attended a debate before today.

Mr. Major

The debate is brief because there is a guillotine at 5.30 pm, and the Government have outrageously wasted most of the available time.

The key point—what has become known as the West Lothian question—is the way in which the Bill will unbalance the constitution. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, what the Bill proposes is unsustainable. Bluntly, what justification is there for Scottish Members of Parliament being able to vote on education, health and other matters affecting my constituents in England, when they cannot vote on those matters as they affect their own constituents?

There is no logical reason for Scottish Members of Parliament being able to vote on matters that affect the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, when English, Welsh and Northern Irish Members of Parliament will be unable to vote on those matters as they affect people who live Scotland.

What would happen—the hon. Member for Linlithgow touched gently upon this point—if a Government party had an overall majority in the United Kingdom, but was in the minority in England?

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

What happened when the Government party was in the minority in Scotland?

Mr. Major

If the hon. and learned Gentleman cares to look back, he will see that previous Labour Governments have sustained a majority with Scottish Members of Parliament. The difference is that the Bill proposes that the Scottish Parliament will have exclusive responsibility for certain issues and the power to tax. If he does not understand that, he should listen to the debates and then contribute.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

No, the hon. Gentleman can make his speech in a few moments.

Mr. Salmond

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. The former Prime Minister, for whom I have some regard, seems to be unaware that we are continuing a debate that we were having 10 days ago. Is it in order to attend the second half of a Committee debate and refuse to take interventions?

The Second Deputy Chairman

It is up to right hon. and hon. Members to decide whether to take interventions.

Mr. Major

I shall deal with that point briefly. Of course the debate was going on the other evening, but it was agreed that there would be a further two hours of debate today. There has not been a further two hours of debate, and some hon. Members who want to speak on this issue will not be able to do so. I intend to be brief so that the hon. Gentleman can contribute, if only he will cease interrupting.

I return to the point about what will happen in England. Will the English be treated less favourably constitutionally than the Scots under this Bill and the Welsh under the Government of Wales Bill? That is not sustainable. With their majority, the Government can drive the Bill through the House, and show every intention of doing so. I beg the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution to consider what that will do over time to opinion in England. Does he really want to arouse nationalism across an England that resents the Scots and the Welsh? I do not want that to happen; yet I fear that the nature of the Bill, and the way in which the Government are driving it through the Commons, will lead to such an outcome.

Is there a credible answer to the West Lothian question? Not without a rebalancing of the constitution once the Bill has become law, as it now almost certainly will.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not.

No one in the House has any doubt about my feeling on the issue over many years. I have never made any secret of the fact that I think that the sort of constitutional change that is proposed is very short-sighted. It is being introduced for party political advantage, and over time—a long time—it will backfire. I am concerned about the long-term future of the United Kingdom, not the short-term advantage of politicians who see some advantage in supporting the Bill at the present time.

The only gainers from the Bill, over time, will be those who genuinely favour—the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) does, and has made no secret of it—a separatist Scotland, a Scotland broken away from the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government, who claim that that is not their position, will have to answer at the bar of history for having brought about circumstances that may create exactly that eventuality.

If the Bill goes through, it will be necessary to bring about further constitutional change to minimise the damage and the resentment across the United Kingdom that the Bill will create. I do not know whether that means an English Parliament—which I do not myself favour—an English Grand Committee, or some other stratagem. Clearly, much more thought will be needed than we can give this afternoon, but changes there will undoubtedly need to be once the Bill is on the statute book.

I say that changes will have to come, because the constitutional vandalism of this ill-thought-out pig's breakfast of a Bill will demand further change elsewhere in the United Kingdom to protect the position of people elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and to protect the working practices of the House.

Sir Robert Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

Surely the hon. Gentleman heard me say that I would not give way. I want as many hon. Members as possible to be able to speak.

