§ 2 pm
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
I welcome all Members present—a large number of whom are from north of Hadrian's wall—back to the House of Commons. I hope that they have all had a restful and enjoyable, if rather short, Christmas break.
The first debate this afternoon will be initiated by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and is about the voting rights of hon. Members who represent Scottish seats.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)
First, Sir Nicholas, on behalf of those of us from England, including we Jocks who represent English seats, and those from north of Hadrian's wall, I thank you for your very kind good wishes. I hope that the next time we meet in this august Chamber, I am able to call you by your proper title; Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the motion enabling you to be called that has not yet been passed in the House. I hope that that will be done quickly so that we can again call you by your proper title.
I welcome the debate on this hugely important issue, which has been around for some 30 years in one format or another—
§ Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)
The hon. Gentleman mentions 30 years. What about Mrs. Thatcher's reign, during which she imposed the poll tax on Scotland against the will of the majority of Members in Scotland? How does he account for that on the basis of what he is about to say?
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Order. I am not sure that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) should answer that question. How could the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) know what the hon. Gentleman is about to say?
§ Mr. Gray
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman's point in a moment, because he makes a very good point; one of the driving forces behind the devolution argument in the 1980s and early 1990s was that, somehow or other, a Conservative Government in London were imposing their will on a Labour majority in Scotland. That is precisely the point that I shall shortly seek to make in reverse. How could a Labour majority in Scotland impose its will on a Conservative majority here? That has been an important issue for the past 30 years, ever since the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) first raised it.
Today's debate should not be about devolution; we have had that. The Scottish Parliament is in place, and we are not here to debate it. I secured this debate to safeguard the interests of the voters of North Wiltshire and of the English people of this great nation of ours, whose rights are being removed by Scottish Members of Parliament having equal status to vote in Westminster.
First, I make it absolutely plain that this is an English debate, and I am delighted that a Minister from an English Department has come to answer the debate. The West Lothian question, which was so well put forward so long ago, has been highlighted in recent weeks by two 35WH or three particular episodes, the first of which was the poorly thought through question of foundation hospitals. The Prime Minister would not have been able to get that policy in place were it not for the support of Members of Parliament from north of the border. Blithely ignoring the fact that the Scottish Labour party is against foundation hospitals, they thought it perfectly reasonable to come south of the border and—by a majority of only 17—impose foundation hospitals on us in England. That is outrageous.
The same seems to be about to occur with top-up fees; it appears that the Prime Minister will be humiliated in this place unless he can persuade the tartan mafia from north of the border to come down to England and enforce top-up fees in English universities, despite the fact that those fees will not affect Scottish universities.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab)
On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. Is it unparliamentary to call Members who represent Scottish constituencies a mafia? A mafia is clearly defined as a secret society; we are a public, elected body.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
I think that that point will have been noted by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I can only hope that the language used in this debate is sensible, rational and responsible.
§ Mr. Gray
Sensible, rational and responsible are precisely the right words, Sir Nicholas. It is an enormously serious debate These are important matters for the people of England and they should not be taken light-heartedly, as suggested in one or two interventions. If this place is to be taken seriously, and if the Union is to be preserved, it is terribly important that parliamentarians from both north and south of the border should treat the matter extraordinarily seriously. I do not intend to allow it to be reduced.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)
The hon. Gentleman referred to foundation hospitals and tuition fees, neither of which applies in Scotland. Neither do they apply in Northern Ireland, yet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues do not refer to Northern Ireland Members participating in votes. Why does the hon. Gentleman pick on Scottish Members?
§ Mr. Gray
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall make progress.
The right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is right that if we solve the Scottish and English question, that solution, under 36WH certain circumstances, may be applicable to Northern Ireland and Wales. I shall speak later about my proposal that Mr. Speaker be asked to certify whether particular Bills cover England only, England and Wales, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or the entire United Kingdom. However, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. It may sometimes be more appropriate to refer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or a variation thereof, but for the sake of good order I shall simply use the word "Scotland".
It is bizarre that a Labour Government with a gigantic majority in Westminster should need to call on Scottish votes in order to impose in England matters that the Scots have already turned down. How odd it would be if the reverse were the case; if, by some parliamentary procedure that does not yet exist, we were able to go to Edinburgh and enforce on the Scottish people some matter that the Scots had turned down. That would be entirely unsustainable.
That is what happened with foxhunting. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) sought many times to intervene on me when we debated foxhunting in England; a most important issue in my constituency. Scotland came to the conclusion that foxhunting could continue there in a particular, but not very satisfactory, form; the hon. Gentleman then came down to England with his Scottish friends to vote for an outright ban on foxhunting in England. That is entirely unsustainable, but there is an easy way to solve the problem.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and to members of the Scottish National party, who tend not to vote on purely English matters. That is an honourable self-denying ordinance. However, I understand that there has been some slippage and that Scottish Nationalists recently voted on foundations hospitals.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Members of the House are and should continue to be equal? Another solution would be for all the regions of England to have devolved assemblies such as those in. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Everyone would then be in the same situation.
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Gentleman makes two points. To the first, the answer is no. By no stretch of the imagination are all Members of the House equal. I am responsible to the people of North Wiltshire for health, education, transport and a variety of other matters, but the hon. Gentleman does not have to answer to his constituents on those matters. I have a greater job to play in this place than he does; that is an inevitable consequence of the devolution settlement. That is one of the tough facts of life. The hon. Gentleman has no say whatever on health, education, transport and a variety of other matters in his constituency. I do. I represent the people of North Wiltshire on everything involving the Government. He cannot do so. We already have two tiers of Members of Parliament in the House.
Secondly, answering the West Lothian question by saying that some kind of regional structure should be set up in England ignores the fact that people in England do not want it. It is a desperate attempt by the Labour party 37WH to answer the West Lothian question. The solution to which I shall turn in a moment answers the question much more elegantly, at much less cost and in a much more acceptable way to the people of England, about whom we are talking. We should encourage Scottish Members of Parliament not to vote on English matters. However, that would not be enough, which brings me on to a similar subject that I find equally obnoxious.
How can it be that Members of Parliament who represent Scottish seats can come down here and be Secretaries of State in purely English Departments? How can the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), speak on health in England? If I, the Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire, went to Edinburgh and said that I had come to look after the health service in Scotland, there would be a national outcry. But the Secretary of State is a Member of Parliament in Scotland who comes down here to pontificate on the health service in England.
§ Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)
If what the hon. Gentleman is saying were taken to its logical conclusion, no London Member could be Secretary of State for Transport or vote on transport issues, which, at the end of the day, now lie within the remit of the Mayor and the Greater London assembly.
§ Mr. Gray
I certainly am not saying that, for the simple reason that neither the London assembly nor the Welsh Assembly has legislative powers. Only the Scottish Parliament has legislative powers; over health, education and transport, which are entirely devolved to Holyrood. None the less, the Secretary of State for Health comes down here from Hamilton, North and Bellshill and pontificates on the health service in North Wiltshire. How can that be? That is unsustainable and the people of England will not continue to take it. How can it be that the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland comes down to England and pontificates on transport here?
§ Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a further anomaly? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has at least been elected, whereas large numbers of people in another place pontificate on legislation with no elected right to do so. There is no second Chamber in the Scottish Parliament to review Scottish health issues. Does that mean that the House of Lords should not review any health issues, in order to achieve the parity about which the hon. Gentleman is talking?
§ Mr. Gray
I most interested to hear the hon. Lady apparently propose that Labour Ministers in the House of Lords should lose their posts. I would not necessarily subscribe to that position; perhaps she should take that matter up with her own party.
The second self-denying ordinance that we should introduce is not to allow Members of Parliament from Scottish seats to be Ministers in English Departments. That is straightforward, and I call on the Prime Minister to introduce it at the first available reshuffle. We must get rid of Scottish Members of Parliament running English Departments.
38WH Those two self-denying ordinances are not enough. We still have the curious anomaly of vast over-representation in Scotland. How can it be that there are 121—[HON. MEMBERS: "129."] How can it be that there are 129 MSPs? I am grateful to hon. Members from north of the border. I take no great interest in such matters and it is important that I should leave them to the Scots. I am concerned only with North Wiltshire and am not at all familiar with the way the Scottish Parliament works, nor do I seek to become so. I am most grateful to hon. Members for putting me right. Currently, 71 MSPs—[HoN. MEMBERS: "72."] I thank hon. Members for correcting me—[Laughter.] Hon. Members seem to think the issue is funny, but I am making an important point. I take no interest in such matters; I am interested in North Wiltshire. I know how many MPs there are in Wiltshire, but I am not aware of how many MPs there are in Scotland.
A total of 201 parliamentarians look after the 5 million people in Scotland. Roughly speaking, for every 25,000 people in Scotland there is one parliamentarian, whether an MSP or an MP. That contrasts with England, where each of us looks after a total of 100,000 people. I alone look after every possible issue in North Wiltshire—health, education and transport—that affects those 100,000 people. Why, then, do I receive the same pay and conditions as a Member of Parliament who comes down here and does a great deal less work? There are two tiers of Members of Parliament in this place. Some, such as me, are fully employed and look after every aspect of their constituencies, whereas others, including many hon. Members in the Room today, do not.
Debates such as this would have no purpose were it not for hon. Members making proposals to put things right. I have a proposal, which I shall call the North Wiltshire answer to the West Lothian question. First, we must have only English votes for English matters. That seems perfectly straightforward.
§ Mr. Foulkes
The hon. Gentleman repeatedly refers to English matters. Has he had a look at the Bills coming up for Second Reading and at the Bills that were before the last Parliament? I was one of the Ministers responsible for the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, some parts of which applied to England, some to England and Wales, some to Scotland and some to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Should we have jumped in and out of the debate, voting yes on one matter, but not on another? How can one define a purely English matter? Almost no, or very few, Bills before the House apply specifically, in all their aspects, only to England.
§ Mr. Gray
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. For example, I believe that a clause or two in the Bill dealing with foundation hospitals referred to Scotland. If one were that way inclined, it would be perfectly possible to insert a clause into almost any Bill that applied to Scotland and thereby somehow justified Scottish Members of Parliament voting on it. I am suggesting that legislation should be simplified so that that does not happen. It would become easy for the Speaker to certify whether a Bill was purely English. After all, we need only look at the devolution settlement to see those issues that have 39WH been devolved to Scotland. That is no secret, and it is straightforward. Surely it would be possible to say that Bills on those matters will now be dealt with in Scotland, while Bills on such matters in England will be dealt with at Westminster.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)
What would the hon. Gentleman say about English-only devolved legislation that had a negative financial impact and consequence on Scotland? By that I mean issues such as tuition fees and foundation hospitals. Surely it is right and proper that those of us whose duty and responsibility is to defend and protect the Scottish interest have a say in such matters.
§ Mr. Gray
I suspected that that argument would come up. Almost no Bill passed with regard to England does not have some effect on Scotland. The same applies the other way around, of course. When the Scottish Parliament voted against top-up fees, against foundation hospitals and to allow foxhunting to continue, despite the fact that such matters have an effect here—
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
As much as I would like to agree with the hon. Lady, because she is a lady, that is not a point of order for the Chair. I am not responsible for what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire says in his speech on what is clearly an emotive subject.
§ Mr. Gray
I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me when I try to bring the debate back to where it should be. These are extremely complex and important matters that are not capable of withstanding a barney across the floor. One of the advantages of this Chamber is that it ought to be possible for us to have an intelligent debate about complex matters such as this. To seek to reduce the debate, as the hon. Lady just did, is unfair.
§ Mr. Gray
No. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) will correct me, I am sure, but am I right that the Scottish Labour party is opposed to top-up fees and to foundation hospitals, but that Scottish Labour MPs came down here and voted in favour of 40WH them—or will shortly be doing so on the second issue—here in Westminster? I think that the hon. Lady wants to correct me.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Order. I presume that the hon. Lady is intervening to ask the hon. Gentleman a question. I will allow her to continue if she does so.
§ Mr. Gray
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her correction. This is most interesting and I am sure that the Scottish papers will take a keen interest. She now seems to be saying that the Scottish Labour party is in favour of top-up fees for St. Andrews university and for my alma mater, Glasgow university, and in favour of foundation hospitals. I have read the Scottish Labour party manifesto, and I believe that my original presumption was correct; the Scottish Labour party is opposed to those things and has come out against them. I hope that I am right. My point to the hon. Lady is that the Scottish Labour party opposes those proposals but thinks it perfectly reasonable for Scottish Labour Members to come down to Westminster and impose them on England. That is a constitutional outrage that cannot be sustained.
§ Mr. Davidson
It is a genuine point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman consistently to mislead the House by suggesting that Scottish Labour MPs came down to Westminster en masse and voted in favour of foundation hospitals? I, for one, voted against them. It should be made clear that some Labour Members voted in favour of foundation hospitals, and that others voted against them.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman and for his stand on many issues. I am not responsible for what a Member says. I can only hope that Members will seek to be as accurate as possible in anything that they say. I am sure that the House has taken note, as has the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), of what the hon. Gentleman just said.
§ Mr. Gray
My point was not that Scottish Labour Members voted in favour of foundation hospitals, but that they should not have the opportunity here in England to vote in favour of them or against them. These are English matters for English MPs, and it is a 41WH constitutional outrage that Scottish MPs come to Westminster to pontificate on English matters when I have no opportunity to go north of the border and pontificate on the health service—
§ Mr. Gray
I am sorry, but I will not. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. These are delicate, important and complex constitutional matters, and I raised them in this forum so that we may debate them sensibly. The fact that Scottish MPs have made so many fatuous points of order and silly interventions suggests that I may have hit a raw nerve by suggesting that those Members do not come here and vote on English matters. It appears to be a sensitive matter for MPs who foresee a reduction in their status in Westminster in what I am about to propose.