I have made it clear repeatedly over the past seven years, and over the past few months when the Bill has been contemplated, that I absolutely understand, and admire, the sense of national pride in Scotland. No one disputes that. I believe, however, that the Scots will find that the menu that has been laid before them is a menu without price. There is a price to be paid, in Scotland and elsewhere—

Mr. McAllion

You paid the price.

Mr. Major

If I did, I paid the price for standing up for what I thought was right for the United Kingdom. I did not stand up for what I thought was right for Labour party political interests, which is what the present Government have done.

Scotland cannot have extra privileges; it cannot have more public expenditure; it cannot have excessive representation in the House; and it cannot have constitutional advantages over the rest of the United Kingdom—if that United Kingdom is to remain united, as I wish it to. This is a divisive Bill. Let us not mince words. Not so much in the short term, as in the long term, the Bill will damage the unity of the United Kingdom dramatically. It brings change, and it will create a demand for more change. It is a constitutional whirlwind, and we will reap the harvest—not just in the House, where we can cope with our procedures, but in regard to something far more important and far more long-standing: the unity of the United Kingdom itself.

On that issue, the House may not be able to make changes in the Bill, given the majority in favour of it; but the time will come when those who railroaded it through will have to answer for what they have done, and others will have to correct the errors that they have made.

5 pm

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

It is a privilege to follow the former Prime Minister. However, it is fair to say that he has espoused views that were espoused during the general election campaign; views that led to the Conservative party's representation in Scotland being reduced from 10 seats to no seats—"Nul points", as one would say in the Eurovision song contest—and which led his party to the biggest defeat in living memory in a British general election.

The British people have taken account of the arguments that the former Prime Minister makes, and rejected them decisively. The Scottish people had the opportunity to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the debates before the referendum, and almost every part of Scotland rejected those views overwhelmingly. Is it not significant that the only Scots that the right hon. Gentleman can find to argue his case are those who could not get elected in Scotland, but had to flee south of the border to find a safe seat in England? In Scotland there is no support for his views.

Those who seek to destroy the Union speak with the former Prime Minister's voice, and that of the nationalists. The status quo before the general election was not sustainable. Scots made it clear that they wanted to retain the Union, but that they wanted a system of devolved authority—which, I am glad to say, the Government are setting up.

However, I return, if I may, to amendment No. 258. I took the trouble to be in the Chamber during the previous discussions on this matter and, although I welcome the former Prime Minister's belated interest in these matters, it is significant that this is the first time, I believe, that he has attended the Committee.

The Conservative amendment suggests not that Scottish representation should be reduced to the same level as that in England and Wales, but that it should be reduced even below that, so that the electoral quota for Scotland should be 120 per cent. of that for England. Evidently the Tories have written off Scotland. They realise that they are, and will remain, unpopular there, so they intend to play the English nationalist card.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned Enoch Powell, I recalled how Enoch Powell used to deplore racism while he was stirring it up. Those who deplore English nationalism while stirring it up are doing the same thing. They are trying to pander to the worst in our society because they have no positive suggestions to make on this subject, or on many others.

I do not accept that England is an undifferentiated mass. I have been struck by the welcome given to Scottish devolution by many people in England who want something similar for their part of the country. I believe that differing speeds of devolution will develop throughout England and Wales. I believe that the constitution of this country can accept anomalies; that it can accept differences; that it can accept different ways of progressing.

If the House is supreme, I see no reason why it cannot decide that some matters will be devolved to Scotland, to Wales, to London or to the north of England, without shattering the essential community of the kingdom. It is not as though powers were being devolved in a way that bypassed the House. A decision of the House will devolve those powers. In that way, the House, having taken that decision, is consciously deciding to live with the elements of anomaly that might flow from it.

My hon. Friend the former Member for West Lothian, now the hon. Member for Linlithgow, made a very interesting contribution. I enjoyed his speech of resignation from the Labour Whip. I am struck by the extent to which all Labour Members except "Oor Tam" are out of step. The basis on which Labour candidates stood at the general election was quite clear, and we clearly presented our case to the electorate. It is also clear that his arguments about Labour Members feeling obliged to refrain from voting on other matters did not reflect Labour's policy.

The poll tax was imposed on Scotland by the votes of English Members. In Committee and in the House, I and many others watched local government in Scotland being butchered against the will of the overwhelming majority of Scottish Members by an English majority. That was accepted to some extent because Scotland was part of the Union, and Parliament had decided how such matters were to be arranged. Similarly, it is reasonable and fair to conclude that, when Parliament determines that there is to be devolution, those who were previously in government and who call themselves democrats should be prepared to accept Parliament's democratic will.

The tactics that are being adopted, especially by some of those who I thought had the seniority and experience to know better, remind me of the baby who throws his rattle out of the pram because it cannot get its own way. It is about time the Opposition accepted that they lost the election, that we and those who support us have a clear mandate to implement our policies, and that we intend to do that.

I welcome the fact that the Tories have written off Scotland, and that they will presumably decide not to put up candidates for election to the Scottish Parliament. That gives us an even greater prospect of a large Co-operative party representation in that Parliament.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I join my right hon. and hon. Friends—

Mr. Salmond

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. To my certain memory, Scottish National party Members were standing in the earlier debate and were not called. They have been rising in this debate and have not been called. Has the Chair taken any cognisance of the fact that the Scottish National party currently has four times the public support of the Conservative party in Scotland and that we have a right to have our view heard in the Committee?

Sir Robert Smith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord. Liberal Democrat Members also rose in both debates, and we have a distinctive Scottish view to put to the Committee. That view takes some of what Conservative Members were trying to achieve but puts it in a constructive form to try to get something out of the Government. That voice has not been heard in Committee. Amendment No. 258 has not been exposed to scrutiny in terms of its threat to the Union because of the way in which it debases the Scottish voter on United Kingdom issues. Those issues should have been put to the Committee.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord. Do you agree that it does not add to the dignity of Parliament when the most important constitutional issue that faces us will receive a total of one hour and 15 minutes debate?

The Second Deputy Chairman

It is for the Chairman to select who will speak and I remind hon. Members that points of order use up the little time that is left.

Mr. Ancram

I should like to respond to the points of order by the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith). It may not have occurred to them that, for the first time in our discussions on the Bill, we are debating the impact of constitutional reform on the rest of the United Kingdom. For that reason my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and some of my hon. Friends who are not Scottish Members have a direct interest in the matter. I, too, deplore the fact that the debate has been curtailed. That does not bode well for the spirit of agreed programmes in future. I give notice that I shall seek to return to that issue on Report.

The debate on the amendment, which was ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) is simply about unfinished business. We face a constitutional vacuum that has been created by a process of one-sided devolution. If that vacuum is left unfilled it will in time seriously destabilise our constitution. It is caused by the residual imbalance that has been left by unilateral devolution to Scotland and has become known as the West Lothian question, but which more accurately should now be known as the English dimension.

The debate is largely, if not exclusively, about the role of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster after devolution and the constitutional propriety of their being able to vote on English matters which, because of devolution, they cannot vote on in relation to their own constituents. It points to the inevitably part-time nature of the Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster after devolution and the consequent dangers of de facto marginalisation. It foreshadows the potential for mutual alienation between Scots and English, which was so rightly foreshadowed in the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon.

It is because of those dangers and because of our interest in avoiding them that we believe that they must be faced up to now. If ever there has been a time for not burying the political head in the sand, this is it. Even if the manner of its announcement through the columns of The Scotsman this morning was a gross insult to the House, the Government's new-found readiness to take the question seriously, at last, must be welcomed.

This debate is not about doing down the Scots or stirring up the English, however much nationalists and others would like to portray it as such. That suggestion not only insults the intelligence of both Scots and English, but irresponsibly disregards the fundamental problem.