§ Mr. Donohoe
To take the hon. Gentleman's argument, which he has so far taken some 23 minutes to make—
§ Mr. Donohoe
To take the hon. Gentleman's argument to its natural conclusion, is he suggesting that no Scotsman should represent an English constituency? If so, he would not be on his feet.
§ Mr. Gray
That is yet another lightweight point in what should be a serious debate. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that no one is more Scottish than me. My father was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I was at Hillhead primary school, Glasgow high school and Glasgow university. I never left the borders of Scotland until I was 21. In my teens, I took a particular interest in my ancestry, and I discovered that not one ancestor came from anywhere other than Scotland. I can say, "You don't get more Scottish than me." I am 100 per cent. Scot, racially. I was 21 when I got out of Scotland. I am now 49 and have spent 28 years down here, which is why I feel no shame in speaking on these matters. This matter has nothing to do with race or where we were born, but with whether people representing the Scots in Scotland should have the right to vote on English matters in Westminster.
§ Mr. Gray
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not, because I am trying to conclude my remarks. Someone referred to the fact that I had been on my feet for some 20 minutes. That is largely because I have been fairly generous in taking interventions, as I believe the Chamber would agree. Perhaps Members will forgive me if I try to make progress to allow others the opportunity to take part in the debate.
First, we must have a self-denying ordinance; English votes for English matters, with the Scots not taking part in such debates. If that cannot be done, certain English matters could be reserved to English Members, perhaps by certification by Mr. Speaker. Secondly, it is 42WH important that Scottish Ministers should not take part in English Departments in Westminster. Only English Ministers should take part in them.
My third proposal is rather more radical; none the less, it may have a certain amount to recommend it. As I started to say a moment ago, there are far too many parliamentarians of one sort or another in Scotland. There is a parliamentarian to look after every 25,000 people in Scotland. In England, there is one for every 100,000 people. There would be some merit in a proposal that has been put forward previously; namely, that Members of Parliament in Scotland should go to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood to discuss Scottish matters on, for example, Mondays and Tuesdays, then come here on Wednesdays and Thursdays to discuss UK matters; perhaps some other suitable arrangement could be made. Simultaneously,English Members of Parliament would sit here or somewhere else in England where it is convenient to discuss English matters on Mondays and Tuesdays and then come here to discuss UK matters on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
That seems a neat and elegant solution to the West Lothian question. It would raise the status of MPs from Scotland and the status of the Scottish Parliament, which then would be equal to the English Parliament south of the border. Scottish MPs at Westminster may not like that proposal, because it would mean that 200 MSPs in Scotland would be competing for the 50 or so seats here. It might well be unattractive to certain members of the Labour party; none the less, it has some elegance.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)
Superficially neat and elegant it might be, but is there not a problem? Take yesterday, for example. The first we knew about the statement was at 12.20. I have had a lot and a half to say about Lockerbie and Libya, but there would have been no possibility of my coming to London from Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman may say that Government Departments could arrange statements that might affect Scots for a Wednesday or Thursday, but I have the doubtless unworthy suspicion that the Foreign Secretary would not have delayed his statement on Libya for 48 hours so that Tam Dalyell could come and ask him difficult questions. That really would be asking too much of ministerial and human nature. There is a real difficulty, which can be multiplied many times. All my hon. Friends have particular interests, and they would want to be present for crucial statements. I do not know quite how that would work.
§ Mr. Gray
Statements on Libya and similar matters would not be the same were it not for the interventions of the Father of the House. I am sure that the business managers would be able to reorganise matters in a way that would take account of that.
The point of my proposal was that no UK business would be heard on Mondays and Tuesdays anyway. Purely English business would be heard, either here in Westminster or possibly in Birmingham or somewhere else. English business would be discussed on Mondays and Tuesdays and UK business would be dealt with on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when Scottish MPs, like English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, would be here.
It is a radical proposal. For example, it would require a radical reorganisation of the Scottish parliamentary boundaries—there are all kinds of other implications 43WH and difficulties associated with it—but it would be an answer to our present problem; namely, the increasing resentment among English constituents at the fact that their lives are affected by votes from north of the border.
§ Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West) (Lab)
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something for me, as I am slightly puzzled by an aspect of his argument? He seems to be saying that he will probably abstain the next time a Bill comes up that applies only to Scotland; for example, an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998. If that is the case, could he explain why he voted on the Health (Wales) Act 2003 last year?
§ .Mr. Gray
Scottish matters are never debated in this Parliament. They are debated only in Edinburgh. The only Scottish issues that are debated here are constitutional matters affecting the relationship between this Parliament and Scotland. If that is incorrect, I shall admit that I am wrong. The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. I give him my absolute assurance that if I am presented at some stage in the future with a matter that affects only Scotland and has no effect whatever on my North Wiltshire constituents, I will not vote on it. [Interruption.] Of course I will not. That is exactly what I am asking hon. Members to do, but the other way around. I will not vote on matters affecting purely Scotland.
§ Mr. Gray
The Scotland Act is, of course, different because it affects the relationship between this UK Parliament and Scotland. That is a matter for the UK Parliament and a matter for me to vote on as a UK parliamentarian. If some matter came up—I cannot imagine what, because it would be quite out of order—during my parliamentary career that had absolutely no effect of any kind on England, Wales or Northern Ireland and would affect Scotland only, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) has my absolute assurance that I would neither speak nor vote on it. I seek in return his absolute assurance that he will neither speak nor vote on any matters affecting purely England. Will he give me that assurance?
§ Mr. Gray
That position is, at least, clear; but I simply cannot imagine how the hon. Gentleman can answer the question of why I may not vote on similar matters in Scotland. Every Member of this House is not equal. Some Members of this House have responsibility for dealing with health, education and other such matters here in England; others do not. I can look after everything that affects my constituents, but the hon. Gentleman cannot. He apparently thinks that it is fine for him to come down here and vote on matters that affect my constituents, but I cannot vote on some matters that affect his. That seems unfair; it is a 44WH constitutional conundrum and an outrage, which, as the people of England are now dimly beginning to realise, could ultimately have serious consequences for the Union itself.
Finally, I shall point to possible outcomes of the forthcoming general election. One is that there may be a Conservative majority for the United Kingdom but not for Scotland; another is a Labour majority for the United Kingdom but a Conservative majority here in England. That is when this question becomes particularly bitter. My constituents would have voted for a Conservative Government and would have a Conservative majority here in England but, thanks to tartan muscle from north of the border, the Labour party would continue to interfere in health, education and other matters in my constituency. That is when the West Lothian question becomes unanswerable and when the Union itself comes into question. We in this place should now try to find some sensible answer, a suitable way round the problem and some self-denying ordinance that would correct that anomaly and outrage, so that, in that event, the people of England do not turn.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Before I call the next speaker, I should say that we have only 27 minutes before the winding-up speeches begin at 3 o'clock. Obviously, I encourage short, pertinent and relevant interventions, which might well be the way in which people who are unlikely to catch my eye can at least get a view across in the course of this important debate.
§ Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow a fellow Scot, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I congratulate him on securing the debate on an issue that has, I suspect, been gnawing away at him for some considerable time and may well have given him sleepless nights in recent months. I recall our exchanges, which were short and curt, in the Committee considering of the Hunting Bill. However, I wonder whether we would be having this debate today if we had a Conservative Government and a large number of Conservative Members in Scotland. I suspect not.
I want to make it clear that I see myself as a citizen of the UK who is proud to be Scottish and proud to be a Member of a UK Parliament. I will strive at all times to function as a Member of that UK Parliament. Each and every one of us was elected on an equal status, and that should always be remembered.
§ Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that it is difficult to see equality between Members who have responsibility for all their constituents' interests—those who represent constituencies such as mine—and Members who have responsibility for only a limited range of interests because other Members of another Assembly have other responsibilities?
§ Mr. Brown
As I make my way through my contribution—I will keep it short, Sir Nicholas, and make only relevant points—I hope to bring some sort of clarity to my statement about equal status.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned the word superficial; the proposals of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire are superficially 45WH attractive, but logically flawed. Neither Scotland nor any other part of the UK has independence; thankfully so, many of us would say. What has been embarked upon is devolution and we should stick closely to its theology. In its wisdom, Westminster has seen fit to do nothing more than devolve certain powers to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. This Parliament is a UK Parliament, not an English Parliament. There has been no legislation passed to create an English Parliament, for which some obviously wish. Such a position would be totally different from the constitutional arrangement that we have.
Westminster has always passed legislation that does not affect all of the UK, and to a certain extent the devolved arrangements have changed nothing. The status or basis of Westminster has not changed, nor has the role of any of its Members. We cannot approach the matter on an ad hoc basis, or we would challenge the whole basis of devolution. I respect what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire said at the start of the debate; the debate is not about devolution. However, we cannot discuss the West Lothian question or the voting rights of Scottish Members without talking about devolution.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire proposes different classes of MPs, and not just two different classes. In my intervention I referred to the logical conclusion of his points, and to transport in London. I appreciate his point that that is not something on which the Greater London authority legislates, but he is embarking on a road that could lead to even greater difficulties than some say we have at the moment. He seems to have returned to the old in-and-out theory. In other words, he wishes to prevent Members from devolved areas from participating in the domestic business of non-devolved areas that has become a devolved matter in their own constituency. He has made that abundantly clear. Strictly speaking, such an approach could be applied to all forms of parliamentary business—not just debates and votes—such as questions and motions. My neighbour, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) has tabled questions on issues that have been devolved, as we can see from the public record.
If the hon. Member for North Wiltshire has not already done so, I would urge him to read the excellent contribution from the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) in his opposition to the House of Commons (Reserved Matters) Bill on 28 June 2000. He lays out clearly and concisely the very issues that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire and his friends are failing to grasp in their blind fury and their wish to weaken the position of others. Let me give hon. Members a flavour of the contribution from the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon.Let us imagine a situation"—the hon. Member for North Wiltshire has already alluded to this—where the withdrawal of Scottish MPs left a majority on English matters in the House different from that of the UK Government. One would then, necessarily, end up with a Government elected on a manifesto significant parts of which they could not deliver, and a competing Administration, unable to deliver their manifesto because they would not command the business of the House, and would therefore depend on the opportunistic hijacking of Government proposals." — [Official Report, 28 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 924.]46WH That is the complete and utter shambles that we could end up with.
I know that the matter of foundation hospitals has brought the matter back into the limelight, resurrecting the argument for some about the voting position of UK Members. We are all aware that, later this month, the matter of tuition fees will again bring the bitterness to the fore. I believe that the geographic location of my constituency puts me in a unique position. I shall give a topical example in relation to health service provision. If constituents in the east of my constituency in lower Annandale and in Eskdale require health service provision in the form of hospital treatment. they do not look to Dumfries and Galloway Royal infirmary, but to the Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle. I say to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that that service provision within Cumbria is as important to me as the provision in my constituency. The border is nothing more than a line on the map; it is not a barrier, or the reconstruction of Hadrian's wall.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan
The hon. Gentleman accepts that the border is simply a line but that it works in both directions. There are parents in Carlisle who send their children to college in Dumfries and Galloway. Their representatives have lost the ability to legislate on, for example, tuition fees if their children were to attend Dumfries and Galloway college.
§ Mr. Brown
Of course. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right, but the point is that it is a border, nothing more than a line on the map. The hon. Gentleman asked the Secretary of State what percentage of elective surgery operations performed in the Cumberland infirmary related to residents of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway in the previous 12 months. Almost 2 per cent. came from the Scottish side of the border.
To sum up, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire has done nothing more than raise the issue once again. It is a burning issue. I must make it clear to Members that my father was English. He was very proud of that and I was very proud that he was an Englishman. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said:We English are not a minority in these islands; we do not have an identity to prove or a history to rescue. When a federation exists in which there is a massive disequilibrium between the size and weight of one of its components and the others, there is a particular responsibility on the dominant partner to behave with restraint.I do not believe that the Union is at risk from Scottish nationalism if that nationalism is left to sustain its own momentum and renew its own energy, if it can; but give it the adrenalin of an assertive English nationalism against which to identify itself, and I do fear that we shall he providing the weapon for an assault on the integrity of the Union." — [Official Report, 28 June 2000; Vol. 353, c. 924.]I urge the hon. Member for North Wiltshire to read the words of his right hon. Friend.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
I hope that if they restrict their remarks, three additional Members might catch my eye after the Member whom I intend to call next. I hope that Members accept that that is a constructive view to express at this stage.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), who made a constructive and measured response to the powerful case made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), whom I compliment on his choice of subject.
As we heard, last month, one vote on foundation hospitals was carried by the votes of Scottish Members. Yesterday, when I spoke on the Traffic Management Bill, which covers only England and Wales, I raised the question of whether it was right for Scottish colleagues to vote on that matter. Later this month the decision on top-up fees might be carried by the votes of Scottish Members, so it is right that my hon. Friend should raise the matter.
§ Sir George Young
I plan to observe the injunction from Sir Nicholas.
It is very appropriate that the debate should take place with you in the Chair, Sir Nicholas. In the last Parliament, the Procedure Committee, which you chair, produced a report on the procedural consequences of devolution, to which I will refer in a moment.
The present constitutional settlement is unfair and unstable. We tend to see it through our own eyes as Members of Parliament; I prefer to see it through the eyes of my constituents. The position is quite simple. Until 1998, my constituents, through their Member of Parliament, could influence policy in Scotland on health and education, and the converse was of course true. After devolution, they lost that ability to influence policy in Scotland.