Sir Robert Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram

No, I shall not give way as time is short. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am usually very good at giving way, but I want to make my speech and give others the opportunity to speak.

If we do not begin to explore now how the problem might be resolved, we will live bitterly to regret it in years to come. Even the Government, if The Scotsman was right this morning, now realise that. The amendments were tabled to begin the exploration. I am sometimes asked why we have only now started on this process. The reason is simple—the question has arisen only because of this Bill. What, in terms of the referendum, was a Scottish debate exclusive in its franchise to Scotland, is now a United Kingdom debate because the outcome of the Bill will impact upon the constitution of the United Kingdom as a whole.

There are no simple answers and no quick fixes. There are no off-the-shelf constitutional solutions. We must identify the options or the elements from which solutions might be drawn and then evaluate the feasibility and desirability of any particular approach. For those reasons, the amendments are, by definition, probing. They are the early pieces on the board. There is only one that we will press to a Division because of its immediate significance, as I shall explain later.

Amendment No. 258 deals with the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster after devolution. It stems from the principle already enshrined in the provisions of the clause that devolution removes the justification for the relative over-representation that currently exists in favour of Scotland in the Westminster Parliament. The clause would establish relative parity—but I have to say that changing the numbers will not, of itself, answer the West Lothian question. Numbers are the symptom rather than the cause. They are not, and never have been, a constant, but they can play an important part in creating both the perception and the reality of fairness and balance.

If we are to understand the dangers of the constitutional vacuum in relation to numbers, we must look at the role of the Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster after devolution.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)


Mr. Ancram

I have said that I will not give way.

By definition, the Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster, after devolution, will have far less to do than his English counterparts. Leaving aside the time-consuming constituency mail bag, which would largely disappear, the Scottish Member of Parliament would no longer be able to ask parliamentary questions on domestic constituency matters such as housing, health, education, roads, planning and so on, or take part in debates on those matters. How much of what is left will be taken up by English matters, questions, debates, votes and other issues relevant to the United Kingdom Parliament? If the English aspects are taken away, what will be left?

On any view, the Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster, after devolution, will be part time and will be seen to be part time. Dangers flow from that. The lessons of Northern Ireland and Westminster during the Stormont years are salutary. Would the same effect of marginalisation of Scottish Members of Parliament occur after the Scottish Parliament is up and running? Would the part-time perception of those Members of Parliament further exacerbate resentment if strictly English business was carried, on the backs of their votes? Those of us who believe in the Union Parliament see those as real dangers that must be averted. To do that, we need to look at the question of numbers in this context, even if, at this stage, it is only to probe.

There is one further important issue relating to numbers and boundary changes, which arises under amendment No. 260. Under the provisions of the Bill, there will be an inevitable reduction in the number of Members of Parliament after the boundary commission's report, which in turn will mean a commensurate reduction in both categories of Members of the Scottish Parliament. Under the Bill, within five years of being set up and Members being elected, the Scottish Parliament will be subject to a cull. Between 25 and 30 of the 129 MSPs will disappear. It is hard to see how that can be in the best interests of an infant Parliament striving to establish itself, knowing all the time that it is about to be reduced, but not knowing how or where, and with its Members constantly living under the threat of the axe.

It therefore makes sense that if such a reduction is to take place, it should happen before the Parliament comes into being. Our amendment would achieve that. It would not cause any delay because if the boundary commission immediately began its work under the revised criteria, there is no reason why it should not be completed and implemented in time for the elections to the Scottish Parliament. If the Government do not accept the amendment, I give notice that, at the appropriate moment, I will press it to a Division.

5.15 pm

I want to look at the pieces on the board relating to the English dimension. One that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) is the Government's initiative to create regional assemblies in England. He rightly warned that it would be the thin end of the wedge to the Europe of regions, and, indeed, there is no evidence of any widespread demand for such regionalisation in England. It does not arise out of the amendments before us, so I add only that it would not, in any event, answer the West Lothian question, unless those regions were given legislative powers which are not even available to the National Assembly for Wales. In fact, it is part of a different, if no less worrying agenda.

That leads me to the three most obvious options that offer themselves to resolve the constitutional vacuum, which is the main object of our amendments. The option of an English parliament, separate from this Parliament, was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East and for Woodspring. It was canvassed in a private Member's Bill in January by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). It would certainly resolve the immediate problem, but it would create others. This Parliament would be left effectively as a federal parliament which, without major reform, would contain none of the checks and balances that a federal system would usually require. It would encapsulate the problem that, of the four elements within the United Kingdom, one—England—would represent more than 80 per cent. of the whole. The imbalance would be overwhelming and almost impossible to resolve with any degree of overall fairness. I can think of no comparable example elsewhere from which we might seek answers to the problem, but it must nevertheless remain a piece on the board.

The concept of an English Grand Committee is raised in new clause 19, which again is designed to probe. It now appears suddenly to be the preferred option of the Government, possibly brought about by the honourable pressure exerted by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I have already made clear my view of the deplorable way in which the Government made known that preference, but it begs certain questions about which I have already written to the Secretary of State. I am sorry that he is not here this afternoon to answer them. However, I want to reiterate them.

We want to know the status given to the proposal—we want to know if it is agreed Government policy. Has it been discussed by the Cabinet or is it merely something that has arisen internally from the Scottish Office? Why was the announcement of an English Grand Committee made public in a briefing from the Scottish Office, when it relates exclusively to non-Scottish matters? Are we to expect proposals to be put before the House to achieve that policy at the same time as the provisions of the Scotland Bill become operative?

There are a number of difficulties in that approach. What has been proposed would have to be more than the usual Grand Committee, which is ultimately subject to the authority of this House as a whole. For example, it would be required to take all stages of legislation relating to England, or England and Wales, if it were to resolve the West Lothian question. That would immediately raise questions about the status of the Westminster Parliament while the English Grand Committee was in session. It would also raise the financial questions alluded to by the hon. Member for Linlithgow last week. Without its own resources, what would be its relationship to the Treasury, which would inevitably remain a United Kingdom Department? In the event of financial conflict, which of the two would govern, and could a United Kingdom Government with a small majority reliant on Scotland actually pursue an economic policy of any consequence?

The final obvious option—which might be described as designation—merges in our new clause 16 and in new clause 6, which was tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East and for Aldridge—Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), whereby Scottish Members could not vote on matters certified as being exclusive to England and Wales.

Designation is seemingly the neatest and simplest answer to the English dimension. However, it would immediately create two categories of Member of Parliament at Westminster and threatens the concept of a Union Parliament, in which all Members of Parliament are equal. It would also again beg the financial question: what restraint would be put on English Members in not undermining the overall economic strategy of the United Kingdom Government, while still allowing them to exercise their exclusive legislative rights? The potential for conflict immediately becomes apparent.

In yesterday's newspapers, the hon. Member for Linlithgow unilaterally declared a self-denying ordinance of voluntary designation. Although I have no doubt that he would honourably abide by such an ordinance, he knows—he alluded to it himself in this debate—that the pre-1972 Ulster experience was not so secure and was not without its price. That experience ran seriously into the shoals in 1965, when Northern Ireland Members attempted to reverse their marginalisation and to reassert their involvement in the major political and economic issues of the day by voting on steel nationalisation—which did not impact directly on Northern Ireland, although its wider economic effects certainly did. The unhappy reaction of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, provides a good example of the difficulties of designating with any precision or fairness in those circumstances.

Therefore, there is no option which is not in some way constitutionally flawed—although that does not mean that we should simply jettison all options. There may be variants or combinations of options that are as yet unexplored. There may be other, undiscovered options with which current options can be melded. That is why this debate, and the wider debate outside the House—which I hope that we are helping to generate—are so important.