§ Sir George Young
I do not propose to give way because I hope that more Members will get in.
My advice to my constituents is to accept that devolution is a fact and that we should make it work. They are prepared to do so, but there is a consequent inequity. While they can no longer influence whether their Scottish friends have top-up fees or foundation hospitals, their Scottish friends can influence whether such policies happen in England. It is impossible to defend or explain that to my constituents. The problem is compounded by the so-called West Lothian question, whereby Scottish Members can impose top-up fees or foundation hospitals on my constituents but cannot impose those policies on their own constituents. The position is indefensible and inequitable.
What do the Government say in response? In the last Parliament, the Lord Chancellor said that the best thing to do about the West Lothian question was to stop asking it. That was not a proper response for a parliamentarian, let alone a spokesman on constitutional affairs. The Government's next line of defence is regional assemblies, but that is not an adequate response; regional assemblies do not have the same powers as the Scottish Parliament.
The Government then fall back on the indivisibility of the Member of Parliament and the impossibility of any solution that gives some MPs rights that others do not 48WH have. We are not all equal; some hon. Members in the Chamber have a right to attend Committees that I, as an English Member, cannot attend. That is where the Procedure Committee's report on the consequences of devolution comes in. It contains a section on legislation, and students of the subject will find support from the Procedure Committee for the argument that, in the light of devolution, different procedures may be necessary for England.
Your Committee, Sir Nicholas, anticipated conflict and wisely suggested procedures for minimising it. It suggested that we change our rules by convention; in other words, not by primary legislation but by convention. If there is support for the proposition that matters that affect England only should be voted on by English MPs only, it should be done by convention rather than by legislation.
Paragraphs 25 and 26 of the report are key, and it is worth reading the relevant section in full:The main point of principle to be considered is whether it is appropriate to retain special procedures for bills relating exclusively to one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom, as currently apply to Bills relating exclusively to Scotland or Wales. On balance, we believe it is. There may soon be governments of different parties in different parts of the United Kingdom; party balances already differ in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.That is an important section because it concedes the principle, post-devolution, of new procedures for legislation affecting England. Once that point has been conceded, English votes for English Bills is the logical conclusion.
Paragraph 28 argues that representation on Bills dealing with English legislation should be in accordance with party balance in England, not party balance in the House. The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) commented thatAs a Scottish MP, frankly I am not terribly interested in having a say over the English health budget, the way in which health policy is going or education, and all the matters over which responsibility has been devolved to Scotland, I think it right and proper that English MPs should be left to consider the equivalent legislation in England for themselves.There speaks a Scottish Member of Parliament.
The Procedure Committee, which approved that principle unanimously, included nine Government Members; it also included the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who hopes to catch your eye later, Sir Nicholas. The principle that I am annunciating is not mine; a Committee of the House adopted it. The Committee also dealt with the argument that identifying such Bills would be an impossible burden on the Speaker by dismissing the point in paragraph 27 of the report.
How did the Government respond to the recommendation? They simply asserted in their response thatIf …it were possible to identify some Bills as relating exclusively to England, it is not clear what benefit that would have for the House.The debate is about the West Lothian question. The argument of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire simply disappeared over the Government's head. They did not disagree with the solution; they did not think that there was a problem, which is indefensible. There is support in England for the sort of solution that my hon. Friend has outlined. I recall seeing 49WH an opinion poll indicating that there was a majority in Scotland for the proposition that Scottish Members of Parliament should not vote on English domestic legislation.
The proposal that only English and Welsh MPs should vote on Bills covering England and Wales could work within the conventions and traditions of Parliament. It is based on precedents and would be accepted as fair in Scotland as well as in England. It represents common sense. It would deal with the English question and make the Union stronger. The Government are making a serious mistake in their response and it will fall to a different Administration to put right this constitutional error.
§ Pete Wishart(SNP) (North Tayside)
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on securing this timely and appropriate debate so early in the new year.
It comes as no surprise that the issue of the voting rights of Scottish Members is coming to a head; it is a boil that needs to be lanced. The question has been kicking around for some three decades, since the Father of the House elegantly asked why the Member for West Lothian may vote on issues to do with West Bromwich, while the Member for West Bromwich must be silent on issues concerning West Lothian. That is the West Lothian question, or WLQ, as those of us who have wrestled with it throughout the years prefer to call it.
The WLQ is back with a vengeance. Now, not only can the Member for West Lothian vote on issues of a West Bromwich nature, but the Member for West Lothian might be responsible for an outcome that has been rejected in West Bromwich and by the majority of English Members. The Government can get unpopular English legislation through only on the back of Scottish MPs. That is unfair and increasingly untenable, and the public are increasingly unhappy and perplexed about it. I reassure English Members that the Scottish public feel the same. A recent opinion poll by System 3 in The Herald showed that the Scottish public feel that it is wrong that Scottish Members should enable unpopular English legislation to get through.
§ Pete Wishart
I am sorry, but I have not got much time.
Even the majority of Labour supporters feel that Scottish Members should have nothing whatever to do with unpopular English legislation. That issue is linked with the emerging consensus in England that Scottish Members should have nothing whatever to do with England-only legislation; legislation with no impact on Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has changed absolutely everything and it now time for us to consider our practices and change them where appropriate.
§ Pete Wishart
I am sorry, but I have not got much time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get an opportunity to intervene.
50WH When we raise the WLQ, Labour Members say that there should not be two different classes of Members in this House. It is time for a reality check. There are two different classes of Members in this House; there may even be more than two. There are English MPs, who have responsibility in relation to every aspect of political control in their constituency, and there are those of us for whom the Scottish Parliament is a reality in our constituencies. I am in a different class of Member from an English MP because I have no say on schools, hospitals and most of the public services in my constituency. I do, however—this is almost preposterous—have a say on schools, hospitals and public services in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire. That is patently unfair and increasingly untenable. I am quite relaxed about being in a different class from other Members. Labour Members should get used to it. They should just accept the fact about different classes of Members and its consequences.
There is a problem with the West Lothian question. It was touched on earlier and relates to situations in which English legislation has a financially negative impact on Scotland
§ Pete Wishart
I am sorry, but I want to move on.
Some issues are perfectly clear and straightforward and have nothing whatever to do with Scotland. I am thinking of matters such as that discussed as recently as yesterday. The Traffic Management Bill has nothing to do with Scotland and nothing to do with Scottish Members. Controversial legislation, such as foxhunting legislation, has nothing to do with Scotland or Scottish Members. Just before prorogation, in November, the issue of trial by jury in English courts ping-ponged between the two Houses. That was nothing whatever to do with Scotland and therefore should have had nothing whatever to do with Scottish Members.[Interruption.]
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Order. I want only the person who is supposed to be speaking to address the Chair. I do not wish other conversations to be taking place at the same time.