The corrosive question of the English dimension will not go away. Its consequences may not be immediate, but that is no excuse for ignoring it. Neither is it sufficient to say that we would not have started from here, and simply walk away. An answer must be found, and that answer must be found before the problem arises. When the problem arises—as, one day, it inevitably will arise—it will be too late, and the fires of nationalism that will ignite on both sides of the border will tear at the heart of the United Kingdom.

We will not resolve the problem today; but the search for a solution starts today. We must not fail.

Mr. Salmond

I should like to spend a couple of minutes on the mean-spirited and foolish speech by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). On the Friday before the general election, I spent the evening in Northampton with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), where we participated in a bout of "Any Questions"—during which I was cheered to echo in middle England, and the former Chancellor was booed off the stage. If there had been an election that night at that meeting, the Scottish National party would have won Northampton. On that programme, I asked the then Chancellor of the Exchequer if he could name one instance this century in which any piece of domestic English legislation had been dictated by the votes of Scottish Members, and he could not give one single example.

If we contrast that record with how, on one occasion after another, and on one issue after another, two successive Prime Ministers—Lady Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon—forced down the throats of the Scottish people specifically Scottish legislation, the breathtaking temerity of the former Prime Minister in talking in this debate about the unacceptable theoretical possibility of the same happening in reverse is obvious.

I do not object to an English Parliament—I think that it would be a thoroughly good idea—and I have absolutely no objection to an English Grand Committee. In the House, I have never knowingly interfered in English domestic business unless it had a clear Scottish implication. What I find totally unacceptable is the mean-spirited and divisive nature of the former Prime Minister's speech—crowding out hon. Members who spoke in the first half of the debate, and showing the House the face not only of English nationalism but of English prejudice.

Sir Robert Smith

Amendment No. 258 deserves to be fully exposed for the threat that it is to the Union. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was very unwise to speak in a debate at the Bill's Committee stage without interacting with Committee members. Had he taken interventions, he might have been able to explain to voters in Scotland why—for some reason—he thought that, on United Kingdom issues, one of their votes should be worth only 83 per cent. of the vote of an English voter. If ever there were a threat to the Union, it must be amendment No. 258, and the thinking behind it. In speaking to the amendment, the right hon. Gentleman advocated denying Scottish voters the same representation in the House on United Kingdom issues as other United Kingdom voters enjoy.

It is far more important for the Government—in attempting to develop a way in which English Members of Parliament deal with only English issues—to take on board the spirit of new clauses 6, 16, 19 and 22. The history of the poll tax demonstrates, at least to Scottish Members, how bad it is for hon. Members to decide legislation that will not affect their own electors. Such a practice is bad in all circumstances.

In our declaration to the constitutional convention, we argued that if legislation has been devolved by one Parliament, it should not be voted on by representatives of that Parliament. We should like a slightly better settlement, by using the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to decide disputes. We should like the Government constructively to consider our proposals.

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

I should like, by way of preamble, to say a few words about the speech by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I do not think that phrases such as "constitutional vandalism" or "dogs' breakfast" are worthy of him. On 11 September, a very loud democratic voice was heard in Scotland—when 1.7 million people voted for a Scottish Parliament and 1.5 million people voted for tax-varying powers. The principle underlying that result should be respected by all hon. Members—regardless of whether they are a right hon. or hon. Member, or whether they are in or out of government. The people have spoken, and it ill behoves the House to undermine that in any way.

I tell the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that we have absolutely no plans to consider an English Parliament or an English Grand Committee.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

What about this article in this morning's press?

Mr. McLeish

There was absolutely no foundation in that article—[Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. It is quite outrageous for the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) to behave like that. He should know better. Will he, please, behave himself. An apology is called for.

Mr. Jenkin

I apologise without reservation.

Mr. McLeish

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Essex for his apology.