§ Mr. Connarty
It is difficult to say that legislation that covers England will not affect anyone we represent. I have just had to deal with a case in which one of my constituents—a canon from a local church—was fined under the traffic management system. It was a false claim because it was so inaccurate. We must deal with legislation that is passed by this House if it has consequences for our constituents. Must our constituents stay in Scotland and never come to England for any services?
§ Pete Wishart
The logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is to do away with all nations and all legislatures entirely.
I read on the front page of the Traffic Management Bill that it applies to England and Wales only. It is time for Members to accept that some English legislation has 51WH a negative consequence on Scotland, the most notable being the two significant issues of top-up fees and foundation hospitals. Judgment must be used and the impact on Scotland must be assessed. The matter is straightforward for us in the Scottish National party. It is our duty to oppose any issue or legislation that has a negative impact on or consequence for Scotland. We were elected to defend and protect the Scottish interest and I make no apology for doing so when such measures come before Scotland.
On tuition fees, it is abundantly clear that university professors, academics, economists and the Scottish Parliament agree that if tuition fees are implemented in England, it will be a disaster for Scottish universities. That does not need much explanation. If the pot is increased with the introduction of tuition fees and we remain a pocket-money Parliament with an insufficient settlement, our status will be diminished. If England wants top-up fees, that is a matter for England and it is right and proper that it can go ahead and have them. But England cannot ignore the consequences for Scotland.
Thankfully, there are solutions, the first and most elegant being to give Scotland financial responsibility for its own actions and to determine its own agenda and priorities. With one sweep of the brush, we would get away from debates about the Barnett formula. It is truly remarkable that a number of Scottish Members are prepared to vote for top-up fees and foundation hospitals in the full knowledge that they will be disastrous for Scottish universities and the Scottish health service.
It is also remarkable that the one and only Scottish Conservative Member from Scotland is prepared to sit on his hands while foundation hospitals are introduced and tuition fees are discussed on Second Reading. To call himself the shadow Secretary of State and not defend the Scottish interest is remarkable; it would be laughable were it not so dangerous for Scotland.
Given that the Government are unlikely to give us financial responsibility for Scotland, let me suggest another solution, which follows on from the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire. The Speaker could be allowed to determine whether Bills have no impact or consequence for Scotland. That could be easily achieved by extending Standing Order No. 97, which allows the Speaker to determine whether Bills affect Scotland only and are referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for Scottish consideration. It would be relatively simple to extend Standing Order No. 97 to refer Bills to the Regional Affairs Committee, which is composed solely of English Members. Let them deal with legislation that affects only England if the Speaker's Panel decides that the matter is for English Members only.
The most elegant solution of all is for Scotland to be independent and for England to be independent. People suggest to me that England could not survive as an independent nation and would not have the confidence to go forward, but I refute that; the future for an independent England would be reasonably rosy. What England does not need is further voting by Scottish Members to determine its future.
§ Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab)
I shall be brief, Sir Nicholas, to allow other colleagues to speak; unlike the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), who was reluctant to give others a chance to intervene.
There has been a serious oversight. Some people presume that their taking no decision on foundation hospitals because they are Scottish will not affect Scotland, but they agree with the Conservatives' proposal for the health service, which would affect services to the health service and British taxpayers. I do not live in that world; of course it will affect Scottish people. The cost of the alternative will impact on the taxation system, with a serious effect on the Scottish economy.
In 2000–01, out of 29.3 million taxpayers, 24.2 million lived in England and 2.49 million lived in Scotland. Any decision affecting the efficiency and delivery of a major service such as the health service has an impact on the rest of Britain. I have no right to decide for Scotland any more than the Scottish Parliament has a right to decide for here. I was not elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, but as a Member of the British Parliament, and I do not see myself as a Scottish MP—they are up in Holyrood—but as a British MP. So long as this House has a structure that entitles me to vote on issues that are significant not just for England but for the whole of the UK, that fact cannot be discounted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to the in-and-out situation, and talked about trying to structure a system that would accommodate a vast number of changes. In addition, the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), made the point that it would be impossible to try to impose a structure on defence matters. On the surface, the proposals might look neat, tidy and effective, but we would run up against many problems. That would make a farce of the House of Commons and of Westminster; it would not be seen as an improvement.
My final point is that, while I note that five Members of this House believe that Scotland should be independent, we should remind ourselves why the Scottish Parliament came into existence; 18 years of decisions taken down here that affected Scotland. Now, Conservatives in Scotland with a seat in its Parliament are discredited because of decisions taken at that time. Nobody was rushing about then to set up a Scottish Parliament or to help out the Scots.
A range of issues needs to be addressed. If these are its proposals, the Conservative and Unionist party should think about dropping the word "Unionist". We should also consider that a way to bring balance to the situation is to give English MPs the opportunity to decide whether they want the same decision-making rights in this House that every other Member has. If colleagues want to set up an English Grand Committee, just as there is a Scottish Grand Committee, to review such matters, that should be considered. I do not see the suggestions that have been made today as a solution to the problem; I see them as a bit of mischief. They would cause many more problems than they would resolve.
§ 3.3 pm
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall) because he has got to the heart of the matter. I was elected as a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. I am extremely proud as a Cornishman—a fellow Celt—to represent North Cornwall. As it stands—if we want to change things, we have to change the whole constitution—we are all Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. I do not say that on my own behalf alone; I say it with good historical reference.Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament.So here we have Conservatives tearing up the political philosophy on which their party is based; the quote I just gave was from Edmund Burke in his address to the electors of Bristol in November 1774.
Sir Nicholas, you are a respected maintainer of the traditions of this House. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on having introduced the debate; it is important for the matter to be brought into the open. However, the solutions that have been suggested are totally inappropriate.
§ Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that, on the one hand, Labour Members such as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) argue against the logic of devolution by seeking to interfere on domestic matters on the other side of a line on a map while, on the other hand, Conservative Members introduce arguments that would undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament? Would not the logical conclusion be to offer to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland the same benefits of devolution that we enjoy in Scotland? That would ultimately lead to a federal system.
§ Mr. Tyler
Not surprisingly, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I am sorry that he has not had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. In a moment I shall develop the precise argument to which he alludes. The arguments that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire advanced would apply to a different degree, I accept, to Welsh Members of this Parliament; or, to put it differently, Members elected by Welsh electors to the United Kingdom Parliament. What about London Members of Parliament or Northern Ireland Members? The arguments will apply to them, as has already been said.
I am particularly interested in Northern Ireland. My memory goes back some way, and I seem to recall that, in 1979, the then Leader of the Conservative party used the votes of Ulster Members of Parliament to bring down the then Labour Government, although there was a measure of devolution to Stormont in those days. [HoN. MEMBERS: "And the Scottish nationalists."] And the nationalists. In those days, my party and I were 54WH proud to be part of the United Kingdom Parliament, but are the Conservatives now saying that there are different gradations and that some people are half Members of Parliament and some are one-third Members of Parliament? Perhaps the Ulster Unionists in 1979 were two-thirds Members of Parliament. Were their votes to be counted in only that way? What fun for the accountants. How ridiculous.