The important issue in this debate is the concern of Conservative Members. In asking the Committee to reject this group of amendments, I stress that the official Opposition are attacking the fundamental rights in the House of Scottish Members in the post-devolution era. It simply cannot be right to go down that very dangerous road. In a speech last week, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) mentioned four aspects of the West Lothian question that he would like to explore, although I shall deal with only one. The second aspect he mentioned was the withdrawal from Scottish MPs of their voting rights over all legislation that does not apply to Scotland. In other words, the creation of a two-tier Westminster Parliament. That is the nub of the speeches made by Conservative Members in this debate. New clause 19 would apply the same standards—to exclude second-class Scots from voting in the House.

There should be no two-tier mentality in the House. Conservative Members cannot get away with blustering and expressing synthetic indignation. The simple fact is that, under that smokescreen, they are attempting to move in a very dangerous direction. There is simply—

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Can you advise the Committee, Mr. Lord, whether it is in order for the Minister to say that something is utterly impossible, whereas the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has volunteered to do precisely what the Minister is criticising?

The Second Deputy Chairman

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. McLeish

I make a point of truth, Mr. Lord: in the Committee's previous five sittings, the official Opposition have scurried around, pretending that they are being supportive and respectful of the decision of 11 September—but nothing could be further from the truth. We hear talk of an English nationalist backlash. That worries me, but how real is that in the mind of the English people, as opposed to being solely in the mind of Conservative Members? If Conservatives pursue this idea, they are being anti-Union, anti-Scottish and anti the spirit of the devolution measures. Of course, that is the reality. They can pretend that they are concerned, but we have tonight exposed a core truth about the Conservative Opposition. They cannot face the results of 11 September or the fact that the Bill will strengthen the Union and is an excellent contribution to democratic accountability.

I ask the Committee to reject the amendments for the reasons that I have outlined so that we can move on and ensure that we have a strong Bill. That is the intention of the Government, the Liberals and the nationalists but not that of the Conservative Opposition—

It being half-past Five o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [13 January] and the Resolution [23 February], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

THE CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. As a matter of courtesy, I have tried to give the Leader of the House notice of this matter. When the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons produced its unanimous report, my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and I commended it to the House and were glad to do so. We saw it as a constructive attempt to ensure better and more regulated scrutiny of business, and we were happy to agree to the programming of legislation.

When the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill was decided on, we readily agreed to the programming arrangements. We had no wish to frustrate the will of the Scottish people. We had no wish to filibuster, as has been evident from all the debates, but we were anxious to ensure proper, decent scrutiny of this most important constitutional legislation. However, this afternoon we have witnessed the frustration of the spirit of agreement into which we entered by the fact that the Government made a long statement which took up a full hour of the time allocated for a crucial element of the Bill.

Had the Government had to come to the House to make a statement about the situation in the Gulf or some matter of prime international importance, we would of course have accepted that it should take precedence. However, we do not believe—[Interruption.] I am seeking to make my point with cogency and courtesy, which cannot be said of the reaction of Labour Members. We do not believe that the statement this afternoon fell into that category. The spirit of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House is at risk because if what has happened this afternoon is what is going to happen to crucial legislation, we cannot co-operate.

The Second Deputy Chairman

They are not matters on which I can rule today, but I have no doubt that everyone has heard what was said and that those with responsibility for these arrangements will review matters in due course.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I do not think that there can be anything further to that point of order. We have dealt with it thoroughly.

Mr. Cash

With respect, Mr. Lord, you cannot know until you have heard my point of order. The Secretary of State for Scotland has just come into Committee. We have witnessed a disgraceful exhibition which was an attempt to curtail the debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) pointed out. The Secretary of State did not have the courtesy to reply to the debate. Is not that a matter of the utmost importance? Is not it also a disgrace and a discourtesy to the Committee?

The Second Deputy Chairman

The time allocated to the debate was decided some time ago.

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