§ Mr. Tyler
No, I am trying to make rapid progress because it is important for other Members to get in before we conclude.
The same has been true throughout Conservative Governments. The Conservatives have not faced such issues honestly because it served them well to use all the votes that they could lay their hands on to maintain themselves in government. When they had a small majority they were very keen to do that.
§ Mr. Tyler
The right hon. Gentleman must contain himself. I need to make progress.
It is surely only because Scotland is now, to all intents and purposes, and with the odd honourable exception, a Tory-free zone that the Conservatives have suddenly discovered this problem. I am delighted that they have accepted devolution, but they have not accepted the principle that devolution to some parts of the United Kingdom—as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) rightly said—must lead us on to a proper federal constitution for this country. Conservatives say that they do not want a written constitution, but we have half a written constitution already. There have been 27 Acts of Parliament since 1997—I have them listed here, but I shall not read them out—that change the constitution of the United Kingdom. What we do not have is any comprehensive framework into which they fit.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) was right to say that we are in a process and we should recognise that. We should not fiddle around with the arrangements in the House of Commons to deal with it, but ensure that the momentum continues so that we end up with not only a written constitution, but one that is fit for the 21st century.
In that context, clearly we have to have certain principles. One is the need to ensure that there is subsidiarity. It is a very ugly word, which John Major invented, but the concept is a good one; that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people whom they affect. That has now been put in statute by the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999, but it is not there for other parts of the United Kingdom.
We in Cornwall are waiting our turn. We are patient, modest people and we will get that one day. But a complete written constitution and a federal basis will take some time, and it would he absurd to play around with the procedures of the House of Commons before we reach that point. As it stands at the moment, as the 55WH hon. Member for Central Fife rightly said, all of us here—every single one of us—were elected at the 2001 election as Members of the British Parliament, not Members of the English Parliament or half-time Members of the British Parliament. We were not elected Members of the Scottish Parliament—a good point that was made earlier—so we were not elected to second-guess what happens in the Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Tyler
No, I am coming to my conclusion because I want to be within my time.
The proposal is a short-sighted, self-interested attempt to turn the Burkean principle on its head. It is due not to the fact that the Conservatives have undertaken a careful analysis of the constitutional inadequacies that have changed things over those 200 years in Britain, but to the fact that they do not have the votes north of the border. That is the simple fact; let us be honest and come out with it. They never had the problem until they lost all their seats in Scotland; indeed, they never even saw the problem.
I am grateful for the opportunity to advance the case for an effective delineation of responsibilities within our constitution, a federal constitution. We are half way there already. The F-word is there already in Britain and we should recognise the fact. We should go further and ensure that we have a comprehensive analysis of how best to incorporate subsidiarity at all levels of the British constitution, to the benefit of all our constituents.
I was interested in the thoughtful speech by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire and hope that he will have some effect on his Front Bench. The public both need and deserve a proper blueprint of accountability. That is what a constitution should do and that is what we need. When we have it, we can deal with the problem and many others besides.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)
I am delighted to respond to this debate; such a huge turnout of Scottish Members so soon after Hogmanay is truly remarkable. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on bringing forward this debate. Whichever side of the debate one happens to be on, it is a debate that must be had. There is a constitutional issue that we must discuss, and this strikes me as a positive and helpful way of doing so. We have heard some helpful contributions, particularly from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young).
The locus of the debate, as has rightly been said, is neither Scottish MPs and Scotland, nor England and English MPs; rather, it is the future of our United Kingdom. In response to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), I say that I am very much a unionist. I believe in the success of the United Kingdom. I want it to continue, I want it to be stable and I want it to work. That is why I want us to address the problem today, as well as the West Lothian question, which was raised so long ago.
56WH The fundamental issue is that many hon. Members, particularly Labour Back Benchers, want to have their cake and eat it. They argued for devolution in the late 1990s, when, as I accept, we were against it. However, the Scottish people want devolution and that is their settled will. We must now go forward and complete the process of devolution, of which this debate is a part.
We are addressing some parts of completing devolution; I am delighted that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament is to be reduced from 72 to 59. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire rightly said that there were too many politicians in Scotland, and I have been using that line for many months now. There are too many MPs in Scotland and we are overrepresented. We needed 72 Members of Parliament because of the different legal system in Scotland, so, proportionately, we needed more to get that legislative programme through. The number was right then, but it is wrong now. It is time for the Government to make a clear statement that they intend to implement the boundary commission's proposals before the next general election, and to do so without any further delay.
Why has the issue been brought into focus today? The reason is recent rebellions by Labour Back Benchers, which have tightened the electoral balance. On issues such as foundation hospitals, the West Lothian question has actually made a difference for the first time in many a long year. The Labour party in Scotland is fundamentally opposed to foundation hospitals and yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire pointed out, many Members saw fit to troop through the Lobby as Tony's lapdogs; lobby fodder, as many papers characterised them. It is not acceptable for English legislation to be forced on the English electorate by Scottish Members of Parliament who do not have to answer for that legislation. I remind hon. Members that in that vote Scottish Members were proportionally more loyal to the Government than English Members were. I wonder why that might be. Could it be that they do not have to answer to their electorates for the policy?
The next crisis will be top-up fees; the higher education Bill will be the next potential constitutional outrage, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) pointed out in a recent debate. The Government face the prospect of being saved from electoral disaster by Members of Parliament from Scotland.
It has already been suggested that the Bill will have a cross-border effect. The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) is on record as saying that it will have a substantial cross-border effect in higher education. I accept that wholeheartedly, but English Members of Parliament were not able to vote on the question of tuition fees when it came before the Scottish Parliament. That is the fundamental issue. If the Bill has no legislative, non-devolved effect, I shall vote. However, even though that seems unlikely, I shall not "sit on my hands", as the hon. Gentleman put it. Instead, I shall actively campaign for all Labour Members of Parliament in Scotland not to vote, so that we do not inflict that disastrous legislation on English students.
§ Mr. Russell Brown
The hon. Gentleman clearly stated in a press release that he would not be voting on that Bill. However, in the same press release he said that 57WH when the vote on top-up fees came around, Scottish MPs would have to decide whether to vote in the interests of their constituents. Will he not be neglecting the interests of his constituents, keeping in mind the fact that he fully supports the Crichton campus in Dumfries and Galloway? There will be a knock-on effect, yet he says that he will sit on his hands and not vote.
§ Mr. Duncan
I am happy to confirm that. The hon. Gentleman knows of my support for the Crichton campus. However, he must accept that devolution has changed the United Kingdom. If I were a parent in Scotland sending my child to an English university, I would not be able to influence top-up tuition fee policy in England; but England does not have the legislative ability to effect the same policy in Scotland. That is the crisis. Labour Members are refuseniks; they refuse to accept that a problem exists, because it is in their electoral interests to do so.
§ Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain his position on the views of his hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who has indicated a nationalist position on the structure of Parliament, and whether being a Westminster MP is the same as being an English nationalist MP?
§ Mr. Duncan
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I made it clear that I am a Unionist Member of Parliament. I represent my constituents. I will continue to participate in all legislation that is not devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I accept that devolution has changed the United Kingdom, but the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members refuse to do so.
I was interested also in the reference to my ability to scrutinise the Government. I fully participate in early-day motions, and I make contributions in the Chamber. However, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire. If I feel the need to contribute to the debate on top-up fees, illustrating my point with a Scottish example, I would feel free to convey that point of view. But I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to participate in debates on legislation that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who has left the Chamber, pointed out the difficulty that some Bills are only partially devolved. That is why my hon. Friends pointed out that it is possible to introduce a certification process to identify which Bills are effective in Scotland and which are not. For myself, if a Bill contains any provision that is not devolved, I shall participate on Second and Third Reading but I will not participate in debates on amendments about matters that are not devolved. That position is understood by the Scottish electorate, as was made clear in a poll run by The Herald, in which a majority said that they would be supportive of Scottish Members of Parliament not taking part in such debates.
The solution is absolutely clear. Devolution needs stability to succeed. We in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party have accepted that devolution is the will of the Scottish people, and that it needs to work. The only alternative is the destructive nationalist solution.
58WH If every Bill were certified by the Speaker, we could ensure that Scottish MPs' participation was transparent. It is possible to establish by convention that Scottish MPs will not participate, and the next Conservative Government will act accordingly if they are unable to establish a consensus. The Scottish nationalist position is untenable. They have effectively established a procedure whereby they will only vote in English matters that will cost the English taxpayer more because they will provide more money to the Scottish Executive. That is unethical, unjustified and unstable.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) originally set out his argument in his book, "Devolution: The End of Britain?" I disagree with his thesis. I believe that devolution can work and need not be the end of the United Kingdom, but we need to address the difficult issues that are part of devolution, not just the easy ones.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Before the Minister responds, I thank Members for their co-operation. So far, this has been a lively, interesting and entertaining debate.
§ The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)
I hope that it continues to be a lively and interesting debate, Sir Nicholas.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on raising this issue, and take this opportunity to congratulate him on his recent prize from the Royal College of Defence Studies for his thesis on "Crown vs Parliament: Who Decides on Going to War". His interest in constitutional issues is longstanding. I see from his website that he wants "a fair deal on the Constitution" and "a stronger, more authoritative Parliament".
That is the end of the compliments; I now move on to the hon. Gentleman's argument. He is attempting, either intentionally or unintentionally, to send out a message to the country that the Labour party does not have a majority of seats in England. In fact, it has an overwhelming majority of the seats in England; we control 323 out of 529. The conclusion that Labour Members in Scotland are imposing anything on the English people should not be drawn from this debate. The English people voted Labour, as did the Scottish people.
§ Mr. Woolas
I am surprised that a Conservative Member who has always, I understand, adhered to the idea that a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament should put country first, constituency second and party third, should attempt to turn that on its head. The consequence of his argument would be a breakdown of the power of this Parliament's sovereignty. It is interesting that he should do that at this juncture.
The hon. Gentleman's argument misunderstands the role of the Member of Parliament. We are not here just as representatives of our constituencies on some sort of delegative or representative basis, but to make 59WH judgments and take decisions on behalf of the whole of the UK. To accept the logic of his argument is to say that I, as a Member based in Greater Manchester, should have no say on, for example, the future of airports in south-east England; yet the future of Heathrow airport has a direct and important bearing on my constituency. The idea that we should have two levels of Members of Parliament with different status and powers would fundamentally undermine the power of this sovereign Parliament.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the most worrying aspect of this matter is the rise of English nationalism, with the support of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and that we now have only one unionist party in the House, the Labour party?
§ Mr. Woolas
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party is upholding parliamentary sovereignty and democracy. I do not believe that it is the intention of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire to engage in English nationalism.
In a very thoughtful speech, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) quoted the Procedure Committee. I should bring to the attention of the House the conclusion of its report in May 1999, which said that it was undesirable to have Members with different roles, different responsibilities and different rights in this Parliament. The Government agree, and to go down that road would lead to disaster in the long term.
It is said that real power can only be taken, not given. The lesson of devolution diminishes the truth of that remark. This sovereign Parliament, representative of the people of the whole of the United Kingdom, gave the decision about whether the Scottish people would choose devolution. In September 1997, they chose devolution, not just after 18 years of imposition from a Conservative majority representing England, not just after 30 years of the West Lothian question, a phrase that I think was first coined by Enoch Powell in that debate, but after 300 years of a United Kingdom settlement.
The Act of Union of 1707 gave Scotland 45 seats in the new 558-seat Parliament of what was then Great Britain. The idea of Scotland being put upon by England is not a recent phenomenon; it has been around since 1707.
60WH In the referendum decision, in which all Members of Parliament took part, whether or not their point of view prevailed, the settlement of the United Kingdom shifted. Today, Conservative Members—not accepting the consequences of devolution—are trying to rewrite the arithmetic of the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. The arguments are new and opportunistic, and they were not heard when the Conservatives were in government.
Power was given and the Government recognise that that has presented a debate and anomalies. There are anomalies within the United Kingdom; we are a kingdom of nations. There will always be anomalies where there is the United Kingdom. The conservative thinker, Ferdinand Mount, criticised the Conservatives with two valid points. He said:MPs are constantly voting on Bills which do not apply to them or their constituents. Membership of any political community entails acceptance of its anomalies.Some anomalies could be corrected, but he also said thatother anomalies follow from the uneven asymmetrical nature of all existing society and so must be endured; the maturity of our political culture is to be measured very largely by the extent to which this is understood.John Major described the proposal as one that would lead to constitutional chaos because of the nature of the United Kingdom, where we have a nation within a nation, Scotland. It is no good the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) saying that the Scottish people have not had a say in the matter. The Scottish people took a decision for devolution in the knowledge that it would lead to what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire sees as an anomaly. That is the nature of our United Kingdom.
The Government will not listen to what we consider to be a bogus argument from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire. The bottom line is; are hon. Members equal? Yes, they are. Does the party able to command a majority in Parliament form the Executive? Yes, it does. The logical consequence of his position is that we would have a legislature where there was a majority of one party in England different from the majority in Scotland, as was the case between 1974 and 1976. That would lead to Executive power being held in England by one party and Executive power being held in Scotland by another. That is why we have strange bedfellows, with the independence party in Scotland coming together with what is supposedly the Conservative and Unionist party. I reject the proposition of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire and I would ask the House to reject it totally.